Why biodiversity means better terroir – Part 1: Life in the soil and cover crops

Why biodiversity means better terroir – Part 1: Life in the soil and cover crops 305 232 Sectormentor

This guest post by Hans-Peter Schmidt from the Delinat Institute & Mythopia was originally posted on Raw Wine in 2013. Hans kindly gave us permission to share it in a three part series, and said  “A few of years have passed since I wrote this, but the battle for biodiversity & terroir is still on, nothing has changed.” We heartily agree!

“Biodiversity: the Foundation of Quality”

There are unmistakable signs that grape aroma, even in renowned terroirs, is deteriorating, while at the same time the susceptibility of vines to disease is continually calling for new pesticides. Against this background, European wine-growers are beginning to rethink their strategies, questioning established conventions, re-discovering the ecological context of their work and adopting a “back to the roots” strategy based on the natural principles governing terroir quality.

The core principle underlying the new methods used in quality-driven wine-growing involves specifically promoting biodiversity. Though the visible signs of this shift – a carpet of fragrant flowers covering the vineyard – are not insignificant, the main aspect of the new methods is an understanding of a vineyard as an ecosystem whose ecological balance is dependent on a complex network of biological diversity. The presence of large numbers of butterflies, beetles, bees and birds are the visible signs of the whole system being in balance. The core factor lies however in the soil. The biological activation of soil life is the key to a stable wine-growing ecosystem. Soil biodiversity is the decisive factor behind terroir quality and a vine’s resistance to disease.

The importance of soil life

Vines are not machines converting NPK fertilisers into grape juice, and in doing so extracting a few trace elements from dead rock. They are instead living organisms dependent for their well-being and prosperity on their symbiosis with numerous other organisms. The energy created by a vine through photosynthesis is not just used to produce leaves, grapes, new shoots and roots. Some 30% of it is also used for producing root exudates, the function of which is to supply a fully-grown vine in healthy soil with up to 5 trillion micro-organisms (more than 50,000 different species, for the most part bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes), from which it receives in exchange for carbohydrates important mineral nutrients, water and protection against parasites.

When this complex and extremely diverse network of micro-organisms in the rhizosphere of the plants is destroyed or permanently weakened by herbicides, pesticides, fertilisers and tilling, the vine’s entire biological system loses its balance. This in turn results in increased susceptibility to parasites and other pathogens (e.g. nematodes and mildew), reduced resistance to negative environmental influences (in particular water stress and nutrient shortages), lower life expectancy (a vine’s average life expectancy is 100 years), as well as the loss of the wine’s bouquet.

Characteristic terroir wines can only develop when the vine’s roots are able to uphold their symbiotic interaction with the wide range of species found in the soil and enabling the vine to organise its own nutrient system on the basis of a wide range of different nutrients.

Promoting soil biodiversity

A vine reigns over the microflora in its rhizosphere like a king over his kingdom. For this ‘kingdom’ to be established however, the requirements for a stable nutrient cycle need to be fulfilled throughout the soil system. Earthworms, arthropods, bacteria and fungi need a steady diet of organic matter (leaves, straw, twigs, branches, roots, bones, faeces, meat, exudates) which they decompose before storing and distributing them in the soil. Where this diet is not available – with spraying having killed off most of it, with soil ploughed up and compacted by tractors and/or when nutrients have been eroded and leached out of the soil -, soil life becomes doomed to a slow death.

To promote soil activity, a plethora of different plant species is required. Their different contents and life cycles are needed to supply the soil with nutrients throughout the year, thus stimulating soil activity. This is the reason why a large number of ‘companion’ plants are needed alongside the vine, not just providing green cover and protection for the soil, but also fulfilling the following functions:

  1. Building up humus;
  2. Distributing nutrients, aerating the soil and protecting it against erosion through roots spread out in all directions;
  3. Storing mineral nutrients through symbiosis with bacteria and mycorrhiza; producing natural fertilisers (in particular nitrogen and phosphorus) available to plants;
  4. Producing secondary phytochemicals important for balanced soil health;
  5. Increasing the soil’s capability to store water;
  6. Degrading and adsorbing toxic substances in the soil;
  7. Promoting insect diversity through flowers and leaves.

In accordance with these criteria, the Delinat Institute has developed a range of seed mixtures tailored to different types of soil and climate conditions. Over the last 5 years, these have been tested in different vineyards, looking at the effect they have on vines, wines and the ecosystem in general. The seed mixtures contain some 40 – 50 different plant species, whereby the majority are legumes with varying root lengths and growth rates (alfalfa, red clover, common sainfoin, birdsfoot trefoil, hop clover, vetch and vetchling).

Cover crops and their influence on wine quality

A meta-study on the effects of cover crops in vineyards has shown that these are practically nearly all positive with regard to reducing pathogens on vines. Vine health can thus be boosted and with reduced use of pesticides, grape quality can be influenced positively.

Through reduced pathogen pressure, vines become able to steadily improve their immune systems. This in turn allows further reductions in the amounts of pesticides needing to be sprayed, in the best case creating a self-reinforcing virtuous circle. An improved immune system leads to the increased production of secondary phytochemicals, again having a positive effect on grape and wine quality.

Where the vineyard soil is rich, selected cover crop strategies can help establish healthy competition, thereby regulating yields and improving grape quality. Induced moderate shortages force the vines to develop partnerships with soil micro-organisms (e.g. mycorrhiza fungi or rhizo-bacteria). These in turn can improve the availability of energy-rich nutrients. The result is an autonomous and, insofar as the right balance has been achieved between moderate stress and improved soil fertility, balanced diet for the vines, again having a positive effect on grape quality.

Stay tuned for Part two where we will share about ecoysystems, how to build biodiversity and its economic benefits.

Have you seen the cover crops growing at Everflyht Vineyard?

At Sectormentor we want to support all vineyards with building biodiversity. What has worked in your vineyard so far? How are you monitoring biodiversity? We’d love to hear from you: info@vidacycle.com

Case Study: Adam Foden at Gusbourne Estate

Case Study: Adam Foden at Gusbourne Estate 750 1000 Sectormentor

Sectormentor helps link soil health to vine productivity – Adam Foden at Gusbourne Estate

Gusbourne Estate spans across two vineyards, one in Kent and one in West Sussex, planted with Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Noir. Their growing ethos is low intervention, allowing nature’s processes to work.

The Gusbourne approach to winemaking is no different – keeping intervention to a minimum to ensure maximum expression and terroir in each bottle. Gusbourne wines have won several international awards, and they are the only three-time winners of the IWSC English Wine Producer of the Year. Adam Foden looks after the vines at the Gusbourne Sussex site.

Sectormentor has empowered Adam to link soil health and vineyard productivity:
 
“Our vines were really struggling in certain spots and we couldn’t figure out why. We sent off soil lab tests and all the indicators were good. We even had the previous farmer out to see if he had any ideas of why certain spots weren’t doing well. It was only after I dug some holes and recorded my observations and overlaid that with other info in Sectormentor that I realised it was the soil structure that needed attention. We were just looking at a compaction issue. We had ordered a load of Magnesium which we were about to apply at a very high rate – it’s great that we figured out the real problem before spinning all of that. We saved ourselves the time and repercussions of overfeeding with Mg. Instead we did some subsoiling in the area and put in mixed cover crops to improve our soil structure.”
 
“I’m very excited to get more into the soils side of it going forward. Soil is something I hadn’t paid loads of attention to even though my background is in horticulture. I never really got down and right into the detail of it, which is what I’m excited about doing. Especially witnessing this compaction issue – that is going to lead on to a regular program of soil maintenance. So we are excited to use the soil side of app over next few years, plotting how that gets better (or worse) as we go ahead.”

Sectormentor frees up Adam’s time and makes collecting information much easier for him and the whole team:

“Sectormentor really does free up my time. Previously I’d have a notebook in the field, and then had to spend 2-3 hours in the office making a spreadsheet with a formula from my notes. It’s a joy to be able to have this all done immediately – you just enter a phenological date and it’s all done, and so easy to use and accessible. It’s become second nature. Inflorescence counts are so easy now – we gave our earliest yield estimate ever this year to the winemaker by the end of June. Usability is brilliant on it, I’ve found it really comfortable to use, and everyone in the team has had a go, there is a whole spectrum of abilities using it.”

“We never really did pruning weights in the past as it felt like too much hassle, but now we’re starting to record them in Sectormentor, and it’s so easy. In some places I’ve been worried we’re stretching the vines too far, so now we’ll be able to see if that’s the case.”

Adam also finds Sectormentor helps to easily share observations with the whole team:

“We had similar information in the past but it sat on many different files, and different people move the files around so you can never find what you’re looking for. Merging all this information into one place means we can easily look at it and everyone is on the same page. As face to face meetings are hard at the moment, I can still easily discuss observations with the team – we know we are both looking at the same data.”

We’re excited to see how things progress at Gusbourne, and particularly how Adam’s soil monitoring journey develops. In response to the compaction issue, Adam has subsoiled and added in a cover crop mix. It will be interesting to see how this affects the Sectormentor soil test results going forwards.

Case Study: Matt Strugnell at Ridgeview Estate

Case Study: Matt Strugnell at Ridgeview Estate 543 407 Sectormentor

Matt Strugnell at Ridgeview Estate


Ridgeview Estate is an award-winning vineyard just to the north of the South Downs in East Sussex. Ridgeview are at the forefront of English sparkling wine production, and ship their delicious wines around the world, having won several international wine trophies in the process.

Matt Strugnell is the viticulturist responsible for managing the vines at Ridgeview, as well as their many partner vineyards – with 20-odd years of grape growing under his belt. Matt is certainly not your typical data geek, but early on he learnt that attentively monitoring vines and being as pro-active as possible in the vineyard is key to harvesting the best quality grapes. He tells us:
 

Sectormentor helps Matt keep things organised 
 
“A big chunk of our vineyard information is now in one place, which saves me so much time. Now, at a glance I can see how the season is progressing so far and how it compares to past years.” 

Visualising his data also helps Matt to plan for the season ahead

“Some people like seeing lists of numbers, but I prefer visualising things on a graph or chart. Using the Sectormentor tools has made it easy to compare different years side by side on graphs which has been really useful for forward-planning. Pretty early on I realised collecting key information about the vineyard is vital so you can plan well ahead and get your timings just right. 

A good example of how it changed my thinking: I had an inkling for a while that flowering and harvest dates were very related but all the information was spread across so many different spreadsheets it was very difficult to compare year to year. With the Phenology Tool that has changed – I can immediately see there is an incredibly consistent relationship between flowering and harvest dates over many years, for each block. I now feel confident that on the day of 50% flowering I can pick up the phone to our contractor and let them know which week we will need a harvesting team – ensuring I’m booked in well ahead of time.”

We’re excited to see how the growing season progresses at Ridgeview, and how their key phenological dates continue to evolve year on year.
 
Read more about the Phenology Tool mentioned by Matt here.

Case Study: Successful vintner, Will Davenport, tells us how Sectormentor helps him harvest top quality grapes

Case Study: Successful vintner, Will Davenport, tells us how Sectormentor helps him harvest top quality grapes 1920 2560 Sectormentor

 

Every year Will found himself struggling to keep on top of everything he needed to know in the run up to harvest to ensure they got the best quality grapes:

“The ripening process is different every year and choosing picking dates can be crucial to wine quality. I was keeping data on spreadsheets to monitor ripeness in each block, a time consuming process that ended up with a mass of numbers and dates.”

That all changed once he started using the Sectormentor Ripeness Indicator:

“Thankfully that has all changed with Sectormentor’s Ripeness Indicator – trends in sugar and acid are shown clearly in graph format and previous years can be easily compared – it’s all in one place and updated as soon as new information comes in. Last Autumn it was immediately obvious that our sugar levels weren’t increasing whilst acidity levels were dropping in certain blocks – we knew it was going to rain all week, so we were able to quickly make the decision to pick sooner in those areas and avoid increased disease pressure.

Everyone on the team helped gather the data and decision making felt effortlessly responsive. The data is accessible to all the key staff in the winery and vineyard. I feel confident we harvested just at the right time producing higher quality grapes as a result.”

 

Reducing inputs: cover crops, mulching and biodiversity with Luke Spalding at Everflyht Vineyard

Reducing inputs: cover crops, mulching and biodiversity with Luke Spalding at Everflyht Vineyard 2000 1333 Sectormentor

Luke is running fascinating trials at Everflyht Vineyard, which we had the pleasure of seeing when we visited in August 2019. He sees the positive management of ecology as an investment in the long-term health of the vineyard. Improving soil carbon and biodiversity kick-starts natural cycles, building healthy soil which supports healthy vines, and healthy vines require fewer inputs. We love to see a vineyard working with nature in this way!

Reducing herbicides with under vine mulching
Luke is exploring an alternative weed control to herbicides; he hand weeded several rows in May and laid out straw under the vines as a mulch layer. The straw suppresses and smothers out weeds, as they are shielded from light and air. It’s working well, although there are a few drawbacks – the straw is expensive and it’s time consuming doing the initial weeding and laying it out. The straw they tried this year is specially formulated by Leeds University; it is infused with iron, magnesium and a natural slug repellent. One herbicide application is still required at the end or the beginning of the season, but this is a good reduction from the 2-3 applications in rows without straw mulch (which also have a healthy crop of thistles underneath!). Luke feels this method has great potential, particularly if the cost of straw can be reduced and if the weed burden gets lighter and lighter each year in the mulched rows as is predicted.

Mulching straw also benefits soil health under the vines, as it covers the soil which prevents soil moisture from evaporating (particularly useful if you’re in a drier, hotter climate). It provides a source of organic matter as it gradually decomposes, which stimulates and feeds the microbial community in the soil which in turn release nutrients for the vines to take up. Applying any herbicides or chemicals disrupts microbial activity, and so making an effort to reduce these inputs helps the natural cycles to start working with you. 

Encouraging biodiversity and soil health with cover crops
In between the rows Luke seed drilled a deep rooting cover crop of red clover, buckwheat, phacelia, cocksfoot grass and ryegrass. The phacelia sprung up tall, dramatically increasing the number of pollinators to the point where two bee hives have naturally formed on the outskirts of the vineyard in old rabbit warrens! The original seed mix only had 20% grasses but they turned out to be very vigorous growers, out competing nearly all the other plants in the mix. Luke mows the grass strips in between the vines every 2-3 weeks and the cuttings are discharged out from the sides of the mower and straight under the vines, creating a green mulch on the soil (and adding to the straw mulch where this is being trialled). Read this paper about floor management and how green mulch is can improve fruit set!

Although cocksfoot grass is great as the roots go down around 40cm Luke plans to reseed the cover crop mix in between the vines to regain the plant diversity he had before, adding red clover, phacelia and buckwheat back in. This is important for attracting beneficial insects and helps build soil health too. A diverse range of roots will stimulate the soil biology which generally improves soil structure. Deeper rooting plants in the cover crop mix are great for breaking up compacted areas of soil. A diverse and deep root system opens up new channels for water and air to percolate down through the soil profile and be stored for uptake by the vines in dryer periods and helps turn the subsoil from anaerobic to aerobic. This all helps to improve drainage, which has been a big challenge at the site. Luke’s diverse plantings don’t stop at in between the vines, he is using a similar cover crop mix to prepare a 4.5 hectare site to be planted up with vines in 2021. This invests in improving soil health, as legumes fix nitrogen and there is lots of root to soil interaction, sequestering carbon, getting all the great microbial and fungal life going before the new vines go in.

Reducing pesticides with buffer strips
Phacelia is abundant in buffer strips along the sides of the vineyard, which attracts a healthy population of pollinators and beneficial insects. At the moment Luke monitors the insects that pose a threat to his crop, but he’d like to monitor beneficial ones in the future too. Then he could see how the populations buffer each other, and if they are in balance.

Luke sets traps to catch one of the insects he would rather not have – the brown apple moth. If there are more than 14 moths in the trap in a month period he usually sprays the vines to reduce them and 11 has been the highest count so far. It’s great he hasn’t had to spray this season, which could be due to them being predated by bees, wasps and hoverflies attracted by the buffer strips. If you’re reading this and you manage a vineyard, have you also seen reduced brown apple moth pressure this year?

Using techniques to encourage plant and insect diversity, improve carbon sequestration and build soil health are all ways you can take a more regenerative approach to managing a vineyard. There are some fairly quick wins with implementing practises like cover crops and straw mulching, but for the most part they are part of a much longer term strategy. A strategy that builds up natural resilience in the vineyard to pest pressure, disease risks, and changing climate, while reducing the need for intervention with chemicals that disrupt nature from doing its thing!


Interesting in learning more about applying regenerative approaches in your vineyard? Read this case study about Johan Vineyards and/or get in touch with us.

Know your Vines #9: Record harvest weights and analyse yield performance with our Harvest Tool

Know your Vines #9: Record harvest weights and analyse yield performance with our Harvest Tool 4032 3024 Sectormentor

In our Know your Vines blog series we share practical tips on what metrics to monitor in your vineyard. This is the ninth instalment, stay tuned for more as the seasons unfold! “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.


I heard it through the grapevine, not much longer ‘til grapes turn to wine

As we enjoy the welcome Autumn sunshine the grapes are doing their last bit of ripening. Months of hard work in the vineyard and efforts to optimise yield and fruit quality culminate in this moment; harvest time! What will your yield be? Is it in line with your prediction? Monitoring the yield for each block will not only tell you how close your prediction is but also inform your pruning technique and how you care for the vines going into the next season.

How to monitor yield

The best way is to keep collection trays from different blocks separate when you’re harvesting, and weigh them separately, recording the total amount picked in each block each day in Sectormentor for Vines. This makes it possible to compare numbers for individual blocks, so you know how each one is doing, and can adopt relevant management actions.

Using the Harvest Tracker

The Harvest Tracker aims to be interesting both during and after harvest. During the harvest, as you record the amount picked per block each day you can see the total amount harvested and how that has progressed through the harvest season.

This gives you a simple overview of how the harvest team are getting on and how your yield is moving forward.

Looking at the amount picked for each block or variety lets you quickly see how much fruit was picked so far (during the harvest) or in total (after the harvest). This is useful both in real time as the harvest is coming in to understand how much has been picked and how much is left to pick in particular blocks, as well as after harvest to help understand the profitability of each block or variety.

The yield per hectare/acre lets you compare the productivity of each block and gives you an understanding of how each variety, rookstock and clone performed this year. You can quickly spot if there are any problem blocks and decide on actions to take for the next season.

Knowing your yield per unit area also allows you to benchmark yourself against other vineyards, and can often be a better indicator if it was a good or bad cropping year.

Once your harvest weights are recorded and harvest is all done you can sit back and reflect on it all. Which blocks performed well? How efficient was harvest this year? How many tonnes per hectare were picked? With the Harvest Tracker on Sectormentor for Vines you can answer all these questions.

Are you already using Sectormentor for Vines to monitor kilograms picked? Log into your account online to try our new Harvest Tool. You’ll find it in the ‘Tools’ section – let us know what you think!


Find out how Sectormentor for Vines helps you record data & manage your vines for the best quality grapes: get in touch here or check out 10 key metrics to monitor in your vineyard.

Case study: Luke Spalding – Everflyht Vineyard

Case study: Luke Spalding – Everflyht Vineyard 2000 1333 Sectormentor

Join us for a walk around a beautiful spot in East Sussex, a 2.6-hectare vineyard run by data lover Luke Spalding. The vines are fairly new, they’ve been in the ground for 4 years and will be producing at full potential in the next year or two. Another 4.5 hectares of vines are due to be planted in May 2021, and the aim is to consistently produce 6-8 tonnes of grapes a hectare in the future. Currently the wine is made at Hambledon, where Luke has built a great working relationship with Felix the winemaker there, the first wines will be released 2021.

The vineyard is 74m above sea level and the site has its challenges; such as extreme south west winds and severe late spring frosts due to its proximity to the South Downs. Luke told us “This is why I wanted the job, if I can deal with these challenges and learn to produce a great crop then I know I am doing something right!”.

The field was previously used for grazing livestock and hay making, so the soil is rich in nitrogen but has an imbalance of magnesium and potassium. This is a blessing and a curse in the Pinot Meunier variety; as it saves on some fertilisers but creates other problems with necrosis on the berries and buds.

Luke spends a lot of time scouting in the vineyard for issues, making observations and recording them with his Sectormentor for Vines phone app. His passion for data started when he was at Ridgeview Wine Estate; he helped monitor links between the number of seeds in a berry, berry size and climatic values that increased berry size and development. In a Californian grape grown to maturity the average is three to four seeds per grape, but how many seeds do English grapes generally have? Luke decided to sample 250 berries across every block in the vineyard, counting seeds to calculate the average seed count per berry for each block, observing how well the fruit had matured. He found there are often only 2 seeds on average in an English grape, a sign the grapes do not fertilise as well as those across the pond. This is because we just don’t have enough sunny growing days over here!

Pre veraison Luke and his assistant Tom recorded bunch counts with the Sectormentor for Vines app to start making an early yield prediction and decide if they need to remove any bunches from the vines to optimise yield and grape quality. They checked the bunch count data displayed by block on their Sectormentor for Vines account and decided to take off quite a few bunches post flowering, which are left on the ground to return fertility to the soil.

Once grapes have been thinned out they will go through and count bunches again to understand how many were actually dropped and update their yield prediction. All this data can be put into the Sectormentor for Vines app so they can observe and understand trends in how their bunch counts are evolving and what their yield might be.

Post veraison, berries grow rapidly in size, generally due to Autumn sunshine causing sugar to build up in the grapes. Luke monitors berry weight to see the impact from different weather patterns and other variables. As it turns out, hot and sunny weather during the growing season is not necessarily what causes dramatic increases in berry size; it is actually a heavy rainfall event in the run up to harvest which makes a huge difference!

We got the low down from Luke: “If you have 10 bunches per vine and each one increases by 10g due to rain, each Ha has 4,132 vines and the site has 10ha that’s an extra 4,132kg. It all adds up!”

As Everflyht is a new vineyard, there are some younger vines which aren’t yielding yet. Luke monitors younger vines, along with dead and missing vines, so he can take them out of his yield prediction, ensuring it is accurate. Luke also keeps track of frost damage and wind scorch by recording incidences on Sectormentor for Vines, so he’s able to stay on top of the problems and make any necessary management changes. He sprays seaweed straight onto frost damaged buds within 24 hours – this does an amazing job helping them recover! He’s also trying a biodynamic treatment of silica to help with wind scorch. This improves cell walls and leaf thickness to make the vines more resilient to the prevailing wind, as well as powdery mildew.

“I use Sectormentor for Vines as a Barometer of how the vine has developed, how many buds have burst, how many shoots do I have, how many clusters do I have and what do we need to drop. That information tells me if I have a problem like necrosis, if I have to shoot thin or if I need do a green harvest.” – Luke Spalding, Everflyht Vineyard

By monitoring bud counts, shoot counts and cluster counts with Sectormentor for Vines, Luke gets a good idea for how the vines are doing and if there are any issues. For example, if he does a bud count and then a shoot count, and finds only 60% of the buds have shoots, he knows there is a problem with necrosis or blind buds and can make a decision on how to manage this in the future. 

Growing degree days for a season also provide helpful and informative data for Luke; from several years of monitoring he has found anything higher than -70 GDD in March means bud burst will happen in the first week of April. As Luke points out, “In a cooler climate where everything is so marginal this type of data is really important and can make a huge difference to successful vineyard management.”

We’re excited to continue following Luke’s journey; if you’d like to hear more about what he is up to read this blog post on trialling cover crops, mulching and biodiversity at Everflyht Vineyard.

Chalk House Vineyard

Know your Vines #8: See patterns in how your grapes are ripening & predict your harvest date earlier

Know your Vines #8: See patterns in how your grapes are ripening & predict your harvest date earlier 2000 1333 Sectormentor

In our Know your Vines blog series we share practical tips on what metrics to monitor in your vineyard. This is the eighth instalment, stay tuned for more as the seasons unfold! “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.


Monitor grape sugar and acidity to get the balance just right – all made easier with our Grape Ripeness Indicator Tool

As we get closer to harvest, life is getting sweeter for grapes! They are beginning to ripen, which means sugars are generally increasing whilst acidity is dropping. Many vineyards monitor sugar and acidity levels as harvest approaches to help them decide when to start picking. Of course, this is not purely a science, as we are looking to make delicious wine, so tasting the grapes is a key part of the equation. It’s the combination of the art of taste, and the science of sugar and acidity levels that helps ensure you have a smooth well-timed harvest for each block in the vineyard.

Vines at Rathfinny Vineyard

Monitoring sugar and acidity levels
Post veraison, vineyard managers/winemakers regularly monitor the sugar and acidity levels of grapes across the vineyard. A refractometer is used to measure grape sugar, giving a Brix or Oechsle reading. Titratable acid, the total acid content in grape juice, is important for balancing a wine and is measured by neutralising the grape juice with an alkaline solution. It’s important to take a representative sample of grapes when measuring these and to use the same juice for both tests to get a real understanding of the sugar to acid ratio.

These are two of the ten key metrics to monitor in the vineyard. Sectormentor for Vines makes it quick and easy to record all this information and share it with the vineyard and winemaking team so they can see what is happening with the grapes.

Chalk House Vineyard

Veraison at Chalk House Vineyard

Using the Sectormentor Grape Ripeness Indicator Tool
When you record sugar and acidity readings using Sectormentor for Vines, we automatically plot them on a graph. This makes it easy to see how the ripening is progressing, as it’s not always linear. Weather events have a big impact on ripening and it is helpful to see this displayed graphically.

Davenport Vineyards sugar and acidity levels for different varieties in 2018

Every block with a different variety, clone and rootstock behaves differently, so with this data you may start to see patterns and relationships between blocks. In the graph above you can see how the sugar and acidity levels vary for each variety, and the difference in how quickly each one ripens. Will, at Davenport Vineyards, can use this information to plan when to harvest each variety and the graph is easy to share with his team.

Davenport Vineyards comparison of sugar and acidity levels year on year for a single variety

By comparing ripeness data year on year for the same block it’s possible to identify patterns particular to each block. How long does ripening tend to take for this block? Is this year similar to 2016? Comparing to other similar years will also help you predict harvest dates based on the ripening trajectory.

Are you already using Sectormentor for Vines to monitor sugar and acidity? Log into your Sectormentor account online to try our updated Grape Ripeness Indicator. You’ll find it in the ‘Tools’ section – let us know what you think!


Find out how Sectormentor for Vines helps you record data & manage your vines for the best quality grapes: get in touch here or check out 10 key metrics to monitor in your vineyard.

Case Study: Dan Rinke & Ian Nelson – Johan Vineyards

Case Study: Dan Rinke & Ian Nelson – Johan Vineyards 4032 3024 Sectormentor

Acclaimed vintner, Dan Rinke, tells us how he uses the Vine Health Indicator to manage his 90 acre biodynamic vineyard:

“I know if my cane weights are lighter I need to apply heavier compost, or run animals in that part of the vineyard to get the biology and nutrition cycling better. Now I’m using Sectormentor it’s very quick to compare how they change year on year and it’s immediately visualised which makes it easy for me to make the best decisions for the long term health of the vines.”

Dan Rinke, Johan Vineyards, USA

Johan Vineyards is owned by Dag Johan Sundby, a Norwegian immigrant who headed to the Williamette Valley, Oregon, USA in 2004 to establish the 85 acre Johan estate vineyard. In 2007 Dan Rinke became vineyard manager there, and under Dan’s direction, within 3 years the vineyard became biodynamically certified. It is an exceptionally beautiful spot in the Van Duzer Corridor AVA – plentiful hot days and very cool nights thanks to the winds coming through the corridor from the coast.

Being a biodynamic vineyard they have 30 acres set aside as a biodiversity preserve, which includes majestic virgin oak savannah and biologically active riparian zones, plus beautiful lakes and ponds. The air is alive with birds and butterflies. As it says on Johan Vineyard’s website, “Steiner outlined a unified approach to agriculture that relates the ecology of the earth-organism to that of the entire cosmos. Much like Steiner, we see our vineyard as an individual organism that will eventually showcase its own identity through the fruit it develops.”

Dan is a hugely inspiring farmer, he has a clear understanding of the ‘why’ behind everything and is able to marry the somewhat esoteric recommendations of biodynamics and explain it as practical grounded insights. Ian Nelson, their budding new vineyard manager, has been working with Dan for the last 8 months and is now doing much of the viticultural management on a day-to-day basis. They are continually experimenting with different techniques and practices to build a more resilient and ecological vineyard, they showed us three of their current trials which we wanted to share far and wide!

1..At Johan they practice minimal soil disturbance to enable the fungal networks to prosper and retain as much carbon in the soils as well. This means all the rows have a healthy cover of grasses and herbal mixes, though they do still do undervine cultivation to keep weeds under control there. In order to experiment with cover crops between rows, they have planted different pollinator mixes. As Dan explains, “We did the flowering reseeding annual/perennial mix in the tasting room block to increase the diversity of cover crops used in the vineyard and to add more forage for native pollinators.”

2..They cut out old wood last winter from the surrounding hedgerows and have turned them into woodchip piles, located at different sites around the vineyard. The aim of the piles is to foster more fungal diversity in the vineyard – all based on the principle that greater diversity will keep any problematic fungi in check and not allow fungal disease to set it.

3..The third experiment is planting elderberry in place of dead vines in an area with particular difficulty. The elderberry is able to form both ecto and endo-mycorrhizal associations – Dan explains exactly why this is important, “We are interplanting with elderberry (we also plan to plant some shrubby native willows this fall) because they have associations with both Endomycorrhiza and Ectomycorrhizas. Endomycorrhiza is the type of mycorrhiza that grape vines have an association with, but Ectomycorrhizas are what have been proven to work like a network – sharing minerals, nutrients, water, carbon and plant hormones between different plant species. So the plants with dual species associations, such as elderberry and willows, are what I call “hub species”. Think of the airline maps with some major airports being the hubs. It’s nice to fly direct to your destination but sometimes you have to fly to a hub airport to get to the final destination, this is just more efficient for the airline companies. The same is true for sharing needed nutrients in an ecological system. The hub species make it possible to link the two networks together.”

One of the reasons Dan started using Sectormentor at Johan is because he is transitioning out of doing some of the day-to-day vineyard management as Ian takes it on and using Sectormentor makes things quicker and easier for both of them. Ian nips around the vineyard on his little quad bike using the map on the Sectormentor app to take him to the different sample sites or blocks he needs to visit that day (Ian is still learning the vineyard, so the map is super helpful as he zips from clone to clone!)

Johan is planted with a number of different varietal-clone combinations on small 1-2 acre plots. These management blocks are used to ensure that each part of the vineyard is well cared for and they know exactly what is going on. We have seen time and time again, that vineyards that focus on smaller management blocks are more successful in farming ecologically and profitably.

When it comes to yield predictions and management decisions, Johan have a strong focus on data to help them make informed management decisions. Ian is relatively new to the vineyard but thanks to Sectormentor he can easily see the variety, clone, rootstock of each location. Once Ian has gone out and done the % flowering, or cluster count etc at each site, that data is all immediately available on Sectormentor so Dan and Ian can check in back at the office and see how the different blocks are progressing, as well as update initial yield predictions and harvest dates. For Dan the biggest advantage of Sectormentor is that he can easily visualise changes year on year – such as visualising the changes in cane weights and number of short shoots in different blocks – he told us that in his experience that information is key to making the best management decisions.

In the early days of Johan a few plots of the vineyard were leased out — but they will finally come back into Johan management next year. Dan and Ian are very excited to have the final plot of vines coming back into management by Johan themselves. This plot has been managed chemically for years – Dan will immediately start transitioning it to a biodynamic plot but it inevitably takes some time as the soil must recover and become truly alive once again. The team are very keen to see and document how the soil does change through this transition, so Dan and Ian will use some of the key soil health tests – VESS, slake, invertebrate counts, infiltration rate to track how alive the soil is and how it evolves.

When we visited we were lucky enough to be taken on a tasting journey through all of their wines, with winemaker Morgan – my oh my, if you ever get the chance to try a Johan Wine you are in for a treat. All that hard work in the vineyard definitely pays off, the wines are beautiful, natural wines that reflect the beauty of the complex, increasingly diverse ecosystem from which they have sprung

We’re excited to keep learning about regenerative vineyard management with Johan Vineyards!

If Sectormentor for Vines sounds interesting to you do get in touch here.

Know your vines #7: How to optimise your yield prediction and the power of the Yield Predictor Tool – PART 2

Know your vines #7: How to optimise your yield prediction and the power of the Yield Predictor Tool – PART 2 5184 3456 Sectormentor

In our Know your Vines blog series we share practical tips on what metrics to monitor in your vineyard. This is the seventh instalment, stay tuned for more as the seasons unfold! “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.


Use bunch weights at lag phase and veraison to optimise yield prediction

In part 1 we looked at optimising your yield prediction by getting accurate bunch counts. As we move through the season there is more information available to us, allowing for our yield predictions to be optimised even further. Part 2 of yield optimisation starts with weighing actual bunches in lag phase, or at veraison, and then again at regular intervals in the run up to harvest. Last-minute losses due to disease can also be taken into account at this stage. Many thanks to Luke Spalding at Chalk House Vineyard for sharing his tips and tricks for getting a good yield prediction.

Third prediction: Weigh bunches at lag phase or veraison
For the next step of your yield prediction it is time to start weighing your bunches! This can be done at lag phase, or veraison. Weighing bunches at this stage you get a better idea of what the bunch weight will be for each varietal this year. Theoretically lag phase is about 55 days after 50% flowering*. In fact, this is one reason why recording 50% flowering is important – so you can identify when lag phase will happen.

*This is based on studies done with Pinot Noir in Oregon State. In more variable cool climates, like the UK, due to the stop-start growing season impacting both flowering and grape berry development stage II (lag phase), the number of days can vary much more (It’s important to always be observing!).

The lag phase prediction method is often thought to be the most accurate when done correctly, however as Chalk House vineyard manager Luke Spalding explained, “For many people the best time to start weighing bunches is veraison – it’s easy to see when that is, so you don’t have to worry about counting the number of days since 50% flowering for each varietal. The issue is that for some vineyards, waiting until veraison is too late, they need to be able to get a more accurate yield prediction as early as possible.”

Whether you choose to start measuring actual bunch weights at lag phase or veraison, the method is very similar. You need to go out and randomly select as many bunches as is reasonable from each block (Luke recommends 15-25 bunches per 1000 vines for smaller vineyards). We have seen a number of different methods used by different vineyard managers to select random bunches in a bay. Two options are:

  1. Select a mix of 1st, 2nd (and 3rd bunches if you have them)
  2. Select every other bunch in one random bay

Once you have selected your bunches from the block, you are now ready to weigh your bunches. You just need an average bunch weight, so if you know how many bunches you picked, then you can weigh them all together and divide the total weight by the number picked to get the average.

Use the bunch weight multiplier

Yield prediction calculation using bunch weights and multiplier

The rule of thumb is that in a ‘normal’ year, your bunches will increase in weight by a factor of 1.65-1.9. We call that number the weight multiplier.  The multiplier differs for lag phase and veraison.

At this point you start to really optimise your yield prediction to be much more accurate. This is the first time you have got a real idea of the bunch weights for this year. Go to the yield predictor tool, enter in the average bunch weights for each block, and adapt the multiplier to ~1.65 for veraison weights, or ~1.8 for lag phase weights. Of course getting the multiplier right is key, which is why it’s important to measure bunch weights at lag/veraison each year, and then again at harvest. This allows you to understand the weight multiplier for each of your varietals/clones. If you don’t have any previous data then using a weight multiplier of around 1.65 (veraison) or 1.8 (lag phase) initially is a good place to start.

Optimising yield prediction year on year
With the yield predictor tool you can now compare how this prediction compares to your previous prediction, and you can easily see the total predicted weight for the vineyard as well as the predicted yield for each block. In the previous prediction you were using average weights, now you are using actual weights from this year with a multiplier – does it look too high or too low? If things are looking exceedingly good this year, then maybe do another yield prediction with a weight multiplier of 2 – for example the harvest of 2019 in the UK people were seeing weight multipliers of 2 or more from veraison to harvest, but that was of course a very unusually prolific year. Also there can be considerable variation between different varietals when it comes to the weight multiplier, so if you do have past years data then it’s best to customise the weight multipliers for each block based on the history at your site.

Fourth prediction: Include last minute losses due to disease/pest pressures

Yield prediction calculation including potential loss from Botrytis

To see how things are progressing you can go out and weigh more bunches 4 weeks after veraison. How have the bunches developed? How much bigger will they get by harvest?

Of course there can be unforeseen issues with disease pressure in the final weeks. This is easily accounted for in the yield predictor by adding in what % of the crop you have lost due to the problem. This will update your yield prediction estimates in the final stages of your yield prediction journey.

Weigh bunches at harvest
It is key to measure the average bunch weight at harvest and enter that into Sectormentor too. You can either go and pick random bunches on the morning of harvesting a particular block, or you can harvest the sample bays from each block before harvesting the rest of each block (you have already counted the number of bunches for sample bays so you can easily work out the average bunch weight by weighing all the bunches that are harvested from that bay).

This number of average bunch weight at harvest is vital so that in future years you can figure out what the actual veraison-harvest weight multiplier is for each block in your vineyard. It also helps to get a very good idea of your average harvest bunch weight for a particular block over many years, so that those early predictions that rely on this weight become more and more accurate.

It’s an art and a science..
Yield estimation is a real art. The more in tune you are with your vineyard and the more you know your vines, the easier it will become – if you are consistently getting within 15% of the actual yield then that is considered good in cool climates. However, if you are very committed and refine the details, meticulously measuring bunch weights at lag/veraison and harvest each year, getting clear on your weight multipliers for each block, then many vineyard managers believe you should be able to get within 5% accuracy every time.

Check out 10 key metrics to monitor in your vineyard and find out how our app Sectormentor for Vines helps you record data & manage your vines for the best quality grapes