An English Vineyard located in the Cotswolds Little Oak Vineyard
Little Oak Logo

March 30th 2014

Its an exciting time of year, much work has been going on in the vineyard, during the last three months a lot of last years growth as been pruned in readiness for the new growth of 2014. Some vines still need pruning but that’s happening over the next few days.

Pruning is a tough task, not only do the vines have to be pruned but they also need carefully training along the support wires to make sure that as the vines develop they form the optimum shape for maximum grape production with minimum disease, in successive years (as the vineyard develops) this task will become easier, but with a young vineyard it requires a lot of work. If they are not right at this stage it will make for lots more work later in the year to ensure that the leaf canopy does not get to be too thick to shield the grapes from the ripening sun and the air movement afforded by the wind which helps minimize botrytis and mildew.

The frost control system has been checked and prepared in readiness for the time window when the vines are at their most vulnerable, that is during the next six weeks or so, when the new growth starts and frosts are still a possibility.

The individual leaf buds are beginning to get bigger so hopefully the sight of the first  leaves of 2014 is not far away.

Yesterday the frost system was switched on to check that the pump was working, that the filters were clean and the flipper heads were working.

Plans have been made to service the tractor this week and to make sure its ready for the years work ahead.

Some of the vertical posts that support the vines have rotted and its planned to replace those whilst the ground is still soft.

End of Season 2014 (Nov 2014)

My apologies for the lack of updates since March, this year has been very busy. A late (but relatively mild) frost proved the success of the frost prevention system, It was a pleasing sight to see that the system had activated early one morning (at present the system only covers the original vines), The protected vines were free of frost, the others were coated with frost.

Fortunately the frost was not severe, and the damage to the unprotected vines was minimal. Had the frost been as severe as the one that previously devastated the vineyard, then its certain that the recovery of the unprotected vines would not have been as good as what it has been.

The protected vines grew extremely vigorously, and required very aggressive pruning, the other vines did eventually pick up, and also required (later in the season) aggressive pruning. The frost seemed to delay development for a few weeks in the unprotected vines, one must wonder if this was a contributory factor in the eventual yield of the vineyard being similar to the 2013 yield, rather than much more, as would have been expected in what has been a very good growing season.

However, the actual grapes harvested were a better quality than the 2013 crop (which was still good quality grapes, its just that the grapes harvested in 2014 are even better) The 2014 acid figure at harvest was around 9.2 (it had been 9.7 - but a weeks rain dropped the figure) with sugar figures in the high 60's. Its anticipated that this years wine will be very, very good.

It is a sad fact that British vineyards do not enjoy the higher temperatures of continental vineyards. Mildew thrives in temperatures of 16 - 25c, botrytis thrives in temperatures of between 15 - 21c, with the optimum temperature for botrytis development being 20.8c. Prolonged temperatures above 28c stop development of both botrytis and mildew. Unfortunately, as we all know British summer temperatures are typically around the optimum for both botrytis and mildew development, meaning that cultivation of vines / grapes in the UK is extremely difficult without any chemical intervention. The secret would seem to be finding the chemicals that work best with the least spraying possible.

Wikipedia describes powdery mildew very well:

(From Wikipedia)

“Powdery mildew is a fungal disease that affects a wide range of plants. Powdery mildew diseases are caused by many different species of fungi in the order Erysiphales. It is one of the easier diseases to spot, as its symptoms are quite distinctive. Infected plants display white powdery spots on the leaves and stems. The lower leaves are the most affected, but the mildew can appear on any above-ground part of the plant. As the disease progresses, the spots get larger and denser as large numbers of asexual spores are formed, and the mildew may spread up and down the length of the plant. Powdery mildew grows well in environments with high humidity and moderate temperatures.[1] In an agricultural setting, the pathogen can be controlled using chemical methods, genetic resistance, and careful farming methods. It is important to be aware of powdery mildew and its management as the resulting disease can significantly reduce crop yields”

The other problem in an English vineyard is Botrytis

A spray regime has now been developed at Little Oak Vineyard, that has kept the Mildew and Botrytis at bay with a minimum of spraying. The Mildew seems to have not developed any resistance to the “Amistar Tops“chemical preventative which we use, unlike the wide spread reports by other vineyards of the disease becoming very resistant to other chemical treatments

The Botrytis seems to respond well to the three chemicals used in rotation to help prevent any disease resistance buildup.

The ongoing issue of rotten posts has taken a lot of work this year, a sleeved system has been tried on the new wooden posts (that works by protecting at ground level (where the posts rot) the wooden post by encasing it in a bitumen lined sleeve, which will hopefully extend the post life beyond the 5 - 8 year life max that we now see for a support post. We are also going to trial some metal posts to hopefully further reduce the annual amount of work needed on the infrastructure  of the vineyard.

The post rot is obviously exasperated by the increased weight of the vines as the vines become more mature.

With the harvest finished it was a lovely site to drive towards the vineyard and see all of the leaves turning into a fantastic sea of autumn colour.