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  • Writer's pictureJames-Paul Marin

Creating a vineyard from scratch....

Updated: Jun 8, 2022

Instalment 11: Lots of progress has been made and the vineyard is now split 60% Shiraz and 40% Chardonnay.

The vineyard portions (blocks) were split based on soil depth and water holding capacity. Chardonnay on the shallower (top of the hill) soil and the Shiraz positioned on the middle and bottom sections of the hill. The Chardonnay is in the foreground and I am planning to make a traditional 'old-school Chardy' - rich cool climate golden fruit flavour and fermented in new French oak (lots of it). It will be a buttery white that tastes like the Chardies your mother used to drink, but better ;)

In the background is the Shiraz block, the wine will take the name Syrah to reflect the cooler climate and expected flavour profile / style. I will be looking to make a lower alcohol, somewhat lighter tannins (medium bodied wine) with flavours of pepper rather than ripe jammy fruits. It is the inverse to what I typically produce out of the hotter McLaren Vale wine region so things may get interesting!

Installment 10: I am often asked do vines need irrigation/watering? My general answer is no. Established grape vines are very drought tolerant compared to many fruiting crops. However the vines might not fruit in drought conditions, so the ability to regularly water a vineyard is important in Australia due to the harsh conditions we can face. Irrigation keeps a vineyard economical during long dry spells. A young (new planting) vineyard requires watering every day, hence the km's of irrigation I will be running over the next few days. I do hope to switch the vineyard to dry land farming (relying on rain alone). 'Dry farming' is environmentally responsible, and proponents (like myself) suggest it yields more intensely flavored grapes, hence better quality wine.

Instalment 9: The vines are in (yay) but...the hardest job comes next - putting the vine guards in place. The reason is it is soooo hard after planting 400 vines by hand. Putting vine guards on is tedious and simply unsexy when exhausted. It's at about this point that you want to yell "I am not having fun anymore!"

However, vine guards are the best insurance policy against pests (like kangaroos), the wild winds from the west in spring and hail stones. The beauty of guards is they encourage vertical shoot by limiting horizontal vine growth and decreasing the need to replant any missed (failed) vines exponentially next year. A necessary evil some might say..

I hope you're enjoying our 'blow by blow' account of planting a vineyard from scratch. Keep an eye out for our next instalment coming shortly.

Instalment 8: The rows are 2.25m apart (relatively narrow) with the posts at 4.5m intervals with three vines planted between each post. The vines are being planted close together (1.5m apart) and this creates what is called a 'medium density planting' and it is vital for producing quality fruit. This higher density creates competition amongst neighbouring vines, which limits vigour and increases the fruit quality (over yield). I seem to recall some sage advice once shared with me - competition does exist between vines, but not at a rate that will turn a high-vigour site into an appropriate location for a meter-by-meter system. The result was not pushing the planting density to the extreme in the vineyard despite the narrow block size.

The other benefit is that it has greater efficiency of land use and I am able to produce more wine per acre. This is especially important when you can't afford to buy anymore land!

Enjoy your weekend and I'll back soon with the next instalment.

Instalment 7: Ready for the next instalment on establishing the vineyard from scratch?

After two hard weeks, the 100 odd posts are in and I am five kilos lighter. In my previous post I mentioned the high vigour site issue, in addition to this, the site's climate is also challenging with high summer rainfall and humidity (meaning disease pressures).

I will be tackling this by utilising a trellising system called VSP (vertical shoot positioning) which is beneficial for cool climates. The vine's shoots are positioned vertically (straight up) allowing wind and light to penetrate deep into the canopy. This trellis system will allow the wind to dry out the canopy (as we've got some strong winds in the Shoalhaven!) and in turn decrease the internal humidity within the canopy. The extra light into the middle of the canopy will assist with ripening the fruit earlier, allowing me to pick earlier to get the fruit off the vine and into the winery and avoid any potential late summer rain.

Well that's the plan but we all know about best laid plans...especially when it comes to mother nature. Just look at the turmoil she has created in the Clare Valley this week with frost and hailstorms!

Stay tuned for all the fun!

Instalment 6: The good news is that the vines have finally arrived from Yalumba Nursery! The bad news is I have realised I am behind schedule and I need to bring forward planting the vines. On a side note, as the clonal / rootstock selections that I have made combined with the Shoalhaven Wine Region being 'up and coming' and novel, the vineyard development will be covered in the industry publication Grape Grower & Winemaker Magazine. Yay!

Instalment 5: As promised here is our post on vineyard planting stage 3. We have our first set back. These Milton soils are notorious for having large rocks and boulders near the surface. So it’s back to the excavator to dig out the rocks. I decided to use all the rocks and boulders to build the stone wall instead!

Instalment 4: We've been busy working on the new vineyard and the soil sampling has finally come back. My vineyard has been labelled highly fertile. This is not surprising and not ideal! Highly fertile vineyard sites are referred to as high vigour sites due to their unintended consequence of creating excessive vegetative growth in vines (very long shoots) which in turn suppresses fruit yield and development.

I plan to tackle the high vigour problem by primarily utilising grafted vines. A grafted vine is two different vines spliced together, the rootstock (bottom - roots and trunk) is spliced with the scion (top - arm, buds and leaves). So I will be utilising the rootstock's influence on the scion to control vine vigour. Rootstocks take up water and nutrients from the soil and provide them to the scion. Choosing a low vigour rootstock, will restrict the flow of nutrients and water to the scion controlling the vine's vigour and fruiting attributes.

I admire the work of Nick Dry from Yalumba and the AWRI (Australian Wine Research Institute) and have found some suitable and exciting combinations that suit my vineyard development site. 400 grafted rootlings have been sourced from Yalumba Nursery in South Australia and will be planted shortly.

Instalment 3: The second step in developing a vineyard from scratch is digging a hole and doing soil testing! I have been studying Milton’s highly fertile soils and to negate the high fertility I will be selecting low vigour varieties. This will help to offset the naturally high vigour produced in vines planted on fertile soils. Many a hole was dug!

Instalment 2: …… and it starts with slashing the paddock. A vineyard development from the ground up. Even at earliest stages, this presents a fork in the road. Just exactly how much slashing should I complete, what depth of mulch do I want to produce, how much ground cover should I leave, if any?

Instalment 1: As we roll out of winter and into spring, the plans for the new vineyard are proceeding rapidly. Located at Milton on the NSW south coast it is located in the Shoalhaven wine region. As I develop the vineyard from scratch and by hand follow me to get a feel for the steps involved.

Cheers, JP.

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