Monday, November 29, 2004

November Vineyard Update

Weather conditions have been perfect for vine growth. The pattern seems to be a day of rain followed up by a week of sunshine. Sub soil moisture is now at optimum level. Weeds in the interrows have been successfully sprayed off. There has been no evidence of disease or insect attack. The antifungal spray program against powdery and downy mildew continues on an 8 -14 day cycle depending on the intensity of rain events.

Cabernet Sauvignon in November
The Cabernet Sauvignon is in flower. Each individual flower loses its “cap”, which, unusually, are the flower petals joined at the top. Because domesticated grapevines have perfect flowers ie. they contain both male and female parts, five stamens and a pistil are exposed. This enables grapevines to be self-pollinating. The stamens contain the pollen and the pistil contains the ovary.

Cabernet Sauvignon in Flower
Pollination usually occurs by wind distribution together with some help of insects. Heavy wind conditions and rain hinder pollination however. It will be some time until we know how many of the flowers have been successfully fertilised and what the resultant level of fruit set will be. This will then determine the size of the bunches. Each flower represents one potential grape berry.
It will be soon be time to spray the vines, or more specifically the newly forming bunches against the fungal disease, botrytis (grey mould). This is done at 80% capfall (and again before bunch closure). The spores of this particular fungus lodge within the inflorescences and can lie dormant until bunches are well developed before conditions encourage mould growth. Then it is too late to spray.

New Semillon Block in November
The new Semillon continues to grow well. Many of the vines are reaching the stage when the main vertical shoot needs to be cut (topped) to promote the growth of two upper lateral shoots that will eventually become the permanent arms (cordon) of the vine. The vine is cut through a node just above or below the cordon wire. Then it is attached by string from this cut node to a foliage wire in a continued effort to keep the developing trunk straight.

Semillon Grown to Foliage Wire
All but the top 2 laterals are then removed. Due to the apical dominance of grapevines, these two laterals will begin to grow quite vigorously and will be eventually trained along the cordon wire. It is important that these two shoots are between 10cm and 15cm below the cordon wire so that the angle between the trunk and the cordon is sufficient to provide strength for the arms to support the weight of shoots and fruit in the coming years.

Semillon "Topped" and Tied
The Tempranillo is disappointingly slow in growth. Despite the good conditions and the application of nitrogen fertiliser only a few have reached the top of the vineguards. It is possible that two years of drought and their resultant longer than normal stay in the seedbed has negatively affected them. It is a matter of wait and see.
The same cannot be said for the Pinot Noir. After a slow start many of the vines are at the top of the vineguards and it may be time to think about a wallaby fence to protect them.
In the meantime I have been in the process of buying a new car. Instead of running around dealers trying to get the “best” deal, I used a broker via the internet for the first time. It appears that I have saved about $A3000 off the recommended retail price by doing this. The Subaru Forester, red of course, will be ready for delivery sometime this week.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Creating a New Vineyard from Scratch

Friends of ours have purchased an old dairy farm near the historic town of Milton.
Of the 72ha (180acres), 4ha (10acres) will be initially set aside for grapes. There will be four separate blocks in various parts of the property to take advantage of the best aspect, slope, soil and microclimate for grape growing.
The varieties selected include Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Voignier, Verdelho, Arneis, Cabernet Franc and Gamay.
The first step in developing a vineyard, after site selection, is deciding on row length, spacing, and orientation as well as headland dimensions and positioning of access roads and drainage systems. Then it is a matter of marking out the rows, spraying off the grass cover with a herbicide and cultivating by ripping, discing and rotary hoeing.

Cultivated Rows
This is also the time that the soil can be ameliorated (eg. lime) and nutrients (N, P, K etc.) added according to the results of previous soil tests. Generally a pre-emergent herbicide is incorporated in the prepared soil during the last of these operations. This prevents weeds competing with the new vines for nutrients and moisture.
Then the end assemblies for the trellises are installed along with the intermediate posts. This involves accurate marking then mechanically driving the posts a minimum of a metre (3ft) into the ground.

"Sharpened" End Posts Ready for Driving
The end assemblies have to take quite a deal of strain once the wires are installed and tightened and the grapevines are growing on them. There are many designs of end assemblies that perform successfully. In our case, wooden end posts of a larger diameter than the intermediate posts have been used and are supported by a strut that is chocked by the first intermediate post in the row.

Driving the Posts
A properly designed and installed end post reduces the instance of breakage and pull out. CCA treated pine posts have been selected for this vineyard. They are strong as well as being rot and termite resistant.

Completed End Assemblies
We have become involved with planting. At a row spacing of 2.2m and a vine spacing of 1.2m, this involves a total of approximately 15000 vines for the vineyard.
The new vines are delivered as one-year-old bare rooted rootlings that have been kept in cold storage to prevent them shooting or banded vines which are already growing in degradable pots. The former have to be removed from cold storage and hydrated for 24 hours before planting while the latter is gradually exposed to their new environment on delivery and kept well watered.
In the vineyard, the position of each individual vine has to be marked ie. at the correct spacing directly under where the cordon wire will eventually be. This is done with a line and a spray can of marking paint. Then a hole is dug at a spade’s width and depth.
The rootling or a banded vine is placed in the hole, covered with soil and firmed down.

The final step in the process is watering. This will settle the earth around the roots and prevent them from drying out. Each new vine should receive 3-5L.
We have found that a team of one marker (who becomes a planter/waterer after that job is finished), two diggers, one planter and one waterer can get around 600 vines into the ground in a day.
15000 divided by 600 equals……………….. too much work to contemplate.

It’s hot work under the blazing summer sun but there is a sense of achievement when at the end of the day you look back along the rows at the “sticks” that will eventually burst into leaf and grow into the walls of green.
And you get to touch up your suntan as well.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004


A weed is a plant growing where you don’t want it. In many cases, somebody’s weed is another’s botanical specimen.
The recent rain has brought a burst of weed growth on the farm. There are two categories, vineyard row weeds and pasture weeds. You cannot leave them uncontrolled. They need to be dealt with before they seed. As the old saying goes “one years seeds is seven years weeds”.
Vineyard row weeds are a diverse collection of plants that grow easily in the rows as these are kept bare soil most of the growing season and wind blown seeds lodge there in autumn to germinate the following spring. They are easily disposed of spraying with a systemic herbicide like glyphosate (Roundup® or a cheaper generic). Care must be taken not to let any over-spray get to the green parts of the growing vines as this chemical is non specific and will kill or severely retard most anything it settles on. I use an upside down plastic bucket slotted over the spray head to stop drift.
Pasture weeds are usually endemic to the region and are spread by seed, rhizomes or by suckering. The very low grass cover at the end of winter aids germination of the first type.
The main problem in this area is the native poa tussock. It grows into huge clumps that the cattle won’t eat, retards grass growth and eventually will take over a pasture if not controlled. It is also a great harbour for rabbits and their burrows and warrens.

Poa Tussock
I spray each individual tussock with glyphosate using a conical nozzle on the sprayer to limit over-spray. This took considerable time initially, over a year, to reduce the huge numbers over the 10.5ha (25acres). However, since these first treatments killed off the vast majority of the plants, seed production and hence new growth have been considerably reduced. Annual follow up before seeding (early summer) is purely a maintenance task.
Another problem weed germinating from wind blown seed is the thistle. It usually grows in the bare soil that results from tussock treatment. Despite its pretty purple flower, it has very prickly foliage and can grow to over a metre in height. It seeds prolifically and will spread quite rapidly making wide tracts of pasture unproductive. It can be controlled by physically removing it by hoeing or by herbicide spray.

Scotch Thistle
Bracken fern is a native plant that grows in open pasture and under light tree cover. It can be toxic to animals and reduces pasture growth by competing for light, nutrients and moisture. It can also take over large tracts of land. It grows from an extensive network of underground rhizomes. While winter frosts kill old annual growth, new ferns appear in great numbers early in spring. To kill this plant it is necessary to use a bracken specific chemical that is systemic and translocates into the rhizomes.

Bracken Fern
Brushoff® is such a product and has worked well on the farm. It took months of spraying the mature bracken to get control and now annual maintenance is all that is needed.
Blackberries are an imported curse. They spread from seed dropped by birds and from horizontal roots as well as from roots formed on the growing tip of the plant that makes contact with the ground. It really needs to be controlled. Apart from being a legal requirement, it can reduce pasture use and harbour rabbits.

Young Blackberry Bush
Brushoff® is the best product for use against blackberries. But no matter how much you spray, every year new growth appears somewhere on the property. It’s an ongoing battle to control this brute of a plant.
Another problem here is the snake vine, a native ground cover with attractive foliage and large yellow flowers.

Snake Vine
It grows in large clumps, is very prolific and reduces pasture growth. Spraying with glyphosate together with a wetting agent to penetrate the waxy leaves works well. The other alternative is to dig it up and sell it to nurseries. They get $15 a pot for these plants to be used in domestic gardens !!!!!!!!

Snake Vine Infestation
As I said, somebody’s weed…………….

A Trip North

Last week we headed for Sydney to catch up with family to celebrate my birthday.
My daughter had organised a few games of ten-pin bowling at a retro alley where you stepped back in time at least 30 years. Lots of memorabilia and great music.
We had a fun time. It was a laugh a minute. It had been at least 20 years since I had bowled and I managed to score over 100 both games. The others? Well………
We then drove to Norton St. Leichhardt, which is the Italian part of Sydney for a cheap and cheerful meal which turned out to be excellent.
Next morning we headed into the Sydney CBD and did a few bookshops as well as the Dupane photographic exhibition at the Museum of Sydney.
We also caught a movie, “The Anchorman”. Don’t bother, it’s really awful.
After dinner at Wagamammas, a Japanese noodle bar, the ladies headed off for a Dido concert while I settled for another movie. It was an Australian production “A Man’s Got to Know” which turned out to be very funny in a quirky sort of way.
Next morning we set off for the Hunter Valley, about 160km (100mi) north of Sydney to visit some wineries, to do some tasting and to buy some wine to replenish the stock that had greatly diminished over the last few months. The region grows most grape varieties but because of its maritime climate, the most successful are Semillon and Shiraz. It also appears that Verdelho will be a variety that will perform well in this difficult climate.
It was a warm sunny day and surprisingly there were very few people in the area. This allowed the winery staff more time to talk about their wines as well as offer a few specials not normally available.
At Margan Family Wines we bought some of their ’04 Semillon and Verdelho as well as their Saignee Shiraz Rose’. This winery continually produces high quality wines at reasonable prices and the 2004 vintage is no exception.
At Oakvale Wines we bought some older Semillon which had developed nicely in the bottle as well as their most recent Verdelho which in fact may be better than the Margan.
Then it was time for lunch at the Enzo Café at the Pepper Tree Winery complex where I had a great smoked salmon salad and shared a couple of nice glasses of wine. The chicken Caesar salad across the table looked good too. It was a very pleasant hour sitting outside in the sun listening to a “best of” Dixie Chicks album and relaxing before the wine buying frenzy continued.
At Tullochs we bought 3 bottles of their top of the range Hector 1999 Shiraz for special occasions.
Then finally, we ended up at a new winery, Iron Gate Wines. There we bought some of their Semillon as well as a range of their Shiraz. The Reserve Shiraz comes in at a whopping 15.6% alcohol. That will definitely be a non-driving dinner when we open that one.
So all in all it was a successful day. It’s always nice to visit a few new places as well as the tested and true in the Hunter Valley. The fact that I got a call on my mobile phone from the security department of my credit card company while on the way home asking whether I still had possession of my card because the abnormal number of purchases in a day is neither here nor there.
We stayed overnight with a friend in the Gosford area just north of Sydney and tried some of our purchases with a great meal of bar b q’d whole fillet steak, baked potato and salad.
But now it is back to the grind!

Friday, November 05, 2004

Spring Still Dominates, Summer Struggles

The weather is still typical Spring, warm one day, cold the next. And the rain persists. We have had another 50mm (2in) since the last report. It looks as though the area to the south of us which has been in drought for three years is finally getting some relief. They do not get the same high falls as we do being in the shadow of the Snowy Mountains but they have had sufficient to revive the pasture and give some hope to the farmers there who have in most cases sold off all their stock to survive.
Our garden looks good. All the exotic trees are in leaf and the orchard is full of developing apples, plums, peaches, pears, nectarines and nashis. Whether all will survive the usual bird life enslaught, mainly parrots, is another question. We have netted the early ripening peaches in the vain hope we will be allowed to share.
All the native trees are in bloom, especially the bottle brush, grevilleas and the black wattles.

The Biggest Bottlebrush Tree in the World?
The bottlebrush in the backyard is a huge tree. It is a "weeping" variety that continues to get bigger every year. The tree is covered in red brushes and is a haven to parrots, honeyeaters and other birdlife.

Bottlebrush Flower
Most of the grapes continue to do well. I have started a fertilizer program for the new plantings now that the roots have started to grow. Will be giving them a feed of nitogren via urea applications of 2 x 3g each a month until well into next year. Hopefully this will push along the slower varieties.
The infloresences in the cabernet have separated and flowering cannot be too far away. This is the first time you really see evidence of the upcoming grape crop.

Cabernet Sauvignon Inflorescences
There was some excitement in the backyard the other afternoon when quite a large red bellied black snake decided to visit.
While I leave them alone in the bottom paddocks, and it is illegal to kill them, they are not welcome around the house. So a chase with my weapon of choice, a hoe, ensued. But he was quite quick to move and stayed close to the house so it was hard to get a good shot. After some abortive swipes, he managed to hide in some thick bush in the garden....minus a few cm of his tail. Hopefully this encounter will send him looking for greener pastures. The sharpened hoe is now at the ready by the back door for the summer season just in case he or any of his mates return.