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Reference points help with management
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Vineyard sites at which soil, climate and vine growth factors are recorded now provide useful reference points for grapegrowers and winemakers in several regions.
Visiting these sites at various stages through the season provides the opportunity to observe the vines and discuss practices. Sometimes these timely exercises provide take home messages that lead to changes within the season or at least consideration of modified strategies for the next season.
For Langhorne Creek producers the model began to take shape in June 2005 when an application for Regional Innovation and Technology Adoption (RITA) funding from GWRDC was approved. Additional support for the project has since been attracted from other sources, including the Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board of SA and the local industry.
From the outset there has been a hands-on approach, with growers involved in vineyard site selection and determination of the type of data they wanted to have recorded. They attended field workshops for demonstration of the installation and use of soil moisture monitoring devices and have continued to assess data output from not only these devices but also automated in-canopy weather stations at each site. Adding to the data bank has been analysis of properties within each soil profile and regular recording by a viticultural consultant of such phenological information as total shoot number, shoot length, internode length and bunches per vine.
There was interest in extending the scope from environmental factors to wine sensory properties and although local winemakers were willing to provide facilities the issues of small lot winemaking and independent standard winemaking techniques led to engagement of Provisor. Langhorne Creek winemakers, however, have shared tasting exercises with grape growers at which valuable links have been forged.
Other links that have been strengthened, according to Lian Jaensch, executive officer of the Langhorne Creek Wine Industry Council (LCWIC), are those between the research sector and growers, and among growers themselves.
“There has always been strong participation by growers in seminars and field exercises in this region but this RITA project has set up a model that they want to continue as they have valued the data collection and interpretations by the consultant,” she said.
“In addition to the ‘formal data’ from each site, useful information about practices and outcomes has been exchanged among groups of growers walking through vineyards and discussing what they observe.”
At least three field walks plus presentations of information and tastings have been held each season, each attracting about 30 people. Many more share the results through circulation of consultant reports and updates from the LCWIC.
One of their main interests has been soil properties and seasonal influences on soil conditions and vine growth. This resulted in new soil pits being dug at each site in December 2006 to make a close examination of the situation compared with the position in October 2005 when a professional analysis and description was made by soil scientist David Maschmedt. This covered soil chemical and physical properties as well as extension of feeder roots and highlighted the effects of water restrictions.
This model, which has a measure of flexibility to serve the changing seasonal interests of growers, uses five sites covering different environments (particularly soil type). While each has had good management and produces high quality grapes, the real exercise is not to use these as benchmarks but as reference points for producers with similar growing conditions.