In late May 2004 day to day management of Vicarage Lane’s St Leonards Road vineyard, along with 27 hectares owned by a new vineyard company, The Brothers Vineyard Partnership, reverted from local contract management to VLW, who now carries out the vineyard operations described below.
After harvest each year, once the leaves have dropped from the vines and the sap flow ceased, the 36 hectares of vineyards undergoes winter pruning, with the previous seasons growth cut back to just four canes. All vines are grown on a standard upright canopy trellis, using four cane vertical shoot positioning (VSP) training system. This system produces the best quality of fruit, while allowing easier management of ground areas between and under the rows.
At the same time, blocks that are not being pruned are grazed by mobs of sheep from a local farm, providing feed when it is often less available, while sustainably “processing” weeds and return them to the soil.
When pruning is complete, removed canes are mulched to allow them to break down and provide a natural source of fibrous matter in the soil. At the same time soil samples are taken and analysed, so a programme of fertilising can be undertaken, if required, with just the right minerals needed for the plants well being. For the final part of winter work, the wires that have held the heavy summer canopy in place are lowered to the ground in anticipation of new spring growth, while any plants that have been damaged or died during previous seasons are removed for replacement in the spring.
Once spring growth begins, each vineyard receives a carefully documented preventative spray programme, which continues through the summer, respecting any pre harvest withholding periods set by the various markets where the finished wine will be sold. Weeds, which grow as quick as the vines in the fertile soil, are also managed with a sustainable weed control programme and the inter-row grass is mown using a mulching mower, return nutrients to the soil.
As the canopy rises again, the wires dropped in the spring, are lifted again to ensure the canopy is fully supported. When it reaches it’s full height and volume, the top and sides are trimmed and some of the leaves removed to allow the flowers, and later the fruit, to receive just the right amount of light. Judicious irrigation is also applied to ensure the health of the vine while allowing the best fruit flavour development.
Early in the autumn, once the fruit has developed to near ripe, samples are taken and the juice from the berries analyised to ensure harvesting is carried out at optimal sugar and acid levels. The fruit is then machine harvested and trucked to the winery to begin the winemaking process and the seasonal vineyard cycle begins again.