UK Vineyard growth boosted by key agronomic advice - Chris Cooper - Farmers Guide

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The UK wine industry is going from strength to strength, with around 1 million vines planted last year and an estimated 1.5 million being planted this year.  According to the Wine Standards Board, there are now 501 separate vineyards, 2,330ha under vines, plus 133 wineries and/or wine producers, producing 5 million bottles of wine in the UK.  The majority are members of WineGB Ltd which was formed in September 2017 as a result of unifying the UK Vineyards Association and the English Wine Producers.

Hutchinsons specialist vine agronomist Chris Cooper, who is also retained by WineGB to provide technical support, is well aware of what it takes to grow a successful crop under UK conditions.  “Top class agronomy means getting the best from the crop and, with so many new entrants in the UK likely in the future, there is an even greater need to offer a professional helping hand throughout the season.  The UK industry is expected to continue expanding and is predicted to double production from 5 million bottles to 10 million in 2020.

“Wine produced from GB grown grapes is gaining International accolades and prizes with considerable regularity,” he adds.

Early advice

Mr Cooper explains that his advice goes back well before the crop is planted.  “Planting systems and variety selection are important for the wine to be produced and in the UK the top varieties we grow are Chardonnay (23 Per cent of the area planted), Pinot Noir (22 per cent) and Bacchus (8 per cent).  “Bacchus is our signature variety now as it suits UK growing conditions particularly well.  Just as in New Zealand where the Sauvignon Blanc grape transformed the New Zealand wine industry, so Bacchus could do the same for the UK, “he explains.

Another grape variety that has hit the headlines is Albarino.  This variety is usually associated with the wet climate of North West Spain in Galicia.  But recently a Chapel Down Albarino wine made from grapes grown in 2014 in Sandhurst, Kent out performed those of Galicia in a blind wine tasting in Madrid.

“Each month growers need to focus on different aspects of agronomy – pruning in the winter, disease control, pest control, weed control and nutrition in the spring and summer, and harvesting and wine making in the autumn, “Chris says.

“Keeping up with registrations in vines is challenging enough and I get involved in submitting applications for EAMU’s for the industry which allows more products to be used in cost-effective grape growing.  With potentially many new entrants coming into wine growing, it is a lot more than just deciding to get involved and planting up.  There is a depth of unique technical skills required to make sure that you make the best of what you have got, “says Mr Cooper.

“The cold and wet winter earlier in the year delayed vine development, such that vineyards were at least two to three weeks behind least year.

However with a few warm days, bud burst occurred in late April and since growth has been slow and steady.”

Another viticultural specialist that Hutchinsons horticultural team is Rob Saunders who says that with warmer weather, wet, cold soils have started drying out allowing machinery to travel in the vineyards without damaging the ground; these are one of the benefits of grass alleys so spray applications including herbicide use can be undertaken and there may be a chance for some sub-soiling to break compacted areas, enhance the drainage and get some air movement into the soil. “Most of the canes are now tied down, being such a late season most of the sacrifice canes and extra buds have not been cut out although a few growers are still delaying typing down as they have bad memories of the late frost in 2017”.

“With bud burst the foliar fungicide applications have started, so growers should take the opportunity to reduce early infection of powdery mildew, downy mildew and phomopsis viticola, “he adds.

Chris Cooper agrees that early protection is important with fungicides and growers should start their control strategy sooner rather than later.

And he adds “Growers can also reduce leaf bud mite substantially using a sulphur + adjuvant Wetcit mix early on.  As growth continues rogueing of mildew flag shoots can be stepped up and growers should be discussing their 2018 programmes for all diseases and pests for the coming year with their specialist vine agronomist.”