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Building strong roots for successful English wines

Bud rubbing at Poulton Hill

The vineyard is looking beautiful. The vines are growing, and buds, flowers and fruits are appearing. However, we don’t have much time to appreciate the beauty. This is a very busy time for us in the vineyard.

We have 15 rows of Pinot Noir vines, which we planted last year. We have not had a first harvest from them yet, but we need to work hard to make sure that we get the vines in the best condition we can.

In the winter pruning sessions, we cut the Pinot Noir vines down to two or three buds. Now we are taking each vine down to one shoot. We need to make sure that the best shoot is selected to ensure that the vine will focus on growing that single cane to make it as strong as possible. The pruning looks brutal, but it really is the best way to secure the vine’s growth. This pruning means that the plant will focus on establishing strong roots and then push up for stronger growth.

The work is back-breaking. The vines in each row are planted 0.9 metres apart. We work down the row, taking off the tree guard and then pruning. Once the pruning is finished, we will leave these vines for a while.

This pruning will ensure each vine will produce wonderful Pinot Noir grapes for our sparkling wines, for years to come.

In the rest of the vineyard we also have a lot of work to do. We are bud-rubbing the canes, which is meticulous but very important work and is all done by hand. Any growth that is hand-space down from the crown of each vine (the bulbous area at the top of each vine) needs to be rubbed off.

Then we start with the first steps in cane selection. Any shoots that are growing out or down from the crown can be removed, as they are growing in the wrong direction and can end up getting caught in the tractor. We do not do final cane selection yet, as we need to have spare canes in case of disease or damage. It really is a waiting game and you need to be patient.

We are always looking ahead. Each vine will be looked at not only in terms of what we need from the plant this year, but also for future years. We look at the height of the crown and if it is too high, we start selecting canes that will allow us to lower the height next year. The canopy needs to be maintained at 1.2 metres high.

Once the plants have grown a little higher, we will bring down the tucking-in wires. We train each plant to grow up and not out.

The final thing that is happening in the vineyard is the spraying of the plants. We need to ensure that they stay free of mildew (both the downy and the powdery kind) as this can ruin entire crops. We also need to get rid of any caterpillars and moths that might be on the vines.

We also feed the vines. We give them seaweed, which has all the wonderful goodness, vitamins and iron that the vines need.

So, the next few weeks are going to be tough physically, but the work we put in now will help our 2019 vintages to be as special as our award-winning wines of previous years.

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