Although Na Clachan Wine Tours focus mainly on the final product of the Marlborough wine industry – tasting wine – it is interesting to look at some of the production methods of growing grapes. We think that knowing a little about how the vines are grown makes the day’s experience in the vineyards and cellar doors even better. You can appreciate all the hard work that goes into growing grapes to make that wine taste so good
With over 24,000 hectares (60,000 acres) of land already planted in grapes there has been a slowing down of new planting. In some areas older plants have been replaced, particularly for sauvignon blanc to get that racy acidity and punchiness that fruit from young sauvignon plants offers. But in recent years there had been less new planting as the premium land for grapes is already planted up and international factors have slowed expansion.
However in 2014 we seem to have kick started again and I have seen a number of areas being planted up, particularly south of the Awatere Valley. So I thought I give a bit of a summary on the conversion of land to vineyard or ‘A Duffer’s Guide to Growing Grapes’
First the area needs to be cleared. If it has previously been grazing land this may be a relatively easy job, but the area I have had my eye on (it is right next to one of my favourite dog walks so I have watched progress with fascination) was covered in gorse, broom and scrub. As you can see the land is very, very stony and some of the larger rocks have also been removed. I am guessing the piles of rocks will be used soon to repair the river bank, which suffered a lot of damage earlier this year.
Once the area is cleared the rows are planned and marked out using GPS. In general we run the rows north to south so there is even ripening on both sides of the row. The distance between rows varies but is usually around 2.8metres. As the soil is still very stony the rows are ripped – a large blade is pulled through the soil down to a depth of maybe 30cm. This makes it easier to plant the young vines, concentrates any rainfall into the rips and gives the grapes a bit of help in establishing root systems down through the soil profile.
Most of Marlborough’s vineyards are irrigated so the main irrigation lines and risers to each row need to be put in. The lines along each row with their droppers supplying water to each plant come later.
The vines are planted by machine. Plants are ordered well in advance from the nursery and are already grafted onto phylloxera resistant rootstock. Covering them with a milk carton helps prevent excessive evaporation and browsing damage from rabbits.
The next task is putting all the posts and wires along each row. About 600 posts are needed per hectare with one or two fruiting wires, two or three lifting wires on each side of the row and one wire to secure the irrigation hose. Its a ‘wire fest’ – about 28km of wire per hectare of grapes. That’s a staggering 700,000km of wire in Marlborough – almost enough to stretch to the moon and back.
Of course with all this work to be done in a rural zone there is one more requirement. A portaloo. There has been a huge increase in the number of portaloos around the vineyards and seeing them towed from one vineyard to another is a common sight.