To farm sustainably, wine producers continuously keep their finger on the pulse of best vineyard practices, the latest technology and research and global and local market trends that have a ripple effect down to farm level.
Winetech and Vinpro shared this and more during a series of regional information days in May.
Know the market
“This time of year, wine producers make important post-harvest decisions in terms of vineyard and cellar practices, but it’s important to take a step back and see what’s going on in the local and international market,” says Christo Conradie, manager wine business at Vinpro.
The volume and value of all wines traded worldwide – whether packaged or bulk wine – declined in the two years following the onset of Covid-19, but have started recovering since the start of 2022. Sparkling wine and other bottled wines show value and volume growth, bag-in-box sales are moving sideways and bulk wine sales volumes and prices remain under pressure.
“The good news is that the average international wine price per liter has increased. Some of South Africa’s products are following this positive trend, but the extent to which producers experience this will vary between cultivars, packaging, product compositions and individual business plans,” Christo says.
He encourages producers to analyse their route to market, to really understand consumer preferences in their respective target markets and use this information to make sound decisions at farm and cellar level. There is, for instance, greater awareness among consumers about sustainable packaging, environmentally friendly production and ethical practices.
Refine vineyard management practices
Wine grape producers also need to refine their planning and practices at farm level to manage costs while maintaining quality and production.
According to Vinpro’s annual financial survey among producers, the cost of wine grape production has increased by an average of 7% per year over the past ten years, while a 14% increase is expected in 2022 due to global exponential increases in energy, chemical and fertilizer prices. “
Consider your current cultivars and let the age composition, production and profitability of the respective blocks guide your vineyard management practices,” says Pierre-André Rabie, senior agricultural economist at Vinpro.
Vinpro consultation service manager Conrad Schutte shared smart wine grape growing practices based on case studies in commercial vineyards across the wine grape growing regions. One of these involved the use of cultivar and clone grading, soil mapping and GIS technology to align vineyard practices with a need for higher grape and wine quality.
Another case study demonstrated the value of continuously monitoring plant water stress and adjusting irrigation scheduling to optimally utilise scarce water resources and achieve the desired quality and yield. In a third case study, the importance of comprehensive soil sampling and precision application of ameliorants was emphasised in order to manage input costs effectively.
Emma Carkeek of the Gen-Z Vineyard Project and Lucinda Heyns of Winetech also gave an overview of a wide range of demonstration sites, research projects and resources made available to the industry to help producers stay at the forefront of best vineyard practices.
“We have the demo’s, case studies, technology, expertise and research to guide us towards farming more efficiently and cost-effectively. Let’s use it! ” Conrad says.
Protect the next harvest
Wine grape producers can protect the 2023 wine grape crop by following a comprehensive fungal management programme throughout the season.
“Powdery and downy mildew cause infections in vineyard bunches and on leaves that can result in large crop losses. That’s why it’s important to ensure the health of your vineyard’s leaves and to protect the grape bunches,” says De Wet du Toit, marketing consultant at Villa.
To prevent powdery mildew infections, producers should spray the permissible control agents from 2 to 5 cm shoot length, as powdery mildew starts to develop with the grapevine buds from as early as the budding stage. During his presentation at the Paarl information day, De Wet also advised producers to apply sufficient amounts of sulfur in correct doses throughout the season.
A downy mildew control programme should kick off as early as possible. Because downy mildew thrives in wet weather, De Wet suggests that producers closely monitor the weather forecast and spray a few days before the rain, with a follow-up spray seven days after the rainfall. “Even if the rain washes away the contact agent, the systemic agent that was absorbed into the plant before the rainfall still offers some protection.”
If downy mildew infection does occur, producers can quickly manage it by spraying the correct systemic product two days after the infection has occurred.
“It is extremely important for wine grape producers to follow a complete spray programme in consultation with their chemical advisor. Start early enough in the season and don’t stop too early. It is the best way to protect your vineyards and crop,” says De Wet.
Cultivate cover crops
The cultivation of cover crops in the vineyard offers a variety of benefits, provided it is managed properly. “Cover crops provide an effective way to control weeds, build up organic carbon in the soil, improve water infiltration and bring about water savings by limiting evaporation,” says Dr Johan Fourie, former researcher at the ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij and author of the book Cover Crops in South African Vineyards which was made possible by Winetech, Villa and SATI.
The book offers comprehensive findings from trials with 29 cover crop species, as well as practical tips on the efficient cultivation of cover crops in wine grape vineyards. “
Firstly it is important to establish the right cover crop species for the soil and environment at the right sowing density, then to apply critical fertilisation at the two- to six-leaf stage, and finally to spray and kill the cover crops before budding so that they do not compete with the vineyards for water,” Johan says.
Request a free copy of the book by contacting Winetech at 021 276 0496 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.