Firstly, please accept our apologies for lack of communication from our end!
We hope you all had a wonderful Christmas & that 2023 will bring you & your families all you’re hoping it will.
Our last emailing was our Autumn 2022 Newsletter when we were about to begin harvesting……
It has felt like we’ve been ‘chasing our tails’ for most of 2022 & into 2023… This time you’ll receive a ‘double barrel’ Newsletter..1 from each of us! We always value your feedback!
As has been the case since the start of covid (& the flow on effect of a dire shortage of ‘backpackers’), getting our fruit picked was a…… challenge! Our Pinot Noir had to be picked over 3 days as we couldn’t get enough pickers to do it as a single pick. We haven’t had this problem before covid as we tend to start picking when most other vineyards have finished, so we get pickers that have finished working elsewhere. Luckily, we had a group of very experienced pickers come to work for us after they’d finished picking at their usual place of work, so after the early picks things eased. [We have 17 different varieties of grapes currently bearing which all have different ripening times so we usually pick each variety, or group of varieties with similar ripening, in a single day. We usually have 6-8 days of picking, spread out over 3-5 weeks…all depends on weather & ripening]. The shortage of pickers meant many more days of picking than usual.
We missed out on the really wet weather that the East Coast of Australia got in Summer, but it came down to us in Autumn, Winter & Spring. We seemed to get into a cycle of rain =>sun => wind & repeat….over & over! We’re very glad we live on top of a hill…the ground was totally saturated & squelchy even at the top! We had a number of trees just fall over….their whole root ball just lifted out of the ground…& they caused damage to nearby trees on their way down => mess + + +. We had to get an arborist in (who turned out to be a very inexperienced rookie!) to get some broken branches down to the ground & take down some other damaged or dead trees…boy, did he make an even bigger mess!!! He totally buried the garden that runs along our side boundary, the path & the next 2 garden beds in the direction of the house. We have a drain that runs along the uphill side of the path & Bob had to clear it of debris so that the water could get down the hill rather than creating more damage.
We couldn’t get our 2-WD ute to the top of the hill to be able to cart all the debris away for many weeks…& all this was happening at the same time that the largest amount of work has to be done in the vineyard…the pruning (Bob always does all of the pruning cuts), pulling out the canes from the trellis wires & then tying down the cane for the next vintage. We only had one worker who helped with the pulling out & tying down but I had to do tying down as well or it wouldn’t have gotten finished in time. Thankfully, 2 of the pickers who’d helped us with picking, were able to come in August to help finish off the Winter work. Winter work is on ‘Mother Nature’s timetable’…while the vines are dormant, the canes can be bent without snapping. Once the sap starts to “run” (~ end of Aug to early Sept), instead of bending, the canes just snap… & there goes the fruit for the coming season. (With grape vines, the next season’s fruit is laid down in the previous year’s ‘woody canes’, so if these canes snap off, there goes the fruit). So all the tying down has to be finished before the sap starts to run….
The rain =>sun => wind continued for all of Spring. This has meant a few things:
1. LOTS of growth of everything….
2. Canes being thrashed around & getting damaged or broken
3. Increased disease pressure => need for more frequent spraying of ‘preventatives’ against fungal infections
4. LOTS of tucking (of growing canes into the trellis wires) so that we could get through the rows with the tractor. Vines don’t ‘naturally’ grow straight up…they tend to sprawl out every which way, resulting in the space between the rows being filled with growth. We have very narrow row spacing and only have ~2cm clearance at the tractors back wheels. If the foliage isn’t tucked into the trellis it all gets knocked off by the passing tractor…again, there goes the fruit!
What we’d been doing was…Bob & I would both be tucking. When there were enough rows tucked for a tank of spray to go out, Bob would do the spraying & I would continue tucking….and just keep on going this way…
Weeds & grass have also been growing heaps…we have bought an under vine weeder which has 2 wheels that rely on friction as they’re dragged across the ground by tractor to do their work. The 1st wheel (vertical) breaks the soil up & the second wheel, which lies horizontally on the ground, has ‘fingers’ which are meant to pull the weeds out as it spins. Sadly, this apparatus needs ‘Goldilocks’ conditions to work properly. If the ground is too dry/hard, the front wheel just skates across the surface so the 2nd wheel can’t really pull anything out. If the ground is too wet, the front wheel digs in too deeply & is almost ‘ploughing’ & the 2nd wheel gets clogged with all the large clods of dirt being thrown up by the 1st wheel. Needless to say…we haven’t had many successful passes with this implement this season…maybe next season!
We’ve had to slash the vineyard every 2 weeks and the mow the garden every week…again…much more frequently than other years. Always, the vineyard takes precedence. Keeping the grass down in the vineyard is important to ensure good air flow & keep diseases at bay. Alas, the garden is looking a little bit neglected…
At last, backpackers have begun returning!!! We had 1 start work the last week of Nov & 2 more start first week of December. Though none of them have done vineyard work before, they’re all working really well…finally we are getting things under control.
Our eldest son + partner came down for Christmas & they both helped to shift a lot of the debris that was still at the top of the hill.
December was actually quite dry here…bonus being it has slowed down the rate of growth of the grass => less mowing & slashing..hooray! The vines are very deep rooted because we don’t irrigate, so their growth hasn’t slowed…still tucking & spraying! The workers have been shoot thinning & desuckering & when they complete a lap of the vineyard, they’ll start leaf plucking the leaves on the Eastern side of the vines to allow sunshine & sprays to get through the canopy.
This pace of work will continue until we put the bird netting out towards the end of Jan/beginning of Feb. Once netting is in place, no more tractor work can be done & we then wait for the grapes to ripen (leaf plucking can continue under the bird netting)
We also have to bottle all our wines from the 2022 vintage to free up the barrels ready for the next vintage of grapes…
I’ll sign off before this turns into a book. Hope you’ve gained some insight into what it takes to make Grey Sands wines