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ask the aunties (or uncles in this case!)

We doubled the time allotted to panel questions at our recent Organic & Biodynamic Winegrowing Conference, yet we still had some great questions left unanswered. OWNZ's coordinator Rebecca Reider followed up with five of our guest speakers to seek answers to the most popular questions remaining. We hope you enjoy these post event insights!

NB. Below is an abbreviated version. For the full article of our follow up questions, check out the latest edition of our magazine Organic Matters (due out mid August).


Dog Point Vineyards

Q: Cover cropping seems paramount for soil microbiology and ecological diversity. What about low vigour vines in tougher soil and competition for moisture and nutrients?

Nigel answers: Cover cropping can take on many forms and should be tailored to soil type and what you are ideally trying to achieve. Each plant has a different rooting structure, from deep taproots that break up hard soil and bring calcium to the surface, to fine roots that build soil structure. It’s the combination of these which you need to play around with (or get advice on) to suit your site. A well planned cover crop will always give more back than it takes, whether it be nutrients or structure.

Q: Can you give further details on bronze beetle netting in the middle of the growing season?

A: We put the side nets on once we see the first few bugs flying around or before the first full moon near the end of October. They do not need to be clipped like you would do to exclude birds, just secure enough to stay in place. Attach the top to lifting wire on each side so top stays open, allowing any fast growing shoots to come out the top. Take them off once flights have finished and readjust your lifting wires to suit canopy growth and tidy up.

Q: How are your mealybug numbers at harvest? What do you believe is the biggest influence on this for you?

A: It’s very site-dependent, with the only hot spots within vineyards really showing up at harvest. The biggest influence on this is the carryover population from the previous year and the type of spring. Frosts and cool weather may slow down the breeding cycles early season, therefore potentially limiting numbers. It also depends on the amount of reproductive cycles there have been prior to harvest. There is a lot of great work being carried out on this, but there are also a lot of unanswered questions. Vaughn Bell and his team are doing a great job at trying to understand what influences numbers and what we can do about it.

Q: Has the mix of companies you sell to changed since you converted to organic, and what has been their response to the organic shift? Do the purchasers buy because you have organic grapes, and in turn make them into organic wine?

A: There has been a small change in the type of companies we sell to, but we have always had a good selection of large and small. With there being a lot more small producers on the scene, and many wanting organic grapes to give themselves the differentiation (or because it’s what they believe in), we have chosen to help these companies out. We see small high-quality producers as a benefit to the whole region and the New Zealand industry. However, many of the companies we sell to do not make organic wine; they blend our grapes with their own to make the final product, and they are buying the fruit for its quality, not its organic status. In the early days of our organic management, for some companies there was some nervousness that the product would be substandard; this fear has largely gone away. Because we are now known for producing organically, companies know what to expect.


Emiliana Organic Vineyards Q: Are you aiming to sequester more carbon in the soil (as a contribution to dealing with climate change), and do you see an opportunity to get recognition for that? Sebastián answers: Our goal is to increase organic matter in our soils. That will be achieved by increasing the amount of organic carbon in stable forms in our soils: compost, cover crops, prunings, reducing tillage and every form that we find that works to achieve that goal. This will contribute to the carbon farming  of our soils (‘sequestering’ is a negative connotation that I don’t like to use). The recognition will be internal and will be communicated to our clients, but we will not put them in a carbon trading scheme. We would like to be carbon-neutral in our operations. There are some emissions that can be reduced, but not eliminated, so we could be able to compensate for them internally.

Q: How do you manage the timing of your biodynamic practices in the tight lunar windows over such a wide area? A: Very good question. The most fine-tuned biodynamic work is done for the top quality wines (3 out of 6 lines of wines), which are small productions. For larger volumes we try to do our best, but tasks such as pruning or harvesting is according to the availability of people, machinery and also the condition of the vines primarily.


Aotearoa NZ Fine Wine Estates

Q: With drier warmer seasons in vineyards these days, any thoughts on clever use of irrigation/water use? Nick answers: I think mid-row sub-surface irrigation has a real place for helping to deal with these drier seasons. By putting water in the soil where it can be utilised efficiently and not growing a heap of weeds on the surface, hopefully less water is needed. Some real benefits to be gained from increasing soil organic matter, reducing cultivation, cover crops, crimping etc. – means more water can be stored for use later. Another key concept is the way irrigation is applied. Avoiding short cycles, try to do long soaks to drive roots down out of the topsoil where it dries out quicker. Monitoring is another key part to irrigation – I’ve found using plant-based cues to be more accurate; pressure bomb, infrared thermometers and visual inspections. Watching the tendrils can give a really good clue to water stress.

Q: What are your thoughts on trying to convert the unconverted and should we be even trying to start just with biological farming practice?

A: Yes I think biological farming is a great step for those ‘transitioning’; the unconverted need to take little steps to be clear in their mind that it works. Worst case I think is the grower goes cold turkey on ‘conventional’ inputs to become organic, and then fails because they don’t fully understand the concepts that biological/organic farming are based on. There are some amazing resources in the pastoral and cropping industries about biological or regenerative ag that could be applied in vineyards easily as the first steps towards removing those synthetic chemical inputs. I think the more conversations we can have between growers about biology in the soil, no matter how you describe the system you farm under, will have the greatest impact on the wider industry and converting the unconverted.