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Spring Newsletter - August 2013

Greetings from Mistletoe! By the time you are reading this it will only be a few more weeks to Spring. All our pruning is finished and the vines are getting ready for another growing season. You can already see the buds for next year’s crop starting to swell.

At the cellar door we are always fielding questions about the timing of harvest and the general growing season. Following is an abbreviated version of the viticultural year on the Mistletoe Home Vineyard.

The Hunter Valley is the earliest grape harvesting region in Australia each year with vintage commencing in mid-January with grapes for sparkling wine base. Sparkling wine base is best produced from under-ripe grapes and it is generally another 10 days to 2 weeks before the harvest of ripe white grapes for table wines commences.

Semillon and Chardonnay arrive in the winery at pretty much the same time (in our case around Australia day) with timing dependent of things such as the aspect of each block to the sun or cropping levels. Lower cropping levels generally mean the vine is less stressed and the fruit ripens earlier.

Depending on the heat experienced during the growing season, and the style the winemaker requires, Verdelho can be harvested either earlier or later. The reds are usually ready to harvest not long after the whites (normally early to mid February) with Pinot Noir ripening earlier than Shiraz, and Cabernet coming in last of all. The varieties mentioned above, with the exception of pinot Noir, are the mainstream Hunter varieties. There are reasonable plantings of a range of other varieties but none have harvest volumes anywhere near these mainstream varieties.

Post harvest in the vineyard is a very important time as this is when the  vineyard preparation begins for the following vintage.

As early as possible after harvest we till the mid rows in the vineyard and plant a cover (or green manure) crop. The choice of seed varies year to year but in most years it is a mixture of oats, rye and/or fescue and also clover. We have also used Mustard with some success. Mustard is quite strong and produces big roots which help break up the soil. When ploughed back into the ground in Spring the mustard acts as a fumigant and kills off noxious soil borne pathogens. We look hopefully for some late Summer or early Autumn rain to help grow the cover crop and usually by early June the whole vineyard is filled with lush growth.

We then commence pruning.

Pruning is the single biggest job in the vineyard each year. It determines the quality and also the yield for the following year. We prune by hand, not machine like most larger operators. At Mistletoe we are looking to grow the very best fruit we can so we prune the vines hard to restrict our cropping levels. This tends to produce much better fruit that ripens earlier. Successful pruning is an art form and is relentless as it can take between 8 and 10 weeks working 5-6 days each week to prune our vineyards. Pruning involves removing all the dead wood from the previous year’s growth.

Once this is completed the vines are then tied, using plastic coated wire or zip ties, on to the trellis wires. This is done to support the vines as they start to grow and to also keep them attached to the wire when the fruit is growing as it can become quite heavy. In the Spring we slash (mow) the oats based crop with a special mower that throws the mown grass underneath the vines. lt performs an array of tasks there including subduing weed growth, providing nutrient to the soil and hence the vine. It also acts as a mulch and stops the soil from drying out as quickly as it would if the soil under the vines was left bare. We estimate that in 2013 our cover crop will produce 25 to 30 tonnes of nutrient rich vegetative matter. We also apply natural chicken litter as a fertiliser coming into Spring. We do not use man made fertilisers as we believe they put the vines out of balance and contribute to harsher flavours in the finished wine.

Budburst occurs very early in Spring, usually on our vineyard around the end of the first week in September. It is a great time of the year where the spindly skeletal like figures of the vines start to bud and green shoots start to appear.

After a slow start the growth of the vines really starts to accelerate as the weather warms going into October. By mid October the new arms on the vines are growing around 25mm per day or 200mm per week.

By the end of October the vineyard is in its full glory blazing with bright green foliage. The vines flower mid to late October and then the fruit for the next years vintage starts to set. Vineyard maintenance is ongoing from budburst as this is the time of year where we must be at our most vigilant against disease. If you encounter a disease issue early in the growing season it will only get worse as the weather warms up and rain commences to fall. We have a very comprehensive spray program that is very strictly followed to avoid these disease pressures.

As we move into December the grapes are growing in size quite quickly and by Christmas are nearly full size and will have in most cases gone through veraison. Veraison is where the grapes change colour. In the case of red grapes they are green up until veraison and with white grapes they start to become translucent.

By late December the sugar levels are starting to build and we start to monitor these levels mid-January. We do this so we can judge the correct level of ripeness and sweetness and hence to optimum time to harvest the grapes.

Whew! Where did that year go!

Kind regards, Gwen, Ken, Rob, Cassandra, Nick (Dog) Paterson
and all the grand kids.