How to keep your vineyard tidy for tourists.

With a bit of luck, the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown will all stay on schedule and we’ll see tourists returning to vineyards across England in time for English Wine Week.

Following on from WineGB’s tourism conference on 2-4 March, I thought that this month it would be good to take a look at some of the machinery which can help you to keep grass, weeds and foliage under control so that your vineyard is always looking trim and tidy to make a good first impression.

Mechanical weed control

Non-chemical weed control remains one of hottest trends in the UK vineyard machinery world as growers focus on finding suitable alternative methods to glyphosate and other herbicides.

Mechanical under vine cultivators are, however, not a one-size-fits-all product and we’re always keen to ensure that growers find the right solution for their individual site and requirements. Modern systems can be incredibly sophisticated, so before choosing a make or model, growers need to think about what they are trying to achieve.

For organic growers, the system on offer from Clemens is robust and comprehensive. It may be one of the more premium options on the market but having been designed and built to suit growers who need to be able to do everything in just one pass, vineyard managers notice that it often does a more thorough job, with the effects then tending to last longer.

Interestingly, NIAB EMR is currently using Clemens in its research vineyard as part of its integrated weed management project called IWM PRAISE. Dr Julien Lecourt and his team are trying to develop an environmentally sustainable vineyard and have been using the Clemens machinery, alongside other methods, to investigate the effects of moving away from herbicide in the vineyard.

For estates who are looking to reduce their use of chemicals, the Braun Rollhacke finger weeder has been identified as one of the best options on the market. Instead of breaking the soil, it effectively moves through the earth making it more friable, light and fluffy. This creates an inhospitable environment for any weeds looking to establish themselves.

While there are lots of mechanical under vine cultivators on the market, the Braun is the weapon of choice for vineyard managers across the entire UK, having proven to be adaptable to different soil types. As long as the operator has considered the weather conditions and has taken time to gain a real understanding of exactly how their under-vine equipment works, as well as the adjustments which may be needed throughout the season.

Mowing

For those who are just looking to keep the vineyard and surrounding estate looking in tip top condition a mower may not kill weeds but is essential. Helping to keep growth under control, the range of compact mowers from Fischer benefit from a hydraulic sensing system meaning it can work around any age vines.

The Fischer GL4 is a rugged, robust compact blade mower with two arms which swing out horizontally. Two precision sensors with hydraulic precision control allow gentle and accurate mowing right up to the base of the trunk, avoiding the need for herbicides. Once the trunk or obstacles are detected, the hydraulic ram is triggered to retract the swing-wing and ensures clean mowing while being gentle around the vine.

The GL4 mower comes in a range of front- or rear-mounted configurations, with growers also able to opt for hydraulic side shift. The most popular machine is the rear-mounted GL4-T which comes with hydraulic precision sensors on both sides, grass chutes on both sides on the swing wings, mounted slide disks on the swing wings and height-adjustable wheel rollers.

The smaller GL4W / 45 / 60 mower is more suited to small vineyards or can be used in tabletop strawberry tunnels with tractors of 20 horsepower and up. One constant flow hydraulic service is required and a free flow return.

Canopy management

When it comes to trimming and defoliating vines, the range from ERO is a firm favourite, and is what our salesman Sam uses for all his contracting work.

The Elite vine trimmer provides cutting at high speeds, it’s easy to operate and has been designed for long life and reliability.

The uniquely shaped cutter blades are manufactured from high grade stainless steel with a special shape and deformed edge to ensure a surgical cut and suction of debris from the vines as well as reducing wire damage.

The ‘comfort’ joystick allows smooth, light-touch action and has a split control box to aid positioning in the cab. Only a single-acting control valve and a pressure-free return on the tractor are required.

These trimmers can be configured for all vineyards, whether small scale or large, with seven different cutting lengths, from 100 cm to 195 cm, available and options for single in row, double in row, single over row, double over row and tg skirting.

As standard, they are supplied with a double-acting lift frame on which other ERO products, such as the ERO Elite leaf stripper, can also be mounted.

By plucking the leaves gently from the vine without damaging fruit, these defoliators can be used from flowering all the way through to harvesting.

As well as keeping your vineyard looking tidy for tourists, good ventilation in the fruiting zone reduces the risk of botrytis and other fungal diseases, improves spray targeting and efficacy, and also increases exposure to sunlight.