Vineyard Stories

Healthy, happy vines

When we last spoke to Vineyard Manager, Travis – the weather was colder, the days were shorter, and the pruning journey was coming to an end. We’ve now reached a magical time of year where the sun is in full force, the vines are looking beautiful and luscious green in colour. There’s an infectious buzz on the estate as you are greeted with views of wildflowers and a sea of leafy greenery.  The warm June breeze and stunning sunsets make those cold days pruning in the vineyard feel like a distant memory.

North Farm vineyard, Wiston Estate, West Sussex
Wiston Estate North Farm Vineyard, West Sussex

Travis gave us an update on how the vineyards are looking so far. “It’s looking like a really good vintage – we’ve now finished bud rubbing, and all the trunks are looking nice and neat. We’re currently doing shoot selection. In terms of growth, it’s been a bit of a slow start, but the beautiful weather has helped things spring along and now the Meunier has really caught up to the Chardonnay, and the Pinot is looking fantastic.”

With English Wine Week coming up this weekend (17th – 25th June), we asked Travis about the challenges which face viticulture in England. “England is very unique – we have such a marginal climate, so producing ripe grapes is already a task at hand. We’re faced with so many other elements that mother nature throws at you. One being frost, which hugely reduces yield, and the other being disease pressure, impacting yield as well as the quality of grapes.”

This challenging growing environment is what forces the vines to produce the desired characteristics of both the land and the grape varieties, helping us create unique and high-quality wines. “We’re blessed with the Chalk soil below us, as the nutrition provides us with this beautiful salinity and acidity in our Wiston wines. These challenges make this place so inviting for the whole team.”

vines growing, at Wiston Estate, West Sussex
Tom and Travis, vineyard team working the vines at wiston estate, west sussex

Being part of the vineyard team involves lots of scouting – walking row upon row between the vines and taking samples. Here, the team are viewing certain aspects of nutrition and seeing how the overall canopy growth is pushing along. We wanted to get a deeper dive into some of the tasks that Travis and his team have been busy with. “Right now, we’re busy with shoot selection, which relies on careful selection of the shoots for the structure of the vine, as well as productivity. This helps with uniform distribution and growth of foliage, minimising shading on fruit. This also improves airflow and spray penetration, reducing wetness on leaves. We’re removing unfruitful shoots, but still trying to sculpt the vine thinking about pruning and the years ahead, how is this vine going to look.”

Before the excitement and busyness of harvest time, the vineyard team are occupied with various other tasks such as spraying, tractor maintenance, and wire lifting. “We bring up the first wire which helps bring the canopy up to a vertical position, then later we’ll do the second and third wire lift.”

One of the last few jobs around this time is vine trimming, which involves removing ‘sinks’ (which take carbohydrates) rather than ‘sources’ (active leaves). “The end of a shoot tip can be quite a huge sink for a vine. We get rid of those – especially with the early sun and all the changing of the earth – the shade is less from vine to vine, which helps us increase our ripening.”

Tom working on the vines at Wiston Estate, West Sussex
vines, wiston estate, west sussex, in June

Last but not least, one of the other tasks on the vineyard is leaf stripping. “We’ll remove leaves which are unproductive – because they were some of the very first leaves that got developed during the shoot’s lifetime. We do this because – after a certain amount of time they become photosynthetically inactive, so we want to stimulate the photosynthetic capabilities of the vine throughout the tops and the younger leaves to produce higher photosynthetic rates.”

Stripping these leaves back allows us to have more benefits than just photosynthesis. “It allows us to have more spray penetration to the fruit, so this improves the quality, and it also allows more sunlight, so we can decrease some of the harsher malic acids produced in grapes – which helps Marcus in terms of his winemaking.”

Sustainability is central to everything we do here at Wiston. We are always striving to find ways to improve our processes and we are committed to maintaining the long-term health of our soils. In the spring, Travis and the team planted cover crops to improve soil structure, and increase natural biodiversity, amongst other benefits. We asked Travis if he has noticed any visual signs that these cover crops are having a positive effect on the vines. “With the chicory coming through nicely, and the radish growing like wildfire, there are definitely signs of a slightly reduced vigour in the vines. To me that’s a benefit because England already produces extremely over vigorous vines – this is one thing that can help increase airflow and sunlight throughout the overall vine.”

Tom and Travis, vineyard assistant and vineyard manager working in the vines at Wiston Estate
Travis, vineyard manager working on the vines at Wiston Estate, West Sussex

We asked Travis what he most enjoyed about his job as Vineyard Manager for Wiston. “That’s a tough question, I like so many parts of this job. I enjoy the physicality of it and being out with nature every day. It’s not often you get to call your office a place where you can have a little baby leveret running past you. There are so many incredible aspects of this, and I think working at Wiston makes this because your nestled right between the South Downs, where human and nature interact so regularly. I’m definitely very fortunate.”