Friday, January 25, 2013

Sheep versus Machines - Who Wins?

In past vintages we have always used machines or people to do our leaf plucking. The plucking is intended to remove leaf material from around the bunches so that sunlight can penetrate through to the berries. It also helps air circulate and so reduce the risk of fungal disease. A good leaf-pluck is a major contributor to growing quality grapes for our wine-making team to work with.

This year we did a trial block using sheep. Were they better than machines? Well have a look at the two images and see if you can pick the work the sheep did!

Yes, the one on the right - a terrific job, a much more complete and thorough pluck, with huge savings in time, manpower and expenses. On top of that, they fertilise as they go! And we can reduce use of tractors with very positive environmental benefits. We are so happy we are going to set up as much of the rest of our vineyard as we can to use sheep more widely for future vintages. The secret is a big mob, in a small space (around 3-5 ha), pluck that block, then move to the next one. One thing that surprised us was that the sheep showed a preference for certain vines over other - maybe they are secret grape connoisseurs.

We have always been concerned that the sheep would eat or damage the grapes, hence this year's small trial. We did not need to worry - they ate all the leaves, and did not touch the grapes. We are converts!

For those following the progress of my selected Pinot Gris vine through the 2013 vintage, it is the top left photograph - sadly it did not get the sheep treatment - that will now be next year.