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Holistic vines at Chard Farm in Central Otago

Cover crops encourage benefical insects at Chard vineyard

Holistic vines at Chard Farm in Central Otago

Anyone familiar with the drive through the Gibbston Valley towards Queenstown has seen the iconic Chard Farm winery and barrel room on its site tucked under the mountains by the Kawerau River.

What you may not know is that Chard Farm's vineyard plantings are more extensive than those seen on the home vineyard. More than 100 ha of wine grapes contribute to Chard Farm's annual vintage, with vineyards in Bannockburn, near Cromwell, and the Lowburn and Parkburn areas along the Cromwell-Wanaka Road. Pinot Noir is the most extensively planted variety, with the area of Chardonnay being extended in recent years. They also have Pinot Gris and Riesling, as well as some Sauvignon Blanc.

Hamish Hay, Chard Farm's Vineyard Manager, says the sites vary from the steep glaciated valleys to fertile plains, and everything in between.

“We manage around 25 percent of our properties organically, and the remainder according to Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand in a way sympathetic to each vineyard's unique terroir.”

Hamish describes his management style as holistic. “We use regenerative techniques extensively, aiming to improve our soils using cover crops which are roller-crimped to drop the drying cover crop in the rows. We’re also mindful of water use and try to limit irrigation use. In some places, we haven’t used irrigation for several years while also trying to use herbicides sparingly.”

Central Otago’s climate offers many benefits for those who grow premium wine grapes. The harsh winters and low rainfall keep pests and diseases to a minimum, while the hot summers enable good canopy development. Autumn typically features warm days and cool nights to allow slow and complex phenolic and flavour development during the ripening period.

Powdery mildew is the biggest disease challenge, says Hamish. “Then frost across all the vineyards. Gibbston Valley has a slightly wetter, colder climate than the sites around Cromwell so we generally have higher pressure for powdery mildew there.”

Heat stress during hot summer months is another consideration and Hamish started using Megafol, from Valagro, to support vines during these conditions. “I was blown away at how quickly vines started to recover. Within days of application, we had extended tendril growth past the growing tips and the canopy was green again almost overnight.”

Hamish now uses several biostimulant products from the Valagro range, saying they are easy to use, and application timings fit with their normal spray schedule.

“We’re not having to do anything over and above to fit these products into our operation,” Hamish explains. “We use specific Valagro products depending on the site, season and growth stage of the vines. For example, where we have had high powdery pressure in the past, this year we used Kendal which feeds and strengthens the vines. We definitely saw lower powdery infection and attribute that to the product helping the plants to combat the disease.”

Hamish deploys Vitaseve in areas where they’ve seen signs of trunk disease. “It promotes new wood production and supports sap circulation. If applied correctly, it helps to reduce the number of vines showing visible symptoms of truck disease.”

Just prior to flowering, they apply Brexil Mix and MC Set. “Brexil Mix provides micronutrients and MC Set supports flowering and pollination. Together, they’ve helped maintain crop levels across the season, reducing any seasonal swings in crop loading. We’ve also seen MC Set support flowering results, especially in years when flowering is compromised by inclement weather.”

Hamish’s vineyard management programme is supported by Blair Deaker, Technical Horticultural Representative at Fruitfed Supplies Cromwell. Together, they also draw on the specialised knowledge of Nic Peters, Agritrade’s South Island Territory Manager for Valagro biostimulant products.

Having just completed his sixth season with Chard Farm, Hamish values being able to call on people like Blair and Nic for information where needed. “Blair’s friendly demeanour and banter make him a pleasure to deal with. He has years of knowledge as a grower himself, so that really helps if things get stressful.”

The Chard Farm team ended the 2022-23 season happy with the quality and quantity of fruit harvested. A cool, fine start to spring was followed by a fantastic, warm summer. They started harvest in March in a Chardonnay block in the Cromwell basin and finished harvest in early May.