14/03/2023 // Paul Harrison
As we look ahead to a new growing season, the word that always comes to mind is ‘balance’. As firm believers in sustainable viticulture, our goal is to not only create balance of the vines but also create balance between our wine-making activity and the wider natural ecosystem.
By introducing a variety of plant and animal species into our vineyard and promoting biodiversity, we are creating a thriving, balanced ecosystem that will help us in a multitude of ways – from managing pests to improving soil health and enhancing the flavour of our wines.
Our ladybird army
One example of this is how we combat aphids – the invasive species that can cause significant damage and stunted growth in the vines if left unchecked. In the past, pesticides and other chemical treatments would have been used to eliminate these tiny destructive invaders. But at Saffron Grange, we manage this threat by encouraging a strong ladybird population. When the aphids descend, our ladybird warriors get to work to restore balance and help keep our vines safe, without the need for chemical intervention.
Our work with the wonderful charity Creating Nature’s Corridors last year saw us plant 1,000 trees with a further 385 additional trees this year. As well as looking beautiful, these trees will play many invaluable roles in vineyard management, creating natural wind breaks and frost protection for the vines, whilst helping protect wildlife and create new habitats for a thriving and biodiverse ecosystem.
Our wildlife meadow is also going from strength to strength. We tend not to use the term ‘rewilding’ as creating wild areas requires careful management, particularly in the first few years until it finds its natural balance. We are now starting to see the fruits of our labour as some of the wildflowers we planted in 2021 are now (hopefully!) self-seeding, requiring far less human intervention and attracting a wealth of wildlife, including a wild and diverse bird population.
Nurturing balanced soil
As we have all been learning over the last 20 to 30 years, what goes on underground is just as important as what happens above it and creating balance in the soil is paramount. As much as possible we encourage the microbiome of the soil, which includes beneficial fungi that live in the soil and form relationships with the plant roots. Vines are an indigenous woodland plant that have evolved to have symbiotic relationships with fungi; we are learning more about these conditions and trying to recreate them where possible. These fungal relationships help improve the carbon sequestration capacity of the soil and the nutrient uptake of the vines and in our opinion even enhance the flavour of our wines.
Last year we introduced compost into the vineyard and will be spreading this out to the rest of the vineyard this year and following years. Fungal-rich and ‘Vermicast’ (worm) composts introduce and enhance soil life which in turn improves the health of our vines. This improved health results in stronger immunity from diseases, for example, fungal diseases such as noble rot, meaning we can reduce our interference with nature and create balance. We’ve also been trialling our own composting using pruning wood and grape pomace from the vineyard. If this is successful, it will bring us closer to having a ‘closed loop’ system, meaning we reduce waste and keep as much organic matter in the vineyard as possible.
The heat is on
As we sit shivering keeping everything crossed for a frost-free Spring, it seems impossible to think that just a few months ago we were experiencing record high temperatures. The hot, extended summers create optimal conditions for grape-growing, but as we look ahead to Summer 2023 again balance is front of mind as we must ensure that the vines can access enough water.
Saffron Grange benefits from the chalky soil of the Saffron region, which holds water particles well. The roots of our vines stretch down a good 1 – 1.5 metres and can access moisture even on the hottest of days. However, rain has been minimal this Spring so we will be keeping a watchful eye on the water table in case we need to replenish the reserves.
Sustainable vineyard management is a constant balancing act, requiring lots of thought and focused planning, but for us it is a crucial part of the Saffron Grange taste – one that can be enjoyed knowing that every effort is being made to minimise the impact of our work on the environment, creating a thriving biodiverse ecosystem from which we can all benefit.