VineFacts turns 600 – will they be celebrating with bubbly?

VineFacts, produced by scientists at Plant & Food Research and published by New Zealand Winegrowers, provides information on weather and potential disease pressure to help growers make decisions for vineyard management to optimise their crop.

In the mid-1990s, a Technology for Business Growth project was set up in Marlborough that looked at integrated disease management of vines. It looked to compare different spray regimes for botrytis, powdery mildew and downy mildew.

One of the main outcomes was a weekly disease monitoring of blocks and the dissemination of advice on sprays through a publication called Smartfax.

This fax-based service was sent out to a small group of local Marlborough viticulturists and winemakers. Over the years the number of recipients grew and today all New Zealand Winegrowers members have access to it. The name has also changed, from Smartfax to Vinefax to VineFacts. It also changed from being sent out by fax, to being sent out by email and now it is web-based.

Since the 2014-15 season VineFacts has been a national publication covering Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, Marlborough, North Canterbury and Central Otago. Its content has also expanded to include weather summaries from different weather stations around these districts, vine phenology, yield comparisons from monitored blocks, information of potential botrytis and powdery mildew infection periods as well as pertinent articles of interest.

Over the years, this publication has been financially sustained through subscriptions, the Marlborough Research Centre Trust and the Sustainable Farming Fund.

For the period 1997 to 2014 VineFacts was under the ownership of the Marlborough Research Centre Trust (MRC). With the expansion of VineFacts to a national publication in 2014 the MRC Trust gifted ownership of VineFacts to New Zealand Winegrowers.

NZW now funds VineFacts to be freely available to all members. VineFacts is also supported with substantial in-kind funding from Plant & Food Research and collaborating wine companies.

Dr Rengasamy Balasubramaniam, known to the industry as Bala, was responsible for getting VineFacts off the ground in the 1990s. Rob Agnew, who now leads the project, has been part of the VineFacts team since its inception, joined by Victoria Raw in 2006.

Source: Plant & Food Research

New Zealand Winegrowers Research Centre appoints Professor Brian Jordan

New Zealand Winegrowers Research Centre (NZWRC) and Lincoln University have announced that Professor Brian Jordan will be joining the NZWRC team, as Acting Head of Science to assist with the NZWRC’s establishment.

While retaining his role at Lincoln University, Professor Jordan will be working part-time with NZWRC management and representatives of other universities and research institutes to shape the NZWRC science programme.

Professor Jordan is Professor of Plant Biotechnology at Lincoln University and has more than 30 years of experience in plant biochemistry and molecular biology. He received his doctorate on plant amino acid metabolism from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne University, in Britain, and carried out post-doctoral research on lipid biosynthesis at Cardiff University. Throughout his research career he has studied light regulation of plant growth and development, particularly the molecular response of plants to ultraviolet radiation.

In 2003, Professor Jordan was appointed to the Board of the Marlborough Wine Research Centre and has been involved in New Zealand viticulture and oenology since then.

Professor Jordan is now focusing entirely on viticulture research, especially effects of canopy manipulation on grape biochemistry and molecular biology.

In February 2011 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Örebro University, Sweden, in recognition of his professional excellence in plant biology and went on to spend five months undertaking research at ISVV, Bordeaux, that year. In addition to his research activities Professor Jordan has been dean of faculty and on the Lincoln University Council between 2015 and 2018.

Professor Jordan said the establishment of the NZ Winegrowers Research Centre is an excellent opportunity to develop a coordinated research strategy that will provide scientific leadership and innovation to future-proof the New Zealand wine industry. He said he was “very pleased to be able to contribute to its establishment.” 

Source: Lincoln University

Winemaker’s legacy lives on through scholarship at Lincoln

Chancellor with group banner

Pictured (from left) are Clive and Maria Dow, Katrina Jackson and Chancellor Steve Smith.

Katrina Jackson, who received the Nikolas Dow Memorial Scholarship in 2014, gained a Bachelor of Viticulture & Oenology at Lincoln’s graduation ceremony on Friday.

Nikolas Dow (known as Niki) graduated five years ago with his own BVO after coming to Lincoln from Auckland’s St Kentigern College. He was working in 2013 at a vineyard in Portugal when he and another winemaker were killed in a car crash.

Niki’s parents, Maria and Clive Dow, flew from Auckland to see Katrina receive her qualification.

Niki’s family and friends established a charitable trust in 2013 to provide funding to young people interested in careers in the wine industry.

Katrina first met Niki’s relatives two years later when she flew to Auckland to attend an annual golf event that was organised to raise money for the scholarship.

“I was welcomed into the home of the Dow family and since then, I have spent a lot of time with them,” she said. “They are an incredibly generous and loving family and I keep in touch with them several times a year.”

Niki’s parents said yesterday they were proud of their son’s legacy.

“It’s a bittersweet day, as Niki’s graduation was only five years ago, so it’s very fresh in our minds,” Mr Dow said. “But the association with Lincoln means a lot. Other universities are big and impersonal, but Lincoln is different and it’s very special to us. Niki loved it here.”

The group met with Chancellor Steve Smith before the graduation ceremony, with Mr and Mrs Dow gifting the University a bottle of commemorative wine from the Portugal vineyard where Niki worked.

“The vineyard produced the wine from the 2013 harvest, which Niki had been working on when he passed away,” Mrs Dow said.

“It’s a special label, made as a tribute to the two who were killed and Niki’s name has been printed on the cork.”

Since finishing her studies at Lincoln, Katrina has worked at vineyards in both New Zealand and Portugal and is now the Assistant Vineyard Manager of Central Otago’s Chard Farm Winery.

The Chard Farm Winery was one of the first vintages to employ Niki and Mr Dow recently contacted the owner to ask if future Lincoln graduates could be given the opportunity to work there.

“He really liked the idea,” Mr Dow said.

Source: Lincoln University

Australian team’s research shows wine grapes gasping for breath

University of Adelaide researchers have discovered how grapes “breathe”, and that shortage of oxygen leads to cell death in the grape.

According to a report today on the Scimex website, this raises many questions about the potentially significant impacts on grape and wine quality and flavour and vine management, and may lead to new ways of selecting varieties for warming climates.

“In 2008 we discovered the phenomenon of cell death in grapes, which can be implicated where there are problems with ripening. We’ve since been trying to establish what causes cell death,” says Professor Steve Tyerman, Chair of Viticulture at the University of Adelaide’s Waite campus.

“Although there were hints that oxygen was involved, until now we’ve not known of the role of oxygen and how it enters the berry.”

Professor Tyerman and PhD student Zeyu Xiao from the University’s Australian Research Council Training Centre for Innovative Wine Production have identified that during ripening, grapes suffer internal oxygen shortage.

The research was in collaboration with Dr Victor Sadras, South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), and Dr Suzy Rogiers, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Wagga Wagga.

Published in the Journal of Experimental Botany, the researchers’ report describes how grape berries suffer internal oxygen shortage during ripening. With the use of a miniature oxygen measuring probe – the first time this has been done in grapes – they compared oxygen profiles across the flesh inside grapes of Chardonnay, Shiraz and Ruby Seedless table grape.

They found the level of oxygen shortage closely correlated with cell death within the grapes. Respiration measurements indicated that this would be made worse by high temperatures during ripening – expected to happen more frequently with global warming.

“By manipulating oxygen supply we discovered that small pores on the surface of the berry stem were vital for oxygen supply, and if they were blocked this caused increased cell death within the berry of Chardonnay, essentially suffocating the berry. We also used micro X-ray computed tomography (CT) to show that air canals connect the inside of the berry with the small pores on the berry stem,” says Mr Xiao.

“Shiraz has a much smaller area of these oxygen pores on the berry stem which probably accounts for its greater sensitivity to temperature and higher degree of cell death within the berry.”

Professor Vladimir Jiranek, Director of the University of Adelaide’s ARC Training Centre for Innovative Wine Production, says this breakthrough on how grapes breathe will provide the basis for further research into berry quality and cultivar selection for adapting viticulture to a warming climate.

The study was supported by the Australian Government’s Industrial Transformation Research Program with support from Wine Australia and industry partners.

Vineyard cover crops are shown to reduce expense and help the environment

Cornell researchers are advising vineyard managers in cool and humid climates to cover up.

Maintaining bare soil beneath vines has long been accepted management practice used to stifle competition and preserve water and nutrients for grapevines, according to a press release from Cornell University.

Exposing soil beneath trellises has been achieved by using extensive herbicide treatments, a practice that is expensive and potentially damaging to the surrounding vineyard ecosystem and locations downstream, due to runoff. Excessive vine growth, furthermore, can result as a function of the lack of competition for water and nutrients, requiring costly canopy management practices in the vineyard to maintain fruit quality.

Planting cover crops under grapevines instead can remediate these problems, according to researchers at Cornell’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY.

A series of studies led by Justine Vanden Heuvel, associate professor in the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science, provides vineyard managers with an environmentally sustainable alternative to herbicide treatments in cool and humid climates, while tamping down the cost associated with unnecessary herbicide use.

Researchers grew buckwheat, annual ryegrass, white clover and an assortment of local plants known as native vegetation over a period of three or four years, in a one-metre wide strip to see how the grape vines fared as an alternative to maintaining bare ground through either herbicide or cultivation.

Their findings showed that growing cover crops beneath grape vines reduced nitrogen leaching through the soil compared to the herbicide plots. Dissolved organic carbon (a proxy for soil breakdown) was lower in the cover crop plots, and the neonicotinoid insecticide Imidacloprid — which has garnered attention for its harmful impacts on honey bees and other pollinators — was found in fewer leachate samples and at lower concentrations in the cover crop plots compared to the herbicide treatments.

Not only does a reduction in herbicide benefit the environment, it also has economic ramifications for vineyards as well. Vanden Heuevel said the cost of seeding and maintaining most cover crops is estimated to be less than using herbicides, saving vineyards money while protecting the environment from excessive herbicide applications.

“With the ample precipitation that the Northeast receives in most years, there is little reason to be using herbicides in mature winegrape vineyards,” said Vanden Heuvel.

“This work has shown that cover crops can reduce vineyard expenses while improving environmental sustainability compared to herbicides.”

Some of the cover crops also proved a useful tool for reducing vine growth in newer vineyards. Excessive vine growth, known as vigor, can shade the fruit from the sunlight it needs to produce desirable flavors and aromas.

While cover crops had little impact on mature vineyards, the researchers found reduced vine growth and yield in younger vineyards, likely as a result of shallower root systems competing with the cover crops. Both those qualities can prove advantageous: less dense vines increases sun exposure on the fruit, improving quality of the grape, and many winemakers prefer lower yields. Deploying cover crops in a vigorous vineyard could potentially provide a level of control that helps growers achieve a balanced vine, according to Vanden Heuvel.

The studies were published in the journals HortTechnology, the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture and the forthcoming issue of HortScience.