Our Philosophy of Grape Growing

Great fruit comes from a combination of several factors, all of which are equally important, but only a few of which can be controlled. Viticulture is one of the oldest and most studied topics on our planet. The best way to get expressive fruit is through low yields per vine, but the vine also needs to be balanced - in fact vine balance is the Holy Grail of grape growing. Allowing the vine to grow as naturally as possible, and yet still controlling every aspect, is the goal. I use a combination of biodiversity techniques and cover crops to naturally balance pests and grape vine vigour.

I started planting my grapes in 1995 with a spacing of 39" inter vine and 9' between rows and then attempted to control vigour through above the ground efforts like unique trellising techniques. Through experimentation over the years, I learned that allowing air and flecked light through to Pinot Noir resulted in ripening a fresher fruit, like cherries, and full light on Cabernet Sauvignon resulted in chocolate black currant flavours. However controlling vigour through trellising could only go so far. More recently my attempts to control the below the ground efforts seem to give the best results.

Competition between vines on poor soils works in controlling vigour, but this same method does not work in rich soils. For rich soils, vine competition in combination with competition from aggressive grasses give better results. Vines are fussy, and need conditions nearly perfectly optimized in order to be consistent and expressive, so I have installed a drip irrigation system to nurture my vines with the different nutrients they may require throughout the growing season. I have also been moving as quickly as possible towards a vine density of at least 5500 vines per hectare. This will allow me to control vine vigour and balance while reducing vine yields to about 1 to 2 Kg per vine, which is much lower than the current standard practice of 5 to 7 Kg per vine.

Over the last 10 years I have embraced biodiversity and I am always looking for new ways to improve and increase natural methods of controlling vigour, pests, and vine balance while reducing the need for artificial methods. Last year, I began a new phase in which I will experiment with a high density planting of a variety of native flowers and beneficial plants that would allow a natural pest/beneficial insect balance to be established in the vineyard in order to naturally control pests while also establishing a cover crop balance that helps to control grape vine vigour.

© Copyright Hughes Vineyards 2009