Stuart Dudleys trip report, 2011

Introduction

Last year I was fortunate enough to win both the New Zealand Young Viticulturist and New Zealand Young Horticulturist of the Year awards, with these great awards I was presented with an opportunity to travel to a region of choice to further educate myself in viticulture.  We decided to visit many places, starting in winter in South America before heading to the European summer.  My partner Charlotte and I left New Zealand on the 31st May, and returned on the 19th September and in that time visited 11 countries and 12 significant wine regions.

The trip started in Chile, South America with a visit to the Casa Blanca Valley.  From here we went over to Argentina visiting the young Northern Patagonian wine region near Neuquén, then up to Mendoza.

At the end of June we flew from Argentina to Spain, going south to the town of Jerez (home of sherry wine). We crossed over to Portugal and headed north to the city of Porto, visiting the Douro Valley, then travelling further north to the Vinho Verde region and the town of Moncao (regional home of Alvarinho). On our way to Bordeaux we passed through La Rioja in Spain.

By mid July we entered France visiting the regions of Bordeaux and Sancerre, which proved to be a real highlight.  The next part of the trip we went up to Cologne Germany, where I was given the opportunity to visit the Bayer Crop science research facility in Monheim before spending some time visiting the Mosel-Rhine wine region.

From here we visited the Cinque Terra in Italy and spent some time in Tuscany although we did not have any official vineyard visits while here.

Some Points of Learning

Planting Density

Almost all of the higher end producers in Europe have planting densities much higher than the majority of New Zealand.  The main reasons being:

  • High value on the right terroir, hence planting as much on it as possible;
  • Creating competition to lower vigour and drive the roots deeper;
  • Catching more sunlight per hectare in turn increasing the concentration of the wines.

Irrigation (lack of):

Again much of Europe was un-irrigated, and in many cases on lighter soils than we have in New Zealand.  Although this may not necessarily be improving quality via stress, the idea of having the roots much deeper, therefore giving greater complexity was often brought up. 

Organics/Bio-dynamics:

I learned some of the levels this is now being done at overseas, many of the top end producers are leaning this way, often citing an improvement in wine quality. I would be interested to look more closely at the effects of copper after a discussion with a winemaker in Bordeaux.   

Focus on Quality - Individual and Cooperative:

The successful regions all had a similar focus, quality.  The producers are passionate about making the best wine from their site every year, and this constant focus has usually delivered consistent high quality wines that now have high value.  Many appellations have a co-operative focus on this quality which is great to see and I feel has merit in New Zealand.

Trellising/Canopy Management:

This varied from region to region, but all had a specific reason for being the way they are, be it creating shade for the fruit or maximising sun exposure.  A large proportion of all the canopy work seen was done by hand, a large task, however it delivers results.  I think we need to look at trellising as a way to maximise fruit quality not yield.

Push the Boundaries:

The effort that goes into producing some of the wines was amazing, whether is be extreme climatic conditions, of impossible terrain; nothing stopped people from forming sites to grow wine.  It may be that our best sites do not lie on the easily planted river flats.

Summary of Each Country and Region Visited

Chile

Casa Blanca Valley

The Casa Blanca wine region is situated west of Santiago just inland from the Pacific coast. It is closer to the equator than most “cool climate” regions in the world.
The regions temperatures are regulated by the cool winds formed on the Humboldt Current on the nearby Pacific Ocean.  Sea mist often covers the valley in the night and early morning, delaying the affect of the intense Chilean sun, and keeping temperatures down.  Main varieties are typical of cool climate Chile: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and some aromatics. Soils are predominantly a sandy clay loam, with little organic matter.  Harvesting generally takes place in March and April, with the aim to harvest fruit with good natural acidity.

We visited two wineries while here.

1. Indomita:

A large corporate winery processing some 4 million litres, the main varieties are Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  All reserve grade Sauvignon Blanc and above is matured in oak barrels (predominantly French).  The Sauvignon Blanc tried all had great natural acidity (none added in winemaking); the oak maturation does add some complexity however the wines were not as expressive as what can be found in NZ.  The vineyards were set up in a standard VSP system, most work is done by hand, although machine harvesting is practiced.

2. Santa Emeliana 
This is large organic and biodynamic practicing winery, farming approximately 270 hectares.  They claim to be the only organically registered company in Chile, with the Casablanca valley making up only a portion of their 1200 hectares spread across other Chilean wine regions. 
A large variety of wines were available, including a great tasting syrah, and Marsanne.
As a biodynamic vineyard there are many differences here in comparison to Indomita.  Animals (including llama) are kept on site and a number of different crops are grown down the rows.  The were doing a number of trials based around different cover crops, as well as growing herbs to later be used as a plant tonic.  Viticulture practices are very intensive, with a large amount of manual labour through the season.  The vineyards were irrigated.

 

Argentina

Northern Patagonia: San Patricio del Chanar

Our first stop in Argentina was the city of Neuquén, situated in Northern Patagonia.  This is the base for San Patricio del Chanar the fastest growing wine region in Argentina, with almost 4000 acres planted out in the last 6 years.

Growing conditions here can be harsh with high risk of frosts at either end of the season. The other predominant climatic factor is very strong winds that blow for the majority of the year.  The soils appeared to be predominantly sandy loam and some stones, and vines are grown with drip irrigation, with water supplied from the Neuquén river system that feeds off the Andes.  Water is thought to be becoming an issue with poor snow falls limiting summer melts.  The low vigour soils, persistent winds, low rainfall (usually less than 200mm/year) means that vigour is quite restricted and disease pressure is low. Temperatures can get up to the mid forties in summer, and diurnal variation can be as much as 20 degrees. The people here were very upbeat about the region and its potential and I felt this was represented in the quality of wines I tasted. 

We visited two wineries here as part of a private tour organised from Neuquén with an English speaking guide.

1. Fin del Mundo

Claiming to be the only 21st century winery in Argentina this winery really represents the amount of interest and effort going into this new region in Argentina.  This very modern facility processes fruit from 850 hectares of company vineyards spread through Patagonia.  The main varieties grown are Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon (70% production), but also intake Tanat, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Viogner, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. 

The reds all had elegance about them that I did not get when in Mendoza, with better acidity and structure.  The Syrah and Pinot Noirs were similar in style to Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough respectively. I really enjoyed their Merlot, and the winemaker mentioned that they see a lot of potential in this variety and are looking to expand production.

The Sauvignon Blanc was fresh and expressive, they do not use oak with their Sauvignon Blanc like the majority of the Chilean and Argentinean producers, and the wine is released early.  Although not as aromatic as a typical New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, it still exhibits herbaceous and citrus characters.  Stylistically this winery was producing wines similar to the majority of New Zealand wineries with fruit focused styles, maintaining freshness and acidity.  This may be why the region is considered to be on the up.

Viticulture: A large amount of the work is done by hand including leaf plucking, shoot thinning, harvesting).  The vines (all still young) were on a spur pruned system, with very consistent vigour. The shoots were all of similar diameter and well positioned (indicating a lot of good shoot selection done), and there were very few doubles of laterals present (visit was done in winter so looking at defoliated vines).   

When I asked about the previous season frost appeared to have played a part with one of the vineyards sustaining 40% loss coming into harvest.


Young Pinot Noir at Familia Shroeder on VSP

2. Familia Shroeder

Another modern winery, built in 2006 and designed so the majority of the winery is gravity fed (five levels in the winery) but much smaller than Fin Del Mundo.  Familia Shroeder has approximately 48 hectares of grapes, with similarities in viticulture with Fin Del Mundo.

They produce a wide array of wines including an attractive sparkling rose; all their sparkling wine is made using the charmat method in stainless tanks.  Again there is a heavy reliance on manual labour, with extensive work done on sorting tables at harvest.

Harvest begins in the first week of February with the sparkling varieties and finishes mid April with the Bordeaux varietals.

The wines here were again fresh and lively, the Pinot Noir was a disappointment with a very confectionary sweetness to it, which was also noticed in the Malbec.  Again the Merlot was my pick of the varieties produced.  The Sauvignon Blanc is placed in French oak and held back from release, it is a full bodied style with many secondary characters coming through.

Mendoza

A trip to Argentina would not be complete without visiting is wine heartland of Mendoza.  Mendoza is home to more than 80% of Argentina’s production, with over 150,000 hectares planted. We spent two days visiting three vineyards/wineries.  Mendoza is the home of Malbec and this variety is the predominant variety throughout the region.  Mendoza as a region is situated reasonably high altitude (ranging from 1500 to 4500 ft), it is made up of distinct sub regions, and we visited the Maipu sub-region while here.  There appeared to be a concerted focus on improving the quality of there wines by better viticultural techniques and experimenting with different varieties across the wide range of terroir found in the region. 

Mendoza has the advantages of a long dry summer, with little rain and low humidity, resulting in low disease pressure through the year.

1. Checchin

Checchin vineyard/winery had around 70 hectares of grapes all of which is organically farmed.  The organic viticulture here was not like I had seen before.  There were olive and fruit trees situated inside the vineyard, these trees shaded vines and the also though that the birds feed on the fruit trees rather than the grapes. The trees also provide shelter from the wind, and the fruit that falls is spread down the rows, to add to the organic matter of the soil. Weeds were controlled by a horse drawn plough, and no foliar sprays were applied.  All fruit is hand harvested, so they can pick around the variation caused by the shading. 

All vines were on own roots, and sick or dead vines were replaced by training a shoot from a neighbouring vine down through the soil and up where the sick/dead vine was.   Planting density is quite high, and variable, and the vines are grown on a loose VSP system.  The wines are all hand labelled and corked, fermentation takes place in large concrete fermenters.  100% of the grape marc is composted and returned to the vineyard.

Varieties were typical of Mendoza, predominantly producing Malbec; however they were very proud of a highly perfumed Moscato.

2. Vistandes

Very modern winery in the Maipu region, Vistandes has around 30 hectares of predominantly Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Malbec was all trained in a VSP system, whereas the Cabernet Sauvignon was grown on a high T-shaped trellis where the vines are planted in rows, are trained up and then trained horizontally.  This creates shade for the fruit, which they feel is very important to avoid the jammy characters that can be produced otherwise.

The irrigation here was of interest, during summer they will irrigate 3 times per day for an hour each time, the soil was quite sandy so I assumed that this is to avoid loosing water through the profile, however it would not increase the root depth.

Again reds were all fermented in concrete tanks, before being transferred to barrels (predominantly French).  It was here that we had some Torrontes (white perfumed wine) however I found the white a bit high in alcohol and phenolics, likely a result of the intense sun.  The reds were good but not great.

3. Tempus Alba

Tempus Alba, has vineyards across three sub-regions in Mendoza of some 100 hectares, and is very focused on the production of Malbec. The have isolated lots of Malbec clones and actively search out possible variants.  The have numerous trial rows looking at different clone/rootstock combinations, and do a lot of small parcel wine making. Vines are trained predominantly in VSP, and pergola systems.  As with the previous two vineyards almost all operations are done manually.
Tempus Alba is part of a much bigger company and is considered the “Special Project” through its focus on research and improvement on its winegrowing and making.  

The wine here was the best of the visit to Mendoza, with some great syrah on offer.
Spain


Palomino Fino in the Albariza soils at Tio Pepe.

Jerez de Fonterra             

Jerez de Fonterra is the home of sherry in Spain, located in southern Spain, close to Seville. There are thousands of hectares Palomino Fino planted across the region.  The vines are grown in the famous white Albariza soils which are predominantly made of chalk (50%) along with limestone and clay.  These soils have the ability to absorb large amounts of water and hold it through the long dry seasons, allowing the rapes to grow.  It is written in Spanish law that at least 40% of “sherry” has to come from this soil type to get the sherry designation.

The variety itself does not make a good table wine; it is low in acid and quite neutral in flavour.  Sherry is the fortification of this wine with brandy.  We arrived in Jerez at the beginning of July and Veraison was just starting, the planting we viewed was quite closely planted (>3000/ha.) and appeared to have high yield per vine (5kg+).

The major winery (bodega) in Jerez is the world renowned Tio Pepe which has an excellent visitors centre and tour showing the entire sherry process.  The wines are made in barrels in an oxidative process.  The barrels are stacked in three tiers, each year 1/3 of the top barrel is removed and placed in the barrel below, which in turn has 1/3 removed and place in the barrel below it.  The wine is bottled from the bottom barrel (taking 1/3 a year). It is an amazing system which means that the bottom barrel has a combination of many vintages combined and allows for the wines to remain consistent.


Tempranillo vines in La Rioja

 

La Rioja

We hired a car for a day to explore Rioja, and it was the size of the region that really hit me.  There are over 100,000 hectares planted, predominantly in Tempranillo.  There was a mixture of soil types but predominantly clay with high levels of chalk and iron.  Many of the older vines are not on trellising, being grown as bush vines, the majority of the newer plantings were in VSP rows. A notable aspect of the region was the lack of plants in the mid row, with most vineyards just having cultivated ground. We stopped at many vineyards but the real highlight was the visit to Dinastia Vivanco.  This state of the art interactive wine museum/education centre holds a wealth of information on the region and its long history with grape growing and wine.   Many old pieces of machinery are kept here and it was great to see the evolution of the products we use today including harvesters, ploughs, barrels and bottle openers.   The centre is a real show piece for the region and leaves the visitors with a great understanding of the process and the passion of wine in Rioja.

The wines tried here were generally of excellent quality, being very soft tannins, intense fruit flavour, and well priced.

 

Portugal

Porto and the Douro Valley

Porto is a magnificent place to visit and learn about one of the most successful wines in the world, Port.  The port houses located here hold and age and blend the port wine that is grown along the banks of the Douro River.  We visited all of the big Port Houses including Taylors, Croft and Calem; all have great visor centres showing the history of the industry. While at Taylors we organised a visit to one of their vineyards up the Douro Valley called Fonseca. 

I found the Port houses to be more pro-active in marketing than I thought, with a new push on white ports being sold as an aperitif, mixed with soda and lime.  I found this interesting in that although they are so successful with their traditional port styles they are still evolving their wines to meet a changing in consumer demand.


Terraced Vineyard at Fonseca’s Quinta de Panascal

Our visit up the Douro Valley was amazing, taking the train up the valley with endless terraces planted in vines.  Some of the newer vineyards have rows going down the hill, but the majority are on terraces that were carved out of the hill using manual labour, explosives and more recently bull dozers.  The Valley is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site because of this amazing effort put towards the growing of vines.

The vineyard we visited was Fonseca’s Quinta de Panascal which is located on the southern side of the mid Douro.  The vineyard was made of schist terraces with three planting types, stone walled single row, three row (made with bulldozer), and VSP down the hill. All vines are grown on a double goyet system.  All vines are planted on rootstock and the roots are though to go some 10-20 meters down in search of moisture as there is no irrigation allowed. Growing conditions are warm and dry so disease pressure is low. 

I was interested in the way vineyards were graded by the controlling body. Vineyards are given a score based upon soil type, altitude, variety, orientation, density and vine age to name a few, this score denotes the classification level of the vineyard.  The grade you receive then denotes how much you can produce, "A" grade the highest allows no more than 600 litres per 1000 vines. 

Fonseca is an “A” graded vineyard and is the only vineyard in the world to have three wines score a perfect hundred in Wine Spectator.

Vinho Verde/Moncao

This region is known for its production of Vinho Verde wines, which are predominantly made for Alvarinho grapes.  The wines from Moncao the principle town in region located near the Spanish border were all 100% Alvarinho.  Many of the vineyards we visited were small family holdings who supply one of the local wineries.  The viticulture practices here was relaxed at best, with many vines grown along a tall loose T-shaped trellis, allowing the fruit to hang under the shade created by the vines.  Some of the growers make their own wines, which are very cheap, but of poor quality.

In Moncao, titled the “Home of Alvarinho”, there is a good wine centre that has a wide range of wines for tasting and some information on the region. 

The T-trellis system for Alvarinho in Moncao

The best vineyard/winery visited was Palacio da Brejoeira, which is has around 20 hectares located around an old palace.  The viticulture here was an improvement on the smaller family vineyards, but still was quite minimal.  Most vines were on the high T-shaped trellis, or left to sprawl, both systems designed to lower the amount of sun reaching the fruit. 

Generally I was disappointed with the wines, and thought they could be much better if the viticulture was improved and there was consensus among the many land holders of how it is best to grow the variety.  I imagine the variability at harvest would be large and make it difficult for the wineries to maintain quality.  Palacio da Brejoeira’s wine was the pick of the bunch, but still lacked the vibrancy I was expecting from the regions wines.

 

France

Bordeaux

Bordeaux was the highlight of the trip, with it amazing expanse of vineyards over different sub-regions. There are some 117,000 hectares in Bordeaux, and over 60 appellations, all governed by the appellation control board.
I was very fortunate to get in touch with Amber Parker, who had been studying in Bordeaux, who put me in touch with some people in the industry which allowed me to visit some amazing vineyards.

We were in Bordeaux for only four days so only saw small sections of the region but they left a great impression.  I visited three of the sub regions

  1. Graves

Literally translating to gravel, the Graves appellation is south of Bordeaux city and the vines are grown on stony/sandy soils. The main varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, with Malbec being recently reintroduces.  The Graves wines are known for their finesse and minerality with less tannin than wines from the Medoc appellation.  From planting the vines do not often bear there first crop for five years, and vineyards are generally replaced after 40-50 years.   The winery visited was called Chateau de Castres, which produces some 250,000 bottles per year.  Recently they have been increasing the planting density as they believe this is improving their wine quality by making the vine work harder, currently they lowest density they have is 5000 vines/hectare.  They use no herbicides and turn the soil over with a plough; this was also thought to drive the roots down. They cannot harvest more fruit per hectare, but the winemaker talked about catching as much sun as possible to put in the grapes.  We visited pre-veraison, and it was noticeable that lignification was already quite advanced. There were low bunch numbers per vines, and the shoots were perfectly positioned with no laterals, doubles or short shoots.  The soils were literally gravel.

A discussion was had with the winemaker about organics, which is a pathway they have gone down, however he spoke of the problems with sulphur and copper, in that they should not be used in the organic system as they are biocidal. Also he does not want copper near the fruit as he feels it can affect the flavours, he prefers to use synthetic chemicals over copper if required.

The wines here were all fantastic.

  1. Sauternes

The Sauternes appellation of Bordeaux is only small, with around 2200 hectares, which is controlled by 200 wineries.  Sauternes is famous for making very sweet dessert wines from predominantly Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.  It is an amazing appellation in the way that it is perfectly situated to produce the wine style created.  Located next to the largest forest in France measuring some 50 by 250 kilometres, the appellation gets a large amount of mist that comes of the river when it exits the coolness of the forest into the wine country.  This mist creates conditions that are conducive to the formation of Botrytis on the bunches, which in turn creates noble rot, which is successively harvested as it reaches the right sugar levels.

The vineyard/winery I visited was La Tour Blanch (The White Tower) which is one of the bigger producers (40 hectares).  What I took away from here was the amount of work done viticulturally to position the fruit to deliver the goal.  Vine densities are very high, with over 5000 vines per hectare, and everything except for spraying is done by hand.  The Sauvignon Blanc I looked at often had less than 4-5 bunches per vine, and leaf plucked on the northern side only.  The harvesting is usually done over 3-4 weeks, with hand harvesters removing only the parts of bunches that have sufficient botrytis levels and are very concentrated. Often four or five passes may be done through a block at harvest before it is complete.  By law they are not allowed to produce more than 25 hectolitres (2500 litres) per hectare, although this is rarely achieved with only 12 hectolitres last year and as low as three hectolitres before that. The winemaker made the comment that it is usually about a glass of wine for every vine.  Their passion to create the best wines every year really started to hit home while visiting here, as there did not to be many lengths they would not go to, to ensure that the vineyard delivered to its potential every year.  They have the luxury of producing a high value product, but they are not sitting back with confidence, but continue to want to improve.


Visiting Cheval Blanc, St. Emellion

Saint Emellion

We were taken by our host to what they considered the most beautiful appellation in Bordeaux, Saint Emellion. Here we were able to visit Cheval Blanc, one of only two Premier Grand Cru Classe “A” in the appellation.  We looked at Merlot vines that were near to 100 years old, gnarly and such low vigour.  We visited at veraison and the season had set relatively large bunches, however there was extensive thinning done, and this was the second “green harvest” the other occurring around two weeks prior to veraison. 

It was here that I discussed the use of viticultural consultants in these vineyards, and found that most will use at least one, often more to ensure that there is literally no stone left unturned. 


Bunch Positioning at Cheval Blanc. Note the high level of lignification at veraison

The appellation control system re-grades the Chateaus in St. Emellion every 10 years, so no chateaux can afford to not ensure everything is done perfectly.  The discussion was had about how one bad vintage can be terrible for the reputation of the Chateau. The concerted effort to do well by all producers is also done to maintain the perception of quality from St. Emellion as a region, something that at times lacks in New Zealand.

Sancerre

After Bordeaux we went on to Sancerre, Frances home to Sauvignon Blanc. This appellation is relatively small (3500 hectares) but has over 300 producing families, showing the concentrated effort done on these vineyards. 80% of the region is planted in Sauvignon Blanc, the rest Pinot Noir.  There were three main soil types, all of which are thought to instil different characters in the wines.  40% are fine white limestone soils, 40 % pebbly limestone and 20% flinty clays.  The pebbly limestone soils create fruitier expressive styles, whereas the flinty clays are later ripening and have more complexity to them. Although the soils can be separated there is a large amount of variation within blocks, which is similar to New Zealand.  One difference that was very notable was how all of the hills were planted in grapes, whereas the flats were left to pasture, the opposite of what has predominantly occurred in Marlborough. The vines are grown on VSP down rows in blocks that do not necessarily follow the same orientation, upon asking about this I was told that it give variations in flavour profile.


High density planting in calcareous soils of Sancerre

The point of real interest to me in Sancerre is the rules that surround the appellation.  In 1936 the law made it that all producers had to follow a set of practices.  These practices were decided upon by the winemakers themselves, with the idea that their collaboration will ensure that only quality wine will be produced enhancing the reputation, controlling supply, and increasing price. Practices outlined include the number of buds to lay down at harvest,  the number of bunches to leave on the vine, no more than 6500 litres/hectare for whites, 6000 litres for Reds and the no irrigation rule.  Viticultural trials are done by a viticulture department that does trials and shares information with all wineries in the appellation, a real collaborative effect.

Even with all the history behind it Sancerre is still open minded about change, with growers moving away from the cultivation of mid-rows, now planting grass, and the use of machinery is becoming more frequent. 

I will take many ideas away from Sancerre, especially the planting densities and their ideas behind it, also the irrigation strategy (lack of it), and the best practice rule that the entire appellation follows. Although in New Zealand this may not be feasible, there is the opportunity for more collaboration in what works best in an attempt to better the region as a whole.

 

Germany

Visit to Bayer Crop Science: Monheim

I was very fortunate to be hosted at the Bayer Crop Science Research Facility.  While here I was taken through the steps required for them to produce a new product, from development to testing. I visited their giant library of chemical compounds (one of the largest in the world), a completely robotically controlled environment. I had an interesting discussion regarding Sustainable wine growing with my host, and the movement in this direction does appear to be occurring at these large companies.  I visited some of the testing facilities, where they check on the environmental fate of their products, and their efficacy against pests and diseases.  The visit finished with an overview of Bayer as a whole, a truly global company, something I had not had the chance to experience before.

Koblenz- Mosel Rhine River Convergence

The last region we visited vineyards in with real depth was up the Mosel River, in Germany, home to some of the greatest Rieslings in the world. Again, like the Douro Valley it is the steepness of the terraces here that really opened my eyes.  Due to the terrace structure climbing up the hills there is no chance of operating machinery so everything is done by hand, although while on the train on the way out I did see a helicopter spraying a vineyard.  The vineyards go for many kilometres along both sides of the river, although the south facing slopes are preferred.  We had a visit to Walter J. Oster, a producer who claimed to have the steepest vineyard on the Mosel and found the wines fantastic. 


Riesling vineyard on the Mosel River

The ruggedness of the soils and vines really interested me, with some of the terraces appearing to be nothing more than slate, and the vines growing quite happily overlooking the river. Most of the producers are small, I think possibly caused by the intensive labour required to manage the blocks. The winemakers are heavily involved in the grape growing, being experts in both viticulture and winemaking.

 

Conclusion

This really was a trip of a lifetime that gave me the opportunity to view such diversity across an industry.  I really felt the passion for the industry that people have across the globe, and saw the lengths people go to to create wine. 

The vineyards in Bordeaux and Sancerre left the most lasting impression, with their high quality focus and ideas on viticulture.  The discussions around high density plantings and watering strategies were valuable, as well as seeing first hand the precision that goes into the canopy management.  The Douro Valley in Portugal was close behind for the stunning beauty of the terraced vineyards.  I was disappointed with what I found in Northern Portugal’s Alvarinho, which I was thinking would be a highlight before I left. 

As well as the above regions we also spent time in Tuscany and the Cinque Terra in Italy, and Croatia, where vineyards were also observed.

It amazed me how much work is still done with hand labour across all regions, compared with the high level of mechanisation we have in New Zealand.  Labour is obviously cheaper in some of the countries, but often it is the communities that do all the work, whereas our workforce is often sourced from outside the region.

The visitor centres in many of the regions especially Sancerre and La Rioja (Dinastia Vivanco) were amazing and really create a positive visitor experience for the wine expert or inexperienced traveller.  They gave the ability to learn about the appellations before heading out and experiencing them first hand. 

I have come back re-invigorated with enthusiasm for viticulture and look forward to travelling again to continue learning new things. There are many other bits of information taken on the trip not covered in this report which I am sure will be useful in my future.

I must thank the New Zealand Society of Viticulture and Oenology, the New Zealand Horticultural Industry Training Organisation and AGMARDT for there very generous assistance in this trip, it is greatly appreciated.

Stuart Dudley
2010 NZ Young Horticulturalist of the Year


Shanna Hickling
Young Horticulturist of the Year 2017

 

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