Growers Insights

Specialising in propagating top quality, grafted grape plants for the New Zealand wine grower market.

Growers Insight Articles

To assist our grower community with their questions about replanting, we are sharing the stories and strategies of people already at the forefront of this journey.  We believe their insight can help others, and we encourage positive change through open conversation.

Ben McLauchlan -  Balvonie Vineyard, Lower Wairau Valley

Balvonie Vineyard, Ben McLauchlan. 

Recipient of the 2020 Nuffield Scholarship, and Board Member of the Marlborough Grape Growers Co-op.  

It is always a privilege to spend time with Ben, as his energy and enthusiasm are endless. Everything is an opportunity for either personal growth or learning, trialling new things or teaching others. From a nursery perspective, spending time with Ben is always a way for us to think beyond the box and consider how we can improve to help others, too.   

Ben took over operations of a family vineyard in the Lower Wairau Valley of Marlborough 6 years ago, shifting back home to Blenheim with his family. Prior to working full time on the family farm, he spent time in the corporate banking and finance world as well as in the beverage industry.    

At 25 (ish) years old, the family vineyard is one of the oldest in Marlborough. There’s very little historical data around certain facets of the vineyard, and it has been a challenge to navigate a replant plan, especially considering there are 27 different  blocks to consider. All 27 blocks are off varying ages, as each vineyard area was planted not at once but as cash flow allowed. Needless to say, the logistics of such a replanting plan are always moving and always challenging.    
His catalyst for change began when his wine company, due to lack of demand, stopped taking his Riesling. After doing the math, it was quickly evident that replanting to Sauvignon Blanc was undeniably the preferred option moving forward.  The initial decision to replant unintentionally made Ben a bit of a ‘replant doctor’ for the times, as his vineyard and its respective age was one of the first to be considered for a multiple year overhaul in Marlborough.  

We have worked alongside Ben over the past 5 years, in all different scenarios:

Replanting blocks and keeping the existing trellis system 

  • Using standard height bare root vines
  • Using HI-STEM® bare root vines
  • Using Ultra vines, both HI-STEM® and standard
  • Using a mix of different product types
  • Supplying individual replant vines

A good sense of motivation and curiosity, coupled with time to trial and error, and real time experience in the corporate financial world, means that as an industry we have a lot to learn from his replant journey.  
He has credited the following factors towards his success: 

Replanting and Keeping the Trellis - Ultra Vines
  1. Consider keeping your existing trellising if: it is in good condition, your irrigation is in good order and you have been vigilant with replacing broken posts.  
  2. At the same time as replanting, install Klima clips to convert over to the Klima system for mechanical cane pruning. 
  3. Use Ultra vines when replanting into a trellised vineyard, as the established root system is beneficial when replanting into a brown-field development. This is especially important when not ripping and planting into harder pan ground/compacted soils.     
  4. Replant Ultra vines into the same holes.  Ultra vines are easier to plant, especially around existing posts and wires.  They run less risk of J-rooting.  
Replanting and Replacing Trellis System:
  1. In situations where the trellis system also needs to be replaced, HI-STEM® bare root vines are the preferred option.  
  2. Bare root vines are harder to plant around an established trellis, as the holes need to be deeply dug, the holes need to be bigger (when compared to Ultra vines) and then back filled to avoid the risk of j-rooting. They also need to be hand planted and they run the risk of drying out.
  3. Bare root vines are very cost effective when machine planting. 
  4. When machine planting HI-STEM® vines in a non-trellised replant or green field development, you need a side mounted post driver.  This does not apply with Eco-Trellis posts.  
Young Vine Training:

With young vine training, standard height vines need another one or two passes. These passes are also more involved and need a higher level of care as you have to lift and lower the spray guard while not rubbing off any buds. With HI-STEM® vines, there is no spray guard to worry about so the training passes are quicker.

Young vine training with HI-STEM® vines is easier and cheaper, as once you bring a leader to the fruiting wire you can just ‘let the laterals go’ and hold them together with a foliage wire. They establish better as the top growth reflects what is happening underground. 

Cost Savings and Cash Flow Analysis:
  • He has eliminated bud rubbing from his annual budget
  • The Ultra HI-STEM® vines crop at 7 tonnes/ha in 18 months with shoot thinning
  • His Ultra HI-STEM® vines crop at 12-16 tonnes/ha in year 2
  • In Year 3, the third crop will be off of 4 cane Sauvignon Blanc
  • Regarding HI-STEM® and HI-STEM® Ultra vines and the return on investment, Ben is seeing the break-even point against standard heigth vines at year 3 of production.    

The biggest take home message he would like to share regarding cost savings is that HI-STEM® vines advance the production cycle by 12 months. With HI-STEM® vines, there are more carbon reserves and a bigger trunk, and consequently you can lay more cane down on the wire at pruning time. Any developing to lease company needs to understand the value of tall vines in capturing this increased production. It is a very useful tool where negotiating potential contracts.  

Pruning Time:
  • Year one, standard height vines are laid down as a single ‘hockey stick’
  • Year one, HI-STEM® vines are laid down as two canes Year two, HI-STEM® vines are laid down as three canes
  • HI-STEM® vines are continually one year ahead in comparison to standard height vines

The last key bit of advice offered by Ben regarding replanting was to ‘create a game plan and stick to it.’ He notes that a good rule of thumb could be ‘5% of your total block every second year’ (this is taken from the Apple Industry) or ‘one irrigation block at a time’.   

Whatever game plan you choose, be flexible and just keep moving forward. Ask for advice, see what works best for you – and don’t be scared to try new things. Every season you replant, means you have more experience under your belt for making better decisions the following year.  Just keep moving forward.  

Please note:  Individual results may vary, and testimonials are not claimed to represent typical results. All testimonials are by real people, and may not reflect the typical purchaser’s experience, and are not intended to represent or guarantee that anyone will achieve the same or similar results.

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