Vineyard Watering

Vineyard Watering

The Marquis Vineyard Watering Programme™ focuses on nurturing strong and healthy vines with balanced canopy growth to achieve the most intense fruit flavours possible. The amazing fruit flavour achieved in the vineyard is what creates the Marquis Fruit Weight™ in the wine. Marquis Fruit Weight™ is the “velvet glove” sensation of fruit that sits on your tongue before the structure of the wine is exposed. The higher the Fruit Weight, the more intense and rich are the flavours in the finished wine.

Achieving a high Fruit Weight grade doesn’t start in the winery; it starts in the vineyards, which is where Sarah and Sparky’s scientific know-how is first applied. “We ripen the vine, so that it can ripen the fruit” explains Sparky. Knowing that healthy vines create the best fruit, Sparky studied vineyard canopy management for his college thesis. So groundbreaking was his work on Pinot Noir in Tasmania, that he won a scholarship to present it in France and the US. Over the last 20 years he’s developed the Marquis Vineyard Watering Programme™, which is used by all vineyards producing grapes for Mollydooker.

The Marquis Vineyard Watering Programme™ is based on intensive data collection and analysis, which starts at bud burst and carries on with inspections of each vineyard throughout the entire growing season. Twice a week throughout the season, the Mollydooker vineyard team measure the growth of the vines, and report on canopy growth, sugar content and the Fruit Weight of the juice. The data is then fed into a complex set of formulas, the results of which provide the team with precise watering recommendations for the following three days.

For example, toward harvest time, the grapes have a rapidly accelerating sugar level, but the essential flavour level lags behind. So, the Mollydooker team applies water to control the sugar level until the flavour level catches up. Leigh, Sparky’s Dad and Vineyard inspector tells us, “It’s the range and intensity of the flavour which translates into Marquis Fruit Weight™, and ultimately into the incredibly rich, velvety wines that have become Sarah and Sparky’s trademark.” Leigh is a part of our Viticulture team. Although an engineer by profession, he established his own award-winning vineyards in Tasmania, is an expert in clonal selection and soil types, and was the department of Agriculture’s official supplier of cuttings to the vineyard industry.

We have very stringent conditions which growers and vineyards must meet before we even consider a vineyard. Our first contract is for one year, so that both our team and the grower have time to see if our philosophies are well suited and that we get on well with each other. If we find a good match, we offer a three year rolling contract. We pay above average prices for the fruit, and pay bonuses of up to 200% depending on the Marquis Fruit Weight™ level which the resulting wine achieves.

Generally we begin working closely with a vineyard in spring, when the vineyard team starts their twice weekly inspections. The aim at this stage is to apply sufficient water to grow the canopy as fast as possible, and to help the vines to be productive in the following year, because the fruiting buds for the following vintage are developed during the spring of the current vintage. This is when the Viticulture team does a shoot and bud count to get an estimate on tonnages for that year.

When the canopy is sufficient, the water is turned off, and the vine starts to concentrate on developing its fruit instead of its vegetative growth. The vines are still measured twice weekly because they are sensitive little darlings, and even during ‘water off’ may for instance need to have ‘water on’ whilst flowering to ensure fruit set, and may need a safety watering on exceptionally hot days.

The vineyard inspectors are the heroes of our team. They walk the vineyards on very hot days, braving snakes, mozzies and flies. We send them out in special clothing and with camel packs to protect them from the sun and dehydration. Although it is the hardest job, it is also the most coveted one, because we all know that the quality of our wines comes from the work we do in the vineyards.

Once the vines have accepted that they need to look after their babies, and give up their extravagant canopy lifestyle, the inspectors start authorising water again – in small doses at first, just to make sure the vines don’t go off the rails. Once they have shown that they can behave responsibly, they are fully re-hydrated. We then keep cycling them through the vegetative and reproductive stages so that they can create carbohydrates which ripen and lignify the canes. They then sends ripe tannin signals to the grapes, which not only ripens the grapes, but the seeds inside them too :)

By this time the inspectors are collecting bunches of grapes for bucket tests. Bunches are weighed so that we get an approximate idea of our potential crop, and the grapes are crushed and the juice tasted for colour and flavour. At this stage the grapes usually have a rapidly accelerating sugar level whilst the all-essential flavour level lags behind. Sugar levels depend on heat but flavour levels depend on time, so we apply lots of water so that we can dilute the sugar level until the flavour level catches up. We are looking for that intensity of flavour which, in the winery, becomes the Marquis Fruit Weight™ the velvet glove of fruit which coats your tongue) which is the trade mark of our wines.

When the grape juice rates at 'Awesome', we pick - usually two weeks later than everyone else. A member of our vineyard team is always present when a block is being harvested, ensuring that the harvester, trucks and equipment are all clean, and that there is no water in any of the bins. The team member then goes with the grape trucks to the winery, and hands the precious loads over to the Mollydooker Receiving Winemaker.

We then apply Sparky's After Harvest Watering Programme to the vineyards for the next few weeks until the leaves completely fall off. This enables the vines to store carbohydrates for the next season, and to send their roots deeper into the ground. So in autumn, after harvest, our vines stand out – they are the ones with plenty of growth.

During winter Leigh gets to have three months off, Luke (Blue Eyed Boy) hops around between tours, cellar door and property, whilst Marcella, looks after property management and supervises bottling. Big Pete our Vineyard Management Supervisor, scientifically establishes the parameters for each vineyard, so that we can make pruning recommendations that will foster high quality fruit at the vineyard’s optimum cropping level.

Pruning takes place in the winter and then… bud burst begins and we do it all over again.