With the long awaited summer days finally here, there is never a dull moment in the vineyard, and all work continues at pace. Read on to learn more about Tom Wilkinson, Vineyard Manager and his paramount job role at Chapel Down in the Boxley and Street Farm vineyards.
What is the vineyard activity like this time of year?
Vines naturally want to grow tall and it is around this time of year that they grow beyond the trellising, and so we start to trim the canopies to ensure the vines are contained within the area we intend them to be. This helps maximise sunlight exposure for photosynthesis and helps limit disease by helping to control humidity and air flow around the vine canopy. Like most vineyard tasks, this involves passing up and down each row in the vineyard, and with around 230 acres of planted vines on site, there is some distance to cover along with the mowing and weed control.
The ongoing tasks of mowing the grass and keeping the weeds under control continues, interspersed with occasional treatments of the vines to ensure adequate nutrition and to keep diseases under control.
July is generally quite an exciting time of year in the vineyard. With the vines flowering towards the end of June, during the first week of July, we can finally start to get an idea of the quantity and quality of the harvest for this year.
With yield estimates commencing, we can now begin to prepare logistically for the harvest. This allows our wine production colleagues to do the same, helping ensure a seamless harvest of premium quality grapes at optimum ripeness.
How did you get into vineyard management?
After completing my first degree in Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies, I spent 10 years working for Majestic Wine gaining WSET qualifications up to Diploma level. I was always fascinated by the science of wine production, and completed my second degree in Viticulture and Oenology at Plumpton College. After several years of working in New Zealand and the South of France, the lure of working in UK vineyards drew me to Kent in 2017 and my position with Chapel Down!
How do you prioritise as a vineyard manager?
With such a varied range of tasks being undertaken in July, a fair proportion of a vineyard manager’s time is taken up with monitoring throughout the vineyard. Frequently checking different blocks to ensure there are no disease outbreaks in the vines, ensuring all mechanical tasks are completed and equipment is functioning properly and counting bunches to determine potential yield.
The unpredictable nature of the weather often determines what tasks can be undertaken, and a great deal of adaptability is required to ensure everything is completed to a high standard. Furthermore, maintaining exceptional standards also contributes to the overall efficiency of the vineyard and quality of the fruit we produce. Thankfully, having a highly motivated, adaptable, and experienced vineyard team allows us to maintain these standards and help push the boundaries with what is achievable in terms of the quantity and quality of grapes we produce.
Do you have any top tips for anyone who wants to start their own vineyard?
Preparation is key! Select the right site for what you want to achieve and plan thoroughly as any mistakes made at the start could be with you for the lifetime of the vineyard!
What developments in the field are you most excited by?
Although not in the UK yet, there are some interesting developments with robots capable of performing a variety of mechanical vineyard tasks which could be incredibly useful in the future!
If you could do a one day job swap with a fellow Chapel Down employee, who would it be with and why?
Probably Frazer (Chapel Down’s CEO), so I can discover the secret of where he gets all his enthusiasm from!
What are the perks of the job?
When the weather is good it is great to be able to work outside amidst the vines and the beautiful scenery of vineyards! (Unfortunately the weather isn’t perfect all the time!)
We asked Tom to share with us his top three wine picks! Enjoy!