Back in 2015 VineWorks and Chris Foss, (of Plumpton College fame) came up with the plan of a financial award for viticultural research as at that time all of the ‘Gongs’ were for winemakers. “Why should they have all the glory? What about the folk that do all of the graft in the vineyard?” Thus it was proposed that VineWorks sponsor the Vine Grower of the Year award. This was initially administered through the South East Vineyards Association, (SEVA) region and the selection of candidates was carried out by an eminent viticulturist. The award was VineWorks’ contribution to upskilling our side of the industry and to inspire the next generation of viticulturists.

The first winner of the award was Luke Spalding, then of Ridgeview Wine Estate. His research was titled “Direct and Indirect Canopy Management Methods to help Produce a Consistent Crop Yield in a Variable Cool Climate”. Our award paid for Luke to visit Champagne, Maastricht and Sweden to compare how the techniques of leaf removal, shoot and crop thinning and cover crops differ between these wine regions and how they compared with those used at Ridgeview.

I caught up with Luke recently and asked how the award helped his career.

“The award helped me to travel to a range of different countries within Europe and expand my research across a number of diverse vineyard locations. It ‘put me on the map’ as the saying goes, opened a few doors and allowed me to progress. Since that award I am now a Vineyard Manager, I sit on the South East WineGB committee and manage the harvest report for WineGB with Stephen Skelton. I think it sped my career up by two years and fuelled my ambition to learn as much as I can from loads of different growers all over the world.”

The next winner of the Vine Grower award was Sam Middleton. He is currently researching “Methods for Reducing the Incidence and Impact of Botrytis Cinerea” using defoliation and bio-fungicides. This research will take Sam to Germany, Luxembourg and Italy to assess how and when the viticulturists in these regions use these techniques. The aim is to provide UK growers with the most up-to-date information with techniques to reduce Botrytis on local vineyards. Sadly, and understandably Sam hasn’t been able to get to his research sites, but we’ve agreed to carry over our funding into next year, so let’s hope the situation allows for this to happen.

VineWorks is proud to sponsor a purely viticultural award that encourages research specifically relevant to our frequently under recognised side of wine production. Our mantra has always been “winemakers are like popstars and we are always the roadies”, however we feel that viticulturists should get to share the limelight every now and again as we all know that you can’t make a good wine without great grapes.

Going forward VineWorks will be supporting the award once again into 2021; we will be opening for applications at the WineGB Viticulture Technical Conference. The research should be conducted throughout next year and be presented at the Viticulture Technical Conference 2022. We’d very much like applicants to focus their research in the UK and proposals will be assessed by an independent panel. We are proud to have sponsored the VineWorks Vine Grower of Year Award and look forward to doing so into the future.


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