Life on a Vineyard with Mark Darley

Life on a Vineyard |  Sustainability

I have always been keen on nature. I think it stems from when as a kid I was not allowed to watch TV except at certain times and was instead sent out to play with our dog in the woods and fields. They were happy days rooting around in the undergrowth or turning over rocks in streams to find caddis larvae and drinking from the “iron stream” – a brook that literally looked orange as it ran over so much iron deposit. I still get enormous pleasure watching the birds and animals around the vineyards: the red kite and buzzards playing on the thermals, the pesky rabbit, the stealthy fox and the deer picking their way round the outside of the deer fence. It’s nature of course so it is all life and death and not always pleasant – like the badger caught on camera with a rabbit in its mouth – I’d not seen that before.

Like many vineyards in the UK, we at All Angels are very keen to be as sustainable as possible and are hoping to be invited to join the recently launched Sustainable Wines of Great Britain Scheme after harvest this year. In brief, this will involve an audit of how we manage the All Angels vineyards sustainably with minimal pesticide and fertiliser inputs, how we reduce water and non-renewable energy consumption and minimise our carbon footprint and how we protect our vineyard soils, conserve the environment and promote biodiversity. This will involve an assessment of every aspect of our vineyards, from how much diesel we use in the tractors and how much propane in the frostguards, through to the floorplan of our vineyard barns to the protein sprays used as well as what we are doing to promote biodiveristy. For us, the biggest challenge will be, I think, not satisfying the criteria but collating all the data for the first audit.

We are taking big steps to reduce the amount of chemicals used in the vineyards and have recently invested in a “rolle-hacke” which is a device fitted to a hydraulic mount on the tractor that runs down the side of the vines turning over the soil and reducing the weeds so minimising the need for other forms of weed control. This device can be used at the same time as other machinery, for example, at the same time as the mower is being used.

I’m confident that we will meet the biodiversity requirements: all our vineyards have extensive woodland around them, some of which we have planted, and this supports a considerable amount of bird and mammal wildlife. In fact, at the new vineyard we have gone to significant expense to deer fence in such a way that the deer have a passage through both ends of the vineyard to move between their historic feeding grounds. Not just birds and mammals however but also reptiles: this cast off snake skin was found in one of the vineyards just the other day. We must be doing something right!

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