At Grace Vineyard, we spend a major amount of energy working with grape-growing farmers, as we believe wine quality is largely determined by grape quality.
Working with the farmers has been both rewarding and difficult. I find that there are two major challenges we face.
The first is limited experience. Unlike farmers in Europe , our farmers have no prior experience of growing grapes. As a result, they often apply the techniques they use for growing other crops and it is extremely difficult to change their views, since these have been formed over a lifetime.
For instance, we repeatedly warn the farmers not to irrigate, yet they secretly go to the vineyard and irrigate at night because they think the soil is too dry. Even though we explain that dry soil is good for the grapes, it’s difficult for the farmers to simply believe us and ignore their “common sense.”
The second is managing and monitoring more than 200 hectares of vineyards. It’s easy to say that “quality is our number one priority,” yet to be able to execute and reach a high level of quality is an extremely difficult task. Over the years, we continue to spot problems and fine tune our vineyard management system accordingly.
For instance, we first came up with a scheme of guaranteeing a minimum payment per hectare. This was done in order that the farmers would have a safety net to fall back on and thus be more willing to follow our specific instructions, such as leaving only six bunches of grapes per vine. On top of that, it provides them extra bonuses based on how their grapes measure up to quality expectations. This had helped to push grape quality to the next level. Yet we still discovered the farmers didn’t understand the importance of timing – i.e. certain things must be done within a certain growing period – so we came up with a monthly work plan and rating system that monitors the whole process.
With over 200 hectares of vineyards, an unpredictable climate, more than 400 farmer units, and various government departments to deal with, this management task is extremely challenging and it remains something we have to work very hard on each year.