Smart Wineskills Masterclass

Yesterday I attended a great Wineskills Masterclass with The Flying Wine-doctor himself, Dr Richard Smart. The two topics were canopy management and clonal selection.

Smart’s book ‘Sunlight into Wine’ is on the Plumpton core reading list and I was pleased to hear much the same as I learned during my first year at college. In fact much of the morning was a revision session for me but good nonetheless and I was impressed by Smart’s sharp mind and detailed thought. He has just moved to Cornwall from down under.

Dr Richard Smart, the Flying Wine Doctor (left)

On canopy management the consistent message was that shade is a bad thing in cool climate viticulture. It’s not my intention to reproduce every part of what was said here since that would mean reproducing much of my college notes! The Smart metric to decide whether a canopy deserves a split-canopy system is pruning weight (kg) divided by row length (m), with a measure of >0.6 indicating a need for division (there’s actually a sliding scale of measures which indicate the need for a variety of different systems, but that’s all in the literature).

In the afternoon we heard about some ways in which clonal selection can be done in the vineyard. Whilst interesting I think doing this is a bit beyond my aspirations at present.

More interesting perhaps are a few of the other things I picked up on the day from Smart’s point of view:

  • Competitive cover crops recommended for UK viticulture (to induce some water stress in the vines), particularly deep-rooted crops such as chicory.
  • In favour of cane pruning in the UK.
  • Sees the blinkered goal of cost-reduction as a cultural problem in many wine-growing regions and sees false economies behind this. For example better canopy management might cost more but will lead to more than offsetting yield and quality.
  • For VSP training does not see be benefit in spreading canopy horizontally (fatter canopy) – instead stressed the need for canopy gaps and tight foliage wires.
  • There was an interesting and sometimes lively debate bewtween Smart and Stephen Skelton on training systems, especially VSP, Scott-Henry and GDC. In fact most attendees were arguing for VSP on practical grounds (a few for GDC) but Smart was very insistent that Scott-Henry was superior to VSP and that VSP is overused in the UK. The argument basically took the form of Smart’s theory-plus-practical-worldwide-experience v Skelton (and others) UK-on-the-ground-knowledge-and-practical-management-measures. Objections to Scott-Henry were increased humidity, weeds and difficulties in wrangling the canopy (tucking in, shoot positioning). Smart flatly refuted all of these, quoting examples from his experience around the world and pointing out that he has encountered naysayers in many other viticultural regions but from the point of view of unwillingness to embrace the new. It was an interesting debate, conducted calmly despite strong views, and one which I would love to know the ‘right’ answer to. I look forward to the first Smart-managed Scott-Henry vineyard in the UK! Oh, it’s worth pointing out that the row-width recommended for Scott-Henry was 2.7m (rather than the more typical 2-2.2m in the UK for VSP) with associated higher trellis posts (how high?) though Smart did explicitly suggest that Scott-Henry with 2.2m row-spacing was still, in his view, better than VSP at 2.2 row spacing.
  • Shoot positioning best 2-weeks before flowering, i.e. as late as possible but before tendrils grip. And this process should never involve touching individual shoots but just the wires, which should then be tight.
  • Does not know why there is so much machine-planting in the UK, and cited Australia which has far larger planting area but where planting machines are rare. Recommended use of water-lance for planting. Also suggested less conservative pruning the first years (i.e. leave more buds) to get vines better established.


An esca affected vine. This trunk disease is not common in the UK and can be treated by removal of affected wood and re-training of a healthy water-shoot.

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