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Case Studies

Thinking of cover crops as a herbicide alternative?

By July 15, 2022August 2nd, 2022No Comments

Watch the video to see how Cloudy Bay has used BRI resources to conduct trials

New Zealand’s soils are the foundation of our industry, and maintaining the integrity of our soils is one of the most important areas of focus for the New Zealand wine industry. Viticulturists and winegrowers have important relationships with soil because of its influence on the style, quality and character of resulting wines.

Cloudy Bay in Marlborough has set a goal to eliminate its use of herbicide in the vineyard. The application of herbicides to kill weeds and maintain bare soil in the undervine area is currently a common practice in vineyards, as it reduces competition for water and soil nutrients. Cloudy Bay’s Technical Viticulturist Alex Easton explains that over the last three years Cloudy Bay has been investigating alternatives to herbicides and how that affects the vines and resulting fruit. “We’ve been looking at mowing, cultivation, living mulch, and weed mats.”

To understand how the alternative practices affected the resulting wine, they enlisted the help of Bragato Research Institute. After harvesting the fruit from the trial areas, Cloudy Bay sent the fruit to BRI’s Research Winery, where the grapes were processed under tightly controlled conditions. The finished wines were sent back to Cloudy Bay for assessment and to determine the differences in wine quality.

Alex says that one of the most interesting alternatives to herbicide is under vine cover cropping. “We thought this idea had a lot of merit, so we wanted to dive deeper into that.” This is where the undervine area, that conventionally has herbicide applied, is planted with a preferred species that can enhance soil health and increase biodiversity above and below ground.

Cloudy Bay created their own trial by using the BRI Trial Design Fact Sheet, created as a practical tool for growers. In 2020, BRI conducted a needs analysis with growers to understand what information they needed to implement undervine or interrow trials on vineyards. Off the back of that needs analysis, BRI developed a cover crop assessment book and a trial design fact sheet.

Alex says, “With the help of the fact sheet we were able to understand how to properly implement a randomized plot design easily. Having a robust scientific trial will mean the results will have a lot more value. We’ll be able to take those results and with confidence apply them to the rest of our vineyards.”

Want to do your own cover crop or herbicide reduction trial?

BRI’s fact sheet provides winegrowers with information on the impact of cover crops on soil health and grapevine performance in vineyards, and shares additional resources to guide cover crop species selection and management tools. View these resources on the New Zealand Winegrowers’ member website.

Fact sheet: How, what and why of cover cropping in vineyards.
Fact sheet: Viticulture Trials – Field Trial Design

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