Growers go slow for less damage

GENTLY DOES IT: Niran Phnathum  hand-strips vines in Spring Creek.
GENTLY DOES IT: Niran Phnathum hand-strips vines in Spring Creek.

Damaged wires have resulted in some Marlborough grape growers choosing to prune by hand, rather than use machines to strip them.

With the pruning season well under way, contractors said they had noticed more growers were asking for their vines to be hand-stripped.

Grapeworx Marlborough owner Mack Pouwhare said he had definitely had more clients wanting their vines hand-stripped. "What a lot of growers think is that their wires are getting damaged, but I haven't seen any myself."

Pouwhare has three machine strippers, also known as climbers.

"It's most cost-effective to do it by machine than hand because you cover more ground. If you go back to hand-stripping everything, which will never happen - I would need three times the number of staff. Hand-stripping is very slow."

But it was the growers' choice, he said.

Alapa Viticultural Services owner Alan Wilkinson said his teams were hand-stripping more because some blocks had not been set up for a klima.

He trialled a new-generation klima during the weekend that was supposed to be gentler on vines, he said. 

"It will save thousands of man hours. We just won't have enough people in the region to hand-strip everything."

Some growers were going back to hand-stripping because the machines could stretch the wires, he said.

"The poor wrappers have to wait for someone to then come and fix them."

Delegats vineyard manager Mark Noble said the company was "parking up" its machine strippers.

Originally Delegats hand-stripped its vines, then began machine-stripping.

But the company had decided to go back to hand-stripping, Noble said.

"The rationale behind it is the quality of work . . . we were starting to compromise the pruners' focus more on the mechanics rather than the quality of the cane selections," he said.

Delegats wanted to ensure "quality of workmanship".

"Financially it's costing us a few cents more . . . but we view it as a long-term thing."

Wither Hills viticultural manager Rex Butt was machine-stripping most vines but hand-stripping a few older vines.

"There are also some short rows that the machine can't travel down. We are machine-stripping as many as we normally do, if not more."

He did not see a big difference between the two approaches. For Wither Hills, it was about the expense and convenience.

The Marlborough Express