First Excerpt – Winegrower


                                            Initial Vineyard Set Up

On settlement of the purchase from Falaise Hales and her Family Trust we took title to the property in the name of our company Spencer Estate Wines Ltd. We then had discussions with a number of interested vineyard contractors before settling on a local Gywn Williams. Gwyn was engaged to manage and co-ordinate the initial development on a 2.8ha block at the Georges Road frontage. This involved: survey to determine that the row lengths and row spacings were correctly orientated and the layout geometrically accurate; installation of underground pipelines for irrigation, with risers at predetermined row spacings; driving of end assembly posts, tie backs, and intermediate posts by way of trellising; running out wires to support the irrigation lines and a fruiting wire at 900mm from the ground. Irrigation tubing was run out along each row and clipped to the irrigation wire at 200mm above the ground. Riesling vine cuttings were ordered from a nursery as arranged by Gwyn for delivery in September 1994. I took leave from my law firm during October and with the help of Jennie and 2 local women from Amberley we planted out 4,500 vines. Bamboo canes and plastic plant covers were used to protect each cutting from rabbits and herbicide sprays. These were kept in place for the first couple of years until the vines were up to the fruiting wire and strongly established. There were a number of the original cuttings that did not take and had to be replaced in the 2nd year. This was to be expected in the normal scheme of things. In years 2 and 3 additional tucking wires were installed to complete the trellising. The inter-row ground cover was mowed and kept short and a David Austin old English white rose ‘Winchester Cathedral’ planted at the ends of the rows to give a sense of style. In 1995 we planted out some 3.5ha of sauvignon blanc vines which followed the same development programme as for the riesling plantings. This time round we planted another David Austin old English rose ‘ Faire Bianca ‘ at the end of the rows. The roses were planted for no other purpose than to provide a sense of style to the new vineyard. They made for extra work in the way of pruning, dead-heading and trimming, but they rewarded us with beautiful cut flowers and gave added colour to the vineyard. The vineyard establishment work recognised the free draining nature of the alluvial soils which made up the vineyard. Irrigation was an essential requirement to establishing a new vineyard on soils of this classification. We used an Israeli product, Naan Pas, for the irrigation line. The tubing was laid out and clipped to a low wire clear of the ground; connected to a riser in each row from the underground lines, and with the tubing line closed off at each end of the row. The drippers, at pre-determined spacings, are built into the walls of the tubing. The drippers deliver 2 litres of water per hour when irrigating.

It is important to control and manage weed growth within a vineyard, particularly under the vines. At Fiddler’s Green the dominant weeds were mellow, ameranthus, fat hen and thistles – of these mellow was the chief enemy. It has a long tap root and a vigorous growth habit. Left unchecked, the weeds compete with the vines for nutrients in the soil and for the water applied through irrigation. We tended to use herbicide spray to maintain a bare strip under the vines – though sparingly – sufficient to comply with the SWNZ code of practice.

To ensure the most efficient use of the water resource for our trickle irrigation system, we arranged for monitoring of the soil moisture levels over the spring and summer months by a hydrologist, who then set the watering levels, usually for a 10-14 day cycle. We used the services of Tony Davoren of Hydro Services in Christchurch. The strategy was to apply only sufficient water to keep the vines healthy and above the stress level – what is known as deficit irrigation. We also regularly checked our irrigation lines for any faults or leakages so as to eliminate wastage of the resource.

As part of the initial development work, a number of mature pine trees fronting Georges Road had to be cut down and removed to open up the entrance to the property. A driveway was formed, and timber gates, posts, and rails installed. The timber used was old man macrocarpa sourced from Southland. It was left unstained and allowed to weather –off to a natural grey finish.

At the time of settlement, the total property owned by Falaise was named ‘ Fiddler’s Green ‘. A wooden sign was mounted at the entrance to her driveway fronting Georges Road. Lands and Survey maps of the area identified the property by that name. Jennie was quick to realise the potential in the name for a future brand label once we were producing our own wine. We were able to convince Falaise and her family to allow us to take up the name for our new vineyard. This included a handing over of the signage which we installed at the road frontage to our new block. Her address reverted to the standard household number of 278 Georges Road. We greatly appreciated the generosity of spirit and support for our venture shown by Falaise and her adult family. We were off to the best possible start in our new place on Georges Road.

The naming of the property ‘ Fiddler’s Green ‘ had been the inspiration of her late husband John Hales, a retired British Naval Commander. A man of the sea, John was new to farming when they originally acquired the property and felt that it was a special place – the lambs did well and the land was bountiful. According to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Fiddler’s Green is defined as “ The happy land imagined by sailors, where there is perpetual mirth, a fiddle that never stops playing for dancers who never tire…”. Fiddler’s Green features in old Irish legend that a sailor can find the paradisaical  village by walking inland with an oar over his shoulder until he finds a place where people ask him what he’s carrying. This legend may have some of its origin in Tiresias’ prophecy in Homer’s Odyssey, in which he tells Odysseus that the only way to appease the sea god Poseidon and find happiness, is to take an oar and walk until he finds a land where he is asked what he is carrying and there make his sacrifice. The name gave our vineyard and wine brand a unique point of difference – customers and visitors alike were intrigued by it and wanted to know the story behind it. We delighted in telling that story. The fiddle, of course, was central to the design of our wine label and to all marketing and promotional material for the brand.


BARRY JOHNS  ( aka Le Vigneron )