When little things make a big difference - 14 April 2015

When you have 1,500km of trellising to look after, even the smallest of improvements in the safety, efficiency and effectiveness of installation and repairs can make a big difference.

Viticulturist Colin Hinze, who heads up production at Taylors Wines in South Australia’s Clare Valley, says the penny dropped when he went to a local fencing exhibition day.

“I realised the way our guys had been installing and repairing trellis was not necessarily the most efficient or even the correct way to do it. Through the years, methods had been passed down, and they were just doing what someone told them was the way it was done,” Mr Hinze said.  

“We’re in the process of re-planting substantial areas of our vineyards, and if we can do it better we will avoid a lot of re-work down the track. That will free up labour, which is one of our biggest overall costs, for other work.”

Mr Hinze partnered with Landmark Clare and Waratah’s fencing guru Neville Prince to run a workshop for staff.

“I wanted to re-set the methods being used, particularly for tying knots, and I’m really pleased with the impact of the training,” Mr Hinze said.

“We use high tensile wire strained to maximum specifications, so it has to be tied right or it may loosen or break. Safety’s also important, so sharp edges where wire’s been cut need to be avoided.”

The majority of Taylors’ newer developments use Waratah’s Gripfast Trellis posts at about 600 per hectare, and high tensile Growire.

“Like many vineyards, the move to steel is being driven partly by environmental concerns on how to dispose of broken copper-chrome-arsenate (CCA) treated timber posts,” he said.

“However, we have fairly soft rock under the soil, so there’s also a time and cost benefit because a pneumatic or electric driver will let you install steel posts very quickly, compared to the need to drill pilot holes for timber intermediate posts.”

Research has identified CCA posts as a huge contributor to the industry’s carbon footprint, on top of long-held concerns in some quarters about the toxicity of the chemicals used to stop termites and prevent fungal problems.

In addition, pine posts break at an industry-accepted average of between 5 and 15 per cent every year during harvest, and there are very strict controls about the disposal of CCA posts, in recognition of the risk of fire, leaching and heavy metal contamination.

“Some of the earlier steel posts had corrosion issues and a large amount of breakages, but quality products these days should easily last 30-odd years in the vineyard,” Mr Hinze said.

“All in all, the strength and durability of steel coupled with more efficient and effective installations is letting us focus on our main game – making excellent wines.”