The Power of Top-Working Grape Vines
In October last year we decided to remove a small patch of Chardonnay at Ricca Terra Farms. This was an easy decision to make due to the low prices being offered for Chardonnay grown in the Riverland (<$250/t).
Instead of planting new vines, which has been our normal practice of vineyard development, we decided to try top-working for the first time. The process of top-working is to cut the top off a vine leaving just the trunk. Two new buds of a preferred variety are then grafted onto the remaining trunk. The trellis (posts and wires) can also be replaced at the time of top-working. This usually is the case as years of machine harvesting can lead to broken posts…..plus it is nice to have a new vineyard!
The advantages of top-working vines is cost and time. The cost of top working is around $1.50/vine compared to $4.50 for a one-year old grafted vine. The time from when top-working occurs to when a crop is produced is only twelve months, where planting a new vine can take up to three years before the first crop is produced.
I have been amazed by the outcome of our first attempt at top-working. We grafted Fiano onto Chardonnay on the 15th October 2014. Within three months the Ricca Terra Farms team has wrapped a new cordon onto 80% of the wire, which should allow for the first crop come the 2016 vintage.