Our sustainability[*] is important to our business and our customers - not just from an ethical perspective, but also to maintain a natural ecosystem that is best for our vines and, ultimately, our wine.
We are lucky to work within an area of outstanding natural beauty in the South Downs National Park. We can't miss the daily reminder of how important it is to respect and protect the environment on which we depend.
That is why we consider the sustainability of every decision we make at Stopham Vineyard.
Vines thrive in free-draining soil such as the sandy loam soil that we have in the vineyard. Free-draining soil minimises run-off to the surrounding environment, including the adjacent Rivers Arun and Rother. We donít routinely plough the site (the last time was in 2008), allowing grass to cover the entire vineyard which reduces run-off and erosion even further. We maintain grass and weed cover by mowing and we strim the weeds under the vines. We spray two applications of herbicide each year during the growing season. To avoid soil compaction from using the tractor down each row, which can damage soil activity, we sub-soil the tractor ruts.
In 2014, we plan to buy a tractor hoe for weeding directly under the vines where the mower cannot reach. This will remove the need for any herbicides.
Looking after the soil is key to improving the quality of our grapes. Our soil management techniques prioritise excellent long-term soil standards over short-term vine growth. We add manure produced by cattle on the estate to improve the soil structure, benefiting the soil ecosystem and improving nutrient retention. Due to the very sandy soil on the site, we will never be able to rely on organic matter alone. So, once a year, we apply manufactured fertilisers, the amount being carefully calculated through detailed soil and leaf analysis, to replace the nutrients lost from the soil in producing the grapes.
Vines worldwide are clones of one another. There is no sexual reproduction to promote diversity or evolving resistance to fungal infections. That means fungicide has to be sprayed onto vines to protect their health. There is tight control on the use of fungicides for grape vines in the UK. However, we take an integrated approach to disease management Ė avoiding routine spraying and only using fungicide if weather conditions or the occurrence of a disease demand treatment. We use an environmentally friendly LIPCO tunnel-type sprayer which recycles the spray that it is captured by leaves and virtually eliminates spray drift.
Many of the techniques we use benefit biodiversity and promote a natural ecosystem. Our vineyard is adjacent to a 1ha arboretum and is surrounded by well-established oak, chestnut trees and natural hedges. In 2010, we created an additional 400 metres of natural English hedgerow. We are planning to install owl boxes in the future.
We do not use much water. As classic Mediterranean plants with roots of up to 6 metres, our vines do not need irrigating. Water, of course, is not added to the wine so our main use of water is limited in the winery for washing out tanks. Here we use an efficient pressure hose and steamer.
Chilling our fermentation tanks is where we use most of our energy. Our refrigeration system comes on as required to maintain the right temperature for a constant, gentle rate of fermentation, which can last up to 6 weeks. We supply wine to customers throughout England, with most sales concentrated in the South East. In terms of carbon footprint, buying English wine is clearly far more sustainable than buying wines that are shipped to the UK from around the world! We recycle all our organic waste (e.g. grape skins, stems and vine prunings) on site and fertiliser and fungicide containers are sent to an approved waste contractor. We source our bottles from Northern France as they are not yet available in the UK.
Stopham Vineyard currently employs two full-time employees and ten part-time employees. We support local tourism and we do weekly winemaker tours of the vineyard and winery to individuals, private groups and the general public.