The overlap between England's top-fruit and vine-growing industries was highlighted at the British Independent Fruit Growers Association annual general meeting at Biddenden Vineyards in Kent last week, which included a guided tour led by managing director Julian Barnes.
There are "a lot of synergies" between the two industries, he said, pointing out how East Malling Research has expanded into issues such as the sustainable use of chemical controls with its new research vineyard.
The tour group noted how Biddenden is growing vines in a format similar to the intensive planting arrangements employed by many British top-fruit growers. "We are gradually getting down to a system that we can work with from a workforce and climate point of view."
Demonstrating a four-year-old plot of white Ortega vines planted using a more intensive system, he said compared to a traditionally planted acre of vines it yields the equivalent of four more rows of fruit.
While individual vines are planted close together, a spacious three metres has been left in between the rows to accommodate larger machinery. The vine canopies have also been trained not to grow too high, ensuring grapes are protected from the elements and at a workable height.
Vines and apple trees are also susceptible to similar diseases, such as canker and grapevine trunk disease, Barnes pointed out. Botrytis (grey mould), which affects newly-formed grape bunches at the end of the season, is "one of our biggest issues", he added, while pests such as brown apple moth are "beginning to creep in".
Despite these challenges and rapidly increasing production at other vineyards, Barnes told growers he feels confident about the future. "Competition is how you grow as a business - I think it's good," he said. "What we need to do at the moment is strengthen our appearance as an industry."
The vineyard was set up in 1969 and now boasts 9.3ha of vines made up of 11 varieties of grape, with the German-bred Ortega accounting for almost 50 per cent of the vineyard. As well as wine, the company produces half-a-million bottles a year of apple juice and other soft drinks.