Past irrigation research in Marlborough showed that reducing irrigation on grapes by up to 60% would not have any impact on yield, but that the timing of the irrigation might be important for maintenance of yields. A research trial was set up with Sauvignon blanc grapes planted in containers; periods of water stress were applied for three weeks at different times of the growing season. During the three years of the trial the post-flowering (PO-F) period was consistently most sensitive to water stress. At harvest time, the crop yields for the PO-F water-stressed vines were 55%, 72% and 90% of control yields for the three consecutive years, and the bunch weights were 59%, 84% and 95%. Berry weights for the PO-F water-stressed vines were 87%, 96% and 73% of the control values, although the second-year difference was not significant. In two years out of three, there was a trend for PO-F and pre-veraison (PR-V) water-stressed vines to have the lowest berry soluble solids contents (°Brix), indicating a delay in maturity. We suggest that to use irrigation sustainably, it is safe to reduce water applications for most of the season, but that immediately after flowering, any water stress should be avoided. During the period leading up to veraison, some mild water stress can be applied.

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