We’ve recently endured a brutal, though very much seasonable, heat wave that brought 100+ F temperatures for about 2 weeks. Temperatures have moderated, under cloudless sunshine, to highs in the low 90s and lows in the upper 50s. Such conditions are perfect for ripening as we enter the homestretch for the growing season, and are forecast to remain so for at least a week. Verasion was first noted in the tempranillo around July 17, and has now spread to other varietals, including barbera and primitivo. Most clusters are green in the latter varietals, but we would expect widespread verasion within the next week. Crop loads continue to appear moderate, and this has been achieved without active fruit dropping, except in the port varietals. Crop load will come into better focus, literally, with full verasion. Timing of harvest remains anyone’s guess, but we are looking for a “normal” year at this point…neither early nor late.
Our experimental hedging of barbera in certain blocks was implemented in mid-July ahead of verasion (see Vineyard Gallery photo), though the intense heat, which caused some scattered sunburn in the barbera in the absence of any leaf-thinning, made additional leaf thinning unadvisable. The hedged vines have a neat appearance, though the impact on ripening remains to be assessed. The goal is to help the vines decrease water loss through transpiration. Overall, the barbera appear to be handling the heat well with the help of irrigation, and we are hopeful that we will be successful in moderating late season sugar accumulation. On the primitivo side, the leaves have begun a yellowing process that we see annually as part of leaf senesence, though the vines have adequate leaf area for ripening and are in good balance. Berry size and grape clusters are on the small side, which we think bodes well for quality.
A cool and cloudy early-mid June gave way to seasonable temperatures, clear skies, and abundant sunshine later in the month. The extended period of mild weather should have provided ideal conditions for powdery mildew, but we’re pleased to report that we have seen no sign of it. We anticipate that regular spraying to prevent mildew will come to an end soon…one of our favorite milestones of the season.
The hot period in late June corresponded exactly with the time that our well (due to electrical and not water problems, thankfully) decided to give us spotty service, and this allowed all of our varietals to show the first sure signs of water stress, and to signal to us that they’ve exhausted the ground water from the winter. We have accordingly begun a more aggressive period of irrigation for the barbera and younger port varietals, and are only beginning to provide some irrigation to our more draught-hardy primitivo vines. Grape clusters are hanging on all the varietals at this point, and the period of major shoot growth is long past. The flexibility afforded by the mild May-June period to withhold water from the vines, coupled with well-timed mowing, has made weeds a non-issue at this point. There is no sign of verasion, and we would not expect to see it for a couple more weeks. The quantity of fruit looks modest–neither low nor high–though verasion will bring yield into better focus.
We have planned our first formal experiment to assess the impact of certain leaf and shoot thinning practices near verasion on fruit outcomes in our barbera. The barbera have proven to be water hogs and have traditionally given us a hard time late in the season keeping them adequately hydrated and with reasonable brix levels while waiting for the characteristically high acid levels to fall. While we are doing what we can proactively on the irrigation side, we’ve planned a controlled experiment to see if removal of some of the foliage from barbera can effectively slow the rate of water loss and sugar accumulation, while still allowing the fruit to ripen successfully. Selected rows within watering blocks 1 and 3 will have foliage thinned, while other rows in the same watering blocks will serve as controls. We will monitor sugar, titratable acid, and pH levels of the test and control groups through harvest.
We are looking forward to the release, we expect in the fall, of 2007 vintage primitivo and barbera wines made with Shaker Ridge grapes by the Oakstone Winery in Fairplay, CA. The 2007 primitivo scored silver medals at the El Dorado and Amador County Fairs despite being only recently bottled, whereas the barbera was not bottled in time for the competition season.
Limited quantities of primitivo grapes and our Portugese varietal grapes remain available for the 2009 harvest season.