Vineyard Diary

Summer has certainly arrived in the Sierra Foothills, with lots of warm temperatures and cloudless skies ever since the official kickoff in late June. We didn’t need to step outside to know the heat has arrived; we needed only check our faucet. In keeping with a now 3-year tradition, our well went out of commission exactly when we needed it the most. This time, it was the expensive news that we didn’t want to hear: the pump was dead, requiring replacement. Still, this was far better than the worst news, which would be no more water in the well! As it was, we only had 3 days of inconvenience as we started, relatively late given the wet spring, regular irrigation rotations in early July. The heat has actually been seasonable and not excessive, with few days reaching the triple-digit mark, which should allow for good fruit development.

The vines look very healthy as of this point in the season. It is a solid sea of green right now, and the vines are in good balance. The primitivo crop is rather light, so much so that there is clearly no need to drop fruit in that vineyard, which is unusual for us. The primitivo bunches had a lot of “shatter” this spring–loss of small berries after bloom–leaving relatively small, loose clusters. This should be good news for those buying our primitivo, as we anticipate particularly ripe, concentrated fruit to be the net result. Until last year, we grew a little zinfandel adjacent to our primitivo, and the primitivo consistently produced smaller, looser clusters than our zinfandel clone. In fact, the appearance of the clusters was the only way we were able to visually distinguish the primitivo and zinfandel vines, apart from consulting our planting map. So relatively loose clusters are normal for us in the primitivo, but it’s more pronounced this season. We don’t anticipate any surplus crop.

The barbera also looks very good, as we were able to beat back, thanks to a new mechanized acquisition (our most recent “last” capital purchase for the vineyard!), aggressive weed growth adjacent to the rows that benefited from the unusually high soil moisture into late spring. We think we saw some benefit from our experimental “kicker canes” in the barbera, as the shoot growth was slightly more restrained than last year despite the greater soil moisture this year. Unlike the primitivo, the crop was moderate to heavy in the barbera, so we have just today completed one good round of fruit dropping in the barbera, removing 0-40% of the main fruit clusters, with the degree of fruit drop adjusted by vigor of the different barbera blocks and clones. We left seconds this year, reasoning that removing primary fruit clusters gives us the most “bang for the buck”. We are pleased to have been able to complete fruit dropping ahead of veraison, as we should enjoy the full benefit of limiting the crop load and concentrating flavors. “Dropping fruit” can be a painful operation for farmers trying to make a living (as it simultaneously costs money and decreases yield) and, if vineyard help from visiting family is any indication, unfathomable to the non-farmer. However, as we don’t rely on our vineyard to put bread on the table and want our grapes to produce outstanding wines, we much prefer it to the alternative: mediocre fruit.

Veraison is just beginning in our tempranillo which, true to its name in Spanish, is one of the earliest ripening reds. There is no indication yet of veraison in the barbera, primitivo, or touriga, consistent with our expectation of a late harvest. We have several more weeks and probably one more preventative treatment for powdery mildew ahead of us, and then we begin playing defense in earnest against birds and squirrels.