Vineyard Diary

The growing season is now in full swing.  This would normally be a rather unnecessary statement approaching the summer solstice, but it has been an unusual spring…again!  As northern California residents are well aware, it’s been a persistently cool and relatively wet spring, significantly delaying most crops.  The last rain–still an abundant one–came on June 6.  After June 6, Mother Nature offered up some dry but still unseasonably cool springtime weather which was perfect for getting work done, though did not nothing to make up for the late budburst.  In the last few and coming few days, finally, we’re seeing some typical Foothills summer weather, with some hot days and cool nights.  We are seeing “bloom” (flowering) in all of our main varietals right now.  The net effect of all of this is that the 2011 vintage is likely to play out similar to last year–with late ripening across the board–and we have set our harvest expectations accordingly.

The frost that hit our barbera turned what is normally tedious shoot-thinning into an absolute slog.  Frost-affected plants typically push buds that even they didn’t know they had, and this compounded the propensity of barbera to push unwanted shoots.  But the work is done, and the good news is that the expected suppressive effect of frost on crop load has left a crop that is both adequate to meet current demand and clearly NOT in need of subsequent fruit-dropping, an operation that normally occurs in the hottest time of the year.  The vines were so nicely thinned that we were able to count fruit clusters in a large sample of the barbera vineyard, and concluded that, assuming normal attrition and cluster size, we should only come up one ton shy of target, leaving some barbera still for sale.  The vines look great now, and we’ll now focus on keeping the vines healthy for what should be some nice, concentrated fruit.

The primitivo appears to have been completely spared the early spring frosts, and the shoots are still in a rapid growth phase, with bloom fully in progress and vines looking extremely good.  Shoot thinning in the primitivo (and neighboring touriga) will commence after the impending heat wave passes.  In the last month, we completed a mundane (to the client) but extremely helpful re-jiggering of our irrigation blocks in the primitivo.  Block 6 had been added onto from the original planting in 2002, making it a little too large as a watering block for our well pump.  A portion of the block had subsequently been grafted over to touriga nacional, meaning that the two varietals were being irrigated at the same rate.  We’ve now reduced the size of Block 6 by breaking off the “new” touriga as its own watering block.  This will allow us to more effectively reach all the primitivo in Block 6 with water and customize the irrigation of the touriga.

The Quinta–our circa half-acre of Portugese varietals–is well-positioned for a great season.  It appeared that the touriga nacional portion of this vineyard was partially affected by the spring frosts, but this was mild enough, and the vines resilient enough, that crop load looks normal. The tinto cao, on other hand, was hit harder, and shoot thinning with that varietal and adjoining tempranillo was focused on preserving fruitful clusters.  We think the net effect of the frost has been to limit crop load very close to our targets from an unusually early period of the season, which we would anticipate would only help concentration.  This, together with our previously mentioned removal of a partially shading tree to the south of this vineyard have us very optimistic for this vintage.  The Quinta’s 2011 production of about 1.25 tons, which represents a turnkey opportunity for making a port-style wine with all the complexity of an authentic Portugese-style port (or an equally complex Portugese-style dry red wine), is still available for purchase.  Absent a single buyer for these grapes, we will be making available “shares” of this vineyard to give smaller scale winemakers a chance to make such a wine. 

We received more great news on the 2011 wine competition front, this time from our some wines made commercially with Shaker Ridge grapes.  Oakstone Winery of Fair Play’s 2008 primitivo took a gold medal at the Amador County Fair and a bronze medal at the California State Fair.  Oakstone’s 2009 barbera–recently released by that winery after sell-through of the 2008–garnered silver medals at the El Dorado County Fair, the Amador County Fair, and the California State Fair.  And the first-ever commercial touriga made with our Quinta grapes, produced by Obscurity Cellars of Fair Play, earned a gold medal at the California State Fair and silver medals at both the El Dorado and Amador county fairs.  Congratulations to Oakstone and Obscurity on these outstanding results.

Current Grape Availability as of 6-6-11


Varietal Amount Still Available for Sale (tons) Expected Optimal Harvest Time Price ($)/lb

(<1000 lb/ > 1000 lb)

Barbera 4.0 Mid October 0.75/0.625
Primitivo 2.15 Late September 0.75/0.65
Touriga* Sold Out Early October 0.75/0.65
“Buy the Quinta” 1.25 Mid Sept-Late Oct   NA**

* 2009 grafted.
**Not applicable, $1750 fixed price.