Vineyard Diary as of 3-10-12

Preseason activities are well underway in our vineyard for a vintage that is likely to be different in character than the last two. As anyone who lives in northern California can attest, it has been a lean winter for rain and snow. In the normally wet months of December and January, we saw essentially no precipitation in our part of the Sierra Foothills until a storm system arriving on January 20th provided about 5 inches of rain spread over several days. Since then, there have been several storms good for an inch or two of rain each, but nothing summing to the 20+ inches that we expect during our wet season. Thus, barring a big turnaround in March and April, one characteristic of the new season will be soil dryness. As with any weather phenomenon, there are winners and losers, pluses and minuses, to any pattern. A dry soil profile will work against early season weeds, restraining their grow, as their roots are generally not as deep as those of grapevines. However, with time, the grapes will also run out of water and require earlier irrigation, and all that surface water from the irrigation will be relished by later-emerging weeds. On the positive side, the grower has no control over a naturally saturated soil profile, but with irrigation being limiting, the grower can choose to restrain vegetative growth of the vines. At Shaker Ridge, we applied some irrigation as early as mid-January, a time of year in which we expect to be drinking wine rather than worrying about grapevines!

Temperature-wise, it was seasonably cold in the deep winter months, with temperatures on or about the freezing level on many nights. More recently, we’re seeing nighttime temperatures rising, and patches of days with highs in the 70s F. The sap is beginning to run in the vines (water will drip out of cuts when the vines are pruned), and we’re seeing unrelated fruits and vegetables that we grow flower or start to push. We think these signs suggest that we are headed for a more normally timed March budburst in the vineyard, as opposed to the late ones that have characterized the last two seasons. This, in turn, may set us up for a more normal harvest schedule. In the vineyard, we are assiduously pruning last year’s growth ahead of budburst and taking on a few off-season improvement projects such as selective grading. However, the “off-season” is waning fast.

On the wine competition circuit, which is quiet at this time of year except for the annual San Francisco Chronicle commercial wine competition, we are pleased to report that Obscurity Cellars’ 2009 touriga won a gold medal. This is the first time a vineyard-designated wine made with from our grapes earned a gold in this prestigious event. The wine had previously taken a gold at the California State Fair. Also in the SF Chronicle event, Oakstone Winery’s 2009 barbera made from Shaker Ridge grapes earned a silver medal. Remarkably enough in the subjective world of wine judging, this was the fifth silver medal awarded to this specific wine! When five independent commercial wine judging panels (typically made up of 3-4 tasters) award a wine a silver, it’s pretty safe to assume that it’s a silver. Both the Obscurity touriga and the Oakstone barbera are still available for sale from the respective wineries in Fair Play, CA.

We have recently posted grape availability and pricing for 2012. We are mostly holding prices the same as in 2011. In the case of the Portugese varietals, if we do not sell the entire production of the Quinta to a single client by June 1, we will make several of the component varietals available for sale on a conventional per pound basis. Prior to June 1, we will accept wait list requests on a first-come, first-served basis for three of the Quinta varietals, though quantities are limited. See “Pricing and Services” for more details.