Vineyard Diary-6/21/12

A lot has happened in the vineyard since the last update in mid-May, but all routine. We received a final splash of rain in early June, but are now solidly in a summer weather pattern in the Foothills, and any rain should be behind us until fall. The June rain was pretty much a non-event for us, as rainfall was light on our site, and we were in the midst of regular preventative powdery mildew sprays anyway.

Bloom was first noted in our touriga nacional, tinta cao, and highest portion of our primitivo fields by May 23, and in the balance of the vineyard about a week later. We took petiole samples in the barbera and primitivo fields to check on nutritional status on June 3, with no surprises in the outcome. This is 20 days earlier than our bloom sampling last year, suggesting that we have made up a lot of time in vine development since our late budburst in mid-April, and may be on track for a relatively “normal” harvest time. Obviously, the amount of heat this summer will impact that, but it’s looking good. We are not changing our harvest time estimates at this point.

Vegetative growth was rapid and vigorous, but we completed a complete round of shoot thinning in all fields by the end of May. This was helpful to open up the vines for air and light penetration, as well as spraying. It also lowered the rate of transpiration loss heading into the start of irrigation, which we began in early June. We have seen no powdery mildew this year, including in our most susceptible varietals. Shoot growth is pretty much done now, and we saw the first signs of water stress in vine tendrils in some areas with the recent heat wave, suggesting that we had not over-watered. We are having weekly ground water measurements done, so we have an additional quantitative handle this year on irrigation needs apart from visual cues.

We did an additional round of mowing as expected, but the cover crop has largely browned out at this point, and the length of the shoots in our vertical cordon (head-trained) vines largely prevents this anyway at this point in the season. Weed control within rows is good at this point (knock on wood). It is about this time that our old friend the horseweed starts becoming a nuisance in or adjacent to the rows.

Fruit set has happened throughout the vineyard and looks plentiful, and the berries have enlarged noticeably in the last 2 weeks. We’ll take a closer look at crop load in the coming month. We anticipate removing our “kicker cane” in the barbera soon, as its work in restraining vigor is largely done, and it contributes to transpiration and therefore water loss until removed. Beyond that, we will drop fruit as soon as crop load relative to target becomes obvious.

On the judging circuit, the home winemaker portion of the California State Fair was cancelled (budgetary reasons we assume), and that for the Amador County Fair was postponed until July. On the commercial wine judging circuit, the perhaps most-oft submitted wine of all time–the 2009 Reserve Barbera from Oakstone Winery (Shaker Ridge vineyard designate)–won silvers at the 2012 El Dorado County Fair and 2012 California State Fair, and a bronze at the 2012 Amador County Fair. By our count, this would be something like 7 silver medals and 2 bronze medals total for this well-traveled wine. To our knowledge, it has never failed to medal. The wine remains for sale at Oakstone’s tasting room in Fair Play.

We had the privilege recently of presenting to the Sacramento Home Winemakers (SHW) organization on the subject of port wines and our Portugese varietal vineyard in particular, and to taste 4 different port-style wines made from Shaker Ridge grapes last year. The grapes used to make these wines, comprising 5 different Portugese varietals, were all picked on the same day for all clients (Quinta shareholders) last year, including those for the SHW members’ wines. The winemakers all took their wines in slightly different directions, with different but pleasing results. A couple managed to coax some particularly fruit-forward wines from the grapes, and a delicious dry wine was made as well. It seemed to be a good learning experience for us and them, and we look forward to seeing these wines in competitions in future years.

Based on a number of inquiries, we have decided to continue to offer our Quinta grapes for sale as a single package until July 1. However, if not committed to one client by then, the touriga nacional, tempranillo, and tinta cao components will be made available separately on a conventional per pound basis. Reservations for these can be taken ahead of formal posting; contact us for pricing. Quantities of barbera and primitivo remain on sale for the 2012 season as well.