Vineyard Diary-7/15/12

Our summer had started out on the cool side yet again, but two fairly oppressive heat waves with highs in the triple digits have reminded us what Foothill summers are like.  A respite from the current heat wave begins in earnest tomorrow, but we will quickly re-heat to the mid 90’s by next weekend.  “At least it’s a dry heat” is the standard refrain, thinking of our brethren sweltering in both heat and humidity on the East Coast.

The grapes are generally thriving in the current environment, with shoot elongation past, and berry enlargement progressing rapidly.  Kicker canes were removed from our barbera by the end of June, having served their purpose of soaking up some of that varietal’s vigor.  There is no sign of verasion yet, but it can’t be more than a week or two off for most of our varietals.  Given our relatively shallow soils and the hot, dry conditions, we’ve had to irrigate generously to prevent excessive stress to the vines, and we’ve managed to keep up as confirmed by weekly soil moisture monitoring.

Preventative spraying for powdery mildew continues for one or at most two more rounds; meanwhile, we are going to use the break in the heat to begin dropping fruit on our touriga vines, followed soon thereafter by barbera and primitivo.  Fruit set was definitely adequate throughout the vineyard, with the most notable change being the marked reduction in “shatter” in the primitivo versus the last couple of years.  As usual, with the many variables in grape growing, we’re not sure if this was simply the weather this year, or changes in our viticultural practices, but the outcome is good:  full clusters.  Potentially, the fuller clusters will translate into smaller berry size, which is generally a good thing for full-bodied red wines.

Our goal is to have fruit dropping–a labor-intensive practice done specifically to limit yield and enhance quality–completed by mid-August, with only selective netting left to attend to prior to harvest.  In that regard, we are heartened to hear the frequent screams of red-tailed hawks in the area, suggesting that we will have some “air support” for our annual battle with birds to get to the ripe fruit first.

On the amateur wine competition front, the Amador County fair judging finally took place, and we received silvers for our 2009 barbera and 2009 estate red, a dry blend of our Portugese varietal grapes.  We think we have some promising 2010 and 2011 vintage wines in the pipeline for next season.

On a sad note, readers of this post know that we have for many years provided grapes to Oakstone Winery of Fair Play, one of the top wineries in the region, and one of the most fun tasting rooms to visit.  Oakstone was totaled in a fire last Saturday that was fortunately contained to the structure and did not result in any injuries.  While this is obviously a major setback, Oakstone has vowed to rebuild, and we have every expectation that it will turn this unwelcome development into a positive, and come back stronger than ever.  We appreciate Oakstone’s support since our inception, and we hope to contribute to their inevitable comeback.