It’s been a beautiful late spring in the Sierra Foothills, with temperatures on the cool side, and even a little bit of rain past the traditional end of the region’s rainy season around Memorial Day. Rain is not necessarily appreciated in the vineyard at this time of year since, if it’s significant, it can wash off the latest spray applied to prevent a major bane of wine grapes, powdery mildew. This can mean additional rounds of spraying to assure good coverage, which amounts to yet more work. Fortunately, any rain has been minor or well-timed so as not to create the need for additional spraying. We did endure a quick, withering shot of mid-summer weather last weekend, with highs in the low to mid 100’s across the region, but daytime highs plummeted some 30 degrees by Monday and are forecast to stay moderate in the coming week. We noticed some sunburn damage to portions of scattered barbera bunches following the heat spike, but the damage was limited and almost immaterial, as the affected berries will dry up and fall off well before harvest.
Certain lower-lying vineyards with relatively poor air drainage in high elevation areas of the Sierra Foothills actually experienced frost and significant grape losses in the latter part of May. This was fortunately a complete non-event at Shaker Ridge, with temperatures not nearly cold enough for frost.
It is too early to estimate yields, but fruit set seems reasonable at this point. It is also too early to predict harvest dates, but so far we remain on track for a normal to slightly early harvest time vs. historical norms.
We will be completing our shoot thinning in the primitivo tomorrow, which will end the frenetic spring period in the vineyard created by rapid shoot growth of the vines and weed/cover crop growth. The young grape berries are rapidly increasing in size, with the barbera grapes in the lead, and are already well on their way to filling out full bunches. Shoot growth has slowed significantly, and we’re beginning to irrigate more frequently. Bloom elemental analysis looked pretty good in our vineyards, though we failed to see much difference among our different rootstock/clone combinations in the barbera. Apparently, the more limited sampling that we have been conducting in past years is adequate to understand what is going on nutritionally in the barbera.
With a couple past vintages of wine made from our grapes lost in a fire at Oakstone Winery last year, it’s been a lean year in terms of the number of commercial wine competitions entries made with our grapes. However, the little news we have is very good: DK Cellars’ 2010 barbera, which was made with Shaker Ridge grapes, recently took a DOUBLE GOLD medal at the 2013 Amador County Fair. This was one of 3 barbera wines to earn this honor, alongside perennial excellent examples from Cooper Vineyards and Jeff Runquist Wines, very good company indeed. For those not familiar with wine judging, the “double gold” signifies that all the judges in the tasting panel–typically 3 in number–thought that the wine merited a gold medal. Such consensus on something as subjective as wine quality is actually relatively rare, with many more “gold” (vs. double gold) medals awarded in any given competition, the plain gold medal usually signifying that most but not all of the judges rated the wine to be a gold. DK Cellars’ effort, which is an outstanding, varietally correct wine made in more of an Old World style, represents the highest honors achieved for a barbera made from our grapes to date. The wine is currently released and available for sale at DK Cellars’ tasting room in Fair Play, CA.
Our own contest for best homemade wine made from Shaker Ridge grapes is drawing to a close with Amador County Fair judging coming this Saturday. We will report the outcome in next month’s diary entry.
Both of our main varietals, barbera and primitivo, are now sold out for 2013, but we are accepting wait list requests for extra grapes. Yield is conservatively estimated, so we often have some additional grapes to sell once commitments are met.