Vineyard Diary 5-22-14

The 2014 growing season is progressing extremely well at Shaker Ridge.  An unexpectedly generous bolus of nearly 2 inches of rain on April 25 recharged the surface soils that were already going dry, postponing the need for irrigation in the vineyard and elsewhere.  It did, unfortunately, also breath new life into weeds and grasses between vineyard rows that were already setting seed and prepared to pack it in for the year, but it would be rare for us to get away with a single round of mowing.  We gladly took the additional rain.  Yesterday, we got we would expect to be the last rain until fall: some passing, almost East Coast-style late afternoon thundershowers.  Our soil water measurements had just told us that it was time to start irrigating, which we began in a block of the primitivo.

The vineyard is in full “bloom”–the small, non-showy flower clusters that mark the beginning of fruit formation.  We first noticed this on the back hilltop of the primitivo about 2 weeks ago, but pretty much the entire vineyard was in bloom by May 16.  This is right about the same time as last year and keeps us on track for another early-ish year on harvest.

Vine growth has been vigorous, and we just finished a massive shoot-thinning (“suckering”) operation in the entire vineyard, probably the earliest that we’ve every completed this critical step.  Shoot thinning removes unwanted shoots or canes–typically well more than the number retained–which increases sunlight penetration and air circulation around the future fruit clusters on the remaining ones.  An added benefit, especially important in our third straight drought year, is to dramatically decrease the overall surface area of leaves, which should help conserve water that would be lost through transpiration.

We are seeing no evidence of powdery mildew pressure, but continue regular treatments to prevent this, as weather conditions remain ideal for its formation.  We just completed our second (and we hope last) round of vineyard mowing, and we’ll be monitoring soil water carefully to time irrigation on an as-needed basis.  Right now, we’re off to a picture-perfect start for 2014 as we look toward fruit growth and the hot summer.

In our second annual competition to recognize the best homemade wines made with our grapes by home winemaker clients, several medals have been won and we have a leader, but major competitions remain and all it would take is a gold medal to improve upon the current entries.  The leader board looks as follows:

Winemaker Initials                         Wine                            Highest Award

JL                                                  primitivo                        silver

JDP                                               port-style                      bronze

NG                                                 touriga                         bronze

We hope for additional entrants (free, see our April Diary post for details) with the Amador County Fair, Orange County Fair, and Sacramento Home Winemakers June Jubilee competitions still to come.  The grand prize is 250 lbs of our wine grapes (2014 or 2015 vintage).

We have updated our “Current Grape Availability” to reflect what we believe will be a harvest window no later, and quite possibly earlier, than last year.  A little bit (500 lbs) of 2014 primitivo and about a ton and a half each of barbera and touriga nacional remain available for sale.