Vineyard Diary 7-30-14

For those who like a hot Foothills summer, you are getting your wish.  For those of us who have to work outside in these conditions, we are strictly on the early morning and early evening routine.  Grapevines don’t enjoy our mobility, so they stick it out as best they can through the mid-day heat, turning their leaf blades more vertical to intercept less sun, closing stomata, and drawing what moisture they can–likely from the most recent irrigation– through their roots.  July was classically hot here in the Foothills, and we are in our 4th stretch of the growing season with temperatures in the triple digits.  We are hoping for a more moderate August as we coast toward harvest.

The season is rapidly progressing toward an early finale—we would expect an action-packed September and conclusion by early October.  Veraison is well under way for all of our varietals, with the exception of souzao which is in the earliest stages.  Our “Quinta” vineyard, the harvest of which will be divided up by Quinta “shareholders” on one fine day, likely in late September, is now 100% netted with excess fruit dropped.  We dropped approximately half the fruit in our tempranillo, tinta cao, and tinta amarela blocks, going for maximal concentration and ripeness in the remainder for our shareholders who are mainly looking to make world-class port style wines. The all-important touriga nacional component set relatively small clusters this year, so only a little fruit dropping was necessary, and the souzao remains untouched at this point.

As noted before, the fruit set in the primitivo was irregular, with lots of smaller, loose clusters, but we nevertheless dropped fruit to about 1 cluster/cane to maximize concentration and better synchronize ripening.  Our job now is to deploy bird netting, as the birds will love what remains.  The primitivo is sold out, but we will accept wait lists requests on a first come, first-served basis.

The barbera is coming along nicely, with the vines naturally in reasonable balance due to lighter clusters than average.  However, we are in the midst of fruit dropping to remove excess clusters in the vines that have them, with this operation already completed in Block 4, and the remainder expected within the week.  Our water supply (well) is showing some signs of being on the edge, so it remains unclear whether we will able to farm Block 1 to completion this year, which would contribute about 2 more tons to our “Grapes Available”. As it stands (ie, without Block 1), we have approximately 2.25 tons of barbera still available for sale from the remaining blocks.

Our 2014 touriga from our non-Quinta block should be outstanding, as we completed almost 2 weeks ago a definitive round of fruit dropping to 1 cluster/cane.  We recently presented at the El Dorado Wine Grape Association the results of an experiment we conducted in 2013 comparing different fruit-dropping practices in this very touriga block, and our practices this year are a direct result of that study (and a few years of experience).  We anticipate that this will be an outstanding vintage, and we seriously doubt you will find better value for this varietal given the concentration we expect to achieve.  If you have never tasted touriga, which makes a dark, fruity, aromatic wine with a firm backbone, we highly recommend it. We have approximately 1.3 tons left for reservation on a first-come, first-served basis.

We would like to congratulate John La Grou as the winner of our 2014 Shaker Ridge Home Winemaker Competition.  John produced an outstanding primitivo from our 2012 vintage that secured the victory with a gold medal at the relatively large and prestigious Orange County Fair.  He also had a 2011 primitivo made with our grapes that notched a silver medal.  John made use of a multiple-entry strategy, submitting wines to a number of competitions across the state, allowing us (in the absence of a gold from another entrant) to consider his best showing from the multiple entries, which just happened to be from one of the premier home winemaker competitions anywhere.  Congratulations to John, who will get 250 lbs of free wine grapes from our available stocks in 2014 or 2015.

Lastly, we’re happy to be here at all, as a major regional fire dubbed the “Sand Fire” (after nearby Sand Ridge road, we presume) scorched parts of El Dorado and Amador counties near their common border and came within a couple miles of our vineyard this past weekend.  Cal Fire and other responding firefighters, with considerable aerial support, were able to stop the spread of the fire in difficult terrain and in already hot conditions, but not before it burned almost 4000 acres.  We were inconvenienced by road closures but did not have to be evacuated, and we were certainly more fortunate than some who lost structures or had acreage burned in the direct path of this fire.  We thank the many who expressed concern and especially the fire crews who worked tirelessly to protect area residents and property.  Last we heard, and fairly remarkably, there was no loss of life.