Vineyard Diary 2-26-15

“Winter” pruning continues at full speed, with every hint from nature indicating that it will be another early budburst, perhaps historically early.  But it’s been anything but winter-like in this part of the Sierra Foothills, with a continuous string of sunny days since about Feb. 10 and afternoon highs routinely in the upper 60s and often in the low-to-mid 70s.  At first we were honestly a little disgusted with the weather, as we actually WANTED winter–you know:  cold, wet, maybe some clouds.  Such weather would be good for keeping grapes dormant, replenishing soil moisture, and getting adequate chilling hours for other fruit.  But as the reports continued to filter in about several feet of snow in New England and bouts of bitter cold on the East Coast, and as driving just 15 miles to the west would bring us under a dense, chilly valley fog until mid-day over this same period, we ultimately concluded that we didn’t have it so bad!  In fact, it was superb outdoor working weather for the dozens and dozens of hours required for winter pruning, which so far has been completed in our Quinta and non-Quinta blocks of Portugese varietals and our primitivo (see recent Vineyard Gallery posts).

It should be noted that we did receive a 4-day period of intermittent rain in early February that dumped an impressive 5 inches of rain at Shaker Ridge.  This was much-appreciated, as we are still in the middle of a drought, and January was reportedly the driest ever in the recorded history of California.  But it was a warm rain, which means that very little was added to the Sierra snowpack, though it should work fine for the purposes of our vineyard and well.  A relatively minor rain event is in the forecast for this coming weekend.  We hope that March brings some additional moisture.  The rain also brought heavy winds which managed to bend some steel posts supporting our Quinta bird netting, but it wasn’t a total loss, and repairs are underway.

Looking ahead, winter pruning will be followed in short order by mulching of the prunings, the laying down of some weed sprays within the rows, miscellaneous maintenance of vines that have pulled loose from their stakes, mowing between rows, and the beginning of multiple rounds of preventative sprays for powdery mildew, mostly of an organic nature.  In short, we will be running to keep in place.

While the early February rain was a big help, the water situation for the coming year remains in the balance pending spring rains, so we are not certain yet if we will commit to farming all of our barbera.  However, 3 tons that we already plan to farm remains available.  Also, though our waitlists for primitivo and touriga are growing, the quantities requested are small, and clients may come off the lists as they find other sources of confirmed supply.  Thus, if you are interested in a varietal on our waitlists, don’t hesitate to contact us, and you may be able to get your grapes in the end.  To make this process more transparent for our clients, we now publish our waitlists, in an anonymous fashion, concurrent with our grape availability updates (see recent Grape Availability post).  Clients will be assigned a letter code so that they can recognize themselves on the lists.

We are looking forward to the 2014 wine competitions, as the 2013 and 2014 cohorts in the cellar seem particularly promising, and we hope the same is true for our clients.  We will again be offering a competition for best homemade wine made from Shaker Ridge grapes, details to follow in a future post.