July has for the most part provided outstanding weather for the grapevines: seasonably warm but not too hot. Needless to say for El Dorado County and most of California, there was no rain. July started out hot, like June, and is poised to finish that way with a string of days predicted to be in the triple digits. However, the break in the middle was key for us in conserving irrigation water and in providing a window of opportunity for fruit dropping.
Fruit dropping/thinning, as we discuss every year, is for us an absolutely essential component of producing quality fruit. It runs directly counter to the sensibilities of many farmers and grape growers, as it involves (at least with outside help) paying for labor to decrease the amount of fruit that can be harvested. Since the only equation that matters for some is yield x price = $$, paying to decrease yield is foreign if not insane. But not to us. From experience on our site, we know approximately how much fruit our vines can carry and fully ripen. Given time, and with no fruit dropping, grapevines may appear to ripen all they carry–and no doubt on some sites, with some varietals–this can and does happen. However, in many cases, the grapes (assuming red grape varietals) may appear at a casual glance to be blue/purple, but on close inspection the color is actually less dense than in a fully ripe cluster, and the taste is anything but fully ripe. The reason for this is that a vine has a finite capacity to fully ripen grapes and, since its biological purpose isn’t necessarily to produce grapes for excellent red wine, it may produce far more grapes than it can fully ripen. Fruit dropping, then, can bring the vine into “balance”.
Thanks to a wonderful stretch of weather in the 80’s last week, we were able, with a mere 150 or so hours of work, to adjust fruit loads in our barbera and primitivo fields with fruit dropping. This was key, because the same operation done in 100-degree weather–apart from being almost untenable by mid-day–is likely to result in sunburn in clusters left behind (retained) after fruit thinning. Fruit thinning is most effective when done early enough in the season to impact the ripening of what is left, and so doing it already near veraison for both barbera and primitivo was ideal. In short, Mother Nature gave us a little opening last week, and we took it! And with the last powdery mildew prevention spray of the season just applied, we are ready for our favorite operation of the year (NOT): bird netting. Actually, our Quinta block has been netted for almost 3 weeks now, which we were prompted to do by veraison in the tempranillo already by July 3. The birds show every sign of being aggressive on stealing fruit this year, which has been a delight to our house cats, which position themselves in and around bird netting, waiting for one to get stuck. We witnessed our 2 yo tom stalk one such bird, leap high within a net, grab the bird and get his paws caught in the net, briefly, dangling in mid-air at full extension. It would have made a terrific YouTube video had we been ready to capture it!
Because we have been successful in conserving water while otherwise maintaining all 4 blocks of our barbera, we were able to clear our waiting list for barbera by confirming availability of fruit for those on the list and make an additional 1.5 tons available for sale. Fruit load overall appears light in the primitivo and touriga, so it remains to be seen whether we will be able to provide fruit for our waitlisted clients for those varietals.