Vineyard Diary 5-26-17

No two springs are exactly alike at the vineyard, but somehow they all manage to be fairly hectic.  In the last week of May, we find ourselves at last feeling more in control than not, and “bloom” is officially upon us.  The blooms of the subtle grape flowers that will go on to become wine grapes emit a distinctive, musty, delicate, floral aroma that we look forward to each year.  Bloom is also time when we take annual stock of the nutritional status of the vines and make corrections if necessary.  Downstream of bloom we get an initial sense of fruit set and likely yield for the vintage, though it’s really not until well into the summer that yield comes fully into focus.  Even then, we must keep an eye on possible sources of attrition including fungal disease–which we and most growers seek to prevent rather than treat–as well as sunburn, dehydration, mites, song birds, turkeys, black bears…it’s a long list!

With the help of a crew, we have just completed shoot thinning, an extremely important operation for opening up the grape canopy to air flow and light and for limiting yield. The vines, after “pushing” (budburst) fairly late this year, sat pretty much in suspended animation for weeks as a very pleasant spring, temperature-wise, unfolded.  That is to say it was pleasant for humans, a little cool and wet for the vines.  But gradually and inevitably our wet season–which was (thankfully after 4 years of drought) very wet indeed this year–has given way, and we are now perched at Memorial Day weekend, which in many years marks the last chance for rain until the following autumn.   Not to say that we NEVER see a thunderstorm in summer, but they are rare at our 1500′ altitude, and garden variety storm fronts like much of the Mid-West and East Coast see in summer simply don’t happen here.  In any event, with the progression of spring came more sun and warmth, and the vine shoots exploded in growth and now range from about 2 to 4 feet in length, seemingly overnight.

So far, so good.  We do not see evidence of frost damage and that risk is now past.  We have also managed to stay ahead of the cover crop growth between rows with mowing. Unfortunately, our treatment for weeds within rows seemed too little, too late for some parts of the vineyard, so we will need to get creative with weed control in some areas to avoid excessive competition with our vines for irrigation water. Irrigation has not been required yet given the abundant rain in the wet season, but the extensive shoot and soon fruit growth, coupled with warmer temperatures, will likely necessitate that we start irrigating in June.

On the home wine competition front, we don’t know how to summarize what has happened recently without sounding like we’re bragging, which doesn’t come off well to those on the receiving end, so we’ll try to keep it as factual as possible.  The Sacramento Home Winemakers (SHW), a Sacramento-based non-profit organization that promotes education about winemaking and boasts a large membership, holds an annual Jubilee wine competition within its ranks.  The judging is done by a collection of outside experts and is conducted in typical blind and systematic fashion by panels of judges (we assisted at a judging several years ago as former members).

This May at the 2017 Jubilee, a dry red wine made from a blend of Portugese varietals from our Quinta block (2014 vintage) took Best of Red Wine and Best of Show honors.  To be named Best of Show, it needed to beat out the other 155 entrants, including, in the final round of judging, the other “Best of” wines, namely Best of White, Best of Rose, Best of Dessert, and Best of Fruit (ie, other than grapes) wines. Remarkably, the Best of Dessert wine happened to be a port-style wine made from our same Quinta block, same blend of grapes, same vintage, but in a fortified dessert style rather than dry, by Thad and Heather Rodgers.  For those with elephant-like memories of this blog, you may remember that Thad impressively won Best of Red at last year’s Jubilee competition with a primitivo made with our grapes, losing out for Best of Show honors to a port-style wine made with grapes from our Quinta.  In other words, in 2 consecutive years, wines made by our clients with grapes grown at Shaker Ridge have won Best of Red, Best of Dessert, and Best of Show at SHW’s Jubilee competition in a field of wines made from grapes from all over northern CA.  Pinch us, we must be dreaming…

THANK YOU to the Sacramento Home Winemakers for doing such great work with our grapes and, importantly, for sharing your success:  it keeps us going…!

For the 2017 season, we still have 0.85 ton of touriga–the same varietal that makes up the plurality of our Quinta block but from an adjacent, untrellised field–available for sale as of this writing.  We don’t think it will last for long, particularly if a commercial buyer finds it.  It is the quintessential port grape, but as shown above, can also contribute to a terrific dry wine and we think it is the single best varietal that we do here.  Though we are sold out of our popular primitivo, we are still taking wait list requests for that varietal and think there is a realistic possibility of availability if we can come close to matching last year’s yield.  We will start posting the waitlist in conjunction with our “Current Grape Availability” updates so that those on it and those interested can have good visibility into the availability situation in close to real time.