Vineyard Diary 7-16-17

Summer is fully here in the Sierra Foothills, both according to the calendar and the thermometer.  Our last blog mentioned a cool, wet spring; this is a distant memory now! We’re currently in the midst of our third surge into triple-digit territory.  Mid-June brought the first, prolonged run into very hot temperatures, followed by a nice cool-down into the 80’s, followed by a spike into the 105 F+ range, back off to the low 90’s, then once again to around 100 F this weekend.  This is summer in the Foothills:  not really a surprise, more like a reality check after the pleasant spring.

So far, the vines seem to be handling the heat better than the humans, who besides the heat tend to sleep less in summer with the long days, which on a farm usually means long work days, particularly on either side of the hot middle-of-the-day period.  Thanks in part to abundant winter rains (we use well water), we have been able to irrigate as necessary to keep the vines happy.  We had successfully kept ahead of mildew pressure through the late spring and early summer, and now the high heat helps with that defense.  As noted in the last blog, the strange spring left us short on weed control in certain parts of the vineyard, but we did some extra mowing and spraying and got that under control.

Meanwhile, bloom has come and gone, and we have rapidly growing wine grape clusters visible.  We are happy to report, both for our confirmed clients and those on waitlists, that fruit set looks very good throughout the vineyard.  We were particularly impressed with the primitivo, which is known to produce a lot of shot berries and irregularly sized fruit in some years, and this year has set clusters that are not overly full (which we don’t like for ripening and for providing a more favorable environment for certain molds) but loose, regularly sized, and abundant.  In fact, our major decision in the primitivo will be deciding if the vines can carry all the fruit set or will need judicious fruit dropping to fully ripen.

The barbera crop also looks promising; the key there as always is being able to harvest the fruit that is set in the face of hot temperatures which we don’t think this varietal particularly favors with its thinner skin.  However, it was probably a good thing that we got the prolonged heat spike in June, as the skins should have built up a protective coating to withstand sunburn that that will serve it well for the balance of the summer.   We are quite pleased with progress to date.

We are waiting now for the first signs of veraison, which should come any time now.  Our bellwether for that is our tempranillo, which besides being our earliest varietal to start veraison (=ripening visible as color change in grapes) happens to grow adjacent to where we need to walk to access the vineyard daily, and so is effectively checked frequently.  We are already about two weeks past the start veraison last year, consistent with the significantly later harvest that we were anticipating based on later budburst.

On the wine competition front, we neglected to mention in the last blog, as we had such exciting news to report from our clients’ results, that we did pretty well ourselves at the El Dorado County Fair home winemaker competition.  Our 2013 Portugese Red, a blend of 4 varietals from our Quinta vineyard block, earned a double gold, one of only 5 wines out of over 100 entrants to earn that distinction.  This continues a pretty remarkable run of honors for wines, mostly made by our clients, made from our Portugese varietals.

We have nominally just 0.35 tons (could possibly be a full half ton) of touriga still available for sale, though as mentioned primitivo fruit set looks very good, and barbera fruit set healthy, so we could see some of those varietals become available closer to or after initial harvest.  We expect to be able to confirm availability of fruit for some of our waitlist clients ahead of harvest, once we see how the vines handle the onset of veraison.