Vineyard Diary 6/17/22

The 2022 growing season is well in swing now, as we enjoy unseasonably cool temperatures for a couple days with the official start of summer in less than a week away. It was yet another unique weather pattern in the fall and winter, with an “atmospheric river” storm in late October delivering a big bolus of fall rain, a disappointing pause in precipitation, a delightfully wet period in late December with ample rain and snow, a major pause in precipitation for the rest of winter, an “April miracle” of 4-5 more inches of additional rain. A couple insignificant early June storms capped the choppy rainy season, which in the end provided us probably average rainfall if counting the big October storm, though it’s still officially drought conditions in much of the state. The bigger event for 2022 weather was 1 or 2 frost events in early April and, for some, in May, which will likely significantly decrease the 2022 grape crop from the Sierra Foothills. Frost generally doesn’t kill older vines, but it will kill new shoot growth–which much of the region had as of the first frost (it had been 90 degrees only 2 days before)–and the replacement shoots that a vine puts out in abundance are typically less fruitful. At Shaker Ridge, we had pretty minimum impact of the April frost (and none from the May frost) due to our vineyard’s altitude at “only” ~1500 feet (limiting the cold) and the excellent “air drainage” (cool air is heavier and flows away from a locally elevated site) of our vineyards. The biggest impact was in our Tinta Cao grapes whose buds push early and so were farther along than other varietals when the first frost hit; we’ll see decreased yield in those.

In April, we resumed a grafting project begun in 2021 which will bring additional Tempranillo, Souzao, and Rhone varietals (Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre) beginning next year, at least in home winemaker quantities. These came at the expense of former Primitivo vines that were on a different soil type than our main Primitivo block or at the edges of this block. The net effect is that we now have a large block of Primitivo on a relatively uniform soil type–our rocky, red clay loam–and by next season will bring larger quantities of our Iberian/Portuguese varietals, having already expanded our Touriga Nacional and Tinta Amarela offerings–and a new block of Rhone varietals which we’ll likely sell as a field blend for “GSM” blends.

Due to limited time to devote in 2022, we are farming only about 75% of our site, letting some of the Barbera grow untended so that we can focus scarce time and water resources on the rest. The vines have all past through bloom at this point, so have nearly full length shoots and fruit set, and will now be focusing their energies on developing the young berries. We have managed to avoid triple digit temperatures to date, and all looks good in the vineyard. We omitted weed spraying in the vine rows with herbicide this year and saw those quickly fill in, mostly with clover, and we’ll see how that experiment goes as the season progresses.

Again due to limited time to devote, we are looking to simplify harvest logistics in 2022, and so at this time are only committing to half-ton (1000 lb) or greater orders, and have limited quantities of Barbera, Primitivo, Touriga Nacional, and a field blend of Portuguese varietals from our well-decorated Quinta block still available. Speaking of the latter, we recently learned that a home winemaker client won Best of Show honors (in port category) at a top California fair with a port-style wine made from our 2019 Quinta grapes, beating out a double gold single-varietal port entry from the same client made from our 2018 Primitivo grapes. For our part, we earned a gold medal at the El Dorado County Fair (home winemaker competition) with our 2020 “Pandemic Primitivo”.

We look forward to a strong 2022 vintage for our clients.