Vineyard Diary – 10/3/17

Another vintage is in the record books, and as usual, the final stretch was frenzied and challenging, with a last curveball from the weather.  All was looking fantastic in mid-August: we had never been so confident of the quality and quantity of our primitivo, the barbera had avoided all the usual landmines, the Portugese varietals looked solid, and the bird nets were deployed.  The fourth 100 F+ heat wave had given way to perfect late summer 90+ F weather, and it looked like we were going to cruise with moderate temps through harvest like in the amazing 2012 vintage.

Then, an intense heatwave hit in the last 1/3 of August, with about a 10-day stretch of highs in the 100-108 F range.  Despite few or no well issues courtesy of the abundant rain last winter, we simply could not rotate our irrigation fast enough to prevent a rapid rise in brix, due mainly to dehydration.  We harvested our primitivo at the tail end of that heat wave on September 1, and cooling temps coupled with our ability to direct more irrigation water at the barbera (with primitivo in) allowed us to save the barbera and bring it in at respectable mid/upper-20s brix and very good condition, with one of the best yields in recent years.  However, it may have gotten cheated out of a little bit of hang time by the preceding hot weather. The Quinta bore a little light this year but enjoyed plenty of hangtime and reasonable temps toward the end, and the non-Quinta touriga delivered solid quality and quantity with fine early autumn weather.  Our last client harvest was today, on October 3.

As usual with our last blog post of the season, we would like to sincerely thank our clients, who included 4 commercial wineries and over a dozen home winemakers, some of which we met, some of which received our grapes through group purchases so we didn’t necessarily have the opportunity to meet.  We appreciate our clients’ patience and flexibility as we navigated the challenging logistics of harvest that require a confluence of buyer’s availability, labor availability, our availability, and last but not least, appropriately rip grapes, the latter being only a 1-2 week window.  We thank you for dropping off bins in advance, being on time for pickups, and for many of our returning clients, for sharing the fruits of prior vintages.  We love to taste what you have done with our grapes.  We also thank our laborers–both paid and volunteer–particularly for their herculean efforts during harvest.

We now look forward to our favorite part of the annual cycle–the down time–a time when we recharge, welcome the return of rain, celebrate the holiday season, and partake fully in our other interests.  Assuming we don’t come to our senses in the off season and stop farming wine grapes :), we will be back next season ready to do it again, and aim to post pricing and availability by the end of January.  God bless.

“Thou my great Father, I                                                                                                 thy true son;                                                                                                                Thou in me dwelling and                                                                                                     I with Thee one.”                                                                                                                 —Be Thou My Vision                                                                                                        8th Century Irish hymn

Dedicated to Joseph D. Standeven 1935-2017

 

 

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.

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.

 

Vineyard Diary 4-19-17

The 2017 vintage is underway, though barely.  We enjoyed heavy rainfall in the Sierra Foothills this winter and spring, with record snowpacks in the High Sierra.  It was frankly just what the doctor ordered.  It’s hard to believe after several years of drought (though we think that was a bit of an exaggeration for our area last year) that the current concerns and headlines would be more about flooding, overburdened spillways, and reservoirs filled to the brim and being forced to dump water.  Feast or famine.

The frequent rains and still persistent cool but beautiful weather have led to a late budburst, or at least later than the last 2 very early years.  This year looks like it may have been average to slightly on the late side for budburst, which will likely be reflected in harvest timing.  We also pruned very late this year, with some early varietals just starting to “push”, and that probably added to the later appearance of buds in our vineyard.  In any event, though it looked like we would never get our in-row weed control spray down in time, we managed to do that, and now we wait for warming and more sun before rapid shoot growth and the imminent start of routine preventative spraying for powdery mildew.

We weighed a number of options for our barbera in the off season, a variety which is a bit of a “water hog” and also prone to raisining in our hot late summers.  One section of our barbera vineyard is on a rock outcropping with particularly shallow soils, and that section is the first to raisin, which is a perennial discouragement as harvest approaches.  We were prepared to graft this section to another varietal or take other extreme measure, but in the end we decided to remove vines selectively to allow those remaining to access more water.  Visually this will be barely noticeable to the casual observer, and yield-wise, we hope it will actually be a wash:  while we lose production from the vines removed, we hope that production will be higher from the remaining adjacent vines, with less raisining.

We’ve received word of additional outstanding results for home winemakers making wine with our Quinta Portugese varietal grapes including a pair of double golds (one for a dry wine, one for a port style) which we plan to update on our website soon.  On the commercial front, we are pleased to report that Due Vigne di Famiglia’s 2015 barbera and primitivo wines made with Shaker Ridge Vineyard grapes each took silver medals in the 2017 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.  Congratulations to Due Vigne’s winemaker Ken Musso!  We look forward to reporting on the many upcoming commercial and home winemaker competitions.

Pre-season sales were brisk, and our only remaining 2017 grape inventory–at least until we get further in the season and are able to better assess yield– is  less than 1 ton of touriga, a fabulous red wine grape suitable for both dry and dessert wines.  If you’re interested in making wine this year, we recommend you commit to grapes early…

Vineyard Diary 10-1-16

On the morning of September 30, we–the royal we–completed our last harvest for 2016.  As anyone who follows California viticulture can appreciate, wine grape vintages are a little bit like the children of Lake Wobegon–they’re all above average (at least until the wines made from them are all sold).  We’ve been doing this long enough to know that that’s not only mathematically impossible, it’s not true:  some really are below average.  However, 2016 was not one of them.  In terms of timing, the vintage was only slightly later than last year’s historically early vintage.  However, at least at Shaker Ridge, we had no frost damage, no issues with powdery mildew, plenty of sunshine without excessive heat and wind for most of the growing season, and a relatively high yield that we were able to fully ripen.  It was also the first year we employed the services of a vineyard manager to remove some of the burden of vineyard logistics, but we remained heavily involved nonetheless, particularly as harvest approached.

It was certainly on the warm side in late August and much of September, but we’ve seen a lot worse, and apart from our barbera which got partially nuked (lowering yield) by the high heat from a string of triple-digit days in July, ripening conditions were reasonable, there was no rain after May, and the grapes managed just fine.  In the end, we had a record harvest of nearly 21 tons that went to 4 commercial wineries and approximately 20 home winemakers.

We thank, as always, our clients for working with us with harvest logistics, keeping commitments, arriving on time to pick up grapes, and in many cases sharing wine that you have prepared from our grapes in the past.  In that regard, a special thanks to Thad Rogers of the Sacramento Home Winemakers (SHW) for sharing his 2014 primitivo made from our grapes that stunned the cabernet- and Rhone-focused wine judging circuit by taking Best of Reds at the SHW’s Jubilee competition this year, a remarkable accomplishment that reminds us why we do this.  And by the end of the season, that’s a reminder we usually need.

We plan to be on time next year in posting availability and pricing of grapes for 2017 by the end of January, but will consider requests for reservations on a case-by-case basis.  Until then, we hope you enjoy the “off season,” as we certainly intend to!

“Here in a small town, where it feels like home,

I’ve got everything I need, and nothing that I don’t.”

–Zac Brown Band (“Homegrown”)

Vineyard Diary-8-10-16

We find ourselves in the home stretch of another vineyard season that, all in all, has gone well.  June was quite cool and pleasant by Sierra Foothills standards but gave way to a classically hot July, including a stretch of a week or more in late July in the low triple digits.  That sun/heat certainly took out part of our barbera crop, as it is particularly sensitive to high heat, and the high heat would have done more damage had veraison been a little more advanced (the riper berries being more susceptible).  Our other vines showed water stress, but the fruit handled the heat better.  We irrigate, rotating among blocks, nearly around the clock at this time of year just to keep up, and are always jealous hearing of other vineyards with deeper soils that claim not to need to water more than once or twice per season.   It must be nice!  But for those who subscribe to the struggling vine theory of grape growing—basically that vines need to struggle a little to produce quality wine grapes—rest assured that our vines struggle in July/August!

We are seeing our usual unwelcome late season weeds like mare’s tail and star thistle.  While it doesn’t help the weed control, we have finally discovered an animal that eats these and actually seems to like them:  goats.  We agreed to take care of some goats for a friend who, let’s just say, had grown unattached to the critters and was happy to see them go.  So, while we can’t trust the goats to roam the vineyard and eat the weeds—as they’d likely prefer the grapevines—we do get some satisfaction manually pulling the weeds and giving them to the goats to eat in their pasture.

Speaking of eating, nobody eats better than our indoor-outdoor house cat at this time of year.  With the deployment of the bird netting—which was unfurled with a little less cussing and marital strain than usual this year since we hired help to expedite that process—song birds are on a more even footing with our cat as they can’t simply “fly off” if they find themselves trapped inside the net munching on grapes.  The athleticism shown by our tom is truly remarkable when he’s got a semi- confined bird in his sights.  Other birds simply get themselves tangled, but they don’t remain there for more than 24 hours thanks to numerous nocturnal carnivores that seem to find them very quickly.  And this doesn’t include our local brown bear whose annual appearance has been signaled by scrunched vineyard fencing and characteristic skat.  Flocks of wild turkey are mostly in our garden but are finding their way toward the grapes.

The primitivo is a light crop this year, and we lightened the burden further on the vines by removing seconds just prior to netting the entire field in late July.  The clusters, which as noted previously experienced high “shatter” this year, have filled out somewhat with larger berries, and we hope to have enough fruit for everybody.  By getting the bird nets on as early as we did, we should maximize what was there, and we think the light crop (combined with an early-ish year) may spell another late August harvest.  We will begin sampling the primitivo grapes and posting the chemistry this coming weekend.

We will be in touch in the coming weeks with those who have confirmed grape orders for the 2016 season.  A slight surplus cannot be ruled out for any of our varietals (though less likely for primitivo), so if anyone is interested in fruit who didn’t reserve any before we sold out, please contact us and we would be happy to put you on a waitlist.  Otherwise, we will post available grapes on this site once our commitments are met, at which point you’ll need to move fast.

Vineyard Diary 6-24-16

Bloom (flowering) came and went in mid-May as expected, encountering fair and relatively rain-free weather.  Fruit set happened thereafter of course, and the growth of berries and filling out of clusters has been rapid since.  We appear to have gotten decent fruit set across varietals, with only the primitivo showing relatively high “shatter” (loss of berries that results in less full clusters).  In moderation, we like shatter in the primitivo, as it produces the looser clusters that we prefer for healthy fruit and full ripening.  We’ll need to assess the impact on yield in a couple weeks, but the amount of shatter appears to be within the range of normal, and as we target a modest 2 tons/acre in the primitivo, we currently expect to be able to accomodate the loss.

The last few dribbles of rain came about a week before Memorial Day, and it’s been dry since and likely to remain so until October or so.  The weather was remarkably pleasant through most of June, with a heat wave taking us in to the 90s only in the last week or so.  So overall it’s been a relatively cool growing season thus far, and that was reflected in how long we were able to hold off providing any irrigation. High heat is forecast to return soon, though as long as it stays in the 90s as opposed to the 100s, it’s nothing the fruit and vines can’t handle.  Meanwhile, the cover crops and natural grasses have browned in normal California summer fashion, ending the frantic spring season that includes repeated mowing.

We received more exciting news on the home winemaker competition front, this time from the Sacramento Home Winemaker Jubilee competition.  Thad Rogers won Best of Red honors with a 2014 primitivo wine made with our fruit, which is quite an honor considering that dry reds are the most crowded category in just about any California winemaking competition, and puts primitivo up against “noble” reds like cabernet sauivgnon that judges often favor.  The primitivo unfortunately missed Best of Show honors, but only because it lost to a 2014 port-style wine made with Portugese varietals also grown at Shaker Ridge and produced by Linda Skinner. For those not familiar with the Sacramento Home Winemakers, they are a large group of people serious about making great wine, they are well-connected, and they are not shy about sourcing fruit from all over Northern California, including Napa and coastal areas.  Thus, we are quite gratified to have not just one but two wines made with fruit from our small Sierra Foothills vineyard go into wines that showed so well among wines produced from some of the finest vineyards in the state. Congratulations to the winemakers!

By the next update, we should be in a position to see if yield is such that it would be worthwhile to start a waitlist for our sold out varietals.  Currently, the only fruit we have available for sale is a home winemaker sort of quantity of tinta cao, a very good blender used in port-style (or dry) Portugese blends.

 

Vineyard Diary – 5/10/16

It has been a typical, busy spring thanks to warming temperatures, rapid growth of both vines and cover crops, and intermittent rain.  May usually brings the last throes of rain– not in great volume but with just enough frequency to be annoying from the standpoint of applying sprays for mildew control.  We are well past full budburst at this point, with rapidly growing shoots and the future fruit clusters ready to flower very soon.  Overall, nature is telling us that the season is about a week “early” vs. our long-term average, so we should be harvesting everything in the very late August to early October time frame. The weather looks fair in the near-term, which should provide good conditions for a successful fruit set.  With solid average rainfall, we are hopeful that irrigation will be a non-issue for us this year.  We think we have avoided any frost damage to date and should be in the clear now.

We have recently completed shoot thinning for the entire vineyard, so the vineyard looks as neat as it is going to until the leaves have fallen in fall.  Shoot thinning is a critical operation to focus the energy of the vines on their fruitful shoots and to open up the canopy for better air circulation, resulting in more effective mildew control and penetration of sunlight for eventual ripening.  We expect additional mowing and many more passes for mildew prevention until we’ll be on cruise control for harvest.

On the competition circuit, we were pleased to hear that the Best-of-Show “other” (other than Red or White) wine at the California State Fair Home Winemaker competition was taken by a Portugese-style port wine made by a client with grapes from our Quinta field grown in 2011.  This adds to a growing resume for our Quinta field of Portugese varietals that includes a Best of Show (El Dorado County Fair), Double Gold (Orange County Fair) in home winemaker competitions and Gold (San Francisco Chronicle) and Best of Class of Region (California State Fair) among commercial winery competitions.  We believe there are several more excellent wines in the pipeline both from home winemakers and commercial winemakers.

As we foreshadowed last time, demand was brisk this year, and we quickly sold out of most of our “paper stocks” of grapes for 2016.  Once we see fruit set we’ll be better able to assess if there is the potential for additional availability, in which case we will take waitlist requests.  We do not anticipate large (eg, ton quantities) of any of our varietals to become available, but a few hundred pounds up to a half ton is plausible.  We do still have the full complement, which should only be 400-500 lbs, of tinta cao currently available for sale from the Quinta block mentioned above.  Tinta cao easily makes the most beautiful-looking grapes we grow. The vines produce small, loose bunches of firm grapes with little or now raisining and have been used successfully by some as a single varietal in dry wines, but are generally blended with other Portugese varietals, often in dessert wines.

Vineyard Diary-4-1-16

There’s something strangely apropos about making the first vineyard diary posting on April 1…not that one couldn’t do a wiser thing than own a vineyard!

Winter rains seemed abundant, and certainly northern California saw its best rainfall in several years.  But some of that apparent abundance came from the high frequency of forecasts of rain rather than actual rain, and some from the contrast to the recent string of drier years.  Overall, there is a sense of relief because some reservoirs are filled, and snow pack in the Sierra is near long-term averages, but our rain tallies and those we follow generally support the conclusion that we are having just an average wet season in terms of actual precipitation. That will serve our purposes at Shaker Ridge, but it’s unlikely to end the overall water shortage in California.

Budburst in our barbera was evident by March 25, which is about a week later than last year.  The overall budburst picture hasn’t played out, but we suspect that the barbera will be indicative of the trend overall which is likely to be another early-ish year, but not as extreme as last year.  December brought cold and okay rain, January was very wet, February was warm and dry, and March was fairly wet.  So, the warm February set us up for a very early budburst that was prevented only by the cloudiness and rain of early March.  We’ll be susceptible to frost for another 6 weeks or so, but if we can get past that, we should be in good shape.

Winter pruning was completed on a single day this year–March 2–actually just before a series of rains would have made it a wet and messy operations.  Those same rains caused us to take awhile to be able to mulch the prunings into the soil, but that was finally completed last week.  So, we’re enjoying the brief period when our now predominantly 14-yo vertical cordon vines show their old wood and look neat and under control.

We delayed our traditional end-of-January posting of grape availability as we made arrangements to engage a professional vineyard manager to help us out this year, primarily so that we would have a little more flexibilty to do the kind of things that normal families do in summer.  Also, while a grape farmer tends to become very good at farming their particular piece of land in a certain way, it’s healthy now and again to get some outside perspective in management practices, and so we hope our transition to a different working model will not only maintain the quality that we aspire to but improve on it.  The main impact of our new model on our clients is that we will have less flexibility for multiple harvests, and so we will be looking to harvest on a more limited schedule set, to a large extent, by our main commercial winery clients.

While much of our inventory has been committed to returning clients, we’re happy to have some availability across most of the varietals that we grow, including barbera, primitivo, touriga, tempranillo, and tinta cao.  However, interest has been high, and we would encourage those thinking about our fruit to commit early.  We look forward to a successful 2016 growing season.

Vineyard Diary 9-22-15

Another successful growing season is now in the books, closing out earlier than ever in our history, at least since we added commercial Portugese varietal offerings.  Our last harvest was an unusually non-frenetic one on September 20, with only a ton plus of touriga to pick, and a small crew on hand to help with that.  The last act for the vineyard season–hardly an exciting one–is bringing in the last of the bird netting.  We have no good words for bird netting except that it works–particularly when coupled with vigilant house cats that patrol the netting daily.  Our 1-yo tom was particularly entertaining as he learned the ropes and got more than his share of avian snacks.

August and early/mid September weather was generally a tailwind to our efforts, with temperatures mostly in the lower 90-degree region.  We did experience one last blast of high heat in late August  which brought unwelcome drying and only compounded the trends of a vintage in which brix tended to run high relative to other measures of ripeness.  But you have to expect some of that high heat in the Sierra Foothills, and at least there was no rain, which would be an unwelcome visitor in the immediate pre-harvest period.  Fortunately, our irrigation water held out till the end, we think in part due to our altered pattern of irrigation to water primarily at night.  Nevertheless, we hope the winter rains are abundant this year to re-charge the soil and our well.

In the end, we harvested over 14 tons of grapes, over 77% of that sold to out-of-county clients, providing wine grapes to 3 commercial wineries and about 20 home winemakers. Production was off mainly due to very low yield in our barbera field, where fruit set this year was characterized by unusually small, thin bunches.  We nevertheless dropped fruit in this field when individual vines were overcropped, and also to even out the ripening (fruit set also appeared to occur over a relatively long period).  The net effect was a small quantity of what we believe was concentrated fruit with excellent color (the latter per our customers).

Congratulations go out to Terry Piazza-Perham, who sealed victory in our third annual Shaker Ridge Home Winemaker contest with a double gold at the Sacramento Home Winemakers 2015 Jubilee competition.  Terry took the honors with a dry touriga wine made from grapes purchased from us in 2013.  On the commercial front, we are looking forward to the release of the 2014 primitivo from Due Vigne di Famiglia (Clarksburg, CA) made with our grapes, which we understand has been bottled.  The 2013 Westwood Family Cellars El Dorado Barbera, made with our grapes and notching Best of Class of Region at the California State Fair this year, is now available for sale from the producer.

As we contemplate possible changes to our operation in the coming year, we thank all of our clients for their support and wish you the best in your winemaking.  We also thank our neighbors on Mesquite Ct who pitch in every year at harvest time for our large picks, and the hard-working hired crews that supplement our own efforts to make the growing and harvest of high-quality wine grapes possible.

And if I claim to be a wise man,

Well, it surely means that I don’t know.

-Kansas, “Carry on Wayward Son”