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”

 

Vineyard Diary 7/27/15

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.

Vineyard Diary 6-26-15

June has been payback time after an exceptionally pleasant May weather-wise.  It can be described in 3 words:  sunny, hot, and dry.  Following an isolated rain event on June 10  that clearly capped the “rainy season”, we have consistently been in the 90s to low 100s in temperatures, with no relief in sight.  We can hardly expect less for July and August, so the key will be spending as little time as possible in the upper 90’s/100s.

In the vineyard, we are enjoying a slight lull before more handwork resumes.  The weeds between rows have at last exhausted surface water and won’t grow back now after 3 rounds of cutting.  The vines are looking healthy and squarely focused now on berry development.  After getting some warning signals from our well, we are altering our irrigation pattern to maximize irrigation efficiency.  Going forward, we will only be watering at night when evaporation will be less.  Limiting irrigation to night will have the effect of drawing from our well more gradually, giving it time to recharge.  This will result in less “deep” irrigation than we would like, but it’s what we need to do to get through the season.

The next major operation will be fruit dropping, which will need to be timed to maximize impact and minimize sunburn, and yet as soon as practical following the last powdery mildew prevention spray so that we can then deploy bird netting.  If bird (and skunk, and raccoon, and squirrel!) pressure on our other fruit is any indication, we’ll want to get those nets on early to protect the grapes.

Fruit set looks decent overall, with what looks like plenty of crop in the barbera, and lighter but adequate crop in the primitivo due to “shatter” (loss of berries after fruit set) that is typical and variable year-to-year in primitivo.  The fruit load in the Portugese varietals look about average.  We’ll adjust crop to where we want it with fruit dropping in a few weeks.

Wine judging season, driven primarily by the State Fair this year for us on the commercial side, has yielded some big winners.  Though not identified with vineyard designated bottlings, a barbera and a touriga wine made with our fruit earned high honors at the California State Fair.  The 2013 El Dorado barbera from Westwood Family Cellars took a gold, best of class of region.  This means that, in the opinion of the judges, it was the best barbera from the Sierra Foothills region (encompassing El Dorado, Amador, Calveras, and several other counties) at the State Fair this year.  Considering that Amador and El Dorado counties have established themselves as the source of much-and we believe some of the finest-varietal barbera in the state, this is quite an achievement.  Wreckless Blenders’ 2013 barbera, also made with our fruit, captured a solid silver medal in the same competition.

We were equally excited to see that Wreckless Blenders’ 2013 touriga–made from our grapes and blended with a little barbera also from our vineyard–took a gold medal, best of class of region, at the State Fair.  This is the same wine that we blogged about enthusiastically after tasting it a couple months ago.  The varied microclimate, soil, and terrain of our region support quite a variety of excellent miscellaneous varietals, so best of class in a category of miscellaneous red varietal blends is a gratifying result for a varietal that we particularly favor here at Shaker Ridge.  This wonderful touriga is currently available for sale directly from Wreckless Blenders.

Finally, in our 3rd Annual Home Winemaker competition, we can’t yet declare a winner, but we have an entrant with a commanding lead at this point.  Terry Piazza-Perham’s 2013 touriga wine captured a double gold at the Sacramento Home Winemakers 2015 Jubilee competition, one of only a handful of double golds awarded there.  This puts her in a clear lead over a pair of 2013 primitivos, one from Tom Montgomery and one from Steve Barrett, which earned respectable bronze medals in the same competition.  While entries are still possible per our contest rules, judging has already occurred in a number of the regional wine competitions, and the double gold should prove difficult to top (would require further distinction like best of class or show…).

We expect to be able to update our barbera availability next month with the water availability situation hopefully more clear at that point.  We hope to be able to confirm availability for some on our waiting list and may have additional fruit to offer.

Vineyard Diary 5-30-15

May 2015 has been an astoundingly beautiful month in El Dorado, with generally mild weather and enough cloudy days to delay the inevitable browning out of the hillsides and postpone the need for irrigation in the vineyard.  We finally did see the very earliest indications of water stress in our vines and completed a full cycle of irrigation this past week.  However, the way things had been going in late winter/early spring, we were expecting this to begin much sooner, so this was a pleasant surprise.

The vines are now fully grown and looking fantastic.  We have completed shoot-thinning on a vineyard-wide basis, finishing with the block of barbera with the deepest soil for which the relative delay in thinning should have helped sap some of their natural vigor.  We are seeing no signs of powdery mildew despite excellent conditions for the same, no doubt due to our regular preventative spraying regimen, which so far this season has been with all organic materials.

Bloom is pretty much wrapped up in the barbera and primitivo vineyards now, and we also did a second round of suckering of lower shoots vineyard-wide while repairing and firing up the irrigation system for the season.  We have also tucked shoots in the Quinta, our only trellised block of vines.  It is too early to say how fruit set went for certain, but based on the initial appearance of the berries and the generally fair weather during bloom, we anticipate no problems.

We are now officially sold out of all of our varietals for the 2015 season, though we are still taking wait-list requests for our main three varietals:  barbera, primitivo, and touriga in case there is a slight excess of available fruit. The barbera is most likely to have significant quantities of fruit later available, as we are still holding back posting the production of two blocks of our barbera due to the drought:  one that we expect we will ultimately have to sell and one that we doubt that we will have to sell.  We will offer this fruit on a first-come, first-served basis from our waitlist that we post regularly in conjunction with our “Current Grape Availability” postings.

We are still accepting entries for our 3rd annual Shaker Ridge Home Winemaker competition.  Entry in our competition is free and open to anyone who has a wine made at least 85% with our grapes in vintages 2011 onward who enters a wine in certain acceptable blinded, public competitions thru Aug. 1 and who contacts us in advance of judging of that competition to confirm that they want their wine included.  We would need to know the competition you are entering, the vintage of the wine, and the varietal(s) purchased from us.  First prize–for best outcome in acceptable competitions–is 250 lbs of grapes of our grapes.  Please see our March “Vineyard Diary” blog for full competition details (http://www.shakerridgevineyard.com/2015/03/20/vineyard-diary-3-20-15/).  At present, we have only one entry for the competition, so you have an excellent chance of winning the grand prize!  Sacramento Home Winemakers:  the 2015 SHW Jubilee competiton qualifies, so please e-mail us by June 12, 2015 if you have entered a wine made with our grapes in that competition and would like to be considered for our prize.

Vineyard Diary-5-8-15

Premature summer has given way to some beautiful spring weather, including clouds and, yes, a little bit of rain.  We actually received an unexpectedly generous shot of 2.3 inches of rain on April 24-25 that was readily soaked up by rapidly drying topsoil.  Unfortunately, this past week’s chance of rain/thunderstorms on several days translated into only an additional 0.1 inches of rain.  Overall, we have received an essentially average 23+ inches of rain during our traditional wet season, but this is unlikely enough to fully recharge our well after several drought years.

The vine shoots have nearly reached their maximum length, growing rapidly in the last month.  Bloom–the flowering of grapevines– has already happened in our Quinta touriga and tinta cao sections and is just about to begin in the primitivo and barbera.  Bloom is not marked by showy flowers but rather by a delicate, distinct, honey suckle-like aroma that lasts about a week.  We typically sample petioles at this time to check on nutritional status of the vines ahead of fruit set.

The main vineyard operations at this time of year are regular spraying to prevent powdery mildew–we primarily use an organic oil product–and shoot thinning (sometimes called suckering).  Our grapevines try to produce many more shoots than we intend them to, and the extra shoots need to be removed to focus the vine’s energy and better open the vine up to sun and air.   The shoot thinning is a very labor-intensive operation for which we typically need to engage outside labor to augment our own in order to complete in a timely manner.

Two additional commercial wines made with our grapes have recently been bottled and are available for sale from Wreckless Blenders in Carmichael, CA.  We had the pleasure of tasting the 2013 barbera and 2013 touriga at a Wreckless Blenders event in mid-April, and they did not disappoint:  both are excellent examples of their respective varietals.  The 2013 follows a sold-out 2012 barbera also made from our grapes by WB, whereas the 2013 touriga is WB’s first effort with this wonderfully aromatic Portugese varietal.  Both wines are available for sale directly from Wreckless Blenders; get them while you can!

Our 3rd Annual Shaker Ridge Home Winemaker competition remains open to entries for the 2015 judging season.  In short, we are offering 250 lbs of our winegrapes to the best homemade wine made with our grapes based on results in selected, reputable public wine competitions such as the El Dorado County Fair, the Amador County Fair, the Orange County Fair, the California State Fair, and the Sacramento Home Winemakers June Jubilee.  Critical to the entry is informing us, prior to judging of the respective  competition, of entries made at least 85% with our grapes.  Please see our previous (March) post for full competition rules and details.

In light of the drought, we have decided to idle–which in this case means not irrigate and not harvest fruit (the grapevine pretty much does what it wants…) from Block 1 of our barbera.  Block 2 will be brought along but not committed to any clients until we are confident that we will be able to irrigate it adequately.  Nevertheless, we still have ~2.5 tons of barbera that we are definitely cultivating and that is still available for sale.  Waitlists are available for our primitivo and touriga.

 

Vineyard Diary 3-20-15

The winter that wasn’t in the Sierra Foothills is now officially over with today’s spring equinox.  A variation on the famous Mark Twain quote about San Francisco might read: “The hottest summer I ever spent was winter in El Dorado.”  Already the distant Sierra snow caps show the mottled appearance of partially melted snow that one would normally expect to see in late May or early June.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that we can’t still get a rogue freezing night in March or April that would wreak havoc on young grape shoots, and that in fact is the major threat going forward.

Bud burst came early in the vineyard as expected, with one of our early birds, tinta cao, pushing on March 10, a full week ahead of last year (itself an early year).  Our touriga and other Portugese varietals, apart from souzao which always pushes later, were also about a week earlier than last year.  Our barbera–we think because of our intentional late pruning thereof and not due to any Irish heritage of the vines–reached generalized budburst on exactly the same day as last year:  March 17. The primitivo has not pushed yet, but this is consistent with a timing that is usually 1-2 weeks later than our barbera.  All things being equal, this early trend at bud burst would suggest harvest no later than last year, and potentially a bit earlier for some varietals.  So, particularly for our primitivo buyers, don’t make any travel plans for Labor Day!

We managed to complete winter pruning, get our weeds sprays down, mulch the pruned canes, and complete a round of mowing right before budburst in most of the vineyard. This is a particularly pleasant time in the vineyard with warm but not scorching spring days, green grass, and mostly only the pruned older wood showing on the vines.  But this is a brief period which will quickly give way to abundant new shoot growth in the vines and rapid growth of grass and cover crop between the rows, followed of course by the real heat.

We are pleased to announce the availability of the 2012 touriga from Bumgarner Wines in Camino, CA that was made with Shaker Ridge grapes from that superb vintage.  Winemaker Brian Bumgarner has produced a truly elegant example of a dry touriga wine that showcases the lovely fruit, aroma, color, and structure of this Portugese varietal.  We highly recommend that you taste a beautifully crafted example of this exquisite varietal wine while it’s still available for sale.

Homemade Wine Competition

We are also pleased to announce our 3rd Annual Shaker Ridge Homemade Wine Competition to encourage formal judging and award excellence in wines made from our grapes.  The grand (and only…) prize will be 250 lbs of free wine grapes from our “Grapes Available” list. This year, we only have barbera still available for sale, but the prize could be used in a future vintage where additional choices may be available.

Entry rules are as follows:

  • The wine must be made at least 85% from grapes grown at Shaker Ridge Vineyard from vintage 2011, 2012, 2013, or 2014
  • You must contact us, in writing (email is fine), ahead of judging for a given competition to let us know that you have entered a wine of type X, vintage Y from our grapes.  We will confirm that your entry is or is not valid for our competition based on our sales records.  There is no cost to enter, and no obligation for future purchases.
  • 2015 home winemaker competitions results considered:  El Dorado County Fair, Amador County Fair, Orange County Fair, California State Fair, and Sacramento Home Winemakers June Jubilee.  Additional 2015 public, blinded competitions will be considered with advance agreement from Shaker Ridge, provided that results will be known by August 1, 2015.  Unfortunately, for the purposes of this competition, we cannot consider past results with the above vintages, only upcoming (prospective) entries.
  • Wines winning our competition previously are not eligible for winning again.
  • Appreciating the subjectivity in wine judging, we will consider the best outcome for a  given wine unless two or more wines with the same best outcome have been entered multiple times.  In the latter case, we will consider the best average outcome.  Ranking of outcomes is: double gold>gold>silver>bronze>honorable mention, with acceptable competitions given equal weight for such designations.  Tie breakers would include additional distinctions, eg Best of Show, Best of Class.   If the above criteria don’t yield a single winner, we may request a taste-off to designate the grand prize winner.
  • Entrants agree that we can choose to post the results–good, bad, or indifferent–including winemaker, wine, competition, and result, on this website.  We will use your initials if you prefer relative anonymity and if you let us know this at the time you contact us with your entry.  Otherwise, your full name will be used.

Good luck!

 

Vineyard Diary 2-26-15

“Winter” pruning continues at full speed, with every hint from nature indicating that it will be another early budburst, perhaps historically early.  But it’s been anything but winter-like in this part of the Sierra Foothills, with a continuous string of sunny days since about Feb. 10 and afternoon highs routinely in the upper 60s and often in the low-to-mid 70s.  At first we were honestly a little disgusted with the weather, as we actually WANTED winter–you know:  cold, wet, maybe some clouds.  Such weather would be good for keeping grapes dormant, replenishing soil moisture, and getting adequate chilling hours for other fruit.  But as the reports continued to filter in about several feet of snow in New England and bouts of bitter cold on the East Coast, and as driving just 15 miles to the west would bring us under a dense, chilly valley fog until mid-day over this same period, we ultimately concluded that we didn’t have it so bad!  In fact, it was superb outdoor working weather for the dozens and dozens of hours required for winter pruning, which so far has been completed in our Quinta and non-Quinta blocks of Portugese varietals and our primitivo (see recent Vineyard Gallery posts).

It should be noted that we did receive a 4-day period of intermittent rain in early February that dumped an impressive 5 inches of rain at Shaker Ridge.  This was much-appreciated, as we are still in the middle of a drought, and January was reportedly the driest ever in the recorded history of California.  But it was a warm rain, which means that very little was added to the Sierra snowpack, though it should work fine for the purposes of our vineyard and well.  A relatively minor rain event is in the forecast for this coming weekend.  We hope that March brings some additional moisture.  The rain also brought heavy winds which managed to bend some steel posts supporting our Quinta bird netting, but it wasn’t a total loss, and repairs are underway.

Looking ahead, winter pruning will be followed in short order by mulching of the prunings, the laying down of some weed sprays within the rows, miscellaneous maintenance of vines that have pulled loose from their stakes, mowing between rows, and the beginning of multiple rounds of preventative sprays for powdery mildew, mostly of an organic nature.  In short, we will be running to keep in place.

While the early February rain was a big help, the water situation for the coming year remains in the balance pending spring rains, so we are not certain yet if we will commit to farming all of our barbera.  However, 3 tons that we already plan to farm remains available.  Also, though our waitlists for primitivo and touriga are growing, the quantities requested are small, and clients may come off the lists as they find other sources of confirmed supply.  Thus, if you are interested in a varietal on our waitlists, don’t hesitate to contact us, and you may be able to get your grapes in the end.  To make this process more transparent for our clients, we now publish our waitlists, in an anonymous fashion, concurrent with our grape availability updates (see recent Grape Availability post).  Clients will be assigned a letter code so that they can recognize themselves on the lists.

We are looking forward to the 2014 wine competitions, as the 2013 and 2014 cohorts in the cellar seem particularly promising, and we hope the same is true for our clients.  We will again be offering a competition for best homemade wine made from Shaker Ridge grapes, details to follow in a future post.

Vineyard Diary 1-31-15

Happy New Year!

We began winter pruning operations yesterday, as it became increasingly difficult to argue that it was too cold, too wet, or too anything but time to get back to work.  In fact, we had a great break in vineyard chores after the early conclusion of last year’s harvest.

Though December was predictably cold and wet, January has been anything but.  The local weather broadcasters in the Bay area were using the “f” word –“flooding”–for a few days there in December after a welcome stretch of repeated rainstorms, but that now seems like ancient history.  In El Dorado, it hasn’t rained since Christmas Eve, so despite recording an impressive (for us) 14.2 inches of rainfall on the property from late September through Dec. 24, we once again find ourselves wondering about groundwater supplies for the coming vintage.  As we did last year, we we will delay posting availability of our largest water hog among the varietals, barbera, until we know we have the water to farm it (we are on a well).  We don’t know how it will play out–many potentially wet months are ahead–but we do know that if we don’t get good rainfal soon, we won’t be farming all of our barbera:  it’s clear we would run out of water.

We are pleased to post our availability and pricing at the end of January as per our custom.  Unfortunately, apart from a few tons of barbera, we can only offer waitlist options for our other main varietals, as we are completely sold out of the others out of the gates. We offer our repeat commercial clients first refusal on fruit, and we are excited to have a new client interested in making port-style wine from our Quinta fruit.  However, if you wanted primitivo or touriga, it is possible that some would become available–crop estimation is not an exact science–and we would encourage you to query us early to get on the top of our waitlists.

Nature has not played her hand yet in terms of bud burst timing, but after a couple of early seasons and in the face of a winter that seems to have come and gone already in December, we’d be betting on three in a row at this point.  We’d love to yet use the sledding course that we designed on the front slope of our property (outside vineyard) after an historic 9-inch snowfall several years ago, but there hasn’t been a repeat since, and we’re now not betting on it for this “winter”, either.

 

Vineyard Diary 9-19-14

The 2014 vineyard year at Shaker Ridge is coming to a rapid close, with a final small harvest of touriga on Sept. 24 to be the finale.  Nothing about the weather was able to change the course of an “early” year beginning with early budburst in March, as it proved to be a relentlessly hot Foothills summer.  We did get some relief in August at least from the triple-digit runs, as it stayed predominantly in the low to mid-90’s (daytime highs) and about 30 degrees cooler at night.  We only recently revisited the 100’s again in a string of days in mid-September, fortunately after the vast majority of our fruit was harvested.  It is extremely dry here at this time of year, as there is little in the way of natural moisture to provide humidity and of course no rain, and this together with even a little breeze can dehydrate grapes, particularly a thin-skinned variety like barbera.  So, though the home stretch was not the endless string of perfect low-90 degree days that we saw in the widely acclaimed 2012 vintage, it did appear to us to be another very good vintage with no difficulty fully ripening fruit.

In 2014, we were pleased to provide wine grapes to 5 commercial wineries and about 30 home winemakers.  Continuing the trend of recent years, fully 95% of our fruit went outside of El Dorado County, mainly to other counties in Northern California and a little to clients in Nevada.  The economics of this trend is straightforward:  the premium wine grapes of El Dorado are a good value proposition for wineries and serious winemakers outside the area, and they are willing and able to pay more to access them than in-county interests.

As always, we were happy to keep a healthy number of home winemakers in the mix, and we always enjoy their enthusiasm and reliability.  Particularly noteworthy in this regard, the harvest of our “Quinta” field of Portugese varietals historically early on September 13 was a big success and we believe provided top-quality wine grapes (see recent vineyard gallery posting for some pictures) to 12 home winemaker “shareholders”, including ourselves.  The shareholders joined us for a walk of the Quinta and discussion a few weeks before harvest, and we expect to see most of their “shares” turned into some outstanding port-style wines.  We’re pretty sure there was a not-so-stealth but non-paying 13th shareholder:  a black bear that visits us regularly in August and September at night, scrunching down the vineyard fence in a few places and stripping grape clusters.  However, we find the bear to be less wasteful of grapes (usually stripping whole clusters) than birds, and we couldn’t knock his/her fine taste, exclusively going for our personal favorite of the Quinta grapes, touriga nacional.

Our domestic well threw us many hints that it was at its limits in the late summer period, though we were, in the end, able to carry our whole vineyard.  However, beyond a doubt, if we do not get solid rainfall this winter, we will choose not to cultivate part of our vineyard next year to conserve water for irrigation of the balance.  We hope, as just about everyone does, that the drought will loosen its grip in California beginning in a few weeks.  The harvest–including pre-harvest activities like regular grape chemistry sampling and an ever-increasing deployment of bird netting–came so early this year that there was no opportunity for a pre-harvest escape to a cool coastal climate.  As such, we are particularly looking forward to the return of some clouds and moisture.  At the moment, the only clouds in sight are smoke-induced clouds from the massive and growing “King Fire” to our northeast.

We thank all of our clients for their support this year and truly hope to see some superb wines from the 2014 grapes.  We expect to post pricing and availability of 2015 vintage grapes by the end of January, though earlier commitments will be considered on a case-by-case basis.  We know our winemakers’ work has just begun, but we are looking forward to our off-season, rain, and the pause that refreshes…

“Every man at first sets forth the good wine, and when they have drunk freely, then that which is poorer.  But thou hast kept the good wine until now.” -John 2: 10