A Year in the Vineyard with Wes Hagen, Clos Pepe
We're Having a Heatwave!
Crew Meetings and Work Checking
Life and Death on the Vineyard:
The Blog Gets Biblical:
Easter Lamb, Prayers for Frost to Passover, Vineyard Hardware,
Weather Stations, Frost Looms
History of the Grapevine Part 2: Neolithic to the Egyptian Empire...
A Year in the Vineyard with Wes Hagen, Clos Pepe
Week #2: March 29- April 3, 2009
Wind Machines, A Scary Night, I Love the Sound of Sprinklers in the Morning, Does Pinot Noir need irrigation and fertilizer?
History of the Grapevine Part 1: Quaternary to the Neolithic
Well, it's Friday the 13th 2009 in the Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County and the dormant buds on the vines are just starting to push a bit, but are stil quite tight. This is very good, considering we've had frost 7 of the last 8 nights here at Clos Pepe.
Once bitten, twice shy: 2008 was a devastating year for frost. I still remember the feeling of helplessness as parts of the vineyard that had never been threatened were burned to a crisp one freak April morning last year. And then again a few weeks later, and then again. The vines recovered, burned and then some were even burned a third time. Ouch. These are the moments that test our resolve. Two thirds of our crop was destroyed--we harvested a total of 20 tons off of 30 acres last year.
So now it's 2009 and we have a new year and a new chance to produce a healthy and economically viable crop here at Clos Pepe. Lazy budbreak is just fine--the vinecan sense forthcoming weather patterns far better than I can--so I figure they know what they're doing being a bit lazy.
Frost moves downhill like water, and then 'pools' in valleys and swales and does the worst damage there. In our lowest spots we have overhead sprinklers that can coat the baby clusters with water that will freeze and keep the interior in the 30's while it goes into the 20's in the atmosphere outside. Freezing the clusters actually saves them--that's how sprinkler frost control works....
We're only a few weeks into the New Year, but we have yet to get a drop of rain out here on the Central Coast of California. Sure we have the benefit of irrigation and good, clean groundwater, but rainwater is much better for the vineyard, and here's why.
In general rainwater flushes salts and washes clean the salts that accumulate around the root zones. Ground water may have other issues as well: from chlorine to boron to high calcium levels.
The radar shows a nice wet system rolling up the Pacific Coast, and I am challenging nature to do her worst. Bring it on!
On our soils, which are sandy loam, we need about 12 inches of rain between harvest and bud break to fully recharge the soil profile with moisture. We're way behind on our rain, and have just finished a freakish warm-streak where temps were in the low 80's for over a week....
Winter sure took it's time getting here, but I finally feel the chill and the vines are starting to do the same.
The vineyard out my window is becoming more skeletal by the day--the last of the yellow and red leaves are falling to the ground, the cover crop is becoming lush and green from the December rains, and I feel comfortable in knowing that the 2008's are all in barrel, pruning will wait a few weeks, and I can get in some R&R&G: winemaker speak for rest, rehydration and golf....
By now we’re usually picking. The weather has been some of the coolest I remember in September, which is our warmest month of the year in the Santa Rita Hills. But with all the frost problems we had early in the season and persistent fog and cool weather, the only grapes we’ve picked have been for cluster samples. With a bit of time on my hands before picking, I thought it would be nice to blog on sampling and how we make the decisions on when to pick.
From my earliest years here at Clos Pepe I have been using Internet
technology to reach out to producers and consumers. While it’s
probably pretty common today to email out field samples and post them
on Web sites, back in 1998 it was a pretty new thing. Our Web site was
up back then too, and even though it was a mess, it was a great
resource for winos who liked to see how grapes were grown. I’ve never
thought of anything I do here at Clos Pepe as a trade secret. We grow
the fruit, minimize chemical inputs, treat our workers well, allow the
grapes and the vintage to inform us during harvest and crush, and try
to make wines that are restrained, balanced and food friendly. The
secrets of Clos Pepe lie in the soil, aspect, weather and altitude.
Everything else is transparent: just like Pinot Noir itself.
This morning we got up early (work day early, not harvest early) and took cluster samples from nine different blocks, seven Pinot Noir, and two Chardonnay. These results have already been emailed to our ten producers for 2008: Brewer-Clifton, Diatom, Ojai Vineyard, Ken Brown, AP Vin, Loring, Siduri, Roessler, Tyler and Clos Pepe Estate. Yes, I email the results to myself. It’s awfully weird being both a vineyard manager and a winemaker during harvest. I have dreams where I call my home number on my cell phone and chew myself out and openly question the cluster sample results. That’s an inside joke you may not understand if you don’t make wine.
Cluster samples at Clos Pepe are collected with a fairly exacting protocol, which can be described thusly:
So now we are completely self-contained. Sure, if I have a problem or a pump breaks I have Joe Davis, Morgan Clendenen, Steve Russell, or the Curran/D'alfonso team (all in winemaking bays adjacent to ours) to help me out-but I'm really looking forward to flying solo with the team of my wife Chanda, boss Steve Pepe and intern extraordinaire, Charlie Lane. It all seems very serendipitous, which is a beautiful thing
Yesterday I spent a bit of time hanging with my wife and giving her time to do the things she needs to do before harvest-we went to the barn so I could see her ride her horse, we went to Santa Maria and bought a new washer-dryer and some fancy bullets to kill ground squirrels, we took Oliver the Italian Greyhound to PetSmart-all those things that we will have no time for when the fruit's ready to harvest.
We also had a bit of a surprise when intern Charlie arrived home around 6 pm last night with a bucket of crawfish he'd caught with some of our workers. The preparation started a bit nervously for me...I wasn't really that stoked to eat them at first, until I got a broth of onions, garlic, potatoes and peppers to a roiling boil, had flushed our wild, live little friends with salt and clean water, tossed them in and saw how beautiful and bright red they turned in the pot. With garlic-drawn butter in abundance we set upon the critters with gusto-the tail meat was as sweet as a Breton Lobster and I even sucked every head dry-what doesn't taste delicious soaked in garlic butter? I can check off another critter that lives in the Santa Rita Hills that I've now cooked and eaten-no surprise 100% of them match perfectly with either SRH pinot noir (quail, boar, dove, venison, hare, chanterelles) or Chardonnay (crawfish boiled in beer, onions and spice).