Week #4: April 11-April 18, 2009
Winery work, Open House Approaches.
Welcome back to Week #4 of ‘Year in the Vineyard'. We've been learning about vineyards and winemaking for a month now, and I'm in a fine mood this morning. The 2009 Vintage is settling into its own space very nicely and we dodged some frosty bullets this week (and I don't mean Coors Light cans sailing overhead). There's a good deal of fruit emerging on the vines, and I can't help but see into the future where those little clusters will open, flower, pollinate, set, develop color and sweetness, be picked, fermented, pressed and put up in barrel. But there's a hell of a lot of work to be done before 2009 fruit becomes wine, and we're pressing forward, full-tilt, to give the vines and fruit everything they need to make world-class pinot noir and chardonnay. Onward!
A sucker is born every minute! Step right up and see the amazing pinot noir vine! When a vine goes dormant it stores its leftover nutrients in the root system and trunk where they become available in the Spring when the vine wakes up. The liquid inside the vine's phloem (xylem fluid, the ‘blood' of the vine's vascular system), rises and pressurizes the interior of the vine, which causes the dormant buds to push and unfold into shoots. We want to focus the vine's energy into producing shoots on canes that grew last year-as those positions will be the most fruitful. Shoots that grow from the trunk or down by the base of the vine are called basal shoots, or more commonly, suckers.
Why it Matters: Suckers ‘suck' the vigor from a vine by using nutrients to feed these (usually) fruitless shoots. So the first ‘pass' of workers through the vineyard rub the trunk and base of the vine clean of emerging sucker shoots, from the tiniest crimson bud to tender shoots that are six inches long. Focusing the vine's resources to the desired location (fruitful shoots on last year's growth) helps each vine to grow in a consistent fashion-leading to fruit that is equally ripe from cluster to cluster, vine to vine, and vineyard block to vineyard block. Consistently ripe fruit throughout a vineyard section (or block) is one of the most critical issues we face each year in the vineyard. Knock those suckers off, lest they distract the vine from its nobler purpose!
Pseudomonas syringae: ‘You ain't gonna get me, Copper!' I'll try to make this simple. The Pseudomonas syringae bacteria allows ice to nucleate (grow) on young, tender grapevine shoots on chilly nights. With the bacteria present, the shoots can freeze and burn at 30-32 degrees. If the bacteria is not present, the vines are buffered against cold down to about 29 degrees or so. So how do we kill the bacteria that is native in the vineyard environment? We spray the entire vineyard with a copper solution. To aid the vines in their fight against chilly nights (Jack Frost nipping at your rows...) we mix up a tasty cocktail of nutrients: zinc, calcium, potassium (sing along with Borat: ‘All Other Countries Have Inferior Potassium'), and magnesium to spray on the emerging leaves. This is called a foliar spray. Why it Matters: The copper knocks out the ice-nucleating bacteria and the nutrients soak into the leaves and give the vines a healthy boost that (according to the salesman) offer the vines a better chance of staving off frost injury by virtue of their glowing health. Of course the salesman didn't show me the articles that suggest there is no hard evidence that copper (or the other nutrients mentioned) has a measurable impact on frost-hardiness, it's one of those situations that are common to viticulture: the anecdotal chatter between vineyard managers dies hard-and what's the risk at only $14 per acre for the application? So we mixed up the nutrients in the spray rig and gave the vines a good dousing. Did the vines need it, or was it so I could sleep less fitfully? We may never know. The next sprays will be a fungicide, probably wettable sulfur, which is considered ‘organic'. We may throw some more copper in there to keep the bacteria worried. Copper can also help with botrytis shoot-blight. But that's a tale for another week.
Whither the withering weather? The doom and gloom report came in last week: temperatures in the Santa Rita Hills were supposed to dip into the low 30's on Tuesday night, and perhaps into the high twenties on Wednesday night. The copper was sprayed, the wind machines checked and double checked, the coffee was brewed. Tuesday night stayed on track-mid to low 30's but no frost. Last night, after feasting on crab with a fun group at Steve and Cathy's, I surfed the interweb and watched the temperature drop on my weather station console. Thirty-eight degrees came at midnight, I fired up the machines and the sprinklers, medicated with tequila, and watched Simpsons episodes until I fell off into a fitful slumber.
At around 4 am I woke and stumbled to the weather console at my desk and saw 31 degrees at the bottom of the vineyard. I went back to bed after determining that the equipment was still churning. There was visible frost on the roofs, but not on the ground. At 7 am I took a tour through the vineyard and determined we had dodged a bullet-no damage whatsoever. An unexpected marine layer moved into Lompoc overnight and the winds blew unexpectedly off the ocean-keeping the humidity and the dew point up. We caught a break, and I'm hoping these last two nights are the ‘hump' of the frost season.
No really cold nights forecast for the next few weeks (maybe 30's tonight, but I'm not too worried), so it looks like that goat I sacrificed to Bacchus was worth it. I also have installed a link from our weather station to my PC-so I'm hoping I'll be able to make some nifty weather graphs moving forward and use the data to be able to better predict dangerous weather patterns for the vines.
Winery work: 90% of my work load is vineyard management and customer relations. But a few times a week I do escape to the winery to taste and top barrels, organize, retrieve cases of wine, box orders for shipment or to take inventory. This week I topped all of the 29 barrels of 2008 wine in our Santa Rosa Road facility. The 2008 pinots are racy and mineral-laden and developing some fat on their supermodel bones, the 2008 Chardonnay is becoming drier and more Chablisienne by the week, and the 2008 Sleepy Hollow Syrah (scheduled to be bottled under our new second label: Axis Mundi) is a rich, seductive slut with a nose bigger than Jimmy Durante.
Each barrel is ‘topped' every 10-14 days to minimize air exposure in the barrel (even though the wine is still creating a little C02 gas). I try to taste different barrels each week to assure the wines are all maturing nicely. We are also organizing and spit-shining the winery for our Open House this Sunday, April 19th. If you're around for the Festival Weekend, feel free to stop by from 11 am - 3 pm for sips, cheeses and the taco truck!
Why it Matters: I get to drink at work.
History of the Grapevine, Part 4:
Roman Thirst Brings Wine to the World
By the first Century BCE, the Romans had conquered the Etruscans (in modern Tuscany) and the Greek colonies in Southern Italy were under Roman control. Early Roman palates preferred Greek wine to Roman wine, and the wines were priced accordingly. The conquered Etruscans had established trade routes into Gaul (France), and the Romans moved into these areas and beyond where seeds of a wine culture were growing.
Pliny the Elder wrote extensively about the "first growths" of Rome-most notably Falernian, Alban and Caecuban. Other first growth vineyards include Rhaeticum and Hadrianum located along the Po river in what are now the modern day regions of Lombardy and Venice respectively; Praetutium (not related to the modern Italian city Teramo, historically known as Praetutium) located along the Adriatic coast near the border of Emilia-Romagna and Marche and Lunense located in modern Tuscany. Around Rome itself were the estates of Alban, Sabinum, Tiburtinum, Setinum and Signinum. Going south towards Naples were the estates of Caecuban, Falernian, Caulinum, Trebellicanum, Massicum, Gauranium, and Surrentinum. In Sicily was the first growth estate of Mamertinum.
As Rome extended its Empire, it would grant tracts of conquered land to its military heroes, who set up homes all over Europe. It made sense to extend vineyards in these new areas to quench the mighty wine-thirst of the Roman populace and those they influenced. Rome itself was consuming almost 50 million gallons of wine per year, which is just less than a modern bottle of wine for every man, woman and child per day. Except most women and children were not allowed wine, so assume that Roman men were swilling vino any chance they could.
As the Roman Empire and Roman influence spread through Europe and beyond by military campaigns, trade and settlements, vineyards were planted like the footprints of the marching legions. As Roman garrisons and colonies were established in Bordeaux, Trier, Northern and Southern Spain, the Rhine and Danube, Epernay (Champagne), Burgundy and the Rhone Valley (to name a few), viticulture took root and new wine cultures were developed. Grains and vegetables were grown on the fertile land and the rocky hillsides were covered in grapevines and olive trees.
Planting materials (vine varieties) were sourced from local cuttings, from Roman varieties sourced from the movement of the original hermaphrodite vines of the Trans-Caucuses, and hybrids created from all three. These vines expressed themselves and mutated into the varieties we recognize today. Even though the French might argue, there is no culture in the history of Earth that influenced the development of wine culture more than the Romans. There are many conventions of their wine culture that persist in modern life: so let's all get on board. A bottle a day is all we ask!