(Another) Year in the Vineyard, Week #4
A WineMaker Magazine Blog
April 2-April 8, 2010
What Is Done Can’t Be Undone, Or Can It?
More Cuteness than You can Shake a Crook At
Putting Out Fires and Battling the Cold
Wes’ Week In the Media
It’s been a better week than last week. We needed some successes and some warm fuzzies after a deep freeze ruined my mood (and a few acres of fruit) early last week. I take the vintage very seriously, and it hurts me to see one cluster burned by frost, let alone the thousands that were impacted by last week’s cold snap. The vintage is like riding a series of waves on a longboard, and last week there was an early wipeout. When the wave folds over on you unexpectedly, there’s little you can do but try to fall gracefully and not get torn up on the reef, then get back out in the lineup and try to work with mother nature once again. This week has been tiring but fruitful. We have begun a process for trying to help the frosted vines recover, we have spent an entire day in the winery organizing, racking and putting the winery back together, we’ve also welcomed FIVE, yes five, new members to the Clos Pepe flock in rapid succession. So, as nature taketh away, she also giveth back in bountiful woolly cuteness.
What is Done is Done, Or Is It?
Steve Pepe is our vigneron and fearless leader. He makes the calls, pays the bills, makes sure our contracts are in order, and allows me to do most of the fun stuff. He also reads, cover to cover, more than a dozen wine and wine related publications every week and does an awesome job of passing important information along to me. Serendipitously (it’s actually due to great timing by the magazine, but I love the word serendipity), Practical Winery and Vineyard Magazine published an article about how to recover from frost damage only a day or two after we had a freeze event. We discussed the article at our weekly meeting this week (Tuesday mornings), and we began to implement a newly tested protocol for helping the vines recover.
After a vine’s shoot is destroyed from frost, it dries up, turns brown, and eventually falls off the vine, or is ‘pushed’ off the shoot by the secondary (backup) shoot that takes its place. Of course the secondary shoot is less fruitful than the primary. There’s usually a tertiary shoot in case the secondary gets frosted too, but the third shoot is rarely fruitful. So each time the shoot burns, you lose about 50% of the crop. A vineyard like Clos Pepe produces about 2 tons per acre on the primary buds, less than a ton per acre on a single frost event, and down to about ½ ton per acre if it gets frosted twice.
Cue the miracle article! These brilliant viticulturists did a study in 2008 on frosted vines, trying some new techniques to help vines recover. Part of the same frosted field was allowed to recover naturally, while other plots had their frosted shoots snapped off by hand, cut just above the first bud on the frosted shoot, and some were repruned, taking the entire frosted bud off the spur. The hand-broken shoots and the cut shoots recovered significantly better than the shoots left to their own recovery—some showing as much as twice the crop recovery as the control vines. This was big news. So we had a crew meeting immediately afterwards and we did a few rows to practice, and after I was happy that the crew was practicing the technique perfectly, I set them upon the whole vineyard to check each vine, shoot by shoot, for frost damage and to cut off the frosted shoots. The crew is also rubbing off ‘sucker’ shoots on each vine as they pass, making sure that the shoots that pop out of random parts of the vine are removed so that the most fruitful shoots are able to use the nutrients that are meant for the crop, and not volunteer shoots that grow from the trunk of ‘water buds’ on the head of the vine. So now the guys are busy cutting and helping the vines recover, and we hope we’ll see beneficial results similar to those described in the article. Science rules!
Anxiety runs deep during April at the Clos. Not only is it the most crucial month for Frost Patrol (waking up almost nightly at 2:00-4:00 am to turn on frost fans and sprinklers), but it’s also lambing time for our miniature sheep that do so much of our weeding and grazing. We breed the sheep very carefully. Chanda excludes any but the most perfectly conformed sheep for breeding…this year we bred five ewes to our foundation ram, Woodward. Woodward is an impressive breeder. Without getting too graphic, we’re lucky he’s fairly tall for the breed or his breeding parts would drag behind him. A sheep’s gestation is about 165 days, and 166 days after putting Woodward with the ewes, the girls started birthing lambs. And the entire lambing (4 of the 5 ewes were impregnated, although the 5th may just be behind on her pregnancy) happened in a flurry of births. Four lambings in four days, 5 live lambs on the ground. Between the frost alarms and the pulling lambs from their mothers it was a very sleepless and fairly messy week. Chanda is much better at birthing lambs than I am. I hold the ewe and stare forward, imagining I’m in Hawaii, or at a reggae concert of something. I know behind me that a lot of liquid, blood and primal shit’s going on. I can feel the ewe contract, I try to talk to her and comfort her. Then suddenly the lamb is on the ground and it needs to be stimulated to start breathing. They all look dead to me when they come out, and the height of my lambing anxiety is between the moments of the lamb coming out and when it starts to breathe and bleat. They don’t all make it, which is another reason I get so uptight, but Chanda is awesome at getting them up and breathing, and she doesn’t go back to bed until the lamb is walking, nursing, and the mother has clearly taken possession. That usually means she’s outside until the sun comes up, and there’s been more difficult births where Chanda is in the sheep paddock for entire nights or days. I usually get back into the field or the office, and let Chanda and Mother Nature take their course without me.
The current sheep count is 19 live sheep, 5 brand new lambs. The lambs are getting to the age 9around a week) where they get very frisky and run with playful abandon through the pasture. We call them ‘lamb races’. Next we will choose a theme for the naming, and open the naming contest up to our Clos Pepe Estate Allocation List. The customers that name the sheep successfully will be sent a free bottle of wine.
Fire and Ice
Frost patrol continues nightly, and its been a very cold Spring thus far. Frost fans and sprinklers have been on at least three nights out of four, and the greatest benefit has gone to the liquor distributors as I have a drink or two before bed to relax me, and a drink after the fans are on to get me back to sleep. My drink of choice changes nightly between blended Scotch, aged Rums, and Reposada Tequilas. We have also been applying some copper sulfate to the vines to help knock down the bacteria that allows frost to injure the tissues of the vine, and to add some nutrients through the leaves that will also help the vines strengthen themselves against frost cell damage. But, as any farmer will tell you, equipment fails in the moment you need it most. Our spray rig had a failure in one of the major components, so we had to take the machine apart, bring the part in for replacement, and then put it back together. The spray rig is good to go as of this morning, so we’ll focus on keeping the crew in the field ‘ficing’ frost damaged shoots, and start the spraying again on Monday. We will tank mix a number of materials for Monday’s spraying, including copper (botrytis and frost), foliar nutrients (vine health), and a fungicide to keep powdery mildew at bay. We will be spraying the vines every 10-20 days for the next few months.
Wes’ All-Good Week in the Media
It was a very good week for Clos Pepe and the media. A job I landed almost a year ago finally produced published fruit, and I was offered a job in producing a short weekly segment for an up and coming wine radio show. My article entitled ‘Transverse Transcendence’ was published in the Los Angeles Times Magazine, my first publication in a nationally-recognized newspaper. Readership is estimated between three and four million readers. The article is my ‘love letter’ to this growing region. Some history, some poetry, some description.
You can check out the article here: http://www.latimesmagazine.com/2010/04/transverse-transcendence.html . I can’t publish my original article for another three months due to my contract, but I do plan on posting both earlier drafts of the article on my FaceBook page (Wes Hagen) when my contract allows. Make sure to check out Macduff’s photos too. I thought he did a great job capturing the essence of the Santa Rita Hills and our passion for Pinot noir.
David Wilson does a great job with his local radio program: Grape Encounters Radio (http://grapeencountersradio.com/) . It’s a show that’s produced extraordinarily well, and it is poised to pick up stations and fans as it continues spreading wine broadcast excellence throughout Santa Barbara County and beyond. I’ve been on the show a few times, and david and I really seem to have a good time in our conversations. He called me this week and offered a chance to get involved with the production. Within a few weeks I will be producing a five minute ‘Wine News’ segment that has yet to be named. I plan on talking about local, national and worldwide breaking wine news, and also to make it useful to locals by suggesting tasting rooms, events, winemaker dinners, restaurant reviews and the like. I have a fancy new microphone next to my computer right now, and I’m looking forward to firing up my fancy Marantz CD-recorder again (it hasn’t seen much use recording live music like it used to). I’ll make sure to link the segments as they are recorded, so you can listen along as I stumble headlong into some broadcast media.
All in all it was a good week—the frost machines were on 6 of seven nights, with two nights getting very close to another freeze disaster. We came out unscathed, though, and perhaps stronger because of it, but definitely in need of a nap and a few Advil. If I feel anxious, I can go pet a cute little lamb or have a pour of some pinot noir. Tonight we’re off with friends to have an early dinner at Root 246 and a discussion of menu with Chef Johnny Church. That makes me very happy—Chefs are some of my favorite people, and if you haven’t had the fried chicken at Root…well, you need to.
Upcoming events with Wes Hagen and Clos Pepe (Screw the blog, let’s drink wine In Real Life!):
Sunday, April 18th, 2010: Clos Pepe Estate Open House, Lompoc CA: 1273 West Laurel Street in Lompoc, 11 am – 3 pm. Taste, Nibble, Purchase Clos Pepe wines, Wes will be there pouring, and we’ll have delicious cheeses and nibbles for the everyone. We’ll be doing barrel tasting of the tremendous 2009 vintage every hour on the hour…so don’t miss the chance to be one of the first to taste these brand new wines.
Saturday, April 24th, 2010: Buona Tavola Winemaker Dinner, San Luis Obispo, CA: We don’t do many winemaker dinners, and we love to make them very, very special. The menu for this event will include: 2007 CPE PN with Parpadelle Cinqueterre- Wide ribbon pasta with garlic, extra virgin olive oil, sea scallops. house cured salmon, a diced braised garden vegetable medley, white wine and lighty creamy saffron sauce. 2006 CPE Pinot with Petto d’Anatra al Porto- Muscovy duck breast pan seared and oven roasted, finished with a port wine reduction sauce. Call for a reservation right away to guarantee seating: (805) 545-8000
Wednesday, April 28th, 2010: Root 246 (Bradley Ogden) Winemaker Dinner, Solvang, CA: Johnny Church and I are meeting tonight in the kitchen of Root 246 to taste through all of our current releases and make some decisions on the tasting/pairing menu to be offered at this exciting event. Expect greatness. It will be a busy night, so get your rez now if you’ll be in the area. (805) 686-8681.