Reminiscing on Year Three
Now that the “brutal” southern California winter has blown through and begins to wane, and the need for a long sleeve shirt has come and gone, it is time to reflect on the past season outside in the vineyard. It has been a rough year in which the day job averaged 12-14 hour days and weekends, thus requiring quick efficient work to get anything done. Given I only have 4 vines (5 now, more to come on that), it was still manageable. While there were some areas of concern and timing issues, which I will get to later, overall the vines have thrived this year.
Last spring started off well with the addition of two new Syrah vines as I have previously mentioned. I planted one in place of my deceased mourvedre vine and it took off. This spot must be magical, just like the mourvedre, this vine ended up with two shoots easily 14ft in length and the diameter of my middle finger (or three times the diameter of a pencil for those not familiar with my central digit).
I had purchased two Syrah vines, one a backup just in case the first didn’t take. I was going to plant the second in a bucket but ultimately, with the first vine being so vigorous, I planted the second Syrah in the backyard with the chickens. To keep it safe I placed a grow tube around it. In comparison to its’ companion it was growing quite slowly. I wanted to get more direct sunlight on the vine so when the shoots were about a foot, I tested the chickens by lifting the grow tube just enough to expose the lowest leaves. After 2 days the vines were untouched so I assumed the chickens were uninterested. On the third day I removed the tube. On the fourth day I was left with a brown stick poking out of the ground and a huge appetite for chicken!
In the hope that the vine might survive, I surrounded the vine in a hardware cloth tube, and eventually it did have enough to send out a couple shoots. Yet another illustration of how truly fool proof grape vines can be.
The other change of note in the spring was the transition from bark mulch to living mulch. As discussed in a previous post, I opted for New Zealand white clover as it was a bit more drought tolerant than other clovers. I had to water quite often for the first month or two to get the clover established but now it is well entrenched so it received five minute drips 2-3 times/week and it stayed lush and green all summer. Thus far it is easy to manage and so thick it chokes out all other weeds. We will see how it holds up this next year.
It was in summer where a troubling sign became most evident, one of my vines had a cordon on which only two buds produced a shoot (the gaping hole on the far right vine, left cordon in picture above and below), one near the trunk and the second was the last bud on the cordon. The more vigorous of the two was the latter curiously enough. I am concerned that it may be Pierce’s Disease (PD) however, I would expect that growth would be worse the farther out you go on the vine. Another thought as to a potential cause for the uneven growth was that perhaps those buds did not get enough sunlight from the previous year. Whatever the cause, if there is still little growth on that cordon this year, I will attempt to replace the cordon if there is a viable replacement shoot this coming year.
Other than this anomaly, the canopy and fruit growth this year was quite robust. Even though I had decided early not to attempt to make any wine in this third year from the vines, I still tried to go through the motions as if I were. Due to the vigorous growth, I topped the shoots several times this summer compared to only once or twice the year before. The canopy needed to be thinned out many times as well, to ensure enough airflow for the clusters yet still provide some protection from prolonged direct sunlight.
A very early and hot summer this year combined with poor life event planning conspired to ensure I did not get to the harvest in time. In 2011, I had allowed a few clusters to grow and I harvested them in early October. I had expected to do the same but a warm summer pushed the harvest time up, sadly it was right when I had my ankle surgery. I was off my feet for about 4 weeks. By the time I was able to stay upright on crutches for a meaningful amount of time and hobble out to the front, I could smell, and see the fly’s buzzing around, the rotting fruit. I cut all the clusters off; in the end, between the three zinfandel vines, there were 39 viable clusters had they not been allowed to rot on the vine. Good thing I had decided not to make wine this year.
Overall it was a very busy year with the day job, trips and surgery but I was able to keep the vines growing, with the exception of the bad timing for the harvest of course. With the New Year, there may be a decision to make about how to handle the cordon should it not produce many shoots again this coming year.