Year in the Vineyard, Week 7 covers vineyard shoot thinning, irrigation considerations, wine hospitality and a hiking trip up Gaviota Peak to peek at the Santa Barbara Fire.
Week #7: Year in the Vineyard
The Skinny on Shoot Thinning, Water Water Everywhere So Give the Vines a Drink, Wes Goes on Tour Without Leaving Home, I Can See Clearly Now the Smoke Blows West.
Week 7 of the growing season has come and gone with little stress (except perhaps for the Lakers losing Game 1 against the Rockets, but that was just a little wake up call they needed). The weather was windy and warm, from low 70's on Monday up to 89 degrees yeserday, and now it's cooling down a bit to the high 70's with strong winds. No temperatures lower than the high 40's, so the frost alarm has stayed silent and my sleep has been gloriously undisturbed.
Shoot Thinning in the Vineyard:
Remember that in nature grapevines grow up trees in an attempt to steal their sunlight and produce fruit ripe enough to entice birds to eat the berries and spread the grape seeds. But in a premium wine vineyard, our intention is to keep the fruit and shoots bathed in sunlight and wind to help the fruit ripen, to improve the taste and color of the fruit, and to reduce the impact of mildew and rot. At the beginning of the season we need to assess and prepare the vines for quality fruit production. The clusters are tiny at this point, but they will grow. At this point we need to give each cluster its own niche space for ripening later. Clusters that are nested together will be of lower quality and can show vegetative or herbal character in the final wine. Sooo....
Why it matters: The idea is to remove shoots that are too close to each other to give each shoot its own space on the trellising. This way the cluster gets its own wind, sun and will grow more consistently than shoots that are crowded. Open and well-spaced shoots also absorb more sunlight on their emerging bud-nodes, which determined fruitfulness NEXT year by how much sun the new shoots absorb THIS year. A vine will only produce fruit next year if it feels it gotample sunlight for ripening last year. Otherwise it assumes its in shade and needs to climb higher to catch more sun, and won't waste nutrients and a growing season unless its in the position to absorb sun.
"Oh the Water, Let It Run All Over Me"--VanMorisson:
It's been getting warm and we didn't get all that much rain this Winter and Spring, so I've begun to give the vines a bit of soil moisture so they can continue to grow rapidly and to make sure they don't run out of moisture during this period of rapid growth. I also plan on adding some fertilizer through the irrigation system (this is called fertigation), and I want there to be moist soil in place so the mix of water and fertilizer can move through the soil easily and not settle too close to the topsoil. Five to seven gallons per plant every other week is the plan while it stays warm. Thew water is applied through drip emitters so the liquid can soak easily into the ground a drip at a time--less evaporation occurs using this method than sprinkling or furrow irrigation.
Why it matters: Ever wonder how a plant/vine pulls water from the ground without a pump? It's osmosis, man! A vine's trunk and tissues are like a sponge, or a wick. As photosynthesis occurs, the vines give off water vapor through pores on the backs of their leaves. As the water vapor escapes, the tissues of the vine (the wick) dries out and begins to pull water (with nutrients in solution) through the root hairs, up the tap root, through the spongey 'phloem' in the trunk system, into the shoots, into the leaves, and then out through the leaves as vapor. So a vine pulls water from the ground only when its photosynthesizing, and the warmer it is, the faster the water is being used, and the faster a vine grows in this initial vegetative growth cycle. Maximum photosynthesis occurs in a vine at 87 degrees Fahrenheit. We've toyed with these optimum temperaturtes quite a bit in the last few weeks, so we're making sure the vines have ample moisture in May at the root level (mainly 2-5 feet deep).
Wine Tour Hospitality:
We had a very nice cross-section of visitors this week: from wine professionals and sommeliers from LA and Vail, Colorado to retirees from San Diego. As a dude who spends a lot of time on a farm, welcoming tours is my main social outle--and I absolutely love folks that are passionate about pinot noir. The tours run from 10:30 am until 12:30 and cover 30 million years of geology in the Santa Rita Hills and 20,000 years of grapevine natural history. Then we taste wine, nibble cheese and finish with coffee. If you plan on being up in the Santa Rita Hills, your trip will not be complete until you take our tour, so make sure to send an email at least a few weeks in advance to book your tour.
Why It Matters:
I never feel the magic at a tasting bar in a tasting room. I find the greatest wine moments happen in vineyards and in tasting with winemakers. Giving the history of the dirt, the vine and the property at Clos Pepe gives a story and a wine experience that gives the wines context and narrative. It's hard to explain why this time is so important to me and our customers, but I'm happy to take a few hours to show you!
A Trip Up Gaviota Peak:
My friend Jeremy and I reconnected today by taking a morning hike up to the top of Gaviota Peak. It's a long 3 miles up and a shorrt 3 miles down. We saw tons of interesting critters, including a half-dozen species of reptiles, tons of birds, butterflies and lovely flowers. What I hadn't considered was how windy it would be at the peak, and the view that it would afford us of the Santa Barbara fire that's burning right now. This was a great hike, and I'm only a tiny bit sore.
Why it matters: All wine and no hike makes Wes a drunk boy.