Anderson Valley Special: Suckering and Sunflowers

It’s difficult to make generalizations about the Anderson Valley. Even though it is only 18 miles long and less than two miles wide, the climate is vastly different from one end to the other. Temperatures tend to drop dramatically as you head north on 128 (and towards the coast) to what is called the “deep end” of the Valley. “Where it can get to 95 degrees in Boonville [at the south end] by Noon on a summer’s day,” says Dan Rivin, the Cellar Master and Assistant Winemaker for Breggo Cellars, “Navarro [at the north end] can be shrouded in fog and barely above 50 degrees.” That being said, there are similarities.

Like the rest of northern California, this winter was warm and dry and came to a very wet close: March, according to Rivin, was one of the wettest months in AV history (15 inches of precipitation according to Accuweather). This helped to delay bud break, making early spring frost less of a concern for vineyards close to the coast. “The other concern going into the 2012 growing season,” says Rivin “was a ‘hangover’ in the vineyards from the very difficult growing conditions of 2011. Thankfully, we’re not seeing any stunting or poor early growth that could have been attributable to the lingering effects of the widespread mildew and botrytis in 2011. Vineyards look healthy, bud break was right on schedule, and early growth is healthy and vigorous.”

Foursight Vineyards, just outside the town of Boonville, which experienced bud break between mid- to late-March, is showing the same positive signs, according to proprietor Kristy Charles (who is also President of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association): “Growth is normal but rapidly increasing with the recent sunny, warm weather. The crop size is estimated to be smaller than average yet again, but not as severe as in 2011.”

This week, the vineyard crews have been busy “suckering” or removing extra growth around the trunk, and shoot thinning, in order to ultimately reduce yield. “While it is too early to accurately estimate crop loads, this early thinning of shoots can help us get a handle on bunch counts, which, combined with historical data and experience, will get us into a position of having roughly the amount of fruiting potential that we are looking for,” says Rivin. “Nature will take it from here.”

They are also mowing cover crop. Now that the rains have stopped (hopefully), the vines don’t need the competition and the crop will add much-needed nitrogen to the soil. In his vineyards, Rivin uses an attachment called “the sunflower” which he describes as “sort of like a weed whacker.” Spring-loaded arms on each side of the tractor mow the grass between each vine. “When the unit comes into contact with the vine trunks, the spring allows the arm to retract and work its way around the vine, until the vine is passed, when the arm springs out again.” Cutely named, but really, not as cute as sheep.