speckling and fruit set

Managing the Canopies of Happy, Vigorous (And Sometimes Smiling) Vines

From Amador to Oak Knoll, we are reporting “happy vines” this week. And as they say, happy vines make for happy farmers. And happy farmers with happy vines make for happy grapes. (For one grower “long happy tendrils” makes him think the vines are smiling. Isn’t that adorable?) And happy, smiling grapes make for happy, smiling winemakers. And happy, smiling winemakers make for happy, smiling wine drinkers. And with enough happy, smiling wine drinkers you could basically solve all the world’s problems. Basically.

Because this is our first report from Amador County so far this year, Isy Borjón of Borjón Winery in the Shenandoah Valley gets us up to speed: “After a couple of years of not receiving desired results from the vines, growers all over Amador County are showing excitement about the way the 2012 crop looks. Vines look happy, healthy and show amazing signs of vigor and growth that are common signs of an early harvest (lets keep our fingers crossed).”

Like those in the rest of Northern California, vines there benefitted from late-winter rains. “You could literally take a shovel out to any Amador vineyard, stick it in the ground and you would be sure to find wet dirt at about 6-8 inches below the surface!” says Borjón. Very little irrigating has been needed so far for many vineyards, making grape-growing this year a bit more stress free.”

At Wilkinson Family Vineyards in Oak Knoll, John Wilkinson (a member of the Napa Valley Grapegrowers) reports having dodged “not a bullet but maybe a BB” on June 4th “when a rain event turned into much ado about nothing. With a fresh breeze and warm sun, the vineyards dried out quickly.”

Now that most vineyards are moving past bloom and into fruit set (Matt Hardin of Barbour Vineyard Management reports full bloom on the late-to-bloom Howell Mountain and over in Dry Creek Valley, Natalie Winkler of Mill Creek Vineyards & Winery reports that their sauvignon blanc, gewürztraminer, chardonnay, and merlot blocks are beginning to set, while the cabernet sauvignon is close behind), vineyard managers are starting to get a sense of crop size and ultimate yield. “While growers rush to sucker and crown-thin their vineyards that are already in bloom, they can’t help but be mesmerized by the amount of fruit that is left on the vine even after being thinned,” says Borjón. “Even older vines that have been downsizing in crop yields over the years look way better than they have in a long time.”

Managing canopies that “are in full force,” according to Winkler, are keeping crews on their toes. Tucking, shoot positioning and thinning are “some of the most overlooked aspects of farming,” says Hardin, and are critical for managing light penetration — allowing for greater phenolic development early on — and, of course, increasing airflow. One of the ways he measures proper light penetration is to look at the shadows of the vines between the rows. “Spackled light” is the ideal, which allows enough sunlight to touch the grapes without burning them.

Next week: look forward to an engaging debate about the pros and cons of lateral removal vs. leaf removal!