Reaching For The Wire

Reaching for the Top (Wire That Is)

Wow, there is a lot happening in the vineyards this week. In fact, “this is the busiest time of the year,” (next to harvest, of course) says Matt Hardin, of the famously fastidious management company Barbour Vineyards. Shoot thinning, spraying, disking (turning cover crop into the soil), mowing, replanting, tucking shoots and taking petiole (leaf stem) samples caused one viticulturist we spoke with to remark that he has not had a day off in three weeks. Three weeks!

Even the vines themselves have been busy. In the Stagecoach Vineyard on Atlas Peak, viticulturist Amy Warnock is seeing all 17 varieties of grapes in full bloom. “Even though 2012 budbreak was a few days later than 2010 and 2011, this year’s bloom dates are about 20 days ahead of the previous two seasons. This should translate to a longer growing season.”

Graeme MacDonald, whose Oakville vineyard got a blast of rainy and windy weather over Memorial Day weekend, found the lapse of sunshine to actually be helpful: “I would call it free thinning!” says MacDonald, (who is, in fact, an optimist). “Our flowering has been happening over the last 10 days so I believe that the 1-2 days of cooler weather and 30 minutes of rain will not be so bad. The exceptionally warm, dry weather on either side has lead to good fruit set. For quality fruit, I want loose clusters not tight ones.”

Hardin, who manages vineyards all over Napa Valley, says that cooler regions like Howell Mountain are just starting to bloom, while vineyards on the valley floor “are set and looking good.” In the cool Anderson Valley, bloom is just beginning. Dan Rivin of Breggo Cellars is seeing sporadic cap fall in both the Ferrington Vineyard and the Savoy Vineyard. He expects bloom to take 2-3 weeks following cap fall.

Once fruit has set, crews can then go through and  tuck  the young, unwieldy shoots into wires (doing so before may damage the fragile flowers), which is just what Hardin’s crews are doing on the valley floor. In Stagecoach, Warnock’s shoots are reaching the top wire, “a milestone one aims for at this point in the season.”

The canopy is also looking beautiful in Savoy Vineyard, according to Rivin. “The lovely weather that we’ve been seeing so far in this growing season has really helped us ‘catch up’ in terms of vine growth and metabolism.” Fair weather, combined with careful suckering and shoot thinning has resulted in “lush even verdant growth.”

If you’ve been kept awake all night by tractors going up and down the vines spraying mysterious substances, do not fear. Mostly, it is sulfur and organic nutrients to strengthen the vines and hedge against mold and pests. “Foliar nutrients have been sprayed and integrated pest management strategies are in full effect,” says Warnock. MacDonald, forward thinking that he is (and likely remembering the Great Botrytis Attack of 2011), chose to put an organic bacillus strain called Serenade in his sulfur spray this week. “It kills botrytis that can become latent in the flowers and subsequently the fruit after ripening,” says MacDonald.

Besides being the busiest, it is also the best time of year for some vintners: “This is my favorite time of year, when everything looks good and there is nothing to stress out about…yet,” says Rivin.