Tag Archives: grape growing

Lackluster June Rain Leaves Vineyards Okay

Last year is a wine growing year that likely many vintners and growers want to forget. June was plagued with rain during bloom causing fruit set to be irregular leading to uneven grape clusters. So when the weather reports called for rain on Monday I was thinking it was June 2011 all over again. Turns out the highest rainfall amounts recorded were 4 hundredths of an inch or barely heavier than a thick fog.

I stopped and took a picture during the rain to check on the grape clusters…

These little clusters were in the middle of bloom, but it didn’t matter because the rain wasn’t strong enough to get in the way of the self-pollination. Did you know that wine grapes are self-pollinating? The grapes do not need an outside source (like bees) to pollinate. I’ve always thought that was a cool fact about wine grapes.

All is still going well for the 2012 growing season and the forecast for the next 10 days show sunny skies and temperatures in the low 80’s, just the right temperature to move this vintage along at a steady pace.

One more note about the rain (if you can call it that) from Monday. It was very windy on Tuesday meaning that any ill-effects of the cooler, damp weather were pretty much erased. Wind is exactly what is needed to dry the vines out after the drizzle.

More updates as we move through this season.


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Filed under 2012 Growing Season, Sonoma, Wine

Sonoma County votes YES on hillside vineyard freeze

The Sonoma County board of supervisors put in place a stay on new hillside vineyards (greater than 15%) that require tree removal. Good for them. Even though it’s only for four months, it’s a step in the right direction.

At first this story seemed to be reported earlier in the week as a halt on just hillside vineyards (with little mention of the tree removal part), but there was already a moratorium on that even if it is flawed. The flawed part is that it was only on hillsides with a slope of 50% or more. Those sites are few and far between and most grape growers don’t want to incur the costs it takes to farm hillsides of that slope let alone the initial planting.

In Napa Valley the cutoff is a 30% grade making a more significant impact on farming. The main thought behind the restriction is to prevent (or at least help prevent) erosion. A good reason if you ask me, but certainly not the only reason.

Tree removal for vineyard sites is not a new topic. Any big wine company that has wanted to clear-cut to plant new vineyards has been met with opposition by environmental groups. In most cases it hasn’t led to stopping the new plantings, so why now?

Well, for starters, there is a new Ag Commissioner as of about a month ago. And there are at least a half a dozen proposed vineyards that require tree removal on the books right now. The largest of which is about 150 acres that Napa’s Artesa Winery is in process of developing.

Of course, that brings up a whole other topic – Why are Napa wineries buying land in Sonoma County? Primarily because of the Pinot Noir craze. Napa’s land suitable for growing Pinot grapes has long been tapped, so they are looking to other areas to propagate this high-profit wine. I can’t help but think that because those grapes will end up with a Napa label on them has something to do with this. It’s no secret that Sonoma County wants to promote Sonoma County wines – I’m certainly a big proponent of that.

But here’s the elephant in the room no one seems to be talking about: Why are wineries / grape growers planting grapes at a time when many vineyards have fallen out of contract and fruit has been left on the vines? The past few years have been pretty awful for some growers, so why create more vineyards with grapes that no one is buying?

It does take about 4 years after planting (and more if you are clearing before planting) to see a crop so maybe these wineries are projecting the need for more grapes. I hope so. It would be great to see an upswing. I already think we’re headed that way, but only time will tell.

I’m also very much in favor of keeping the trees we have left in this county. Not only because of the environmental benefits of having lots of trees around, but because I don’t really think we need to be clear cutting acres of land to plant more grapes. There are better ways. There are other areas to choose. Sure, maybe not with the cache of Sonoma County, but other options exists.

Let’s hope the Board of Supervisors make good decisions about the future of Sonoma County’s grape growing regions. Maybe there is a middle ground that can be reached: a certain amount of trees that can be cut down while making other environmental positives occur like the same amount of trees planted in other areas of the county. Just a thought. Why not make a net zero impact a requirement for new vineyards and possibly even other projects? This could be a great opportunity and I hope the board doesn’t take it lightly.

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Filed under Russian River Valley, Sonoma, Wine, Wine Country

Harvest Update

Here we are on the 1st of September and the only grapes that have been taken off the vines are grapes that will be used in sparkling wines. As mentioned in previous posts, sparkling wine grapes are picked earlier than any other grapes to retain the natural acidity necessary in that type of wine production.

There have been several stories about the “First day of harvest!”. Funny how these news stories spread the span of a week. There was only one winery that had the first picked grapes of the year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited that harvest started. And I very much enjoy the wines that are produced from these early picked grapes. But it’s kind of worrisome that we haven’t seen any still wine grapes be picked yet.

Luckily, we’ve been having some nice heat in the afternoons lately, but the mornings are a different story. Just two days ago the fog didn’t lift in Sonoma until the noon hour. It was supposed to be 82 degrees that day, it turned out to be only 74. Every degree counts right now. There is limited time left.

Let me preface the next paragraph with this: I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it – I am not a sensationalist.

There are several things that happen as we get further into the season. First, we get less and less sunlight everyday. If that sunlight continues to be blocked by fog in the morning, it could cause some issues. Second, as we get closer to October, the leaves on the vines start to turn colors (beautiful reds and yellows). While they are pretty to look at, if a vine doesn’t have green leaves, it’s not photosynthesizing and the grapes are no longer getting energy. Lastly, if we get early rains it could prove to be devastating for many growers / wineries. All of these things can lead to an even later crop than we already have.

Want the good news? Because despite that last section, I actually am a wine glass half full kind of guy. Late harvest means more flavor. How? The longer a grape hangs on the vine, the more complexity of flavors it develops. Sounds good. In addition, we usually see lower alcohol levels and more balanced wines in cooler, late years. All good things.

There are some vineyard practices that can speed things along. Mostly in thinning the grape clusters. That process is literally cutting clusters of grapes off the vines while they are still under-ripe. This provides more energy to the remaining clusters moving the ripening process along. In years of good crop levels, this is a great practice. In some cases this year’s crop is down 20+%. Although I’ve heard some growers say their crop level is normal. It really depends on the grape and the area, but when your crop level is lower than normal you really don’t want to thin just to speed things along. It’s a tough call.

I did talk with some winemakers this week that mentioned some of their grapes would be ready in the next 7-10 days. So, I think the bulk of the harvest is about to start. But for some growers, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon growers in the eastern facing hills, there’s a long road ahead still.

I’ll keep you updated on the 2011 harvest happenings in Sonoma and surrounding areas as this season continues to unfold.

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Filed under 2011 Growing Season, Wine, Wine Country