This is the time of year when winemakers come out to the vineyards to visit and make sure all the loose ends are all tied up and the fruit is on its way to ripening, hopefully , problem free. There seems to be an unspoken high-end viticulture check list (especially for hillside select farmers) that winemakers use when sizing up the vineyards during these visits.
Some check list items include:
- Irrigation – always a point of contention between winemakers and growers.
- Green thinning – not only green clusters but bountiful shoulders or wings ,usually found on Cabernet Sauvignon and some Petit Verdot .
- Berry size and canopy management – small berries good, and give those vines another haircut if they still have tendrils at this point.
Irrigation is a ‘hot’ topic between farmer and winemaker. It is the life force that keeps vines alive and healthy from bud break to harvest, however, there are a variety of schools of thought regarding when and how often one should irrigate.
Farmers keep it on the DL when irrigating the vines, winemakers usually don’t want to know or observe vines that are receiving too much water.It is back to the questions of to irrigate or not, it really depends on soil type and weather conditions. Stress is key to channeling the vines energy into the grapes but there can be too much stress, essentially, when vines start shutting down where leaves fall off and fruit never ripens.
Hillside and valley floor vineyards definitely command different irrigating and farming techniques. This year I have heard from multiple farmers from two distinct appellations ; Carneros and Calistoga, that have only irrigated once this year. Dry farming is not always the answer but it is a method to gain more control over your vines access to water.
Irrigation is very important but it is also important not to over water your vines. Two indicators of over watering include bigger than usual berries and lots of new growth during veraison. Over watering can delay ripening and create huge berries thus increasing the juice-to-skin ratio creating washed out tasting grapes. If your vineyard is full of vines that are still producing tendrils and most of the canes look ‘hairy’ then you are most likely over watering the vines.
The problem with this scenario is that the vine is still growing and not concentrating all of its energy into ripening the grapes which is crucial this time of year or earlier if you are growing Chardonnay or Pinot Noir grapes.
If your wine grapes look like grapes you find at the grocery store, then you probably have been watering too much.
An interesting comparison between wine grapes and table grapes is the level of ripeness that each varietal reaches before it is picked. Table grapes (e.g. Thomson Seedless) are usually harvested at 17 Brix and have huge berries. Wine grapes (e.g. Cabernet Sauvignon) on the other hand, are usually picked at 25 Brix and have a small berry size. Winemakers and farmers strive for this smaller berry because of the value in the juice-to-skin ratio needed in the winemaking process.
Finally the heat has arrived, looking forward to an earlier harvest compared to the first few predictions. Cheers to the 2011 vintage!