Just sharing a quick time lapse video from this evening taking in the rolling clouds and beautiful sun...
With the San Diego-like temperatures this past week (clear, sunny, mid 70's), the vines made a quick leap from bud break to a first showing of the clusters. The forecast for this week doesn't look like there will be much of a change, so we're probably going to see some significant growth this week.
What are the next tasks?
We'll begin the process of "suckering" this week to remove the shoots that have emerged from the trunk. This allows the vine to focus on putting energy into the shoots on the fruiting wire for this seasons production.
Next, we will do some shoot thinning to remove shoots that are too close to each other. The grape clusters need appropriate air drainage, so it is important that each shoot (bearing 2 clusters) has its own space. It is much easier to perform this task at this point in the season when you can use your fingers. As the shoots mature and harden off, pruning shears are required for removal, and the task becomes more difficult.
We will continue to post photos and updates as the 2013 season progresses, so be sure to check back to see where we are in the vineyard and cellar.
Just in time for the derby season.... "And They're Off!"
Yesterday (April 30th) marked the beginning of the growing season at Heart & Hands - bud break. While in some of the vineyard the buds continue to swell, a majority of the lower block is showing some green. Last year's bud break was much earlier, exposing us to frost risk. This year we can breathe a little easier knowing that we're only a few days away from the "last frost" date.
We're looking forward to a great 2013!
One of the first signs of season for the vine is the movement of sap. Stored in the trunk throughout the winter, the pruning cuts stimulate those juices moving upward. The vine wounds naturally heal themselves (but draw plenty of activity from the insect community) and the sap eventually begins to move toward the buds. Historically speaking, the sap from a grapevine has been used to treat everything from skin and eye diseases, to snake bites, or used as shampoo.
Despite the cooler spring temperatures (it was 25 today with a wind chill of 14), the vines seem to be on their own schedule with this sap movement. With the forecast later this week showcasing some temperatures a little more in line with this time of year (50's). Purely speculative, the vines may just be on a lunar schedule and shrug off these cooler temps to push through winter in order to get on with their job for the season.
We can hope that this is a sign of good weather to come over the next few weeks.
Many people ask me what we end up doing in the winter (usually assuming that we have absolutely nothing to do). While things are comparatively slower during our "off-season", there are still plenty of things to work on.
From a winemaking aspect, there are usually a few tanks of Riesling that are fermenting into the new year. Once those have completed, we cold stabilize the wines and begin blending trials. The blending trial evaluation can take weeks to complete with all the different variables (i.e. 8 different tanks of Riesling from 3 different sites to make 5 unique Rieslings can take a fair bit of time). While the 2012 Pinot's are resting in the barrels, we still have the 2011 Single Vineyard Pinot's to prep for bottling, along with the 2011 Barrel Reserve. Additionally, we still have all the post-fermentation chemistry to catch up on (yes, there is the science aspect to winemaking too).
The vineyard needs an annual pruning, which usually takes a few weeks. This is followed by tying the young trunks to the stakes to keep the vines upright. Finally, once things begin to warm up, we can tie the canes to the fruiting wire for the season.
What does the winery dog do when it's this cold out. Well, her Swiss roots really come out with snow on the ground. Check out the latest vineyard snow romp from our pooch:
With early bud break, early flowering & fruit set, and early veraison, is it any surprise that the grapes are ready for harvest? In fact, this is the earliest harvest this region has ever seen!
On August 26th we brought in a little over four tons of hand-picked Pinot Noir grapes for our sparkling program (Blanc de Noir & Brut Rosé). The Blanc de Noir grapes are hand-sorted, destemmed and then immediately pressed to eliminate drawing out colors and flavors from extended skin contact. The Brut Rosé is also hand-sorted, but we allow it to spend a little time on the skins to draw out some fresh strawberry and cherry components from the skins. This year, we allowed the juice to be in contact with the skins for 20 hours before pressing.
Both styles of bubbles will ferment until dryness and then we will allow the wine to rest over the winter before bottling in the spring. If the fermentation esters are any indicator of the flavors in the finished wine, these bottlings will be quite exciting - everything from candied strawberries to bananas, and fresh bowls of cherries. I'm sure Susan is salivating as she passes by the tanks, so I'm quick to remind her that winemaking is about patience.
It has been way too long since my last post - but I have good reason. Since the dramatic change in color with our Pinot Noir fruit, there has been an increase in the bird population on the property and much more pressure to get some netting out rather than get another diary post out.
So here is what has been going on:
Rolling Out The Nets
Once veraison started, it was time to minimize the damage to the fruit. Birds of all types can contribute to a myriad of problems including higher disease pressure or turning a cluster to vinegar. To avoid this, we have to protect the fruit: especially red varieties, and especially those that ripen early such as Pinot Noir. There are several different types of nets that can be deployed - nets that cover multiple rows, cover one row, or nets that cover the fruit zone. We selected the type of nets that cover the fruit zone which will allow us to continue driving the tractor down the rows without issue. Also, we will be able to simply roll up the netting and connect it to the trellis wire at the end of the season - so that in years to come, we can simply release the nets and drop them into place.
Leaf Removal In The Fruit Zone
Another critical step for the success of a tight cluster variety like Pinot Noir is the removal of leaves in the fruit zone. This step allows for proper air drainage along with sunlight penetration to dry the fruit out more rapidly when we have either rain or morning dew. However, we must be careful of the quantity of leaves removed along with the side of the canopy from which the leaves are pulled. Typically, when rows run South to North, we would only want to remove leaves on the Eastern side of the row in order to avoid having the grapes be damaged with sunburn from the more intense afternoon sun. Pictured is our assistant, Conor, removing the Eastern leaves from the fruit zone on the middle block of our vineyard.
Prepping For Harvest
There are a number of little things that need to be cleaned up, oiled up, and double checked to make sure they are still in working condition. Most of our harvest equipment is used in a span of 6 weeks, so now is a good time to start cleaning out the cobwebs and testing it out. It should only be a few weeks before the first fruit arrives so the pressure is on!
Pinot Noir Clusters 7/27/12
Pinot Noir Clusters 8/15/12
It looks like the Pinot vines are enjoying the season we are having - so much so that they decided to start going through veraison over the past couple of days. The first vines to make this transition seem to be Clone 777 in all the blocks.
Veraison represents the transition from vine growth into berry development. Thus, the vine (ideally) will slow down the growth of the shoots and begin accumulating sugars in the berries. This is also a sign to others in the animal kingdom that the fruit is ripening and is much tastier than earlier samples. Therefore, our next move over the next week will be to apply netting to the fruit zone of these vines to protect them from predators like birds, turkeys, and deer.
Normally in the Finger Lakes, veraison occurs a little later in August - so we were fairly surprised to stumble upon these clusters in the last couple of days.... Harvest will be just around the corner!
Next on the lineup in the vineyard: shoot tucking, leaf removal, and weed removal.
Both sides of the trellis now have three catch wires for the shoots to climb up into the canopy. More frequently than not, the shoots miss the next catch wire and begin making their way into the row middles. It is our job to remedy the situation by "tucking" the shoots between the catch wires so they can continue to progress upward. The longer you let them grow outside of the trellis, the worse it can get. Thus, it is important to address this issue as soon as possible and as frequently as possible.
Pinot Noir, a tightly clustered grape variety can be a bit more susceptible to disease pressure, especially after the normal rainfall that we receive in the Finger Lakes. Thus, removing the leaves in the fruit zone is advantageous for better spray protection, better sunlight penetration to ripen and dry the fruit, and better air drainage to keep moisture accumulation to a minimum.
While we are working this close to the ground, we will also remove the weeds that would be competing for the same nutrients. We don't use herbicides, so this is quite a manual process. We want to eliminate them as quickly as possible - the longer we let the weeds go, the greater the chance that they would grow into the canopy and block out the fruit from the appropriate amount of sunlight.
The conditions for bloom to ensure a proper fruit set were not ideal, but what can you expect in the Finger Lakes. Nevertheless, we woke up Sunday morning (6/10) to fruit set on the clusters. It's too early to tell if there is any unevenness in the berry set, but in the next week we'll have a better idea if some of this wetter weather impacted bloom.
The past week, we've been focusing on shoot thinning and positioning. I'll post some pictures of before/after here shortly (when I have some additional time).
On May 29th we received quite a scare. A "microburst" of 90 mph wind ran through our area and took down a number of trees along with severe rain and hail (read the NOAA report here). Fortunately, we dodged both the extreme winds and hail and only received a touch of the rain.
May 30th delivered a different surprise - bloom in the vineyard. The fragrance is remarkable and makes the vineyard work much more pleasant. And while it's wonderful to work out there, this time for a wine grower can be pretty nerve wracking. Weather like rain, hail, wind, and cool temperatures can impact the delicate flowers and cause uneven fruit set despite the close proximity of the stamen to the ovaries (vitis-vinifera are able to self-pollinate). Multiple daily checks from the different weather services are normal protocol now.
And while all the great weather technology is available, we are still reminded that mother nature is in control.
Some replacement vines have arrived. Occasionally, a vine is struck by the tractor or just doesn't seem to perform like the surrounding vines and needs to be replaced. These vines are marked in the Fall and are ordered from the nursery. Once we are in the clear of any additional frosts for the season, we have the vines shipped out from the nursery. Next, we break them out of their packaging and let them rest in the barrel room to keep them cool and out of the sun. The roots need to be watered multiple times a day in this state. Once we are ready to plant, we'll place the vines into buckets of water to allow them to have one last opportunity of a good drink before they go into the ground. The matching clones are chosen for the rows we are working with and, with a shovel, we remove the old vine and replace it with the new. Lastly, we give the vines a little shot of water so it will be able to have a good start on firing up the shoots for the season.
We were met with some pretty cool temperatures (29 degrees) last weekend and after a couple of warmer days, we were able to assess the damage. It looks like the frost was minimal at best. Maybe one bud per three vines.
In fact, a number of the buds that were damaged were at lower heights on the trunks - potentially saving us some addition time with the later process of "suckering" the vines. Also, we haven't begun "shoot thinning" yet, so we should be able to work around many of the toasted buds in the fruit zone that probably would have come off anyway.
In speaking with other growers, it looks like the highest damage numbers might be around 30%. With those percentages, I'm really glad we dodged a bullet this time around and I'm hopeful the warmer temperatures will persist. Thank you Cayuga Lake.
The CBS Early Show featured a story that American's surpassed the French with annual consumption of wine. As part of their story, they took a glimpse of the leap of faith that it took to pursue our dreams. Below is the video.