Tucking at Crimson CLover

These are actually pictures from about a month ago.  We generally let the vineyard get a little crazy in the late spring and early summer.  We’re trying to not touch them while flowering and fruit set is going on so we don’t disturb that process.  I also like that at this stage the young fruit is protected from the direct sun if we have a heat wave.  In the picture below you can see Stefania at the back of the row.  Millie, Stefania and I went out to do the tucking

before close

It has been a good year for vine growth so things at Crimson Clover where the thickest we’ve seen then since 2009.  The objective here is to remove any extra shoots and then get the vines tucked up into the wires.  We also cut off any really long tops on shoots.

before long


We accomplish a lot with this effort.  The plant can then focus on getting fruit ripe and not on growing extra shoots.  The maturing fruit will also get more sunlight now.  This also let’s us see if there was any mildew present and treat it.  There was not as we’ve had a pretty easy/good spraying schedule this year.  The final thing this does is get the vineyard ready to put on bird nets

after long


At Crimson Clover the process goes pretty easy as we have movable wires.  You move down the row and pull both sets of wires off the trellis stakes.  One person then lifts the lower wire and places it just above the fruit zone.  Once this is complete you go back and take the second wire and raise it to the height of the growth.  In this case we were raising it to the very top.  The other two people then follow behind and tuck and cut anything loose.  The hardest part is removing the wire since the vine wants to attach to wire.


When it’s all done you have nice clean rows.  Millie came back a few days later and cleaned up the last of the weeds under the rows with a weedwhacker and we were already for netting.

after close



I know Paul already wrote about the new pruning method in the Chardonnay section at Chaine d’Or, and let me tell you what, the bud break this year is AMAZING!

As much as it sounds crazy, I kept telling Paul that I was getting a “vibe” off the vineyard when the old cordons were cut off. I could feel the vines go “aaahhhh”.  Well, they are definitely loving having all that dead weight gone, they are THRIVING!

Bud break is out of control (in a really good way) and I’ve already gone through and thinned them.  I already dropped a ton of fruit, the shoots all have teeny little grape clusters on them already.  Crazy Good, Exciting Good, Really, Really Good!

Can you tell I’m excited?


Oh yeah, and there are ladybugs everywhere!  Not just at Chaine d’Or either.  I saw them on the vines at the church, and the ones at home.  It’s the first time I can remember this many of them.

My rose garden is the healthiest it has been in years, I have a great feeling about this growing season.  We are going to have strong, healthy plants all across the board, not just vines.


Changing Pruning at Chaine d’ Or

It’s been cold for California this January.  It is a time we have to be outside a great deal.  We probably spend more time in the vineyards in January than any other month of the year including harvest time.  As long as it is dry though it’s not bad to work in the cold.  We just bring lots of layers and we actually stay pretty warm as we work.

Pruning is the major task in January.  We will also do maintenance on the trellis systems though as well.  It’s a good time to replace any broken posts and repair any damaged wire.  One big task for this January has been changing the pruning at Chaine d’Or.  Over the last few years the yields on the Chardonnay plants has gone way down.  The plants are 25 years old now and that is the point when yields do drop.  The drop though has been dramatic.  Some plants had only 4-5 clusters per plant instead of the 20-25 we’d expect.

Last year I spent some time researching the issue and after a lot of reading wondered if we should use the Guyot training method instead of the Cordon and Spur method we were using.  In Burgundy on old plants they use Guyot and I thought there must be some reason, although I could not find anything specific about yields.

I selected about a half dozen plants last year and pruned and trained them in the Guyot method as an experiment.  The results by the end of the year were dramatic.  At best on the Cordon and Spur training we saw 8-10 clusters per plant and the average was about 6.  Some plants had less than 4 and many only had 1-2 clusters.  All the clusters were very small as well.  With Guyot training cluster sizes were 50% larger and we had at least 12 clusters on every plant.

We decided to change over the entire vineyard starting this year.  We did about 40% of the lower section.  We chose plants there based on the position of the canes and overall health of the vine.  If we could make the conversion we did.  If we couldn’t we left the plant for next year.

In the upper section though we did a 100% conversion.  In the first step Stefania and Millie went through the vineyard and removed all of the canes from the plant except for 2 or 3 closest to the center of the plant.  The goal was to end up with two left, but they often left me 3 so I had options on where to cut.  Below is an example of what the plant looked like after they went through.

I spent a lot of time with the chain saw.  The cordons are too thick to remove with pruners and have to be sawed off.  It’s a delicate thing to do.  I have to make sure not to cut the canes we want to leave, or too much of the plant off.  I also have to avoid hitting the wire with the saw, which is hard because the cordons rest on the wire.  I ended up cutting the wire once and bucking the chain of the saw about 5 times.

Once the Cordons are off the plant looks like this.  Herrardo followed me around as I cut and removed the wood from the vineyard.  He’d also replace the chain when it came off.  With the amount to be cut I’d switch chain saws every 30 minutes or so to let one cool while I worked with the other one.

The final step is to pull down the canes and tie them to the wire as you see below.  In this case I was able to leave one renewal spur for next year.  In the Guyot method you have 4 canes total on the plant.  Two are pulled down and two are cut to two nodes to provide canes for the next year.  In our situation though we had no plants yet with 4 canes in the right position so we’ll do the step of having renewal spurs next season.

Normally such a dramatic change, and the missing renewal spurs would mean a huge drop in yields.  Since yields were already so low though we thing we might actually have more Chardonnay this year than last.

Haut Tubee Bin#2

We lingered over coffee and the newspaper, then just before 8 Paul fetched the little trailer from Uhaul while I took the nets off the “estate” mourvedre vineyard.  We harvested the house and church and met up with Millie in Los Altos.

She went up with 10 bins to get started and was almost done by the time we arrived.

In all we brought in 840 pounds of fruit from the three vineyards.  We were undecided about processing until we finished the pick.  Rather than run everything thru the crusher we decided to leave all the fruit whole and foot treaded instead.  The fruit was sweet and sexy and the skins this year are very richly tannic.  There are always a bunch of clusters of syrah in the back yard vineyard that raisin so I toss them in to off-set some of the green stems you see in the header photo.










This was my first real harvest from home and I was more than a little excited about taking the fruit off.  The yield was still really light, just 120 pounds, but I only have about 1/2 the vineyard fruiting right now.  The rows under the magnolia tree are competing for resources; water and sunshine.   I’ll do another round of fertilizer treatment this fall and next spring.  I have been a water miser but will be a little more generous in 2013 to give them a little boost.









Just take the picture already, this is only the first bucket!  I dropped acid at the winery, thusly such the holes in my Def Leppard shirt – my official cruddy winery/work shirt since the acid  incident.  (Lab chemicals, I don’t actually drop acid recreationally, my imagination needs no help thankyouverymuch).









Syrah grapes from the back yard vineyard next to the Hot Tub.









Bubby is Paul’s official supervisor.  He was very curious to know what we were doing with “his” grapes.









Quickie pic of Paul and the two rows of cabernet at the church.

And below: the syrah at Harrison’s vineyard in Los Altos Hills.


Chaine d’Or Chardonnay Harvest

Harvest Date: Sunday, September 30th.

The Haul: Just under 1500 pounds of fruit this year.

The Nitty Gritty: Brix 23.5,  pH 3.42,  TA 1.05









Paul loading grapes into the press.











In the vineyard spreading the seeds, stems, and skins to compost.











Seeds, skins, and stems











The clean up crew; Paul taking the mark into the vineyard, Millie cleaning the press, I cleaned the pump and lab area.











We missed the 49ers game, but got home in time to see the 2nd half of the Saints game.


2012 Crimson Clover Vineyard Harvest

El Toro at sunrise on Saturday September 22nd at Crimson Clover Vineyard.









Paul harvesting the first row before the sun reaches the far end of the vineyard, it’s 56 degrees outside.










Paul smiling as he brings in the first of the picking bins.









More grapes coming in!









Cows on the hill, oh wait, I’m supposed to be paying attention to the grapes coming in!  The fruit was extra clean this year.  I pulled out one earwig, a handful of white spiders, and not much else.  Dried tendrils were the only ‘debris’ I sorted out of the picking bins.









Three full bins ready for crush!



A quick blog post in response to a question about why we would be buying 600 pairs of chopsticks that came up on :


We use them to secure the bottom of our bird nets.  When I learned to bird net I was taught to use plastic twist tie to secure the bottom of the nets.  You MUST tie off the bottom of the nets or the birds will simply fly up into the nets and eat the fruit.  Trying to get nets long enough to just lay on the ground also will not work, the birds learn to lift the netting.

Birds are smarter, and more persistent than we give them credit for.  These are all from our Mourvedre vines in front of the house that go in the Haut Tubee blend.  The first picture is the chopstick through the nets near the trunk of the plant.








Second picture is how a row looks with all the bottoms secured by chopsticks.








Last picture is a little more detail of the nets twisted together and then chopstick passed through the nets to hold them.  I told Stefania she should patent this idea: ‘Method for securing bird netting with chopsticks”.  Any patent attorney’s out there who will work for wine?


After we wrapped up bottling I decided I needed some new boots for the winery.  My current ones are really good but they are heavy and after standing for ten hours my legs and feet felt really heavy and tired.  I was thinking something lighter would be good for the longer days n the winery.  I could wear the heavy ones when I needed heavy water proofing and the extra toe protection and change out into tlighter ones when I didn’t.

This is no easy task.  I wear size 14.  It really limits what is available.  There are also some brands that just don’t fit well.  Nike runs small, I need a 15 so I don’t even bother looking at Nike.  In this round of buying I found out Merrell doesn’t work either the arch is placed weird.  Usually I just go on line and buy shoes.  That’s what the picture above was for.  I took pictures of everything I liked and then figured I’d check Amazon for size 14’s.  The funny side result is that shoes are the only thing I’ve bought from Amazon in the last 10 years so I get shoe sale emails from Amazon daily.  They think I have a fetish, the limits of data mining.

We had some time though last Saturday so I thought we’d run around and see if we got lucky.  Sports Authority was the first stop.  They had two pair of size 14’s.  One was the Merrel and it didn’t fit right.  The other was more of a fashion shoe and not a real hiker it had poor tread and no ankle support.

Next we went to Mel Cotton’s where I got my current heavy duty boots.  No luck, nothing in a 14.  REI was stop number three.  The sales guy was full of confidence.  “Of course we have lots of size 14’s, no problem”, he said.

“Great” I said, “Bring them out.”

“All of them?” He asked.

“Yes, all of them” I replied.

Ten minutes later he came out of the back with one pair of boots.  The same pair I had rejected as fashion boots at Sports Authority.

On to stop number four, Big 5.  There we had some more sales guy fun:  “What are you looking for?” he asked in his best sales guy voice.

“Hiker’s” I said.  “Light weight, waterproof would be nice but is not mandatory”.

“Well which style do you like.  What are you’re favorite brands?” He queries.

“No.  That’s not the way this works.” I say, “The way this works is you go in the back and find all the size 14’s you have and bring them out here.”.

He looked a little puzzled and hurt, not being able to use his best sales technic, but he complied and disappeared to the back for 10-15 minutes.  Stefania thought he might be hiding from me.  Eventually he came out with three pairs.  Score, huge score!  I tried on all three and bought two.  A pair of Hi Tech and a brand called Itica.  Kind of my general rule is if I find shoes that fit and I like I buy them, because you don’t know when that will happen again.


Early Pregnancy

I planted the estate mourvedre vineyard in March of 2009.  By definition, this is a baby vineyard still.

The goal in 2009 was to grow one strong shoot to the cordon wire, this would become the main trunk of the vine.

The goal in 2010 was two shoots that would be the “forever” cordons.

The goal in 2011 was 4-6 vertical shoots on each cordon.  (4-6 vertical shoots = 8-12 spurs per vine)

This year the goal was 2 shoots per spur and our first “real” harvest.  Real is in quotes because we did harvest grapes in 2010 and 2011, but they went into the Haut Tubee blend and had little else to offer besides volume as the vineyard is not mature enough yet to try and crop on its own.

I’ve been intentionally stressing out this vineyard and making it struggle to grow – for one thing, the mourvedre vines we have worked with in Santa Clara Valley have all been extremely vigorous. The other reason is that I planted them in my front yard where most people have lawns and I didn’t want to waste any more water.  That said, only half of the vineyard is in Year Four of development and that’s ok, I’m not after instant gratification.

I think it’s a real travesty when vineyard owners try to get the maximum fruit yield possible when the vines are still young.  Aggressive watering practices and lazy pruning so that immediate results are available is detrimental to the long term health and care of the vines.  It also makes my job that much harder because my loyalty is to the vine and I want to do what’s in the vines best interest.

As an expression of my frustration, I made this analogy:

Just because a menstruating 10 year old girl can get pregnant, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

Let your baby vines grow up, grow healthy, and mature before you try to crop them to full yields.  Treat each of your vines as individuals and recognize that some will struggle under the shade of the magnolia tree, some will outgrow and outpace the others and some will succumb to nutrient deficiencies in the soil.








Paul and I treat each and every vine individually and each vineyard as its own entity – we would never employ the same methods on a young vineyard that we do in the older ones.  If we start to make sacrifices in the vineyard then we’ve stopped caring about our livelihood.  We strive to make wine we are proud to serve, share and enjoy with you.


Many years ago on this blog I said I’d try to not use French words in the blog or when talking about wine.  Veraison though is a word that only exists in French.  The English translation is: When the grapes turn from green to red.  So, everyone uses the word veraison through out the world because it’s easier than saying; “when the grapes turn from green to red”, every time.

It’s a big event for us in the vineyards.  It means the grapes are going to start adding color and flavor.  It also means it’s almost time for us to stop spraying.  The tasks change from maintenance to harvest preparations.  We’ll now start topping the vines, that means cutting the long tops off, to get ready for netting.  When netting goes on the vineyard work is really done.  We usually start that in August but we’ll be a little early this year it looks like.

We had our first veraison last Friday.  Millie sent me a picture of it starting in our Pinot Noir vineyard at Noon.  When I got home that night the Mourvedre in the home vineyard was also changing color.  The picture is from our front yard.  We still have a few weeks before all the vineyards change but we seem to be early this year.  Last year we had green grapes into September in some spots.