July Vineyard Checks

Saturday morning Stefania and I set out to check on all the vineyards.  We like to do this about every six weeks or so.  We’ll visit each one more often than that but it is a good idea to see what is going on everywhere at once to really get an accurate gage of how to schedule upcoming work.

This helps me come up with a vineyard plan for each vineyard for the next six weeks and the priorities not just for each vineyard but for all the vineyards as a whole.  We set off about 9 AM to start the inspection tour.

One thing you’ll notice as I go through the pictures is they all look the same!  This is actually great.  They should look the same.  Each vineyard is unique but we apply the same level of care to each one.  They should have a certain sameness to them.  It’s also good if they are all about on the same maturity schedule and we don’t have anything too far behind or ahead.

Crimson Clover was the first stop.  Below is a close up of the fruit clusters.  The clusters are loose and we expect a lighter than usual yield here because of some pruning decisions in the winter.  There’s a bit more fruit though than we thought we might get and it looks healthy.








The rows are in good shape with almost no weeds.  The vineyard needs a little water and a little nitrogen which we will put in the work plan.








Next up was the Peacock Vineyard, which I think we will change soon to calling the ‘Sheredy Yard’.  The peacocks have been captured and removed by the county and most of the crew never even saw them.  The Sheredy’s own the vineyard and it’s in their backyard.  I could call it the Sheredy Clos, but Clos is on the list of banned terms for American wines, even though it is exactly a Clos.

The fruit load here is high, we’re expecting about 50% more fruit from this site than we got last year.  Not too surprising as we were in a bit of a recovery mode last year after taking on the vineyard from another company.  Here the clusters are larger, fuller and tighter than at Crimson Clover.








The Sheredy’s actually do most of the work themselves.  Anytime a major task needs to be done we stop by and spend 30-60 minutes giving them instructions and then they complete the work.  We’re doing the routine things and the crew comes in to check on things and correct mistakes, but you can see they followed our instructions on raising the wires very well.








Next was the long part of the drive up to Woodside and Chaine d’Or.  We decided to hit the other vineyards on the route on the way back from Chaine d’Or, that way we would end up at home.

Here’s a good example of why it’s good to visit everywhere in one day.  Jaye has been working on tucking the vineyard up for the last week.  She’s about half done and you can see that below.  Walking through though I decided I want to spray this Friday and we’ll need to finish tucking by then.  We made this the priority for the week and Millie will go help Jaye get it done by Tuesday.








We have the best looking Chardonnay fruit we’ve had in three years.  The clusters are larger than normal and everything looked mildew free.  This is our coolest site and has the highest risk of mildew.  I found a hornets nest in our walk through, but only a single gopher hole.  Jaye has been gopher killer supreme this year.








I didn’t take pictures at our last three stops, Harrison (Syrah), Brauns (Pinot) or Red Hen (Merlot).  All looked good with only a minor emergency at Red Hen.  The way the chicken pen had been laid around the vineyard this year made one spot hard to spray.  That spot had some mildew.  I quickly topped off all the excess growth to open up the canopy for spraying and returned the next morning to spray Stylet on the offending spot.  The owners also reconfigured the chicken pen so that I can get to that spot going forward.

In all we covered 129 miles and we have a full set of plans to get done before netting starts in mid-August.







Haut Tubee Vineyard Work

Last night, after an 88 minute hike at Calero, we settled ourselves out back on the deck and relaxed.  Paul had a martini and a cigar, I had a headache and some water.  Too much sun for me yesterday so I guzzled a ton of water instead.

With dinner, I opened a bottle of grenache that Paul suggested I grab off my side of the cellar.  We both really enjoyed the nose, body, and mouthfeel of this wine.  I kept saying over and over, this reminds me of dusty berries freshly picked off the vine on a beach trail.  And I asked Paul if he knew what I meant, had he ever had a dusty berry off a beach trail vine.  Oh yeah, yeah, I’ve done that, and I too smell and taste the dusty berry.

Paul grilled really spicy chicken breast, halved zucchinis and corn tortillas, an amazingly weird yet satisfying combo, and we lingered over the grenache.

This morning, I jumped on the treadmill and figured I’d pound out my usual 2 miles and then get on with the day.  After a mile, I quit, got my bike down from the ceiling hook and pumped up the tires.  Off to the Church Vineyard and market, things to do, people to see, etc etc.

I get to the church, and it’s a jungle!  It was mostly done flowering, but the third and fourth shoots that I was there to thin out were just newly blooming.  I sent Paul a quick text and said, “I’m gonna be here awhile”.

It took me just under two full hours to thin, tuck, and sucker these 20 cabernet vines, but it was time well spent.

The pile of cuttings, many of which had fresh blooming clusters on it, smelled exactly like the dusty berries on a beach trail vine from last night.  Kid you not.  I stood over the pile for an extra minute just absorbing the aroma and tying it back to so many other great wines I’ve enjoyed.  I kept smiling and grinning like a total dork as I made the assimilation.

I got back on my bike, pedaled over to Chavez market and picked up some munchies and mixers for tonight’s Happy Hour at Romero Bar and Grill.

That is not the church in the background…that’s the firehouse.  Which, kudos to the firemen that work there, because when they see me working out in the vineyard, they often wait til they are past me before blaring the sirens.  For all I know it’s out of respect for the church, but either way, I’m glad they wait.





Urgent Care

I think I’ll start this post as a rant.  I’ve been to Urgent Care twice now in the past 6-7 years.  Once for stitches to close a puncture wound in my hand – oyster incident.  The other time was last week.  I didn’t go there, my doctor sent me there.  I had made a regular appointment and she did not have enough of the drug in her office I needed to inject me with.  In fact they tried every office in the building and no one had enough, so she sent me to Urgent Care.

I’m just gonna say if you are in urgent care you should have one of the following on your person – bandage, barf bucket, visible rash, something swollen so much you look like the kid from Mask.  A runny nose or a cough is not Urgent.  I had two of the four by the way.  Otherwise make an appointment for goodness sake.  Don’t make the guy with his eyes swollen shut wait behind you and your runny nose.

So now the back story.  Last Sunday we got an urgent email from Jerry at Chaine d Or.  Deer were in the vineyard and had eaten about 50 plants.  We went up Sunday night to find the problem in the fence.  Jerry had already gotten the parts to repair the fence, but we were coming from the movies and were not really dressed right for fence repair.

The fence was down over about a 30 foot stretch.  A combination of a wood rat den and a down limb had brought it down.  The wood rat was the danger.  They build their dens with poison oak.  I had to cut out a bunch with snipers and a chain saw to make enough room to repair the fence.

It’s an urgent operation.  You have to stop the deer right away or they will come back every night until the vineyard is stripped of leafs.  Stefania got to work putting up dryer sheets around the fence and vineyard.  Deer hate the smell and will avoid the sheets.

I got the area cleared and with help from Millie and Stef got 5 new posts pounded in and 30 feet of new fence up in about 2 hours.

It didn’t set in until Tuesday about noon.  First on my left arm, then most troubling on my neck.  By Thursday morning both arms were covered from elbow to wrist.  I had it on my right leg, waist and back.  It also was in my left ear, forehead, neck and around both eyes.  My right eye was swollen shut.  Stef had it on her right arm, waist and back.  Mine was worse though, probably from the chainsaw throwing poison around.  I had about 5 times more coverage on my body and eyes and ear were the biggest risk.

The doctor put me on a steroid to ease the swelling and that first shot helped right away.  We’re both still red and itchy but recovering.  Hot water helps the most so Stef’s been in the hot tub a fair amount and I shower or wash down every 6 hours or so.  If you wonder why we say we hate deer so much, here’s another reason.  50 lost plants and 3+ weeks of recovery.

Thinning at Crimson Clover

Friday I took the day off from the day job. We had traveled up to Sonoma the day before and I thought there might be more touring around on Friday but there wasn’t. We thought about going hiking but decided to help Jaye out at Crimson Clover instead. We had sent her out to thin the vineyard and it was going much slower than we counted on.

Stefania and I arrived about 9 am. We started by raising the wires on the first nine rows. We stopped on the 10th though and started helping Jaye thin. The growthwas much shorter starting in row 7 or so and we figured out that the crew had made a pruning error this winter.

Many of the spurs were removed and this was what was slowing Jaye down. Instead of removing one or two extra shoots from each spur she was having to pick one shoot out of dozens to reestablish the spur.

It is a set back for the vineyard. We’ll lose somewhere between 1000-2000 pounds of potential fruit this year. That would mean a ‘good’ yield will be about 3000 pounds. We counted on about 5000 this year. It’s bad but not tragic, the vineyard will recover.

I took the picture below of Jaye and Stefania working while I took a water break. We were able to finish thinning by 3 PM or so. We’ll go back in a couple of week and raise the rest of the wires as the shoots get longer. We’ll be busy thinning in all the vineyards over the next few weeks. It’s something we like to finish before flowering starts. We don’t want to do any work on the vines while they flower to avoid shatter.

It is also much harder to thin after flowering because the base of the shoot becomes hard. After flowering you need to use clippers to remove extra shoots. Right now we can just snap the shoots off with out hands.

Aesthetic Follow Up

I took a few better pictures of the front yard Haut Tubee vineyard to illustrate the comments I made about aesthetics in my update on our Pinot Noir Vineyard.  Most of the things we do are simple and you probably would have a hard time noticing the differences.   It’s not really an attempt to make it ‘pretty’ as much as one to make it look clean and pleasing.

Below see how the vines don’t have a stake holding up the trunk?  Once the vine reaches the cordon wire we remove that stake and let the vine attach to the wire.  This removes a lot of metal from the vineyard and lets the plant be seen on its own with no visual distractions.

In this close up you can see there are no ties or clips in the vineyard.  There’s nothing to attach the vine to the wire, or the wires to anything else.  This vine hasn’t attached on its own so we will use one twisty to tie it off this year.  Each vine does have a small vine protector on it to keep it safe from weed whacking.  Stef selected guards though that blend in and aren’t too tall.  We will use grow tubes, but once the vine is up to the wire we remove it with the stake.

The cover crop between the rows is slow to get started this year, it is a natural mix of crimson clover and California wild flowers.  The idea is that the vineyard should look like a natural hillside would and the only thing you should see is the vines and the absolute minimum hardware needed to keep the vines upright.


Visiting our Pinot Noir Vineyard

Tuesday we drove up to the Los Altos Hills after work to drop off some grow tubes and check on our Pinot Noir Vineyard.  This small vineyard has just about 800 plants and should produce about a ton of fruit from us once at full production.  This was our first vineyard to have bud break this year and the plants were pretty far along in growth.

Stefania, Millie and I did all the pruning this year.  There were some spacing issues I wanted corrected and I though many of the plants needed new cordons as they’d been pushed too far too fast before we took over the site last year.  We went through each vine very carefully to get it pruned with the focus on strong plant this year.  So far the growth looks really good.

The vines need some suckering and thinning.  Stef and I will do that ourselves also so that we know the plants are trained exactly how we want them.  We both felt there was too much green growth and too many shoots left last year so thinning will be a key.  The vineyard layout is good but it is ‘busy’ compared to what we normally do.  Stef likes a clean simple aesthetic in the vineyard and this one had a lot of extra clips, stakes, holders and tape.  We try and avoid using those items.

It might be hard to spot below but if you look closely you’ll see lots of green tie tape on the plants.  Each plant is also staked and tied down to the stake.  I put up a picture of our front yard vineyard as a comparison.  Notice that there is no tie anywhere and no extra metal or plastic in sight.  It’s something small and subtle but it gives the vineyard more of a natural feeling versus looking like a ‘metal and wire garden’ as Stef calls them.

Rain, Drought, and Water Worries

This has been one of the driest years I can remember.  Right now in San Jose rainfall is at about 40% of a normal year.  We’ve only had a couple of good storms go through.  Mostly when we have had rain though it has been a light drizzle more than real rain.  The winter months of December, January and February had almost no rain at all.

The natural question to ask is how will this effect the vines and potentially the grape harvest in 2012.  The answer is – not very much.  The vines are dormant in the winter so not using any water.  Rain during that time is important to build up reserves for the dry summer months in the soil, but not important for the plants at that time.

I took the picture below on Wednesday of the Mourvedre vines in the front yard.  They are just starting to wake up and grow.  Now is when they need rain and water and right now we are getting regular little storms.  It’s been more than enough for the vines right now.  It has also been cool with highs in the low 60’s.  That means the plants will be growing slowly and don’t  need a bunch of water just yet.  It also means there is no risk of mildew since mildew needs temps to be over 70 degrees.

Another good side effect we will see this year is that the lack of rain has kept growth down between the rows.  You can see that in the picture below.  At this time last year the cover crop was a foot tall.  Those cover crops, and weeds compete with the vines for water, and this year those plants are small and won’t offer much competition.  Last year we had to mow three times in most vineyards and some weeds grew to 5 feet high.  This year we’ll likely mow just once or twice and it doesn’t look like anything will be over 18 inches tall.

We can’t count on the perfect timing of the rain though through the rest of the year and the amount of water in the soil is going to be an issue if we don’t get a lot of rain in April and May.  That’s why we have drip systems though and we can turn them on if we need them.  We usually don’t have them on so there will be some additional work we’ll have to do to get them ready before we can use them.  This means turning them on and walking every row to see where they have gotten leaks since we lasted used them and fixing the leaks.

So we’re not really worried about the rain shortage or drought at all.  Drought years like 2007 and 2009 have turned out to be some of the easiest farming years we’ve had, and produced great wines.  If we have to turn on the drip systems we’ll have additional costs in water and maintenance.  Those should be more than offset though in the savings from mowing and weed control.  Look for an update on the rain situation in May.  That’s when we will decide about turning on the drip systems or not.

Vineyard Visits

Saturday morning we went out to inspect several vineyards and put together the work orders for the next few weeks.  Jaye was with us mostly so I could show her the way to Peacock Vineyard.  I didn’t take any pictures at Peacock but things looked great there.  The homeowner does the pruning themselves and we just have a little correction and clean up to do.

Next we were on to Crimson Clover.  This also looked really good and the vines are really healthy and starting to get thick at the trunk.









The third stop of the day (after a bathroom stop at home) was at the little Red Hen Vineyard.  This was the first place we saw bud break.  We put in some flags there to mark spots where we want Millie to install additional posts.  The vineyard was pretty vigorous last year and the vines need more posts to hold up the wires that hold up the growth.  Stef had already bought the posts so we were just marking out the install points.








Our final stop was at the Brauns vineyard to check on the Pinot Noir Vines there.  Bud break was also starting and I took the picture below.  We have a few grow tubes to install on smaller plants.  We took this vineyard over last year and I think it has suffered from over watering.  The vines are scrawny for their age which is a sign to me the roots have not gone deep.  That happens when the plants are getting all their water from a drip system at the surface.  We’ll work this year to correct that.

Here’s one of the plants that’s furthest along.  We’ll also try and limit fruit production here this year so that the plant can work on its strength.

Overall we were really happy with how everything looked and the work that’s been done so far this year.  The crew will be busy over the next few weeks on the tasks we’ve put together.

Rain – Panic – Calm

It’s raining in Northern California.  You may have read newspaper articles about the rain or even seen the occasional TV report.  Those reports usually give an air of panic and desperation as wineries try and rush in grapes before they are ‘ruined’ by the rain.  Hooey!

We have a rain event every year.  Well almost every year.  In 2006 there was no October rain, otherwise it’s an annual thing.  We do try and bring in the thinned skinned grapes like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay before the rains come.  The thick skinned grapes like Mourvedre (in the picture) and Cabernet Sauvignon though will go just fine through the rain.

The key is to let the grapes dry out after the rain and before you pick them.  In the picture you can see Mourvedre in our front yard and there are little drops of water on the grapes.  Those little drops add up and can dilute the wine, lowering alcohol by as much as 2-3%.  That’s why it’s important to let the grapes get some sun and dry out.

We had been scheduled to pick the Haut Tubee vineyards tomorrow, including Red Hen, the Church, and Home vineyards but I just sent a message to Millie and we are postponing until Tuesday.  We’ll still go on with Crimson Clover on Sunday as we have 2 days of sun coming and that will be enough to dry out the grapes.

Then what’s next?  Do we panic and bring in all the Cabernet out there before it rains again?  No, we go to New Orleans for a week to avoid all the panic going on.  The Cabs will be ready after October 20th from our testing.  Some vineyards will actually be ready around the 31st.  That’s normal for us, the warm September helped get us back to normal, so it’s best to stay calm and wait it out.

First Harvest of the Year.









Saturday morning we were out for our fist harvest of the year. I took the traditional photo of the time and temperature from the FJ Cruiser.








This next photo is also a traditional stop for us now.  Sam’s Donuts around the corner from our house.  We get a dozen donuts or so for the crew and volunteers.

The vineyard we harvested is new for us this year.  It’s the Brauns or Under a Lucky Star Vineyard.  There are 400 Pinot Noir plants above Los Altos in the Santa Cruz Mountains.








We arrived on site just as the sun was coming up and the crew had already started working.    In 2005 we tried harvesting earlier in a couple vineyards using lights.  This sounds really cool and is trendy, but I figured quickly it’s a complete waste of time.  The crew moves at about 50% of normal speed and you end up having to go back through anyway and get what you missed when the sun comes out.  All we really accomplished was sleep deprivation and a higher risk of injury so we don’t do that anymore.

We used the ‘A Team’ for this pick since it was out first time in the vineyard to harvest.  Jerry, Gil, Estella and Ysidro made up the professional crew and we had Wes, Ingrid, Joan and Ron come as volunteers.  Everyone picking was an experienced picker.









Picking went very quickly and we were done well before 9AM.  Total harvest was just about 900 pounds which is the most ever for this site we were told.  There had been animal and bird issues in the past.  We used a double netting system and sealed the net bottoms with chop sticks as we normally do.  This is different from most vineyards but we’ve learned this method is key for our suburban vineyards.

The fruit looked excellent and I took the picture below of the soil in the vineyard.  Stefania and I love this red volcanic dirt.  There’s a small band through out the Santa Cruz Mountains and grapes do very well on it.  The same band also cuts through Crimson Clover.








It took just about 25 minutes to get to the winery and then only about 10 minutes to process the fruit.  There was a little drama with the pump that I had to tend to and then the winemaking so I didn’t take any pictures of the actual crush.  Stefania took readings and the numbers were Brix 23.9, pH 3.7 and TA .61.  Really great for a first time in this vineyard.

The juice went into a single bin and will ferment on native yeast.  We used 1/3 whole clusters and I’ll only do two punch downs a day to avoid getting to much tannin extracted.  We’re really excited about this vineyard and wine.