I realized it’s been 14 days since the last update. In general the busier we get the less we write. I know Stefania has a bunch of pictures to get up also but she’s been just as busy.
In the last update I wrote about the Crimson Clover and Roxy harvest. We brought in about twice the yield from those two vineyards that we’ve ever had before. Some was the season and some was new plants at Roxy starting to yield. I was exhausted the Sunday after that. I carried 90% of the 3 tons of grapes we had out of the vineyards on my shoulders. At one point Sunday I just had to go sit in the car for 30 minutes out of the sun.
At some point the following week I took this picture below of an old fashioned. Not sure what day it was or exactly why but it was on my camera. The days do get kind of blurry.
The next weekend we went out again to pick some of the smaller vineyards that were ready. We planned on doing the rest of Roxy as we’d left the Zinfandel there for another week to get riper. We would also do Red Hen and then the Harrison vineyard in Los Altos. The day before we go pick we get the crush pad staged which is the picture below. All the equipment comes out, gets re-cleaned and covered. We also make sure we have any of the supplies we will need for picking and transport.
Then the large bins and picking bins are loaded into the trailer and tied down. Each big bin hold 1000 pounds. I like to keep the smaller vineyards separate at least until we’re done picking, just in case one has enough grapes to do on its own. So we use a large trailer with three bins and do no more than three vineyards in a day.
The first day actually went fine. We picked Roxy fairly fast and loaded a good amount of Zinfandel which we decided we’d add whole cluster to the Cabernet already in vat fermenting. Red Hen was not so great though. Stef took a lot of pictures there but I took none as I was removing the nets. The nets kept the flying birds out but the chickens ate about 50% of the grapes.
At the Harrison Vineyard they had a group of friends picking so I just had to carry the bins out of the vineyard. They had about 750 pounds of Syrah in all that we also decided to do whole cluster as the start of the Haut Tubee fermentation. We were able to get out of the winery, home, showered and to the Roller Derby by 7:30 that night.
The next day did not go as well. We picked Mourvedre at Mineral Hill with the though of making a Rose from it. We knew there was too much fruit and it wasn’t going to get ripe enough to make a red wine. I figured there was about 1000-1200 pounds and 5 of us could pick in about 45 minutes. Turned out there was over 2400 pounds and I carried it all out 30 pounds at a time. By the time we headed for the winery I was pretty beat. As we processed and took lab reading we realized there wasn’t going to be a high enough sugar to even make a rose. The kicker for the day the was I got hit in the head with the large must hose as we were cleaning up and knock down hard. I ended up missing a day from the day job and had mild concussion. I’m ok now and will have more about the next weeks activities tomorrow or Saturday.
Saturday Stefania and I logged 112 miles on the FJ Cruiser checking on vineyards and getting samples to do lab testing on. We started at Chaine d Or testing Chardonnay. We tasted the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the vineyard as we went but it’s really too early to do lab tests on those grapes yet.
We walk each row of the vineyard and pull berries from each plant, going back and forth to get each side of the row and each exposure. We also try and mix up the berries from the middle, bottom, and top of the cluster as well as pull from clusters in full sun and those on the interior of the plant. The idea is to get a sample that shows the entire vineyard not just those berries that are in sight. Stef is holding a white bucket that we use to gather the berries as we go.
At Chaine d Or it takes one person about an hour to get samples. Two people takes 30 minutes so we split up. It’s also important to taste as you go. That’s a good way to train your taste to recognize what the grapes are at in terms of lab readings. You sample 20-30 grapes in the vineyard, then go back and test and it’s instant feedback and learning. In this case the Brix was under 21 and the pH was 3.25 so now we both have an excellent idea of what the maturity level tastes like.
We’re also checking on secondary indicators of ripeness like brown seeds and brown stems on the clusters. Since each plant is getting a quick look we can also check for any issues. On Labor day weekend when I went out I noticed small amounts of Botrytis or Grey Mold in the vineyard. Under the wrong conditions this can be a disaster unless you spray right away. With the weather we’ve had though I though we would be ok. It’s been very hot and I know temperatures over 90 degrees will keep the mold from spreading and just shrivel the berries that have been effected making them very sweet and introducing the unique Botrytis flavor profile.
The walk through the vineyard confirmed that the mold was all dead and we’ll have about 60 clusters of Botrytis Chardonnay grapes in the wine, which is normal for the vineyard.
One final oddity that Stefania wanted me to take a picture of is a rouge Pinot Noir plant we have in the Chardonnay. It was probably a mix up at the nursery when then vineyard was originally planted. It was actually 4 years before we noticed the plant. The leafs are very similar between Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and the cluster shapes and sizes are also very close.
We kept missing this plant because the Pinot turns red earlier than the Cabernet Sauvignon. We usually don’t net the vineyard until the Cabernet turns color, so the birds were cleaning out this plant every year before we netted and could see the grapes were red and not white. I remember seeing the plant and thinking it odd that the birds would completely clean out one plant and not touch the others around it. That’s not super unusual, it’s how birds attack a plant. They eat one cluster completely before moving to the next and tend to clean out the plants one at a time. Stills it would be odd that they had not eaten any clusters off the neighboring plants.
When we discovered this plant last year it was mostly eaten but there were a few clusters left that helped us identify it. We made an effort this year to get it netted early and will use the grapes in our Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot. Chaine d’Or also has a rouge Zinfandel plant in the Chardonnay and a group of plants we are pretty sure are Pinot Gris in the Merlot section. The birds love Pinot Gris and most of those get eaten early every year.
A quick update on where we are for 2013 harvest. We brought in our first lot of Pinot Noir on 9/1 which was eight days earlier than 2012 and a month earlier than the very late 2011. Weather has been good and the vineyards look excellent with a decent crop load.
One thing we’ve noticed this year is the grapes look to the eye more mature than the chemistry on them is showing once back in the lab with samples. The Chardonnay at Chaine d’ Or was a good example. It looked as I walked through the vineyard like harvest would be 9/8 or 9/9 but in the lab the Brix was 20.0 and pH 3.05. We’re actually likely to pick on 9/14. When we tested the Mourvedre at home it was the same story. The grapes looked like they would be ready in 2-3 weeks, but Brix tested at 18.2. It will be 4-5 weeks before the grapes are ready.
I’ve not really seen this before. Usually I have a good handle on visual, with taste and chemistry but in 2013 the visual is ahead of the taste and chemistry. That’s ok though just likely going to be different from most years where the chemistry is ok and then we wait a few weeks for flavor to be where we want it. This year I think we’ll be getting flavor at the same time the chemistry is right. Normally we just test until we reach 22 Brix and 3.3 pH then go totally off of taste. This year we’ll have to watch that both are on mark at the same time.
It’s the time of year to start checking on all our vineyards for sugar readings and ripeness. We think everything will be on the early side. Maybe a week eariler than last year, which would be four weeks ahead of 2011 and 3 weeks ahead of 2010. Right now this year reminds me of 2009 or maybe 2007. Our first vineyard we’ll pick is the Under a Lucky Star vineyard in Los Altos Hills.
Like most of our vineyards it’s on a steep hill. The steps below are on the right of the vineyard and go from the bottom to the top. It’s the best way to enter the rows. I took the picture though to show the red volcanic soil. This soil type is pretty rare in the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Teresa Foothills. Most of the soil is lift thrust from earthquake activity. There is a small band though of volcanic soils, usually to the west of the San Andres fault. The Crimson Clover vineyard has a band of this soul that covers about 30% of the vineyard. The Lucky Star vineyard though is 100% red volcanic soil.
I love this soil and wish we had more grapes planted on it. The best grapes from Crimson Clover come off this soil. It brings out lots of bright and intense fruit and super dark color. So far the Pinots we’ve made from Lucky Star would fool most lovers of Santa Cruz Mountains wines. They have the flavor profiles of the Santa Cruz Mountains but the fruit is more intense and the wines much darker. Pinots from the southern and eastern side of the mountains, where the soil is sandy, can almost look like a Rose. On this soil though the wines get very dark.
The vineyard is just about ready and I think we’ll be picking on August 31st or September 1st. About 5 days ahead of last year. This site is always our first and always 1-3 weeks ahead of Pinot from the eastern sides of the mountains. Because the vineyard is so steep we’ll use our regular ‘A’ team of pickers with Millie, Stefania and I helping out. This vineyard is just to dangerous for inexperienced helpers. Usually for people who want to come out and help we invite them to the Crimson Clover vineyard which is mostly flat and has lots of shade around the vineyard.
Brix was at 21.1 on Saturday and we’ll pick at between 23 and 24. The flavors are not ready yet. Stef said the grapes taste ‘plain’ still. It will take the additional few weeks to get more fruit flavors to develop. Yields look about the same as last year. This is a vineyard we’re still doing some recovery work on so we think yields will stay low for another year or maybe two as we strengthen and retrain the plants. When that work is complete the vineyard will yield 1500-2000 pounds a year or about two barrels. Right now it’s getting about 800-1000 pounds or one barrel.
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
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.
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
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.
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