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Growing Great Grapes Is A Year-Long Cycle
Year-after-year, we hope for a successful harvest. Some of the means to success is in our hands, some in Mother Nature’s. We try to make the best of both entities, keeping careful watch on our lands, our vines and eventually our berries, and hoping Mother Nature will do her best to keep the frost short, the rains on time, the fog rolling in and the sun shining bright (but not too hot!) Then, we bring in the bounty…and immediately start preparing for next year.
Winter: Putting Our Vines to Bed
After the harvest, we plant cover crops to prevent erosion during the rainy months and to add nutrients to the soil when we till them under. We stabilize areas that need stabilization and fix any damaged trellises. The vines go into full dormancy in mid-December, so we start pruning to the specifications laid out by wineries and our own internal protocol. The dormant season lasts through February.
Spring: The Awakening
Toward the end of dormancy, we prepare for frost. When the buds start to grow, we save them from freeze damage using wind machines 30 feet off the ground. Through the inversion layer, we stir up the air, mixing warmer and colder air. We also spray water on the buds, forming an “ice cocoon” over the buds. By the end of May, the frost threat ends.
While battling frost, we confront potential mildew with sulfur applications. As the land starts to dry in early March, we mow and till under the cover crops. Then we sucker our vines to maximize quality so that the vines can focus on growing only a certain number of grapes.
May is bloom time. The self-pollinating flowers do the work while we hope the rain stays away and temperatures are mild. Meanwhile, we position the shoots to avoid overcrowding. After the bloom, we pull the leaves around the berry bunches to expose them to indirect sunlight—allowing flavors to develop. We try to take advantage of the morning light and shade them from the afternoon sun. The earlier you get sun exposure, the better, as the berries acclimate to the weather.
Summer: The Sweet Stage
It’s véraison time, when sugar accumulation begins. White grape Chardonnay grapes turn from green to gold. Red Pinot Noir and Merlot turn green to dark red. As the crop moves to 85 percent of their color, we’ll perform the “green drop”—all the remaining green berries are dropped to the ground. This removes potentially uneven flavors and concentrates the flavors of the remaining berries. The grapes reach maturity at 24-25 percent sugar content.
Autumn: The Harvest
We harvest at night with light machines on full glow, so that we harvest the grapes when they’re cold. It helps with the winemaking process and the crush as the grapes are at the optimal temperature to produce premium wine. We’re proud to deliver our fruit in pristine condition. And, of course, there’s a sense of relief once the berries are off the vines, but there’s a real sense of appreciation for this cycle of life.