Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Paso's May heat? Man, it's tough to beat

Wow, a month ago I wrote about all the blooms we had, some 40-60/vine in mid May, which meant that we would have something like 20-40 clusters to thin by mid June. Well, glad we held our horses(actually got behind in vineyard chores is more like it), because by the time our fruit set was complete, we had lost virtually all those "extra" blooms we were going to be choosy and pick from. No need. Mother Nature stepped in and hammered our blooms with 5 days in the 110 to 116 degree category, which now effectively wiped out all but 16-20 clusters per vine...right exactly where we are supposed to be for a vineyard that makes 2.5-3.0 Ton/ acre grapes. Had we jumped the gun, and cluster thinned, I hate to think how many clusters we might now have hanging. Six maybe? Possibly eight? Or could we have gotten clobbered and had only 2-3 clusters/ vine remaining? No question, there is nothing wrong with waiting for a situation to develop, and then allowing it to straighten itself out on its own. Those poor growers who were out there thinning clusters just before bloom, have to be crying in their soup, because our May heat spike literally wiped out 2/3 of our blooms. If we started at 60, we are now at 2o (or less), which is right in our sweet spot.

Is there a lesson here? Yeah, one of which it is better to be lucky than good. I could have just as easily as the next grower gone out and gotten a head start on cluster thinning. I did, however, have this nagging reminder about last yr's mid to late May heat spike. Ooops, make that last 3 yr's heat spike in mid to later May. Each time the 115 degree heat crunched our clusters, many of which were just about to set fruit. Watchful waiting, or rather being just a touch behind in vineyard chores, was a Godsend for us. We now have just about exactly what we need on the vine, clusterwise, and literally had the incredible May heat to thank for it.

Other goodies of note, were the massive amount of Live Oak trees that got so hot, they literally just burst apart. We had something like 5 Live Oaks all down where they had burst apart due to massively excessive heat. It also got that hot in the vineyard, where I encountered one tough 11 yr old vine that had literally burst apart, leaving a split down the center of the vine that literally killed it. I missed it at first, thinking maybe a tractor tread may have been the culprit, but no, it was completely a result of Mother Nature applying the heat. We have to accept it tho, for as they say, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen". There are many diseases and pestilences vines can succumb to...but bursting apart due to heat just isn't one of them...usually.

Other concerns included the massive wipeout of our 6 acre valley vineyard, which continued to freeze at nites, up to the first week in May. Think that was a problem? Well no, but the heat spike did fry up at least half our vines, literally cutting them off about 10 inches above the cordon, and then having them try and regrow, with 2 or sometimes as many as three new canes emanating from whence the heat spike sawed the vine in half. All those Pinot vines had beautiful, full, perfectly formed clusters on them, but with no real cane above the "fry" line, there will never be enough leaves to allow this fruit to ripen. Result? Well, the Pinot we planned on this yr, all 8-10 Tons of it, now looks more like 1-2 Tons, and that is guessing on the high side. The fruit was still there, mind you, it just means we had to go and drop all those beautiful clusters. That is a heartbreaker, let me tell you.

Vineyardwise, we now have but a few more chores, which means tying last yr's Pinot grafts onto the wire...training, it is called...and checking to see if any other vine/vines have succumbed to the intense heat and superimposed drought. After the heat spike ended, we did cut back our last remaining acre of Cab Sauv in the valley vineyard, and grafted on some Sauv Blanc. Close to 98% is doing well, and it looks like we may have a little bit of whites for our guests next yr.

In the mountain vineyard, besides the one vine virtually rupturing from heat, we also developed some major league dessication of much of the vineyard growing out of pure limestone. These vines need more water than others, which is being applied as I write this. Fertilizer will go on next, but first we have to bring our vines up to par with moisture, which will be in the neighborhood of 6-7 gallons of water per vine. We are starting to see a bit of yellowing, which can be from too little water(true), to not enough Nitrogen, also true. When you have a mountain vineyard literally planted into limestone, it is very difficult to manufacture good soil for it. Hence the fertilizer, organic acid based.
Well, that's a wrap for today, but will get the next one out much sooner, due to no more pourings in the near future. This is the colorless time of yr, when everything is green if on the vine, and dried out dead if not. The many colors of spring are long since gone, as I should be, since there is irrigating to do. Just no more heat spikes...please?

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