Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Cerro Prieto Winter and a hope for Spring.

Well, here we are all battened down for a monster winter, and the  month of January found us barbecueing on the back deck where it got up to mid 80's most days. Nites, however, were a different matter, as we bundled up, wrapped pipes, and built fires in fireplace. Lows in Cold Valley Vineyard 250 feet below have bounced around mid teens to low 20s, but again, it was magnificently warm by mid afternoon. The poor vines are puzzled: do they leaf out now or wait. They are smart enough to have learned that budding out too soon can lead to health problems if a late spring frost drives temps down into the teens, and wipes out any budding vines. As noted before, our vineyard typically looks the most shaggy of any nearby, as we prune especially late, to avoid...or try to avoid the killing late spring frosts that can wipe out the new buds. We have actually looked at frost protection, but decided against it, in that overhead misters, air fans with propellers, are fine...but you only get 2-4 degrees of protection, and our late frosts typically dive into the mid to low teens, way too cold for any frost protectors to work. Like they say, farming can be like a big craps game....and sometimes it is.

To date we have not lost anything to winter kill, in that it  just hasn't been that cold here. We have had mostly 70s and 80s on into mid February, but everyone keeps wondering when is it going to get cold...vine killing cold? The expected el nino has morphed into la nina, which has resulted with much warmer temps, but the ocean, has been colder. We had no rain in Jan, (our wet month) and but 5 inches in Feb. Unfortunately that 5 inches came in 40 minutes. Hence all the preparatory work on erosion devices, dug out trenches, "hay snakes", etc, have been virtually useless. We are well set for a 5" rain, but not over a 40 minute period. I was out then, and we had massive amounts of water cascading down the middle of our roads, and causing actual gashes in the roads themselves. We have repaired the damage, but that falls under the negative work category.

Additionally the winter winds we get have gusted up to 60 mph, and have taken out half a dozen huge oak trees. It seems we just get one cut up and another takes its place. Usually when a huge 20" diameter oak snaps, it takes down half a dozen other trees with it...and that has now has happened twice.

Vineyardwise, we are watching for the buds on vines to begin their pre bud break swelling, looking something akin to popcorn. Oddly our Cold Valley Vineyard has scads of white cottony buds, whereas our mountain vineyard does not. Cold air sinks, at least that's what I have always known, but this year we are seeing an inversion in our lower vineyard, which apparently is warmer than the mountain tops. The why of it has so far escaped me, but of necessity , we are going to have to get the lower vineyard pruned first. How odd. The air is pristine, the puffy white clouds of spring abound, and the massive military dish antenna on Black Mountain some 35 miles to the SE is easily visible with the naked eye. It is really cold in the shade, but will be like summer at 2 p.m., probably again in the 80's off our back porch.

My discovery of Chantrelles this winter has turned out to be a big letdown. My sister, Maureen, chairman of the Dept of Ecology, has led many UCDavis mushroom hunting classes in years past, and as the expert, explained that my Chantrelles are not what I thought, but rather another similar and (bad news)... inedible species. So back to the drawing board. I did put out some steer manure in the shaded forest areas where we traditionally have mushrooms, hoping the nitrogen in the manure will entice some edible forest mushrooms. In the vineyard, we have many "Little Brown mushrooms", Agricola Campestris, Inky Caps, and sometimes the huge Boone's Giant Puffballs , which can be 8-24" in diameter. Get 'em late and they are just huge nasty looking spore balls, but early on are spectacular. Last spring I identified 32 different species of mushrooms here, in the vineyard and forest, and am looking forward to a new record this yr. With the incredible warmth during daytime,  spring explosion of mushrooms is looking promising. We HAVE TO get some rain, as 5" just isn't going to cut it. With the rain and warmth will come the "shrooms".

Blending of our '09s was finished in mid January, and we have some extraordinary Cab/Syrah(85% Cab/15% Syrah), Merlot, and Syrah/Cab (85% Syrah/15% Cab). The Syrah will be our first released by itself, in that previously we used it only as a blend. 2009 Syrah was outstanding and so is our blend. Additionally, 2010, although a cold yr, still resulted in some mouth watering Syrah...but that was it. Cab, Merlot, Pinot, Whites...2011 is a year to avoid buying, so instead focus on 2006, 2007, 2008, and especially 2009. As mentioned, 2010 was a fantastic yr for Syrah, but not much else. We hope to enclose some of our syrah in our Spring Wine Club shipment, but it depends if it is done with bottle shock or not. As many of you know, we rarely sell a wine that is not ready to drink, in that if you buy a great wine, we feel it should be drinkable when you buy it. That flys in the face of tradition, but is something we adhere to... meaning we hold onto our wines longer than most folks before releasing them. Still haven't made up my mind yet on Spring shipments, but will wait and see what is ready and what isn't.

With the economy in the dumps, we bought our barrels just after harvest, hoping for a price break in the new French oak. Despite the dive in the Euro, the collapse of the EEU, our French oak still remained right about $1000 per barrel. Expensive, but worth it. We generally use 1/3 New French, but with a really big year for our Syrah, we are probably going to 40% New French, maybe even try 50%. If we had made a Cab or Merlot, I would have kept it at 33%, but our 2010 Syrah is so massive that it can easily handle the 40%. Our only other remaining wines are a 2010 Pinot, which has been impressive, after being questionable due to the ridiculously cold weather. 2011 we made a grand total of 1 ton of wine out of our entire vineyard. Pinot noir is the selection, as it seemed closer to being decent grapes than anything else in the vineyard. At most we will have only 50 cases from 2011, the worst winegrape growing year in history. Trust me on 06s thru 09s, buy 2010 Syrah, and just put a big "do not buy" sign in your wine storage area for the 2011s. I wouldn't have made wine out of anything we sold, and we are pruned as low as anyone. So if a vineyard was going to ripen, it would have been ours. Well, we ripened, but we just missed out on the fabulous flavors we are known for. Long barrelling may help out, but overall, 2011 was a bust year. Anyone who tells you 2011 was a great year...well he probably is telling a tall tale.

Vineyard tours, which we have shelved for the winter, will probably come back into full swing come late spring. So far wildflowers are spectacular, and the wildlife is more abundant than ever. We have had dozens of turkeys trying to get under our deer fence, and some figure it out and just fly over. This yr they cleaned off over 400 vines, and at 1 ton/acre, that means about 1 bottle per vine. That comes out to 400 bottles or roughly 33 cases. At $480/case, well, you can do the math. Needless to say, any turkeys found inside our deer fence this year will be hunted... with malice.

That about finishes our 1st qtr/ 56th blog, and I hope to bring good news about the 2012 harvest next time. Right now we are waiting for the weather to decide if it wants to get really cold again or not. If not, we are going to be making a mad dash to get pruned before bud break...if you prune once bud break starts, virtually everything you prune results in buds being broken off.

Should you stop by and visit us for a glass, we have some new friends. The same two turkey vultures born just below our house sail in and around the house all day, riding the thermals. Same for the red tails, but they don't  venture anywhere near as close. Our new friends are a pair of Peregrine falcons, that in addition to being beautiful are thrilling to watch. Kestrels hover over the vineyard waiting on gophers to come out, and Red Shouldered hawks are nest building in forest in midst of our vineyard. Sometimes this place seems like a huge aviary, if you include the dozens of different songbirds, the flycatchers, and all the many species of finches. Another recent addition is a flock of Bandtail pigeons that was migrating thru, found the acorn pickings and roosts excellent, and decided to stay. If you visit us in Feb, you may still see those, but ultimately they do go back north. Give us a call if you are headed up this way. We are already booked thru May, but we always have time for a Cerro Prieto aficionado...but you must call ahead, and the longer ahead the better. Salud!

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