Thursday, April 18, 2013

Cerro Prieto....and the Eternal Spring

No question, spring is here...matter of fact it has been here since Jan. 7th, over 3 months ago. Early in
January we fired up the barbecue as it was a lovely spring day, 86 degrees off the back deck and just spectacular weather. We grilled some mallards and elk sausage and it sure seemed like an early summer. Typically, Dec 15 to Feb 15 are the cold, hard, days of our winter. Basically we have had little rain (6.5 inches, the least since I moved here over 36 years ago), a mild winter, and wah-la....a springtime that began that day in January, and has persisted ever since. A few notes, however: whereas the afternoons were balmy, the hi-lo thermometer read 18 degrees on Jan 7th at 4:30 a.m., the coldest part of any day. Even in mid-winter we are capable of 70 degree temperature swings. Additionally, we did have 2 frigid misty days, followed by an ice cold inch of rain, and we had one cold snap that lasted 5 days. Other than that, however, it has, indeed, been the eternal spring.

As usual, we were the last vineyard to prune, as we are always susceptible to late spring rains, with rare freezes, and the farther back we push our pruning, the later we go into bloom...that time when a rain or freeze would interfere with pollination, and a good time to get through without bloom damage. When we finally did prune our mountain valley vineyard (our '09 SF Chronicle Gold medal Pinot Noir, and our still-out-for-rating Sauvignon Blanc), we left what are known as "kicker canes" on both cold weather varietals. This cane is not pruned and left for what we call "apical growth", ie, growth at the most distant portion of the cordon. By not pruning this cane, growth along the remainder of the cordon will be retarded which in effect, pushes back bud break and leafing out. The idea is to delay bud break and leafing out until as late as possible, thus avoiding a late spring rain or freeze on  the bloom.

Note that there are two cordons from two adjacent vines, each with a kicker cane left long. Also you can see that the distal tip of each cane has leafed out, and that all other spurs in the picture show no sign of leafing out. In other words, altho it looks bizarre, we have effectively prevented the remaining spurs from leafing out. This will, with good fortune, result in a delay in bud break, leafing out , and ultimately bloom...for as long as 3 and sometimes 4 weeks. The delay will help in avoiding the unwanted rain or freeze during bloom.

Besides the early BBQ, we have noted phyical and beautiful signs of spring for the last 3 months, spread out like never before, but fascinating to see over such a lengthy period. First up is usally the Lupine Bush( 12' X 15' X  10'), with its purple blue hues, so striking to the eyes.

Also note the California poppies and calendulas scattered thruout the hillside, just below Cerro Teresa, one of our 3 Cab blocs, and one of my very favorites. In short order the darker purple vetch will come out which grows like a wild weed, and literally covers the entire hillside in dark purple. This bush is a survivor of an accidental spraying with Round Up, when I had told the spraying technician, "NOT to spray that bush". It must be hardy, because Round Up sure killed all the surrounding weeds.

Next up for bloom is the Easter Broom, or Scotch Broom, to some flower taxonimists. It is a hurt your eyes yellow, and generally flowers during...yes, Easter. This year Easter came and went, and 2 weeks later the Scotch Broom came out in profusion. Coincidental with Scotch or Easter Broom are the hillsides of wild sweet peas. Note that both these flowers are not in the vineyard but nearby as reminders as to where we are in first bud break, and later, leafing out.

Finally, the aroma of lupine fields tells us that spring is nearing an end. Adjacent to the vineyard a neighbor's grazing field is alive with the dainty light blue lupine, with a darker blue one here, and a purple lupine there. Occasionally a field may be solid white with lupine, but this year it is a delicate light blue. Surrounding large clumps of sage, chamiso, and coyote bushes, the lupine fields are stunning to all who see them. Sometimes we get to enjoy both the aroma and the visual sights of lupine for 3-4 weeks, at the end of which generally spring is coming to a close. This year with 3 full months of spring, every vibrant colorful plant has extended its floral profusion, so I have no idea what happens next...or when. Sufficith it to say that this is the longest spring in memory and surely it will have some effect on the vines, but heaven only knows what. Right now it is delightful to grill on the back deck, take in the flowers and the amazing aromas, and enjoy life. Whatever happens... well, it happens.

It would be safe to say that now we are in the largest drought since I first moved to Paso Robles in 1977. The winter has been short and mild...generally good conditions for Cerro Prieto vines and wines. Would I bet that we will have a kick*** year? No. Once conditions change from the norm, one must wait it out and see what happens. Overall we should be in terrific shape for a fantastic quality year. Late freezes, hail storms, so unusual here, have occurred thrice in the last 3 years. Those years were the cold, dark and wet of 2010, the colder, darker, wetter of 2011, and the milder 26" rainfall year of 2012...a high quality year. As a general rule, cold, dark, and wet years does not bode well for premium winegrapes such as Cabernet and Merlot. Matter of fact, we made no Cab nor Merlot in 2010 and 2011. The Syrah of 2010, however, despite inclement weather, is a wine for the ages. Bottled in Dec 2012, it is the best single wine I have made to date.

We have a straight up 2010 Syrah Reserve( la Terraza), and a 2010 Syrah Reserve (El Bordo with 7% '09 Cabernet in it). Both were sensational in barrel, and both are finally coming out of bottle shock. Those wine clubmembers who purchased the Syrah Valu-pak this spring have about 2 more months to wait for both Syrahs. My guess was 4-6 mos. post bottling, and it looks like it will be 7 mos. instead. So for those interested, June(possibly July) will be when the two Syrahs are drinkable. If sooner I will let everyone know. It may be hard to beat our 90 pt( Wine Enthusiast) 2009 Syrah Reserve, but honestly I believe they both will. Time, that is the key operative word now for both 2010 Syrahs.

That is it from here, with a note that our '09 Syrah has only several bottles remaining, probably none after this weekend. I keep back 2 cases for vertical tastings, but I sure hate to see that incredible wine gone. The SF Chronicle Gold Medal '09 Pinot Noir has likewise disappeared fast, with less than 8 cases remaining. Funny thing happened last  weekend, when I poured the Pinot and once finished with tasting,  I found I  had poured the 2010 Pinot, not the 2009. The difference between them is no more than a gnat's eyelash. I swear I have difficulty telling them apart, but then 2010 was the yr of the colder, darker, wet...tailor made for an outstanding Pinot...and the 2010 is. (Except accidentally last week, it has not been released yet, but will be soon.).

Hopefully everyone got their wine club shipments, but it was a struggle. We shipped on March 11th, and some members didn't finally receive their wine club shipments until April 9th. Admittedly that was abysmal, and we are currently doing a post-mortem as to what the heck happened. If you were one of those that got your shipments way too late, my sincere apologies. On the bright side, the wines were stellar and it is great that everyone got to try the Mountain Valley Vineyard's 2009 Pinot Noir.



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