Fruit set is underway and everything is looking great in the vineyard!
On our Carneros Estate vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot clusters generally set about 50 to 100 berries per cluster depending on the clone and how good the set is. In 2013 we have experienced a very nice set with some shatter (hens and chicks) in Chardonnay.
Shatter is when, usually for environmental reasons (rain, cold, too hot, too windy) the flower does not fertilize and it falls off the cluster which leads to fewer berries/cluster and less yield. Some varieties like Malbec for example are very prone to shatter. Hens and chicks isn’t exactly the same thing, though weather can make it more prevalent. In hens and chicks some flowers set normal size berries (Hens) and some berries don’t produce a seed and are very small (chicks). Our Old Wente Chardonnay is the most common example of this phenomenon.
Overall it’s shaping up to be a good vintage from a quantity standpoint.
The Carneros Vineyard is in full bloom and early stages of fruit set, where the fertilized flowers turn into grape berries. Bloom this year has been running about 2 weeks to 18 days ahead of last year which portends an early start to harvest. In other words, the cellar crew should not be planning any labor day festivities. The Brandlin Vineyard on Mount Veeder has just begun bloom in some of the blocks, but is typically 3 weeks or so behind our Carneros Estate. Otherwise it’s been a stress-free year so far with no frost or strong disease pressure. The biggest worries have been the relative dryness of the year and the strong presence of gophers, voles, and deer wanting to munch on our vines.
Bud break began in early March in a few blocks, and we are seeing more and more blocks across the vineyard lighting up in bright little leaves of green. We’ve seen nice even growth in the young shoots and are hopeful to have a decent yield after last year’s bumper-crop. We should start seeing bloom here in Mid-May, for which we’ll have our fingers crossed for pleasant weather as this is one of the trickiest times of the year for the grapevine. Too hot, too cold, or wind and rain can all affect the crop size and how challenging it will be to maximize quality.
Due to the dry winter, our vineyard team has mowed much of our organic cover crops so that our vines will get all the moisture they need without competition. The cover crops will be disked or tilled in to provide nitrogen and improve soil structure. Here's a before and after shot to see the difference.
Mornings in Napa are icy and cold, with frost blanketing the ground. Thankfully, the bright yellow mustard seed flowers are popping up between the vines and announcing the coming of spring. Cold mornings dissipate to brisk, sunny days here in Carneros, and the mustard seed is a joyful burst of color against the contrasting bare vines and blue skies. Plan a visit and see for yourself!
As our vines enter veraison (the onset of ripening) phase of the growing season the anticipation and anxiety begin to heighten. While much of the US has been plagued by heat and drought, the Coastal region of California has been basking in almost perfect weather. As grape growers we measure the warmth of our seasons by Degree Days (a measure of hours that the vines are photosynthetically active). In 2004, the last "warm" vintage we experienced in Carneros, we were already at 1400 hours on today’s date, August 9th. This year we are art 1200, which is identical to the cool but superb 2009 vintage. In fact the degree days for the last three years are almost identical and they were all "cool" vintages. So this mean’s things will be perfect in 2012, right? Here’s where the anxiety creeps in as we still have at least a month before Harvest starts and then 4-6 weeks of picking fruit, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed that we dodge any extreme heat or heavy rains and bring this vintage in smoothly.
Up on Mt Veeder it’s a little more challenging to compare data as the closest CIMIS weather station is in Oakville and not really indicative of conditions at Brandlin Vineyard. Most of Napa Valley proper is in full veraison so they are definitely experiencing a warmer vintage then Mt. Veeder. The last two seasons we harvested Brandlin in November and I feel pretty confident this year we’ll have things wrapped up before Halloween, a few weeks earlier than the quite cool preceding years.
So at this time I can report that the hygiene of the vineyard is excellent, crop levels are in the average yield range and we will be making our final "color thinning" over the next few weeks to leave behind the best fruit we can.
--Steve Rogstad, Winemaker
We celebrated bud break in our Carneros and Brandlin Estate Vineyards in early March.
Now, the vines are slowly filling in with fresh young bright green sprouts. The cover crops between the rows are already quite robust, offering a colorful melange of flowers including winter peas, calendula and mustard.
Our vineyard crew is busy "chopping" (i.e. cutting all the grass) and getting ready
to turn the weeds over to ease the competition for water over the course of the year.