May 20, 2015
Last week, I spent the day in the vineyards covering ground to cover 10 of the 12 vineyards we purchase from. A long day but good to catch up with the growers and see how they are coping with 2015. It is up to the partnership between the grower and the winemaker to overcome any challenges, as well as take maximum advantage of the best qualities of the vintage, in order to make the best possible wine. While every vintage has it's 'unique' qualities, this one has the potential to be one for the record books.
Already we have the earliest bud break on record due to a very mild winter and spring. Also, as you no doubt have heard, water is scarce and it is shaping up to be a challenging vintage for irrigation management. Water supplies are below 40% of normal and the predictions are getting more and more grim. In the Yakima Valley, which is more dependent on snowpack than other regions, the canals are currently closed for a period of two to three weeks. The real challenge will come in September and October where they are certain to close the canals early. This is creating some real challenges in managing crop load and canopy in an attempt to minimize the amount of water the vines will require during the year.
One more challenge we are facing this year is some winter damage in several spots. In particular, I looked at one Chardonnay vineyard that is being used by Array Cellars that has a significant amount of damage. Crop levels will be 3/4 to 1/2 of normal in that block if my predictions are accurate. I also saw a few examples of spring frost this year. But in general, it did not appear to be enough of an issue to significantly impact crop with proper management going forward.
In the meantime, in addition to irrigation, we are dealing with normal issues like shoot thinning, pest control and vigor. Shoot thinning is critical this time of year. Most vines tend to produce many 'non-count' shoots that clog up the canopy. These shoots, which are typically not very fruitful, prevent sunlight from getting to the fruit which is important to flavor development, especially in red wines.
These shoots also prevent sprays from penetrating and stop airflow through the canopy which increases disease pressure. Getting in the field early helps with these problems but it also makes the job easier compared to later season shoot thinning where the shoots become more lignified and harder to remove. Soon we will be talking about leaf removal which further opens up the canopy giving us even better cluster exposure.
The next big occurrence in the vineyard will be bloom and fruit set. We will have a better idea of crop levels after the little green berries are hanging on the shoots. The weather continues to be warm so I am expecting bloom will occur fairly soon, weeks ahead of normal. All this is shaping up to be an unusually early harvest. I'm not making any vacation plans for Labor Day weekend this year!