Our VP of Production, Mike Crumly, gives us a the inside scoop about Spring in the vineyards:
Cane Pruned Vine at Budbreak
“Spring is here! The vines are waking up after a long wet winter. The vineyard crew finished the winter task of pruning just a few weeks ago; nature imposes deadlines. The moment the last vine was pruned the buds began to swell and soon pushed out the first green growth of the season. So many rain days slowed the crew down this year, but in the end, they finished, just in time.
Our Home Ranch is showing an earlier start to budbreak than Circle Bar Ranch this year. The timing of the season seems quite normal with buds pushing in early March. There has been some years that warm soils have caused buds to open as early as mid- February. This year soils are cold and wet, and our season is beginning as it should.
Over at Circle Bar Ranch, Seven Bays is just waking up. Teb’s vine is off to a good start. In early December this block was pre-pruned. On December 23rd, I finish-pruned Teb’s vine to its final set of two bud spurs. One reason we double prune is to help with frost protection… the later you prune, the later the buds open. The entire block was finish-pruned by the crew in March. The late pruning in March caused a delay in budbreak when compared to Teb’s vine, pruned in December. Now Teb’s leaves are out when the rest of the vines are just starting. If it were to frost, Teb’s vine is now more vulnerable.
Teb’s vine at budbreak
Teb’s Spurs at Budbreak
This is an exciting time to be growing grapes. The little shoots that are popping out are actually showing their flower buds at this early stage. In fact, if you were to dissect a dormant bud and look inside, you could see what botanists call flower primordia…fully shaped flowers that will soon push out on new shoots. The question all vineyard people want to know is how many clusters are on each shoot? Will it be a fruitful year?
A new shoot carrying 2 flower clusters
We have started mowing at the Home Ranch. All that beautiful cover crop that was great for the winter months is now being chopped up, and will soon be turned under the soil when we disc. This incorporates all of the vine prunings into the soil, as well as the legumes we planted last fall. The cover crop plants have done their job. They have pulled nitrogen out of the air, and in partnership with bacteria growing in their roots they have delivered nitrogen to the soil in a form the vines can use.
Cover crop of legumes prior to mowing
Freshly mowed row
Now cold air can flow low to the ground and pass through the vineyard. If that cover crop were still there, it would deflect the cold air upwards into the vine where the tender buds could freeze.
Frost season is when vineyard managers lose a lot of sleep. If temperatures drop below 35 degrees, our weather station will dial our vineyard managers, Alberto and Hermilo, cell phones to let them know. They then need to get out of bed, drive to the vineyard, and start up the wind machines for frost protection. These big propellers spin, and mix the warm air above with the cold air below.
Last year, Alberto and Hermilo got up on frost watch only a couple of times but some years there have been times when they have come in 12 to 15 times in one season. Not only do they start the machines in the middle of the night, they also stay in the vineyard and monitor the temperatures throughout the night. They wait past sunrise when it is safe to turn off the machines. They then start their normal workday.
This time of year I can pick out vineyard managers in the grocery store, blurry eyed and sleep deprived, they walk around like zombies. It is a huge weight they carry on their shoulders…the responsibility of protecting our next vintage.
Solar powered weather station
When I first came to work at Gloria, Pedro Ferrer asked me to research the weather history records to quantify the risk of frost. We concluded we would have a killing frost an average of once every 20 years. We decided at that time not to install frost protection. Ironically enough, exactly 20 years later in 2008, we had a frost that destroyed half of our Chardonnay crop. We installed our wind machines in 2009!
The question everyone seems to be asking now is, ‘how will the wet winter effect the vines?’ So far vines and their roots have been dormant. Wet winters are not a problem, but a wet spring is a different matter. When this new growth begins, roots also wake up and need oxygen to live. Fully saturated soils can kill some of the smaller roots down deep. Sometimes up to a third of the root system, those parts below the water table, can die. They do regenerate very quickly, and regrow just as soon as the soils begin to dry out. What we see when we watch the top of the vines is a stunting of the new growth while the roots regenerate. “Spring Fever” is a term we use to describe a syndrome where the roots cannot metabolize nitrogen properly, and the little shoots turn pale green or even yellow. The vine can also lose its ability to outgrow and overcome the feeding damage caused by some pests.
The vines are doing well right now but there is more rain in the forecast. Let’s hope we don’t get soaked for weeks.
Think good thoughts for our vineyard workers, without them, nothing else matters.”