I’ve spent parts of the last two days touring vineyards with one of our winemakers and let me tell you, there’s so much more to learn. I can’t even begin to repeat what I’ve heard, but every word has been important. Just when I think I’m starting to figure out grape growing and wine making, I learn something new. I guess that’s why I love it. I’ll never get bored. That’s for sure.
I love being in the vineyards – it’s just so peaceful! The first thing that struck me this year is how much fruit is on the vines in some areas, but not in others. And on some varietals, but not others. Surprisingly, given all the tough conditions this year, all the fruit I saw looked extremely healthy.
One of the vineyards I visited was a Sauvignon Blanc site in Knights Valley. Generally, this is known as a pretty warm area, but this year (so far) it’s been struggling to reach 80 degrees on most days. Well, that didn’t stop the Sauvignon Blanc from thriving. It’s doing quite well.
So what were we doing up there? We were pulling berry samples off the vines. This year, the winemaker is testing the effects of direct sunlight on the grapes. On some rows they have removed the leaves immediately surrounding the grapes that receive morning sun. On other rows they have removed the leaves around the grapes that receive afternoon sun. Then throughout the growing season berry samples (literally, berries are picked off the clusters – about 100 per row) are taken and run through a machine called a Dyostem. This machine essentially looks at the color, weight, and sugar levels. The information gathered can help determine how to better manage the vineyard both this year and in future years. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
In another vineyard in a cooler region of Sonoma County, we visited some Chardonnay vines. Immediately apparent was that the Chardonnay was struggling much more than the Sauvignon Blanc. Struggle and stress itself is not a bad thing, but this year everyone is worried about ripeness. If the vines are struggling it can take longer for them to ripen the fruit. But there’s a balance here somewhere. How they know is beyond me.
Another thing that struck me was the difference in the soils. Sure, I know that most regions have different soils than their neighboring regions, but what I saw just stunned me. In one vineyard the soil was so cracked you could look down into the earth 18 inches in some spots. In another vineyard the soil was so silty that just walking the rows created dust clouds. Do you think that affects the vines and in turn the flavor of the grapes? You betcha.
Someone also put a lot of thought into what direction the rows of grapes are facing. To the untrained eye (that would be me folks), it would appear that all vineyards are similar. But take a good look around next time you’re in wine country. What you’ll see is that the rows are facing many different directions. This is based on many factors from grape varietal to climate to soil and hillside contours. Think about grapes planted in a north / south direction and how the sun would move across them during the day. Now take those same grapes and make them east / west facing. Pretty different, huh? I found it interesting.
We talked about many more things, but I won’t overwhelm you in one night. More to come, for sure.