A lot to be happy about
During the days leading up to bloom, our Sauvignon Blanc spokesvine, Marie, never stopped making the point: “Patrón, don't forget we vines are self-pollinating, so we need our six perfect weather days right at bloom time to set you a good crop.”
Well, Marie, you got your wish this year. Our spring weather in Sonoma Valley was perfect for grapes. And as Marie promised, we have what looks like a super potential crop for vintage 2012. With “normal” weather, this means about 100 days until harvest.
I feel like the new father of thousands of tiny grapes. It is now up to me, son John, and manager Chuy to protect each of these tender infants from disease, drought, insects, and sunburn; plus make sure they have the right amount of sun and air to develop and make their individual contribution to a great glass of wine. This also means full support for the individual vines, for they have the primary job of nurturing these tiny grapes. We can commit to both Marie and Javier that we will do our best. Remember, veteran winemakers say that 75 percent of a great glass of wine is made in the vineyard.
I have been at this business of grape growing for so long that I have personalized the vines and consider them formal members of our ranch team. Marie is the “spokesvine” for the Sauvignon Blanc, and Javier for our Zinfandel. Marie has always lorded her 400-year royal heritage (coming from French vines) over Javier - considering him and his Zinfandel vines as illegal immigrants. Well readers, pay attention…The worm has finally turned.
A few weeks ago we learned that MacLeod Family Vineyard 2009 Zinfandel had won Double Gold at the North of the Gate wine fair! Our 2010 Zin won a Silver, with our 2009 Merlot also winning Gold. In an embarrassment of riches, now we've received word that our MacLeod Family Vineyard 2010 Zinfandel has won Gold at the prestigious Orange County competition. The vineyard is in total chaos, with all the red vines high fiving each other and gloating, “finally Marie has gotten her comeuppance! She has been intolerable ever since her grapes were part of wine served to President Obama at his inaugural luncheon.”
Way to go Javier. A well-deserved triumph. Royal Marie did not get shut out though. Her Sauvignon Blanc won a Silver for their vintage 2011.
Current vineyard activity
No resting on laurels in the wine grape business. Vintage 2012 is in the field and there's a huge amount of work to be done mowing now-dry spring grasses and keeping up with regular irrigation. The vines use their skyward climbing tendrils and the spacing of new leaves at the end of the canes to tell us when they are thirsty. We have also started deleafing - pulling off some leaves and small laterals to open up each vine's canopy so the growing grape bunches can get just the right amount of sun and air. Even this activity is complex. We try to remove more leaves and growth on the morning or shady side of the vines so the small bunches will get optimal sunlight. On the west side of the vines where there is hot afternoon sun, we remove very few leaves. If these grapes get sunburned it can cause the wine to have a hint of raisin flavor, which will make the winemaker unhappy. We try to make grape sun exposure as even as possible on both sides of the vine. There is clear evidence that the amount of sunlight on the grapes significantly affects the character of the resulting wines.
With all the good news there is one item on the horizon that could cause serious issues. All of us in agriculture have known for years that our agricultural work was highly dependent on undocumented workers, mostly from Mexico. The latest data show that some 45 percent of the agricultural workers in California are undocumented. For years, our workers went home after harvest and then returned the following year. But with our national concern over security we have tightened our borders and have begun enforcing laws against employing undocumented workers. And lower birth rates in Mexico and a gradually improving economy have created more jobs there. As a result, vineyard managers, including our manager Chuy, are operating this spring and summer with about 30 percent fewer workers than needed. This farm labor shortage is affecting the entire wine/grape business. We have known of this issue for several years but as a country have been unable to agree on a Farm Labor Program. How we will sort this out - as a small family vineyard, a community, an industry, a state, a nation - I can only quote our wonderful, hard-working friends from Mexico… “Vamos a ver.” We will see.