A month of anticipation
All has been going so well in the vineyard that it is almost scary. The vines are beautiful with dark green leaves, the new bunches are plentiful and are bigger than the past few years with a nice tonnage forecast. The weather has been almost perfect. It looks like harvest will be in early September for our Sauvignon Blanc and early October for our Zinfandel and Merlot. Recall the last two years harvest day has been three to four weeks later than normal due to strange weather. We have been fertilizing both through the drip system and by foliar sprays adding both potassium and calcium. The vines use a lot of nutrients each year and when we ship out tons of grapes they take with them much of these nutrients. For example, a ton of grapes will take some five kilograms of potassium with them.
The vines have reached the development phase called by the French word Veraison and will begin moving toward maturity.
The big issue here on the ranch is who can find the first light lavender Zinfandel grape. When the grandchildren were younger I would give a dollar each for the first five or six colored berries. One year the kids began finding dozens of light purple zinfandel grapes. I became suspicious and discovered they were using their water colors to paint berries. Astounding how early corruption can begin!!! But seriously, in late July for no good reason I spend hours in the vineyard looking for the first colored Zinfandel grape that will indeed announce that the journey to harvest is really picking up steam. But it is all for good purpose as old timers say that “The best vineyard fertilizer is the owner’s shadow!” We found the first lavender grape on July 28.
At this time we make an audit to try to define what the actual harvest tonnage will be. We make a trip through each block taking a bunch count from a defined sample of individual vines. Then we weigh a sample of bunches. Since we know how many vines are in each block we can then compute a crop size estimate. This is important since we have promised specific tonnages to each of our grape clients. And here we have a cultural problem. Since by definition I am a professional optimist I always think the crop will be bigger and as a result sell and promise more than the vines can deliver. However this year the numbers are coming out large enough that it looks like the Old Patron can deliver all that he promised.
And I will make a comment here. All grape growers that I know are by definition professionally and terminally optimistic. Who else could year by year go up against Mother Nature, the grape and wine market, labor availability, climate, and assorted diseases and insects and think he could win every year? Or even most years?
This is the time when we also begin to study the sites on the ranch where we can expect to see the astounding pink Naked Lady lilies (Amaryllis Belladonna) begin to push their tender, spear-like stems up through the dry soil at the astounding rate of one to two inches a day. Then at about 30 inches, they burst into beautiful clusters of pink flowers. This lily, an immigrant from South Africa, is perfectly acclimated to its site. It grows a vigorous set of elongated leaves in the rainy season. When the rains end in April all the leaves die and form a sombrero of dry leaves protecting the buried giant bulbs from the hot and dry summer sun. We have adopted this lily as our official ranch good luck icon. It produces its beautiful pink lily just when our optimism is at a peak. We will have a great crop, the quality will be superb, the customers will be happy with the quality and all of them will pay their bills on time!
And now a word from our two spokesvines, Marie for the Sauvignon Blanc and Javier for the Zinfandel
Marie’s Sauvignon Blanc report
All of us are in the middle of what the French call Veraison – that is when the leaves begin to seriously produce sugar, what in vineyard speak is called ‘Brix,’ and move this into the now tiny, emerald green, opaque, small, hard berries. Each leaf on our individual canes is now expected to contribute a tenth of a gram of sugar to this process. Our individual grapes begin to act as if they were indeed pregnant. They swell, get bigger, the seeds become hard, changing from soft green to a hard, clean brown, and the individual grapes become transparent. But most impressive, the color changes to a beautiful transparent turquoise. When you visit the vineyard at dawn when the sun’s rays are nearly horizontal, our bunches are lit up with a golden transparency and the shadow of individual seeds can be clearly seen. At this stage our Brix (sugar content) is at 23 to 24% and we have wonderful tastes and aromas of pineapple and apricot. It’s as if our whole 6,000 vine team is shouting with one voice “Winemaker we are ready!”
Javier’s Zinfandel report
Our vines are not as ‘full of it’ as Marie, but we do indeed go through major changes during our Veraison. The first indication is when here and there in our emerald green bunches one large grape will begin to show a very light hint of lavender. The presence of these few grapes causes great joy to the Patron and his family. Its almost as if the harvest is in and the money counted! Gradually as the weeks in August pass, our grapes continue to pick up more color until around the 1st of September three-quarters of our bunches are almost all a beautiful blue black. But there is one problem: we do not ripen uniformly, and there will be a number of our bunches still having a significant amount of green grapes. Around Labor Day, Manager Chuy and his army will sweep through and drop these green portions on the ground. Then without this handicap the rest of us can march together to our Harvest Day sometime round the first week of October.
The Farmer’s Game
We have a monopoly-like board game that is so realistic that my wife won’t play with us. Your harvest yield is determined by a throw of a die. A “2” or a “1” and you are in the poorhouse for another year. But if by chance you can throw a “6” you have a super crop and make lots of money, send the kids to college, go to Maui, and buy a new pickup. All of our family thinks that the evidence to date suggests that this year a “6” might just be possible! As they say in Chuy’s army, Vamos a ver or “We will see.” Stay tuned!