The Kenwood Press|
Bloom time in the vineyard
How can I sit here at dawn and write “Bloom time in the vineyard” without making some mention of the pure magic of these few words? You see, grapes are self-pollinating, a concept that took me many years to wrap my mind around. Most other fruits depend on bees and other insects for pollination, but not grapes. Grapes have both the male and female parts present in each blossom, and need only gravity and a hint of gentle breeze to spread pollen. This explains why grape blossoms have no sweet aromas to attract bees.
While grape vines may not need help from bees, they do need cooperation from other aspects of Mother Nature. Rain, cold, or excessive heat can all pose a problem. When I walk in the vineyard at bloom time I can imagine the vines speaking for themselves, “Patron, give us just six nice days at bloom time and we will set a good crop for you.”
Of the three varieties we grow, Merlot is the most sensitive to poor weather conditions at bloom time. Just a little too cold, a little too hot, or a little too foggy and Merlot sets a greatly reduced crop. Because of this, growers often joke that Merlot should be called Merlittle. Normally, we’re looking for those six perfect bloom time days in early June. This year we are ahead of schedule so the vines are expecting bloom time to be complete by the first of June.
Recently, my daughter Susan and I spent most of a day together just walking in the vineyard. We were astounded to notice how many other living creatures share this small portion of our planet with us. Some of the “folks” we met in just a few hours – two red headed woodpeckers trying to cut down one of our telephone poles; three squirrels; two mallard ducks sunning themselves on our lake float where grandchildren have played on summers without end. We met a family of crows busily building a stick nest in the top of one of our tall eucalyptus trees. We’ve also discovered that the crows like garbage, and make huge messes turning it over and spreading it around. Thankfully, we didn’t encounter any wild turkeys or deer eating the new grape shoots. And don’t think these vineyard walks are a waste of time. Veteran growers have a saying, “the best fertilizer is the grower’s shadow.”
We walked to the top of the Zinfandel block to visit the new planting where we are trying to grow young vines with no irrigation. Dry farmed vines take almost five years to come into production versus three years for irrigated vines. They all looked so small and brave compared to their irrigated neighbors. Last season a few of the dry farmed vines actually had some great bunches of zinfandel. Hang in there guys — you may be the future for California grapes.
We next visited a vineyard block where our crew were suckering; i.e., pulling off excess growth. In the New Testament, John 15: 2-6 says, “We removed the canes that do not bear fruit and cast them in the fire.” Same exact work, but some two thousand years ago.
It’s good to see the work crew out in the vineyard. There is a labor shortage in Sonoma Valley. We are operating with about 30 percent fewer men than normal so we are about three weeks late. But as the men would say, mas vale tarde que nunca. “Better late than never.”
One final word, albeit a very important word for grape growing and wine loving. It’s the French word “terroir.” Break the word apart and you get “Terr,” as in terra, as in the land. Followed by “oir,” shortened from memoir, or to remember. Terroir … the land remembers. Think about that for a moment. Many people think of terroir as simply meaning the combination of soil and climate. But it is more than that. Much more. Terroir is the accumulated wisdom of the land over the generations, over the eons of time. Sure, it’s today’s soil and sun. But it is also the history, the culture, and even the spiritual elements of the particular place. To me terroir is the full, rich story of the land that contributes the unique character and enjoyment to each glass of wine. When you have your next glass of wine, stop and think about the source vineyard. The wine you pour really wants to tell you its story.