Early spring at the vineyard
At dawn on Jan. 15 we begin telling our story of the annual “Journey to Harvest” for the wine grapes on Indian Springs Ranch. I have been up since 5:30 a.m. with little success as I try to start writing this year’s Journey. I glance up from my computer screen to look out my bedroom office window at the beautiful Sonoma Valley. There is a slight mist hanging in the valley, and the morning light has colored it a touchingly optimistic light pink. It provides just the inspiration and good vibes this old man needs. Suddenly all is clear and my fingers return to the keyboard.
“Journey to Harvest” is the month-by-month story of our vines, grapes, and field personnel as they develop vintage 2015 from dormant vines, through the labyrinth of variables that Mother Nature throws at the farmer, and on to the ultimate victory – drinking a glass of wine from a great bottle of vintage wine.
Let us identify the characters who will be traveling with us on our journey. First, our vines. Past readers of this column know that we’ve created fictional “spokesvines” to tell the story of the Journey to Harvest from the perspective of the vine. There’s Marie, spokesvine for her 16,000 Sauvignon Blanc vines; Javier for his 9,000 Zinfandel vines, and finally Cinderella for her 2,000 Merlot vines.
Vineyard worker Adelberto Arrelano paints fresh-cut vines with boron to prevent excessive weeping after pruning.
The all-important silent partner on this journey is our unique terroir – the lean rocky, hillside soils, the proximity of the Pacific Ocean, rainfall, climate and (to my way of thinking) the blood, sweat and tears of the people who have worked this land – now and those before us.
Each vineyard is different and it is the responsibility of all successful growers to continuously study their vineyard’s terroir, and adjust vineyard cultural operations to fit the terroir factors you are given in each year’s journey to harvest.
One important factor is the amount of water from rain and irrigation we are able to provide for our vines. The vines do a lot to help themselves, with roots that can go 10 and more feet in depth to find moisture. The most aggressive rootstock in going deep and searching for water is the root stock known as St. George, which originates from a small village in southern France. But the grower does his or her part too. We can carefully monitor the crop and canopy load to match the resources available to the vines in any given year.
Next in importance is the availability of vineyard employees. There are now very few new workers coming from Mexico. We badly need immigration reform so we can match need with new manpower. Basically what our men would like is a special six-month visa so that they can work here during the growing season and return home to their families and homes until the next season.
And our vineyard itself needs some additional vines for special requirements: We need more Zinfandel vines since we produce great Zinfandel grapes and they provide the near highest per ton yield. We are planning to plant small amounts of special varieties that can be used as blending grapes with our Sauvignon Blanc to make new and distinctive wines.
The drive for sustainability
On Jan. 15, 2014, our Sonoma County Winegrowers and Vintners organization made a bold move with their announcement that Sonoma would become the nation’s first 100-percent sustainable grape growing region by 2019. In 2014, 43 percent of our Sonoma vineyard acres qualified as sustainable. MacLeod Family Vineyard is well on the road to qualifying for this important program, thanks largely to the good running start we’ve had from years of supplying grapes to sustainability leader Benziger Winery.
It’s February. A time of year when optimism for the future springs eternal for farmers everywhere. Especially grape growers. Optimism is the grape grower’s armor. It’s what gives him or her the courage each year to face the many uncertainties of the coming growing season, and launch anew on the annual journey to harvest. Welcome readers. I hope you’ll join me on this year’s journey.
– Old Patron, aka George
Owner, Indian Springs Ranch and Vineyards