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Journey to Harvest … and Beyond

GlenLyon reflections: Part 2 of 3
Journey to Harvest … and Beyond
Eutypa Dieback.Photo by Squire Fridell


By Squire Fridell

I’m sure you’ve noticed the myriad trucks filled with grapes that have been scurrying to and fro on our roads since the last week of August. If you were on the road just before dawn on Aug. 24, you might have spotted Steve Hill bringing a big flatbed truck to deliver our contracted five-plus tons of gorgeous Parmelee-Hill, Sonoma Coast, pinot noir grapes. Our 36th harvest had begun at GlenLyon!

With the early September heat wave, all our fruit will have been harvested and at least started to be made into wine by the time you read this. 2022 was the earliest harvest on record.

Hopefully you had a chance to read the Reflections story I began last month, which was published in the Sept. 1 issue of the Kenwood Press. Here’s part two, about the successes (and failures) of planting our first grapevines.

Our First Vineyard

Late in 1987, we moved out of our tiny Cottage into the new home we had built on top of the hill on our property. While the house was being built, we found time to clear enough scrub oak (and poison oak) to plant our first two acres of grapevines and to learn more about training those new baby plants. After working with the young grapevines for over a year, Suzy and I were getting pretty cocky with our matching Felco pruning shears.

Did you make any “mistakes?”

We sure did. The first mistake was not selecting the perfect grape variety for that vineyard site. Even though we had the soil tested and amended to make things perfect for grapevines, we planted cabernet sauvignon, a grape variety that turned out to not be the best choice for that spot. Cab is a sun-loving grape variety and the site had very tall oaks growing on the sunny side of the vineyard. Unfortunately, during the growing season, those tall trees didn’t allow enough sun to get to all the foliage. We had two choices: Cut down all the beautiful oaks, or select another variety that didn’t require quite as much sun. After three years, we bit the bullet and grafted those cab vines to syrah, which eventually became a perfect variety for that spot.

Another huge early mistake was the timing of pruning. Since I was traveling for work a lot, I would prune the grapevines when I could … and that was when I was home. Unfortunately, in those early years, I was not home very much due to my work schedule, so some of that pruning we had to do in the rain. (Remember when it used to rain in Sonoma County?)

What did not sink in during our Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) pruning and canopy management classes was this simple adage: “Never prune in the rain.” Well, some dumb SOB did prune in the rain … and that dumb SOB would be me. Thus, we ended up with a slowly progressing disease called Eutypa, also known as “dead arm.”

Eventually, we had to replant that “Once-Was-Cabernet-but-Was-Grafted-to-Syrah-but-Got-Eutypa” vineyard. We’d fallen in love with syrah as a variety, so we replaced the diseased grapevines with new diseasefree syrah grapevines. They were site-specific, I never again pruned in the rain, and to this day the vines are thriving.

Our Second Vineyard

Ten years after planting (and replanting) our first vineyard, we cleared more scrub oak (and poison oak) in a five-acre area on the upper elevation, and we prepped for a second vineyard. This time we planted four acres of syrah and one acre of cabernet sauvignon … this time in a nice sunny spot!

We initially named our new vineyard “The Olde Poop” vineyard, after my dad, but daughter Lexy thought the name wasn’t particularly appealing, so it simply became “Vineyard #2.”

To this day, those grapes are doing quite well … after another big mistake: making a poor trellising and training choice.

One of our viticulture classes at SRJC showed us different types of trellising and training. Clever us, we chose an exotic one called “Smart-Dyson,” which quickly proved to be “less than smart” for us. Why? Half of the long canes were trained to grow down toward the ground, and when the tractor drove over them when we sprayed, the canes simply popped off the cordon arms. So, after two years of struggling, we converted that system to simple bilateral cordon. (See last year’s article on pruning for “bilateral cordon” explanation.)

In total, our lower vineyard now consists of 2.5 acres of syrah and grenache, which goes into our rosé program (yum!). Our upper vineyard is four acres of syrah and one acre of cabernet sauvignon (we found a nice warm spot for it). We also planted a half-acre of viognier, in honor of our two-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter, and we call it “Hattie’s Block.”