Bloom time in the vineyard (plus Cinderella’s Merlot)
Indeed, we did have bloom time beginning in mid-May, a full two weeks early this year! This date is important as it gives us a time when we can expect to harvest, in approximately 125 days (about the end of August), early this year.
Wine grapes have blossoms, just like any other fruit tree or vine. When pollinated, each tiny white blossom will turn into an individual grape positioned along a common stem, eventually forming the expected bunch of grapes. It seems a simple process, but I learned years ago that this is a very complicated process – there are pages and pages written about all the vineyard events that can have a big impact on the success of blossom time and on the quality of ripening grapes.
Here are some of the major events that can affect our fruit set:
Pollination isn’t a given, either. Very few insects pitch in to help because grape flowers are small and contain very little nectar. If you carefully bag each bunch, you will have perfect pollination, but that’s not practical. Instead, the vines are self-pollinating, with a little bit of help from the weather. On a morning walk, I can almost hear hear the vines saying, “Patron! Just arrange for us to have six perfect days at the end of May and we will promise you a great crop.”
- Temperature during bloom time should be no cooler than 60 degrees to start.
- Temperature should be no hotter than 104 degrees to continue.
- Rain, fog, and cloudy days can significantly retard pollination.
- Gentle breezes have no major effect even though pollen grains are only .001 inches diameter.
Lately, Chuy and his 40-man army have been here suckering and de-leafing our 16,000 vines. We only want the canes that have grown from the buds; the sucker canes that grow up in the vine structure do not bear fruit. They also reduce sunshine and air and use up critical water and air space.
Humans have been growing grapes for some 9,000 years. There are lots of references to grape growing in both the Old and New Testaments. As for suckering and thinning, read John in the New Testament for his comments about removing branches that do not bear fruit. Sometimes when I am working in the vineyard, I suddenly feel that I am literally holding hands with previous vineyard workers thousand of years earlier. When I am working in the middle of a large block of grapes with a dozen or so other people, for a moment or two I could be anywhere in some grape growing area in another place and time.
Cinderella’s Merlot winsWe originally did not plan to plant Merlot vines at MacLeod Ranch, but some years ago one of our best customers asked us to plant five acres of Merlot for him. In my book, when a major customer asks you to do something, you snap to attention and reply, “Yes, sir! How many acres do you need?” We planted the five acres, but eventually the customer sold his winery. Naturally, the new owners were no longer interested in our Merlot, and these vines became orphans.
Just as the Merlot vines were coming into production, the movie Sideways was released, which unfairly demeaned Merlot, causing demand for Merlot wine and grapes to evaporate. For the next three or four years, we literally could not give away the wine or the grapes. We cut the tops off two-thirds of our Merlot acreage and grafted the trunks to Sauvignon Blanc, our most popular variety. Since we could not sell the orphaned grapes, we began learning how to make Merlot wine with the remaining acreage, and used some of the juice to make a Ros – our least expensive wine. Gradually, as we got more experienced, the Merlot wine got better and better, so that we finally raised the price and regularly sold out.
This year we entered our orphaned Merlot in one of the major wine competitions. The orphans came through. We were awarded the gold medal for Merlot along with an almost impossible quality rating of 98 for our orphan wine! For the moment, we are going to call this great new wine our Cinderella’s Merlot. What a story! And our two wine makers, my son Richard and our consultant Clay Moritson, have set a new ‘Can do’ record.