The Kenwood Press
: 07/01/2016

Vintage 2016 makes its first appearance

George MacLeod

Vintage 2016 makes its first appearance
Optimism rules! Bloom time is over and the tiny green grapes that will become vintage 2016 are now out there in the vineyard. We have made counts of the number of these tiny bunches, giving us the first intimation of what Septemberís crop might look like. For our Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot, the count per vine is close to typical of ordinary years. But the Zinfandel count is about 20 percent smaller than normal. Some years, if this preliminary count is larger than the vine can handle, we remove enough of these tiny bunches to make sure the vine can handle the crop load.

We also check where the vine and its bunches are, time-wise on the calendar. Sauvignon Blanc is usually picked at the end of August or first week in September. Merlot is generally ready in mid-September, and Zinfandel the first week in October. We are continually keeping track of how the weather this year is developing. If itís cooler and slower, we may have to remove more fruit. So far here at the end of June, all is well with typical weather for each of our three varieties.

Labor-wise we are operating with about 60 percent of our normal crew size. Our vineyard manager Chuy says that this shortage is industry-wide. It means that a number of cultivating steps that affect quality will not happen when the vines need help.

Right now, we need to do two major actions. May and June are the grand period of vine growth, with many canes growing two to three inches per day. Some of these canes need to be cut back or even removed so the vines can focus energy on producing healthy bunches of grapes.

We try to make sure that each vine gets the optimal amount of sun and air. Great wine demands this type of attention. Each vine is different, so most of this work is done on a vine-by-vine basis. Fortunately, the rate of vine growth is slowing enough to allow us to catch up. Some vines need more sun on their growing bunches, especially on the north side. On the west, sunny side, we leave almost all the leaves to protect these tender young bunches from the harsh afternoon sun.

When these tiny would-be grapes and bunches suddenly appear, I feel like a proud parent with a jillion children all needing to be protected from too much or too little sun, and from insects and diseases. Itís like growers George and John and the grapes are running an obstacle course, with the aim of ending up with a glass of great wine.

More good news

We received notice yesterday that Indian Springs Ranch (our vineyard) obtained its sustainability certificate for another year. This says we meet a set of procedures and practices that that will help sustain vineyards for future generations. These practices include soil conservation, water conservation, reducing carbon footprint, community involvement, and reduction in the use of pesticides, to name some of the categories.

Each year, growers must show improvement in their practices to keep their certification (essentially a quality improvement process for the winegrape grower). At Indian Springs, this work has been under the leadership of our vineyard manager son, John MacLeod. The Sonoma County goal is one hundred percent vineyard certification by 2019. The program is some two or three years old and nearly 50 percent of all vineyards in Sonoma County have received certification since the program began.

Now a small history lesson about our beautiful Sonoma Valley

Almost two hundred years ago, in 1823, Father Jose Altamira rode through our valley looking for a site to build a new mission, what we know now as the old Sonoma Mission. Hereís what he wrote after traveling up and down the valley.

ďNo one can doubt the mildness of the climate of Sonoma after observing the plants, the very tall trees, their delicate foliage according to their species, sycamore, cotton, laurel, ash, and others. Above all the abundance and vigor of the wild grapes, the tall grass as high as the saddles and other wild plants, we cannot vacillate of the kindness of the climate.Ē

It is now our job to make sure that two hundred years from now, our valley will still be so beautiful.