Early spring at the door
Photo by Jay Gamel
Early spring at the door at Indian Springs Ranch
Ready or not, after several weeks of spring-like weather there are early signs of the season everywhere. The Santa Rosa plum is in full bloom, the jonquils are blooming, the Naked Ladies are developing lush green leaves, and bright green grass and flowering mustard are thriving in the vineyard. Grandson Jacob’s tulip tree is in full bloom. (We planted this tree the day after Jacob, one of our grandsons, was born, and it blooms every year on his birthday.)
As I write this today, Jacob will be 30 years old. Almost impossible. This grandson will always have a special spot in my heart, as from the time he was five or six we went fishing together every year for some 20 years – out on the ocean for salmon, but mostly in streams and lakes in the Sierras, trying to fly fish for the wily trout. Fish-wise these trips were not very successful, but for adventure and friendship, and lifetime exaggerated stories, they were and are irreplaceable. From the earliest trips he was always patient and very determined and cheerful, and no matter how cold or wet or hot or seasick or unlucky fish-wise, or how boring, never a complaint. Hopefully he can keep these attributes into adult life. If so he will truly be a man for all seasons!
All of the vines are showing signs of waking up after their dormant sleep, with a thin white line crossing the top of each bud. This white line will be where the two sides of the bud open up in March for bud break. And I am sure they are surprised to find that while they were sleeping the pruners were here and cut back most of last year’s growth to prepare for the new crop year with the correct bud count. And since last year we had an attack of mildew, we have sprayed all with lime-sulphur to eliminate any remaining mildew spores.
Photo by Jay Gamel.
Pruned Zinfandel vine with two buds left for each spur. Hopefully each bud will yield one to two bunches.
About pruning – this is the single most important and expensive annual job in the vineyard. We have some 15,000 vines, and during pruning each will get personally inspected and then personally pruned. From some 30 years working with our vines, we know that the lean, shallow, rocky terroir of our ranch will allow each vine to produce some 17 pounds of fruit. By this we mean all bunches must get uniformly mature and ready for harvest on the same day, and before the danger of fall rains. Magic? Not quite. Now pay attention. We will use Sauvignon Blanc for our example. The mature bunches of this variety will weigh typically a quarter pound each. (17 lbs. divided by 0.25 lbs. equals 68 bunches.) Now you know how many bunches to plan for. Each selected bud, formed last year for our vineyard, will typically yield one to two bunches weighing a quarter of a pound each. If each selected bud did its job how many buds would you leave after pruning? Add twenty percent more for safety in case this year the buds were all not evenly productive. All this comes out in theory to some 55 buds per vine. Because I am a coward we leave maybe 70 buds per vine. This often means that in August we have to come back and thin out the extra bunches. But all this is theory; the experience of the pruner and his understanding of the individual vine trumps all, with stronger vines getting more buds and weaker vines fewer. And always he remembers that wine quality requires that each bunch be uniformly mature and perfect on harvest day. Ready to get your clippers and start pruning?
And now a quiz: Zinfandel bunches weigh 0.6 lb. each, much more than the Sauvignon Blanc bunches at 0.25 lbs. per bunch. When pruning a Zinfandel vine would you leave more buds or fewer than on Sauvignon Blanc, all else being equal and the expected yield of 17 lbs. per vine? (Answer below.)
And now a word from our two spokesvines, Marie for the Sauvignon Blanc and Javier for the Zinfandel.
Great waking up and getting set for another year. While we slept, Chuy and the Old Patron changed most of our vines to cane pruning, which we all hope will increase fruit (i.e. bud yield.) About this we say “Vamos a Ver” – we will see. And one cheerful note: the pruners have completed their job and taken their smelly port-a-potties with them.
Some interesting news: Remember that last year the work crews left a layer of wood mulch several inches thick on a small section of our vines to see if this would stop weed growth along the vine row and let us avoid spraying with weed killer? Spectacular results – not a weed! We will expand this test this year. We want to go organic and weed spraying is the only remaining obstacle.
Mr. D-2’s New Job
Remember last month 70-year-old Mr. D-2 Caterpillar tractor lost his vineyard job due to old age and increasing senility? Well, with courage and optimism he applied to our Wine Marketing Department and obtained a new job. He will be painted a fresh Caterpillar yellow and parked in front of the barn with a new leather seat and a special bronze plaque mounted on his radiator telling of his key work in building our vineyard. He will allow prospective wine buyers to climb on him, pretend to operate him, and have their pictures taken. And then, hopefully, buy more wine! Way to go Mr. D-2.
Quiz answer: Fewer!
– Old Patron
Owner, Indian Springs Ranch and Vineyards