August 30, 2014

Bootjack Cab Franc Diaries

Bootjack Cab Franc ready for some LXV TLC. Here is a vineyard report from Jason Yeager, Vineyard Manager at Niner

The year started out with some of the earliest bud break on record. That is because we had one of the warmest and driest winters on record. This also is an extension of the now 3 year drought that we have been experiencing. When you combine a winter with warmth and dryness it is the perfect combination to get the soils warmed to past 52 degrees which is precursor to bringing vines out of dormancy. The block where LXV Cab Franc is coming from is on sandy loam soils with a great deal of fractured rock in the subsoil. These soils naturally do not hold much water so bud break was very early here. The period between bud break and bloom was only 5 weeks. Usually it is 7 to 8 weeks. 

During bloom we experienced a very warm spell with gusty winds which discouraged setting of the flowers. Thus there was a great deal of shatter but the cluster that we had this year were abnormally large so this was a perfect situation. The clusters are very loose with lots of room for air and light penetration. This helps with overall flavor development and increases complexity of the wines. This year also has not seen a great deal of days with maximum temperature over 100 degrees but degree day evaluation has shown it to be the warmest since 1997. This has kept sugar development in check with flavor development since photosynthesis has not been arrested from high temperatures. This August has been one of the coolest I have ever seen and this will further keep sugars from accumulating too fast meaning more hang time for flavor development. This block is on its 5th leaf. This is the 3rd year we have received a crop here. Last year the wines were very impressive even though these vines are still very adolescent. We are hoping that this more mild weather profile continues through harvest. 2014 is looking to be one of Paso's finest in many years!


About Jason Yeager: Jason completed his Viticulture and Enology degree at Napa Valley College in 1998. Shortly thereafter, 
he began work at Flora Springs, a well-known Napa Valley winery, as the vineyard manager. There he worked under the direction of Pat Garvey, Flora Springs co-founder and vineyard director, until he decided 
to migrate south to join Niner Wine Estates in early 2011.
Jason brings a lifetime of farming experience to Niner Wine Estates. He is responsible for the management of two very distinct vineyards totaling 195 acres. 

August 20, 2014

The Ravings of a Passionate Viticulturist ~ Cusp of 2014 harvest

When Tablas Creek announced the first fruit arrival on August 13th (really???), I pushed all our LXV growers to send us the status of our fruit, beyond just numbers. A few of them were generous enough to share a detailed outlook of the upcoming LXV harvest... here is an account from premium grower, Don Hofer , of Kiler Canyon Vineyard... contrary to what I was expecting!

(2014 Wine Grape Growing Season Notes From Kiler Canyon Vineyard, Westside Paso Robles)

What's Happening in the Vineyard (Aug 18, 2014)

Growing Season Timing:  In the last writing (5/29/2014) we reviewed the state of the vineyard just after fruit set had begun.  The events that have occurred in the vineyard since that time are:

1) Completion of fruit set in all varietals
2) Berry growth (sizing)
3) Onset of Verasion
4) Nearly all varietals except Mourvedre have completed Verasion
5) Judicious watering to maintain the health of the vines so that the fruit develops to be healthy, berries remain small and harvest fruit is concentrated.

Fruit set was generally excellent to good with a small amount of shatter in Grenache.  Verasion (berry color change) began early in the 4th week of July in Syrah.  This is about 1-2  weeks early when compared to the past 12 years.  This led us to believe the growing season was continuing to be early.  Now, we have found that the early harvest anticipation is not as significant.  Note, Syrah is at sugar 20.6 to 22.3 brix as of last Friday.  Projected Syrah harvest is 3-4 weeks away or ~ September 14.

LXV Syrah/Shiraz Bunches at Kiler Canyon Vineyard 8-18-2014 

Grenache Canopy 8-18-2014

Grenache Bunches at Kiler Canyon Vineyard 8-18-2014

LXV Syrah/Shiraz Canopy at Kiler Canyon Vineyard 8-8-2014
State of the Canopy:
The canopy is starting to look a little ragged in the most advanced ripened varietal Syrah but remains healthy in all other varietals.

Water:  The growing season continues to remain nicely cool with temperatures rarely exceeding 100F and generally hovering in the 90s with cool nights of 54-60F.  Note,  these cool nights are critical to the maintenance of adequate acid in the fruit which should result in a lively, complex tasting rather than a flabby low acid wine.
So, we have not had a lot of pressure to water excessively.  Our irrigation of the vines is now tailored to the location in the vineyard and varietal.

We do this in three ways:  1) Monitor the soil moisture content at depths of 14”, 25” and 36”.  Note, for the first time in 14 years of wine grape growing the soil moisture at 36” depth is very low, at or below the wilting point.  In parts of the vineyard and no matter how much we irrigate we cannot push the moisture to this depth.  

At this time of the growing season it is important to maintain adequate plant hydration while at the same time inducing stress(to get berry fruit concentration, anthocyanin(color) and tannin(contributes to mouth feel & structure) ).  2) We do this with a special type of soil moisture sensors(set at depths of 25” and 36”) termed Matric Potential Sensors.  What these sensors do is provide information on how close to the wilting point the plant is likely to be.  This is so we can induce moisture stress but not so much that the plant will shut down.  3) Take leaf porometer measurements of the rate at which the bottom sides of the leaves are transpiring water.   4) Human eye observation of the leaf-petiole angle.  Note an acute angle, ~35-45 degrees indicates the plant is well hydrated and an angle larger than 60 degrees indicates the plant is under stress.

Don Hofer taking leaf porometer
measurements of plant leaf moisture
We have learned some things about managing soil moisture available to the vines this year.  First one cannot trust my human eye judgment very well.  Last week I thought we were doing well with irrigation judgments until I took some more leaf porometer readings.  This led to the learning that we were watering excessively in some areas.  So, we have increased the intervals between irrigation events.
Right Now & Future Weeks:  

We completed green drop of any Syrah fruit bunches that had any, even 2, green berries and are proceeding to drop any Grenache bunches with green berries.  This is done to assure fruit  ripeness maturity  is homogeneous for all harvested bunches.  Note, this fruit ripeness homogeneity within berries and  among bunches is thought by some as one of the important attributes of fruit that leads to excellent wines.  

"This is the crunch time where one must be conscientious to maintain adequate moisture for plant health, be on top of rate of fruit ripening  and inform the wineries that now is the time to start sampling fruit so that the most optimum time for harvest is chosen."

The growing season is not as early as we had concluded earlier.  This may just be a stellar fruit year because there is plenty of time to realize good hang time and the temperatures have been rather mild for Paso Robles, west side.  Finally, we have learned a few things about Mother Nature this year which are: 1) Despite all the efforts to engage in scientifically based viticulture, there are always unexpected changes in the growing season that need to be acknowledged. 2) One needs to “Go with the flow” of the growing season progression and no matter what preconceived notions one has about the harvest date might be.”  My thoughts about all this farming, viticulture & the effort to obtain fruit of optimum quality are simple.  As a farmer/viticulturist, knowledge and experience are essential but it’s best to be humble about one’s ability to control nature and above all be patient. Folks, That’s farming in a nutshell.

Don Hofer

Comb honey from Kiler Canyon Vineyard Apiary

P.S.  The bees are doing great!  We now have six Top Bar Hives populated with bees who are doing very well despite the dirth of nectar and pollen caused by the drouth this year.   We harvested a little honey a couple of weeks ago.  It was wonderful with strong rosemary and herbal components of flavor and bouquet.  Note, Our beekeeping practices continue to be 100% organic with no man made materials used in beekeeping.

About Don Hofer: Don Hofer retired as a research chemist from the Research Division of IBM in 2000. At IBM he pursued
the research & development of materials for semiconductor lithography.  After retiring Don planted 25.5 acres of wine grapes on their property in Kiler Canyon, Paso Robles. In addition  to continually learning the art and science of viticulture, Don has the hobbies of honey bee keeping and  furniture building. He says his new goal in life is to become a master furniture builder.
LXV Wine sources two  clones of Syrah (including the Estrella clone) from Don!