As of June 28, a high pressure system has settled on the entire West Coast, and weather experts are forecasting several days of high heat and possibly record-breaking temperatures. With that projection in mind, and with seeds beginning to harden and veraison on the near horizon, we decided to give the plants some water.
While we employ a technique known as deficit irrigation to control shoot growth and increase grape quality, we want to keep the plants alive. Over the next several days we’ll continue to feed the plants enough water to counterbalance evaporative losses.
These early-season high temps are preferable to those that occur late in the season, as the intense heat induces the green grapes to make sunscreen in the skins, which will provide protection throughout the summer.
When the heat recedes we’ll finish our cluster thinning pass, which we began several weeks ago. This involves culling excessive clusters and those on weak shoots with an aim to balance the fruit load to the age of the vine, its size, the size of the canopy, and the size of the shoots.
In a continuing effort to enhance the diversity of our existing vineyards, Adelaida has added a new 23 acre parcel this spring. This new planting lies just to the north of our hilltop Anna’s Vineyard on what was fallow land. This new site can be described as 3 distinct fingers radiating in a south facing orientation from a 1900 ft ridge top to a small canyon bottom, at a precarious 25-30 degree angle. In keeping with our sustainable and conservationist approach to farming the new vines are to be dry farmed and head trained.
This planting is divided equally between Grenache, Carignane and a unique intermingling of Zinfandel and Alicante Bouchet. This vine selection is based on our desire to complex our Rhone blend with low yield Carignane, make Grenache a more important player in the winery blends as well as on its own and make a “field blend” of Zinfandel and Alicante Bouchet (a red fleshed grape) a la the pre-prohibition vineyard example. As always, our primary goal as a family winery is to source grapes from our own vineyards, where we can meticulously control all the elements of quality (great grapes equal great wine). We intend to stay small, carefully growing our capacity from the current 15,000 cases to 20,000 cases.
What is involved in planting a new vineyard?
First is site selection. We want south facing, hillside slopes with difficult low yielding soils, all present here. Call your favorite nursery and order 6970 vines, allow 9 months lead time. Next is the hard part, preparing the site. No problem.
Start by building a perimeter deer fence 8 ft. high. Next clear brush from hillside, put in gear our reliable Caterpillar crawler tractors, then grind up organic matter and spread on existing vineyards. Tractors again, pulling 3 ft. shanks “rip” the soil and remove giant limestone boulders, later to be broken with sledge hammers and used for the “Great Wall of Adelaida”.
Dig channels and place irrigation pipelines for each vineyard section (helps with initial watering when vines are just starting and gives us a fallback if soils are too extreme and cannot sustain dry farming approach).
Run temporary lines to each plant location with drip emitters at each vine. With assistance from a surveyor lay out orientation for a dry land vineyard, setting up a 12x12 ft. diagonal grid pattern on an uneven, unlevel piece of ground, 303 vines/acre.
Place stakes every 60 ft. and lay string between to display grid pattern, careful to mark individual vine placements. Dig post holes for each vine, a hand operation, 12-14 inches deep, 6970 times. When vines arrive on the 2nd week in March, place in cold storage. Planting begins in last week of March.
We start by mixing existing soil with compost derived from natural chicken manure, a 75 to 25 ratio, placing vines in pre-prepared holes and gently filling in with soil mixture. Place pressure bombs at various locations within vineyard to monitor soil moisture.
Every day in April recite the “no frost farmer’s” prayer. Again, pray for green shoots to appear in mid April. Maintain adequate moisture throughout summer and remove emitters in fall. Good luck, vines are now on their own, Mother Nature is in charge.