Vine Philosophy

This year marks the twenty-sixth time I follow the grapevine cycle in the Russian River Valley area. It is hard to explain, but there is always something I find spiritually exhilarating when I see the process unfold, a glimpse into the immense power we call life… nature doing its job with complete disregard to humans.

We are in the midst of bloom in the vineyards, about 10 to 14 days earlier than normal. As of now, it sure looks like there is a healthy crop waiting to mature into the 2014 vintage. These things are hard to predict. As a small grower, all I can do is walk the vines and count how many clusters have been produced per vine-shoot (normally there are two per shoot, three in bumper-crop years). Since I only have six acres, I rely on talking to other growers who manage hundreds of acres to see if my impressions agree with theirs. At the moment, most everyone thinks the crop is normal to high. The image below is of a flowering grape cluster of Merlot. The little white specs are the

Bloomstamens of the open flower, waiting to get pollinated and “set”, or become a grape berry. Weather conditions during this two-week window will determine the percentage of flowers that will become berries. The Merlot variety is known to be sensitive to “Shatter” - extreme heat or rain will cause many flowers to fail to set and result in lower crop. Predicted temperatures for this week are in the high 90’s … welcome to farming my friend.

Last Saturday, we hosted the first of our Vineyard Lunches event at Dakine Vineyard. It was a great event, the small group format and the great food prepared by Chef Ariel Ross made it a memorable experience for all. We walked the vineyard and I demonstrated to our guests (old and new friends) how we manage vine growth this time of year. I always forget that unless you live among the vines you don’t get to see the growing cycle of this amazing plant. If we let Nature grow grapevines without any input from us, it will produce bushes and the grape clusters would be growing in the shade, hidden in a maze of tangled shoots. That is not good news for winemaking. We like our grapes to be sun-kissed (and accessible). So, this time of year we have to send crews of hard-working men and women to give the vines a serious haircut. We remove any shoots that have sprung from the trunk of the vines (these are called “suckers”), and any shoots that grow too close to each other (and risk creating shaded fruit). What starts as a green bush, ends up looking like a coiffed grapevine but is really just a more balanced factory for clusters suited to high-end winemaking.

As much as I love looking at, and walking in between the neatly trimmed vines, I have to admit I am aware that a vineyard is really not a natural thing. Like any row-crop, It is man-made. Then again, Humans are part of nature, so one can argue that everything we do (including creating plastic and building smokestacks) is natural. An interesting philosophical question… the mind can go in weird directions when you walk the vines with a glass of wine in your hand.

Have a great summer and come by see us in H-Town.

About the author

Raised by Dolphins in the Sahara Desert, made his first $3 fortune mowing the neighbor's lawn

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