The cycle repeats. Once again, the vineyard is renewing itself and the clock resets. Its now mid-April and all our blocks have sprouted new life. It started about March 20th with the Garnacha (Grenache) blocks budding first, as usual, followed by Syrah, Primitivo, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and finally our straggler, Mourvèdre. Our whites have also budded out, starting with Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, and lastly, Riesing. The vineyard is beautiful this time of year, with the bright green new leaves juxtaposed against the dark trunks of the vines. And the hills are green, even if a bit less this year than normal due to the lack of rain this winter. Below is a short video tour of the vineyard about three weeks ago. You can hear our dog, Rosie in the background, happily panting.
As I mentioned, rain this past winter was sparse. It basically came in a single storm in January in which we received about 10 inches over a three-day period. February, typically a wet month, was completely dry. And while the last few years saw “Miracle Marches”, this year March was very dry. And since we do not irrigate the vines, they must survive and produce a crop on the winter rain stored in the ground. Anticipating a tough year, we pruned the vines back harder than typical to reduce the crop load they must support. While this is a difficult decision as our crop yields are already extremely low, typically less than 2 tons per acre, vine health is preeminent. We have also had to disc under the cover crop we sow in the fall earlier than usual to conserve as much moisture in the soil as possible. This also adds organic matter to improve soil health. Much has been written lately on the practice of tilling in the vineyard. Some evidence points to improved soil health when the vineyard rows are mowed rather than disced. Some say discing destroys the fungal and biotic ecosystems that provide for water absorption in the soil. Our experience is that discing is essential. We find that discing, (along with pulling a chisel through the soil in the fall) increases water retention, reduces runoff, and reduces moisture loss through evaporation. It also significantly disrupts gopher habitat in the vineyard rows. Since we are on a 12 x 12 foot diamond pattern with no trellises, we are able to disc in three directions, eliminating the need for herbicides or specialty cultivation attachments. It’s truly amazing to me that these vines not only survive our very hot summers with no additional irrigation, but they also are able to produce a grape crop of such high quality. We believe that the dry farming methods we use produce wines having the truest expression of place, at the same time as allowing us to be the best stewards of the land and resources.