The Looming Threats
Judging by the past three glorious vintages and the moment’s decent national economy, wine quality and subsequent demand is stronger than ever. In this respect, Stolpman Vineyard’s future is looking great.
However, at the end of the day, we are farmers. Doom always lurks around the corner.
Customers constantly inquire about the drought. For now – thanks to our quality-oriented decision to dry farm – the deep aquifer holds steady at 300 feet below our vines.
Drought happens to be only one of our concerns, although it is certainly the most publicized.
Seemingly contradictory to drought conditions, the string of moderately warm winters has enabled vine fungus Eutypa to approach epidemic levels across Santa Barbara County. The fungus penetrates the vine through fresh pruning cuts in the winter and spreads through the core of the vine. When the fungus enters the vine, no new growth emerges from that spur. The second year, the fungus spreads within the cordon to other nearby spurs. Vintners refer to this stage as “dead arm” – as one entire side of the vine fails to grow. By the third year, the vine is dead, no new growth emerges on either cordon.
Eutypa appears especially menacing within mature vines. We see most of the spur die-off in 15-20 year-old vines. Ruben estimates roughly 2,000 vines are effected within our vineyard. While this is only about 1% of our vines, we fear Eutypa will ravage the entire vineyard if we do not act
The second Ruben sees Eutypa within the vine, he grows a sucker near the ground. As soon as the sucker grows, Cuadrilla hacks off the entire trunk to eliminate the spread of the fungus. New cordons are later trained at the lower fruiting wire. Unfortunately, this is a labor intensive fix and also costly in terms of production – the newly suckered cordons do not produce much fruit the following year.
We plan to apply an organic product called Vitiseal to all of next year’s pruning cuts to ward off new fungus. When it comes to saving our old vines, I’m thrilled to find an organic alternative.
Glassy Winged Sharp Shooter
While the drought receives national media attention, another culprit lurks like a black cloud just over the Santa Ynez Mountain ridgeline. Glassy-winged sharpshooters now plague vineyards and orchards as close as Ojai. The bugs not only carry lethal Pierce’s disease, but unlike their cousins, the Glassy Winged version can survive eating dormant vines, and therefore live to take out entire vineyards.
A quarantine prohibits transport of plants up the coast until a three day inspection period concludes. Relying on government regulations and wrist slaps for violations does little to reduce our apprehension. Just in April, inspectors stopped a northbound load of olive trees riddled with the bugs.
Particularly worrying about Pierce’s disease; as of today, the agricultural community has failed to find an organic solution to eradicate the bug.
Much like our individual ability to effect the drought, we can only do our part to combat climate change – we don’t waste water and we don’t waste diesel. The dry farming practices that we implemented 15 years ago to pursue higher quality wine now leave us optimally suited to operate during drought conditions. Likewise, we use our tractors minimally, preferring to keep our soil healthy and loose.
Our only option as farmers is to adapt to climate change.
Over the past 25 years, we’ve experimented with new varieties as we learned more about our unique and varying weather pattern. Now, after three – going on four – warm years, we will re-examine later-ripening varieties that we previously ruled ill-suited for Ballard Canyon’s cool maritime climate. First up will likely be a second attempt planting Mourvedre this winter.