Fighting for Balance in the Drought and Heat

 

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The entire vineyard has entered a finish-line sprint to harvest. We recorded only 6.5 inches of rain this winter and the vines sensed the dryness even before budding. Shoots grew quickly, but then stopped, transferring energy earlier than normal to ripening fruit. Without water, the vines work to ripen the grapes quickly, before they run out of energy. We are seeing Verasion all over the Sangiovese and Petite Sirah and we anticipate picking Sauvignon Blanc and Rose in the second week of August. The red grapes of the Sangiovese already taste like a tart rose!

E F F E C T  O N  Q U A L I T Y
The Sangiovese clusters are turning red while still rock hard. Usually, Verasion coincides with a plumping, softening effect of the grape as the vine pumps it full of juice. This year the vine simply doesn’t have the moisture, and the grapes will remain very small. I documented the lack of juice last harvest {READ MORE}, a similarly dry year. The 2013 vintage ended up being 20 tons lighter than the 2012 vintage, a drop we attribute to lack of rain. Right now it is too early to make an accurate forecast because, although we can count clusters, we expect the average weight of each to be much lighter than normal. As always, the “quantity v. quality” law holds true, and with less tonnage, will most likely come even higher quality. Because there is so little juice, the tiny grapes might bring us unprecedented levels of concentration.

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D E A L I N G  W I T H  T H E  H E A T : A  F I G H T  F O R  B A L A N C E
Precariously early in the season, Ruben worked to help the vines fight through the summer. In an extreme year like 2014, Ruben’s goal is to keep the vine in balance. The most important element of wine is balance; the offsetting qualities of the front and back palate. A balanced profile not only stem from harvesting at perfect ripeness and careful winemaking; but from the balance of the vine as a being. In a wet year, the vine might grow too big of a canopy, lending vegetal characteristics that often plagued early Santa Ynez Valley wines. In a year of short canopies, this certainly isn’t a problem unless farmers are over-irrigating. Instead, Ruben and La Cuadrilla must make sure the vines, especially the young inexperienced ones, don’t try and ripen too many clusters. This is why it was so critical to eliminate extra clusters even before we knew we were out of frost danger. Now, in the thick of summer’s intense heat – the short, drought-stunted canopies struggle to shade the fruit from sun-burn. Ruben is pulling much fewer leaves off the Grenache and Syrah to keep the fruit somewhat shaded. On the younger vines, Ruben and Sashi pulled one cane across the fruit to act as a sun shield.

H U N G R Y  B IR D S  A N D  W I L D  L I F E
We’ve noticed the birds are hungrier than ever. They began eating sour Sangiovese grapes still green. We whipped up our bird nets immediately, earlier than we ever have before. We’ve also invested in replacement nets for ones with holes, as we need to be well covered or risk losing large percentages of fruit. This year we’ve also noticed wild pigs venturing further north up Ballard Canyon Rd, looking for food.

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T H E  B I G  P I C T U R E
We want to see a wet winter this year to take pressure off of our vines. We feel blessed to be on clay top-soils that retain moisture and cold nighttime temperatures. Ruben has done a great job training our vines to thrive without irrigation and without frost scares this year, we’ve conserved the precious water in our Aquifer 300 feet below. While the 2014 vintage should produce epically intense wines, we’ll happily take a wet season and work to balance back the vines the other direction!

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