One isn’t Always the Loneliest Number – The Art of ‘Thinning’

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One Cluster per Shoot
Thinning all of our Syrah to one cluster per shoot might be the most striking example of Stolpman’s dedication to quality at the sacrifice of quantity.

Key to Dry Farming
Ruben will not water any of our Syrah once the vines set grapes in mid-May. The vines’ fight through the summer will yield naturally concentrated, vibrant, and nuanced Syrah. Thankfully, Syrah is resilient and aggressive, perhaps even too much so: Despite our third consecutive year of drought, the vines want to try and give us a healthy crop – often trying to set 3 clusters on each shoot. Stolpman Syrah remains optimistic: having been beaten down with dry summers – not given any water – the vines remain hopeful that 2015 will be easier – and they eagerly grow.

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Throughout mid-April into May, Ruben and La Cuadrilla painstakingly thin the crop by hand. The reduced vine load will ensure the vine will continue to survive to ripen a small amount of fruit through the summer. Otherwise, the vine would likely crash and go dormant before the optimal flavor profile is achieved.

The Process
La Cuadrilla members first count how many clusters there are. On a typical shoot, Syrah naturally wants to give us one medium sized cluster higher, a larger cluster lower, and often a third, tiny cluster on the same growth as the large one.

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With a gentle touch, La Cuadrilla twists off the top cluster, and then the smallest cluster, leaving only the large one.
Depending on how big the large cluster is, La Cuadrilla will also remove the tiny wings; the top, outer growth of the cluster. This further limits the potential weight the vine will have to carry.

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Vines on sheltered hillsides almost all carry three clusters while exposed hillsides and hilltops yield more inconsistently. La Cuadrilla must approach each shoot with fresh eyes and decide which precious clusters to remove.

Low Hanging Fruit
We choose to leave the lowest cluster on the shoot as it is easiest for the vine to hydrate these grapes, as it is closest to the roots. The method also makes for a smooth harvest: the clusters will hang at the same height throughout the row and La Cuadrilla doesn’t need to dig though the leaves looking for strays.

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Quality
We jump on this thinning action as early as possible, as soon as the clusters break and before flowering. By regulating the yield so promptly, the vine has plenty of time to adapt to the lessened workload. Prior to bloom and set, the vine has already refocused its energy. Waiting to adjust the crop until later in the year risks throwing the vine out of balance. In the case of our dry farming methodology, the vine will already be exhausted from its attempt to ripen the higher yield without water, and it will not have energy to refocus.

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Risk
Cutting potential yields by up to two thirds presents heightened risks if frost occurs or high-wind impedes bloom. We will have that much less opportunity for a viable crop.

2015
Knock on wood, the forecast looks moderate for the rest of April. The latest frost event we have recorded at Stolpman was on April 28, 2011. We will count on Syrah’s resilience to give us another small, beautifully concentrated crop in 2015!