Jason Joyce
March 30, 2011 | The Vineyard, Winemaking | Jason Joyce

The Clock Begins

    In the fall, the leaves on the vines turn their beautiful colors and eventually fall off.  The vines themselves enter a dormant state, mirroring the farmers and vintners who need a long winter's nap to recover from harvest. 

     Eventually spring rears its wonderful head bringing warmth and sunshine to wake everything up again.  The buds on the pruned vines begin to break open and the great cycle of the vintage begins.  This week at the end of March marks that beginning for the 2011 vintage.

     Now either in tasting notes you have read, or at some winemaker's speech you have survived, you may have heard that not all grapes ripen at the same time.  Here at Calcareous, some grapes we pick at the end of August and some we pick in the middle of November.  And contrary to what some might say, that waiting until November is not some ploy to get the fruit "over ripe" to make big jammy Paso wine.  No, the fact is, each variety planted here marches to its own beat when determining the timing of when its fruit will be ready.  Some vines take their own sweet time, and no other time of year shows this as clearly as bud break.

     Every year, the first grape picked off the Calcareous vineyard is the Chardonnay.  Here is what that Chardy looks like today.


    Hope and life spring eternal, literally! An exclamation because you don't get to be literal all that much in life these days.  Now of course, the constant worry of a freeze that could damage these fragile buds is ever present.  Well, not actually.  Here is a tip to any of you out there that are looking to plant a vineyard for your future award winning estate winery.  Plant on a steep hill.  Oh sure, it makes working the vineyard feel like a constant mountain hike, you need crawler tractors, and irrigation and ripening are irregular.  But the big plus, we have never had a frost problem here*.  So these buds will soon be leaves, stems, and flowers.  

    Now, why don't we walk 75 yards due east and see what is happening with the Mourvedre.

     Um, not much.  Mourvedre is always in a race with the Lloyd Block Cab Sauv to see who gets picked last.  And as you can see here, budding is still a couple weeks away.  Not a hint of green anywhere in the whole block. The Mourvedre vines are weeks behind the Chardonnay in general life cycle.  Thus, the fruit will ripen weeks later.  Sure this is a bit of a simplification of things, but it is always interesting to me see the order of bud break as it outlines my general planning of harvest.  

     You can start to put together a flow chart in your mind of what fruit will go into what fermenters.  There are dreams about various co-ferments from fruit that ripens at the same time.  Last year, the top of a section of Syrah and the bottom of the Merlot broke the same week.  So I thought, why not, during harvest a small 1 ton co-ferment of the two.  If you ever visit in the next year, you can taste that experiment and see what you think.  I for one am in love as these two maligned beauties work wonders together.  Things like that won't happen every year, so by paying attention to the vineyard now, you can prepare for the little bits of magic as they may occur.

    Finally, an aside for those who read my post on pruning.  I mentioned that the ideal goal is to get two buds from each spur position.  This way you get the low yields and concentrated fruit you hope for.  I also mentioned that this two bud thing is a dream.  Sometimes, like in the above Chardonnay photo, you get a perfect two buds and all is well.  Sadly, a lot of the time things look like this Malbec here.

    A solid 8 buds there, and that is only the one side. This means that we will have to go back through in the next month, and pull off all the extra shoots.  So for those keeping count, this will be the second time this year each vine will be visited and adjusted by hand.  There will be many more of these visits over the next 6-7 months.  Hopefully I'll write a little post about each of them.


*Please Snow Miser, I am not challenging you.  Please stay down in your cold, yet comfortable low lying areas.


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