Vineyard techniques from Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services’ Director of Winemaking
By Penny Gadd-Coster
With the arrival of spring, we winemakers find ourselves in the midst of full-blown prep and maintenance out in the vineyards, barreling toward harvest 2016! Signifying new beginnings, spring is the perfect time to launch the first of my “In the Vineyard” series. In this series of columns, I’ll be sharing my observations and what’s currently happening in the vineyard for my winery Coral Mustang at my home in Cloverdale, where I grow nine different red varietals. As I prep for harvest 2016, I look forward to checking back in with you throughout the year to share photos and interesting occurrences among the vines.
Let me back up to set the stage. Last year Mother Nature wreaked havoc on my vineyards. While yields were low across Sonoma County, I was even less fortunate—my vines suffered from Millerandage, also known as “hens and chicks,” a fruit-set defect where underdeveloped and fully developed berries appear in the same cluster. With only a dozen berries per cluster on my vines—harvest was impossible at Coral Mustang. In my 30 years I’d never seen anything like it. Looking back at bloom I realized there had been two blooms—in my mind it was one very long bloom! This was due to weather conditions and the vines being determined to produce fruit no matter how cool the weather or how little water they had. Survival was the name of the game. After bloom things didn’t look too bad… Then the hens and chicks clusters became more evident with time, and with more chicks than hens.
From the lessons of last harvest, I am leery of saying what 2016 will bring as bloom has not happened yet. This year, I’m hopeful for a 2016 crop, but also in “wait and see” mode. At this point, all nine different varietals in my vineyard have undergone bud break, after a warmer than usual winter. This is about average timing for the vineyard, which sits at an elevation of 800 feet above sea level.
About two months ago I began late-pruning my vines, mainly because I couldn’t get into the vineyard before that due to El Niño—there was muck up to my waist! Full-on leafing was happening on the tips of the vines; I was concerned about extensive bleeding and the risks that can present, like odd molds or microbial issues; special paint can be used, but I’m not a fan. I decided to try a biodynamic farming trick on the recommendation of some of my vineyard workers. We pruned on the full moon—this was during the King tides, when the tides are especially high. It worked! As the vines were being pruned there was little to no bleeding. Even with the full leafing on my Tempranillo vines, there was no bleeding. I thought for sure there was going to be a mess, but with no bleeding, I haven’t seen any mold or microbial growth. I will be remembering this technique for the future.
Last week I started the suckering process as the vines are growing pretty fast at this point and without being diligent they can get out of hand quickly with growth between spurs, extra growth on spurs and growth on the trunks—craziness ensues. For me this will become a biweekly event for the next couple of months. But caution is the key at this point as frost can still occur.
Cabernet Block after 1st suckering. You can see it is not as far along as the Tempranillo in growth.
Tempranillo before 1st suckering.
Tempranillo after 1st suckering.
I wish I had taken photos last year to see what the difference might be at this point due to the increased water from El Niño. But from the snapshot in my head, I do not recall the same vigor that I am seeing today.
All I can say at this point is so far, so good—but then I say that every year! Until the next chapter in the series, Cheers and happy grape growing!