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viticulture

Petaluma Gap – A windy AVA on hold 

harvest at McEvoy Azaya Ranch, courtesy of Doug Cover

Sonoma’s proposed Petaluma Gap AVA – known for its Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah – is all but approved but, due to slow-downs under the Trump administration, its final authorisation is currently on hold for an unknown period of time. The proposed AVA has gone through every stage of public commentary and consideration required by the TTB, and has thus fulfilled the requirements to become an official American Viticultural Area under federal law. However, the final step – the official endorsement signature from the Office of the Treasury – is unavailable thanks to several empty appointments in that office.

Within the US government, the president appoints top positions of major departments and federal offices. As a result, it is normal to see some delay in rulemaking during the transition from one presidential administration to another as new administrators are nominated and approved. The Trump administration, however, has had a higher rate of delay than typical as Trump fired an unusually high proportion of federal officials immediately upon taking office, came in with an unusually low number of appointments already in place, and the appointment of new administrators has been slowed by the current presidency’s numerous distractions such as the ongoing special investigations.

While the top position of the Office of the Treasury, the Secretary of the Treasury, has been confirmed, the second level, Deputy of the Treasury, has no nominee. The TTB falls specifically within the Treasury Office of Tax Policy. There, the President also appoints the top position, and while an official was nominated for the..

To keep reading this article, including tasting notes, head on over to JancisRobinson.com

Here’s the direct link: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/petaluma-gap-a-windy-ava-on-hold

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Viticulture in a Marginal Climate

With the return of interest in wines of freshness, energy, and more delicate presentation, interest in cool climate wines has also increased. Without a formal definition, the idea of cool climate gets applied generously to regions around the world. Climate classification systems based on growing degree days and mean temperature indexes provide only limited insight into the actual growing conditions of a region. Many regions commonly referred to as cool climate host daytime temperatures reaching highs comparable to recognized warmer climates, allowing plenty of ripeness for the right varieties.

Genuinely cool climates, however, tend to successfully grow only varieties that ripen earlier, before temperatures drop. Temperatures at harvest are often quite a bit cooler than those during the peak of the growing season, slowing metabolic processes in the vine. The temperature of the fruit itself at harvest is usually lower as well.

As winegrowing has extended into more regions around the globe, it has also pushed further into the edges of possible winegrowing. Such expansion has changed our views of viticulture. We’ve realized we can grow in more extreme conditions than previously believed. At the same time, these changes have required us to develop our understanding of how to more successfully grow in truly marginal climates.

But what are the conditions of a marginal climate?

To keep reading this article head on over the GuildSomm.com where it is free for all to read. The rest of the article considers the unique growing conditions of a marginal climate, and then looks at the fundamental viticulture needs of growing in that sort of environment. 

Here’s the direct link: 

https://www.guildsomm.com/public_content/features/features/b/elaine-chukan-brown/posts/marginal-climate-viticulture

Whoops! I made a mistake on the time this post will publish – the post is available to read now. My apologies for the confusion!

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Following the Growth of the Vine

Looking into Barlow Homestead Pinot

The early stages of shoot positioning – Barlow Homestead Pinot, May 2015

Earlier this year, Jr and I visited with Paul and Kathryn Sloan of Small Vines to track green pruning and bud break at their Barlow Homestead Vineyard in the heart of Green Valley. Jr created a video interview of Paul on the two viticultural events, which you can view here: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/04/06/a-year-with-small-vines-bud-break-green-pruning/

In May, and earlier this month I returned to track two different phases of shoot positioning with Paul. In a cane pruned vineyard relying on vertical shoot positioning, repeated passes for shoot positioning serve as an essential step to the health and balance of the vines offering ample air flow and canopy management for the developing clusters.

The following shares an overview of the process and a look at the importance of shoot positioning in the midst of a year’s vineyard management.

Shoot Positioning

Getting ready to shoot position with Bryce Potter + Paul Sloangetting ready to shoot position: (from left) Bryce Potter, me, Paul Sloan, May 2015

In a cane pruned, VSP trained site, shoot positioning serves as the next step after green pruning. While green pruning forms the basic architecture of the vine, shoot positioning manicures and directs the growth of the vine. Shoot positioning, then, occurs in multiple steps through vine growth.

The timing of shoot positioning depends on the growth of the vineyard in the particular vintage. 2015 brought a challenging spring for vineyards in Sonoma. With warm January and February weather, growth came early to the vines bringing early bud break and shoot growth. April and May then cooled off significantly, generating what is known as Spring Fever in many Pinot vineyards through the region.

Spring Fever + Frost Damage

Spring Fever is caused by the vine starting to grow from warm weather conditions, and then shutting down again when temperatures drop. Nitrogen gets locked into place in the vine, which in severe cases can lead to nitrogen necrosis in the leaves. In milder cases, as new leaves develop the vine recovers photosynthesizing through the upper leaves. Even so, with Spring Fever, vine growth is slowed – colder temperatures slow vine development, and in the case of nitrogen necrosis the vines ability to photosynthesize is impacted through leaf loss.

Frost damage can also show in damage to vine tips. When temperatures are cold enough, frost effectively singes vine tips, turning them brown and stopping shoot growth. In such cases, secondary shoots will sometimes push from the trunk of the vine becoming the focus for vine development that year.

Shoot Positioning 

Paul Sloan shoot positioning Barlow Homestead Pinot

Paul Sloan shoot positioning Barlow Homestead Pinot, May 2015

In vertical shoot positioning, shoot growth is managed through a series of steps moving wires into ever higher positions as the shoots get taller, or through tucking shoots between wires. Wires are placed on the trellis system in pairs that effectively create a sandwich around shoots as they grow, with one wire at the front and one at the back of the training system and shoots growing between.

Generally, moving wires is more desirable than tucking shoots as it is faster. In moving wires, however, it is important to be careful to avoid pulling leaves or breaking shoots. As vines grow, their tips and leaves will sometimes wrap wires, or other shoots. This must be managed when moving wires to avoid damaging vines. Tucking vines, on the other hand, is generally done for specific vines rather than entire rows and includes the risk of damaging shoots through breakage.

Wires are placed at the right height to support shoots maintaining a vertical position. Then shoots are spaced at approximately a hand’s width apart with clips used to hold the shoots in the best position between wires. The clips can be moved as needed to adjust to vine growth.

Clips for shoot positioning

clips used for shoot positioning. The C-shaped clips are biodegradable natural fiber and are used for when wires need to be held close together to maintain the shoot to secure the its position. 

Shoot positioning clip

The reusable black clips offer more flexibility and can be used to loop a shoot exactly in place, to offer wider spacing between wires, or to wrap a wire for even closer spacing. 

As vine growth continues, shoot positioning is revisited again and again to keep shoots about a hand’s width apart (in order to keep clusters about a hand’s width apart), and to manage any secondary shoot growth. Rows are approached individually. Wires can be positioned as is appropriate to vine growth in that particular row, or even partial row. Then, vines are clipped individually.

Ideal shoot position depends on the architecture of the particular vine, however goals remain consistent in each case. The goals of shoot positioning include a balance of air flow and leaf shade for clusters. The balance of cluster count per vine is generally established in the earlier step of green pruning as the number of buds allowed to grow determines cluster potential. How that balance is achieved depends upon goals of the farmer such as overall yield, and goals of the winemaker such as wine style.

When it comes to recognizing ideal shoot positioning in the vineyard, Sloan emphasizes the importance of knowing your vineyard. “There is no one right formula, one right thing to do. You have to read your vines, your vineyard. The more you pay attention, the better decisions you can make.” Sloan explains.

The frequency with which Sloan revisits shoot positioning in his Small Vines-managed sites allows him to rely on organic viticulture as well. The attention given to architectural points such as ample airflow and canopy management also serves his ability to keep track of overall vine health, and issues such as disease or insect pressure.

Vine Health and Flavor Development

Organic cover crop

Paul Sloan discussing cover crop choices in Barlow Homestead, May 2015.
Cover crop through Spring is valuable in organic viticulture as it supports soil health and also offers a habitat for beneficial insects. Vines are most susceptible to harmful insects in Spring, so planting cover crops between rows plays an important role in vineyard health through the balancing of insect populations.

Effective canopy management supports the overall health of the vine reducing disease pressure while also encouraging flavor development.

“What is important about shoot positioning for the organic farmer,” Sloan explains, “is to have air flow through the leaves and clusters.” How such air flow is achieved depends on the overall architecture of the vine.

In vines that include higher cluster count, air flow must be encouraged through leaf removal — too much of both fruit and vegetation doesn’t allow enough air flow — which also has the effect of increasing sun exposure to clusters. On the other hand, to preserve canopy for shade while maintaining air flow, the vine must be shaped in such a way as to reduce cluster count and manage leaf position.

In the case of Small Vines, Sloan chooses to reduce cluster count per vine and focus on high density planting. High density planting reduces the soil nutrients and water supply available to any particular vine, slowing growth, reducing cluster count and leading to a sense of density in the fruit profile.

The Role of Sunlight on Fruit Development

Barlow Homestead Pinot clusters

Pinot in Barlow Homestead, early June 2015 (getting ready to do another pass of shoot positioning but note the architecture of the vine places shoots and clusters about a hands width apart)

Sloan clarifies that air flow is not the only factor relevant to shoot positioning. “Even more important than air flow is sunlight. You want sunlight on every leaf, on every shoot” but not on every cluster. Sunlight on the leaves encourages photosynthesis, and therefore also vine growth and fruit development. Direct sunlight to clusters, however, changes the flavor profile of the fruit as well as the fruit structure. To put that another way, directing sunlight to leaves and away from clusters tends to keep flavors in the fruit fresher and brighter. (To read more on the role of sunlight in flavor development, see the following profile on Andy Smith of DuMOL: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/04/13/deepening-dumol-a-day-in-the-vines-with-andy-smith/)

Early sunlight on clusters often encourages thicker skin development (and therefore also more tannin profile), later sunlight on clusters changes the flavor profile of the fruit. Generally you can think of this sort of sun exposure as making flavors darker, moving flavors from fresh fruits to cooked fruit and kitchen flavors (such as caramel in the case of Chardonnay, for example). With reduced sunlight exposure on clusters, canopy management to promote air flow and reduce disease pressure becomes even more important. In this way, shoot positioning plays a role in both farming methods and wine style.

Vine Health and Wine Quality

Vine health also ultimately impacts wine quality. As Sloan explains, “The reason I am so emphatic about making wine from the vines I grow is because if I can keep walking vineyards, and I can move my crew where they’re needed, then I can affect wine quality directly.”

Sourcing fruit from multiple vineyards can be an excellent way for winemakers to get to know and express the signature of a region. Once a region is known, understanding the attention of a particular farmer is the next step to managing wine quality by finding an alignment between farming style and winemaking goals. In the case of Small Vines, Sloan develops and manages vineyard sites for others and makes his Small Vines wines from his own sites.

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

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Meeting Prudy Foxx, Santa Cruz Mountains

In July 2013, The Sommelier Journal invited me to accompany their sommelier Terroir Experience through the Santa Cruz Mountains. There Prudy Foxx of Foxx Viticulture, the premier viticultural consultant for the region, hosted us for a tasting, and discussion of some of the unique winegrowing elements of the Mountains.

This weekend, the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers’ Association hosted their annual Grand Pro tasting. Fifteen of us were asked to come together to taste and rate 120 total wines (each of us tasted 60, with the wines being distributed through 3 groups) of the region.

To open the tasting, Prudy Foxx guided us through a survey of the varied character of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Following is a portion of what Fox had to share with us. Her discussion focused on three key factors of terroir–climate, soil, and socioeconomic elements.

Prudy Foxx Talks Terroir of the Santa Cruz Mountains

Prudy FoxxPrudy Foxx, July 2013

“When it comes to the idea of terroir, some people mention climate conditions, and soil, and stop there, but I have found over the years there are a lot of human elements that factor in.

“I do believe wine comes from the vineyards. That’s why I spend all my time out there. I took it too seriously.

“Capital investments in the vineyard, how care and maintenance is done, all factor in.

“You have to have healthy soils. There needs to be life in the soil, so the vines can take up minerals, or micronutrients from the soil. Some people call it minerality, but it’s that the vines need to be in live soil to take up micronutrients to grow.

“I am all about vineyard aspects [the angle and direction in relation to the sun of the vineyard slope]. There are so many different aspects in the vineyards here. The San Andreas Fault runs through the AVA. If you look over the appellation, it’s like folds in fabric, all these different folds of land, cliffs, and aspects in all different directions.

“If you look at either side of the fault… you can actually go down to Watsonville, and look at the fault itself. You can see the Pacific plate rubbing up against the North American plate. The fault, and that activity has a big impact on the soils here.

“At the top of the Mountains, you get more rock. Then, as you come down towards the bottom [of the Mountains] there are colluvial soils that have eroded from the top, and mix over alluvial soils near the rivers. So, you get a lot of different soils depending on where the vineyard is, and all those soil differences affect the flavor [of the wine].

“The Santa Cruz Mountains are a series of ridges. On the coastal side of the Santa Cruz Mountains you have close proximity to the ocean, and maritime influence. But then at the top [even close to the ocean] at 3000 ft there is less coastal influence. The fog comes in but below you so you can get a lot more radiant heat. In some of those areas people are trying some Italian stuff because it is just so hot [in comparison to lower elevation within the fog zone].

“Then on the Saratoga Hills side of the Mountains it is generally warmer, and is good for consistent ripening of Cabernet. But, again, it really depends on where you are located, and what direction you are facing. The temperature and conditions will be really different depending on the aspect of your vineyard slope. [Even in the Saratoga Hills side of the Santa Cruz Mountains,] it could be cool enough to grow Pinot Noir.

“The Santa Cruz Mountains is all about hills, and valleys, and slopes, and how the slope really captures light and heat. The direction of the slope influence what light the vineyard receives, and the heat it has to absorb. Different soil types absorb heat at different rates, so influence what the vines receive.

“Grapes can grow almost anywhere, in almost any conditions. That’s why it’s one of the oldest forms of agriculture. But one of the things grapes hate is wet feet. It’s one of the worst things you can do to a vine, wet feet. We don’t have that problem here [thanks to the elevation and slopes].

“There is a big diversity of soils. Some of the higher areas have a mudstone. As they dry out the soil hardens, and turns into rock. At that point it begins to act like clay [just in the sense that] as it dries out it is very hard to re-wet. That is part of why these years after years of drought are hard on vineyards. Areas with those sorts of soils, it is very hard for that soil to get re-wet.

“But then we have areas with red soil, areas that are almost like pure sand, loamy sands, rock…

Shatter occurs [when the clusters get wet from fog or rain during flowering]. Whether it happens depends on the weather that vintage. If it happens, it affects the flavor.

“How you train the vineyard also impacts the flavor of the wine. Cane pruning, versus cordon, versus [other types of training], all impact how the fruit grows, and so also the flavor. Pruning can have an important impact.

“Light levels affect development of anthocyanins and phenolics, [and the thickness of the skins]. When you have a lot of sun exposure, the plant wants a place for all that energy [from photosynthesis] to go. The fruit is a heat sink for that energy. So, sometimes leaving a lot of fruit on the vine in conditions like that can be really important. It might seem counter intuitive because we tend to think low yield is better, but not always. [How much fruit you leave on the vine is part of the overall vine balance, and depends on all these conditions.] When you have too many leaves on the vine, you’re going to get a real green development of underripe flavor in the wine.

“When people talk about making your vine suffer, it is not always a good thing. There are times when leaves are no longer photosynthesizing [because of how the vine is suffering], so the grapes are only ripening [gaining sugar] because they are dehydrating on the vine, not because they are receiving what they need from the vine. [The grape gains sugars, but the seeds are not ripening. It results in wine that tastes overripe and underripe simultaneously.]

[…]

“Terroir includes climate, the temperature, the rainfall… all of which vary depending on the time of the year. It includes the soil, which is part of the infrastructure, and the drainage of the vineyard. It impacts the texture, the minerality, the chemistry of the wine. There are also the socioeconomic aspects of the vineyard. [How the vineyard is planted, or pruned is part of the infrastructure of the vineyard, and is a matter of labor in the vineyard.] Some of this is a matter of what you can afford, your capital investment, and also of how you take care of your workforce, if they can afford to live and work there all year. [The capital investment in the vineyard, how much equipment is needed or used, the labor, how hand intensive the work is, the growing, the farming. All of this factors into yield. Yield can vary in some elements by vintage.] All of these are elements of the terroir.”

***

Thank you to Prudy Foxx, and Megan Metz.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com