Like sand through an hour glass these are the days of the vines. Last we left you in the vineyard we were pruning. Ok, we were not pruning but we were watching, listening, and learning. As we have said the work in the vineyard never stops. Since then we have been bottling and now it’s back out to the vineyard to see what’s going on. It is now a couple weeks into May here in California and we have met up with Mark Pisoni of Pisoni Vineyards at their beautiful Santa Lucia Highlands vineyard in Monterey California.
Currently the vines are growing like weeds and we are in the middle of flowering. These little future bunches of grapes are some of what will end up in your glass. As the vines grow the grape clusters go through set and then veraison. Veraison is when the grapes begin changing color and softening- it is the onset of ripening. It is then that the careful selection of the bunch’s to keep and the ones to drop will be made. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
Each region, each vineyard and each variety has its own needs and the way the vines are treated to grow the best grapes for any given area have differences. With that in mind Mark Pisoni was gracious enough to tell us about what is currently going on in his family's famous Pinot Noir vineyards.
Early spring brings the period we call “great growth” in the vineyard, because the new shoots grow like gangbusters. Depending on temperatures, 40–80 days after bud break the process of flowering begins with small flower clusters appearing on the tips of the young shoots looking like buttons. Flowering occurs when average daily temperatures stay between 15–20 °C (59–68 °F). We sometimes imagine we can see the vines actually grow! This great growth creates a lot of work in and around the vineyard, including weed cultivation and shoot thinning. The shoot thinning is done by hand, and is like a post pruning. Once the shoots are a few inches long, Mark can begin walking the vine rows to make sure they’re developing well and also to look for signs of disease or nutrient deficiencies. With every pass through the vineyard there is shoot tucking and leaf pulling as well as general observation of the health of the vines. This continues almost daily throughout the growing season.
Once spring is in full swing one of the worries is the weather. Too much rain, high winds or excess heat can impair pollination and or set. In the SLH region rain fall typically ends in April and these dry spring conditions help to promote a good “fruit set”.
The largest challenges to set in the SLH are the very high winds that roar down the valley every afternoon. These ocean winds keep the appellation very cool and a great spot for growing Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah. But these fierce winds can lead to a “poor set”.
Once the crop is set the numbers of clusters are counted. Yes this again requires someone in the vineyard actually counting each cluster (bunch) of grapes. Of course, there’s not much that can be done about too few, but if you count more clusters than is believed to allow them to ripen properly, then the excess clusters are dropped to the ground right then and there. Again a lot of hand TLC.
To help show you what we clumsily just tried to explain watch this video we took while talking to Mark Pisoni in the actual SLH vineyards.
Thanks to Mark Pisoni for indulging us and being a great sport. We look forward to visiting Mark in the vineyards again to check on the progress. Maybe around veraison. What do you think?
Happy Wine Adventures,
Kiwi & Koala