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What’s Happening in the Vineyard – December

December 2, 2014

Let them sleep…

People always ask, “when is the slow time in the wine business?” If there ever was one it may be now (at least for the vines). There is a blip of time after harvest and before the year-end holiday commotion where the vines and the rest of us need to take a break. Naturally, Mother Nature sends in some cold weather and the vines take the hint. They drop their leaves and hunker down for the winter only to be disturbed by pruning sometime before spring wakes them up again. No doubt, it is a beautiful time in the vines. The colors are amazing. Each variety has its own fall color and habit. Fields with multiple blocks of different varieties are a mosaic of yellows, reds, greens and oranges. Once a hard frost comes through, it all goes brown very quickly.

I say let them sleep in (me too) and soak up some wonderful rainfall into their root systems. The key is rainfall during this period. As the vines are slumbering and our blip of downtime passes, we begin to attend to many chores in the vineyard. If it rains enough to make tractor work too messy, we will begin ordering vine replacements for dead vines from gophers, winter kill, tractor blight and who knows what. It is an important time to go through all the equipment and make sure all is in perfect shape for the coming growing season. Depending on the windows of opportunity in the vineyard, we need to be ready to hit it hard. With many things in life, as with farming, timing is critical. Catch the weeds when they sprout, and they are easily handled. If one misses the opportunity, they quickly grow to a foot tall, and it can require multiple tractor passes and even a hand crew to accomplish the same task. The same principle applies to planting, pruning, insect control, etc.

One thing the drought has allowed is that we can get in the vineyard quickly after a rain, as the ground is so dry that it sucks the moisture down immediately with little runoff. Currently, most people are preparing the soil for cover crops to be planted in the vine rows. The cover crops help prevent erosion, create a habitat for beneficial insects and help control some noxious weeds. We tend to work every other row at a time allowing us better access throughout the year. The worked-up areas are softer and get very muddy restricting our access into the vineyard. As the cover crops take off, the soil firms up again.

As exciting as harvest can be, this time of year is equally precious in its own way. There is something about the anticipation of a next great vintage while watching the sleeping vines. What secrets do they have hidden in their woody stalks? Will Mother Nature be our friend or foe? We like to think we have some control, but really we are along for the ride and need to be attentive and react as directed.

Sleep well my friends,

Niels Udsen
Castoro Cellars