What’s Happening in the Vineyard – June
June 3, 2014
It’s now early June and the beginnings of grapes — in the form of flowers or small, newly pollinated fruit — are visible in the vineyards all around us in the Peachy Canyon Winery estates.
Much of Paso Robles saw bud break in March and April, and now we’re looking at the end of flowering. The blooms typically occur about 45–50 days following bud break; it’s the stage in a vine’s cycle where the plant will be self-pollinated. After bud break the branch systems of the clusters, called ‘rachis,’ grow from the lower portion of the vine’s new shoots. At the tip of these clusters, tiny nubs form that look, at first, like baby grapes themselves … and they almost are.
These little pre-fruit kernels are usually a bright yellow-green with tiny stamen, and they are not grapes, not yet. They’re flowers, which — if you’re used to more ornate flowers like roses and lilies admittedly don’t look like much — transform into the grape berries.
Each grape flower is made up of five exoskeleton-like green petals that hold within them a tiny ovary (plus style and stigma) and five stamen. The male and female parts of the flower mature simultaneously so that the plant can self-pollinate and fertilize. Once pollination is complete, the vine begins grape development on about 30% of the flowers. (They don’t all make it, and that’s a good thing — if 100% of flowers turned into grapes the clusters would be overcrowded.)
Of course, that’s what the vines themselves are doing. What we’re doing to help them is another matter. Now in the third year of a nasty drought, we’re actively working to sustainably mitigate the effects of the heat and lack of water. In times of drought like now, weeds in the vineyard compete with the vines — and our dry farmed vines need all the water they can get from the soil. We disc the vineyard to mitigate the weeds (pulling them up and turning the soil over), and then run the perfecta over to smooth the earth. Discing gets rid of the competition, and the perfector prevents the lower levels of the soil from drying out. Using these tools together creates a layer of dry crust that hides an underlayer of moisture about 3–4 inches below the service. This process also makes the top, drier layer of the soil reflective, bouncing the sunlight back up. A lot of walnut orchards are tilled exactly the same way.
Now is also the time when the vines are being shaped through careful pruning. As canes grow long and canopy leaves drop down, we take the morning (east) side of the canopy and tuck it up and into the other side of the plant, allowing the vine to be self-shading. Pulling the leaves away from the morning side the plant means gentler sun exposure and more airflow while ensuring that the afternoon side of the vine doesn’t fry in our hot Paso Robles sun.
Additionally, now is the time when we prune the vines back to begin focusing energy on the primary leaves and clusters. Laterals, the new shoots that grow off the canes, are trimmed away to save the plants’ resources, saving the leaves that shade the grapes and facilitate photosynthesis, and removing the growth that will overtax the vine.
At the pace we’re going right now we’re looking at an early harvest, with a tentative forecast for the second week in August … but you never know, Mother Nature pulled a fast one on us last year, she might do it again!
Head Winemaker Terry Culton and Vineyard Manager Antonio Uribe
Peachy Canyon Winery