If the vines look like they’re dead, not to worry. Any day now, we can expect to see these sleepy vines begin to wake up and greet the 2012 growing season.
We finished up pruning a few weeks ago. Our vineyard is small enough that we have the luxury of waiting until the last minute to prune, which has a couple of benefits:
- One, it delays the onset of the growing season, which reduces the number of days we’re at risk for frost damage (damage begins when it drops below 32 F.; we’re not out of danger until mid to late May).
- Two, if the sap has started running when we prune, any spores for utypa fungus, also very descriptively known as “dead arm,” ooze out with the sap when we make the cut.
There are as many ways to train a vine as there are people to do it. If you don’t train them at all, they spread out on the ground, which is just as damaging for the clusters as it is to un-staked tomatoes in the garden.
We have our vines trained up into what’s known as bi-lateral cordon . See the two horizontal, woody shoots that make the vine look like a “T”? Those are permanent. And, we use what’s known as vertical shoot positioning. In the background of the photo, you can see kind of wild looking vines with long, vertical shoots. That’s last year’s growth that we hadn’t pruned, yet, when this photo was taken. The shoots were tucked into trellis wires, as they got longer, to make them grow vertically, rather than sprawling all over the place. The vertical positioning maximizes light exposure to the leaf surface and the clusters, which aids in maturation and heightens fruity flavors. So, that’s what these vines looked like before we pruned them.
We “spur prune” the vines. Notice the small protrusions in the cordon on the pruned vines? Those are called spurs, which is all that’s left of those long shoots after we finished pruning. They’re kind of hard to see, but you might notice the two little bumps on the spur closest to the camera. Those are buds, or growing points. The pinkie-green growth I described emerges from the buds on each on each spur and then grows like crazy.
The theory is that for each bud, we get one new shoot. And, each shoot produces 1-3 clusters. Of course, the vines don’t know the rules, so we’ll spend time later this month thinning out excess shoots. Crowding exacerbates mildew problems. And, if the vine has too many clusters to ripen, it’s hard to get enough sugar and flavor can become diluted.
By May, we’ll have a nice, green wall of leaves on each vine, reaching at least the top trellis wire. In late May they’ll flower and set the crop, after which we’ll make cluster counts and do any necessary cluster thinning. The shoots may need to be topped, or hedged, by then, too, to keep the green growth in balance with the number of clusters.
It’s way too soon to make any predictions for the 2012 vintage. We’ll just keep our fingers crossed and assume that it’s going to be terrific! Cheers!
Sometimes I think the biggest reason Bill and I bottle magnums (1.5-Liter bottles) is for fund raisers! We get a lot of pleasure from participating in quite a few: Auction Napa Valley, Triangle Wine Festival in North Carolina (Frankie Lemmon Foundation), Sun Valley Food and Wine Festival (Sun Valley Art Center), Taos Winter Wine Festival (Taos Land Trust) - and we often donate wine for lots in local school foundations, the Napa Valley Land Trust, the local Music Boosters…
Most schools, hospitals and museums have some form of auxiliary foundation that raises money to sustain them and, as you might guess, in this part of the world, wine has become an important part of the mix. In fact, wine plays a bigger and bigger role in fundraising all over the country.
Recently, online auctions have been a way for those of us lucky enough to live in wine country to open up these opportunities to a wider audience. Of course, many, many wines, some of them unique, go on the auction block, but the locals also offer up special tours, lunches and behind the scenes access to the folks who make the Napa Valley such a special place.
For Bill and me, donating wine is great, but it’s even more rewarding to be active in local non profits.
Which leads me to my motive for writing this now.
I’m the current President of the Board for the Calistoga Family Center, and it’s close to my heart. We live and work in Calistoga and it’s our local family resource center and go-to place for Calistogans to access basic social services as well as programs designed for parents and children, language acquisition and literacy programs and self sufficiency and financial success to name a few.
NV360, one of these online auctions, is a benefit for the Calistoga Family Center and is scheduled to run very soon: from March 30 - April 2. Donors have been very generous, so it presents a great opportunity for you to purchase some truly wonderful wines, Napa Valley experiences or other items – even some original art pieces - and feel extra good about it!
Dyer wines are included in two lots:
And, you'll enjoy checking out the other auction lots.
I hope these exceptional lots will inspire you to participate! Register to Bid
Of course, we won’t stop you if you prefer to donate cash.
Remember to mark your calendar for March 30th - April 2! Cheers!
Since my last post the wines have come through primary (alcoholic) fermentation very nicely. We’ve since moved the wine into barrels for malolactic fermentation (MLF) and aging.
Malolactic what? It’s really a conversion - it converts the tart malic acid (think tart, green apples) to the softer lactic acid (the milk acid). For white wine, putting the wine through MLF is a stylistic choice: When your Chardonnay has a buttery nose and/or flavor and a rich, almost oily texture, it’s most likely due to MLF. For Riesling, most would say MLF is a disaster!
For reds, it’s standard operating procedure for the sake of stability – we shudder to think of you opening a bottle of Dyer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon that’s hazy and spritzy due to spontaneous MLF in the bottle! And, it also has a rounding effect that’s very attractive. We like to do the MLF in barrels rather than in the fermentation tank because it has a nice way of integrating the oak flavors with the fruit.
We prefer the subtle flavor contribution of French oak barrels, about 33-50% of them new. You might think of them as tea bags - they give up their flavor with use. We’re not looking for a lot of oak flavor – we want the fruit to shine through and have found that the mix of new and once-used barrels strikes the right balance for us. In the right measure the wood can support the wine, kind of like the frame on a picture. It shouldn’t distract you from the art but it’s important that it be there.
Believe it or not, within the world of French oak and French coopers (barrel builders) we have still more variables to work with. One of the key factors in selecting the wood is the width of the grain because wood with a tight grain, our preference, imparts its flavor and tannins more slowly than loose-grained wood. With the firm tannins that are characteristic to Diamond Mountain we select barrels that will allow the wine to evolve and will contribute a bit of oak flavor without imparting extra tannin.
Another factor to consider is the level of toasting – how dark the barrels are inside. They’re bent into shape around a fire pot and then spend a little extra time there to be toasted. As they get progressively darker, a “heavy toast” barrel being quite dark and smoky, it influences the flavor imparted by the barrel ranging from fresh coconut to espresso! We prefer barrels with a light to medium toast – a subtle approach that supports the middle palate without drawing too much attention to the wood.
And, while it may look like one cooper does much the same thing as another, a delightful fact of life is that the flavors imparted are unique to each cooper. Even though we are a tiny customer for these coopers we enjoy the added layers of complexity we gain by aging the wine in three different barrels and blending the different lots together later.
And, so our 2011 vintage is put to bed, so to speak, although it won’t be sleeping. MLF should be complete very soon. Over the coming months the color will mature from grape-juice purple to the familiar ruby shade you expect. The primary, grapey flavors will evolve into something much more elegant and wine-like as they slowly knit themselves together and the texture will gradually round out and soften. It’s an amazing process - stay tuned…
I’m not sure exactly how a vineyard can look sleepy, but somehow these soft yellows and golds seem to say "time to rest." I took this picture just after Thanksgiving and the yellow leaves are a sure sign that the vines have done their work for the year and are taking their annual vacation until some time in March.
Just after harvest and before dormancy the vines go through what is called “root flush” which is important to their performance in 2012. Their inner clock tells them that, before they can rest, they need to transfer the remaining nutrients from the leaves to the roots, where they’ll be stored all winter, and get them off to a good start come springtime. Kind of like having a protein milkshake for breakfast.
Driving up and down Highway 29 and Silverado Trail this time of year is truly spectacular. You’ll see shades of yellow, peach, red and burgundy – this year some are so dark that they almost look black!
Our vineyard wasn't as spectacularly colored as some, but that’s just fine with us because it tells us that the vines are healthy. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that those beautiful reds in the vineyard indicate virus which shrinks the yield and makes it harder for the grapes to ripen.
Shortly after I took this picture we had a series of very windy days and our vines and trees are completely bare now. Before we can take a vacation it’s important for us to get our cover crop going so we don’t have erosion problems during the rainy season. You might be surprised to know that winter is normally a very soggy season here. Our annual rainfall, virtually all of which comes in the winter, is well over 30 inches! When you visit in the summertime, and things look so dry, it’s hard to imagine.
Other than that, there’s not much to do in the vineyard until we prune the vines in February or early March.
In the cellar, the wines are bubbling their way through “secondary” fermentation in barrels. More on that in my next post.
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