The vines have justa about finished blooming! See those white, thread-like starbursts? Believe it or not, those tiny protrusions hold a great deal of promise for the 2012 vintage. Those fragile little guys are grape flowers! Pretty showy, huh? NOT! You have to get up very close to see or smell them. From a distance they just look kind of fuzzy.
The flowers don’t need to be glamorous because they’re hermaphroditic – how’s that for a college word? It means they don’t need to attract bees or other insects because those tiny little threads contain the pollen-bearing stamen and the ovaries. How convenient! All we have to worry about is the weather. Everything else is taken care of as long as the weather’s good.
I’m very happy to say that the weather during bloom has been just about perfect this year. It's a little cool and weepy today, but we'll hope it doesn't make any difference. Bloom has been short, which bodes well for uniformity of ripening. We like that!
We’ve made preliminary cluster counts and it looks very strong. Excess is a wonderful thing at this time of year because it gives us lots to choose from when we come back to to thin.
This is something to celebrate because the last few years our crop has been thinned at bloom by ill-timed rain. Rain or hail can impair pollination – you would see gaps in the clusters where the grapes should have formed - we call it “shatter.” And, cool temperatures stretch out the flowering which can create a lack of uniformity from cluster to cluster and within the clusters.
Regarding uniformity, there’s one thing that got our attention. Notice the little green buds hanging down from the cluster? They’re solid green because they haven’t opened up to flower yet. That’s likely to put them behind in maturity, so we’ll be taking a good look at them when we come back with our pruning shears.
We took this photo a few days ago, so by the time you read this, fruit set – the formation of grape clusters – should be nearly complete. Now we can get out these to see what we've actually got!
Surprisingly, bloom is 12 days earlier than last year, which means it’s actually pretty much on time! All of this is very good news and we’ll hope Mother Nature’s good mood continues through the rest of the growing season.
You can see that things are really taken off in the vineyard! The weather’s been lovely and the vines are showing their appreciation.
As the shoots have lengthened, we’ve started tucking them into the trellis system - it's called “vertical shoot positioning.” The purpose is to get lots of sunlight to the leaf surface, to heighten fruity flavors, and filtered light to the clusters.
Regarding that second goal, the filtered sunlight, we’ve made an improvement in our trellising system. Notice the cross arms on the grape stake? Those are new!
Up to now, we have trained the shoots straight up at a 90-degree angle to the ground. That was good.
But, in the last few vintages, we’ve experienced some sun damage due to extreme heat. The clusters, which hang below the leaf canopy, were almost completely exposed.
Our answer to weather extremes is to be less extreme in our shoot positioning. The shoots are still being trained vertically, but as they grow longer and longer, and we tuck them into the wires on those cross bars, they’ll be positioned in a more relaxed, natural way and the shoots will be able to provide some protection to the clusters, below (once they show up – after flowering). Nice, dappled light is our goal. Those crossbars also do a great job of supporting the canopy. Don’t you think it looks a little more graceful, too?
The vines should begin flowering any minute, now, and the weather predictions are favorable. If these predictions hold true, this will be the first vintage of trouble-free flowering since 2009.
As the shoots get longer and longer we’ll tip them to make sure the canopy is balanced with the crop. Let’s just hope this terrific weather holds!
It just got easier to taste Dyer Cabernet when you visit Napa Valley! Bill and I love hosting visitors here at the winery, and we’ve managed to receive quite a few. But, with just the two of us doing everything from tending the vines through bottling the wine, plus our day jobs - consulting for other wineries – sadly, we end up having to turn away folks we’d really like to meet.
So, what can a tiny winery like ours do to introduce itself to the many wine enthusiasts who visit the Napa Valley and want to taste limited-production wines from small producers who are off the beaten track? Enter the collective tasting room. These collectives have been popping up all over the valley in the past several years and they often feature wines like ours - wines from very small wineries that you aren’t likely to find at home.
We’d been toying with the idea of placing our wine in a collective tasting room over the past year and, after considering a number of options, we found a perfect match for us at Up Valley Vintners, in downtown Calistoga.
By choosing the name “Up Valley” they’re telling you that they serve wines from the northern end of Napa Valley. You can taste our wines, from the Diamond Mountain American Viticultural Area, right alongside our neighbors in the Calistoga Viticultural Area. Of the five wineries represented there, four of us make wine exclusively from our own vineyards, so the wines offer a strong sense of place and a great opportunity for you to become better acquainted with the regional character of these up-valley wines.
The small staff is highly qualified and really knows their wines. In fact, the summer intern is spending time in each of our vineyards and will be able to give you the inside story on how the wines are grown and made. It’s a beautiful space that includes a tasting bar, a comfy sitting area and lovely courtyard to enjoy during the summer months.
We’re really excited because this tasting room gives us to chance to do some things we just haven't been able to do here at the vineyard. For instance, on May 10, both Bill and I will be there to open several vintages going back to our earliest wines from 1996 and 1997. We’re really looking forward to the opportunity to meet you and talk about the wines one on one.
Up Valley Vintners is right in the heart of Calistoga at 1371 Lincoln Avenue, the main road that runs through town. They’re open every day from 12 - 5 – no reservations necessary. Of course, you’re very welcome to call 707-942-1004 if you have any questions or would like to learn more.
We hope you’ll visit often and would love to have the chance to meet you there the 10th. Cheers!
The first sign of life in the vineyard makes such a contrasting visual – the tiny, tender bits of pinky-green new growth emerging from the gnarled, woody vine. But, that makes it official – we have bud break! We noticed it early this week and, by now, all of the vines are noticeably leafing out. We’ve got nice, warm weather to urge them on, too!
If you’ve visited the valley recently, you may have noticed bud break on the valley floor in late March and early April. The vines have an internal clock but a number of things can influence them to either get up and get going or hit the snooze button – the variety, weather conditions, the site, vineyard practices…
Here at Dyer, we tend to bud out later than most. Being on the west side, Diamond Mountain spends the last hours of the afternoon in shadow, so the soils are slow to warm up. Warm soil is a pretty good alarm clock. Plus, we prune as late as we can, which delays the onset of the growing season.
Most years, it’s to our advantage if the vines push out a little late. We’re at risk for frost until mid May and the late start shortens our frost season.
The frost is the most dangerous to valley-floor vineyards. A clear, warm spring day warms up the soil, and the heat is released in the cold, cloudless night that follows. Unless there’s a good wind, it creates an inversion layer, trapping the cold air in the vineyard. The coldest air likes to settle into the low spots, like water, and if the temperature drops below freezing, damage begins.
So, here on the mountain, we’re lucky that we don’t have to worry as much as some of our friends on the valley floor. But, we have take care with a section of the vineyard with a little swale that catches the cold air. We saw serious damage in the persistently frosty spring of 2008 and a small amount of damage in 2005.
There were some freezing nights earlier this month, we did a sort of fire drill for frost in the wee hours. The vines were still dormant, so we didn’t have to worry, and it was a great way to make sure our frost-protection system is ready for the challenge when and if it comes. We use micro sprinklers in the swale area, and the icy coating keeps the buds insulated at 32 degrees.
Valley-floor growers can use sprinklers, too, if they have enough water. Many of them use the large propellers you see all over the place when you visit the valley. The fans mix the warm air, above, with the cold air that’s settling. Some growers use the old-fashioned smudge pots - little heaters - like the ones youl see in citrus orchards.
The only downside to a relatively late start to the growing season is that it can push the harvest back, which increases the chance of getting caught in the rain before all the crop is in. We’ve had to battle with rain in mid-October these last few vintages.
But let’s not worry about that now… Most years we have beautiful weather right through October, which means through harvest, and why not be optimistic that we’ll return to our normal weather pattern in 2012?
The weather is certainly gorgeous now! Temperatures in the 80s and more of the same predicted. And so begins the 2012 vintage at Dyer Vineyards! Cheers!
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!
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