Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
The 2003 harvest experienced similar hot dry weather, again burning the berries exposed to the afternoon sun. Cary and I looked at the vineyard the day before our planned pick and again we were concerned with the amount of shriveled berries. The plan was to again go through the vineyard the morning of harvest and drop any burnt bunches.
As I was driving home that evening I considered the options and came up with a plan. I drove straight to the second-hand store in Healdsburg and bought all the forks they had on hand. I then went home to my shop and started cutting and bending the prongs to fashion a suitable berry removal tool. I took two forks and riveted them together facing opposite directions. One fork retained all four prongs, but they were bent as a uniform rake. The fork on the other end retained only the two center prongs that were also bent to form a two prong rake. The idea was to use the full rake to remove all the berries on a burnt bunch while the two prong rake was used to remove individual burnt berries. I worked late to produce a dozen of these “pluckers” so that there would be more than enough to supply one to each member of the harvest crew the next morning.
The next morning when I presented the tools to the crew, I’m sure they thought I had lost it. I explained that the purpose of the tool was to remove only shriveled berries rather than the whole bunch. Of course, it was easy to find the burnt berries as they are only on the side of the bunch that got the hot afternoon sun. It only took a few minutes before they were comfortable with its use and made extremely good time going through the vineyard.
The next generation of pluckers is still two stainless forks but now they are tightly welded together.
We began to share these tools with our vineyard management company clients and even considered having them commercially produced. Modified VSP trellis systems have reduced the need for this tool lately.
John C. Piña
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Question & Answer time again – Question: What’s the difference between God & Winemakers?
The Answer will be at the end of this blog. My apologies in advance to Anna, Macario, and perhaps 3 or 4 other winemakers for dredging up this old witticism.
Some of you may have assumed from that title there would be some terroir tossing (AKA mud slinging). Nope, I'm not going there.
I wouldn’t call myself a winemaker, but I did make wine for several years. I used to refer to myself as a “recipe” winemaker. I would make wine following the instructions from various printed sources. All along the way I would ask more learned people than myself to taste the wine and tell me what the wine test analysis numbers meant and what I should do to correct any irregularities or problems. I doubt the wines would have won any awards in competitions, but I thought they turned out quite well.
The first wine I made was with “second crop” Cabernet Franc grapes. Answers.com defines second crop grapes as “Grapes from clusters where flowering took place noticeably after the main flowering. This group of grapes will not mature with the first group and will still be unripe during the initial harvest. If growers are willing to wait until this second crop matures, the quality can be excellent, but it is often so small that it's not cost-effective to pick.”
So these second crop grapes were free for the picking. The main crop had been picked weeks earlier, but the rains had held off and these late blooming small clusters with small berries eventually matured. The small berries, combined with a long hang time turned out to be a great combination, and the resulting wine was one of my best efforts. Free, second crop grapes used to be the fruit of choice for local home winemakers.
The following is from one of my first blogs: Grape Contracts Past & Present;
“…One other thing to consider is that the ripeness of the grapes varied from bunch to bunch and vine to vine more than today’s premium wine vineyards. Some winemakers feel the most important factor for quality grapes is a uniform crop. Today, most vineyards receive more time and attention than those of past years, at least in the premium wine category. There is much more emphasis on canopy management, sun exposure, water management and selective fruit thinning. Probably the biggest contribution to a uniform crop is the selective fruit thinning. Selective fruit thinning is when small bunches, and less-ripe bunches, and excessive numbers of bunches are cut off the vine to promote uniform ripening of the rest of the crop. This is not done without a bit of anguish. Imagine paying all year long for the best care of your vineyard, only to have to PAY MORE to have some of the fruit cut off and just fall to the ground.”
So, over the years, more & more premium wine grape growers began cutting off these “second crop” grapes long before the first crop reached maturity. As a result, many home winemakers lost their sources of “free” grapes, and were forced to look elsewhere. And if that wasn’t damaging enough, many growers will no longer risk the liability of allowing non-employees access to their vineyards – They have nothing to gain and everything to lose.
Now, the answer to the question:
What’s the difference between God & Winemakers?
God doesn’t think he/she is a winemaker.
Footnote for those of you sharp enough to question that picture at the top: Those are not second crop grapes. I searched our picture archives and could not find a second crop grape cluster. Seems nobody wants to take pictures of second crop clusters, and it's too early in the year to go find them in the vineyard. That is a picture of a cluster affected by what is called "shatter" (see the missing berries at bottom?) But if you ignore that lower part of the stem and squint a bit...
Thursday, March 5, 2009
This will be the short course for those of you only interested in the basics. I’ll be taking bits & pieces from 2 websites that go into more depth than the average person needs or wants to know.
On this website:
Richard L. Snyder, Extension Biometeorologist University of California, Atmospheric Science, Davis, CA, had this to say:
More economic losses occur due to freeze damage in the United States than to any other weather related hazard.
TYPES OF FROST EVENTS
An advection frost occurs when cold air blows into an area to replace warmer air that was present before the weather change. It is associated with moderate to strong winds, no temperature inversion, and low humidity. Often temperatures will drop below 32F (0F) and stay there all day. Advection frosts are difficult to protect against, but fortunately they are rare in California fruit growing regions.
Radiation frosts are common occurrences in California. They are characterized by clear skies, calm winds, and temperature inversions. Radiation frosts occur because of heat losses in the form of radiant energy. Under clear, nighttime skies, more heat is radiated away from an orchard than it receives, so the temperature drops. The temperature falls faster near the radiating surface causing a temperature inversion to form (temperature increases with height above the ground).
I’ll limit this discussion to the two types of frost noted above; Advection & Radiation. These will be easiest to explain in pictures, provided by Iowa State University. Just pretend those trees in the graphics are really grape vines.
First, the Radiation Freeze:
The Radiation Freeze is a condition that can be mitigated by the use of wind machines. Since there is “warmer” air above the vineyard, the challenge is to bring that air down to the vineyard.
The use of wind machines can perform that function.
But in an Advection Freeze, there is no warmer air to bring down.
Operating a wind machine during an advection freeze can actually do more harm than good.
Well, that about sums up the short course. But if you enjoyed those graphics and want to see more that include the use of heaters, bonfires, smoke (of no value), tower-less wind machines, helicopters, sprinklers, etc., just click on the following:
So the next time the wind machines wake you up and somebody at the store or your work or gym mentions that “…it sure got cold last night”, you might be able to impress them by saying; “Yes, but luckily for the farmers, it was a radiation freeze and not an advection freeze”.