In regions where there is plenty of sunlight, fertile soil and irrigation, grapevines can end up producing too much fruit.  This is the case in many winegrowing regions in California.  In response, we typically remove a percentage of the clusters around this time of year–after they are fully formed but long before they are ripe.  Removing a portion of these immature clusters allows the vine to put all of its energy into the remaining clusters and leads to a more even ripening process and improved flavor compounds.

Removing fruit may seem detrimental since it decreases our yield and, ultimately, the amount of wine produced.  However, our intention is better quality wine, not more wine.  Green harvest allows us to achieve better quality wine by creating balanced vines with the right cluster-to-canopy-size ratio and more evenly ripened clusters at harvest.

Below are some recent pictures of a walk through dropping fruit, when veraison (the turning of the grapes from green to red) is 20-30% complete.  All but 2 clusters are removed from shoots that have extended beyond the top wire, all but 1 cluster are removed from shoots that extend below the top wire and all the clusters are removed from shoots that are too short to reach the middle wire.   When veraison is done, we do a second round and drop all the clusters that did not ripen properly so that we end up with an evenly ripened crop.

Pinot veraison

dropping fruit

Vines growing in carneros

Shoot reaching out to the sun

I always say that spring is the second best time of the year (the first is harvest in the fall.)

Watching the new shoots reach for the sun, performing their annual miracle painting the vineyard green, sprouting from the brown, dead looking trunks, never ceases to amaze me.

Tiny baby clusters appear and the leaves open up, spread and gorge on the sun.

This is also the time of the year when planting replacement vines happen.  Some of the old vines are too tired and can barley produce a cluster or two each year. We plant new, young vines in the field, right next to the old ones.  It will be three years before the new vines will produce any meaningful fruit, under the watchful eyes of their elders.

new vine in milk carton

New vines receive protection from frost and bunnies with an old milk carton and sawdust.

We popped in on Beresini Vineyard and Corona Creek Vineyard in late June to check on the fruit.  Here they are:

Beresini vineyard (first photo) is in Carneros.  The berries are a little farther developed than those in Corona Creek (2nd photo) located in Sonoma Coast.  In 2009, we harvested Beresini over 2 weeks before Corona Creek.

We also stopped at the Fremont Diner in Carneros, just down the road from Beresini, for some down home cooking.  The big yellow square in the photo is butter, right behind it is a pig’s leg. Definitely not the place to go if you’re on a diet.

Protective netting around the vines, the sounds of gunshots or recorded sounds of birds of prey are just 3 ways we saw wine grape growers naturally (here are links describing other sustainable farming methods our’s and other vineyards use) protecting their precious crop this time of year.  Birds know when the grapes are ripe and a flock of starlings can clean a large vineyard out in a matter of hours–yikes!  At Lauterbach vineyards, recording devices playing the calls of raptors and starlings in distress are utilized to protect the grapes from birds.   Mr. Lauterbach says they have not had any significant grape loss to birds since they were first installed. The sound boxes, strategically placed around the vineyard, are doing their job quite efficiently. They are hardly noticeable, require very little effort or energy and are pleasing to the ear.  Above you can view a short video (sorry for the amateur nature) of these in Lauterbach vineyard

On a related note, I recently visited the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek with an old friend from high school and our kids.  They have a fabulous collection of live raptors that have been injured in the wild and brought there for rehabilitation and display–these birds are truly incredible to see close up.  It would be great to have live raptors that we could count on to completely protect the vineyards…but, alas, we are happy with the very cool sound boxes in Lauterbach Vineyards that are doing their job.

Live Raptors at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum

Live Raptors at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum

Uzi taking Brix measurements in the vineyard     

Uzi taking Brix measurements in the vineyard

The vineyards in the Russian River, Sonoma Coast and Carneros from which we source fruit look beautiful and the weather has been perfect these last weeks with cool nights and warm days.  Earlier this week we visited each vineyard and brought along our handheld refractometer to measure the Brix levels of the grapes.  The refractometer looks similar to a small telescope.  There is a small glass plate that flips out onto which you place a sample of juice by squishing above it a grape freshly plucked from the vine.  Then you hold it to the sun and the light traveling through the sample in the refractometer is reflected (refracted?) in such a way that a line shadow is formed separating a dark area from a light area.  It is here at the shadow line that the reading is taken.

Our measurements at Lauterbach Vineyard in the Russian River Valley were about 20.5 Brix.  Beresini Vineyard Brix level, in Carneros, is slightly behind at 20.2 Brix.  Corona Creek Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, is farther behind,  as expected, at around 17 Brix.  We shoot to harvest at 24.5 Brix and Lauterbach Vineyard in the RRV will probably be our first grapes to be harvested and brought into the winery in approxiately 2-3 weeks.

RRV grapes at end of August

RRV grapes at end of August

If Uzi had his way, he would check in on “our” vineyards at least once a week.  And, actually, as the harvest gets closer he would be there everyday. While he is not able to go that frequently, the 5 of us did pile in the car Father’s Day weekend and drive up for a visit.  I think he likes to see the 2 guys who own the vineyards almost as much as he likes to check on the grapes.  And after meeting them for the first time, I can see why.  Chris Ritcey (Corona Creek Vineyard, Sonoma Coast) and Steve Beresini (Beresini Vineyard, Carneros) are providing us with grapes this year.  Each took our family on a private tour of their vineyards and resident farm animals. Both of them are super nice and down to earth.  

First stop:  Corona Creek vineyard, Sonoma Coast.  Chris Ritcey first led our kids down to see his sheep and feed them. One sheep, endearingly named #5, took a liking to us and the bucket of feed Chris gave us.  Then he took us on a tour of the vineyard and gave us a short lesson on the ripening of the grapes.

kids and #5

kids and #5

Chris and Uzi

Uzi and Chris

Chris in Sonoma Coast vineyard


Next we headed east to Carneros.  After a quick stop for brunch at the Boon Fly Cafe at the Carneros Inn (yummy housemade doughnuts,) we crossed the street to Beresini vineyard.  Steve came out to greet us, led us into the vineyard and immediately starting clipping the small, unwanted suckers he came across.  As Uzi has written before, Steve is always making wine in the vineyard.

Steve Beresini making wine

Steve Beresini "making wine"

carneros Pinot grapes

Beresini pinot 6/09

The berries in Carneros were a little bigger than the Sonoma Coast berries.  That may be an indicator they will be ready for harvest earlier or it may just be the clone.  Either way, the countdown has begun.  90 days (+/-) to harvest and counting…


Beresini Vineyard

Beresini Vineyard

We are very happy to announce the addition of Steve Beresini Carneros vineyard to our 2009 lineup.

Steve has a meticulously maintained small vineyard in Carneros that has been producing world class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for many years by the likes of wineries such as MacRostie.  The vineyard was planted in 1989 making it one of the more mature Pinot vineyards around, even by Carneros standards.  Low yield and careful management of the vines produces superb wine. When Steve called to say he might have some fruit available for me I had to drive right over and see it. 

Stomping Girl will have three rows dedicated to us, two of the Pommard clone and one of the Calera clone. These 3 rows will give us only a tiny amount–maybe four barrels of wine.  And that is fine by us because we choose to produce small lots from grapes carefully grown by small family-owned vineyards.

Steve, who has been growing vines and making wine for more than thirty years, takes excellent care of his vineyard. He was the winemaker at one point at Niebaum-Coppola Winery and worked alongside the legendary André Tchelistchef, who consulted with Neibaum-Copola at the time.

While tasting his 2008 from the barrel, all Calera clone, we talked about his winemaking protocol. I tried to learn his winemaking secrets, what makes his wine so luscious and round, so aromatic and bright cherry red. He got a distant look on his face and reminisced about Andre, a mentor to him.  Then he said, “It’s really simple, it’s all starts in the vineyard, so when I walk around the vines and I’m suckering and pruning, I say to myself, ‘I am just walking around, making wine.'”

We are lucky to have this extra winemaker in the vineyard.Steve Beresini and his vineyard

Steve Beresini and his vineyard

In the tabloids, you might see a sensationalist title like this in order to catch your attention to read a story.  We don’t need to do that here, do we?  Pruning actually is a very interesting and important topic.  After all, wine, it is said, is made in the vineyard.  

Pruning is done while the vines are dormant or sleeping.  Call it the end of the previous growth year cycle, or the beginning of the new one, it is a yearly ritual and it is one of the most important steps in the life of the vine and helps determine the quality of what ends up in the bottle.

During pruning, most of the previous year’s growth is removed in order to develop the parts of the vine that will be responsible for next harvest’s fruit.


Vine before pruning

There are many styles of pruning, I am not going to bore you here with Cordon or Cane vs. Head pruning arguments which, in any case, I have not seen done often in California Pinots, more so in Burgundy, however; or which trellising system is superior.

The objective is always the same, to provide the best possible quality fruit which will result in a better wine.

During pruning, decisions are made on which and how may canes will remain and how long they will be. That will affect the number of buds which grow into shoots and produce grape bunches. That, in turn, affects the tons per acre, or the yield, that the farmer will get.

Vines after pruning

Vines after pruning

In general, the less tons per acre, the better the quality of wine; 2-4 tons per acre  is what most shoot for.  

This used to be a dilemma for many farmers and winemakers. Most farmers get paid by the ton, so their objective is to maximize tons per acre. Most Pinot winemakers strive for less tons per acre in order to increase the quality of the wine. Conflicting objectives!

How do most quality winemakers resolve this conflict? Pay by the acre instead of by the ton, win win for the most part.

This time of year, during breaks in the rain, everyone feverishly prunes away.  In fact, Sonoma County Growers held their 10th annual pruning competition yesterday. The competition was covered by Inside Sonoma here.

Back to the old saying that wine gets made in the vineyard, well these guys have a lot to do with it. As an old farmer myself, my hat is off to them.

Check out their description: “A lively, action-packed competition with ten top professional vineyard pruners working on five vines each and a large crowd cheering for their favorites. Judged for speed and quality of work.” 

I couldn’t make the competition but surely lots of fun was had by all.