Vineyard Fog

Bloom: What’s Happening In The Vineyards

Bloom is one of my favorite times of the year. I enjoy walking the vineyard rows and taking in the sweet smell of grape flowers. Yes, grape flowers do have a distinctive smell – one I enjoy. A colleague of mine mentioned working for a company that had a grape brandy distillation wing. He said sometimes they could smell the aroma of grape flowers in certain distillates. Tremendous.

A lot has changed since I last weighed in with a report of the goings-on in the vineyard. I’ve witnessed a lot of discussion, lamentation and prognostication about the status of the 2011 grape crop in the press and online.

One thing is for certain, the extensive cold and rainy weather we experienced throughout the month of May set us back at least 3-4 weeks from a normal pace of grape development. Normally, we would have completed bloom, undergone berry “set,” and be well on our way to promoting cluster exposure to the sun by removing leaves and possibly lateral shoots. Instead, we have many vineyards that have not even finished bloom. Some are still in the early stages of flowering.

In a way, that is very fortunate. Crops in many valley areas of Sonoma and Napa counties were in full bloom when we had the last rains. This is particularly detrimental to successful pollination and berry set. Just like how gardeners warn you not to water the flowers on your tomato plants if you want to harvest any tomatoes, so, too, grape flowers have a hard time pollinating during rain showers. Many vineyards will certainly experience some amount of crop loss because of this.

Many of the vineyards that I work with for the Kendall-Jackson wines are on mountain and hillside sites. These locations are cooler than the valleys, and none of them had started blooming until well after the rains had past. Bloom started in the warm and sunny conditions we had the past two weeks. We are hopeful that this will mean good pollination and set. Based on cluster counts in some of our largest Cabernet vineyards, we are seeing variable fruitfulness. Some vines are slightly higher in cluster number than last year, and others lower. No one is yet willing to predict the true size of the crop. Until berry set occurs, we don’t know how big (or small) those clusters will be, regardless of their numbers.

So, the newly pollinated berries will start to size up soon and we’ll get a real indication of the size of the harvest, but what about harvest timing? I mentioned that we were 3-4 weeks behind a “normal” time period for bloom. Will that mean that we are harvesting until Christmas? We’re hoping that the warm weather we’ve been experiencing will help the vines to catch up a bit. I’ve certainly seen some pretty amazing growth on the plants everywhere I go. It seems like the vines have grown about a month’s worth in the space of the last two weeks. It is possible to catch up. Grape development and maturation is all about accumulation of heat. If we have fine weather, we will accumulate the heat we need to bring harvest back on track.

Farmers are an optimistic bunch. We try to take everything Mother Nature throws at us in stride. We’ll hope for a nice warm summer without too many heat spells, and everything will come out just fine. Cheers!