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2008 Blog Archive Pt.1
In the Vineyard:
At Iron Horse "Estate Bottled" means that the winemaking begins in the vineyard. Our location in Green Valley represents the very best soil, climate and aspects for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (for both sparkling and still). Our goal is to grow the best winegrapes we should be growing and we do that through what we call "precision winegrowing." All pruning, canopy management, irrigation, cover crop and even harvesting decisions are determined on a block-by-block (and sometimes even vine-by-vine) basis, considering both the vintage at hand and the long term needs of the land. In both our older vineyards and new plantings we use the best tools technology can give us and up to date viticulture - balanced by our 30 years of experience and passion.
A few fun facts: As of May 2013 we completed our replanting efforts, a significant undertaking. We started in October 2004, over the years we dug about 220 soil pits, pulled out 82 acres of vines that had been planted in the early 70’s, 80’s and, sorry to say, 90’s, then planted and budded about 121,600 vines (meaning 121,600 pencil rods, preceded by 121,600 drinking straws, 121,600 milk or juice cartons, at least 121,600 emitters, and so on) and pulled over 410 miles of wire. A bit less than 60% of the vines are Pinot Noir, while about 55% of the total acreage, we think, is best suited for still wines.
Please note that everything before 2013 has been archived to the left, while below are the latest block maps.
May 16, 2013
The other month, in a wine shop in ultra-hip Williamsburg, Brooklyn (the Sunday Brooklyn Flea can be seen below, note how hip they all are), the sales clerk looked at my card and asked, “how do we farm our vineyards?” I replied that we farm “so as to make better wine.” I got the impression he wasn’t happy with my answer (granted the chances of giving the right answer to a hipster, when you are my age and decidedly not a hipster, are slim and none, so I wasn’t surprised). I’m sure he expected me to talk about being biodynamic, or at least organic or maybe even how we were into ‘natural’ winemaking. Perhaps if I said something along the line of “we farm so as to accentuate the terroir,” I’d have scored some points, but I didn’t. What I did get was something to ‘blog’ about.
Some may have noticed that it has been a while since my last up-date. It’s not like we haven’t been busy; we have, mainly pruning and now shoot thinning. Or that there haven’t been any good photo ops, there have been, like the potassium bitartrate crystals (the first photo) that formed last January when David Munksgard was cold-stabilizing the 2012 rosé for sparkling.
It’s not like there’s nothing new in my life after all, I’ve taken up new past times, like butchering chickens and rabbits - that’s a rabbit below.
And pickling all sorts of fun stuff, like burdock root, jerusalem artichokes and carrots.
It’s not that the flowers in the garden haven’t been extraordinary, they have been.
It’s not that the vines aren’t doing what they are supposed to be doing. Bud break began late March early April.
Which is about normal. The best indicator of when our growing season has begun is when we start our spray program. Since I’ve been keeping the records (starting in 2006 so this should not be viewed as an appropriate scientific sampling), the earliest was March 25, 2008 and the latest was April 23, 2012. The average start date is April 7, and in 2013 we started in H2 and 4 on April 5. So what does this tell you, one, I seem to have plenty of time on my hands, and two, vines don’t care about the calendar, only people do – and maybe wild turkeys, they seem to know when it’s hunting season. (I also think they have watches, or maybe smart phones, they seem to know can only be shot between a half an hour before sunrise and 4:00 PM, which is when they reemerge from where ever they are hiding, unless they are close to my house, another way to stay safe, which they are annoyingly good at.)
And while, possibly, bud break is early this year, it has been uncommonly dry (very little rain in 2013) and warm (some days have been over 90F) and we’ve had very little frost, so the vines are progressing nicely, if not a tad too quickly as can be seen by the photo below (taken May 5): Pinot Noir, H4 Block, Pommard 5 Clone, 3305C root stock inflorescences (not yet grapes, think pre-flowers), at E & L (Eickhorn and Lorenz) stage 17/18: 12 to 14 leaves, separated, inflorescences well developed, separated, with some color fading from green.
It’s just that there hasn’t been anything new to write about, which brings me back to my topic, how we farm here at Iron Horse, which I plan to address throughout the season starting with this one comment, followed by a lengthy explanation: Just as the vines don’t consult calendars, we don’t make our farming decisions based upon the stars, planets and the moon (the sun, well, it’s hard to ignore, vines need light and/or heat).
I am fully aware that there are any number of treatises, articles, etc. that emphasize the importance of the phase of the moon when pruning and planting, going back millennia; for example, according to Pliny the Elder, "all kinds of cutting, picking, or shearing are accomplished with less damage during the waning moon than when the moon is on the increase." Biodynamic growers are also supposed to prune under a new moon because ‘a full moon would pull the sap high into the vine and would be lost once the vine is cut, ’ which is an excellent example of reason over reality. We start pruning in mid-December, after the vines are dormant and have lost their leaves, by which time the phloem has sealed itself off with callose for the winter. (Go ahead and Google phloem and callose - basically the vine is protecting itself from diseases, etc., unfortunately not all of them, which is why we cover every pruning cut with B-Lock, an elastic boron based seal that provides better protection against nasty fungi, like eutypa.) Moreover, we try to be done before bud break, so most of the time, while we are pruning, the vines are dormant, meaning the sap isn’t flowing. More important, a vine doesn’t have a limited reservoir of sap, so, so what if some of the sap is lost? if it is lost at all? From my own observations, once a vine is starting to wake up pruning wounds ‘weep’ no matter the phase of the moon. Granted we seem to know very little as to why vines seem to ‘wake up’ when they do, other than if we delay pruning a block it will bud out later than a block pruned earlier, and bloom later and so on. For example we have about a three-week gap between the first block to break and now bloom (H2 and H4) and the last blocks (G and F), even though all four are Pinot Noir.
Below (taken May 14), Hyde Old Wente Clone Chardonnay, Cd&e block, at E & L Stage 23; full bloom, 17-20 leaves separated 50% caps off.
Compare that to a Dijon Clone (96 or 76) Chardonnay inflorescence, F Block, maybe at E & L stage 20, 10 to 30% caps off, on May 15. While at most, vines are about 400 meters a part, the first block is about 10 or so days ahead of the second block.
Which gets me back to my initial point, we make our decisions on when, where and how to prune so as to make better wine. A very important element is uniformity in ripening and maturity of the fruit at harvest, which means once we start pruning a block we don’t stop until the block is completely pruned. As we have 160 acres, limited time and a limited number of skilled pruners the last thing we want to do is to stop midway through a block and wait for the moon to be in the right phase, that would lead to uneven ripening and the resulting wine wouldn’t be as good, even though some sap may have been ‘wasted.’ This is the whole reasoning behind precision viticulture.
Meanwhile, below a beautiful Miyagi Oyster, from Tamales Bay shucked by one the Oyster Girls.