Could My Staring at Our Vineyard Buds
Make Them Grow Faster?
Ah, wishful thinking. Our vineyard has a mind of its own. We should have named our wine brand “Last Pick” instead of “Ammons Horn” because it does not matter if we prune our vines early or late, we are typically the last Pinot Noir vineyard in the Carneros AVA to wake up after winter dormancy. This delayed bud break typically translates to our Pinot Noir vineyard being the last in Carneros to be harvested. Yes, we have been known to be picking our pinot noir in mid-October when other Napa vineyards are picking their Cabernet Sauvignon and then praying, “…please don’t rain until we get our crop in.”
I have several thoughts on our vineyard’s issue with bud break tardiness:
- It is very cold here. Forget that adage of being closer to San Francisco bay tends to moderate air temperatures causing our Carneros location to have milder climate. Our location can be just as cold (if not colder) than the northerly portions of Napa Valley, such as Calistoga or the local mountains. Our winemaker has commented that the very cold temperatures at our vineyard are the reason for the dark color our Pinot Noir wines.
- We implement “minimal till” and “late till” viticultural practices. You’ve heard how inhospitable soil can cause vine stress…well, the same is true if excess vegetation (weeds and grass) surround a vine causing delayed shoot growth. Yep, the picture below was taken in our southernmost Pinot Noir vineyard block showing our clone 777 in late April. Yes, it is true that we’re folks with the weediest vineyard in the neighborhood (soaking up all that carbon from the atmosphere sequestering it in the soil and doing our part to minimize climate change), while the adjacent vineyards are perfectly tilled in late March and now 8 inches taller in shoot development.
- Our vines are getting old. Hard to believe that our vines will be celebrating their 20th birthday this year, which is pretty old for Dijon clone vines grafted 101-14 rootstock. Most Pinot Noir vineyards in Carneros that are grafted on rootstock are being pulled at 20-30 years of age. The older the vine gets, typically the more delayed bud break is. Our vines are not big and fat like many old vines in vineyards being pulled out, which leads me to believe that our vines are somewhat stunted from competition from the weeds and grass and the water holding capacity of the clay soil during wet winters. Have you ever seen the pigmy forest in Mendocino County? Another blog someday…
What does this all mean? Our sleepy vineyard that has a timetable of its own (in terms of bud break) will not grow faster, even if I stare at it and worry that the grapes will not ripen before the winter rains, but is producing fantastic wines. Try some!