Sunday, March 21, 2010

At Spring, Looking Back on Winter's Vineyard Mistakes

The first day of Spring with three-quarters of the vineyard in bud break and some shoots five inches long. Spanish and French lavender are in full bloom. It is a period of renewal for the vines and for the United States as well, I hope. In the vineyard's case there is a threat lurking underneath the serene picture of green shoots: mildew. Since hope is not a strategy I'll take decisive action to implement a spraying program in upcoming weeks to control it.

In hindsight, we made serious mistakes managing the vineyard this winter that could easily have been avoided. Novice vineyard owners and future grape growers pay attention. It is yet to be seen how grave the mistakes will be, but we have definitely made our vines susceptible to fungal infections this year. In hindsight, it is better to:

1) Wait until pruning as late as possible in the season. We started pruning in mid-January, but there is no reason why we couldn't have waited until mid-February. One reason for waiting is rain encourages mildew and other fungi to enter the pruning cuts in the vine. Our error this year was pruning early. After we pruned, the vineyard experienced heavy rains -- and strong fungal growth around the pruned spurs.

2) Immediately after pruning (i.e., the same day), apply a fungicide to the cuts. This is easily done with a paint brush. Next year, I will make this brush application part of the pruning process: prune a row then paint over the cuts. This is to protect the wounds from fungi (and the health of the vine). Think of it as washing your hands with soap and water after a cut to reduce the risk of bacterial infection.

3) A day or so after pruning apply dormant spray and oil, soaking the entire vines. (Our error this year was waiting two weeks before spraying, allowing fungi to grow.)

For a compilation list of errors in the vineyard & winery, I invite you to click on this link:

What's done is done. Once again we've become a laboratory for unwanted vineyard experimentation. Our consolation will be topping off the barrels this evening (and tasting the 2009 wines). The last time we did this the Tempranillo was to die for.


Graciano A. said...

Depending on where this vineyard area is located, you may need a burn permit for a certain part of the year. We at Christensen Family Vineyard (Fulton, CA) use this flamer from Flame Engineering with excellent results. Anything else that grows afterward around the trunks, we spray with Green Match herbicide (OMRI Listed) from Marrone Bio Innovations before weeds grow beyond six inches around the trunk.

Graciano said...

Hello Craig,

I wish to inform that I am enjoying your winemaker's journal notes, very interested and new learning for me. While searching the Internet for grafting information for someone else, I found Pete Anderson's instructional video and signed up to your website that I was intending on returning later, for I found it very interesting and educational with additional links to look at.

Craig, last night I read your profile and now I know where you are located and some of the interesting notes on how you started and the small problems you encountered along the line when establishing your vineyard. I would like to know if you might be interested in my sending you some vineyard tips and other relevant information that I have learned over the years. I am not claiming to the the most expert in the world, but sometimes you learn facts the hard way and in other occasions, errors are made and corrected or improvements come through experience.

I have some good ideas for your vineyard which will be producing a light crop this year and perhaps you will need to remove most of it in order to develop the vines which should be your first priority. I never prune late, there is controversy regarding early and late pruning. I have never had any problems with pruning early which allows me to work the vineyard early and prepare for winter. At the same time, I am able to shred all the canes, otherwise it will be necessary to wait until late spring in Sonoma County when there are continual rains like we had this year. I am still removing some remaining standing water from a low spot.

Naturally in the San Diego area is totally different in view of warmer climate and more sandy soil that make it more accessible to enter the vineyards early. I have some tips for you on your notes below. Let me know. Thanks.


Craig Justice said...


Thank you for your kind words and your offer to share your experience. I would encourage you to write your ideas. I would be pleased to share them on this blog, giving you full credit for your writing. In addition, there is a group on the business networking site LinkedIn called Winemaker’s Forum. That site has about 200 people like myself who are eager for more information where you can post articles and share your advice.

We are entering the 4th leaf … we picked a light crop last year … about 2,000 lbs. Honestly, the wine tastes pretty good and we are pleasantly surprised. What I’m thinking of doing is blending wine from the young 3rd leaf vines with some wine from older vines from another vineyard in San Diego County. The result could be quite good. There is always hope. We look forward to hearing more from you.

Vinogirl said...

Craig, I am a little confused at to what fungal issues you are experiencing at the pruning wounds. Surely not Eutypa? You don't know a vine has Eutypa until cankers appear. Do you practice double-pruning? Good article on it in the current issue of PWV.
Will start pruning my Cab this weekend. Although budbreak seems about a week early, up north here, I still reckon I have a good 7-10 days before the Cab starts pushing buds (or at least I hope I have that amount of time!)