How to Raise a Vineyard
Almost 4,000 bench-grafted vines (one year old 110 R rootstock grafted onto the Clone 7 Cabernet Sauvignon scion) went into the ground in the newly prepared vineyard in the middle of summer, 2021. With freshly worked soil, compost, biochar, mycorrhizae and soil amendments, along with drip irrigation every week, the baby vines flourished.
In the hillsides, deer are the primary predator of newly planted or budding grapevines, so replacing our fragile fencing that had been burned was a top priority. But because of Covid, supplies were at a premium and difficult to come by, so it was postponed for several months. We also had to schedule the removal of almost 50 large trees around the perimeter of the vineyard, which needed to be felled and removed from the roadway before the new fencing went in. Finally, when all the trees were downed and split or chipped, the fencing contractor and his crew came in to remove the old fencing, set the new posts and construct a secure fence line. This was followed by the retaining wall builder near the driveway, so that the automatic gate contractor could rewire the gate opener and install a backup battery in case of future electrical outages.
In the fall of 2021, more compost and cover crop seeds were scattered along each vine row and bales of straw were spread over each row and terrace to protect the seeds and soil from winter run-off. Amazingly, in October and December of 2021, we received over 15 inches of rain, irrigating the new vines and cover crop seed alike, setting the stage for remarkable growth the following year.
The next winter and spring, we watched the calendula, California poppies, rose clover, red Normandy poppies, blue bonnets and native grasses grow up to 3 feet tall, fed by the unusual rains the previous fall. In the spring, the crew took a small mower through each row and manually used weed-eaters on the steep hillside banks where the tractor couldn’t reach. Per our decision to be organic and regenerative no chemical weed suppressants were used, so the crew had to hand shovel the weeds at the base of each vine. Additional strands of wire for support were strung along each row of vines, and later tightened.
The first year of a young vine, after growing straight up the stake the first few months, is stopped short the next winter, as the 4 to 6 feet of growth from the previous year is drastically cut back to only 2 buds the second year to encourage greater root growth. But with all the fall rain and the health of the vineyard, it took the vines very little time to peak out of their protective tubes and grow up to that height again in 2022. Once the new vigorous vines hit the top wire, they were tipped to encourage lateral growth, with the stronger canes being tied to the trellis wires as arms and more training and tucking taking place to direct the amazing growth of the young vines. Because 2022 was a very warm vintage with minimal rainfall, we continued to water weekly, ensuring the vines’ root and canopy development.
In the spring of 2023, the very strongest and most mature vines were pruned back to two arms tied to the trellis wire, while the smaller, weaker vines were allowed to grow more to determine their future structure. It became apparent very early on that most of the vines were structurally ready to produce and mature a small crop, so canes were tucked and tied and pruned to support the strongest canes with a crop. Although overall 2023 had an unusually cool and wet spring and early summer, with veraison (the sugaring and coloration of the grapes) occurring several weeks late in early August, the healthy vines took it in stride.
But several over 100 degree heat spikes in the middle of summer made us decide to invest in and hang shade cloth covering the fruit zone on the western side of each row, protecting this years’ and future vintages’ grapes from sunburn. Another pass was made by the vineyard crew just after the entire vineyard finished veraison to remove any bunches that were not yet fully colored, ensuring simultaneous ripening of all the blocks. It looked as though our first crop of Cabernet Sauvignon was going to be an amazing fete for a three year old vineyard!