Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dropping Fruit

Yesterday started very early. 6 AM we were up and ready to go. It was one of Stefania's new "winery work" days. She's now working 3 days a week at her day job and 3 days at the winery. We try and take Sunday's off, but we do work Saturdays.

Jerry and his wife Estella met us to drive down to the Crimson Clover vineyard in Morgan Hill. Estella is working for us about 30 hours a week now also. I had to get Stefania dropped off and get to work before a 9AM meeting. I needed to go out with them though to show them exactly what fruit I wanted dropped.
The Crimson Clover vineyard is four years old, and not all the plants are at the same maturity level in a young vineyard. That means we have to treat each vine individually and make sure it has the right amount of fruit on the vine. Too much and the fruit won't get ripe and the vine will be stressed. In old vineyards this is much less of a problem as old vines tend to find the right balance on their own over time. That's assuming you prune and care for it properly though.

Above you see our little crew getting started. I prefer to do this kind of detailed work with a small, highly skilled crew. The standard is to bring in a large group for day work, give simple instructions and set them loose. With a small crew though I can give detailed instructions and since they will return over and over to the vineyard, they'll get to learn the detail I'm after as I provide instruction and check on the work.

This is one of the problems we were trying to fix. The plant above is too small to carry all the fruit it has on it. It's healthy, and on track for a four year old vine, but this amount of fruit will not ripen properly, and will stress the vine too much this year, resulting in a weak vine next year.

We go about removing any clusters that are 'behind'. That means they are not all the way complete turning colors yet. We also remove clusters from weak shoots, that aren't at least 24 inches long. On the other shoots, we judge if the shoot is strong enough to carry one cluster or two. If it's only one, we remove the top or second cluster. We just leave the clusters on the ground to add their nutrients back into the soil.

This is the same vine after thinning and dropping fruit. You can see the load is much smaller, and this plant will be able to ripen this amount of fruit.

By the time we complete a row the ground is filled with discarded fruit. This is a hard trade off for many people to make. We're literally leaving money on the ground to rot. The trade off though is much, much higher wine quality. The sight is often shocking to both homeowners, and visitors to see so much fruit on the ground. In the end though we know it makes a better bottle of wine.

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