The Vintner’s Year | June 2013
Jim Law of Linden Vineyards in Virginia sends the latest of his monthly reports.
June was ‘game face’ month as it is the busiest time of the year in the vineyard. In 2013 a particularly wet June made it even busier. Fall harvest is hectic, but much of the time is spent on the crush pad or in the cellar. In June, we have our faces in the vines from sun up to sun down. Solstice is in June, and that adds up to a lot of daylight hours. So, one may ask, what is it that you are doing?
Young shoots are growing at an extremely rapid rate. They need guidance and direction, as they don't all uniformly reach up to grab wires with their tendrils. We spend a tremendous amount of time tying, weaving, and tucking new growth into the trellis wires. Timing is critical. If it is attempted too soon, the tender shoots break. Too late and their tenacious tendrils have already fastened themselves in some awkward, unacceptable position.
Leaf and lateral shoot removal
Within a few weeks, blossoms go from flowering to pea-sized grapes. At this stage we need to open up the canopy around the fruit zone to promote better aeration. Clusters have to dry out quickly after a rain or dew (especially important this year to prevent mildews and rots). In our climate, allowing a bit more dappled sunlight to reach the developing clusters can also improve a wine's flavour profile. Early sunlight exposure reduces the development of vegetal flavorus in red wine grapes. However, too much sun exposure can burn the grapes, and result in stewed flavours and bitter tannins. We pull only on the cooler east or north sides of the canopies and make sure that there are 'umbrella' leaves above each cluster.
Once the tall shoots grow well above the top wire, they can flop over back into the canopy making it a dense, shaded haven for mildews. We hedge early by hand, using intimidating machetes. While wielding a razor-sharp blade high above one's head is physically exhausting, it can be very mentally and emotionally stimulating. Later in the season as the vines continue to grow, we have to switch to more conventional shears as the shoots lignify and are too fibrous to succumb to a swift blow of a big blade.
Rain adds increased pressure to June's activity schedule. There are times when we simply can't get into the vineyard. Lightning has a certain attraction to miles of metal trellis wire, which can result in dire consequences for vineyard workers. Moist soils increase not only vine growth, but weeds and grass are equally happy. More time spent on mowing and weeding takes us away from vine management.
Flowering happens in June and fortunately my biggest worry did not come to pass: fruit set was fine. Wet conditions often cause unsuccessful pollination resulting in vines with small, scrawny clusters (such as the cluster on the left in the photo below), reducing yields. With a few exceptions, we have normal to only slightly reduced fruit set. Actually, slightly reduced set is ideal as clusters will be a bit looser this year (the middle cluster). Looser clusters are less susceptible to bunch rots later in the season. Rot can spread quickly from berry to berry if they are touching each other (cluster on the right). We may need all the help we can get if weather patterns hold.
I'm aware that the above scenario sounds pretty dismal. It's not. Challenging would be a better word. This is what farmers live for: long physical days, reacting to the weather (radar access makes this much easier), and daily re-prioritisation gives us energy and purpose. It's only June. The remainder of the season will determine the quality of the vintage. And besides, each day ends with a sizzling grill and a bottle of wine. How bad can that be?
Tasting Notes & Wine Reviews from Jancis Robinson