The first flush of vine shoots appeared very quickly last week. Good soil moisture and temperatures in the 80Fs pushed buds from swell to 2” or 3” length in a matter of three days. This is all good. This quick flush of growth pushed the tender buds and shoots out of a very fragile stage where they were susceptible to insect damage (climbing cut worm) and disease (phomopsis).
We started shoot thinning in a three-year-old Chardonnay block. This was the fastest transition from pruning to shoot thinning I have ever witnessed. Chardonnay is the first variety to break bud and young vines begin the growing season sooner than older vines. Using only our fingers, we basically prune the vines by removing undesirable shoots. We thin to both form and function. Form being the most important, especially with young vines as we are still establishing the trunks, head height and shoulder positions. Each vine will retain four shoots at the head. Their position is critical, as they will form the two arms and renewal spurs for years to come.
Function refers to potential crop. Most, but not all vines will have additional shoots if the winter pruner laid down a cane on the fruiting wire. The winter pruner made that decision based on the observed growth and strength of the vine. Once the vine is pruned one can no longer evaluate its capacity. Stronger vines will therefore have more shoots and more crop. Weaker vines (no cane retained) have less shoots and less crop with the expectation that they will eventually catch up if not asked to “over crop”.
This vintage I am estimating that this young planting is capable of producing a crop of about 1.5 to 2 tons per acre (25 to 30 hectoliters per hectare), or about 40% to 50% of a full crop (once they are fully mature). This will be the block’s “virgin” harvest. After years of planning, it is with great anticipation that we will get to taste its first wine this fall.