Journal | June 11, 2018

Hardscrabble Journal

Grapes, Clones, and Rain

Finally we have had a few sunny days, but now it is back to rain. June is our busiest time in the vineyard and this June has been especially demanding. Constant rain has invigorated vine growth. Shoots are already reaching the top wires and some blocks will need hedging within a week or so. Lateral shoots that are usually dormant or inconsequential are crowding the fruit zone making air circulation difficult. We are spending a lot of time removing excessive leaves and lateral shoots in order to air out the now forming clusters. This is all done meticulously by hand.

This work can be a bit demoralizing in vineyard blocks that experienced poor fruit set due to wet conditions. The task still needs to be accomplished knowing that there won’t be much of a crop. It is still too early to evaluate the total impact of poor pollination on the entire vineyard, but Chardonnay, being the first to flower, seems to have taken a hit. It is very block dependent. “Block” refers to an individual parcel or section of the vineyard. At Hardscrabble we now have seven distinct blocks of chardonnay. Each block varies by vine age and/or clone. The most dramatic differences we are seeing in terms of set are reflected by clone.

Given the modern connotations of the word “clone," the viticultural term is perhaps unfortunate. Ever since mankind has cultivated grapevines, observant growers have identified an individual vine that exhibits some unique characteristic. Examples would include early ripening, higher yields, smaller or larger clusters, or unique flavors. These vines are tagged, cuttings are taken and then propagated. Some of these clones can be very desirable and are made available to other growers via universities and commercial nurseries.

At Hardscrabble we have three distinct chardonnay clones planted. The most distinguishing factor is cluster size and architecture (tight and dense, or loose and open). Our original plantings are what is now referred to as clone #4. It has very large, but tightly compressed clusters. It always sets lots of fruit (this year is no exception), but requires a lot of meticulous thinning because of excessively high potential yields (removing clusters by hand in mid-summer) and is very prone to bunch rots if September is wet. In the last ten years we have planted a clone that is exactly opposite to clone #4. The Wente clone (#72) produces very small, loose clusters and small yields. It never rots and produces excellent wine even in wet Septembers. However, as we are finding, it experiences poor set (fertilization) in wet bloom times. This is the block that will not produce much this vintage. Our third clone is the Dijon clone #96 that is perhaps the Goldilocks in terms of yields and cluster size. It produces balanced crops in most vintages, but the wine can be a bit flabby in hot vintages. Each clone brings something different to the vintage and we never know which will be the star until harvest begins.