Journal | July 9, 2018

Hardscrabble Journal

Good Child, Bad Child

Thus far the rainy spring of vintage 2018 has produced vines of extreme vigor and unruly growth. I can’t remember the last time we spent so many days cutting out unwanted lateral shoots, leaves, tips, and/or suckers.

I decided to try to let a young block of Chardonnay go “rogue” just to see if it would eventually reach a point of exhaustion: like letting a child or a puppy run and play until they crash. To put it mildly, this did not achieve the intended goal. All we got was jungle with downy mildew winking through the underbrush. We spent the weekend whacking it back and this morning I sprayed copper, which is a traditional treatment for downy mildew.

A good farmer can’t become discouraged, so to cheer up I walked a couple of blocks of Hardscrabble’s Cabernet Sauvignon vines. These vines are in impeccable balance: just the right amount of shoot development, no new significant lateral growth, and a healthy crop that will require some thinning. Because the vines are balanced, we haven’t had to spend much time tending them. This is perhaps the only “win-win” in winegrowing: balanced vines=less work=better wine.

The reason the Cabernet Sauvignon is so well behaved is because of the soils and site they were planted on. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, our Cabernet was always excessively vigorous and difficult to manage. As I gained experience and a better relationship with the Hardscrabble site, the relationship of soil and vine performance (and most importantly, wine quality) became the most critical criterion for all future plantings. Those Cabernet plantings from the 80s and 90s no longer exist. The soil was all wrong. Cabernet likes droughty, low fertility soils. The steeper the slope the better (to evacuate water). Now the soil is right and life is good, at least when I am in the Cabernet Sauvignon.