Journal | January 7, 2019
Born Under a Bad Sign
Pruning season is upon us. We got an early start this year, which does carry some risks. If the weather turns very cold (below 0°F.), some of the productive, fruitful buds could be killed. Unfortunately, if the vine has already been pruned, we cannot compensate for the loss by retaining a greater amount of buds. This is why we first prune the most cold hardy vines such as Vidal, Riesling, Petit Verdot, and Petit Manseng.
Even though it was “out of order”, I started pruning our problem block of Sauvignon Blanc. The block was in need of some tough love. The more severe one trims the vine the healthier it becomes. I excel at extreme pruning. This eight-year-old parcel of vines got off to a very bad start and does not have the uniformity and balance required to make great wine.
Planted in 2012, all seemed well, except I noticed that the young vine’s growth habits were distinctly different than other Sauvignon Blanc vines we were growing. I figured that this specific clonal selection had this unique character. However, while walking the block in September I panicked. Every vine that had a cluster had red grapes (we remove the clusters of young vines in June, but invariably miss a few). Blanc translates as white, not red. The nursery had sent us mislabeled stock. Out came 900 mystery vines and the next spring in went 900 Sauvignon Blanc.
Then came the cold snap of March 2014. Temperatures quickly fell from the 70s°F down to 0°F. Any vines younger than four years were damaged. Most of the young Sauvignon Blanc died. But it was a slow death that took several years of struggle before finality. Each winter dead vines were tagged, removed and replanted.
After three or four years the block is now fully replanted, but it is a mishmash. There are a few older, very productive vines that survived the cold. There are some three and four year olds that are now strong enough to bear a limited amount of fruit. There are many “baby” vines that are still in the development stage. Their clusters need to be removed early in the season so as not to tax their energy before their roots are well established.
This block’s lack of uniformity has become a management and financial headache. The crop we are getting has been relatively meager. Wine quality has been variable at best. However, vintage 2017 provided a glimmer of hope. For the first time the wine showed the kind of character and concentration I had been hoping for.
I always give a new planting twelve years before conceding to removal. One must have a lot of perseverance when pioneering an emerging winegrowing region. Ultimately the final say is what is in the bottle, but the journey getting there is the part that I live for.