EXPERIMENTATION: PROS AND CONS
I’ve spent the last week, when not on Dad-duty, tasting and blending the 2014 red wines: all thirty of them. “Thirty?!” You say? Yep, 30. Allow me to explain.
The vintage prior, 2013, was my first harvest, and I worked right alongside Mari, learning the methods she had honed over 9 years. By the time 2014 rolled around, I had stockpiled a whole year of “Well, what if we did this? Or that? That could be so cool!” (wherein “this” and “that” might mean using more whole clusters, picking slightly earlier/later, or playing Ravel’s String Quartet on loop next to a fermentation). Anyone familiar with the (pseudo) Scientific Method knows that for every experiment there must be a control, so many harvest batches were split into two: the traditional, and the radical* new idea. In a typical year we might have 25 to 30 different numbered lots, in 2014 we had 48 – thirty of which remain to be bottled soon.
What did we learn? So much. It was an indispensable rite of passage for my grasp of the Estate. For example, I harvested Grenache 6 different times at different levels of ripeness. The early wines have a freshness and aromatic precision that is jaw dropping, but they lack what you might call “deliciousness”. Later, they are soft and sumptuous, but can be a little hot and lack some palate energy. Blended in the right proportions, you get the best of both worlds. Also, relevant to this release, I learned that Vermentino’s complex skin flavors demand that it be de-stemmed and soaked on the skins (like rosé) before being vinified, but the rest of the whites like to be whole-cluster pressed to preserve their purity of fruit.
And while I’m grateful for this knowledge, I’ll never do it again. Harvest itself was dizzying, and it’s been arduous to keep track of all these wines. Now that we’re blending, some are frustratingly scarce (“That’s delicious! Wait, there’s only one barrel?!”), and then there’s that old devil of too many great options, or “paralysis by analysis”, which, as my wife will attest to on a visit to the grocery store, I have a particularly difficult time with. So now I take the longer, less hurried view: a few experiments every year, over the course of many years, is a lot of learning. And, of course, sometimes you just have to go by feel.
Onto the wines: the 2013 Mourvedre is just starting to blossom, and to best bring forth its floral, blood-orangey aromas it seems to prefer a little decanting. It’s full of sweet plum fruit, a hint of oak, and plenty of fresh acidity. It’s great with gamey meats, but if you’re feeling adventurous, the people in Provence drink theirs slightly chilled with appetizers from the sea.
As mentioned, the 2014 Vermentino is composed of a mere three different batches, one of them skin-fermented. The aromas are abundant, with citrus and its blossoms, and a hint of chalky minerality. On the palate, I love the lemon-oil flavors and texture, as well as the wine’s intensity, which never lets up.
Finally, the 2012 Reserve Syrah from the Fenaughty Vineyard is fast becoming a classic. Compared to last year, the violet and black-raspberry aromas are holding strong, but the wine is gaining complexity and becoming more and more true to its origin as the one-third new French Oak integrates further.
*Of course, Mari no doubt had all the answers and was happy to share them, but no, I just had to find out for myself.
Summer is on our doorstep. Who knew? School is out, or about to be out. Vacation planning is taking on a more serious tone. Outside is becoming better than inside. And, oh yes, lazy foothill winery visits are moving up on a number of agendas. We are always more than happy when we wind up on your winery visit agenda.
As you know we've made a few changes over the last few months in anticipation of your visits this summer. So, I thought it might be worth mentioning a bit about what we have been up to in trying to make your visits to us worth your while, now and throughout the summer.
First, we have some pretty good wines for you to enjoy. We don't like to talk too much about how good our wines are since that's for you to decide not us. As Joe Louis was famously quoted, "If you have to tell 'em, you ain't." However, that does not make us any less proud or confident of what we are bringing to your table. Our wines are here for you when you get here.
So, you've heard that back in January we went to a modified "by appointment" format. But the second part of that statement - and the most important part - is that Wine Club Members are special.
Nobody should expect Wine Club Members to make an appointment when they simply want to:
stop by to buy a case or a bottle.
pop in for their complimentary taste-through of the latest wine release or make a pick-up.
enjoy our wine with their picnic up on the waterfall terrace.
drop in and share a bottle or a purchase a glass to go with one of our cheese and charcuterie plates out on the deck or patio.
It's not expected. It's not happening. It's not part of our program.
Wine Club Member appointments are limited only to a couple of occasions:
Tram and Tasting Tours: (This is our 1:00 personal tour.)
It's offered to Wine Club Members (two people) on a complimentary basis once a year on an available date of your choosing.
The Tram and Tasting Tour winds around our vineyard so you can see the vines up close, learn about our varietals, style of wine making, and hear a bit about the history of our property and this gold discovery area.
The Tour also comes with a sit down tasting of six varietals where each wine is paired with a specially selected local cheese.
The maximum number for any Tram and Tasting Tour is 8.
Additional Tram and Tasting Tours are available to Wine Club Members, extra guests, and non-wine club members at a charge of $28.
Complimentary Tasting Only: (Available at 11:00 A.M. and 3:00 P.M.)
A Wine Club Member can arrange for a "tasting only" by appointment providing there is space available.
It’s complimentary for both the Wine Club Member and up to 2 of the Wine Club Member's guests.
You will be offered a tasting of six of our wines with the particular varietals rotating on a regular basis.
1. Wine Club Member Pick-Up Tastings:
Unlike a Tasting Only appointment, no appointment is necessary for Wine Club Members picking up their latest wine club release.
The difference for a Wine Pick-Up tasting is:
There is no appointment necessary for a Wine Pick-Up tasting; it is on a drop in basis. (A Tasting Only Appointment requires an appointment)
You will only taste the wines you are picking up in a Wine Pick-Up tasting
2. Cheese Pairings and Charcuterie Plates:
Cheese pairings are included as part of the 1:00 P.M. tasting and tram tour:
Charcuterie plates are available for purchase and enjoyment on the deck or patio after any tasting:
For two (2): $15.00
For four (4): $24.00
In every case, we are always glad to see you when you visit. We will do everything we can to make your visit a great experience and live up to, if not exceed, your expectations.
We've been getting some rather nice comments on our 'by appointment' format. Happily for us, most have been very positive, like: "When I come to the gate and get buzzed in I feel special like the winery belongs just to me", "I like the special attention and conversation", and "To say that, at first, I didn't like the 'by appointment' idea is an understatement. I want to be spontaneous. I thought I'd be pressured to buy wine. But I don't feel any of that. I feel like it's my place."
So thank you for your kind words. Our goal is to be a special private place for you. We want you to have a quiet opportunity to linger, relax, and let the world go by. We want you to enjoy elegant wines in an elegant setting.
We'll keep working on it.
The 2015 Rosé is in the bottle. We made it in the traditional French style which means that the grapes were lightly crushed. We then removed the skins, pips and stems at just the right time to give it a color that says spring and summer to us. The result is that it has the complexity of a red wine but is served chilled to bring out its light and refreshing qualities. It’s a wonderfully crisp wine with lots of flavors which you'll find are competing for your taste buds. It is 64 % Mourvedre, 20 % Counoise, and 16 % Grenache. We only made 190 cases.
Rosé pairs well with appetizers like salads, olives, melon, and spreads such as hummus. It also is great with pizza, Mexican food, and grilled foods (sausages, burgers, fish, and shrimp). If you're making a turkey sandwich, a glass of Rosé should be close at hand as well. At under 13% alcohol you could even enjoy a glass or two with lunch.
At such limited quantities if you are a Rosé fan - I mean an honest legitimate classic Rosé fan; not a blush wine by any means - you may want to shop early.
The other two wines included in your shipment include:
The 2012 Coda Rouge is a wine of depth, character, and complexity. Expect the cherry, tobacco, mint and cedary-spice notes to keep evolving in this beauty for quite a few years to come.
The 2012 Grenache is framed by fine-grained, almost sweet tannin, making for a fleshier wine overall. With a dense mid-palate full of red fruit, dried herbs, and a hint of minerality, it’s also extremely gulpable…. Heck, 2012 was such a perfect year, it’s no surprise that this wine fires on all cylinders!
RUN FOR COVER
A couple of years ago we started planting a special blend cover crop. You may have seen the seed drill busily wrrrring away between the rows the last two falls. Planting a cover crop is both old school and new school. The basic premise hasn't changed, however. Many, including us, believe it is the best means by which to return nutrients to the soil. As we watched the vines go from bud break to flower and leaf this year, it has been obvious that the program is paying dividends. The vine vigor is noticeable even at this early stage. We have always been proud of our vineyard, but this year looks particularly promising. Good vines. Good wine.
See you at harvest,
Our winemaker Grayson and his wife Allie welcomed a new baby boy on Friday, April 29th. Albert Osprey Hartley (AKA Ozzie) took his time arriving. We thought his entrance was a bit overdue, but were not entirely sure. It may be more a matter of mere calculation. Hard to say. No fault of Grayson and Allie. They tried all the usual encouragements including milk shakes, Skipolini's pizza and long walks. We even heard a rumor that castor oil was on the list but was scratched for reasons of good taste, or bad, as the case may be. At any rate, welcome Ozzie! We are all very excited about this new addition.
Our Tasting Room Manager Rod suddenly found himself in ICU for a short stretch with a bit of a ticker issue.
Our Events and Hospitality Manager Kara bolted for the emergency room to have her appendix removed a few days ago.
Our bookkeeper was in ICU and now recovering from a serious auto accident.
Me? I only had hand surgery.
Oh yeah, a power outage fried the electrical components for the front gate. We're still awaiting delivery of a crucial panel.
So, as you can tell, we seem to be somewhat like a bad episode of General Hospital meets Grapes of Wrath. The good news is that everyone and everything is on the mend. Meanwhile, we apologize if we have been a step behind or a beat off this past week or so. Sandy and Jessa have been amazing in stepping up and filling the gap. In fact, everyone has pulled together, nicely, to help keep the gears turning.
By the time you read this we should be back to full strength - or close to it. In the interim we appreciate your patience and look forward to trading our medical histories with you next time you visit.
I was pruning vines over at the Vineyard House the other day, and it dawned on me that the wine which these vines produce – the Coda Blanc – doesn’t get enough respect. In an era where so much of what we consume is carefully assembled within the parameters of repeatability and predictability, this wine stands out as a refreshing risk-taker. Please allow me to explain.
Back in 2003, when David and Ron planted the block in that coarse sand, they did something that not many had done since the 19th century Italian immigrants: plant 5 different grape varieties side-by-side with little concern for demarcating rows or sections. 150 years ago it was just what one did, these days it’s affectionately called a “field blend.” Because we can’t easily tell the Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Vermentino (Rolle) apart, we’re forced to pick them all together. Each variety is at a wildly different level of ripeness – when picked separately at the main vineyard the Viognier is usually ready in August but the Marsanne not until early October – but they all get pressed into the same tank. You’ll hear hip winemakers boast of their “co-ferment”, which is when multiple grapes are fermented together, but the Coda Blanc has been co-fermented all along (it just hasn’t done enough boasting, I think). What all this means is that, instead of making each wine separately and titrating the amount in a blend to exact, repeatable specifications, the Coda Blanc is a wild, unpredictable ride each year. The simplicity of the process – pick grapes, press grapes, ferment together, bottle – allows us to offer the wine at a modest price, but don’t let that fool you. It’s a unique and wonderful snapshot of the growing conditions of the vintage, and always crisp and refreshing.
With that, the 2014 Coda Blanc begins our wine presentation. This vintage was straight from the House Block – no other ends and pieces blended in – so it’s 34% Viognier, 25% Rolle, 15% Marsanne, 14% Grenache Blanc, and 12% Roussanne. But I’m sort of cheating, since those percentages are based on vine counts, not weight. The year was warm-to-hot and evenly sunny, and this bottling exudes the sun back into the glass with fully developed notes of citrus flowers and tropical fruit carried by zesty acidity.
Let Coda Blanc begin your next meal, and let its diametric opposite, the 2014 Dessert Wine, (aka Port) end it. I should admit that, while calling it “2014” as a point of reference, this wine is multi-vintage. In traditional fashion I’ve been trying to reserve some of the older wine to blend with each vintage, as well as mixing in a small quantity of the latest vintage for freshness. This 120 gallon blend has 15 gallons of our 2013 Dessert Wine and 5 gallons of 2015. In 2014 the Touriga Nacional was very light, so there’s a little Merlot in here as well. The wine is sweet and heady with blackberry and currant fruits, but not at all cloying at 7% RS (residual sugar). It is truly delicious!
Finally, the 2012 Triptych has been one of our most popular wines ever, so we knew we couldn’t go wrong including it in this shipment. This Syrah based blend has been in high demand with all of our local restaurant partners, so we thought it’d be a good idea to share it with you once more before it’s all gone. Triptych was designed by Mari to be a flashy, unabashedly Californian wine, and in a perfectly Californian vintage like 2012 the wine just sings. Enjoy the full-bodied, spice-adorned dark fruits with anything off the grill when you first light it up this Spring (if you haven’t already!).
Thank you for your kind accolades and patient understanding as we move into our new "by appointment" tasting program.
When we first decided to try and improve our wine tasting experience for you we held our collective breaths before stepping off into space. We, now, are glad to say that, thus far, your comments are reflecting very favorably on the goals we are attempting to achieve though our by appointment wine tasting program (less hectic tastings, more individual attention to you, better presentation of our wines, tasting enhancements through cheese pairings and the creation of an enjoyable and interesting tour experience). Again, thank you for your kind and generous feed back.
Wrinkles and Bungles
On the other hand we need to iron out a few wrinkles. Also, we need to rethink a couple of things we have bungled.
One major wrinkle is that our Vino Visit online booking service has some glitches. It's a bit confusing to guests who are trying to book online. When you get to the "completed" part of the Vino Visit web site you would reasonably think that you've done all you need to do. As we are finding out, that is not the case. More information is required before you've actually booked an appointment. As a result guests are arriving at the front gate thinking that they have an appointment when they don't. It's our problem to solve, not yours. We're working with the Vino Visit people and revising our website to solve the problem. But, you don't need Vino Visit at all if you just want to call the tasting room directly at 530-295-1833 and speak to Rod, Kara, Sandy or leave a message. Another wrinkle is the intercom. We are working on that as well. Verizon cell phones work just fine to call the tasting room: 530-295-1833. You'll be buzzed in if you've forgotten or haven't received a gate code for the day. Unfortunately, ATT cell phone connections are poor at the gate. We are, truly, sorry for any inconvenience to you. We will sort it out just as soon as possible.
We are not overly proud to say that we bungled our picnic policy. As we thought about it, early on, we reasoned that our carefully thought out cheese pairings and deli trays could easily allow us to eliminate picnics and better enhance your wine experience. Maybe so, but that is not what many of you thought. So, lesson learned. We will continue offering picnic venues exclusively to our wine club members, by appointment. Wine club members will be able to reserve a picnic site at the waterfall terrace, deck overlook, front entrance tables and gazebo venues. Upon request we will provide transportation by golf cart to the waterfall terrace venue for those who need mobility assistance. We will continue to exclusively reserve our covered fireplace patio venue for non picnics (wine only, and our elegant cheese pairings and deli trays).
Thank you for caring. Thank you for your feedback. Thank you for all that you do for us. We appreciate you more than you can imagine.
There’s just one wine for this release, but it’s a doozy: the 2013 Okei-San Syrah is a rich, heady blend of Syrah from both the David Girard Estate and Fenaughty Vineyard in Camino. It’s from just two French oak barrels, one of them new, with luxuriously spicy notes that frame lush aromas of ripe boysenberry, violet, plum, and bittersweet chocolate. A stony minerality arrives on the palate, delivered by cedar and light oak much the same way graphite and wood intertwine in a freshly sharpened pencil. Heavier clay soils at the volcanic Fenaughty Vineyard build the wine on a sturdy foundation, which is filled in by the more delicate finesse that comes from the sandy granite at DGV Estate.
I usually talk a little about what’s going on in the vineyard or cellar, but this month I think that a wine-pairing recipe will tell the story itself: We’re just barreling down the last wines from this harvest – more on that next month – but the timing feels downright strange. Our vintage was so early that this winding-down time, which usually coincides with a trip home for Thanksgiving, has arrived when days are still long, windows are open, and it’s still too hot too braise, roast, or bake. Here's a rub for the grill that has served us well this summer, and suits a bold complex wine like this one perfectly. However, if El Nino has finally started to deliver rain before you get around to grilling, that’s a good thing! Just save the whole plan for a few summers from now, wine included – it’ll be even better with age.
Cocoa, Coffee and Chipotle-rubbed Skirt Steak with Summer Summer Method Potatoes
The spicy, earthy chocolate notes of this rub marry perfectly into the 2013 Okei-San’s flavors; this is an example of the whole being even greater than the sum of the parts. Any cut of beef can be used, but make sure it’s fatty: not only do you want the grill hot without fear of overcooking, but you’ll get that Syrah tannin to meld perfectly into the meat’s flavors if you let the fat do its job. Lastly, that’s not a typo with the potatoes! The idea comes from our Harvest Intern, named Summer, who ingeniously devised this method of getting all of the tender crispiness of roast potatoes without turning on that dreadful oven. Measurements are rough and are best honed to your own taste.
For 2 pounds steak: mix 1-2 tbsp. salt and pepper, .5 tsp. chipotle powder, and 2-3 tbsp. finely ground light-roast coffee in a small bowl. Slather the skirt steak in olive oil and spread the bowl’s contents evenly. Cocoa powder tends not to play well with other ingredients, so when you’re done with the first step, dry your hands and sprinkle as much as you like. You can add a little sugar too, if you like.
For 1 pound small Yukon or red potatoes: par-boil the potatoes in salty water for about 15 minutes until soft and easily penetrable with a knife. Drain and cool slightly, then add to large cast iron skillet with the fat of your choice (olive oil, ghee, bacon fat?). Add salt and pepper, toss in fat, then lightly smush each potato with a fork (they should be already cooked enough to smush easily).
On the grill: Light a nice hot fire, big enough to handle everything. Put the potatoes on first, in my experience. Once you start to hear the fat sizzle, then start the steak on direct heat until one side is almost crispy. With skirt steak, the second side will cook much faster, and the first side will be the “show” side, with a nice caramelized layer of incredible flavor. Summer (the person) doesn’t recommend flipping the potatoes lest they fall apart, but I’ve found that it’s worth a shot at least once. Either way, cook them until they’re nice and crispy. The inside will stay soft! A simple balsamic-dressed salad is a refreshing foil to all this richness.
When we go out to dinner with friends, often they ask me to order the wine. Presumably that's because I own a winery. I've often thought, though, that's like asking an undertaker to pick out your casket because he's in the funeral business. I'm sure that there is a more apt analogy. It's just that the undertaker keeps popping into my head for some unknown reason. As I've mentioned too often, when I was at Robert Mondovi's 85th birthday party he made a short speech....and by "short" I mean "short". What he said was: if you like a wine, drink it. If you don't, drink something else. Pretty basic. Yet, I totally subscribe to that philosophy. After all, that's why there are more varietals available (try Rhones) than Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Merlot. Besides, having me pick a wine can be a bit dicey by anyone's measure. That being said, I have learned a bit about wine and vineyards along the way.
Last week I was in Traverse City Michigan. I hadn't been there for a while. Last time I was in Traverse City there was one winery. Their wine was marginal. Today there are some 100 wineries in the Grand Traverse Bay area including one owned by Madonna's father. The Northern Michigan "edifice complex" tasting rooms could give Napa and Sonoma a run for their money. More importantly, though, many of their wines were pretty good by anybody's standard, even though a little "spritzy". We sat on the shore of Lake Michigan and sampled a few wines along with some very nice cheeses (white caps on the lake, a crisp clear 70 degree breezy October day, wine and cheese). What could be better? Yet, as we drove by the vineyards I thought they looked ragged and sloppily farmed. There were no single vines with evenly spaced spires on each of the horizontal cordons. There were spaces and gaps between the individual vines so they looked spidery and almost fern like. Yet, I thought they must know what they were doing. Perhaps, I was missing something. I was.
When I got back I discussed my observations with Grayson, our vineyard manager and wine maker. He rightly observed that they, undoubtedly, specialized in Riesling due to the cold. They also farm differently because they lose so many vines to the cold. Where we rely on one vine to support the cordons, they can't. They leave three or more canes so that if they lose one they have backup replacements. The result is a messy look, but smart farming. As to the "spritz" Grayson explained to me that means there is residual carbonation co2 in the wine. Probably, it's caused by large batch tanking and early bottling. We use different techniques which eliminate much of the unwanted spritz. They may not have our options, again, due to the cold weather.
So, despite being a winery and vineyard owner I, again, learned something new. It never ends. That is a pleasure and a gift, not a problem. However, since I am still learning, you might want to order your own wine next time. Don't rely on someone like me. If you like it, that's all that counts.
I just got back from an incredible vacation – a road trip throughout the Western US – and the tardiness of this Paper Blog entry rivals any midnight tax return. It probably won’t come as a surprise to hear that even though you see David’s name on one side and mine on the other, it’s really Kara that keeps the whole thing together. Last week, in order to stoke a little friendly competition, she sent me David’s finished entry, in effect saying, “Hey buddy, we’re just waiting on you here….” At that moment, my wife Allie and I had just watched a grizzly bear overturn tree stumps with startling ease while looking for grubs underneath. I concede that my Paper Blog duty was not foremost on my mind, but I started to piece some slightly disingenuous thoughts together about where we were in the year, and how we’d soon begin preparing for harvest. I had a mental rough draft going when I finally read David’s entry, then cursed him for stealing all of my ideas (and, of course, writing much more sincerely about them than I would have at the time). As a result, all I’ve got left to talk about is how cool my trip was.
We backpacked down and spent the night on the Yellowstone River, then attended a wedding in eastern Idaho, which is more beautiful than I could have imagined. We saw dinosaur fossils in Utah, peered into the sublime itself at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado, and got caught literally inside a thundercloud while hiking in Santa Fe. After a mad dash to the car, we placated ourselves with native New Mexican cuisine, based on spicy, soul-warming recipes passed down through many centuries. Finally, on the return trip we walked solemnly amongst 4,000 year old Bristlecone Pines at Great Basin National Park; a perfect venue both for reflection, and anticipation what the future holds. In all, I felt at peace, knowing that not only are we making wine that, like the best Posole with green chile, brings people closer together in shared enjoyment, but through our farming practices we act as responsible stewards of this great land.
Onto the wines! A rich, layered white, the 2013 Roussanne gained complexity from a full 15 months in barrel, bringing forth a waxy, honeyed layer underneath citrus and dried apricot fruit. Round and full in the mouth, some sips seem to hint at pineapple upside-down cake with citrus zest. Embrace your inner grizzly bear and open some with your next grilled salmon or smoked trout, especially with a sweet glaze.
Speaking of the grill, the 2012 Triptych (53% Syrah, 35% Grenache, 12% Counoise) is essential to any civilized cookout, whether of the fast & hot or slow & smoky variety. Meaty, spicy notes from Syrah and Counoise make it ideal for dry-rubbed brisket or ribs, and a juicy, full mouthfeel from the Grenache matches the intensity of the best burger you can throw at it.
The 2013 Rive D’Or is an exciting, unconventional blend, incorporating a touch of Syrah (5%) into the more traditional duo of Merlot (85%) and Malbec (10%). I’ve long hoped to make a 100% Estate-Bottled Rive, but many blend trials with the two M’s lacked the length and classy structure that even just a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon can provide. Since we don’t have any Cabernet planted – and since we’re not in Bordeaux! – we tried a splash of the Rhone in our glass, and I think we’re on to something. Open a bottle on the first rainy day of September with a savory, slow-cooked meal.
We are seeing veraison in the vineyard. Another vintage is on our doorstep. Veraison is the harbinger of harvest. When grapes start to change color and the hard berries begin to soften, you can bet on at least two things. One is that the earth's orbit around the sun is again approaching the harvest segment of our annual cycle. Another is that the grape berries have stopped growing and have begun the process of ripening. That is not all, however. Malic acid is degrading into tartaric acid. Acid is declining. Sugar content is going up. These are busy berry times.
I am always reminded of the fall color change in Northern Michigan during veraison. I hear that they have some fall colors in New England as well. Just as different trees develop their colors at different times, and for different reasons, the same is true with grape vines and individual berry clusters. Looking out over the vineyard one can see the patterns of different colors from vine to vine and from tops of hills to bottoms of swales. During veraison the individual grape clusters remind me of a cob of Indian corn with its variegated kernels of red and gold.
With veraison comes a change in vineyard irrigation as well. As we are properly reminded on an almost daily news cycle basis, we continue to experience a drought. David Girard Vineyards is fortunate in that it has access to El Dorado Irrigation District (EID) agricultural water which flows by pipe along Cold Springs Road. To be sure, we are doing our part through conservancy, careful monitoring, and otherwise marshaling limited water resources for efficient usage. We use only drip irrigation; we have limited our use of water for landscape purposes; and overall, we strictly limit our use of water except where necessary.
Over the growing season, mild water stress in the vineyard is not that significant. However, once veraison begins, too much water stress on the vines can be a problem. It can have an undesirable effect on ripening and vine quality. So once veraison begins, we are particularly vigilant as to the proper levels of irrigation required.
One consideration is our type of soil, which is decomposed granite, as in the Rhone Valley. Decomposed granite tends not to hold water. Another factor is canopy management. If the vines are cropped too heavily they will require more water. We also pay attention to areas of the vineyard with restricted rooting depth. Restricted rooting depth means less water holding capacity.
So what do we look for in the vineyard? We look for leaf scorch, leaf wilting, leaf loss, and suppressed growth. We also walk through the vineyard and feel how warm the leaves are. Warm leaves can indicate drought stress. To keep the leaf canopy balanced we go through the vineyard vine by vine and pull off leaves to achieve a canopy balance. We don't want the grapes to be burned by exposure to direct sunlight. But, we don't want all the plant energy to go to producing leaves either.
Veraison tells us another year is passing. It also tells us that we must continue to pay attention to what is going on in the vineyard by way of irrigation and canopy management as we approach harvest. Finally, it tells us that we had better start planning for the harvest.