VineStress - A blog about starting a wine label from scratch in Oregon... Home | About | Wine and Vine News | Links | Subscribe

Friday, September 21, 2007

Vine time

It's been a hectic few weeks of bottling and harvesting. The mild weather and clear blue skies have also encouraged me to do a little fishing with my daughter, head to the pool, take longer dinner on the deck (with a bottle or two of good wine, of course).

But despite the time crunch, I've noticed how slow vine time actually is compared to the rest of life. As I'm bottling to make room for this year's vintage in the tanks, I'm reminded of the styles of wine I set out to make one year ago...and two years in the case of reds. Tastes tend to change over time, and there are random factors affecting what you like to drink, such as a bottle suggested/given to you by a friend, a trip to some wine region that offers fond memories, etc. As a result, the wines I started making two years ago aren't necessarily what I would make today. When you add to that the fact of planting and growing your own vines, the time delay is extended. It takes at least three years to get a full crop, and some varietals don't really establish their flavor profile until the vines reach their full maturity seven or eight years along. Add to that bottle aging and it could be a decade or more from the time you set out to make a wine and when you actually can sit down and experience a glass with a meal.

So when you're establishing a vineyard it's hard to know if you're making the right choices at every turn. You need to do your research and approach with caution. But at the same time, there's a price to be paid for waiting for several years to gain experience. My own philosophy in this area is to jump right in. Count on making mistakes. If you want to plant something, plant it, but be prepared to adjust as you learn and go along. Don't plan on getting rich, either. Seven years ago, when we planted our test vineyard, hybrid varietals were the only accepted option among all the growers and nurseries I talked to. I've now learned that folks have been growing vinifera successfully in our area, and similar regions in the East, and even up north in Michigan and Canada. A few weeks back we tasted our first ever Missouri Chardonnay...and it was very good.

So you need to jump in with surety and make and grow the kind of wine that appeals to you and that you think you can be successful with in your area. You may fail miserably, but such is life. If you were meant to grow grapes, you'll hit it harder next year. If you weren't, you'll rip out your vines and spend more time fishing.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Cluster weights

A very simple viticultural step that I've always overlooked in the past, mainly because I didn't know that I should be doing it, is to establish an average cluster weight every season. It's easy enough to do: grab 20 clusters at random from any one varietal, weigh them, average the score. Keep track from year to year.

Having a record of average cluster weight swill allow you to estimate your yield early in the season. Once you know your vineyard well, you'll be able to determine how many clusters you keep, on average, per vine, adjusting for weather events and conditions. That way you can prepare tanks if you're in the winery business, or if your a contract grower you can give your customer an accurate estimate.

Cluster weights vary greatly by varietal. But even then, weights of the same varietal can vary greatly based on trellis system, location, weather, etc. Sampling the weight at harvest is the only way to get accurate numbers. But with so much going on at harvest time it's an easy step to forget. I've picked the vidal and traminette already, and I forgot to grab weights on the latter before crushing. Now I've got to wait another year to record this data.