I was up in the vineyard yesterday morning starting to collect data on our plants fruit set for the year and I’m getting excited! Fruit set is the third yearly milestone we reach in our 2012 vintage and it’s one of the most important. We started with bud break back on April 21st, and then moved into and out of bloom last week. Almost immediately after the flowers open up and pollenate a grape starts to enclose the seeds. As you can see in this photo, there’s still a little necrotic tissue leftover from bloom, but our fruit set is evident in the formation of little green grapes. Sometimes we can get and uneven fruit set, which means that the grapes form in varying sizes. This is not good if it happens on a large scale because it tends to create vegetal (off) flavors in the wine. I’m seeing a little of this in the Pinot Gris, but nothing anywhere else so far. Take a look at this photo to the left to see what an uneven fruit set looks like. As we come out of bloom fruit set happens right away, and we rush to pull leaves on the Eastern facing side of our rows so we can get a good look at what we have. But there’s more to it then that.
There are different ways to do everything in this business, but what we do in our vineyard goes back to the orientation of our plantings. We plant our rows North to South for a reason; well, for several reasons actually. We like to pull the leaves in the fruit zone on the Eastern facing side of the row at Fruit Set. This allows the grape skins to toughen up, or build up a resistance to hotter temperatures in July and August. This leads to less berries splitting and more photosynthesis. Although a lot of photosynthesis takes place in the leaves of a grapevine, there’s a lot of positive data out there that shows photosynthesis takes place in the grape skins as well. So, why don’t we pull leaves on the Western facing side of the rows? The answer is because the sun gets too hot in the afternoon. The afternoon sun will literally bake the grape skins and cause off flavors in the wine (think burnt jam; we’ve all tasted this before in Pinot Noir from warmer sites). Afternoon sun can also cause berries to split which can cause other problems in the vineyard and a loss of fruit.
Pinot Noir Fruit Set
Our Fruit Set looks about the same as it did last year in our Pinot Noir. This is average, which is good for Pinot Noir. Pinot is the most susceptible varietal to overcropping that we grow in the Willamette Valley. Probably even in the world! Let me explain. Varietal Character is the term that describes anything that a wine taster can see, smell, or taste in a wine. That can be as simple as acid or sugar, and then get more complex as we talk about fruity or earthy character. There are lots of other varietal characters out there like horse tail, sweet pickle, leather, chocolate, etc. This is another really subjective area of wine as we all have different palettes. After all, we are all our own little snowflakes as Mom used to say! Pinot Noir, if overcropped, loses some or all of it’s varietal character. This is a disappointing characteristic of Pinot Noir, but nonetheless true so we have to respect that as a grower. We believe that Pinot Noir cannot be cropped at more than 3 tons per acre. Cabernet Sauvignon, for instance, can be cropped at levels of 3-8 tons per acre and depending on the site still maintain it’s varietal character. So, where are we at now at LaVelle Vineyard? My estimation is 2.4 tons per acre. This is in a good space for our site. I can take this number along with petiole sample results at bloom and some weather data on Growing Degree Days and precipitation and make an educated guess at:
- How much fruit we will grow by the end of the year
- What (if anything) we need to do in the vineyard to make changes
- Get some physical and mental exercise that’s much needed!
We’re still in the middle of counting data plants to come up with numbers for our Riesling and Pinot Gris. So, why am I so excited about all of this?
The 2008 vintage on our collective of vineyard sites was fantastic! We had a nice, long, warm summer with little rain and good hang time in the fall that helped us produce an outstanding Pinot Noir. I’ve collected data on Growing Degree Days (GDD) from April 15th through July 22nd in each of the last ten years along with precipitation. Two things that seem to positively affect our crop are relatively warm summers with little rain. I also went back and checked our yearly milestone data (bud break, bloom, veraison, and harvest) for the last ten years and so far this years data correlates with the 2008 and 2006 vintages most closely. That means that this year (so far) has the makings of a really good year for our Pinot Noir program. Fingers crossed, knock on wood, say your prayers, whatever it is we’re doing it right this year which has me very excited about the 2012 growing season!