We do things a little different 'round here...
With 65 acres under vine, we don't rely on part-time vineyard workers. We employ seven full-time vineyard guys. And over the course of a year, every vine is touched about eight or nine times – or more, if we end up grafting or dropping extra fruit or doing some other maintenance work during the season.
We start pruning in January and keep it going all the way through 'til March. When we prune, we collect some of the canes to be used as budwood for ourselves, and to sell. Usually they’re grafted that spring, but they’ll keep 'til fall. With all the worry about viruses in the vineyards lately, there’s been a lot of demand for our budwood, because it's the original certified ENTAV-INRA stock from France. Thirty years old, and our vineyard is still testing disease-free.
We replace a certain number of vines every year. Anything that’s not productive or isn’t fitting with the portfolio gets pulled out and replanted or grafted over. All this work gets done when the vines are dormant ─ right before they push buds in March or April. When we pull out a vine, we replace it with a dormant bench graft, which is a one-year-old vine that’s already been grafted with a specific clone variety onto rootstock. Think of it like the bare root roses you plant in winter. It’s called a bench graft when the grafting gets done in the nursery, rather than in the field (which you'd call a field graft). It’s all just a lot of technical jargon for replanting, but it matters.
In early spring, we watch the new leaves burst out of the woody vines, all chartreuse and full of life, and every year it makes me stop and think about how profound Mother Nature really is. Phenology is a fancy word that means studying the seasonal events in the vineyard and their relation to the weather. Each stage of growth (bud break, flower, fruit set, veraison and harvest) dictates what we’re doing on any given day around here─and all of it depends on the weather.
After harvest is over, we fertilize the vines so they can hunker down for a long winter’s nap with plenty of nutrition – nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, all the good stuff. About two decades ago, we hired Jeff Dawson, the granddaddy of biodynamic farming, and made some changes in the way we were caring for the soil. Now we create a special compost and spread it on the entire vineyard after harvest every year. The compost is made up of 100 tons of cow manure from a local dairy, combined with 60 tons of the seeds, skins, lees and must leftover from making the wines, plus 100 tons of straw and wood chips. It keeps the soil and the overall ecosystem really healthy.
If you have healthy vines, you don’t have to worry about bugs too much – so we manage the vineyard sustainably without the use of pesticides.
During the winter, the rains spread the compost deep into the earth while the vines are dormant, setting up the basis for another season, when the cycle starts all over again.