The great thing about working on the land with crops is that no two seasons are ever exactly the same. Vintages and seasons can be great, average or bad, or a mixture of all three. Even the reasons for putting them into a particular category can change. So far this season we started off with continual strong wind for several months which reduced vine growth. At that stage is I was starting to think this season was going to be very difficult. Thankfully the winds died down and the vines started growing again. Now that we are past flowering and fruit set we can see what size the crop is likely to be. This season looks like we have less fruit than last year but last year was a good year for crop size so we could argue that we are just back to a “normal year”.
I am now quietly optimistic about this vintage being a great one. We have had at least six weeks of hot dry weather and the vines and fruit look great. History has shown us not to get excited though until you have the fruit picked. There have been numerous seasons where things have been looking great and then a week before harvest a huge amount of rain falls causing lovely fruit to split and rot.
So what are we doing in the vineyard at the moment? The answer to this question depends on where we are working. All areas of the vineyards are tucked, trimmed and have had a portion of the leaves around the fruit removed. Fruit allocated to top quality labels always gets the most attention. A quality aspect is evenly ripened fruit at harvest. Within each bunch and vine some of the berries can be less ripe than the majority of the crop so it is desirable to remove them before harvest. Most grape varieties have the main body of the bunch and then attached to that is a small side bunch which we call the shoulder. Shoulders naturally ripen slightly later than the main part of the bunch so it is part of our quality practise to remove these by cutting them off any time after fruit set. Included is a photograph of a bunch, complete with shoulder. Later I will post another photo to demonstrate how far behind the shoulder is ripening compared to the main bunch. We then revisit these blocks after colour change has taken place and remove any full bunches that are obviously ripening slower than the rest. You will appreciate that if the crop were to be mechanically harvested all of this less ripe fruit would end up at the winery. Escarpment fruit is 100% hand harvested. Areas where bunches are tightly sitting around each other also get a thin because these are high risk areas to be effected by Botrytis bunch rot.
Escarpment is working towards becoming fully organic and quite a lot of the practises we have adopted reduce the need to use chemicals to control pests and diseases. The removal of leaves around the fruit and thinning congested areas of fruit allows better air circulation around the bunches. Botrytis bunch rot likes damp conditions so it is important that when fruit does get wet it will dry out as quickly as possible. Powdery Mildew does not like direct sunlight so leaf removal helps to create an undesirable environment for it to grow in.
Very soon we will be starting to prepare to put bird netting over the vineyard. We use nets that cover multiple rows at a time. It is a skilled job to get them on and then once out they have to be tied and pegged so they don’t blow away and remain bird proof. Without these nets a huge amount of our hard work would simply become evenly ripened bird fodder.