What a great summer it has been for sun and heat worshipers like myself. We have had seemingly endless days of clear skies, dry conditions and wonderful heat. Up until very recently I have spent a lot of time running and monitoring irrigation. We started irrigating this season at the beginning of December to ensure the vines were not stressed during flowering. After flowering we tone down the irrigation while the fruit is setting so the berries do not become too big. Small berries have a higher skin to pulp ratio so they produce better colour and more concentrated flavours and sugar. Following fruit set the berries increase in size and then begin to change colour, a process called veraison. Ideally we would like veraison to happen quite quickly so the fruit ripens evenly. The irrigation is increased at this point to remove any stress that may contribute to uneven veraison. After that it is a balance of providing enough water to support the existing green leaves on the canopy without stimulating new growth. Closer to harvest the water is shut off to allow maximum concentration of sugars, flavour and colour. All sounds pretty straight forward until you find station valves that aren’t working, risers that have disconnected, pumping flow rates below where they should be and endless leaks caused by hares chewing through the drip line so they can have a drink of water. It doesn’t take long before you are calling your irrigation system an irritation system.
In my last blog I touched on the subject of fruit ripening and how uneven that can be from bunch to bunch and indeed from one part of the bunch to the next. The photo below shows a bunch of Pinot Noir taken from our Kiwa vineyard. The green berries on the top left are the shoulder of the bunch and you can clearly see just how far behind in ripening they are compared to the rest of the bunch. As ripening progresses they will change colour and ripen to some degree but they will never catch up to the rest of the berries. This is the portion of the bunch that we remove to ensure those berries do not make it to the winery. The berries on the top right are slightly behind in colour change but by harvest they will be ripe enough to be included in the harvest.
New Clone 828
Something new for Escarpment this vintage is our first crop of Clone 828 Pinot Noir which will be harvested from vines that were planted at the Pahi vineyard four years ago. The photo below shows just how great these vines are looking. Organic principles in a vineyard are not confined to chemical use. When this portion of Pahi was replanted into Clone 828 steel posts were used for the trellising instead of tanalised wooden posts. It is unknown exactly how much of the tanalising product may leech into the soil over the years but it is a potential concern. The use of steel posts eliminates this risk and helps preserve the environment.
Pinot Gris Quirkyness!
Lastly from me I wanted to share with you one of the quirky sides of nature, or more specifically Pinot Gris. Pinot Gris is a variety that produces a pinkish berry. At harvest the juice is separated from the skins straight away so it does not pick up the colour from the skins. There are a few exceptions to the rule but generally with grapes the colour comes from the skin only and not the pulp. Each year though we see some fascinating examples of how Pinot Gris can change its colour within a bunch or even a berry. I have seen a single berry that was half white and half red in years gone by. The photo below is a bunch of Pinot Gris from our Station Bush vineyard showing the typical pinkish colour of the berries on the top left and the remainder of the bunch white. It is a grapevines equivalent of an identity crisis.
We have got to the stage of the season where the vineyard team “hand it over” to the winemakers. It’s now up to Larry and Huw to consider ripeness, fruit condition, flavours and weather forecasts to determine when each variety/clone from each vineyard will be harvested. When we get the go-ahead the vineyard team spring into action, remove the bird nets and harvest the fruit. It’s a busy time of the year but we have lots of fun too.