June 19, 2019 09:43
June is a very busy month in the journey through the growth-cycle of our vines. Over the course of about three weeks, our vineyards have experienced two of the most critical phases in development: flowering and fruit set. As we lead up to the 2019 harvest, this is when we can really begin to forecast our tonnage expectations for the year.
flowering. flou(ə)riNG. Adjective, Noun, and Verb. the act or state of producing flowers: the period during which a plant produces flowers
fruit-set. fro͞ot set. Noun and Verb. when flowering clusters turn into berries
Flowering (sometimes referred to as ‘bloom’) generally occurs during late spring, about 40-80 days after budbreak. The cluster buds open up and pollination happens (without bees), fertilizing the grape berries. Flowering began in our Green Valley vineyards in late May and into the beginning of June, luckily after our unexpected rainstorm in mid-May. Our Chardonnay vines are always pruned first, so they are also first to flower. The photo displaying flowering was taken May 30th at Dutton Ranch. During bloom, the delicate grape flowers are vulnerable to wind, rain, or an unexpected late frost, which can severely reduce the amount of flowers that actually pollinate and create berries. Mother Nature was kind to us this year, giving us great mild temperatures and breezes during this critical time. As we predicted earlier in the growing season, based on our flowering dates, harvest still looks like it could be two to three weeks behind a typical year, giving us a start date in September.
This past week (mid-June) we started to see the fruit-set in our vines. Typically, about 10-14 days after flowering, fruit-set should be well established and the pollinated flowers forming small green berries that will eventually grow into individual grapes. You can recognize in the picture below, taken at Emerald Ridge Vineyard, that the flowers that have become berries by the little dark dot at the tip. Once set is done, we can estimate fairly accurate cluster weights and counts, dialing in our tonnage expectations for the season.
Stay tuned next month for an update on the success of our completed set.
April 10, 2019 02:30
Take a journey through the growth-cycle of our vines from budbreak, through flowering, to véraison, and into harvest. To illustrate the progression, we will focus on one of our Pinot Noir vines, located in the 828 Block at Dutton Ranch Emerald Ridge Vineyard in the heart of the Green Valley of Russian River Valley. This month we investigate the current state of our vines: budbreak.
While there are many magical times of year in Wine Country, it all starts with budbreak in the vineyards. During budbreak, stored water and carbohydrate reserves begin to flow back into the dormant vines to keep them safe from frost during the winter. As the weather warms, the nutrient-rich fluids get pushed closer to the dormant buds, which then morph the hard bumps along the twig-like cut canes to softer bumps with peach-like fuzz. With weather calling most of the shots, little green leaves begin to emerge, coinciding with longer sunny days ahead. Simply stated, warm weather means sooner budbreak, cool weather pulls back the progress as the vines expend most of their energy in ‘protection-mode’, rather than growing.
Like most years, we did see evidence of budbreak occurring in some of our Russian River Valley sites with the vernal equinox on March 20th. However, after the initial wake-up of the tiny buds, progress stalled as many days of gray set in. Rather like much of our staff having a case of S.A.D., the vines seemed to be in the same winter rut. Rain season totals are about 54 inches for the season, with nearly 33 inches falling in the last 3 months. These numbers are above average by 20+ inches and the return of significant precipitation though most of California has aided in pushing us out of a seven-year drought. You may have seen some shocking images documenting the extreme rise of the Russian River in February. Our team and vineyards, aside from some area road closures, were mostly unaffected by the flooding. One of Dutton Ranch’s vineyards near Hacienda Bridge in Guerneville was completely submerged at one point, and Mill Station (where we source Chardonnay for our Dutton Ranch appellation blend) had significant flooding, but the team has cleared everything now.
Driving around our neighborhood, we would typically see vibrant, virile green in the vineyards by this time of the year. While the slow start isn’t a highly uncommon occurrence in our area, this does mean that harvest will most likely be delayed a bit as well. Vines need warm, dry weather to initiate growth, and with the ground still quite saturated, it will be a bit longer before they perk up as we’d like to see. All we really need is a week of dry, warm, sunny days and the vineyards will reenergize in no time.
As of early April, we have just started to see leaf formation at Emerald Ridge. Check out the images taken on April 9, 2019, compared with the shot from early April 2015. The most significant difference between the two photos is evidence early cluster formation in the 2015 image. Judging by the photo taken in 2019, we are still a few weeks away from that happening.
When we go out for early season vineyard checks, those precious shoots are what we look for as one of the indicators of the ultimate success of the season. Fingers crossed, but slightly delayed flowering could ultimately be to our benefit, as wet weather during flowering has caused issues in past vintages. Maybe Mother Nature will be on our side this time! We still have a long way to go in the season and the Dutton Ranch team is prepared for whatever may come our way.
Check back for regular updates through growing season and into harvest. We are looking forward to a healthy 2019 vintage. Stay tuned!