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Viticulture Association of the Santa Cruz Mountains

  Set to Veraison

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July 2008

What a year.  First a freezing cold spring with some frost damage followed by sporadic soaring temperatures in April, May and June.   Now we have a week of July fog events in the morning for the coast.  Fires rage all around us and the air is filled with smoke. It is unusually humid.  The sun rises in a red ball of fury and sets in a similarly eerie glow.   

This is the year of canopy management.  The grower must maintain that delicate balance between a canopy open enough to allow light and air and spray penetration while still providing essential shade from the burning rays of the afternoon sun.

Shoot thinning and leaf removal has been key to disease control and good set.  In areas that are crowded with too many spurs and shoots I have seen spring botrytis and no set.  Where leaves have shaded the fruit, spray intervals have been stretched beyond the recommended range and the vineyard has a history of issues, I have seen mildew.  Where the canopy is open, the fruit exposed on the shade side of the row and an early, thorough coverage spray program followed, the fruit is perfect. Of course there are those vineyards that do next to nothing and look great and those that have done everything and still suffer.  Such is the vine and the powerful influence of microclimate.

Here are some take home tips for next year.  When winter pruning try to leave space around posts and trellis pieces.  This will prevent shoots from becoming crowded or crushed against the wood or metal.  This is essential at the end of the rows where the canopy tends to be more vigorous.  Shoot thin aggressively if bud break produces multiple shoots in clusters at each spur position.  Consider cane pruning in cooler areas for more even set.  Keep these ideas in mind for next year.

If you have a dense canopy do some serious leaf pulling around the fruit after set and be willing to cut out canes that are too crowded.  You can be far more aggressive on the afternoon shade side of the vineyard.  This is especially important to areas prone to fog events or high vigor.  Chardonnay is in particularly sensitive to bunch rot.  Remove canes that are weak or remove the fruit on them to maintain a needed position.  If the canopy is hanging over the wire significantly and is shading the fruit be willing to hedge cut with clippers, machete or mechanical equipment.  Hedging is most successful just after set but important anytime it is preventing spray access or quality air flow.

If you see fresh powdery mildew powder on the fruit immediately apply an eradicant spray like Armicarb.   Apply at a wash rate to achieve thorough coverage.   It is a little hot for stylet oil at this point and sulfur will wash off an infection but not kill it.  Remember that Armicarb is a high pH product and should not be tank mixed with foliar amendments or other sprays.  It will eradicate any portion that it touches but is useless against areas it does not cover.  It also doesn’t last well and should be followed up promptly with an aggressive product like Pristine.  Organic growers need to pay particular attention to early control, canopy management, and precise spray intervals to prevent any infections from occurring.  Once established the infection is usually a terrible challenge throughout the season.

Some people have experienced burn on the canopy and fruit.  This seems to be related to product formulation, tank mixes, and most importantly, to timing of spray.  Avoid spraying during the really hot spells.  If a heat spike is predicted put off the spray to another day.  Vines better absorb materials during lower temperatures. Ensure that your formulation does not fall out of solution during application.  The material at the bottom of the spray tank is often more concentrated.  Check sprayer agitation if this is a problem.

2008 is a very dry year. Do not practice deficit irrigation in the weak areas of your vineyard.  Keep those vines pumped up and get them back into shape before applying water restrictions.   If you do plan on restricting water on the healthy portion of the vineyard monitor closely for stress and if possible keep the fruit hydrated especially prior to heat events.  Pinot Noir can be in particularly sensitive.

Boron deficiencies have shown up more this year.  It has been noted that the dry conditions combined with low boron levels in the plant tissue may have contributed to shatter.  If you see an abundance of dried up clusters that never set, small leaves all the way up the cane, or even big and little  berries on the cluster, do some tissue tests to determine zinc and boron levels.  It will not improve production this year but you can add these amendments in a timely way for next year.

Despite the constantly changing conditions 2008 is shaping up to be a spectacular year.  Hang in there.  Veraison is just around the corner.

Buena suerte!

Prudy Foxx
Foxx Viticulture
Santa Cruz Mountains

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