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Viticulture Association of the Santa Cruz Mountains

  Veraison II

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Harvest!  The Pinots are maturing nicely and the Chardonnays are taking on that luminescent glow that promises golden luscious fruit. By the time you read this the Syrahs, Merlot, and Cabernets will be well on their way to the final phase of ripening. Pinot Noir vineyards will be harvesting.

If we get a heavy fall rain there may be need for a late season botrytis spray of Elevate. This is only necessary if we get a significant rain and if your vineyard is already suffering from mildew damage and is yet weeks away from harvest. Your best defense against late morning fog and heavy dew is canopy management. Create an environment within your canopy that allows the clusters to dry out quickly. Even if you have to resort to a late season spray it will do no good if you canít get adequate coverage. Maintain vigilance on late season irrigation practices as well. Try not to let your canopy die out too quickly. The leaves are your photosynthetic sugar factory and you need green healthy leaves to keep the fruit ripening. Though we may never get our late season heat this year it is important to pay attention and be prepared for some measured irrigation if the days heat up or the canopy appears to be shutting down.  After harvest give your vines a deep drink (8 hours or more) to allow them to shut down and recover nutrients for next yearís crop.

2005 has been a bit of a challenging year.  Unseasonable spring rains in June and July have created havoc among some growers, especially in Chardonnay vineyards with historic mildew infections. Once you are into verasion, the mildew pressure will subside. If you have mildew damage you may need to keep some Elevate in the storage shed available to apply to healthy clusters in case of any significant late season rain. Elevate has a reach back effect of up to 72 hours post rain event. Elevate can only be used 3 times a year and is a fungicide specific to Botrytis. 

 Even more than spraying, the most important defense against botrytis is canopy management. In fact if anything can be said about management of vineyards in 2005 it is canopy management, often and early. Shoot thinning was required in many vineyards this year usually more than once. Leaf removal around newly set clusters was essential.  If you have not harvested yet be sure to cut apart clusters that are too tightly bound together or are crushed against some part of the trellis.

 Pinot Noirs are especially sensitive to heat events that occur suddenly after a steady pattern of foggy mornings. If your Pinot is not yet harvested be on guard against the response of shrivel to a sudden heat spike on water stressed vines. Even though this has been a cool fall things can still change with short notice.

 There are monitoring tools available to help you determine exactly how much water you need and when. The pressure bomb that measures water in the plant tissue is probably the most timely and accurate way to gauge water stress in the vine. There are also several different types of soil monitoring tools all of which have improved over the years. 

 Visual aids are always useful. Look at the tips of your vines. Are the tendrils growing past the tip? If so, your vines probably donít need water. Are the tendrils falling off? You probably should have watered last week. The drawback to visual aids is they are often a little after the fact but itís better than nothing.

The bottom line is that your vines are probably going to need extra help going into severe heat events, especially if you have Pinot Noir or Syrah. Cabernet, Chardonnay, and Merlot seem to hold up better but if you have historically seen significant shrivel in your vineyard consider trying some late season deficit irrigation techniques. In a season like this one many vineyards have not watered at all up until this point. Irrigation is a site specific thing so there is no one fits all schedule that works for everybody. Keep walking your vineyards and tasting the fruit. Look at your records. Talk to your winemakers. If your vines look thirsty they probably are and contrary to folk wisdom anorexic vines do not produce the best fruit. Love your vines and care for them with the attention of a parent. Give them a little drink when itís hot.

Put out mealy bug traps one more time to catch any late season flies in your vineyard.  No positive IDís were made from the traps that have been turned in so far. Keep checking.

Plan your cover crop and order seed. In weaker vineyards a simple blend of barley or oats and bell beans can be a wonderful soil builder and stabilizer. In mature vineyards that could use some vigor reduction, consider a permanent cover crop of a clover and fescue blend. There are many pre-formulated cover crop blends that are designed for specific vineyard conditions. Vineyard floor management is an essential tool for producing premium fruit and reducing labor and spray costs in the coming year due to excessive vigor or poor soil conditions. Planted vineyard floors also allow tractor access in the winter to apply dormant sprays or perform weed control.

Most of all enjoy your vineyard as you patiently await the perfect moment of harvest. There is nothing like an early fall morning stroll among the vines, sampling the extraordinary flavors that the unique appellation of the Santa Cruz Mountains can provide. As the sugars go up our hopes for the next best vintage soar.

Buena suerte y salud!

Prudy Foxx                             

President, Viticulture Association of the Santa Cruz Mountains

 (Vine Talk column, October 2005)

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