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Viticulture Association of the Santa Cruz Mountains

  Veraison III

Map with permission of VinMaps

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Veraison 2007. Color came to the fruit a bit early this year, reminding me a little of the 2004 vintage. For some vineyards veraison moved through like fire while in others the process slowed with a slight cooling trend. You might notice that early varieties pruned earlier also may have gone into veraison first.  Sometimes spreading the pruning process over the whole winter will be reflected in a pattern of veraison similar to the timing of pruning. Cooler blocks and healthier vines may take longer to turn as well.  The weakest, most stressed vines often show veraison first, as if they would like to get the season over with quickly and get on to a much needed long winterís sleep. 

If your grapes are clean then the spray season is well behind you and it is time to concentrate on bird protection, nets, and water. Keep an eye on the skies however. An August rain can bring on botrytis. Research tells us that this fuzzy visitor needs 6 hours of continuous running water to invade your fruit. I have noticed that the thinner-skinned varieties such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are more susceptible than others though I have seen the rot on every variety under the right conditions. Grapes already damaged by mildew or birds or those buried in the shade of an overactive vine tend to succumb as well. A year or two of severe botrytis is incentive indeed to keep the vineyard clean and the vines groomed. The first line of defense against botrytis is a well-managed leaf canopy. This practice allows the grapes to dry from periods of mild wetness without allowing sunburn.

Elevate or Armicarb are two good options if it becomes necessary to apply a late season spray for botrytis. Elevate is pure chemistry with proven reach-back effects. Armicarb works best on fresh infections. In general, organic materials often are most effective where they land but they do not tend to move through the vine on their own. This is one of the reasons they work better on small, early season canopies and on vineyards that are meticulously maintained and where the fruit zone has enough exposure to receive the spray early on. Used later in the season or as an eradicant it is important to use enough water to ensure thorough coverage.

We have already discussed what a dry year 2007 has been. Keep a sharp eye on the water status of your vines. Another consequence of the dry conditions may be slower nutrient uptake through the vines. Be sure to monitor your canopy. If you notice the basal leaves yellowing prematurely you may have a serious nitrogen deficiency. Itís hard to make this up after the fact but it may be worth a try rather than to watch all the leaves turn yellow well before ripening. Fresh green leaves perform the photosynthesis required for sugar production in the fruit. On older vines the fruit may be able to mine stored resources in the plant but this will have to be replenished eventually somehow. Many growers supplement with nutrient amendments at veraison.  If you notice your canopy finishing up early this year you may want to incorporate a season long nutrient plan for next year.  Be sure to check petiole nutrient levels at bloom to help you make informed decisions.

Water before your vines wither and keep the canopy healthy as it enters this fruit maturation phase.

Fruit thinning is always a topic of conversation. Thinning can start any time after fruit set and continue into veraison. The longer you wait the less effect this work will have on ripening. A good rule of thumb is to remove clusters that are bunched up with each other or crushed against wire. Keep the number of clusters in balance with the size of the canopy.  In some vineyards we move the base wire up a level just to get it out of the fruit zone and to allow more space for the fruit. As the fruit softens and gains sugar it is more likely to burst if crowded out by other clusters or trellis hardware. Wine grapes love their personal space and plenty of stippled lighting and flowing air. This is not unlike many of the growers that tend them. Give the clusters the resources and space they need and you will be rewarded with rich complex fruit that is clean, fully mature and beautiful to behold.

Start tasting the 2007 vintage anytime now. Already each vineyard is expressing itself with the promise of the sweet depths to come. Take care during this last phase. It can be a gentle time where the hard work of canopy and disease management, weed and vertebrate control all pay off. The reward of clean fruit reaching itís greatest potential is sweet indeed. If you have had problems, there may still be time to fix them but most likely you need to cut out the really bad fruit and spend extra time on whatís left. The days may not seem so soft but you may still get some fruit so donít give up. 

Taste your grapes with each brix added. Allow the many aspects of fruit maturation to guide the decision on the best day of harvest.

Good luck.  Have a bountiful fall. And bon apetit!

Prudy Foxx
President Emeritus
Viticulture Association of the Santa Cruz Mountains

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Last modified: 11-May-15 10:25 -0500