Grape set

In the privacy of her sheltered vineyard, our Old Vine is bearing fruit. The blossoms she produced in May have popped their caps, releasing pistils and stamens that rub against each other in the process. Now self-pollinated, the grapes for vintage 2009 Zinfandels have been born. By the time I visit in mid-June, only a few signs of the miracle are visible, protected beneath a tangle of bright green leaves. Other clusters closer to the plant's trunk bear fruit the size of small pearls.

Threats exist at each stage of the growing cycle, but this year we've been spared a few of the major ones. With brief exceptions, overnight temperatures stayed well above freezing in late spring while buds and blossoms were most fragile. And as drought pressures water supplies throughout California, a few inches of May rain kept the vineyards watered without irrigation. Unseasonably cool, humid days in early June had vineyard managers poised to combat powdery mildew and Botrytis bunch rot, both of which thrive in moist conditions, but by mid-June, 80-degree weather has returned.

The month has been a blur of pest control, canopy management and planting for vineyard manager Steve Thomas and his crew of 20 to 30. They work their way across
Kunde Family Estate acreage one vineyard at a time, dusting vines with organic sulfur and using stylet mineral oil to discourage spider mites. Vines planted to fill holes in existing vineyards are protected with empty milk containers. Heavy construction equipment labors just over the hill from our Old Vine. It is leveling a Cabernet Franc vineyard that no longer made the cut, producing small quantities of unexceptional fruit. The land will lie fallow for a year before a new batch of Cabernet or Zinfandel vines are brought in.

Today workers whip past on four-wheelers and in farm trucks, but they rarely stop. Aside from regular maintenance visits - shoot thinning, bug proofing and mildew dusting - the Shaw vineyard is left alone. Its plants are dry farmed, which means they have survived by taking what Nature gives them and making the best of it. This year they have responded by sending out branches so tall I can't see above them and so plentiful they hide the trunk.

Once crews have gone home for the night, with owls and birds of prey their only spectators, these long, leggy vines dance along with the cool coastal breezes. It's a sight many of us in Wine Country have never seen, since modern vineyards are planted in narrow rows, with vines trained to grow on trellises for easy picking. In contrast, these Old Vines are left
au naturale, ungirdled and free to undulate in each new gust of wind.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Linda Lou! I'm following astutely. I have my one "vineyard" here in the arbor on the side of the house. You are teaching me a lot. Each year I google the same material about pruning and watch the cycle. For the first time we got "grapes" (in quotes cuz geez what WERE those little suckers?!). Looks like more fun this summer. I'm going to keep posted with your info. Thanks!!!! (plus... I just love your writing)