WootBot


quality posts: 14 Private Messages WootBot

Staff

There's an old aphorism (French, I think) that the vines must suffer in order to produce good wine. While this isn't exactly true, its origins are easy to understand. I''ll try to explain the basis for this belief and how that is connected to soils, irrigation, fertilization, diseases and yields.

Grapevines are very vigorous plants, not only capable of surviving in poor soils, but often thriving in soils that are unsuitable for most annual food crops. Vines are very efficient at using water and scavenging nitrogen from the soil, and can grow too vigorously if they have an abundant supply of either or both. You might ask why would high vigor be a problem when most farmers are thrilled to have bigger, healthier plants. Overly vigorous vines not only produce lower quality wine, they also produce smaller crops – a lose/lose proposition.

The reasons for smaller crops are two fold: low bud fruitfulness and poor set. Grapes are borne on shoots sprouting from the previous year's canes, and the potential crop is determined when those buds are being formed. Moderate temperatures and direct sunlight (red and infra-red wavelengths) are critical to the formation of grape cluster primordia in these buds. Cool rainy springtime weather can result in significant crop reduction the following year due to reduced cluster count and smaller clusters. There are people who perform microscopic analysis of buds in an attempt to determine how many buds to leave at pruning time. Poor set is often caused by bad weather at bloom time but can also be the result of internal factors such as nutrient or water deficiency, and also excessive vigor. The teleological explanation of the latter is that if growing conditions are so good, why should the plant bother making seeds. High vigor and low fruitfulness can become a self-perpetuating, vicious circle: vines with less fruit grow more leaves, creating more shade, reducing fruit production, increasing leaf growth, etc.

While wine and grape quality is subjective, most of the effects of excess vigor have universally accepted negative impact on wine quality. The most obvious is dilution of flavor due to larger berry size. Because color and flavor are concentrated in the skin of the grape, the lower skin : pulp ratio of larger berries means less color, aroma and flavor (everything else taken equally). Another effect of vigor is decreased light , both direct and indirect, on the clusters, delaying flavor and color development. A light bulb went on in my head during a 1983 trip to Burgundy and Bordeaux when I saw how the vines were trellised there. I had always wondered why California wines were generally more “green” and herbaceous at higher ripeness levels (in terms of sugar and acid) than their French counterparts. The shoots in the French vineyards were trained into a thin hedge, and the fruit was visible at the bottom of the hedge. At the time, virtually all California vineyards were pruned on a “fruiting wire” with a 24” crossarm mounted a foot higher with foliage support wires at each end. The shoots grew up and out, over the foliage wires and down, no manual labor required. This exposed a large leaf area to the sun, allowing the vines to produce plenty of sugar, but created a tunnel around the grapes with little light penetration. I can remember driving past vineyards a week before harvest and not being able to tell what color the grapes were. In addition to retarding color and flavor development, this system reduced fruitfulness and increased disease problems.

In the mid to late 1980s some growers started changing to a vertical training system. Sunlight Into Wine by Dr. Richard Smart, published in 1991, became required reading for growers and vineyard managers. A large amount of replanting due to Phylloxera that had spread during the late 80s hastened the change. This also led to a dramatic increase in the year-round vineyard labor force. Whereas the old system required hand labor only for pruning, harvest and maybe some suckering, the new system involved placing and moving foliage wires, tucking shoots between the wires, leaf removal and additional suckering, creating work all Spring and Summer. During the replanting many growers also chose rootstocks with lower vigor than the AxR they were replacing.

Now let's look at the factors that limit vigor, or make the vines “suffer”. Choice of location, specifically soil, is the oldest and most obvious. In Europe olive trees and grapevines were grown on low fertility soils with the double benefits of higher quality fruit and not tying up more fertile land needed for cereal grains and other annual crops. Water retention is probably more important than soil nutrient status, but both influence vigor. Without drought stress vines will not only grow excessively, they also will not concentrate sugar any higher than about 20% in the grapes (11-12% potential alcohol). Most of the wine growing regions of France receive significant rain during the growing season (April-September) and have proscriptions against irrigation. This has led to a fairly widely held belief that dry-farmed vines always make the best wine. I would argue that although excess water is deleterious to quality, so is insufficient water. We have 8+ acres of old dry-farmed vines that suffer too much in drier years and would make better wine those years if we could give them a bit of water. Likewise, wine quality in a number of regions of France suffered during the extremely hot and dry 2003 vintage. Vines don't care whether their water comes from a cloud or a drip hose; they do need some water.

As an aside, when I was in Paris in 2007 I found an interesting little wine shop in our neighborhood. When the proprietress found out I was a California vigneron she started telling me all of the California vineyard shortcomings. I highly doubt she had ever even been to the US, but she proceeded to tell me the soils were all the same, the climate was too hot, the vines too young, the vineyards too big and, worst of all, that we irrigate. With my limited French I argued every point: We have some of the most diverse soils in the world, being at the juncture of two huge tectonic plates. San Francisco is colder than Normandy in the summer and you could never ripen a grape there. I have unirrigated vines over 100 years old. My vineyard is only 8 hectares (she responded that some of her growers farmed only 4 or 5 hectares). Lastly, I told her that we don't get any rain during the season, and vines don't care where the water comes from. I'm not sure I caused her to have any doubt of her opinions of California, but she really took offense at that last suggestion. All in all it was an amiable “argument” and I did respect her support of artisan producers – she had wines that were both interesting and good.

Back in the early '90s my friend Organic Bob (the one who tried to get me to buy a propane weed flamer) extolled the virtues of grapes from phylloxera infested vineyards, his theory being that the increased vine stress improved quality. As strange as it seems, there is some, limited, truth to this. In situations of excess vigor, disease can actually bring the vine into better balance. Unfortunately, phylloxera doesn't just weaken vines a little, it ultimately kills them. While one vineyard with which Bob had experience may have made better wine one year, that was the exception rather than the rule. Most phylloxerated vineyards fail to ripen grapes well; I remember one winery marketing a rosé (that was supposed to have been a red wine) called Bug Juice one year. I believe that mild grape leafroll virus (found in quite a few old vineyards) can sometimes have a beneficial effect on wine quality by slowing sugar production and accumulation. These disease or pest problems can only have a quality enhancing effect if the vineyard is otherwise overly vigorous. It is the goal of any good vineyard manager to have a healthy, balanced, fruitful, high quality vineyard.

I know quite a few winemakers (but not grower/winemakers) who claim the lower the yield, the higher the quality. The flawed logic is that if 6 tons per acre (TPA) makes better wine than 9 TPA and 4TPA better than 6TPA (usually true), then 2 TPA will be better than 4, 1 TPA even better...The sins of overcropping are well known, and most growers want to grow as large a crop as they can ripen properly. However, too small a crop can actually harm quality; the vines are out of balance, grow too vigorously, compensate by increasing berry size (diluting flavor and color) and ripen grapes too quickly.

In summary, excessive vine vigor is a lot more common than insufficient vigor, but the best wines come from balanced vines, not suffering vines. Soil and climate are set factors that have huge influence on vine vigor, but growers can adjust and attain balanced vines through informed use of rootstock, spacing, trellising, pruning, fertilization and irrigation. A well designed vineyard needs less intervention to attain balance, is easier and cheaper to farm, and will be more consistent in producing high quality wine. What constitutes a well designed vineyard? It's a vineyard that has a compatible combination of site, rootstock and scion variety, and spacing and trellising that produces a good balance of fruit and foliar growth. It is not so vigorous that a lot of leaf removal or other remedial canopy work is necessary. It is not so low in vigor that it needs lots of fertilizer or irrigation. It's a vineyard that usually sets enough crop but doesn't need a lot of thinning. A good vineyard also has uniformity.  Many vineyards have variable soil depth and composition; this results in uneven vigor if the site is farmed in uniform fashion. One year one of my growers wanted to irrigate his whole vineyard late in the season because a few weak vines were losing a lot of leaves. 80 % of the vines were fine, 15% too vigorous and 5% suffering. I told him you can't farm based on the weakest 5% of your vineyard – there's too big a compromise of quality. The next year he put in extra emitters for the weak vines and also (hooray) valves to cut off water to the overly vigorous areas, which are now virtually dry farmed.. A well designed and managed vineyard compensates for soil variation with different rootstocks, different spacing and variable irrigation.


joelsisk


quality posts: 7 Private Messages joelsisk

Great Post with tons of useful information! But, to which winemaker do I owe the kudos? I'll assume that the sidebar is correct and Peter is back.

rpm


quality posts: 167 Private Messages rpm

Really wonderful discussion Peter! As a grower/winemaker, you present both sides of this in a very easy to understand way. I think that there is much tighter integration in terms of input into the way a vineyard is farmed than there used to be, but I remember talk of penalties (or the ability to reject the grapes!) if the yields were too big. Last thing most growers would want would be to end up on the spot market with 12 tons/acre fruit...., but sure, they'd love to get an extra ton or so out -- especially at Cab and Chardonnay prices....

Wine-tasting in 8 words:
Pull lots of corks!
Remember what you taste!

andyduncan


quality posts: 32 Private Messages andyduncan
When the proprietress found out I was a California vigneron she started telling me all of the California vineyard shortcomings.



You should have told her "I'm huge on Woot!", I'm sure that would have cleared things up completely.

Another great article SB, thanks for the insight.

I'm putting WD's kids through college.

otolith


quality posts: 22 Private Messages otolith

Such a nice read. Always like the insight of learning from a wine maker.

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe."
--John Muir

gcdyersb


quality posts: 141 Private Messages gcdyersb

Peter/SB-

It might have been you that mentioned this in the forums a while ago, but I recall reading that the longer days during the growing season for more northerly growing regions typically result in grapes that are phenolically ripe at lower sugar levels. I suppose the implication here is that temperature (IR) drives sugar production, while light exposure (visible & UV) drives phenolic maturity. Is this at least a sensible simplification all other considerations being equal, or is there a lot more that goes into the phenol vs. sugar equation?

Cabernet Franc: it's not just for blending! It's also for blogging.

SonomaBouliste


quality posts: 232 Private Messages SonomaBouliste
gcdyersb wrote:Peter/SB-

It might have been you that mentioned this in the forums a while ago, but I recall reading that the longer days during the growing season for more northerly growing regions typically result in grapes that are phenolically ripe at lower sugar levels. I suppose the implication here is that temperature (IR) drives sugar production, while light exposure (visible & UV) drives phenolic maturity. Is this at least a sensible simplification all other considerations being equal, or is there a lot more that goes into the phenol vs. sugar equation?



I think your conclusion is pretty much spot on. Temperature (air temp, not IR intensity) is the biggest factor in sugar production. Chlorophyll utilizes visible red and blue (but not green) wavelengths. More light combined with moderate temps (higher elevation or latitude) is a nice combination.

Winedavid39


quality posts: 198 Private Messages Winedavid39

Guest Blogger

SonomaBouliste wrote:I think your conclusion is pretty much spot on. Temperature (air temp, not IR intensity) is the biggest factor in sugar production. Chlorophyll utilizes visible red and blue (but not green) wavelengths. More light combined with moderate temps (higher elevation or latitude) is a nice combination.




gcdyersb's got some game..

bardolator


quality posts: 3 Private Messages bardolator

This was fascinating--and is exactly why I'm so in love with w.w.

Makes me appreciate the Wellington Marsanne and Roussanne I got even more. We drank one of each and cellared the other two; the insightfulness of this post makes me want to try more Wellingtons!

(And, as an educator, I really appreciate the precision of the language in which it's written. Well done, sir.)

woopdedoo


quality posts: 35 Private Messages woopdedoo
SonomaBouliste wrote:The teleological explanation of the latter is that if growing conditions are so good, why should the plant bother making seeds.



Seems like the whole process could be a useful guide for raising kids too.

SonomaBouliste


quality posts: 232 Private Messages SonomaBouliste
bardolator wrote:This was fascinating--and is exactly why I'm so in love with w.w.

(And, as an educator, I really appreciate the precision of the language in which it's written. Well done, sir.)



You flatter me. Writing affords one the opportunity to choose words more carefully than while speaking, and I like to try to take advantage of that. This does, of course, slow down the process; when I was in school writing papers was an excruciating process.

damightyanteater


quality posts: 12 Private Messages damightyanteater

Once again Peter, thanks for the awesome insight.

Its really nice how these blogs in general have progressed. Its like school. Initially they were general and each one seems to get a bit more into gritty details and science (I really love the science).

    My last 5 woots:
  • Robert Craig Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon x2
  • Woot Cellars Boss Monster Zinfandel Six - Pack
  • Armida Winery Poizin Trio
  • Olivestri Siloro olio nuovo
  • Wellington Vineyard Designate Cabernet Trio

MaskedMarvel


quality posts: 11 Private Messages MaskedMarvel

Peter - I know that it typically takes a vine ~3 years to produce viable fruit. Is there a totally different feeding/watering process during this time?


Nice to have another blog from you.

WineWootaholic


quality posts: 1 Private Messages WineWootaholic
MaskedMarvel wrote:Peter - I know that it typically takes a vine ~3 years to produce viable fruit. Is there a totally different feeding/watering process during this time?


Nice to have another blog from you.


I'm also interested in this answer, I'm setting up my vineyard/irrigation drip (vs Micro Spray)system in Colorado, and they advised me to have the drip directly above the plant for the first two years, to give the plant direct water,then to move the drip between the plants, to encourage the plants to expand their root system for the water, and soil's nutrition, with the added benefits of the plant getting water on both sides, so in case one drip plugs up, the plant still has water.
(I might add, my area in Colorado gets about 8 inches of rain/moisture per year, with 300 - 320 days of sunshine, and irrigation of one type or another is a requirement, or else it's just gravel with some hardy weeds that grow.)

Peter, what level/amount of natural rainfall does Napa/Sonoma receive?

A man not old, but mellow, like good wine,
Stephen Phillips (1845-1915)

"I love cooking with wine, Sometimes I even put it in the food."

33 wine.woot's, 9 woot-off wines

SonomaBouliste


quality posts: 232 Private Messages SonomaBouliste
MaskedMarvel wrote:Peter - I know that it typically takes a vine ~3 years to produce viable fruit. Is there a totally different feeding/watering process during this time?


Nice to have another blog from you.



I've seen people push vines hard enough to get 2 TPA or more in the second year, though it usually costs them the next year or two. The first year in the ground they need more frequent watering because they don't have a very big root system. Starting year two we try to develop a strong vine both above and below ground. Most commercial vineyards try to get close to 50% of a full crop in year 3 and a full crop in year 4. I've been more conservative - maybe 25% year 3, 50% year 4, 75% year 5. I think this gives better wine quality and healthier, longer lived vines.

SonomaBouliste


quality posts: 232 Private Messages SonomaBouliste
WineWootaholic wrote:I'm also interested in this answer, I'm setting up my vineyard/irrigation drip (vs Micro Spray)system in Colorado, and they advised me to have the drip directly above the plant for the first two years, to give the plant direct water,then to move the drip between the plants, to encourage the plants to expand their root system for the water, and soil's nutrition, with the added benefits of the plant getting water on both sides, so in case one drip plugs up, the plant still has water.
(I might add, my area in Colorado gets about 8 inches of rain/moisture per year, with 300 - 320 days of sunshine, and irrigation of one type or another is a requirement, or else it's just gravel with some hardy weeds that grow.)

Peter, what level/amount of natural rainfall does Napa/Sonoma receive?



If your soil is fairly uniform a valuable exercise would be to excavate under a drip emitter after a couple of hours of watering. This will show the area being irrigated. In a very porous soil this wet zone may be almost cylidrical, not spreading very far laterally. In a heavy clay soil it will be more tear drop in shape. First year vines have a very small root system, so the water needs to be delivered quite close to the vine. If you leave some slack in your drip lines you can slide the emitters a foot away from the vine for year 2, and farther in subsequent years if your soil wetting zone is large enough. I wouldn't go from at the vine to halfway between vines for year 2. An alternative to sliding the hose is to use spaghetti tubing; put the emitter two feet from the vine and run spaghetti tubing back to the vine. The tubing can be trimmed a bit in year 2 and trimmed more or removed in year 3.


Rainfall in Sonoma County is mostly orographic and highly variable. The town of Sonoma averages about 22". We're about 8 miles away and average about 38". One of the vineyards we buy from, Mohrhardt Ridge, averages over 90" a year. The typical range for most of Napa and Sonoma counties is 20-40".

SonomaBouliste


quality posts: 232 Private Messages SonomaBouliste
damightyanteater wrote:Once again Peter, thanks for the awesome insight.

Its really nice how these blogs in general have progressed. Its like school. Initially they were general and each one seems to get a bit more into gritty details and science (I really love the science).



I did a "regular" blog for a year, loosely themed as "a day in the life" journal, with forays into different issues when they presented themselves or someone made a request. I stopped doing that because the annual winegrowing/winemaking cycle repeats itself. Rather than giving details about frost protection or bottling or whatever is going on at the time, I am now addressing one topic at a time. Up next (not sure when): Everything you wanted to know about barrels but were afraid to ask.

woopdedoo


quality posts: 35 Private Messages woopdedoo

Off topic- but I just wanted to say I am just finishing a bottle of the 2002 Sonoma Valley Syrah Reserve and it is wonderful - still holding the fruit and the tannins - really well balanced goodness. Thanks!

WineWootaholic


quality posts: 1 Private Messages WineWootaholic
SonomaBouliste wrote:Everything you wanted to know about barrels but were afraid to ask.


or "We don't know enough to ask...."

A man not old, but mellow, like good wine,
Stephen Phillips (1845-1915)

"I love cooking with wine, Sometimes I even put it in the food."

33 wine.woot's, 9 woot-off wines

SonomaBouliste


quality posts: 232 Private Messages SonomaBouliste
WineWootaholic wrote:or "We don't know enough to ask...."




Nah, that would be the stuff you don't want to know, but I'm going to insist on telling you anyway. I'll be like the in-law who doesn't know when to shut up or when he's overstayed his welcome.

SmilingBoognish


quality posts: 46 Private Messages SmilingBoognish
SonomaBouliste wrote:Up next (not sure when): Everything you wanted to know about barrels but were afraid to ask.



Like, "why do I think the old ones make really cool planters and my wife doesn't?" ;)

Seriously, can't wait to learn about the barrels! I was at a Rosenblum event once where we barrel tasted the exact same juice which had been aged in three barrels of varying degrees of toast* and the difference was quite noticeable even though I'd been tasting wine for a couple hours!

*is that the right term? I guess I'll have to wait to find out!

zmanonice


quality posts: 21 Private Messages zmanonice

Peter, thanks for the great article. Could you please explain one term that you used in your writeup: "poor set".

Thanks,

Z

SonomaBouliste


quality posts: 232 Private Messages SonomaBouliste
zmanonice wrote:Peter, thanks for the great article. Could you please explain one term that you used in your writeup: "poor set".

Thanks,

Z



Set or fruit set is the successful pollination of the flowers. Poor set means a lot of aborted flowers, resulting in scraggly clusters with fewer berries - less crop.

Lighter


quality posts: 10 Private Messages Lighter
SmilingBoognish wrote:Like, "why do I think the old ones make really cool planters and my wife doesn't?" ;)




I think that goes back to the Garden of Eden.




NotGoddess


quality posts: 2 Private Messages NotGoddess

Thank you, Peter. I don't consider myself a wine person in any sense, but I found your article fascinating.

ScottHarveyWines


quality posts: 151 Private Messages ScottHarveyWines

Great article Peter. Funny, my experience with the wine shops in Paris was the same. Have had great experiences with French producers.

Moondragon


quality posts: 8 Private Messages Moondragon
SmilingBoognish wrote:Like, "why do I think the old ones make really cool planters and my wife doesn't?" ;)



Ok, this read at first as your wife not making a good planter! My mind went immediately to taxidermy thoughts.

It sure stings when orange soda travels through your nose.

kylemittskus


quality posts: 229 Private Messages kylemittskus

Just wanted to say thanks Peter. I read. I enjoyed. And I am appreciative.

"If drinking is bitter, change yourself to wine." -Rainer Maria Rilke

"Champagne is a very kind and friendly thing on a rainy night." -Isak Dinesen

shrdlu


quality posts: 4 Private Messages shrdlu
SonomaBouliste wrote:Nah, that would be the stuff you don't want to know, but I'm going to insist on telling you anyway. I'll be like the in-law who doesn't know when to shut up or when he's overstayed his welcome.



Well, now, as long as I have your attention...

Back when the Wellington Port Trio was offered, I had the beginnings of an interesting conversation with you, and now have further questions.

Why do you select the various grapes that you do to make your ports? I see some that are similar to the types of grapes that are used in real Port (those grown in the Douro area), and some that I just don't understand the "why" of.

Do you add brandy? I have to believe that the answer is yes; you don't seem like the everclear type. Still, I ask.

Thank you for not adding Cabernet (or other harsh grapes). I've had WA "Port" that was made from a mix of Cabernet and other types, and it was singularly unpleasant. I will not be so rude as to name it here.

Is there any attempt to either use specific grapes of the type that are used in Portugal, or to come as close as possible? I quote from the For the Love of Port website FAQ:

"There are five key grapes used for the majority of Port types: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca and Tinto Cão. Of course there are many other grapes that can be added to the blend and each grape adds a unique component to the final assemblage. Some add aromatic charm, others body weight, complexity and richness, still other grapes bring a unique flavor profile to the party, but all have their place and raison d’être."

(http://www.fortheloveofport.com/faqs/port-faqs.html)

P.S. A discerning friend was so impressed with the 2004 (not bought via Woot, but at my suggestion) that he is considering ordering a case.

It takes months to find a customer, but only seconds to lose one.
The good news is that we should run out of them in no time.

http://demotivators.despair.com/demotivational/disservicedemotivator.jpg

zmanonice


quality posts: 21 Private Messages zmanonice
SonomaBouliste wrote:Set or fruit set is the successful pollination of the flowers. Poor set means a lot of aborted flowers, resulting in scraggly clusters with fewer berries - less crop.



Thanks for the reply. Makes perfect sense now in context.

Z

SonomaBouliste


quality posts: 232 Private Messages SonomaBouliste
shrdlu wrote:Well, now, as long as I have your attention...

Back when the Wellington Port Trio was offered, I had the beginnings of an interesting conversation with you, and now have further questions.

Why do you select the various grapes that you do to make your ports? I see some that are similar to the types of grapes that are used in real Port (those grown in the Douro area), and some that I just don't understand the "why" of.

Do you add brandy? I have to believe that the answer is yes; you don't seem like the everclear type. Still, I ask.

Thank you for not adding Cabernet (or other harsh grapes). I've had WA "Port" that was made from a mix of Cabernet and other types, and it was singularly unpleasant. I will not be so rude as to name it here.

Is there any attempt to either use specific grapes of the type that are used in Portugal, or to come as close as possible? I quote from the For the Love of Port website FAQ:

"There are five key grapes used for the majority of Port types: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca and Tinto Cão. Of course there are many other grapes that can be added to the blend and each grape adds a unique component to the final assemblage. Some add aromatic charm, others body weight, complexity and richness, still other grapes bring a unique flavor profile to the party, but all have their place and raison d’être."

(http://www.fortheloveofport.com/faqs/port-faqs.html)

P.S. A discerning friend was so impressed with the 2004 (not bought via Woot, but at my suggestion) that he is considering ordering a case.



The grapes chose us. We use grapes from our estate vineyard blocks planted between 1892 and 1924. Some are varieties grown in Portugal, some not. I am a strong believer in using multiple varieties for Port style wines; I'm not terribly fond of Zinfandel ports, and every Cabernet port I've ever tried was an abomination.

We fortify with a high proof unaged brandy. It has some fruitiness but no oak character; I don't want to detract from the aromas and flavors of the vineyard.