WootBot


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Welcome old friend Peter Wellington of Wellington Vineyards back to the Woot blog for this look back at the 2009 vintage. Take it away, Peter!

Please accept my apology for the long delay in filing this report. My original intention was to write this in November (2009), but some unforeseen issues popped up and I’ve been behind schedule at work ever since then. There were three main topics that dominated local news stories about the wine industry last fall: unsold grapes, the European grapevine moth, and the big storm.

There have always been cycles of grape shortages and gluts, but during my almost 30 years in the wine biz I have never seen anything like the situation in 2009. Wineries were dropping grape contracts and commitments right and left over worries about inventory levels and cash flow. Almost every summer one will see listings for Lodi Cabernet sauvignon, Lake County Sauvignon blanc or Sonoma County Syrah grapes for sale, but this past year any and everything was available, usually at bargain prices. If you were looking for Dry Creek Zinfandel there were multiple choices. The same was true for Oakville Cabernet sauvignon, Russian River Pinot noir or anything else your heart desired. During crush I was offered “extra” grapes from several great vineyards at very low prices. The usual story was that a very prestigious winery had taken the amount stipulated by their contract but didn’t want / couldn’t afford to buy any excess grapes. I was tempted, but refrained from all these offers because of both budget and space constraints. Even behemoths such as Gallo and Constellation weren’t making their usual low-ball offers.

In October, toward the end of crush, the discovery of a “new” exotic pest in a Napa Valley vineyard was announced. The European grapevine moth (EGVM), Lobesia botrana, is the fourth new insect pest found in North Coast wine country in the past decade or so. So far none of them have caused significant losses for grapegrowers here. The first, and most serious, of the four was the glassy winged sharpshooter (GWSS), a very efficient vector for vine killing Pierce’s Disease (PD). Pierce’s Disease destroyed the Southern California wine industry in the 1880’s. PD was known as Anaheim Disease at the time, named for the utopian winegrowing colony founded in Orange County by German immigrants. It also devastated Temecula area vineyards in the 1990’s, after the introduction of GWSS. Quarantine and inspection of plant material (primarily nursery stock) from infested areas has been effective thus far in preventing GWSS from establishing a foothold in the North Coast. Near hysteria amongst growers has subsided into complacency, but a serious threat still exists. There are also quarantines in place for the Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM), although it is likely more of a nuisance than a serious threat to vineyards. The Vine Mealybug probably falls in between the first two as far as the potential economic damage it could wreak. It can get inside grape clusters and cause bunch rot, and it is hard to kill because it burrows underneath the bark on grapevine trunks. Fortunately, unlike the GWSS and LBAM, it can’t fly, so it spreads very slowly unless moved by people and equipment.

From what I’ve read, EVGM is potentially more damaging than either LBAM or Vine Mealybug. In early April, when I wrote the rough draft for this blog, the only action being taken regarding EGVM was plans for a detection program. Because the discovery was made late in the 2009 season and EGVM is dormant in winter the extent of infestation was hard to determine.

A much more troubling situation has unfolded over the last three to four weeks (during April). The emergence of the first generation of adult moths since a widespread trapping program was instituted has revealed the extent of the infestation and how it may be spreading. Apparently the pest has been in the Oakville / Rutherford area of Napa Valley for at least two years (probably more), but was not identified because the USDA had neither specimens nor DNA in their database. Growers had found the moths, seen the damage, and brought specimens to the Napa County Agricultural Commissioner’s office, but no one could identify them. One of the USDA’s functions is to protect US agriculture from exotic pests; but how can you prevent a new pest from becoming established if you don’t know what it looks like? Shouldn’t they have a library of all significant pests that aren’t here yet?

Tens of thousands of moths were trapped in Napa Valley during April, and trapping there has been suspended so as not to overwhelm the state entomology lab. Eradication efforts are in full swing, with growers spraying pesticides (both “organic” and “synthetic”) on every vine in the infested area. Stray moths have been found in several other counties, and at least one small infestation exists outside of Napa, apparently introduced by a grape delivery from Napa. Quarantines are being formulated regarding shipment of grapes and handling of crush byproducts. We may have to build a hot compost for all our stems and skins this year to lower the risk of introducing the EGVM into our vineyard.

The third story of the 2009 crush is the one I care about most because it affected wine quality. Weather, of course, is the dominant (if not only) factor in vintage to vintage variation. Late August and September weather was quite typical for the North Coast. There were some intermittent heat waves, but nothing extreme, as in 1999 or 2002. My opinion is that the weather was better than in 2008, but nowhere near the ideal conditions of 2007. Quality should be good to very good for most whites, Pinot Noir, and everything else that ripened fully before the big storm. Our El Niño winter started with a bang on October 13th, when over five inches of rain fell here in one day. Everywhere in Sonoma and Napa got at least two inches, and cool weather with showers persisted for another couple of days. I don’t have the stats readily available, but I think this was more rain during harvest than in 1993, 1989, or even 1983.

The harvest pace was frenetic from Oct. 10th to the 12th, as growers and wineries tried to pull in everything that was ripe. We set a record for our biggest crush tonnage day ever on the 12th, processing over 25% of our red grapes in one day. I would never pick unripe grapes because of an impending storm, and we let several vineyards hang for more ripening. We did incur losses, both in tonnage and potential quality, but I think the resulting wine is still better than if we had picked those vineyards before the storm. Even before the storm, certain experts were predicting a below average quality vintage for Cabernet in Napa and Sonoma, based in part on analysis of the phenolic makeup of the ripening grapes. I personally am very happy with the Cabernet we brought in prior to the storm, and okay with what came in later, but it sounds as if it will go down as an uneven vintage overall.

 

kylemittskus


quality posts: 230 Private Messages kylemittskus

Thanks a lot PW for the time and knowledge you give us lowly wooters.

Overall, are pests like insects more of a problem than bacteria in the wine industry? Or are they more easily managed (once identified) and thus, less of a problem?

"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

rpm


quality posts: 172 Private Messages rpm

Peter, Thank you for an outstanding report, which I read with great interest. I'm not sure if you knew my Father was a bacteriologist for the California Department of Agriculture and one of his cousins was a fruit inspector. My Dad mostly did work in animal pathology, but some plant pathology as well. I grew up hearing talk about the various pests as well as the disease threats in the vineyards, especially when my oenologist great uncles would discuss their issues with my Dad.

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

Cesare


quality posts: 1619 Private Messages Cesare

Nice to have you back Peter. Always interesting to read about some of the behind the scenes things.
Unbelievable that so many grapes were available. Did a lot of that eventually go to waste if there were no buyers? Or did it become a different product other than wine? Do you see the same happening this year?
Sorry to hear about the pest problems. Are they typically visible/noticeable right away or do you only see the damage later. I guess the moths were obviously visible.
And thanks for the vintage report. Time to keep stocking up on 2007s. (Except for your stuff, which is always good )
See you next week!

-il Cesare
Sole Absolute Triple
Exalted High Tastemaster Supreme
“In the entire world there are only a few sounds that bring joy to all but the most jaded. One is the murmur of a kitten purring. Another is the thwack of a well-pitched baseball hitting a perfectly swung bat. And the third is the pop of a cork being pulled from a bottle of wine.” —George Taber

klezman


quality posts: 122 Private Messages klezman

A very interesting report, Peter! Thank you! How do these pests get here in the first place? I wold have thought they'd only be transported as stowaways on vine clippings sent here from Europe.

With the glut of grapes from 2009, then, what can consumers expect from those wines in terms of QPR? Will the excess higher quality grapes make their way into less expensive wines? Or were they somehow removed from the market, keeping the wine prices somewhat stable for that vintage? Some other effect that's less obvious?

Looking forward to meeting you next week!

2014: 32 bottles. Last wine.woot: Scott Harvey Jana Cathedral 3 L
2013: 66 bottles, 2012: 91 bottles, 2011: 92 bottles, 2010: 74 bottles, 2009: 30 bottles, 2008: 3 bottles My CT

SonomaBouliste


quality posts: 234 Private Messages SonomaBouliste
kylemittskus wrote:Thanks a lot PW for the time and knowledge you give us lowly wooters.

Overall, are pests like insects more of a problem than bacteria in the wine industry? Or are they more easily managed (once identified) and thus, less of a problem?



It's kind of hard to compare. Grapes are a lot easier to grow than many crops as far as pests are concerned. We, and many other winegrape growers in California have never had to use insecticides. There are no ubiquitous insect pests here that require treatment. This could change if the EGVM gets established. Insects have, however, been responsible for catastrophic vine death both directly (phylloxera) and indirectly (PD vectors). Wine spoilage microbes (bacteria and yeast) are ubiquitous and need to be kept in check. They are always a concern, but cause spoilage here and there rather than regional catastrophies.

SonomaBouliste


quality posts: 234 Private Messages SonomaBouliste
rpm wrote:Peter, Thank you for an outstanding report, which I read with great interest. I'm not sure if you knew my Father was a bacteriologist for the California Department of Agriculture and one of his cousins was a fruit inspector. My Dad mostly did work in animal pathology, but some plant pathology as well. I grew up hearing talk about the various pests as well as the disease threats in the vineyards, especially when my oenologist great uncles would discuss their issues with my Dad.



I didn't know that about your father. That's pretty close to a previous vocational path of mine; I worked for the CDFA for about four years as an ag biologist.

SonomaBouliste


quality posts: 234 Private Messages SonomaBouliste
Cesare wrote:Nice to have you back Peter. Always interesting to read about some of the behind the scenes things.
Unbelievable that so many grapes were available. Did a lot of that eventually go to waste if there were no buyers? Or did it become a different product other than wine? Do you see the same happening this year?
Sorry to hear about the pest problems. Are they typically visible/noticeable right away or do you only see the damage later. I guess the moths were obviously visible.
And thanks for the vintage report. Time to keep stocking up on 2007s. (Except for your stuff, which is always good )
See you next week!



Argh! Multiple questions again. More than a few vineyards went unharvested for the first time in almost two decades. There is not any significant alternative use of wine grapes. And yes, it does appear that there will be a serious surplus this year. Some grapes were sold at greatly discounted prices and some were custom crushed by growers hoping to sell them as bulk wine (wine does keep better than grapes).

The EVGM lays its eggs on grape cluster stems and the larvae develop inside individual grapes. The "discovery" was made by observation of the damage (bunch rot) rather than observation of the moth itself. The adults are rather unspectacular, only about a quarter of an inch long, and the eggs and larvae are also small. It took at least two years to identify the cause of the problem.

SonomaBouliste


quality posts: 234 Private Messages SonomaBouliste
klezman wrote:A very interesting report, Peter! Thank you! How do these pests get here in the first place? I wold have thought they'd only be transported as stowaways on vine clippings sent here from Europe.

With the glut of grapes from 2009, then, what can consumers expect from those wines in terms of QPR? Will the excess higher quality grapes make their way into less expensive wines? Or were they somehow removed from the market, keeping the wine prices somewhat stable for that vintage? Some other effect that's less obvious?

Looking forward to meeting you next week!



Nobody knows how they got here, but one of the possible explanations is that they came in on smuggled grapevine cuttings.

Lower grape prices can result in lower wine prices / better QPR, but this is probably more of a case of lower wine prices (lower demand for higher priced wines) resulting in lower grape prices. A lot of the excess higher qulity grapes will make their way into less expensive wines. Wineries and custom crush growers are not very likely to lavish as much attention and money (eg French oak barrels) on these wines, so they're generally not going to be equal to their more expensive counterparts. Wine sales at the various price points drive production costs (including grape prices) more than vice versa. In the long run growers will need to cut costs if grape prices continue to fall.

See you Monday evening.

boatman72


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SB - Great article and insight to the industry!!!!! A lot of us don't realize all of the nuances you experience since we only pop the corks. The article makes me appreciate your efforts even more! Think I'll open a bottle of Wellington today at the boat while I'm cleaning it, then come home and start stomping on those pesky lawn moths!!!

SonomaBouliste


quality posts: 234 Private Messages SonomaBouliste

Good news on the EGVM from the Napa Agricultural Commissioner's office today! The second "flight" (second generation of adult moths) is complete, and Napa has accomplished a 99% population reduction in one generation. Nearly 100,000 moths were trapped in April and May, and fewer than 1000 from the second flight. Widespread spraying and pheromone based mating disruption strategies employed during and after the first flight have been quite effective. I have not heard of any more finds anywhere in Sonoma County, supporting my belief that all the trapped adults were "hitchhikers" from Napa rather than local hatches. We'll still be under quarantine this harvest, with permits needed to move or receive grapes and restrictions/conditions for treatment of green waste (stems, pressed white grapes, MOG).

yessrinc


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Integrated Pest Management at its best! Glad it's working so well, so quickly.

SonomaBouliste


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yessrinc wrote:Integrated Pest Management at its best! Glad it's working so well, so quickly.



Me too. We've all got our fingers crossed. I've never used insecticides (even organic ones) in 30 years of growing grapes, and I'd hate to have to start now. I don't even own spray equipment.

otolith


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Thanks for the insight into the growing season. I always enjoy reading your ramblings.

Glad to see the moths are at least under better control, although I would think it would be quite difficult to completely eradicate an invasive species/pest like this.

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

SonomaBouliste


quality posts: 234 Private Messages SonomaBouliste
otolith wrote:Thanks for the insight into the growing season. I always enjoy reading your ramblings.

Glad to see the moths are at least under better control, although I would think it would be quite difficult to completely eradicate an invasive species/pest like this.



No doubt, but they are throwing a lot of effort into the eradication attempt. At least it has a very small number of alternate hosts, none of which are widely grown around here. My biggest worry is that some female moths carrying fertilized eggs may have hitchhiked out of Napa Valley this spring when a huge number of adults emerged. The traps only attract males. They use a mating pheromone, not an aggregating pheromone (if one even exists for this species).

richardhod


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SonomaBouliste wrote:Me too. We've all got our fingers crossed. I've never used insecticides (even organic ones) in 30 years of growing grapes, and I'd hate to have to start now. I don't even own spray equipment.



No The Strangers (2008)! I assumed it was necessary, or you had to go through a heap of organic hoops. You don't promote your wine as "organic" afaik, but I like that you don't spray. Does this mean you lose some crops to other less pernicious pests?

I always fear in general that wine I was drinking came from Blue Grapes like you see in french vineyards. I prefer not to ingest too many inorganic compounds in my cultured comestibles.

gcdyersb


quality posts: 141 Private Messages gcdyersb
richardhod wrote:I always fear in general that wine I was drinking came from Blue Grapes like you see in french vineyards. I prefer not to ingest too many inorganic compounds in my cultured comestibles.



It is always somewhat amusing when California vineyards are bashed for irrigating when in more humid climates like most of France far more odious compounds than water are used on the vines. Though I think they are combating mold rather than insects in this case. Still, it is interesting. De-alcing is evil, but chaptalizing is OK is another one of these curious double standards. Though I must say on balance French wines tend to have more complexity. Maybe the bits of mold and heavy metals are part of that . . . .

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

SonomaBouliste


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richardhod wrote:No The Strangers (2008)! I assumed it was necessary, or you had to go through a heap of organic hoops. You don't promote your wine as "organic" afaik, but I like that you don't spray. Does this mean you lose some crops to other less pernicious pests?

I always fear in general that wine I was drinking came from Blue Grapes like you see in french vineyards. I prefer not to ingest too many inorganic compounds in my cultured comestibles.



If you check out my blog from a couple of years ago, "10 Things I hate about O", you'll see that one of my major peeves is the inference / assumption that if something isn't labelled organic it probably has "chemicals" in it. Complying with all the regulatory bullcrap for organic certification is harder than growing organically. The boundary between what qualifies as organic and what doesn't is somewhat ambiguous, and becoming more so all the time. Organic grapegrowing does not increase risk of crop loss as it does with many other crops. We do lose a few hundred pounds each year to the local birds.

SonomaBouliste


quality posts: 234 Private Messages SonomaBouliste
gcdyersb wrote:It is always somewhat amusing when California vineyards are bashed for irrigating when in more humid climates like most of France far more odious compounds than water are used on the vines. Though I think they are combating mold rather than insects in this case. Still, it is interesting. De-alcing is evil, but chaptalizing is OK is another one of these curious double standards. Though I must say on balance French wines tend to have more complexity. Maybe the bits of mold and heavy metals are part of that . . . .



Generally accepted practices usually become legally codified practices. In most of France addition of sugar is legal (because it is, or was, often needed) and addition of acid is not (legal or needed). In California, addition of acid is legal (because it often is needed), and addition of sugar not. Vines don't know or care whether the water came from a cloud or a hose. What matters is how much and when.
As far as complexity, sophistication, regional character, foodworthiness, etc. French winegrowers have centuries of experience and evolution and we, for the most part, have only decades.

richardhod


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SonomaBouliste wrote:Generally accepted practices usually become legally codified practices. In most of France addition of sugar is legal (because it is, or was, often needed) and addition of acid is not (legal or needed). In California, addition of acid is legal (because it often is needed), and addition of sugar not. Vines don't know or care whether the water came from a cloud or a hose. What matters is how much and when.
As far as complexity, sophistication, regional character, foodworthiness, etc. French winegrowers have centuries of experience and evolution and we, for the most part, have only decades.



Addition of acid is legal? Hey, man! You could like totally make, like, a mind-blowing "San Francisco" wine, maybe using Lambrusco Syrah and Durif. Would make a good acronym.

And your main point comes back to our mineral discussions with Clark Smith in the May 13 blog: The old world has more chance to learn and pass down (and embed culturally) craft practices. The tacit knowledge of artisan traditions and consequent subtleties of technique are passed down in older, traditional wineries, now often lost in mechanisation. Perhaps there's a reason Kent Rasmussen's going back to smaller presses and taking out the tanks from his process.