(Sex) In The Vineyard

June 24, 2013

When is a cluster not yet a cluster?

As springtime weather permeates the Napa Valley with consistent warmth and blankets the vineyards in daily sunshine, the vines react and begin to reveal early clues about their future grape crop. The steady warm weather coaxes the vine into producing an abundance of leaves while at the same time exposing its most precious asset, the flower cluster. But how does a flower cluster transform into a grape cluster?

Image

Flower cluster that looks like baby grape cluster.

 

At this early stage in the life of the flower cluster, the rachis (or structural component of the cluster) is dotted with hundreds of tiny green bee bee-sized spheres. Over time, the cells within these bee bees begin to differentiate into unique and essential components of the grape flower, including male and female reproductive organs necessary for pollination. Six to eight weeks after leafing begins, the development of these flower parts is complete and the flowers are ready to bloom. The creation of a grape flower is a delicate process influenced by many factors including plant nutrition and weather. Cold temperatures in spring will delay development, and rainy or cold weather can hinder the process by not allowing for proper pollination, often referred to as “shatter”.

Image

Maturing grape cluster

 

Once the grape flower has developed and its reproductive organs have been properly exposed (I apologize for the near x-rated description, but it’s just biology!), pollination can occur. Without pollination, grapes would never develop on the vine so the whole global wine industry relies on this fragile process that occurs over only a handful of days). It is unclear what method the grape flowers use to become pollinated but it is believed that self-pollination is the most common process followed by wind and insects each playing a minor role. If temperatures drop below 60º F, pollination will be greatly reduced and if temperatures rise above 104º F, pollination will also be inhibited. Clearly the environment must be in the right “mood” for grapes to be created, so hopefully this year Mother Nature has turned on her version of Tom Jones or Barry White in the vineyards and makes the magic happen!

Image

Blogger and Assistant Winemaker, Jason Gerard.

Jason

Weather in the Vineyard

June 21, 2011

Is the weather wacky or is it just us?

 

Global warming?

It is no secret that California boasts some of the greatest year round weather in the U.S. if not the world. Mild winters and beautiful, sunny summer coupled with lavish leaf-filled falls and flowery lush springs create a temporal utopia for both flora and fauna to flourish. So what happens when this paradigm of gorgeous weather fails us? What happens when the sky brings hail and CalTrans brings chain control in the month of June? Is it global warming? Climate change? La Nina or El Nino? The Rapture?…..is it some other buzzword induced catastrophe that has yet to be named?

The Rapture

In my mind it is all of these things and none of them (well maybe not the rapture). The global weather fluctuations are a complex and dynamic process, so much so that even experts struggle to understand the nuanced relationship between our atmosphere and our lives. It is human nature to over simplify such complexities:  give it a name and move on in an attempt to pretend like we know what’s really going on….when in fact, deep down, we do not. I believe we understand the multi-faceted complexity of weather to a degree but we cannot kid ourselves into believing we truly grasp the dynamics of global weather patterns.

Rain in June?

Despite our unceasing faith in predictable California weather, this spring has shaken our confidence.  So, what is the bottom line? For grape growers, gardeners and other farmers, the weather is the truth we live by. We can only wait and react to the multifarious world around us. Yes, rain and hail and wind in June is out of the ordinary but as grape growers and winemakers we don’t have the luxury of asking why? We ask, how will this effect our crop?…..Hail can (and did) damage leaves in the vineyards, this leads to decreased photosynthesis and susceptibility to bugs and disease. Rain can be a good thing bringing more life-giving water to the vines but too much this time of year can lead to mildew growing on the vines which can damage and kill the essential green growth and basically cripple the vine and its ability to produce fresh and beautiful grapes necessary for making great wines. Mildew can also grow on the grapes themselves rendering them completely useless for wine production. Too much water trapped in poorly drained soils can also lead to excessive green growth on the vines which can lead to over cropping and difficulties in ripening.

It also appears we may be heading into a second consecutive cool spring and summer time (not today, however;-) which, as we saw last year, can make it challenging to get all the grapes to the appropriate ripeness before the winter rains come back in October and November.

While I enjoy pondering and debating the deeper meanings and explanations of

Jason pondering the future.

the odd weather we are experiencing right now, when it comes to winemaking and grape growing, I remain concerned and observant, ready to adjust vineyard practices and winemaking techniques in order to maximize the quality of wine we are going to produce when fall comes back around. Despite the adversity brought about by unusual weather patterns over the last several growing seasons, we are still farmers and producers of crop based commodities, and like those who have come before us throughout human history, we will adapt as we always have.           Jason Gerard