Sunday, October 7, 2012

2012 Grape Harvest

We had a very interesting year this year starting out with a normal May and bud break around the 18-20th of May.  We had lots of moisture throughout May and June, way above average and probably about 12 inches by early July.

June was cold though, way below normal and stunted the vines so that the flowering didn`t happen until nearly the middle of July.  Most varieties were in mid-bloom stages by about the 12th-13th of July, which is about 5-7 days later than normal.  just as the vines were flowering we experienced record breaking heat and had 9 days of 35-37c heat, and the month was the second warmest July we have recorded at 20.3c average.  It appears that the extreme temperatures during flowering caused some stress to the vines at this delicate stage and the flower clusters on all varieties did not have good berry set. 

August was the warmest August we`ve recorded yet at 19.6c average and no rain fall at all and we had a few days in the 37c range.  September was also warmer than normal at 14.6c average but we had a 8 day stretch in mid month of 26-30c temperatures which helped with the ripening.  It finally rained on the 8th and 9th of September and we received about 1.5-2 inches, which was enough to help out the heat stressed vines and just in time.

We harvested on October 3, as we had a -3.5c frost and that ended the season.  Canes on most varieties had hardened off quite well by then.

The grapes were few by volume but the juice chemistry numbers were better than expected (see Grape Harvest Data pages).  Some of the highlights were the Leon Millot that read 19.7 brix in the vineyard and when crushed the juice was 20.5 brix and 3.1ph.  The Petite Millot also stood out and is consistently putting up good numbers, this year at 19.5 brix in the field and 20 brix after crush.  The Colmar Precoce Noir also ripened to 20 brix in the filed and 21 brix after crush and was very ripe.

We made some changes in the vineyard this year, one we went to a more conventional netting that is black and has virtually no shading effect.  The netting we had been using was white and had approximtely 12-16% shading.  While relatively small shading effect, the accumulation over a week or a month could reduce the ripening of the grapes.  The other change that proved very important was the early September removal of the large ponderosa pine that was on the south west corner of the vine (see previous blog).  While the shading effect of the tree  was held to only the south west corner of the vineyard during May-August, by September the sun is low enough in the sky that the tree eventually shades parts of the entire vineyard over much of the day.  It appears that removing the tree changed the heat accumulation for the month dramatically.  If we compare the heat accumulation over the last 5 years for Kelowna and our vineyard, historically on average we have accumulated about 20 DDG (10c base) less than Kelowna in September.  However, without the tree and shading we were only 4 DDG less than Kelowna for the month - that is a dramatic change for us.

We also learned this year that while the mid row cover crop of clover is helping generate plant matter and nutrients for the soil and vines, it draws too much moisture from the soil that is desperately needed by the vines - especially in the droughty periods.  For our sandy soil and dry land farming practices we will be reducing the width of the between row cover to just a few feet wide in years to come.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Big Tree Comes Down

We had the massive Ponderosa Pine that was located on the south west corner of the vineyard.  We had been wanting to take this tree down for some time as it is leaning south and seems to bee leaning more and more each year.  If it were to come down it would happen in a big storm and likely take out the power lines for everyone up the road from us.  So we had Loki Tree removal come to the property and they took it down in sections.  They did and excellent job, and cut the trunk into 8-10 foot lengths.  Great service from Loki and they are very reasonable in their price and serve much of the West Kootenay region check out them through the link to their web site in links section.
We're also lucky to have such great neighbors who came along with his skid steer and moved away all the trunck pieces and cleaned up the tree linbs, piling them into a big burn pile for later in the winter. 
While we new the the tree needed to come down, we also knew it shaded the south west corner of the vineyard and lowers the head accumulations at that point.  however, in the fall, during the ripening period when the sun is lower in the sky the tree shades the entire vineyard as the shadow moves in relation to the sun.
What we didn't realize was how much that changes the ripening of the grapes until this year.  The tree came down when we were just putting the bird nets up (Sept 7-8th).  over the next month we had excellent heat in September and this was maximized by not having the tree to block the sun. 
Sad to see the tree go as it was a beautiful old tree (about 100 years based on the rings) but we're glad it doesn 't pose a danger anymore and happy with the extra heat in the vineyard.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Mid-Summer update

What a bizarr year so far, the coolest June we've recorded at 14.2c average and about 1 to 1.5 degrees below our expected June average of about 15.7c.  Looking to Kelowna Airport similar condiitons for them as they recorded 14.7 for June way below their normal average of 16.3c for the month.

The grapes were way behind going into July and apparently the whole region is facing this as one grower I spoke to in Enderby (just noth of Kelowna) said they were 1-2 weeks behind normal vine and fruit tree development. 

This means we were expecting flowering in mid-July and for our site this is a difficult situation to manage simply in trying to ripen the grapes in the days we have left before fall frost which usually comes along the around October 7th.  So if this holds true then simple math tells us we've got about 85 days to ripen the grapes which is barely enough for the earliest varieties. 

Well July turned it all around and we had about the hottest July we've recorded at our site comming in at 20.15c average.  In fact from July 9th to 17th the day time highes we're between 34c and 36.7c, no doubt it can get hot on the ridge.  We've also had alot of rain, several inches over the month so we've already recorded about 10-12 inches of rain in the year.  So while the temperature has been hot, we're not drying out.

However, the timing of the heat wave was right when the vines were in flowering stage and the heat caused problems with the fruit set.  This is called coulure or shatter and comes from extremes in heat or cold or rain during flowering and can also be related to deficient vine nutition.  The condition is pretty much universal in varrying degrees over all 22 varieities we're testing - see pictures of the Ravat 34 below.

Coulure brings with it its own challenges now as the remaining grapes tend to be smaller and do not accumulate sugar like they are suppose to.  So what we'll have left for grapes doesn't look promising for this year but we'll see - we've got a love-hate relationship with mother nature these days.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Cool Spring 2012

Contrary to the Environment Canada prediction of above average temperatures for May and June we've experienced another cool spring and early summer.  In fact in the 5 years we have been taking temperature readings this is the coolest May-June yet.  May came in close to normal at 11.8c average and June was 14.2c average.  The rain has also been relentless and we've probably had 8-10 inches since May 1st.

The cool weather shows in slow growth of the vines.  We usually flower the first week of July this year and we're going to be flowering about 5-7 days later than normal.  As of July 3rd, the Leon Millot are the first to show signs of cap fall and some flowering within clusters and on July 4th Colmar Precoce Noir was also starting to show some flowering.  The Leon Millot looks good this year, the flower clusters are getting bigger as the vines mature although with the high rain and humidity we're seeing some fungal presure with powdery mildew on the leaves of some Leon millot and some downey mildew on the leaves of some Castel.  Photo's of the Leon Millot flower clusters below;

The Colmar precoce looks good also and shows great growth and large clusters.  The Lucy Kuhlman is slower this year, and the Marechal Foch is also looking good.  Photo's of Colmar Precoce flower clusters below;

The Triomphe D'Alsace also looks good but seems to be slower than than some of the other kuhlman varieties - kind of like how Lucy Kuhlman seems a bit slower.  Photo of Triomphe flowers below;

The Castel looks good for third year and we have several more clusters this year than last and will get a better idea of relative ripening times.  Photo of castel cluster below;

The Ravat 34 looks good again however, some of the clusters this year are small and several shoots produced only one cluster.  This could be a result of over cropping the vine last year and the drough impact on the vine also.  One thing about Ravat 34 is that it likes to send shoots out from secondary buds.  I had pruned the Ravat down to a low bud/shoot count in late May.  By the end of June I noticed that there were about 50% more shoots, mostly secondary buds, that had popped up and had to prune those off.  This is excellent if you were to get  a late frost as most of the secondary buds/shoots carry a small cluster.  The vines look excellent again, supper healthy setting nice flower clusters.  Photo of Rvata 34 flower clusters below;

We also have several flower clusters on the Evangeline this year and like the castel we'll get a good idea of relative ripening times of this variety versus the other varieties.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Bud Break 2012

The winter was mild this year but with less snow cover than usual. Bud break was between May 17th and May 25th with Petite Milo and Colmar comming first and Evangeline and Triompe d'Alsace the latest. Overall the vines survived quite well with the exceptions of Regent, Cabernet Foch, Cabernet Libre, and Ortega.  Again these died back significantly and while they are pushing buds they are starting out from canes close to the ground.  I believe that these varieties are all excellent grapes vines but for our climate, soil and conditions they have not proven suitable for our site.

This is exactly why we are experimenting with over 20 varieties and we are starting to see some that are proving well at our location.  The Ravat 34 consistently does well, is disease resistant and produces and ripens grapes every year - providing I don't over crop it as in 2011.  As the Rvaat 34 comes into bud break, I see that over cropped Ravat 34 last year has reduced some of the vines hardiness in bud and cane survival.  Overall it did fine but I notice the bud and cane survival is a bit less than in other years and again I'm attributing this to having over cropped the fruit and canes on this variety in 2011.  see bud break on the Ravat 34 below.

The Leon Millot does alright but it is not as consistent as the Ravat in bud/cane survival and this is very important with this variety.  The clusters are so small that you need alot of producing buds to produce a decent and balanced crop load.  I'm not getting this consistency but some of the other Kulhman varieties are showing well and show both good bud and cane survival including Lucy Kuhlman, Marechal Foch, and Colmar Precoce Noir.  Colmar Precoce and Lucy Kuhlman bud out quite early.  See Colmar Precoce Noir below;

Castel and Evangeline are doing quite well with great cane and bud survival. We're hoping for some good clusters on both these this year to assess the juice chemestry. The Acadie is comming along pretty good also and we will be adding Acadie where we pull out some of the Cab libre and Cab Foch vines this year.  We still have the Zweigelt and Pinot Noir but they struggle at our site.  Another vine that is doing well is the Petite Milo.  It has good disease resistance and bud/cane survival.  It buds out early but like the Castel, Lucy Kuhlman and Colmar Precoce Noir, our latest frosts don't seem to be enough to damage them.  See Petite Milo below.  Perhaps in years to come a late hard cold frost might cause problems.

We're going to be adding a new variety this year to replace the Ortega.  It is Vandal Cliche and was created in Quebec, Canada.  It is cold hardy, disease resitant and produces huge crops of white wine grapes that produce a neutral wine.  I've had Cliche before and it is a very nice wine. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

2011-2012 Warm Winter

The spring is a great time of the year at the vineyard, full of surprises and expectation for the new growing year.  The winter temperatures were great from November all through to April.  There were few days overall that went below -10c and the coldest day was February 27 when the temperature went to -18.6c and another cold day of -18c at the end of January.  Of particular interest was the day time temperatures that were experienced in February and March when several of the days reached the 5c-10c mark. 

We also experience lower snow pack than usual.  We often have 2-3 feet in February but by the end of the month there was none.  While the precipitation was near normal alot more of the moisture fell as rain than snow, especially in the month of February.  As such come early March the snow was all but gone. 

Not a hard winter by any stretch of the imagination but these condition present their own issues to overwintering grape vines.  While the temperature was not harsh, what we experienced this year was a tremendous diurnal fluctuation.  The day time highs in February almost always over 5c but the night time lows were in the -5 to -10 range depending on the day.  This freeze thaw action accompanying this diurnal fluctuation can begin to bring vines out of dormancy, especially the buds and canes.

While these types of temperatures are not uncommon in February, the usual snow pack moderates the temperature and limits the large day nigh temperature swings.  In addition the snow keeps the soil temperature low and often covers some of the canes, serving to inhibit vines coming out of dormancy.
The lack of snow and warm day temperatures followed by the cold nights and the deep freeze in late February appears to have been injurious to some of the vines.  As of early May most of the varieties were showing bud push and we could assess winter damage.

The vines showing most damage are Regent, Cabernet Foch, Cabernet Libre, Ortega and Ravat 34.  The damage to the Ravat 34 can be more likely attributed to the over cropping of the vine last year in combination with the winter climate and we'll be able to assess this better at bud break.  The Leon Millot and Triompe D'Alsace (TDA) showed some moderate bud damage but not unlike what is experienced most winters and in the case of the TDA the buds were just starting to push and full assessment can not be made.  Lastly, the Castel, Lucy Kuhlman, Foch, Colmar Precoce Noir, Petite Milo and Evangeline did very well and show excellent bud/cane survival. 

I was surprised at the poor survival of the Regent as this was the mildest winter we've experienced.  it has been 3 winters now and these vines just don't do well at our site.  It may be the freeze thaw action in the winter, it may bee we don't have a long period for the vine to go into dormancy.  Regardless they don't do well while other vines excel.  Similarly the Cab Foch, Cabernet Libre, and Ortega have not done well and we will pull them this year.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Seyval Blanc Grape and Wine

Seyval Blanc is a white wine grape that has been extensively grown in eastern Canada and the North-Eastern U.S for several decades.  It is sometimes known simply as "seyval" and was bread in the early 1900's  by Seyve-Villard of France.

This vine produces large clusters of grapes and almost always requires crop thinning to reduce crop load.  It can produce massive crops of grapes but in short season areas and cold climates needs to be thinned to ensure the remaining grapes ripen and the vine has sufficient time and energy to harden off for winter.

The vine grows fairly upright and vinifera like in a trellis however, not so much that it can not be adapted to various style suitable to vinifera or hybrid varieties.  It has moderate resistance to the mildews and has little disease pressure.

Seyval Blanc is definitely a mid season grape.  It can be picked in some locations in approximately 100 days from bloom to harvest but it is more likely a 110 day period.  Often ripening to 22-24 brix, it can be picked earlier at 18-19 brix and still makes nice wine.  Of particular cultural value, especially in areas prone to late spring frosts is it's tendency to bud out later than most other varieties.

The wine from Seyval Blanc can be pale yellow (in under - ripe fruit) to golden colour and highly acidic, green apple like (in under-ripe fruit) to rich full tropical fruit flavours in fully ripened seyval grapes.  However, even the Seyval's that I have tried that were from cooler years or from vintages that did not fully ripen the fruit, the wine was still quite nice.

One of the finest wines made from Seyval comes from Jost vineyard in Nova Scotia.  Year over year, Jost produces a consistent high quality wine from this grape.  They leave a little residual sugar for an exceptional wine suitable for the deck or dinner.

More on seyval