Spring 2018 Winemaker Insider

The longer and warmer days are finally here, yet as much as we all love Spring, it is easy to take for granted. It is the season reminiscent of life, the vegetation cycle that inevitability comes back. The process of awakening is a key season of life. This year, as seen in the picture above taken in a Cabernet Sauvignon block at The Benches in Wallula Vineyards, some of the first signs of sap flowing back from the rootstock showing the start of our Columbia Valley 2018 growing season, which was on March 12th.

Bud break followed three weeks later and some temperatures in the 80's in the third week of April created a growth explosion of the young shoots, which is ideal to establish shoot length for a good canopy.

Stages of the Vegetation Cycle
As a winemaker, I find it necessary to monitor the vineyards on a regular basis to insure a quality crop but also to familiarize myself with this year's vintage and get "acquainted" with the grapes prior to pick day. It does help me to call some picking decisions by keeping some sections of a block aside if necessary or bring special care to the fermentation. For example, if the stems are well lignified, I might call for some whole cluster fermentation or if the seeds are dark brown, it gives me the option to do an extended maceration of the skins in contact with the juice during fermentation, sometimes for as long as 40 days. Below is a list of many of the main stages during the growing season.

  • Pruning: This steps occurs while the vines are still dormant but is a very important step toward the quality of the crop. The vine being a vine, it has a growth habit of trailing called scandent. In order to bear fruit usable for wine production, it needs to be pruned back close to the established cordon down to two or three buds depending on the desired yield.
  • Bud break: As vines come out of dormancy and the sap starts flowing, each shoot starts pushing through the layers of the bud. Although not an indication for what's ultimately coming next for the season, it is a good glimpse.
  • Shoot positioning: Usually this occurs in May. The grower will go through each vine to select the premium shoots ideally placed on the cordon and remove the others. It's also a good time to have the first look at the crop size.
  • Bloom: Love bloom! One of my favorite parts of the cycle. It's another good moment to assess the timing of the growing season which, on average, occurs early June.
  • Canopy management: There is the initial leaf stripping and cluster thinning that starts in June to remove congestion in the canopy and fruit zone. This reduces disease pressure and gears up toward a more uniform maturation. The sun at this time of year can be very harsh on the grapes so we tend to leave larger foliage on the west facing side to protect the crop from the afternoon sun while opening the east facing side to the morning sun for the light to penetrate deeper.
  • Véraison: The berries will go from hard and green to soft with a color change. Toward the end of this transformation is the perfect time to go through the blocks and do a color thinning to focus on even maturation by removing all the remaining green clusters.
  • Maturation monitoring and picking date: The vineyard visits to check the health of the grapes and foliage, look at the stems and seeds lignification, taste some berries to assess the flavor development, and pull cluster samples to check the fruit chemistry in the lab. From this step comes the ultimate decision whether to pick or go for longer hang time.

New Pétanque Course

Pétanque is a game of boules where the goal is to toss or roll steel balls as close as possible to a small wooden ball called a cochonnet. We just completed our pétanque course at the winery and it is open to our guests when the tasting room is open. We encourage you to be one of the first to it try out for Spring Release.

Whether you have a question, are planning a trip to Walla Walla or just want to say "Hi!", I would love to hear from you. I hope to see you all in the near future, a glass of wine in hand.

Santé! Gilles Nicault

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