An interesting year coming to an end

Here we are! It is November and the vineyard works are over for this year. This has been my third harvest and the past growing season has been rather different from the previous two ones. The main cause has been the climate and some interesting lessons have been learned.

The spring was quite cold, which made me carry out the pruning rather late, by the end of March, about one month later than in 2016 and 2017. Then someone turn the switch from winter to summer and the vines grew like crazy. Actually they caught up and I harvested about at the same times as last year. Yet, it was not all that simple. As the summer switch was turned on, hot and dry condition caused some drought stress. Almost overnight, grapes changed from looking all fine to showing distress signs. Parts of the grape bunches ended up drying out on the vines. Of course, I reacted immediately and irrigated accordingly, but there were some losses. Irrigation helped and in the end, the quality of the grapes was excellent. Production was plentiful. Last summer’s wildfires were cause for concern, first of all because they hit very close to our property and I was quite worried that we might have to evacuate, but we were lucky enough not to have to go through that. Nonetheless, the many fires in British Columbia caused some serious smoke in the air for more than a month. Smoke obstructed sunlight and both the vineyard and my veggie garden showed a drop in photosynthesis. I thought that it might affect grapes quality negatively, but the late summer was sunny again and sugar contents were quite good actually.

The brix levels have been:

  • Pearl of Csaba: 21, Up from 20.5 in 2017 for regular wine. I had kept a number of vines in production for a late harvest, which I carried out two months after the regular harvest. For the late harvest, the brix was 25.5, which I hope will deliver on its promises. The late harvest has been a bit of a worry as the fall has been much rainier than normal and with much less sunlight. We will see. It is now in fermentation.
  • Bacchus: 20, Up from 18 the previous year, also because unlike in 2017 I decided to put on protective nets on the Bacchus grapes and harvested at ripeness, which was not quite the case last year.
  • Pinot Noir: An amazing 26, up from 23 in 2017. The funny thing is that the grapes did not show clear signs of ripeness and I postponed the harvest because of that. So, I was quite surprised the sugar content was this high. This was a good surprise nonetheless.

Another side effect of the weird climate has been the behaviour of wildlife. The deer have been around much more during the summer and fall than usual, and those buggers like grapes. The protective nets have helped but I suspect that they hit the vines to shake the grape bunches, as I saw a few bunches on the ground. Normally, the bunches would not fall on their own even though at ripeness they drop more easily. The deer had already nibbled at the young shoots in the early spring, as food was rare due to the cold. The flip side of this coin is that if deer are around, so are their predators. Recently, I found a leg of a deer in the vineyard. probably, some coyotes decided to have a good meal. Some neighbours had also found half a deer devoured by some creature somewhere around. Welcome to the wilderness! The birds have been annoying, too. The nets have done their work, though. But the finches and other chickadees just manage to use the mesh of the nets to perch and pick on the berries. Altogether, I cannot really talk of damage. There have been some losses, but they were minor.

Another lesson from this year has been about fungicide spraying against mildew. Since, I started this vineyard, I have been thinking of ways to, if not eliminate spraying, at least reduce it to a minimum. The first two years, I had sprayed eight times (while the product supplier recommends ten maximum). So, I did reasonably cautiously the first two years. This year, I had pruned differently. Since the first year, I have work towards lowering the shoots of the vines to the second wire of the palisade. I have five levels of wire and most vines were starting at the third of even fourth ware from the ground up. This allows me to thin the plants more aggressively. By having leaves on four levels instead of two or three, I basically increase the foliage by 33% to 100% depending on the plant. This helps me reduce the density of shoots in the plant. For a similar number of leaves, I have more space between shoots. The aeration created by this strategy helps reduce humidity within the canopy and thus reduce risks of mildew. It seems to work, since this year I sprayed only five times on the pearl of Csaba and Pinot Noir (decrease of 37.5%), and six times on the Bacchus (decrease of 25%), which is rather sensitive to mildew. I do not think that I could eliminate spraying altogether, as climate conditions can always trigger mildew growth. But the less I spray, the better it is. I will try to at least match that next year.

Another area of experimentation this year is with the yeast I use in winemaking. Previous years, I had used an all-round type of yeast, but this year I want to see if special yeast can increase the quality of my wines. We will see and I will let you know about my findings in a few months. Now, I have six different types of wine in the making. It is quite amazing to see how the whole process goes from vine pruning to final wine.

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