I spent a good bit of my Saturday at the Asti Winery tasting room for the Barrel Tasting Weekends for the Northern Sonoma County Wine Roads. This included an event for Dry Creek, Russian River, and of course my stomping grounds the Alexander Valley. I love events like this because I was able to talk to so many great people who loved the wines and really enjoyed learning more about them. There’s always a danger that these weekends will devolve into crowds of drunken people meandering from tasting room to tasting room looking for a cheap buzz. I didn’t see any of the normal signs of that this weekend. It was pleasantly surprising to see the enthusiasm of our guests and that they were so hungry to learn about wine. It’s never a trial to talk to people who are sober and excited about trying your wines. Our barrels were both 2009 Souverain Cabernet Sauvignon Reserves, each a single vineyard; one from the Asti Estate and the other from Stuhlmuller Vineyards in the southern Alexander Valley. Wine Thief in hand, I described the differences between the different ends of the Alexander Valley and pulled endless samples from the barrels for people to taste. As always, the Stuhlmuller was the more open fruit of the two vineyards because the Estate stays very closed and tight for the first 24 months and only opens up towards the end of the barrel aging cycle. Both wines were VERY young as we age the Reserves for 2 years in barrel and another year in bottle before release. Anyway, it was great to chat with everyone and stand out on the patio on such a nice day.
The remainder of the weekend was spent out in the vineyards finishing our pruning and pulling our catch wires apart. The vines are weeping like crazy and we had to be extremely careful because the buds have become very easy to knock off. Bud break is not far away at all. So far we are on target for a normal year of rain which is very exciting after so many years in a drought (not counting 2010 which was cool and wet). Sunday brought a thunderstorm which I loved because it reminds me of the storms on the east coast and today is still quite overcast. The forecasters in California call it “unsettled” weather.
For the uninitiated, every winter the vines must be pruned to remove almost 95% of the growth from the year before. This keeps them from becoming a crazy tangled mess that only a machete would be appropriate for. It is also a figurative “reset button” for the vineyard itself. It doesn’t clear all problems but it definitely helps. Once the ground begins to warm up the vines start to pull up water and sugar reserves through the vascular system (this is the vine’s circulatory system). The pruning wounds have openings to the vascular system and as the water begins to run up through the vine they begin to weep from the openings. This is the first sign of spring to me and it is once the vines have stopped weeping that we really see the first buds pushing for the new vintage.
Next blog I’ll go into a bit of trellis design for vineyards since I’m sure some of you are scratching your head as to what catch wires are.