8 foot rows with 4 feet between vines (1361 vines/acre). The vineyard is divided into 3 equal blocks of Dijon clones 115, 667, and 777, and a variety of “heritage” clones, on 101-14 rootstock. The vines are cane pruned, vertically positioned with 3 sets of wires. Shoot density of 15 shoots per meter.
The approach to farming this vineyard is fairly minimalist, low-input and practical. It is based generally on the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices. Our goal is to protect the vines from pests and disease using quite simply the best products and practices available. We are trying to maximize the long term health of the plants, as well as the quality of the fruit on a vintage to vintage basis. We have to balance those demands with consideration of our neighbors, care for the environment, and quite frankly, the need to pay the bills.
For production of ultra-premium fruit, grapevines need what could be termed "behavior modification". Left to their wild state, they simply try to set as much seed as possible. Like teenagers who don't know what too much of a good thing is, we must step in and intervene to create balance, health and high quality. The bulk of the emphasis of farming for high quality at this site is focused on "canopy management". This means the training and manipulation of the vine micro-climate, which encourages sugar accumulation and phenolic maturity of the fruit, and discourages the onset of fungal diseases.
As the season unfolds, we are first helping the vine to build up its "factory", the canopy structure of positioned shoots. This is accomplished by creating the most efficient leaf area/sunlight interface. The point is to allocate as much energy (through photosynthesis) as possible down into the clusters. Along the way, our practices include aggressive shoot thinning, leaf removal in the fruiting zone, and dropping of excessive fruit. There simply is no choice for attaining consistent high quality.
Irrigation of the vines is done on a micro-managed, hands-on, case by case basis. We have areas of dry farming, and areas that demand water. Each block, and many areas within a single block receive different levels of water. Overall, we strive to apply only just what the vine needs to support the green canopy so it can take that fruit all the way to the promised land.
Harvest decision making is basically in the hands of our two winemakers. It's really a matter of monitoring sugar accumulation in the clusters, along with the subjective world of actually tasting the fruit for the evolution of flavors. We usually are able to harvest the vineyard during the early mornings of of two or three days. Following harvest, we may apply water to the vineyard, to maintain the green canopy, which is now sending its products of photosynthesis right down into the "permanent wood" of the vine, to be stored as reserves for next year's growth.
Autumn is the time for planting a cover crop between the rows, before the first rains. The main objective here is to improve the levels of organic matter in the soil, as well as soil "tilth" or texture and workability. At this time we are concentrating on fibrous root grasses that are best for soil tilth, and serve to stabilize the rows for early season access. The cover crop is mowed and finally plowed under in the spring season.
Some of the more humble parts of farming: trapping Gophers (they can kill a vine). Keeping Raccoons, skunks, Foxes and Deer out of the vineyard (they all eat grapes). Putting up bird netting (its the absolute worst job of the whole year) And last but not least, repairing irrigation lines (its never ending, like the myth of painting the Golden Gate Bridge: they start on one end, work to the other, then just turn around and start over again!)