Here we are at the end of February and one might think we are well into April. The wildflowers are out, the sages are blooming and the green grass is on the edge of turning a dull yellow if it doesn’t get a drink of rain. As of February 26, we’re also done with pruning in the vineyards . That finish date is about three and a half weeks earlier than last year’s. In 2014, we started our prune (la poda) about two weeks later than this year and as a result found ourselves racing to beat the bud break. The unseasonably warm weather of January and February 2014 meant we finished pruning just in time. This year, in order to adjust to the changes in climate (not meaning to get political, but it’s real) we decided to do a few things differently in our vineyards and one of those was an earlier start to pruning. Since January 2015 was one of the driest on record it seems like we made the right decision.
Pruning is truly a sculptural process that demands a trained mind and eye. Canes and cordons must be observed for evenly spaced buds and then the decision must be made to remove or save the bud for the upcoming growing season. Once you make a cut, that’s it, you can’t go back. If you choose poorly and cut the better of two canes, the subsequent grapes could be of lesser quality. A skilled pruner is also looking at the balance of the vine, making sure there is an even number of quality canes or spaced spurs. Fortunately, at Talley Vineyards we have one of the most skilled pruners in the area, our foreman Daniel Martinez. A former machinist and longtime vineyard worker, Daniel prunes vines with amazing care and dexterity that is evidence of his extensive experience.
|Spur Pruning||Scott Henry Pruning|
Pruning decisions represent the culmination of many factors – the experiences of previous years and observations from our vineyard manager, foreman, wine maker and vintner. Some vineyard blocks will be changed from spur pruning to cane and possibly back to spur again to obtain the quality that we expect for our wines. Canes might be trained apart so that half the vines grow up and half grow down (known as Scott-Henry) to balance the vines’ energy in blocks with more vigor. At times, canes are spaced apart to allow more light to fruit and improve color in wines. The list of pruning techniques can go on, but with every pruning decision the goal is always the same for us - quality and balance in the finished wines.
It’s 9:30am on Thursday, October 24th and we just picked our last block of grapes. This concludes the 2013 harvest at Talley that began on August 30th. Harvest, harvest, harvest. I heard that word so much the month before we picked our first grapes that I’d find myself harvesting in my dreams. I was hired in July as the Harvest Intern, assisting Travis Monk, the Vineyard Manager at Talley Vineyards. Everything that I worked on prior to harvest led to this almost mythical happening in the vineyard world known as The Harvest. You see, I came from a different world of fruit and vegetable production and although I had participated in many harvests, none of them ever began with this much anticipation. I thought, “How hard can it be?” Ha! What a naïve harvest intern! There are reasons for the anticipation and there are many reasons why vineyard harvests are different. I wish I could articulate on these many reasons but my mind is recovering from the past 7+ weeks. So instead, how about I recap some of the good and the ugly from my first harvest at Talley Vineyards?
It all started by agreeing to shave my beard. Eric Johnson, the winemaker, and Travis decided to incorporate the tradition of harvest beards, which is basically giving oneself a clean shave to start harvest and then not shaving for the duration. It had been some time since I last rocked the clean shaven look and I didn’t recognize the baby face under the whiskers, nor did my wife or our one-year old son. So the next morning we started our first pick at 5:30 in the morning and I felt the cold air on my face for the first time in a long time. The first pick was done in a few hours and I was still wondering why all the fuss about harvest.
Well, the next week the dial was turned up and we found ourselves in full-go harvest. Starting at 5:33 am seemed like a long-gone dream as the start times went from 4:30 to 3:30 to 2:30 to 1:30 am in the morning, and finally to 10 pm at night. The nights became a blur but the adrenaline kept us going and the caffeine kept us focused. There were some very cold nights out in Oliver’s Vineyard and nights like the one when we picked Rosemary’s Block 7 with the Harvest Moon and warm air abound. Harvest became an endless rotation of bins and harvest trailers. It was spending many hours with our awesome crew, learning new words in Spanish, and making them laugh at my bad Spanish. It was getting to the coffee before the production crew showed up and hoping there might be one frozen breakfast sandwich left. It was driving to work on empty roads at night and watching little towns pop up as we raised our lights and began picking grapes. There were lots of frozen meals eaten, washed down with Emergen-C and Zicam. Then there were those beautiful fall sun rises that came like a paycheck for those cold hours working through the night.
My first harvest at Talley Vineyards was hard but very rewarding. I learned a ton from Travis and our crew. As difficult as it was at times, I always felt a part of the team here at Talley and that made it all much easier. I’m happy that it’s over and that I’m able to catch up on some sleep and spend time with my family. However, it was a great experience that I hope I’m a part of for years to come. Oh, and my beard grew back and my kid recognizes me again.