2008 started out with real vigor. Literally. It was pretty crazy. Here's what our vines looked like in early May:
We don't usually see the vines this far over the top wire until late June. I'm not exactly sure what brought on this extra vigor. Could be the good amount of rain we had late in the season. Could be the Biodynamic farming practices. Some have suggested that the vines might have matured to the point where the roots reached a new water source.
At any rate, on the advice of Gregorio at Perrucci Family Vineyards, we tipped the vines (snipped off about a 1/4" of the tip of the shoot), sorted them out and tied them to the trellis and hoped for the best. The tipping technique worked like a charm. We saw almost no additional growth from the shoots and the vines transferred their energy into working on berry development. Because we were able to hold off on hedging, we got very few laterals so we were spared a lot of work using the tipping technique. Within a month or so the vineyard re-adjusted to its usual pace of development. (Thanks Greg!).
Late last season Gregorio also turned us on to what I consider to be one of the greatest inventions of all time: JMS Stylet Oil. Because we are organic farmers it can be very challenging to find solutions for disease and pest control that are not harmful to our environment, our neighbors and our neighbors' animals.
Powdery Mildew on a grape leaf.
By far our greatest challenge has been in controlling mildew diseases, mostly powdery mildew, occasionally downy mildew. Up until recently we've been using sulphur dust to ward off powdery mildew infections with less than perfect results. Sulphur has several limitations, especially in our SoCal climate. Sulphur is preventative for powdery mildew - it is ineffective for an outbreak that has already occurred. This means that you have to make sure you get the sulphur dust on every bit of the leaf canopy surface before an outbreak occurs for it to be effective which is easier said than done with manual means. Besides being very stinky and irritating to the sinuses, sulphur also starts burning the leaves of the plant when temperatures start rising above 85 degrees. It's just not a great solution.
But Stylet Oil is! Stylet Oil is an odorless, tasteless food safe organic mineral oil that not only prevents mildew diseases, it also stops existing disease and controls mites to boot. Even though it has some heat related issues, I've found that if I apply it during the cool of the evening or morn I don't see any leaf damage in high temperatures.
Our vines look great this year thanks to Stylet Oil. We saw a little browning on the edges of the leaves at the end of the summer, but we believe this is due to a small amount of intentially induced water stress. We plateau the regular amount of water we give the vines by August. Because of the August heat they probably would like a little more water than they get, but holding off on giving the vines extra water (called deficit irrigation) helps to concentrate the sugars in the grapes. The objective is to get our pH and sugar numbers lined up this way as in California the pH tends to rise more quickly than the sugar levels. It's a tricky balance though. If you take it too far it can hurt the vines and raisin up your previously juicy grapes.
2008 was the first year we called for help with our harvest and boy are we glad we did! We had our largest harvest ever (over 500 lbs) and we might still be out there if we hadn't had so much help from our fabulous friends. Here are some pictures from that wonderful afternoon:
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