Struggling. That is how I define the grapevines this year. From an operator's perspective, there isn't a lot we can do other than play clean up and cross our fingers that we don't lose too much crop. This year has been a 3 - banger.
In the late Winter, or was it early Spring, we had a nice warming period. During this time we ordinarily think about bud break, and we all have certain rules of thumb regarding when the buds will pop. Ours is the 10-day rule.....10 days of 50 degree average temperature and we can see the buds swell, and then open up into a sea of little pink "flowers". We can even have a skip day and it'll still create the budding effect, assuming we had some decent sap flow and mild Spring rains.
But with early winter thawing also comes the possibility of a quick freeze, which may or may not directly damage the buds. This year however the sap began to flow too soon, and a freeze caused the cells to expand and rupture. We saw many of our thinner cordons and shoots die immediately. All one has to do is look at our Petit Verdot, which is growing on a hill with the rows facing North-South, where the southern ends are on the uphill. About half way down the hill the vines show a distinct loss of fervor or life. Protective warm air flows uphill you see. It is sad.
The Spring brought on plenty of rain. Normally a good thing for a farmer. The corn around here shot up to the skies. Grapes though, at least established grapes, have fairly deep roots so heavy rains really don't help much, especially when you have a high water table as we do. Rains bring on the potential for fungus, and as our summer came upon us, we started seeing black rot spread throughout the vineyard. We spray for this possibility as part of our normal operating procedure, but entrenched spores take advantage of our off days and grab the leaves with a vengeance. At first you get little rust spots, but then these expand to destroying the entire leaf. The grapes, still too hard for black rot to attack, seem to go untouched, but the reality is that as soon as the grapes go through veraison when the skins soften, the grapes swell, and the sugars accumulate, the black rot finds a new food source and starts to do it's damage. Right now we have little black spots on the grapes that could develop into a pretty sad situation. We are at least aware of this and hopefully harvest will come before the rot becomes a major factor.
Right about now Rich should be pulling leaves to maximize sun exposure of the grape bunches. With the severe leaf damage from the fungus, and a late season heat spell, prudence was exercised, recognizing an even further leaf loss would substantially effect the grapes from maturing and getting the sugar level we need. New growth, which seemed at least temporarily to escape the fungus onslaught, began to show severe leaf curl as the edges dried out from the heat and lack of rain. You can't win.
So, with August now in full swing, we are planning on harvesting our Seyval Blanc on August 19th. Our current Brix level is around 15+, but we're gaining ground rapidly as the sun persists to shine. A major rain is due in today which may dilute our sugars some, but like everything else, we'll see how it has affected the grapes tomorrow. I suspect we will be picking the rest of grapes in rapid succession
since their Brix levels are not too far behind, all except our Scuppernongs which regardless seem to take forever to get ready.