In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb
Spring is a magical time of year here on the ranch: green grass is in abundance, all the vines are pruned and looking dapper, 130 baby lambs are frolicking around like kids in a Chuck E. Cheese, and of course, budbreak is just starting in the vineyard.
During the (not so) long, (not so) cold winter in Paso Robles, the grape vines go into dormancy where they can store up their energy, uptake water and get ready for another year of producing delicious grapes. The vines aren’t “asleep” exactly, but taking a kind of “staycation” between the grueling previous harvest and the upcoming growing season. This dormant state is not unlike a troubled poet who holes up in a secluded cabin, waiting for inspiration to snap her out of her writer’s block blues. Budbreak—when leaves first sprout on the vines—is the humble beginnings of what eventually will be, to stay with the previous metaphor, bottled poetry.
2016 now has the earliest budbreak on record in Paso Robles, even though 2015 held the non-coveted title last year—an early budbreak can be bad news. For us at Rangeland, it means we have to pull the sheep from the vineyard for the season. We like grazing our sheep in the vineyard because it is an effective way of mowing the grass and spreading nutrient-rich manure into the soil; but after budbreak we don’t want them eating the new leaves off the vines. In terms of vineyard health, early budbreak means the vines may not have had sufficient time in their dormant state and therefore might not have stored up enough energy for the upcoming season. This can put extra stress on the vines—unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do about it except to delay pruning until the last moment, which we did. Early budbreak also creates a higher chance of frost damage since the weather can turn freezing in March and April. Fortunately for Rangeland, frost risk is low in our vineyard since it is located on a high hillside, allowing cold air to sink down into the Jack Creek drainage below, leaving our vines unharmed.
This intricate dance with Mother Nature is part of what it means to be a grape grower. Just like writing a good poem requires both structure and spontaneity, growing excellent grapes requires sound vineyard practices while staying flexible through Mother Nature’s whims.
To close, I’ll paraphrase 18th-century British poet, Samuel Johnson: wine “puts in motion what had been locked up in frost.
Until Next time, Cheers!
Paul, the Wine Whisperer
If you are interested in watching videos of lambs and/or a very cool video on vine pruning made by our ranch manager, Nathan Stuart, please check us out on Facebook.
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