Cover Crops

February 26, 2013

This month continues to be warm and relatively dry, bringing us closer and closer to the start of the growing season for our vines.

The balmy February weather has also gotten our cover crops growing. In this picture you can see the mustard blooming all across the Montana Vista block.

The balmy February weather has also gotten our cover crops growing. In this picture you can see the mustard blooming all across the Montana Vista block.

Cover crops are grown from seeds that we sow in the vineyard rows just after harvest.

We use a mixture of mustard, oats, peas, and beans in our cover crops. You can see us mixing the various types of seeds together before sowing in this picture.

We use a mixture of mustard, oats, peas, and beans in our cover crops. Here you can see us mixing the various types of seeds together before sowing.

Each type of plant serves a different purpose in preserving the health of the vineyard; mustard and peas draw beneficial insects and add biomass to the soil, oats help to anchor the soil in place with their fibrous root systems, and beans help fix nitrogen into the soil, improving its’ nutrient status.

Wild plants also play an important role in the vineyard. These calendulas (pot marigolds) are popping up all over the vineyards this time of year. They are powerful attractors of beneficial insects which keep the pest load in our vineyards low.

Wild plants also play an important role in the vineyard. These calendulas (pot marigolds) are popping up all over the property this time of year. They are powerful attractors of beneficial insects which keep the populations of pests in our vineyards low.

While some more rain would be nice, we are still enjoying the mild days. Flowers are opening up all over the property and you can practically feel Spring coming.

Most of the peas and beans have not started to flower yet, but here is one early pea-bloom from the Foxtrot block.

Most of the peas and beans have not started to flower yet, but here is one early pea-bloom from the Foxtrot block.

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Amapola Creek is Richard Arrowoods’ latest winemaking project, to visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.

 

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Tying

February 19, 2013

Spring is coming on relatively early this year in Sonoma Valley. In 2012 we saw a warm February which was followed by a cool and rainy March, and so far we’re seeing the same pattern for 2013. It’s impossible for now to say what will happen as the season progresses, but at the moment it’s clear that Spring is coming and the world is waking up.

Mustard is one of the seeds we sow to form our cover crop. It can act as a sort of thermometer for the vineyard, blooming earliest in the warmest spots. This picture was taken in the Southwest corner of the Montana Vista block, where sun exposure and the contour of the terrain contrive to make an especially warm spot.

Mustard is one of the seeds we sow to form our cover crop. It can act as a sort of thermometer for the vineyard, blooming earliest in the warmest spots. This picture was taken in the Southwest corner of the Montana Vista block, where sun exposure and the contour of the terrain contrive to make an especially warm spot. Since it is relatively warm, this is often one of the first spots on the property where the grapes ripen during harvest.

This is the time of year that we start in on a vineyard process called ‘tying’. During tying we take loose canes from last year and fix them to the trellis wires, beginning the process of forming next years’ canopy.

We pruned our vines in January, leaving only the canes that were well positioned for tying.

We pruned our vines in January, leaving only the canes that were well positioned for tying.

We take the loose canes and bend their tips down to the lower trellis wires in a regimen known as the ‘Guyot’ system.

As this years new shoots begin to grow out of the buds on this cane, they will be perfectly spaced and directed to form the open canopy that makes for premium Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.

As this years new shoots begin to grow out of the buds on this cane, they will be perfectly spaced and directed to form the open canopy that makes for premium Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.

One interesting thing to note in the pictures above is that there is only one cane left on the vine, whereas normally we would leave two. If you look carefully at the right hand side of this vine, you will see a tiny piece of cane with two buds on it. This is called a ‘spur’.

Last year was so vigorous that some of the vines, such as this one, became a little stressed. Leaving a spur instead of a cane will result in a slightly smaller canopy with a little less fruit, reducing the stress on the vine for this year and letting it recover its’ strength. This means that our yield will be reduced slightly in 2013, but it also means that the fruit we do get will be of a higher quality. It also means that the vines will survive longer, continuing to produce high quality fruit further into the future.

With high-end wine growing it is sometimes necessary to make trade-offs like this, reducing our overall harvest to ensure the best possible quality in the final product.

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Amapola Creek is Richard Arrowoods’ latest winemaking project, to visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.

We have a few days between the Cabernet Sauvignon we picked last week and the next grapes we’ll be bringing in, so we’ve been taking advantage of the time we have now to take care of the vines we’ve just harvested.

A few weeks prior to harvest, we cut off the irrigation to our vines. We did this because, when you irrigate a vine with maturing fruit on it, the water is translocated into the berries, causing them to swell up and lose some of their concentrated flavor. Cutting off irrigation prior to harvest increases the flavor of the fruit, but it leaves the vines in a somewhat weakened state (especially considering the warm weather we’ve been having lately).

We want the vines to start off the next growing season strong, so as soon as the fruit is off the vines, we give them a good soaking to help them recover before they go dormant for the winter.

We will give every vine just about eight gallons of water, enough to soak the root zone and strengthen the plant for its’ dormant period. As you can see, there is still a tiny bit of fruit left on the vines.

This remaining fruit is called ‘second crop’. It comes from a second round of flowering that happens late in the season. It is usually not quite as nice as the primary crop, but if it ripens on time we will probably pick it and make it into wine that we will then sell to another winery.

Watering now will also give the second crop a chance to ripen more before it is harvested, if the vines shut down too early because of water stress, we’ll never get to pick it. Waste not, want not!

We’ll be back to picking grapes again soon, be sure to check back to find out more!

Amapola Creek is Richard Arrowoods’ latest winemaking project, to visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.

 

Introducing our first Rose!

September 24, 2012

As was promised last week, we have exciting news, we have just crushed the grapes for our first ever Rose! This crisp, fruity wine will be a blend of four Rhone varieties; Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Viognier!

The first grapes to pick were Mourvedre, which were just grafted over in the Spring in our China Bowl block. The fact that we were able to get crop off of vines that were grafted so recently is a tribute to this remarkably bountiful year. These grapes were low in sugar, but very intensely flavored and with a very deep color.

Harvesting grapes for Rose is a little tricky. We are making a low alcohol style, so we don’t want to bring in grapes that are fully ripened, but we do need them to have ripened enough that they taste fruity instead of green.

This is the Grenache we picked for the Rose, note how the berries are a little bit variable in their color. The darker berries will lend more fruit character to the wine, while the lighter colored berries will grant the wine a delicious crispness. Sorting out and picking the right clusters for this wine is a labor intensive process, but that is what it takes to make our special style!

We were also excited this year to see an increase in productivity from our Viognier vines.

We don’t have too many Viognier vines, and most of them are fairly young and haven’t produced much fruit in the past. We are quite pleased to see that this year we got a pretty good yield, which will help us make this wine in a more authentic Rhone style.

To process Rose, we destem the grapes directly into bins where we let them sit for awhile to soak up some color.

Destemming breaks up the berries just enough to let a little juice out, the goal at this stage is to extract just exactly the right amount of color from the fruit to give the finished product the hue that we want.

Once the berries are in bins, we punch them down a few times to help the extraction along.

Punching down is pretty much exactly what it sounds like, we take a stainless steel paddle and use it to punch the grapes down into the juice. This helps speed up color extraction, so you have to be careful not to overdo it or the wine will be too dark.

We left the grapes to soak overnight, and in the morning we decided that the juice had exactly the right amount of color, so we loaded it into the press to extract the ruby juice which we put down to tank to ferment. Richards’ daughter Kerry helped us out today, transferring the last bit of grapes into the press by hand after the pump had gotten all it could.

We can already tell that this is going to be a truly superb wine, please check back with us to see how it’s coming along!

Amapola Creek is Richard Arrowoods’ latest winemaking project, to visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.

Berry Sampling

August 29, 2012

Once crop level is adjusted, it’s a good idea to start monitoring the grapes to see how far away they are from being ripe. This allows us to project (approximately) how long we have until they are ready to be picked, which in turn allows us to begin planning for the upcoming harvest.

Today we went out into the Montana Vista block of Cabernet Sauvignon and took a couple of quick berry samples. From experience we know that the grapes at the top of the hill are probably going to ripen first, so we restricted our sample to this area. As always, we were careful to randomize our sample, pulling berries from different positions on the clusters, and from clusters in different positions within the canopy.

Fruit from the North-facing side of the row gets the more intense afternoon sun, so we’ve left more vegetation on this side to protect it from being sunburned. This fruit is likely to be lower in sugar and higher in acid than fruit from a sunnier location within the canopy. The same is true of berries that are on the backs of clusters and rarely see direct sunlight.

In contrast, the fruit from the South-facing side is more exposed to the sun, and so the fruit tends to be a little bit more ripe.

For now this fruit is generally sweeter and has better flavor, although these differences will diminish greatly as the block approaches ripeness.

We were pretty sure that it would be some time before we picked this block, so we didn’t take a huge sample, just a few hundred berries to get an idea how things are progressing.

We took two different samples from this block, one from the basaltic section and one from the rhyolitic section. The fruit tastes a little less ripe in the basaltic section, where the vines are more vigorous and the crop load heavier. You can really see a big difference from berry to berry, some taste great and others still taste quite sour. We can tell that we are still at least a month away from picking this section, during which time the flavor of the grapes will mature into what we need to make a first rate wine.

This is the time of year that we get a little obsessive over what is happening in the field. It’s just the kind of focus that you need to get the kind of grapes that produce excellent wines!

Amapola Creek is Richard Arrowoods’ latest winemaking project, to visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.

 

More Cluster Thinning

August 24, 2012

We’ve just finished up adjusting the crop level in Montana Vista. As you may recall, we started in the more vigorous Eastern half of the vineyard, which has a deep basaltic soil. Once that was done we moved on to the Western section, which has a thinner, rockier rhyolitic soil. The rhyolitic half of Montana Vista is actually a fairly complicated  piece of vineyard, with vastly different levels of vigor and crop load in different parts of the block.

The vines at the top of the hill are moderately vigorous. This section is actually slightly flat, and so the soil here is not as fully drained as a little further down the hill. You can see on the ground that we decided to drop around three clusters per vine in this area.

The amount of fruit to drop always depends on the individual vine. A little further down the hill, where the slope is steep and the soil is much thinner, nature has done the job of adjusting the crop for us.

These vines are very low vigor, so there was no need to drop any fruit.

At the bottom of the hill, the soil actually gets fairly deep where the vineyard abuts the road. The soil in this section is actually pretty similar to the basaltic soil in the Eastern half of the vineyard, and so the vines here are really quite vigorous.

As you can see, we had to drop more fruit in this area to bring the vines into balance.

We’re starting to move fast to keep up with what the weather is bringing us, be sure to check back and see what we’re up to!

Amapola Creek is Richard Arrowoods’ latest winemaking project, to visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.

Berry Sampling

August 21, 2012

We took another trip out to the Russian River Valley this week to see how the Belli Chardonnay was progressing. As you may be aware, the current weather, with daytime temperatures in the 90’s and nighttime temperatures in the 50’s, is highly conducive to ripening. The Rued clone block at the Belli ranch is cropped very lightly, and it’s placed on a steep hillside with very well-drained soil, and so what we’re finding is that this block is developing very rapidly indeed.

As you can see, some of the vines in the Rued block at the Belli ranch have very little fruit on them, sometimes only 3 or 4 small clusters. This results in grapes that are extremely intensely flavored.

To figure out exactly how far along a block of grapes is, we use ‘berry sampling’. This technique is pretty much exactly what it sounds like; we walk through the vineyard and pick individual berries to form a composite sample that represents the block as a whole. Doing this well can actually be a little bit tricky. Berries need to be picked from random spots throughout the canopy, or you run the risk of skewing your results.

For instance, grapes that are tucked away inside the canopy (like on the right-hand side of this picture) receive less sunlight and are likely to be less ripe. More exposed clusters (like in the center of this picture) are likely to be more ripe. You have to make sure you pick a mixture of both exposed and hidden berries to get an accurate cross-section of the whole vineyard, or else risk picking at the wrong time.

After todays’ sample (assuming the weather holds), it looks like we’re about two weeks out from picking the first few tons of Belli Chardonnay. Predicting exact pick dates is a little dodgy, but these grapes are gaining sugar so quickly that it would be very surprising if the pick came very long after labor day. Be sure to check back to see what we’re up to next!

Amapola Creek is Richard Arrowoods’ latest winemaking project, to visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.

Cluster Thinning!

August 17, 2012

Veraison is pretty much finished in the basaltic section of the Montana Vista block, which as you may remember is a block of Cabernet Sauvignon near the top of the property. Once veraison is over, it becomes possible for us to start trying to figure out exactly how much fruit we can get from a given area when we eventually harvest it. This is called ‘estimating yield’, and once it’s been done it becomes possible for us to start adjusting crop load to maximize the quality of our grapes and, by extension, our wine.

What we found this week is that Montana Vista is cropped a little heavily for our purposes. This is actually not surprising, because this block (especially the basaltic section, with its’ deep, clay-rich soil) is pretty vigorous. When a vine has too much crop on it, the grapes tend to lack the concentration of flavor that leads to an excellent bottle of wine. To correct the situation, we cut the extra clusters loose and leave behind the amount of fruit that is appropriate for the size of the vine.

This is a common sight in years that the vines bear heavily. Excess fruit is dropped in the vine row, where it will eventually be incorporated back into the soil.

Deciding which clusters to remove takes a fair amount of specialized knowledge about how the canopy of the grapevine impacts the maturation of high-quality winegrapes.

There are a number of factors that go into deciding which grapes will stay and which will leave. One is how well a given cluster is exposed to light. A cluster that is tucked up in the middle of the canopy receives less light, and will generally be more likely to have unappealing vegetal characters than clusters out towards the edges.

Another factor is how much a given cluster crowds its’ neighbors, clusters that are too close together have a tendency to shade each other and restrict airflow through the fruiting zone, which can result in delayed maturation and increased risk of disease.

As you can see in comparing this picture with the one just above, we chose to remove the cluster that was tucked in between the other two, both because it was somewhat shaded and it blocked the airflow around its’ neighbors.

In the end, we are trying to create a vine where each cluster is able hang freely in the sun and air, and that has the right number of clusters on it. It’s important not to remove too many, because a vine that has too little fruit on it will develop distinct flavors bell pepper, asparagus, and other vegetables that you would not want to smell in a Cabernet Sauvignon.

This is what we would like the vines in this block to look like, the clusters evenly spaced and the whole plant carrying about six pounds of fruit.

Things are picking up, and we have a lot more great information to share about how we do what we do! Be sure to check back soon!

Amapola Creek is Richard Arrowoods’ latest winemaking project, to visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.

 

Veraison in the Grenache

August 9, 2012

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Most of our grafted Grenache shoots have done pretty well, and now we’re ready to start shaping them for next year.

As you can see, most of these shoots are pretty large. A few of them are still too small to position, we will come back through and get them a little later in the season.

The problem is that all of the shoots are trying to grow vertically, while we need them to grow horizontally along the middle trellis wire.

These vines will be spur-pruned, so we need this years shoots to grow like this, right along the trellis wires, where they will form next years ‘arms’.

We use a special kind of tape to hold the shoots in place.

This tape is not sticky, instead it is very elastic, but it maintains its’ strength as it stretches. This allows the shoots to grow without breaking the tape.

The Grenache and the Mourvedre are both looking great, we’re looking forward to the day we can use these grapes in the Cuvee Alis!

Amapola Creek is Richard Arrowoods’ latest winemaking project, to visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.