Vineyard: Flowering & Fruit Set

We finally experienced flowering and fruit set in the vineyard! It was a little slow this year as the temperatures have been up and down in Paso Robles, CA. We’ve been surprisingly cool, but this week is picking up to the 100 degree days. (not sure if I’m ready for the hot, hot heat yet!)
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Now that we’ve had the flowering and fruit set occur, what does that mean? It means a lot as this is the development of the fruit for the year! It’s a crucial time that occurs, after the leaf canopy’s growth begins and the calyptras appear. The calyptras (caps for short) look like itty-bitty green grapes, but actually they are just spheres holding the pollination parts and pollen. Many plants require pollination from bees, but vines are wondrous self-pollinators. The flowers have their own male and female parts.
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Once ready, the calyptra opens to show a pistil and stamens holding pollen. The pollen is softly transferred to the pistil slowly fertilizing it (it’s a slow dance, let’s say), which eventually produces seeds. These blossoms are not protected, which leaves them susceptible to weather elements such as gusty winds, hail, and extreme temperatures. It is a nail biter as these elements can “shatter” the outcome of the harvest in the fall. As mentioned in another blog, vines like consistent and slow developing temperatures, not extremes. This year (2018) has shown to be not perfect, but positive:
“Shatter happens when it gets too hot. Shatter also happens when temps get below 70 degrees and over 90 degrees. When the temps are below 70 and above 90 and it is too windy then pollination doesn’t occur very well. This photo shows that our crop is good, nice weight, and nice loose clusters. All in all, we have had only moderate shatter and a good fruit set so far.” – David Parrish
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So, now you’re probably wondering what shatter is. Shatter is when the clusters fail to develop to full maturity. Flowers can remain closed and therefore, unable to pollinate…meaning no berries. The vine is trying to preserve it’s carbohydrates because it becomes focused on staying alive against the elements. What this means is that there will be less clusters at harvest, which equals less production for the winery.
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Once flowering and pollination takes place, fruit set occurs.  This is when the fertilized eggs form seeds and pericarp tissues form a berry, kind of like an envelope around the seeds.  The berry’s size will be impacted by the number of seeds. A berry with no seeds is smaller and a berry with up to 4 seeds will be larger. The reason berry size makes a difference is if you have a cluster with various berry sizes, it is difficult on the ratio of skin to pulp for the winemaker.
A fully grown berry is 75% pulp, 20% skin, and 5% seeds. Pulp is essential for flavor and aroma in the wine. The main component is water and the second being sugar, which is vital for yeasts to eat during fermentation (creates alcohol). Skin is important for color, flavor, and aroma as well as the tannins, which will impact a wine’s texture and structure. The seeds also contain tannins. As you can see if you have a higher ratio of skin to pulp, this will mean a more tannic wine and that the winemaker may have issues with the fermentation process, which is important for alcohol to develop. On the flip side, if there is too much pulp (happens from too much water in the berry), this may impact color and flavor.
To avoid issues during fruit set, viticulturists begin thinking after the year’s harvest about the vine dormancy, root moisture, and soil health as these will impact the fruit for the next season. Pruning is also important for the new growth. Ultimately though, it does depend on the weather each year, but growers will do all they can outside of that factor.
As you can see, there is a lot that goes into just the grape itself and it begins prior to even bud break. It is just a reminder that it takes a lot of work to get to the glass of wine.
Next up, the berries will begin to grow in size:
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Stay tuned for berry growth and soon, veraison, which is when the grapes turn color…my favorite time in the vineyard as I find it fascinating…well, I like it all, but veraison is really cool to see.
Cheers!
Cecily

When to Harvest?

Happy 1st Day of Fall Everyone!

It has truly been an interesting year for the 2017 harvest season in Paso Robles. We started out, well, hot and heavy because it was in the triple digit heat for about two weeks in August. We harvested our Sauvignon Blanc, which was not too early, but the Syrah and Zinfandel were not far behind it.  It looked like we would be done with all our harvests in late August and early September, but the heat spell broke with the scent of rain and blustery winds…monsoon weather. We didn’t get the rain and crazy microburst that Santa Barbara did, but the temperatures finally fell below the 100’s, which all plants and creatures, including us humans appreciated.

September showed up with the 70’s and 80’s, which meant a slow down in the fruit ripening. As you can see, grapes (most agriculture for that matter) are affected by temperature. More heat means faster ripening. Less heat means slower ripening. At this time, we are waiting on harvests, but how do we determine when to harvest? Here’s a breakdown…

Brix – We test the brix (sugars) of the grapes with a tool called a refractometer. Generally, the winemaker will have a number he/she wants as a target for each variety of grape. This is decided upon what the variety will become as a wine. All wine grapes have to come into the winery with sugars for the yeast to eat, otherwise no fermentation can happen. On the other side, when fruit has more sugar it means less acidity, so there’s a balancing act. We still need acidity in wine to help formulate the structure. Once we reach the desired brix, it brings us that much closer to harvesting. That said, it isn’t the only factor we consider in pulling off fruit.

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A club member uses a refractometer to see the brix of the Cabernet at our Harvest Party 2011.

Feel – We use the feel of the grapes to determine if they are ripe. This is a lot like at home when you have a basket of strawberries in your fridge, you will not only use the appearance, but the feel to determine if a berry is ripe to eat (or too ripe). So, this is true with grapes, we take note if the skins are soft and velvety as a sign of ripeness.

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Ethan analyzes the berries of the Cabernet Franc. – 2017

Seeds – We also look at the seeds as they help show how ripe the grapes are. The seeds should be brown in color and crunchy. The pulp of the grape should easily separate from the the seed when it is ripe. There are some seasons, like this current one, where we may have to harvest without the seeds being 100% brown because the flavor, brix, and feel say otherwise.

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David is reviewing the seeds of the Cab. – 2017

Taste – Taste is a huge factor for determining when to harvest. There have been times when the brix were at the desired number, but the flavor wasn’t. Flavor may be one of the most important factors because how the fruit tastes as a grape will impact the way it tastes as a wine. If we pick fruit that is too green, it will show up in the wine’s palate. If we pick fruit that is too ripe, it will mean very high sugars, no acidity, and heaviness (syrup-y) for the body of the wine. Of course for a port, you would want high sugars, so it does depend on a winemaker’s intent. For drier wines, we do not want green or over ripen fruit, but instead balance.

The Elements – If it’s going to rain, sometimes it means that we have to harvest to avoid mildew and rot. This does depend on the variety, weather temperature, and wind. There have been years where some rain didn’t make a difference, but others sadly did.

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2017 Cabernet Sauvignon

As you can see, it isn’t one factor that determines when to harvest, but many. That is why intuition, knowledge, and goals will ultimately determine when each variety should be harvested because some years it won’t be clear. Lastly, being in Paso Robles, the special thing is we talk with other wineries about harvesting. We learn from each other, which fosters a unique community of respect and care.  So, with that, happy harvest to all our fellow wineries and vineyards out there! See you in December.

-Cecily

White Shade Cloth in the Vines

Happy Friday all!

With it being Summer, it is definitely a time for enjoying the sun, but as we know too much sun can lead to a dependence on aloe vera and cold packs. This is true for grapes, the sun is an imperative part of grape development, but too much can lead to issues. Grapes depend on the sun for photosynthesis to occur, but too much heat and sun can lead to sun burns, excessive sugar, and lack of acidity. This can result in unbalanced wines with high alcohol. The flip side of this applies as well…too little heat can prompt high acidity and a lack of sugar. Sugar is a necessary part of fermentation in the wine process. As you can see, there needs to be a balance, like in everything, for grape development to be successful and lead to deliciously, balanced wines.

How do you put reigns on a natural part of creation such as the sun? Viticulturists have been using the leaves for years in their vineyards to help facilitate sun distribution, but there is now a shade cloth that can be installed to help create even distribution of light. We recently installed this white shade cloth in our Adelaida Vineyard (Paso Robles) to do just that. It not only has a purpose, but looks really lovely.

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I was curious about the shade cloth, so after seeing our new tanks at our production barn (winery) I drove around our vineyard and found a tall man walking down the rows straightening the white shade cloth. It was my dad (David Parrish).

“Pretty cool, huh?” He said with a smile.

“Yeah! It looks great, dad. So, I’m assuming the shade cloth is to protect the grapes from the sun?”

“Correct….”

Thus started my dad on the innovation and science behind this white cloth.

It started 10 years ago when my dad was working with Paul Hobbs. He was seeing a need for sun protection, but something that wouldn’t completely block the sun from the grapes. My dad had been primarily working with dark shade cloth for nurseries with his company A&P. So, he began working with a company overseas, but the white shade cloth was very expensive. It wasn’t until a year ago when he found another company that he was able to invent a cloth that would have the perfect weave, exact spaced holes for easy hanging, and it was half the price of the previous cloth. It was also reusable and came on large spools for easy installation. Finally, a perfect match for what vineyards were needing!

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So, what makes this white shade cloth better than other shade cloths? There is a science to it and it related a lot to what I know from photography. The white shade cloth helps distribute the light by filtering direct sunlight, but also bouncing reflected light from the other types of sunlight through out the day. This creates more even lighting, which in turn develops more consistent fruit in the vineyard. Therefore:

The viticulturist gets better yield.

The winemaker receives better quality fruit.

The consumer drinks better wine.

A win for everyone on the trail from grape to bottle. So, it is actually a really important piece of innovation that could help the vineyard/wine industry be elevated overall…just with the basic concepts of harnessing light. “Pretty cool, huh?”

After my dad got done explaining all the information to me, I realized that we had bonded over science, which is not something that happens as he is very left brained and I am very right brained. Although, as I write this, we actually embody what wine is…science and art.

-Cecily

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