Monthly Archives: June 2013

1-2 Inches of Rain in June? Botrytis Alert

pinot big


Botrytis is a fungus that infects grape shoots, flowers, leaves and fruit.  If your vineyard gets this fungus, think of a moldy melon, yuck!  Why am I worried now?  The spread of the fungus sportes is aided by summer rains, heavy dew and juice from split berries.  The popular song…”it never rains in California”… is normally correct for Sonoma County.  However, a rare storm is heading our way and will drop 1″-2″ of rain on the vineyard.  Now I have to worry about Botrytis.

What can be done to prevent Botrytis?
– Have grapes that are not tightly packed. Sauvignon Blanc (see pictures) has a loose cluster but Pinot Noir (see picture) is a tight cluster grape, bad.
– Remove excess shoots and leaf around the cluster to get good air flow – done!
– Organically spray with Stylet Oil, Serenade Max or Sulfur right after it rains. I will do this Friday. Hope it is not to late.

Well the good news is that I needed the rain…the bad news is I may get botrytis in addition to driving potassium into the berries since we are between set and veraison. Lastly, if you look at the Sauvignon Blanc pictures…we will have a great crop this year!!!

Pinot Cluster
pinot bunch
Sauvignon Blanc Vines
SB big
Sauvignon Blanc Cluster
sb bunch

Bottle Shock – I didn’t know it was real until now!


Above is a classic scene in the movie “Bottle Shock”.  Little did I know that I would experience bottle shock at an inopportune moment this last week.  First…what is bottle shock.

Apparently around a week after bottling and lasting one to three months, the wine undergoes a reversible transformation.  “The wine tastes disjointed, unpleasant, and unfinished when in a state of bottle shock, but it doesn’t taste awful/undrinkable. The phrase most typically used to describe wine currently in bottle shock is “muted.” In the forefront are the tannins and the acid, with the fruit hiding somewhere deep in the background. Even more often, the wine throws off odd, reductive aromas.”

Normally when I visit my wine every month to check the sulfur level and taste, I take a few 1/2 bottle samples.  We drink them within the week and although young, it tastes great.  Well, this time I was having a knowledgable person in the wine industry taste my wine.  This 1/2 bottle had been stored for 3 weeks.  It normally takes about 1/2 hour to open up but in this case the wine tasted very acidic and flat with no fruit flavors.  I could not understand it.  Then I remembered “Bottle Shock”, although I had never experienced it until now.  The real confirmation will come the next time I take a sample and bring it home…

So, when Turtle Vines Pinot is released, I will include instructions on how and when to open the bottle, as you can also get “Travel Shock”, just like “Bottle Shock”.

When is Harvest?

Great vine 6-14-13

This is one of the nicer looking vines right now in the vineyard.  Below I put a close-up of the bunches.  You can see in the picture the berries have swelled and the bunch has almost closed up.  Very exciting!  What does this mean for harvest and how can we predict it?

In 2012 we harvested on September 23rd at a bris (sugar content) of 22.8.  This year I would like to be at 23.5 to give an alcohol content of a little under 14% but add more flavor. – add 5 days
– For 2013 our bud break and bloom were 3 weeks early – I don’t have enough information on our vines to tell.
– Our Growing Degree Days are a week ahead of last year – subtract 7 days
– We have 4 times the grapes, but also more than 4 times the foliage as 2012 – subtract 7 days
– We had a dry spring, only 25″ of rain this season vs 45″ last year

So…our new estimate is September 14!!!


bunch 6-14-13

What are Growing Degree Days and why do I care?

top view 6-14-13
Above is a picture of the closest part of the vineyard to the house. This year the vine canopy is at least 80% filled in this area…next year it will be completely full. The 667 which is away from the house is about 40% full. It is amazing to me when I look back at pictures from 2010 to now and see the difference.

What are Growing Degree Days (GDD)?

It is a measure of the amount of warmth needed to grow plants and if you know what your area is rated for you can determine what to plant and specifically what kind of grapes are suitable for your area.

Easy math…GDD = (high temperature plus low temperature)/2 minus 50. An example…here in Sebastopol the normal for this time of year is 80 for a high, 45 for a low. So…((80+45)/2) – 50 = 12.5 You then add those up for each day during the growing season and you get a calculation for your area.  So for our area when you add the days between April 1 and November 1 you get 2350.  Here is how we compare to other areas.

Williamette Valley = 2150 (Pinot contender)
Burgundy France = 2400 (home of great Pinot)
Sonoma = 2350 (we think the best Pinot in the United States)
Napa = 3280 (good for Cabernet)
St. Helena = 2900 (good for Cabernet)
Olympia, WA = 1595 (good for Geoduck clams but on the borderline low for Pinot, perhaps a colder varietal)
Phoenix, AZ – >7500 (good for cactus)
So if you want to grow grapes, find out your average GDD and then see which grape will grow in that climate.

Lastly…how are we doing this year on GDD’s vs the last few years from April 1 to June 15th…or year to date?
2010 564 (very late harvest)
2011 505 (very late harvest)
2012 713 (normal harvest, great grapes)
2013 787 (looks to be an early harvest)



2013 Crop Estimate

morning side


In 2012 I estimated 1300 lbs of Pinot and we picked 1190 on our first harvest!  This year the vines are more mature and we should get roughly 60% of our eventual total, which would be 3 tons.  However, in walking the vineyard the east end is not as vigorous as the west end, so my guess is 2.75 tons.  This will make 193 cases of wine.

Let’s not forget our Sauvignon Blanc which has been getting rave reviews but is very limited.  My guess is we will get 4 cases of “Nonna’s Vineyard”

Lastly, given the warm spring with lack of rain, we will harvest early to mid-September.  I’m hoping September 21st as this is when our friends and relatives said they could come help!

Finding A Winery Partner Since the County won’t let us be One!

JC Winery


This was taken last fall as we were helping our dear friends Bill and Lauren make their Chardonnay at Santa Rosa Junior College.

What does it take to become a winery?  In Sonoma County you have to be zoned correctly and then for a small winery comply with regulations and pay around $6,000, mostly to the county.  Last month we started paperwork to be a winery but found out we are in the wrong zone.  Back to square one.

In order to sell the wine you do make, it has to be made at a bonded and permitted winery.  (Of course, anyone can make 100 gallons per person of wine a year, a law leftover from prohibition, and drink it or give it away to friends.)  So, we are in search of a good match for our organic grapes that can be hand crafted to make the best Pinot Noir possible.

We would like to find a winery that has the following traits:
– is close by
– we like the wine they make
– will give us a good price for our grapes
– will help us make wine  to sell, either as “Custom Crush” or “Alternating Proprietorship”
– values organic grapes
– is fun to work with

Yes, this is a lot to ask, and it is only 3 months until harvest…but once they taste the wine we made last year, all will be good.

And if this does not work…will sell some of these high quality grapes to some nice folks and make more wine on the side for us to enjoy!  Either way is OK…

Stay tuned to see where we end up this year.

Removing Leaves

morning side


We went to a great deal of effort and expense to orient our vineyard 42 degrees from North/South.  Why…do try and get the same amount of sunshine on the grapes evening morning and evening.

But is that enough?  No…from earlier posts we thinned the shoots to balance the vine.  Now, to add to our “subtraction makes good wine”, we need to remove leaves.  Again, why? If you keep all the leaves then you will have herbaceous tasting wine, probably mold on the vines since the spray can’t get to the clusters and it will increase the anthrocyanin levels (taste).  But you can’t take to much off or you could sunburn the grapes later in the year.  In Russian River Valley, we normally take more leaves off on the morning side (above picture) and keep more on the afternoon side (below picture).  You do this after the grapes are BB size to build up their tolerance to the sun.

Another complicating factor is that some varieties want more leaf removal.  Pinot has very thin skin, so you can’t take to much off.  Sauvignon Blanc is more tolerant so you will probably see most of the leaves removed.

Last year was our first harvest, so the plants were not very vigorous so leafing was very easy.  This year…I have to think hard on which ones to take and which to keep.  Won’t know until the heat of the season if I took to much.

afternoon side

Turtle Vines Sauvignon Blanc – Labels

joey labelsSB labelled

Labels, we have Labels!!! We are gettng very close to finalizing our Turtle Vines labels.  As you can see above, we put them on our newly bottled Sauvignon Blanc.  Vaughn Aldredge is the designer and has done an excellent job on the Logo.  Now I just have to determine if I wanted painted or printed labels on my 2012 Pinot Noir and make sure the labels comply with all the government requirements.

both SB lablels

Fertigation for Weak Vines

blue tape vineyard

I have learned a lot about Pinot noir by having different clones. The Pommard Pinot noir clone on the west side is very vigorous and seems to grow great. The 667 Pinot noir clone on the east side is not very vigorous and has seemed to struggle since we planted it in 2010.

In many cases a vine that struggles a little is an advantage. If you don’t have a big canopy, you do less work thinning shoots and leaves, and you have less chance of powdery mildew. In a lot of cases it will produce great wine as you want your red wine to struggle to bring out great flavor.

Well, in the case of about 250 vines, the struggle is a little to much and I have resorted to applying organic fertilizer by hand to those vines to help them along. First I marked the ones that were weak (not yet to the second wire) with blue masking tape. Then I lifted up the weed cloth and put 1 pound of Dry Crumbles (organic fertilizer) under the weed cloth and then covered it back up. When we water later in the month it will dissolve and help the vines.

Since it is organic fertilizer, won’t know for a while if it works, but it can’t hurt.

Fertilize vine


Hedge 2013

This week we hedged the west half of the vineyard. Since the Pommard clone is more vigorous, we did these on May 28th and I expect we will do the 667 clone on the east end in a few weeks.

I get asked all the time…why hedge.
– to make the vines look pretty?
– to give my arms a workout as I cut them 6″6″ in the air?
– to balance the amount of leaves to fruit on the vine to produce great wine?

All of the above!