June 23, 2013

Flowering at Armstrong Vineyard on Ribbon Ridge

Two Sundays ago, June 9, I drove to all four of the Pinot Noir vineyards I work with in the northern Willamette Valley. My goal was to assess the progress of the growing season, and ideally to see some flowering in the vines.

Sure enough, I saw a ton of grape flowers - more in the warmer, earlier sites, but flowers in every vineyard - which surprised me a bit. Why? Because flowering normally doesn't really happen until the middle of June, and in the past three years we've been one to three weeks later than that. I know it's been warmer than average this spring, but lately one can't help but wonder if every year isn't going to have flowering on the 4th of July instead of around Father's Day. Or much earlier as we're seeing this year.

So what's the big deal about that? While there's still a long way to go this summer, once you get to the peak of flowering - and we were there in at least one of my sites - you can estimate harvest being 100 to 110 days later. That means picking at the earliest sites could be in late September, something I haven't done since 2007, 2006 and 2005 (not to equate those vintages qualitatively - just in terms of picking time).

That's sure different from our October 20 harvest kick off in 2011, and that was earlier than many local producers. We really were weeks behind the norm that year, but luckily things worked out. This year I imagine we'll be long done picking by that point, as we were in '07, '06 and '05. The good news there - the chance of perfect harvest weather is much, much more likely in late September under potentially summer conditions rather than in late October where one typically things of trick or treating in the rain, crafty kid costumes unfortunately covered by raincoats and umbrellas.

Overall, things looked great this day at all my sites. I'll post shots from Armstrong Vineyard on Ribbon Ridge here, then more from the Eola Hills sites next time. Soon, I hope.

To start, the lovely early morning view from the 667 block of Armstrong vineyard, looking south toward the backside of the famous Dundee Hills across the valley.

Then the road at Armstrong coming up through the vines, for me the most classic view from this incredibly gorgeous vineyard.

The grower here has been converting to a more organic approach, describing the less manicured look of the vine rows as a bit of a "hippie" vibe. Sure enough, flowers. Perfect wild daisies that made me stop and think for a moment. I love daisies.

Down in a swale of the 115 vines, there's more water in the soil so we're leaving row cover in every row to draw out moisture and compete with the vine roots for resources. Otherwise, every other row is tilled to make sure there's not too much competition.

Ah, the morning's prize. Everywhere I look, flowering clusters. Open this picture if you don't open any other. In each inflorescence, or cluster of grapes before the flowers bloom, you can see lots of tiny grape flowers already setting. And you can see that in a single cluster, fruit set isn't uniform, even this year where flowering weather at Armstrong (as you can see) was pretty ideal - sunny and mild. A single cluster can flower over a few days, meaning grapes in one cluster can have even slight variance in maturity, and that's ok with me. Perfect uniformity is boring. Then again, variable weather during flowering can draw things over for a few weeks, leaving too little uniformity if not issues with fruit set because of wind, cold, even rain and hail that physically knocks off the flowers as they bloom but before they've set as fruit. Got that? 

Things here look amazingly good, so that I'm mesmerized more by the unexpected wild daisies that I take as another good sign, that we have an interesting summer coming and the hope of a great harvest. There's still lots of time, but I'm confident. And then there are the alien-like growing tips as I look up the hill across rows and rows, the vines growing so fast at this time of year you can also watch them change by the minute. I can't take my eyes off them.

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