Vineyard workers sneeze in unison as the unmistakable smell of grapevines in bloom wafts across the peninsula. Each pull of a shoot or yank of a sucker knocks thousands of pollen particles into the air – and eventually into our collective nasal passages to create one mighty “sonic bloom”.
What a difference a year makes. I remember the abject despair with which I traversed these rows last spring, as one vine after another collapsed into oblivion. The growing season of 2015 became more about rejuvenation than celebration in a number of varietals – particularly Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc.
I can’t begin to describe the relief in watching the tender suckers I white-knuckled together last season become the strong, fully-budding trunks I see before me now. There are still failures, but not nearly in the magnitude of 2015. Ideal weather conditions have helped get us back on track and now I can shift my focus back to formulating a plan to shape and position these burgeoning vines.
Please stay with me here as I attempt to outline a mindset that some may find perplexing. I was a weird kid (you can debate whether this has changed) who always found comfort in a well-organized strategy. Toys were for displaying and cataloging, not playing with. Upon receipt of the official Toronto Maple Leaf 1984-85 Fact Book, I set out to memorize the birthdays and relevant personal facts of the entire roster, just so I could be prepared if anyone ever asked me. Kids growing up in the Google age will never experience the joys of memorizing useless facts – like Walt Poddubny’s pre-game meal or Bill Derlago’s favourite out of town restaurant.
So here is where my head is at when I look out over the vineyard on this first day of summer: roughly 150 rows to tackle, at an average of 3 rows per day, means that I should be able to finish properly fashioning my vines in about 50 days. Factoring in that my progress will be slower as the days get hotter and the vine growth intensifies, and throwing in the odd “wife-mandated” day off, I should be done thinning in about two months.
I’m most efficient working down each row from left to right and prefer not to leave an unfinished row at the end of the day. One veteran move is to always work on the shady side of the row (west side in the morning, east side in the afternoon), as it will keep you cooler throughout the day and the contrast will be better for locating unwanted growth.
My traditional starting point would be the Pinot Noir blocks, but the Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon are showing the strongest vigour this year, with an inordinate amount of secondary shoots and an explosion of centrally located growth – all of which must go!
There is a method to this mindset, as I find greater motivation when jobs have a clear start and end point. It is one reason why we release wines only once per year. The wine is bottled and the wine is sold, then we start all over again. It may be what appeals to me most about farming – every season has a harvest, an ultimate prize to work toward and celebrate upon it’s completion.
That’s enough typing for now…I’ve got three rows to finish.