We are in the midst of a terrifically serious drought here in northern California, and my “Vineyard Project” is now doubling as a “Drought Resistant Vineyard Pilot Project”, which means that I am “training” my Syrah vines not to expect much water this summer.
In fact, I haven’t watered the vines at all yet this season. They received the scant rainfall that came courtesy of the nimbi overhead in the spring and early summer, and that’s it.
I spent some time about a month ago trimming the vines (and reducing the number of tiny pre-grape clusters). They need to be trimmed again, in fact. I have nice full bunches of green grapes, and the leaves on the vines remain a strong green. The roots of these vines must be “going deep” in order to sustain the growth that we have this year.
With the thinning of the vines and clusters, I hope to obtain some deep, well-concentrated berries with which to make a true to style Mediterranean red wine, high in gravity, spicy and intense in flavor.
Last year’s wine was more “new” in style, due in part to the fact that birds were rapidly laying waste to the grapes since I lacked any netting to protect them (I was caught by surprise) and so I elected to harvest early. Vintage 2014 yielded a whole third of a case of wine, which was drinkable (we opened it for Thanksgiving and Christmas and everyone got to have a taste) and I expect at least double that with this vintage. Once this vineyard reaches full production (5 years), I might expect a quarter to half-barrel, eventually.
I am hoping that the vines will be “challenged” with the scarcity of water, so that, in contrast to the extreme heat we are experiencing, there will also be good acid development, which is key for any dark red wine.
Just a note: this remains very much a hobby project. I passed exactly one Viticulture and Enology class under my belt, and while I did take that class at UC Davis (which offers one of the most esteemed winemaking programs in the world), I took it nearly two decades ago while I was in college, at a time when I was much more interested in “appreciating” wine than making it.
Basically, I’m doing what I want (experimenting as I go, on an extremely ad hoc basis) and not making much of a fuss (or being tremendously careful). Ironically, I take the beer making much more seriously, whereas this wine project is just about having fun. If nothing else, I think a vineyard — even a slightly messy, unkept one — is beautiful.