Now that the grapes are starting to ripen, the dreaded task of netting the vines is upon us. After dusting off the pile of nets that daunt us 10 months out of the year, we netted the first of the vineyard this week, starting with Gewurztraminer and Tempranillo.
Bird-netting requires 4 unlucky people: 1 on the tractor, 1 unleashing the netting from its stuff-sack, and 2 to walk along either side of the vine row, draping the netting over the vines. Draping the netting is an art itself – if you drape too low, the netting collects sticks, weeds, chickens, cats, and anything else on the ground, and if you drape too high, birds are able to sneak in under the netting and negate the entire effort of protecting the fruit. Once the netting is on we are limited to what we can do to the vine for the remainder of the growing season, so we know there is a small window of rest between netting and harvest. I said small.
In order to help the grapes ripen to their full potential, we manage the amount of water each vine gets. This practice is called deficit irrigation, which for the most part means stressing the vine by slightly starving the vine of water. Vines are very clever, and they want to develop the most perfect berry to attract birds (see bird-netting above) and other critters to help spread little grape seeds and continue the cycle of the species. When stressed, vines will concentrate on ripening fruit rather than increasing canopy size. We approximate the degree of stress the vine is under via a Pressure Bomb.
A leaf sample is collected and inserted into a pressure chamber. Depending on how much water is held in the leaf, a proportional amount of pressure is required to force water from the leaf stem. This measured pressure value is used to determine the degree of stress the vine is under, and helps us determine, through a series of calculations, how much water to apply to the vine. Just one more way for us to obtain the best fruit possible, to make the best wine possible. Pretty clever, eh?