Russian River Valley issues state of the vineyards report

    image003This morning I received the RRV state of the vineyards report. Harvest is over, October rain is here—or at least it was a few weeks ago. According to the report, “quality is over the top on everything that is in.”

    It sounds like yields will be small, with quality on track. Of course, I recognize the source of the information, and many will suggest it is marketing oriented. Fair enough.

    However, I’ve found the organization to be forthcoming and transparent in all aspects of their farming techniques. The good (canopy  management), the bad (over cropping), and the ugly (uneven ripening).

    “With rain in sight growers hustled to get as much fruit off the vine as they could . . . Fortunately we have about 95% of Russian River Valley fruit in now, about 98% of it is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with about 85% of the Rhone and Bordeaux varieties in. It was a cool summer with a thunder and lightning storm in September followed by very favorable weather of warm breezes.”

    Earlier this year we attended an ’07 Pinot media tasting in Healdsburg (report). RRV is quickly becoming my favorite for Pinot, and a close second for Chardonnay; for the famous white, I’m still partial to Napa and Carneros.

    Here’s the full report.

    RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY

    STATE OF THE VINEYARDS REPORT – OCTOBER 26, 2009

    END OF HARVEST & OCTOBER RAIN

    Lee Martinelli, President, Russian River Valley Winegrowers

    and President Martinelli Farms Inc.

    Hector Bedolla, Vineyard Manager, La Crema

    Nick Leras, Leras Vineyard

    Mark Sanchietti, Sanchietti Farming LLC

    Precipitation:

    Contrary to popular belief, recent rains haven’t been the worst case scenario for most of the growers in the Russian River Valley.  To begin, we were dealing with a moderate sized crop with small yields that were destined to be in cellars more quickly. Additionally, growers and winemakers have been collaborating to get as much fruit in as possible since the rains began.  Everybody made a big harvest push knowing this rain was coming and for two weeks straight scheduled to get the fruit in. With rain in sight growers hustled to get as much fruit off the vine as they could and wineries worked to make room for it.

    Monday, October 12th was the first significant rain of the harvest season. Since then we’ve received a regional average of 4 inches of rain – A lot all at once and more than we wanted. Fortunately we have about 95% of Russian River Valley fruit in now, about 98% of it is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with about 85% of the Rhone and Bordeaux varieties in.

    At this time, everything that is hanging out there is typically the later ripening varietals.  That fruit can still be sorted through, harvested and brought to the winery.

    AERATION:

    Where there is mold (green mold and Botrytis), aeration is the best and cleanest way to fight it.  Some growers go into the vineyards and actually shake vines to remove moisture. Heavy leaf removal to eliminate leaves that trap moisture and block the drying wind is employed to open the fruit zone 100%.

    In a previous report we explained why canopy management was necessary this year.  The canopy in 2009 was especially large and we knew we had better reduce it and pull it away from the fruit to mitigate disease – even taking a second pass in the summer months to further reduce it.  As it turns out, manipulating the canopy this year paid off by giving us an advantage of efficient aeration after the rain came.

    WHERE WE ARE:

    If the grower has picked by now, the vine is put to rest. This is a great advantage to the health of the vine for the 2010 vintage. For those vineyards picked, the cover crop is already coming up. Compost that is laid in by now looks good and is leaching into the soil. Recent rains have also ushered in the run of Salmon and Steelhead seen coming up the Russian River!

    2009 VINTAGE:

    Our account to date about harvest 2009;

    • Quality is over the top on everything that is in (all varietals) and is similar to 2007 in terms of quality.

    • We had a typical cool Russian River Valley harvest season with no extreme heat events.

    • What was harvested before the rains was great if you did your green thinning. As mentioned in a previous vineyard report, clusters here had both green and red berries because the cool weather during May extended bloom and produced uneven ripening and coloration. RRV growers made an effort to green thin to remove the green berries for more evenly ripened bunches.

    • Early on, the year was dryer overall then late May’s rain came. It was Mother Nature’s free fertilizer, producing a nutrient rich, hale and hearty canopy.

    • It was a cool summer with a thunder and lightning storm in September followed by very favorable weather of warm breezes.

    • We saw no heat spikes and when we had heat is wasn’t as bad as was forecasted. Moderate weather worked to our advantage by helping us to get the fruit where we wanted it in terms of ripeness enabling us to get in as much as possible before the recent rains.

    BOTTOM LINE:

    With every year a farmer learns something – this year, experience learned from over cropping came in handy.  We knew the heavy canopy could be a liability and especially in the heavy rains. Some growers have learned through experience to balance the crop to the vine’s health. In other words, if we leave too many clusters on the vine, they will reach maturity at a much later date.

    We’re farmers, we’re resilient. We know that there are so many things that can get out of our control and we’ve got to remain adaptable.  The members of the Russian River Valley Winegrowers are a close knit group and a great resource for networking and a free exchange of ideas. At every weather event we know we have a number of people to go to for good ideas, suggestions, recommendations and answers to the issue at hand.


    Explore. Create. Live. Follow Stark Insider on Twitter and Facebook. Join our 9,000 subscribers who read SI on tablets and smartphones on Google Newsstand. Prefer video? Subscribe to 
    Stark Insider on YouTube, the largest arts & travel channel in San Francisco.
    • tom

      The rain is not the problem in the RRV. The bigger story is the total fall out of demand for any Chard or Pinot over $20 per bottle. There were growers this year that could not sell their fruit. A big change from last year. Rain comes and goes, when demand is gone there is a problem.

    • tom

      The rain is not the problem in the RRV. The bigger story is the total fall out of demand for any Chard or Pinot over $20 per bottle. There were growers this year that could not sell their fruit. A big change from last year. Rain comes and goes, when demand is gone there is a problem.