The Annual Cycle

What’s a year in the life of a vineyard actually like? Well, the winters are nice.
In winter, the vines are dormant, little work is being done in the vineyard, except for the 100 year storm that seems to come every year, so drainage repair and erosion control are the primary tasks. Sonoma gets 35″ inches of rain every year, almost entirely between October and May. During the winter the only cultural practice (farming) you’ll engage in is pruning and weed management.

Come spring the first buds will push and start to break sometime in March. You’ll mow your cover crop in at least every other row to reduce the ability of freezing cold air to collect. You (or your vineyard manager) will be up all night a couple of times frost protecting your vineyard. After May 10 (more or less) the risk of frost is passed.

After bud break, you’ll start spraying sulfur or other fungicide for mildew. And you’ll start training vines into their proper position. You may also fertilize.

In June, “bloom” will occur and the flowers will set and create the minute clusters that will eventually be grapes.

As summer progress you are involved in a long list of activities relating to keeping your vines healthy and happy. Watching for pests, disease, water stress, you react to the weather, the environment the vines.

At the end of July the clusters will have grown to the point that they are recognizable and begin to turn color. This is veraison. Harvest is coming.

In late August and September- or maybe October – you start to watch the sugar levels in your vines, waiting for them to get to your desired brix of 23.5 degrees or higher. In mid to late September into October you watch the sugar levels more and more closely. Ripen too quickly and they will have no character. Ripen too slowly and they may get rained on.

Finally the day comes and the right level of sugar has been reached and the harvest begins. In a few days it is all gone. If you have a few varieties, especially a mixture of red and white it make take a few weeks. But one day it’s all gone. Like your children gone off to college. You stand and stare and remember all the traumas and challenges of the past year and hope it was all worth it. You give one more good watering and perhaps one more dose of fertilizer and you make you plans for next year.

Winter is on the way…The leaves will turn yellow, brown and red as the weather turns cold. Then they will fall on the ground and the bare canes will stand against the cold until it is time to prune again. And if things have gone well you’ll get your first check sometime in December and you will head to Hawaii or the Carribean to forget grapes for a while.

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