Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Vineyard Tour #2: Emeritus Vineyards

On Jan. 29th our viticulture class visited the Emeritas Vineyards in Russian River Valley. More specifically it is in the Green Valley area within the Russian River Valley which is in the Sonoma County AVA. Did I get that right? ;)

Kurk Lokka, the vineyard manager and GM, is a SRJC graduate. He has been working in vineyards for 27 years and has amazing experience, local knowlege, opinions and a fantastic sense of humor. Here at the Hllberg vineyard in Sebastopol Emeritas grows several clones of Pinot noir. The main characteristics of the location are a sandy clay loam soil (Goldridge series), very fertile, high in nitrogen, with cold winter and spring nights, hot summer days and fog through May. The vineyard used to be apple orchards, and before anyone bemoans the loss of old apple trees, think about how grossly intensive the usage of really scary pesticides is involved in apple production. Replacing one agricultural crop with another doesn't bother me like chopping down Redwood forests to plant grape vines does. Plus these high quality fruit vineyards are usually either organic, biodynamic or else farmed with those principles clearly in mind. That to me could be a huge improvement over an apple orchard. At any rate, the amount of green compost left in the fields from the tree removal has created a high nitrogen environment in the soil.

Bilateral Cordon

Anyhoo, we visited 2 blocks of Pinot. The block pictured above was planted in 2000. Using bilateral cordons spur pruning, he harvests about 3 tons/acre. He does something a little different in that he leaves only one bud (not counting the basal bud) per spur. These vines are very vigorous so he tries everything he can to keep down the clusters per vine. Kurk's vine are pruned to perfection each vine almost completely uniform in number of buds, number of spurs and fruit position.

One bud per spur

Modified Guyott

The second block we surveyed was planted in 2001. Kurk has developed what he calls a modified Guyott training. In France the Guyott means training out the canes at 18", and pruning to leave one spur in one direction and a cane in the opposite. Kurk's method is to train at 40" high (to avoid back problems) to create 2 spurs in opposite directions. He looks for 7 buds per cane to produce 2 clusters per shoot. Again his vines are pruned to perfection and his attention to the vines is absolute.

Modified Guyott

Kurk is adamant regarding the following principles: no clusters touching, de-leafing by hand and picking at night. He never prunes in the rain and allows no big cuts and has so far been able to avoid Utypa. He desires 20 clusters per vine until the final thinning at which time he leaves only 12 per vine. He does 3 major thinnings: first around berry set to make sure clusters are not touching, de-leaf, and spray with SO2 and Copper. The second thinning is done at cluster closure to get right number of clusters and get a crop estimate. The third comes at veraison, at around 90% color and he pinches off all green shoulders or anything rosy. He routinely removes 50% of his crop at the second thinning.

Kurk gave us so much information! He would make a great teacher, and I suppose he is and that's why his crew has learned to care for the vines with such skill. One thing I have learned already is that great grapes make great wines, and great grapes take exquisite attention. That attention costs money in terms of labor and hands-on care throughout the year. That goes into and expensive bottle of wine, and for that, I would gladly pay.

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