Spring Activity in the 4.0 Cellars Vineyard
During this Corona Virus shutdown period there are lots of activities that we can’t, or at least, shouldn’t do. However, Mother Nature does not take a break, so farming and vineyard work must continue. There has been a lot of activity in the 4.0 Cellars vineyard this spring, and that is the subject of this edition of Carl’s Corner.
It seems that every year some grapevines do not survive and must be replaced. Until 2019, replacement vines were generated from cuttings off healthier Black Spanish vines in the vineyard. During pruning, pencil thick stems with 5-6 bud nodes were collected, planted in a mix of potting soil and sand, and watered generously with the addition of root stimulator. Once these stems generated roots, they were planted where dead vines had been removed.
In 2019, a batch of Tannat vines were received, thanks to leftovers from the Hollimans at 1851 Vineyard, and acquired via Susan Johnson at Texas Heritage Vineyard. These grafted Tannat vines were planted, protected with grow tubes, and “babied” throughout the rest of the year. It was important to provide sufficient water and include these vines in the periodic fungicide spray efforts. All but 4 of the 18 vines planted survived and appear healthy this spring.
For 2020, the replanting involved grafted Tempranillo vines acquired from Michael Barton, winemaker at Hilmy Cellars. Michael had just replanted the vineyard in front of the Hilmy tasting room and had several bundles of vines leftover. Ten dead vines were removed from the 4.0 Cellars vineyard and replanted with Tempranillo. So now the vineyard sports an interesting mix of grape varieties, 104 Black Spanish vines (the surviving originals planted in 2013), 14 Tannat vines (planted in 2019), and 10 Tempranillo vines (planted in 2020). It will certainly be fun to see how this all works out over the next few years as the goal is to produce a 4.0 Cellars Portejas each vintage.
Other than replanting, the primary spring activities have been pruning and protecting the vines with fungicide sprays. The pruning effort began on 12-March as most of the woody stems from last year were removed in a step called pre-pruning. The tall stems were removed leaving about 8 inches at the bottom of each stem. There were a LOT of woody stems that had to be discarded (they actually filled an entire dumpster!). Final pruning was done on 17-March, just before bud break occurred the following week. This is a slower process focused on limiting the vines to 5-8 nodes per arm that will translate into 5-8 shoots on each side of the vine. The target is to prune each node down to two buds that will later produce stems and fruit clusters, hopefully about 12-15 clusters of grapes on each arm or cordon. And, after the pruning, a quick spray of fungicide was done to protect the open cuts (wounds) from fungal infection.
After final pruning and bud break, the vines quickly began to grow leaves and stems, and flowers formed from which fruit will set. It was critical to spray fungicide on this tender vegetation for protection from infection and damage by fungal diseases like black rot, downy mildew, and phomopsis. These diseases are very common in Texas and represent a major problem for grape growers, especially when the weather, like in the weeks after pruning, has been rainy, humid, and warm. Because of the rapid growth and several rainy spells, several fungicide sprays have been necessary to keep the vines clean until drier weather arrived.
The final vineyard task was to frequently water the newly planted Tempranillo vines so they could root and begin to grow, producing leaves and stems. When last checked, all of the baby Tempranillo vines had gone through bud break and had begun to leaf out.
Controlling fungal disease, managing the canopy (the rapidly growing leafy stems), and applying sufficient irrigation water will be key tasks for the remainder of the spring and early summer. When possible and practical, stop by 4.0 Cellars and take a look at the vineyard that will hopefully supply us with a quality grape crop in late August.
Acknowledgements: Rob Reynolds, Kevin Spivey and Trey Porter, fellow 4.0 employees, and friends Chuck Mauldin and Carol Willis have been instrumental in accomplishing and managing these vineyard tasks. Their support is much appreciated.