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Wet And Wild: How Winter Rains Shape The 2023 Vintage

dry well drainage pit, rocks vineyard thibido estate landscape

Rain, Erosion and Soil Health

The heavy rains of win­ter brought a mul­ti­tude of ben­e­fits and draw­backs to the vine­yards this year in Paso Rob­les. While the storms replen­ished deplet­ed under­ground aquifers, the rain arrived with such force most farm­ers were scram­bling to stay ahead of ero­sion con­trol, com­post addi­tions, and trac­tor work before things got too soggy.

It was a race to spread organ­ic com­post mate­ri­als and cov­er crop through the Thibido Vine­yard ahead of the rains in order to allow moth­er nature to do her work. When rain­wa­ter pen­e­trates the ground, it helps to blend com­post and organ­ic mat­ter into the soil. The force of the rain push­ing down on the com­post facil­i­tates its incor­po­ra­tion, enrich­ing the soil with vital nutri­ents. Rain can also flush unwant­ed salts in the soil, improv­ing soil pH and over­all health. 

It’s no secret that the steep hills of our Thibido estate vine­yard have pre­sent­ed ero­sion chal­lenges in the past(Upper Left Image). The year we began prep­ping for the vine­yard was the win­ter of 2018 and we spent three months shov­el­ing mud and apol­o­giz­ing to our down­hill neigh­bors for the mud­dy runoff. Plant­i­ng the vine­yard became syn­ony­mous with a pro­gres­sive ero­sion con­trol approach. In 2019 we installed a large pit drain at the low­est cor­ner of the vine­yard (Low­er Left Image), a series of wad­dles along val­leys and vinerows, and I spread bales and bales of hay every year ahead of the win­ter rain to dis­perse the rain­fall and deter heavy ruts and dam­ag­ing erosion.

Win­ter rains con­tribute to the suc­cess of our cov­er crops grown between vine rows. Moth­er nature’s irri­ga­tion assist­ed in a robust cov­er crop of vetch, legumes and oth­er veg­e­ta­tion used to pre­vent soil ero­sion and add organ­ic mat­ter when mowed and fold­ed into the soil of the vineyard.

Vineyard rocks plants vines and sunset

It’s A Jungle Out There

Abun­dant rain equates to big canopies and thriv­ing hap­py vines who don’t know their lim­its. While growth is ben­e­fi­cial for max­i­miz­ing the plants’ pho­to­syn­the­sis and sug­ar pro­duc­tion, too much of a canopy and too much fruit pro­duc­tion on a vine will stress the plant and low­er the qual­i­ty of the fruit lead­ing to large vol­umes of fla­vor­less, watery wine. Spring sun­shine and rapid vine growth equate to the ulti­mate farm­ing race; shoot-thin­ning each vine by hand to encour­age a healthy canopy, ensure opti­mum sun­light expo­sure and air cir­cu­la­tion, deter mildew or dis­ease, and pro­mote the vine’s over­all well-being.

Shoot-thin­ning isn’t the only pre­ven­ta­tive main­te­nance nec­es­sary to ensure high qual­i­ty fruit this har­vest, we’re mon­i­tor­ing clus­ter count per vine, too. When plants are well-watered and well-fed, we can expect more clus­ters per vine and the clus­ters them­selves may weigh more. If the goal is to grow the most fla­vor­ful, bal­anced grape to pro­duce the most fla­vor­ful, bal­anced wine, then we must lim­it each vine’s clus­ter count to ensure the result­ing fruit is con­cen­trat­ed and qual­i­ty. Thin­ning the clus­ters and drop­ping excess fruit is a dif­fi­cult part of farm­ing. This process is done man­u­al­ly, hand select­ing the clus­ters to clip and leav­ing the remain­ing clus­ters on the vine that are in good posi­tion for light and growth. See­ing all those grape clus­ters fall to the ground to shriv­el and decom­pose can feel like we’re wast­ing prod­uct, but our focus is on qual­i­ty, not quan­ti­ty. Pro­tect­ing the vine from over pro­duc­ing ensures each clus­ter will be atten­tive­ly nur­tured by the vine as it swells and ripens for harvest.

Nacho, Frenchie, Vineryard
organic vine row, hills, thibido vineyard

Predictions for 2023 Vintage?

This win­ter was a game chang­er in the Paso Rob­les AVA, reset­ting our water dials and refresh­ing our vine­yards. So far, this year Moth­er Nature has teed up the per­fect grow­ing sea­son for out­stand­ing wines in the 2023 vin­tage. For atten­tive farm­ers focused on qual­i­ty over quan­ti­ty, this har­vest should pro­duce beau­ti­ful­ly bal­anced, fla­vor­ful fruit result­ing in fan­tas­tic wines. For farm­ers over­hang­ing fruit in hopes of pro­duc­ing a bumper crop, the result­ing wines will be thin and one-dimen­sion­al. Metic­u­lous farm­ing prac­tices, exer­cis­ing con­trol with growth man­age­ment and using what nature pro­vides will guar­an­tee unprece­dent­ed struc­ture and con­cen­trat­ed fruit fla­vors for 2023 vin­tage wines. I’m real­ly look­ing for­ward to the har­vest from the Thibido estate vine­yard this fall and how the fruit will deter­mine the wines we produce!

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