In Mid-March, the rain subsided for a week in our idyllic Dry Creek Valley. We were able to venture out into the vineyards for a chat with, 2nd generation winegrower, Rich Mounts. His vineyards surround Mounts Family Vineyards with 140 acres of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and many specialty Rhone varietals for Mounts’ Verah label.
So what happens in our Dry Creek vineyards in mid-March? A lot more than you think! Here’s what Rich Mounts has been working on.
Pruning is a honed and coveted technique among wine growers. There are some who’d debate the “correct” technique for hours and hours. Over the winter vines sprout long vines out that won’t produce high (or any) amounts of wine if left unkempt.
An older technique that Rich goes by, is you prune by the size of the wood. If it’s smaller than a pencil, you’d only leave one spur, smaller than your finger, two, and smaller than thumb, three. But the general rule now is to leave two. Depending on the anticipated weather for the year, you can tailor the sugar content in your grapes at this point. Less spurs, results in higher-sugar wine, but if it’s a hot year and you expect major growth, you can allow for more spurs on your vine.
For the timing of pruning, it’s safe to say that the last vines you prune, will be the later to the harvest party. So many early harvest varietals are pruned first, Sauvignon Blanc, for example and last to prune are Cabernet Sauvignon which tend to come later in the season.
The majority of Rich’s 140 acres of vineyards are pruned. But due to the recent rain, there’s been a slight delay in completion.
Staking & Trellising
For the younger vines, it’s important to go through and prevent leaning of canes which could result in snapping of the vines. After everything has been pruned, Rich and his workers go through and point out weaker canes that need support. It’s time to train these vines how they should grow, and in this case, grower knows best!
Happening all over Dry Creek right now is Bud Break! An exciting time as these little bundles turn into the fruit that creates your favorite wines. Each bud contains all of the ingredients in tiny forms — shoots, leaves, and berries, yet to be grapes. These buds were carefully left in place by pruners, typically two buds on each spur as explained above. Bud break usually happens around April/May, but due to warmer weather in the county, has started as early as March as you can see in these photos.
Fingers crossed an early frost shatters these delicate little wine producers.
In late winter, early spring you’re sure to notice the amazing cover crops adding lush greenery and color to our Dry Creek Valley. But did you know this is a vital part to ensure that our vineyards’ soil contain the perfect nutrients to produce quality wine?
Many vineyards plant bright yellow mustard. But Mounts is partial to legumes! Rich plants a combination of bell beans, peas, and vetches. Not only do these crops release nitrogen into the soil but they also create great organic material that turns to into basically humus. This improves the structure of the soil. At this time in March you’ll slowly start to see less cover crops as growers and workers are working them down back into the soil as soon as the earth is dry.
That’s a brief summary of where our Dry Creek Valley vineyards are now. A big thanks to grower, Rich Mounts, for such a detailed tour of his vineyards and taking time out of his morning. Be sure to check out Mounts Family Winery on your next trip out to Dry Creek Valley for a gorgeous view, delicious wines and authentic Dry Creek Valley history.
Grower Speak Defined:
Canes: Canes are the one- or two-year-old branches of the grape plant. They grow as shoots off the main trunk. Vine growers train them to grow horizontally along wire trellises. It is from buds on these canes that the leaves and fruit of the grapevine grow.
Cordons: “arms”, of the grapevine extend from the trunk and are the part where additional arms and eventually leaves and grape clusters extend. The cordons are usually trained along wires as part of a trellis system
Humus: dark, organic material that forms in soil when plant matter decays.
Spur: Spurs are little arms that grow from the cordons. From the spurs grow one-year-old wood, which produces the leaves and grapes.