My fascination for the natural environment started at an early age. As a boy I loved the family adventures in the African bush and wrangling cattle on our remote ranch in Colombia. That love and marvel of nature evolved into respect and a sense of responsibility. The vineyard was farmed organically but after 3 years of mildew attacks I had to modify my farming and I started farming sustainably. What does this mean? I basically use a light mineral oil, classified organic, for my anti-fungal treatments. In June and July I add a systemic fungicide to the oil. Systemic fungicides get absorbed by leaves and circulated throughout the plant to protect all the part of the plant that can’t be reached directly by the spray. Systemics usually also protect the vines longer which has the added benefit of not doing too many tractor passes which compacts the soils (bad for plants) and uses more fuel to drive the tractor. I don’t usually like synthetic chemicals but you have to make a balance between fruit quality and a philosophical point of view. In the end it is about getting pristine fruit to make the best possible wine. A lot of people use sulfur to protect their vines but I absolutely detest the smell of sulphur, so don’t use it.
I now harvest when I feel the fruit is ready and not because the grapes are dehydrating rapidly due to the microscopic holes fungi make on the grapes’ skin. I now harvest pristine fruit and that cleanliness allows the fruit to shine more brightly in the wine.
The grape cluster are in full bloom with little flowers popping out. The berries that become pollinated will develop seeds and mature into full sized gapes with sweet juice and thick flavorful skins. The berries that are not pollinated don’t develop seeds. They stay small, hard and green and then drop (called shatter).
Grapes are self-pollinating, they don’t need birds and bees to deliver pollen from one flower to the next. If you look at the picture, you will see thousands of tiny flowers sticking out and above the BB sized grapes. They are positioned in such a way that when they release their pollen it naturally finds its home. That is, as long and there is a bit of a Goldie Locks window of weather when it happens. Meaning it can’t be too hot, too cold, too windy or rain too much. Last week’s 30 MPH plus winds followed by triple digit heat has me very concerned. It will be a month before we know if the flowers released their pollen during these extreme conditions. One good thing about my Kitoko vineyard is that I have a range of elevation and aspects relative to the sun resulting in various blocks developing at different rates.
When the photos were taken the vines at the top of the North Block were in full bloom. Vines 300 feet lower in elevation at the bottom of the hill had no flowers. I am afraid I may have lost some fruit to high wind and heat. In a month I will know how much.
I will keep you posted.
I have long dreamt of having my own winery, and I am ready to build a cave!
After working on plans for over a year, I submitted themwith all the crazy requirements the county requested in September 2017! The clock is still ticking but the county hasn’t even given me a date for a hearing… There is some serious dysfunction in the county and a lot of misguided, anti-winery sentiment from a portion of the local population. Despite this driving me crazy at times, I am staying positive, and keep pushing to get an answer. My plan is to build an underground cave for barrel storage and a tank room for fermentation and a small building in front of the cave with offices, and a tasting room to receive you with a beautiful view of the vineyard. More to come on this front—when there is movement or when I blow a fuse— which happens regularly.
In an environment without air, like the bottom of a wine barrel, yeast can release sulfide compounds that don’t smell so nice. This is a form of “reduction.” “Racking” is the process of moving the wine from its barrel to another barrel or a tank. The process removes sediments that drop at the bottom of the barrel that can give bad flavors to the wine. Once empty, the barrel is cleaned with hot water and steam to remove sediments stuck inside the barrel. The barrel is left to dry and wine is put back in the barrel. An added benefit of racking is that it adds some oxygen (oxygenation; a good thing) to the wine, which reverses reduction and helps the wine mature. Done properly, this will allow more precision and clarity in the wine.
The 2017s were blended in February and put back to barrel. It takes a while for the various lots that went intothe three blends to really integrate well. The wines are coming along nicely. Get ready for very big wines with the ‘17s. This was the vintage of the fire, and I’m very happy and relieved to report that there is no smoke taint in the wines. (I’ve had others smell and taste Hesperian’s ‘17s, and they tell me the same. Relief!)
The 2018s are fantastic, perhaps the best wines I’ve made so far. We are almost done with the first racking; some wines were starting to reduce a bit and they needed some air. Alas, we have to be patient. We won’t see these wines coming available until 2021.
By now you may know that I am a perfectionist in the vineyard, which requires a lot of tromping back and forth, up and down the slopes. I’m finding that it has been getting progressively harder these past few years to find help in the vineyard. At the moment we are suckering the vines. The rain prevented us from working two days lastweek, so we had to work over the weekend to catch up. I’m hoping to get a big team this weekend to put a big dent on this operation.
What is Suckering? “Suckering” is the removal of all unnecessary shoots which grow on vines as weather warms up. This process can take up to two passes through the vineyards. The purpose is to focus the plants’ energy only on the shoots we want to bear fruit.
Once we are done with suckering, we’ll start putting the vine canes in the trellis so that they grow straight up and don’t fall to the ground. This operation is done twice, the first time to tuck them in the first wire, and the second one once the canes have passed the second wire.
I feel compelled to discuss the weather we’ve been having. Rain in May? It doesn’t happen very often, but as you’re likely aware, we got a good soaking recently. It will be interesting to see the results of this rain on the 2019 fruit quality at harvest. I suspect that the abundant water supply in the soil will make the berries down the hill on the valley floor very big this year (not necessarily such a good thing). For me it shouldn’t be much of a problem; my vineyard’s Atlas Peak soil is so rocky that there isn’t much to hold all the rainwater in storage for the plants to use later (a good thing).