Chris Corley
September 29, 2008 | Crush !, Farming, Thomas Jefferson | Chris Corley

Red, Yellow and Green Lights

Posted By : Chris Corley

This has been a very interesting growing season. As an industry, we had one of the worst frost seasons in recent history, then a mild summer with some very intense heat spikes and then another cool spell through September. Aside from the damage and crop reduction caused by the frost throughout the valley, this year's crop is lighter than usual. We're seeing people scrambling for fruit, and its years like this that help remind us how fortunate we are to be growing most all of our own grapes (and also how fortunate we are to have a kick-ass sprinkler system and a guy named Angel to protect every last one of our grapes from the bitter cold).

Most growing seasons you don't have a map. You know where you want to go, but there's a lot of variables that prevent you from just charting your course in the spring. It would be like pulling out your map, except that they keep rebuilding the streets and putting up detours as you're driving so the map isn't really valid anymore after you start your trip. So we don't use a map. It's more like navigating with a globe, except you've got stoplights to monitor the traffic.

In the beginning of a growing season you can see where you are when you get started, and we know from experience where we want to be at the end. The variable is all the stuff that happens in the meantime. Most of the variable is the weather, but if you've got a solid starting point and destination, you'll know how to react to the variables when they strike. You must simultaneously be immersed in the minutiae and also grant yourself a necessary distance from the details to be able to see where you are. This is like navigating a globe but with stoplights.

Thomas Jefferson had a penchant for finding the highest point in any new place or city that he visited. It gave him a broader perspective of a new locale. He governed in much the same way, granting himself a 'necessary distance from the details' in order to maintain a broader perspective. This was effective for him because he had other people delegated to sweat the small stuff. We need to do both ourselves.

When growing grapes for wine, we need to be looking down the field, and to do that you need the highest perch you can find. Literally, that is sometimes standing on the roof of the winery or utilizing aerial photography. We also pay attention to the stoplights. A vine's stoplight system also kind of works on Red, Yellow and Green but in slightly different ways. When we sample our grapes, the taste and texture of the fruit override most all other factors. We also run numbers in the lab to establish metrics. Sometimes the fruit tastes great and the numbers look good, and one may be inclined to pick.

That's when we need to pull out our globe and check the stoplights. From our perch, we can see where we are on our journey and how the road looks ahead - will it be hot, dry, cold, rainy ? The color of the vines leaves are our stoplights and can indicate to us the ability of the vine to continue down the road. If the leaves of the canopy are very green and the road ahead looks mild - go (in this case 'go' means keep hanging the fruit). If the leaves are yellow, pay close attention - the vine may be shutting down. If the leaves are red, odds are the vine has a virus, and you'll want to stop and pay close attention to those vines.

Although we don't get tickets in the field when we run lights, you'll know whether we were paying attention while we were driving each growing season. In light of recent legislature in California, we'll be assessing after this year if we need to institute a policy of not using a cell phone while we're in the field ...


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