We have a new face on the blog! Lynn Pedone will be working in the vineyard, with Dave Vella and his crew, as she pursues her studies in Viticulture at Santa Rosa Junior College. A little background on Lynn: she’s a recent East Coast transplant, has lived all over the world growing up in a military family and has previously worked in the world of business and finance. She’s now hoping to settle into her “last career stop until retirement” in the wine industry and is looking forward to the opportunity to learn more about vineyard maintenance with Dave. Lynn will be writing a weekly blog post about her experiences working in the Chateau Montelena vineyards. Read her latest post below:
Tuesday was officially the first day of Summer, and in the vineyard here it was appropriately HOT…97 degrees. It seemed fitting that we spent the morning tending to the irrigation needs of the vines. Irrigation involves more than simply keeping the plants alive. In viticulture, the strategies for watering depend on the desired style of wine that will ultimately be achieved – there are different effects of irrigation on berries from budbreak to bloom and fruit set and all the way through to maturity. One of my favorite lessons from vineyard management class is that vines are like cats – they don’t like wet feet! At Chateau Montelena, they practice deficit irrigation, providing just enough water to keep the vines from becoming overly stressed. Heriberto, (Beto, as he is called by the staff here) who I spent the day shadowing, explained that when the vines are young they are irrigated more to grow a strong healthy vine and as they get older and start to produce fruit, the water is greatly reduced. I always think of what Jim Barrett, i.e. Bill Pullman, said in the movie Bottle Shock – making the vines “struggle” intensifies the flavor. Who would know better? And this is where I put in a shameless plug for the movie…if you have never seen, go get yourself a copy and share it with friends. You don’t have to be a wine lover to appreciate this wonderfully entertaining, feel-good movie. If you are lucky enough to live in the area, you can pick up a copy (autographed by Bo Barrett) in the Montelena tasting room if you take the “Bottle Shock Chardonnay Experience” tour. As with the movie, once is not enough!
Returning to the day’s events, I accompanied Beto as he turned on valves for several irrigation pump stations throughout the vineyard blocks. Just when I thought to myself, oh, this will be an easy task….there is actually much more to irrigation and fertilization (fertigation when both are applied simultaneously) than I imagined. As I said to Beto, learning about something in a classroom is never the same as doing it. Beto has been with Montelena for more than 20 years, and it’s easy to see that he loves what he does. We began in a hillside block, walking the rows to inspect the drip lines and replacing any failing, or plugged, emitters (the small, round cap-like spouts through which the water flows). Next, travel to the various pump stations where, in some cases, valves need to be turned on. At other stations, filters need to be removed and cleaned out. Valves are shut off at the end of the work day, then the whole process repeats again the next day. I also observed as organic fish fertilizer was applied through the irrigation system to one of the blocks of baby vines (this is done once or twice a year on young vines). The huge 300-gallon tank has to be transported to the application site with a forklift, and then a myriad of hoses connects the tank to the irrigation system with a portable pump. Quite a remarkable way to apply fertilizer, considering how painstaking it must have been in the days before all this wonderful machinery was developed!