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Snowden Vineyards

Randy Snowden
August 8, 2023 | Randy Snowden

Normal is Very Unusual

Time to catch up! -- so many distractions -- an interesting spring, a new tasting room, and constant change.

The 2023 growing season is great ... so far.  Take everything from here as provisional -- beginning in 2017, most of the things going wrong have happened between now and harvest.  But we'll enjoy the moment while we can.  So far we've had mild summer weather.  There were two episodes hitting around 100F at our place on the valley's eastern slope, but they weren't outside normal -- meaning typical weather over the 68 years we've been farming here.  There have always been occasional, short spikes in the high 90s and low 100s.  Not talking about the "heat events" of the past few years, just hot weather, when you might consider serving a dry white wine with ice and sparkling water.

Budbreak came on late -- mid April.  The photo of the cane tied to the fruiting wire was taken on April 11, pretty much at outset.  There had been a lot of rain over the winter and the organic green manure cover crop loved it.  The tractor photo is our ranch manager, Severiano Deloera, who is largely managerial unless it involves a tractor, in which case he prefers to be largely hands on. Seve is working Block D of the Brothers Vineyard on April 17.  Note there's a lot of green, but almost none is grapevine.

Reel forward to May 9 -- the cloud photo is our single acre, eastern-facing Los Ricos Vineyard.  By this time, the cover crop has been incorporated into the soil and the green is from the vines, rather than the carpet.  If you notice a thinness to the green along the right edge of the block and the upper few rows, that's because we're working on a refresh.  We dug a deep trench around the perimeter to cut the intruding forest roots (so far, all trees remain healthy, if a bit grumpy), and are replanting vacant and ailing vine positions.  We census our blocks, so know we aren't removing any vines which have been significant contributors to the Los Ricos vineyard designate wine.  More on this later, maybe.

The blue sky photo is looking up the vine rows in the Brothers Vineyard on June 12.  The 2023 growing year is now expressing itself -- generous canopies and lively floor growth.  We've had the honor to work with several world-class viticultural consultants over the years -- Danny Schuester in the '80s when we were supplying to Stag's Leap Wine Cellars -- Daniel Roberts, whom we met when we were supplying to David Ramey, and who carried us into a new era -- and now Scott Knippelmeir, to whom Daniel introduced us as the right person as we continue our evolution toward environmental farming.  Where this is going is, Scott tells us, the best farming doesn't look neat.  We could have a clean and fluffy look if we wanted -- but we'd rather have improved soil health.

Jumping to July second -- the shot is our Lost Orchard Vineyard (named by our family matriarch Virginia because it was the site of an abandoned plum orchard when we came to the ranch in 1955.)  Located at the eastern end of the ranch, the Lost Orchard lies at 800 feet of elevation -- if you were to walk a few yards into the trees at the far end, the hill drops off sharply into Conn Valley, and straight across Lake Hennesey is Pritchard Hill.  The vineyard is mainy Cabernet Sauvignon, which goes into the Ranch cuvee; but our one acre of Sauvignon Blanc is in the middle of this block, right at the bottom of the little swale.  As you can see, the vines continue to look very healthy this year.

By mid-July, we were finally into "green drop" -- where the crew visits every vine and removes some of the crop.  The main rules are to match the number of clusters to the length and health of the cane they're growing on (and never leave more than two clusters per cane), remove the "second crop" (which are smaller clusters that bloom and set about 3 weeks after the primary crop; second crop produces lower quality fruit and isn't ripe when the main crop is ready to be picked); take off any damaged fruit, or clusters that are snarled together; and overall make sure the crop and vine are in balance.  Green drop is one of the many times during the growing year when we're grateful to have a team of extremely proficient vineyard workers -- as Seve mentioned during our green drop meeting, "if we make a mistake, it's hard to put the fuit back on."  The photo shows the drop for a Petit Verdot vine.  Nobody likes to throw fruit away -- but it's absolutely necessary for the ultimate quality of the wines.

Now we hold our breath to see what the rest of the growing season has in store for us.



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