With winter beginning to loosen its grip (see the Jan – March Chronicles for winter activities), there were several items in store for April. All were important in getting everything ready for the growing season but paramount, was adding four new irrigation zones to the vineyard. Also in store, pruning, tightening up trellis wire, and hoeing weeds as they emerged. 

Adding the irrigation zones was a sore spot for me. I endeavored the entire previous season attempting to secure a landscaping company to conduct the work, with no luck. At first, S&E Wards seemed promising. They came out and bid the work in the early spring providing an approximate date in May to start—perfect. They were a no-show. After bugging them for a month, they stopped returning my calls. Securing another landscape company later in the summer proved fruitless. I encountered a litany of excuses when calling around for leads. We’re booked, we don’t work in the valley, job too small, and many unreturned calls. I was desperate and frustrated.

Why desperate? During the first season, I installed drip irrigation for the vines, using a four-zone timer faucet. The faucet used treated water from my domestic supply. While it worked, the significant use of water running through my whole-house filtering and softener systems exerted unneeded wear and tear and messed with the sodium levels. There is an existing four-zone irrigation system for the remaining landscape, which had its own pump using untreated water. I needed to expand that system adding four new zones, with an eight-zone Rachio smart controller—a controller I could control with my phone. How simple can it be?

In mid-April, I discovered how simple it can be. In the previous fall, I had met with Justin, the owner of A Plus Landscaping who sized up the job. He promised to come out when the weather broke in the spring, and he kept his promise. It took him and a crew member less than four hours to complete the work. I was obviously thrilled!

I looked forward to spring pruning all winter. This would be my first season pruning established vines. What does that mean? The previous year at the start of the second season, the vines had to be pruned back close to the ground. Easy peasy but as a newbie, I worried about the level of growth during the season. Nothing to worry about as it turned out. During the year the vines experienced strong growth, and I was able to tie the vine cordons horizontally along the lower trellis wire. This year, I could prune back the shoots, which had grown vertically from the cordons into the upper trellis wires.

Research indicated with mature vine cordon shoot pruning, you prune back to two shoots from the cordon. A local grower advised three or four. The approach was insurance, against the possibility of late freezes that could kill several shoot buds. At bud break, if the lower shoot buds were producing leaves, I could top off the remaining upper shoot. If due to a late freeze (or other reasons), the lower buds didn’t break but an upper bud did, I could then rely on the upper bud for shoot growth. The following two images show the before and after along the trellis of my pruning effort.

A discovery while pruning, Riesling bled profusely (see blog header image), Pinot less so. As I worked through the vineyard over several days, I kept a watchful eye on the weather. Almost out of nowhere, a late-season west coast atmospheric river was heading our way, and it brought colder temps than a similar early April event. Mid-twenty lows were expected for two nights. Oy vey, the freeze was coming and the vines were bleeding. Two-thirds of the vineyard was complete. Since we were scheduled to be gone the last week of April, as an experiment, I decided to hold the remaining pruning till our return in early May. It would be informative to affirm how the pruned shoot buds performed after the below-freezing temps versus the unpruned vines. Sure enough, 25 degrees the first night, 22.5 the next. In the mid-thirties on subsequent nights.

On the positive, moisture continued its forward march. My Tempest weather station recorded a bit more than a third of an inch of rain leading into the freeze event, and another third of an inch earlier in the month. Mind you, my east coast friends, we are located in a semi-arid climate. The moisture didn’t include snow, and wet sloppy stuff accompanied the rain. Total since December 1, 4.5 inches, not including snow-laden moisture. The valley would be extraordinarily green this spring and importantly, my vine roots were soaking it all in!

With pruning temporarily halted (in the name of science), I conducted other chores. Weeding with my trusty hoe was one. Tightening trellis wires was another. I also spread dirt mounded around the lower portions of several smaller vines planted the previous year. The mounded dirt protects the lower graft union of a vine, which is susceptible to damage during the first winter. Then a nifty idea occurred to me. I had 12 Riesling grafted rootstock coming in mid-May. Why not pre-dig the holes? A local once explained to me the area soils come in three forms during a typical season—soup, soft, and rock. Having passed the soup stage (for the moment), we were in the soft stage, perfect for digging. Away I went, the holes were dug within half an hour. The next day upon inspection, it became clear the hole sides were hardening. Oy vey again! If left to fully dry in the coming weeks rain notwithstanding, I could be planting in hard cylinders. Better to refill the holes. The effort wasn’t wasted as it turned out. I refilled the holes with a planters mix delivered the previous fall. Great soil the rootstock could begin their life in and importantly, no matter the coming weather, easy to re-dig.

April was nearing its end and I hoped to bottle 10 gallons of Rosé, made of Pinot Meunier from the 2022 vintage. Time was catching up to me, so I decided to hold till early May. Five gallons of Riesling also awaited. May would certainly be busy, bottling wine, finishing spring pruning, continuing weeding, and planting rootstock. I also had to plant several not-until-now-mentioned raised garden beds built within the interior of my vineyard (protected via my wildlife fence). Oy vey, my common come to retort!

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