We’re supposed to hit 101F today. Houston is only going to be 99F. I asked Patty Green, Patricia Green Cellars, about it. (Patty manages not only her estate vineyard but has a permanent crew managing all the sites she buys from – she’s one of the most knowledgeable winemakers on vineyard care that I know).
“We’ll see the plants shutting down today,” she commented. “Just like people, we want to stay still, not increase our metabolism and get hotter, minimize sun exposure. The leaves will fold down, reducing sun exposure. But it’s early, and the heat really won’t matter much, unless it goes on like this for weeks. If this happens in August, that will have more effect. Ripening might be slowed down a bit.”
Patty remarked on the 2003 vintage, considered the first of the super hot vintages of the 00′s and the first to produce extensive heat damage to the crop.
“2003 saw sunburned fruit and even yellow, falling leaves.” At Goldschmidt Vineyard, (a site she worked with in 2003), “they used drip irrigation but the vines had already shut down, and weren’t taking up water.” The vines “showed senescence” she said. “Even irrigated vineyards had senescence – yelow leaves and leaves falling off before harvest”. Drip irrigation can help in the heat, but Patty said ”All the water in the world can’t help if the plants are shut down.”
Some vineyards had thinned the canopy, removing leaves to expose the grapes to more sun, a practice done in almost all years. People got much more cautious about thinning after 2003. The exposure to the sun damaged the young grapes, giving them a “sunburn”.
In 2003, “we had lots of stuck fermentations. With the heat, sugar concentrates in the fruit, as the grapes lose water. Winemaking is more difficult.”
As to predicting the vintage, Patty says “it’s way too early. There’s a big crop out there – some people are even dropping fruit. The weather in late August will be more important than right now.”