FD: Wine Column March 11, 2009

Winemakers keep close eye for early signs of spring

Meteorologists are calling it unseasonably warm weather, but it’s not quite warm enough to break a sweat on grape growers.

A sweat not from exertion but from anxiety as some of vineyards in warmer areas may be showing some early signs of spring, much to the consternation of winemakers and meteorologists who know better.

An e-mail from a winemaker in the North Fork Valley reported some buds already swelling, a curious sign because grapes generally don’t bud out until much later.

This late bud break makes grapes less-susceptible to spring frost damage. Not immune, mind you, but less likely than cherries, peaches and other stone fruit that start developing buds in early March.

My apricot tree seems to bud out each year just a few days before the temperature takes one last plummet, which means I get a few apricots only in the most-temperate of years.

A quick survey of some area grape growers didn’t raise any consternation from growers since there is so much diversity in where Colorado wines are grown.

“I was out doing a little pruning last week and didn’t see anything,” said Doug Vogel, owner and winemaker at Reeder Mesa Vineyard southeast of Grand Junction. “It’s a little earlier than

I normally do, but I had some workers come by and decided to get a start.”

Vogel said his riesling vines, which may benefit in the hot summers from cooling breezes off Grand Mesa, are “in great shape” without much winterkill.

One sign of an early bud is the “bleeding” of sap from cut branches and vines.

So far, there’s little of that to report.

Winemaker Jenne Baldwin-Eaton at Plum Creek Winery said she hasn’t seen anything to concern her.

“Vineyard manager Gaylen Wallace) “has been out pruning and hasn’t seen any bleeding,” she said. “So we’re where we ought to be this time of year, not too far ahead.”

Western Colorado took a three-part hit in late 2006 and early 2007 that made the 2007 harvest a light one in terms of quantity, which means a lot of local wineries sold most or all that 2007 vintage and now are scurrying to fill bottles as rapidly as possible.

“A lot of people had really good sales last summer and sold out of a lot of wines,” said Baldwin-Eaton. “We’re busy bottling our chardonnay and riesling so we can get that on the shelves.”

And winemaker Nancy Janes at Whitewater Hill Vineyards said everything in the vineyards she monitors seem to be close to schedule.

“Everything still is pretty dormant,” said Janes, fresh back from a trip to Texas wine country which got hammered in the same frost last spring that hit Colorado. “We’re not particularly concerned about being ahead of schedule.”

In his weekly e-mail to area fruit growers, Harold Larsen, interim manager of the Western Colorado Research Center on Orchard Mesa, said grapes continue to show cold hardiness down to 5 degrees in Mesa County and down to zero on Rogers Mesa in Delta County.

Cold hardiness, writes Larsen, is influenced by many different factors, including variety, crop load, harvest time, post-harvest conditions, vineyard weather conditions, and the duration of a cold event.

Fruit growers, though, might be wary of Larsen’s findings that fruit trees in Mesa County are 15 or 16 days ahead of schedule while those in Delta County are running up to 26 days ahead.

That Mother’s Day frost seems a long ways out right now.

Wine classes from Planet Wine

Mike Charlton at Planet Wines in Grand Junction recently instituted some wine classes in addition to his regular Friday afternoon (4–6 p.m.) wine tastings at his store, 420 Main St.

Saying his first classes were received enthusiastically, Charlton is looking to repeat those and other classes, including such interesting topics as wine laws, blind tasting some Colorado wines and regional tasting of wines from Italy, Spain and France.

A friend recently asked how to develop a wine palate, and it’s easy: Taste, taste, taste.

Think of your wine palate as a muscle, one that needs to be developed and honed (just like those pecs or abs) to be at its best.

Daily tasting is optimal but a weekly tasting, particularly with a good guide to describe flavor profiles, grape varietals and the role of oak and terroir, plus offering different wines to taste, is a delightful, enjoyable and educational way to build your palate.

And it’s lots more fun than sweating out that last 50 crunches at the gym.
Information at Planet Wines, 424-5432.

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