The vines may be dormant, but Nello's not! It's barely 2015 and "The Grapefather" is already working the vineyard!
It's barely 2015 and Nello's already in the vineyard making the first pruning pass of the year. "In 2018," he says, "the quality of wine in that glass next to your dinner plate will depend on the quality of care we give to these vines now in 2015."
So out in the January cold he goes - well California cold this week in the low 60s - with his crew and his pruning tools to make first cuts to the vines for 2015.
"Trimming the vines the right way at the right time of year," he explains, "is as important to growing good grapes as water, soil and sunshine."
Did you know?
1) Grape plants bear fruit only on green shoots coming from one-year-old canes. Vines that produced fruit last year will not produce again and must be trimmed to make way for new growth.
2) Allowing growth of many new shoots per cane robs nutrients and greatly reduces the size and quality of the fruit.
3) Growth of vines and leaves must be managed to allow sunshine to reach all the leaves (14-18 per shoot). Shaded leaves only function at 6% photosynthesis capacity.
4) As grapes mature, lower leaves surrounding them are cut back for better air circulation (prevents disease) and sun exposure (helps fruit ripen).
To get the best productivity from the vines requires a lot of work throughout the growing season. Nello and his crew make many pruning passes through the vineyard at various stages of plant growth.
This first pass of the year for Nello is to perform "long trimming" while the plants lie dormant. The goal is to trim away the long lengths of cane that formed last season's leaf canopy, leaving only 8 to 10 inches.
Eventually the canes will be cut much shorter, down to only two buds. When that time comes, this early long trimming will have made the task a lot easier.
"The reason we don't cut the canes now to two buds is to prevent a disease called eutypa that comes from tiny spores carried in rain drops." The spores get into the pruning wounds and infect the wood, spreading backwards by an inch or more along the cane.
"That's what happened here," he explains, pointing to a truncated branch on a main trunk. "We lost a whole year's production from this plant because we had to trim off the diseased wood. It's good we did or we would have lost the whole plant."
When the plants come out of dormancy, the sap flows outward and stops the spores from getting into the cut. That's the safe time to trim back to two buds per spur.
Wine making is a long term venture. All this pains-taking work, starting so early in 2015, is to ensure quality wines for the future.
Nello: "Each year we get a little better at all of this. We come to know our soil and these plants better. The entire vineyard is settling into the land. All we do is to enable each plant do what it does best, and according to each variety of grape as well."
In a month or so, tiny green buds will break out and Nello will know exactly where to make his next pruning cuts. "From that point forward," Nello says, "it's a race to keep up. The vines grow so fast, and then comes the fruit. I love to be out here watching it all happen. I get so excited to see what great wines this vineyard will produce again this year."
It takes the spirit of a passionate winemaker - or wine lover - to look across acres of bare, sleeping plants and see such promise in a mid-winter day.
643 Bee Street, Placerville
Tuesday: by appointment
Wednesday: by appointment
We're the closest winery to Hwy 50, at the "corner of" Hwys 50 and 49. Start your wine tour here. We have winery maps!
Favorite Wine Bar
Favorite Best Kept Secret
Favorite Business Person -