What is in this article?:
- Over the past 20 years Lake County has worked to create its own identity and premium wine standing. There are now 32 wineries in the county and 8,400 acres of varietal wine grapes grown by 148 growers.
- Imports and the U.S. recession have hammered U.S. wine sales, particularly premium and ultra premium wines. Premium varietal grape prices have suffered right along with the wine.
- With relatively little winery buying and low prices, many growers consider custom crushing their grapes each year and sell wine in the bulk market.
Sauvignon Blanc reputation
Lake County has gained a reputation for Sauvignon Blanc and is developing one for its Cabernet Sauvignon, particularly in new mountain vineyards. “Most of the new acres developed in the past 10 years have been either land never planted before or old walnut orchards. The first batch of Cabernet 10 years ago was too intense. We are still on a learning curve in how to deal with tannins, but it is getting better with a combination of new vineyard management practices and winemaking techniques. We are starting to get recognition for our Cabs.”
Numerous other varietals do well in the area and are on the rise, such as Petite Sirah, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Chardonnay, and Riesling.
Lake vineyards are planted mostly in 8 to 10 foot rows with 6 feet between vines. Weiss says rootstock selections in the post-phylloxera area are pretty well matched to soil conditions and varietal clones.
Rootstocks in the Lake County cover 5C, 5BB, S04, 101-14. In the mountains, it is 110R and 1103B.
Fortunately, Lake County is a drier area than other parts of the North Coast and with the lower humidity, it does not have the high powdery mildew pressure. Weiss relies on the University of California powdery mildew model developed by plant pathologist Doug Gubler to time wettable sulfur applications, usually on a seven to 14 day schedule.
Weiss also works to open the canopy to reduce powdery mildew pressure.
Potassium is mostly applied to valley vineyards to make up for a nutrient deficiency. Phosphorous seems to be the limiting factor in mountain vineyards that need adjusting with additional P.
Weed control is always a challenge, especially in organic vineyards. For years, Weiss has used a hoe plow to control weeds between vines. However, that moves dirt and debris from under the vine to the rows where it must be disked down, an added expense.
For several years, Weiss has been experimenting with hydraulic cultivators called Clemons and Sunflower. They are expensive, but gaining favor because they reduce disking.
Both disturb less soil. “I am very impressed with these new cultivators,” he said.
Pests are minimal. “Mites can be a problem, but we take care of them. There is some good, very targeted soft chemistry we can use, if mites or other pests show up.”
The European grapevine moth (EGVM) has surrounded Lake County, but has not been detected here. Although the major infestation in Napa was dramatically reduced last year, Weiss would not be surprised if EVGM turns up in Lake.
“Fortunately, we have a lot of experience with pheromones for coddling moth mating disruption in pears. There is an effective pheromone for EGVM that we can utilize, if EGVM shows up,” he said.
In the meantime, Weiss and his fellow Lake County grape growers and vintners will continue to challenge the pesky wine grape market. The LCWG has launched a new marketing campaign to meet that challenge.
It is called “Lake County Rising.”
The campaign is designed to reach wine grape buyers, retailers, distributors, consumers and others connected to the wine industry. It seeks to inform them about the high quality and friendly price-points that the region has to offer. Additionally, it highlights the dedicated personalities behind the wine industry in Lake County. “The word is starting to get out there,” said Shannon Gunier, LCWC.
“The Lake County Rising campaign is more about who we are than whom we are not,” said Gunier. “We have always had to work hard as a region and that hard work is paying off,” she continued.