At mid-March grapevine buds were beginning to push at LangeTwins Winery and Vineyards.
That’s typical timing, and about the same as last year, says Randy Lange, who with his brother, Brad, head the fifth-generation family business near Lodi, Calif., with about 8,000 acres of wine grapes in San Joaquin, Sacramento, Yolo, and Solano counties. This includes their own vineyards as well those managed for other owners.
In addition to the major varietals — Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel — their vineyards include more than a dozen others, like Malbec, Petit Verdot and Viognier. Their winery crushes about 20,000 tons of grapes a year.
Ongoing vineyard pruning, which began the first week of December, was expected to be completed by the start of spring. Rainy winter weather extended pruning beyond the first part of March, when crews normally finish the work.
Although the winter weather didn’t harm the dormant vines, Randy says, it could delay the start of vine growth a bit.
“The ground is really cold and the vines may not come out as early as usual. We expect production to be down this year, but not by a huge amount.”
This outlook reflects the impact of cold and rainy weather last spring, which probably disrupted, to some extent, development of last year’s dormant buds that will produce new vine growth this year. To compensate, pruning crews left more fruitful buds on the canes this past winter.
“If we have a great berry set when the vines bloom in May, and it turns out that we shouldn’t have left that extra bud wood, we’ll go back in and thin the crop,” Randy says. In the meantime, more bud wood serves as insurance against an otherwise smaller crop.
In May, he will use petiole analysis — which he does annually as the grape clusters are going through bloom — to help determine the fertilizer needs of this year’s crop. Sampling involves removing the leaf petiole opposite a cluster and is done in every vineyard block in the LangeTwins operation.
“With the data we’ve collected over the years, we can see trends in how the vineyards are responding to weather, soil fertility, and our various production practices,” he says. “Every vineyard block has its own personality, and this gives us a feel for what a particular vineyard is capable of doing and how it responds to certain stresses.”
The petiole analysis is supplemented with soil testing throughout the season. Fertilizer is spoon-fed to the vines through a drip system. “Because over-fertilization can affect quality and the soil, we don’t apply any more nutrients than absolutely necessary,” Randy says.
In growing a grape crop, he and his brother emphasize constant attention to detail.
“Our No. 1 job as vineyard managers is to get out and look at the vines every day,” Randy says. “We observe and confirm as many things as we can about developments in the vineyard and then respond to Mother Nature in the most effective way possible.”
Consider pest control, for example. “Native insects are relatively easy to deal with,” he says. “The things we worry most about are non-native (invasive) pests imported into the state.
Last year, one of their vineyards in San Joaquin County was in a quarantine area established after two European grapevine moths were discovered in the vicinity. Although none of moths were found, he still had to take various precautions, including a vineyard inspection and documentation of grape shipments, designed to limit spread of the pest.
“We’re willing, of course, to follow the quarantine requirements” Randy says. “But, it kicks a hole into anyone’s sustainable and organic production program. And yet, these invasive pests still keep being brought into our state. That really throws a monkeywrench into all our efforts. It’s extremely frustrating. At the same time, the California Department of Food and Agriculture has done an excellent job handling some difficult situations related to the European grape vine moth on very short notice.”