Well, we aren't completely thru with bloom, but for all intents and purposes, it is over. This yr, for the first time, we did not prune our pre-bloom buds back to 2.5 T/ acre, choosing instead to wait until after bloom to do so. Result has been 30, 40, even 60 clusters on some vines. Considering we prune to 16-20 clusters/vine (based on cluster weights---if clusters are heavier, .31 lbs/cluster, we prune to 16 clusters. If lighter, eg, .25 lbs/cluster, then we prune to 20 clusters). So much for technical stuff: what does it all mean?
First off, we will do nothing until our clusters fill out. The stems(eurachus) are very large compared to other yrs, but at present we don't know if there will be a lot of grapes/ cluster or not. We are at fruit set right now, and will see how many grapes we put on a cluster. Last yr, our stem clusters were small, and the number of grapes/ cluster were few. Result? Paso Robles AVA had a heartbreaking 30-50% decrease in yields from previous yrs. Statewide, yields were slightly up, so we were an AVA that really got pounded.
If each cluster is covered up with grapes, then we will wait a few more weeks to be sure, and then will thin to 16-20 clusters/vine. In yrs past we have thinned early on to ensure maximum energy went into all clusters that remained. The massive temp spikes last yr wiped out half of our flower buds, hence the low yields. Looks totally different this yr, so I would say we are in for a big yr(cropwise) if no other natural disasters befall us. Funny thing is, we at Cerro Prieto Vineyard & Cellars always drop fruit to 2.5-3.0 Tons/ acre, so when someone says, "Good crop, no?" We just smile and say our crop is always the same...2.5-3.0 T/acre....except for the disastrous 1T/acre last yr. Looks like we will be in terrific shape this yr, but that is locally, only. State statistics are nice, but what happens locally is the only thing that matters.
This yr we have huge crops not just on Cab and Syrah, but also our Merlot and Pinot. Which reminds me, the 2006 Cerro Prieto Vineyard & Cellars Merlot just took another Gold medal at the Critics Challenge International Wine Competition. This is truly the first Merlot I have ever liked, and it looks like some other folks think the same. Better news is I like our Paso Bordo is even better than our Merlot.
As for 2012, we can expect a standard yield for the AVA, based on early data. As for quality, well, we still have to wait and see what the "sun-heat" numbers have to say. So far, this yr is seeming to be more like 2005, which was foggy and cold all summer long. Unlike this yr, it was extremely damp, too. It was a really tough yr for us to ripen grapes, and our neighbors had similar experiences. In any event, the fog keeps things cool, but June is frequently a cool month. Last several yrs we have had inordinately long , warm summers...great for ripening grapes. With low yields, if summer is cool, then our grapes will have a much easier time ripening than those of people hanging 5-6 T/ acre. If it is warm and sunny, then our grapes will have that long hang time, with ideal ripening conditions. Remember that here at nite, it is 55 degrees cooler than during the day. Ergo, if we get to 86 degrees today, it very likely will be in the mid 30s at 4 a.m. tomorrow morning.
Speaking of that, our cold valley vineyard is doing well, but is still behind other yrs, due to the low lows that have been a presence since early March. Sadly, we grafted over the one remaining acre of Cab Sauv we had down below, and now have an acre of Sauvignon Blanc for a white treat. Many areas of Paso struggle with whites, but our valley vineyard is tailor made for them, being 18-20 degrees cooler than our mountain vineyard. So, come 2011, we will have a white wine to offer, also.
Only other thing of note vineyard-wise, is that this is a record breaking yr for gophers. We are spending more and more time on them, and seem to barely be holding them off. Our Barn Owls are working overtime, the coyotes dine on gophers nitely, the Red-tailed hawks pick them off during the day, and we trap as many as possible. Checking under our 7 owl boxes, we note mounds of gopher carcasses, owl scat, and bone parts daily. Just a random observation: weather is noticeably colder than for past several yrs at this time, but it is way too early to make an prognostications re: upcoming growing season climate. One thing we know for sure...this was really a dry yr here, our 3rd consecutive yr. Will that make for a better vintage? We shall see.