GrapeCraft Principles: Vineyard Enology


Any winemaker will tell you it's got to be in the grapes. Winemaking goals have value only when the grapes they start with contain flavor, color and tannin appropriate to the targeted wine style, and the whole exercise is pointless absent distinctive terroir expression.

Believe it or not, university training doesn’t include an appreciation of what the vital elements are, nor how vine physiology works with or against winemaking goals. Science just hasn't progressed that far yet. That’s why there is so much confusion about such issues as yield, berry size, canopy manipulation, veggie flavors and hangtime. California’s industry is not organized around a coherent body of accumen about what wine really is and how it behaves. I’m talking about cooking techniques, not scientific theory. Our new coinage, “Vineyard Enology” refers to the study and practice of growing grapes for winemaking within the context of GrapeCraft’s principles.

We are not viticulturists. Our expertise is the relationship between vineyard circumstances and the needs of the client winery. An enologist's presence throughout the growing season is the surest path to optimum fruit quality. Our role is to address winery goals in a professional manner within the context of the grower's best interest.

GrapeCraft seeks distinctive terroir expression through living soil and appropriate selection of varietal clone and rootstock. In addition, the vineyard must deliver the building blocks for refined structure through vine balance and proper harvest maturity. Vineyard uniformity, while essential to practical management, is not always obtainable. “Vineyards” of high soil variability may need to be managed as sub-blocks which only intimate knowledge can support. Time on the ground is the vineyard enologist’s most potent tool.

VE programs start by pre-season planning including an assessment of past performance, moving into structural repairs and improvements including pruning strategy. Thinking ahead to microbial management I the cellar, the delivery of a healthy must which will promote a complete fermentation without chemical supplements begins by tweaking nitrogen deficient “hot-spots” detected through petiolar nitrogen assessment at bloom. Vine balance throughout the season considers the interaction of soil type, water availability, temperature, incident light, air movement and nitrogen status. These much each be present in moderate influence to allow the vine to make the transition from vegetative growth to berry ripening. Vine-based stress monitoring utilizing leaf water potential is supplemented throughout the season by constant vigilance for healthy soil, disease and insect pressures and other monitoring. Maturity assessment linked to wine quality promotes harvest decisions independent of Brix.

The radical elements of the GrapeCraft approach are an in-depth understanding of the necessary elements to wine quality, together with a strong belief in maintaining a constant professional presence in the vineyard that surprises many clients. Our secret weapon: we show up! We have found that the labor investment to support proper winegrowing conditions is repaid many times in the economic stability resulting from long-term, continual quality based relationships between growers and motivated winery clients.