Greg Schultz
October 31, 2017 | Greg Schultz

Smaller Harvest

Friends enjoying an afternoon on our deck

We completed harvest just before the first good rain of the season. Fruit quality was excellent judging by taste and analyses. Our initial harvest of Malbec from our 3rd leaf plants yielded 1.9 tons of high quality fruit. From our 4th leaf Tempranillo block we harvested 4.5 tons. The quality was also excellent, but the crop load was 20% lighter than in 2016. The clusters were smaller and so were the berries.

Greg dumping a bucket of Malbec into a bin

After a much larger than expected 2016 harvest of Tempranillo, we expected more, not less, fruit this year. After all, the vines were one year older and each plant now had two cordons (arms) instead of one. Our pruning and fruit thinning methods were unchanged. So what was different? In looking back over the course of the year we had later bud break and an earlier killing frost, so a shorter growing season.  We had numerous irrigation problems, virtually no rain, and five days over 100F with a maximum of 109F on August 2nd and 3rd. We have asked more experienced growers how their crops fared this year. Some yielded higher, others lower. We now believe that the most likely cause was a frost which occurred on April 15th and damaged many of the primary buds just before bud break. From the secondary buds we had smaller shoots which yielded smaller grape clusters. As new farmers, we will pay close attention as the 2018 crop develops next spring.

Malbec Block Update

While very pleased with our Malbec harvest, we are still carefully monitoring our 2,000 plants. In my last blog I talked about some mysterious plant deaths that occurred well into the growing season. I surmised with help from Alex Levin of the OSU Extension that our single degree January winter had caused freeze damage to our young plants. With the help of my son, Karl, who was visiting for a few days, we mapped out the entire block so that we can monitor on-going health.

Map identifies problem areas.  Green cells indicate healthy plants.

Using a spreadsheet to document the results, we now know that 1.5% of the vines died during the first two growing seasons probably due to gophers and the inevitable new plant losses. During the third growing season (this year) another 1.5% died as a result of weakened conditions caused by the very cold January we had. Additionally, there are 2% which may have Leafroll virus. We are keeping a close eye on these as they are still producing fruit for us, but may need to be culled out next year and be replaced.  

All in all we are pleased and thankful for a bountiful harvest. And for the lighter crop load and plant losses we can only say "that's farming"!


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