Perhaps the preeminent publication on the wine industry, Wine Business Monthly, recently released their July 2018 issue and one of the main highlighted features in the issue related to the top vineyards in Sonoma County based on planted acreage. Out of 100 vineyards listed, we were ranked 46th ... which was pretty exciting for us to hear. Although this ranking is based solely on physical size, indirectly our ranking on this list has a lot to do with our determination, fortitude and the sacrifices we have made.
Unlike corporations that acquire established vineyards through multi-million dollar deals, every acre that we have under vine has been planted by our family. To us, that's a huge deal. Corporate vineyards acquisitions are becoming more commonplace as barriers to entry for new vineyards plantings have become more stringent. According to Wine Business Monthly, there are roughly 60,000 planted acres in Sonoma County that are divided among 1,800 vineyards. Of these 1,800 existing vineyards, 80% are less than 100 acres in size and 40% are less than 20 acres. In addition, out of all the vineyards that are 100 acres or less, 85% are family-owned.
For us to be a family-owned vineyard and have the level of success we have achieved is a major source of pride and keeps us eternally grateful. Starting with the first vines planted in 1982 by our founder Dale Ricci, and culminating with the 216 acres we currently have under vine, we have been building our vineyard through countless hours of hard work and perseverance. For us at Ricci Vineyards, our operation will always be a family institution that hopefully we can maintain and expand upon, both in the present, and for many future generations to come.
Here we are: the midway point through June and things are humming along in the vineyard. The canopies are full, blanketing the baby grape clusters that hang underneath and we are only a few short months away from harvest. It is at this point in the season where work crews will start going through the vineyard, row by row, and begin the arduous task of suckering, leafing, and trimming each vine. Each task may seem tedious, but all are necessary to maintain a healthy and prosperous vineyard.
With the warm California sun beating down from above, the vines are growing at a breakneck pace. Shoots can grow up to an inch or more per day, and extrapolated over time, can lead to a complete overgrown mess if measures aren't taken to control the situation. That's why it is necessary to trim back the growth and regain the upper hand on things. Trimming is pretty self-explanatory, as crews will either cut the vines back manually or with special machinery.
Aside from just trimming, another important process that occurs at this time of year is suckering. "Suckers" are not unique in the vineyard, as you'll notice they exist on pretty much every tree or shrub. They are the shoots of the plant that protrude from the roots or the trunk, and if not removed, energy and nutrients will be diverted to the suckers rather than the main part of the plant. Much like trimming, the suckers on each vine need to be removed individually by hand. It is, without question, a long and grueling process but is another critical component of a successful harvest.
Lastly, and perhaps most important of the 3 activities mentioned in this post, is the task of leafing. Leafing is what it sounds like: it is the removal and thinning of the leaves on each vine to increase proper exposure to the fruit clusters. As stated above, growth on the vine at this time of the year is rampant. That means that each vine is a mass of vegetation and the clusters of fruit can be engulfed ina cocoon of leaves. By thinning out the leaves on each vine, it serves multiple purposes; firstly, it reduces the likelihood of fungus and the inoculation of other diseases by boosting the airflow to the cluster. Fungus and diseases like to spread in a hot, humid environment, so if we can open up space around the cluster, it will reduce the amount of moisture buildup in the area. In addition, leafing also will expose the fruit to more UV-rays, which not only further serves to prevent fungal diseases, but it increases the efficiency of ripening. Obviously not all the leaves can be pulled off, as the vine needs some leaves present to produce carbohydrates, so determining what is appropriate to remove is a technique that is developed through exhausting experience.
So, in a nutshell, that is the current state of affairs in the vineyard. Trimming, suckering, and leafing. Even though these tasks may seem insignificant, any successful grape grower will tell you that rigorously adhering to the mundane details is the difference between a great harvest and mediocre one. Thankfully, we always dwell in the mundane. :)