News & Press
News & Press
Winter Vineyard Update
Winter is a time to reflect on the past season and implement new plans for the upcoming growing cycle. We recently asked members of our vineyard management and viticulture team to give us a ‘Winter Update’ from the vineyards.
What cover crop did the team plant this year?
Carol Wilson Millerick, Viticulturist: In Napa Valley, the cover crops are selected for three main purposes: nitrogen fixation, pollinator and beneficial insect habitat, and erosion control. A mix of legumes are planted in alternating rows primarily at blocks that are located on the valley floor. The flowers are phacelia this year and are planted in all our blocks, with a higher density at the Home Ranch entrance (in St. Helena) and at Backus Vineyard in Oakville. The permanent cover crop for erosion control is a mix of fescue grasses that are active while the vines are dormant and dry down in summer.
Jeff Baccus, Assistant Vineyard Manager: In Freestone, we continued to overseed permanent cover crop to establish a thick low growing blend of fescues and expanded year-round insectary plantings to increase beneficial habitat.
Can you speak to our enhanced erosion control this season?
CWM: We continue to protect our soils while the vines are dormant by ensuring a balance between native plants, flowers to attract beneficial insects and pollinators, and a mix of legumes and cereals.
JB: An extra step we have undertaken for Freestone is implementing a no-vehicle rule in high erodible soils (tractors and ATVs are exempt). The goal of this policy is to maintain a permanent cover crop in steep avenues and minimize soil movement.
What do you track in the soil during winter?
CWM: Typically, I focus on soil moisture during this period of the season “dormancy”. Our soil probes, which are placed at key indicator blocks, provide us information on soil moisture and soil temperature. I can see that currently the soil moisture is very low and I am looking for good rainfall in the next few months to ensure adequate moisture at the time of bud break, which is expected to be early this year given the dry and warm conditions at present. Once the vines are actively growing, I focus on soil nutrient status based on the climate and plant needs.
Can you give us a pruning update?
Domenick Bianco, Manager of Vineyard Operations & Grower Relations: The Napa vineyard team is currently pruning in St Helena. We started with our Scheurebe and Viognier vines in January. Once we finish St. Helena, we will head to Backus Vineyard. The Freestone crew has been pruning at both Pastorale and Quarter Moon vineyards for about a month.
Do we compost the cuttings or leave them between the rows?
CWM: The cuttings are shredded in the vine row as mulch, which eventually gets incorporated into the soil during the season.
We will check-in again with the team later this spring as the 2021 growing season takes shape.