When we planted our first Sauvignon blanc vines in 2009 it was an experiment to see how well the variety would do. After all we are at 5000’ feet elevation in an arid climate with monsoonal summers during ripening. The fine wines industry was just starting to develop in our area with two of the first wineries within one mile of us. There was little history of growing different varieties in our area. Each year presented new challenge especially for a novice vigneron. We chose Sauvignon blanc because it is one of our favorite varieties and one we assumed would have a better chance in this climate. The first couple of years were very promising. By the third year we started to notice some of the vines were having difficulty with their development. Some vines struggled to produce a crop while others were abundantly overloaded. Over time we lost a full row of vines.
This year the vines that are still producing yielded the largest crop to date. I will continue the Sauvignon blanc story after the Assyrtiko.
In 2011 we received two Mist Propagated Plants (MPP) Assyrtiko vines from the UC Davis Foundation Plant Services. We nurtured them in containers and planted them in 2012. Their development was very slow, not producing any fruit until last year (2017). In 2014 we planted 30 more Assyrtiko vines and they produced a small crop in 2017.
This year was impressive. The vines were loaded with fruit. Average 9 pounds per vine. Out of the thirty vines, 19 plants produced 180 lbs. of grapes. A few vines have failed to develop or been damaged by gophers. A couple of vines failed to produce. We picked the vines September 4 at 23 brix, 3.3 PH, and fermented 9 days at 62 degrees with Lalvin R-HST yeast.
Because the Assyrtiko is doing so well we have been questioning why the Sauvignon blanc is struggling. The two blocks are several hundred feet from each other. The difference with the Sauvignon blanc is its proximity to mature pine trees. Testing the soil and tissue hasn’t yielded any clues to the decline. I can only guess the pine oil and needles is having an adverse effect on the vines.
We had only minimal insect and mold pressure this summer, probably because the weather was so dry. We had monsoon storms around our area, however, there was less rain compared to last year. On the day after harvest we were invaded by an army of Hawk Moth Caterpillars. They are voracious eaters. We were able to completely pick the pests off the vines in 3 days with minimal damage.
We’re in the process of expanding the Assyrtiko vineyard. We plan on planting 50 more vines in the spring of 2019.