Viticulture is the cultivation of grapes, especially for winemaking. A viticulturist’s endeavor is to approach grape growing as an art and a science to produce the highest quality wine grapes. Grape growing is a balance of all the elements in a vineyard: vines, soil, water, weather, and organisms, including people. At Bouchaine in Carneros Napa Valley, we provide the utmost care to foster natural balances in our vineyard.
The most critical balance for a viticulturist is the balance between the vegetative growth of the vine, the green shoots and the leaves, and the fruit. There is an ideal amount of photosynthetic vegetation needed to ripen the grape clusters. On the other hand, too much vegetation can cause excessive shading of the fruit and a disproportioning of the vine’s nutrients to the ever-growing vegetation instead of the fruit. Too little vegetation and the vines cannot ripen their crop.
Another way to look at this is crop levels. A vine can have too much fruit for the amount of vegetation and is ‘over cropped’ or it can have too little fruit for the vegetation and is ‘under cropped.’ Interestingly enough, both imbalances result in the same problem: unripe grapes. Therefore, we use our viticulture tools to foster balance in our vines.
What are these viticulture tools? The most important is the planning of the vineyard block, the selection of the appropriate variety, rootstock, trellis, spacing, and row orientation, for your specific site. Bouchaine Vineyards has 47 vineyard blocks on only 90 planted acres.
Once your vineyard is set up, before the growing season begins each year, we have another important practice: pruning. Grapevine pruning is the adjustment of the amount of buds, or growing spots, on a vine. Once the season has begun, you have irrigation, shoot removal or thinning, leaf removal, cluster thinning, and hedging that all help you to adjust the balance between the vegetation and the fruit.
Several indices of vine balance are commonly used and include the slowing of shoot growth around veraison and dappled sunlight onto the fruit. Bouchaine’s Carneros Napa Valley vineyards are designed in such a way that we harvest around 3 tons per acre of optimally mature Pinot Noir and Chardonnay each year.
Bouchaine Vineyards, located in the Carneros region of Napa Valley, believes in protecting the environment to sustain our natural resources for the continual production of fine wine. It is fortunate that many practices that are environmentally friendly are also beneficial for growing high quality wine grapes.
Covercrops are used at Bouchaine to protect the soil from erosion, to add organic matter to the soil, to sustain the healthy balance of microbes, and to improve water infiltration and retention. Cover crops also add nutrients to the soil. At Bouchaine, we plant permanent cover crops consisting of fescue grass for erosion control and soil structure and a blend of clovers for nitrogen. In our younger, developmental blocks, we plant an annual blend of barley, peas, vetch, bell beans and oats.
Composting is integral to our nutritional management program at Bouchaine. Our vineyard team advocates the application of compost under the vines. Organic compost is often used in place of inorganic fertilizers because compost is a more complex and sustained array of nutrients. Bouchaine supports restaurant recycling by purchasing ‘Four Course Compost’ from Norcal Waste, organic compost made from recycled restaurant waste that diverts waste from landfills.
Integrated pest management is a practice utilized at Bouchaine Vineyards. We have a vast array of bird boxes that attract predators to feed on pest populations. For example, our owl boxes attract nesting owls whose young feed on the pesky gophers that feed on our vine roots.
Bouchaine has embarked on the restoration of a natural waterway on our property. We have removed grapevines and planted grasses in the lowest lying swale of the property to improve water flow through the property. We also use deficit irrigation, a practice that minimizes our water use and restricts vine growth in order to produce low-yielding, intensely flavored fruit.
Bouchaine is fortunate to be one of the first wineries to participate in the Napa Green Farm Certification program. We worked closely with the Napa County Resource Conservation District, the Department of Fish and Game, and the National Marine Fisheries Service to develop a long term farm plan that conserves our natural resources and protects the surrounding waterways.
Bouchaine is located less than a mile from the Carneros Creek, the Huichica Creek, the Napa River, and the Napa-Sonoma Marshes so sustaining our natural resources is essential. Bouchaine is also an active member of the Napa Sustainable Winegrowing Group.
Bouchaine Vineyards, located in the Carneros wine region of the Napa Valley, is proud to support an amazing endeavor in recycling, the re-use of restaurant table scraps by recycling them into compost that builds nutrients in soils.
Bouchaine has been a proud supporter of Norcal Waste Systems and Jepson Prairie Organics and this inventive composting process. Norcal has made San Francisco a leader in the recycling of waste products and has allowed for one of the largest diversions of waste away from the landfills. Together with Bouchaine, Norcal has made many communities aware of the possibilities that recycling can offer. We have recently appeared together in the Los Angeles Times, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, and Wines & Vines magazine.
The compost is highly nutritious because it comes from a unique and diverse feedstock that includes food scraps from the finest restaurants in San Francisco and Oakland. This complex and concentrated nutrition builds microbial communities in the soil and helps to enhance nutrient availability in the soil. The nutrients are complex and sustained over time, which makes compost preferable to the synthetic fertilizers that give a quick shot of specific nutrients at a given point in time.
The organic matter in Four Course Compost also helps improve soil structure and increase water retention, allowing for less irrigation. It is listed by the Organic Material Review Institute as appropriate for use on organic vineyards.
Grape growing is a dynamic process in which soil, climate, grapevines and people all come together to produce a delicious result: wine grapes. The vineyard year starts slowly in early spring, when dormant vines break their slumber with ‘budbreak,’ the emergence of succulent green vegetation from dormant buds.
These little green shoots grow quite rapidly and already have little leaves and tiny clusters of flowers destined to become the glorious wine grapes. They continue to develop until late spring or early summer when the shoots are a couple feet long and the flowers ‘bloom.’
Bloom is followed by ‘flower set,’ the moment when a flower successfully pollinates and begins its path toward becoming a berry. Farmers always gather at coffee shops to compare notes on set- a 'good set' is a year in which a high proportion of flowers become grapes. After set, the berries experience a rapid growth phase and the vegetative shoots slow down their growth. The grapes then experience a lag phase at about half of their weight, which is the best time for a viticulturist to begin to estimate their final crop yields.
Veraison, a French term, means the 'onset of ripening.' The berries begin to grow again, this time by filling with water, sugar, color, nutrients and complex compounds such as tannins, and thereby diluting their intense acidity. This is one of the most illustriously beautiful times in the vineyard when the red grapes are becoming colored and the white grapes begin to soften and slightly bronze.
It is the winemaker who will decide when the grapes are ready, but often the starlings are a good indicator. The winemaker tastes every day near harvest to look for ripe flavors and the perfect balance of flavor, tannin, and acid.
The autumn harvest is always an excitingly hectic time that we anticipate all year. At Bouchaine, like most Napa Valley vineyards, we hand pick all of our grapes and quickly and carefully bring them to our winery’s crush pad to begin the wine making process.
After the grapes are harvested, we plant our cover crops and prepare the vineyard for winter. The leaves turn to gorgeous autumn colors and begin to fall from the vines. Once the vines are dormant, we plan to prune them for the following year.
Many wine lovers have heard winemakers say that stress is good for
the vines, especially for vines that are making red wine grapes. As
winemakers, we speak of low vigor soils, and low vigor rootstocks, and
of giving minimal irrigation to the vines. All of these efforts are
designed to lightly stress the vines early in their growth cycle to
limit their vegetative production (See Viticulture) and to uniformly ripen small yields of wine grapes with intense flavors and phenolic (color and tannin) concentration.
An appropriate hang time will lead to balance in wine grapes, a balance between the flavors, the alcohol, and the acidity that makes wine the hedonic experience it is.
BOUCHAINE VINEYARDSCREDITS800.654.WINE1075 BUCHLI STATION ROADNAPA, CALIFORNIA 94559INFO@BOUCHAINE.COM