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Hafner Vineyard

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Vineyard Update

I had the opportunity to sit down with Vineyard Manager David Huebel last week to check in about how the vineyard is progressing and what he anticipates this vintage will be like. He shared his thoughts on the drought, the fruit quality for 2021, when he thinks Harvest might start and much more. 

How has the 2021 growing season been so far?
To state the obvious: warm and dry. (For those who don't know, Northern California is in one of its worst droughts.)

Irrigation has been challenging because the soil is so dry that the water applied is all of the water available, so the irrigation isn’t going as far as normal. Usually irrigation is a supplement, whereas this year, with the lack of rainfall (and thus water storage), there isn’t the normal baseline of soil moisture.

On the flipside, the lack of water mitigated excess canopy growth that can prove challenging in some years. Normally we would need to hedge the top of the vine with our mechanical hedger, but this year we didn’t, thus eliminating a tractor pass.
Irrigation at Hafner

Otherwise, the growing season has been good, similar to 2020. 2021 has about the same number of growing degree days as 2020. The average temperatures in May and July were a bit higher than last year. This year there has been more fog than we’ve seen for 5 or 6 years, which gives the vines a break at the night and in the morning before the heat of the day.

Where are we in the growing season now?
The Chardonnay has finished véraison and the reds are 60% of the way through it.
Chardonnay GrapesCabernet at Hafner

What needs to be done in the vineyard between now and Harvest?
Fruit thinning. Clusters that are growing on weak shoots are being removed to improve uniform ripening.

Then Harvest prep! We service the harvester, tune up the tractors and clean all the gondolas.

When do you anticipate Harvest?
No later than the 25th of August.

What are you excited about in the vineyard right now?
The high quality of grapes this year because the berry size is small. I’m also excited for my favorite day of the year… the last day of Harvest!

What keeps you up at night?
Hmmm…. Less does, the older I get. I used to worry about pests and disease in the vineyard, but now I have a regime that seems to be working and hasn’t failed for years, so I have some confidence in managing that. Honestly, what probably keeps me up the most is the potential for wildfires. (I’m training to be a volunteer fire fighter at our local station, so hopefully my experience there will help to mitigate my worries. Probably not, but this way when fire returns, I can be a part of protecting our community.)
David Huebel at Hafner Vineyard

We asked our Instagram followers what questions they have for David, and here are a few of them. 

Does the smoke or drought have any effect on the grapes?
Yes, the drought has pluses and minuses. Pluses: reduced canopy growth (therefore one less tractor pass) and small berry size (increased wine quality). Minuses: increased water stress on the vines and the unknown potential long-term effect of the drought if it continues.

For smoke, it depends on the proximity to the fire. The smoke can have no effect or a profound effect. The closer the fire and fresher the smoke, the greater effect on the grapes. In 2020, there were two large fires in the Wine Country, but we were extremely lucky to be in a pocket that was not impacted. In 2019, the fire was on our property, so that was a very different story.  

If you could choose to plant a new varietal at HV, what would it be?
(This stumped him for a bit!) Well… my favorite varieties to farm are Cabernet (because it’s easy) and Malbec (because it’s interesting). Maybe quirky aromatic whites because that’s what I have enjoyed, but I have no idea how well they would do here.

What is some new technology that you are excited about?
Electric tractors and UV mildew control – anything that lowers our Carbon footprint.