Tag: cab production

Vineyard Related

Time to Burn

By Mark Clarin of McGrail Vineyards & Winery

As we continue with our new shelter in place conditions in this country, there are a few fine folks who are working to ensure the 2020 vintage, and vintages beyond, will be spectacular. We recently removed about three acres of our estate Cabernet Sauvignon and put the vines into piles to dry out. Today is the perfect day to light the piles on fire and send them back to the earth to become part of the circle of life. The ashes will be spread throughout the soil and the rain will replenish the soil.

We will leave the ground fallow for a year. This tradition dates back centuries and we will celebrate the year by frolicking around the fallow ground with flutes and percussive instruments to chase away the soil pests like nematodes. This is how it was in the beginning and this is how it will be (Mark 2020 v. 17). Once we have successfully chased away all the pests, we will put our clothes back on and replant the vineyard with Cabernet Sauvignon. Clone TBD.

Vineyard Related

FEBRUARY 2020: Vineyard Dormancy, Maintenance, & Weather

Sunshine and our recently pruned estate vines.

By Laina Carter and Mark Clarin of McGrail Vineyards

February was an incredibly busy month in the vineyards, but unseasonably so, as our vines are currently dormant and February tends to be a pretty uneventful month for our vineyards. There are countless facets to grape growing and external factors affecting grapevines that no year and no season are ever the same.


Dormancy & Pruning

Grapevines, like most perennials, undergo a dormancy stage, which is essentially a hibernation period for these plants. The vines have stored all of their nutrients in their roots, leaving the once vivacious, fruitful shoots dry and void of leaves and fruit. Dormancy allows grapevines to tolerate winter weather and gives them time to prepare for budbreak in the spring. Like hibernating animals, the vines are waiting for warmer temperatures before once again using the energy they have stored up to become active and begin growing again.

The most critical vineyard practice that occurs during dormancy is pruning. For us, pruning usually happens around February, when the vines are completely bare and nearing the end of their dormancy. This year, we began pruning our estate vines at the end of January and continued with our Lucky 8 Vineyard through the beginning of February.

Our recently pruned estate vines.

Each year, we prune last year’s growth back to the cordon. Our vineyards are currently pruned to two bud spur positions. These positions are kept approximately a fist apart along the cordon in order to keep the new shoot growth separated for later when the fruit sets.

A vineyard worker pruning our estate vines.

Pruning is important because it gives us the ability to determine the number and position of shoots on the vine, and will therefore determine cluster count and quality of wine. The reason we prune back is to control consistency in production and to make sure we can still walk down the rows and properly manage the vineyard. There are many tasks throughout the growing season that require hand manipulation. Since grapevines are vines, they seem to have a mind of their own and want to grow in wild directions. Our trellis allows us to control the vines so that we can manage yields and quality.


Vineyard Re-Development

Our winemaker Mark planting new vines at our Lucky 8 property in 2018.

Our estate vineyard was originally planted in 1999 and is now at the end of its ideal productive life. We have sixteen and a half acres planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and it has, and still continues, to serve us well. At some point, the need to replant is fast-approaching, so we are taking out a section of approximately three acres this year to be replanted again in 2022. Since we have our new Lucky 8 vineyard coming into full production, it affords us the opportunity to re-develop our estate vineyard.

The area at the front of our property where we have removed nearly three acres of vines.
A pile of vines that have been pulled from the area at the front of our property where we have removed nearly three acres of vines.

It takes about three years for new plantings to come into full production. It’s about a five-year process when you have to remove a vineyard, because you want to leave the ground fallow for a year. If we have to remove all 16.7 acres at once, we would lose production for five years. By doing it in small quantities, we will still be able to produce our cherished Patriot, James Vincent, A Jó Élet “the Good Life,” and Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon through the re-development phase. This February we began our vineyard re-development by removing about three acres of Cabernet vines at the front of our estate property. It will take up to ten years for us to replant the whole vineyard and up to twenty years to get back into full production.


Vineyard Drought

Our recently pruned vines at Lucky 8.

We are currently at the beginning of March, 2020 and we haven’t seen significant rainfall since early January, which is quite a bit different from what the last few winters we’ve experienced. December was fairly wet and we were on course to having a “normal” winter when the new year decided to change all that. We tried a little irrigating this past week to trick the vines into thinking it’s still winter. The windy weather has really dried things out and the hills are turning brown, which is very unusual for this time of year. We’re hoping this month brings rain again and more importantly, a decent snow-pack in the Sierra mountains, but time will tell. Until then, we will continue to irrigate as needed.


Unseasonably Warm Temperatures

On February 26th in 2018, there was snow on Mt. Diablo and snow on Mt. Hamilton, which is wildly different from the weather we experienced on the same day this year, with sunshine and a high of 76˚F.

The view from our estate property of snow on Mount Diablo on February 26th, 2018.
A bud in our estate vineyard in April of 2019.

Although we have had some warm late winters in years past, these temperatures can be of concern for grape growers. Air temperatures of 50°F are the threshold of below which grapevines refuse to grow. This means that enough days with a mean air temperature of 50°F or above could cause budbreak in the vineyards. Since an earlier budbreak during a warm late winter hasn’t really happened for us before, we aren’t too worried; however, an early budbreak could result in damage to the vines if spring frost occurs. We are keeping our fingers crossed that our vines don’t come out of dormancy this week! 


Grape growing is definitely not for the faint of heart. 

Vineyard Related

The Importance of Pruning and Vineyard Replacement

By Mark Clarin of McGrail Vineyards

Newly pruned Cabernet Sauvignon vines and trimmings in McGrail’s estate vineyard

The Importance of Pruning

A simple illustration of a vine with two bud spurs

It’s that time of year again in the vineyard, when we prune last year’s growth back to the cordon. Our vineyards are currently pruned to two bud spur positions. These positions are kept approximately a fist apart along the cordon in order to keep the new shoot growth separated for later when the fruit sets.

The reason we prune back is to control consistency in production and to make sure we can still walk down the rows and properly manage the vineyard. There are many tasks throughout the growing season that require hand manipulation. Since grapevines are vines, they seem to have a mind of their own and want to grow in wild directions. Our trellis allows us to control the vines so that we can manage yields and quality.

Newly pruned Cabernet Sauvignon vines on McGrail’s estate
A vineyard worker pruning Cabernet Sauvignon vines on McGrail’s estate

Vineyard Replacement

Our estate vineyard was originally planted in 1999 and is now at the end of its ideal productive life. We have sixteen and a half acres planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and it has, and still continues, to serve us well. At some point, the need to replant is fast-approaching, so we are taking out a section of approximately three acres this year to be replanted again in 2022. Since we have our new Lucky 8 vineyard coming into full production, it affords us the opportunity to re-develop our estate vineyard. 

McGrail’s estate vineyard in fall of 2019
McGrail’s Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve

It takes about three years for new plantings to come into full production. It’s about a five-year process when you have to remove a vineyard, because you want to leave the ground fallow for a year. If we have to remove all 16.7 acres at once, we would lose production for five years. By doing it in small quantities, we will still be able to produce our cherished Patriot, James Vincent, A Jó Élet “the Good Life,” and Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon through the re-development phase. It will take up to ten years for us to replant the whole vineyard and up to 20 years to get back into full production. Grape growing is definitely not for the faint of heart. 

Winemaker Mark Clarin planting new vines at McGrail’s Lucky 8 Vineyard on Tesla Road in Livermore