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Shatter Happens

06.14.11

Shatter Happens

Director of Winemaking Dirk Hampson stops by to tell us a little about what vintners in the northern hemisphere worry about this time of year: shatter.

I happen to love this time of year. The scent of grape flowers is all over the place. Grape flowers aren’t showy but have a subtle and lovely perfume that I like to sniff just for the pleasure of it. Our vineyards are going through flowering right now. Actually, most vines have finished flowering– Chardonnay first and Cabernet later–and we are getting a look at what our crop size this year will be.

I knew what “shatter” was when I was a kid. That was what happened when my brother launched a ball at my head but hit the bathroom window instead. (He blamed the resulting shattered glass on me for moving my head.) In grapevines, “shatter” is a term for when all of the unfertilized flowers fall off the rachis (cluster stem). It’s kind of cool to run your hand gently down a cluster and watch the flowers fall off. But, all of those that fall off aren’t going to become grapes or, eventually, wine.

While we haven’t been assaulted by tornadoes, tsunamis or massive wildfires, this spring did receive unusual amounts of rain and cool temperatures here in the Napa Valley. As you know, the weather in the spring and throughout the growing season affects the size of the crop and how late harvest may occur. (I was hoping for an early harvest … If you are planning a harvest trip to the winery, late September and October may be the answer this year.) The vines actually prefer moderately warm, dry and calm conditions, which we have now. But the recent weeks of cool, windy and wet conditions have increased the likelihood of shatter. Well, that’s farming for you, and good things can still happen with unusual conditions!

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