Notes from the Vineyard Part III: Dropping Fruit

July 24, 2007

When I first moved to wine country, I was appalled at the perfectly good fruit lying in between rows at various stages of the growing season (but then again, I have emotional issues with thinning). Then someone explained the concept of dropping fruit, whereby some of the fruit is pulled off so that the vine will put its energy towards the remaining clusters, making for more intense characteristics in the bottle. Keith

This intentional manipulation of the vines to produce more robust fruit actually begins around May, just after the fruit is set, when Keith and his team start pulling off short shoots (called shoot thinning). It takes 14 leaves to ripen a cluster. Anything shorter is broken off so that the vine will be able to create the best fruit it can and the canopy will remain manageable (more on that in a later post). 

Once the fruit has become veritable berries that have just reached veraison (when the grapes turn red), Keith will take another pass through the vineyards and drop actual clusters (called crop thinning). The reasoning behind what stays and what goes varies by varietal, block and even stage of growth. With Petit Verdot and Malbec, Keith only leaves two clusters per shoot (incidentally, Keith also told me that Malbec leaves make great dolmas . . . I’ll definitely be giving that a try). In the vineyard that produces the grapes for Clos du Bois’ Briarcrest Cabernet, Keith leaves just one cluster per shoot. At the other end of the spectrum the young merlot—in its “gangly teenage phase”—gets to keep all of its clusters. “It’s young and it won’t carry a lot of fruit yet,” says Keith. “We don’t want to stress these vines, just to grown them right now so they’ll develop for next year.”

If all this thinning brings tears to your eyes (as you know it does mine), buy a bottle of Terra Sonoma Verjus to splash in your saute or over a salad. It’s made from the unripe clusters that are clipped during thinning into something akin to vinegar. Verjus is an old-world staple, tart and flavorful, that (unlike vinegar) won’t clash with your wine. Which means you can drink your grapes . . . and eat them too. 

Cheers,
Lia

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One Response to “Notes from the Vineyard Part III: Dropping Fruit”

  1. Amado Says:

    Interesting …


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