This could be the most productive year for Larry Parenti’s wine grape crop since he planted his Calaveras County vineyard 10 years ago, if his bunch count is any clue.
Located in Valley Springs, Calif., where the land begins its long rise to the peaks of the Sierra Nevada, he grows three varieties, Zinfandel, the most popular variety in the foothills; Syrah, another good-producing variety in the area, and Sangiovese. “I wanted to see what Sangiovese would do. It’s growing very well and has a lot of fruit this year.”
Sangiovese is a popular variety in Italy’s Tuscany province, where Parenti was born. He bottles under his label, La Collina (the hill). “My grandparents put us kids in the middle of a vat of grapes, and we stomped our feet to crush them,” he says.
When he bought the land for his California vineyard, Parenti was still living in the Bay Area. Now retired and living on the vineyard, he can give his vines close attention.
At an elevation of 850 feet, frost following bud break usually isn’t much of threat. He delays pruning until the end of February or early March to delay bud break and avoid frost. His vineyards have suffered frost damage only once. That was two years ago in April, when some vines in lower areas were hit fairly hard.
Favorable weather after an early-April bud break this season has aided development of his grapes. “It looks like a good year for them,” Parenti says. “The season started a little earlier than normal. Except for a few days of 104 to 106, it hasn’t been real hot this spring. Temperatures average around 95 degrees during the summer.”
He saw a touch of color on a few berries in the third week of June. The vineyard should be in veraison by the middle of July. That’s typical for this area, he reports.
That’s when he’ll be taking action to protect his grapes from birds (finches, robins, sparrows and European starlings). He nets the vines to deter the birds. “That’s a hassle and requires two or three people,” Parenti says. “But, with such a small vineyard I can’t afford not to protect the grapes. If the birds eat a third of my crop, I don’t have much fruit left.”
So, this year, instead of the netting, he’s trying something new, a battery-operated device that emits a hawk sound through speakers in the vineyard to scare the birds away.
Parenti used to broadcast fertilizers to meet the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium needs of his vine. However, two years ago, he began feeding the vineyard through his drip irrigation system. That switch was prompted by poor performance of his Sangiovese vines.
“By June, they appeared to be running out of gas,” he says. “So, I went with the liquid fertilize to try improving their production.”
He’s been pleased with the results, and not just with the Sangiovese.
“I think the liquid fertilizer is why this year’s crop could be our biggest one yet,” Parenti says.
He’s a member of the Calaveras Winegrape Alliance. Joining this group of grape growers and winemakers was one of his smarter moves. “I get a lot of good information about growing grapes at our monthly meetings,” Parenti says.
More from Western Farm Press