Between the Vines is a biweekly column on wine and wine making in the Livermore Valley region. This column was contributed by William Westover Smyth, owner of Westover Winery in Castro Valley.
What's happening in the Livermore Valley this month?
At Westover Winery in Castro Valley's Palomares Canyon, we are counting new growth buds, fixing our trellis wires that will train the grape vines and controlling pests the natural way. I have a long family history of farming in Northern California, and my great-great aunt was the first woman winemaker of a commercial California winery, circa 1881.
When we prune our vines in the winter, we cut back the fruiting canes so they have only two buds. That means we remove around 90 percent of each fruiting cane, but fewer buds and wider spacing means better health for the buds and, later, a better wine. We limit our vines to about 30 buds each vine in total. We also are cutting off all the "sucker" growth from the base of the vines so it does not steal water and nutrients meant for the vines.
Westover uses a three-wire system to train the grape vines as they grow. Our goal is to make a "canopy" that gets maximum sun for proper photosynthesis in the vines and grapes. The stock comes from the ground and divides into two "cordons" on each side of the main support pole. From these cordons, we have about seven fruiting canes on each side growing up. The canes are held in and supported by the two wires on the top -- the whole system looks like a capital "T."
This is also the time that we put up bat nests and owl boxes to encourage natural control of pests. We do not use any chemical pesticides or non-natural fertilizers. We may have smaller yields, but that means a better wine in the end. Many pesticides and insecticides make their way into bottled wine -- we do not want that!
Westover Winery has two vineyards and grows a total of five varietals -- chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, tempranillo and merlot. At 2,000 feet, our Pleasanton Ridge vineyard has the highest altitude of any site in the Livermore Valley wine region with great sun and wind.
To learn more about making wine and running a winery, consider Westover's vocational training program. The course runs two years and is free for participant interns. More than 90 course modules are covered, including winemaking, vineyard management, wine chemistry, tasting room management, accounting, legal issues and more. Each class includes lectures followed by hands-on experience. For more information, contact Westover Winery at 510-537-3932 or www.westoverwinery.com
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