On Friday, June 7th, 46 invited guests got a rare look at some of Calaveras County's most innovative vineyards not generally open to the public. The Calaveras Winegrape Alliance (CWA) hosted the “Calaveras County Innovations in Grape Growing and Winemaking Vineyard Tour”, to highlight the unique innovations and sustainable efforts of four selected vineyards alongside industry experts. An event program can be found here.
The tour took place from 9:30 - 3:30 and was be led by Steve Collum, Calaveras Winegrape Alliance Board Vice President and owner of Vineyard Concepts Vineyard Management Company. After attending Fresno State with majors in Biology and Viticulture, and spending summers fighting fires in Yosemite National Park, Steve moved to Sonoma County with his wife Cindy to find a job in Vineyard Management. Collum worked for a few small vineyards which eventually led him to St. Francis Vineyards and then Kendall Jackson. In 1988 Steve and his wife purchased property in the Sierra Foothills where they currently live and grow Sangiovese grapes that have gone into many award winning wines. Steve is a consultant for many winemaking families and vineyard owners throughout Calaveras Wine Country.
“Vineyard Tour attendees got up close and hands-on with vineyard owners to learn why this historical wine region has been an integral part of the California wine industry since 1851”, comments Sandra Hess, Executive Director. "As vineyard owners discover the unique and diverse soil profiles available in Calaveras County, the wine region continues to grow in popularity with a total of 33 vineyard properties today".
Calaveras County is home to family vineyards ranging in size from a few acres to eighty. Winery teams produce award-winning, handcrafted wines and offer unique tasting experiences at 30 boutique tasting rooms and wineries. Nestled in a beautiful landscape, at the base of the Sierra Foothills and just 90 minutes from the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento regions, Calaveras Wine Country offers year round natural beauty and recreation. Calaveras County is a perfect growing region for hearty Spanish and Italian varietals. Visitors to Calaveras Wine Country enjoy wines that include: Barbera, Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Nebbiolo, Grenache, Graciano, Toringa, Albarino, Marsanne, Verdelho, Symphony, old vine Zinfandels, Cabernet, Petite Sirah, Viognier, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. This historical wine country is welcoming and winery properties range from modern tasting rooms to large estates with vineyard views, to century-old buildings that house modern wineries.
at 8:45, vineyard tour guests met up for coffee at Utica Park in Angels Camp to make introductions, pickup swag bags and review the tour program. Lynn Wunderlich, UCCE specialist Central Sierra viticulture and pomology advisor, joined us once again as the tour's vineyard specialist. Andrew Brown, USDA-NRCS Soil Scientist, based out of the MLRA Soil Survey office in Sonora, CA was also on hand to answer questions about the soil profiles. Once fueled up, the group headed out to the first stop about 30 minutes away!
Guests explored Aquinas-Miller Ranch Vineyard in Copperopolis from 9:30-10:30 to discuss innovations in irrigation with such diverse soil profiles at this property. This is a newly planted vineyard with 10 active acres growing Sauvignon Blanc and Petite Sirah and is at an elevation between 1000 to 1200 feet. Vineyard hosts, Mike and Catherine Miller shared how they use Soil Moisture Sensors for Vineyard Irrigation Management. The system is App based, making it easy to stay on top of irrigation around the clock and even when on vacation in Hawaii! The sensors are strategically placed in six different spots throughout the vineyards.
Grape growers are encouraged to use a combination of soil, plant, and weather data when determining the length and frequency of irrigation events in vineyards. Estimation of daily evapotranspiration can tell a grower roughly how much water is removed from the soil, and is the principle means by which growers can determine the amount of water to apply to a vineyard block. Soil moisture sensors are a useful tool for assisting with vineyard irrigation scheduling. For example, water status of the soil can be measured during the dormant season to determine if winter rainfall is reaching the effective rooting area of vines. Soil moisture sensors are also helpful for determining the length of irrigation time required to replenish water to a desired rooting depth. The data provided by soil sensors can help growers to understand how water moves in soil and the areas where roots are most actively taking up water, potentially reducing excess water application.
Lynn Wunderlich, UCCE specialist, showed tour guests another way to manage vineyard irrigation decisions by using a Pressure Bomb or Pressure Chamber (pictured below). The Pressure Chamber allows vineyard owners to monitor the stress level in the vine. There are many “shades of grey” between well-irrigated and water-stressed vines. The Pressure Chamber allows you to monitor these shades of grey and stress the vine to a point that is appropriate for your strategy. For instance, when vines are first planted you want to minimize stress levels and keep them irrigated to get them established. However, once established you will want to deficit irrigate to manage canopy growth and also to improve the fruit quality. Using a plant based monitoring system like the Pressure Chamber, you monitor exactly what the plant is experiencing not just one of the environmental stresses. Plant water stress is a sum of four environmental influences; soil moisture, humidity, wind and direct sunlight or heat load. While most monitoring systems only monitor one of these influences, the Pressure Chamber takes all four into consideration when taking a direct plant based measurement. The Calaveras Winegrape Alliance has purchased a Pressure Bomb that can be used by our grower and winery members.
The group caravanned to the second stop that took place from 10:45-11:45 at Jordan Oaks Vineyard in Angels Camp to discuss new bird netting and pest control. This vineyard site is currently producing Sauvignon Blanc, Petite Sirah, and Barbara. The Jordan Oaks Vineyard has 8 active acres of planted grapes and is at a 1439 foot elevation. Vineyard hosts Greg and Nuala Jordan greeted guests with coffee and homemade pastries then lead a tour of their beautiful vacation rental - a barn style home. Steve Collum lead this tour and highlighted the three approaches to bird control. These vineyard owners chose to go with all three options - Bird Netting, Visual Repellents (Bird Kites) and Distress Calls of Native Birds.
Stationary noisemakers are most effective if at least one device per every 5 acres is used and elevated above the plant canopy. Starlings are particularly difficult to frighten once established and so the devices should be in place and operating before damage occurs. Several bird species can be severe pests of fruit grown commercially in the Sierra Foothills. Most damage is caused by birds feeding on ripening fruit, making it unmarketable, but species such as house finches and crowned sparrows may also invade orchards to feed on fruit buds during the dormant season or just prior to bloom, also decreasing yield. Bird damage can be particularly severe in the foothill-growing environment, where many orchards and vineyards are adjacent to wild or brushy areas where birds find refuge, breeding sites and other sources of food.
The group headed up the road about 20 minute to the third vineyard stop from 12:15-2:00 Rob and Sheri Hendriks, proprietors of Aloria Vineyards in Angels Camp, hosted the group for a wine country lunch catered by Lila & Sage and shared their latest innovations in grafting over with new grapes, new varietals for Calaveras like Barbera and Albarino. Guests feasted on sandwiches and salads in their picnic area under grand oak trees while learning about about their processes of certifying the vineyard as sustainable. Steve Collum assists this couple every step of the way in making sustainable decisions and shared some of the ways they are improving irrigation and farming practices. This property now has 52 active acres of vineyards and was first planted by Dr. Ian Renner in 1995. This vineyard site is located at 2200 foot elevation, surrounded by New Melones Reservoir and produces award winning fruit, sold locally, and to producers in Napa and elsewhere. Varietals produced include Syrah, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and coming soon, Barbera.
For the final stop, tour attendees headed up to Ironstone Vineyards in Murphys to meet up with President, Stephen Kautz. Guests were treated to a wine talk from 2:30-3:30 on the patio overlooking this historical vineyard property.
Steve shared how he and his team are using various innovations to keep the vineyard certified as sustainable. They use recycled water to irrigate the vineyards and have a pipe coming in from the nearby Murphys Sanitary District Water Treatment Plant. What a thoughtful way to reduce water usage in Calaveras County! Steve is also using a Lime Sulfur Organic Fungicide for bug control and dispenses through a drip system that allows 14-21 days of coverage. This fungicide through the drip system can be applied early and helps in areas that it's hard to bring tractors into. This innovative practice saves 2-3 trips through using the tractor, thus cutting down on labor and time. Steve also revealed that his number one predator in the vineyards are bears. He shared that a 12 foot deer fence will not keep the bears out and works with local wildlife agencies to have the bears picked up and returned to their natural habitat. This vineyard site is located at 2208 foot elevation and the vineyard team practices sustainable viticulture by reducing water, building healthy soil and maintaining the surrounding wildlife habitat. John and Gail Kautz, founders of Ironstone, were the first to plant chardonnay and other wine varietals in the Lodi area. The Kautz family grows numerous varieties including Cabernet Franc, Symphony, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The Calaveras Winegrape Alliance funds the weather station at Ironstone Vineyards where tour guests reviewed a printout of the powdery mildew index during the visit.
The Innovations Vineyard Tour wrapped up with a private wine and cheese reception at the Calaveras Winegrape Alliance Wine Information Center in Murphys. We were grateful to use the beautiful space provided by our neighbor Barb Schick owner of Half Ass Adventures who has handmade wine barrel furnishings and bar as well as a mini grape stomp stage! Barb and her team produce private events for up to 30 guests in Calaveras Wine Country.
Interested participants received 1.5 hours of Department of Pesticide Regulation continuing education credit approved in the “other” category for participating in the tour. A special thanks to Lynn Wunderlich, UCCE specialist Central Sierra viticulture and pomology advisor, who joined as our tour specialist focusing on these continuing education topics:
1. How monitoring the amount of water one applies to the vineyard can reduce infestations of certain insects.
2. Avian control measures such as netting, raptor kites, bird squawkers; encouraging owl boxes for rodent control.
3. How sustainability requires continuous monitoring in the vineyard leading to spray applications only when necessary.
4. How the weather station provides a powdery mildew index which when used, can reduce the number of applications one applies for control.
A big thanks to Steve Collum, Mary Mutz and the vineyard hosts for putting together a fantastic educational event! Those interested in next year's Vineyard Innovations Tour, can be added to the invitation list by contacting Sandra Hess at email@example.com. The cost of the tour is $40 for CWA members and $55 for non-members and includes lunch as well as a wine reception. Adults 21 and over only.
About Calaveras Winegrape Alliance:
Established in 1989, The Calaveras Wine Alliance is dedicated to increasing the awareness of all wines produced in Calaveras County and/or produced from Calaveras grapes. We are Calaveras County families that are making some of the most exciting wines in California’s historic Sierra Foothills region. Calaveras winemakers make wine in small batches by family run operations, dedicated to sustainability and organic practices. Calaveras County is a perfect growing region for hearty Spanish and Italian varietals like Barbera, Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Nebbiolo, Grenache, Graciano, Toringa, Albarino, Marsanne, Verdelho and Symphony as well as old vine Zinfandels, hearty and robust Cabernet and Petite Sirah. To learn more, visit: https://www.calaveraswines.org.