Deadwood: Ventura County Vineyards January 2020


That’s what we’ve been pruning in the Mitchell Vineyard in Saticoy, just east of the city of Ventura and only a few miles away from my home by the ocean in southern California.

That there’s wine grapes growing so close to the Pacific still surprises me. That I’ve spent a year now working in Ventura County vineyards also still surprises me. (Scroll down for links to the 2019 posts).

And now I’m learning about deadwood.

Deadwood is what happens over time to vines as they get older and if they aren’t pruned as intensively as they should be each year. Deadwood are the spurs off the cordons that no longer produce grapes.  Pruned properly vines produce better fruit.

As Clos des Amis winemaker Bruce Freeman explained, the deadwood has to be pruned away because the vines are strongest and heartiest when they come directly out of the spurs which are placed about a fist length apart along the cordon. Here’s a quick review of the relevant vocabulary as I explained in last year’s January post about pruning where you’ll find links, videos, and more information about pruning:

  • Trunk: the part that come out of the ground
  • Cordon: the arm or arms that reach out of the trunk
  • Spur: areas where the canes grow from the cordon;
    when pruning, you want the spurs to be about a fist width apart
  • Canes: these shoot out of the spurs and are where the grapes come from but only from second year wood; each new cane produces two clusters of grapes.
  • Bud: this is on last year’s wood and where the new cane comes from;
    when pruning, the cut is made above the second bud

This is my second season pruning, but my first time doing so in this vineyard which provides the chardonnay grapes which Bruce uses in his Chambang Sparkling Wine. Because of Stage 4 metastic cancer, Bruce’s energy is low so I walked along with him and did the muscle work as he pointed out what needed to go and why providing me with an amazing tutorial.

Each time I prunes a chunk of the deadwood I visualized how Bruce’s experimental cancer treatments are also pruning the “deadwood” from his body so that he too can be more productive this year.

Looking toward the ocean, in the foreground is a nest in a pruned chardonnay vine in the Mitchell vineyard in Saticoy, Ventura County, CA

I’m so happy to report that so far so good– he’s doing so much better and he’s only had four of 17 treatments, one every three weeks for a year.

This month I went down with Bruce and Gretel and they showed me around the modern, art and light filled Cedars Sinai facility on Wilshire. Afterward, Bruce rested in the truck while Gretel and I chatted then we three attended the 15th edition of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux at the Sofitel in Beverly Hills. Fortunately Bruce’s keen tasting skills have not been too impacted by the cancer treatment and it was really a treat to taste these wines with him. He would sit and research the wines in the tasting booklet and then tell Gretel or I which ones we should seek out.

With next year’s Wold Wine tasting Championship in Bordeaux, I’m keen on keeping my place on the team and going there in 2020!  While Bordeaux isn’t as large and spread out as the Loire where we visited last year when the championship was in Chambord, we will want to focus on specific regions of Bordeaux.

After this event, I know Sue, with her love of cabernet franc, will want to go to Saint-Emilion, for example, Chateau Larcis Ducasse which is organic although not certified.

We were all impressed by the value of Chateau Maucaillou– I loved the spice and according to the booklet, they welcome visitors and have a museum that looks interesting.

A third winery we will want to visit is Chateau Lagune in Haut-Medoc; it’s been certified organic since 2016 and is owned but the Frey family.

From Pauillac, I really enjoyed the Chateau Duhart-Milon. This blend of 76% cabernet sauvignon and 24% merlot is really light and elegant, really the opposite of a typical Napa Bordeaux style blend.

Coming up in February: Young Wood in Fillmore: Lions and Tigers and Bears and Raccoons — Oh My!


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