But it wasn’t the extreme heat that was to prove problematic, rather the lack of rain. For almost five weeks from the middle of July to the end of August, there was no rain. It was of course sunny, with a few days that touched 40 degrees at the end of August, but the lack of water was more noticeable. To put it into perspective, I cut the grass only twice from the beginning of June to the end of August!
Yet vines are amazing plants – we read a lot about terroir and the suitability of one place or another to host vines, but until you see a really challenging growing season at first hand, you forget how resilient these plants can be – provided they are in the right place in the first instance. We were amazed at how the vines coped – even late into each afternoon, their shoots would still be standing proud, dancing in the breeze, with no sign of wilting.
But there are some vines that are less able to adapt – even if they are on an appropriate terroir. Young vines are particularly susceptible to drought as their root systems haven’t developed sufficiently. In and around Jeruzalem there has been a huge amount of activity planting new vineyards – a sure vote of confidence in the region – and these new vines were severely tested during the dry spell. As it wore on, you could begin to see how the soil in an individual vineyard was responding – the general types are heavy clay and also sandy soils – with vineyards that have both showing a remarkable difference in how they coped.
|Young vines - note how the different soil types show up in drought|
As the dry spell dragged on, it began to wreak havoc with other crops – corn was particularly badly affected, with many planting just simply shutting down, unable to ripen the cobs. Over in the west of Slovenia, in Primorska on the border with Italy, the drought had a devastating effect on the vineyards as the soil structures are quite different.
But over in our corner in the East, the vines soldiered on very well. However there were some strange things going on in the background. A quick check on acidities showed them to be all over the place. Ripening was far from even. Vines that had been left with a heavy yield struggled to get everything ripe. The difference between “morning” and “afternoon” sides of the same rows became greater.
|Pretty high acidity!|
Sugar levels did continue to rise, albeit slowly. It became clear that much of this rise was more to do with evaporation within the grapes (and thus higher sugar by default) rather than an actual ripening process. The vines had effectively shut down.
And as for our de-leafing strategy? Well, on the Sipon we had some bunches with sunburn (so much for that theory), but mostly we had grapes that had hard skins, with searing acidity. For the Blaufrankisch (Modra Frankinja) things were better: the bunches were more open with a lower yield and no sunburn – although there was a little bit of raisining beginning to set in by the end of August.
|Sunburnt Sipon - should have used suncream... Note how unripe the gapes in the background are.|
Checks at the end of August indicated a very early harvest was on the cards – and one that could be very irregular – acidities and sugar levels were still all over the place.
I was reminded of a marathon – I can cycle until the cows come home, but running still eludes me – but in a marathon people talk about hitting “the wall”. As we came to the end of August, I really felt the vines were hitting the wall – they were tiring from the effort, the ground was parched, the fruit was heavy – and they just wanted to give up.
And then there was word of rain on the way. Never was something so hoped for, and yet so feared at the same time! Too much rain and everything would be ruined overnight – vines drinking up all that moisture and dumping it into the grapes, to have them rupture and rot straight away whilst still unripe. Or too little, and the vines go on struggling and will deliver unbalanced grapes. There was plenty of discussion as to what was the “right” amount of rain to wish for…
In the end, the rain came – and would keep some people happy, and other not so much. Typical of 2012!
|Rain on the way....hopefully...!|