Just Call Me Sneezy…Dopey and Grumpy

The photo must have been circa 1982 or ’83. I had Farrah Fawcett feathered hair and wore a pink Lacoste collar shirt with horizontal stripes, actually yellow, blue, and orange horizontal stripes. Remember that cautionary advice warning chubby kids against horizontal stripes? It was with good reason. I sported both a head-gear and a neck gear. And I was smiling - a 40,000 watts of shiny metal smile. Around that same time, my allergies blossomed into a full-fledged affliction. I walked around with wads of tissues spilling from my pockets. Limp snippets of Kleenex residua clung to my clothes, remnants from ones forgotten in pockets and shredded by the washing machine. I was nerdy and noisy. I remember blowing my nose so hard in history class that I actually honked. I failed allergy shots. I freaked out my babysitter with unpredictable asthma attacks. And I had a head-gear. And a neck gear. And blue rubber bands that occasionally snapped off and flew out of my mouth when I talked. As adults, we all learn to love ourselves more and forgive imperfections. In fact I’m wearing horizontal stripes as I write this (bitty, thin ones). But every now and then something triggers a flashback. It might be the glimpse of newspaper photo, the thread of a song, or even a smell. For me, it’s the inability to smell. After 20+ years of vanquishing my snot with daily nasal spray and allergy eye drops, my allergies have emerged from hibernation with a new vengeance.

I’ve never spent a May in Sonoma County. With the kid’s school schedules, I’d spend the requisite April spring break week up here and then wait to decamp for summer. If I had to come north for work, it was for a day or two at most. And I was not in a vineyard or a garden or frankly anywhere outside. May is spectacular here, don’t get me wrong. Pink sunlight breaks by 5:20 am. The days are long, and everything is verdant and blooming. I can actually see pollen in the air. It’s thick and sticky and following me, like a swarm of bees singularly chasing Charlie Brown in a comic strip. I am serially congested. Just plucking some herbs from my backyard garden incited a sneezing spasm. And locals say I still have around 4 weeks to go. But this is a wine blog, not the Archives of Allergy.  Let's talk vines.

Down below, you’ll see a terrific picture of a baby shoot emerging from a bud. Mark Pisoni snapped this picture from one of the Bruliam blocks at Soberanes around the third week of April. In grapevines, flowering normally occurs within 8 weeks of bud break. And the vines self-pollinate. When the pollen is mature and most allergy worthy, the fused dome of petals ruptures and dumps a deluge of pollen into the stigma. Scientists can measure pollen levels in the surrounding air and extrapolate to predict fruit yield (Cunha et al). In fact, Jackson notes, “warm, sunny conditions favoring aerial pollen dispersal correlate with the conditions that favor self-pollination (pg 70). Well, duh. My post nasal drip and weepy eyes are a predictive barometer, too. This May has indeed been gorgeous, dry, warm, and sunny, with gentle breezes to intensify those punishing pollen allergens. By the time I emerge from my Claritin haze, fruit set will be over.


 Works Cited:

1. Cunha, Abreu, Pinto, and de Castro, Airborne Pollen Samples for Early-Season Estimates of Wine Production in a Mediterranean Climate Area of Northern Portugal Am. J. Enol. Vitic. 2003 54:189-194

2. Jackson, Ronald, Wine Science Principles and Applications, 3rd ed., Elsevier, 2008.