Growing Pains at Torrey Hill Vineyard

“Bad.” “Bad.”

“No. Very bad.”

“This is very bad.”

“OK. “

“Next one bad.”

Jesus systematically worked his way down the vineyard row, pronouncing judgment on each plant. Together, he and I embarked on our most aggressive winter pruning project yet. We were cutting back dead canes to dead cordon arms to dead trunks, looking for signs of life. We kept cutting back until we saw sticky, wet sap pooling at the wood’s cut surface, a sure sign the vine’s xylem is intact. And then we cut back even more, past any visible trunk cankers.

I already knew we had some dead vines. In fact, since purchasing Torrey Hill Vineyard in 2012, we’ve put our heart and soul into vineyard rehab. Of 500 odd vines, we have already pulled and replanted over 150. Some are finally ready for grafting. Others succumbed to the scourge of California drought and need to be replanted yet again. And the job isn’t complete. Even today we still face scattered dead vines. In November, we sent out lab work to pinpoint the exact microbe responsible for our declining yields. Results pointed to Botryosphaeria species, a more aggressive form of truck canker disease. It’s a fungal pathogen that infects and affects the trunk. Trunk cankers manifest years after the initial infection. Early signs include stunted shoots and fewer grape clusters. But eventually shoots fail to sprout at all, and the vine withers and dies. The good news is that we can salvage some of our oldest vines by cutting back infected wood below the fungal lesion. Hopefully those vines will grow healthy shoots in 2015, which we can lay down as a new cordon arm in 2016. Fingers crossed, these vines will be productive again within a 2-year cycle. But as the day wore on, I was more of a hindrance than help. It broke my heart to pull the trigger and cut back each and every affected vine. I feared we’d have nothing left for the 2015 harvest cycle.

“Hey, how come you never say good?” I pestered him, only half joking.

“OK,” he replied, pointing to the healthiest vine in the row.

We kept at it for hours. Carefully assessing every individual vine, one at time, from cane to cordon to trunk. We kept some vines with limited production, but only because I was making him crazy. We could pull and replant those ones in 2016, as the newly grafted vines were becoming productive. Others were cut back low to the ground, the saw wound sealed with antifungal paint.

All of this is part of a grand vision for Torrey Hill Vineyard. We’re hoping to add around 1400 vines this year, bringing our old school ‘60’s planting schema into the 21st century. We are switching to 4 x 3.5 spacing, inter-planting both our existing rows and between existing vines. And we have secured certified Martini clone budwood from a wonderful Sonoma County farmer. Although we need to replant and update our vines, we intend to maintain the integrity of our clonal selection. Martini clone is not trendy, but it’s historically rich and aromatically special.

All of this is just to say, please be patient while we work with our viticulture team from Atlas and focus on quality yields. Our current and forthcoming home ranch crops will be small. But the wine will be delightful. Get it while you can, even if your allocation is small. We’re envisioning near-triple production down the road. Stick with me. It’s getting better every year!

Dark brown/black wood canker infecting a shoot position



Wood canker in a cordon arm