“Everything in moderation” often guides many of our personal choices and can foster spiritual, emotional and physical wellness.
The great 12th century Jewish thinker and physician Maimonides so valued moderation that he believed wisdom and virtue came from finding passion in the middle between excess and deficiency.
Striking a balance is crucial in cultivating grapes, too, especially in June – one of the most beautiful months in the vineyard.
The vines stretch tall, the leaves fill out the rows, grape clusters swell bigger every day, the sun warms the hillside, and best of all – it’s leaf-pulling time!
Leaf-pulling is one of my favorite vineyard tasks, mostly because of the creativity it demands. The goal is to pull certain leaves off the vine and move shoots in a way that gives each grape cluster just the right amount of sun and just the right amount of airflow. You start with a jungle – an absolute mess of squirrelly vines going this way and that – and, like a puzzle, you have to decide which pieces to move where and which parts to remove to get the final perfect picture that you’re looking for.
We strive for just the right amount of sunlight and airflow through leaf-pulling. But how do we know what that just-right amount is? It depends on a couple of factors.
Let’s talk about sunlight first. Sunlight on grape clusters allows each berry to sweeten and grow thicker skin, which means a higher concentration of anthocyanins (the aromatic molecules that give wine its flavor). More anthocyanins = more deliciousness, so we definitely want those! But we don’t want too much sun. Too much can sunburn our berries and result in wines that taste more like grape jelly than wine. We don’t want that! So we need just the right amount of sunlight through a dappled effect. We pull just a few leaves, in key locations around each cluster, to create the perfect “dappled light” effect.
On the north side of the vineyard, where the sun is a little less strong and direct, we pull more leaves, exposing clusters to more light. But on the southern side of the vineyard, where the afternoon rays are hot and strong, we pull fewer leaves and leave the vines a little more shade. Here in Encinitas, we get more foggy days than most vineyards do, so we pull more leaves than other San Diego vineyards would. This leaves our clusters exposed a little more than is standard, but it’s the only way to go for this area. Great results require knowing your vineyard, your weather, and what each individual grape cluster needs.
The second reason that we leaf pull is to increase airflow around where the fruit is in the vineyard. Grapevines are susceptible to a wide variety of different harmful fungi that will eat the grapes before we can, if they’re able to! Fungi thrive in damp, still areas (think: your bathroom), so instead we create an environment that is dry and breezy. We allow air to flow through and dry up any moisture that’s on the grapes so that fungi have a harder time surviving.
It’s a really fun challenge to look at every single grape cluster in the vineyard and create the perfect surroundings for it to be happy. It’s a little bit like a puzzle, and a little bit like art, and that’s one of the reasons why I love leaf-pulling so much.
We’ll be doing a lot of leaf-pulling in the vineyard for the next few months, so come on out and try it for yourselves!