Enjoy the fourth story from Brittany Komm, Senior Viticulturist for Precept Wine.

(July) came in as EF2 tornado and went out as an EF5.

There really is no way to adequately summarize July; it came in as EF2 tornado and went out as an EF5: increasingly intense! After almost 2.5 years of evading the nasty Covid virus, it finally caught up with me just before July 4. I was vaccinated, but not boosted. I felt overall fine leading up to my positive test; just a little cough that I chalked up to allergies and bloom pollen, since I had been shoulders-deep in grape canopies for the last month working on yield estimates. But my joints also felt swollen and arthritic. I have had arthritis in both of my knees since my teens; they are pretty good rain predictors ?. Feeling this in all my joints was odd. Was it fatigue? Stress? On July 2, just in case, I took a test before bed, and it came back with the faintest ever positive line. Retesting the next morning, July 3, that positive line came up brighter than the sun (on three separate tests). By July 4, all I wanted to do was sleep.

I am fortunate enough to work for a company where I get paid time off until I am feeling better or test negative. My job is a little different than others in the wine industry because I can easily isolate myself from other people and still work. Therefore, I never really stopped working while I was sick. There was a lot going on: I was still communicating daily with our Yakima Valley crews; with Samuel, my vineyard foreman at the Walla Walla Vineyard; and with Emily, my viticulture tech. Emily really stepped up to the plate this year (this is her first full summer working with me in the vineyards); she took on tasks I would not typically ask a first-year tech to do. I went out a few different times for only a couple hours each because that was all I had the energy to do; it was mite season and blocks needed scouting. I also needed to see how bloom was progressing in our Walla Walla Vineyard (I live nearby). I was down for a little over two weeks, but to this day (early September), I am not yet fully recovered.

July had so many moving parts at all our vineyards. The vines were getting their second “haircuts” of the vintage (hedged), canopies were both hand- and machine-leafed. Wires were quickly moved up to catch all the loose shoots before the hedgers and leafers went through the blocks. Fungicide sprays continued at night due triple-digit, soaring temperatures in the day. Carrying out all these canopy management tasks with those temperatures frequently creeping over 100 degrees proved tricky. We made sure we were leafing the morning side of the canopies and would stop working when temperatures reached 90 degrees. Any sunburn damage was minimal overall.

See the progression of hedging below:

Through all of this, we were all out diligently looking for the first signs of color in the vineyards, aka veraison. Sadly, July came and went with no sighting of any purple berries or translucent white berries.

Just as July came in, it went out even stronger. Some sightings of mildew started popping up in various vineyard blocks. For a vineyard manager this is a gut punch; especially for me since I take such great pride in my spray programs. I run tight intervals every 14 days, consistently tank-mix with either sulfur or oil, choose my chemicals judiciously, and I am continuously checking the sprayer with spray cards (I haven’t seen any mildew flare-ups since 2018!). So, for both Samuel and I, this was disheartening. As bad as this sounds, I was consoled when I later learned other growers in the valley were dealing with mildew as well. This issue was not isolated to any one grower, AVA, or vineyard.

July also marks for the first time ever a month when we brought in contract crew to help with leaf removal and fruit thinning. Available labor is scant. Compounding that, the springtime shoot-thinning we forwent (to ensure a bounty) meant the canopies were much denser, creating more leaves to remove. Cluster sizes were also returning to normal, predicating the need for more dropped fruit…and more necessary labor.

Between the toll of catching Covid, scathing Valley temperatures, the first signs of mildew in many years, and managing vigorous vines, it’s fair to call July a fierce whirlwind, one that left me not only physically weary but also mentally drained. Still, we persevere!

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Breaking Ground // Breaking Ground Stories // Brittany Komm // Brittany Komm // Read //


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