This is the time of year when things start to slow down enough that you take new stock of what's around you. Harvest is mostly done (look for more on this later in the week). The days are getting quite short, and the nights notably cooler. The quality of the light changes with the lower sun angles, with richer yellows to the sunlight. And the vineyard is responding, with the vine leaves losing chlorophyll and the yellows, oranges, and reds emerging for their brief autumn before everything fades to brown with the first frost.
A Mourvedre vine will give you an idea. We're done with our harvesting here, although as you see there is the occasional second-crop cluster remaining. These will provide treats for our animal herd as we get them back out in the vineyard.
Though the bright green of summer fades in all cases, not every grape's foliage colors up so dramatically, as you can see from Roussanne, below, which turns more yellow than red. Roussanne is the only grape for which we have any significant crop remaining on the vines:
Even as we finish up this year's harvest, we're getting the vineyard ready for winter. This means seeding the cover crop that will hold the soil in place during our (hopefully) torrential el nino rains this winter, and putting out the compost that we've been making all year. The compost spreader, poised and ready:
It hasn't come close to freezing yet -- our lowest nighttime low this fall has been 42° -- but we typically get our first frost night sometime between late October and mid-November. These frosts are a good thing for the vines, in that they force them into dormancy. Right now, relieved of their crop and with warm sun still available, many of our vines (like the Tannat vine below) have started growing new leaf growth at the end of this year's canes:
In this climate, a grapevine's late-season growth serves no purpose, as the energy and carbohydrates needed to fuel the new growth will be lost at first frost and would be better stored in the root system for next spring. So, bring on our chilly nights.
As for the weather outlook, we've had some cool, unsettled weather over the last few days, including 0.08" of rain on Thursday (we posted a video of one of these cloudbursts on our Facebook page) and daytime highs in the mid-70s. It's supposed to warm up a bit over the next week, before a series of fronts start to weaken California's high pressure and are predicted to eventually open California to the westerly rain-bringing winds. If all goes as planned, we'll welcome our first winter storms around Halloween.
I'll leave you with one final photo, which feels to me even more fall-like than the others. I took it near our straw-bale barn, in the bowl at the center of our vineyard. We have trained the Mourvedre vines there up high to allow cold air (that in the spring can bring damaging frosts) to more easily drain underneath them. One second-crop cluster remained, among mostly-brown leaves and a nascent cover crop. Soon enough, the whole vineyard will look like this: