The grapevine, though often resilient, is also a sensitive plant. It responds to its environment in countless ways, each and every influence affecting the entire plant. As is the case with any garden, crop, or orchard, there is a direct and observable correlation between how a plant is tended during every stage of its growth and season and how well, as a result, it flourishes.

We often hear from guests at our estate that our vineyards appear to be “manicured”; and, indeed, in the hands of vineyard manager Javier Aviña and his experienced crew, they are exactly that. From the time the rootstock goes into the ground to the first time the vines bear fruit, and then throughout each subsequent growing season, estate vines are tended to by hand, not only collectively but individually, with each distinct plant receiving the care, attention, and nutrients it needs to produce fruit full of character and benefiting completely from its terroir.

“Garden as though you will live forever.”
William Kent

Like a chef overseeing a well-tuned kitchen, Aviña educates and trains his staff in every detailed aspect of proper viticulture, empowering them with the skills they need in order to replicate his farming techniques in the vineyard. When planting rootstock, for example, Aviña teaches his crew that the eventual success of the vineyard will rest on the “uniform planting depth for each vine. This will ensure that we get a good start on developing balance in the vineyard. Additionally, we like to give each plant a good rooting zone, free of rocks so the whole root system can grow freely.”

Once the vines have taken to the earth, they sometimes require grafting—which, according to Aviña, necessitates the use of only the best buds. “This means that they are clean,” he says, “and look good and healthy. Specifically, we make sure they are completely green and there is no dead tissue. I instruct the team how to use a knife to make sure of this.”

Aviña’s penchant for meticulousness has resulted in great continuity in farming throughout the three Peter Michael estate vineyards. “Throughout every vineyard, the overall philosophy remains the same; but of course, there are some adjustments because every vineyard is unique,” Aviña continues. “I take into account the terroir, the varietal, and the age of the block and make changes accordingly. But the goal and standard of achieving the highest quality remain constant.”

Teams walk the steep slopes of the Knights Valley Estate to manage the vine canopy with hedging and shoot positioning.

Much of all of this is achieved through pruning, a crucial process that sets the stage for attaining balance in the vines and maintaining the well-being of the vineyard. Therefore, Aviña chooses only the most experienced members of his crew to perform this precise task. “They need to have at least two years of experience with the team, preferably with pruning specifically. Whenever we start to prune, I spend as much time as possible with the pruning crews to make sure they understand the technique and philosophy. It is important that they make correct decisions, select the best positions, with the buds pointing in the same direction, and that they’re making precise cuts.”

When his crew is implementing shoot positioning, Aviña says he watches the first pass very closely, because “this is when the shoots are most flexible, but also are the most sensitive to damage. Mistakes made during this pass will reflect and magnify throughout the rest of the growing year. This is a critical step in guiding the plant in the correct way and helps prevent us from having to make drastic changes in subsequent passes, allowing the plant to grow actively and without damage.”

An intuitive farmer, Aviña prefers performing his viticultural duties by hand, without the assistance of machines, and demands the same from his crew. “We do all the hedging by hand, using shears—no mechanical trimming. This is hard and tiring work for the crew, but I believe the result is the best for the success of the vineyard. Mechanical trimming can damage or harm the tissue, leaving potential for disease. This can also impact the canopy. When hedging, I always watch that the cuts are clean—no bent or smashed shoots—and that the resulting canopy is uniform throughout the vineyard block. We look for a canopy height of 40 to 46 inches, depending on the vineyard block and varietal.”

With an even and well-managed canopy, the grower can be assured the grape clusters will receive the right amount of sunlight and air circulation right up until harvest time. Still, Aviña sometimes instructs his crew to remove clusters that may be too far behind in ripening or that look as though they may not fully ripen. “When making a pass to thin the clusters, anything that was late to veraison [the onset of ripening] is removed. This allows the vine to concentrate on the clusters that are on time and to continue ripening evenly. We make sure not to disturb the clusters we leave, and that we cleanly remove anything we cut.”

Postharvest at the Oakville Estate, Adilio Romero and team inspect each vine, removing any soil or weeds growing too close to the vines to ensure that no soil is left at the graft unions before it goes dormant for the winter.

Harvest time is the culmination of all the hard work Aviña and his crew perform in the vineyard throughout the growing season. It’s crucial to provide precise and specific instruction on how the clusters should be harvested. “Once we are ready to pick, the most important instruction is to remove the clusters in the cleanest way possible,” he says. “By clean, I mean no dust or leaves in the picking bins—nothing but good, clean clusters. We take special care to not damage or disturb the berries or the structure of the clusters. We want to maintain the integrity of the berry and cluster all the way down to the crush pad. This includes making clean cuts of the stems, not overfilling the picking bins, and making sure no fruit is being crushed as we stack the bins.”

After harvest, the cycle of the vine begins again, with Aviña overseeing the individual health of each vine through dormancy and into the next growth cycle. “Healthy vines are absolutely critical to the success of our vineyard,” he says. “It’s what keeps the growth balanced and what drives the ripening process to achieve the highest quality fruit possible. This is why throughout the growing season, we continually monitor and analyze every vineyard block. We do this through tissue analysis, such as petiole [the stalk that attaches the leaf to the stem] and leaf testing, but in the end, the most important tool in assessing the health of the vineyard is our own eyes. This is why you constantly will see me walking the vineyard, observing the crew, and making sure it is meeting and exceeding our expectations of quality.”

With 1,200 acres under his purview and 192 of those planted to vineyard, Aviña has come to know our estate vineyards intimately over the last three decades; he and his crew not only manage and care for them, they are now, in fact, an actual part of the terroir of the Peter Michael Winery estate, with their singular and thoughtful efforts consistently translated into each bottle of wine.


New vines are planted only when required and positioned at a uniform depth to develop balance in the vineyard. A rooting zone is cleared of rocks so the whole root system can grow freely.


Once the vines have taken to the earth, they sometimes require grafting. Buds are inspected with a knife to ensure they are healthy: completely green with no dead tissue.


Setting the stage for attaining balance in the vines, pruning also maintains the overall well-being of the vineyard.

Shoot positioning

The first pass is the most critical to direct the flexible, young shoots to grow correctly. Great care is taken so as to not damage them, which would be magnified throughout the growing season.


A component of canopy management in which excess primary and lateral shoot growth is removed from the top and sides of the canopy to maintain desired light exposure of leaves, fruit, and developing buds.


Teams use hand shears to gently harvest each cluster. Average yields are low at only 1 to 3 tons per acre. Fruit is loaded into small 20-pound lugs and transferred directly to the winery.