It's been a year since we celebrated the blessing of the vines, and we have many blessings to be thankful. Here are some of the lessons we've learned along the way. I'm sure there will be many more.
* When pruning first year wines in the winter after the first growing season, do not prune them too high above the cordon wire. Some people recommend two inches above the cordon. Others recommend just below the cordon. In any event, don't go above two inches. (Alternatively, if you want to take more time to develop a strong root system, you can prune down to the bottom of the vine, to establish a very strong trunk in year two -- then in year 3, prune at the cordon wire to establish the cordons. This approach takes longer, but will result in a strong root system.)
* As much as you would rather be tying vines and pruning in the winter/spring, get the gophers! (Get them early to avoid multiplication of the problem after they breed!)
* After the first year, don't hesitate to prune any weak cordons. I know, you worked hard all summer to grow those first cordons, but if they're weak, prune them off in the winter before spring. You'll be amazed at the strength of the new cordons which grow out -- and you'll have a much stronger cordon.
* You don't have to put vines on a trellis system, especially if you're making a micro vineyard.
* Study the theory of vine spacing. Some people like 6 feet spacing or more. Others will insist you cannot make great fruit if the cordons are too far apart.
* If you can cold soak must after picking and crush, do it! A few days of soaking allows color and "fruit" to enter into the must, without harsh tannins. You can use containers (used milk, orange juice cartons filled with water then turned to ice from the freezer) to keep the must cool. If you put in dry ice, watch out for a bubbling volcano!
* Be wary of storing wine in new, small oak barrels that have not been rinsed thoroughly and broken in (the wine may become over-oaked within two weeks!)
* Even though you over-oaked the wine, be patient. The harsh flavor will dissipate with time.--Patience is a winemaker's virtue.
* Don't attach a sulphur stick to a rubber bung when sulphuring a barrel. When the sulphur burns, it may melt the rubber (not a pleasant tasting addition for a barrel).
* If you don't get all the sulphur out of the barrel, your wine may have the nose of used matchsticks.
* When selecting a home-site for a vineyard, a mountain top offers fabulous views and excellent drainage, but flat land is easier to walk on, develop and maintain. (Retaining walls may be more expensive to construct than your vineyard!)
* Don't buy a house in the country just because your dog needs more room. If the coyotes and the snakes don't get him, the foxtails will.
* Inspect the dog's toes for foxtails twice a day, or withdraw $2,000 from the ATM to pay for the upcoming visit to the vet.
* In the long run it's cheaper to purchase $25/bottle wine from the local winery than to make your own. (But not nearly as fun.)
* Don't leave your cases of wine in the garage if the temperatures rest at 90 degrees for a month or so. The wine will oxidize, turn brownish and change taste. Said one taster: Hmm, reminds me of 'medicino'--A polite way to say the Syrah had turned to medicine!
* Just because a self-proclaimed wine judge doesn't ooh and aah over the best bottle of wine you ever made doesn't mean it's not an award-winning concoction!
* If you live in southern California where sharpshooters are present, inocculate your first year vines against Pierce's disease.
*Seen on a T-Shirt: "I spent most of my money on wine and women. The rest of it I wasted!
*Things that go bump in the dark: Watch out for scorpions when getting a glass of water in the middle of the night.
* Watch out for black widows when pulling the cover off of your wine containers.
* A glass of white wine isn't so bad if you've only been quaffing red for the last year.
* The rabbits will eat the buds and first leaves from your newly planted roots -- put the plastic covers on, fool!
(To be continued.)