Monday, June 8, 2009

Cancer Discovered In The Vineyard: Powdery Mildew

This is not funny. Really. It's as bad as the consequences of unsafe sex. There's a cancer in the vineyard. And it was as easy to prevent as eating broccoli, brushing a dog's teeth or using a condom.

Was it a result of playing golf on Sunday instead of vineyarding? Was it the revenge of the Three Priests for skipping Church? Did three weeks of unseasonably cool weather, thick fog and drizzle create ideal conditions for it?

There are simple rules in this life: eat your vegetables; check the dog's toes for foxtails; spray your vineyard. Two out of three ain't good enough.

At daybreak Monday Bluey & I went to the lower part of the vineyard where I hadn't been for a while and noticed a bunch of Petit Sirah with white frosting. I cut it off. Then noticed it on another bunch. Mission control, we have a problem: Powdery Mildew.

My experiment in not spraying the vineyard has been terminated with extreme prejudice.

The temperature stayed below 70 degrees today so the infestation did not spread, much. I should have been out in the vineyard holding hands this evening with my sweetheart watching the midsommar sunset and the full-moon rise but instead I was rushing to cut leaves to open up the canopy and scrambling to the top of the hill to fill a backpack sprayer with 4-gallons of water and X-amount of wettable sulphur. The directions said to apply 2 lbs. - 10 lbs. per acre of grapes and we have two acres planted but it doesn't say a thing about how many grams of sulphur to add per liter of water or how many ounces per gallon. So I took my best guess and stirred in the brown powder which disolved nicely in the water and put the sprayer on my back and pumped the handle to build pressure and nothing came out. What next? Momentarily deflated, but not defeated, I sent out an SOS to Coyote Karen to borrow her sprayer and I suggested to the Queen that we call Fidel to help us spray and she started singing her song:
That Fidel I am
That Fidel I am
I do not like that Fidel I am

And the Kabuki play continued about how it's her vineyard and if I think for a minute I have anything to do with it or if it's half-mine then she's leaving or "you should go to China" and she's carrying on about Fidel this (it's his fault the valves are leaking!) and Fidel that (he owes me $2,000 for the work he didn't do!) while the Man in the Moon is coming up and Bluey (bless his heart a dog without a tail) puts his stub between his legs and finds a corner to ride out the storm. This is why hurricanes have female names. Peace is restored when I lie that it's 100% her vineyard, pour her a glass of wine (instead of cutting her off) and promise not to call Fidel, that rascal.

The good news is that the mildew is located in the lower part of the vineyard and we can still save most of the Tempranillo, all of the Zinfandel and all of the Grenache. I have tasted award winning Tempranillo wine made from 3-year old San Diego vines and our vines are ready and willing to give us grape. Philosophically, my wanting to save the grapes is a good thing but if I loose them then I should just give them up because it's just a possession and possessions are temporary and in the end we're just ashes and the vines wither. I'm a mother with a baby inside and despite what the queen says it's my vineyard too and I'm fearful of a miscarriage and so I'm fighting.

Questions: If a bunch of grapes have a little bit of Powdery Mildew can they be saved? How much wettable sulphur powder should I add per gallon?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Take That Post and Shove[l] It!

I broke another end post this evening and this time it wasn't my fault. Really. Now please tell me the best way to repair it.

The first post was demolished last year when the pick up truck slid off the mud path at the top of the hill and careened down the vineyard resting against the post. (For the record, this post was broken by the rescue crew when they wrapped their pulley wire around it as leverage to yank the truck out). As this was before The Recession and before the Queen had spent the last of our life savings on 47 Phoenix canariensis palm trees and before the college raised the Princess' tuition above $50K/year, we let Fidel and the guys fix it.

The 2nd post was knocked down by the branches of a falling pepper tree I chopped down. Now that was stupid and my fault. And this time, there was no one to repair it but yours truly, the guy who still can't tie a slip knot. Those were the days of economic woe when men became men and relearned the arts of self reliance and I figured out how to wrap wire around a pole, connect two wires with a gripple and use the gripple/wire tensioning device. No matter how much the Queen dislikes Fidel, I'll say he sure does good wiring. My work was not as elegant as his. But we repaired the pole before the vines burst their buds in spring and it's still standing and I was proud. That was the day I earned my rite-of-passage to the order of vineyardistos.
Unlike dominoes, which, when the first one falls they all fall, the felling of an end post is not as great a catastrophe as I had feared, and to which I can now attest as, regrettably, I have become something of an expert in this area. What happens is the vines between the end post and the next trellis stake loose their support; but the vines after the support stake hang in there.

I am in denial when I say the demise of the third pole this evening was not my fault. In fact, pride was my downfall. I was so proud of myself that I had finally figured out how to use the wire tightening device, that, after coming home from work on Tuesday I said to the Queen, "Let's go tighten some loose wires and I'll show you how to do it." So Bluey, Her Highness and I (sans Fidel) marched to the top of the hill and I attached the wire tightening device to the gripple, grabbed the wire, pulled and tightened. Vines shifted and the wire straightened. Then, I pulled in the other direction tightening again.

As I inspected the vines, I noticed the wire had become more loose away from the center where I was tightening. That was odd. Was I doing something wrong? I called the Queen and asked her to check my logic: "If I'm shortening the length of the wire, then the wire should be getting tighter, right?" To show her, I attached the tightening device to the gripple, pulled and tightened again. We walked down the row and as I approached the end, indeed, the line was even more loose than before. "How could that be?" I asked in disbelief.

"Look at the end post!" she said (without adding "you idiot"), and then I realized it was broken. Had I pulled too tight? Was the pole rotten from being close to water? Had termites destroyed it? It was too dark to tell. I held up the pole while the Queen ran down the mountain to the garage to bring back wire cutters and we cut the wires, removed the pole and left four vines at the mercy of rabbits who will find a feast of vines if they venture to the area. At this point night had fallen and we headed down the mountain and there was a bottle of Old Coach Vineyards decanted wine waiting for us after I brushed Bluey, checked his paws for foxtails, and set the mouse traps for the evening.

The morning inspection revealed that the rabbits were merciful to the prostrate vines and that the post was not rotten. I noticed there was no concrete at the top of the hole area, so my suspicion is that the hole was not filled with enough concrete during installation. (For the record, we used 10 ft. poles on this section and an auger that drilled into the DG at least 3 ft. The standard practice was to add 2 bags of cement per hole.) I suspect I pulled too tightly on the top wire putting tremendous pressure on the post. But what do I know?

What do you think happened and how do you suggest we replace the end post and repair the wires?

San Diego's Fillies Win in Wine: Old Coach Vineyards

Fillies are winning more than major horse races. They are making kick-ass vineyards better than the guys. Winemaker's Journal kicks off a series of reports on "San Diego Women in Wine" with Sandy from Old Coach Vineyards.

Sandy's European grandmothers, who were winemakers, allowed her to taste wine in their cellars as a young child, planting the seeds which sprouted into Old Coach. The founding of her winery goes back 20 years when the 41-acre property was acquired at the end of a dirt road surrounded by nothing. (Encroaching development has it situated a T-shot from the renowned Maderas Golf Club in Poway, CA.) Founded as a llama ranch in 1988, Sandy planted her first vines in 2003, and she's still planting. Over 5 scenic acres of Syrah, Petit Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet, Mourvedre, Tempranillo vines and more recently Italian clones including Primitivo and Nebbiolo. She, and other San Diego vintners, see a bright future for "the Italian" varietals grown in the region, and she planted another 600 Aglianico potted vines last week. The llamas, house, winery and most of the vines survived the October 2007 wildfires inspiring the name for the 2007 "Firestorm" blend.

The building housing the former llama nursery, six llama stalls and the vet lab has been converted into the crush pad, fermentation and bottling space. Sandra used her Bobcat to create an impressive naturally cooled cellar into the hillside which contains the cellaring operations. Like many winemakers these days, Old Coach uses 100-gallon and 300-gallon flex tanks, the Australian pioneered breathable tanks which are easy to maintain and allow for micro-oxidation of the wine as if it were in oak barrels. The attention to detail and quality in the cellar, vineyard and wine are impressive. Early on, she threw out a batch of Zinfandel made from three year old vines, because it didn't meet her standards (I bet the coyotes howled in delight!) "We've found that by aging wine for two years before bottling the results are better," she said.

During a tour of the vineyard, Sandra mentioned she watered the vines 3 times a week (an unusual routine not often encountered by Winemaker's Journal). Two emitters are on either side of each vine, and Pete Anderson, vineyard instructor from Mira Costa Community College suggested that the vine roots had grown into a ball near the surface (since deep watering was not used). Pete recommended she experiment with deep watering on one row once a week.

Determining the correct amount of water to use has been a real challenge at the site, because of granite domes and impenetrable rock formations not far under the surface. Despite the adverse conditions, with Sandy's perseverance the vineyard has taken hold.

Sandy loves to drive her Bobcat. Not only did she dig out the cave, she used it to terrace the land and dig holes for the end posts. She grew up on a farm in the Midwest, so farming is in her blood, and she does much of the vineyard work herself. A thick, leaf-dripping fog you can almost swim in has swept in this evening, and she's itching to get on her tractor and spray the vines to protect them from a mildew infestation.

When I visited again a few days later, she was strapped into the Bobcat, drilling post holes with an auger into compact decomposed granite. "See what I have to work with," she says about the lousy soil.

She decided to forgo nets three years ago, and establishes colonies of humming birds with feeders placed strategically throughout the vineyard. "Humming birds are aggressive and will keep away the other birds," she says. She also employs a computerized sound system that emits various bird distress calls. "I'll be out there and it will sometimes sound like a bird is getting killed -- but it's just the recording of a bird in distress. I've selected bird calls on microchips specific to the species we have in the vineyard, and it works. We don't start using the recordings until as late as possible -- otherwise the birds will catch on [that they're being tricked]."

Sandy and her son Jason (a certified financial planner during the day and 4th generation winemaker) have won 25 awards in San Diego's and Orange County's annual wine competitions which encouraged them to get bonded and begin selling their wines. I purchased one of their 2006 Petit-Sirah's on-line for $25 and was not disappointed and Bluey (cellar master of our winery) gave it 3-licks (always a good sign) and the wife and I fought over the last glass (always a good sign). Since there is no tasting room for the public, the wines are sold through an on-line cellar club, over the Internet and to a few upscale restaurants.

An award winner. One of San Diego's finest. Founded and run by a woman. Old Coach Vineyards.