Friday, July 10, 2009

Growing Grapes Is For The Birds. Or Maybe Not.

I've been thinking about nets and their useful purposes. An African man and woman demonstrate a mosquito net for life at the Episcopal National Convention explaining how millions of lives can be spared from malaria with an inexpensive, simple net. Earlier in the week when serving breakfast at a food bank I wore a net over my head and not one hair from my follicular-challenged scalp fell into the salad. And as I wrapped and tied nets around the first rows of vines, my mind dreamed of black lace stockings on a loved one's legs.....

Back to reality: As the vines in Blue-Merle Country were the first to break bud back in March I shouldn't be surprised that the grapes are already turning purple and flocks of birds gathered in the Poplar trees at vineyard's edge to plan their assault. To the disappointment of the perfectionist Queen, our Bluey, the Australian sheep dog and 9-time award winning winemaker, is not a "bird" dog and proved useless. (As a distant cousin of Wiley Coyote, he's only interested in the Road Runner and Bugs Bunny.) There was nothing to do but take a break from the cluster thinning, the mildew cursing and the leaf pulling to bring down one of the nets purchased from Sandra of Old Coach Vineyards.

Now Sandra is very conscientious about the nets, and she had rolled them meticulously on a PVC pipe. By attaching a metal pipe to either end of the PVC pipe, two people can stand on either side of a row of vines and unwrap the netting on top of the vines. For the fourth time since Michelle Obama ran for First Lady I am really proud of my wife as we were able to unroll the net successfully until we came to the growing oak tree in the middle of the vineyard which created an obstacle we surmounted. When there wasn't a tree in the way the net unwound smoothly and we'd go back and pull the net from the top of the vines and join them underneath with ties. And it was tying those nets that I was reminded of manipulating black laced stockings another time of my life ....

Back to reality: The vines are not thick and not overgrown at the lower part of the vineyard but four rows are a veritable jungle rain forest and you never know what lurks in the midst. A pack of rabid coyotes? An escaped bear from a circus? The lair of the neighborhood mountain lion? There is a school of thought that says you don't cut back vigorous vines, because it will just force growth into laterals. And there is another school of thought that says it would be nice to be able to walk down the rows and we need to let light and air pass through as a hindrance to the return of mildew. We decided to ask an expert for advice and he said go ahead and "trim" them -- note the word "trim". So that Queen of ours took her machete and she went on a rampage and began hacking, sawing and cutting vines. Now this woman is not very tall, so she was cutting the vines under the top wire in some cases and what we were left with looked like a well hedged garden wall from the castle at Versailles. She had given the vines a military crew cut and they looked good enough to start charging admission to let the neighbors have a look. But are there enough leaves left to allow photosynthesis and the maturation of a sweet, delicious grape so that the Blue-Merle can make more wine and win more competitions than Tiger Woods and Roger Federer? Maybe I should just grow grapes for the birds. That is, after all, what mademoiselle vine wants to do, all decked out in her black lace stockings.

I have these nets and I might as well use them. I think I'll also borrow Joe the Wino's shotgun as it gets closer to the harvest just to give the crows a little warning now and then. Nevermore. Nevermore will you dine on the fruit of the vine. Meantime, Sandra from Old Coach Vineyards will have established colonies of hummingbirds in her vineyard to ward off other birds, and she'll identify which birds are in her vineyard and broadcast recordings of their distress call. As for us, "Owl" Gore -- our very capable barn owl, only works at night and is focused on field mice and everyone else's gophers except ours. Perhaps what I need is a great horned owl (code name: "Horney" Clinton), to chase the birds. But how will we keep this guy from taking down the laced stockings of mademoiselle vine?

(How would you suggest we deal with the birds in Blue Merle Country?)


Douglas H. said...

Love the Winemaker's Journal! I save every posting. Living in the Central highlands of Mexico I don't have much help or contact with other winemakers. I have a two year old 4 acre vineyard of Cab Franc, Cab Sauv, and Sauv blanc. I was given the grapes( all on rootstock from Nova Vines in Napa Valley) and they are all without identification. The Sauv Blanc are easy enough to identify with very different leaves and white grapes, but I need help identifying the Franc from the Sauv. Any possibility that you or one of your readers could help via photos??

Thanks and keep the good prose coming.

Douglas H.

Craig Justice said...

Greetings Douglas,
It's so nice to hear from you. What "state" in Mexico are you in? (We once purchased grapes from Guateloupe Valley -- fantastic!)Our vines are also from Novavines; we could ask Sam Caselli from there to take a look. Our mentor & friend Pete Anderson can also help. There is also a book that you can purchase (or perhaps look on line) to identify the grapes from their leaves. Of course, Cab Franc & Cab Sauv are related. The book may be published by UC Davis. Can you e-mail me the pictures? I'll post them to the website -- and perhaps our Super Heroine "Vino Girl" will also be able to assist. With so much to do in the vineyard these days, there is less time for writing. We're at @bluemerlewinery on Twitter and there is always time to write a powerful 140 characters of prose with punch.

Vinogirl said...

Wine grapes identifiable by petiolar and lateral sinuses. CF, u-shaped petiolar sinuses and the lateral sinuses often have teeth at their base. CS, overlapping lyre-shaped petiolar sinuses and laterals (appear like five round holes)...CS Is most identifiable, well maybe Chard also. Pinot Noir, not so easy.
It's not too hard to identify varietals. This book will help: