Sunday, August 22, 2010

If You Save a Bee Do You Save Hummanity?

After dark, the Queen left a light on in the winery and a door ajar so when I went in to close it for the night I noticed a couple of bees circling the light. In the morning, I found a tired, sad, motionless bee on a counter. He was still alive. The evening before I had been measuring the sugar levels of grapes and there was still some sweet nectar left which I spooned up and offered the Bee. He took a sip and then another and quickly perked up and buzzed off, happy. Fresh grape juice: The Breakfast of Champions.

For Sunday: Theological Reflections:

If you save a bee, do you save all of mankind?

Since the flaps of a butterfly can cause a typhoon in Asia, by saving a bee have I unleashed a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico?

If you want a buzz, isn't grape juice the best?

If I who as a child was stung by and afraid of bees can now save one, is there not hope for reconciliation in the world?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Controlling Runaway Sugars & Harvest Date With Irrigation

At times I feel like an airplane captain charged with bringing this commercial flight in with the smoothest possible landing, especially after last year's fiasco when it was more like a jet fighter landing on an aircraft carrier at night slamming down the tail hook and almost skidding off the deck. I had already made an announcement to the passengers that this was the last chance to get up and stretch their legs as we would soon be preparing for landing (while our pilot friends in Napa Valley, far to the north of here, are just getting round to serving cocktails on their flight). The weather turned warm 9 days ago and as expected the sugars in the then purple grapes began to rise. It was time to check how much. I took a representative sample of 20 berries from each block measuring the juice with a refractometer. The results (as of 8 p.m. Aug. 20):

Tempranillo: 19.5 brix
Zinfandel: 21.5 brix
Petit Sirah: 16.0 brix

The shocker was the Zin, because the Tempranillo started and finished veraison before the Zin, and I was planning to harvest the Tempranillo first. In addition, I've been consistently irrigating the Zin with more water this year than last (when a heat wave struck this time last year sending the Zin sugars to 28 brix while the acid was still high).

I tasted the Zin grape juice, and sure enough, my mouth puckered at the tartness and extremely high acid. "Ladies and gentlemen this is the Captain. The good news is we're ahead of schedule, but on the ground there's a plane stuck in our gate. Air Traffic Control has put the Zin flight into a holding pattern." In other words, we're turning up the water (or in this case, planning to give it its normal irrigation). So, this morning (Aug 21) I watered the Tempranillo and Petit Sirah for 45 minutes (except for the 2 longest and most fruitful rows of PS which got none); the Grenache for 1 hour and the Zin for 2 hours.

If you're concerned about our precious water resources, the Blue-Merle's water usage in July was 43 HCF (31% less than our allocation) with a cost of $157 for 1,150 vines plus alpha (alpha being the "family fruit trees" avocados, macadamias, olives, figs, peaches, oranges, tangelos, lemons, limes, persimmons, kumquats, pomplemousse, etc. and the 47 Canary Island Palm trees the Queen purchased with our last savings at the start of the recession which are now worth more than our house).

For the record, the small block of Durif (aka Petit Sirah) vines at the bottom of the hill are done: the sugars taste perfect, the berries are wrinkled. These are always the first to budbreak in the Spring and the first to ripen. We'll let them go ... it's only a couple of gallons of juice at most and at harvest their over-ripeness will contribute rich flavors to the overall Petit Sirah harvest.

Seasonal warm weather is forecast for the next week with the Tempranillo and Petit Sirah flights preparing for smooth landings in September. I wonder how turbulent the Zinfandel approach will be and if the Captain's actions will deliver a harvest with perfect sugars, acid and pH?

Update as of August 28th:

Zinfandel: 23 brix; pH=3.15; TA = 1.35
Tempranillo: 22 brix; pH=3.6; TA = .94

Watered Zin last Saturday (full watering, about 1.5 hrs) and Tempranillo (about 45 minutes); watered Zin again on Tuesday in middle of heat wave; watered Zin today (Sat. 8/28) for one hour. No water for Tempranillo. Temperatures of turned seasonably cool today for end of August. Let's see what next week brings.) Here we are, watering a drought resistant plant, in order to control sugars and ripening. This is why we're wine growers, not grape growers.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Harvest Forecast

For the third morning in a row the fog has stayed in the valley below and now ripening is beginning in earnest as purple sour grapes build sugar. The Tempranillo and Petit Sirah have been netted. Most growers in California are forecasting a late harvest. For us, two weeks later would put our harvest in mid-September, a bit earlier for the Tempranillo, a bit later for the Petit Sirah, Grenache and Zin, and much later for the Aglianico. Time to think about storage requirements. Can we accommodate the fruit we're expecting?

Fruit set of the Petit Sirah was solid and required thinning. (We dropped about 20% of the fruit.) Last year, we only harvested about 400 lbs, which was reduced because of mildew damage. I'm going to guess 50% more this year plus we have an additional 30+ vines coming on line so I'll estimate close to 750 lbs. (close to a barrel). The Tempranillo harvest last year yielded 1.5 barrels of juice. I'm forecasting about the same this year, with perhaps a slight increase if our nets hold (less for the birds, more for us). I wouldn't be surprised if we got close to 2 barrels of it this year. The Zinfandel yield was 500 lbs. and 30 gallons of juice. The fruit set has been good. Perhaps a 20% increase this year as the vines are stronger and carrying more weight. So, about 600 lbs. The Grenache and Aglianico are wildcards. Fruit set was poor for both varietals. Last year, we harvested about 200 lbs. of Grenache, which yielded about 13 gallons of liquid. We have a significant increase in vines coming on line, but I'm not sure of the fruit. So, I'll estimate about 250 lbs. And, for the Aglianico, about the same. Therefore, the forecast for juice is below in gallons (and in parentheses I'll list containers for initial storage and settling after pressing):

Tempranillo: 100 gallons (80 gallon flex tank + 15 gallon stainless barrel + 1 carboy)
Petit Sirah: 50 gallons (48 gallon poly container)
Zinfandel: 40 gallons (1 15-gallon stainless barrel, 1 15-gallon glass carboy, 2 carboys)
Grenache: 15 gallons (3 carboys)
Aglianico: 15 gallons (3 carboys)

It looks like most of the storage is available, without needing to bottle last year's wine to free up space. Good news; we'll let the 2009 wines age longer before bottling, which should improve their quality.

I wonder if we'll be harvesting the Tempranillo Labor Day Weekend? And, when will the annual 3-Vineyard Harvest at Merlot Mike's take place?


Thinking about the harvest.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

New Vineyard Friend: (Don't Call Me Kitty) Carlyle

When our neighbors told us they were going away on vacation and asked us to take care of their cat how could we refuse? Especially after they told us he catches gophers. And, because he was going to be outside, there would be no litter box to clean. Carlyle is the skinniest, most undistinguished, runt of a cat you've ever seen. But the fact that he was going to spend nights outside in Coyote Country was impressive. The neighbors two week vacation was going to be his test of cathood, his first allnighters in the wild and no sooner did the neighbors leave that the coyotes, who had been on their own hiatus, came howling back to town in the valley below.

Our Japanese vineyard manager can't pronounce l's and the closest sound she can mimic is "r" so she calls him Carrow. "Isn't his name Karl Rove?" She's always watching Fox News when not vineyarding.

The vineyard needed spraying and as I walked down the rows of vines in my space suit Carlyle trotted faithfully behind while vineyard dog stayed in the shade under a tree, supervising. My new best friend in the vineyard. Then, Carlyle brought me a present (a mouse trying to get in the house, pictured above). Then I found the remains of an avocado-eating chipmunk. Yes, old Carlyle is a good cat. Bluey is still trying to figure out exactly who this "Carrow" is. The last time he tried to sniff his butt he almost got his eyes scratched out. Undeterred, Bluey chased Carlyle up a pepper tree, where he sat on a limb and smiled like the Cheshire cat. The neighbors came back and Carlyle had survived the coyotes and the Blue-Merle and we liked having him around so each day you can hear calls of "Karrrrooooow0, Karrrrooooooowwwo" and "here kitty, kitty, kitty" in the vineyard, and the prancing feline will make an appearance. Of course those catcalls are also triggers for the Blue-Merle, setting him off in a frantic search. It's good to have a new weapon to deploy against the chipmunks, who are boldly racing into the vineyard in search of purple grapes. Vineyard cat.