Thursday, July 28, 2011

Vineyard Cross-Training

Thursday morning is trash day so Bluey and I enter the vineyard as the sun rises and pick up two bundles of roped sticks then march down the hill to the bottom of the driveway with me pumping sticks along the way to build the biceps and he chewing sticks showing that a smart Aussie can chew sticks and trot at the same time (while I'm wondering if he's so smart then why doesn't he get out of the way of the newspaperdeliveryman's car as he drives up the road). We place the bundles down then jog along the road 100 yards or so until the spot where the hill drops off then jog back to the driveway up into the vineyard until we come to the next pile of sticks. Repeat. Then repeat, until all stick bundles have been cleared. Cross training.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Netting of the Vines

The game of cat & mouse (better described as the Queen vs. The Birds), began yesterday. Today, the netting of the vines unfolds as the Queen hacks at shoots giving them a "military" haircut. "Take that, buchink! And that!" she shouts in Japanese as she clips and snips. "Basari!" It's no use for me suggesting diplomatically that perhaps, sweetheart, this shoot has been left too short without enough foliage to ripen the grapes, so the best I can do is inhale, relax, then pick up her cuttings (normally her job) and assist her pull the net over the vines (when you're just 5' tall this is a challenging task), then head to the top of the hill to fetch her a fresh lime from the tree and squeeze it into a Corona. ("Who wants to drink wine anymore?" she says. "Aren't you tired of wine?" she says, sipping on the cool one. "I now understand why the workers want to drink beer in the vineyard in the morning.") Meantime, I'm scheming. Perhaps if I hedge the vines before her, she won't cut them any shorter, I wonder, and decide to try that at dawn tomorrow before she gets up. Is this vineyardistos against the birds, or spouse vs. spouse?

Three rows are finished today and we've protected the most threatened bunches. (But wait, did you tie the bottoms of the nets? Where are the ties? Where are the clothespins?) If we continue with three or so rows per day (with more on weekends) we should stay ahead of the birds and enjoy most of the fruits of the harvest. Famous last words.

A New Job For The Aussie: Guard The Food

I've been told the Australian Shepherd needs a job to keep him busy and it seems ours has been to keep a watchful eye on me, his "lost sheep." When I carried a 37 lbs. bag of food from the car to the house I asked him to "watch it" which kept him occupied a few minutes. As we prepare to retire for the evening he seems anxious to enter the garage where I've set the the bag of food on a table. We step into the garage and he checks the food and all is in order and laps a bowl of water while I wait. When he's done I open the door to enter the house but, out of character, he doesn't follow. "Let him stay there," says the Queen, "He wants to keep an eye on his food." After 9 years, a new job. His other chores over the years have included: gopher check, nezumi check, bird check (to inspect the nets for trapped birds), get the paper (well, he did that once then graduated), take out the trash (which he supervises), owl check (seeing if Owl Gore has left us any presents), throw the dead mouse over the backyard fence (one of his favorites), chew the cork and last but not least, wine tasting (to give us his 1 - 5 lick rating). The next morning, he's in the garage, and with the screen door there, he's able to keep one eye on me rustling around making triple espresso and one eye on his precious.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Game of Cat & Mouse With Birds Begins

Petit Sirah, a clone developed by Dr. Durif,
ripen early attracting the attention of birds.
The Durif grapes, a clone of Petit Sirah,
are smaller than their cousins above
(as are the leaves), and almost ripe.
As the Durif vines were the first to break bud it's not surprising they are the first to produce ripe grapes, yes even in July, and a game of cat & mouse with the birds has begun. Or, is it better described as a chess match? Birds move to Row 5 Vine #1 and take grapes. (This is not a frontal offensive, but rather a probe and they have found sweet sugar.) Vintner has Queen move nets from the top of the hill to end of Row 5: "Check."

Click here to see what happens next and to learn about the netting of the vines.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Note To Vineyardisto: Next Year Trim the Vines Before the Jungle

One vineyard manager says not to hedge your vines because it promotes lateral growth while other vineyardistos hedge their vines. Then there's Pete Anderson whose answer to most vineyard questions is, "It depends" and I'm appreciating the wisdom of his phrase as I gain more experience each year. I let the vines grow nicely this year and given ample winter rains withheld water (not only to conserve our precious wet resource but to slow the vines) and thinned lateral shoots from the fruiting zone.  As summer arrived and temperatures rose I figured the longer shoots facing sunset would protect grapes from blistering afternoon sunshine so I let them grow.  In fact, they offered too much protection as the vines grew long and thick they blocked not only the sun but flowing air and despite the best efforts of spraying every three weeks, and given the fact that neither neighbors Merlot Mike nor Coyote Karen on the very same spraying regimen have not one spot of mildew on their grapes, we have incubated mildew galore in the jungle areas. Armed with clippers in the pocket and hedgers in hand that put less repetitive stress on these aging joints, I snip, I trim, I cut, I hack and the Queen says the vineyard looks beautiful and I don't disagree and the purpling grapes have been opened up to airflow and sunshine and I make a note to not let the vines grow out of control next year as the Queen starts singing a song about how I should pick up the cuttings.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Vineyard Triage

Hedged Vines
Can good wine be made from hedged vines that have 6 only leaves per cluster in midsummer? Can a cocktail of Rubigan and organic JMS Stylet Oil be applied to combat and eradicate existing mildew on grapes?

Make no mistake. This vineyard is loved. But there comes a time in a man's life when it's difficult to walk up and down that hill, when it's difficult to raise those clippers, when it's difficult to lift that 5-gallon carboy and when it's time to say enough. It was a good run and it's time to pass the baton.

Half the vineyard is a jungle providing shelter for mountain lions, bears and you can imagine the rest. But the other half was hacked, macheted and hedged into submission. "I like to look at it," says the owner about those neat, cleanly shaved rows. The Queen often says the same, "I just want a vineyard to look at," she says, singing a song about how all I ever talk about is temperature and the mildew index. There has been a good grape set (the owner did manage to prune the rows during Winter), but there are only 6 or so leaves per cluster, instead of the usual 12 - 15 after the rows were given a crew cut.
Jungle Vineyard 

Can good wine be made from hedged vines that have 6 only leaves per cluster in midsummer? Can a cocktail of Rubigan and organic JMS Stylet Oil be applied to combat and eradicate existing mildew on grapes?

Beware the Prayer of Jabez, the one that goes "Lord, please increase my land, please multiply my blessings." Be careful what you wish for. I will grab that baton. I will step up. I will take care of this vineyard for you. Behold, my land has been increased.

The clusters of Petit Verdot and Malbec are plentiful, but the vineyard has not been sprayed all year and powdery mildew, something I know much to much about, is in evidence. Since we have Rubigan left (in abundance), I'm thinking a good shot of Rubigan will offer mildew protection for up to 3 weeks, so that one spraying may get us through the season. And, Stylet Oil is said to be an eradicant for mildew.  Can they be combined for one spraying?

Very Neat Rows - Eye Pleasing
I adore this vineyard. It is scenic and the vines, now in their 13th year, are mature and have produced subtle, delicious nectar. We have spilled sweat and blood over this vineyard and Bluey, the Australian Shepherd, cellar master of our winery and our muse, overindulged on grapes from these same vines and somehow survived to tell about it. And the wine, that floral Petit Verdot that inspires scentologists to replicate its fragrance, this is worth the effort.

The vineyard was "dry farmed" last year, meaning no irrigation was used in summer, and plans are to continue the same this year.  With the winter rains we had, and based on last year's results, I don't believe irrigation will be necessary. And the owner says since they were hedged, the vines have been growing back.  On average, about 6 or so leaves per cluster now. My guess is that more leaves will emerge and that in a month there will be longer shoots and that there is a possibility these grapes will ripen and who knows, produce the vintage of a lifetime.

What do the experts say?