Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Something Is Rotten In The State of Blue-Merle: Can You Guess What It Is?

What's in that bag?
This is a story about a foul smell at our doorstep and it's a hoot. I know about off odors in the winery (I've made my fair share of bad batches) and the vineyard (my nose detects the occasional bird rotting away in a net half devoured by Yellow Jackets or the rabbit that tries to hop through the squirrel trap, stupid rabbit). A similar scent greets me each morning as I open the front door of the house. What's that smell?! I check the netting in the nearby rows of vines. Nothing. I inspect the mouse traps outside the garage. Nothing. I search for nearby carcasses. Nothing. What is that smell? I glance at rotting greens inside a plastic bag destined for the compost pile and think, aha, this is it. Alas, not. And then something in the Starbucks bag next to the trash catches my eye (shown in the picture above). I notice the familiar scent coming from the trash can, open the lid to inspect and am overwhelmed by the stench and realize (with amazement) what the Queen has been collecting and putting into the trash by our front door. Can you guess what it is? I'll give you another hint: Owl Gore.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Merlot Mike's 2nd Vineyard Update

(Editor's Note: Here they go again. Our neighbors Merlot Mike and Nancy ranting and raving about the grape. We bring you their vineyard report # 2. For the record, our Tempranillo grapes are at 21 brix, TA = .68 and pH = 3.5  We have cut the water to the Tempranillo in an attempt to quickly raise the sugar levels with a possible harvest date Labor Day Weekend. Click here to read Merlot Mike's 1st vineyard update if you missed it.)

Escondido Sunrise Vineyard
The Grape Vine August 25, 2011

2009 Harvest at Merlot Mike's
Hello Grape Enthusiasts, Winemakers, and Mystified Recipients,

Things are running along quickly.  The sugar levels are rising.  The grapes are moving towards achieving “ripeness”.  The question is always “When will they be ready to harvest?”

Mother Nature is in complete control.  The sugar level a few days ago was 22.3 brix. That’s good. Pretty much right on point with the readings for past years. If things are as they were previously, we will have harvest on the Sunday over Labor Day weekend.  But, Mother Nature doesn’t give us as much notice as we would prefer.

So, we will watch, measure and send out updates more and more frequently as the date gets closer.

We love harvest.  It is always so much fun to see our friends picking, plucking, squeezing and enjoy a selection of our wines.  This year will be no different.

More soon.
Michael & Nancy

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Merlot Mike Vineyard Report

(Editor's Note: He's back: Merlot Mike, with the first preharvest update, written by the poet Merlot Mike himself.)

Escondido Sunrise Vineyard
The Grape Vine, August 16, 2011

Hello Grape Enthusiasts, Winemakers, and Mystified Recipients,

Last winter was kind to our vineyard.  Frequent rains allowed us to get into late spring before starting irrigation.  On about March 17th, we saw our first of bud break.  “Bud break” is when the vines, pruned and looking for all the world like so many wooden French fries sitting atop of the larger wood of the vine’s cordon (the cross arms of the vine), finally start to burst forth with leaves emitting from the swollen and pregnant appearing buds left on the upright spurs.

With all of the rain, once bud break started our vineyard exploded with growth.  Within days, it transformed itself from a field of bare wooden pole like objects to a vibrant, beautiful vineyard.  And, shortly thereafter, tiny clusters of flowers appeared.

The flowers bloom into very tiny bouquets.  If you listen when the wind isn’t blowing and the birds aren’t calling to one another, you can almost hear the pollination as the flowers form the base of what will shortly become a miniature cluster of grapes.

Over the early summer months, the grapes grow into larger green clusters … green grapes, not red.  All grapes start out green.  And on about July 27th, yet another transformation took place.  Veraison.  This is the metamorphosis that as the clusters of green grapes change, one grape at a time, from green to red.  And as red overtakes the green, the thousands of clusters of  grapes that were before camouflaged among the millions of green leaves suddenly become evident, swinging swollen from their vines, swelling with the promise of the wine yet to come.
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Veraison is almost complete as I write you.  The birds, once oblivious to the vines with their green and bitter tiny grapes, begin to show a new enthusiastic interest.  They surround the vineyard, sitting on power lines greedily observing the red grapes as they ripen.  And the race begins. (Editor's Note: The birds have migrated from our property to his. After he nets, a flock of them will return to us, I'm sure.)

“The race” refers to our preparing the vineyard for netting and then rushing to get the nets in place before the birds gorge themselves, sending out invitations to their family and friends to fly forthwith to our vineyard for the mother of all feasts.

Preparing the vines for netting refers to our walking up and down each row of vines, trimming the vines that extend above the top wires of our trellis.  The rows of vines extend for 2.5 miles  …  trimming the rows requires attention to each side, a 5 mile exercise of holding your arms above your head, grasping vine after vine and snipping the portions off that would foul the nets.  Our early mornings and late afternoons have been filled with side-step, snip, snip, snip, drop vines into trashcan, side-step, snip, snip, snip, oh my arms are breaking, drop vines into trashcan.  Fortunately, our evenings are filled with a collection of red wines that have been expanding beneath our home, making all of this worthwhile.

Later this week, the nets will start to cover the rows of vines.  Three men, all netting applied by hand alone, spending two and a half days, covering a mile of vines each day, holding their hands over their heads and doing the same side-step as they drape the nets over the vines and tie the nets together beneath the vines.

Above it all, the growing flocks of birds gathering on the power lines are reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s film  …  they watch, hungrily, occasionally flying into the vineyard and snatching a grape ahead of the fellows moving slowly along, draping nets over the vines.  Tiny birds, large crows, condors, bald eagles, and humming birds … sitting in rows on the lines, watching the vineyard and the feast they hope will come.

Last evening, we took our first reading of the sugar level from a sample of grapes.  Nancy walked through the vineyard, selecting about 40 grapes from vines scattered through the lower section of vines.  We adjusted and calibrated our refractometer, a device resembling a small telescope that provides an instant analysis of the percentage of sugar in a sample of grape juice.  We crushed all of the grapes together and placed a few drops of juice on the lens of our instrument, looking expectantly at the reading and finding that our sample was 19.6% sugar in solution in the juice.

19.6% means a lot to us.  First of all, we keep records of the readings at different points in time over the years.  Looking back quickly over the past seven years, we found that we were right on track with the readings in prior years.  We had felt that the grapes were one to two weeks behind earlier years but this first reading tended to contradict our observations … the grapes are moving quickly towards ripeness. 

For years, we have had our major harvest over Labor Day weekend.  For some reason, our vineyard tends to be among the very first in our county to mature.  Our harvest begins a 10 to 12 week period of frantic harvesting, crushing, destemming, fermentation and pressing as the winemaking season moves from standing by to full swing production.

As the grapes ripen, we will send out more updates, culminating in a call for harvesters.  Each year, a collection of old and new friends descend on the vineyard and help with the harvest.  This is the high point of our year as farmers and starts us off on our season of winemaking.  It’s good to wear many hats.  It’s good to drink wine.  It’s good to have friends.  Thanks to all of you who have come to help in the past.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Vineyard Scents For Men Only

Kelly and Jones is a scentologist working in New York City who brings wine fragrances to the bottle for women. We have often noted that the Petit Verdot wine we produce from our friend's vineyard in Bonsall, CA is so fragrant that some women have said they are tempted to splash it on their neck rather than rinse their pallet. Mademoiselle Kelly has distilled the essence of such aromas into perfumes, colognes and wearable fragrances that are welcomed by winemakers in the tasting room. I have an idea for her, inspired by the vineyard. Look what happens when I add water to the eau de yellow jacket scent -- the males appear instantly. I suspect Mademoiselle Kelly is working on such a fragrance for men. One splash and the women swarm. My recommendation for Kelly & Jones stock: STRONG BUY.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hidden Ninja In The Vineyard

Lord Vordemort is alive and well and living in Blue-Merle Country in the guise of a rattlesnake, Bluey's mortal enemy. The Queen, my mortal enemy and the descendent of samurai, has a plan. As I trim and hedge the vines in Snake Alley, she takes the green cuttings and places them over Bluey's body and head. "He likes it," she says, "It gives him shade." She starts singing a song that goes "Hagakure Senpo" which means "Ninja Under The Leaves." Vineyard Dog has become Ninja Dog.

 What fun things do you like to play with your dog in the vineyard?
Aussie-Ninja Hidden
 Underthe Leaves

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Crimes & Misdemeanors In The Vineyard

Cane cut too short.
A log of recent crimes & misdemeanors committed in the vineyard:

* Severely cutting some canes with fruit to one or two leaves before netting. (How will that fruit ripen?)
* Vacuuming vineyard and raking it spotless clean while purple clusters remain unprotected. (Is it more important having a pretty vineyard or saving the grapes? Priorities, please!)
* Leaving hard green clusters on the vine. (They will not ripen in time and might lower overall quality of the wine.)
* Leaving pulled green grapes on the ground where they will dry and the dog will eat them, possibly making him ill. (Queen to husband: "Would you mind picking up those grapes and your cuttings!" She doesn't know how to swear in English, so she finishes that kind of request with an "aho" (which means stupid or fool in Japanese).
* Under watering three rows of Aglianico vines. (Fruit has withered on the vine or did not form at all.)
* Mowing down a row of Grenache vines, cutting them to 1/2 the length they were meant to be. (You think all vines need to be cut before a net goes over them, well they don't.)
* Bending canes to shorten them, snapping them or damaging them.
Paying someone to cut the canes too short, or not at all, and folding long canes over each other without pulling off the 2nd growth fruit.

Canes cut short, with long canes
folded over and compacted.
* Not cutting cane and folding long canes on top of each other before netting (how will sunlight reach the fruit and the leaves)?
* Not pulling the 2nd growth fruit off of the end of the vines, because you think the birds need food to eat (all that energy is going into unnecessary grapes, instead of the grapes we will use to make wine).
* Raking up all the leaves for the recycle garbage man and not leaving them to compost in the vineyard. ("Where will the nutrition come from?" I ask. "Just buy chemical fertilizer," she replies.  I want to say aho.)
* Leaving gaping holes in the netting for the birds to enter when you say no birds will get in there. (Are you still trying to feed the birds?) Paying someone to put on nets and leave gaping holes.
* Writing this blog when I should be outside netting.

* Bird caught in net.

* Saving birds caught in net.
* Queen putting nets on the vine herself.
* Raking up the pulled clusters.
* Queen cutting the vines in snake alley by herself to prepare them for netting.
* Owl Gore (for catching a gopher, mouse, rat or some rodent every day)
* Getting most of the nets on in time and saving most of the crop from the birds.
* Saving Fidel's life (by not killing him).
* Bringing cold beer to the vineyard.

Does any of this take place on your property? I hate to say it, but, alas, I think this post will be continued.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

An Investment That Grows in Volatile Times

Canary Island Palm
Wasn't it beginning to feel a bit like 2008?  My friends were wondering if they should cash out their stock portfolios and put the money in a mattress, buy gold or head for the hills. In another deja-vu scene, Joe The Wino laid-off 15% of his workforce--just as he did in 2008--and the Dow started its descent the very next day. (Is he a genius businessman or what?) I was reminded our our "Jack and the Beanstalk" tale of 2008 when the Queen spent the last of our life savings on 46 palm trees. I'm pleased to report that this is one investment that has grown during the last three years. Here's an excerpt from the Oct. 2008 post, as timeless now as it was then.

"....We live in interesting times and we’re one whoops away from the Great Depression of 2008. Stocks have dropped 20% and college tuition has gone up to $50,000/year and there’s no money in my bank account and the princess calls from New York City saying there’s no money in her bank account, and Bluey the dog growls "hungry" and there’s no food in his bag and there’s no money to buy any today. It’s all the fault of our greedy mortgage broker who put us into a house we couldn’t afford so we could pursue the cock-eyed dream of a vineyard. Because of his greed the world economy is about to collapse. But, there’s hope (besides the fact that we can live off the land, have our guns to hunt game of rabbit, squirrels and gophers and there’s a church at the bottom of the mountain where we can cling to religion): The Queen saves money like a smart squirrel hoarding acorns. She has $1,677 in her savings account and she has taken that, plus my last $100 and assembled $1,777.77 which was the bill for 46 Canary Island Palm trees, given to our daughter on the joyous occasion of her 20th birthday. Does this sound like "Jack and the Beanstalk"? This is either extreme foolishness or genius.

"I’d go to Las Vegas," said the salesperson at the nursery who unloaded the palms for quick cash. "Buy a lottery ticket. It’s not every day that a receipt has five 7’s in a row." Perhaps a roll of the dice would have been a wiser investment?

The 46 palm trees are delivered on Monday and at $10,000 each (future value) we now have an additional $460,000 in assets (future value) less:
The cost of hauling them to designated points on the property
The cost of digging holes and planting
The cost of chiropractic care (for my back)
The cost of watering
The cost of making boxes (and of dirt) for those we don’t plant
And, 50 years from now, when our "bonds" have reached their mature "face value" of $10,000 each, the cost of building roads and renting a crane to pull these puppies out of the ground (this should be slightly less than drilling for oil in the Arctic wilderness)
Less the cost of sales (in case the Princess is unable to sell them direct to consumers and goes through a wholesale nursery)

After pulling a near all-nighter on Friday night bottling, I am pressed to plant palm trees on Saturday. And Sunday. I go to sleep with my clothes on. I plot on getting even: "These palm trees are my favorite palm trees and my dream," I inform the Queen and, "They’re half mine." I explain how I’ve earned 50% sweat equity from planting them and suffering a thousand piercings from the needles. Given the fact that stocks are likely to go lower next week – at least our stocks --the palm trees, now worth more than our house, are looking like a pretty good investment, guaranteed to grow. Just add water."