Thursday, December 6, 2012

So what do you do in the winter?

One of the most popular questions I get is "so what do you do in the winter?" It changes every year. For the past few years, we've been clearing out around the fields. Since we're starting to use fields that have been abandoned for 30 years, we have a lot of smilex, honeysuckle, and ligustrum to destroy so we could get our fields to the optimum size. We finished that major project last year, so this year, we'll just be doing a bit of weed eating and bush hogging to maintain our progress.

This year, we have two major projects in the vineyard: 1) removing the Pierce's diseased vines and 2) cleaning the carpet.

The Vidal blanc was great while it lasted. It made a delicious, high acid wine that received great compliments. Nevertheless, we know that it has Pierce's disease and that it won't last much past next year. A good portion of the vineyard has already died. We've decided to remove it now so that we can  move on to our next variety more quickly. We're trying Villard blanc, a grape that was widely grown in France into the 60s. It's fairly rare here, but its resistant. I'm looking to taste as many different companies' Villard as possible so that I can get a good plan for how to make the wine.
decapitated vines, awaiting removal

So the first step is to cut down the top parts of the Vidal. After that is finished, we will pull back the landscape fabric that we use to keep the weeds down, attach the vines to our ATV, and pull them out. We will then go back, add some P and K, and put in the new Villard vines. And start over. It's going to be tedious, but we have almost one month to get them out.

Before (notice you can't see the black plastic)
The second job for the winter is cleaning the landscape fabric that covers the ground between the vines. Since we don't use herbicides, this is our best tool for giving our vines a fighting chance against the weeds. Over the summer, the weeds start to take over the fabric, so now, when the summer weeds are dead, we're hoeing the vineyard. This is tedious work too, but it's much easier to do this now rather than in the summer. After we get the whole thing cleaned (it will take about a month),  we will blow off the plastic with leaf blowers and then spray it with a weak solution of citric acid. I'm considering broadcasting some clover on top of it in the early Spring.
After (gorgeous work Liuba!)

So by the time we get the vineyard cleaned and cleared, it will be time to put the new vines in and get started on the Spring crops. It will be slow and steady work, but I'm glad I can provide work for my employees in the winter that will cut down on the work we have to do in the oppressive heat of summer.

I'll be making a trip to the Dallas, Houston, and Austin areas in late February. They grow two different types of Pierce's disease resistant vines down there: Lenoir  and Blanc du Bois. I'll do an update from down there as I journey to find the best varieties of grapes to grow (sustainably) in NC!!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Forced Relaxation: the winter

It's been a long time since I last updated the blog! A lot has been going on and I've spent almost every week up in Mocksville since we harvested our grapes. The wine is looking good and we'll probably put it in barrel next week.

The theme to the year so far is early seasons. Spring came early, summer came early, fall came early, and now, it looks like winter, too, is coming early. It's supposed to get down to 26 tonight in Concord. I can't believe it! I just hope that we get a good solid week of below freezing temperatures sometime in late January. That would help our vines and pest population immensely!

It also, hasn't rained in almost a month. We've been very diligent with our watering, however. Normally this time of year, we have to winterize the well and blow out all the irrigation lines. We haven't had the opportunity yet because we keep needing to water the garden about once a week!

Despite the rough weather, the winter garden is really looking great. Thank you, knowledgeable employees and dedicated customer/volunteers! The garlic is in the ground, our crops have been fertilized, hoed, and mulched, and we're getting ready to start construction on two new high tunnels. Due to the high demand of butter crunch lettuce and swiss chard, we need to be growing those throughout the winter. I'm also going to try putting in a few rows of pink-eyed peas so that we'll have fresh peas for New Years Day!

After we get the high tunnels built next week, we'll begin clearing the dead Vidal blanc vines out of the vineyard and preparing it for our new arrivals in the spring: Villard blanc. I can't wait to try this grape and develop a winemaking style for it. I have never had it before, so it's a huge risk in planting. But most importantly, I know that it will grow in our conditions, so I'm confident that we can make an excellent wine from it. It should take us about a month and a half of steady work to clear off the landscape fabric, cut down the plants, and dig the holes.

It might be winter now, but we still have produce for sale. If you're looking to buy our produce, here are the three ways to do so:

1) On the farm: Saturday morning at 4758 Poplar Tent Rd from 9-12. We will have veggies, eggs, meats (from Big Oak Farm), canned goods, and Uncle Scott's Rootbeer.

2) Via email: Saturday morning on Elizabeth Avenue in Charlotte at 11am, we run orders to Charlotte for our loyal customers. email us to receive the order form

3) Special order: Call 704-782-2117 to order food any time!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Farm Tour Time! and an update on the wine

It's time for the Know Your Farms Tour. There are tons of interesting farms on the tour this year. It's two days, so you can fit the tour into your schedule. If you're trying to eat locally, this is the way to learn all about the many things that we grow in the Piedmont. We are a scheduled stop on Saturday from 1-6 pm.
Here's a link with the details. We'll have cookies and wine to taste and produce, canned goods, and Uncle Scott's Root Beer for sale.

Hope to see you there!!

On a different note, the wine is going well. It had a sluggish fermentation, but once it got going, it went! I tried to get it to go about 2 Brix/day, but it ended up going about 4 Brix/day. It's through fermentation now, been pressed, and is sitting in a tank, settling, and going through malo -actic conversion. We're still waiting on the numbers to come back from the lab for alcohol, pH, TA, etc, but if taste is anything to go by, there's plenty of acid still in the wine. That is good news for a southern wine! After it finishes malo, we'll put some of it in barrels.

Thanks again for your support!

Thursday, August 30, 2012


The fruit is picked!! Thanks so much, volunteers. You really make owning a small vineyard not only possible, but fun. I might not make as much money as a doctor or lawyer, but thanks to your support and encouragement, I feel enough respect to make up for it.

After the fruit was picked, we took it up in a refrigerated truck (sans refrigeration cause it broke) to Mocksville. We crushed and destemmed and pumped it to a tank where it macerated for approx 4 days. Yesterday, I turned off the chiller to let the must warm up to prepare it for inoculation, but by the time I was pumping over this morning, it still wasn't very warm. I put the yeast in, along with some nutrients, and pumped over for 5 more minutes. When I left the winery this afternoon, the thermometer still said 59, and that's a little low for my tastes. I hope to come in tomorrow and see proof of inoculation. It could take a while to get going because the final spray we put on (3 weeks before harvest) was still quite visible on the grapes.

But I'll keep you update. Pictures to come I swear!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Harvest time!!

These past few weeks have been stressful, to say the least. After a month of little rain and hot temperatures, we've had about three weeks of moderate temps and rain almost twice a week! Some days in July were so hot that it was difficult for the plants to produce fruit. Consequently, we started running low on food about three weeks afterwards. It wasn't quite time for us to plant the fall garden, so, basically, we've been experiencing a shortage of food. We've decided to close the farm stand to the public until later in the fall. If you'd like to purchase any food, just email us and we'll get an order together for you.

The grapes will be harvested tomorrow!!! On Wednesday, the brix were at 21, so hopefully they'll be at 22 by Saturday. It's actually been a little cool for my tastes recently. I think we'll have good acid this year, but I wish the brix were a little higher. The reason we're picking now is because it seems like there will be a few rainy days ahead. The seeds are dark brown and crunchy, the sugar is ok, and I know that waiting longer could just allow the grapes to go bad. If there's one thing I've learned through growing grapes, it's that 'waiting for perfection' is an unattainable goal. In agriculture, the act of waiting can be very dangerous. It's like that bird in the hand proverb: grapes in the winery are worth more than grapes hanging on the vine.

Dad and I are going up to Raylen  this morning to pick up our harvesting bins, then over to Charlotte to get refrigerated trucks. The employees are coming in at 1 to sharpen the clippers, wash picking baskets, and start taking the nets off. We'll start  picking  at 6am. We'll need all the help we can get tomorrow, so if you're free, come out for a few hours. We culled the grapes while still on the vine, so it should go fairly quickly.

I'll post the results of the harvest as soon as I get the results from the lab. Happy Autumn everyone! It's almost time to relax.

Monday, July 9, 2012


I don't know if you remember last year's epic mission with the netting of the vineyard, but I must say that compared to last year, this year has been a delight! Thanks to making all those mistakes last year and to my time netting the vineyard near Melbourne, we will probably finish netting the vineyard  (including prep-work) in exactly one week! The extremely hot weather these past few weeks has pushed veraison up even further than it was last year. The early bud break and mild May  meant that the grapes grew fast and happily. The next to last week of June, I saw my first Chambourcin start to turn color. I thought this must be a mistake. Is it a disease? or virus? But no, the grapevines were fine. They were just ready to turn a little early.

Thus, my family and employees jumped into gear. I didn't have to beg to have the vineyard sprayed or mowed one last time before netting, I didn't have to explain the need for netting, and all the employees were able to work extra long hours on sweltering afternoons.

We used an old basketball goal (courtesy of a Sundrop Promotional Toy cerca 1985) on the back of our ATV to feed the net up and over the rows. Most of the little cups we put over the posts last year to facilitate the snag-less dispersion of the nets were brittle and broken, so we just took them off. Turns out, the corners of our 2x4 supports aren't that bad. The nets slid right over. Plus, our canopy is much crazier than last year and that crazy canopy is helping to keep the nets away from the fruiting zone. We didn't get much of a chance to position our shoots, plus laterals never really broke and we decided after last year's sunburnt  crop not to leaf pluck. We got a lot more shade this year, and hopefully better fruit. Killing multiple birds with one stone!

So I guess we're to the count down to harvest. I must get my affairs in order and make sure all the other crops are well prepared for my future lack of attention. I hope we don't get too much rain between now and then. I don't really know how we'd spray the vines with the nets on. This super early harvest might be a blessing in that we get to pick all the fruit before we put in the fall garden. I just hope I get all the paperwork and permits in time. I wasn't planning on needing the paperwork until the last week of August. We'll use the same basic vintage plan as last year for the majority of the Chambourcin, but I'll be trying some extended maceration batches and natural fermentations in the back of the grocery store just to see how it goes. I don't know if we'll have any white this year. Pierce's Disease has pretty much affected every single Vidal blanc vine we have. We'll probably be replanting the rest of the vineyard this upcoming winter and spring. It breaks my heart to see the little grapevines scorched and withered, but I know there's nothing I can do for them, so out they go. Onwards and upwards for a new variety of white which will hopefully make as good a wine as the Vidal made last year.

I still don't have a camera, so sorry for the lack of pictures. I got a disposable one (yep! they still exist!) so, when I got those photos developed, I'll put them up.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

David Goforth's Peaches!

We have peaches from David Goforth (Cabarrus Co. extension worker)!! They are delicious. Come get some today! We might even have plums and blackberries...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Farm Stand Open for Business!

We're opening up the farm stand tomorrow! Hours will be Monday-Friday 11-6! We'll have a whole array of late spring and summer veggies. Let us know if there's something specific that you want and we'll reserve it for you (like fennel or swiss chard which are hard to keep fresh all day).

Look forward to seeing you! Let us know if you want us to bring you up some wine to try!

Monday, May 28, 2012

It's an early Summer

It's been a while since I've posted, but trust me, we've been hard at work. We've doubled the size of the garden from last year and we're doing it with one less employee, so needless to say, it's been a taxing few weeks. The weeds have taken over, but we're starting to get control of everything again. I have hopes that in two weeks, we'll be back on schedule and have a tolerable level of weeds!

The vineyard is looking amazing. We've been spot on for the spray schedule so far and kept the black rot at bay. The thing about black rot is that the berries become immune to it as they grow, so about 4 weeks after flowering, we don't have to worry about losing our crop any more! But the leaves can still get black rot, and if we lose too many leaves, we can't ripen the crop, so we're not out of the dark yet. Last year, we got a great hail storm about this time as well. The threat of severe weather can take various forms and ruin a season in only a few minutes. As someone told me today- "I don't count my chickens until those grapes are in the picking bins!"

The grapes themselves are looking large. Because we got some hot, dry weather during flowering and berry formation, some of the clusters are a little spotty. In spite of that, I think I'd rather have spotty clusters than dense, tight, disease-prone clusters. It looks like we're about to stage 31 to 33 of the phenological development (page 5) so we're preparing for an early season. We'll be spraying the kaolin clay soon to slow down the growth and development of the little buggers. I'd better order some extra nets now! I got a lot of great new ideas for the netting in Australia, so we'll try to get it on in time this year.

We'll hopefully be opening up the farm stand in the next two weeks with all of our produce as well as introducing David Goforth's peaches. Until then, stop by the Elizabeth Ave Market or 4758 Poplar Tent Rd on Saturday from 9-12 and pick up the last of the lettuce, broccoli, kale, kholrabi, and fennel.

I lost my camera last weekend, so pictures will be slow in coming.  Sorry!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Back from Tasmania!

Hi Everyone! Last time I posted, I was going down to Australia to work in a winery. After working in the first vineyard and winery, my boyfriend and I moved to Tasmania to work for Bay of Fires Winery . This experience was great. They produce some very interesting wines. My favourites were the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris. Working at a larger-scale place will no doubt help us produce more consistent, well-made wines in the future. I also have a better understanding of winery logistics and design.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, mom and dad were doing a great job of managing the farm and vineyard. Mom was out at Poplar Tent every Saturday (except one) selling veggies, and Dad made sure that all the tractor work was done on time! It's great to see their passion and skills in farming grow.

The season so far has been a busy one. Remember when it got cold around Easter? Well, our little grapevine buds had already broken, and sadly, the Vidals suffered quite a bit of frost damage. A good half of them lost their primary growth. Lucky for grapevines and for us, there are secondary buds, which break if the primary growth is destroyed or removed. We'll probably harvest the Vidal twice this year- pick the grapes that didn't get frosted, and then pick the grapes from the secondary growth a few weeks later.

The Chambourcin is looking great. They experienced very little frost damage. We're looking forward to a great crop off of them this year. The dry weather we have right now is perfect for ensuring great flavours in the berries.

Of course, as luck would have it, our lawn mower is broken. Please don't judge us in our messy landscapes right now. It won't affect the quality of the produce. It might even make it better, in that the vines have to compete with the tall grasses. Fingers crossed for a quick recovery for our beloved zero-turn.

On the veggie side of things, The Community Supported Agriculture starts next week! I think we'll be having some kale, swiss chard, salad mix, spring onions, and rosemary. We've got a lot of weeding to do in the next few weeks, but I think that we're up for the challenge. I can't wait to get our customers out there with us and to share our passion of great food that's good for the earth.

If you're interested in joining our CSA, just let me know. I can send you an email with all the info. We still have about 5 spaces left, so grab them while you can!
A beautiful, healthy Vidal blanc vine 

Frost-damaged vines

Frozen Clusters :(

Maybe they'll break bud again?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Our first season in review

All of our wines are almost ready for finishing. It's a good opportunity to recap the year and learn about our mistakes and our victories in the wine making process.

One of the first things that I'll say that I need to work on is knowing my YAN (yeast assimilable nitrogen) count at the beginning of the harvest so that I know how much DAP (di-ammonium phosphate) to add. Yay acronyms. Basically, this means that I need to know how much nutrition is in the juice so that I know how much more food to add so that the yeast have a healthy ferment. When the juice doesn't have enough inherent nutrition at the start of the ferment, and I have failed to supplement it with DAP, the yeast get stressed during the ferment and begin to produce a lot of sulfur bi-products. This happened this year with our Vidal and our Chambourcin, most smellably with the Vidal.

Nevertheless, this mistake offered me the opportunity to learn to about copper additions! Small amounts of copper take out the nasty sulfur smell and let the good qualities of the wine shine through. There is a legal limit on how much copper you can add and don't worry, we're way under those limits.

Another thing I've learned is that I don't want to use V1116 yeast with the Vidal next time. We did one tank with V1116 and then one with W15, and by far, the W15 was superior. It had more body, more fruity notes (apple to be precise), and more balance. The V1116 was a superior fermenter, but the wine was devoid of fruit after the fermentation. It lacked body, and was quite a bit sour. If the lab was correct, this wine ended up with 14% alcohol. This seems almost impossible as we started out with 22 Brix.

The tank with the W15 yeast did get stuck around 4 Brix and we used the V1116 to get it started again. There is a use for this yeast, however I doubt I will use it next year for the main batch of wine.

One thing I will use next year for everything will be pectolytic enzyme. When making wine by hand, maceration in pectolytic enzyme makes basket pressing much easier and juice yield much higher. Plus the aromatics are much more intense. I believe that it is our use of pectolytic enzyme and maceration time (5 days for the Chambourcin and 1 day for the Vidal) that gave us such interesting and intense color and flavour. I would consider extending the Vidal maceration period for another day just to increase juice yield and ease of pressing.

Now a word of caution about the malolactic conversion in the Chambourcin: Don't worry about it! I was very worried about the progress of our malic acid to lactic acid when I couldn't taste any progress for the first few days. I've had conversions that last 2 days and I've had conversions that lasted two weeks before. Now I've had one that lasted 2 months. I worried so much about these conversions, their nutrient statuses, and the temperatures at which they occurred. The lab work said that the conversions were over, however, in one tank specifically, I couldn't smell or taste any of the buttery results. Until I opened the tanks 3 months after the 'end' of the conversions and BOOM! Popcorn smell hit me in the face!

What I learned: Get the conversion started at 70 Fahrenheit. And even if it doesn't seem like its converting, just wait. Don't try to raise the temperature. In fact, lower it a bit after the first few days. Wait a few months and see. Having too much buttery flavour is just as bad as not having enough. Therefore, patience my friends, patience!

So what we have at the end of this process are a few different wines. We have two Vidal- One very fruity, like apple cider; the other one (made with the V116), more alcohol, more acidic. We've thrown a few wood chips in there and put 10% of it through malolactic conversion (therefore, it's going to taste more like a chardonnay when we're done).

We have two Chambourcins too- One very smooth, and one that was a bit rougher. We did a blending trial the other night, and the wines that were the best were the ones that were 100% of either one or 50% of both. It's strange to see how having 75%-25% of one wine mixed with the other produced either a harsher wine or a wine with no flavour at all. Therefore, I think we'll be mixing our Chambourcin tanks 50%-50% to get the best wine.

We fined all the wine (except for the Vidal W15 and 5 gallons of Chambourcin) with gelatin. We'll be making a few bottles of vegan wine for our vegan friends. Let me know if you know anyone who wants some, as it will go fast!

Well, if you'd like to try this wine, email us or call my dad's old supermarket at 704-782-2117. Wanda will answer the phone and assist you in giving you a taste!

I'm off to Australia to work at Carlei Wines for the next few months. Hasta luego!