Sunday, March 24, 2013

Nerd Alert: Early-Spring Vineyard Management

You think this is a photo of a vineyard. Nay. This is a photo of our crimson clover cover crop. 
These past few weeks have been devoted explicitly to the vineyard. We've torn out the old vines, planted new ones, pre-pruned, and sprayed the ever-popular Lime Sulfur. Everything we do right now is to prepare the vineyard for the summer so that we have as little work to do in the heat as possible. As much as I don't like working in the chill, I'd much rather do the work now than in the Summer heat.

This is going to be a very nerdy post, so I'm going to do my best to explain what we're doing in lay-terms but simultaneously answer questions I've received from classmates and the grape-growing community.

This year, we pre-pruned. This means we went along doing just a basic cleaning of the vines, leaving the spurs about 4 or 5 nodes long. Pruning actually activates bud-break, so we didn't want to prune too soon and end up having a budbreak before the last frost. That happened last year and we lost about 40% of the crop. When buds on a grapevine break, they break from the top back. Thus, if the top buds have broken, and we get a frost, there is a chance that the lower buds have not yet broken and will still be able to produce a full crop. We will go back in about two weeks (after we get the Spring gardens planted) and, depending on the weather, get rid of the extra buds leaving fully pruned vines.
Note the extra long spurs and the kicker at the bottom of the vine

We are also leaving some canes where we see weak cordons. The mild winter (which leads to Pierce's Disease) and Spring freeze last year meant that our vines looked quite strange during the growing season. This year's winter was much better in terms of producing temperatures that will limit PD's effect. We might be replacing the most effected cordons with the new canes this year. We won't know until budbreak, but in case we do want to replace cordons, we will have the option of laying down the canes produced last year. We have also left a kicker cane coming out from the bottom of the vine just in case one of the trunks is so affected and we have to start over with the whole trunk. These steps will help us extend the life of our vines.
Note the extra long potential cane that can replace the cordon if
good budbreak doesn't occur.

The next chore in the vineyard was putting in the Villard blanc. We replanted the vineyard (and put in 300 blueberry plants) over the course of three exhausting days. Planting the vines was a very simple process: we dug holes, filled them with a little bit of horse manure and greensand, put the vines in the holes, and then filled in the rest with dirt. Nic and Liuba didn't want to have any rocks in the holes, but I convinced them by the end that it would not hurt the vines to have a few rocks in with the roots. Nic and Liuba then set about putting new landscape fabric down. It looks amazing.

Yumm. the smell of sulfur....

Finally, we sprayed the lime sulfur. This chemical basically sterilizes the vineyard before the season starts. It also smells like poo. It's been quite windy recently, so conditions for spraying have been less than optimal, but by doing a little for three days, we finally got the whole thing covered. We are ready for Spring! Thanks to these long, cool days, the buds are just now starting to swell on the Villard blanc. I hope that they decide to sleep in for another month.

These next two coming weeks, we'll be putting in our Spring garden. It's a bit cooler than I'd like for planting seeds, but luckily, we get a lot of our leafy vegetables started in a greenhouse. Anthony, from His and Her Greenhouse, delivered our plants on Thursday and we put in our first rows on Friday. But more on the planting fun next week. We are so excited for Spring to come. And to start having some income again.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Post I wish I didn't have to write--- How to rip out a vineyard and my trip to Texas!!!

The daffodils are out, the maples are budding, and the days are getting longer. As farmers, we too are starting to gear up for spring now and I think we're more or less on schedule. It's been a winter of steady, tedious work hoeing the vineyard, taking up the black plastic, and pulling up the vines. The Pierce's Diseased Vidal blanc has now been removed and we're getting prepped to plant our Villard blanc in a few days.

For those of you who are interested, this is how we pulled out the vineyard:

1) Cut the tops of the vines off
2) Remove the landscape fabric
3) On a day when the soil is soft, but not soggy, tie some nylon rope to the nub of the vine and attach that to a little ATV and drive forward!

If that doesn't work, a shovel always helps. We took out about 250 vines/ day. It's a very quick process.
Right now, we're in the process of digging wholes for the new Villard blanc. We will fill those with a little shovel full of horse manure, pot ash, and bonemeal. We'll be planting our new plants on Thursday, Friday and Saturday the 14th, 15th, and 16th of March, so let me know if you want to come out and help! A few hours of your time will make the greatest difference. Putting out the new black plastic will be the biggest challenge.
So, last week, I went to Texas to try some of their Blanc du bois and Lenoir. I traveled to Houston, Austin, and Dallas. The Lenoir is a red grape that actually has red juice. I wasn't as impressed with these wines as I was with the Blanc du bois. The wines had a savoury characteristic to them that wore quite quickly. That said, I'm still going to plant 75 of them soon to see how they do in NC.
One grower I visited seemed to have broken the code with how to make a good Lenoir. He graciously shared with me his trials and recipes, giving me tastes from the different barrels and explaining to me his thought processes. The Texas wine community was so hospitable.
William Chris in the Fredricksburg area.
The Blanc du bois I had were delicious! They ranged in style from very low-alcohol, high acid wines to more standard Sauvignon blanc style. They were best when they had about 1% residual Sugar. It was almost an imperceptible sweetness (it's still a technically dry wine), but it gave a bit of weight to the mid-palate that was desperately needed. Apparently, the acids disappear very quickly as it gets hotter, so they find it necessary to pick the fruit around 18-20 Brix (23 is normally the target). I had a few favourite producers:
1) Haak Winery had the high acid, low alcohol wines along with a delicious Madeira
2) William Chris had the great balance
3) Lost Oak had the most similar growing conditions to NC, so I look forward to trying to imitate them!
If you're ever in Texas, I would recommend going to visit some of their wineries. I also enjoyed lots of breakfast burritos, chips and salsa, a kolachi, and some fine Texas beers. I also have a new favourite radio station- The Ranch. It's 100% Texas music and awesome. I tolerated the suburbia which seemed to dominate much of the driving I did there, but once I got into the grape growing areas, the countryside was gorgeous. I can't imagine what it would be like during the summers though. So hot and dry. God bless all those cows. The droughts they experience are incomprehensible.
On a different topic, we'll start planting our Spring garden soon. Its been raining so much recently, we've had a hard time getting the tractor in the field to prep the soil. I think next year, we'll prep in the fall and let the soil freeze (and hopefully not erode) over the winter. We're getting better at this every year.
We'll start taking orders for our CSA soon! Not much longer and I will have forgotten how cool and relaxing these winter days were.