It's been a while since I've checked in from behind the scenes at WineMaker, and so much has happened that it's hard to sum it all up in one measly blog. But I will try!
In my very first blog I touched on the importance of variety selection when planning out your home vineyard. Here in the Hudson Valley you are asking for trouble if you try to plant vinifera varieties. Most of them don't have the cold tolerance that is needed to survive many of our potentially very cold winters. In addition, we typically don't have a sufficiently long enough growing season to bring the grapes of many of these varieties to proper ripeness. Some select varieties like Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, and possibly Riesling might make it; but it would be hit or miss. I did not want to deal with hit or miss, so I opted for all cold-tolerant hybrids that have proven to be long-lived and fruitful in my area. I tried to do plenty of due diligence up front to reduce wasted time, money, and effort down the road.
For the most part, these efforts paid off and the bulk of my vineyard is thriving. One variety, which I mentioned and provided some heritage details on in my white cold-climate variety blog, has become a failed effort and disappointment. Prinzipal, a German hybrid of Riesling, was described as a variety that could be grown in cold-climate areas with relatively short growing seasons. Areas that would be hard pressed to have success with growing Riesling. It was described as producing larger size grapes with double the production of Riesling.
This was to be my first partial production year for this variety. Unfortunately, due to our very cold winter, this variety ended up with approximately 80% trunk damage. The other 20% experienced partial trunk damage and the resultant shoots and grapes produced are stunted and pea-sized, respectively. A far cry from what I had hoped for. As I look at all my other varieties, they are healthy and brimming with grapes maturing day after day as we head towards harvest.
Veraison, or fruit coloring, arrived for my De Chaunac variety about a week ago in my vineyard. My other red wine varieties are just starting to develop some color now. Veraison is a very exciting time in the vineyard. It illustrates that your vines are doing the work necessary and focusing their attention on the ripening of their fruit. We would like to think that the vines are doing this to reward the vineyard manager, the winemaker, and eventually the wine drinker for all their efforts. Sorry to burst your bubble, but they work to ripen their fruit for a very self-serving reason. They ripen that fruit with the hope that a bird or other animal may be attracted to it, eat it, and eventually pass the seeds to the ground to grow more vines. Yes, this is the grapevine's method of continuing their species. We winemakers, however, would prefer to keep that wonderful fruit in order to do our best at making the highest quality wine we can derive from the current vintage.
With this in mind, veraison also brings on a feeling of angst to counter the excitement. The angst is derived from my past experience with the birds doing what they were supposed to do and picking my vines clean of the fruit. Luckily that was an early, non-production, year for my vines. Although unnerving, it gave me a foreshadowing what was in store for my hard work if I let the birds have their way. So my friends, the birds, during the growing season, that kept the bugs in check, have now become my nemesis is the quest for ripe fruit. So what was I to do?
There are a lot of choices. These basically come down to scare and exclusion approaches. The scare approaches are things like big eyed balloons, plastic owls, flying kite birds of prey, sonic devices and other loud noise producers - your neighbors will love you! The overall problems with these are that their effectiveness is short-lived. They may work for a few days. Once, however, the ever-testing birds decide these aren't really a threat, say goodbye to your fruit. Yes, there are those of you out there saying, "haven't you heard of a shotgun?" Yes, I have. Living in a residential neighborhood — the police might begin to know me personally....
I was surprised as anyone when WineMaker publisher Brad Ring selected Virginia for the 2014 WineMaker Magazine Conference. I live in Sonoma County, which is, of course, wine country. I'll let that extend to Napa, maybe Monterey and Santa Barbara. Even Oregon and Washington have a shot. But Leesburg, Virginia? Yes! And other points south, too.
Marty and I flew to Dulles International from San Francisco without high expectations for the wine experience. We knew we would enjoy the conference and the Lansdowne Resort looked terrific online, but we felt we were leaving the "wine consciousness" behind as we flew away from the Bay Area. We were wrong. There is a strong and rising attention being paid to wine, including local wine, everywhere we went in the southeast.
Even though wine may have been made in Virginia since Thomas Jefferson's days at Monticello, the current surge of interest is still young. Enthusiasm exceeds local production so far. At the resort itself, we made our first acquaintance with the local wine and the enthusiasm. Deciding on a light supper to help bridge the time zone gap, Marty and I sat on the outside terrace of Lansdowne's golf course pub. To go with a small flatbread pizza and some cheesy grits with tasso ham and a poached egg, we wanted a white wine. On the list was Willowcroft Riesling from Loudon County, Virginia. Slightly off-dry, it was a delicious well-made wine and just the treat we were looking for after a long day of travel. It was grown and made just a few miles from the resort.
In a number of my past blogs I have alluded to the maintenance items that are needed during the growth and early grape maturation phases of my home vineyard. These are things like shoot tying, hedging, leaf pulls, weed control, and spraying. I thought I'd make the focus of this blog to be a bit more of a discussion on the process and needs for each of these very important maintenance items. Remember, the end game is clean, healthy fruit that you can make quality wine from.
A look at my vines before and after performing summer maintenance.
This process will be completely dependent on the type of vine pruning and training you employ. In my vineyard, you might recall, I use a modified form of mid wire cane pruning. In my method, I also do a modified version of vertical shoot positioning (VSP). VSP is a method of trying to provide each shoot with a defined space and exposure to air and light that will enhance fruit maturation and minimize disease. VSP is typically employed with a bottom wire cordon pruned system to minimize the need for hedging — to be described later. Since I trained my vines on a mid wire; which I did to fit in with my deer exclusion box approach (see Pest Management Blog), I need to do a bit of extra work with some of my more vigorous varieties.
I have a Tapener tying machine that makes quick work of this process. The unit makes use of a plastic tape, that can stretch with the growth of the vine, that wraps around what you want to tie. It then deploys a small staple to close the loop that you've formed and finishes up by cutting off the tape and prepares the unit for the next tie. This is all accomplished in seconds. I highly recommend this product if you have a number of vines to deal with....