Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Goat Camembert

Last Thursday, I tried my hand at making Camembert. The last time I made Camembert, I was in college working on my internship. Unlike the Camembert that I made in the past from cows milk, this attempt was with goat milk. Danielle went over to Anita's to get some more practice milking. She came home with about two and a half gallons of fresh goat milk.

For the chevre I've been making on a weekly basis lately, I've been pasteurizing the milk prior to cheese making. All of my favorite Camemberts have been made with raw milk, so I cleaned everything really well, and then cleaned it again (don't want any bad bugs jumping into the batch), and embarked on my Camembert journey with raw goat milk.

I started around 8 pm that evening while watching the Hokies play ECU in Greenville, NC. Note to self - start earlier next time. I didn't get to bed until 1:15 am, a full two hours after the Hokies wrapped up a win.

I had been worried about the quality of the rennet I purchased a couple months ago. I tried making three batches of 30 minute mozzarella, only to have each batch fail. I was unable to achieve a clean break on any of the mozzarella batches. I had first suspected the the rennet and now suspect the quality of the grocery store milk I used. After talking to a few others who have had more failures than successes with 30 minute mozzarella, it will be a while before I attempt any more mozzarella.

I used Flora Danica for a starter culture and also added my penicillium candidum directly to the milk when adding the starter culture. I've read that geotrichum candidum added with the penicillium candidum helps to create an optimum medium for the penicillium candidum to grow on the surface of the cheeses. The penicillium candidum is the white mold on the surface of the Camembert and Brie cheeses.

I got a nice clean cut 60 minutes after addition of the rennet.

Getting ready to ladle the curds into the molds.

As the whey heads south, the curds quickly settle in the molds.

By morning and several flips later, they looked like this.

Now the Camemberts are snugly resting in my makeshift "cheese cave." I can already tell my cave is not going to be big enough.

All signs point towards success! Now we wait for the fuzz.


We are now on day five for the Goat Camembert, and there are definite signs of fuzz. Each of the cheeses has begun to develop a good covering of penicillium candidum mold (at least I hope that's what it is.) I'm pumped! I will wait another day or two to get a good picture.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Goat Cheese!

When I was at student at Virginia Tech studying Dairy Science, I had an internship one summer at a rather prestigious farm in northern Virginia working on their small private dairy where me made many kinds of cheese and other dairy products from a few Brown Swiss cows and one Jersey. I got quite a bit of experience with cheese making. It was the kind of farm where money was of little object, so we had really nice equipment and the ability to experiment without the thought of how much it was costing. Oh what a rough life. Moving on..........back to the real world of today.

On Monday of last week (Columbus Day) one of the two farriers we use came out to trim Huck's hooves (to learn more about Danielle's adventures with Huck, check out her endurance riding blog). Anita (the farrier) has a small farm, Shantara Acres, where she milks about a dozen Alpine Dairy goats. Well, when Anita came out we talked to her about getting some milk from her for me to get back into practice making cheese. That evening Danielle went over just after milking time and came home with two gallons of very fresh goat milk.

I pasteurized the milk on Tuesday using the LTLT method, which uses lower heat for a longer period of time. In LTLT pasteurization, you bring the milk to 145 degrees Fahrenheit and hold at that temperature for 30 minutes. LTLT pasteurization is preferred by most artisan cheese makers because it does not risk denaturing the proteins like the HTST method, where you bring the milk up to 161 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds.

After pasteurizing the milk, I cooled the milk back down and refrigerated. On Tuesday morning, I ordered some direct set Chevre cultures from New England Cheese Making Equipment. The cultures arrived on Friday and I set out to make some cheese. I warmed the milk to 86 degrees Fahrenheit and added the Chevre culture (which came premixed with a vegetable rennet). I allowed the culture to rehydrate in the milk for 30 seconds and then stirred for two minutes with and up and down motion. At that point I covered the pot and let the microbes and enzymes do their magic for about 15 hours.

Saturday morning, we got up and went to the farmers market. While we were out, we picked up 6 plastic tumblers from Walmart, which I have turned into cheese molds. I used a torch to heat a nail, which I used to make holes in the tumblers every inch or so through which the whey can drain.

After sterilizing our equipment, we took the top off the pot to find that our curd had set very well. There was a good layer of whey floating above and around the curd. I cut the curd into roughly one inch cube with a stainless steel knife and Danielle ladled the curds into cheese-cloth lined molds. We had enough curds from one gallon of milk to fill three molds. In one of the molds, I spooned herbs de provence as she was spooning the curds. We allowed them to drain for about twelve hours. Then we unmolded the cheese and I used a rubber spatula to press the wonderful Chevre into Ramekins. We've been enjoying it for days.

I'm very happy to know that I'm not too rusty when it comes to cheese making! I want to try making Saint Maure soon, which is sort of like a goat version of Camembert.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Damn Deer

So, I'm a little bummed; hell, I'm a lot bummed. Two weeks I was working through the Chambourcin block at the Naked Creek Vineyard cluster thinning. Chambourcin is a variety that tends to over crop in fertile soils, and if all the clusters are allowed to hang to maturity, the flavor quality will suffer. Cluster thinning is especially important in this vineyard as we are rehabbing the vines, which are not yet back to optimum vigor. Around July 18th, everything was looking pretty good. We had a little black rot, but considering how wet this season has been, I wasn't too concerned. We had probably 15% of the clusters affected with black rot. At that point, I was removing 30-40% of the clusters anyway, so I culled any of the black rot infected clusters. No big deal

Fast forward to last Tuesday, July 25th. I had been busy with work and life and had been away from the vineyard for about a week. I stopped by on the morning of 7/25 to take a look at the vines with the plan of getting back to cluster thinning that afternoon. Well, that didn't pan out. When I walked the rows that morning, ALL of the grapes were gone. I was mortified and had no idea where my grapes had gone. I had been pretty diligent with my spray schedule. Where could my grapes have gone. I took pictures and sent them to another grape grower and to a viticulture expert. Both of them came back with the same answer - wildlife damage. I'm dumbfounded that a herd of deer or turkeys could strip an entire acre of grapes in 5 days but it appears that is what happened. No Chambourcin this year.

Danielle and I decided that we will go ahead and begin our Winter project list which now includes erecting a deer fence. I'm bummed!

On a bright note, we hosted the second Peaks View Animal Hospital Wine and Cheese Pairing party on 8/23 and it was a huge success. We featured Virginia wines and Virginia cheeses. I will write more about the pairings in another post soon.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Eat Local

For over a year now, Danielle and I have been trying to spend as much of our grocery budget with local producers and merchants as possible. Most weeks we spend 60% of our grocery money at the Lynchburg Community Market, and about 40% at chain grocery stores. I'm hoping now that we are in the full swing of farmers' market season, we can push that 60% even higher.

Recently f0r dinner one evening, we had steamed mussels with mixed green and strawberry salads.

We steamed the mussels in a mixture of canned tomatoes, dry white wine, oregano, and basil. The wine used in steaming the mussels is the Mylonite White from Chateau-Z Vineyard. The wine made it to the glass too. I'd be a safe bet to say the wine was in the glass first and that's how it made it to the mussel pot. The mussels are from Prince Edward Island, which I picked up from Blue Marlin Seafood. I had hoped to find mussels a little more local, but did the best I could.

Lets back up for a minute and talk about the wine we enjoyed with this dinner. If you've followed along with my blog, you'll know that Cliff Ambers over at Chateau-Z is someone whom I have great respect for. He is working almost exclusively with hybrid grapes (he has over 200 varieties in his breeding vineyard), and makes some great wines with little known and sometimes even less appreciated varieties of grapes. Tonight's wine is his 2007 Mylonite White, which is a blend of Rayon d'Or, Seyval Blanc, Muscat, Vivant, Traminette, and Vidal Blanc hybrids. The wine is dry, crisp, and fairly aromatic. This wine is aged without oak and reminds me of Viognier. Stop by and see Cliff at the Lynchburg Community Market.

The strawberries used thin the salads were from Three Springs Farm who sells at the Lynchburg Community Market.

The broth from the mussels is great poured over the mussels as you serve them, and just begs to be soaked up with a great crusty bread. We rounded out the meal with a loaf of a country white bread from Lorraine Bakery who also sells at the Lynchburg Community Market.

I challenge each of you to seriously evaluate where your food comes from. Ask a kindergartner if he or she knows where their food comes from. If their response is the grocery store, maybe you should take a better look at what you are eating. I'm not here to bash grocery stores or even big agribusiness. I just ask that you to be more engaged in how your food gets from field (or ocean) to your plate. Ask where it comes from and what happens to it along the way.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Its a Jungle Out There

Today I got around to working on some much needed shoot thinning and vine training. I worked on the NY 76.0844.24 (Cornell hybrid). These are the vines I planted last year, which puts them in their "second leaf." I'm learning all kinds of new jargon now! Back in February, I pruned them all the way back to two buds. I only kept one spur from the best cane on each vine. This Spring, they vines took off with a vengeance. Most of the vines put out a half dozen or more shoots.

NY 76.0844.24 before shoot thinning

This year my main objective, for the vines planted last year, is to develop the cordons that will be fairly permanent structures in years to come. So I decided to shoot thin each vine back to the two most substantial and healthiest shoots. After thinning the shoots, I used the "weed whacker" to trim around the vines and under the trellis. I was VERY careful not to damage the trunk of the vines with the trimmer. This bit of maintenance made the vineyard look much neater and more professional.

NY 76.0844.24 after shoot thinning

I applied Roundup under the trellis in late winter, but now there's a good crop of weeds under the trellis. With the young vines and so much foliage close to the ground, I'm afraid to put down another application of Roundup right now. I have ordered some Rely, which should be available tomorrow. Rely is much safer than using Roundup at this point in the growing season because it is not a systematic herbicide. The Rely only affects the green tissue which it contacts. This means Rely is also great for sucker control in grapes. I plan to put Rely down in both the Spring Mill Farm Vineyard and Naked Creek Vineyard in the next few days.

Row 1 in the SMF Vineyard after a trim

The Chambourcin vines are soaring along in the Naked Creek Vineyard. Man the experts aren't lying when they say that Chambourcin over crops! Next week I'm going to have to start cluster thinning those vines.

Chambourcin clusters at Naked Creek on 6/10/09

We've had a very wet Spring this year which is usually a recipe for just about every fungal disease for grapes. On the other hand, we've had several drought years and the rain has been great for replenishing ground water supplies and for most other local crops, so I'm not going to complaining. So far, I've put down three sprays of Manzate and one Topsin M application this year. We are seeing a little black rot on leaves and very very minimal phomopsis on canes in the Chambourcin at the Naked Creek Vineyard. So far, our disease pressure is much lower than last year when we got a late start on our spray schedule. We've had about 5 inches of rain in the last 10 days but when I scouted the vines at Naked Creek, we still had some residual Manzate and Topsin M (after 4 inches of rain since application). All in all, I think we're doing pretty well in terms of disease pressure given the weather conditions this year.

Black rot spot on Chambourcin at Naked Creek Vineyard
Notice the residual fungicide after 4 inches of rain!

While were talking grape diseases, click on over to the Virginia Grape Disease Update Blog. This is a great source of up to the minute info on grape disease info based on current weather from Dr. Mizuho Nita, who is Virginia Tech's Grape Pathologist at the Winchester AREC. Dr. Nita's blog has been very helpful for me in making my IPM decisions this year.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Where Does the Time Go?

Right off the bat I want to apologize for hiatus in my posts. I just realized it has been two weeks since my last post. Life at the farm has been incredibly busy lately, with Danielle and I working outside until dark most days. Weekend before last was Memorial Day weekend and we took a little vacation from farm work. I hauled Danielle and Huck (her endurance horse) to Oxford, NC for her to spend a couple days with Beth at Fox Fire Farm. They had a fun weekend of riding and hanging out. Check out Danielle's blog for more details.

After dropping Danielle and Huck off in Oxford, I left the truck and trailer there and hopped in Danielle's car and headed to my family's lake house on Lake Gaston in Valentines, VA. The 1 hour drive was short enough to make the running back and forth bearable. The lake time was great! I forget how nice it is to slow down for a couple days. Don't get me wrong, I love the farm life and most of the farm work, but time at the lake is great for my sanity. I had taken Thursday and Friday off from work and was off Monday for the Memorial Day holiday. So I had a five day weekend. I can't remember the last time I've had one of those! Having that Thursday and Friday off gave me time to finish getting the hay making done and we got the last of the hay out of the field Friday afternoon. This left the rest of the long weekend for a little rest and relaxation.

On Sunday afternoon (5/24) my Grandmother (the family wino), my cousin Patrick (designated driver - he's only 18), and myself headed over to Rosemont Vineyards and Winery for a tour and tasting. Rosemont is one of the newest wineries in Virginia and if you're in the area you should definitely stop by. The owners were very obliging to give us an impromptu tour and were generous in the tastings. The selection of wines was pretty good, especially for a winery in its first year open. Several of the wines impressed me including a Rose' made from Chambourcin grapes. I had never tasted a Chambourcin wine made in this style and it was very easy drinking. The wine was darker than any other Rose' I've had, but hey, we do things a little differently in Virginia. The Lake Country White made mostly from Vidal Blanc grapes was just introduced that week and I think they sold more than five cases in the first afternoon. It was a great summer time "enjoy on the dock" wine. I brought home a bottle of each. The winery also serves lunch and the menu looks great. We will definitely plan for a weekend lunch there soon.

Last week was busy with garden prep and planting. Our main garden area is a low area of the farm near several springs. The rolling hills of the farm lay such that the garden area is the recipient of much of the run-off water from heavy rains. This can be an advantage in late summer when plants are drought stressed and in need of water. In the Spring time however, this can delay garden prep for a couple weeks while the area dries up enough to work the soil. Last fall, I planted rye as a cover crop on the garden and in late April of this year, I sprayed the rye with Roundup. When the rye began to turn yellow, I bush-hogged it and plowed it under. Then we got a torrent of rainfall for about 3 weeks strait. It seemed like it took another month for the ground to dry up enough to disc the plowed ground. Well, I finally got the discing done about two weeks ago. It was definitely not too dry then. At one point I was sinking down in a wet corner with the tractor. I had to unhook the disc to get the tractor out and then drag the disc out with a chain.

Last week Danielle and I were able to get a few rows planted in the garden. We planted lima beans, pole beans, beets, carrots, brussel sprouts, potatoes, sweet corn, tomatoes, tomatillos, and hot peppers. We will plant a few more things as we get time. Were trying to stagger out plantings this year (especially with sweet corn) so that we don't have a huge crop of something that only lasts for a few days. Hopefully we will be able to enjoy the fresh veggies over a longer period of time this way.

Danielle getting ready to plant Christmas lima beans

Check out the video below of Danielle's "planting dance." I had a rough time holding the camera while laughing.

I'm really impressed with how useful the Cushman has turned out for tasks on the farm. I used it to haul the rototiller down to the garden. With the dump bed and a ramp, loading and unloading was a cinch.
Unloading made easy!

This past weekend my in-laws came up for a couple days and were great help around the farm. Without any prodding (I swear!) they started weeding raised beds on Sunday! Saturday evening we took them to Machu Picchu, a local Peruvian restaurant in Lynchburg. I cannot say enough good things about Machu Picchu. The foods just wonderful. My only complaint is that I can't have a glass of wine or a beer with dinner (they serve no alcohol); however, they do make some awesome drinks out of purple corn!

Sunday afternoon, we went with the in-laws to try out another fairly new local winery. Sans Soucy Vineyards is the first farm winery in Campbell County. The winery is set on what appears to have been a tobacco farm in a previous life. The owners (and do everything elsers) Paul and Jackie Anctil were very welcoming. After the tasting they gave us a pretty encompassing tour and walked vineyard rows with us to talk about canopy management when I asked too many questions to answer in the tasting room! I'll say that Paul and Jackie have a pretty good handle on marketing! They make some great dry reds (and whites for that matter), but in the true spirit of a country farm winery, they offer a few sweeter easy drinking wines to complement their dry line-up. I'm becoming a huge fan of Petit Verdot wines grown in Virginia and Sans Soucy has varietal Petit Verdot, as well as a blend of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, and even a blend of Petit Verdot and Blackberry that they call Oak N Berry. I was amazed at how well the Petit Verdot and the Blackberry complimented each other. We came home with bottles of the varietal Petit Verdot and the Oak N Berry. We will definitely visit Sans Soucy again in the near future, maybe for one of their Sangria Saturdays!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Make Hay While the Sun Shines

There is so much to get done this time of year. At times I don't know how we get it all done especially with day jobs! In the last couple of weeks, we've had about three sunny days with the rest rainy and glum. Not that I'm complaining about the rain. Over the last few years, we've been increasingly dry in late summer. I guess we're going to have more of a wet season in the Spring, at least in this weather pattern. My grandfather has told me since I was a child that the weather goes in cycles, often time the cycles last well more than a decade.

Last week I brought home another new addition to the farm tractor fleet. I've been making do in the vineyards with the tractors we had and while it worked when it had to, I would put off mowing and spraying because the Massey Ferguson 245 was really too large for the Naked Creek Vineyard. The rows there are spaced 8 feet apart. Now imagine vines hanging towards the inside of the rows and try to drive a tractor that's 6 feet wide down the rows. At very least, the tires gently caressed the vines on the way through. So, I've been looking for a small tractor that would suit both my needs and my tight budget. I've found a Kubota L245H, which is only 5 feet wide. I mowed the Spring Mill Farm Vineyard on Friday and the Naked Creek Vineyard on Saturday. The little Kubota was AWESOME! I sprayed my second round of Manzate in the Naked Creek Vineyard Sunday evening.

getting ready to spray fungicide at the Naked Creek Vineyard with the "new" Kubota

After what seems like weeks of rain, the weatherman is forecasting blue skies all week, so Dad and I headed to the hayfield today. Dad mowed with the Massey Ferguson 245 and I mowed with the John Deere 2010 (which is about twice my age). It seems like all the neighbors watched the same weather forecast as we did. I met Danielle at Napolis for pizza tonight and it seemed like in every field along the way (13 miles) there was a tractor mowing hay. Everyone's first cut hay crop is looking great. All the rain has really helped. Hopefully the rain will hold off for the rest of the week now. This time of the year when the daytime temperatures average in the mid 70's, it will take most of the week for the hay to dry. Hopefully we can begin baling maybe on Thursday, but more likely on Friday.

hay on the ground

I managed to snap a couple pics of the Chambourcin vines in the Naked Creek Vineyard. Things are looking great there. I've been scouting for evidence of fungal disease and haven't noticed anything to be alarmed about. I did notice a light amount of spotting on a couple canes of one Chambourcin vine that looks like phomopsis. Considering how much phomopsis we've seen there in the last couple of years, I'm expecting to see some occurrence. I'm trying to be very proactive in preventative measures this year.

Chambourcin vines at Naked Creek Vineyard 5/18/09

Chambourcin flowers forming in the Naked Creek Vineyard

Monday, May 11, 2009

Spring in Full Swing

Spring is here with a vengeance and I think we're on the way to making up for our rain fall shortfall, which is a great thing; but it seems like we're going to get it all in a months time! There have been lots of happenings around the farm over the last couple weeks (even between showers). I forget how fast the grass can grow here in the Spring with an abundance of rainfall. Along with the grass we're now seeing lots of color coming from a few flowers planted last Summer.

Check out this columbine we planted last year. Its amazing that this thing come in a 3 inch pot last year now look at it! Last year it had a few blooms and we thought it was beautiful, but this year its blown us away with blooms.

This evening, Danielle and I planted some herb and tomato slips we purchased from at the Lynchburg Community Market. We planted four varieties of basil - sweet, lemon, cinnamon, and purple basil. We also planted a chive. The tomatoes are - chocolate cherry, white currant, polish linguisa, and a japanese black trifele. The herbs were planted in the round raised bed in the middle of the circular drive and the tomatoes planted in the raised bed which is next to the lettuce and strawberry bed. We were surprised to find about a dozen "volunteer" tomato plants in and around the bed. We aren't sure whether the tomatoes are growing from seeds dropped from the plants grown in the bed last year or from the compost added this year. When I lived outside Lancaster, PA, I also kept a compost pile and when I added it to the garden, I had dozens of "volunteer" tomatoes growing everywhere. That year I transplanted 30 of them and pulled the rest. So, I'm not sure where they came from. This year we only kept two of the most hardy looking volunteers in the raised bed and pulled the rest.

One of our "volunteer" tomatoes that we kept

The four basil plants with the columbine in the top left corner

Danielle working in the tomato bed

I've got to finish planting cuttings in the Spring Mill Farm Vineyard. I thought we had missed our planting window, and I still had a few cuttings left which I just had sitting in a bucket of water. These things have been in a bucket for about two months and now look at them (below). I guess they're pretty hardy! So, I will try to get them in the ground tomorrow.

On a side note, I've been wanted to get some kind of around the farm "utility vehicle" for a while, but I haven't been willing to spend the two arms and a leg required to purchase a John Deere Gator or the like. Our friends Mark and Beth over at Fox Fire Farm have a Cushman Truckster and I've had the chance to play with it over a couple years worth of visits. So I decided I "needed" a Cushman of my own. I really liked how the three wheeled Trucksters can turn and maneuver in tight places. But, like I said earlier, I couldn't justify paying too much for one. So, I've been watching Ebay and a couple weeks ago i found a Truckster in northeast Pennsylvania which needed some electrical work to get it running. I put a low ball bid on it and bought it for the whopping price of $307. About a week ago, I took a Saturday and road-tripped it PA and back to pick up the Cushman. It was 850 miles round trip and well worth the drive. I got to see the Locust Ridge Wind Farm along the way and had lots of windshield time to myself for deep thinking.

After a few hours of elbow grease and some new wiring, I got the Cushman Truckster running. When I got it started, I couldn't get it into gear and thought I would have to put a new clutch in it. The thing had been sitting for three years and I thought I'd try a little WD40. Hell, whats the worst that could happen if I was going to have to change the clutch anyway. After a little working back and forth, the clutch freed up and now its going great. Who knows when something on it will fall apart, but for what I have in it, I think I can fix it when it does.

Here are a few picture updates on the grapes in the Spring Mill Farm Vineyard (all pics taken on 5/11/09).

NY 76.0844.24 planted in 2008

NY 76.0844.24 Hybrid planted in 2009

Petit Manseng planted in 2009

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Say No to Fungi

Let me rephrase that. Say no to the fungi that come along with hot and humid East Coast summers and cause some big headaches in wine grape production. In this part of the country, folks who try to grow grapes like they do in California soon become very acquainted with fungal problems such as phomopsis, black rot, powdery mildew, and downy mildew to name a few.

When Europeans first settled North America they encountered native grapes, which were very hardy and the settlers assumed that European grape varieties (vitis vinifera) would also fare well in eastern North America. While most folks would agree that these European varieties as a group were much more suited to producing high quality wines, folks were pretty quick to notice that these varieties were not suited to withstand the cold winters and hot humid summers we face here in on the East Coast of North America. The early plantings of vitis vinifera planted in the eastern US quickly fell victim to all sorts of diseases caused by fungi native to the area, which thrive in hot humid climates.

The conundrum was that while native American grapes thrived in these conditions, they tasted more akin to kerosene than wine grapes. So, in comes hybrids. No, I'm not talking about Toyota and Honda cars. There is a different type of hybrid that could power up the wine industry, especially in the eastern United States. In the botanical world, a hybrid is any cross between two species of plant. Hybrids can happen naturally, if two plants cross-pollinate and the resulting offspring is found and cultivated. However, most hybrids in the wine world happen after experimentation. Vine experts try to combine the great flavor of one grape with the heartiness of another, and find a vine that will grow where grapes normally might not flourish.

Below is an excerpt from wineintro.com, which does a pretty good job of describing American and French hybrids.

American Hybrids

American hybrids were developed mostly during the 19th century, mixing the native American grapes with the more flavorful French and Italian grape varieties. Most native American grapes are found by winemakers to not make palatable wines. The two key exceptions are the Concord and Scuppernong grapes. Still, winemakers tried, and also tried planting imported grapevines to see if they would grow.

While the imported vines rarely survived more than a year, they did hang around long enough to cause some interaction with the native grapevines. The Alexander grape was a product of accidental cross-pollination discovered in Virginia. Other hybrids which happily sprang into being naturally after this were the Catawba, Delaware, and Isabella. Once scientists realized what was going on, they began purposefully developing hybrids. These included the Niagara and Diamond.

French Hybrids

The French and Europeans looked down on hybrids as being naturally inferior to their centuries-old grape varieties. However, when the phylloxera louse began devastating their vineyards in the late 19th century, they began to try just about anything in order to save their vineyards. Creating pest-resistant hybrids was one path they took.

The hybrids are generally more hearty, and also produce more fruit than native European grapevines. Even so, many French laws forbid their use in classic wines for reasons of tradition. Newer wine regions, not operating under such restrictions, use the French hybrids freely because of their fine flavors and easy growing conditions. French hybrids are often named after their creators, such as Francois Baco and Jean-Louis Vidal. Some well known French hybrids are Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, and Baco Noir.

So, it's a Hybrid...

Does it really matter if a grape is a hybrid or not? Not to the average wine drinker. The hybrids ensure that wine regions that might normally not be able to grow grapes can now create delicious wines. Traditional areas will continue to make wines with traditional grapes, and new wineries can experiment with vines that grow well in their non-ideal climates. Try some, and see what you think!

In an attempt to avoid the viticultural practices required to grow vitis vinifera here in central Virginia, I'm putting most of my resources towards growing hybrid grapes. I do have a few vitis vinifera vines (a couple of rows) which are varieties that appear to be somewhat well suited to Virginia's climate and soils. I have a small sampling of Petit Verdot, Petit Manseng, and Viognier vines in my vitis vinifera rows. The vast majority of my vines are Chambourcin, a new and yet un-named variety called NY 76.0844.24 from Cornell, and a mix of some other hybrids from Cliff Ambers over at Chateau-Z.

We still have to use a limited regimen of fungicide sprays in the vineyard to keep fungal problems in check; however, our spray schedule consists of 4-6 sprays per year versus 15-20 sprays per year in vitis vinifera vineyards in Virginia. I started my spray schedule this week. We've had some great warm weather over the last week to ten days and the vines are really starting to shoot up. We are expecting chances of rain tonight and over the weekend and these wet and warm conditions will be a great chance for phomopsis to get started. So, on Wednesday (4/29) I sprayed both vineyards with Manzate at a rate of 4 pounds per acre using the Friuli sprayer (on the Massey Ferguson 255) at the Naked Creek Vineyard and the backpack sprayer at the Spring Mill Farm Vineyard. I would have used the Friuli sprayer for both vineyards; however, I managed to trash a universal joint on the pto shaft of the sprayer as I was finishing the Naked Creek Vineyard. I'll have to get this fixed in the next couple weeks! I'll do my part to stimulate the economy over at Phillips Equipment.

I'm not going to get on here and say folks shouldn't grow vinifera grapes here in the East. I'm a big fan of diversity. Some great wines made in Virginia are made from vinifera grapes. Jim Law for instance, the owner and winemaker at Linden Vineyards makes some of my favorite wines from vinifera that he tends with such astounding skill. If you've never tried his wines, you don't know what you are missing. He teaches some wine making classes and I hope to be able to get in one this year. I just feel that hybrid grapes, particularly french hybrids fit what I'm trying to do here. Another exciting avenue we're heading down with hybrids is planting some vines and seed, which has been hybridized by Cliff Ambers over at Chateau-Z. These vines are hybrids of excellent wine grapes and native Virginia grapes. This year we've planted some vines from his 2005 crosses. It's going to be nerve wrecking to have to wait several years to taste the fruits of his labor. Maybe we can talk him out of a few clusters from his vineyard this year.

Check out the pics below for a vine update.

Chambourcin vines at the Naked Creek Vineyard on 4/29/09

NY 76.0844.24 vines taking off at SMF on 5/1/09

the strawberry and lettuce plants are doing great in a raised bed

Monday, April 27, 2009

Building Trellis

Last weekend, we experienced 90 degree days and blue skies in APRIL! The weather was gorgeous. Danielle went down to Oxford, NC on Friday to ride Huck and stayed down there until Saturday afternoon, so that left me own my own to get in trouble! Saturday morning, I got up and went to the Lynchburg Community Market to do our weekly farmers' market shopping. I love this time of year at the market because each week there is something new and fresh as we are just starting to get into the main part of the growing season. I picked up a loaf of semolina bread from the bread people (I should really learn their names), fresh asparagus, some pink lady apples from John Cunningham, and pork chops from Faith Farm. If you live in the Lynchburg area, you should really try the pork from Faith Farm. It's some of the most flavorful pork I've every had. I also bought some Muscat Wine Jelly from Cliff Ambers at Chateau-Z Vineyard.

Cliff sent me home with a couple bags of grape seed. They are seed that he's collected from several open pollinated grapes in his vineyard. I need to get them in the ground this week now that the ground has warmed up to a good germination temperature.

After the farmers market, I headed over to tractor supply to pick up feed for the chickens and cows (I'm beginning to realize our weekly feed budget is higher than our grocery budget). I also picked up fence posts for the trellises in the Spring Mill Farm Vineyard. I only had one row of trellis up from 2008 and got another row up on Saturday.

installing trellis posts in Spring Mill Farm vineyard

Danielle was home on Sunday and was great help when it came to sharpening the posts and marking them at 24 inches from the sharpened end. That way I don't have to guess how deep they are as I'm driving the posts in the ground.

As I've been learning about vineyard establishment, I've learned that there are two schools of thought about weather to install the trellis posts or plant the grapes first. In either situation you are going to have to navigate around one or the other. Most people put their trellis posts in first and then auger the planting holes for the grapes. I've chosen to go the other route and plant the grapes first. This way I can drive strait down the row, straddling the grapes with the tractor as I'm installing the posts. This only works while the grapes are very young and have not developed shoots. This weekend, the leaves were out but they had not gained significant height and I was easily able to clear them with the tractor.

I was able to install the trellis posts for all five of the rows that I've got grapes planted in. I still have enough cuttings to fill maybe two more rows in Spring Mill Farm Vineyard.

four rows of posts in so far!

We're also seeing lots of green signs of life in the Chambourcin vines at the Naked Creek Vineyard. Spring is definitely upon us!

signs of life in the Chambourcin vines at Naked Creek Vineyard

The beautiful weather of late has also been great for the strawberries and lettuces we've planted in raised beds. We've been pinching off the strawberry blooms this, their first year, so that they will be more vigorous and produce more berries in years to come. The lettuces came from James Henderson at the Lynchburg Community Market and are looking great.

strawberries are blooming

freckled lettuce

too bad we had to pinch off the strawberry blooms

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bud Break is Here!

Spring is definitely here, and we're starting to see bud break to prove it. Two days ago, on Sunday afternoon, I was able bush hog between the rows in the Naked Creek Vineyard. This served two purposes. The first and obvious intention is to mow down the grass cover crop between the rows. The second benefit is to chop up all the wood taken off the vines during pruning. Some people advocate removing all of the pruning waste from the vineyard and burning them in order to reduce the disease pressure particularly from fungal diseases. At this point I just don't have the time or labor help to get that done, so we just chop the debris with the bush hog which speeds up decomposition and adds organic matter back to the soil.

Yesterday as I was walking through the vineyard at home I noticed that we are definitely beginning to see bud break at the Spring Mill Farm Vineyard. We have a pretty diverse smattering of grape varieties growing in the SMF Vineyard, which reminds us that different grape varieties break bud at different times in the spring. This year our first variety to break bud was Himrod, which is a seedless table grape developed at Cornell University's Geneva Experiment Station. The NY 76.0844.24 Hybrid (I wish Cornell would come up with a name for this one) is also starting to break as well.

Himrod was the first to break bud at the SMF Vineyard

NY 76.0844.24 Hybrid just beginning to break bud

I hopped into the truck to run up the road to the Naked Creek Vineyard to check the Chambourcin vines for bud break. For the most part we've not quite had any bud break there. There may be one or two vines just barely breaking open but not enough to say that bud break has occurred. It will be anytime now.

Chambourcin buds ready to break at the Naked Creek Vineyard