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, 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

Monday, April 20, 2009

Wine and Cheese Round Two

This entry is a continuation of the earlier wine and cheese pairing post.

On we go!

Fourth Course
- Pecorino Romano served with 2006 Dancing Bull Merlot

The wine is all about ripe dark fruit flavors of blackberry and black cherry and an almost luscious, velvety mouth feel. This is framed by subtle red fruit flavors of raspberry and strawberry and a hint of toasty vanillin oak.The Dancing Bull Merlot's deep, rich fruit flavors and smooth luxurious texture make it a worth complement to grilled vegetables, risotto, or pizza.

Historically so important this cheese was part of the daily rations for Roman Legionaires in the first century AD. Fulvi, this brand of Pecorina Romano, is still traditionally made in Nepi, a village in the Roman countryside; therefore it is referred to as "genuine" Pecorino Romano. The finest milk from sheep in the Lazio region, rich in fat and protein, is selected from small proucers, analyzed regularly, and has no additives or hormones. It has a bold , briny, pungent flavor that beautifully offsets all manor of sweet, acidic tomato sauces.

Holy cow what an AWESOME PAIRING. Great job Noelle on this one! The ripe berry flavors of the Dancing Bull Merlot stood up well to the strong salty flavor of the Pecorino Romano. This was our sole sheep's milk cheese of the evening.

Brooke echoed the group's sentiment - "Great pairing . . . strong cheese and really big wine!"

Lindsay discovered red wine tonight and downed an entire glass in one swallow. It's suffice to say this was her favorite wine of the night. I was pleasantly surprised. I had figured Lindsay to be more of a Boones Farm kind of girl.

Fifth Course - New Zealand Two Year Old Sharp Cheddar & Applewood Smoked Cheddar served with 2006 Five Rivers Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon.

This all Cabernet blend undergoes 100% malolactic fermentation and features soft tannins, aromas of hazelnut, currant, and black plum, with evident toasty oak.

This New Zealand sharp cheddar is made from cows milk without hormones or pesticides. The milk has been heat-treated rather than flash pasteurized, a process that allows some of the bacteria essential for producing more diverse flavors to be retained. According to its texture, it ranks highly among hard cheeses. It pairs nicely with pears and apples.
This was the hardest course to examine. The wine was good, the cheeses were good, but the pairing was not so good. The New Zealand 2 year old sharp cheddar was not as sharp as most of us would have liked. The Kiwis must like things a little on the milder side when it comes to cheese. They do grow a mean Sauvignon Blanc, but that's for another entry. I favored the Applewood Smoked Cheddar of the two and I would venture to guess that it would pair very well with a nice smoked salmon. The New Zealand cheddar went well with the sliced apples and pears also on the plate.

Scott was giving us a little background about the wines as he poured and I think he was getting a little tipsy by the time we got to this one.

The label of this wine tells a little story, not the usual somewhat uninspired “tastes of tannins and blackberries” jargon that I don’t really understand anyway, but instead reads: “Legend has it that once, she fell in love on a mountaintop, and she never tires of drinking in the blue sky and grey mists of its summit. The mountain breeze whispers her adoration to the Five Rivers Cabernet grapes far below, making their wine rich in flavor and soul, redolent of berries and oak. Come taste her devotion—eat with appetite, drink with pleasure. And fall in love.”

Scott read it with enthusiasm and even a little gusto.

Come on, are you seriously going to claim that you wouldn’t buy this wine in a heartbeat out of curiosity alone? At least the wine lived up to the label.

Sixth and Final Course - Mountain Gorgonzola served with Goose Watch, Finger Lakes, 2003 "Finale" White Port

The Goose Watch Winery's white port is rarer than rare! Its exotic aromas and flavors of tropical fruits are perfectly balanced with amazingly rich finish. A perfect dessert wine all by itself; its a rare treat that is usually found only in Portugal.

Italy's famous Blue, Gorgonzola is made in two styles. Dolce is sweet, creamy and benign. The Naturale, or Mountain Gorgonzola offers some bite buried in dense, milky paste. Made in two stages, the cheese is begun with the morning milk covering the bottom and sides of a mold, and the evening milk to fill in the center. The mold is a taller top hat variety, similar in size and shape to a Stilton. The cheese is drained and aged for six months up to a year, producing a firmer, slightly more crumbly, wheel. It embodies the spicy, earth flavors of its mountain pastures. Made of pasteurized cow's milk in Lombardy, Italy.
This pairing was also served with a fig cake (with almonds inside) and Brooke's gourmet brownies. Danielle and Claire loved the fig cake. We will definitely have to check out Murray's Cheese for the fig cake too.

The Gorgonzola was not over powering as I had anticipated. It paired very well with this incredible port. I've never had a white port and still wonder what grape the folks over at Goose Watch have used to make this delectable drink.

Scott is upset that he doesn't have another bottle.

Claire - "I feel like I'm drinking rum, but after the shock it was very good. The cheese was amazing!"

This was coming from a girl who is allergic to cheese, so it must be good. At 18% alcohol, this wine packs a punch, but the rich flavors did well to balance the high alcohol level.

The evening turned out great and gave many of us the opportunity to delve into a whole new world of cheese beyond grocery store varieties. Danielle and I loved it, not that I'm surprised, cheese is practically its own food group at our house.

This was definitely the first of what will be more Peaks View wine and cheese parties. There's a rumor that the next party will feature Virginia wines and cheeses. Time will tell.

Wine and Cheese Party

When I started this blog, my intentions were not only to write about my adventures in farming but to also include food and wine in my musings. My intentions are to include blog entries showcasing Virginia wines and our attempts at cooking with local ingredients as they are in season. This entry will be my first foray into writing about the end product of so much work spent in vineyards and wine cellars, albeit no Virginia wines will be featured on this occasion. I promise to dedicate much effort towards Virginia wines in the near future. Its a sacrifice I will have to make!

Last night Danielle and I attended the first of what is hoped to be a series of wine and cheese pairing parties put on by folks at the animal hospital where Danielle works. This was inaugural event and was held at Noelle and Scott's home. Noelle selected six cheeses from Murray's Cheese in Manhattan and had them shipped here to Virginia. She also selected six wine varieties to pair with each cheese course. Then it seems she took her list of wine varietals to one of our local Kroger stores and had the wine merchant select the particular wine within each varietal and in a reasonable price range. We were all pleasantly surprised that our local Kroger (in podunk) would employee such a talented wine merchant.

Our wine selection

The six courses listed in order of service are listed below (cheese followed by wine) along with my impressions and comments from the crowd. The descriptions in the quote boxes are the descriptions provided by Noelle at the beginning of the evening.

First Course - French Brie En Croute served with Prosecco from Montelliana

Prosecco is an Italian wine - generally a dry sparkling wine - made from a variety of white grape of the same name.

Brie is one of the most famous and imitated of all French cheeses. Made from cows milk, it is characterized by a downy white bloom, or rind and a cream -colored buttery interior that oozes when ripe.

  • The Prosecco was very refreshing - "Like the Sprite of the wine world!"
  • Not as dry as anticipated - good for a sparkling wine
  • The Brie was very well received with a round of seconds quickly devoured
This Prosecco was a pretty good bubbly. We've all had the kind of stuff handed out at a New Year's Eve party that cost $4.99/bottle and wondered why anyone really likes to drink the bubbly stuff, but this wine was in a whole different league. It was light with notes of citrus and peach without the added headache inducing sugar that's added to the cheap stuff to make up for the lack of flavor. This was a bargain at $10/bottle.

Second Course - Cave aged Swiss Courmino Gruyere Fondue served with 2007 Hogue Chardonnay

This brand of Gruyere is new, but its old-school Swiss approach to an ancient recipe is anything but! A cooperative chain of production ensures that the best Brown Swiss cows milk is sourced from a selection of very small herds. These dairy farmers take their fresh, raw milk twice daily to their local, certified Gourmino cheese maker. The most mature wheels are selected - at least twelve months old. The cheese won first place in the 2008 world cheese championship and has been featured on the Martha Stewart Show.
Noelle made an incredible fondue out of this Gruyere along with a generous helping of garlic, a little flour, and a random Pinot Grigio from the fridge. Most of us were surprised to be served sugar snap peas along with the bread as a carrier for the gooey creamy goodness; however, the fresh crispy pea was great with the fondue (not that the baguette style bread was left on any of the plates).

The vanilla notes were very noticeable on the finish of the Hogue Chardonnay. Most of the group thought this wine was rather unimpressive. It was later voted as the bottom of the nights list of wines. Wine Spectator gave this Chardonnay 87 points. I don't see it, but then again, I'm not too partial to Wine Spectator ratings. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not usually a Chardonnay fan; however, even the Chardonnay aficionados in the group were not moved. To this day, the only Chardonnay I can really say I've enjoyed has been the 2007 Reserve Chardonnay from Benziger in Sonoma County, California.

Third Course - Taleggio served with 2007 Robert Mondavi Private Selection Pinot Grigio

Pinot Grigio is considered a natural mutation of the Pinot Noir grape and was first identified in the 14th century in Burgundy. Since then, this unique vine has traveled the globe. It thrives in the rich loam soils of Mondavi's vineyards in Lodi, California yielding grapes with ripe, perfumed aromas and silky flavors, and has become a popular variety for new plantings.

Welcome to stinky cheese 101, where we learn that despite pungent, nearly offensive aromas, flavors can be gentle buttery, and mild. The lush rolling grasslands of Lombardy, Italy are the source of great milk, transformed into this meaty, salty square with the compulsively edible yeastiness of freshly baked bread. That sunny cantaloupe-colored rind my get gray and furry, but things have not necessarily gotten out of hand.
With that kind of wine description, we are reminded how much marketing goes into a brand like Robert Mondavi. With that said, this wine was very pleasant served with the Taleggio. At first glance or sniff, I was affraid the wine would be over powered by the cheese; however the light and crisp Pinot Grigio was well matched with the surprisingly mild and creamy flavor of the Taleggio.

Several of us in the group commented that the cheese smelled like feet, but tasted great!

The Taleggio ended up being my favorite cheese of the night. Noelle was surprised when all was said and done that this cheese was the favorite of many in the group. She had feared we'd all be turned off by the pungent aroma. I'm not sure where to get Taleggio anywhere near here, but I'll definatley be on the lookout!

At this point, Jeremy asked when we get to the Velveeta!

When I originally wrote this entry, I put all six courses in one entry, but it turned out to be a VERY long entry, so I've split it up into two entries.

Wine and Cheese Round Two will follow shortly . . .

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Finished Pruning!

I've finally finished pruning the Chambourcin vines at the Naked Creek Vineyard. Its been rainy all week, but I've managed to get a couple hours break in the rain clouds over the last few evenings. All but today that is. I finished the last ten vines in a downpour. At this point, I'm just happy its done. I guess we can call it a refreshing rain! I'm still far from done my spring vineyard work. I still have to mow between rows, replace a few posts, and put down lime at the Naked Creek Vineyard. I've also got some trellis building to do at the Spring Mill Farm Vineyard.

More to come . . .

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Still Pruning!

It seems like I'll never get done pruning this year. Everytime I get a few hours that I can dedicate to pruning, we get rain. I'm not going to complain about the rain at this point since we are already a couple inches behind for the year and the last few years, we've been in a drought. Its good for the grapes to get the water this time of year when we don't have to worry about berries splitting. In the new vineyard at the home farm, I sub-soiled the entire hillside before we started planting. That helps to keep some of the water from running down the hill. Speaking of water for the grapes, I'm installing what I call poor man's drip irrigation. I've mounted a 100 gallon livestock watering tank on a three point hitch carry-all for the tractor and replaced the drain plug in the bottom with a valve. As I plant each row, I try to collect enough old leaky water hoses to stretch the entire length of the row. Then I lay the hose down the row and drill a small hole in the hose beside each vine. At that point, I can fill the watering tank on the tractor with water from the spigot at the barn and drive it out to the vineyard. I park the tractor at the top end of the row and hook the hose to the valve on the tank and let it fly. It takes about an hour to empty the tank and all of the water soaks into the ground. While this may not be a perfect situation, it works surprisingly well for very little investment. I feel like that in their first couple years, the vines are very susceptible to drought stress.
John Deere 2010 with livestock tank on three point hitch

Poor man's drip irrigation

As I've mentioned before, I'm giving the Chambourcin vines at the Naked Creek Vineyard a major haircut this year. As I get to each vine, I try think about how I want the vine structure to be years down the road. You can see some before and after pictures of a random vine below. I've also read in some of Jim Law's articles about his success with cane pruning his vinifera vines where he's had problems with phomopsis, so I'm thinking I may get some added benefit of reduced disease pressure as a result of these pruning decisions. Last year we had problems with both phomopsis and black rot in the Naked Creek Vineyard. I'm trying to tailor my spray schedule to anticipate and limit the fungal problems this year.

Here is a before pruning shot of a Chambourcin vine

Here is an after pruning picture of the same vine

If you click on the pictures they will blow up to full size (warning: if you are on dial-up they are big pics) and you will notice in the before pruning picture that the vine structure needs some work. The cordon on the left side of the trunk only had a couple canes last year. The internodal space is way to large. On the right side of the cordon, there is the same problem along with way to much cane crowding toward then end of the cordon. So, I decided it was time to start over on this vine (and many others), so I removed the two cordons at the top of the trunk and selected two healthy canes from near the head of the trunk to lay down. These two canes will be the cordons as they mature.

Here's a shot of the Naked Creek Vineyard in the Spring

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Srambling to get it all done

Spring time is always incredibly busy on any farm, and we sure fit into that predicament. With the warmer weather and longer days comes lots of work in the vineyards and garden. Danielle ordered a large assortment of heritage vegetable seeds for the garden and every time I look at the box of seed packets, I get anxious wondering if we will get them all planted at the right time. We planted annual rye on our garden spot last fall as a cover crop. I picked up an 8 foot wide disk to try out on my John Deere 3120, which is my project tractor (like I really need another project) a couple weeks ago. I used the disk when I got it home to disk up half of the garden spot and now its ready for the rototiller if/when we get a few warm sunny days in a row.

The vineyard progress towards bud break in the two vineyards seems to be getting away from me. I'm just about half way through pruning the Chambourcin vines at the Naked Creek Vineyard, and hope to get them finished by Saturday afternoon (if the weather cooperates). I've pruned everything in the vineyard here at Spring Mill Farm, and my main work here is planting the vines I purchased from Grafted Grapevines and the cuttings I received from Cliff at Chateau Z. As I mentioned in a recent post, I planted the NY hybrid last Sunday. Yesterday aternoon, I was able to get the twenty-five vines of Petit Manseng. Last year when I planted the NY Hybrid, the Petit Verdot, and the Viognier, I really worked the post hole digger for the tractor too hard with the 24 inch auger. This year, instead of tring to dig the planting holes in hard unworked ground, I plowed each new row and ran the small pull behind disk over the row. I did that two or three weeks ago and the planting holes have been much easier to dig, even with the 24 inch auger. At some of the holes last year, it would take over a minute to dig the planting hole with the tractor. The auger would barely inch through the hard soil. After working the ground, the tractor is able to dig the holes in a few seconds. Much easier on the equipment and the operator!

Yesterday afternoon as I was gathering my equipment to plant the Petit Manseng, I noticed that the buds on cuttings of several of the varieties that I got from Chatea Z were really beginning to swell. I snapped the picture below of some Wine King cuttings. I really need to get them in the ground quickly. The temperature here is forecated to get down to 32 degrees tonight and it doesn't look like we will have anything that has broken bud if we get a frost., but it won't be long! I'm hoping that tonight will be our last hard frost of the season. I know thats a little ambitous, but why not be optimistic.

Wine King cuttings with swollen buds

Today, after work, I was able to get some more cuttings planted. I got the Delaware, Herbemont, Wine King, and Diamond cuttings in the ground. I've been putting three cuttings in at each vine location. I think that should be sufficient to be sure we get a live vine in each spot. Next Spring, if we have more than one live vine at any of these locations, I will transplant it somewhere.

I've also been amazed at the diversity of soil types from one end of the vineyard to the other here at the home farm. In the upper end of the vineyard, we have a darker brown loamy soil that is much more workable in your hand and appears to be richer. towards the end of the rows, the soil changes to a redder, heavier clay loam. You can see the diversity in soil types in the pictures below. I will be excited to see the difference in growth and flavor characteristics as the geology and microclimates of the vineyard change from one place to another. I've been trying to learn about the French term terroir, but I'm hessitant to use the term becuase of the snoby stigma that often time accompanies the concept.

Here is a excerpt from an article written by Jim Law of Linden Vineyard, which leads me to think how the soil and elevation differences thoughout the vineyard will impact the grapes to be harvested:

"Does terroir exist in the East? Of course it does, but expressing it and understanding it takes more time than most of us will spend on this earth. Over the last 7 or 8 years I have been fairly consumed with the expression of terroir in my wines. I feel as though I have made some good progress, but have a lot to learn. France is my model, but I don't like to use the term terroir only because of the snob factor. I prefer to use "place" but I use the two interchangeably. I would like to share what I have uncovered and where my focus will be in the future."

The soil is a red clay loam here. Note the 24 inch auger.

This picture was taken in the same light as the previous one. Notice how much darker and friable the soil is.

The more I try to learn about the small nuances and differences that can be caused by geology, the less I feel like I know. If I get nothing else from my vineyard work, I will sure get a lesson in geology.

I've yet to learn as much about the terroir and microclimate differences at the Naked Creek Vineyard. I have not studied the soild there nearly as much since it is a mature vineyard with permanent cover crops. I'll try to get my hands dirty a little more there this year.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Busy Day

Today was a full day for Danielle and I but it turned out to be a great day! Today was our first wedding anniversary. Its hard to believe we've been married a year now. We got up and went to Nellysford for brunch at a little wine and cheese shop that has a great little restaurant named Basic Necessities. If you are ever around Wintergreen on a Sunday morning, its a great place to stop for brunch. We stopped on the way back home at Lowes and picked up a few strawberry plants and a dewberry bush.

When we got home, we planted seven (I think) heritage apple trees that we got from Cliff over at Chateau Z. Last fall, he grafted the heritage varieties on dwarf rootstock. We've had them sitting in a bucket of water for weeks waiting for the rains to stop long enough to get some farm work done. With the help of the Massey Ferguson and a post hole digger, we made quick work of it. We had plenty of help. My sisters children, Adam (6), Rebecca (4), and Ben (2) all wanted to help. Now I understand why it took my Dad so long to get anything done when we were kids. Everyone says these kinds of days are preparing Danielle and I for children one day. We got them all in the ground without any trouble. Its kind of funny to watch 3 small children fight over who gets to stomp the dirt in the hole to pack everything down.

After planting the trees, Danielle and I planted the strawberries in one of the raised beds we built in the red clay bank beside the driveway to the barn. We've had a hard time getting any kind of ground cover established on that bank, so the raised beds have really helped. Last year we got some great tomatoes out of one of the raised beds. Between the strawberries, Danielle planted some lettuce plants which were given to us by James Henderson to try. The freckled variety is new for them. Then we laid down a soaker hose and mulched the bed with straw. Danielle was not too happy when she realized that strawberries perform much better if you pinch the blooms off the first year. We also planted the dewberry bush further down the bank.

After planting the berries and lettuce, I headed to the new vineyard here at the farm and worked to plant some of the new vines I've received over the last couple weeks. Today I was able to get ten more of the NY 76.0844.24 (which I mentioned in the previous post) in the ground before the day was gone. Danielle chronicled some of the planting work and the pictures are below.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Trying Again

I'm going to try maintaining a blog again. I started one last April while stuck at the San Francisco airport for three days when we were trying to get home from our honeymoon. At that point I had lots of time to work on it and plenty of high speed wireless to work with. When we finally got home (three days later than expected), we were back to the world of dial up and I lost all motivation to work on it. So here goes again.

Here we are on the second day of April and I'm in a fervor trying to get so much work done in the vineyards before bud break. My day job has been consuming a little extra time lately, but hey, I work full time so I can afford to farm part time! We have two small vineyards located in south central Virginia. We lease a vineyard (Naked Creek Vineyard) about three miles from the farm that has a 1 acre block of Chambourcin which is 28 years old this year. We think this is the oldest planting of Chambourcin vines (of commercial size) in Virginia. That makes them a little special in my mind.

When I took over managing and working the vineyard in January 2008, the vines had been neglected for several years and were in bad shape. At times, I don't think I did them much justice last year either. It was a major learning experience for me though. You can take all the vineyard management classes in the world, but until you actually get out in the vineyard, you cannot really understand how all of the managment decisions fit together. Let me give you an example. We (my wife, Danielle, and I) jumped head first into the vineyard business that January with little more than ambition and a few classes to work with. Our first task was to prune the acre of Chambourcin with our main instruction being "cut everthing back to two buds." Well, in the few years previous to us taking over the vineyard, the owners had paid several people with little vineyard experience to prune. Let me back up and fill you in on the owners/previous mangers - they are distant family members on my Dads side of the family. They established this vineyard with a Chambourcin block and another block across the driveway with two different vinifera varietals (which are getting pulled out) to grow for Stonewall Vineyard and Winery. I grew up picking grapes there on a yearly basis as harvest days turned into a big gathering in our little community of Concord. The vineyard was planted in the early 80's and was well managed and produced well for all but the last few years. Then several years ago, Stonewall closed its doors due to health problems of the owners. At that point, the owners of the vineyard were pretty burned out on grape growing and were looking for an out. This is the point where I come into the picture. So here we were in Jan/Feb 2008. The vines had been pruned back to two buds in the previous couple of years but little was done to maintain vine structure. Over a couple of years the vines got to the point that they had clusters of shoots concentrate at one or two big knots on the old cordons. With little experience to go on, I did exactly as I was told - I pruned everything back to two buds. In turn I did little more than perpetuate clustering problem.

Then came our spray schedule. Or lack of one! Again, I was working on no experience and my first fungicide spray was in mid June. Even though Chambourcin is a French hybrid, it is not totally immune to fungal infections especially in hot humid Virginia summers. I started spraying about a week after I noticed a major outbreak of black rot and a few signs of phomopsis. Needless to say, last year was a bust when it comes to fruit production. I had Jeanette Smith of VineSmith out in late June to help me acess the situation and we decided to drop the fruit and try to make it a vine rebuilding year. So, with some remourse, began cutting all the fruit from the vines to help the vineserve resources.

Fast forward to last month (March 2009). Here we are pruning again, but this year we've know a little more of what we are doing. As I touch each vine, I try to have a vision of where I want this vine to go over the next couple years. I've given that vineyard a major "haircut." In many cases I've chosen the two strongest canes and laid them down to form cordons and cut everything else off. In come cases where I don't have 2 canes that I like, I take the whole vine back to just two buds total. With 28 years of root structure, they should really shoot up this year.

As of today I'm about half way through pruning the Chambourcin at Naked Creek. If we get a few days of sunshine I could get the rest done, but I'm not going to complain about all the rainy weather. We will be thankful for it in July and August. We also have a small (approximately 1 acre) vineyard at Spring Mill Farm (our home farm). We began planting this vineyard last year. We planted a row of NY 76.0844.24 which is a new hybrid of Traminette and Ravat 34 which we purchased from Grafted Grapevines in New York. We also planted 10 vines each of Viognier and Petit Verdot which we purchased from a nursery in California which I will not name. The quality of the vines we got from the California nursery was very inferier to the vines from Grafted Grapevines. All of the vines were planted within a day of each other with the same planting methods. They all received drip irrigation. To this point, all of the NY 76.0844.24 grapes have survived. Seven of the Viognier lived and only ONE Petite Verdot vine survived the summer. Needless to say I was very disappointed.

The home vineyard was easy to prune this year. I was done in about an hour! But, we are really working hard there too now. I ordered more of the NY 76.0844.24 and enough for a row of Petit Manseng. They arrived last week and I'm waiting for the weather to break so I can get them in the ground. We've also got lots of cuttings, which came from Cliff Ambers' Chateau Z Vineyard in Amherst, VA to get in the ground soon. Cliff has been a great help in my vineyard education. He is a wealth of knowledge and an advocate of growing grapes (anything for that matter) that are suited to your environment. He keeps telling me not to grow vinifera, and now I see why. Cliff is a grape breeder and has over 200 varieties in his vineyard. I'm really excited about the cuttings we've gotten. By the way, Cliff makes some great wines and sells at the Lynchburg, VA farmers market on Saturdays (and I think Wednesdays during the summer). GO SEE HIM! I'm rather partial to his Tobacco Row Red and Pear Wines. Both of which are sold out for the 2008 vintage. I think Cliff is developing a cult following over at Sweetbriar College where he teaches a couple geology labs and a wine evaluation class. When we were out getting cuttings, Cliff also sent us home with buckets of heritage apple and persimmon trees. I've got to get those planted too. Right now the are sitting in tubs of water. A couple of the apple trees are starting to push out leaves.

Well, I think that's enough for tonight. Sorry for such a long post, but I wanted to fill in the background on the two vineyards. There's plenty more going on around the farm here too. Hop over to Danielles blog, If the Trees Had Ears to see some of the goings on.