All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray…
(California Dreamin, the Mamas and the Papas)
The Sky is Gray
Four days after Halloween daylight savings time ends. It gets dark around 4 PM. On the bright side there is daylight at 7 AM. What really closes in is the realization that although winter might not be officially here, for all practical purposes it already is. Get the wood in. Cover anything you don’t want wet. Bring in the crops… I’m sure they put Thanksgiving toward the end of the month because if you are ready for winter by then, it’s really something to be thankful for.
At least the cooler weather keeps fruit well. Unlike grapes, that need immediate attention, apples can wait. So days crushing apples for fresh cider, cider to freeze and cider to make wine out of were spaced out all month. I have been crushing and pressing apples on what I believe is the first apple press made at the American Village Institute in Marcus. They still make cider presses. I worked in their foundry around 1977 having already ordered a cider press, I was able to cast parts for one that was assembled on site at the end of our apprenticeship week and it has my initials cast into it.
AVI = American Village Institute, JB is me, American Harvester is the style.
Now that it is 40+ years old, it cranks a little slower – that may just be me. The juice leaks out in places but mostly goes in the stainless steel bowls where it should. There are no real bearings but the 25 pound flywheel keeps the crusher turning except if you put more than one apple through it at a time. It takes 3/4 of a box of apples to fill one pressing basket and make about a gallon of juice. I crank with one hand and load apples with the other. It goes pretty easy at first but by the time the basket is full (believe me), Nordic Track has nothing on my cider press. So it is really good exercise and I am going to totally rebuild it with an electric motor and real bearings or just replace it as soon as I can.
While crushing apples I listened to Rocky, the overachiever pine squirrel, who has been dropping pine cones from 100 ft up on our huge central Ponderosa pine tree at a prodigious rate. He (or she) takes an occasional break to sit on a limb and chatter at us in between bombing runs and trips stuffing pine cones in the open ends of the old house forms that make up our shop and woodshed. He is good company but don’t walk under that pine tree.
Rocky with a pinecone
The cider process is also popular with deer, who come round to eat the leftover apple pulp from the pressing. I have been trying to mix some of it in with the compost I am still spreading between the vineyard rows, but I don’t always get to that right away and the deer essentially camp out here when there is apple pulp by the compost. There’s nothing like going into your back yard at night and seeing two bright green eyes staring at your headlamp from a deer bedded down on the lawn.
Another creature to feature this month has to be our cat, Gray-C. Cheryl started humming Christmas carols with Gray-C on her lap earlier this month and Gray-C started meowing along with her. But later a big orange tabby feral cat moved into our outbuildings and we saw the two cats sitting in a tree yowling at each other one morning. A couple nights later a cat fight broke out on the south side of the house. There were tufts of orange and gray hair left on the grass in the morning. I wish that was the end of it. But on November 27th Cheryl discovered that Gray-C had a swollen cheek. A hastily arranged visit to the vet confirmed that there was an abscess that had to be lanced after shaving off hair on one side of her face. A couple days later Gray-C brought in not one, but 2 dead mice in the evening and has not slowed down since. It’s probably her way of making up for the vet bill.
Gray-C after a close shave
We celebrated the end of the month at Thanksgiving with our daughter April and her family and friends. Snow was falling on Boulder Creek pass as we drove home but has not managed to stick here yet. Huckleberry/Apple wine is working and wafting great smells in the office/winery. New mapping and history projects are spread over the desk. Gretchen and Gray-C warm up by the wood stove in the morning. All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray, but it’s okay.
That grass ain’t green It’s kinda yellow See what I mean?
Bob Dylan, Traveling Wilburys – Inside Out
So October was “kinda yellow” from the get go. It involved a lot of chilling out from 62 degrees in the evenings at the beginning of the month to 41 degrees and some frosts at night near the end. At first I would bundle up at 50 degrees. This morning it was 44 and I put on a Carhartt vest over my inside cloths and did my chores. No big deal. I guess my blood is getting thicker.
The leaves turned yellow and most of them have fallen off by now. On October 1st I picked Siegerrebe grapes at nearby Downriver Orchards. Last year Don had trouble with powdery mildew but used a variety of organic sprays to bring in a beautiful crop, much of which is now bubbling on its way to becoming a kinda yellow wine.
The vats were full most of the time as crop after crop went through the crusher and into primary fermentation. We were drying prunes, the last of the dried fruit; stacking firewood, making wine and eating our favorite kinda yellow corn fritter breakfasts up until October 9th. About then we started having fires in the wood stove most mornings to warm up the house. Now it’s going, most of the time with a warm yellow flame.
Slow food Group doing some fast picking
A team of friends from our Slow Food group came over on the 14th to bring in our biggest crop, Baco Noir. It was more of a red day with lots of wine, Cheryl’s homemade chili and red leaves on the oaks and ash trees. I thought Baco Noir would be the last red wine of the year but a couple days later some friends gave us their grapes which included Marquette. It’s a grape that I had heard a lot about but never seen. The color is amazing, a vivid deep magenta. There is still a little bright froth at the top of its carboy as it settles in for a couple of years of fermenting before we can taste how it turns out.
But the last grapes to come in are “whites” which really are kinda yellow. On the 21st I started harvesting the
Okanagan Riesling. We have enough to sell this year from the 2016 crop and it is wonderful. In fact although red wines are perennially popular, the whites tend to have more distinct flavors. Siegerrebe caught the attention of the crowd at Barreca Vineyards wine tasting on Friday the 19th at Meyers Falls Market. The slight citrus tang of Muscat was also welcome. Our last grape wine of the season is Gewürztraminer, a spicy addition to our kinda yellow lineup. We made Himrod wine again this year to take advantage of the tangy taste of this seedless variety. Soon after it gets totally ripe, the clusters start to drop, so you have to deal with them.
Cheryl’s Comedy Face
Just before the end of daylight savings time, the mornings are especially dark. We dressed up in costumes for our last Farmers Market of the year on Halloween itself. We set up the canopy in the rain by the light of a kinda yellow street lamp and ate our pumpkin pie for breakfast. It was a little sad to say goodbye to our market friends for the year. The vendors gave a gift basket to Tazi and Tamara because it was also the last day for Tazi’s Coffee Shop that has been such a boon to the market all year.
There is still some yellow going on. The Western Larch (Tamaracks) have turned bright yellow but will soon lose
their needles. I picked Golden Delicious apples that our neighbor gave us. Some started to split and the last of the Yellow Jackets loved that. I have a new respect for them although I think one of them nailed me in the neck on the 15th. They kill destructive insects like leafhoppers and they store yeasts over the winter. And of course they are kinda yellow.
This Praying Mantis is not yellow. Sometimes they are. It’s in a faceoff with a spider.
As you could expect, this is a very busy time of year at the vineyard. So to shorten the blog to a minimum I will just put a link here for an article I wrote in the North Columbia Monthly for October – and have recreated here on this website. It is called Dirt First and gives the basics of Regenerative Agriculture. Then I will put in some pictures with captions.
Dried Fruit for the winter
Tomatoes coming on
Filberts from out trees
Hot Lips are still in bloom
The Red Oak picture by Cheryl
Marechal Foch Grapes
The Rav4 broke a timing belt on the way to the Farmers Market
Siegerrebe Grapes in the crusher
Cheryl sold her 4 wheel drive Toyota to my daughter April. Maybe James will be able to drive it in 2030.
Lucie Kuhlmann primary fermentation
Friends picking a future French Rocks Red wine
Big Cat Face spider
Siegerrebe Grapes at Downriver Orchard
Our VW Vanagon cracked ahead – out for the season
Kit and Sharon Shultz crushing grapes with Tom Distler
Amber and Tom helping out
A big Black Lab Cheryl rescued from the highway and found the owners for
When a pendulum swings it pauses at either end and quickly passes through the middle. August is the middle. Things are changing quickly. We have gone from some of the hottest summer days on record to days of giant swings between the high and low temperatures. That part of our weather is actually good for grapes and wine. Not so good were a few days of suffocating smoke that might affect the wine.
Record High Temperatures
Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring was published in 1962 warning of mankind’s impact on the natural world. 66 years later this last month has me wondering once again if we have not permanently impacted wildlife. After spending parts of many days putting up bird nets over the grapes, virtually no birds showed up, just a flock of robins apparently looking for bugs in the new mulch. I’m hoping that it is only a temporary aberration because of smoke but smoke has become the norm in the past few years. I also worry about wasps and yellow jackets this time of year. They were going strong all summer but now seem to have faded away.
At least the crickets are persistent, maybe too persistent. They set up a steady drone in the evening with a pulse of solo artists nearby. We have a frog somewhere behind the refrigerator that pipes up around dinner time. The crops are doing well, I dried a couple gallons of
Some critters persisted
cherries and apricots. Cheryl froze, strawberries, raspberries, peaches and blueberries. We picked a good supply of huckleberries.
With the fruit there is also fresh corn and the combination makes for our favorite breakfast: corn fritters and fruit. The recipe is simple. One ear of corn kernels, one egg and several teaspoons of flour. Mix them all together and fry. Flip after a minute or so and in another minute you should have a fritter nicely browned on each side, ready for butter, maple syrup and fresh fruit. Multiply the ingredients to suit your appetite. Serve with a white desert wine. (Just kidding about the wine).
But speaking of white wine, August was a great month for filling out our white wine selections. The Muscat has a surprising hint of citrus and was great with Copper River salmon last week. For the first time ever we have some extra Gewürztraminer to sell with it’s unique fresh flavor. Siegerrebe, a crisp semi-sweet white wine, has been popular all summer. A new addition is elderberry wine which many people have heard of and some rave about. We are almost out of the limited release of Riesling for 2016, a wine I am very proud of, refreshing but not too sweet or tart. And finally, Caramel(ized) Apple Wine that seems perfect for Fall.
Boyds fire in the background
The beginning of August brought us drought and record-breaking heat with at least a couple of days reaching 104. We could work outside in the morning or evening, but inside our underground house or straw bale office were the best places to beat the heat. Heat became the least of our problems on August 11th, when a fire broke out across the lake from us and 10 miles to the north, said to be caused by a tree blowing over in 40 mph winds and hitting a power line. The “Boyds Fire” was really mostly near Barney’s Junction, Noisy Waters and Nancy Creek, not Boyds. But apparently we cartographers are the only ones fussy about names. Over the next couple of weeks it grew to nearly 5000 acres.
Boyds Fire First Night (Links to Video)
The morning of the 12th we drove to the newly opened hardware store in Kettle Falls and bought a box of N95 breathing masks. Then we drove out to St Paul’s Mission to look at the fire burning on the other side of the lake. Several homes burned, some owned by people we know. Many others lost power and had to evacuate, including our mailman. Ultimately it became a project fire with 400 firefighters. The whole town of Kettle Falls seemed to be a fire camp. We put icons for air quality on our phones and watched as it crept past unhealthy to very unhealthy and hazardous. We wore breathing masks for the limited time we spent outdoors and still keep sprinklers on around our buildings. When you can barely see across the street because of the smoke, you are always worried that there may be a new fire nearby that you just can’t see. Finally, two weeks later on August 26th it rained enough to wet the ground and clear the air.
Great Sunsets in the Smoke
The sun was a red ball in a gray sky at sunrise and sunset. Even the moon was red and the stars mostly disappeared. Now we are thankful for the crisp air and the blue sky. Signs reading “Firefighters Rule” have sprouted up everywhere, (along with all the political signs of course). Despite articles circulating about “smoke taint”, we have started to harvest grapes, and they taste great. The “tyranny of the harvest” has begun and we are glad to work outside again.
This will be the hottest day of the year, 104 degrees. I’m glad to be in our straw bale winery at 74 degrees F. It is also the height of fruit season. There are cherries in the dryer; apricots in the refrigerator; huckleberries, blueberries and peaches in the freezer. Breakfast was fresh corn fritters with most of those fruits on top. Grapes, plums and apples are all on their way or just starting. But bringing the crop in is far from a done deal.
Grapes Turning Color
The new irrigation is almost completely installed but ironically we are now starting to taper off on water. The grapes are turning to their natural color. Veraison is the technical name of this stage of their development. The not so technical name is “get the bird nets up” season. So the push is on to have the grapes covered while migrating birds start to pass by so they don’t decide to stay awhile.
Smoke over Eastern Washington
It has also been a busy month for migrating visitors. Too bad they are not here to help with the nets. But who can blame them. The whole of Eastern Washington is covered in forest fire smoke. We did get a fast ride on a Zodiac from a visiting friend of a friend. It’s a good time to live near a lake.
On July 27th I bottled
Riesling from 2016. It is very much a vintage to be proud of. We have enough of it to sell right now but it is going fast.
Two days later I gave a talk on Regenerative Agriculture and a Permaculture gathering nearby. It was well-received and I took the occasion to introduce some observations about how adding compost between the rows in the vineyard is affecting the grapes. The basic idea of Regenerative Agriculture is that healthy living soil is more fertile than any soil that depends on additions of fertilizer be it chemical or even organic. I’m seeing a “multiplier effect” in the rows that have been enhanced for the longest time. First the compost acts as a mulch. So they retain more water and it is enriched with nutrients from the compost. This spurs more plant growth in both the ground cover and the grapes.
As a sample I can compare a plantian leaf from outside the vineyard that gets water but no compost with one from a composted row. The first is 3 inches long. The second is 10 inches. If you estimate 3 times the length and 3 times the breadth, there is over 9 times the size in the compost grown plant. This will multply the amount of organic matter sitting on that row, which will in turn help grow larger plants all around. Additionally there is added bug life and bird life. The vineyard is now a habitat. I expected these effects to take years to mature and am sure that they will. But the immediate effects are much greater than I anticipated.
Tasting at Republic Brewing
Later on the 29th after giving a talk in the morning and exploring for huckleberries in the afternoon, I talked about our wines at an official wine tasting at the Republic Brewing Company. That was fun, gave me a better idea of what wines are favorites and resulted in more orders. The top three picks were Lucie Kuhlmann, Baco Noir and Siegerrebe. The Lucie Kuhlmann is a sweet, strong wine that stands well on its own. The Baco is drier and pairs well with hearty dishes. Siegerrebe is a crisp white wine that when chilled makes a refreshing addition to light meals in this hot weather.
Come to think of it. That sounds like a great idea right now. I’ll start making a fresh vegetable and pasta dinner while doing some “quality control” on a cool glass of white wine.
Usually I review diary entries from the last month to write this blog. I did that for June and it looked pretty boring. I also usually have a theme and had been thinking about “recycling” as the theme. That sounded like it could easily end up as another pedantic rant on sustainability from an old hippy. But I think people should know what it takes to run this small winery so this month I am going to recycle my to-do list from July 5th. I’m shooting for the best combination of pedantic and boring.
1: Water the Pots – I have over 400 grape starts in black plastic pots under the big elm tree. They don’t get sunburned or dry out too quickly there but still need water and it has been really dry for awhile. I should be transplanting some into bigger pots but did that on at least 10 days in June. So they are on maintenance mode until I get caught up on stuff that is in crisis mode. (The pots are all recycled.)
2: Fix the irrigation to the new Siegerrebe Plants – This is a minor crisis. New plants need a lot of water and I have a new line of spinning sprinklers hooked up for the Siegerrebe, (a mellow crisp white wine that I just had with an artichoke dinner). The old hose going to the new line broke and I had to fix that and get them watered.
3: Mow and water the main grape block – I had already thinned these vines but the new canes were reaching the ground and grass under them was slowing the air flow, which leads to more disease issues and an even later harvest. Cutting the ends of the canes forces them to sprout new leaves higher up and mowing lets the wind dry the
Under the old vines (those to the left were cut back and are resprouting)
inside of the vine but still allows a traveling sprinkler to keep the ground moist.
4: Finish thinning Row 19 – The first three items were just preludes to this one which takes much longer. Thinning removes small canes, weak inner leaves, low sucker canes and any cover crops like purple vetch or tall grass that are growing into the vine. Air flow and disease control are objectives but eliminating small late grape clusters that would reduce grape quality and extend our already short growing season is a goal. If sprays are needed (so far they are not) then this also opens up the vine for organic spray. Thinning all the plants at least once each season is a yearly goal and this year it clears the way for new irrigation (which is in later to-do items). As of this writing I still have 6 rows and well over 100 more vines to thin.
Both of these aisles have compost. The one on the left is growing through it.
5: Apply compost to aisle 16/17 – Physically this is the hardest To-Do item. I have written previously about my soil yard and regenerative agriculture. This is where the “rubber meets the road” or in this case the soil amendments are laid down between the rows. It means loading our biggest cart full of composting leaves from the City of Colville, rotting cow manure and straw from a neighbor, shredded grape prunnings and biochar that are run through a shredder while loading the cart. All of this material is recycled into the ground. I dump the cart between the rows and spread out the compost with a rake. It takes about 12 cart loads to fill an aisle and over 2 or three days to complete the aisle. We have enough material for 6 to 8 aisles and expect the process to continue over several years while building the soil.
6: Remove old drip system pipes from rows 18 and 19 -(I got up to this point on the 5th before lunch but was pretty sweaty and needed a shower too so it was after lunch.) Years ago I discovered that the grapes are much happier if you water the whole vineyard, not just drip water at the base of the vines. So I have been watering with traveling sprinklers including the family’s 40 year old “Nelson’s Rain Train”. They don’t travel well through a thick layer of compost, manure etc. So spreading compost means installing spinning sprinklers beneath a main line suspended about 18 inches above the ground under the
The “bone yard” where the old drip system is being dismantled.
grape canopy. And that means removing the old drip system and salvaging many of the parts so they can be recycled.
7: Tighten the wires that will hold the new sprinkler system – These wires are mostly already in place but have not been tightened since I replaced all the bamboo vine poles with iron rebar and braced the end posts on each row with metal props. Tightening includes synching the wire to each rebar pole next to every grape vine. (I didn’t get to this step or the next one on the 5th but did today, the 6th).
New main watering line on wire.
8: Install the main water line on the wire – This involves stretching out the coil of polypipe so it can warm up and straighten out in the sun, then slipping it along the wire through the vine branches. Finally cable ties synch it to the wire every 3 feet. (I’m waiting for irrigation parts from two different sources so the rest of the system is on hold.)
9: Wash bottles for Apple/Huckleberry wine – Recycling wine bottles over and over again takes a lot of work and attention to sanitation. Attempts have been made to make machines to do it, but they are not perfect and no one is doing it commercially with either machines or by hand. I have my bottle shed full of bottles sorted by style and color then stacked in cases. Getting newer cases in the right sizes is actually the hardest part because people are bringing me bottles almost every day. Since I only bottle 2 or 3 cases at a time, the two washings and 1 sterilization rinse don’t take too long and they can be done in the shade, a big bonus this time of year.
10: Check the gopher traps – This actually came first but is one of my “putting around” chores like charging the mower or trimming grass that don’t make it on the “To-Do” list.
11: Salvage drip line parts – Another in-the-shade project involves unwrapping the wires that held the old drip system parts together, cutting loose the “T”s and plugs and stacking the 1/2″ pipe in 6 foot sections. If anyone reading this can use some 1/2” irrigation parts, let me know. It’s all about recycling and these parts last a long time.
12: Cook dinner – Cheryl and I switch off every other night on this one. July 5th was my night. I made pasta and drank Lucie Kuhlmann wine.
(Cheryl was busy too but not with the vineyard.)
At the reunion with my brother Jeff and nephew Nick. Notice the family resemblance.
That’s all for the list. Life is not all work and no play. I got away for a family reunion in June and my daughter, April, came over for a visit with her and her husband’s family. We picked more mushrooms and sold them along with wine at the Farmer’s Market. But I count days when I can get through a long To-Do list as good days and switching from one chore to another as taking a break. A nice glass of wine at dinner is satisfying too.
One of the advantages of growing a winery out of a backyard vineyard is that you tend to have a variety of plants and wines. The disadvantage of course is that you may not have a tremendous amount of any one wine. These past few years neighbors have stepped in to add to both the variety and quantity of wines.
All of our wines are “natural” wines. Some people include those with Sulfur Dioxide added as “natural”. We never add it or use poisonous chemicals to clean our equipment. There is also an article in WineMaker Magazine about Natural wine that emphasizes how hard it is to do. But you have to subscribe to see it so trust me it is there.
This Spring I have been bottling new 2016 wines every week. In addition to the red wines that are the mainstay of the winery, Lucie Khulmann, Marecal Foch, Baco Noir and Leon Millot, we have a selection of specialty wines. They do not show up in the product list on this website because many of them come and go so quickly posting them here is not worth the trouble. So if you want to try them, you will have to come for a tasting or stop by our booth at the Northeast Washington Farmers Market. Here is a list of current offerings:
This grape variety developed in Germany is a close relative of Madeleine Angevine. The finished wine has an intense aroma reminiscent of Muscat. This vintage is semi-sweet fresh, amber-colored and juicy. It would be very easy to drink a lot of it and we have almost 16 cases either bottled or on the way. It has become popular at the Farmers Market.
I was eager to try making another white wine from these grapes after hearing that they were the first to sell out from a neighboring vineyard. After tasting them I could see why. This wine is also an orange color and semi-sweet. The grapes are from a certified organic vineyard just north of us. 2016 was a fine year for wine with a long hot summer that produced mellow tastes and powerful wines.
Our Okanogan Riesling, unlike the white wines listed above is tart and dry. It is a crisp refreshing wine best chilled. We often serve it with artichokes or fish. It is cool-fermented to preserve the perfume of the Riesling grapes that drifts over the vineyard when they are ripe.
Unlike cider, our apple wine is very clear, strong and as sweet as a fresh apple. To get those qualities without adding sugar, we concentrate the sugars by reducing the volume of juice by half, partly by freezing and partly by cooking it down in a stainless steel vat. The cooking imparts a slight caramel flavor. We use a mixture of wild and homestead apples along with organic Golden Delicious.
If you read the labels of commercial huckleberry wines, they are most often blended with Riesling. We introduce wild local frozen huckleberries that we picked ourselves into the primary fermentation of our Apple
wine. This process extracts the color and flavor of the berries and uses the sweetness and body of the apple to blend a refreshing taste of the high mountains.
By themselves Elderberries are tart and sour, especially if they are picked before the first frost. We ferment them with the concentrated juice of our Apples to mellow out the tart flavor and highlight their wild taste. The combination has been a favorite in Northeast Washington for decades.
This is a rare treat. Two years ago John and Janet Crandall, owners of Riverview Orchard, gave us several hundred pounds of organic cherries. We concentrated the fresh juice using the same techniques as we do for Apple wine. The result is a wine with about the same sweetness as cherries but a lot of body and a very big cherry flavor that stays with you.
Working with a crop of Lucie Khulmann grapes that were not as sweet as most, this vintage was tapped from the fermenter as free-run juice without pressing after only two days. The result is a lighter bodied wine that is semi-sweet and full of berry flavors. It is excellent with lighter meals or as an afternoon break.
It’s great to have such a variety of tastes in our inventory. You might want them in your’s too.
It’s that time of year again, Morel season. Even though there is a long list of things to do around the house, garden and vineyard, the call of the wild mushrooms lures us away to the sites of last year’s fires for a “Taste of the Wild”. This year we have been picking in the Bridge Creek Fire.
Patch with link to map
It continues to be a good area for picking and mapping. I have learned several things about making maps for use away from cell towers and a few about what information you can save even with access to cell towers. Also some of these pictures have links to Google Photos. When you follow them if a photo has location information in it Google will show you where it was taken. But enough geeky stuff.
We have gone from picking every mushroom we see no matter how small, to only picking bigger ones and usually those in groups. Somewhere along the line in a typical day fun becomes work. But we have managed to store a couple gallons of dried morels, sold some at the Farmers Market and to friends, traded for cheese and a massage, and eaten them almost every day. So it is exciting.
A Taste of the Wild Morels
My favorite memory is when Cheryl cooked some up with garlic, butter and some olive oil in our VW camper van during the Farmers Market. With morels selling at near $70/pound in Seattle and at $40/pound in Spokane, we feel very lucky to find them and have some extra.
The Best Day (links to Google map)
But like fishing, hunting and gold prospecting, there are stories of bigger and better mushrooms that we have not found yet… So far it has been good fun and good exercise. But it definitely has an addictive side that affects our other activities (AKA chores).
“A biome is a specific environment that’s home to living things suited for that place and climate.” (Vocabulary.com)
Loading Compost from the City of Colville
Maybe I am still trying to apply my degree in philosophy, or just spend too much time alone in the vineyard, but there is a lot to think about in developing Regenerative Agriculture in a specific place. This last month the vineyard has dried out. The record-breaking rains of March and April were followed by record-breaking heat in May. That gave me a chance to have two 14 yard dump trucks full of leaf compost (actually more leaf than compost) from a fall yard-waste dump for the city of Colville brought in to my soil yard when the dump dried out enough for trucks. I am mixing it with cow manure, biochar and shredded branches and spreading it between the rows in the vineyard. This variety of carbon and living organisms is meant to build the soil and the soil in turn works with the grapes, grasses, clover and other cover crops in the vineyard to build a biome. (This term usually has a broader meaning such as Forest or Tundra.)
Link to a video of my soil yard
The main idea here is that a complete mixture of living organisms in all stages of their life cycles provides better nutrition for the grapes, better resilience against flood, drought, hot, cold, insects – whatever the climate throws at it – than any mixture of chemical fertilizer, tilling or decaying matter. I have already begun putting spent yeast from wine making back in the vineyard and will be adding shredded pruned canes as well as seeds and skins left from primary fermentation back as well. The cover crop will rebound from mowing and the symbiotic exchange of sugars from plant roots for water and minerals through mycorrhizal fungi will strengthen plant vitality. Fungi are already boosting my cutting reproduction from 50% to nearly 100%. There are lots of worms in the compost and bacteria creating nutrients as well. I’m trying to blend these ingredients to build a biome.
I expect that repeating application of these biome builders over several years will increase the fertility of the vineyard and therefore production. There are some arguments for stressing vines to improve sugar and the quality of the wine. My thinking is more like “Happy vines make happy wines.” We’ll have to see how this plays out.
A row of compost in the vineyard
One of the many books I read on regenerative agriculture this last winter noted that nature seems to be self-correcting. An organism that degrades the ecology and reduces bio diversity fouls its own nest and inevitably learns to limit its growth or dies out entirely by destroying its environment. An example might be leafhoppers. There were a lot of them in some parts of the vineyard this spring and I did spray some organic pesticide on them. But with a few good rain storms they have subsided markedly. New growth is sprouting up next to the leaves that they damaged. In the Fall, the inner leaves that they tend to weaken fade away and allow the sun to ripen the grapes sooner. As long as the plants grow rapidly, natural predators such as wasps, spiders and ladybugs will keep the leafhoppers in check.
I’m not sure I can paint an equally rosy picture for mites or powdery mildew. There is a lot of observation and learning left to do. The implicated principle however is that diversity builds resilience and that can be applied to people as well as plants and insects. History shows that immigrants tend to be hard-working adaptive people.
It has been 41 days since we got back from Hawaii and today was warmer than any day we spent there. So Spring has Sprung. We even ate asparagus fresh out of the garden today and Cheryl is setting up feeders for hummingbirds. The local deer have gone from mangy and rangy to sleek and spunky. Eagles, owls and frogs are filling the day and night with sound. We stopped feeding suet to the birds and they have spread out to build nests in new territory. The snow has retreated to above 3000 feet. All of this is happening while we are scrambling to get ready for our first Farmers Market.
So what goes on in a vineyard this time of year? Priority one was pruning the grape vines. I usually try to do that as soon as the snow is melted. This year I pruned especially heavy leaving only one bud for this year where the best canes grew last year. Too often in the past I was leaving 2 – “just to make sure” – and that left too many weak canes. There will still be too many new shoots, but I’ll go through again to open up the interior of each vine.
The Grape Grower
This is also the time of year that I start new grape plants from cuttings. During the winter I did a lot of reading about grapes and soil. A really good guide to organic grapes is The Grape Grower, by Lon Rombough. In it he discusses mycorrhizal fungi, organisms that dissolve mineral nutrients from rocks and sand in exchange for sugars from living plant roots. By inoculating my grape cuttings with fungal spores and promoting new roots ahead of leaf growth, I doubled my percentage of rooted cuttings that are taking hold. In some cases to nearly 100%.
Mycorrhizal fungi are a key component of the emerging practice of Regenerative Agriculture. On April 15th I gave a talk at our local Slow Food meeting on the many ways these methods are changing the world. At the same time I am putting my money and energy where my mouth is by preparing to lay down layers of compost, biochar, manure and shredded prunnings between the rows of grapes. There will doubtless be more about how that is going in subsequent blogs.
I was worried about my bottle supply since it depends on friends who recycle their corkable fifths with me. But not any more. Now my poor bottle shed has more than it can handle, which makes me all the more aware that I have not kept up with bottling wine. Some of the new additions in that realm include Siegerrebe 2016 from Downriver Orchards certified organic grapes. It is a refreshing white wine, not too tart and not too sweet with what some describe as a strawberry flavor. Along with that is an Orange Muscat (also
from Downriver Orchard) that is way too easy to drink. Our Huckleberry/Apple combination is back in stock and more Dark Cherry is on it’s way. There are plenty of reds in the works too including a Lucie Kuhlman Rose that I’m sure will sell out fast. We had a tasting today and folks drove away with a bottle of almost everything they tried.
It’s turning into a scary Spring. Almost 80 degrees today. We are only burning a little firewood in the mornings. Last year the cold and wet weather stopped suddenly. The grass grew high and dried out for another nerve-wracking fire season. I didn’t start watering the whole vineyard and garden soon enough and things died. There is some rain in the forecast but it feels like the same thing is happening. Maybe it’s weird to be worried when trees and flowers are blooming, the grass needs mowing and you can wear shorts and T-shirts outside. Yikes! Now I’m worried about being worried. Forget about it. Enjoy the weather while you can.