Saturday, February 21, 2009

Good wood.

Today I started to prune. Finally! Vinomaker probably thought I was never going to get started.
I didn't prune a lot, I had school in the morning after all. I did all of our Orange muscat and a few of our Syrah vines. Even though I procrastinate every year, once I get started I thoroughly enjoy myself.
I love the decision making involved in pruning. Each vine presents a different challenge. I stand back, assess the plants vigour from the previous season, and prune accordingly. Each vine is an individual. Each vine demands that I recognise its potential. Each vine rewards me at harvest time.
You can see in the picture above that the pruned wood of the two vines look different. The redder wood is the Orange muscat. Vines also vary in the hardness of the wood. For instance, I always get blisters when I prune Cabernet sauvignon vines. Cab wood is so hard in comparison to other varietals.
In the picture you can see some powdery mildew scarring on the Syrah wood. A sign that our sulphur protocol may need adjusting this year. Furthermore, you can see that I didn't lose any fingers, at least not this time.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

That damned, illusive pimpernel.

Today is Vinomaker's birthday. Whoo hoo!
He's 29, or so he says. (The only thing that is 29 around here is the highway that runs north/south on the west side of the valley.)
The Vinodogs bought their dad a hat each which was very sweet of them. He got some other great gifts too, including a weather station from Family OTW.
The best pressie though, was a University of California book called 'Weeds of California'...1800+ pages, in two volumes, of every weed you could ever wish for. Or maybe not.
There are some pretty weeds, like Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis), blooming in the vine rows right now. However, there is one that I know only by its foul odour which is not dissimilar to dead, rotting fish. Lovely.
I can identify most other weeds in the vineyard but seeing as new ones seem to appear all the time, this publication will come in very handy. Train-spotting at its finest.
Happy birthday Vinomaker!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Think twice, cut once.

It's raining. It's windy. I could put on my raincoat and wellies and go outside and start pruning, and maybe I will later today, but for now I have decided to stay put and service my pruning shears.
As I have mentioned before, pruning is the most important thing that one can do to grape vines. It stands to reason then that the equipment used should be in tip top condition. I prefer to use Felco pruners but any brand of pruning shears need to be cleaned, sharpened and oiled quite frequently. This will ensure that the pruning cuts are clean, the pruner can work fast and, in the process, doesn't end up slicing through a digit. (Leather gloves are a good idea too).
I'm an OK pruner, but I am not very fast. I would not have stood a chance in the contest that was held last Thursday. The 8th Annual Napa County Pruning Contest attracted the best and fastest pruners in the valley. It's amazing to see these field workers make their way through a vineyard, almost locust like, leaving trimmed vines in their wake. It's back breaking work and I take my hat off to the men, and women, who make it possible for me to enjoy a glass of wine. It's a bit of an art and not everyone is good at it. I acknowledge that there are vineyard managers who oversee operations and wealthy vineyard owners who make the planting of the land to vines possible in the first place. However, it is the pruner who has that one on one interaction with the vine and determines the crop yield and quality of the fruit. Without great fruit a winemaker cannot make great wine. I, for one, am glad that the pruners get a little recognition for the essential work they do.
For a long time, I have wanted to throw down my pruning gloves and challenge somebody, such as ex-ambassador Katherine Hall, to a pruning contest. Vinomaker thinks this is mean spirited of me, but I think it is highly unlikely that she knows anything about viticulture. I am positive she would not accept the duel anyway and even if she did, I'd win gloves down. I'll just have to be satisfied with sticking to drinking wine from producers who actually know what is going on out there in their vineyards.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Just because 4...

I determined that I would begin pruning today, but it was raining. So whilst I should have been out, tromping around the vineyard with my wellies on, I decided to put on my new boots and go shopping instead. Wine shopping that is. Life is good.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Speaking of hoity toity...

...Vinodog 1 sometimes gets ideas above her station, but I love my little mustard queen anyway :)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Cut the mustard.

If indeed the mustard in the vineyards of northern California was first sown by Franciscan monks more than 200 years ago, it is one of the most enduring cover crop success stories ever, at least in the Napa Valley. Due to the unusually warm January we experienced, (and the high 60's low 70's temps we have now), the field mustard (Brassica campestris) is out in full force. It looks beautiful, contrasted against the the still dormant, skeletal looking vines. So beautiful in fact that it inspired a whole festival dedicated just to it. The Napa Valley Mustard Festival, in it's 16th year, attracts the well heeled of the valley's society doyens...the rest of us just live and work here. Ho hum.
There are far superior choices of cover crops that could be planted in the vineyard. Brassicas in general can prove to be a little problematic. For instance, B. campestris, can attract green peach aphids (Myzus persiae) that build up on the mustard during winter and early spring. Although these aphids do not affect vineyards, they may disperse and carry diseases to other crops. Not good. So vineyard managers, cut the mustard, sew some subterranean clovers to smother it out...and let the hoity toity find another weed to celebrate instead.