Thursday, April 30, 2009

N is for...

...nitrogen.
The main source of environmental nitrogen is the atmosphere. We are all breathing about 78% nitrogen gas right now. Nitrogen fixation is the process by which gaseous nitrogen changes into nitrate or ammonium, something more usable to grapevines.
The above picture shows vetch, caught in the act of, fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere. The pink nodules on the roots show that nitrogen fixation is active. The amount of fixation depends on many things; cover crop type, soil pH, soil temperature, soil moisture, etc. The incorporation of the vetch into the soil, by disking, can double soil nitrogen content compared to a no-till green manure approach. However, disking is bad for soil health as it causes compaction, so here, in Vinoland, we mow. A significant amount of nitrogen is lost to the atmosphere by volatilisation in a no-till operation, but that's OK, the cycle will happen again next year...and I'll have something to kvetch about once more.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Kvetching about vetch.

No, I haven't determined that I will blog in Yiddish from now on. It's just that there is so much common vetch, (Vicia sativa), growing around here this year that I'm a little overwhelmed. It's everywhere, even Vinomaker has commented on it. The past couple of weeks I have been concentrating on the vineyard and the landscaping has suffered a little. The vetch has intertwined itself with our shrubbery and every other vertical foothold it can find...it's a good job the Vinodogs don't stay still for long. There are worse weeds out there, of course. Vetch is a legume and so is capable of nitrogen fixation. They also have a stipular extrafloral nectary site that ladybirds just love. And our neighbours' horses love it too.
So just like triffids, the benefits of vetch outweigh, in this case, the back ache it will take to remove it.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Ladybird, ladybird...

The past two days were spent suckering and thinning shoots. It's quite a fun task. I got to see each vine up close and personal. It gave me an opportunity to check for frost damage which, I am pleased to report, there is almost none of. A few of the bench grafts, that were cut down to two buds, are showing some damage on the leaves that were just beginning to peek out of their milk cartons. Otherwise everything else seems fine.
The Pinot gris vines are pushing out every possible bud they can...they look like Chia pets! Well, they did before I went through and put a stop to their vigorous little game. It took quite a while but now there are actually spaces between the shoots. I am thinking they are wanting to be infected with powdery mildew.
One thing I did notice is that there hundreds of ladybird (Coccinellidae) larvae all over the vineyard. This bodes well for my grape pest management programme, which consists of hoping I have all the good insects for vines...and none of the bad ones. The larvae in the picture is quite advanced, she'll be hatching anytime soon. The sheer number of ladybirds, at every stage right now, reminded me of the plague of ladybirds we had in England in 1976. That was a crunchy summer indeed!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Happy St. George's Day.

"I am English, and my Englishness is my very vision" D. H. Lawrence.
A favourite quote of mine ever since my childhood.
No wine connection. No wry observations. No viticultural insights. I just want to pay homage to the patron saint of the country that I happen to call my own.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Last but not least.

Today, I noticed budbreak in our Cabernet sauvignon. We probably will still have a couple of incidences of frosty mornings but this fortuitous late budbreak in Cabernet is one of the reasons it is so successful in this part of the world.
The King of Vitis still reigns supreme.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Frost never sleeps.

I recently shared this bottle of wine, (and a couple of others), with Vinomaker and Thud. It was fantastic. You don't always get what you pay for with the higher end Napa Cabernets but this wine was truly wonderful. The Far Niente 2005 Cabernet sauvignon was very elegant and very finessed, reminiscent of a first growth Bordeaux without being old and tired. Granted, I didn't pay full price for it, I was able to get the employee discount from a friend who works there, but I am actually thinking it was well worth the $125 asking price.
I am very familiar with how truly magnificent Oakville Cabernets can be. Soil type and climate mid-valley have a lot to do with this, along with the vintage, and the artistry of the winemaker, but the skill of the vineyard manager cannot be overlooked. The stewardship of the grapevines is often ignored by wine writers, reviewers and bloggers...but what do they know? (It seems redundant to point out that without great grapes you cannot produce a great wine, but this fact is often disregarded. You can however make a crappy wine from great grapes.)
So, I doff my cap to the dedicated grape grower who was out at 2.00 a.m. this morning, starting the fans for the Far Niente Chardonnay, whilst I snuggled into a warm, cosy bed and was lulled into a deep sleep by their rather pleasant drone. I'll grant you that he earns every penny he gets.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

True Wine Lover 6.

It's Tax Day USA. Pish! As Ben Franklin said, "...nothing is certain but death and taxes".
He also said, "wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy". What genius. Mr. Franklin had preceded Mr. Jefferson as Minister to France, a new post, and it was there that he discovered his fondness for fine wines.
Benny displayed many admirable traits; good taste in wine, an innovative and inventive mind, and fiscal responsibility...which is more than can be said for the current, Chardonnay swilling, occupant of the White House!
Old Ben has to be my favourite Founding Father. In fact, I like him so much, I like to have lots of little portraits of him in my purse.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Liturgical libation.

Vinogirl is a 'cradle Catholic'. In all the masses I ever attended in England, I was never once offered wine at Communion. In the USA every Catholic church has wine by the hogshead! What? Was my little parish too poor to pour? I don't know. Seeing as it is not a tradition I am familiar with, I don't partake. It could have something to do with me being a little germophobic also.
However today, at Easter Sunday service, a co-worker from the winery joined me for the festivities. She does partake. Ever curious, I asked her whether or not the wine was red or white. "Red" she answered...and then with a sly wink she added..."I think it was a Bordeaux". That prompted Vinogirl to rethink her non-participation. After all, I always love a good blind tasting!
Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Done and dusted.

Whoo hoo! I finished pruning the Cabernet sauvignon vines.
I finished the actual pruning last Sunday, but only finished tying down the canes, with Vinomaker's help, today. It's a relief I can tell you. I was panicking a bit because time was dragging on. It is very difficult to tie down the canes when the buds are pushing as you tend to knock them off if you are not ultra careful. No buds, no fruit. Thankfully our clone 4 is a slow starter.
A bonus...all my fingers are intact.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

When the frost hits the fan.

I don't normally get this up close and personal with a wind machine. This particular fan has been moved to the perimeter of the Far Niente vineyard for repair. The grey, ominous skies added to the atmosphere of doom and gloom for the future of the burgeoning 2009 vintage. There may be cloud cover now but, just wait a day or two, the frost will be back.
Seemingly oblivious to the fact that I was stalking his wind machine, the vineyard manager filled me in on the prognosis for this particular fan: propeller, half broken off....then inquired, in a most genuine fashion, if the noise bothered me at night. How polite!
I hope he gets the fan fixed. Despite the overnight disturbance of something akin to a helicopter hovering over your bedroom, I hate the thought of a diminished vintage. I will sleep more soundly when the threat of frost has passed.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Up above the streets and houses...

The warm spring weather, we have been enjoying for a while now, has temporarily departed. The entire Napa Valley laboured under grey, heavy rainclouds all day. On my way home from the winery, the heavens finally opened up. Rainbow Agricultural is the company we hire to service our John Deere tractors from time to time. Now and again, Mother Nature delivers the real thing. In reality, much more vivid than a camera lens can do justice to.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Wooly Mowers.

I spotted these hard working sheep on the Silverado Trail as I was driving home from work. These ruminating ovines must be the ultimate in a low emission, vineyard management programme.
This is quite a trendy practice these days. It satisfies the tree huggers and your vineyard gets fertilised at the same time.
Of course, none of this would be possible without a good Border Collie in charge of the whole operation. The Vinodogs could learn a lesson, or two, from this industrious poochie.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

What a difference...

...ten days makes. Look at my Orange muscat, isn't it fab? The mid to high 70 degree temps, we have been having, have really helped the vines flourish. You can see two little flower clusters at the apical end of the growth...they will be the two bunches of grapes this cane will produce. I love grapevines.