Wednesday, March 31, 2010

F***ing deer!

I don't swear, so I have resorted to using the old asterisk routine to convey my utter consternation at a rather unfortunate event that has occurred in Vinoland.
Yesterday morning, Vinomaker gave me a bit of a start when he all of a sudden let out a somewhat alarming roar. I looked out of the window only to see a whole herd of deer nonchalantly strolling by, unchallenged by my trusty Vinodogs who were still slumbering (it was only 6.45 am after all.) Well, after donning our wellies and opening all the gates to Vinoland, Vinomaker and I managed to usher the long-legged rodents out into the greater Napa Valley. We left the Vinodogs indoors otherwise mayhem would have ensued, but Vinodog 2 could be seen standing up at a window intently watching the proceedings. It seems that the tick-infested ruminants had entered over a fence, which has partially collapsed because of the heavy rains in January, that crosses the southern end of the creek that flows through Vinoland. Drat!
It didn't rain today as forecast, so I actually got some pruning done. It was only when I had finished and was making my way back up to the house for dinner that I noticed that something was rotten in the Orange muscat block.
Look at what those despicable creatures did to my babies: the vines look like they have been napalmed! I turned away from the devastation totally dejected because I thought we had escaped catastrophe, only to see that my rose bushes had all been given a crew cut by those awful animals.
Poet Robert Frost once quipped, "Good fences make good neighbours." The fence will be repaired, but someone should mention that little adage to those S.O.B. deer.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Rainbow over Vinoland.

Just 10 minutes ago, Mother Nature graced Vinoland with a very intensely coloured rainbow. It was actually a rather spectacular double rainbow, the one to the left lost amongst the trees.
Of course it came with rain, so the Vinodogs and I had to leave the vineyard, where we had been pruning, rather quickly. It's forecast to rain tomorrow also. When will I make an end of pruning?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Smudge pots.

For many winegrowers the question of whether or not to install a frost protection system is an economic one. Here in Napa, spring frosts occur often enough and winegrapes are valuable enough (even despite depressed prices in 2009) that the need for frost protection is almost a must. Whilst certain cultural practices like cultivar choice, vineyard location, late pruning and vineyard floor management can lessen the likelihood of frost damage, more often than not winegrowers will rely upon mechanical means to avoid spring frost injury. An overhead sprinkler system in the vineyard is one mechanical option for winegrowers.
With budbreak truly underway in our neighbourhood vineyards, last night (it was actually around 3.30 am this morning) was the first time this season that the vineyard fans have been employed. One fan will circulate enough radiant heat, hanging about in an inversion layer 20 - 30 feet above the ground, for approximately 8 acres of vines. When the threat of a severe frost is coupled with the lack of an inversion layer some winegrowers will fire up vineyard heaters which, in conjunction with vineyard fans, are extremely effective in protecting the nascent grape crop. Setting ablaze diesel oil will do that.
Smudge pots, or vineyard heaters as they have been renamed lest one offend the PC crowd, will burn up to one gallon of diesel oil per hour, emitting a thick, warm, smoky smog that the vineyard fans will then circulate to prevent frost injury. Common practice calls for about 25 smudge pots per acre, usually dotted around the border of the vineyard.
The fact that some vineyards choose to use this particular method of frost protection doesn't bother me one iota, as it usually only happens a handful of times each spring, if at all. In fact, I must confess to rather enjoying the smell of burning diesel in the morning as it wafts towards Vinoland: It reminds me of dodging double-decker buses and hackney cabs in Liverpool city centre on a busy Saturday afternoon.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Many happy returns to me!

Yes, I'm having another one...and I love it. Aren't birthdays great? Nothing is expected of me, this is my day to do exactly as I please. I don't have to prune, go to work, or cook. The Vinodogs are still insisting on being walked however, but it's just as well as I do need to walk off the passion fruit cupcake above. Yum!
Oh...and Happy Birthday John Toshack.
Vinogirl loves birthdays.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Can spring be far behind?

No, in fact spring is just a few hours away. Of course, these Pinot gris and Syrah buds seem to think the vernal equinox has already arrived. I can forgive them their mistake, we have had spectacular 80/81 degree temperatures the past couple of days. Even the trees in Vinoland are bursting with baby leaves giving them a green, fuzzy hue from afar and don't get me started on how tall the grass is. However, trees and grass are not in the least threatened by spring frost, but grapevines are. My promiscuous grapevines, with their casual attitude towards frost, might be in for a rude awakening.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Hello little leaf.

Whilst I was busy pruning Syrah all day yesterday, something was going on in the Orange muscat block. Just about one week earlier than last year, budbreak is in full swing in this particular corner of the vineyard. This means that everything else won't be too far behind.
My right hand is a little tender, but with a bit of surgical tape I'll be good to go today. The success of the 2010 vintage is literally in my hands.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Shiny, happy vines.

Pruning will be the order of the day for me.
Most vineyards around the valley are already pruned, Opus One's vineyard on the Oakville Crossroad is one such vineyard. Some, like mine, are not. I am so far behind this year, but I fully intend to finish Vinoland's Syrah vines today.
Opus One's assertion of "low-yield, high-density spacing" can be evidenced in the picture of the stumpy, cordon trained Cabernet sauvignon vine above. One would think that that type of planting, on the deep, fertile soil of valley-floor Oakville would spell trouble by producing elevated levels of methoxypyrazines in the finished wine. One would probably be correct, especially since Cabernet sauvignon has a propensity for high levels of methoxypyrazines to begin with. Cramming the vines so close together just serves to make them compete for sunlight, so they tend to over produce vegetation in the quest for the light energy their neighbour might be getting, shading the ripening fruit in the process.
A 1994 bottle of Opus One shared with Vinomaker and Thud, was however one of the most enjoyable wines that I have ever had...so I suppose the proof of the pudding is in the drinking. It's just that I prefer my vines to be happy, well adjusted and spaced vines. With that in mind, I am off out into the vineyard to indulge them their every whim: they will reward me in the autumn.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Paddy's Day in the vineyard.

It's not exactly shamrock, but the Buttercup oxalis (Oxalis pes-caprae) that is blooming in the vineyard right now is about the closest I am going to get to the real thing, (it's actually described as having "shamrock like leaves" so it will have to suffice). I like most weeds that voluntarily decide to populate the vineyard: they do after all eventually become organic matter that benefits soil health. In summer nothing grows here, everything is parched and dry, so I enjoy the pretty flowers and foliage of certain weeds in the spring whilst I can. There are only a few truly noxious weeds that need to be removed before they get established in great numbers.
Being from Liverpool, and not entirely understanding why Americans are so obsessed with St. Patrick's Day, I thought I'd do my little bit to honour a few great-grandparents who are indeed, if only inadvertently, responsible for a great-granddaughter who gets to enjoy an agreeable yellow-flowered weed growing wild in a Californian vineyard on a bright, sunny day in March.
Personally, the 23rd of April is the day for me, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Spring is just around the corner.

Daylight Savings Time began on Sunday, so the past two days after I have gotten home from work, and the Vinodogs have been walked, I have been doing some pruning. I am way behind in the vineyard but I hope to be caught up by this weekend.
We are having such stunning weather right now that I am enjoying just being out and about in the Napa Valley. Everything is blooming like crazy, including these Bradford Pear trees (Pyrus calleryiana) that circle the pond at the Screaming Eagle vineyard in Oakville. They are actually much more impressive in their autumn colours but it will be spring this weekend so who cares about that dreary, old autumnal equinox?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Happy birthday to you V1.

Vinodog 1 is 12 years old today. She is a little more arthritic than last year, likes to sleep more during the day and her hearing is not what it once was, but she still is as faithful a companion as ever. I treated her to some alphabet shaped dog biscuits and a couple of new squeaky toys. One of the toys is a winsome, furry fox. Of course I think Vinodog 1 looks much foxier than any plush toy decked out in her birthday regalia. Boom! Boom!
Happy birthday V1!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Pig latin.

This morning, in my biology lab, I got up close and personal with a fetal domestic piglet (Sus domestica). Lovely!
It's times like this, when dealing with the required general education portion of the viticulture programme at Napa Valley College, that I wonder if I'm indeed studying grapevines at all. I'd much rather have been out in the vineyard removing last year's wood with surgeon like precision (yea, right), it was a gorgeous March day. But whilst Vinogirl will survive this class to prune some other day, this poor little chap will never play the piano again.
Estray inay eacepay igletpay.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The secret ministry of frost.

It's no secret that spring frosts spell trouble for the winegrower. Although it is forecast to rain tomorrow, and the day after, this mornings frost heralds the imminent onset of up to an eight week period of interrupted sleep for the Napa Valley's vineyard managers. It is a tad early for me to be overly concerned for my vines. However, I did notice rather corpulent looking Chardonnay buds in the eastern block of the Far Niente vineyard as I was walking the Vinodogs late yesterday afternoon, and that may be a concern for them.
I think budbreak will be several weeks early this year, and so I'm estimating my sleep will be interrupted within the next two weeks. Those wind fans are loud!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Dewi Sant.

Happy St. David's Day to all whether you have any Welsh heritage or not.
The daffodils in Vinoland are almost past their best so it was a little difficult to find one to photograph. But I wandered around, in a lonely sort of way, until I came upon a host of golden narcissi beneath the trees at the front of the house.
Bore da!