Saturday, April 26, 2014

Good neighbours?

It's not the greatest photograph, but look closely - deer damage.  Now normally I would be sympathetic towards the vineyard owner whose vines had suffered such damage.  I have had unwanted deer in Vinoland, most recently when a neighbours falling tree peeled up the deer fence and a couple of deer took advantage of the situation.  This time, however, I don't feel sympathetic at all.
To cut a long story short - a young deer has been trapped for at least 8 days in a neighbourhood vineyard.  And for most of that time, the unfortunate deer has been wandering around with a broken lower jaw, an injury undoubtedly sustained as it has tried, in vain, to jump over the fencing to freedom.  (When I first saw the deer, more than a week ago, it only had a bloody forehead.  It is unlikely that this deer will survive it's injuries.)  Several phone calls here and there, i.e. vineyard management company, winery, but as of 6 pm last night the deer was still captive.  I did not see the poor little mite today.  I am disgusted.
Deer fences are meant to keep deer out, not in.  Eight days locked inside a vineyard seems very cruel to me.  This (unnamed) winery definitely has enough resources at their disposal that they could have made this situation good as early as last Monday, but no.  They have felt it necessary to inflict ongoing, needless suffering on one of God's good creatures.  Add to that extremely poor neighbour relations and a distinct disregard for the stewardship of the land.  I certainly won't be buying their wine ever again.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Happy St. George's Day, 2014.

 "There is a forgotten, nay almost forbidden word, which means more to me than any other.  That word is England."  Sir Winston Curchill.
Happy St. George's Day to my family, friends and anyone who loves England as much as I do.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter, 2014.

V2 is all ears today, as she heard there are a lot of Cadbury Creme Eggs knocking about Vinoland.  V2 is a quick little dog, but not quick enough to get between me and my Creme Eggs.
Happy Easter to all.
Eat chocolate!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A little Easter Saturday salsify.

Every spring, in amongst Vinoland's landscaping (such as it is), up pops one, or two, Common salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius) plants.  Whereas I'd normally weed out other interlopers (such as vetch, burclover or bittercress), I have come to recognise this rather alien-looking, Mediterranean-native biennial when it is young, so I leave it be.  Salsify, with it's tap root that is cultivated as a culinary vegetable (reportedly tasting mildly like an oyster), has a solitary purple flower that opens in the morning and tracks the progress of the sun until it closes up at around midday - which is the reason why I couldn't get a photograph of this flower yesterday afternoon because, by the time I got my camera, it was already done for the day.
When salsify goes to seed the fruiting head resembles that of a dandelion with a large, fuzzy ball of seeds that disperse on the wind.  This efficient dispersal of seed accounts for the success of salsify's reappearance, and rebirth, every spring.  Appropriate for Easter methinks.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Mr. Beakly.

I am sad.  This spring all the usual feathered-suspects have returned to Vinoland (some never left); Mr and Mrs Brown-headed cowbird, a mélange of assorted sparrows, a veritable throng of titmice, the ever quarrelsome scrub jays...chestnut-backed chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, mourning doves, quail, bluebirds, finches and towhees - to name but a few.  All these tweeting, hopping and fluttering visitors stop by our deck, several times a day, to grab a snack from the seed-smorgasbord that Vinomaker puts out for them.  Ever present are the dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis), a small bird widely distributed in the United States usually having a pinkish bill, dark ashy-grey head and conspicuous white lateral tail feathers that they flash in flight.  But three particular juncos of note have routinely come and gone for the past few years.  Until this year.
First, there is 'Necklace' - a junco with a very exaggerated ring of light-coloured feathers, akin to a mayoral chain of office, on his chest.  Then there is 'Spectacles' - a dapper little fellow with a pronounced ring of lightly pigmented feathers around each eye, just like he is wearing a pair of reading glasses.  And last, but not least, my favourite, 'Mr. Beakly' - a curious little birdie with muddled pigmentation on his chest and a Mallen Streak on his head.  But most notable of Mr. Beakly's somatic-anomalies is his malformed beak (a junco's beak should be almost finch-like).  And it seems like his beak is continually growing because when last I saw him his lower mandible seemed even larger than usual.  My little mutant isn't at all shy and lets me get quite close to him as he scoffs up seeds with a peculiar sideways action.  I just think he's great.   Alas, I have eagerly awaited his reappearance for the past few weeks now, but to no avail. 
Who knows how old Mr. Beakly was when I first noticed him: unfortunately, nature may have just simply run it's course and Mr. B is now swapping seed-plundering stories and perfectly pigmented wing feathers with avian-angels.  I just miss my little twitterer.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wine stewardship.

If each of us had a crystal ball life would be so simple.  And predictable.  Without a crystal ball, one thing that isn't predictable is at what age is the best age to drink a favourite wine one may have been saving for a special occasion.  A crystal ball would allow one to drink all wine at it's peak, not too late and not too soon either. 
Today, I was reminded of my crystal ball/wine theory when a co-worker at TWWIAGE read me an email that she had just received.  The gist of the email was this: a man and his wife had recently opened a bottle of TWWIAGE wine for their anniversary.  They had owned the wine for at least ten years.  The wine was "spoiled" and they were very disappointed.  In the interests of good consumer relations, they expected TWWIAGE to make the unhappy situation good by sending them a replacement, gratis, as they were sure that the winery would want them to enjoy TWWIAGE wine at it's most palatable.  And by the way, they had poured the wine down the drain and thrown the bottle away.
On hearing this my first reaction was, well, disbelief.  It took me a little while to process the absurdity of the situation.  What a cheeky request.  What if this was a scam?  What if this gentleman sent a similar email to 300 Napa Valley wineries and just 10% of those wineries took the bait and sent him a free bottle of wine for fear of getting a bad 'Yelp' review, or something.  The whole thing smacked of extortion.
If, on the other hand, the email was legitimate it raised the question: is the wine-drinking public justified in having the expectation that any bottle of wine is guaranteed by a winery indefinitely?  To what extent is the consumer responsible for the spoilage of a long cellared bottle of wine?  I've racked my brain, but I can't think of any other perishable food item that is guaranteed for life.
A reply email was sent from TWWIAGE apologising for the disappointment caused; inquiring as to what vintage the wine had been, where had it been purchased, but regretfully declining, in the nicest possible way, without the option of the winery being able to do a chemical analysis on the dregs, the expectation that the wine was going to be replaced.  Of course, Mr. Cheeky emailed back to say he was astounded that a winery with such a high reputation wouldn't replace his bottle of wine - a bottle that he couldn't prove existed in the first place.  Brazen to the last.
I can, however, guarantee that the wine with the grotty cork, in the above photograph, is past it's best.  And I decided that without the benefit of a crystal ball.  Easy peasy.

Friday, April 11, 2014

A pretty bloom.

Once again, just when I thought I had uncovered every last blue (and purple) wildflower in Vinoland I have found another.  I think I have mentioned it numerous times before that blue (and purple) flowering plants are my favourites and I find them all as enchanting as one another, so it made me really happy to find this little blossom.
Identifying this particular wildflower turned out to be a little difficult.  Of course it is obviously very iris-like, but the two most common native Californian irises that I identified, in a couple of native plant guides I possess in my smallish reference library, happen to be the Douglas Iris (Iris douglasiana) and the Western Blueflag Iris (Iris missouriensis).  Neither of these irises are really considered to be wild flowers as often they have simply just escaped cultivation.  So I turned to the internet to do some further research and I am 99% sure that my, quite diminutive, iris is the Bowltube Iris (Iris macrosiphon).  Found on slopes and in woodlands, the flowering stalk on the bowltube is much shorter (and stalk-less) than the attending leaves, a feature which distinguishes this iris from the aforementioned two.  The iris in the photograph is rather close to the ground, it's leaves being more than twice it's height.
One interesting snippet of information about this iris is that it was a source of fibre for Native Americans who harvested the leaves to produce cordage that they used to make bird nets, fish nets, deer snares and other useful items.  I am not going to be ripping the foliage from this agreeable little flower any time soon, as I want it to reappear next year (and I think it may be the only one of it's kind in Vinoland).  So flower on little weed.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Spray day.

Today, at last, and for the next 5 day extended weather outlook, there is no rain in the forecast.  So, and not a moment too soon, the vines received their first application of sulphur for the season.  I was starting to get a bit worried about the Orange muscat vines which have a good 10-12 inches of growth already - they should have had two, preventative sulphur treatments (to ward off powdery mildew infection) by now, but the weather has not been cooperating.  Ho hum.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Grape Pearls.

Grape pearls, or sap balls, are tiny sap-filled droplets that are exuded from surface cells of rapidly growing grapevines.  Often mistaken for insect eggs, which is what I thought they were when I first saw them, grape pearls are a curiosity (to me at least) found on grapevine shoots, and the underside of leaves, in the spring only.  In fact, I had to look under several leaves before I found a node displaying these slightly opaque sap balls: they were much more evident a week or so ago, but I was too busy elsewhere to stop and take a photograph. 
The technical name for this phenomenon is guttation.  Grapevines experiencing rapid spring growth can exhibit guttation under high moisture conditions - diffusion pressure builds inside the plant because of high soil moisture and a low rate of transpiration due to high humidity.  The built up pressure is released by exuding water and minerals from specialised cells...voila, grape pearls.  Apparently, pearls occur on some grape varieties more than others, which probably explains why I have seen then mainly on the Orange muscat vines.