Sunday, June 28, 2009

Pinot in the hole!

Not everything I do is fun and games with wine and grapes, from time to time there is some real work to be done in the vineyard. So, today I tied my hair up under my plant pot shaped hat (thank you Thud), and went about the business of increasing the vine count, here in Vinoland, by planting baby bench-grafted Pinot gris vines (Clone 4).
The preparation yesterday and the actual planting today just happened to coincide with the two hottest days we have had thus far in 2009; 100 F and 102 F. Scorchio!
When planting bench-grafts it is important to protect the head, and any tender emerging shoots, by mounding earth at a depth of a least two inches over the bench-graft. At the nursery, the bench-grafts are kept in cold storage and depending on how long they have had to warm up, before being planted in their final resting place, they start to push out shoots that will eventually become the trained vine we all recognise.
Vinomaker and I were a little delayed in getting the bench-grafts planted in a timely fashion (due to the previously blogged tree stump debacle). Our babies had pushed out up to 4 inches of shoot growth in some cases. The corresponding protective mounds were more like ancient Egyptian pyramids than something that should have resembled puny mole hills. It took a lot of shovel work...and a lot of soil!
However, our efforts were cut short. One of the bundles turned out to be Pinot noir (also Clone 4), so we were finished planting a little bit sooner than we anticipated. I have a call in to the nursery which supplied the bench-grafts.
In celebration, albeit a little premature because we will have some extra planting to do, we are now sitting on the deck enjoying a glass of Vinomaker's 2008 Pinot grigio from the currently producing vines. Delicious.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Grapegrower, reveal thyself.

Not everything I do is grape related. Well actually, yes it is, but even within the confines of grape growing I sometimes get to let my hair down, literally, and enjoy an evening out even if it is with other grape geeks and wine aficionados.
Last night, Vinomaker and I attended a reception for the release of the 2010 Napa Uncovered Calendar, held on the beautiful grounds of Clos du Val Winery. All the pin-ups were present and thankfully, fully clothed. The photographs are all tastefully staged so that each model does not reveal much more than his farmers tan!
The event was a fundraiser for the Napa County Farm Bureau (NCFB), an organisation that works to preserve the natural and agricultural landscape of the Napa Valley. Even though the Napa Valley was made an agricultural preserve back in 1968, much ongoing work is needed to maintain and conserve what is after all primarily farmland. Wine grapes are a crop just like any other crop that is produced for human consumption, it's just that this particular one, fortunately for the majority of us, is made into wine. The Napa Valley is not akin to Disneyland with wine, the fact is, it is predominantly an agricultural area: it is a lot of fun, but people need to be gently reminded of this fact now and again. I recently had a woman suggest to me that a freeway should be built right up the centre of the valley to ease the traffic congestion (which is unfortunately a by product of the popularity of the valley)...yea right, that's going to happen. Thankfully we have an organisation like the NCFB to vigilantly work towards the continuation of agriculture in this mini Garden of Eden.
So having said that, I am off to check if Mr. January really removed that bundle of Cabernet sauvignon prunings, he is clutching, in the correct manner.

Friday, June 26, 2009

It's a dog's life.

It was just too tiring, apparently, for a little poochie watching Vinogirl work up a sweat whilst digging out several dead Pinot grigio vines. Vinodog 2 found herself a comfortable spot under some vigorous Syrah vines, on a springy bed of sharppoint fluvellin (Kickxia elatine), and snoozed away until a turkey vulture swooped overhead threatening her siesta...then all hell broke loose.
In my next life I want to come back as a Napa dog.  Not just any Napa dog, my Napa dog!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

From little acorns...

...mighty wine-corks grow.
Since my previous post about oak trees two more have, ahem, fallen over. But please do not think that Vinomaker and I are arboreally antagonistic. On the contrary, we have three baby cork oaks (Quercus suber), purposely propagated from acorns collected from two enormous cork oaks on the grounds of the Napa State Hospital, just waiting to be planted. Of course, they will be planted in an area that will not interfere with our vineyard activities.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Napa nest 3.

The summer solstice came and went, but the birds around here still seem to be procreating. Stop it, Vinomaker needs to sulphur the Syrah you have woven your horse hair-lined nest into. The nest in question belongs to a California Towhee (Melozone crissalis), cute birds, but I still want my vineyard to be mildew free!

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Oops! It seems we had an issue with several trees, erm, falling over today in Vinoland. It is somehow hard for trees to remain vertical around here!
I think I'll plant some Pinot gris in their place.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

All aboard.

There is no doubting that the entire Napa Valley is a major tourist destination. There are lots of things for visitors here to see and do, mostly related to wine of course. Living and working here I don't often bother to do some of the things the tourists may have come half way around the world to experience.
Two nights ago Vinomaker, myself, and two wonderful friends visiting from Wisconsin, took a trip on the Napa Valley Wine Train. The beautifully restored Pullman cars, dating from 1915 - 1917, comfortably accommodated us as we were served a wonderful meal (all the time marvelling at the sea-legs of the wait staff). Between mouthfuls, we gazed out at the astoundingly verdant vineyards in all their late spring glory, for all the world looking like a vast green ocean until, at last, the sun setting over the Mayacamas mountains altered Mother Nature's paint palate. A very enjoyable evening was had by all, it is certainly one I will remember for a long time.
It reminded me of a meal I had as a child in the revolving restaurant of St. John's Beacon, of an ever changing vista, and of a splendid sunset over Liverpool Bay.
You just can't buy memories like these.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Napa nest 2.

Never say never!
I was wondering why Vinodog 2 just happened to get into a very vociferous altercation with a male California quail (Callipepla californica) every time she took a wee in a particular part of the vineyard.
I may have thought that spring and chick-rearing was at an end for the season, but apparently not the quail with the baker's dozen waiting to be hatched.  I feel all warm and fuzzy. Or is that the 2006 Cabernet franc speaking?  Probably just the cuteness of it all.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Napa nest.

Spring is almost at an end.  Not that you'd know it from the unusually cool weather we have been having.  Summer is just around the corner but temps are at least 10 degrees below normal for this time of year. Perfect temperatures for powdery mildew infection of the vines.
The local avian population may be done with child-rearing for the season (as evidenced by the abandoned nest I found earlier: complete with Vinodog 1 fur-lining of course), but I still have yet to plant and rear my babies!
We did finally manage to get the tree stump out today, hooray! It took myself and Vinomaker, on a tractor each, ganging up on the aforementioned stump until it finally yielded to the power of John Deere and Ford.  Phew!
Now, aren't I supposed to be nest hunting for Thud?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Vinomaker is stumped.

But not for long.
Before I went to England Vinomaker and I decided that it would be a great idea to plant some more Pinot gris vines here in Vinoland. There was just the little matter of a rather sizable oak tree stump in our path.
This picture does not do the actual size of the excavation justice, I should have included in it one of the Vinodogs for scale. Each night when I come home from the winery the crater is larger than when I departed in the morning. When will it be at an end? Hopefully soon, as the baby vines are warming up in the wine cellar below the house and want to be planted before they bud out or expire, which ever comes first.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Petiole testing.

I finally finished my first round of stuffing shoots. It is a task akin to painting the Forth Bridge. Just when I think I have crammed the last wayward shoot into the trellising wires I have to return to the vines where I started and begin the process all over again until they are big enough to behave themselves. Teenagers!!!
I did however manage to set some time aside to perform another important spring operation in the vineyard: gathering petiole samples for analysis of nutrient content in the plant tissue. Analysing the presence of absorbed nutrients is a good way to see how healthy your vineyard really is. Or not.
There is conflicting opinion as to whether the leaf blade is a better indicator of nutrient content versus the petiole. UC Davis has advocated for years that the testing of petiole samples is the most accurate measurement of the vines uptake of nutrients. Now there is a school of thought that believes that testing the blade is a more accurate indicator. It actually makes sense to me, after all, the petiole is merely a channel by which the nutrients are delivered to the business end of the vine. The leaf is a little food factory which, when aided by sunlight, converts the nutrients deposited there into something the winemaker can use: all that sugary goodness that eventually becomes alcohol.
Having said that, I dutifully performed my petiole sampling of the Cabernet sauvignon and Syrah vines and sent the tissue to Dellavalle Laboratory Inc. Maybe next time I will try a blade sample.
Now I just have to wait for the results to see what my poor little vines are craving in the way of nutrients.