Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sprinkle liberally.

The record low temperatures that were forecast for last week did not materialise. Last night it was supposed to only get down to 36 degrees and it got down to 32 instead...weathermen!!!
I took this picture several weeks ago, around the time I did my smudge pot post. I imagined that Napa was going to be in for a frosty April but no, it has just been cool and damp all month long. Of course, the scarcity of freezing overnight temperatures has been great for the vines, thank goodness.
Besides fans, the other primary method of frost protection in Napa vineyards is the utilisation of overhead sprinkler systems, designed to apply .11 inches of water per hour. Overhead sprinklers require upwards of 50 gallons of water per minute per acre: at this rate full protection of the vineyard to temperatures down into the mid-20s can be achieved. These systems derive their effectiveness from the latent heat of fusion which is given up as the water turns to ice on the vine. The mixture of ice and water maintains the bud at 32 degrees, just one critical degree above the point where bud damage begins. The sprinklers then continue until well after sunrise and subsequently the ice melts. This is a rather expensive method of frost protection and an adequate source of water is essential. Sprinklers are however very quiet unlike the wind fans, and very clean unlike the smudge pots. The sprinklers can also be used at other times in the growing season for irrigation, heat suppression, and pest management. This year I am sure the sprinklers will be employed in the certain pesticide-death of the European Grapevine Moth.
Sprinkle liberally with water, add a dash of physics and you have the recipe for a successful harvest in the autumn.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

And the wind blows cold.

I am so fed up with this spring weather we are having because it's almost as cool and damp as our winter weather was. Most days I still have to wear a down jacket when I walk the Vinodogs, very unCalifornia-like. I am really ready for some sunshine.
Vinomaker and I travelled up the valley today to get a new battery for one of the John Deeres. Despite bursts of driving rain, alternating with blinding sunshine, it was a very pleasant trip and the Napa Valley never looked prettier.
Closer to home, the ominous clouds actually made for a rather nice photograph of this vineyard that was once the site of an old homestead: now only the chimney remains. Located in the Coombsville area, nestling up against the Vaca Hills, this vineyard is set on a small knoll overlooking the entrance to the valley. I bet this old stack of stones could tell a tale or two.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Crimson and clover.

Vinoland's cover crop is looking quite fetching right now, or at least the bit that Vinomaker hasn't already mowed yet is. Alongside the common vetch and the field peas, the crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum) is blooming like crazy. Vinodog 2 had trotted over and joined me in the clover as I took some photographs, so we both lay back in the warm Napa sun, contemplated life and...well it didn't stay like that for long as V2 ran up the hill after a squirrel ending our pensive, albeit short, respite.
This particular legume makes for a lovely cover crop; it doesn't have a particularly high biomass (compared to some of the cereal grasses often used for cover crop), but it does fix atmospheric nitrogen...and it just looks so pretty.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Happy St. George's Day, 2010.

I traveled among unknown men,
In lands beyond the sea;
Nor England! did I know till then
What love I bore to thee.
Happy St. George's Day to my family, friends, and anyone who loves England as much as I do.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

While I was studying...

...the Cabernet sauvignon vines finally decided to get going for 2010, better late than never I suppose. I hadn't been down into the vineyard since the weekend, but when I got home from school today, and after I had walked the Vinodogs, I decided to take a peek. Small, pink fuzzy buds and leaves greeted me everywhere. Unfortunately, record low temperatures are forecast for tonight, the first frost in quite a while, so I'm hoping that all the vines come through the night relatively unscathed.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Who are you and why are you in my vineyard?

Look what the Vinodogs found for me today along a short retaining wall, above the Pinot gris vines. It's actually the second time the poochies have found a tortoise for me in Vinoland. You'd think it would be an unusual event, but no. However, this time I cannot identify what type of tortoise, or turtle, it is...oh bother! He (because it is a boy), is now in a large, dry box, with lots of scrunched up newspaper, in Vinomaker's wood shop. I have no idea what I am going to do with him.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Fools rush in.

What's the hurry?
Pinot grigio has to have the funniest growth habit of any variety of grapevine. Whilst the Syrah and Orange muscat vines will show 2 or 3 inches of growth before you actually see the flower clusters, the Pinot grigio pushes everything out all at once. It’s certianly not backwards in coming forwards. Calm down little vine, calm down!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

My buddy.

I am so excited, I'm expecting...more grapes that is.
The past two days, I have been tending to the Pinot grigio bench grafts that were planted late in the spring of 2009. All the buds had pushed on last years spindly growth and it was time to cut them back to two buds and place milk cartons around them. Just as I was finishing I noticed that the one rootstock that I had field-budded over to Pinot grigio last September had lost it's protective mound of earth and my handiwork was exposed.
Just take a gander at that bud-swell. This was perhaps my third attempt to marry scion and rootstock in this particular spot in the vineyard. Unlike Syrah, which takes to grafting like a duck to water, Pinot grigio is just so stubborn. Of course, I still have to unwrap the grafting tape and check that the bud is sound, in all its time under wraps it may not have formed a sufficient callous. But from my, all be it limited, field-budding experience I must say that all the signs look encouraging. It is very gratifying to have learned a specific skill and to actually be able to use it and not have to rely on somebody else to perform this service for me.
So fingers crossed and here's hoping that my buddy's non-specific cells have decided to grow up to be mature and functioning xylem and phloem.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

America's most wanted moth.

The European Grapevine Moth (Lobesia botrana) has recently been found for the first time in the United States. This nasty little pest unfortunately made it's first port of call the Napa Valley; ground zero is Oakville where I work, with another isolated population having been found east of the town of Napa where I live. I can assure you this is purely coincidental.
L. botrana is an extremely serious threat to the wine industry as this particular moth does not feed on the grapevines leaves, but rather on the flower parts and inside the maturing berries. It was recently confirmed by the Napa County Agricultural Commissioner that several Napa Valley vineyards actually sustained significant crop losses last harvest. Besides natural dispersal, the movement of fruit, personnel (yikes, Vinogirl in her Vinomobile perhaps?) and machinery, coupled with the fabulous Napa Valley climate make this pest a very grave threat to other areas of the state. Large expanses of Napa County are now under quarantine.
The moth has a rather complicated life cycle comprising of 5 larval instars (the main offenders), and 3 generations of adults. Getting rid of these little fiends is going to prove to be quite difficult I'm afraid. Eradication efforts valley-wide will include; multiple applications of insecticides, the use of a bacterium (Bacillus thuringiensis) which produces a protein that acts as a stomach poison and biological controls, such as the release of tiny parasitic wasps that efficaciously oviposit the moth eggs and the dispersal of a synthetic sex pheromone so that male moths are unable to locate females.
There is a nasty little rumour going around as to how L. botrana came to be in the Napa Valley in the first place which doesn't suggest the probability that the moth was a simple stowaway. However, it is likely just that: a rumour. But isn't it at least conceivable that the French, fed up with the New World stealing it's oenological thunder, simply packed the moth's luggage for it and sent it to the Napa Valley to at long last avenge their countrymen for the American initiated phylloxera epidemic of the 1870s? Or is spending more of my time with vines than people turning me into a conspiracy theorist?

Friday, April 09, 2010

Done and dusted, 2010.

Yesterday, I finished pruning. Today with the help of Vinomaker, I finished tying down the last of the canes. What a relief!
I really enjoy the time I spend pruning in the vineyard, however I am not the fastest pruner in the world and so it takes me a fair amount of time to complete this particular vineyard operation.
I could possibly prune a little quicker, but I do tend to get distracted by any number of things; the Vinodogs, pretty little weeds, birds collecting twigs and mown grass for their nests, and today a skittish little red-backed jumping spider (Phiddippus johnsoni). I often glimpse these dinky arachnids, (I refer to them as 'red-bummed' spiders), furtively darting back and forth on the vineyard floor. I generally do not like spiders, but I endure these little fellows as they are an important component of the predator/prey food web that continues to keep Vinoland's grapevines naturally pest free.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Tricks of the trade.

In hushed tones I was warned, "If I tell you, I'll have to kill you." I was more than a tad alarmed: what could possibly be so top secret that the simple act of sharing the information with me would put my life in jeopardy? An urgent matter of national security? A long forgotten ignominious skeleton in the cupboard? Nope, nothing quite as cloak and dagger as all that. The hitherto arcane tidbit of intelligence had to do with the utilisation of a common or garden laundry detergent as a fungicide on grapevines.
I've been using Dreft for the past 3 pruning seasons now, mainly on the Cabernet sauvignon vines, as sometimes I have to remove sizeable sections of old growth. These large pruning wounds are often horizontal - the perfect surface for some disagreeable, airborne pathogen to settle upon. It's a relatively inexpensive solution to a potential vineyard dilemma and any soap that is left over I use to wash my smalls.
Dreft: recommended by pediatricians...and a certain professor of viticulture. Of course, I'm not supposed to tell you that.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The state flower.

Happy California Poppy Day. Yes, would you believe the official flower of California (Eschscholzia californica) has it's own special day.
These poppies have been blooming all over the Napa Valley since February (the first ones I noticed where alongside the driveway into Napa Valley College), and will continue to grace roadsides, vineyards and fields with their presence until late summer. Extremely drought tolerant, they easily self-seed and consequently pop up in an new part of Vinoland every year. This particular poppy is blooming right alongside a Pinot grigio vine.
I was once shown a photograph of a vineyard that had been sown with California poppies as a cover crop, it looked beautiful. Poppies do have rather large tap roots that can penetrate hard soils and clay and aid in aeration, but they would not add much in the way of nitrogen or biomass to the soil. Besides, who would have the heart to want to mow them down? Not me.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

A quick word from the Vinobunny.

A very Happy Easter to all.
Celebrate! Eat chocolate! Drink wine!

Friday, April 02, 2010

Bean dip.

This past week, in his spare time, Vinomaker has been busy mowing and weed-whacking/strimming the tall, lush vegetation that has sprung up all over the vineyard. Alternate periods of rain and sunshine have resulted in a verdant extravaganza of weeds this spring. Besides looking rather unkempt, high vegetation in the vine rows can contribute to frost damage of the developing vintage. By effectively raising the floor of the vineyard, tall plants positively invite frost to settle right at the level of the succulent, new shoots on the grapevines. The uninterrupted flow of dense, cold air past the vines is extremely important.
In the long grass at the edge of the creek, I found a couple of runaway bell beans (Vicia faba) enjoying their reprieve, after a quick swim, from certain disking death over in the Far Niente vineyard a mere 100 yards away: a fate their siblings succumbed to just a few days ago. They will be safe here in the sanctuary I call Vinoland.

Thursday, April 01, 2010


Yesterday's post was not an early April Fool's Day prank. Nor was it a bad dream to thankfully be awoken from. Those nasty deer really did chomp their way through about one third of what would have been the 2010 vintage of Vinoland's Orange muscat planting.
This is what all the Orange muscat vines should look like; healthy, shiny leaves with baby flower/grape clusters already formed, promising a fairly decent sized crop in September. But no, those ignoble interlopers nipped it in the bud, literally!