Saturday, May 30, 2015

Slowing down.

I'm not slowing down, nor apparently is this common garden snail (Cornu aspersum) who, along with his pals, keeps popping up in the Syrah vines (not in the garden).  It is the grapevines themselves that are slowing down. The grand period of growth - a period of time when the shoots of vigorous grape varieties can elongate as much as an inch or more a day - is almost at an end.  During bloom the rapid shoot growth slows; in part due to competition for the allocation of photosynthates; in part because of hormone and enzyme activity in the flowering vine.  But also because May has been an unseasonably cool month.  The California May Grey has also retarded development a little bit, as the weather has been rather chilly and thus the vines have not been quite as enthused.
Me?  I haven't been able to slow down yet.  As quickly as the vines have been putting on vegetal growth, I've been busy tidying the over-zealous shoots by tucking them behind the trellis wires. The snail?  Well, his departure into the blackberry thicket, facilitated by me, was anything but slow.

Thursday, May 28, 2015


In biology, the Biologische Bundesanstalt, Bundessortenamt und Chemische Industrie-scale (BBCH-scale) is a system used to identify the phenological growth stages of plants, (and it's quite a mouthful).  A series of BBCH-scales have been developed for a range of crops, including grapevines.  According to the BBCH-scale for grapes, Vinoland's grapes are now at growth stage 6; flowering; code 68; 80% of flowerhoods fallen. Put simply, the Cabernet sauvignon is nearly finished flowering.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Looking sharp.

Did I mention that I love my new Vinsanity logo?  I love it so much that I decided I wanted a higher resolution image because, well, let's just say I have a couple of ideas.  So back to I went.
Actually, I went straight back to Caroline W who originally designed my logo for me and in less than 12 hours I had myself a high resolution version (600 dpi).  Vinomaker still can't believe that such a service exists, for the paltry sum of an insignificant fiver, but my lovely, crisp logo is proof positive.
Fiverr has relaxed its rules on privacy in the 2 months since I first found Caroline W on, which is great because I'm nosy and I wanted to ask Caroline some questions. Caroline Wooton does indeed live in England. She has a bachelor's degree in computer science and is working as a freelancer on Fiverr, offering her design services to customers worldwide, so that she can put herself through a master's programme.  I think that's great.  Caroline is willing to work for a measly $5.00 per 'gig' (that's just £3.00), dealing with people like me, so that she has a brighter future.
I can't recommend Caroline enough, she provided me with some of the best customer service I have ever received.  If anyone out there is in need of a logo, (NHW, you know you want one), contact Caroline and have her design you something fun and unique - all for a fiver!  
I love my Vinsanity logo.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Over a Barrel.

And speaking of wine history.
I'm a bit behind with my reading.  I have had this book for a while, I just haven't been able to get to it because of all the other stuff I find myself doing.  Over a Barrel: The Rise and Fall of New York's Taylor Wine Company by Thomas Pellechia has started out just fine, but like Edward Gibbon's chronicling of Rome's demise I have a feeling it's going to end in tears.  We'll see.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Oy vey!

And speaking of sweet red wine.
It is with some frequency that Americans, of a certain age, feel the need to share with me tales of their underage drinking adventures.  More often than not Manischewitz was the wine of choice in their teenage exploits. However, honourable mention should go to other wines such as; Boone's Farm, Annie Greensprings, Bali Hai, Blue Nun and Lancers.  Luckily, I grew up drinking wines with vastly different flavour profiles, although, in full disclosure, I have had both Blue Nun and Lancers in the past.
Manischewitz is really not that bad: it has that typical Concord grape nose (like sticking your schnoz into a jar of Concord grape jam), and that typical Concord grape taste (like chewing a massive wad of grape flavoured chewing gum). It is sweet; it is weird; it is better (read, swallowable) than Conundrum.  And if you happen to prefer that your glass of grape juice comes with a little bit of a kick (11% alcohol), then Manischewitz is the drink for you.  And it is kosher.
Truth is, there are some fantastic kosher wines coming out of Israel these days.  I have met a couple of Israeli winemakers (they were visiting TWWIAGE) and have tried some Israeli wines - of note a Yarden, 2010 Merlot (Galilee) - nice folks, decent wines.  And it's not like the Israelis are new to the wine business.  There is a long history of winemaking in Israel, as is reported in this article (kindly forwarded to me by New Hampshire Wineman), which tells of the unearthing of a 1400 year old wine press in Jerusalem.  Those thirsty Israelis were making wine long before Manischewitz took a native American grape and produced kosher wine in New York state.  I love wine history.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

It is a conundrum.

I consider myself a fairly intelligent person, so it is with some consternation that I find myself struggling to get my grey matter around the fact that anyone in the Napa Valley would want to make a wine like this particular wine from the Wagner Family (Caymus).  The Conundrum, 2012 California Red Wine, is to me simply undrinkable: it has so much residual sugar that I think I now have diabetes from attempting to drink it. The variety of grapes that go into Conundrum Red (and the vineyards, and the AVAs in which the grapes were grown) are a mystery.
I know Caymus sell a butt load (technical term) of this wine, but it is a puzzle to me as to how they do it.  Obviously, there are a lot more folks around America that like to imbibe in sweet red wine than I imagined. Thankfully, I was given this wine by the owner of TWWIAGE (I think she likes me), otherwise I would be really distressed at the thought that I'd spent my hard earned money on it.  Of the Conundrum Red, Charlie Wagner II says, it "beckons a second sip."  I could barely get the first, and only, one down.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The flowering grapevine.

A. J. Winkler says, "To the casual observer the opening of a grape flower may seem to be very different from that of most other flowers, but the difference is not great."
I say, the Syrah vines are having a fine old time; flowers, corolla, pedicel, anther, pistil, filament, nectary and calyptra - the whole bloomin' lot.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

M is for... 1000th post on Vinsanity.  Whoo hoo!  Yup, I've had that much to say, it's incredible.  A lot of the time my posts have been short, but sometimes they've been, in my opinion, too long (I prefer short and snappy).  I've done a ton of posts about the Vinodogs, insects, weeds and wine-tastings.  However, the majority of posts have been about grapevines, vineyards and viticulture (my true focus).  But wait, there's more.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Week of weeds: Day 7.

And here I am on the last day of my week of weeds.  I have decided to end my weed series with a gorgeous little wildflower.  This pretty, purple bloom has eluded me for several years; I first noticed this weed back in 2011 and I haven't seen it since, but it's blooming now.  And yes, it is on the slope above the house.
It took me a quite a bit of detective work to positively identify the Elegant Brodiaea (Brodiaea elegans).  Initially I confused this little gem with Blue-eyed Grass, but then I came across its true identity, just when I was about to give up, in an old Audubon guide to California. My mystery weed no more.  A native of California, and a member of the lily family, the brodiaea is a very elegant weed, indeed.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Week of weeds: Day 6.

This weed was really easy for me to identify, as it is possibly my favourite weed from when I was a child, (a close tie with Shepard's-purse, perhaps). I loved the feel of the densely composed, egg-shaped flowers of the pineapple weed, it's feathery leaves and, of course, the slight pineapple scent whenever I crushed those leaves between my fingers.
In Vinoland, pineappleweed (Matricaria discoidea) does not grow on the slope above the house, but instead calls a gravel driveway home. This weed also grows abundantly at the dog park that I frequent with Vinodog 2 where it seems to thrive on the very compacted pathways. In fact, I think that it's amazing that anything could grow in the poor soil at the dog park. But then, that's the wonder of weeds.  Wow!

Friday, May 08, 2015

Week of weeds: Day 5.

Finding the identity of this weed proved to be a little problematic.  
I have a wonderful book that I use for weed identification, it is called 'Weeds of California and Other Western States' and is published by the University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR).  (If anyone is interested, it is Publication 3488.)  The book is actually two volumes; Vol. 1 covers Aizoaceae - Fabaceae and Vol. 2 covers Geraniaceae - Zygophyllaceae.  All fabulous stuff, but although extensive in its coverage of California weeds it would be impossible for a single reference book to include every weed - as is the case with my weed of the day, purple sanicle (Sanicula bipinnatifidia).  A member of the same family as parsley, purple sanicle is native to the west coast of North America so it surprises me that it was overlooked in the ANR book.  
I just love this little weed, whose deep-red orbs just seem to float above all the other surrounding vegetation.  It is a rather elusive weed and only grows in one area of Vinoland. Yes, again, that would be on the slope above the house.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Week of weeds: Day 4.

Yet again, just when I thought I had exhausted finding every blue/purple weed growing in Vinoland I discovered the diminutive Field madder (Sherardia arvensis).  I don't know much about this little weed except that it is very cute, it is related to Catchweed Bedstraw (a nemesis of mine) and it is often found in vineyards and orchards etc.  And in this instance, the field madder is growing all around the Pinot grigio block and, surprise, surprise, not on the slope above the house.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Week of weeds: Day 3.

Rose clover (Trifolium hirtum) is an annual herb that is often included in cover crop mixtures for vineyards, not in the least because as a legume it has the ability to fix nitrogen.  With a tap root that can extend up to 78 inches in depth, rose clover is a valuable cover crop to sew in hillside vineyards that have problems with soil erosion. A native of Europe, rose clover often out-competes native clovers, however, it seems to be happily growing alongside a lot of hop clover, white clover and a tiny bit of crimson clover in Vinoland.
I don't think I have ever seen as much rose clover as I have seen this spring, it's everywhere. And not just on the slope above the homestead.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Week of weeds: Day 2.

Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium), or just yarrow, is generally a very pleasant plant to have around either in a vineyard or as an ornamental. A drought resistant perennial, and tolerant of poor soils, yarrow can be a valuable component of vineyard cover crops as it attracts many beneficial, predatory insects, including; ladybirds, parasitic wasps and tachinid flies.
In Vinoland the yarrow is not growing near the vines, but is instead flourishing on a slope above the house.  In fact, most of the interesting wildflowers in Vinoland grow together on the same slope (currently covered in hop clover, rose clover and wild hyacinth).  Yarrow has a large taproot which could really benefit the poor soil in some parts of the vineyard.  If only I could coax this winsome plant to move downhill.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Week of weeds: Day 1.

Yes, a whole week of weeds (WOW).  Yes, wow! The initial spring-flurry of wildflowers and attractive weeds is almost at an end, but there are still plenty of others doing their thing.  So many that I decided to dedicate a whole week of posts to weeds.  Whoo hoo!
There has always been a lot of creeping woodsorrel (Oxalis corniculata) in Vinoland, a happy looking weed with shamrock-like leaves and bright yellow flowers, but this year there is more of the purple leafed variety than the green leafed, (although both green and purple varieties can be found growing right next to each other.) Woodsorrel grows in a prostrate manner and is very competitive with other weeds and this year it seems to be, well, creeping farther afield.  This weed is a major nuisance in lawns and landscaping, but it's not bothering anything here, least of all the vineyard, so I just let it be. It is amazing how this weed appears, and thrives, in a any plant pots I have around the house and deck, it just gets everywhere.  
Stay tuned for day 2 of WOW.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

A snake in the grass.

Or rather, a snake in the California burclover. This afternoon, I was just about finished shoot-stuffing in the Syrah vines when I turned around and spotted this little fellow.  Actually, he wasn't very little at all, he was probably a good 28 -30 inches long.  Mr. Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer catenifer) was very cooperative, he patiently waited whilst I ran up to the house to get my camera and then again whilst I positioned myself, like him, on my belly for his photo shoot.  But not before I had a quick look at the end of his tail, just to make sure (and he had a quick smell of me with his tongue).  When we were done I got up to see where Vinodog 2 was (making a nuisance of herself) and Mr. Snake quietly slithered off.  Hopefully he was going to make himself useful in performing his job and disposing of a gopher, or two.  One can hope.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Afternoon in the Vineyards: 2015.

The 15th annual 'Afternoon in the Vineyards' was held today, so Vinomaker and I hopped into our trusty Vinovehicle and headed over to the nearest participating vineyard to Vinoland.  This year there were 6 vineyards to choose from, one more than last year - it's a good community event.
Boyd Family Vineyards is located on Big Ranch Road in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley AVA.  I love Big Ranch Road, so close to downtown Napa yet it feels like it is miles away from anywhere. Proprietor Joan Boyd was hosting an informal talk in the vineyard when Vinomaker and I arrived.  Mrs Boyd certainly seemed to know her stuff, so refreshing that a vineyard owner could be so knowledgeable and hands on.  There were three Boyd Family wines available to taste, a 2012 Merlot was the best of the bunch, in my opinion.  The Boyd Family dogs, one yellow and one black labrador, were on hand making sure people were having a good time.  Love vineyard dogs.
Vinomaker asked Joan what variety were the new vines that we had passed by on the drive in.  "Greco di Tufo," she replied, "but they're not mine."  The baby vines apparently belong to Robert Biale Vineyards.
Greco di Tufo is a very unusual grape variety for California.  A native of Italy, Greco di Tufo makes an aromatic, medium bodied, citrusy wine with aging potential.  It'll be a few years before I can taste the wine that Biale will produce from these grapevines, but I'm going to try to remember to look out for it in the future.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Working Hard?

Or hardly working?  The Pinot grigio vines are hard at work blooming right now.  The weather this week has been perfect for bloom, warm, dry and not very windy - should be a good fruit-set. I was working moderately hard at stuffing shoots and suckering the grapevines when I noticed bloom had begun.  Meanwhile, Vinodog 2 was working hard at finding any shady spot in the vineyard where she could comfortably nap, (whilst still keeping an eye on me, of course). Workers, and nappers, of the world unite.  Happy May Day.