Monday, August 31, 2020

Tasty grapes.

I probably didn't have to get my refractometer out today and perform a sugar sample of the Pinot grigio (PG).  Nope, I really should have known that the PG grapes were very close to maturity, and thus harvest, by simply observing my chickens' behaviour of late.  Yup, my six girls are really enjoying the ripening grapes.  Rather unfortunate, that.
There is a retaining wall at the top of the PG block and Lizzie, Pansy, Maro, Annie, Rosie and Gracie seem quite content to sit there and snack away to their little hearts' content.  The rachis in the photograph is picked clean, absolutely nekkid.  Full clusters on the far side of the vine that they cannot reach are still intact.  And I thought I had problems with the wild bird population.  Hmmph.
I sampled anyway and the PG is at 23.2 °Brix; the grapes taste fabulous and, what's left of them, look great.  Now, if I could train the chickens to poop only in the vineyard I may overlook their thieving of my hard-farmed crop.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Getting lighter.

Up a little earlier than is the norm, to deal with the chicklets who have been evicted from the house because they were starting to get a bit whiffy, I saw that Far Niente (FN) were harvesting Chardonnay from the Berlenbach Vineyards.  The morning was dark; the air was cool, foggy and smoky.  It was pleasing to me to witness some floodlit grape-activity in the neighbourhood.  A touch of normality.
I can't remember if they picked this vineyard last year (I missed the entire 2019 harvest in Napa), so this may be the first harvest for these young vines.  Generally, harvest in the valley began a tad early this year, as it has been a nice, steady growing season.  I'm wondering if FN decided to get the fruit in a little earlier because of smoke from the wildfires still burning a little to the north.  I heard that a Merlot vineyard, halfway up the valley on the eastern side, was picked on Monday at 21/22 °Brix.  Seems a little premature, but perhaps the owners/growers panicked a bit.  Stay calm folks, there will be light at the end of 2020.

Monday, August 24, 2020


"The instruction we find in books is like fire.  We fetch it from our neighbours, kindle it at home, communicate it to others, and it becomes the property of all."  Voltaire.
This grainy photograph is from happier times...and apparently, the topic that day was head-training/cane pruning.  Dr. Stephen Krebs (centre back), my viticulture professor at Napa Valley College, unfortunately lost his home in the LNU Lightning Complex Fire.  It was Dr. Krebs who was responsible for sparking my love of all things viticultural.  And writing about my passion on Vinsanity.  A good fire, as opposed to the bad stuff.
At his home on Pleasants Valley Road  in rural Vacaville, Dr. Krebs, a more than keen gardener, had a huge vegetable garden.  I always loved it when he'd go off-topic in class and instead discuss vegetable gardening.  I remember one particular time when he brought in paper bags filled with cloves of assorted garlic varieties to share with the class.  Sadly, his home was in one of the areas hit hardest by the wildfires ignited by dry thunderstorms on the 16th of August.  I cannot imagine losing everything.  Vinomaker and I came close in the firestorm of October 2017, but we were mercifully spared.
I am thankful that Dr. Krebs and his wife escaped unharmed, but it saddens me to think of all that he lost.  He had a rather extensive book collection, a lot of them rare and out of print.  He was always willing to let his students use his library for reference purposes, but it was not a lending library - the books had to stay put.  I can't blame him, I wouldn't have let some of those titles out of my safe keeping either.
The books may be gone, but not before Dr. Krebs was able to communicate their contents to a multitude of wine industry peeps the length and breadth of Napa Valley.  And probably beyond.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Happy Birthday, Thud!

My big brother has a very special birthday today and I am hoping he has a fantastic day.  I would have loved to be with him, and I did try.  But with many airlines not wanting to fly Americans (and people who just live in America, me) anywhere because Yanks have misbehaved a tad with regards to Covid-19, I found myself stuck stateside.
Here we both are in more carefree times.  Thud was having his junior school (primary) photograph taken and was asked if he had any younger siblings in infant school; he did, me.  I remember jumping out of my chair with excitement when he came into my classroom.  Good memory.
So cheers and all the best to the person who got me into wine in the first place.  Bottoms up, Thud!

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Napa's on fire...

...but not in a good way.
When I sprung the chickens at 6.15 a.m. this morning, I noticed that the coop was covered in a layer of very fine white ash.  A couple of forest fires had started yesterday (sparked by the intense lightning storms of Sunday and Monday) and the air was noticeably smoky when Vinodog 2 and I went on our morning promenade.  The smoke cleared as the day progressed, but by the time our late afternoon perambulation came around the fire was apparently intensifying.
The cloud of smoke in the photograph was much more dramatic when I first began my walk: it looked like a mushroom cloud (known as a flammagenitus, or pyro cumulus).  Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera with me and by the time I had fetched it 20 minutes had elapsed.  Still terrifyingly impressive, though.
By 6 p.m. the Hennessey Fire, burning north of Vinoland, was at 2700 acres - with no containment.  It is one of three fires now burning on the east side of Napa Valley, on the edge of the Vaca Mountains, mostly in rural, hard to access areas.  However, many homeowners, including a friend, are facing mandatory evacuations.  Where does one evacuate to in the age of Covid?  Such a different situation from what folks dealt with during the 2017 fires.  I hope the brave firefighters of Cal Fire get control of these fires sooner rather than later.  Godspeed.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Slow news week. Or two.

Yup, not a lot going on in Vinoland besides veraison, baby-chicken watching and waiting for harvest.  So I was interested to read this article in the Daily Mail that Thud forwarded to me.
Some enterprising, vino-loving Italians have revived historic, so-called 'wine windows' as a way to socially distance whilst still permitting folks to enjoy a glass of wine.  Apparently there are 300 of these windows in Tuscany, known as buchette del vino, that were traditionally used in the 1600s, in times of plague, to enable that the local citizenry could still get a goblet of their favourite tipple.  Minus the scabs, sores and pustules that come with pestilence, of course.  Quaint and genius.
I can't personally recall seeing any of these windows when I holidayed in Lucca.  And if I had, I probably would have assumed they were religious niches.  Who knew?  I didn't.  But hey, I'm all for walking along the street and a hand pops out of a random window and offers one a glass of wine...a nice Chianti, perhaps?  So civilised.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Pay attention!

With the vineyard being sprayed for the final time last Thursday, requiring a 48 hour no re-entry time (or re-entry interval, REI), and being distracted by four little feathery chickies, I hadn't noticed the onset of veraison in the Cabernet sauvignon vines.  Well, here we have it.  Whether I am paying attention or not, the grapevines will carry on doing their thing.  Thank goodness.

Monday, August 03, 2020

New chicks on the block.

I had just popped out with the sole intention of buying chicken feed for Vinoland's six breakfast-laying ladies, but I somehow came home with four new, three day old chicks.  How did that happen?  Look how adorable they are.  How could've I resisted?  Problem is, I don't know what breeds they are.  I'm hoping the brown one is a Sussex and the black one is an Australorp.  The other two?  No clue.  No matter, as long as they are all indeed female (the most important consideration).
Continuing with the theme of naming my chickens after Henry VIII's warships, meet Little Barbara (Babs), Jennet Prywin (Jennie), Magdeline (Maggie) and Katherine Bark (Katie).
Here's to fresh eggs at New Year.