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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Wine vs. beer

A Slate article that claims pastoral nostalgia and the foodie boom is making vino America's drink of choice.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Speeding up

We're in the vineyard stage known as pre-bloom when we start to get an idea of the size and number of grape clusters on our shoots. These two photos at show the incredible amount of growth that has happened on the same vine in a two-week period. From three-inch shoots on these Nortons to twenty and more. The growth is exaggerated this year because the Easter Freeze knockback of our primary buds has envigorated the vines, and they're coming back as if they have something to proove.

Things are staring to move extremely fast in the vineyard: shoot thinning and positioning are required to ensure that the vine is filling up the trellis properly and that the amount of fruit will be balanced with an adequate amount of green canopy without being too shaded. Grapes don't like shade. They also need air circulation. But they can also receive too much sun and become burned. The ongoing process of balancing fruit, leaves and shoots on the trellis is known as canopy management, and it is perhaps the most important viticultural practice in growing high-quality wine grapes. I grew grapes in the test vineyard for four years before I knew any of this stuff.

Our crop will be uneven this year, with a collection of primary, secondary and tertiary buds throwing off shoots carrying fruit that will ripen at different times. On a small vineyard, several hand-harvested passes will need to be made, but those who machine harvest all at once will have some choices to make.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

News roundup

_A top 10 list on books about wine
_Interesting blog by the above listmaker about quitting his job and moving to the south of France with his wife to start a wine business.

Proof that you can find anything on YouTube

Here's a video snippet of an Australian fellow trimming cane-pruned chambourcin. For a long time I never saw this varietal outside eastern US and Midwestern vineyards, but I started to hear snippets of its use to make Champagne-style wine Down Under. There's also a biodynamic vineyard in Colorado's West Elks AVA growing chambourcin at one of the highest elevation vineyards around.

This is one of my favorite hybrid varietals, but our chamb. vines were slammed by the freeze this year. I may not harvest much of a crop in the test vineyard. I'm leaning toward vinifera in my commercial-size planting because of the higher market value, but I still appreciate some of these unfairly maligned hybrids. Some hybrids are clearly inferior, but chamb. is not one of those. I have a feeling I'll someday be tending a decent-sized block of chambourcin.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Easter Freeze '07: more details and video

Here is more information from the University of Missouri on potential damage to the '07 grape crop and beyond. For my part, the vidal and chambourcin showing only a few clusters per vine while Norton and traminette are at 6-9 inches and some vines have 30 clusters and will need heavy thinning.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

About this blog (Chapter 1)

This is a blog about growing grapes for wine. It's about everything that goes into planning, planting and operating a small commercial vineyard in Oregon. It's about how decisions in the vineyard impact the finished wine in the bottle. And it's not written by just any grower, but rather by a guy who jumped into this whole thing without any formal training or even an idea what his goals are. After growing a test vineyard in Missouri for a few years, I started jotting notes in a spiral notebook, and I realized that they would simply molder away on some dusty shelf. So instead I've decided to keep what I learn posted on this blog for others to check out if they're interested. I'll cover food, travel, news and anything related to wine, but the focus will be on the growing process.

It all began with a trip to Burgundy in 2000. We just happened to arrive in Beaune, the capitol of this venerable wine region, during the harvest. We visited wineries and vineyards, and as soon as we returned home to Missouri we planted a test vineyard of hybrid vines. After several years of modest successes and spectacular defeats, I realized that I'd been bitten by the vine bug and I was hooked. I knew that I would have to try to grow the best grapes I could in my region and find a way to get those grapes into a bottle and onto the table for others to enjoy.

In 2007 we purchased 21 acres of Missouri pasture land. I had the site vetted and tested for wine grape production, and I began plans for a small commercial vineyard of Cabernet Franc and Mataro (Mourvedre) vines. I was close to planting, with the vines ordered and the vineyard site prepared. I had handshake deals with winemakers interested in the Cab Franc, and lots of support from the growing community in the area. I'd studied our climate challenges and cut my teeth on seven years in the test vineyard.

But life is about change, and before I could get the vines in the ground I learned of a job opportunity at Oregon State University. So now we're selling our house and vineyard property and moving 2000 miles west, following almost the exact same route as early pioneers who set out on the Oregon Trail. I found a buyer for my ordered vines and now I'll be starting from scratch in the Pacific Northwest.

But I hear that a few grapes are grown in Oregon's Willamette Valley. I'm taking a huge step back after being so close to having commercial vines in the ground. It'll probably be a few years before I'm that close again. But I'll be documenting my search for the perfect small vineyard site and my research on the geography of the region. I'll visit wineries, learn about the varietals and growing conditions, and try to find a way to spend time in the area vineyards.

Any questions or suggestions? Feel free to email me at dave[at]301media[dot]com.

I am a writer and web designer living in the Northwest. You can find out more here.



And they're off...

This is the pinnacle of the viticultural experience. A good harvest is also thrilling, but the sheer volume of labor of that period dampens the euphoria. But bud burst and early shoot growth involve relatively minor labor. You do begin spraying, but the weather is cooler and you're not yet slow-roasting in your protective gear, and the process has not assumed the mantle of tedium that it takes on in the mid-summer doldrums. The vines are fresh-pruned, the dead wood bursting with life at an unbelievable pace, like a magician's hat releasing a flock of doves. The traminette at right shows a perfectly spaced set of shoots racing to thread the trellis wires.

This year's bud break has been dampened by our hundred-year freeze, but I still can't hold back that surge of excitement that comes when I walk into the vineyard and find a new inch of growth every day. My traminette and Norton have done relatively well, only taking 30 and 40 percent damage. But my vidal (see left) and chambourcin have taken 90 percent hits, and again I'm grateful to only have a test vineyard and not be in production. I've heard that two growers in the state have closed their doors permanently due to the freeze. Something breaks inside you when you think of someone tearing out a vineyard. Vine rows form an artificial construct, but they become no less a part of the landscape. It's like that sickening mountain-top-removal mining they do out east: a defacing of the vista.

We've had five inches of rain in the past 48 hours, and I sprayed in a drizzle knowing the application won't last long and I'll have to do it again. This weather has been a recipe for a season of disease, but I'm still hopeful. You can't help it when the shoots are surging out of the gate like thoroughbreads and you can almost picture them hanging heavy with mouthwatering fruit in the late-August heat. The Norton (right) shoots are gorgeous, tinged as they are with bands of rust-purple, tiny native, pre-Columbian clusters unfolding toward the sky. If you're not thrilled at this time of year, then you have to wonder if this business is for you. It's times like these that help you make it through the anxiety and heartache to come as you fight powdery mildew, downy mildew, black rot, hoppers, beetles, aphids, mites, crown gall, birds, raccoons, deer, weeds, humidity, rain, drought, and several lurking dangers you've never encountered before.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Chips on their shoulders

It seems there is less separating the great houses of Bordeaux from the glass jugs in your basement than one might imagine. They're not completely averse to using wood chips and oak powder in their winemaking, though it is causing a stir. I do agree that in many (most) cases, oak is used simply as a flavor additive, no different than adding a squirt of hazelnut syrup in your coffee, or, dare I say, dashing a little ketchup on your fillet. But that's just me.

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