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Thursday, May 3, 2007

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.

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