VineStress - A blog about starting a wine label from scratch in Oregon... Home | About | Wine and Vine News | Links | Subscribe

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Help choose a vineyard name

Now's your chance to participate in our little vineyard project. Since starting this process last year we've come a long way. We should put our grapes in the ground in April, barring any suprises, crises or opportunities that would throw a wrench into the works.

The next question is what to name our operation. At this point I don't have any plans to start a winery. I'd like to sell the grapes to a local grower, but I would also like to establish some marketing equity in the vineyard, especially if I manage to grow the premium grade of vinifera grapes that I'm shooting for. So one way to do this is to work with a winemaker willing to put the vineyard name on the bottle. From folks I've talked with, this seems like a fairly reasonable expectation, even given the small amount (1/2 acre) I'm starting with.

I'd like readers of this blog to vote on the poll on the right-hand side of the page. Let me know if any of these options have a ring. Some are pretty obvious, but they all relate to historic, geographical or geological features of the area.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

February vineyard calendar

I really should have had this month's calendar up at the beginning of the month rather than the end, but there are still a few days left in February. Here's the list of tasks I hope to have finished by Friday:

1) Sharpen pruners, loppers

2) Measure pruning weights for your upcoming season's balanced pruning plan.

3) Begin pre-pruning on more cold hearty varietals

4) Trellis repairs

5) Prepare sprayer for early season sprays of soybean oil and lime sulfur in late February and early March.

Pruning weights

Now is the time of year to head into the vineyard and grab a sample of pruning weights. Larger growers will already be well into pruning. But smaller growers in our region can, and should, wait until as late as possible to prune their vines as this is a way to delay budbreak in an attempt to lessen the risk of early season frost damage to young buds and shoots. I won't be pruning in earnest until mid-March. Our early budbreak happened last year around March 30, so this is the last two weeks of the pruning season. I can afford to wait until the last minute with my small test vineyard.

Pruning weight samples can be taken before you start your serious pruning push, however. If you get this task out of the way, you won't have to worry about it slowing you down later.

You will only need to prune a small random sample of vines to get an average pruning weight. In order to take this measurement you will need only two items in addition to your pruning shears: a bungee cord and a small, hand held fishing scale.

What you need to do first to get this measurement is prune vine down as you normally would. Maybe be conservative and leave some extra buds so that you can trim the vines down later to keep it in balance with the other vines in your vineyard. It's always easy to remove buds down the road, but up to now I've heard of no way to add buds to a pruned vine.

Next, bundle up all of the trimmings from that one vine and wrap them with the bungee cord. Hang the bundle on the fish scale and note the weight. That's all there is to it.

Once you have your measurements, write them down in your permanent record. You will be able to compare your pruning weights from year to year, and from bloc to bloc of the vineyard. You can then use those pruning weights to guide your decision of how many buds to leave on each vine in the vineyard. Most extension programs and growing guides offer suggested pruning formulas that tell you how many buds to leave that season based on your pruning weight.

I recently weighted my Nortons and came up with an average of 3 lbs of cane prunings. The suggested bud count formula for Norton is 50+10. The first number in that formula refers to how many buds should be left for the first pound of prunings. The second number indicates how many buds to leave for every additional pound of prunings. So for 3 pounds, I should leave 70 buds on every Norton vine. That could be 14 5-bud spurs, or 25 2-bud spurs or any combination that arrives at a total of 70 buds. Every vine is a different creature.

You will find out if this formula works for your trellis system and vineyard site. You might need to adjust it once you see how it works for you. Maybe you'll find 70 buds is to many. Maybe you'll find that it's not enough, especially if you have wide spacing or a GDC trellis. Maybe next year you'd want to try 40+10 on Norton and see what the difference is. But at least you'll have a baseline to begin with.

Here are formulas for other varieties that I grow: Chambourcin 20+10, Vidal 15+10, Traminette 20+10, Cabernet Franc & Mourvedre 20+20.

There are a number of reasons to perform this measurement. It gives beginners an idea of where to start. It gives you a way to begin to predict the next upcoming harvest and growing season and evaluate what impact freeze events and damage have had on the health and vigor of your vine.

Here's more info on balanced pruning:

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Vineyard falconry

At the Midwest Grape and Wine Conference last weekend, we ran into Dennis Devitt, a vineyard manager for Gallo who was attending the symposium on mechanization. While we watched the Superbowl, he described a unique method of bird control. It seems they hire a falconer who helps relieve their starling pressure by running birds of prey through the ranch for months at a time.

It was fascinating to hear how they use the raptors to drive away birds who damage the fruit, and evidently it's loads more cost effective than netting the vines. This article describes the whole process.

Falconry isn't unusual in California vineyards, but the process used by Falconer Getty Pollard is fascinating. It sounds like the ultimate biological pest control. I'll see if I can track down some photos.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Wine and movies

Despite the photo at left, I assure you that this is still a blog about viticulture and not a wine tasting blog, of which there are plenty of fine examples. But I have good reason to feature a bottle of Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Claret Cab Sauv (05). Most of you probably know that I've been bitten by the viticulture bug...I grow grapes in the yard, we have an assortment basement-made wines fermenting in the cellar, I've got a commercial vineyard in development and we decorate the house with empty wine bottles.

But now I need to confess that I'm not merely a vine nut. Another of my overriding passions is motion pictures. A couple years ago, I started writing screenplays just for kicks. I didn't expect much to come of it, but when I finished my first effort, a friend read it and urged me to enter it in a contest. I sent my first feature length spec script to the Nicholl Fellowships (Oscars) last year and it finished a respectable semifinalst, in the top 30 out of 5,200 submissions. I was blown away, but half thought it was a fluke that this script, The Eulogist, did so well.

Well, this morning I had another surprise. I received an email notifying me that this same script was a finalist, making the top 10 in Francis Coppola's Zoetrope Screenwriting Competition. Mr. Coppola himself was a judge, and it's humbling to think that one of the masters of American cinema read my little thriller.

So what's all this got to do with wine? Well, as you probably know, Mr. Coppola is not one of the great auteurs of film, but he's also seriously into wine. And upon hearing of my respectable finish in his contest, my lovely and generous wife purchased a bottle of his Diamond Collection Claret to celebrate. We finished it off tonight.

I don't know what this contest means. I'm not sure if it will lead to a career in film or will just be a nice feather in my cap. With the strike going on now, my hands are somewhat tied. I don't want to cross WGA lines as I someday hope to be a member, and waiting until the end of the strike to send out material means being part of a tidal wave of spec scripts as the industry rights itself again. But a couple things are for certain. I'm hooked on writing screenplays. I've finished two more since writing The Eulogist. And my latest effort, a comedy-drama entitled "Vintage," deals with the subject of wine. I need to find a way to get it into the hands of a producer-type who also is interested in sunlight in bottle form. Hey, maybe Mr. Coppola would would be willing to check it out.

In the interim, I'm keeping my day job and still working to get our vineyard site planted this spring. So far, screenwriting has been a good winter diversion. I'd love for it to turn into something more. But for the time being, my interest in film will have to be balanced with my interest in viticulture. Lots of work to do this spring.

Oh, and some final thoughts on the Coppola Claret. I pulled out my handy Wine Aroma Wheel and applied it to the great director's Cab Sauv. There was some nice licorice/anise and a touch of strawberry jam and chocolate. Bold, though not overpowering. Not a steal at eighteen bucks, but worth all of that price.

Now I need to change gears and focus on the Midwest Grape and Wine Conference for a few days. I leave at 5 in the morning. A report will follow.