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Welcome to Project Sunlight | Project Sunlight - A Winemaker's Education

Welcome to Project Sunlight

April 22, 2011 | By | 4 Replies More

Welcome to Project Sunlight, a blog about wine and my attempt to become a winemaker.

You may have noticed that the banner on my blog suggests that I will learn and chronicle all there is to know about this subject over the next year. That’s not exactly correct, although it’s a useful shorthand that does happen to fit within the banner. The correct part is that I plan to learn as much as I can about winemaking over the coming 12 months and discuss what I’ve learned on this blog. The incorrect part has to do with the timeframe.

First, Project Sunlight will take longer than a year. How long? That depends entirely upon how many productive years I have ahead of me. I expect this to be a lifelong venture and doubt seriously that I will ever learn all that I need to know. Having said that, the next year will provide a foundation for this venture. I should be able to acquire enough knowledge to start and manage a small vineyard and make wine that is at least drinkable, if not good.

Second, I started the process a short time before I decided to write about it. How long before? Well, that depends upon how you interpret such things. I won’t go back to the point in time in which I fell in love with wine, although you can read it in the “About me” entry on the “About” page.  More to the point, I bottled my first homemade wine a year ago — five gallons of “Rosso Fortissimo,” a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sangiovese, made from a kit. I made lots of mistakes, but after the “bottle shock” period passed, I tasted it and decided that the worst I could say about it is that it was real wine.  I decided to let it age, hoping that would not turn out to be the best I could say about it.

More steps are close at hand. This weekend, weather permitting, we’ll finish a class on soil preparation and planting, and next week, no matter what the weather, I’ll plant a half-dozen Cab Franc vines in my backyard in Fairfax County, Virginia, and another half-dozen at a property we own in Nelson County, Virginia.

Those vines are intended for educational purposes only. If they bear fruit of sufficient quality and quantity to make wine three years from now, that will be a bonus, but their real purpose is to provide a hands-on learning experience for my wife, Chris (the future vineyard manager), and me (the future winemaker).

We have hopes of planting a much larger vineyard a year from now, which I suppose will give rise to Project Sunlight, part II.

So I think it’s reasonable to say that I’m at the start of this project. Certainly, the largest part of this journey is still ahead of me. As I move forward, I’ll discuss what I’m learning, and invite questions and comments.

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Comments (4)

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  1. Kenny White says:

    Bob,
    This blog is a great idea. Thanks for taking the time to do it and sharing it with all of us. Hearing about other people’s experience’s is a great way to learn. I’m sure Emily and I can contribute to the “don’t let this happen to you” section.
    We have had similiar issues with grow tubes. Dean Gruenburg, who is the vineyard Manager at Prince Michel winery and owner of Castle Gruen Winery had strongly suggested the use of grow tubes. However he told us to use the “Snap & Grow” tubes because they are vented and will not burn the plants up. So when we planted last spring we used those tubes. We planted 700 Chambourcin and 700 Cayuga White. All but 21 plants came up, and we were quite happy with the growth rate. The plants did well thru several high 90’s days in June. However, when we hit that stretch of hot weather in July, I think it was at or over 100 degrees for 7-8 days in a row, it just burned them up. About the 6th day they started turning yellow and by the next day they looked like they had been microwaved. In all fairness to Dean he couldn’t have predicted such a heatwave. And we should have been more vigilant and pro-active. We lost hundreds of plants before we got the tubes off. I do think these “Snap and Grow” tubes are better than the blue ones because of the vents, but when you have that much heat over such a short period of time those tubes act like ovens. It was very discouraging to lose so many plants, but that is part of farming….and learning. We did like the fact that it does seem to help them grow quickly at first, plus it protects them from wind and animals. It also makes them grow straight up, which is really nice.
    This year we planted Viognier, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cab Sav. We again put the tubes on but we are taking them off as the plants reach the first wire. If we were full time growers, based on Scott and Julien’s recomendation, I think I would be inclined to not use them at all. But since Emily and I both work, I look at them as a way to save us man hours. I think the key is learning how to properly use them and for how long. Unfortunately for ALL of us, there are no hard and fast rules we can follow to success. Every situation is different, every vineyard unique. But as we learn from succesfull proffesionals like Scott, Julien and Dean we will hopefully gain enough knowledge to make those decisions for our situations. Thanks again, we look forward to hearing about your trip to Sonoma.
    Kenny

  2. Bob says:

    Kenny, great point about the “Snap and Grow.” I think we would have been much better off using those then the Blue X, which allow for no ventilation whatsoever around the tubes (although they’re open at the top).
    The one regret I have about pulling them off is that we’ll have to be more careful about using Roundup. And for the vines in Fairfax, which never had grow tubes, we can’t use herbicides at all. Well, I guess that’s why the invented shovels and hoes!

    • Kenny White says:

      Bob, what we do when spraying roundup is use a shield we made out of a couple of the “Snap and Grow” tubes. We took two of the tube halves and mounted them on a wooden handle. So as you go thru the rows with the backpack sprayer you can spray with one hand and shield the vines when necessary with the other. Actually works pretty well.

      • Bob says:

        Thanks, Kenny, and BTW, if you haven’t been getting email updates on the blog, they should start soon. I’m still a bit new at the mechanics of this process!

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