Tag: grapes

Bringing in the Grapes – Part II

Since we don’t have grapes of our own to harvest this year, we did the next best thing, and took a class at Piedmont Virginia Community College on “Harvesting and Basic Analysis of the Must,” taught by the incomparable Gabriele Rausse. 

Each grape is precious – I don’t want to send bad fruit to the crush pad, but I don’t want to waste good fruit either.

After a brief classroom lecture, we moved on to Blenheim Vineyards, where we helped (help being a relative term) pick one section of Viognier grapes.  I went into this assuming that picking grapes might be the one thing about viticulture that would be so straightforward, so foolproof – SO SIMPLE! – that we could just do it, without staring at the vines, paralyzed with fear, before asking for help.

Well, no such luck.

Malbec grapes, ready to be loaded onto the sorting table

For this particular section of the vineyard, Blenheim was “sorting in the vineyard,” which is to say, we were dropping grapes that had succumbed to disease or sour rot, or were otherwise not suitable for pressing.  Most often, you bring the grapes in and sort at the crushpad, separating out the fruit that doesn’t belong in the must, and getting rid of MOG – matter other than grapes.  (You’d be surprised at how many spiders make their way to the crushpad. )

This has been an exceptionally difficult year for Virginia vineyards, and Blenheim didn’t want to take a chance on letting bad fruit infect the good back at the winery.  So, in addition to sorting at the crushpad, Blenheim left bad fruit on the ground in the vineyard. Continue Reading–>

September 29, 2011 | By | 2 Replies More

Canopy Management (And Other People’s Vines)

There's something quite liberating about working on someone else's vines. 

Through a class at Piedmont Virginia Community College, we've worked on vines at DuCard Vineyeards now on five separate occasions, starting with dormant winter pruning in late winter and moving on through various stages of the vine's annual growth.  On each occassion, I started off, as did many of my classmates, staring at a vine, certain that I was about to ruin it,  if not forever, than surely for the season, perhaps costing DuCard a small but meaningful share of its harvest.

Most often, I wanted for DuCard's ever-patient owner, Scot Elliff, or his equally patient vineyard manager, Julien Durantie, to show me just one more time how to do whatever it was that we were expected to do that day.  At some point, I would begin working on my own, tentatively at first, but with increasing confidence until at some point, I thought myself almost ready to work without supervision.  Continue Reading–>

June 26, 2011 | By | Reply More

A Tale of Two Vineyards, Part I (In which the origin of the Fairfax vineyard is described.)

The decision to plant vines this year came after a lot of hand-wringing and was made only at the last minute.  Looking back, it's hard for me to believe that we agonized so long over this decision.  After all, we planted a grand total of 14 vines on two properties, not exactly a huge commitment of time or money.  And now that we've worked a bit with them, most of

the concerns I had have long since faded away.

At the time, though, I wondered how we would find time to care for them.  How we would manage the spray schedules.  How we would get the soil ready.  And how we would manage the trellising on such short notice.

We ended up planting two vines in Nelson County that were given to us after a class on vine grafting, and once we had those in the ground, we realized this was something we could do.  So, I took a leap of faith and ordered a dozen Cab Franc vines from Double A Vineyards, figuring that by the time they arrived, we'd find a way to get the ground ready for planting at both the Fairfax and Nelson County sites.  More on the Nelson County vineyard later.

The first pictures show the state of play in the Fairfax vineyard at the time I ordered the vines.  It's part of an old garden, plus a bit of lawn that I decided to appropriate in order to provide room for three separate rows.

We're not talking big rows: two, with two vines each, and a third with three vines.  But it's enough to provide grapes for five gallons of wine, just the right amount to ferment at home.

My first problem was finding the time to prepare the vineyard.  We were going out of town most weekends (hanging out at the site of the Nelson County family vineyard), and it was getting dark early.  Working when I could, I found time to clear out the growth in the garden, clear the sod in the lawn, and lay out the rows, using eight-foot metal fence posts as a guide.  The rows were laid out seven feet apart, and the vines were to be spaced six feet apart.

The vines arrived on April 20, and I realized we would not have time to plant in Fairfax that week.  Inside the packaging, the roots were wrapped with shredded newsprint that was still soaking wet.  It was probably enough moisture, but I added a bit more water anyhow, and resealed the package.  Anything worth doing is worth overdoing, in my humble opinion.

Overdone or not, the vines stayed healthy, and I planted the following week on April 26.  Vines may be a bit too big of a word to describe what we actually planted.  The plants consisted of a healthy-looking root (101-14 for those of you who care about such things – and if you are interested in establishing your own vineyard, you must care about such things), that ended with the graft union.  What I was more familiar with was a plant that had both root and a scion, which is the particular type of vine.  Cab Franc, for example, comes in a number of different clones and, again, for those of you who care about such things, these were FPS 04/332, grafted onto the 101-14 rootstock.  Except that I couldn't see any part of the scion.  In other words — and to get back on point — I was accustomed to seeing vines that looked like vines, not roots with a tiny stub of a graft union on top.

I called the nursery, and was told that the graft union had tremendous growth potential that would be unleashed if I simply hilled it over (covered it with dirt) and waited for the shoots to break through.  I felt a bit like Jack and the Beanstalk being told to bury magic beans, but I did it anyhow, and three weeks later I had a bit of growth beneath  the hilled-over soil.  (It went a bit faster in Nelson County.)

We carefully cleared the hilled-over dirt away, making sure that the graft union was at least two inches above ground.  The concern is that if the soil manages to come into contact with the scion above the graft union, the vine itself will begin to develop roots and will essentially be growing on its own root.  This is a story for another time, but to make it quick, the vine has everything it needs to grow, including the ability to develop roots, but lacks one thing — resistance to Phylloxera, an insect that that nearly destroyed Europe's vineyards in the 19th century.  That's why Vinifera vines (Merlot, Cab, Chard, pretty much every varietal you're accustomed to drinking) must be grafted onto American root stock, which is mostly immune to Phylloxera.

We let these vines grow without the grow tubes we used in the Nelson Vineyard.  We worried about that decision for a long time (well, weeks) until we decided that grow tubes were creating more problems than they were solving.

In any event, these vines are doing pretty well.

They seem healthy and vigorous (hopefully not too vigorous), and the tallest of the group is about 25 inches.  They need to be pruned back, but that's a story for next time.  I've included three pictures, including one with Phoenix the Vineyard Dog standing guard from outside the fence.

One footnote:  the fence serves to keep Phoenix out, but won't help with rabbits, deer or any of the other Bambi/Thumper-type predators that feed on vines.   Very soon, we'll be putting up a deer fence, but for now we're counting on luck to keep these young vines safe.





June 14, 2011 | By | Reply More

The Vines Emerge into the Sunlight!

At long last — actually, it was only two weeks — the Cab Franc vines emerged from the soil.  When we planted the vines, the graft union — the large swollen area where the root stock and the scion met — was hilled over, which is to say, we made a mound of dirt to cover the graft union.  The graft union very quickly sent shoots up, and so this weekend, we removed the dirt that we had mounded over the vine, sprayed for all the diseases that Virginia humidity and (especially) rain can bring, and then place the blue-x grow tubes over the vines.

In this gallery, you see on the ends (I was having a problem with the software, and it was just easier to keep two of the same picture on the ends) a picture of three of the five Cab Franc vines, plus two of the Mammolo Tuscano that we planted earlier, the Mammolos being a gift from Gabrielle Rausse, one of Virginia’s great winemakers.  In the middle, is a picture of the vine that emerged from the graft union that was still buried.

As Gabrielle said to us in a class, “the vine is so smart.”  It definitely knows what to do.  A small cutting from the vine can be made to both bud at one end — giving rise to a vine that will bear fruit — and take root at the other.  Unfortunately, Vitis Vinifera vines from Europe cannnot grow on their own roots here in the U.S.  They will die from Phylloxera (which nearly destroyed the entire wine industry in Europe in the 19th century) or some other North American disease.  To survive, the Vinifera vine must be grafted onto American rootstock.  The rootstock my vines are grafted onto is known as 101-14.

With luck, we’ll be making wine from these vines in three short years!


May 17, 2011 | By | Reply More
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