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Vineyard Update 2014

Another year has passed in the vineyard.   We are in the crush, which of course is not nearly as intense here as it is in Bordeaux or Napa County.   It hardly seems fair to compare our 64 vine vineyard to the thousands of acres that exist in the major wine producing areas of the world.

Still, we get an inkling of the size of the job by doing our little wine production here.   

We have already picked the Marechal foch and Baco noir rows.  This morning we picked the Chambourcin and the Concord grapes.   We have only two vines of Concords.  The last row left is the Cynthiana, also referred to as Norton.   They are not quite ready yet.

Below is the page that Jim has been keeping to record grape production in the vineyard.

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When we first started making wine, we meticulously kept the varieties separated, which became a huge pain in the neck when it was time to rack and press.   Rarely did we get amounts of juice and wine that were easily divisible by 5 gallons, which is the size of the carboys we age our wine in.   So we wound up with say, 10 gallons of Marechal foch, 5 gallons of Marechal foch/Baco noir mix, 5 gallons of Baco noir, 5 gallons of Baco noir/Chambourcin mix, etc.   It did not take us long to decide that this was not worth the trouble, so now we just mix all the grapes together and produce what we call “The House Blend”.   Of course it is different every year, because every year we get different quantities of each variety of grape. 

We are not trying to win any contests or sell our wine, so we don’t really care that it is not reproducible.  It winds up being quite drinkable, and that is really what matters to us.

Anyway, the numbers tell the tale every year.   The Chambourcin grapes are not worth the row space.   

It isn’t just the numbers, though.   The health of the vines is another issue. 

Compare these two shots:    Marechal foch row is first, Chambourcin row is second.

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Here’s a closer comparison.   This is one vine.   Marechal foch first, Chambourcin second.

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Now look at the individual bunches.   Again, Marechal foch first, Chambourcin second.   

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As you can see, the Chambourcin bunches are quite a bit longer, but not so full of grapes.  They also are quite irregular in terms of production. The one on the left in the shot has been culled all year because this variety is very susceptible to black rot.  The main way you control this fungus in the organic vineyard is to check the rows every few days and remove any grapes that are showing signs of infection.

This is tedious and time consuming, and results in bunches like you see above.

Another problem with the Chambourcin is those very long bunches.   The stems wind themselves around the paddles of the stemmer/crusher and jam it.  They also lay themselves out along the screen and prevent the grapes from dropping through into the hopper, which makes processing them messy and frustrating.

One last shot, showing the black rot fungus infecting the Chambourcin leaf.   The first image is a Marechal foch leaf.

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The upshot of all this is a decision to remove the Chambourcin vines and replace them with Marechal foch.   We have done a lot of studying on the subject and have decided that what we are going to do is cut off the vines we are removing, leaving the root stock behind.   Then we will graft Marechal foch canes to the root stock.   Since the roots are old and strong, we will get quick vine growth and be able to anticipate full production of Marechal foch in about two years, rather than the four years it would take if we started with new vines.   

This is according to the experts…. wish us luck

Meanwhile, we have a fermentation vat with about 37.5 gallons of must bubbling away in the dining room.  It smells like a winery  in here!

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Photohunt: drink

The theme for photohunt today is “drink”.  My choice today is a shot of a glass of wine that was sitting on the dining room table reflecting the back yard in a very nice way.   The wine itself is a home-made Marechal foch from our very own vineyard.

And in keeping with my “theme within a theme”, here is a January bonfire as seen through a shot glass of our very own homemade limoncello.

I believe I need another cup of coffee…

Other photohunters can be found here.

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Jim has the last of the 2009 vintage wine bottled.   He finished the job this weekend, and it occurred to me that as Jim was bottling the last of the 2009 vintage, the 2010 vintage is growing on the vines.   They are looking pretty good right now.

Despite the heavy rains earlier, we seem to have a pretty good handle on any fungus problems, and the grape flea beetles have virtually disappeared, thanks to a combination of promoting beneficial insects and bird insectivores and the trapping system.  In spite of that, eternal vigilance is necessary, and as soon as I am finished with this post I will be out in the vineyard looking for fungal spots on leaves and removing any infected leaves.

So, with any luck at all, in late July the grapes will look like this:

Way before they start looking like this we put the bird net over them, as the birds do not particularly care whether the grapes are fully ripe before they start eating them.   For winemaking purposes, the grapes need to be a LOT more ripe than a bird deems necessary for palatability.

Shortly after they start getting ripe, Jim starts testing the juice for acidity and sugar content.   This is the acid test:

The sugar content is ascertained by using a very sweet little tool called a hand-held refractometer.   Once the grapes are deemed ripe enough, we go out into the vineyard and pick them.

The reason we wear gloves for this task is that by the time the grapes are full of enough sugar to make wine the bees and wasps are very excited about this sugar source.

They are so sated with juice that they don’t really care that we are picking the grapes, but even though they are very mellow fellows they do not appreciate being squeezed.  To minimize any accidents, we wear gloves.

Once the grapes are safely picked they go into the stemmer/crusher and get made into must.

From there, they go into the primary fermenter, where they proceed to make the magical change from juice to wine.

That process occurs in the dining room of this establishment, and while it is going on it definitely smells like a brewery in here.   The rich thick smell of fermenting yeast permeates the house.   During the first couple of days of fermentation, the busy clicking of fermentation locks makes a quiet little conversational background to every activity.

After the fermentation process is complete, the wine is pressed.

That big bottle the wine is running into is a 5 gallon carboy.   When they are full, we add toasted oak slats to them, and fermentation locks.   They rest for several weeks in the root cellar.   Sometime during this aging process, the fines settle out into the bottom of the carboys, and then they are racked into a clean carboy to rest and age some more.

After several months, the wine is ready to bottle.

First, the wine bottles have to be cleaned and sanitized.   From previous experience we have learned that this is SO much easier to do if you have meticulously cleaned the bottles before you store them.   They get retrieved from the wine cellar, rinsed (and scrubbed if need be), and then sanitizer is squirted up inside.

This is the corking system we use.

After a suitable period of aging in the wine/root cellar, the final product is ready to drink.   (Sometimes the aging period is all of one week. . . Of course, if you can wait longer the wine improves.)

That is a glass of 2009 Marechal foch.   What a color it has!   It also has a beautiful spicy nose, fruity vanilla taste and a long delicate finish.

Making our own wine is a lot of work, but we surely enjoy the end result.   Not the least of my enjoyment is the knowledge that my wine does not include any pesticide, herbicide or fungicide residues.

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