Thursday, September 28, 2006
i know, calling one's self a goddess is over and done--but once you read about the careful attention devoted to preparing my feet and legs for the grape crushing, you may allow me the conceit. you may even find yourself secretly jealous and wish you had such an opportunity. i would, if i were you.
when the grapes are ready to be stomped there is an elaborate preparation ritual Gerald has set up for me. first, i must thoroughly scrub myself down in the shower, paying careful attention to my toes and the spaces in between. upon exiting the shower, gerald presents me with a pair of new socks (heaven!) and my rubba slippas, so as to keep the clean tootsies as, well, clean as possible. i dress and head down and out of the townie to our little backyard patch. as the grapes cool in a big tub, gerald and i sort through them, picking out the stray matter that doesn't belong and weed out the grapes that shouldn't be there. as soon as the stainless steel bucket is filled with enough product, gerald finishes the preparation of the feet.
first, he pours a mild antibacterial solution over my feet. then my feet and legs are scrubbed again with a sponge and more solution. at last my feet are ready for the grapes. here you see the common wife and mother of two completely transformed into the goddess of crush.
hail the great kali--crusher of grapes, stomper of seeds and stems! all vinifera trembles at your terrible justice!
and so i carefully trample the grapes until the grapes are crushed and for the most part, removed from the stems. no, my legs don't turn purple, but i do tend to end up very sticky and another shower is necessary. i can tell you there is no better feeling than being the center of all the careful, ritual like cleaning and being outdoors with my husband on a beautiful day, stomping grapes!
Sunday, September 24, 2006
another late saturday arrival for us, but the situation with the vines is so bitter sad--the short day was welcome. the grape leaves have, for the most part, dropped off. i didn't want to take pictures. should have, i know. gerald went through the proof of concept rows, cleaning off the leftover bits off the sangiovese and viognier vines. the touriga was not ripe enough and so he dropped that fruit to help the vines prepare for the winter. he's hoping the tinta cao will be ready soon--those vines look like they sustained less damage. he harvested the mourvedre, shown here--a very small harvest, but the first one for this variety. there wasn't enough vidal or shiraz, it is too early in the vines' growth to expect a harvest, however delicious the few bunches each produced were. so done we are. back to the townie for a final grape stomping and then prepare the grapes for their next stage: wine!
These pics wouldn't load in the previous blog, but happily, they are here! These are the pH testing images. Gerald tests for the acidic levels of the grapes after he measures for brix (sugar) levels in the samples. No, he doesn't make like a pirate and look through the pH canister.
Friday, September 22, 2006
OOOOOH! who measures brix at the level just above sea? irish, and cranky and sunburnt is he!
much further than i should have taken it, i suppose, but the refractometer (heh, just the word makes me giggle! c'mon, say it with me, ree-FRAACCTT--OOO-mmeeterrr.) totally brings out the worst jokes in me. well, that and a really good bottle of reisling on a friday.
this blog is a continuation of the previous blog, showing you how we determine when the grapes are ready for harvest. we follow our different proofing grape varieties' sugar levels (expressed in units called brix) after verasion, testing each week (see previous post for how i gather the sample). gerald is currently downstairs, punching down the cover of the sangiovese harvest, cranking the hand press and working with some glass carboys, so i'll not get much factoids from him. lucky for you and me, i scored a great web page find with tons of facts for your viewing pleasure: http://www.grapestompers.com/articles/refractometer_use.asp
tonight we will just be window dressing and eye candy for you. but totally look into that page.
very carefully, gerald measures out a drop of juice from the sampling that was squeezed and squirts it into the refractometer. Then he makes like a pirate and peers into the refractometer to see the measurement of the soluble solids (how the sugar level is expressed. did you even click on the link above?) when you peek inside a refractometer, you see a scale of sorts and the less blue you see, the higher the sugar level. after determining the sugar level, gerald diligently records the information in his vineyard journal. next, he pulls out a pH test strip in order to test the acidic levels in the juice. he dips it into the small juice container and takes the reading outside, in better light. he checks the strip up against the balance colors printed on the canister. then another recording in the journal. all the grapes ripen at different times (lucky us), so we stay busy throughout the month of September.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
i'm a bit hesitant in writing about testing our grape's sugar levels and ph balances without ger around for my factoids. its late wednesday and most likely gerald is making his way back from the farm. hopefully, he's found the viognier has enough of the stuff for a second harvest. i'll give it a good go and post this as a serial.
in order to test the sugar and acidic levels of our grapes, our intrepid vineyard manager (gerald) turns to his trusted intern (me) and says, "pick grapes." he's taught me to gather a proper sampling by picking the grapes in as random a fashion as possible. so i head down each proofing row and pick a berry either from the top, left side, right side, bottom, front, back, near the cordon or further down the branch. i do this for each variety and get a good cup full. lately, we've been taking the samplings back to charlotte hall. we beat the heat of the day, eat lunch and test the grapes.
tools of the trade: a refractometer for measuring brix (sugar levels), grape samples and the trustee sieve. now we also use a food ricer gerald's dad bought us. gerald pours the grapes into the ricer and gives the contents a good squeeze, sending the grapes' juice into a small container. next to the small container: an eye dropper--what will happen next?! stay tuned for tomorrow's posting....
Monday, September 18, 2006
Above: Sangiovese with little leaf canopy. Left: the spoils to compost.
it was a sad, sober set of lessons learned this past weekend. one, late season spraying is essential, no matter how dry the season or past seasons indicate. so, no more august vacations, to be sure. two, a hard-hearted thinning of the grapes clusters needs to happen so it doesn't stress the leaf canopy. and three, well, nature is cruel. it is tough to keep in mind that the vineyard is a long term experiment as you walk down the rows and view the distressed leaves and the infected grape clusters. the grapes themselves felt swollen as i plucked them for a sugar test and tasted the same as the previous week, as borne out with the sugar tests performed at charlotte hall (stay tuned for how to test grapes, posting next) gerald managed to salvage about 100 pounds of the sangiovese, the rest went to the compost.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
the experimental botrytis viognier is in the fermenting process now. gerald gave me a peek and did an alcohol measurement. its mesmerizing, the lovely apple green liquid roiling and bubbling over and over. i can picture it as a screensaver! the smell is pleasant and reminds me of eating an afternoon grape: a bit thick with juicy flavors. i can't wait until my sinuses fully recover and i get my nose back.
the process has made me want to experience a well-made wine from noble rotted berries, so i head over to Wegman's--and kudos to Danny's group for hiring a nice man named Bruce! Bruce listened attentively to me. i requested a well made, but inexpensive Sauternes or Tokai (murdering the pronounciation) and Bruce produced a 2001 Chateau Sahuc Les Tour. he advised the first Sauternes be a French Sauternes. me, i'm total novice girl--so i'm listening, as usual, very willing to be started off on an adventure. an added detail: i rarely purchase a wine more expensive than $10. i know. please don't comment. its a developing palate and small budget, i have.
so in the carrying basket goes the small, precious bottle. Bruce suggests a nice blue cheese, some walnuts, dark chocolate, pears, and the ever delicous Carr's whole wheat crackers. then he looks at me and asks, "is this what you will have for dinner?" i blush and say, "um, yes--but i'll make the kids tunafish sandwiches..." again, please don't comment.
i get home and gerald is so excited he prepares the whole meal. and this, my friends, is truly a masterpiece of a meal. the Sauternes was very interesting. i'd prefer a typical novice's dry red, but the dessert wine was a beautifully rounded experience and changed my mind. sweet but dry, vaguely apple-y and then other flavors i can't describe. a thicker liquid that bloomed spicy and then i experienced a warm feeling at the end. now, you pair that with the equally thick, lush and salty blue cheese atop a crunchy wheat cracker and its a perfect combination. walnuts worked equally as well. chocolate...hmm...good meal finish. gerald and i were laughing and sharing our descriptions--having such a great time in our kitchen. The kids loved their tunafish and raw veggie snacks, noshed on the crackers, tried the cheese and dark chocolate. and, i will confess, the tunafish sandwiches work AWESOME with Sauternes. but then again, gerald has a way with anything between two slices of bread.
i know this has nothing to do with the vineyard, but hope to share with you what i love about the new world my husband has opened for me. in my view, the best way to experience wine is through a lovely setting, food that relates well and the feeling that you are falling in love. again and again.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
the day is getting warmer and i'm getting tired due to being sick. my husband stands before me and says, "ok girl, one of each. one at a time." he has been describing to me what botrytis is (see previous posting) and what it possibly meant to the grapes. "oh gerald. that's mold. you're asking me to eat mold. eh." and then he coaxes me into it by telling me to eat one without infection and then one infected....and i did. 'cause he's gerald and that's. the. kind. of. girl. i. am.
the first grape (without) this week tastes sweeter than last week's rain swelled berries. warm and apple, sweet. but the second grape--oof, and what hesitation on my part--dude, its molded! but wait--the same--but more! more everything, in sweetness and flavor. which, although he explained the mold's effect to me, i thought it was more of an effect wrought in the wine, not berry. an adventure to be sure, but i don't plan to taste molded bread, tomatoes or lick shower tiles and certainly don't recommend the same to you. and if you do have some suspicious looking grapes, be careful. it may not be botrytis.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Top, Botrytis Cinerea infects Viognier. Left, unaffected Viognier, one week from harvest.
this week we have discovered the wet ernesto conditions and possibly the hornet infestation has allowed a mold to invade the naturally tightly clustered Viognier. Botrytis cinerea is Latin for "grapes like ashes" and the mold spores covering the infected berries really gives that impression. Botrytis infects grapes in two ways: grey rot (consistently wet field conditions) or noble rot, (late harvest wet field conditions that then turn to dry). our southern maryland vineyard is in a notoriously dry area and there wasn't much rain after ernesto--so we believe we have noble rot. i've seen botrytis on strawberries in our little strawberry patch at home and there is nothing noble about that mold on a strawberry. gerald is a bit excited, though. noble rot dries up the water in the grape berry, leaving a concentration of flavors and sugars, balanced by the also greatly increased fruit acid levels. when done correctly, intensely flavored dessert wines are created from these infected grapes. among the types of grapes that react well to noble rot are chenin blanc, tokay, furmint, gewurztraminer, riesling, and sauvignon blanc. we are going to test our nobly-rotted viognier to see what it might make. gerald has harvested 70lbs of the infected bunches, leaving behind the unaffected bunches--and crossing his fingers for a clean harvest this upcoming weekend. for a great deal more information, visit this site, its totally worth the perusal. http://www.thewinedoctor.com/author/sweetnoble.shtml wait 'til you read my next post...
Monday, September 11, 2006
Gorgeously all red now...
fully scarlet and beautiful, the autumnal shiraz is one of the few vines not showing the effects of the ernesto-induced fungus that crept into the vineyard. there are a few grape clusters located at the bottom of the vine, still coming along nicely as the rest of the small crop. the shiraz is is one of the more recently planted proof of concepts.
Sunday, September 10, 2006
A week later, the Sangiovese is beaten, but not broken
We were heartened to see that the Sangiovese hadn't given up, although it was evident the vines had taken a severe beating the week before. The vines and leaves that were crushed and broken during the repair had turned brown and were dying off. gerald is concerned that there will not be enough leaves to fully ripen the harvest and then store in the vines the sugars necessary for the winter. We shall see how it goes.
The Sangiovese is looking a bit beaten down. The leaves looked quite diseased and I'm concerned there isn't enough healthy leaf surface to finish ripening the grapes and store energy to make through the winter. I went through the row and dropped three bucketfuls (about a third) of clusters in an effort to speed ripening of the remaining clusters and hopefully let them store food for winter.
Hard to see here, but a disturbing discovery that brings out the killer in me.
it was a late start to our farm day, 10:30am, owing to my being physically sick, sick, sick and finally owning up to it. however, being ill was COMPLETELY forgotten upon discovering a black widow spider in the crevice of an upturned plastic trash container. eck. its such a visceral, nasty response--seeing this disgusting thing that could kill someone with ONE BITE. like your chest gets all tight and and your world collapses into one thought which is kill, kill, kill this this loathsome thing with its huge berry-like abdomen all shiny black with the red hour glass and long, long legs . KILLit, KILLit, KILLit. eh.
in response, gerald quietly handed me a stake and in front of him and my kids, i grounded that stake into the offending arachnid until i heard the abdomen pop and i shuddered at the sound and relief that it was DEAD DEAD DEAD. i have a liberal leave policy about bugs and critters. i leave all sorts of spiders and bugs alone. but this one HAD TO GO. right after that, gerald said his brother Pete and he had discovered four black widows while going through the wood posts. a big "no playing in the log pile" lecture was delivered to the boys, still stunned to see momma's blood lust up.
That still wasn't the end of the rampage. we opened up the vineyard and throughout our walk, i stomped down these puffballs that had sprung up in the aftermath of Ernesto. to me, a mushroom growing in the grass is a squished mushroom. its the mother in me. but when i googled for the fungus, i found that plenty of people eat them. http://www.mykoweb.com/cookbook/puffballs.html and that's cool, but the irrational momma blood lust said this--a potential object for my little guy's mouth--must die. must protect babies. must. oof. what a start to the day.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Look close, the butterfly is almost the same color as the Sangiovese!
in the hornets' mind, there was no concept of sharing with the butterflies. the sangiovese was theirs. While we worked at getting the posts and wires reset, i commented on how many of these large black and blue butterflies were flitting about the uncovered sangiovese. gerald's dad pointed out the hornets chasing the butterflies when they tried to land on the vine. how beautiful those butterflies were--but very skittish--i had a hard time lining up a decent shot. it was due to the hornets comic styling. for the most part, the hornets were a bunch of slow moving laze-abouts that would rather just move over to the next grape when gerald got too close. however, when a butterfly batted a wing too close, the hornets became very energetic in protecting their turf. BTW, thanks to Dr.Mike for the county extension advice solicitation tip! i will ask them how to control the hornet population. Would anyone know the type of butterflies these are?
Monday, September 04, 2006
I pluck a Viognier to sample.
my favorite part of our vineyard labors is this time of year, as we track the different varieties of ripening grapes. when we arrive at the farm, the first thing we do is take a walking tour of the proofing vines. my husband points out vines that are doing well or various possible diseases, pests, and other objects of note for each concept row. the best part is when we taste the grapes and i'd like to explain to you how my husband taught me to get the full vineyard grape experience.
First, pick the berry (individual grape) of your choice and pop it in your mouth, smashing the grape against your upper palate. here, we have the Viognier. what do you taste? the viognier is a great one to experience as it ripens. at first, i taste just apples, but as the weeks go by, i can taste cinnamon flavors with the apple. midway through the ripening phase, i sometimes taste a bit of pear with the apples until it starts to fully get its suger on and that's when i start to taste persimmon. which, as you go through the season and experience the whole growing season first hand--its a truly exciting experience.
Second, you want to separate the skin from the pulp. i tuck the skin against my teeth and sort out the seeds from the pulp.
Third, spit the seeds into your hand. yes. do it. its the best part. now, as you look at the seeds, you want to mash up the pulp and then the skin as you look at the seeds. first things first, what's the mouth feel of the pulp? how intense are the tannins in the skins? what are the flavors? as i chew the pulp and skins, i'm also looking at the seeds. how much of the pulp is still on the seeds? as the berry ripens, the seeds get cleaner until there is no pulp on them and they spit clean. what colors are the seeds? green seeds means new grapes. if the seeds are speckled green and brown, those grapes are riper. deep brown seeds are ripe seeds. now, regardless of color, pop the seeds back into your mouth and chew. whew! green seeds are loaded with pucker power and most likely, you'll spit those puppies out. the speckled seeds are easier to bear, but still full of astringent taste from hard tannins. i have learned to enjoy the speckled stage and find eating the deep brown seeds--with mellower tannins--a pleasure, just as much as the rest of the fruit. that's how to taste a grape while in a vineyard. so, how does the viognier measure up?
Mmm, not there, yet. we will perform a sugar test on the grapes later in the day and that is another (and more reliable) indicator that harvest time has arrived. until then, happy tasting! 5
Sunday, September 03, 2006
Dad and Gerald survey the damage due to Ernesto's storms
it was a full sunday's worth of work cut out for us upon arrival. the rain guage was full, so we had received over 5" of rain from the storms. the storm winds had also hit the proofing sangiovese row hard, real hard. the end post and several middle support posts had snapped low, and there they laid, grapes and vines akimbo. the storm and damage done didn't seem to stop the hornets or yellow jackets and they dreamily buzzed gerald's hat until i sprayed him with that avon "skin so soft" stuff that repels misquitoes. Chalk up another success story for avon, the stuff works on grape gorging insects! the first step in repair involved removing the bird netting and surveying the damage. ooof. it looked awful. we just kept moving, not thinking about the lost fruit, just looking at our hardy, patient vines and wondering at how flexible they were. not one ripped, snapped or lost vine.
Top, Snapped Sangiovese posts. Bottom, Gerald uses the auger to drill replacement post holes.
Gerald and his dad drilled new post holes and found suitable posts, setting them much deeper this time. the sangiovese is the first row in our proofing set and they take the heavy blows from wind gusts. Gerald and his dad did a great job, it was hard work setting up the new poles. the most difficult part of the work was the retensioning the cordon and support wires. its so much easier to put up the wires at the beginning, without the vines' weight, but here a whole summer's growth of vines weighed heavily down on the wires and made it difficult to stretch taut.
Top, Gerald and Dad retensioning the cordon and support wires. Bottom, Pull! Pull!
even my mighty guns were hoisting the vines, throwing them over the wire for better balance and then pulling and lifting as hard as we all could in order to get the correct tension. the vines looked like they felt better, almost immediately. i know gerald did!
Gerald says: "Who's your daddy, baby?" Oh, its you. Its you.
Saturday, September 02, 2006
Friday, September 01, 2006
Shiraz goes to sleep a wee bit early in the season
after working luscious row after row of various shades of green, the sight of the autumnal shiraz was a curious thing. gerald thinks its largely due to the recent drought-like conditions. now that the tropical depression that was once Ernesto is upon us, i will be curious to the rain's effect on the vine. 5
Uncle Pete and Gerald discuss the water probe in front of the Viognier.Connie's Post 4
water is currently a limited commodity on the farm. we can use water from the pond, but even better, we now collect rainwater as it drains off the shed roof into the big rusty tank. dad and uncle pete found a water probe, the crafty guys. the probe is essential a "T" shaped tool, with a pointy end. there is a hole at the pointy end, at that's where the water comes out.
Uncle Pete and Gerald troubleshoot a small obstacle: a pebble is lodged in the pipe. A quick pick out and Gerald is then back to watering.
it is a pretty easy tool to operate. stand next to your thirsty vine and place the pointy edge on the ground next to the thirsty vine. grab the top bar and push the probe into the ground. viola! water is delivered into the soil and root level. no water run off and no watering weeds! 5