Monday, December 10, 2007

december around the vineyard

quiet, in contrast to the hustle of crush and primary ferm, drifts through the vineyard these days. Careful use of 'quiet' should be taken here, as a vineyard is mostly quiet, even in the busiest months. It is mostly silent sunshine, whispering breezes, and (occasionally) hushed rainshowers. December, especially, is a quiet time, as folks concentrate on inside work and preparations for the coming growing season. The shaggy vines stand sleeping in their rows as the cold air of winter moves in, the dropping tempature nudging them further into well earned slumbering rest.

In the wine room, BB hooked up a small space heater. The room is tucked in a corner of the house and not heated directly. Lately temperatures have been dropping a bit low for the wine's comfort. Unlike vines, the wine gets cranky when temperatures fluctuate. The heater is small, but should be adequate to keep the room a cozy 55 degrees. The trick was setting the gauge to maintain that temperature, as there are no markings on the thing. BB started the heater Friday night, and monitored the room the entire weekend, making adjustments all the while until he was satisfied he hit the mark; slow, patient work.

Monday, November 26, 2007

wunderkind and other activities

Mike, sibling #3, doesn't make it to the vineyard often.
the previous 1.25 hp auger lasted about two weeks before it died, to be replaced with 8.25 hp 2-man unit. I worked this one with West Pete this weekend. Just about spun us around helicopter-style a couple times. Got 2/3 of a hole done before we broke it (see below).
First time with the new wine room, and temps are a concern. Pretty stable so far, though. I admit to being pretty pleased with the reds at this point. In keeping with my approach of tampering as little as possible with the fermentation to better get a sense for what the grapes can express naturally from their place, the malolactic ferm was skipped in all the wines.

and now, the latest goings on relayed from West Pete...

Yesterday Mike put in the remaining 20 end posts on the north side of lot 11. He also hung the doors in the wine room, fixed the auger after Gerald and I stripped a bolt, got the generator working for dad, put the baseboards into the concrete floor, cooked a steak dinner for seven, and probably made it to the legion in time to catch the Missouri-Kansas game. We probably won't see him again until next November.

Today Dad and I got the rest of the end posts done on the south side. One hole ended up out of line and may need to be redone. We also got a row of the smaller posts put in. There are probably about 60 remaining to do. The new auger works pretty well, though several times it has gotten stuck where it either took three people or lots of leverage to pull it out. Happenned with both the 6 and 8 inch bits. I am not sure if the two man auger is going to be manageable when we put on the extension to dig deeper holes for fence posts, though. Its really hard to move around and we might want to consider our options.

Gerald and I racked most of the reds last night. None of them seemed like they were in trouble, and a couple had some good flavor to them already. I've seen the temperature in there get down as low as 48, but usually its in the 50s.

I don't think anyone remembered to check the rain gauge this weekend, but I think we did get some rain last week at some point.

Dad and I may be able to get the remaining posts in to lot 11 tomorrow if the weather is reasonable. He is planning on staying until Tuesday afternoon.

-- Peter

Monday, November 19, 2007


Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound's the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

For Your Ear Buds

Grape Radio
—if there is one reason why an ipod shuffle is on my list, this website is it! i've listened to a few of the casts and they are of a good length, detailed, and satisfying. they also will post vodcasts as well— always a treat. i stumbled on this while searching vineyards @ utube—yes, i was taking a break from my paper!—and i recommend this sincere site to everyone interested in what goes into the bottle.

a bene placito!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Reason Why Port is Served at the End

Connie's Post:

It is evening. we are at the townie and gerald is making ham quesadillas to go with the vegetable soup reheat. we both have a glass of port, as this time of year, port is very nice. i'm relating stories from work, so gerald finishes his glass early and opens a bottle of sangiovese for our meal—a totally respectable bottle of il canneto 2004 sangiovese di toscana. he hands me his glass for a sip. mind you, i'm still sipping my rich, lovely tawny port. i sniff and sip the sangiovese.

"after the port, this smells like ketchup and tastes like nothing." i grouse, handing the glass back.

"you must immediately post that comment on the blog," answers my husband. "i suppose that's why port is always served last."

and so i do, as i know its been a month and a half since i last posted.

to our faithful readers of the blog: do not lose heart, keep checking in. i plan to do several way back posts to chronicle the harvest and the status of this year's vintage. plus, its november/december, post hole digging time—don't want to miss that! pete flew all the way from the west coast to participate, so that gives you a sense of importance post hole digging has on the shoestring vineyard. same photos as last year, different acre and i believe at least one man is wearing different clothes.

i apologize for the infrequent postings. my fiscal management class has eaten up more time that i thought it would! this weekend, it will be different! it will be different.

Monday, October 01, 2007


Rage - Goddess,

sing of the rage of Peleus' son Achilles



that cost the Achaeans countless losses

hurling down to the House of Death so many men's souls,

brave fighting men,

but left their bodies carrion for the dogs and birds

and the will of Zeus was moving toward its end.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Monday, September 10, 2007

What Haven't I Stomped?

Connie's Post
Just the reds left, now. three weeks ago, we stomped the seyval. the following week we stomped the marsanne. this past weekend we harvested and crushed the vidal and viognier. for gerald's birthday, i purchased Oz Clark's Grapes and Wines. its a great book, full of grapey traits, terrain and history. love the intro paintings, truly. so i thought i'd quote and comment upon oz regarding the white grapes we are growing.

Marsanne. oz calls marsanne and roussance the saimese twins of white rhone grapes, of which the marsanne is long reputed to be the clumsier of the sisters, but oz sees her inner beauty. the wine the marsanne makes is best drunk young (minerally, citrus peachy flavour, unless they are ripened fully on the vine. the wine produced from fully ripened grapes, when aged a good while, become "darker in colour and more complex in flavour. (aromatic, honeysuckle, oily nutty and heavyweight)" mmmm. we had fully ripened marsanne. i wonder if i could wait? but you have to be careful. in too hot a climate(!) you get a flabby wine. in too cool a climate (heh, not here) its bland and simple.

Vidal. wow. oz gives a small paragraph for our french hybrid. vidal was my favorite, a while back, before seyval vied for my attentions. he states vidal's big claim to fame is its use in canadian icewine, nice but without the elegance of riesling icewines. i dunno. give me its "four square appeal." my brother just gave my best friend forever, walsh, a bottle of canadian vidal icewine. i was impressed. i'm angling for a taste of the sweet stuff, but at the same time my brother gifted me a lovely bottle of spanish red, so i have no complaints. but i will be on the lookout at wegman's for my own bottle....

Viognier. oz reveres our norma jean and calls her a "silver screen sex symbol that many wanted, but few could have," and describes her thus:
If you wanted serious swooning wine, with teture as soft and thick as apricot juice, perfume as optimistic and uplifting as mayblossom, and savoury sour creamy richness like a dollop of creme fraiche straight from the ladle of a smiling farmer's wife—in other words, a wine which just oozed sex and sensuality—Condrieu, from Viognier grape, was it.
if that wasn't enough, in the historical background, oz writes its rumored that viognier takes its name from via gehannae, the road to hell. gehenna is the name given to the main public rubbish tip in jerusalem. a silver screen goddess from hell....yeh. that's inspiration in a bottle.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

First of the Harvest and Crush

is there a prettier sight? here is the seyval a week before harvest.

Connie's Post:

Football, freelance and domestic chores kept momma and the boys at home the august 19-20th weekend, so lyrel stepped in and helped bring in the seyval harvest. the seyval is the earliest grape we harvest in the proofing vineyard. gerald measured 35 pounds of the grapes from the one row and thinks he may have dropped too much fruit when he went through the row to thin excess clusters. as a result, it didn't take long to harvest, but they were able to break in the harvest knives i gave to gerald for christmas. LUCKY! even better was the lack of rain to mess with the variety's development. shortly after harvest, we received 2.5 inches of rain over two weeks, so not too bad. the other varieties will wait until september to harvest and gerald is happy about that. he worries about the nights being too warm for the ripening. i still worry about rain. please stay away, tropical storms. we'd like to continue to have good harvests.

they brought the harvest back to the farmhouse and cousin charles was named godlet of stomp. here you see lyrel and charles having a great time with the crush. gerald says the 35 pounds of seyval equaled 2.2 gallons of precious juice to be turned into wine. no. odds are you aren't going to find this nectar of the gods at your local wine purveyor. currently, it is in the fermentation stages. this year, we are handling the crush and fermentation at the farmhouse. continuing with the great shoestring vineyard tradition, we have neighbors stopping by to give the wine in making a stir and check the specific gravity. lyrel has loaned us the craft room (move over, kiln!) and set gerald up with an air conditioning unit to regulate the temperature better.

here is to the start of a better year!

Our Net Gains, Part Deux

spider-vineyard man, spider-vineyard man, does whatever a spider-vineyard man...can....

Connie's Post:
As you may remember in a previous post, we added bicycle rims to each row's end post to help facilitate the netting of the proofing rows. we pulled the netting out of storage and placed them along the edge of the rows, under dad's careful supervision.

peter then scooped up the edge of the netting with a board and we drug the nets across the wheels and then down the vineyard rows. at first we were pleased, the wheels worked according to plan, but the dragging soon showed disadvantages.

number 1 on this hit chart was the constant hitting snags. at first, we worked patiently with the catching on the protruding nails, hammering the nails back down or the catching on bark of the locust posts, carefully tugging back the netting from the post. soon, however, our patience ran thin and it became quite aggravating. not only did you have the snagging, but you had to be careful with the netting staying in place over the rows—one slip over and you had to work together and throw the netting back over the side. boy1 became a big help, guiding the netting over the wheel and keeping the initial snagging to a minimum.

finally, after many grunt, shouts, grumbles and a few reworks, the job finished. here is pete, again, but this time with a swimming pool cleaner. yeh. anything goes at the shoestring vineyard. we aren't sure we will use the dragging method next year. there was talk of going back to laying the nets down the rows and then throwing them over the rows. it isn't an easy job, but the results are worth it.

Getting in on the Ground Floor

randy outside the machine shed at the outset of the project.

Gerald's Post

nine yards of fiber reinforced concrete...

mike and his buddy r. form it up before it sets...

cleanup after a solid day's work...

the newly finished shop floor.

note the six inch lip marking where a storage room will be.

and thanks to Mike M. and his buddy from wVa for their help. See you in another ten or so Mike.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Unorthodox Methods Produce Net Gains

an unorthodox solution in the process of addressing a migratory problem.

Connie's Post:
We find our vineyard under the migratory path of birds and—as so many other vineyards find necessary—we need to foil these hungry berry predators. we've hung used cds from the posts and wires--the cds catch the sun and the flashes deter the birds a bit. our favorite method is to net the vineyard at the start of verasion. how funny that i did not mention the wrapping of the proofing vineyard the previous year! we thought about how to improve the process of spreading the netting across the vines. perhaps you remember the hmmm files post?

after gerald's dad spent that time separating the tires from their rims, he attached them to the tops of the locust posts. then gerald and his brother, pete, ran a steel wire along the tops of the row. last year we used plastic string, but it was too light for the weight of the netting, which ended up sagging a bit. the metal wire is sturdier, but requires more labor to pull it taunt. after gerald pulls the wire tight, pete secures the wire to the post. then we ran the netting over the top of the wire, next post.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Empty Nest

momma bluebird patiently waits for us to close her birdhouse.

Connie's Post:
I hadn't posted in a while, so i'm now playing catch up with you. three weeks ago, our first bluebirds were fuzzy, with some pinfeathers.

then two weeks ago, our babies sported all their feathers and looked ready for their first flight.

a week ago, we opened our bluebird house to find an empty nest.

good luck, babies! come back and raise your babies in our box.


Veraison! the tinte cao berries start to turn.

Connie' Post
Veraison is a highlight of the wine grape growing season. i get that yipee! feeling and a big smile to see the berries start to turn their colors. veraison is a signal that the berry growth is done and the ripening process has begun. what triggers veraison isn't understood, but from here on out, the sucrose and fructose levels will increase until harvest. We will start to measure them in brix units, remember? Acidic levels will also increase, and we will measure those as well.

different grape varieties ripen at different times. remember the mysterious case of the disappearing seyval? turns out the seyval ripens the earliest out of all of the proofing vinifera varieties. and. it. is. yummy. vidal, i am so sorry, but you clearly have competition in my heart for favorite white grape. we'll have to net the seyval a little earlier than the rest, as i'm sure the birds love the berries as much as i do. and i do.

Seyval. my new favorite flavor.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

600 bamboo stakes

Connie's Post
In the eastern vineyard, a whole acre of vidal is growing well, despite the drought conditions. many of the vines are coming along so well they are in need of staking, to keep the tender young vines off the vineyard floor. each individual vine will receive its own bamboo stake, impaled into the ground on the north side. we'll then tether the vines to the bamboo stake with gerald's plastic ribbon tape dispenser. Later in the season, we will set up posts to run cordon wires so future vines can scramble up the trellising with ease.

yep. there is no time like july to stake 600 vidal vines. there's no better persons to get the job done than your brother pete, uncle charlie and your wife. pete and uncle charlie has pounded their stakes into the ground during the week. the last few saturdays, i've hit the vineyard and have taken my turn. if i look a little hot and weary in the pictures kayleigh snapped for me, i can tell you, yes i am and it is very easy to over heat and become dehydrated. i can also tell you there are 29 vines to a row. in the lower part of the vineyard, the ground is very hard and compacted from the heavy machinery clearing the area this past winter. it took 40 minutes to work my way down a row. now as we have moved up the hill, the ground is quite a bit easier to work with. i got my time down to 30 minutes a row. its hot work, though, as there is no shade, just open ground to cover. boy1 is a big help. he takes giant armful of bamboo stakes and lays them out in the field for me, one to each vine.

i like the hot, hard work and being along in the field. i thought i would get a lot of thinking done, but lately i would have made the Dali Lama proud in that i've just kept my mind on my work. no extraneous thoughts. i hammer with my whole arm, not just from my elbow. after three blows, i work the rebar around in the hole, so that the ground gives a little and i can pull the rebar out when i'm done. i do this because the first time i just pounded the rebar into the ground all at once and then i had my doubts that i would be able to get it out. but i'm stubborn and i won. i repeat the pounding and pulling on the rebar about three times before i pull the rebar out of the ground and quickly push the bamboo in before the hole in the sandy loam collapses. i rap on the bamboo stake, give a little pull to make sure the stake is secure and then i move on. this work gave me the worst blisters of my life, despite having wore gloves through the task. giant, watery blisters on the sides of my index fingers, my thumbs and oddly enough, a blister that covered the entire pad of my baby finger. my hands were the talk of the monday production meeting as i clumsily tried to hold a pen and take notes.

i think i'm happy about doing the hard work because its about being strong and persevering when it would be so easy to say to my husband, "you'll have to figure out how to do this." i'm glad to have spent this past two years training with my marine friend. the work is easier because he's made me stronger than i have ever been. it makes this girl feel powerful and i like being farm strong, if not gym strong and Muscle and Fitness Her beautiful.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Hired Gun

Somewhere, Sergio Leone must be shedding a tear.

Connie's Post:
The stranger was called into the vineyard. Grimly, he assessed the situation.

there was undesirable elements growing in the vineyard. the shoots had grown beyond the top cordon wire. the growth must be stopped.

it was for the good of the grapes.

he bowed his head...was it a prayer for the soon to be dying? was it gathering of inner strength to finish the job quickly? the vineyard grew eeriely silent.

as if in a zen state, the hired gun assumed the warrior position. slice! slice! a rusty blade flashed and glinted in the high noon sun. the stranger worked as if a man possessed, striding down the rows of the proofing vineyard. in his wake fell the offending shoots, silently collapsing from where they once grew.

and then, just as suddenly as the hired gun had appeared in the vineyard—he strode off into the sunset. his work was done for another day. the grapes would once again flourish.

The West Vineyard in 5 Easy Shots

Connie's Post:
Here is a slide show to give you a sense of the west vineyard. it starts from the far western edge, lined with a corn field. there is a large barn there, but we don't use it. the second barn is where boards are stored. both are former tobacco barns. the vines in the front of the second barn are the 2yr viognier. next is the tool shed and the more mature proofing vine rows. then the proofing field ends on the east side, lined with a christmas tree field and stops at the little white house.

Weekly Entries, 23 June-7 July

From the Farm Journal:
23 June 07, GB/CB/BB/PC: low mid 80s. low humidity and breezy. brilliant! CB+PC pulled leaves on east side of rows in proofing vineyard. GB did trellising maintenance and trained viognier vines up stakes. MB (ger's brother, mike) arrived with RM&KM (randy, kathleen's husband and kathleen) brought vince. checked out machinery shed, discussed pouring concrete for bays 1&2 floor. MB/MR/KR/V left for charlotte hall house to finish LB (lyrel, ger's brother peter's wife) bathroom renovation. don't tell. its a secret surprise for her when she shows up this friday. C contemplated her circumstances with PC and came to a resolution. G going to Linden Vineyards tomorrow.

22-25 June 07, BB: removed large stone from lot 10. built and installed lower extension for lot 11 gates. prepped water on wheeler (code name: WOW) trailer to permit moving trunk forward so trailer full of water can be towed up hill. Capped line parts in lot 10.
25 June 07, CC/PC: overcast, sunny in pm. .1" in rain gauge. still sometimes hot & humid 71-89°. CC mowed extensively, PC pulled leaves in west vineyard. finished east side 4 rows, 4-7. 8&9 to go. CC paid Will for clearing east vineyard land which PB financed. very, very dry! but th vines appear to be holding up.

28 June 07, BB: picked up repaired auger in warranton and pt it in the shed. no rain in gauge.

30 June 07, GB: pretty sunny in am. breezy. shower at 2:30, dropped .01" in gauge. sunny afterward. hedged vines in proofing rows. BB pulled leaves along row __. Paul (Uncle Peter's son) and T toured the vineyard w/their three daughters. Paul offered his girls for the fall harvest crush. very good. CB/boy1&2+cousin charles came over from charlotte hall after lunch and picked up shoots and leaves from vineyard floor. bought 100' soaker hose. watered first 4 rows of viognier. need to return 50' of hose. has a leak. PC pulled leaves, row 8.

3 July 07, CC/PC: partly cloudy. very dry. CC trimmed christmas trees all am&pm. PC picked leaves row 8&9 west vineyard and worked on watering and trellising 2yr. viognier. Jim came by to work on disc, needs another part.

5 July 07, PB/BB/KC/ChB: sawed tops of too tall posts in w. vineyard. capped most of remaining posts. drilled holes in bottom of remaining caps for ease of installation. laid out piping/hosing to permit big water tank & tow to fill up simultaneously during rain storm. light showers as PB was finishing.

6 July 07, BB/PB/PC: deep watered new plants in lot 10, capped remaining posting in lot 11. hung some wheels in 11. gravity feed for lot 11 is no good. water doesn't come through soaker hose. used 1 hp pump.

6 July 07, BB: 1 mm in gauge. attaching it to WOW via a tailgate or trailer extension. watered 2yr viognier rows 5-12 with T probe boosted by 1 hp electric meter. one outlet hose big tank worked well. takes a lot of hose through.

7 July 07, PB/ChB/GB/CB/KC/JB/TB/BB: hot, dry day. BB raised height of cross piece on w/vineyard gate. mounted pump platform on rear of WOW. PB+GB started netting cables over w/vineyard rows. GB+PB+BB+KC practiced backing WOW into vineyard. CB+JB pounded bamboo stakes in east vineyard, 5 rows done. JB+ChB did running chores and had adventures. KC+boy2 were two peas in a pod and stuck together, helping BB and GB+PB.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Natural Allies, Part Two

oyster shells amid the christmas tree field at the farm

Connie's Post:
Previously, i discussed helping along the bluebird population of the shoestring vineyard as a natural way to keep grubs down and give the vine one less thing to compete against. another natural ally in growing the perfect grape is the oyster shell. they creep up out of the soil all through out the farm, but most are found in the christmas tree field right in front of the farm house. gerald's dad, bernie, tells me its due to the turn of the century owners, who would consume the oysters and then toss the shells out into the field, leaving them to break down slowly, slowly over time. they and all the following owners and tenants of the farm would till them into the ground or run over them with a mower. the oyster shell "sweetens" the soil as it breaks down. we haven't performed an analysis of our soil to see the exact benefit, but here is a related article that gives you the idea what benefits the oyster shell brings to the grape:

recently, i've gathered up some of the oyster shells. they are starkly white and have a great texture. i've got a large round mirror that i'm encrusting with the oyster shells and some of the round pebbles commonly found on the property— so we'll have a bit of my husband's family farm history on the wall of our townie.

the oyster has played a large role in st. mary's and the chesapeake's past. while suffering a decline in population due to excess nitrogen and fertilizers in the bay, the oyster has many allies in this area, working together to give a little help to their friend.

Mike Brings in a New Toy

Mike and Randy visit the farm for an upcoming project

Connie's Post:
Mike, ger's brother, and randy, kathleen's husband stopped by the vineyard last weekend to check out the vineyard, discuss an upcoming vineyard project and help lyrel with her bathroom renovation. in the process, they learned a bit about canopy management. mike took a look at the leaves and shoots lying on the vineyard floor and brought out the big guns: its a mighty mac vaccuum/mulcher! in no time at all, the machine and mike did a demo in the proofing vineyard, the machine sucking up and mulching at the same time all of the materials uncle pete and i had left on the vineyard floor. i have my own version of a might mac, but i call it boy power! they don't mulch and they are about as noisy as the mower. they require a fill'up at the wawa gas station, but prefer subs and gatoraid to ethanol.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Corn is a Grass

I recommend to you the Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan.

Of note was the investigation of corn. If you have looked at food labels lately, you'll notice a heavy reliance on corn and corn derivatives. I'm talking about high fructose corn syrup. In Pollan's book he discusses that although corn is a new world product, revered by native mexicans, its present day americans that can claim to consume so much corn that it literally shows up in our DNA. We are literally walking corn chips:

"There are some 45,000 items in the average American supermarket, and more than a quarter of them contain corn," he reports. Indeed, corn and its array of byproducts have so successfully colonized the U.S. diet -- and so dominate the diets of the animals consumed here -- that Americans have ripped the title of "the corn people" from Mexico, where corn was originally domesticated and remains a staple. Because of corn's rare carbon signature, Pollan writes, it's possible to discern from flesh or hair samples how much corn contributes to the formation of human bodies. "When you look at the isotope ratios, [U.S. residents] are corn chips with legs," a biologist tells him.

Happy Birthday, America. Eat fresh, local grown corn on the cob instead of a processed high fructose product, drink plenty of water and celebrate the hybrid grass we call corn.

if you want to feed your head, i recommend the following article: