Sunday, May 27, 2007

Weekly Entry: May 19-22

Journal's Post:

saturday, may 19-20: gerald's entry:
clear & cool: 60s. very breezy. cb pcked inflorescence from 3 & 2 year old vines. secured critter fence in east vineyard to ground w/ stakes.

tuesday, may 22: [uncle] peter:
4" rain the gauge. stacked lumber by old barn. bushogged rest of the day.

Surrealism Isn't Limited to Art

the vidal gate gives the impression of being a gate to the sky.

Connie's Post:

Life sometimes imitates art and this picture just makes me giggle. when i first walked up to the vidal acre i was excited—gerald's dad, bernie, finished the vidal gate! and then i snapped the pic, looked into the viewfinder and started laughing. the doors have a floaty dimension to them, as if they were just balancing in thin air (they are secured by single posts). so the next thought is: what in the world does the gate keep out? and why is the shoestring vineyard corraling dirt? well, there is deer netting around the perimeter and the acre is full of vidal vines that are quickly adapting to their new surroundings and so far, are thriving.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Making a Contract

Connie's Post:
Grapes are the fruit of the vine, and so it stands to reason that the vine produces flowers. the grape flower clusters are called inflorescence — flowering is an interesting thing. a grape shoot can give you up to three flower clusters. they can form close to the cordon and then again above the first flowering, often as a wild offshoot of a fresh tendril. on one year canes, they will be on the opposite side of the leaves. the flower doesnt look much like a flower—they are all green and kind of nubby. sort of like very tiny fig fruits, alot of them all jammed together on stems. then they open and there is this small green star-like flower with a stamen shooting out.
last weekend, my task was to drop a large quantity of inflorescence from the proofing vines and all the inflorescence from the viognier. next week i will most likely go through the vidal acre and remove all the inflorescence. for sticks that we just dropped into the ground, they are surprisingly prolific.

its a hard thing, dropping bunches of what you know could bear grapes. my husband gave me careful instructions to be ruthless and trim them all but the grape cluster closest to the cordon. i told him he was a hard man. "for the good of all, some must be dropped," he said. and then he left me to my task. i stood before each vine and quickly found out the best way to remove them was a swift yank on the offending inflorescence—like a little guy with a band-aid. anything less than a clean yank could mean tearing at the stem. that could encourage disease. as i set about establishing a rhythm of plucking and moving i started thinking just sort of absently. like, why do these silly vines put out so many flower clusters. i was sort of disgusted with the waste. the vine should know better. then i gave it another second of thought and realized it more or less was nature trying to ensure species survival. so here i was plucking and in a way telling the vine that by culling i would take care of it. i would be there helping the vine along, so it didnt have to worry about throwing out tons of potential grapes. it could just concentrate on growing the best of the best. i was making a contract with the grape.

yeh. it was corny. but it was spring and i was out there among the vines and i felt what i think my husband feels everyday.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Weekly Entries: May 7-15

Connie's Introduction
As it currently stands, this blog does not give the full impression of the work that goes on at the shoestring vineyard. there is plenty of hustle and flow throughout the week and it is all chronicled in the farm journal. in order to give you a sense of the scope of work, i plan to make notes from the journal entries and as Weekly Entries.

monday, may 7: [uncle] peter's entry:
breezy, cool, high 40s. new rain guage, but no rain. big tank half full from sat. rains. [ger's dad] bernie worked on gates to east vineyard. peter mowed e & w vineyards. vineyards, excellent new growth, looking pretty. 1 year old [viognier] in west looking good. need new leads to two spark plugs—are old and don't transmit. [hired labor] bush hogged the two backfields and wants to seed w/corn for game. cleared area ready for burn and clearing. found [someone] to rip soil for us. saturday put 4" in rain guage.

monday, may 14: gerald's entry:
warm, sunny, light breeze low 70s. [uncle] peter and gerald at farm as ger forgot to pick up bernie. scraped off grape succors.

tuesday, may 15: [uncle] pete's post:
clear, breezy 80s. [uncles] charlie and peter. popular boards from the timber clearing was delivered. will use for new siding o the small 10 room barn. changed oil on SKAG [mowing tractor]. caught up on mowing. closer to being ahead of it.


Connie's Post
What's missing with this post? something visual? oh yeh. no camera today at the farm. friday night, i was so excited about coming to the farm i posted the bluebird entry while gerald gathered up the materials. i was solely responsible for getting only myself and my had-to-haves out the door. computer? check. oxford companion? check. do i have shoes on? yep. purse! there and out the door. never a second thought. poor son of sony on the rolltop desk, "hello?" and off we went. all friday night i spent buzzing around on the wireless internet (thank you, thank you, peter and lyrel!), thinking about the farm--happy little clam i was. spring is in full blossom, now and with it, major news stories. no more prep run downs. it was going to be showing off the green loveliness everywhere.

not so.

even worse, everywhere i turned there was a photo op, a brilliant image and an interesting story to share. gerald laughed at my frequent groans. another opportunity missed! gentle reader, you would be inspired with all the goin' on down at the shoestring vineyard. spring is in full tilt, but in order to see it, you will have to wait another week.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Enemy of My Enemy

a snug haus for a bluebird family
Connie's Post
At the shoestring vineyard, we try to cultivate natural allies in the quest to produce the perfect grape. as i mentioned previously, we are friends of the hawks hunting the grounds of the fenced proofing and viognier acre. we expecially like the ancient oystershells that litter the landscape, providing calcium as they slowly, slowly disintergrate. our next target in our quest for low-cost/impact natural alliances? bluebirds.

bluebirds have been sited at the farm, previously. wide open fields surrounded by timber makes the farm excellent bluebird habitat. bluebirds eat ground dwelling insects, especially grubs, so they are considered a welcome addition to the vineyard field. they also eat small fruit. hmm. we'll keep an eye on them, but they could do no worse than last year's hornet mob and they are far prettier fellows.

the boys' stayed with my parents during springbreak, my father--the handy wood craftsman he is--decided the kids would all make birdhouses. he cut the wood according to plan and all the grandkids sanded and assembled their own house. boy2's house is at our townie. this year, we are growing tree swallows--my favorite bird. i love to watch them swoop the lake behind our townie, taking sips of water or grabbing an insect as they fly. the poor bluebirds were too late and ended up watching sorrowfully as the swallows claimed the housing. a couple of territorial skirmishes ended in the swallows' favor. boy1's house is situated on the proofing field, right behind the big rusty tank. we just put the house up a weekend ago, so have yet to see if a couple has interest. we think we could get a family in before the bird netting goes up.

really cool: see the sources section for a bluebird nest cam. they are predicting hatching by may 22!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Vital Vidal Tasks

Critter fencing is installed around the perimeter of the Vidal acre

Connie's Post
At present date, we are not able to be a presence at the farm everyday and the wildlife knows it. in southern maryland, a vine's most feared predators are the deer and small critter, looking for tasty tendrils and succulent young vines to strip down to nubbins. later in the year, we will worry about birds picking at the grape clusters. don't even think of the september drunken hornets!

all vineyards seem to have a common critter problem. a few have dogs patroling the vineyard fields, and others employ noise canisters to scare birds. some try bad smells for the furry critters and deers (home gardeners will know what i'm talking about--irish spring soap, blood meal sprinkles, rotten eggs and peppers sprays). others will invest in electric fences--the very same that takes care of the common suburban canine.

at our vineyard, we work with eight foot high fencing around the perimeter of the vineyard. it worked very well for our proofing concept/viognier acre. the fencing is rolled around the perimeter and gerald nails the fencing to the posts. dad pulls the fencing tight and boy2 helps with handing gerald the nails. after the deer fence is secured upright, the boys then unroll the small critter fencing and nail to the same posts. gerald then drives spikes through the netting into the ground, securing the vineyard from snuffling furry noses looking for a significant loop hole. if i was a small critter, i would skirt around the vineyard, anyway. large hawks regularly patrol and sit lookout on the acre's posts, awaiting a miscreant varmit trapped inside. its a no win proposition.

Catching Rain

the big rusty tank, source for summer water

Connie's Post
Water is always a precious commodity at the farm and we viewed the april 16th nor'easter as an opportunity, as surely the big rusty tank would collect water for the vineyard use during the summer. the following weekend we discovered, to our chagrin, there was a leak in the tube leading into the tank and the water benefit were lost to us. a tough bit of luck, there.

i write this now with renewed interest, as the forecast calls for rain, 90 percent chance! the leak was fixed immediately and we will be hopefully blessed with rain from the passing by thunderstorms this evening--making a deposit into our free water account. gerald tells me the water tank is currently half-full.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

As We Walked In Fields of Gold

Connie's Post:
he sun had started the descent over the western proofing acre as the husband and his father finished running the deer fencing along the eastern vidal acre. they gathered up the tools and the boys. the husband's father left the eastern field with the boys as the husband walked across the field and helped his wife finish clearing the far floor of the vidal acre. it was another day of small but necessary progress.

the husband and his wife walked out of the vineyard and across the winter crop-covered field, pulling a hand cart behind them. the field starts with a gentle slope up to the old house but interspersed among the crop are wide plowing ruts that run long and parallel to the house. the tired wife giggled after several stumbles and subsequent cart yanking over the ruts. she commented, "what an awful field! but i like this yellow dry grass. it makes the field look so nice far away."

the husband looked up the hill and then down to his wife and started to sing:
We'll forget the sun in his jealous sky
as we walk through fields of gold

and then they laughed at the ridiculous thought of trying to run across the rutted field towards each other, arms out stretched. "this winter crop is barley," noted the husband. "sting has obviously never visited a barley field in his life," laughed his wife. then boy two, running down the hill to his parents tripped on a rut, and tumbled, crying for his momma to scoop him up. and so she did and so the day was done.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Small But Necessary Tasks

A small, but necessary task: scraping the vineyard floor.

Connie's Post:

Just this past winter, the vidal acre had been occupied with a crop of corn and timber covering. large money had rented large machinery and a large effort to harvest and clear the trees. the land had been plowed and made smooth for the measured marking flags, the auger holes, and the hopeful vidal vines. where the corn had stood, cover grass starts to grow and mowing will need to happen soon. where the timber had laid is a barren scape of grey-brown dirt, leftover bits, and charred patches from the large scale harvesting tasks. tendrils of tiny greens are starting to appear amongst the rubble. my husband asks if i wouldn't clear the area of rocks and stuff over 1" in diameter. looking at the third of the acre, i decide i'd rather rake than try to gather by hand.

raking up a third acre of leftover detritus--twigs, corn stalks and husks, rocks, bits of turtle shell and the odd animal bone (?! oh boy1, no. no one will buy that on ebay.)--is not hard work, merely tedious. its the type of work a mother can do and keep an eye on boy2 visual check, who wisely insists upon digging little-boy holes only in the shady areas outside the fenced acre. smart child scrape, scrape eck. someone could use this rake at home to gather up the toys on our neglected carpet. eck.
i think the sun may be getting to me. i quickly make up a list of more satisfying work that could be accomplished at home. scrape, scrape flooring! finishing a bathroom! painting! reorganizing the garage! our tiny backyard! money, i think grimly. the rake is free and the work is in front of me. scrape, scrape so i continue with my task, torn between work, home and vineyard and the juggling of all the associated tasks. priorities. and then, is this even necessary? i mean, its scraping. ground. bah. and as i'm nearing the top of the hill and the sun is dropping in the sky, my husband walks up to me. he's smiling appreciatively. i recount my domestic meditation. we stand in silence, recognizing the vineyard's impact on our everyday life. after the moment of silence, he points out that though a small task, it is necessary so that disease doesn't spread through the vines or a mower blade isn't damaged or debris isn't kicked up by the mowing and possibly hurt someone. and then he picks up a rake and helps his wife finish the field. he's a good man.

A Little Help From Our Friends

The Vital Vidal Volunteer Crew 07

Gerald's Post
Pictured above: Lettie, Ency, Ray, and Juan after successfully finishing an acre of planting before the rains came. Far left is Uncle Pete, sans gardening fork. Each holds the last of the vines to be planted.

Fear not, for the Lord provides. And provide he did this day, supplying our operation with willing hands to do the work of digging holes and planting vines. On Friday Uncle Pete, niece Allison, and myself picked up 600 Vidal Blanc vines from the Tri-County Council office in Mechanicsville. The good people at TCC offered a matching funds grant for those interested in growing grape vines. As our operation was on plan to meet the minimum order requirements, we were able to take advantage of the program. Friday afternoon Pete and Allison planted a good quarter of the vines. At some point Pete lost his garden fork, not to be recovered for the remainder of the exercise. Next morning saw the arrival of our spirited volunteers. As Bernie secured deer fencing around the perimeter, our volunteers wore out Randy's auger drilling holes, then filling them with a vine for each. All day the planting continued with a Popeye's break for lunch. By about 5pm it was done. All retired to Charlotte Hall: weary, happy, and ready for a hot meal, refreshing spirits, and good company.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Time and a Purpose

Turn, Turn, Turn. Allison and Uncle Pete plant Vidal as heavy machinery clears 3 acres of timber.

What do people gain from all the work they do under the sun?
A generation goes and a generation comes, yet the earth remains forever.

Connie's Post
Spring break and a retirement were put to good use this past april as niece allison and uncle pete gave gerald a running start on planting the vidal. all in all, they planted close to a third of the acre and in doing so, thought they had sacrificed uncle pete's beloved gardening claw (left). luckily, the claw was recovered from the field the following weekend. the juxtaposition of the rending of trees and the nurturing of vines put me in the mood for a bit of putting things into perspective, and so i turned to ecclesiastes. i confess, i've read more bible passages since has featured blogging the bible and i'm a little reticent to share my perception with you, as formed from ignorance as it is.

from what i understand, many think ecclesiastes more of a pessimistic, troublesome entry, but i find a sort of joy in considering the inability to transcend our limitations over time—when at the same moment, witnessing a momentary communion of generations over dirt and plant matter.

ecclesiastes 3:1-8

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Snow in April

Surprise snow on the proofing vineyard gate.

Connie's Post
The vines were freshly pruned, bleeding had begun, buds were set and spring stretched her arms all warm and bright to her children for an embrace. then, well--snow happened. this time snow happened on april 6th, a bit late in the season for southern maryland. gerald warned his wife there could be snow. ridiculous! thought the wife and then packed herself some very lightweight clothes. gerald, a firm believer in layers, packed boy1 and boy2 more clothes, for which the wife was grateful--as the snow blew in overnight to her surprise and her husband's ruefulness. how beautiful, though. the air was a bit warm, so there was the sound of snow melting throughout the day--but the snowy bits had stuck nicely to the vines and it was easy to score a nice image. easy for me, but gerald was concerned about the buds, as i had mentioned, they had started to break. so with journal in hand, gerald walked the proofing rows and recorded his findings. its now early may and while the buds, in my eyes seemed to have fared well, gerald says each bud is really three buds. if the primary bud grows, then the other two will not grow. however, if the primary bud is damaged, then one of the other two buds will grow to compensate. he will not be able to make an assessment until after inflourescence (the part of the shoot where the grapes will actually form.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Clarification of Way Back March Post

The Oxford Companion To Wine, 3rd Edition, Jancis Robinson. So worth the expense. Photo from

Connie's Post

I've developed a habit of thumbing through a couple of topics in the ole Oxford late at night before bed. i had posted a way back march rambling muse regarding the "sap oozing freely" from freshly pruned vines. how cool to have happened upon an entry regarding vine bleeding right before bud break. Ms. Robinson goes through the topic quite thoroughly, ben. please see the newly added source section (right, below links) for a link to her site--although you must be a paid subscriber to access the bleeding (heh) article. her site has plenty of free information, though, and is a great resource.

bleeding vital stats:
  • its an event that can take place over several days when warm weather first breaks.

  • vines can lose up to 5.5 gallons of liquid.

  • the liquid is composed mainly of water, minerals, sugar, organic acids and hormones.

  • bleeding is one of the growing cycle's first signal of starting

  • it happens along with the roots' emerging from dormancy and

  • osmostic forces start the root pressure that leads to the bleeding (check out the big brain on wiki:

Noble Experiment Awry

How sad! The ruined Viognier, vinegar down the drain.

Connie's Post:
The partially noble-rotted viognier was sampled and found to have turned to vinegar and thus ended the grande experiment. at the time, we were simply trying to recover from hurricane ernesto--and so we thought, why not work with the grapes? perhaps we could have let the concoction sit a while longer and see if the vinegar would turn out to be something of use. after the heartache of the fall, we lacked the patience and stomach for further experimentation and poured it down the drain.

the 06 sangiovese is faring better, tasty albeit lighter in viscosity. the 05 sangiovese? pretty tasty. all in all, growing a delicious wine-grape is one thing. producing a delicious wine is a total different process.