After our impromptu August vacation in Topsail, NC, we came back to the vineyard to net the vineyard. In my mind, it was the easiest netting experience to date. Both Petes—WCPete and ECPete were there—cousin Tom, Ger, his father, the Gishboyz and my own boys. We stretch long swathes of netting over the tops of the vineyard rows and form a canopy over the whole vineyard block. This practice is different than most netting practices, where the rows are individually netted. Ger likes the canopy netting as it allows us to work on the vines throughout the rest of the harvest season. Click here for the early history of our netting experiences from my older vineyard blog.
The process of netting the vineyard can by simply described. Stretch the netting out, along the vineyard block. Then, lift the netting up over the rows, resting the netting on the bicycle wheels and the high wire. After that, carefully drag the netting across the vineyard rows and attach the netting to the previous net. Simple, yes? Although the netting is strong, the pulling and stretching can wear and tear at the netting. Ger’s Dad and I have become quite adept at netting repair.
I think there were 5-6 nets over the commercial Vidal Blanc block, and then side netting to completely encase the block.
I was grateful for the additional labor this year. It made the netting much easier. The proofing block was completed by the Petes and the Gishboyz during the week. We didn’t net the first harvest Petit Verdot and the Barbera. The red fruit was too much for the birds and they had stripped the vines too well to bother with this time consuming process. At harvest time, we’ll assess whether there is enough Petit Verdor and Barbera for the winery or whether we’ll keep the harvest for our personal bottling. The Vidal looked beautiful and was completely ignored by the birds, who preferred eating the red grape berries.
The birds dove like rebel forces from the Tall Trees adjoining the third year Barbera and Petit Verdot into the vineyard blocks. They sought both insects and fruit—and after snagging whichever they could find first—then flew back into the Tall Trees to enjoy their catch. When we drove up to the vineyard, we just groaned as we watched the birds’ graceful swooping back and forth. We were here to thin the Vidal Blanc. Netting is scheduled for next week.
Originally, I thought these birds were catbirds, but they may actually be mockingbirds. Both birds belong to the Mimidae family and both feast upon insects and berries. I read that 20 percent of the catbird’s diet is made up of fruit! How daunting! The birds I saw had flashes of white feathers in the long tails and had a lean, graceful silhouette. That makes me think they were Northern Mockingbirds. I couldn’t adequately capture a picture of one of the grape-berry predators with my older iPhone camera and the vineyard camera was in Big Red.
Birds are beneficial in the vineyard and for most of the season, we are happy to see them. Robins and Bluebirds eat a variety of insects that are harmful to our vines and fruits. We’re especially grateful to the Robins, who love to eat stinkbugs. We don’t employ much bird management practices, although we do net our vineyard after veraison. The fruit is too delicious. Who could blame the birds?!
As we finished the remaining leaf canopy management in the Petit Verdot with the Gishboyz, Ger and I discussed the netting and the bird issue. “We’re a week behind,” Ger worried. “We should be netting today. We could have netted this week.”
I am a vineyard wife and I do try to support the Vineman’s efforts as much as possible—but we booked our first real family beach vacation (personally, I define “real” vacation as more than an amusement park visit or 2 day beach stay). This vacation was “go,” def, but I didn’t want Ger to worry so much. “I could tie Compact Discs to the cordon wires, like you did in the proofing vineyard a long time ago,” I offered.
We collect CDs from a variety of sources and Ger keeps them on this threaded steel rod. I lugged the CDs over to the vineyard and got to work tying the CDs to the cordon wires with the biodegradable green vineyard string. As Ger and the Gishboyz worked on dropping 263 pounds of excess Vidal Blanc grape clusters, I worked my way down the rows of the Barbera and Petit Verdot. I tied them to the cordon wires in a variety of heights and placements, making sure each CD could easily swing in the breeze. The effect was a crazy vineyard disco, the sunlight flashing of the CDs like a mirror ball. I felt like striking a pose, but was blinded myself from a CD glint. When we left the vineyard to start our vacation, we could see the CDs flashing among the Barbera rows from the little farmette.
We’ve decided the flashing will deter the birds until our return next Saturday, when the netting begins.
I found myself, once again, with a sledgehammer and rebar in the vineyard. Its a good thing—it means there are young healthy vines requiring a bamboo stake to scramble up straight to the cordorn wire. Sort of like vinifera training wheels.
Do you remember way back to when I spent a long, hot summer setting bamboo stakes in the Vidal Blanc block? The vineyard is a much different place, now. The Gishboyz set a blistering pace to follow. In fact, much of the Albarino and Merlot was already staked. When boy1 & I got to the blocks, they were working their way up the top of the hill, with maybe 8 rows left.
We all grabbed bamboo stakes and walked down the rows, throwing a stake down beside each vine. I tried to match the boyz pace and even the effort to push the stakes into the ground on their own. In some areas, the sandy soil would give way, but it was impossible for me in other areas. Boy1 brought me the sledgehammer and rebar and I set back to work, but my progress slowed exponentially in comparison to the young men’s pace. I finished my row, grabbed a pocket full of black rubber ties and fixed the stakes to the cordon wires. Finally done with my row, I checked boy1′s row and found most needed to be reworked, as he met little success trying to push the bamboo into the soil, too. I demonstrated how I made the holes for the bamboo and sent him on his way. By then, it was 11:30 and I needed a drink of cool water. I headed up the house, my head swimming with the heat & humidity and swearing I would drop all this weight I gained.
I met Uncle Pete and we discussed the Port of Leonardtown Winery labels. It felt so good to sit in the house for a little bit. We called the boys in for lunch. The Gishboyz shared their secret for pushing in the bamboo stakes. The Albarino & Merlot were mechanically planted, so Samuel would look to see the where the discs met in the soil. That area was generally weaker and he could push the bamboo in easier.
It didn’t help me much, since I ended up back at the farmhaus to rest for a couple of hours. When I came back, Ger set boy1 and me to leaf canopy management in the proofing rows. That went much quicker and felt much easier to accomplish, since we pull from the east side of the row and are shaded from the hot western sun.
I’m quickly entering this before Ger picks us up again to finish the Viognier. We were to get an early start this morning, but it was raining. We’ll finish the job in the heat of the day, instead. Makes a girl cranky.
So if you ever are staking a first year vineyard block that was machine planted, look for where the discs meet in the soil. And keep the weight off. And don’t leave the field to rest in the heat of the day, it will just make you crankier. And don’t let your husband let you sleep in since its raining when you would rather leaf canopy manage in the rain than the resulting humidity and heat later.
And keep a better perspective about life. Who wants to read a cranky post?
While Gerald, Uncle Pete and the Gishboyz shoot-positioned and thinned the Viognier, the Rain Maker and I set out to inject water to the replanted Barbera. While the 3-year Barbera vines are thriving, the first year replacements do not have a sufficient root system to bear the intense Southern Maryland summer. We hadn’t much rain in May (according to Uncle Pete, a little over 2″) and no rain for the past two weeks with record breaking temperatures, last week. The vines were looking a bit peaked. Everyone and thing in the vineyard looked peaked. We all wished mightily for rain, scanning the sky for clouds. The afternoon clouds were high racers and looked like they had no intent to stop for a shower. The first year Barbera vines would have their water.
The Rain Maker and I rode out to the Barbera block and set immediately to work. Remember way back in 2006, when I discussed how Ger and Uncle Pete used a T-shaped water tool to supply water directly to a vine’s roots? The Rain Maker was no more than a pup, back then! Five years later, Rain Maker attached the T-shaped water tool to the 150′ of water hose and trudged out to the rows.
First year vine after first year vine, the Rain Maker made sure each of them received a good dose of water directly applied to the roots. This method is better than surface watering, which promotes weed growth. We are also lucky to have such porous sand and clay soil—it makes it much easier to break the ground with the water wand. The Rain Maker was diligent in hitting all the first year vines, while the third year vines looked on, longingly, at the good drinks the first year vines were receiving.
The Rain Maker asked, “should I stop?” “No, keep going,” I said. “I’ll watch the sky for you.” I was a longshore woman of the watering hose. With arm over arm motion, I would pull the hose back from the row so the Rain Maker could more efficiently move between vineyard rows. I would then move BigRed a couple of rows ahead, get out and set the hose right for the Rain Maker to keep working. “I hear thunder,” the Rain Maker said, nervously. “Keep going, I’m watching for you. You have plenty of time,” I said. “I bet you can finish the last two rows.” I kept a good eye out for the pacing of the advancing, threatening clouds—all distant thunder rumble and no lightening. At last, I could smell the rain—is there ever a more beautiful aroma? The tower was still as sharp and visible as before, so I knew we had time.
The Rain Maker finished the last two rows and ran up with the T-shape water tool as I was looping the hose around the pumps. “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast,” I reminded him, glancing back at the growling grey sky. I calculated we had just enough time to get back to the shed and unload the bed of the truck before the sky unloaded upon us.
The RainMaker disentangled his wild throws into the bed of the truck and we carefully finished looping the hose. Then we tore into the cab of BigRed and threaded our way through the vineyard blocks. Halfway, Uncle Pete, Gerald and Boy2 met us in Uncle Pete’s truck. Ger was worried when he couldn’t pick me up on the cell phone. We righted the trucks, tore up to the shed, unloaded (this time, Ger admonished me, “don’t rush!”) the bed of Big Red and tore back up to the little white farm haus. We slid under the porch and the sky tore open with rain. We all laughed, congratulated the Rain Maker for getting the critical North side of the Barbera block watered and sending a strong enough signal for the sky to rain. Then we watched the clouds swirl and roil and we sobered up a bit—but the sky was the wrong color and the clouds, while menacing, were moving fast. A consultation to Twitter and The Weather Channel app showed we were on the outside edge of a severe thunderstorm that hit the southern part of St. Mary’s County, downing trees and power lines.
We did get rain for a half hour, but then the skies cleared again—leaving our vineyard rain appetite still not abated. With a chance at rain this afternoon at 60%, we are hoping the clouds are still a attracted by the efforts of our Rain Maker.
My vineman and boy2 planted in our proofing acre 24 mystery vines from Joe Fiola this past weekend. The vines are own-rooted and are two varieties in testing. We’ll measure their progress as we go along and report how the vines are faring back to Joe. Its exciting to be part of an experiment to see what vines work in our particular climate. The vines came in buckets marked in paint red and blue—but he’s not sure what vine is what. So the 12 in the picture foreground he’s temporarily calling Big Red. The 12 in background, Old Blue.
The man loves his trucks!
Here is my vineman, fixing the field marker experiment before they set out to mark the vineyard field. He’s working on the front boom, which was to act as a method for the tractor driver to keep the course straight as he drove across the field. In the back of the tractor, the boys had rigged a marking boom made of rebar. The thought was the rebar would drag the ground and mark lines in the soil, which would be used as guides to plant the vines in straight rows.
They were able to mark the entire field and called it a successful Saturday.
This line is the center line of the field and their guide from which they carefully marked the field, both horizontally and vertically. Ultimately, the vines will be planted 5′ apart with 8′ rows by a planter. The last Rootstock was done by auger and hand planting, so we are pretty excited to have the opportunity to work with a mechanized planter.
There is also 600 or so vines in lot 12 that will need to be replanted this year, as well. The heavy snows did some of the poor vines in, snapping them at the graft.
Rootstock 11 is on its way! Special shout out to Kathleen, who was been planning this event for us, allowing us to work on the winery’s marketing needs! Thanks, Kathleen!
Above is the field where we will hold Rootstock11. On April 9th, we’ll gather with friends and family to plant two acres, one of Albarino and the other, Merlot. This particular acre holds great sentimental interest to me. The field was rented to the Raleys for rotational grain crop planting: corn (read my reflection on the plant, here), wheat, and barley. My favorite memory is the tender moment when my vineman and I stumbled across the fresh harvested barley field and it inspired my husband to sing “Among the Fields of Gold” —and we stopped a moment and captured a picture of how happy we were. This is the field my kids sledded down in winter and that I scolded them from running through once the field was sown. Then after the field was harvested, I can’t tell you how many times I carried boy2 up that hill—either on my shoulders or in my arms, because the poor little guy legs were just too worn. For these and many other reasons, planting these acres represents a major milestone. Our little Proof of Concept experiment is really gaining legs and traction. Every year, its another push of the flywheel towards our hedgehog concept of bringing you the perfect wine grape in a wine that keeps calling you back to the glass.
The reason why I believe Wine = Community is based upon times like these. I love the Rootstock planting event—there is nothing like seeing family and friends working together, laughing and talking and sharing the day. Rootstock09 had wonderful weather and was a glorious day—here is hoping that no matter rain or shine, we’ll have another event that people will feel happy they spent their day sharing in our adventure.