As the weather turned cold last fall, Jed and I congratulated ourselves about the fact that there would be nothing to do in the vineyard for the next six months. Well, we knew that was only going to be partially true. Once the vines started growing again in the spring they would need a support system, so we knew we needed to finish setting up the trellis. Jed had already ordered all the wire, along with a spinning jenny to lay it out properly. We waited for the vines to shed all their leaves and then got to work setting up the main cordon wire. It took us a while to get the hang of operating the spinning jenny so that the wire unfurled smoothly, but once we did we were grateful that we had yet another smart invention to aid us in our work. It took several days to complete this task, but then the vines could be secured for the winter.
We Who Are About To Tie Salute You Since Jed had done the yeoman’s work of pounding in all the trellis stakes over the summer, I assigned myself the task of tying up vines to the cordon wire. We ordered a fresh supply of tying tape in the lightest weight, designed to support young vines before they finished growing. I looked forward to the task as it gave me a chance to use the nifty little tying tool I had learned about as an apprentice in our own vineyard. As I walked the rowsI was pleased that so many vines were large enough to reach the cordon wire, but I was also disappointed to see how many were a mass of shoots – the result of all the deer damage over the previous summer. (Dang deer!) My only option was to choose the shoot that was most inclined to bend around the wire and see what happened.
It was slow work, mostly because of my uncertainty with each new deer-bit vine. It took about 30 hours of tying vines, after which I found myself wishing for one of the few times in my life that I was a couple of inches shorter. I thought the reason we were doing vines instead of lettuce was so we wouldn’t have to bend over. GRRR! But, whoo hoo! We’re All Tied Up ….With No Place To Go! (Yes the bad puns just keep on coming.)
The Winter of No Discontent Garden journals wax eloquently about the joys of pouring over seed catalogs in January. Hey there – it’s time to plan for the next year’s abundance of good eats. Grapevines are a perennial crop, so once you’ve made the decision about which varietal, clone, and rootstock, you are pretty much committed to whatever you’ve chosen to plant. Winter brings other tasks like repairing your equipment, sharpening your blades, and bringing your records up to date. I used this time to polish up our work boots, and take pictures of the vineyard in the snow. (Oh, and there was also a ten day trip to Mexico. Yay!)
The Emperor of The North Goes Back To School Jed used his winter months to buy a new 400 gallon sprayer which we knew we would need in the ongoing battle of bugs and bacteria in NJ., This meant he had to have a controlled substance applicator’s license One day he came home with a very thick manual which was the basis for the test he needed to pass in order to be approved for the license. Lo and behold: all the lectures Jed gave Becca about studying properly were based on advice he actually followed himself. He sat at a desk, highlighted the book, made notes on a separate pad, and tested himself in advance. He came home confident he had passed, and thought he might possibly have aced it. But no moment of glory for the Emperor of the North: you never learn your score, only whether you are approved for the license. I say having the license is glory enough for the Commander of the Merlot Defense League.
Wired We own quite a few electronic gadgets: Blu-ray player, laptops, tablets, smartphones, IPTV, and even a turntable. We are a ‘wired’ household. This March we got a new definition for wired, and it didn’t have anything to do with the internet. The cordon wire is just one of five wires that had to be fastened to trellising, and we had four still to be completed: one for the irrigation system, and three ‘catch wires’ for managing the grape shoots as they grow. So the minute the days got a bit warmer this spring we headed back to the vineyard to finish up the job. (See Lazy Lester for more on the first day out.) Of course, the spinning jenny broke down, and we had one roll of persnickety wire, but by now that was to be expected. With each row we perfected our technique and our routine so that by the end of the job we were feeling like we really knew what we were doing. Why we could even put ourselves out for hire! Aahh, NO!
Agua, Fresca Y Pura The last task on our vineyard prep list was to string up the drip line along the trellis wire closest to the ground. We could have left the line on the ground where it was the first year, but raising it up protects it from mower damage and means less work in the long run. This task was relatively easy once Jed had walked the vineyard and replaced all the line that was damaged. A few zip ties every few feet was all that was required – just don’t pull them too tight or the water won’t get through. It didn’t take long before we were in a competition to see who could get their row done the fastest. (Yep, we still act like kids, probably one of the reasons we’re still married.) OK vines – bring it on! We are ready for you!
Bud Break! We began peering at the vines every day looking for some sign of life on what appeared to be nothing but dead wood. Every so often I would finger the end of a vine only to see it break off in my hand. I felt bad that while my Minnesota relatives were still having snow in April, I was stressing over any day that dipped below 40 degrees.
We peered at the neighboring vineyards, worrying that if they had bud break and we didn’t something had gone wrong. Is that a swelling bud? It doesn’t look very alive. What’s that powdery stuff on it? Geez. I hardly touched it and it fell off!
In late April we were at an ag extension presentation on disease and pest forecasts when one of the presenters asked if any vineyard owners had seen any “bud break” yet. We looked around anxiously, reminding ourselves that different varietals have different timings. No hands went up. Smiling, we suppressed our whoops of relief and and agreed with everyone that it indeed was a very late spring this year.
Two days later, the first few buds popped open. First to open were our Mars table grapes with hardy looking pink buds . Venus and Jupiter were just behind, a riot of pink and green. The merlot vines were still ominously bare. Finally, one morning we searched and found enough delicate green buds on the merlot that Jed and I could breathe a collective sigh of relief. We each knew the other had been silently wondering “What if we did all that work and they didn’t make it through the winter?” Soon baby leaves began to appear and now the vineyard is tinged with pale green everywhere.
Last weekend , feeling brave, I finally undertook the task of walking every row to count up the number of vines that actually didn’t make it through the winter. We lost 21 out of 1265. Not too bad. We’ll drink to that. A nice merlot perhaps.
PS. I admit it. This is about six different posts that somehow never got finished. So I rolled them into one. Not exactly a professional blogger yet, eh gang?