Sunday, August 30, 2009

Moisture from the Air

Photo of Unirrigated Leon Millot, August 9, 2009

I read about a few interesting studies that had been done that measured the amount of moisture that was added to the ground from the moisture in the air - not from direct rainfall. They were conducted in the Mediterranean and in an arid climate. The one study found that 179 mm of moisture fell as rain from April 1st to September 30th but they found that their instruments measured the equivalent of 225 mm of moisture. They concluded that as a function of high humidity and dew formation that the ground received this extra moisture that was not recorded as rain fall. Sandy soils showed the highest increase in moisture from the air (probably because they cool more and therefore a greater capacity to form dew). They measured this by measuring the weight of the soil of which the added moisture showed up as extra weight. Anyway, this is interesting as this amounts to about an extra 30% more moisture in the study.

The reason I was looking for such studies is that every morning in the summer I walk out into the vineyard and the sandy ground is wet with moisture from dew. And the amount is significant in that it appears that there had been a light rain overnight but the rain gauge has only dew on it, not rain in it. I have been wondering how much moisture this would be and if it is use able moisture.

While I can't measure how much moisture gets added to the ground, at our site we have high daily humidity and our nights get quite cool such that we have significant formation of dew (we also have sandy soil). So much that I'd be soaked from hip to toe if I took a 50 foot walk in the high grass and ferns. This may help explain why the unirrigated vines are doing well.


Photo: Typically sunny summer day

In the summer we get great sun at this location with few clouds during the day and sometimes a late afternoon thundershower. Call me crazy but the sun seems to be really intense up here. Does elevation affect sunlight intensity that much at 2000 feet?

But, we are missing a few hours of morning sun and part of the vineyard is missing some evening sun because of trees to the east and north west of the vineyard.

It is obvious that the vines growing in the area that gets the morning and evening shade are not as vigorous as those in areas with more sun.

There is also a massive tree that is too big for me to cut down and it creates a moving shade spot in the south west quadrant of the vineyard as the sun moves across the sky.

We also have a large hillside to the west and that cuts the evening sunlight off at about 7-8pm in mid summer. Nothing we can do about that.

Will take the trees down in the fall or get a tractor in to clear the land where the trees are.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Vine Spacing and Training

Photo Leon Millot with 9 feet of growth this year trained to fruiting wire

The vineyards in France do not irrigate their grape vines and they typically get rain in amounts similar to what we expect to get at our site. They space the vines at about 3-4 feet apart and space rows 8 feet apart or less sometimes. We have used this as a measure of how far apart to space the vines and rows as we hope we can grow these vines without irrigation. As such we have the vines spaced at 3 and 4 feet test distances within the rows and rows are spaced 8 feet apart. This is about 1300 vines per acre.

We have also put a 3" thick mulch of bark and tree matter under the vines to preserve moisture and to provide nutrients to the soil around the vines. The strip of mulch under the vines is approximately 3 feet wide. While it is expected the mulch will help preserve moisture under the vines it will also insulate the soil in the spring, slowing the rate at which the soil warms and then slowing bud break to help avoid late frosts. Theoretically this is suppose to work but we'll see how this works in reality. Of interest is the original three Leon Millot vines that are unirrigated are also un-mulched and seem to have enough moisture and nutrients.

We are trying cane pruning and spur/cordon pruning methods with the different vines to see what works best, what makes quality, and what is easiest. We are also trying a VSP canopy and if vigor, moisture etc permit we'll try a divided canopy. The fruiting wire for the cordon or cane is about 24". This is a little low but takes advantage of the expected snow cover in winter, its insulating value and potential protection from the cold. A 30" fruit wire or even 36" fruiting wire would be ideal, but we're not taking chances with the cold. Maybe years from now when we know the climate a bit better we could change things a bit. Till then...

Climate This Year 2009

Photo: data logger placement.

The year started off quite cool the last good frost was on May 9th at -1.7 c. The Leon Millot planted in fall of 2008 were budding out (full swell) on May 9/10th. Bud break was about May 14 (estimate about 7-10 days late). Flowering was June 28, about 7-10 days later than estimates for an average year (estimated time of flowering is June 18-21). April temperature average was 6c. We had temperature Averages of 12 for May, 17 for June, 20.2 for July and we're on track for a 19 - 19.5 average for August. Thats About 875 degree days since May 1st. If this year is like last and we have a decent September (Average of 13) then we're looking at about another 90 degree days, and likely another 20-30 or so in October before frost. Fall frost is expected in the second week of October but could easily come a week or two earlier. Hopefully we can record close to 1000 degree days (based on daily average) this year, again not bad. What I'm hoping for in September is the high daily heat and cool nights we had last year. The September 2008, day time average high was 21 c and the nights averaged 5 c. The monthly average was 13.

I am going to move the data logger into the middle of the vineyard for next year as it is presently off to the south east of the vineyard in an area populated by trees about 4 feet off the ground. I think the vineyard area may actually be a bit warmer during the day. I also think that the ground level is about 1 degree cooler at night as that sandy soil does not hold the heat well. When I move it into the vineyard, I'm also going to lower it to about 3 feet off the ground in summer closer to the area where the fruit wire is located. I'll move it back up to 4 feet off the ground for winter otherwise the snow may cover it. This should give me a better idea what the air temperature is in the vineyard and around the buds in spring and grapes in summer.

What has been difficult to assess is the rain fall. As we are not at the site all the time we miss the exact amounts due to evaporation. We do know the site got at least 2 inches in April and at least 2 in May. June had 1-2 inches and July and August each had at least 1 inch. So far that is 7-8 inches I've recorded but in talking to some that live there all the time they say there was 3 inches in May and 2 inches in June. So it is possible the site has had 9-10 inches of rain this year to date. Any way you look at it the rain fall has been ok and based on the growth of the unirrigated Leon Millot it has been enough for this year.

I've put wire tents around the grape vines that have clusters so that the birds don't get to them. Will start testing the brix in mid September but will only do two tests a week apart as I expect I'll run out of berries pretty quick with the few clusters I have.

Vines to Plant

Photo cuttings, propegation trays and heat mat

We looked for varieties that are easy to grow, relatively cold hardy, would consistently ripen in our climate and would make nice wine. In particular we were looking for vines that were disease resistant. So we have come up with a group of varieties that fit these parameters well and some that don't fit all the parameters.

Those that are relatively disease resistant, cold hardy, and should ripen consistently (900-1000 degree days and 150 frost free days):
Castel 19637 ( ) and Acadie Blanc and Regent (regent is a bit less cold hardy). There is also some great new varieties that have been developed at the Kentville Research Station in Nova Scotia that have fairly good cold hardiness, some disease resistance and are early to very-early ripening. These would appear to suit our site quite well and we will try to get some of these.

In terms of wine from these, our favourite is Castel. It is hard to find but the ones we have tried as varietal are fantastic. Domaine De Grande Pre (Nova Scotia) Castel reserve and Gaspereau Vineyard (Nova ScotiaCastel are worth getting your hands on if you can. Cherry Point on Vancouver Island makes one as well but I haven't tried it as yet.

Others varieties we're trying out that should ripen but are less cold hardy and have lower disease resistance are: Agria, Ortega, Seigerrebe, and Perle of Csaba.

Then there are those that are less cold hardy, lower disease resistance and are believed to be marginal in terms of ripening in our climate: Zweigelt, and Pinot Noir 115.

We don't have all of these varieties as yet, we have more on order for the spring of 2010.
Last fall we planted the first vines. This was three Leon Millot vines which had been grown from cuttings in pots then transplanted in the fall to the ground. This spring we planted another 25 Leon Millot, 15 Ravat, and 8 ortega.

Later in the summer we planted 18 Agria, 15 Regent, and 8 Pinot Noir to go in late summer.

The three Leon Millot vines planted last fall (September 15th) were literally planted in holes and given 1 litre of water. They survived the winter and have about 7-8 feet of growth this year. The good part here is that they were given no fertilizer or IRRIGATION this year. Two of the vines have grape clusters that flowered June 25th (I think this is about a week late as this 2009 is a colder spring than 2008). I kept them on the vines to check ripening dates, brix, ph. and acid and I'm expecting/hoping them to be ripe about September 25th.

The other Leon Millot and Ravat (both planted spring 2009) are irrigated and fertilized enough to ensure they don't dry out and they are also averaging about 7-8 feet of growth. However there were only a few clusters on the whole lot of LM or Ravat. The Ravat 34 clusters look very nice.

Only 5 of 8 Ortega (planted spring 2009) survived the spring and they are only about 3-4 feet tall, but they were week vines to start with.

The Agria and Regent were planted at the end of June 2009 and are between 2 and 4 feet high. I believe the difference in growth in the LM and Ravat vs the Regent and Agria is in the fertilizer as LM and Ravat got liquid stuff and the others got granular. There is one Agria plant that had a cluster on it that I was unaware of until August 9th when I saw it. I thought I had pinched off all the cluters but obviously missed this one. The cluster was already turning colour but its a bit earlier than it should be as it got started indoors and the berries are very small. I'm leaving it on anyway and will test it in September.

The Pinot Noir is going to be planted in September.

Clearing the Land / Soil Moisture

In the spring of 2008 we cleared a small area of land to use as a test spot. The land was pretty much all forested so we had to cut the trees down and remove the stumps. The land had been clear cut logged about 30 years ago so there are too many very large trees. Later in the summer we tilled up the land and put a 7 foot deer fence around the 55' x 100' test plot. The parcel of land is on a bench at about 620-640 meter elevation. That is about 180-200 meters above the Arrow Lakes. The site has decent air drainage with a 1.5/30 slope.

Here are the general coordinates if you want to find it on google earth. 49.50 north 118 west

One thing that we did at the start was take a few soil samples from the test area. We used a power auger and drilled down into the soil about 3-4 feet. In September it was pretty dry at depth but we assume this is largely from the surface plants (weeds) utilizing any moisture that falls and lower water levels in fall than in spring. The soil was tested at 6 inches and 12 inches. At 6 inches it is ph 6.5 loamy sand, very low in nitrogen but acceptable levels of other minerals and elements. At 12 inches it is ph 6.2 with virtually no nitrogen and similar levels of the other minerals and elements. The soil profile is significantly higher in organic mater for the first 4 inches then quickly degrades to sand and a few larger rocks (2"-4") at dept of about 18 inches and stays this way to a depth of 4 feet.

Soil moisture is one thing that could be a problem and we will have to check next year at different test holes how the moisture at depth is. There is generally speaking good annual precipitation and rain fall. Both Nakusp and Fauquier historically get between 800 and 900 mm of precipitation per year. In the summer Fauquier which is (4 km away) gets about 12-14 inches of rain from April 1st to September 30th. This is significant compared to the 8" that Kelowna gets in the same time period. Guess they don't call it the interior rain forest for nothing.

The Vine House

This is what we call our experimental vineyard in the west Kootenays. Actually this is what our son called our property in BC. The idea to start an experimental vineyard came about a few years back when we were talking about making our own wine. The vineyard is near the town of Edgewood, near Arrow Lakes and is at an elevation of about 2000 feet. We have done a ton of research on the area and found that historically this area was a fantastic place to grow apples, plums, pears, cherries, peaches etc. but the fruit industry died in the mid 1950's. You can still find a few old orchards within a kilometer from our site and at the same elevation. Accessibility to the large markets was poor at best and relied on shipping by boats up and down the Arrow Lakes then shipping by rail. Disease from an imported virus wiped out the cherry component of the fruit industry. When the ships stopped running the lake, that destroyed pretty much of the rest of the industry however, it was the creation of the Keenlyside Dam in Castlegar that was the nail in the coffin. The dam was completed in 1969 and flooded the valley and nearly all good farm/orchard land along the Arrow Lakes from Castlegar to Revelstoke.

Historical Reference to the Arrow Lakes Fruit Industry

The climate in the area is hot in the summer and moderate in the winter. Historical records from Nakusp (55 km north) and Fauquier (4 km east) show a all time low of about -30 c. compared to -37 for Kelowna(AWOS) (90 km west) , Vernon (100 km north/west), and Salmon Arm. What is interesting is that these lows for Nakusp were pre-1968 (before the Keenlyside dam flooding) and since then the lowest temperature has been -23 c. at both Fauquier and Nakusp. Some of the locals claim that when the valley was flooded and the lake got bigger that the climate moderated some and eliminated the deep cold spells of winter. There may be something to this as Kelowna which is 90 km to the west (as the crow flies) has experienced its historical lowest temperatures since 1968 and has touched the -30 c mark a few times since 1968. This past winter 2008/2009 Kelowna (AWOS) again got as low -30. The lowest temperature at our site was -25 c on the same day and the lowest temperature at Nakusp was -18c. We had only one other cold day below -20 c this past winter which was -22 c in January. We also get a pile of snow and in January of 2009 and 2008 there was 3 feet of snow on the ground. The Canadian Plant Hardiness Zone map puts our location at the 5B/6A zone.

We found out that in BC the earliest ripening grapes require about 850 degree days growing of heat and about 130 frost free days. In addition, we learned that -30 c is critically cold for even the hardiest of BC grape varieties. So far we determined that if we had cold hardy varieties we'd be ok but we needed to determine if we have enough heat and frost free days. From the climate data logger at our site we found it recorded 905 degree days growing from May 1- Sept 31 of 2008 using 10 c base. Not bad for what was considered regionally as a cold summer. Add about another 30 degree days each for April and October for a year total of about 950-960 DDG. There was killing frost on May 2nd and October 9th giving us about 160 frost free days and based on extrapolations from the Fauquier historical weather data I had expect about 150-160 frost free days.