Monday, November 7, 2016

Variety - The Spice of Wine

One of the best things about the experimental vineyard is that with all the different varieties of grapes we are able to make so many types of wine and really get to know which ones taste great from our local soil/climate condition in side by side comparisons. Easy to make the choice of what to grow on the large scale as this takes the guess work out of it - but hence the reason for the experiment in the first palce. On the other hand, its a ton of work as it takes pretty much as much time to make a small batch of wine as a big batch. But nice to fill the cellar with so many varieties and be able to trial so many blending combinations. Here is a few of the red batches on the go.

Wind Break Increases Vineyard Heat / Frost prevention

I've had a few questions lately about frost protection so I wanted to talk about how we've reduced or chances of late spring frost and early fall frost and raised the ovall temperature of our vineyard. 

So the area we cleared orginally for the test vineyard was right beside the road. We chose this area for a few reasons being that it was easily accessable and it was already nearly cleared of trees.  What we didn't know at that time was that with mountain areas the wind moves up valley during the day as it heats up and cold air moves down walley in the evening as it cools down. The road beside the clearing runs the lenght of the valley so it is a perfect conduit to bring warm air up the road during the day and cold air back down at night. Another thing we did not know of was that this spot beside the raod was in a low spot relative to the area around it. For the location of the test vineyard these condition, particularly the cold evening wind, influenced the growth of the vines and the lenght of season.

When we planted the vines we put up a 7 foot high deer fence around the vineyard but there was no other barrier to keep cold air out or to divert it around the vineyard.  So in the evening the cold air would come down the mountain and it would spill off the road and into the vineyard clearing and get trapped there by the trees around the vineyard.  And the low spot that the vineyard was in allowed the cold air to settle in.

We noticed the first few years that we were prone to late spring frosts and early fall frosts so we cleared the trees around the vineyard to allow the cold air to drain away.  That is when we learned the test vineyard was in a low spot and while clearing the trees did help a bit it would not help considerably for draining cold air.

So next we put up a 6' high wind fence along the road and that has worked excellent at diverting the cold air that comes down the road and preventing it from entering the vineyard.  We have since noticed more heat in the vineyard over the course of the growing season and less frost events in spring and fall.  One thing that is quite telling is the condition of weeds that grow beside the road versus weeds growing inside the wind fence in the vineyard.  Ferns are very suseptable to frost and we notice every year the ferns that grow ourside of the vineyard towards the road have been frost bitten and die way before those that are just on the other side of the wind fence in the vineyard which are still healthy and green weeks later. This is the clearest indication of the value of the wind fence in keeping cold air out. Of note, we had a terrible wind storm in September 2014 that destroyed the wind fence and a few days later experienced an early fall frost as we were not able to repair it in time. Without the wind fence to divert the cold air we were vulnerable again and got frost early that year.

A few years back we planted some pine trees along the road just outside the wind fence and they are getting high now and soon will replace the wind fence. We have let the shrubs grow to about 3 feet high now that the pines are getting bigger. We also planted some willows last spring to fill gaps between the pine trees. In a few more years these trees and shrubs should fill in and we'll have a natural wind break to keep the cold air out and wont have to rely on the wind fence any more.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Grape Crop Load Experiment

The right crop load take years to assess and depends on so many variables such as soil, moisture, sunlight, training methods, diurnal temperature fluctuation, humidity, climate (micro and meso), nutrients etc. It really ends up being somewhat of a trial and error that one needs to go through over time.  Crop load is also related to ripening and the general idea is that if a vine is under-cropped it may hasten the ripening process as there is less fruit to ripen. On the other hand over-cropping a variety may slow the ripening process as there is more fruit to ripen. 

This year we conducted an in row trial with Leon Millot to see the how crop load affected grapes chemistry and ripening. We planned to increase the crop load by leaving addition shoots to see if the addition shoots would increase crop load without noticeably affecting the quality of the grapes for this variety.Our noramal amount of shoot is 8 per foot and on part of the row we left 12 per foot. Here are the numbers.

Leon Millot
8 shoots per foot
12 shoots per foot

We saw that there was virtually no difference in production between the two pruning levels as both produced at approximately 1.5LB per linear foot having on average 2 clusters per shoot. The weight of the clusters on the vines pruned to 8 shoots per foot were averaging about 50 grams in size. We didn’t weight those that came from the vines pruned to 12 shoots per foot. However, the vines pruned to 12 shoots per linear foot in general had smaller and less well filled clusters than the clusters on the vines pruned to 8 shoots per foot. We also note that it took a bit more trellis management to train the shoots on the vines with 12 shoots per foot. It also took longer to harvest the vines with 12 shoots per foot.

The extra shoots did not translate into bigger crop but more work and poorer quality grapes. Bottom line - we won’t be doing that again, but good to know that our crop load is pretty good at 8 shoots per foot.

Also important to note is that the shoots on the vines cropped to 12 shoots per foot were generally shorter and as such won’t be as suited for use in long cane pruning next year – which is the pruning style we have been using for Leon Millot.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Angry Birds Love The Grapes

So we've never had a problem with birds until this year. Most years we don't even see any around before or during harvest but this year we had a "malfunction" with the netting. In late September, just a few days before havest, we had some nasty winds that caused some some of the netting to dislodge from its position.and several row feet of Leon Millot got exposed that we did not see untill harvest.

Pretty much every year it is the wasps that give us grief and the netting keeps them at bay but with the grapes exposed this year it brought the birds in and they pretty much cleaned the exposed grapes off the exposed vines, picking nearly every grape from each cluster. Can see in the photos the clusters stripped on the grapes;
Where the netting was still covering the grapes the birds actually worked their way several feet down the trellis and took those grapes as well or severly damaged the clusters. The amazing part was how bold the bird were during harvest. We strip the nets off the trellis as we go and the birds were comming right in close in the row or sitting on the netting on the next row over squaking - obviously angry that we were taking the grapes they'd been feasting on.

I was surprised that the bulk of the birds were Robins, at least 7 or 8 of them, as Robins don't seem to pack up like that, they seem more solitary birds. There was also a a few dark birds (almost black in colour) bit bigger than a Robin with a tuff of feathers that stands up on its head.

Lesson learned, more dilligent in deploying the nets next year.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Grape Harvest Parameters 2016

So here is the sugar concentrations for the various grape varieties that we harvested from the vineyard this year. A good year for sugars and ripeness in all the varieties relative to our location and after 8 years of data it really shows which are the standouts over time, especially the past 6 years.

The sugar readings are take in the field on harvest day and are a sampling of a few grapes from various clusters at different trellis heights and positions along the row. The sugar reading are measured in Brix and each brix will give approximately 0.56% alcohol to the wine when fermented. So for example a sugar reading of 20 brix would result in wine with alcohol concentration of about 11.2%.

We usually find that what ever reading we get in the field is often 1 brix higher once the grapes have been crushed and pressed and measured by specific gravity in the tank. So for the readings below, add 1 brix.

The table below also records, the bud break in the spring, the approximate time of flowering, the harvest date, and degree days growing (heat accumulation). Here is the table;

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Grape Harvest 2016

Grape Harvest 2016
So it has been an interesting year for growing and the weather has been unusual in both that overall it was a warm year with about 1050 degree days growing celcius (+10c) over 150 frost free days and with a really early spring.  For us a really early spring is bud break 3-5 days early and this year we had about 7-10 days early for some varieties. Growth was good at the start and reds and some whites were flowering the first and second week of June in warm dry weather and had good fruit set. Some of the whites on the other hand flowered about a week later in cool wet weather and we had poor fruit set especially on the L’Acadie Blanc. We did experience some limited powdery mildew continuing on into early July and this had a minor affect on fruit set on some varieties as well.

So we picked the grapes on Oct 1st and we had some decent numbers this year.
Reds                                                 Brix
Marechal Foch                                  20
Leon Millot                                       22
Castel                                                 23
Lucy Kuhlman                                  22
Triompe D’Alsace                             18
Colmar Precoce Noir                       22
Marquette                                         21
St. Croix                16                                                                   
Regent                                               16
Pinot Noir                                         18
Zweigelt                                            16

Marechal Foch (top) and Leon Millot (bottom) photo

Evangeline                                          22
L’Acadie Blanc                                   21
Petite Milo                                          23
Seyval Blanc                                       22
Ravat 34                                              18
Seigerrebe                                          19
Sovereign Ruby                                  18
Vandal Cliche                                     20

Siegerrebe photo