Saturday, December 8, 2018

Remember the Drought of 2017?

So the summer of 2017 was the worst drought we have faced in 11 years of growing. We blogged about it this past March (see link) and reflected on what the drought may do to the following year crop.

One thing we were concerned about was the impact the drought would have on bud formation in 2017 and translate into the flowering and fruiting in 2018. We anticipated smaller clusters and poorer flower formation further up the cane. As such we pruned with spurs instead of long cane.

This was a good call as at flowering we did noticed fewer clusters further up the cane and smaller clusters as well on a few vines that we left with long cane pruning.

Some of the clusters even on long spur (5 bud Spur) pruned vines were smaller than normal, especially on Leon Millot, Marechal Foch and Colmar Precoce. The Leon Millot clusters were 20-25% smaller, and resulted in equal reduction in yeild. Leon Millot below...
Others like Acadie Blanc and Ravat were unaffected. But we spur prune these ones (2 bud spurs) and the buds on 2 bud spur pruned vines were less affected. These bud are first buds to be formed and finished forming before impact of drought caused damage.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

2018 Vintage

So the wines are finished fermenting for the 2018 vintage and now its just waiting for them to settle out and age. "The waiting is the hardest part", not exactly as the late Tom Petty relayed, but once the wine is finished fermenting there is the wait till its ready....or not.

If you are into neaveau wines or early drinking styles you may already be into the 2018 vintage. We make a variety of styles and some may be ready shortly at the earliest but other, like Leon Millot and Marechal Foch are now in winter slumber waiting for spring or late winter bottling or potentially
even next fall.

As the year progresses I often take small samples along the way to see how the wine is comming along. So far this vintage, red or white, is turning out to be very good. Really impressed with the Triompe D'Alsace so far, the Evangeline is great again and the Ravat, despite the isssues with the cool weather and rain, is comming along nicely.
Interesting is that with the cool September we didn't get the ripening we usually do but most varieties continued ripening, just slower than usual. The exception was Petite Milo. It usually ripens to 22 brix but it only got to 20 and was quite high in acid. It is a bit less muscat-less fruity..more citrus moving towards green apple - like what you would get with white grapes that are a bit unde ripe.

Good to know how the year over year changes in weather affect this one...but it still makes a nice reisling-like wine.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Harvest Is Done

We took the grapes in early October in beautiful weather if not perfect for harvest. Main observations were that the sugar levels were a bit lower than usual, and this was due to the cool September that didnt allow the grapes to ripen as much as normal. We also had alot of wasp damage on the Foch. That was not unexpected as this summer seemed to be especially bad for wasps.

The other issue was that we had some rot on some of the Ravat 34. The Ravat 34 has a tendancy to split if it is subject to alot of rain at the end of the season. Well this September we had about 100 mm of rain which fell over 20 of the 30 days of the month.  It was the the most wet, and one of the coolest Septembers we have recorded. Great conditions for rot but because we got so much rain, many of the grapes split open and that is when the rot took hold. So unfortunately we had to leave alot of fruit behind. Rain is usually not a big factor for us in this way as we have very sandy soil and the rain drains through quick. But this year it was the amount and duration of rains that impacted.

Here are the numbers that came in. Grape type and brix;

Leon Millot / 21
Ravat 34 / 18
Foch / 20
Evangeline / 21
Triompe D’Alsace / 20
L’Acadie Blanc / 21
Colmar Precose Noir / 21
Petite Milo / 20
Lucy Kuhlman / 21
Seyval Blanc / 21
Castel / 21
Vandal Cliché / 20
Marquette / 20
Sovereign Ruby / 21
St. Croix / 18
Cayuga / 17 (1st yr)
Pinot Noir / 19

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Green Pruning to Improve Grape Ripening

So one if the things that can be done to improve ripening of grapes is cluster pruning. Sometimes this is done pre-bloom to improve the flowering of flower clusters left behind and adjust potential crop load to trellising and vine ripening capacity. This is often referred go as green pruning.

Sometimes this crop adjstment is done later in the year if there is the thought that the gapes on the vine are not going to ripen adequately before the end of season. The second cluster may not ripen to the same level as the first cluster and if harvested together, the higher quality first cluster is averaged lower with the lower quality second cluster, potentially lowering the quality of the wine.

When cluster pruning, the second or third cluster is usually removed which concentrates ripening into the remaining cluster.

We have tested about 30 varieties of grapes at our vineyard and it seems as though some varieties ripen the first and second clusters similarly while other varieties show significant differences in ripening between clusters.

See St. Croix below, with visually obvious differences in ripeness between first and second cluster.

Usually we dont cluster prune later in the season but in cooler years when the vine struggles to bring the grapes to adequate ripeness we may employ this technique.

We can usually tell the years that inadequate ripening may be an issue by the timing of veraison. Late veraison means that we may not have enough time and heat left in the season to ripen the grapes to our liking.  So thats when we would consider cluster pruning of the second cluster.

In the past ten years this has happened only once..but this is also because after 10 years we know what the crop load should be for the various varieties we have as it relates to our vineyard climate and conditions. And we also know when the usual timing of veraison is for the various varities.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Refractometer to Test Brix / Sugars

There are lots of ways to get an idea of the ripeness level of your grapes leading into harvest.

The easiest is to taste the grapes to see how sweet they are and what the acid is like. Problem is if your new at this then you dont really have a baseline of previous years experience to assess it against.

Another way is to check the colour and hardness of the seeds in the grape. If the seeds are brown and crack hard when you bite on them then you know the grapes are getting ripe but experience is key here again and the brown of the seeds is not universal for all grapes relative to how ripe they are. Similarly the bunch stem usually turns brown and hardebs off.

One of the most accurate ways is to test the sugar ot brix level of the grapes with a refractometer. These instruments cost about $100 and provide a fairly accurate reading of the sugars in a few drops of grape juice. I taje a sample of about 3 grapes from different parts of the cluster and average the numbers out.

Brix is a measure of sugar content in the grape juice and ripe grapes will usually have between 18 and 24 brix depending in the variety. So in converting brix to alcohol content, 1 brix gives you roughly 0.55-0.6 % alcohol, so 20 brix gives you wine with roughly 11-12% alcohol when fermentation is complete.

I put a small video here to show how the refractometer works. Not the best video but you'll get the idea when you see this.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Grapes Look Good Heading Into Harvest

So checking on the grapes with about 4 weeks before harvest they are looking good. The bird netting is working ok so far but the wasps still get through and the this Robin found a gap and got under the netting. They love the Foch and Millot.

Most of the vines are hardening off the canes well and the grapes are ripening very well. Here is brix readings as of September 8, 2018 and about 900 degree days growing to date.

Ravat 34....15 brix
Evangeline....18.5 brix
Seyval....20 brix
L'Acadie.....20 brix
Vandal Cliche....17.5 brix
Petite Milo......17.5 brix
Seigerrebe.....19 brix

Here is Ravat looking very good

Leon Millot.....16 brix
Marechal Foch.....15 brix
Castel.....16 brix
St. Croix......15.5 brix
Marquette......18 brix
Colmar Precoce Noir ....19 brix
Triompe D'Alsase.....15 brix
Pinot Noir.....17 brix
Lucy Kuhlman....18
Marechal Joffre....18

Here is Leon Millot with canes hardening off well.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Smokey Conditions During Netting 2018

So we got the nets out in the past few days and just in time as some of the grapes (Leon Millot and Evangeline) are ripening fast. The birds took some of the early Leon Millot and the wasps are going after the Evangeline. Super smokey with the forest fires.

We netted up just over an acre of vines with the new bird netting and it went quite fast. The reds are turning and whites softening.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Mid Summer Update 2018

So it's mid summer and we have a good idea of crop load and likely outcomes in terms of how much grapes we can expect.

Most varieties are doing well and we haven't needed much water this year. Wouldn't say were too much ahead's pretty much a normal year.

The Foch is looking good but we didn't get as much production off the younger vines as anticipated. Triompe D'Alsace is also looking good. Ravat 34 is great again and Evangeline is looking good too. Netting will begin in a few weeks.
Here is Ravat 34


Saturday, July 14, 2018

Ravat 34 Wine 2017

Every year this vine puts out a great crop no matter what the conditions. After 10 years we have found this vine has no fungus issues..sets fruit well in virtually all conditions...and is very easy to maintain with cordon spur pruning.

It has a semi upright growth and is easy to train in a 3 or 4 wire vertical shoot system. Usually 2 x 100 gram clusters per shoot and they usually tops out at 19 Brix in the vineyard with 3.0 acidity.

Ravat 34 is a cross of Chardonnay with American grape. It carries a lot of The chardonnay quality and this shows in the resulting wine. It retains high acidity though and has been descibed by some as being akin to Alegote. Very nice again for 2017.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Fruit Set 2018

Weather is a huge factor when it comes to fruit set. If it's too cold or if it's rainy then the pollen is not exchanged easily and bees are not making their rounds.
A few years ago we experienced cool and wet weather when L'Acadie Blanc was flowering and as  result we had very poor fruit set on that variety.
This year the weather has been pretty good during flowering which occured around June 20 to 22. The vineyard is lush and has great growth. Looking across the rows you can still see snow on thhe mountain tops.

The early flowering varieties were Foch and Castel..where as the Evangeline and Triompe D'Alsace are always later. As of June 30 we have a view of fruit set in most varieties. Here is what we are seeing;
Marechal Foch

Leon Millot

Ravat 34

Pinot Noir

L'Acadie Blanc



Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Great Spring Growth 2018

It would appear that environment Canada was right on the money with their long term weather prediction for early summer heat. It was cold and snowy right up until the end of April, and then we had about 2 weeks of spring temperatures and lots of melting, and then some great heat that brought on bud break and that continued into early June.

So normally we would have good growth, possibly we would have between 5 to 7 leaves of growth in normal years. We are around 7 leaves in most varieties and some like Castel and Foch are already starting to flower. Others like Acadia Blanc and Seyval are slower and around 5 leaves of growth. So we are on target if not a week+ ahead of normal as we usually flower the last week of June.

Foch, Evangeline both look good and as usual Ravat 34 is great. Hoping for some heat for the next 2 weeks for good conditions during flowering. Here is what they look like now;
Marechal Foch


Triompe D'Alsace

Ravat 34


Thursday, May 24, 2018

Arrow Lake White wine wins Gold Medal

Wow...we just found out that our Arrow Lakes White wine won a Gold Madal at the Winemaker International Ameteur Wine competition in Vermont, USA. We are really pleased with this as this is the worlds largest ameteur wine competition and a great follow up to the Gold medal our Marechal Foch won last year.

We submitted our 2016 vintage as we wanted to see what the jugment would be on a 2 year old bottle. This is a really nice wine when it is new and fresh and we have found it holds these qualities.

We blogged about the 2016 Arrow Lakes White wine, click here to read more about it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Bud Break 2018

I always am excited at this time of year to see how the vines are doing and as the buds push you get the first sense of what the season could be. One thing we did this year was prune a lot of the varieties to 4 bud spurs rather than long canes. The droughty summer last year was so hot and dry we suspected the buds further up the cane would not have been as well developed or as fruitful or that we may get more cane dieback than usual. As it turns out it wasn' that bad but we did get more cane dieback.

As the buds push out further and expose the tiny flower clusters you get a further sense of the fruit potential for the year and can start to vision the green pruning we may need to do to adjust the crop load. So far things look mostly good. Unfortunately we may have lost some of the new vines planted last summer to the intense heat and then the winters crushing snow the ripped many young trunks off their trellis canes. Great thing about own rooted vines vs grafted is even if the vine above the soil gets damaged..the roots can send up a new cane and we can train those up the trellis.

So here are some of the vines budding out so far.

Ravat 34 with long spurs in the back ground
Evangeline with flower clusters emerging and showing a secondary bud at the bottom (This secondary will come off in the green pruning we do)

Sunday, May 13, 2018

New Vines - L'Acadie Blanc

Like everything else this spring we are late planting the latest truanch of vines. Finally we are getting the nice weather and we can get the vines in the ground.

It was a beautiful day for planting and you can see the latest rows planted in the bottom right corner of the photo.

The new vines are L'Acadie Blanc. These vines were created in Canada, are widely grown in Nova Scotia, and are fungal resistant and cold hardy. It produces a beautiful white wine that can be made in various styles.

In a few years these will be mature and producing beautifully.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

School Horticulture Science Presentation

So one of the things we really like to do is to pass what ever knowledge we've learned or gained by experience over the years. We have been doing presentations on our version of sustainable vineyard practices for a few years now. Gardening clubs, Horticulture Societies and schools are often calling seeking presentations and this past week we were able to entertain presentations for a local school in assisting them with their horticulture science module for their junior high school students.

Arrow Lakes Vineyard has not used pesticides or herbicide in the 10 years of operation. We employ particular vineyard management practices that we don't foresee ever having to use these things and these practices are part of the presentation. We also use minimal water that we call sustenance watering. Its really only providing water to the vines to ensure they stay alive and healthy as the rest of the water needs come from rainfall. Weed free rows ensure that all the rain that falls goes exclusively to the vines and is not utilized by mid-row grass or weeds. Our water is also pumped by solar power or gravity fed so we have no power requirements to deliver the water to the vines.  This is just some of the stuff we talk about in a very practical sense using the real world example of Arrow Lakes Vineyard.

We follow this up with showing the students how to grow grape vines from cuttings and each student gets to start their own cutting and try to grow it into a grape vines. Hopefully they will all get to take a vine home to plant at the end of the school year in June!

The energy and enthusiasm of the students and teachers is great, and it surrounds the understanding of our impact on the earth in everything we do on it. How what we put on our crops has a much wider impact than the soil immediately where the inputs are dispersed is top of mind for these students. The consciousness they have around water conservation and pollution is exceptional and really positive to see. I credit the students for their understanding and mindfulness of these issues and their teacher for obviously making these significant learning points long before I came along to present.

Well done!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

So Much Snow and Cold Too

Amazing to see the difference year over year. We would normally have done all our pruning by now but the snow pack is unbelievable this year and much of the vines are under snow still. Environment Cnada says there is 140% more snow than normal in the Kootenay snow pack on the top of the mountains and for sure we see that in the vineyard. 

Not only that it has been much cooler than normal.  Normal March temperatures are about 3.5c average but we had 2 this year so while we have had so much more snow we are not getting any heat to melt it away.  Environment Canada says expect a cool spring as well for the next few monthes.

Here is a photo from March 25 2016 when we were preparing the vineyard for new vines and a photo of the same area this year March 29, 2018. Most of the second year vines can not even be seen under 2.5-3 feet of snow that is still out there.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Drought Effect on Grape Vines

So 2017 was an amazing year for heat, we had about 1100 degree days celcius of heat which is about the most we have ever had. The problem was we didnt get any rain, really, no rain for 3 months. The final rain in the sping was about 1 cm on June 14th and we didnt see any more rain until September 15th. The vines suffered tremendously in the heat and water stress. Here is a picture of drought on grape vines (not from Arrow Lakes Vineyard).

Arrow Lakes Vineyard irrigates each vine but only as sustenance watering as we embrace the climatic nuance that is imparted on wines by the year to year variance in weather. Given the extreme of the 2017 drought period irrigation was only capable of keeping the established vines from perishing. Even with watering, we lost some of the new Castel vines planted this past year as they didnt have established root system able to support the vine in the heat. So there were positive and negative results from the drought. Some bennefits of the water stress was a higher than normal sugar accumulation in grapes and reduction in malic acid more than normal from some varieties as they matured earlier with a smaller crop than usual. For some varieities I'd say 2017 was a great growing year as this translates into production of wine.

It was also interesting to see what vines flourished even under these conditions. For instance, most of the Kulhmans did ok (Leon Millot, Foch, Triompe), Castel also did ok, but Colmar did not, nor did Marquette. For white varieties, the Evangeline, Ravat, and Petite Milo did well but the L'Acadie and Seyval struggled.

The damage that concerns me is that which you can't easily see. What Im talking about is the physiological damage to the vine that does not readily appear as wilting leaves, small sized grapes, or stunted cane tip growth etc. Two things of concern are the vine health going into the fall and into dormancy and the bud developement that occured during the drought period. Both of these are going to affect the next years (2018) crop.

So with such a drought and accompanied vine stress the vines ability to both produce carbohydrates and uptake nutrients during the growing season are impaired. As the vine prepares for winter it transfers the carbohydrates to the canes, roots and also the grapes (as sugar). So the concern is that there is less production of carbohydrates that get stored and the vine does not have the normal amount of carbohydrate reserves for bud break in the following spring. We can't do too much about that except ensure we dont over crop the vine in the spring. We usually leave a few extra buds per foot of trellis until danger of spring frost has past but we may decide to forgo that this year so we don't short the buds we plan to keep of the necessary carbohydrates they need.

The second concern is around the bud development. So the buds that will be producing canes with grapes this year come from buds that were formed on the canes grown the year before. So last years canes that developed during the drough may have buds that are less developed or have less fruitful buds due to the vine stress and lack of nutirents avaialbale during thier formation. In particular, the buds that develop further up the cane, as the drought became more severe over the summer, likely suffered development problems due to low nutrients and vine stress. So for last years canes, the buds that developed at the start of the season, say the first 2-6 buds on the cane in advance of flowering time are likely to have a higher bud survival rates and greater fruitfulness than buds further up the cane. This is not just my supposition, there is a 2016 Cornell University report that supports this. In contrast, in a normal season its often the buds further up the cane, say from bud number 6-12, that are most fruitful.

So here is the thing, we often prune our vines with long canes of up to 12 buds, but if the buds further up the cane are dead or low in fruitfulness then our crop will be poor.  So for this year we will be going to spur pruning on many of the varieties. We will also leave an extra bud at the vine head for renual canes in case we want to go back to long cane pruining the following year.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Sovereign Opal : Great Wine & Interesting Grape

One of my favorite Canadian wines comes from Conviction Vineyard and Winery in British Columbia. This wine is a variatal made with the Sovereign Opal grape and quite simply it tastes awesome but there is so much more to the story of this wine. This goes back to my last blog about the story behind the wine, or art, as I drew some  comparisons. Since then I had a few people ask about the wines I like and this one immediately comes to mind.
This is a friendly summer time wine, muscat fruity, slight residual sugar, and always well balanced in acid. Perfect for summer time patio sipping but equally matched to fish or seafood and Indian spice dishes. I've enjoyed this wine for many years and discovered it when the winery was known as Calona Winery. The winery has been rebranded as Conviction winery and year over year this wine is made perfectly and consistently. This wine has medalled so many times at national and international wine competitions and for those who have enjoyed it you know why.
So hear is some other really interesting details about this grape. The only place in the world that Sovereign Opal grape is grown commercially is at Conviction vineyard winery in BC.  So this varietal wine is rediculously rare. This green hybrid grape was actually "born and raised" in British Columbia. It was created to be a cold hardy wine grape as a part of a government grape breading program in the 1970s by crossing Marechal Foch and Goldmen Muscat varieties. Another grape that came out of this breeding program was the popular blue fresh esting grape Sovereign Cornation that is widely grown in BC.

Arrow Lakes Vineyard is testing the variety Sovereign Ruby (see link), a muscat variety also produced through this breeding program. Pretty interesting pedigree behind these grapes and particularly the Sovereign Opal wine and to me that makes this wine even more likeable.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Art & Wine - More Than A Matter Of Taste?

So I'm often discussing the taste of wines and my taste in wine and often the topic of Art comes up. For wine, the most popular and well known variety that we grow is Marechal Foch but many people haven't tried it know what it tastes like. Hybrid grapes can have similar flavour profiles to vinifera (Pinot Noir, Zinfandel etc) but each one has their own flavour profile - no different than Pinot Noir is from Zinfandel. Taking it further, the style of wine making, location, annual climate conditions all play their part and can change the flavour vintage to vintage. Reds that are light and fruity against bold and tannic, sweet tropical muscat to crisp and floral really comes down to taste and everyone's taste preference is different. Art shares the conversation here as people have specific preferences, Landscapes - Wildlife - Abstract etc.
What appeals to someone may not appeal so much to another. For me, wine is very much about the taste. If I like the taste its good wine, but I am also particularly interested in the back story - so how did the wine come to be? You may have heard the phrase "great wine starts with growing great grapes". The type of grape used, its history, how it is grown, the climate conditions, vineyard practices are key to the wines end result. The vinification of the grape juice is the second half of the story... the craftsmanship in the winery, were the grapes grown by the winery or did the winery buy the grapes from another vineyard or import from another country, the fermenting style, oak aged or not, yeast type, blending of varieties - all big parts of the story and collectively impact the wine. Even if I don't particularly like the taste of a wine I often have a great appreciation for how it came to be.

Similarly with paintings, its the final piece that everyone sees, and it either appeals to the individual or not. But in the same manner as wine I have great appreciation for how the art came to be. There are so many ways the art could be produced, did the artist paint on location, did they replicate a photographs or use photos for reference. Did they take the photos and immerse themselves in the moment with the animal or scenery? In creating the image on canvas did the personal connection to the imagery impact the final outcome. Perhaps even an emotional attachment to the subject matter or a cause. Consider the type of medium the painting is produced on, canvas or board, paint type, self stretched canvas or framed by the artist or commercially framed. Again the final piece is the culmination of a number of variables and while I may have less an appreciation for the aesthetics of some art, I often have a great appreciation for how the piece came to be.

Carleen before heading to the beach.
Consider the amazing painting above. The painting was created by professional artist Carleen Ross. Its titled "Faith", it is a huge 38 inch x 48 inch. The painting is part her 2018 series "Green With Envy" and she captured this image of a green sea turtle labouring to get over the sharp volcanic rock before plunging back into the ocean. She took this photo among a series of photos while working on location in Hawaii, enduring long days on the beach, sunburn, and dehydration.

Nasty Sunburn
She has said this experience transformed how she sees and represents these creatures on canvass. It has invigorated her drive for delivering awareness about the the plight of endangered sea turtles and she works to assist sea turtle organizations in Canada, California and Hawaii. I love this painting, and I also love the story behind it and how the painting came to be - it changes how I see the painting, how it makes me feel, and the experience in looking at it.  A very positive enhancement.

For me the sensory appeal, be it to my eyes in the case of art, or by taste in the way of wine are the first important impressions. But the story behind the wine or art can be fascinating and enhance the relative experience. With wine, it has an impact, good or bad, on my impression of a wine long after the taste is gone.

Friday, January 19, 2018

2017 Castel "Ohhh my...."

So the 2017 Castel wine was finished and sitting for a few months now. Its remarkable how much it changes in such a short period of time and while the changes are rapid in the first few months, after about 6 months the changes slow but they do continue. Already this wine is nice and you can see how its developing very well. 

Castel has a very distinct and interesting flavour and if you haven’t tried it (chances are you haven’t as its quite rare) its really worth tracking some down. It has strong blackberry and ripe plum flavours, coffee – very different than the Kuhlman Hybrids (Foch, Millot). Kuhlmans are stronger on the cherry, strawberry fruit and this is more towards the Baco Noir spectrum or flavour. There is also a distinctive woody-earthy flavour that I have not found in any other wine and it stands out and really makes Castel special. I have noticed a very, very, slight hint of this same flavour in some Pinotage which has some similar pedigree.

The Aromas include plum, fresh tobacco, coffee, spring forest. Definitely more complex than many other hybrids and the wine is inky dark red.

So for 2017 we had a very unusual growing year with 3 months of drought that started June 14th and ended September 15th. The grapes developed smaller than usual, flavour on the vine were strong, and the sugars were exceptional with Brix around 26 for Castel and lower malic acid than usual.

We just sampled some of the 2017 Castel vintage to see how its doing and have just blended it with a little Leon Millot. In the glass again inky dark red with slightest purple hue – not blue typical of hybrids. As soon as you bring it to your nose you can recognise how nice this wine is…the aromas are strong and inviting and typical for Castel. The taste is even better, I’m expecting a alcohol blast as its at about 13.5-14% but no. Reaction - “ohhh my…”. Think the unusual hot and dry year has had a positive impact.

Of course, like Art, everyone’s tastes are different. I’ve always really liked Castel and this is a good example.  Best ones I’ve had come from Nova Scotia. Gaspereau Vineyards and Domaine De Grande Pre Winery make wonderful Castel wine.