|Posted on July 8, 2017 at 11:05 AM|
Barring terrible hail, we're off to the best year in the vineyard we've ever had. For the past two years, hard late frosts have taken out most of the fruit blossoms in this area. But this year, nothing was going to stop our fruit from happening! Which leads to a happy, vexing uncertainty: Do we have enough tank space for all this fruit?
This year, for the first time we're going to get the Carmine Jewel cherry crop we deserve: We'll probably pick close to 1000 lbs of these delicious sour cherries, which are the basis for our award winning Cherry Pie and Sweetie Pie wines.
We have a great crop of La Crescent, Marquette, all three Frontenacs (noir, gris and blanc), Swenson Red and Brianna. Not to mention our modest plantings of several other grapes. Wild plums are plentiful this year. Apples are plentiful this year. We made a huge batch of rhubarb this year.
Sooo, now I need to go through the vineyard and try to estimate, however crudely, how many pounds of each variety of grape we have. And then we need to decide how many plums to pick. And then we need to see what tanks are available and what tanks we MUST make available by bottling more wine before October when the big harvest happens.
Today feels like the right day to make this survey. It's too hot to do hard physical labor, so why not wander with a clipboard and make some notes?
|Posted on April 11, 2017 at 1:05 AM|
After a month in Australia, it was wonderful to come home to cooler temperatures! Last Saturday I did some pruning in the vineyard, and the grapes show a lot of promise this year. A mellow winter and a nice cool, gradual spring is bringing things out of dormancy nice and slowly. This protects the buds from late spring frosts.
Several exciting things showed up elsewhere on the property. Unless it frosts:
1. We're going to get some yellow chokecherries this year!
2. We should be getting some domestic plums this year by the look of all the buds beginning to show.
3. We might even get some cider apples on our relatively young apple trees.
4. Another pear crop is in the works, and the red currants look great!
5. Rhubarb is starting to push stems.
The next four weeks will find me busy almost every day pruning the grapes, manuring the rhubarb and doing some weed control. Josh is back to bottling like crazy to keep all of you thirsty people happy!
Happy Spring, 2017!
|Posted on October 1, 2015 at 1:10 AM|
2015 has been another year of mixed blessings. On the plus side, we had a nice crop of wild plums and our intense Golden Spice pears, and five times the crop of yellow raspberries, for a big increase in our Gold-medal winning White Raspberry wine. Our Frontenac and Frontenac Gris and Frontenac Blanc did fairly well, so we'll have a boost to our very popular Warm Front, Frongria and Frontenac Trio Rosé.
On the down side, that giant wind in mid-July took the skin off of one of our high tunnels. We've got the replacement plastic, but still need to put it on. It has been five years since erecting the tunnels, and the skins are rated for "about 5 years", so we don't feel too cheated.
The Marquette grapes pretty much failed us again this year, as did the La Crescent, so we won't have those wines available again. But the tanks are full of delicious wines in process so we feel pleased with how things are going. The Brianna (pineapple-tropical flavor) did pretty well as did the Petite Pearl. We planted 110 more of the Pearl, and expect it to be the future centerpiece of our dry red wine blend.
|Posted on March 19, 2015 at 1:55 AM|
This is the time of year for anticipation! Here are a few things we're anticipating:
GRAPES: We're pruning like crazy, hoping to see signs of green in all of the grapevines. Some (alas!) look like they've died back to the ground again. Winter 2013 to Oct 2014 was a really tough year. -40° F in Dec 2013, a late spring frost (early May), and then a very late hard fall frost (Sept 7th, three weeks early) put a lot of our vines out of comission. Early fall frosts can really hurt, because plants are not hardened off enough yet.
RASPBERRIES: Additional yellow raspberries were shipped Monday this week. More of our delicious White Raspberry wine coming up late this year.
RHUBARB: We're planting at least two dozen new crowns this year. They will ship next week.
HIGH TUNNELS: These are like single skin greenhouses, which warm up the soil about two months early. I planted radishes, lettuce and spinach about 10 days ago. Spinach and radishes are up already! The ground outside is still frozen about 6 inches down.
What do you anticipate? It's a great time of the year to emerge from the cave of winter darkness and spring forth with energy to start the new growing year!
|Posted on June 11, 2014 at 10:45 PM|
I tell people that Mother Nature is the most seductive mistress anyone will ever have. She wafts beautiful scents your way in spring, bedecks herself with incredible finery and intrigue (think butterflies, gorgeous flowers) and promises wonderful fruits and vegetables and lots of fun. You can't help falling in love with her again every year.
But then.....hail; or yellow-jackets and birds eating your crop. Or disease. Or drought. And it all too often happens after a very promising beginning to the year. She's seductive, but she's a B____ (rhyme's with itch!)
But we love her anyway. If growing plants were simple, we'd quickly become bored. It's partly because every year is a crap shoot that partnering up with Mistress Nature is so much fun. You never know how the year will turn out.
Like this year. WE HAVE A COMPLETE GRAPE CROP FAILURE! The good news: we're not alone. Vineyards all over the northern states from Idaho to New York have suffered losses. The bad news: we're not alone. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of vineyards took the same hit.
For us, it was -40°F in late December. That simply burned a lot of vines to the ground, as far as life is concerned. the roots are alive and pumping up new trunks, but the superstructure was destroyed in most varieties.
But despite the cold, all three of our Frontenac varieties (Noir, Gris and Blanc) braved the winter almost entirely unscathed. The bad news is, we got a late frost in the spring, and even though the plants are healthy, the primary buds were destroyed, and secondaries never throw much of a crop.
But the good news is, we have a lot of wine left from a very good 2013 year (9600 pounds of grapes in our vineyard!), so our larders are still amply full, and we'll spend 2014 rebuilding the vines with even better support and prepare for the 2015 season.
And the last bit of good news is: Other crops are thriving. Great rhubarb crop this year. The chokecherries are loaded. Our currant crop looks really good. There are quite a few wild plums in some locations. So there's still wine to be made and we'll have a good year of it, if a little less hectic.
Yup, she's a helluva seductive mistress, and I hate to love her....but I do!
|Posted on October 5, 2012 at 10:55 AM|
Bird Netting. Arrgh!! Sooooo, on October 2 we picked the last 200 lbs of grapes, and learned that within two days we might very well have snow, and our overhead netting was still up. We didn't get it down one year, and it was absolutely shredded by heavy wet snow.
So there were "no excuses." We climbed ladders all Tuesday afternoon removing C-clips that hold our 50-foot wide sections together. We unclipped our side-curtain nets and pulled them back. And before supper we managed to pull back 2 out of 6 sections to the north edge of the vineyard.
Tuesday night it started drizzling, and we spent all Wednesday unclipping and sliding back the other four sections of overhead net in rain with occasional flurries of very large, wet snowflakes. By morning we were finished, and spent the whole afternoon with 6 100-foot rolls of 3/16" rope wrapping the net into a tight tube around its support wires, all along the north edge of the vineyard. And we stuffed the side curtains into 30-gallon wastebaskets with drainholes, then lashed the net tightly to one of the posts. At the end of the day, the netting was safe and lashed down for the year.
And wouldn't you know it, the next two days have been rain and snow free. Not warm, but at least not wet! I think I changed clothes 4 times on Wednesday and was really glad for a hot cup of coffee throughout the day.
Growing grapes in the northern latitudes is not for the timid. But the sense of accomplishment in doing the near impossible makes it all worth while.
|Posted on September 2, 2012 at 11:20 AM|
You know how it is....for several years you hunger for a new piece of equipment but keep putting it off because of cost. And then when you finally get it, you wonder why you waited so long!!
LADDERS: 6 weeks ago after at least 5 years of yearning, we finally bought a pair of TALLMAN orchard ladders— those three-legged affairs. We bought a 12 footer and a 16 footer. These ladders are great! They are incredibly stable with a very wide base, and the third leg can be threaded through pretty messy branches to get you right to the fruit! At 29 lbs and 39 lbs respectively, these ladders are very light and easy to handle, although swinging a 16-footer is something else. We'll post a photo or two one of these days.
BARRELS: This past week, 8 nice French oak barrels arrived at the winery! We've had a couple in the past, but have put off more barrels because they cost so much, especially the French oak ones. Many winemakers find them more desirable than US barrels because they use a different species of oak with tighter grain, which produces a more subtle and gradual oaking of the wine.
You know, you can put wine in oak (barrels) or you can put oak (chips, cubes, staves, shavings) in wine. We've done it both ways and.....I really believe there's nothing that replaces a good barrel for aging and giving character to wine. We'll age some of our chokecherry wine in these new barrels and much of our Tongue-Tied red wine.
THE BIG TANK: As we planned for this year's harvest and purchased grapes, we realized we needed a bigger tank for our Tongue-Tied red wine blend. Our largest tanks in the past were 160 gallon tanks, but now we own a 400 gallon tank! (I know, I know. It's just a baby to those big, huge wineries!) We can't wait to fill this monster and enjoy blending.
MACRO BINS: We also purchased four Macro Bins, the staple fermentation tool of larger wineries. These are approx. 4-foot square plastic tanks. Ours are 33 inches high and they are a great way to ferment a lot of juice in one place. In the past, we had 3-4 55-gallon drums fermenting the same wine, and then we'd have to try to blend them together. This way we can ferment up to 200 gallons in one place. The garage is getting crowded, but it sure looks like we're serious about wine-making now!
We'll put up some new photos of our new toys sometime soon. Meanwhile, the crush will begin in a week and we'll be busy as can be for the rest of September. Raise a glass...for our success in the 2012 crush!
|Posted on April 15, 2012 at 10:30 AM|
April 15 (OMG it's Tax Day!)
But vineyard owners in the midwest haven't been thinking about taxes. They've been consumed with information about frost. For many, this has been the worst year on record. Let me provide a bit of background on how we measure and what we do in the spring.
- PHENOLOGY:Vineyardists, like many nature watchers, use a concept called "phenology" which is the study, notation and attention paid to when things happen. Generally, grapes bud out in Miles City around Mid-May. This year, it appears likely to happen around April 20th, more than three weeks early. Generally, our flowering crabs blossom about May 15th as well. This year they are already in blossom. Everything across the midwest has been about a month or more early.
- GROWING DEGREE DAYS (GDD): This is a measurement tool that sums up the average heat above 50° F. throughout the growing year. 50° F because that's approximately the temperature above which grape tissue actually does something and doesn't just sit there. In Miles City, we get about 2700 GDD each year. Generally about this time, we've only had 15-20 GDD. But this year we're already up to 85.
- STAGES OF GROWTH: Why do GDD matter? Well, with most hybrid grape varieties, budbreak happens at about 100 GDD, and up until just before budbreak, the vines can take a pretty good freeze. At budbreak and after, just a couple degrees below freezing can be deadly (literally!)
WHY THIS MATTERS:
- LATE FROSTS: With spring so early this year, we are all at risk for late frosts that can kill the buds (but not the plant.) It just means that we might have to do all the work of pruning, training, etc. and get nothing in return this year. SO FAR with 85 GDD, we have not reached budbreak, so the frosts haven't harmed us. But our last hard frost average is close to the middle of May, so we might lose our crop in the next four weeks even though things look good now.
- HOW ARE OTHERS DOING? GDD in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Michigan is well up toward or above 200. That means their buds have burst, and they have little canes between 1-3 inches long. And they are having hard frosts in some of those locations.
- HOW BAD CAN IT GET? I just read last night that it appears that up to 90% of the Welch's controlled vineyards in Michigan might be a total loss this year. Iowa reports that they believe they might be somewhere between 10-90% damaged, depending on location and variety. Damage is being reported everywhere in the frost zone that has had such a warm spring.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
- HEAT: A number of vineyards use huge propane jets (like a salamander heater only 10 times as big) and drive up and down the rows trying to heat the air. Some hire expensive helicopters to hover over their vineyards in a moving pattern, to push warmer air above down to the ground. Others light smudge fires.
- OVERHEAD SPRINKLING: Some vineyards are set up to spray water on their vines overhead, coating the leaves, buds, twigs, everything. The science of this is that as water freezes, it gives off heat, and keeps the tissue beneath the ice just above freezing. But it's tricky to do, and most of us don't have the equipment or enough water to do this job.
- SPRAYING WITH CHEMICALS: Some vineyards have tried spraying with certain fertilzers/chemicals that are supposed to be cryo-protectants. There IS some evidence that this might work, but only for a few degrees. You might survive at 30° F, but not at 22° F if the buds have opened.
- DIVERSIFY. Here at Tongue River Vineyard & WInery, we had a total crop failure two years ago due to frost at the other end of the year: Early hard fall frosts can severely weaken the above-ground portion of vines if they haven't had time to harden off and get ready for winter. We got caught due to frosts on my wife's birthday (Oct 10th) and a couple more days in 2009, which basically killed everything above ground. We spent all of the summer of 2010 rebuilding the trunks, cordons and canes for the 2011 harvest and it paid off.
But many vineyard/winery operations have ONLY grapes, and that's where the real hurt comes in our unpredictable climate. We did pretty well our opening year because of all of our fruit wines, and we continue to increase and expand our offerings there. We will pick our first haskaps and Canadian cherries this year. We've significantly increased our holdings in apples, pears, black currants, sand cherries, raspberries, elderberries and rhubarb. And our two highest selling wines continue to be rhubarb and Foxy Lady (our apple/currant blend.)
Anyone engaged in any farming venture needs to be able to shrug one's shoulders and say, "oh well, next year." Or as our friends in Broadus, just south of us like to say even more cynically, "This is year after next country!"
Pray for frost free weather for the rest of spring. Please. Double, triple infinite please!!
|Posted on October 18, 2011 at 9:35 AM|
What a great year! We picked just over 7000 pounds of grapes, bought another 3000, picked lots of other fruit and are set to craft 2 1/2 times as much wine this year as last.
The bird netting is now safely pulled off the vineyard after three days of steady work. The robins, blackbirds, sparrows and wrens have entirely removed the grapes our pickers missed, and with frost arriving on October 15th the season was over.
Except for our raspberries in the high tunnel, which keep cranking out a half-gallon of berries every day and will probably do so for another month.
Now the vineyard looks lonely and dead as the leaves increasingly fall off. Next week we will prune and bury the 700 feet of tender vines and then all is prepared for winter.
Next year? 9000 pounds expected. We'll know in April when pruning happens what we might expect. Happy winter, all!
|Posted on August 16, 2011 at 1:15 AM|
We again have a bird free zone! Thanks to a dozen scary assistants, who yelled, woo-wooed and waved their arms from one end of the vineyard to the other, the remaining birds last Friday evening fled the vineyard which was netted overhead and on three sides. Josh and I quickly pulled shut the southern curtain, hung it up on the poles to close the remaining openings, and we had, once again, a 2-acre bird-free zone.
It is such a pleasure to go out and finish picking the sandcherries, to check on the grapes and do some final combing of the canes with no birds within at least 5 feet of any of the vines. Now if we just keep getting super-hot days for a long season, we'll be in harvest heaven in the early days of October.
I love the robins in April when they return from wherever they go. A few years ago, a hungry spring robin even took a worm from Marilyn's fingers before flitting away. But by August, I hate them with a passion. They are voracious feeders, and anything not netted is fair game for them. Thankfully our nets provide us total protection and we can enjoy them gazing mournfully at the ripening grapes from OUTSIDE the vineyard. Go to town, Robins, and rob someone else's vineyard!