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April 16, 2005

Planting Day!!!

Like a 6-year old on Christmas morning, I awoke at 5 AM. I lay there very still for half an hour, trying not to wake Shannon, thinking about the day ahead. What will it feel like - looking out over the planted vineyard? 2 1/2 years of dreaming and planning is coming to fruition. Almost too much to wrap one's head around. I rolled over and put my hand on her belly and our baby boy woke her up with a big kick as soon as he felt my hand! Time to go to the vineyard mommy!

I showered, got dressed and was out the door shortly before 6. There was a frost last night, and in the pre-dawn light the entire valley took on a silvery-sage hue. I feel very alive right now - very in touch with the land.

A quick trip to the gas station for some diesel and coffee (I love the smell of diesel in the morning...) then off to the vineyard. Just as I arrived, the sun crested Short Hill mountain and I took this photo of the vineyard.

Fueled up the tractor and decided to adjust the clutch (it has been loose for a while) and once that was done I went in the house to wait for everyone to arrive. Turned on the radio to the classical music station, fired up the kerosene heater (quite chilly in the house, and of course I'm in shorts...) and lit a stick of incense. What a clubhouse!

Chilled out for about 10 minutes then Donny Ulmer arrived - Donny will be pounding in our trellis posts this week, and needed to stop by for a look. Just as Donny pulled up, Mike Newland arrived. We had a round of introductions, then Donny and I went out to the vineyard to talk over the trellis installation. In order to make this efficient as possible, we decided to mark the trellis post locations while we were planting. As Donny and I were talking, Quentin Garcia and his crew of four arrived and began helping Mike prepare the root dip and unpacking the vines. Once the crew was going on that task, Mike, Donny and I headed back up to the house. Donny took off, and Mike and I got our tractors and went back out to the vineyard.

The first order of business was to measure and mark a 400' length of rope. The planting process involves laying this marked rope about a foot away from the actual row, then the tractor rides over it and the spotter lines up the mark with a bamboo stake so the planter can see the mark and drop the vine in the proper location. Once the rope was marked, it was moved over to the first row. It took a few attempts to get the new markings lined up with the existing row of vines, because the hills in the land make it impossible to stretch the line taut from one end to the other (it raises up in the middle and the ends don't line up.) So we had to put rocks down on the line every 100' in order to keep the marks accurate. Once this was all figured out we were ready to start planting around 9 AM.

I hopped up on the tree planter and we began. I didn't realize during the first vine that I had to hold the vine upright until the planter wheels pinched the soil together - so I let it go and it fell over, then the wheels closed up the gap and the vine was gone. Buried in the soil. Oops. So we had to dig it out and start over! Live and learn. Once I figured that out we were good to go! The process basically involved Quentin driving the tractor, Mike walking beside the planter handing me vines and showing me the mark on the rope with a bamboo stake. Javier was behind us spray painting marks for the trellis posts, and the other three guys were tamping the soil around the vines and making the rows nice and flat. Here's a few more pics:

Mike and I
Mike, Quentin, and I
Crew in action
Looking down into the tree planter
Full crew

As in all new processes, the first few rows took longer until we figured out the most efficient way to distribute the crew. Once we got in a groove though, it took about 16-18 minutes to complete a row, which is 80 vines spaced at 5' (400' row.) We had a nice lunch courtesy of Notaviva Catering (Shannon and my mom...) which refreshed the crew. We got back to work about 1:00 PM and had some visitors come by to check out the operation. Our neighbor Karelyn and son Jackson, and Shannon's boss at AOL Geno, with wife Amy and kids Rita and Owen. Rita rode on Geno's shoulders for a few rows and made sure I had a vine on each orange spot (spray paint on the rope) - it was like the Quality Control police watching over me!

We finished up the last row (Tres mas! Dos mas! Uno mas! No mas!) at 5:30 PM, then Shannon and I had our picture taken in front of our new vineyard. I gotta tell you - if anyone reading this is considering getting into this business, whether small-scale like us or larger scale, I can't emphasize enough the value of quality help. Our crew today was very attentive and very hard working - thanks to Quentin and crew!

Interesting note - Mike and I had some great conversations while planting down the rows. During one such conversation, I came to find out that Mike ran track at Herndon HS, and was actually coached by Ed Zuraw, same guy who coached me in the pole vault when I was in Park View HS. Small world!

So it's done. The official establishment of Notaviva Vineyards, April 16, 2005. I'm pretty sore from being bounced around on the tree planter all day (and it's kinda wild when a rock comes up through that thing straight at your head!) but we are all feeling excited and fulfilled. Mike is just as excited as we are, and that enthusiasm just contributes to our happiness. Many thanks to Mike for getting us in the ground! We've come a long way to get here, and in a very real sense the work has just begun.

But tonight we are going to bask in this feeling. We're heading down to Charlottesville tonight to visit with Shannon's Aunt Lynne who has a timeshare at Massanutten. Seems fitting that the day after planting our vineyard we'd be visiting Moniticello, home of Thomas Jefferson, the father of the Virginia wine industry. Virginia wines - you've come a long way baby...

Posted by Stephen at April 16, 2005 8:21 PM