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August 19, 2006

Fight to the Finish

What a weird day, total emotional rollercoaster. I arrived at the vineyard with a full day of tasks lined up in my head. As I pulled up and parked in front of the viognier though, I was really shocked to see that all the bunches at the end of the rows were missing and/or damaged. What the hell!?!? I had a total panic attack and thought that there was a hole in the deer fence or something, but after closer inspection of the grapes I realized that birds were munching away on my grapes. The little bastards. I also noticed that insects had begun to enjoy themselves a tasty grape snack as well. In fact I caught a yellowjacket in the act - basically they poke a hole through the skin and stick their head inside and suck out the juice, leaving an empty skin hanging. I also saw ants doing the same thing. Unreal. Looks like the word is out that the grapes are ripe.

Doing my best to fend off an anxiety attack, I started walking the rows to see how bad the damage was, and then I noticed that I still have some black rot in the fruit. So much for Nova being an eradicant. That's when I decided to take some brix measurements to see how ripe the fruit was, so I picked a berry here and there and measured them one at a time. As I expected, the readings were all over the place, so I had to take a wider sample of about 40 berries from the entire block of viognier. Crushed up the berries, mixed the juice and dropped it on my refractometer. Lo and behold we're at 21 brix already, so it occurs to me that I could actually harvest tomorrow. But now there is another problem - I just sprayed last week and Nova has a 14-day PHI (pre-harvest interval). To be honest, I wasn't really sure what exactly that meant, so I figured I better find out.

I swung by Hillsborough Vineyards to talk to Kerem, winemaker, but he hadn't come down to the tasting room yet. I chatted with Zeynap for a bit, then went back to our rental place to hop online. Turns out that the PHI is actually a federal regulation. What that means is that any fruit that is harvested prior to the PHI expiring is considered contraband and the person possessing such fruit is in extremely deep shit. Essentially the PHI has been set to mandate the minimum amount of time that must transpire before the pesticide residue has reached a non-dangerous level.

Well, there was no way I was going to risk going to prison for half a ton of grapes, especially when the entire caper would have been filmed for national television. Thus harvesting tomorrow was out of the question - looks like the earliest will be next Saturday.

So I just sat on the couch getting more and more miserable. At the rate the fruit was disappearing, I really don't see how there will be anything left to harvest. I just wanted to give up, so I went and laid down with Shannon and Tristan (who was taking a nap) and just rolled it over and over in my head what am I killing myself like this for??? But after watching him sleep I got my self calmed down and refocused. I dragged myself out of bed and went back over to the vineyard. No matter what happens to the rest of the viognier this week, we're still ahead. When the season started we didn't think we were going to get any fruit from the viognier, so it's all a bonus. That plus the invaluable experience derived from going through this makes it all a positive experience. Sort of...

Once I got back out there, I decided to focus on the cab franc, which will probably be harvested in three weeks or so. I took a berry sample to check brix progress, and found the cab franc at 17.4 brix, quite behind the viognier even though the vines themselves are far more vigorous. A taste test revealed the nasty vegetative bell pepper component is on the decline, and the sugar is coming up well. A little munching on the skins revealed a bit of spice developing too. These are ripening very well!

So in order to keep the vegetative aspects down, I decided to hedge the entire acre again, which will keep the fruit in the sun and reduce the vine vigor. It took all afternoon, but looked great when it was done. Going to hit them with a dose of Pristine this Saturday after we harvest the viognier to keep the fruit clean as it hangs for a few more weeks. Birds, bugs, and fungus please fuck off - these grapes are mine.

On another bright note, I got my midterm results back from UC Davis - I got an A. :)

Enjoy the pics.

Posted by Stephen at August 19, 2006 9:57 PM