May 14, 2013

2013 Frost Damage

Well, we fared pretty well last night considering how badly some of our colleagues were hit by the frost. I estimate we lost about 50% of our Sauvignon Blanc, about 25% of our Blaufrankisch, and about 10% of the remaining Viognier, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

Pretty interesting that the preventative spray I applied yesterday actually worked, as there were areas of the vineyard where a shoot was behind a post (and did not receive the spray) and was destroyed, whereas the shoot next to it that did receive the spray was fine. Totally worth the effort!

Read the Washington Post article here.

Posted by Stephen at 2:27 PM

March 25, 2012

Pruning Complete

Well the crew finished up pruning today, all varietals are done and looking great. We are very concerned about the weather tonight though, forecast is calling for temperatures down near 25 degrees F. Though we haven't officially had bud break, there are a few vines where the buds have swelled and the occasional push here and there. Although it might be possible to get a degree or two of frost protection with certain spray mixtures, I'm not aware of anything that protects down to the temps we're facing tonight. So we're just hoping for the best, hoping that our site will channel the coldest air away from the vines and that we can dodge the danger. Viticulture in Virginia!

Posted by Stephen at 4:22 PM

February 20, 2011

Vineyard Chores

Such a great feeling to wake up from the winter hibernation and get back out in the vineyard! We're working on a few projects at once, doing rough pruning of the front block and also moving forward with the last of the trellis installation on the rear block. Looks like final pruning is scheduled for March 24, and then we'll just have to complete the trellis H-brace construction before the season gets into full swing by late April. Also have some fence repairs to tend to, as well as the typical machine / equipment maintenance that we didn't get to after harvest season. Still it's great to be outside working again!

Posted by Stephen at 7:38 AM

April 22, 2010

Trellis Update

All the posts are done! Three new acres of posts are complete, pounding that is. I've installed about half the cordon wires, and am heading out now to continue the rest. Crew is on the way here and they'll be training vines today, Saturday and likely one day next week. Will start on bracing and catch wires in the next few weeks, but the critical job is behind us. Going to be a great day to be working out in the vineyard!

Posted by Stephen at 6:32 AM

April 15, 2010

Grape Spray Guide

Anyone interested in learning more about vineyard pest management practices should check out this guide published by Virginia Tech. Very useful information!

Posted by Stephen at 10:11 AM

Trellis Update

Enjoying the last bit of the morning coffee before heading out to the vineyard to begin installing cordon wire on the new trellis. The crew was out pounding posts all day yesterday and got about an acre done. We bought one of those silly little Kodak HD video cameras so I'll try to upload a video for you all to check this nonsense out.

It is so cool to stand at the peak of the vineyard hill by Sagle Road and look the whole way across the newly completed rows, perfectly aligned with the old rows. Have to make a quick repair to the spinning jenny to pay out the wire, then it will be time to bang in about 3,000 or so fencing nails over the next few weeks.

Thus I am typing this morning because I likely won't physically be able to for some time. Hey look, how about another cup of coffee [stalling...]

Posted by Stephen at 7:33 AM

April 10, 2010

Trellis Post Delivery

Yesterday the new trellis posts were dropped off in the vineyard, and today the crew spent several hours placing the posts. They'll start the pounding on Monday. Can't believe it has been five years since the first time we saw this process, after planting the first acre of Cabernet Franc and the first acre of Viognier in April '05.

Check out the pic of the post pounding monster:

Posted by Stephen at 6:15 PM

April 6, 2010

Uh Oh, Bud Break Already...?

Hmmm - a very worrisome development has occurred. We've already had bud break, which is about three weeks earlier than is typical. Looks like the unseasonably warm weather has fooled the vines into thinking it is time to emerge from dormancy. Have no idea what the net effect of this will be on the growing season i.e. will we be harvesting three weeks early as well, or will we get the added benefit of a longer ripening season? Time will tell.

The thing that is going to keep me up at night though is now knowing we have an additional three weeks of frost danger to content with. A hard frost would be devastating to the new shoots, with huge potential crop losses. Let's all keep our fingers crossed. Welcome to agriculture in Virginia...

Posted by Stephen at 11:23 AM

March 30, 2010

Pruning Complete

Finished up the pruning of the established three acre block. Went really well, as it seems that pruning established vines goes a bit quicker than pruning & training young vines. I'm guessing that is because you can stay on your feet and move along a bit more efficiently. Three acres, total man-hours = 110 which is right on target.

Posted by Stephen at 9:20 PM

October 8, 2009

Seventeenth (and last) Spray of the Season

Just to be safe I wanted to put on a little Oxidate into the Cabernet Franc as we've been having some rain here and there. The fruit is looking great, and it would be a tragedy to have any mildew show up now with only a few days before harvest. Looking like next Wednesday!

Oxidate - 1/2 gallon per 50 gallons

Posted by Stephen at 9:46 PM

September 11, 2009

Sixteenth Spray

This morning I hit the Viognier with some botrytis protection:

Elevate - 1 pound per acre
Prophyte - 2 pints per acre

Posted by Stephen at 9:52 PM

September 8, 2009

Fifteenth Spray

Today I hit the Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and the new plantings with:

Microthiol Disperss - 4 pounds per acre
Captan - 2 pounds per acre

Posted by Stephen at 9:50 PM

August 31, 2009

Fourteenth Spray

Put down some Elevate on the Viognier to fend off some botrytis that was starting to show on a damaged cluster here and there. Basically we had a bit of sun scald and some bee damage which opens the berry skin and the botrytis gets inside. But no longer!

Elevate - 1 lb per acre

Posted by Stephen at 8:30 PM

August 30, 2009

Viognier Brix Check

Checked out the Viognier this morning. Starting to see a little Botrytis due to all the rain we had last week, but the Pristine is holding everything else off really well. Might do a botrytis-specific spray before applying the last Pristine spray (for the Viognier) of the season.

Brix = 18.4
pH = 3.14

Looking like harvest will fall somewhere around September 17th or so. Now begins the sleepless nights, agonizing over spray pre-harvest intervals, sugar development, acid retention, weather patterns, equipment allocation, lug allocation, crew shortages but most of all FLAVOR DEVELOPMENT in the fruit. It's gotta be right!!!

Posted by Stephen at 11:46 AM

August 20, 2009

Thirteenth Spray

Pristine 10.5 oz per acre

I prefer holding off on the expensive strobulurins (like Pristine) until the very end of the season. That way I can rely on the sulfur-based compounds until about a month out from harvest, then stop using them to ensure there are no sulfur residues on the fruit going into the winemaking process. Prevailing theory is that any additional sulfur can cause excess off-aromas and undesirable compound formation during the fermentation. So now that we're just under a month out from harvest I can plan two Pristine sprays and we're picking nice clean fruit.

Also, because I knew we were supposed to be getting lots of rain the next two days it was critical to get a spray down, so I ended up having to spray at night. Creepy stuff - check out this pic taken from the cab of the tractor (sorry so blurry, will turn off the engine next time...)

Checked the brix on the Viognier yesterday, we're at 15.6 so looking like harvest somewhere in the Sept 10-15th range. Fruit is looking great!!!

Posted by Stephen at 9:12 PM

August 4, 2009

Twelfth Spray

Captan - 2 lb per acre
Microthiol Disperss - 4 lb per acre
Carbaryl 4L - 2 qt per acre

Saw a few grape berry moths and some damaged fruit here and there, so added the Carbaryl and no more problem!

Posted by Stephen at 9:10 AM

August 3, 2009

Vineyard Update

Today Seve and the guys began pulling off the grow tubes from our April planting. Vines look pretty good, although most of them had some obvious downy mildew damage down inside the tubes where the spray couldn't reach. Kind of expected that with all the rain we had early on. Still, I'd say 95% of the new plantings have already reached cordon wire height so we're in pretty good shape!

Quentin finished up the Viognier hedging on Friday then took off for vacation for a week. When he gets back it will be time to start over on the Petit Verdot. Vines grow. Good times.

Posted by Stephen at 10:55 PM

July 23, 2009

Eleventh Spray

Captan - 2 lb per acre
Microthiol Disperss - 4 lb per acre

Posted by Stephen at 10:54 PM

July 12, 2009

Tenth Spray

Captan - 2 lb per acre
Microthiol Disperss - 4 lb per acre
Assail 2 oz per acre

Posted by Stephen at 10:52 PM

July 3, 2009

Ninth Spray

Saw some leafhoppers getting busy in the canopy and spent the big bucks on some Assail. A 32-oz container costs $178 but is game over for these critters...

Ridomil Gold - 4 lb per acre
Microthiol Disperss - 4 lb per acre
Assail 2 oz per acre

Posted by Stephen at 10:47 PM

June 30, 2009

Vineyard Update

Lots of action out in the vineyard lately. Seve and the guys have gone through the Petit Verdot and the Cabernet Franc and pulled laterals and cleaned out the fruiting zone. Ryan has been working on our first round of hedging, should finish up the Cab Franc tomorrow. He also hit the new plantings with a dose of Rely herbicide a couple weeks back to keep the weeds down. With all the rain we've had this season, the vigor has been off the charts. Our rows are nine feet apart and the vines are already up over the top catch wire and meeting each other in the middle of the rows!

The new planting is looking awesome, with about 95% of the new stock well up out of the grow tubes. Guess all the rain has been useful for them.

Keeping a sharp eye out for the Japanese beetles, which usually begin to make their unwelcome appearance about this time of year.

Had a few equipment mishaps as well lately, nothing new I suppose. Busted the drive shaft to the bushhawg to the tune of $160 for that new part. Bent the step to the tractor cab when I ran over a stump hidden in the tall grass, but was able to "convince" it back into shape with a sledgehammer. Now have a busted mower deck pulley on the riding mower, need a part for that. Tip guard on the chainsaw won't stay in place and we keep dulling chains. Whatever...

Posted by Stephen at 6:35 PM

June 21, 2009

Eighth Spray

Very happy with the results of the Ridomil Gold on that downy mildew - haven't seen anything additional since then even with prime conditions. Hitting it again with the Ridomil!

Ridomil Gold - 4 lb per acre
Microthiol Disperss - 4 lb per acre
Remainder of the BM86

Posted by Stephen at 6:33 PM

June 8, 2009

Seventh Spray

Put down the seventh spray of the season. Started to see a few spots of downy mildew here and there (one to two leaves per vine) so upped the intensity by going with the Ridomil Gold which is a systemic. Should be in good shape.

Ridomil Gold - 2.5 lb per acre
Manzate Pro Stick - 1 lb per acre
Nova - 3 oz per acre

Posted by Stephen at 6:28 PM

June 1, 2009

Sixth Spray

Applied the sixth spray of the season already, this upcoming rain is making me nervous/annoyed because we're at a critical stage right around bloom. Amping up the juice a little bit, going with the Nova for the powdery mildew this time instead of the Microthiol Disperss because it's a systemic and won't have to worry about it washing off. But it sure ain't cheap!

Nova - 3 oz per acre
Manzate ProStick - 4 lb per acre

Posted by Stephen at 9:46 PM

May 28, 2009

Fifth Spray

Applied the fifth spray of the season today:

Microthiol Disperss - 4 lb per acre
Manzate ProStick - 4 lb per acre

Posted by Stephen at 9:45 PM

May 17, 2009

Fourth Spray

Applied the fourth spray of the season today:

Microthiol Disperss - 4 lb per acre
Manzate ProStick - 4 lb per acre

Posted by Stephen at 9:44 PM

May 7, 2009

Third Spray

Applied the third spray this afternoon, still using minimal nozzles. Vineyard is disease-free and growth looks great.

Microthiol Disperss - 3 lb per acre
Manzate ProStick - 1.75 lb per acre

Posted by Stephen at 10:26 AM

May 2, 2009

Second Spray

Applied the second spray (first fungicide application) this evening. Still using minimal nozzles.

Microthiol Disperss - 3 lb per acre
Prophyt - 2 pints per acre

Posted by Stephen at 10:22 AM

April 25, 2009

First Spray

Saw a few indications of grape flea beetle out in the vineyard. Jumped right on that one, given how much damage they can actually do. You can read more about them here.

Carbaryl 4L 2.5 qt per 65 gallons, sprayer limited to one top nozzle and two bottom nozzles

Posted by Stephen at 8:16 PM

April 8, 2009

Vineyard Update

Over the past couple weeks Seve and the guys have finished up the final pruning. Ryan had done about 2/3 of the rough pruning so it really allowed the other team to blaze through pretty quickly. Still have to pull out all the cuttings, but will get to that next week.

This morning I'm heading out to begin applying herbicide around the deer fence perimeter, along the existing rows, as well as put down the first application on the recently subsoiled rows in preparation for our next planting in a few weeks. Game on!

Posted by Stephen at 6:56 AM

December 20, 2008

Turning the Rows

So here we go again! Getting ready to plant three more acres of vines this Spring, thus back to square one - getting the vineyard marked, subsoiled, and fertilized in preparation for the new vines. If you've been following for a while, you may remember this back in 2005:

Turning the Rows - 2005

This time was a little easier as I now have some hired help (what a concept...) My cousin Ryan Badura has been on hand for the past several weeks, helping mark it out, place the bamboo stakes, and assist in cutting in the rows. Invariably as the subsoiler cuts through the soil, it collects bits of sod, bushes, rocks etc. so it's helpful to have someone walking behind knocking off debris with a shovel. Last time I was by myself so I'd have to jump off the tractor, clear the debris, then continue. Takes quite a bit longer that way! Here are a few progress pics and some shots of the final product.

BTW, you'll also notice what happens when a big tractor hits a big underground rock layer with a mid-range subsoiler - SNAP!!! I busted a 4"x1" piece of solid steel right in half as if breaking a twig. Never take safety for granted...









Posted by Stephen at 11:53 AM

September 22, 2008

Twentieth Spray

Put down an application on the Cabernet Franc and the Petit Verdot to keep it clean until harvest in a few weeks.

Prophyt - 2.5 pints per 80 gallons
Elevate - 1 lb

Posted by Stephen at 12:59 PM

September 18, 2008

Viognier Harvest 2008

Wow, what a long day.

So we made the decision a few days ago to harvest today, and decisions like that are the combination of many gears in a big machine. Ripeness, availability of harvest labor, crush pad access and of course weather. In a perfect world I would have let the fruit hang a few more days but then there would have been too many complications with the other critical components. So that's how it goes, all the pieces of the puzzle have to be considered and at some point you just say go!

Brix was reading about 21.6 this morning, about 7 AM as we began. Due to the hail storms we had this summer we knew we would have to make two passes through the vineyard. The first pass would be to get all the clean fruit (mostly from the east side of the rows) and the second pass would be to get all the compromised fruit (the west side)

This year the Viognier is being produced by the very capable and talented team of Mark and Vicki Fedor of North Gate Vineyard. Since we are crushing at their place tomorrow, we needed a place to keep the fruit chilled overnight, so the best course of action seemed to be renting a refrigerated Penske truck. We got a 24' truck and parked it in the vineyard, then just shuttled lugs from the rows into the truck.

Even with the "non-hailed-upon" fruit there was still some sorting to be done, so we had the crew (Los Muchachos, Neil, Geno, Steve, & Ryan) picking out bad berries before going into the lugs. I kept busy loading the lugs into the pickup, moving to the Penske, and loading up in there. We worked busily through the morning, and Shannon picked up lunch for the crew around noon. After lunch, it became apparent that the pace we were keeping was falling way behind, so I gave Quentin a call and asked if he could send over some more crew to help out. He said they just had to finish picking another vineyard (about an hour left) and then could send some reinforcements. About an hour later I had to make the call to stop sorting fruit into the lugs and just get it picked. This greatly increased our pace and we started moving very quickly through the harvest, and now the reinforcements started to arrive. I pulled Ryan and Antonio with me to help move lugs to the Penske, and the crew finished up the first pass through the vineyard about 5 PM.

We then had the dilemma of whether to begin the second pass or come back later. Given that we were all set for crush tomorrow, we had to keep plowing ahead, but at this point we had 14 people picking so it flew. We finished up the second pass in about two hours, and moved all the lugs down to the Penske and got them stacked in. The last lugs came right to the end - 6 tons of fruit (well 5 tons of fruit and a ton of junk left on the clusters from the hail.) So we'll see how it all works out tomorrow at crush.

All in all I felt great about the quality of the first pass, though I am very unsure if we'll be able to use any of the bad clusters. You can only sort so much on a crush pad. That said, given what we were looking at in July right after the hail storms I am thrilled to have even gotten this far, so I guess we're in pretty good shape right now. Time to crank down the chiller and go get a shower!

Posted by Stephen at 9:02 PM

September 14, 2008

Nineteenth Spray

Ugh can we pick yet...? Put down the nineteenth spray of the season today, a dose of Oxidate to ensure we can make it to Viognier harvest this Thursday with nice clean fruit!

Also made some good progress in the winery - all the new gear is finally with the four walls, and Doug is coming over tomorrow to discuss process and some operational tactics. Translation - Doug is coming over tomorrow to show me how to put all my new toys together. :o)

Posted by Stephen at 9:40 PM

September 10, 2008


Brix readings:

Viognier = 21.0
Cab Franc = 17.5

I know I know I know I need to take pH and TA readings as well - now where did I put those meters...

Posted by Stephen at 9:50 PM

September 5, 2008

Getting Close...

Viognier brix = 19.8

Posted by Stephen at 10:16 PM

August 31, 2008

Viognier Brix

Checked this morning = 17.7

Posted by Stephen at 9:07 AM

August 28, 2008

Viognier Brix

Took a reading this evening - we're at 16.5 on the Viognier.

Posted by Stephen at 6:28 PM

August 19, 2008

Eighteenth Spray

Next step in our hail damage repair strategy is to apply a foliar fertilizer to help the canopy recover from all the damage to the shoots and leaves. Ben Renshaw (8 Chains North) and Jim McKenzie (Helena Chemical) both recommended a good dose of Megafol.

This is my fifth spray in four days and it has definitely gotten old - thank goodness for Napster-to-Go and MP3 players...

Megafol - 3 pints per acre

Posted by Stephen at 9:21 PM

August 18, 2008

Seventeenth Spray

This evening I'll be making an application to control botrytis, which is a definite concern given the large number of damaged fruit. Here is a great article on botrytis:

Understanding and Controlling Botrytis

Elevate - .75 lbs/acre

Posted by Stephen at 9:25 PM

August 17, 2008

Sixteenth Spray

Now that I've sprayed the Oxidate again this morning to eradicate any developing diseases it's time to apply a preventative measure to keep it clean.

Pristine - 10.5 oz per acre

Posted by Stephen at 9:12 PM

Fifteenth Spray

Another round of Oxidate this morning, with the CIMA P50 towers turned off and only two lower nozzles open aimed directly at the fruit zone.

Oxidate - 1.0 gallons to 100 gallons of water

I also measured the Viognier brix, which was 12.0. Very interesting to see the difference between this measurement and a similar period in 2006:

August 6, 2006 Entry

It is widely known that young vines ripen earlier than mature vines, so here we are nine days later in the summer and the brix measurement is three degrees lower. Thus where harvest was August 28th in 2006 I'm estimating we'll bring it in around September 12ish this year.

Posted by Stephen at 11:23 AM

August 16, 2008

Fourteenth Spray

In order to eradicate any fungus which may be appearing on the fruit damaged in the last hail storm, I am going to hit it with two rounds of Oxidate, one this evening and another tomorrow morning. Going to adjust the CIMA P50 with the towers turned off and only two lower nozzles open aimed directly at the fruit zone.

Oxidate - 1.0 gallons to 100 gallons of water

Posted by Stephen at 7:21 PM

August 14, 2008

More Hail Damage

Shannon and I watched helplessly this afternoon as another brutal hail storm came through. It was coming down so hard it was piling up against the door - when it was over we had several inches of ice pellets piled up. I just didn't even want to go out into the vineyard, but had to go evaluate the extent of the damage. Holy shit. What a disaster. We lost even more fruit than we did last storm, but the real concern this time is the canopy damage. It looks like someone went through the vineyard with a shotgun blowing holes in every vine. The rows are littered with leaves, new shoots, and even some clusters which were entirely knocked off by a large ice pellet. This growing season is getting more challenging by the day...

Posted by Stephen at 11:16 AM

August 7, 2008

Thirteenth Spray

This will be the last sulfur-based spray for the season to ensure no residues at harvest that could potentially affect wine quality.

Microthiol Special - rate 4 lb per acre
Ziram - rate 4 lb per acre

Posted by Stephen at 9:19 AM

July 28, 2008

Twelfth Spray

Today I applied the twelfth spray of the season, and we're using Ziram as an alternate method of preventing downey mildew now that we've passed the pre-harvest interval for the Dithane.

Microthiol Special - rate 4 lb per acre
Ziram - rate 4 lb per acre

Posted by Stephen at 7:52 AM

July 23, 2008

Hail Damage

This morning we awoke to the painful realization that last night's thunderstorm (which woke us up at 2 AM) caused a tremendous amount of hail damage to the vineyard. As we lay awake in bed, Shannon said "I hope all this hail isn't hurting the vines" - well guess what...

The storm blew in from the west, so thankfully only the western side of each row was hit. It was a tremendous shock to see it for the first time, as I was just out in the vineyard two days ago and was so happy with the progress. Hail damage is easy to spot, as there is a very telltale "cracked berry" syndrom which is sometimes associated with leaf damage (depending on the size of the hail.)

Given our row orientation, and the manner in which I retain leaves on the west side of the rows for shade, the damage was limited due to the protection offered by the canopy. But every cluster that was exposed incurred some damage. I would estimate that 30% of our clusters were hit, and of those clusters I would then estimate a 40% loss of berries.

The big question now is this: will those berries shrivel up and fall from the cluster prior to harvest? Or will we have to drop the entire cluster? In talking to Doug, and researching this issue online (similar article can be found here) I am hopeful that the remaining fruit can stay clean and make it to harvest. That said, I've already decided to make two passes through the vineyard at harvest, the first on the east side with the clean fruit, and the second on the west side with the compromised fruit. At the end of the day, the wine quality must be preserved, so if that means pouring the lesser quality wine down the drain then so be it, but I've got to be able to distinguish between the two in the cellar.

In order to mitigate any disease from the exposed inner berries and juice, I applied the eleventh spray of the season:

Oxidate - 1.5 gallons to 160 gallons of water

Here are a few pictures to remind us all that we are always at the mercy of Mother Nature, and even a vineyard that is 99% disease-free can still be susceptible to a wide array of other damaging elements - select an image to view a larger popup.




Posted by Stephen at 7:54 AM

July 21, 2008

Tenth Spray

Today I applied the tenth spray of the season, and for the first time we're using Ziram as a new method of preventing downey mildew now that we've passed the pre-harvest interval for the Dithane.

Microthiol Special - rate 4 lb per acre
Ziram - rate 4 lb per acre

Posted by Stephen at 6:44 PM

July 14, 2008

Ninth Spray

As I feared I was seeing some black rot in the middle of the Cabernet Franc, so we hit it with some more Topsin-M as we did a few months ago.

Topsin-M = 1.5 lb per ac

Posted by Stephen at 3:43 PM

July 10, 2008

Eighth Spray

Today I put down the eighth spray of the season, and also mowed the entire vineyard. Got a little nervous as I think I'm seeing some black rot in the middle of the Cabernet Franc block so I've got a call in to Jim McKenzie of Helena Chemicals to get his thoughts. Grrr...

Pristine 10.5 oz / acre

Posted by Stephen at 9:18 PM

July 9, 2008

Finished Leaf Pulling

Today Seve and the guys finished the hedging, leaf pulling and dropping fruit.

4 guys for 3.25 acres of leaf pulling and dropping fruit, plus 2 acres of hedging = 118 hours spread over 3 days.

Posted by Stephen at 9:16 PM

July 4, 2008

Fruit Zone

Today Seve and the guys are out pulling leaves and dropping fruit. So far the fruit zone is totally clean with no fungus/mildew anywhere, so to help keep it clean as the clusters grow we're removing extra leaves and fruit. I hedged three rows of Viognier before heading in to run the tasting room.

Happy Fourth of July everyone!!!

Posted by Stephen at 11:59 AM

July 1, 2008

Hedging / Seventh Spray

This morning Shannon and I finished up hedging the rest of the Cabernet Franc. Have to get a spray down this afternoon, then after the re-entry interval we'll continue on the Viognier.

Pristine - 10.5 oz per acre
BM-86 - 1 qt. per acre

Posted by Stephen at 11:55 AM

June 30, 2008


Today Shannon swung by the hardware store to pick up a couple pairs of hedging shears. We went out to the vineyard for a few hours and did some hedging. It's so much nicer having her out in the vineyard, we really enjoy getting our hands in the vines together. We finished all the Petit Verdot, and got four rows of Cabernet Franc complete. Will finish the remaining 8 rows of that tomorrow, then apply the seventh spray of the season. Seve and the guys will be out in a few days to hedge the Viognier and start pulling leaves from around all the fruiting zones.

Posted by Stephen at 6:21 PM

June 21, 2008

Sixth Spray

Microthiol Special - rate 4 lb per acre
Dithane DF Rainshield Nt - rate 4 lb per acre

Posted by Stephen at 6:19 PM

June 11, 2008

Fifth Spray

Applied the fifth spray of the season this morning. Vineyard is totally clean right now and looking great. The shoot positioning is holding very well, and I think that helps enormously when we get the big thunderstorms coming through (like yesterday) as the trellis prevents the shoots from breaking off.

Microthiol Special - rate 4 lb per acre
Dithane DF Rainshield Nt - rate 4 lb per acre
BM-86 - 1 qt per acre

Posted by Stephen at 9:53 AM

June 8, 2008

Shoot Positioning

Today Seve and the crew finished up the shoot positioning and vine training. For you growers (and future growers) out there it took four guys a total of 87 hours to position 3.25 acres. They did a great job and the vineyard is looking great. I also mowed yesterday as we were supposed to have a bachelorette party do a tour, but once they arrived they just wanted to sit inside and on the front porch and enjoy our wines!

Posted by Stephen at 4:52 PM

May 30, 2008

Fourth Spray

Had the fourth spray of the season today:

Microthiol Special - rate 4 lb per acre
Dithane DF Rainshield Nt - rate 4 lb per acre

Also had the crew out a few days ago to plant the replacement vines we got from Vintage Nurseries. Took them about a half day to get it done, as well as install the grow tubes. Glad that is over with, now the Viognier is all filled in and ready for the season.

Posted by Stephen at 4:48 PM

May 14, 2008

Busy Day in the Vineyard

Today Seve and two others came out to de-sucker the vines. They made great progress, finishing all the Viognier and about a quarter of the Cabernet Franc. They'll be back in a day or two to finish up. Three guys x 10 hours each = 2.5 acres suckered.

Also received some replacement vines from Vintage Nurseries today to compensate for some poor stock we received in 2006. Kudos to Dave Haggmark at Vintage for his great customer service and getting us the the replacements!

Once the guys were done in the vineyard I put down the second spray:

Microthiol Special - rate 3 lb per acre
Dithane DF Rainshield Nt - rate 3 lb per acre

Posted by Stephen at 10:48 PM

May 1, 2008

First Spray of the Season

Been working hard in the vineyard the past few days. Doing some last-minute maintenance on the tractor, sprayer and bushhog. Greasing, tightening, sharpening, etc. - lots of little tasks to keep everything running smoothly.

Last week I applied the first round of herbicide, and since some of the vines were already at bud break I wasn't able to use the glyphosate but had to opt for Rely instead. Maybe could have gotten away with it but definitely not worth the risk. Yesterday I mowed all rows and deer fence perimeter to keep the grass down and hopefully the risk for moisture and subsequent fungi. And finally today I put down the first spray of fungicide after spending some time getting the sprayer put back together from last season's storage. Given some of the troubles I've had with sprayers today went particularly well! Since the vines have only just opened, I shut down the tower of the CIMA P50 sprayer and just used the lower nozzles to conserve chemicals. Rates are as follows:

Microthiol Special - rate 3 lb per acre
Dithane DF Rainshield Nt - rate 3 lb per acre

Off to a great start for the year - right on track!

Posted by Stephen at 9:48 PM

April 18, 2008

Removing Pruning Canes

OK this sucks. I spent the past two days removing all the pruned canes from the rows. Basically the process is to use a york rake on the back of the tractor, and create small piles of canes (4-6 per row) and then drive the pickup truck down the rows, then toss in the piles. Then drive the pickup outside the vineyard and dump the canes. Doesn't sound too hard, except when you realize the rake doesn't grab all the canes and you have to walk up and down the rows to get the stray pieces. Then the piles come apart as you're lifting into the truck bed. Then you get poked in the face and other more delicate places by the occasional stray cane. This was really not a fun chore - have to talk to some of the other growers and see what advice they may have on this one. Talked to Doug and he advised "Call Seve and his crew..." The voice of reason!

Posted by Stephen at 10:00 PM

April 11, 2008

Pruning Summary

So we've finished up the pruning for the year. Actually Seve and his crew finished the work Shannon and I started a few weeks ago. We were actually able to complete the four rows of Petit Verdot, and an acre of Viognier ourselves. Then things started to take off with our new company and we weren't able to spend as much time outside so we had to call in the labor. Took them 105 hours in total to finish up about 26 rows, which is remarkably similar to the time we spent pruning our portion i.e. approximately 4 hours per row (80 vines = 3 minutes per vine) These kinds of operational analysis exercises will come in handy for future budgeting.

Posted by Stephen at 9:54 PM

March 4, 2008

2008 Season Begins

We began the 2008 growing season today. Pruning began on the 2006 Viognier, which are the rows closest to the house. Feels GREAT to be back out in the vineyard, and pruning (although tedious) definitely feels like the first step in the winemaking process. By evaluating each vine and coming up with the best (and at times most creative) way to set up the cordon, spurs, and renewals you really feel like you're contributing to the quality of the upcoming fruit. Nice chilly day, hot coffee and some sharp pruners - this is the life!

Posted by Stephen at 9:21 PM

September 22, 2007

Cabernet Franc Harvest

As with all harvests, this year's Cab Franc harvest actually began the night before, setting out lugs, cleaning equipment etc. We awoke very early this morning and were out in the vineyard before sunup, distributing lugs in the rows. I then ran up to Frederick, MD to pick up a rental van, which we decided to rent to keep the fruit air conditioned on the long ride over to Fabbioli Cellars where we are processing the fruit. This turned out to be a huge help!

Quentin and the guys were onsite a little before 8 and we jumped right into picking. Quentin drove the lawn tractor with the cart on the rear back and forth to the van and pickup truck while the rest of his crew picked. As soon as the van was full I took a load over to Doug's place, and then Shannon prepared a load to bring over in the pickup truck. All the while the crew kept picking and moving fruit down to the loading zone. No time for lunch, I think I had a couple of pop tarts and a gatorade in the truck.

Over at Doug's, they were busy processing his Cab Franc so we set our fruit in the shade and covered it up to keep it cool and free from bees. Yeah right, like anything could keep the bees away from all that sugar! I went back to our place for another load, and passed Shannon on the way. When I pulled into the vineyard the guys were almost done picking, so we finished up the harvest and loaded the rest of the fruit into the van for the drive back over to Doug's.

Once back at Doug's, we began crushing our fruit. There was a big team in place - Dennis (Doug's brother-in-law) was loading the crusher/destemmer, Colleen (Doug's wife) was leading the sorting team. We also brought some of our friends/family to pitch in. Memom, Steve, Geno, Shannon and I were also working moving fruit lugs, sorting, loading the crusher, basically everybody doing everything. Several other members of Doug's team were also helping to sort fruit and move fermenting bins. Harvest and crush is such an awesome experience, and is an amazing way to bring people together through a common passion for quality wines and enjoyment of a long hard day's work.

The afternoon went really well, and by the end of the day we had crushed and processed over 3 tons of Cabernet Franc grapes. It was an absolutely incredible feeling to look upon all that hard work safely in the bins - our firsts commercial red harvest!

Enjoy the pics

Posted by Stephen at 7:36 PM

September 8, 2007

Viognier Harvest

Our first commercial harvest! This is exciting stuff, and we've been looking forward to it all summer long. The fruit was looking amazing in the vineyard, and we are so excited to get it over to Sunset Hills for processing. Basically we are engaged in what is known as a "custom crush" arrangement since we aren't officially a Virginia Farm Winery yet (lots of paperwork ahead...) but the custom crush allows us to produce our wines at another winery.

As always, harvest actually started the day before with equipment prep and lug cleaning. Got up early at 4 AM to continue getting things together before Quentin and the harvest crew arrived. Also had a few friends and family on board to help out.

The plan for the day was to get all the fruit picked and moved over to Sunset Hills to sit overnight in cool storage in preparation for Saturday's processing. Essentially the process is to start filling lugs, and get them quickly into the pickup for transportation. Thus as the crew is picking, I was making runs to Sunset Hills, and unloading the fruit into the winery. It took about 5 hours to get all the fruit picked, and another couple hours to get it delivered and the vineyard cleaned up.

We ended up borrowing some lugs from Sunset Hills, as we only had 96 which can hold about 3,000 pounds of fruit. Looks like we harvested about 2 tons of very high quality Viognier, so we are thrilled with our farming efforts and the fortunate growing conditions Mother Nature granted this season.

We awoke Saturday and got right over to the winery, as we were very eager to help out setting up the equipment to learn as much as we could. Ben Renshaw was on hand directing the operation and was extremely fun to work with, fielding our newbie questions and letting us get real dirty.

The crush process goes like this. First a few dozen lugs are loaded onto a pallet, then using a pallet jack are brought out to the crusher/destemmer. The fruit is loaded into the hopper, which feeds the grapes through the crush rollers into the rotating destemming basket. The empty stems are spit out the end while the crushed fruit and juice flows down into a plastic bin. This mush is then put into the bladder press. Even prior to activating the press, there is plenty of juice flowing through the slots into the stainless steel pan - this is referred to as "free run" juice because it has not been subject to the pressures of the pressing cycle. As the pan filled we would activate the pump to send the juice into our 630-gallon jacketed tank. Repeat, repeat, repeat... You get the idea.

So after several hours of this process it was time to clean up the sticky mess. I mean this is one filthy operation but the yellowjackets LOVE all the sugary juice lying around. Fun. We could care less, because this is what it's all about. There is just something magical about harvest and crush, and now we're starting to see what all the commotion about the wine industry is all about. This is a lot of FUN!!!

Enjoy the pics

Posted by Stephen at 7:35 PM

July 11, 2007

Dropping Fruit

Today Quentin and his crew were out in the vineyard pulling leaves from the east side of the rows, and dropping fruit to manage yield. Been a hot dry summer so far and the fruit is totally disease-free and looking great. Going to all the extra work (and expense) to keep it that way!

Posted by Stephen at 7:52 PM

July 7, 2007


Today Quentin and his crew were out in the vineyard hedging. I asked them if they wanted to use the gas-powered hedging tool I bought, but they actually preferred to use loppers as they felt they could do it more efficiently so I said go for it. Once they were done for the day, I had to put down a spray application, which was a cocktail of fungicide, insecticide (for the Japanese beetles) and epsom salts to correct a magnesium deficiency (which we also saw last season.)

Microthiol Disperss = 4 lbs/acre
Carbaryl = 1.5 qt /acre
Epsom salts = 3 lbs/acre

Posted by Stephen at 7:30 PM

June 17, 2007

Fungicide Application

Applied fungicide to entire vineyard, and opted for a strobulurin since we are just prior to bunch closing. Figured I'd spend a few extra bucks and put on the good stuff since this is arguably the most critical spray of the season. Once the bunch closes up is more challenging to get the spray inside, and you're more susceptable to disease pressure. First commercial crop, not risking anything by taking shortcuts or scrimping to save a few bucks.

Pristine = 10.5 oz / acre

Posted by Stephen at 4:31 AM

June 16, 2007

Herbicide Application

Applied herbicide to all the rows today. Even though I have this down to a regular process, it is still the crappiest task in the vineyard. Gotta be a better way.

Posted by Stephen at 4:27 AM

June 9, 2007

Fungicide Application

Microthiol Special - rate 4 lb per acre
Dithane DF Rainshield Nt - rate 4 lb per acre

Posted by Stephen at 10:42 PM

May 29, 2007

Fungicide Application

Microthiol Special - rate 4 lb per acre
Dithane DF Rainshield Nt - rate 4 lb per acre

Posted by Stephen at 9:31 PM

May 20, 2007

Fungicide Application

Got the part in for the sprayer. Can't complain - $20 for the part and it seriously took about 5 minutes to trade it out. Had the sprayer back up and running and got another application on.

Microthiol Special - rate 4 lb per acre
Dithane DF Rainshield Nt - rate 4 lb per acre

Posted by Stephen at 9:29 PM

May 8, 2007

First Fungicide Application

Got the first application of fungicide down after last evenings fun with electronics. Not missing a spray this year after the black rot we had last year, given this will be our first commercial harvest! That said, I did make a hell of a mess with the sprayer. Apparently some water had settled in one of the hose fittings and froze, cracking the fitting. So one side of the lower half of the sprayer wasn't sending the mixture to the nozzles, but instead squirting it all over the sprayer. So now half of the sprayer is yellow. Lovely. Better order the part quick.

Microthiol Special - rate 4 lb per acre
Dithane DF Rainshield Nt - rate 4 lb per acre

Posted by Stephen at 11:13 PM

May 7, 2007

Fun With The Sprayer

Time for the first spray of the year! Supposed to be an easy thing - uncover the sprayer from the winter wrapping, get it filled up, mix the chemicals. Drive up to the first row, engage the PTO and hit the spray buttons and...nothing. You can't be serious!? So began the fun task of debugging the sprayer electronic control - came to find out it was just a blown fuse but it took about 45 minutes to track it down and I lost my evening window of opportunity. Guess I'll spray tomorrow.

Posted by Stephen at 11:00 PM

March 11, 2007

More Pruning

Today Shannon and her mom spent a few hours in the vineyard pruning the one-year old Viognier. My mom was at the rental watching the boys, and I was at the AIPAC Policy Conference in the DC Convention Center. Does this sound whacked? I hope so...

Posted by Stephen at 10:24 PM

December 3, 2006

Petit Verdot Trellis Wire

Today I completed hammering up the Petit Verdot trellis wire, but I didn't have any more tensioners so I jumped over to the Viognier rows and started pulling wire. Got 2 1/2 rows pulled and one row hammered in addition to the three Petit Verdot rows. Even though the work is somewhat boring, it is enjoyable to listen to my folk music on my MP3 player. Can't wait to hear the first live concert in the tasting room - somehow I just know that the loft will be a great setting for listening to some good singer/songwriter material.

Prior to starting in the vineyard I pushed the whirlpool tub into the master suite. It was heavier than it looked...

Posted by Stephen at 10:37 PM

December 2, 2006

Trellis Wire Again

Ugh. Today I began running catch wires for the 2006 plantings. If you've been following along you'll recall this exercise from last year. Since I pretty much have this down to a smooth process, it goes quickly but it is so monotonous. I put in about five hours and pulled all the Petit Verdot wires, hammered up one row and installed the end tensioners.

Posted by Stephen at 10:33 PM

November 24, 2006

End Braces Complete

Today I finished up the rest of the end braces. Not the most relaxing way to spend the day after Thanksgiving but the show must go on. Still, there is something pretty cool about seeing the orderly array of trellis construction cresting over the hill. Click to enlarge.

Posted by Stephen at 10:10 PM

November 19, 2006

Viognier End Braces

Finished up one side of the end braces for this year's Viognier planting. 15 rows (12 full length 400', then a 300', 200' and 100') I was actually pretty surprised how quickly it progressed, I did all 15 rows in about 4 hours, including a smashed thumb and ensuing temper tantrum as well as a little cleanup (moving supplies out of my SUV into the new shed.) This puts me ahead of schedule, as I was hoping to have all the end braces done by the end of Thanksgiving weekend, but looks like I'll have them done next Friday and can start pulling catch wires.

Posted by Stephen at 9:56 PM

November 4, 2006

Cleanup / Trellis Construction

Haven't been out to the vineyard in a few weeks, and it was great to get back to work. Had quite a bit of cleanup to do - taking trash to the construction dumpster, organizing tools, storing equipment etc. Took a couple hours to get it all done, then I had a quick break before starting on the trellis construction. Fell right back into my old routines and methods I honed last year, and finished up the three new rows of Petit Verdot end bracing in a few hours. Decided not to push myself today and headed home about 4:30 to play with Tristan!

Posted by Stephen at 10:51 PM

September 30, 2006

Herbicide Application

Even though the grapes have been harvested there is still a ton of work to do in the vineyard to start preparing for next spring. This morning I spent a few hours applying herbicide in this year's viognier rows to ensure clean rows going into the winter. Definitely helps the first application next April - won't be spraying large weeds just the new sprouts, thus a more effective treatment. Didn't get to finish the whole vineyard though, as it started to sprinkle. Hopefully it didn't rain hard enough to wash off the chemicals, otherwise I'll have to do it all over again which would certainly put a smile on my face...

Posted by Stephen at 9:03 PM

September 16, 2006

Easy Day Mowing

Had an easy day in the vineyard, did a little mowing between the rows. Probably should have applied some herbicide, but didn't feel like doing too much, since I'm pretty burned out on vineyard chores after the past few weeks harvesting. Will get to that next week. Also saw some powdery mildew on the new viognier leaves, so will give a fungicide application next weekend as well. But that can wait a week, and it's nice to have a bit of a break!

Posted by Stephen at 11:03 PM

September 10, 2006

Cabernet Franc Harvest

I suppose it's accurate to say that our Cabernet Franc harvest began yesterday. My brother Jim and I had traveled to Chapel Hill, NC for our future brother-in-law's bachelor party. We went to the Virginia Tech / North Carolina football game, then had to leave early (and miss the REAL bachelor party...) in order for me to get home and assemble my winery equipment. The gear had arrived a few days before and I just didn't have time to build it. So I got home around 11 PM and began assembling the crusher/destemmer and fermentation tank. Took about three hours to get it all ready, including a bit of drama when I couldn't find the drain valve for the tank and thought I was going to have to drive to the Charles Town, WV 24-hour WalMart to devise a plumbing workaround. But I got lucky and found the valve had fallen down into the gaps in the pallet.

Thus after three hours of sleep I awoke to get a shower and head to the vineyard to prep the lugs. As I was pulling in I saw a familiar Suburban in front of me - my cousin Mike Smith and his two boys Ryan and Ben came out to help. I got the boys busy placing lugs in the rows, then Shannon arrived in our rental pickup (we needed to get something to transfer the lugs to our house) and began driving lugs around in the lawn tractor. Jim joined us as well, even though he didn't get much sleep either after our NC trip. Once it became light enough to start harvesting we jumped right in. I began watching the clock, as I had hired Quentin and some guys to come help, but they didn't show. Very unusual.

As we began harvesting it became pretty clear we were going to have a lot more grapes than I had fermenting vessels, pretty much the opposite of my Viognier estimates. Soon into the day, we were joined by Shannon's old boss at AOL, Geno Yoham, a wine enthusiast who had been wanting to pick some grapes since Shannon went to work for him.

The day went very smoothly, and when we were about half done I took a load over to the rental. I returned to get the rest just as Jim, Mike, Ryan and Ben were taking off, leaving Geno and I to finish up the last row and load up the truck.

With all the grapes now at the "winery" we got them unloaded and covered up to keep them out of the sun and cool. Since some of the clusters had a few mummies from my summer black rot infestation, we opted to sort the fruit by picking off the mummies before placing the clusters in the crusher. Sorting fruit DEFINITELY adds a lot of time to the process, and it took about four hours to crush and fill the 70-gallon stainless tank with must. Once it was filled about 90% (which I later learned was too much!) I added my potassium metabisulfite to 30 ppm and pectic enzyme to maximize the juice extraction during fermentation. After the big tank was full, we filled up a 6-gallon bucket for Geno to take home to make a batch of his own wine. Shannon also had to take off to get to my sister's bachelorette party leaving me to finish up the crush.

As part of my experimentation, I decided to just crush the remaining clusters without sorting the fruit, to hopefully see if there was a noticeable difference between the two methods. We'll see, but I gotta tell you it goes WAY faster not sorting the fruit and just dumping in the clusters to the crusher. I would say sorting fruit triples the crush time (obviously depending on the amount of help available.) In addition to the 70-gallon tank I filled up 6 more 6-gallong fermenters, and still had 14 lugs (over 400 lbs) of grapes left. So Shannon decided she'd make some jelly next week!

After a very long day on very little sleep, it really felt great to get the gear cleaned up and take a shower. Finally settled onto the couch about 6 PM, totally exhausted but very excited to have really had a solid harvest, and used the new equipment to get our first batch of Cabernet Franc in the tank. Just like a real winery.

Cabernet Franc Harvest

Posted by Stephen at 11:03 PM

September 4, 2006

Viogner Tubes Removed

Had an easy day in the vineyard today, just had to pull the grow tubes off the acre of viognier that we planted in April. It's getting close to the time when the vines will begin to go dormant, and they need time for the trunks to toughen in order to prepare against winter cold damage. If you leave the tubes on too long you run the risk of losing a lot of vines if the temperature dips into the single digits, which is always a possibility in Northern Virginia. And this year, I bagged the tubes right away to avoid them blowing all over the place like last year (which took two days to clean up!)

Posted by Stephen at 12:57 PM

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 9:57 PM

August 12, 2006

Tying Petit Verdot

The petit verdot were getting a little crazy, so I had to take a few hours and tie them up to the cordon wire, establishing the main cordons for next year. And since we've already got a season of pruning under our belts, I was able to plan ahead a bit and make sure I put a tie at the 18" mark which is where we'll be cutting them off next March. Even chimps can be taught...

Did some leaf-pulling on the viognier to keep the fruit nice and dry and in some sun. The viognier is really tasting good now, I think I ate about 40 grapes while working! And the cab franc is really starting to develop it's color, even though it still has a LOT of bell pepper vegetative taste to it - long way to go before these are ripe.

Cabernet Franc

Delivered some more tasty Nova fungicide to the fruit, to finish off the black rot and prevent powdery and downy mildew. I saw two vines with some powdery mildew on the fruit, so I'm not taking any chances.

Posted by Stephen at 9:15 PM

August 6, 2006


It's finally happening - grapes turning purple! Veraison signifies the change from berry growth to berry ripening in grapevines. In red varietals, this is evident as the berries change from bright green to light purple and eventually to dark purple or almost black. Other notable aspects of veraison are:

- increase in sugar
- decrease in acidity (due to dilution)
- softening of the skin

Now when I pick a berry to taste it I don't have to spit it right out before it makes me gag.

As we would expect, the viognier is ripening faster than the cab franc, and a quick test on the refractometer supports this. The viognier is currently around 15 Brix and the cab franc around 13. The Brix scale is the measurement of soluble solids in grapes at harvest, taken with a refractometer and expressed in degrees. In unfermented grapes, degrees of Brix are approximately the same as percent of sugar. After fermentation, the alcohol concentration is roughly half the sugar concentration (actually .55) of the juice. Thus, grapes harvested at 22.5 degrees Brix will produce a wine with an alcohol content between 12.5 to 13.5%.

Have a look at veraison - view image.

Posted by Stephen at 10:17 PM

August 5, 2006

Finished The Cordon Wire

Ah what a relief. Today I finished up installing the cordon wire for all the new viognier planting. Powered through the last six full rows and the three shorter rows on the end. Good thing too, because the vines have grown large enough that they are falling all over the place without a wire to hold up the shoots and the bamboo. Hot as shit outside today though, so I took a little snooze for about 45 minutes in the truck with the AC on around 2:15 - 3:00 to get out of the heat for a bit.

Posted by Stephen at 7:28 PM

July 30, 2006

Viognier Cordon Wire

Today I started installing the cordon wire for the viognier we planted back in April. I had completed the cordon wire for the petit verdot a few weeks back because they are more vigorous than the viognier and had already reached the cordon height (42") and were looking for something to hang on to! Now the viognier are ready - in fact they were ready a week or two ago but I just couldn't get to it. As a result a couple vines blew over, but will be fine once I get the bamboo secured to the cordon wire.

Got three rows done, then it was time for a fungicide application to keep attacking the black rot. Even though the highest danger from the disease is nearing an end (veraison) I'm still going after it. Today I sprayed Nova, which is a black rot eradicant and should put the death blow on the nasty stuff. We'll see. Pretty cool though, the powder come pre-measured in "dissolving" water-soluble bags, which appear to be made of some kind of gelatin or something. Having never seen these, I was a bit hesitant at first to toss a bag in the sprayer - shit with my luck I'd clog the whole thing up. So I put a little water on the corner of the bag, and sure enough after a few seconds it started to get a little rubbery, then just kinda disappeared. Whacked! So I tossed in two bags and away I went.

Nova - 5 oz per acre.

Posted by Stephen at 9:07 PM

July 24, 2006

Mowing For VIVA Day

Tomorrow we're having everyone from our new company come by to check out the vineyard and learn more about our endeavor. Since I haven't mowed in a few weeks I figured I'd give the place a nice mow for our guests. And you'd think by now I'd have this mowing thing down...?

As I was finishing the very last row, I made a slight turn around the end post and didn't see a piece of lumber sticking out in the path of the bushhog. The piece will eventually be (well it would have...) the brace post, and when the post-pounding team was done installing the trellis posts, they laid down all the brace posts to save me the task. So there it lay, waiting for a hungry bushhawg to happen upon it. All of a sudden I hear this tremendous banging and I stop the tractor to see what the hell. I get out to find this piece of lumber wedged up under the bushhawg, with one of the blades jammed in the wood almost splitting it in two. Since there was no way I could have pulled the wood out, I had to unhook the bushhawg from the tractor, and since it's a six-footer I couldn't pick it up to flip it over. Thus I had to use the front-end loader on the tractor to flip it, then using a sledgehammer I was able to beat the blades free. Flipped it right side up, hooked it back on the tractor, and went the hell home. What a shitty way to end an evening...

Posted by Stephen at 9:30 PM

July 23, 2006

Fighting The Black Rot

Since we have been pounded by black rot, I had to call Jim McKenzie at Helena Chemicals to get some tougher fungicide. He sent me both Pristine and Nova. Since I didn't have my fungicide chart on hand I took a guess and opted to use the Pristine first. As it turns out the Nova offers better protection against black rot, and is also an eradicant, but the Pristine is excellent as well. And we're almost done with the japanese beetles for the year, but I decided to give them one last blast of Sevin as a parting gift...

Pristine - 12.5 oz per acre
Sevin - 1 oz per gallon (80 gallons)

Posted by Stephen at 8:52 PM

July 22, 2006

More Hedging And Sprayer Disaster

Last night I got the viognier hedged, so this morning I began on the cab franc. Since it is generally more vigorous, progress was much slower but I was able to move through the entire acre in about three hours. On the down side, I discovered why they sell those chain mail pruning gloves. As I was pulling down a few intertwinded shoots to cut them off I couldn't really see where my left hand was and almost cut the tip of my left forefinger off. Big ouch - got lucky though and only sliced in about a quarter inch. Band aid, keep moving. Then the day really turned to shit...

You will know if you follow this blog that I have been plagued by sprayer problems. Today's spraying chore was another application of herbicide in the rows to keep the weeds down under the vines. Should be easy. Idiot. Last time I sprayed you may recall the sprayer leaked all over the place so I exchanged it for a brand new one. Thus today's spray was with a shiny new sprayer - never been used. I filled the tank and got about 10 rows done and needed to refill. Since we don't have a water supply yet, I have to go over to the neighbors to get water. So as I'm driving back from the neighbors, I pull into our driveway and head down the hill to go to the vineyard when the lawn tractor starts picking up speed. Suddenly the tow cart in which I keep the sprayer ROLLS OVER and almost flips the mower. So I come to a very rapid halt, hop off the mower to take in this clusterfuck I've just created. Picture if you will a 30-gallon sprayer rolling down the hill dragging a tow cart by a rubber hose. Oh I was so pissed - obviously the weight of the sprayer pulled the tow cart over and knocked the pump off. I rolled the cart back up on two wheels (actually rolled it to the other side to straighten out the bent tongue) then tried to pick up the sprayer tank. Yeah right - 240 pounds of chemicals. That's when I lost it. I went and found a big rock and started smashing the fucking sprayer to bits. Over and over I pounded that sprayer with the rock until there was a busted tank leaning against a tree and shrapnel (that used to be the pump) laying everywhere, and the spraying wand bent in a U-shape. Oh I was so pissed. Don't think they'll exchange this one.

Now I have to head down to Winchester to buy YET ANOTHER FUCKING SPRAYER. In the two years we've been doing this vineyard nonsense I've gone through 6 sprayers. Down to Winchester, back to the vineyard, finish the spraying. I'll mention now that they didn't have the deluxe model which I've been using, only the standard model, so I bought that and finished spraying the vineyard thinking that all would be the same. Can you sense the foreshadowing...?

Posted by Stephen at 9:35 PM

July 21, 2006

Hedging Viogner

Time to trim the vigor - went out to the vineyard this evening after work to put in a few hours. Got a lot to do to get ready for VIVA day on Tuesday, when we're bringing everyone from our new company out to the vineyard to check it out. Hedging is essential to manage the canopy vigor, which can cause shading of the fruit and excessive herbaceous character in the wine. Since our canopy is still so young, we didn't have to buy any special equipment this year (probably will have to next year) and I was able to walk up and down the rows using my pruners to trim the excess vines. The rule of thumb was that any shoots that had grown over the top catch wire and were sticking so far out into the rows that they were drooping down got cut back to about one foot above the wire. Seems crazy to say, but some of the shoots had grown 10-12 feet since April! Can't imagine how big the canopy will be next year.

Worked until dark and finished up the viognier. Will do the cab franc tomorrow.

Posted by Stephen at 11:04 PM

July 16, 2006

Black Rot

UH OH. Big trouble. Yesterday I noticed several grape clusters with black shriveled berries, so last night when we got home from the birthday party I looked up some common fungus online. Sure enough, I came across the following article and pinpointed the issue.

Cornell Cooperative Extension

Looks like all the rain we had a few weeks ago has caused me a real problem. If I had to guess, I'd say we're going to lose 40% of the potential crop. What kills me is that I was absolutely diligent about my spray program, I was just stuck using that crappy wand sprayer while my $10,000 CIMA was stuck in Italy awaiting shipment. Seems that not getting the fungicide into the blooms early enough is a major cause of black rot infection.

Have to call Doug tomorrow and find out what the hell to do. On the bright side, I did manage to finish dropping the fruit, however it was clear that the last few rows were hardest hit by the black rot. Certainly due to the moisture trapped by the excess clusters and leaves.

Today wasn't all bad. We did some additional shooting for the HGTV show because Shannon's dad Roger and his wife Bev were in town for Tristan's birthday. Since they hadn't seen the site since the demolition, the crew miked them up down the road and captured their reactions as they drove up to the site. Obviously shocked, they couldn't get over the difference with the houses and outbuildings gone, and were blown away by the new view since some trees have been taken down. After we showed them around the site, we went into the vineyard so they could take a look at the progress there. Rog and Bev proved to be TV naturals and provided quite a few good sound bites, although they both seem to be pretty worried about the pace we're keeping.

After a few hours shooting, Shannon, Tristan, Roger and Bev headed out and I worked for a few more hours, until the heat wore me out and I was done for the day.

Posted by Stephen at 9:39 PM

July 15, 2006

Tristan's First Birthday

Today we're celebrating Tristan's first birthday at Ken and Kim Wright's house (since our rental shack is such a little hovel!) Still, with so much to do in the vineyard I still had to get out for a few hours to drop fruit and pull leaves. Woulda been nice to sleep in but...

Enjoy the birthday pics!

Posted by Stephen at 9:30 PM

July 9, 2006

Beetle Spray

The japanese beetles are back, seems like the sevin lasts about a week, then they come back and attack the new growth. So I gave them a little treat for their munching pleasure.

Microthiol Special - rate 4 lb per acre
Sevin - rate 1 oz per gallon

Since I had the vineyard looking good for the camera shoot, I decided to spend a little time and take some nice pictures in the hopes that some would turn out well enough for the upcoming Web site redesign. The place is actually starting to look like a vineyard!

Photo Gallery

Posted by Stephen at 5:47 PM

July 8, 2006

Pulling Petit Verdot Tubes

Decided to pull the petit verdot tubes off today. 90% of them have reached the cordon wire and are doing very well. The HGTV crew was out filming me dropping fruit and pulling tubes, so I just did a quick demo of the process. Once they finished up I completed pulling the tubes off and packed them up in trash bags so they wouldn't blow all over the place like last year because picking them up from all over the vineyard sucked.

Dropped fruit from a cab franc row, and finished up the mowing.

Posted by Stephen at 5:44 PM

July 7, 2006

Mowing For TV

Been pretty busy lately with dropping fruit and spraying, so I haven't mowed in about 6 weeks. The rows are looking pretty unruly, so since the TV crew will be showing tomorrow I had to go out and spend a few hours mowing. Got the cab franc rows mowed, but when the light faded too much I decided to just do the perimeter around the deer fence. Will finish up the mowing in the viognier tomorrow after the crew leaves.

Posted by Stephen at 10:41 PM

July 4, 2006

And Still Dropping Cab Franc Fruit

Dropped two more rows of fruit from the cab franc. Four more to go. Worked a short day today in order to make it over to the Wright's for a July 4th cookout. Good times ahead. And you'll notice I took a day off from the vineyard yesterday. Yes it can be done! Actually stayed home and just enjoyed the day with Shannon and Tristan. Since we've been so cramped in our rental I spent the afternoon re-arranging the house, so now he has his own room and our bed is now in the office. It's still totally cramped, but now at least he has his own space to play in. He really loves it. We can't wait to get this new house built!

Posted by Stephen at 11:02 PM

July 2, 2006

Still Dropping Cab Franc Fruit

Quentin and his crew arrived today to finish suckering the cab franc, as well as help out with dropping some fruit. We all put in about 6 hours and got all everything suckered and 6 rows dropped. That leaves me with 6 more rows to drop fruit.

I also installed the cordon wire for the three new rows of petit verdot. Looks like the tubes will be coming off next weekend, but I'll leave tubes on the viognier for another few weeks as they are lagging behind a bit.

Posted by Stephen at 10:58 PM

July 1, 2006

Dropping Cab Franc Fruit

Got started on dropping the cab franc fruit and what a huge difference from the viognier. The increased vigor of the cab franc is making it take much longer to drop the fruit, around 2 hours per row (80 vines per row.) So I got three rows done and then it was time to get the sprayer filled up to apply the latest dosage of fungicides, as well as the epsom salts (magnesium sulfate as foliar fertilizer) and some sevin for the japanese beetles. Rates were:

Microthiol Special - rate 4 lb per acre
Dithane DF Rainshield Nt - rate 4 lb per acre
Magnesium Sulfate - rate 4 lb per acre
Sevin - rate 1 oz per gallon

This is the last application of the Dithane since it has a 66-day PHI (pre-harvest interval) thus I'll be modifying the spray program next application.

Posted by Stephen at 10:52 PM

June 25, 2006

Dropping Fruit

Today's chore was to continue dropping fruit from the second-year viognier. Essentially the rule of thumb for dropping fruit is as follows:

- if a shoot has not reached the first catch wire cut off the clusters
- if a shoot is well over the first wire and looks healthy and strong, you may leave one cluster
- if a shoot has cleared the top (third) catch wire, you may leave two clusters
- don't let fruit hang on top of fruit, drop one or the other
- the vine should appear to be "in balance" i.e. sufficient foliage per fruit clusters
- when in doubt on a young vine, drop the fruit anyway

Another debated issue contributing to clean fruit is the technique of leaf-pulling. Essentially some people maintain that it is critical to pull leaves from around the fruit clusters. The Dr. Smart book "Sunlight Into Wine", which is the de facto text on canopy management says the proper amount of sunfleck (light spots through the leaves) is about 60%. Jim Law of Linden Vineyards is a big advocate of leaf pulling, as you can read here. However, Doug indicated that he doesn't perform leaf pulling. So I was a bit confused as to which way to go. Fortunately, Mother Nature helped me out a bit. As I was dropping fruit, a storm blew in and I worked in the rain for about an hour. Once the rain stopped, I began to notice that the clusters which hung freely below the cordon dried out much more quickly than those which were surrounded by leaves. Thus, given that the entire year-long battle is to keep the fruit free of mildew it seemed obvious that leaf-pulling is essential, both to allow the fruit to dry more quickly (after a rain and in the morning as the dew evaporates) and to allow the spray to penetrate the clusters better. I will say however, that it definitely takes longer to both drop fruit and pull leaves, but I believe the difference will be in the quality of the grapes.

Finished up the viognier, and headed home.

Posted by Stephen at 2:44 PM

June 24, 2006

Desuckering Viognier

Today I had Quentin and his crew out to desucker and tie (train) last year's acre of viognier. While they were working on that I was desuckering cab franc. Given how vigorous the cab franc is as opposed to the viognier, it takes about 30 minutes extra per row (total 90 minutes) to desucker.

Doug came by to take a look at the vines and advise me on how to drop fruit. He noticed a peculiar leaf pattern on several of the vines, and immediately recognized it as 2,4-D damage from our neighbor, who apparently used it to prepare his field for a corn planting. Luckily our damage was minimal due to a thick treeline separating our two properties, which prevented most of the drift. We shall certainly be notifying our neighbor about his dubious spraying habits.

Doug also noticed several leaves with a peculiar ring around the edge, which he identified as a probable magnesium deficiency. The cure - add 4 lbs. per acre of epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) to my next spray! How kooky is that?

Progress was good on the viognier desuckering, but the crew had to leave early in order to catch the Mexican World Cup game! :) Once they left, I went into the viognier to drop fruit. Got a few rows done then called it a day - should be able to finish the viognier tomorrow.

Posted by Stephen at 2:27 PM

June 18, 2006

First Spray With The CIMA

Wow. It was worth it. New tractor and new sprayer are so awesome that spraying the vineyard is now actually a very enjoyable task. Headphones on listening to my MP3 player, chilling in the nice air conditioned cab riding up and down the rows. It took a little practice to be able to make the turns at the top of the hill with the new weight of the sprayer on the back, but after a couple of rows it was no problem. I just have to lift the bucket of the front end loader up high enough to clear the end brace construction in order to get around. A little tricky, but definitely doable (on dry ground that is...)

Prior to the spraying I finished suckering the viognier, so next weekend I'll start on the cab franc. Good times!

Microthiol Special - rate 4 lb per acre
Dithane DF Rainshield Nt - rate 4 lb per acre

Posted by Stephen at 10:02 PM

June 17, 2006

New Sprayer Arrives!

Finally! Our new CIMA P50 has completed it's journey across the Atlantic and has arrived safely at the vineyard. At last I'm done spraying the fungicide in my rainsuit riding around on the lawn tractor, and the timing couldn't be better because it's really starting to get hot. Bill Reiss from BDI scheduled our delivery for around 10 AM, so I got out to the vineyard early to do some suckering. You'll recall we did the entire vineyard in April, but because second year vines are still trying to push shoots all over the place I have to do it all over again. So since the viognier are a little less vigorous I began with them. Got a few rows done until it was time to meet Bill at the construction site.

Bill arrived and we chatted for a bit about our plans, and what we have currently planted. After that, he gave me a great overview of the sprayer while it was still sitting on his trailer. He showed me the different valves, tubing, mixing tanks, basically a thorough exam of the whole sprayer. Then we hooked it up to the tractor and did some more overview, then it was time to fire it up. Holy shit - LOUD is the word here. Basically the sprayer has a big fan on it, which is compressing a lot of air through 16 atomizers. Up close each one looks like a mini jet engine. I shut it down, then put about 20 gallons in the tank, and fired it up again so Bill could show me the different spray patterns and nozzle configurations.

We positioned the nozzles for our row width and cordon height, then it was time to figure out application rates. Essentially this is a math problem similar to spreading fertilizer whereby you calculate the tractor's speed, the area you are spreading, and the rate of distribution. The CIMA uses the following calculation:

(GPA x MPH x ER x 60) / 500

GPA = gallons per acre
MPH = miles per hour (tractor speed)
ER = effective range (row width)

Once this is calculated, you then adjust the dials on the sprayer to achieve the desired rate. Essentially the dials are graded holes of increasing size which allow more or less fluid through the valves. So to sum up, I chose 40 GPA, 3.1 MPH (B-1 gear at 2500 RPM), effective range of 9 feet. No worries.

Check out the sprayer
Side view
Current vine growth
A newly desuckered vine
Post-flowering grapes-to-be
Closeup of a young cluster

When you look at the current vine growth picture, remember what the vines looked like just two months ago...

Posted by Stephen at 9:33 PM

June 11, 2006

More Fun With Sprayers

It just doesn't seem fair. After all the bullshit last week with the old sprayer, then having to run down to Winchester to buy a new sprayer, it doesn't seem fair that the new one would be faulty. But sure enough, today I noticed it was leaking. My tip=off was the line of dead grass running the whole way across the vineyard, so I started looking around the sprayer and sure enough, the hose attachment to the filter was leaking. Unreal. So I decide to finish up the spraying anyway before taking it back and you absolutely will not believe this but now the pressure switch isn't working. So the sprayer won't spray. Nothing. Nada. Nyet. I was sooo happy at this moment I just threw a fit, and started beating the sprayer pump with the wand and lo and behold it started working. Even more unreal. Great, so now the plan is to finish up the herbicide spraying and take this piece of shit back to exchange it for another piece of shit. I think I'll just start building trips to Tractor Supply in Winchester into my schedules because at this rate I'll need a new sprayer every two months when I spray herbicide.

Anyhow, I get it working and manage to spray everything except one row, but the events which transpired and precluded me from spraying that row are too traumatic I can't recount them here, nor the way I managed to put a hole in the deer fence bad enough to require a patch.

It was not a fun day to be in the vineyard, and definitely one of the top five I'll look back upon when I recall the worst moments of all.

Posted by Stephen at 7:20 PM

June 4, 2006

Fun With Sprayers

Today was supposed to be an easy day. Ha.

Got over to the vineyard around 9 AM to spray Rely herbicide in the rows to keep the weeds down. Prior to spraying however, I had to do a quick walk through of the grow tubes to ensure none had blown off, or had vines exposed through the seams. That took about an hour, then it was time to get spraying. I hooked up the spraying rig, drove over to the neighbor's to fill the tank, then came back to the vineyard to mix the Rely. Got my protective gear on, hit the switch for the pump and nothing. The pump was running but nothing would come out of the sprayer. After working on it for 30 minutes, I resolved it was dead (probably bad valves inside from the chemicals). Well isn't that lovely, now what?

I already had $75 of Rely mixed in to the tank, so I wasn't about to just pour it out to work on the pump. So I decided to head down to Winchester to Tractor Supply to get a new pump. Once there, it became clear that buying the replacement parts would quickly become more expensive than a new sprayer, thus I just got a 30-gallon deluxe Fimco to replace the 25-gallon one. Back to the vineyard, now the fun part was figuring out how to get 25 gallons (200 lbs) of herbicide into the new tank without 1) covering myself with it or 2) spilling it all over the ground. By carefully lining up the drain spout of the 25 with the opening of the 30 I drained half, then picked up the 30 and put it in the cart, then poured in the rest. Not too big of a mess. Yeah right.

Thus, three hours wasted screwing around with the sprayers, so I only got to spray the established rows, which means I'll have to spray the new planting next weekend. Please don't rain, because if I put it off another week I'll have a weedy disaster on my hands...

Posted by Stephen at 4:35 PM

June 3, 2006

Vineyard Chores

Since we were out of town last weekend enjoying a mini-vacation at Deep Creek Lake for Memorial Day, it was back to the grind today. Chores for this weekend are:

- Shoot position 2 acres of last year's planting
- Spray fungicide
- Spray herbicide in the rows
- Mow the vineyard

I did a few things at the house before heading to the vineyard, and as soon as I got there I realized the shoot positioning was going to take a lot longer than I had planned. Some of the cab franc vines are already about 8' tall! So instead of shoot positioning taking hours like I had hoped, it took almost 7 hours.

Once that was done, I decided to spray the fungicide, since at this stage of the vine's growth that is more critical than a few weeds in the rows. Alas, the larger canopy threw off my spray calculations and I came up short by one damn row which I will have to spray tomorrow. I suppose I could have gone over to the neighbor's and gotten some more water, but I was burned out (and sun burned) and ready to call it a day. Tomorrow I'll finish that last row with fungicide, and get the herbicide down. Probably won't mow until next weekend, since the grass isn't really that bad so there is no sense in mowing early. Here's what I sprayed today:

Microthiol Special - rate 3 lb per acre
Dithane DF Rainshield Nt - rate 3 lb per acre

BTW, as I was spraying the fungicide the wind kept changing direction on me so I ended up with a lot of copper and sulfur on me. It was kind of weird what the chemicals did to my silver ring - instant tarnish. A quick search of the Internet confirmed my suspicions - tarnish is actually silver sulfide, thus the contact with the microthiol (sulfur) turned my silver celtic ring black. Kewl. And yes, I'll wear gloves from now on.

Posted by Stephen at 8:42 PM

May 12, 2006

2006 Second Spray

Today dawned bright and sunny, a nice change from yesterday. Today's tasks (I thought) were to assemble the shed, plant a few viogniers to replace some that died last year, herbicide the five rows I didn't get to when I did the first round a few weeks ago, then give the vines a big dose of fungicide to last while I'm away for a week. So as I arrived at the vineyard I took a walk through a few rows and realized it was time to do the first pass of shoot positioning, since most of the vines had shoots tall enough to reach the first wire, but were hanging out to the side. Oh boy, this will make the schedule for the day tight. Knowing that, I hustled through the assembly of the shed (so easy with the correct pieces...) and left the doors open so it could dry out from yesterday's downpour.

Shoot positioning is pretty easy work, and you can move pretty quickly, however every now and again you have to stop to tie some vines. I would say the big lesson for the day goes back to some decisions we made during pruning. While we were pruning, we would do some tying of the cordons to the wire, however in many cases we didn't tie the ends of the cordons because the stiffness of the wood kept them in the proper place. However, once the cordons pushed out the new growth, the weight of the shoots caused the cordons to sag down from the fruiting wire, thus many of them had to be tied up. Good lesson to remember next year during pruning - always account for the future weight of the vines and plan accordingly. It took about 2.5 hours to shoot position 2 acres of vines, not too bad for one person. That done, I quickly planted the viognier, and mixed and sprayed the Rely on the five rows, then assembled the spraying rig and did all the cab franc and viognier.

Microthiol Special - rate 2 lb per acre
Dithane DF Rainshield Nt - rate 2 lb per acre

Although it was a hectic day, I can jet off to South Africa with a clear conscience, knowing the vineyard is in tip-top shape.

Posted by Stephen at 9:42 PM

May 11, 2006

Supply Runs / Frustrations

Yesterday was my last day at AOL. Shannon and I have resigned to take executive positions with Viva Entertainment, the production company founded by our friend Lorne Greene and his wife Emily. I'll be President of Production and Shannon will be VP of Sales and Marketing. Seems pretty absurd to think I quit my job yesterday when I signed a $1.2 million dollar construction loan the day before. Seemed like a good idea at the time... Anyway, we officially join the company 31-May, but in the interim I'm heading down to South Africa with Lorne to work on a show for Aegis Media. So today in addition to having to run errands and pick up supplies for the vineyard I needed to start getting ready for the trip.

The day started early as I headed down to Tractor Supply in Winchester. On the way, Shannon called and told me I was supposed to be on a conference call with the resort production manager in South Africa in 20 minutes. Uh, OK fine. So pulled in to a gas station, filled up, and dialed in to the conference bridge, which was ridiculous since the line from South Africa kept dropping out. Since the call was a bust, I continued to TSC, grabbed a few items, then headed over to Helena Chemicals to pick up Rely (herbicide), Mancozeb and Dithane (fungicides). Swung through a mall to get a phone charger for the car, then drove in circles for a while trying to find Home Depot, but stumbled upon a Lowes instead. Had to buy a big plastic shed to store chemicals, since the shack will be getting razed in a few weeks and stuff has to come out. Found a pretty nice one, a 6' tall unit that looked pretty easy to assemble. Once out of Lowes, I went next door to Office Max to get a wireless card for my PC and some supplies for the trip. Quick lunch at ChickFilA and then headed home to the vineyard to assemble the shed.

On the way home it begins to rain a bit, steadily increasing as I near home. I pull into the vineyard and unpack the box. Of course it's fucking pouring by now, but that just adds to the romance of the vineyard adventure. As I begin to assemble the shed, it becomes clear that the box was not properly packed at the factory, and that instead of having three left sides and three right sides, I have five lefts and one right. SHIT that means I have to drive BACK to Winchester to exchange the pieces. Very mad. Very. Mad. Soaking wet, I drive back to Winchester (but I took the trailer off so I could drive faster) and once at Lowes I explain the situation to the checkout girl. Her face goes blank and her eyes glaze over in total confusion as I indicate that we need to open another package so I can exchange my two "E" pieces for two "C" pieces. "Maybe you should go inside and talk to Customer Service" is her advice. Fine. In to Customer Service I go, where I again explain the situation to another primate, who says "you need to talk to the checkout girl." OK I am now getting ready to have a fucking aneurism. So now it's time for action - I go outside to the garden center department, pull down another huge box and proceed to open it in the middle of the aisle. I take the two "C" pieces I need, and lay the "E" pieces I hate in the box. On my way out I tell the cashier "please be aware that the mess in the back does not constitute a complete shed kit, and that you have to mark it as defective and remove it from the floor." Her eyes roll back in her head, and she mutters "Welcome to Lowes" like some android who has gotten out of it's program. Bye, and my sincere apologies to the next poor sap who buys a fucked up shed from Lowes - I really did try.

So great, now I have my correct pieces but my entire day schedule is blown (I was supposed to go to Leesburg to get some new clothes for the trip after assembling the shed) but since I had to backtrack to Winchester that plan was dead. So switching everything around I went in to the mall in Winchester to pick up some dress shirts and slacks from the department store. Cool - got that mission accomplished. So on my way home Shannon calls from my brother's place where we're supposed to be having dinner, so I head over there (still a bit damp mind you) for a quick visit and some Chinese. Once over there, I realize that I never stopped to pick up the trailer again, which I need to take the mower over to the vineyard tomorrow to spray. Aneurism approaching. So at 9:00 PM I decide that since I have to go by the vineyard anyway I may as well go the whole way into Charles Town to the Wal-Mart to pick up the few remaining things I need for my trip. Into Charles Town, back to the vineyard to get the trailer, back home, in bed by midnight. Good grief.

Posted by Stephen at 9:40 PM

May 2, 2006

Catch Wires Completed!!!

Finished up the last four catch wire tensioner installations this evening. What a relief to be done, although working in the evening has it's drawbacks - the last row was installed by headlights! Once the tensioners were done, I had to clean up the tent, coolers, chairs and trash left over from the big grow tube weekend.

Thanks again to everyone who pitched in this weekend. The vineyard is totally prepped and ready for the growing season!

Posted by Stephen at 10:24 PM

May 1, 2006

Spray Record

Had the first fungicide spray of the season on the newly-emerged vines:

Microthiol Special - rate 1 lb per acre
Dithane DF Rainshield Nt - rate 1 lb per acre

I got to the vineyard about 6:45 PM and realized I had to put the sprayer back together in the tow-behind cart. Also, since my previous spray was herbicide I needed to rinse the sprayer thoroughly with clean water. I didn't begin actually spraying until about 7:30, by which time the sun had already dipped behind the Blue Ridge mountains and it was starting to get dark.

All in all the first spray went well - I had just enough in the 25-gallon tank to spray the whole vineyard in one tank since the vines have just begun to grow there is minimal leaf area to spray. But it's a good thing our lawn tractor has headlights, since the last few rows were done in total darkness!

Posted by Stephen at 10:44 PM

Catch Wires Complete

Tonight I went out to finish up installing the last four rows of tensioners, which has become critical since many of the shoots are already at the bottom catch wire. Since we're going out of town for a long weekend vacation, it can't wait, so I got three rows done until it was too dark to see, then pulled my truck up and did the last row by headlights! And since I was too tired on Sunday to clean up from the grow tube party, I had to spend an hour breaking down the tent, gathering trash, loading up the trailer with chairs and tables. Got everything tidied up by around 9:30 PM and headed home. What a long day, as we had to get an early start this morning to sign the construction loan at Vince's office, which of course was captured by the HGTV Dream House crew. I am so tired, and am really looking forward to a few days in Florida.

Posted by Stephen at 9:39 PM

April 30, 2006

Grow Tube Follow-Up 2006

Today we finished up the last of the de-suckering and grow tube installation, and almost completed installing the trellis wire tensioner installation. I was feeling pretty tired this morning after the long day yesterday, but very encouraged with the amazing progress we made. Korte showed up early, and I put him to work with Shannon finishing up the de-suckering. Tristan took a nap in his pack-n-play while we worked, and then Tiago showed up so we put him to work assembling grow tubes for the petit verdot. Shannon and Korte finished up the de-suckering, so she headed home with Tristan and Korte and I continued installing tensioners.

Eventually we got to a row that was missing a trellis post, and I was confronted with a task I'd been putting off for a year. At the west side of the vineyard is a hill, and there is a rock vein running across the slope a la the large outcropping I had to backhoe out. So last year when Donny's crew was installing trellis posts, there were two that they couldn't pound in because of all the rock. Thus I had to get my digging bar and posthole digger and manually dig the two-foot holes. What a suck job, reminding me of the deer fence installation last year. But after an hour of banging rocks, I got the posts in place and nailed up the catch wires.

Part of the tensioner installation process is walking each row after the wires have been nailed up to check nail placement, wire tension, etc. As Korte and I were walking a row I noticed that two of the trellis wires had been crossed between two posts, effectively creating a large "X" between the posts. Oh well, since I was too wiped out to pull it all apart we decided to just call it "trellis research..." By now Tiago was done with all the grow tubes, so the three of us just worked on tensioners until I was totally exhausted so we called it a day. Only four more rows left, and we're done!

Posted by Stephen at 9:38 PM

April 29, 2006

Grow Tube Day 2006

One of the most critical aspects of planting new vines is ensuring they get off to a good start. The primary method used is the installation of grow tubes around the vine, which acts as a mini-greenhouse to keep the new shoots warm, as well as protected from critters. Last year we invited over a bunch of family and friends to help us out. Since there are no chemicals involved, and nothing too heavy to lift, it is a good opportunity for everyone to come out and pitch in. So since everyone had such a blast last year, we decided to do the same thing this year! Of course with one big difference, which was the presence of the HGTV Dream House camera crew who was onhand to record the entire event.

I got out to the vineyard early to distribute materials, to make sure everything was in place when the volunteers showed up. Bright and early at 7:00 AM I was dropping bamboo stakes by each vine. People started showing up around 9:00 AM, and Shannon came early to set up the catering tent, while my mom stayed at our house to watch Tristan while he took his morning nap, then they joined us.

Essentially the process is to have one crew distributing bamboo stakes, then pushing them in the ground, one stake per vine. Then another crew is assembling grow tubes and sliding the tubes over the stakes. One big improvement we had over last year was our neighbor Karelyn's John Deere Gator, which the tube team used to quickly move grow tubes from the assembly area into the rows. This saved a lot of time over last year where everything was walked in.

In addition to the bamboo and grow tube installation, we also had several people hammering in nails for the installation of the trellis catch wires. This was also a critical step, since the vines had emerged from dormancy and the shoots were on their way up.

The last mission for the day was to finish up the de-suckering of the vines, which Shannon, Rebecca and Dan worked on.

Everyone had a great time, and it was all captured for the show by our trusty camera crew. After a full day of everyone kicking ass, we managed to get all the trellis wires hammered in place, all the bamboo installed, and all the viognier grow tubes installed, about 1.125 acres worth! Just four rows of petit verdot tubes to install tomorrow, four rows of cab franc to de-sucker, and tensioning all the trellis wires.

Enjoy the pics!

Gallery 1
Gallery 2

Thanks to everyone who helped out!!!

Posted by Stephen at 9:24 PM

April 21, 2006

Planting Day 2006

This morning began bright and early, as the alarm went off at 5 AM. I popped out of bed, took a shower, kissed Shannon and Tristan goodbye and took off for UPS. Stopped off for some coffee, and was parked in front of the gate by 7 AM. I was kind of hoping I could weasle my way inside early and get my boxes and get out of there. Nothing doing - place was very secure. So I sat, and sat and got bored so I downloaded a chess game onto my PDA and proceeded to get my ass kicked by the computer about 40 times. Whatever.

Right on time at 8:30 AM the gate opened up and I zipped inside, with a bunch of assholes hot on my tail trying to cut in front of me to get to the counter. Lucky for them I parked quickly and got in first because I would have hated to throw someone in the bushes that early in the morning. So I bop on up to the clerk, give her my intervention number, which she enters in the computer. And by watching her face I realized something was not right. So she calls over another kid to help out, and he takes me to another computer to try and find my boxes. Come to find out the boxes arrived at 5 AM and went right onto the delivery truck, and my intervention which I scheduled last night at 10 PM did not go into the system until 7 AM this morning. So while I was outside sitting at the gate UPS was inside fucking up my day, because now the computer is telling him that the boxes are on the truck on the way to Purcellville, which means I wouldn't get them until around 3. Disaster.

So the kid, who was very nice and quite helpful, decides to go take a look for himself. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. The minutes passed by like hours waiting for him to come back. Meanwhile all the assholes had gotten their packages and left and there I sat staring at the first lady I spoke with. Who then asks the inevitable "what's in the boxes you're picking up?" to which I respond "vines - where's your bathroom?"

After about 20 agonizing minutes I see the kid coming back and lo and behold he has three boxes!!! Wait a minute - three? I was supposed to have four! Apparently the driver couldn't find the fourth box and it went out on the delivery truck to Purcellville. Hmmm. OK then here's the newly revised new alternative backup plan. I had enough vines to get us started, so I called Shannon and now her plan was to swing by the rental on the way back from work to (hopefully) find a box of vines sitting on the deck to bring over with her to the vineyard.

So off to the vineyard I go with two boxes of viognier and one box of petit verdot, ready to rock and roll. By now the clouds have started to roll in and the day is beginning to look like rain. Actually drove through a few sprinkles on my way back.

I arrived at the vineyard at 10 AM and found Mike and the labor crew ready to roll, and also met the camera crew. Chris Barrett, field producer, and George and Pam Patterson, camera and audio respectively. George and Pam live just down the road in White Post, VA and have been working together for many years.

I handed off the vines to Mike who headed into the vineyard with the crew to get setup, while Pam tried to find a clean wireless channel for my lavalier microphone, which I had to wear all day for filming. We finally got on the tractor and began planting vines about 10:45, and things proceeded smoothly until we ran out of viognier (thanks UPS) so we had to pick up all the tools and head to the other side of the vineyard to install the petit verdot. This went smoothly, although we did have to hand-plant one row which was where the original research vines ended up that I pulled out. So we finished the petit verdot and moved the equipment back to the other side of the vineyard to wait for Shannon, who showed up about 15 minutes later - perfect timing!

While Shannon got into her overalls and got her mic on, I did another row on the tree planter, and then it was time for her to take a turn. She has been looking forward to this for a whole year! A quick safety lesson and she was ready to roll. So I handed her vines and she dropped them in the ground. She did several rows until her hands got too cold to hold the vines, so I finished up the last two rows. And no kidding, as the tractor was slowing to a halt with four vines left it started to rain. Looks like the insanity of making today happen was all worth it.

It took about an hour to clean up after the planting, get the tree planter off the tractor and onto it's trailer, and (my favorite part) writing checks and paying everyone. Time to go home and collapse.

Enjoy the pictures!

Posted by Stephen at 6:16 PM

April 20, 2006

Weather Watching / New Planting Plan

Uh oh...

This Saturday is supposed to be planting day for the installation of 1 1/8 acre of new viognier vines, and an 1/8 acre of petit verdot which we will eventually blend with the cab franc. BUT the weather is not looking good - calling for severe thunderstorms starting tomorrow (Fri) night and continuing through the weekend. If you've ever been out to the vineyard after that much rain you'll know what a swamp it can be, even though it dries out pretty quickly afterwards.

So I got on the phone with Mike Newland, our planting consultant to talk through our options. I was hoping to push planting back a day or two to let the ground dry out, but both Mike and the labor crew are booked solid next week installing other vineyards. So I made the executive decision to move planting up a day to tomorrow.

Great, so I rescheduled Mike and the labor crew, but now I have to deal with organizing the TV crew because they want to make sure they get footage of planting day as background material for the HGTV Dream House series we're shooting. I call Sean McLaughlin, the producer in Colorado to tell him we've rescheduled. After a brief moment of panic, he tells me he'll call back in a bit. Sean calls back to say the crew is available for the reschedule, but that his flight doesn't get in until 3, but he'll be there as soon as he can.

So we get everyone rescheduled and ready to go. Now the only problem is where are the vines...?

Earlier this week I had called Vintage Nurseries to get my UPS tracking number. Using that I had been tracking the vines across the country all week, and knew that they had left this morning from Laurel, MD on a truck going somewhere. Called UPS and the person on the phone couldn't pinpoint where the packages (4) were, so after work Shannon and I picked Tristan up from daycare and headed over to the main UPS distribution warehouse for Northern Virginia, which is in Chantilly. The lady behind the counter was more helpful (though of course more surly) and advised me that since the boxes had not arrived in Chantilly (they were in Burtonsville, MD) to call later tonight to schedule an "intervention." This basically means once the boxes arrive in Chantilly in the early morning - 5 AM-ish - they would pull them off the truck and set them aside so I can pick them up first thing in the morning. OK, that sounds fine. So I called Mike and let him know that I would be able to get the vines first thing in the morning and that I'd be a little late, but go ahead and have the crew there and get the tractor in place etc.

Shannon, who by now is pretty upset that she might miss planting day due to AOL responsibilities, is trying to figure out how she can leave early to be able to take a few turns on the tree planter to actually plant some vines. She was unable to last year due to being very pregnant. So she decides that she's leaving work tomorrow at 2 in order to get out to the vineyard before 3. After we've figured out all this timing, we head home to settle in for the night.

Once at home, I call UPS and set up the intervention, and the plan is to be at the gate in Chantilly when they open at 8:30 tomorrow morning. While Shannon is feeding Tristan I start packing my truck with everything I'll need for tomorrow. By now it's almost 10 PM, and just when I think I'm ready to get to bed I realize I have no lunches for the crew tomorrow. SHIT now I have to run out to Giant to get sandwiches, snacks and drinks. I get that done, come home, pack the coolers, take a shower and finally get to bed around 12:30 AM Friday morning. Which is going to make for a fun day tomorrow because the alarm is going off at 5 AM to ensure I'm at the UPS gate first!

Posted by Stephen at 11:38 PM

April 17, 2006

Stuck Backhoe

This morning I called Rentals Unlimited to advise them their nice backhoe was buried up to it's belly in the mud. The guy on the phone said they could come out to tow it out, but said he'd have to check with the manager to see when they could do it. Hold please. Sure. After a minute or so, he comes back and says "We don't do recovery anymore - you have to figure this out. Call us when it's free and we'll come pick it up." Well fuck you too.

So I start calling around to truck recovery places and finally find someone who can help out, Mark's Recovery in Frederick, MD. So the guy on the phone asks how much the backhoe weighs and I tell him 6 tons to which he politely chuckles and says he'll send over his "small recovery truck" for such a little job. Sure buddy you do that. So I race over to the vineyard to meet the truck and up pulls their "small" truck. Admittedly I have no experience in this sort of thing, but after talking with the driver I realize that these guys pull 18-wheelers out of construction sites for fun, and that this little backhoe job is silly. Fine. They back their little truck up to the backhoe and pull out these two cables that look like they could lift an aircraft carrier and hook up to the tie-down points on the rear of the backhoe. Of course they want me to sit inside and put the backhoe in reverse so I can take over when it hits the bank of the creek. Not what I had in mind - I was hoping to watch through the window of my neighbor's house across the street. Whatever, I hop in and get a front-row seat for the action. The driver moves the hydraulic lever and up comes the backhoe like lifting a toy tonka truck out of a sandbox - I am not kidding when I say the recovery truck engine didn't even slow down when the hydraulics were engaged. Totally awesome. Thanks very much, here's your $290 you fellas have a nice day. Called Rentals Unlimited to come pick up their muddy-ass backhoe. Happy Monday morning!

A very stuck backhoe
This is NOT good
The little tow truck

Posted by Stephen at 10:24 PM

April 16, 2006

Landscaping Continued / Wire Pulling Finished

Another rainy day for landscaping. Started off the morning with a trip to Meadows Farms to get another slender hinoki cypress for the north side of the entrance gate. Also needed some more golden barberry and additional white geraniums (thought we were going to have to replace all the ones that got destroyed by last weekend's frost but looks like they are going to make it!) Shannon met me at the vineyard and we got everything planted except the geraniums. We ran out of mulch, so decided to put the remaining planting off for another weekend. Sprayed the fenceline with herbicide to minimize mowing and weedwhacking chores. Still need to finish up the rock walls but that can get done any time - plants have to get in the ground now.

Once we were done planting, Shannon headed home to relieve mom from babysitting duties and I went into the vineyard to pull the last of the trellis wire. Took about three hours to finish up, but finally all the wire is pulled. Now we just need to get it all hammered in place, but we have a ton of friends and family on the way to help out in a few weekends so that will be a huge help!

Entry landscaping 1
Entry landscaping 2
Entry landscaping 3

Posted by Stephen at 10:08 PM

April 15, 2006

Backhoe Day

Surprise, surprise - our vines have woken up from their long winter nap! Happy to see we've had bud break this week - pics are in the gallery below.

Today's chore was to remove two large rock outcroppings which will be directly in the way of our new rows for next week's plantings. In fact, I've been dreading this day ever since we bought the land, because I knew someday they would have to be dug up, and I had no idea how difficult it would be. Would I need a hydraulic breaker or would they need blasted? I was going to find out today.

I've been calling excavators for weeks trying to find someone to come out and do the job for me, and I keep getting "sure we'll come out to take a look then get back to you." Not a single one of those assholes ever called back. So with planting only a week away it was time to call Rentals Unlimited to have a backhoe delivered. So I figured why settle for a small excavator when I could rent a decent size backhoe and hopefully not need the hydraulic breaker.

The backhoe was delivered right at 8 AM, and after a quick chat with the truck driver I was on my own. Easing into the vineyard I got in position, spun the seat around, dropped the outriggers and loader, and worked the backhoe into position behind the first rock. It had rained the previous couple days, so the ground was still a little soft. Here goes - dropped the bucket in and popped that boulder out of the ground like it was a pebble. Easy! Hey this might not be so bad??? In fact, within about 20 minutes I had the rest of the white quartz boulders dug up. Wow. On to the next outcropping - the big one.

Moved the machine into position, and again dropped the backhoe bucket in behind the first rock. Didn't budge. Uh oh... So I decided to nibble away at the side which worked great. The rock broke apart pretty easily, except for about 10 pretty large pieces (probably 5 feet across, possibly weighing around a ton) which I just rolled out of the hole. All in all the outcropping was torn apart and out of the hole in about 45 minutes. Now all I had to do was pick up the pieces and move them out of the vineyard!

I took the big pieces to the back of the vineyard, as I will be using them in future landscaping projects, especially the big white quartz boulders. Most of the smaller rocks (basketball size and under) I dumped in the creek bed. Found a large pile of fill dirt to put back in the holes. Finished up the whole project in about three more hours. Kick ass!

See the pictures.

Very happy about this, and since I have the machine for 24 hours (up to 8 hours on the engine) I decided to do some more work. Dumb, very dumb...

We have a creek down behind the old barn that we wanted to move right up alongside the fence line to get it out of the middle of what will someday be the kids play area. So I headed out of the vineyard and over to the creek. Since the new creek had to go beyond the existing creek I needed to find a place to cross. Seeing what appeared to be a decent crossing place, I put the backhoe in 4WD and started across. As soon as I was in the creek that heavy pig of a machine sunk right up to it's belly in the mud and got stucker than shit. Couldn't back out, couldn't go forward. Game over.

To be continued...

Posted by Stephen at 9:48 PM

April 9, 2006


Time to get the rows cleaned up and ready for planting. This is a relatively simple process, riding around on the lawn tractor towing a small cart behind with the 25-gallon sprayer. I had to create a new rig this year, because the new tractor is not really useful for doing the herbicide spraying. The old tractor wasn't so bad - I could just lean over the side and spray downwards onto the weeds, but not possible with the cab. So I bought a small cart at Tractor Supply, and built a wiring harness to keep everything nice and tidy - check it out.

It took about three hours to get the vineyard and deer fence sprayed, but it's pretty easy work. And to make the chore a little more comfortable, I bought a full face respirator which is a thousand times more comfortable than a nose/mouth mask with face shield. View respirator image.

Posted by Stephen at 9:45 PM

April 8, 2006

Rainy Day / Pulling Wire / Landscaping

Today was a good day to be a duck. Woke up sometime around 3 AM to the sound of a downpour. Lovely - lots to do in the vineyard and rain or no rain it has to get done. So I got up early and headed over to Meadows Farms in Leesburg to pick up plants for the landscaping at the entry to the vineyard from Sagle Road. Decided to put on my full rain suit, which turned out to be a good idea. I was the only person in the nursery, except for the employees who stood in the greenhouse looking out at the idiot buying trees. Picked up 6 slender hinoki cypress, 20 golden barberry, and a couple flats of white geraniums. Everything is supposed to be deer resistent - we'll see...

Left Meadows, swung through Starbucks for a yummy treat and then off to the vineyard. Dropped the trailer at the entrance to wait for Shannon to help with the planting. I figured while I wait I may as well pull out some trellis wire. Only problem with that plan is because of the rain I was not able to drive up and down the rows. Our vineyard has a hill at one end, and when the ground gets soggy it is too tricky to maneuver around up there. Definitely run the risk of sliding sideways into the trellis end posts, which I'm guessing would work wonders on a truck door.

So I decided to just play it safe (if you've been following this blog you've probably just spit out your drink in disbelief at me saying that...) thus I parked at one end of the rows with the rear of the truck facing the row, attached the spool to the hitch, and walked each line out one at a time. Definitely more time-consuming, but there is no sense in sitting around. And in it's own way, it's kind of enjoyable, bundled up in a rain suit, headphones on, listening to some mellow New Age tunes whilst walking up and down the rows pulling wire.

Shannon made it over around 1 PM so we jumped right in to the planting. The vision I had in my head didn't work out exactly - essentially we need to buy more plants. I had planned on 2 cypress on one side and 4 on the other, but needed 5 instead. So we need another cypress and a bunch more barberry because we used them all up on one side as well. Still, we had a good time planting and really enjoyed being out there with each other. Whenever we're doing something like that it just makes the dream seem that much closer.

Yes, that's Shannon in there!

Finished up around 3:30, so Shannon went home to relieve my mom who pitched in to babysit Tristan. Since it was still daylight, I decided to pull more wire until I couldn't take another step. Productive day though - only two rows left needing wire (then a lot of hammering, but the big crew will be onsite in a couple weeks to help out with that!) As I was pulling out of the vineyard I bumped into mom, who came by to inspect the day's activities. We got an A+ for our efforts, and another A+ for Tristan being such a good and snuggly grandson! :)

Posted by Stephen at 9:32 PM

April 2, 2006

Jamming on the Catch Wires

Busy, busy, very productive day today! Another early start, and jumped right on paying out catch wire for the rest of the spools that I had on hand. Ran out of wire with six rows left, but that's OK because progress has been great - will swing in to Tractor Supply this week and pick up six more rolls to finish up the cab franc.

Once I ran out of wire, I started hammering nails attaching the wire to the trellis posts. I decided to stop hammering once I finished the viognier, both because it was a good stopping point, as well as I needed the use of my right hand for AOL tomorrow!

With plenty of daylight left, I decided to work on installing tensioners to tighten the slack in the attached wires. Managed to install six rows of tensioners before calling it a day. Current status of the catch wires (out of 12 viognier and 12 cab franc rows requiring installation) is:

-- 12 viognier and 6 cab franc rows wire payed out
-- 12 viognier rows wire hammered to the posts
-- 9 viognier rows tensioners installed

Hopefully I'll finish paying out wire next weekend, then that leaves the upcoming grow-tube crew to help finish up the hammering. Getting close!

Posted by Stephen at 8:55 PM

April 1, 2006

GC / More Hammering

Got an early start today to keep the momentum of the catch wires going from last weekend. Out in the vineyard by 8 AM, and spent a few hours paying out catch wires. Around 11:30 our general contractor, Ron Hawes, came by to take a look at the soon-to-be construction site and talk about the process etc. Ron didn't just come by for that, the Executive Producer for HGTV's "Dream House" series asked him to be present for part of our on-camera audition (which we spent the next five hours doing). But that's another story that I'll detail in an upcoming entry once we know how it all turns out...

Posted by Stephen at 8:50 PM

March 26, 2006

Catch Wire Continued

Guess what I did today? Yup - payed out three rows of catch wire and attached one of them to the trellis posts. My hand was pretty sore from all the hammering yesterday, so I did one row and called it a day. Very productive weekend - all the viognier wire has been payed out and ten rows have been attached. Will finish it all up next weekend (install tensioners and attach last two rows) then start on the cab franc. Might plant a few trees/bushes at the entrance to the vineyard, depending on if I can get a rough design in time and the weather is nice!

Posted by Stephen at 10:28 PM

March 25, 2006

Go Hammer!

Today I was fortunate enough to have some people take pity on me and come out to the vineyard for some hammerin'. I got out to the vineyard around 7:45 and started paying out catch wire. I got four rows laid out then took a little coffee break.

Wire spool hitch attachment

My sister Rebecca and her fiance Dan came out around 11, and after a quick lesson on proper staple banging they were off and running, attaching catch wires to the trellis posts.

Rebecca and Dan 1

Rebecca and Dan 2

Rebecca and Dan finishing up a row

While they were working on the catch wires, Shannon came out to finish up the last two rows of pruning. Her dad is in town for the weekend (missing his grandson terribly!) so he got babysitting duties which allowed Shannon to come out for a few hours. Once Shannon was finished, she ran out and got us all lunch. After finishing up lunch, my buddy Rob "Lefty" Klause came out to do some hammerin' as well. Nothing stranger than watching someone hammer backwards and upside down...

Look everyone! A lefty with a hammer!

Doing honey-dos for the wrong honey...

Hopefully he didn't get in too much trouble for skipping out on his chores at home. While Rob was out he also took some footage and sent me over the video file - I'll get it posted soon!

Rebecca and Dan took off about 3, and Rob hung out for a while and I joined him in attaching wire. Between the four of us, we got 6 rows of wire attached! Now I just have to construct the tensioners etc. to finish them up.

Shannon ran home to pick up Tristan and her dad so they could come join in the festivities. She got this great back carrier so she couldn't wait to try it out.

Shannon giving Tristan a ride

Roger thought the new tractor was pretty cool - slightly more advanced than the one he used to drive as a kid...

Roger takes the tractor for a spin

So it was a very busy and productive day in the vineyard! Many thanks to Rebecca Mackey, Dan Greenberg, and Rob Klause for their efforts. :)

Posted by Stephen at 10:00 PM

March 19, 2006

More Catch Wire Installation / Arithmetic

Installed more catch wires today. Got two rows done.

For planning purposes, I believe if I operationalize this I can get it down to 2 hours 45 minutes per row, which multiplied out for the 23 remaining rows is 63 hours 15 minutes. Factor in 10% error for mistakes etc. and I'm looking at 70 hours to complete the rows. Minus one weekend for planting and one weekend for a trip to Florida to see Shannon's family, I figure I have five weekends left before early-May which is about when the shoots will be reaching the 8" wire. Possibly sooner given the mild winter we've had.

Currently I'm scheduling myself for 14 hours per weekend in the vineyard, Shannon around 4-6 assuming we can always find a sitter. Budgeting time for building the shed, planting the entrance, herbicide application, mowing, spraying, etc. and this all adds up to one big-ass problem. Oh and did I mention MAYBE planting some Christmas trees? It appears I should have started installing catch wires a month sooner!

Not to worry, just have to call in the troops. In fact, Rebecca and Dan will be out this weekend to pound nails and help string up the wire after I've pulled it out each row. And I think I'll have the boys out one day to swing their hammers to gain a little more time. And if worst comes to worst I can have Quintin and his crew come out to bail me out - now that I think about it I'll probably have them bring hammers with them when they come out to help plant. Yeah, that's the ticket...

Never a dull moment out here!

Posted by Stephen at 4:17 PM

March 18, 2006

First Interview / Installing Catch Wires

Today began early - was out in the vineyard by 8 AM, and what better way to kick off the day than by working on the rock wall at the entrance to the vineyard. Good times. Just did two loads in the new tractor to get the blood flowing, and besides I needed to put a few chips in the paint of the front-end loader - it was a bit too green!

Started installing the catch wires to the trellis. We're going to eventually go with Smart-Dyson configuration, which is a vertically-divided canopy, but until the vines are established there won't be any downward growing shoots, so I'm just installing the upper wires. Six 14-gauge catch wires (three pairs) are nailed to the posts spaced at 8" - 10" - 10" above the cordon wire (which is 42" from the ground). Each pair is tied to the post at one end and crimped at the other end into a tensioner, which is then attached to the other end post with 12.5-gauge wire and ratcheted tight. Probably best to just have a look at the pictures!

Catch wires tied to end-post

Tensioned end with specs

Since there is so much wire to pull I bought a $50 device that allows me to attach the spool of wire to the hitch of my truck, then I just drive up and down the rows paying it out. I worked on this until noon, then Shannon came by and we had a visit from Paul and Warren from - a blog about the Virginia wine industry. Great guys and we really enjoyed talking to them, as they are big supporters of our industry. Their respect for the work we've already put into it, as well as their enthusiasm for our future plans meant a lot. They plan on doing a future article for the Shenandoah online paper, so we'll keep an eye out for that.

Paul recorded some of our conversation and actually went to the trouble of posting it as a podcast on their site. Hopefully you'll always be able to access the archive here: March 2006 Entries

So they hung out for about an hour, then it was back to the fun stuff. As anyone who has been reading along with our adventure knows, the first time doing anything in the vineyard is always challenging. Thus when it came down to figuring out how best to build the tensioner connection it took several tries to get it right. By the time I was running out of daylight I had only finished one row. That pace is NOT going to work given the limited amount of weekends I have! Hope to do better tomorrow...

Posted by Stephen at 9:40 PM

March 12, 2006

Cabernet Franc Pruning

Back to the pruning today. I got into the vineyard around 11, and Shannon dropped Tristan off at her mom's and joined me a little later. We had an easy, enjoyable day working up and down the rows together, and knocked out four more rows, which leaves us four rows to finish next weekend and then I can start pulling trellis wire.

Shannon and Tamra

Vine before pruning / training

Vine after

Shannon took a little break after finishing a row to go joyriding in the tractor - nothing like taking a spin around the vineyard with a simple-minded doggie chasing you (Gypsie of course). Figure we may as well play in the tractor a bit so it's not always "just work".

As we were finishing up, our neighbor Karelyn and her two kids Ashley and Jackson came by for a visit. I had promised the kids rides in the tractor, so took each on for a spin around the land. Jackson is a big fan of the loader - the "big scoop" as he calls it. :) Since we actually aren't living at the vineyard, Karelyn and her husband Jerry are kind enough to let us keep the tractor at their place so they can keep an eye on it for us - tractors do go missing in the country!

We headed home around 3:30 and Shannon went to pick up Tristan while I laid down to nurse some muscle strains - still getting back into "vineyard shape" this time of the year. Will toughen up over the next few weeks pulling trellis wire and working on my rock wall entrance for sure.

Posted by Stephen at 7:05 PM

March 11, 2006

New Bush Hawg

Long day today, and an expensive one at that. Started off this morning with a trip to Tractor Supply to get a new bush hawg - a 6' King Kutter to replace the 5'. Problem last year was with 9' wide rows, I was having to spray extra herbicide under the vines (over 2' wide on each side) so that I only had to mow one pass, yet it always seemed I was missing grass on either side of the bush hawg. So hopefully the new one solves that issue. I also had to purchase trellis wire because as soon as we are done pruning I have to begin running the catch wires. And in one of those moments of utter stupidity it occurred to me as I was standing there calculating how much wire we will need that I grossly underestimated the amount. The 14-gauge wire comes in 1/2 mile rolls, and for some reason I thought I'd only need a couple rolls. But once I started actually doing the math I realized that to put 4 catch wires on 25 x 400' rows I'll be needing almost 8 miles of wire! ACK. So I grabbed all the rolls they had - eight - and will have to go back when they reorder. Thankfully they also carried an unrolling jig that you attach the spool of wire to the hitch on your truck then just drive up the row paying out the wire behind. That will be a great help. So when all was said and done, and after picking up some miscellaneous maintenance items and a couple pairs of jeans for Shannon I escaped Tractor Supply for a mere $1,700.

Off to the vineyard to continue pruning the cab franc, which proved to be more time-consuming than the viognier because well, the vines were bigger! Whereas the viognier rows were taking about 45-50 minutes per, the cab franc rows are taking 1:15-1:30 per row. I got four rows done, and had to quit because the new bush hawg was scheduled to be delivered at 5 PM. So I hopped in the tractor and grabbed the tow chain and drove up to the house to meet Earl from Tractor Supply, who kind of does deliveries after work on his own time. Once they showed up I had them follow me out to the vineyard, where we used the front-end loader on the tractor with the tow chain wrapped around the bush hawg to lift it off and set it on the ground. As they were attaching the chain, I realized that someone at Tractor Supply had assembled the bush hawg! WHOO HOOO! Putting one of those sumbitches together is a total drag and takes a couple hours. As Earl explained it to me they had to put it together to make sure they actually had all the pieces. Fine with me brother - here's an extra $20.

Got out of the vineyard a little after 6 - time to head over to the Krohn's for dinner!

Posted by Stephen at 9:00 PM

March 5, 2006

Vineyard Vacation Over???

Good grief has it been six weeks already??? Our brief vineyard vacation ended Saturday as I headed out to get started on pruning. Got into the vineyard about 9:30, had a little coffee to get warmed up and got to it.

It's sort of a "process of elimination" to determine how to prune each vine. The optimal configuration is to have two trunks grow nice and straight up to the cordon wire at 42" then head laterally in each direction for at least 18" because they get cut back to 18". So you examine the ends of the vine and you can tell if it is live wood or dead wood i.e. when you cut it with your pruners you'll have live green wood, or crunchy dead wood. Thus the goal is to have live green wood 18" from center to form the cordons. The reason for cutting back to 18" (rather than 30" which would be halfway to the next vine thus they would "meet in the middle") is to prevent apical dominance, which basically means that a vine will try to push shoots out from it tips. Thus if the cordons on a young vine are too long, it will only push new shoots towards the ends and you can end up with a gap in the canopy which is tough to fix later.

BUT, if the vine does not have two canes running laterally on the cordon wire, then you prune back to the center stake and leave three buds there, which will give lateral shoots to make the cordons next year.

BUT if no cane reached the cordon wire, then you prune the whole thing down to 3 buds and start over next year. Although this sounds drastic, the vine will really grow quickly from the 3 buds since it has a much more developed root system than it did upon planting, thus the second-year 3-bud vine will really grow quickly.

And of course there are combinations of all of the above e.g. one cane with 18" of cordon and another cane with 3 buds at the ground. Or one cane trimmed to 3 buds right at the cordon wire and another with 3 buds on the ground. A few other combos too but you get the idea.

One cane with 18" cordon and another cane cut back to 3 buds

Shannon joined me for a little while in the afternoon while her mom volunteered to come over and watch Tristan. Here she is, with her faithful companion Tamra. View image

Shannon headed home and I finished up another row. Then I went back out today for a couple hours to knock out a couple more rows. All in all we got one whole acre of viognier pruned in about 11 hours which comes in at about 50 minutes per row (12 rows x 80 vines/row) factoring in a couple breaks. I believe the cabernet franc will take longer since the vines are much more developed than the viogner, being a more vigorous vine. Thus there will be a lot less vines getting trimmed down to the three-bud ground level. I estimate about 75% of the viognier had to get taken down, and I forecast only 20% of the cab franc will get cut back that much. Still, I think we'll be able to finish pruning next weekend which would be great because we have lots of other things to do!

Posted by Stephen at 8:37 PM

February 15, 2006

Sprayer Ordered!

The second half of the rationale behind getting a new tractor was getting a new sprayer. Doing a little math, and figuring out capacities etc. we decided to order the CIMA Plus 50 165-gallon (pardon me - I meant 600 litre) with 4 lower spray heads and a tower per side.

Plus 50 in action.

Our research and discussions with other growers indicated that most of our spraying will be about 40 gallons per acre, except in times of high disease (fungal) pressure we'll be spraying around 50 gallons per acre. Given the layout of the vineyard with two halves each about 3.125 acres the 165-gallon tank will work out perfectly even in times of higher application rates. Of course it was about $1,500 more than the next smaller model, but given the fact that probably half my sprayings will be evenings after work, it is critical that I can cover the whole front half in one pass, rather than having to go the whole way back to the water-filling station to mix more chemicals.

So it's been an expensive couple of weeks! $42,200 for the new tractor and $9,500 for the new sprayer. I believe this escalates us to "professional viticulturists" instead of "amateur hobbyists" - not that the vineyard and deer fence didn't already...

CIMA Photo Gallery

View the full CIMA catalog (hope you speak Italian...)

Posted by Stephen at 9:37 AM

December 30, 2005

Fence Done!

Started the day with a fresh attitude and went out to the vineyard to finish up the fence. Had a couple more boards to install, then the gate. The gate took a little finessing because the driveway is on an angle, and a square gate with level posts left a few gaps along the bottom. No drama though - got it worked out. So here are the final shots, with a "before" pic from last year.

View the before shot.
Here's another look.

Finished shot one.
Finished shot two.

The best part is yet to come - next spring I'm painting the fence burgundy. Have you ever seen a burgundy fence? Me neither.

Posted by Stephen at 7:31 PM

December 29, 2005

Running Errands Twice - Spreading Fertilizer

Lots of errands to run today - had to borrow a friend's truck to go pick up more boards from 84 Lumber, then the fertilizer from Tri-County Farm Supply in Berryville, VA. After that I made a quick trip to Carlyle and Anderson to talk to Bo Carlyle about the new tractor we're planning on purchasing. More on that later... Swung by Tractor Supply to pick up a 12' galvanized gate for the fence.

Ran a few other personal errands then headed to the vineyard to hook up the cone spreader and drop the amendments. Same drill as last year, only this year it went a lot quicker since I just had to do the three new rows on either side. Two passes for the lime and two passes for the fertilzer and that was it.

Once that was done I went back over to work on the fence. I put the gate up to check the fit and realized that a 12' gate was not going to work on posts that were 14' feet apart. Sonofabitch. Remember yesterday when I didn't have enough lumber? Now today I have a gate that is 2' too short. Not happy. Gate in truck, drive to Winchester, exchange gate. And of course they have to announce the exchange over the PA system -- "customer service needed outside to exchange a 12' gate for a 14' gate" -- why not just add "for the dumbass who didn't bother to use a measuring tape..."

Took the new gate to the vineyard and decided to call it a day. Before I do something else stupid (like put a dent in my friend's truck but I'm so pissed about that I can't even write about it...)

Posted by Stephen at 7:18 PM

December 28, 2005

New Fence - Board Installation

Yesterday I got all the posts installed, so today's task was to place the horizontal boards. I've been looking at fences all around the county lately coming up with ideas for ours, and opted for a three-board design. I also wanted to give the fence line a little curvature, to create some interest and break up the landscape. An easy day, cutting the sections to size and screwing in the boards. Too bad I didn't count properly when I went to get material, and I ended up 8 boards short. Will I ever learn?

Right side done.
Right side closeup (with rock wall in progress).

Looks like tomorrow I'll go get some more boards and the gate.

Posted by Stephen at 7:05 PM

December 27, 2005

New Fence - Post Installation

I got to take the week off from AOL between Christmas and New Years, so what better way to relax than by building a fence. Our property sits open along Sagle Road, and we get quite a few people trespassing on our property (hunting and fishing). And yes there are signs posted, but some people just suck. Not that a fence would keep everyone out, but hopefully it will reinforce the point that our place is not a free-for-all.

Have a look before I got started (you can see some orange marks where the posts will go).
Another look.

I had several 10' posts left over from the deer fence installation so I figured I may as well put them to use. I cut them in half with the chain saw, and dug all the holes with the auger on the tractor. After all the holes were dug, it was just a matter of getting the holes adjusted to the proper depth so each post would be 42" high. Drop in the post, backfill a little dirt, level the post and finish filling in the dirt.

Holes dug, some posts installed.
Left side posts done.
Right side posts done.

Posted by Stephen at 5:16 PM

December 23, 2005

Turning the New Rows

Just like last year, once the rows are marked they have to be subsoiled to ensure the young vines will be able to establish a deep root system. Since there were only six rows to turn, this was a piece of cake - probably took about an hour. Time to go home and enjoy the Christmas break!

Posted by Stephen at 5:13 PM

December 18, 2005

End Braces Completed / Marking New Rows

Today I finished up the last of the end braces, which almost completes the trellis for the 2005 planting. Only task remaining is to run the catch wires we'll need for next year, but that can wait until February or March.

Check out the braces.
Another look.

Once that was done, I had to mark out the rows for next spring's planting. It actually turned out to be pretty easy, since I already had one acre marked (we thought we were going to plant three acres last year but only did two, so the third was already marked). So the new work really only consisted of putting three new rows on either end of the existing vineyard. Still, it has to be very exact so as to keep the geometry correct. Interestingly enough, as I was stretching out the tape measure to put in the new marks, I could go back to the marks from last year and find pieces of the bamboo marking sticks still in the ground from last year. Thus I was very confident everything was lining up properly. So after a couple hours of walking back and forth, the rows were marked:

Three new rows.
Looking across.

Typically I would have considered this an easy day, but I had a stomach virus yesterday and was still feeling pretty wiped out. So what better way to recuperate than trudging through a vineyard in the mud... Not so much.

Posted by Stephen at 4:36 PM

October 22, 2005

Vine Tending Done For The Year

Today I finished tying up the last of the viognier. Nothing more to do to these vines until pruning season in early March. Feels kind of weird, not having any vine work hanging over my head. Not to say there's nothing left to do - now I can begin on the remaining projects for the year:

1) End-brace construction
2) Marking the new rows for next spring's planting
3) Subsoiling the new rows
4) Laying down lime and soil amendments for the new rows
5) Installing foliage wires on the existing trellis (6 wires per row x 25 rows)

So if I can bust ass in November/December it's looking like I'll have January and February off! Of course something will come up, probably having to do with the new house (we'd like to resource some of the existing wood in the old place to use in the new) so maybe I can take a day or two to pull out some of the interesting pieces before the bulldozers come in...

Posted by Stephen at 3:48 PM

October 15, 2005

Data / Measuring / Tying Viognier

Perfect weather for a day in the vineyard. Not a cloud in the sky, temp about 70. Have a few different tasks to attend to this morning. First order of business was to download data from the temperature loggers (will link to this info once I've created the charts.) Takes about 20 minutes to walk to each of the three data loggers, plug in the laptop cable, then download the data and re-launch the data logger. Cool thing is that you can set the data to begin recording at a future date/time, so I've been setting them to begin about a half hour ahead of when I start collecting data. That ensure they each kickoff at the same instant which helps the data analysis charts look a bit cleaner.

Next order of business was to measure the sides of the front vineyard block, as we are planning on putting some additional rows on either side. So keeping a minimum 20' between vines and deer fence I was able to put a 300' row, a 200' row, and a 100' row on either side. Note - 20' is a decent amount of space on the side of a row, but I recommend a minimum 30' (or 40' if you can get it) at the end of a row as headspace for turning the tractor around.

Our main rows are 400' long, so the additional partial rows work out to a full 3 rows, and given our spacing of 9' between rows that works out to exactly .25 acre. That will bring our total to 3.417 acres (or 3 5/12 if you prefer)of vines after the 2006 planting:

Viognier - 2 and 3/24 acre
Cabernet Franc - 1 acre
Cabernet Sauvignon - 7/24 acre

All this math may seem a bit silly but trust me it is essential once you start mixing chemicals. And you may ask wouldn't it be easier to make the math simpler by leaving off a row or something. Sure, but eliminating a little math isn't really worth wasting space. To a geek like me anyway...

So with all the managerial tasks done it was time to put on the MP3 player and tie up some viognier. The viognier went much quicker than the cab franc since we didn't get the same vigor. Thus many of the viognier will be pruned back to three buds in March in preparation for a vigorous second year. Without actually counting I'd say about 50% of the viognier will be pruned down, whereas only 10% of the cab franc will have to be cut down.

So I got 6 rows done, leaving 6 more for next weekend and that will be the end of vine games for the year. Then it's time to start on the end-brace construction!

Posted by Stephen at 9:17 PM

October 8, 2005

Rainy Day Tying Vines

Had a bit of rain today, but what a welcome relief after toiling in the summer sun. Memom came over to the house to watch Tristan so Shannon could join me in the vineyard for a few hours. Today's task was to finish tying up the rest of the cabernet franc vines in preparation for dormancy to ensure the vines are in the proper position before setting wood. Hopefully this should make pruning chores a lot easier come March, as we'll already have good cordons secured to the trellis wire.

So nice to have just the two of us out there working - very peaceful. Days like today are what it is all about. Shannon spent about four hours out with me before heading back so Memom could take off. I finished up two more rows and called it a day - time to head home and play with the baby!

Posted by Stephen at 9:11 PM

September 25, 2005

Vineyard Harvest Brunch 2005

OK so we only harvested 6 bunches, but we're calling it a harvest brunch anyway! :)

As I said last entry, as a "thank you" to all the family and friends who pitched in the past two years to help us out, Shannon and I decided to host a brunch. One of the reasons we got into this business was for exactly this reason - to be able to enjoy the results of the year's work by sharing it with those closest to us. Rather than post all the pictures in this entry, I created a photo gallery - check it out here!

Posted by Stephen at 8:47 PM

September 24, 2005

Brunch Preparations

Tomorrow is our first big legitimate vineyard party! As a "thank you" to all the family and friends who pitched in the past two years to help us out, Shannon and I decided to host a brunch. One of the reasons we got into this business was for exactly this reason - to be able to enjoy the results of the year's work by sharing it with those closest to us.

I got off to an early start today by loading up lawn chairs, tables, and tents onto the trailer, then headed off to the vineyard. Arrived at 7:30 am and did a little more work on the rock wall then began tying vines. Rebecca showed up around 11 and started helping with the vine tying. Weather was great - overcast and high 70s. I can't tell you enough what a difference that makes! What a great change from suffering in the heat. Put on the MP3 player and really enjoyed listening to tunes working the vines. Stopped about 3 pm to go get diesel for the tractor while Rebecca continued to tie (until Shannon and Tristan showed up to visit then it was talky time...)

Got back and started mowing around 4 pm and around 5:30 or so my brother Jim and his wife Shayna came by for a visit. I kept mowing while they and Rebecca set up the food tent for tomorrow. They took off once it started to get dark and I kept mowing until I couldn't see the edges where I had mowed anymore. I believe that had something to do with my tractor headlights. Make that headlight. And I'm not so sure that headlight (1) is aimed properly because as I got near the edge of the vineyard the trees were lit up as bright as day but I couldn't see the grass 5 feet in front of me. Good grief can anything just work...? Time to go home and play with Tristan.

Posted by Stephen at 9:36 PM

September 17, 2005

Vine Tying #8

Last week I was wondering how the Rely herbicide would impact any grape leaves it touched. Well the short answer to that is "devastation" - any leaf that got the Rely on it is well, gone. But the good news is that it works as indicated - the vine does not get killed, yet all the weed growth in the rows is gone. Seems the Rely works a bit faster than glyphosate (Roundup) as well. So the vineyard is looking good again, much better than the disaster I was faced with last weekend. Today's chores are simple - tying vines again. However, in an effort to make sure the rows look as tidy as possible for our brunch next weekend, I took a different approach to the tying, opting to start tying the first 100' of each row closest to where we are going to host the party, that way if I don't finish then at least it "looks good" :)

So I put in about 7 hours, and didn't finish but that's OK I have next Saturday to keep at it. I topped off the day with a bit of hard labor as I was leaving - I've decided to relocate the rock wall I'm going to put in at the entry gate coming in from Sagle Rd. That's what stupid people do in the the mid-day heat - they move rock walls. Wasn't too bad, as I only had one layer down. I had to move all the rocks to the side so I could lay down some landscaping plastic to prevent weeds from growing up through the rocks, then put the first layer back on the plastic. The purpose of the relocation was to 1) move the wall out from the driveway a few feet to make room to get equipment in off the road and 2) move it away from Sagle Rd. a few feet. Rocks heavy, sun hot, OK I lost interest in this project after about an hour and headed home. This is feeling like a winter project!

Posted by Stephen at 4:25 PM

September 11, 2005


So after yesterday's ridiculous manual weeding fiasco, coupled with last night's medical drama, I was hopeful that today was going to be a smoother ride! In fact it was. Started the day off by re-installing the electrical connections for the sprayer (you'll recall they caught on fire a few weeks ago...) That took about an hour, then I got the sprayer loaded up with the Rely mixture (4 quarts per acre) and spent the next 3 hours riding around the vineyard. The total spray job takes three tanks (25 gallons) but I think I covered it pretty well. I know I hit a few vines, so I'm curious to see the effects of the Rely on the leaves - will they drop completely or just wither a bit? Should know next weekend!

Posted by Stephen at 5:22 PM

September 10, 2005

Weeds / Harvest

I knew on my way over to the vineyard today that the day's focus was on spraying Rely herbicide in the rows beneath the vines to reduce the weed invasion. A few weeks back I contacted Doug to inquire as to the risks of spraying Rely around first-year vines, and he indicated that any leaves that get sprayed will die, but there is no risk of permanent injury to the vine. The original plan was to spray last Monday (Labor Day), but due to Tristan getting a fever and our subsequent stay in the hospital that plan disappeared. So it had been over two weeks since I had even seen the vineyard, and even then the weeds in the rows were somewhat out of control. A lot can happen in two weeks...

When I arrived this morning I was shocked at how much additional weed growth had occurred. In fact, in some places I was pretty sure that even an herbicide would not be able to kill some of the weeds, as they were as tall as the cordon wire! Utterly depressed about the state of things, I realized that I would have to walk the rows and pull the largest weeds by hand, which would allow the Rely to attack the smaller weeds. So much for spraying today, where's the shovel.

So that's how today went - walking the rows with a shovel digging up huge weeds and clearing out the rows. I started to get really hot around 2:30 pm so I decided to take a shower to cool off, then took an hour nap in the shack. I felt a little funny when I awoke (more on that later...) but figured I needed to get back into the vineyard, where I continued weeding by hand until about 6:30. I had finished 20 rows and decided to complete the job tomorrow, since we were having Jim/Shayna over for dinner and so they could play with the baby. Just as I was finishing up for the day, feeling pretty dejected about how shitty the vineyard looked, I came across a few clusters of cabernet franc grapes that I allowed to grow this season.

View image 1
View image 2

And just like that, my ire faded and I just sat down and looked at them. So this is what it's all about then, eh? These silly looking little round purple things are what this whole year's efforts have been for. So I popped a few in my mouth and what do you know - they tasted like grapes. Unbelievable! So I looked around and remembered that I had left several clusters to ripen, so I cut them off (we call this "harvesting" in the wine industry...that's right...) I carefully placed my pound of grapes in my cooler to ensure their safe transport back home so I could share them to Shannon. As I left the vineyard I just couldn't help but smiling. All the pain of clearing the land, installing the deer fence, working nights and weekends, spending money and questioning the entire venture - all suddenly achieved purpose and I realized that no matter what future obstables we will face, we have survived the worst part.

We are really going to make it.

I awoke later that night, suffering from severe dehydration. Fever, chills, parched mouth, and disoriented, it was all I could do to make it to the kitchen for some water. I ended up under the covers wearing two robes trying to drink as much as I could. A weird feeling, as I begain drinking more and more water, I could feel it spreading out through my body. Just like that my temperature started to drop. After about an hour I the chills stopped and I started to feel better. I've been dehydrated a hundred times before, but never to that extent. Not fun. Moral of the story - keep drinking while working out in the sun. This was my mistake, as I was drinking what I thought was plenty, but didn't account for the fact that I had decided to wear jeans to avoid the itchies after walking through the weeds. The excess sweating dried me out quicker than normal and resulted in a very miserable night (my big harvest notwithstanding!)

Posted by Stephen at 8:17 PM

August 30, 2005

Tractor Fire...

So guess when Mr. Mackey finally decided to tell me about the tractor fire?!! He thought he would be sly and slip it into conversation Sunday night while we were up late feeding our little boy. The conversation went something like.."Oh look at Tristan smiling and laughing. Honey, look what he's doing now. By the way the tractor caught on fire. Look he's laughing now!". Yeah that went over like a lead balloon! :-)

Posted by Shannon at 3:35 PM

August 28, 2005

Sunday On The Tractor

Today was an easy day, albeit a little warm. Yesterday we picked up the new front tire from Browning Equipment, so obviously that was today's first order of business. A few turns of the wrench and I was back in business. Headed over to the vineyard to begin mowing the deer fence perimeter. Then the tractor caught on fire. Lovely. Can't I just have a normal day out here!?!?!?

Last week I had to remove the sprayer from the tractor bucket, and rather than remove the pump electrical wire from the battery I just left it attached and secured the end to the front-end loader. Well apparently as I was mowing and bouncing around somehow the wire must have either gotten cut or worn through and I think the hot lead grounded itself to the tractor frame. So at that point the battery is just shorted to the frame through this little wire, which got so hot the insulation just ignited. So there I am riding along enjoying the afternoon and all of a sudden "sniff...sniff... oh shit that doesn't smell good..." Then smoke. So I thought the engine was overheating but the temperature light wasn't on, so I hopped off the tractor to take a look and there was the wire, flames everywhere. Actually it burned itself out in about 10 seconds and there was a moment of excitement when I had to remove the bare wire from the battery, but it all turned out OK. Except for the fact that I now have to track down a new lead because I'll be needing the sprayer again soon. Good grief.

So after that short assinine interlude I was back in action, and spent the next three hours mowing the vineyard. It always looks so nice after mowing! Sorry no photos, but I've managed to somehow lose our digital camera, and I suspect that it just got mowed...

Posted by Stephen at 8:34 PM

August 20, 2005

Flat Tire / Klausen

I'll get to the reason I titled this entry as I did in a moment - allow me to walk you through my morning. I got up early so I could get a jump on the day - lots of mowing to do in the vineyard, but I also needed to clear paths to all the water components since the Loudoun Health Dept is coming out for inspections (previous entry outlines the permits...) Alas as I got in my Rodeo to head over, the fuel light came on, so I needed to make a pit stop at the gas station over by Harper's Ferry. I swung by the vineyard to get the diesel can (can always use some diesel for the tractor) and headed on down to the gas station. I pulled in a parked and reached for my wallet, and suddenly got that sick feeling you get when you realize you left your wallet at home. So there I am, truck on fumes with no $$$. Grrrrrr... So I go inside and lamely ask "can I make a credit card purchase if I have my card numbers memorized?" The way they looked at me I may as well have asked if I could borrow some uranium for my spaceship. So I went back out to the truck and started digging for change. Came up with $4! But now the tricky question on how to spend it - seeing as how it was supposed to be 95 degrees today I needed to get some drinks as well. I ended up getting a gatorade, 2 nutrigrains, and $2 of gas, the rationale being a quick MPG calculation in my head that would get me to the vineyard, then to the house, then to a gas station in Purcellville without having to push.

That crisis mitigated, I headed off to the vineyard. First chore was to clean out the sprayer, as it's not wise to leave chemicals sitting in the tank. So I fire up the hose and the water runs for about 30 seconds and shuts off. What the hell. So I start looking at the obvious - well pump fuse blown? loose wire? dead rat shorting the contacts? None of the above seemed to be causing the issue so as I was heading out to my truck to get some tools to start taking things apart, my next-door neighbor pulled into the driveway. I had seen her earlier as I turned off Rt. 9 onto Sagle, but didn't think anything of it. Turns out she was up there questioning the electric company as to why the power had been out since 2 am. So she dropped by to let me know, which was very sweet and prevented me from dismantling my entire well system (and the eventual temper tantrum that surely would have ensued.) OK so what a big goofy day I'm starting here!

Fine I'll clean the tank when the power comes back on - let's get the bush hawg hooked up and get some mowing done. Got the front of the house and rear done, then took the weed whacker to clear out the rest. Marked the well, septic tank, and drain field junction boxes with bamboo stakes and marking tape to the health inspector can easily find them. I figure if I make their life easy maybe they'll make mine easy. Naive I know...

Once that was done time to head out to the vineyard to mow, but first a quick run around the entryway off Sagle onto our property. Hadn't been done all summer so it was looking pretty ratty. And wouldn't you know it just as I was finishing that I heard it - POPpsssssssss. Grrrrrrrr again now why did I have to get a flat tire when I wanted to mow so bad? So I was just able to get the tractor back to the house before the tire actually worked it's way off the rim and that was that. Tire off, into the truck. No mowing today lads, which was a bummer because we had our friends the Klauses coming for a visit. So since they weren't scheduled to arrive for another hour, I decided to head out to the vineyard for some vine tying (always plenty of that to do!) But since I hadn't planned on tying vines I didn't wear protective clothing - recall I just sprayed a few days ago. So after an hour of sweating in the rows tying vines my skin just started to itch and burn like hell. Ack I think I had a reaction to the fungicide/insecticide mix. Quick head back to the house and rinse off, but skin still really itchy!!! So about this time the Klauses arrived, and I gave them a quick tour of the house. I thought that was actually quite hysterical because their home looks like it should be on the cover of Interior Decorating magazine, and our house is a condemned trash heap reeking of stray cat piss. "Are you tearing this down?" Uh, yeah.

So after the house tour we drove out to the vineyard for a look. As soon as I stepped out of the truck I started itching again, so we took a quick walk (keeping their kids away from the chemicals!) then cruised back to our rental shack so they could visit Tristan (and they brought us lunch!) - read about that on and see some pictures here.

On the way home I called Shannon and asked her to meet me at the door with some Benadryl - hopped right in the shower and got myself un-miserable from all the itchy/scratchy stuff. So we had a great visit which definitely put the goofy morning behind me!

Posted by Stephen at 4:48 PM

August 17, 2005

Insecticide and Fungicide Spraying

Can you believe the japanese beetles are still around? Well I got some more medecine for them... Plus I noticed some powdery mildew on the cabernet franc, so also hit the vineyard with the Microthiol Special (wettable sulfur) at a rate of 4 lbs per acre and some Dithane DF Rainshield Nt (active ingredient is Mancozeb) at the same rate. Took a couple hours to get the application done - this handheld spraying is getting to be kind of a drag - looking forward to next year with the tow behind sprayer.

Posted by Stephen at 9:28 PM

August 13, 2005

General Contractors / Clan Korte

So today was a big vineyard day. Started off by interviewing a general contractor for the upcoming tasting room / house construction. Very exciting to finally be embarking upon this grand affair! Although I'm sure the construction process will be fraught with headaches, once it's done it will be absolutely spectacular. Our first interview was with Mike Shores of ML Shores Construction. A veteran carpenter/builder, Mike is nicknamed "Spanky" due to the fact that he could pass for the Little Rascal all grown up. I got Mike's info from another project on our road that he is completing - an 8,000 sq. ft. custom home. Shannon and I actually got a tour and what can we say but WOW. Amazing work. We both felt really good about Mike, and we're hopeful that his bid comes back within our budget.

Once Mike left, Shannon headed back home with Tristan and I headed out to the vineyard for some gate maintenance and more vine tying. Just as I was preparing to work on the gate, I had the unexpected pleasure of some friends dropping by - my old colleague Brian Korte along with his new girlfriend, parents, and brother w/ sister-in-law. Dan was visiting from out of town and they were doing a winery tour and stopped by. So I got to give my first official vineyard tour! Lots of questions/answers - they were so curious and encouraging, it was a really great time. Have a look.

Once they left it was back to the chores...

So anyway, the left gate post had begun to lean away from the gate a bit, due to the tension from the fence. Not a big deal, I just needed to tighten the bracing wire holding the structure together, but as I found out it was very challenging trying to twist the twitch stick around with the nylon fencing in place. Mashed up my hand pretty good, but managed to get a few more twists on the wire which brought the post back in line. Then I installed a tension spring on the gate hinge to prevent it from swinging open too wide/quickly and damaging the hinges. Hotter than hell out here today - nearing 100.

Once the fence was tweaked, I had about an hour before the next contractor meeting, so I headed over to tie some more vines. Baked in the sun for a while and felt myself starting to overheat, so I finished up a row and went back to the house to take a shower to cool down. Timing worked out great, because just as I was finishing up Mike Runey, our second contractor showed up. And happily enough I really liked him as well! Again he has 30+ years in the business and has worked on several large custom homes in Loudoun County. Self-described as "I'm not real expensive, but I'm not cheap" he seems like a straight-shooter. We are scheduling a meeting next weekend to check out one of his current projects, and I've faxed both of them the latest revision of floor plans and 3D renderings so they can get back to us with estimates.

Now don't think these are the only two contractors I've contacted - I interviewed two others, one of which was way too self-important for my taste (and kept trying to sell me on his timberframe partner even though I repeatedly told him I was happy with my existing bids...) The other one was a total football bat who claimed "I've never built a timberframe home but I sure want to. Can you call me back on Thursday?" Eat me jackass. And two other contractors were too busy to even return my calls.

So ending up with two contractors that we really like is a great position to be in. Thus it begins - getting back their estimates, striking line items to get the budget in place, then choosing between the two, and getting this project moving. Things seem to be accelerating, and we're looking to break ground by April 2006.

This is going to be so awesome! Will post our plans and 3D renderings once we have finalized everything - don't wanna get any bad joojoo now by blabbing before all the "adults" have signed off (lender/county/contractor) - keep your fingers crossed for us!

Posted by Stephen at 3:12 PM | TrackBack

August 4, 2005

Vine Tying #6

More vine tying! 2.5 hours. Good times.

Posted by Stephen at 9:10 PM

August 3, 2005

Shannon Returns!

Tonight was a great night in the vineyard - Shannon was able to join me for some vine tying! She has been missing the vineyard quite a bit, not being able to help out during the later stages of pregnancy. Still it's tough to leave the baby even for a little bit, but my mom came over to watch Tristan and Shannon helped out for a couple hours. It's nice being able to work together out there - reinforces one of the big reasons we embarked upon this venture. Plus Grammy gets some good "alone time" with the baby.

So she jumped right in and started tying vines, but to ensure her safety as well as the baby's she opted to wear rubber gloves and long sleeves to eliminate any chance of the fungicides on the leaves contacting her skin. Ya never know, and it's not worth the risk...

She headed home about 8:00 and I worked a little while longer until it was too dark to see, then called it a day. Good times.

Posted by Stephen at 9:24 PM

July 26, 2005

Vine Tying #5

Vine tying = 3 hours

Man it was hot out there today - 100 degrees. Ugh.

Posted by Stephen at 3:16 PM

July 24, 2005


These damn beetles are annoying as hell! I had to skip an insecticide application last week due to a flat tire on the tractor. Browning Equipment came and picked it up so I figured while they had it they may as well do a complete tune up: New rear tire, replaced several worn hydraulic hoses, all new filters and fluids. They did a great job but I was without the tractor for over a week. Missing one application of insecticide was all they needed to move back in. The damage is minimal (maybe 2-3 leaves on 50% of the vines) but it's the principle! So I put the sprayer back on the tractor and added the insecticide. And since we're into the humid summer season our consultant recommended we spray for both powdery and downy mildew as well.

For the powdery mildew we use Microthiol Special (wettable sulfur) at a rate of 4 lbs per acre. For the downy mildew we use Dithane DF Rainshield Nt (active ingredient is Mancozeb) at the same rate.

Posted by Stephen at 10:43 AM

July 23, 2005

Vine Tying #4

Vine tying = 4 hours

Posted by Stephen at 10:42 AM

July 21, 2005

Vine Tying #3

Sorry to be entering such a short blog, but the next several entries are pretty much all about vine tying. Same old thing each time, but I enter them anyway to keep track of the time spent in the vineyard, both for our reference and to educate people interested in pursuing viticulture on our scale.

Anyway we brought the baby home from the Birthing Inn Tuesday and although I would LOVE to be home sleeping today the vineyard needs some TLC.

Vine tying = 3 hours

Posted by Stephen at 10:40 AM

July 17, 2005

Tying Vines #2

Got in about 3 hours of vine tying. Same drill as last week but it was hot as hell today - put down a gallon of Gatorade trying to stay hydrated! Decided to head home before finishing, as Shannon is going a little crazy since she had to stay home from work all week per the midwife orders, so we're going to a paint your own pottery studio in Ashburn to make some piggy banks for the baby! More vine tying tomorrow...

Posted by Stephen at 2:53 PM

July 11, 2005

Tying Vines

Began tying vines today. Not a difficult chore, but a bit tedious. Helps to have the MP3 player loaded up with some tunes to help keep boredom at bay. Essentially the drill is to walk each row and whenever you spot a vine that has either fallen off the bamboo stake, or has grown sideways instead of vertically you have to tie it back up to the stake. Using trellis strip (12" x 1/2" x 6mil plastic strips) you tie the vine up just tight enough so you can slip your finger through, which leaves enough room for the vine to grow to prevent girdling. I bought our strips from Midwest Vineyard Supply but they are available from numerous suppliers.

Progress is steady, and I'm finding out it takes anywhere from 15 to 25 per row depending on how many vines need tended. Spent about 4 hours and finished an acre of viognier. Will get to the cab franc next weekend!

Posted by Stephen at 2:45 PM

July 10, 2005

Grow Tube Removal

Well since it's such a pain in the ass to spray down the grow tubes, and since my research hasn't found any reason to keep the tubes on any longer, and mostly since the leaves down in the tubes look crappy anyway, I decided it was time to pull off the tubes. Kinda funny - it took an army of people over a week to put the tubes on and I was able to remove them all by myself in 7 hours (3 yesterday and 4 today). Basically you just have to grab each half and rip them apart. I stacked them up every 100' and just went up and down the rows.

One big problem with removing the tubes is that some of the vines (maybe 50) didn't develop tendrils sturdy enough to hold them to the bamboo stake, so now I have to go through the vineyard and tie them up otherwise they just flop around in the wind. And I also have an unproven theory that new tendrils are susceptible to damage from the insecticide - will keep an eye on that next year and try to do some more methodical observation.

Speaking of observation, looking across the vineyard from the upper corner it is clear that the cabernet franc vines are more vigorous than the viognier vines. Based on sighting across the rows, I would estimate that in general the cab francs are 25% taller with more mature shoots, with darker green foliage. Also, within the rows the vines situated on the hill are on average 15-25% taller than the vines on the flat, though at this point I'm not sure if that is due to soil composition (hill is richer - flat is clat) or due to water supply. Have to talk to Doug about this, and maybe we adjust our rootstock selection for the rear of the vineyard for future plantings.

All in all the vineyard is looking great, and now looks more like a vineyard and less like a grow tube farm - check it out.

Also check out this big cab franc vine!

Posted by Stephen at 10:29 PM | Comments ( 1 )

July 6, 2005

Data Pull

Good grief has it been two months already!? Sure has - time to pull the data off the temperature loggers. Haven't created the .pdfs yet but will get to that soon.

Also needed to check on the success of the last Sevin application (1qt/ac vs. 2qt/ac) The vines looked to be happier due to the downpour we had last night, and I only saw one active beetle (who was eliminated manually...) I guess the lighter application is working well enough - we'll see how things are looking this weekend.

Took a few pictures so you can check out the vine progress. Here's one of last year's research vines doing doing pretty well. And here is one of this year's cabernet franc vines, well over the four foot mark (recall the trellis wire is at 42").

Looks like this weekend will just be another spraying day, although it looks like rain on Friday/Saturday so I'll probably be out there on Sunday. But I am pondering removing the tubes soon - so maybe I'll do that Sat because it is such a huge pain in the ass leaning out over the edge of the tractor spraying down the tubes, and I've seen some of the other vineyards in the area have already pulled their tubes, but others haven't. Have to make some phone calls...

Posted by Stephen at 9:09 PM

July 2, 2005

Trellis Wire Complete

Well let's just say 99.9% complete. All the wire is in place and secured, and all the stakes are secured except for 60 on the last row. Seems when I ordered the nylon ties I got shorted one bag of 100 thus I came up short. Isn't that assine? I've been working like a dog for 8 months and come to the final step and can't finish because some stockboy can't count to 20. Sigh. Anyway I just have to pick up a bag of UV-resistant nylon ties and 15 minutes later I'll be done with the trellis wire. The final piece of this year's construction will be the trellis bracing, but there is no pressure to complete that right away since there isn't that much stress on the trellis wire yet (not like in a couple years when there is several hundred pounds of grapes hanging out in a thunderstorm - need bracing then!)

Once that was done I had to apply another round of Sevin XLR to prevent the beetles from enjoying the vines. Since it appeared to me that some of the vine leaves may have gotten burned down in the tubes from the Sevin (impossible to get an even spray down the tube, so I suspect some of the leaves got a lot more than others...) I decided to go with a lighter mixture of 1 quart per acre vs. the 2 quarts per acre I sprayed last weekend. In speaking with Jim McKenzie our chemical supplier, he said that the 2 quarts was the spec for a full canopy so it should be fine to go with a bit less. I'll drop by mid-week to see how the application is holding up.

Three and a half hours of spraying and it's pool time, with no vineyard chores scheduled for the rest of this three day weekend!!! I haven't had that much time off on a weekend in a very very long time, and it is gonna feel great.

Posted by Stephen at 9:00 PM

July 1, 2005

Trellis Wire Continued...

Decided to put in a couple hours tonight so that I could get done early tomorrow (we have plans to head over to our Godparents-to-be's house to enjoy some pool time!) So I got two more rows complete - pulling/nailing trellis wire and securing the stakes. It's really enjoyable working in the evenings now, since it's so much cooler than working mid-day. Pop on the headphones and turn on some mellow tunes on the MP3 player and it's a great way to unwind after a crazy week in the office.

It was also great to see the effectiveness of our Sevin insecticide. It didn't look like I lost a single leaf to the beetles. In fact I found several beetles laying dead on the ground. Guess they tried to munch a leaf and buh-bye. Have to put on another application tomorrow but as long as it's working I'm happy to spray it on!

Posted by Stephen at 8:53 PM

June 27, 2005

Feuer Frei!!! Open Fire!!!

Japanese Beetles == very serious threat! This is War!

We found out last year what the beetles can do - basically turn a vine into green lace. I mean gone! So no way I'm letting that happen again - a few research vines was one thing but now that we're doing this for real measure must be taken to ensure that the vines are protected.

So we got 2 gallons of Sevin from Jim McKenzie our chemical supplier. I mixed up roughly 1 quart per 25-gallons of water, and that covered 8 rows (2/3 of an acre) which puts it at 1.5 quarts per acre (based on manufacturers recommendations of 1-2 quarts per acre). The part that sucked was trying to spray down the tubes - oh yeah the beetles LOVE it down in there - read about it here.

Basically the process is go real slow (2nd gear low) and lean way over to the right and put the sprayer wand down the tube and pull the trigger while extracting the wand. This gives a pretty nice coating inside the tube. Then spray the exposed leaves. No problem, except for the tractor is moving which makes this kind of an exercise in concentration. One blink and you bump into bamboo stakes (OK make that about 10 blinks - hehe...) or you knock over a line post (thank goodness that one didn't have the trellis wire on it yet...) Anyway I got it all done and it's a good thing too because yesterday Rebecca and I saw about 8 beetles - today I saw well over 50. And now they have some nice white residue to snack on. And then they can all die.

Posted by Stephen at 9:25 PM | Comments ( 2 )

June 25, 2005

More Trellis Wire - War Breaks Out!

Lupe (a.k.a. Rebecca) came out today to help with the trellis wire installation. Whilst I was running wire and hammering staples, she was tying the bamboo stakes and doing some occasional pruning, removing some stray tendrils etc. I got out to the vineyard early to get a head start on running wire so she wouldn't have to wait on me. Nothing like a quiet morning in the vineyard to catch up on one's digital media news via podcasts!

Rebecca showed up around 9:30 and we were in full swing. The day started to heat up pretty quickly - makes you kind of goofy after a while!

The crew (also check out the herbicide progress)
Crazy from the heat

We took a much-needed lunch break (jumped in my truck and cranked the air conditioning!) Got back to work and put in a few more hours until it was time to call it a day, around 3:30. Time to go sponge off a friend with a pool!

Today's progress
View the vineyard

One other important point - WAR broke out today! Our territory has been invaded.

View the enemy

Tomorrow I shall return fire with all guns blazing.

Posted by Stephen at 9:12 PM

June 19, 2005

Tidying Up The Rows

Today was pretty simple - just had to spray herbicide in the rows to kill all the grass and weeds that are starting to crowd the vines (you can see some of this in yesterday's pictures). To be honest though, this is really nerve-wracking - one slip and you could spray a vine and that's all she wrote. True, if a vine gets sprayed you're supposed to stop and pull off all the leaves that got sprayed and it should be OK. But doing it for the first time I was still really nervous that maybe some herbicide would get in the tubes. Oh well, only one way to find out!

So being very careful, I opted to just spray at the inside of the row i.e. between the tractor tire and the base of the tube. So doing it this way took twice as long since I had to make two passes to cover each side of a row, but I figured there was less chance of accidentally spraying a vine by trying to cover too wide of an area. Considering all the time and effort that has gone into this venture up to this point, I don't think I would have been able to forgive myself if I went ahead and killed all the vines at this point. Anyway, five hours later the whole thing was done, and I didn't hit a single one (I'm pretty sure anyway, we'll see next weekend...)

So by next weekend the grass/weeds should be starting to yellow, and that's good because that means a lot less plants competing for the limited water supply this time of year.

Posted by Stephen at 8:46 PM

June 18, 2005


OK so I made up a new word. I kinda combined "technophile" (my Mon-Fri description) and "hillbilly" (my Sat-Sun description) into a word that I think describes me pretty well - TechnoBilly. Perhaps the best illustration of this point would be the following picture - note the fashionable Mexican straw hat (made in China), the tool belt, the krusty shoes (all representing "Billy") and now notice the Creative Zen Micro MP3 player (representing the "Techno") and you see what I mean...

View a TechnoBilly

Good grief.

So anyway, today's chores involved running trellis wire and securing the bamboo stakes to the wire. The trellis wire is stapled to the posts at a height of 42" which is the height for the Smart-Dyson configuration. Then each bamboo stake is secured to the wire. I chose to try UV-resistant nylon cable ties. Obviously the UV resistance is critical since these are supposed to last a few years, at least until the bamboo in the ground decomposes, by which time the vines should be nice and woody and structurally sound on their own.

Nylon ties

It's so nice to finally be working on the vines again, not just hacking away at the deer fence every weekend. And since some of this was light-duty tasks, Shannon was able to come out and help - if our midwives are reading this I promise she took it easy. :)

Shannon tying stakes

So it was a nice day and a welcome change - this vineyard thing is starting to make sense again!

Posted by Stephen at 8:32 PM

June 2, 2005


Suckering - verb - the diabolical act of convincing someone to build a deer fence.

No but seriously folks - there actually is a viticultural task called suckering. Doug Fabbioli stopped by this afternoon to check on our progress and was very pleased with how things are coming along. He also thought the deer fence kicked ass. Because it does.

Anyway, he gave me a lesson on suckering, which is the removal of unwanted shoots (green, fruit-bearing parts of the vine) in order to increase the amount of energy devoted to the remaining shoots. This maximizes the growth potential of the two remaining shoots ensuring they will reach the cordon wire and begin horizontal growth.

So step one is to remove the grow tube and examine the vine. Here's what a viognier looked like once the tube was removed. You can see several shoots have emerged. Suckering a first-year vine is definitely done one at a time, on hands and knees. You have to delicately pull back leaves to inspect each shoot, then break off all but the strongest two shoots. Interestingly enough, even first year vines can try to produce fruit! Have a look at the same vine once it has had shoots removed you can see the tiny grapes. Then the grapes are removed and you have the suckered vine. Then the grow tube is carefully slid back over the vine where it will remain for another month or so. Now just 1,919 more to go - time to call in the labor crew!

Doug was happy to see a couple of the cabernet franc vines emerging from the tubes. At this point in the year it's a very positive sign of excellent vigor - here's the first one out.

And in case you ever thought that my anxiety over finishing the deer fence is exaggerated, have a look at a test vine that we used to determine the planting depth of the tree planter. This vine has not had a grow tube around it and you can see how the deer have munched it. Check it out. At least this vine doesn't need suckered.

So Doug assigned me a priority list of tasks to complete.

1) Complete deer fence (will be done next weekend!)
2) Call Quentin and have his guys sucker the remaining vines
3) Install trellis wire and secure tops of bamboo stakes
4) Apply another round of herbicide in the rows (and perimeter of fence)
5) Contact Jim McKenzie at Helena Chemicals and order:
---- Sulfur (fungicide for powdery mildew)
---- Dithane (fungicide for downy mildew)
---- Sevin (insecticide for Japanese beetles)
6) Install end post bracing construction

I'll have to start spraying fungicide every 10 days by the end of June, and probably every three days for the beetles.

Oh yeah, before Doug got there and after he left I worked on the deer fence. As if you didn't know...

Posted by Stephen at 9:13 PM | Comments ( 1 )

May 9, 2005

Bud Break

I needed to go by the vineyard tonight on my way home from work.

Whoever is reading this, I hope you never feel like I did today - the stiffness and soreness from working that jackhammer bent over those holes was unreal. So I needed to go have a look and just enjoy the sight of those deer fence posts in the ground - made me feel better.

While I was out, I walked through the vineyard checking the new vines for bud break, and sure enough about 25% of the vines have already pushed. Seems the cabernet franc is a little further along than the viognier - I'm curious about that so I'll have to read up on it later.

Cab franc bud break
Viognier bud break

I also checked out last year's vines and wow - they are really off to a great start. I was worried that transplanting them would be too traumatic - apparently not!

Last year's viognier

And here's a shot looking across the end posts - you can see the horizontal posts that I still have to install for bracing. Thankfully the crew was nice enough to set them all out for me, which would have been a huge pain if I had to do that!

All rows done

Posted by Stephen at 10:24 PM

May 6, 2005

New Addition To The Family

No, not him - our baby isn't due until July (but we want to play with him now!!!)

I mean our new John Deere lawn tractor. Kinda funny we are both so excited about it? The rental home we're staying until we can begin building the tasting room has about 1.5 acres of lawn to mow, and there's plenty of mowing to be done at the vineyard, so I figured we'd better get a proper mower. And here it is!

Posted by Stephen at 9:32 PM

May 4, 2005

Pounding Posts

Trellis construction finally started today! We are having Donny Ulmer of Millcreek Farm Fencing pound in all of our trellis posts. 504 4"x8'line posts (24 rows x 19 posts) plus 96 6"x8' end/brace posts. Each row is 400' long with the posts spaced at 20' (pounded in the ground to a depth of 2') thus the 19 line posts between 2 of the thicker posts used for bracing. The end posts are 8' behind each brace post, pounded in the ground 3.5'.

View the ends

Donnie's team (Phillip and Alejandro) are making great progress with their new post pounder - have a look at this beast.

The rows are lining up very nicely - guess all the running around the field with marking stakes was worth it! Here's a few more pictures:

Looking down a row
View from Sagle Road
View from corner of the vineyard

So it looks like they'll be done by Monday, which means this weekend will be focused on deer fence construction - gotta get that done!!!

Posted by Stephen at 9:38 PM

April 29, 2005

Grow Tubes Finished!

The grow tubes are done! Rebecca got a row and a half done yesterday, leaving me with just over one row left to finish tonight. Got out to the vineyard about 7:45, and was actually joined by my cousin Mike Smith, who was visiting from Newport News. Sadly, Mike was in town visiting our Grandmother, Mary Lightner who is in the hospital after suffering a heart attack last night. Not the best circumstances to hang out in, but we made the most of it. Mike is a project manager on the George H. W. Bush (CVN 77) so I got to learn a bit about that while we assembled grow tubes.

Having someone else help out definitely speeds up progress, and we were done by 9 - just in time for a beer, then I had to head home to pack for the Florida trip, and Mike was heading back to see Gram.

Although I'm happy to have the grow tubes finished, and excited for Shannon to have her baby shower tomorrow, my heart is heavy with thoughts of Gram. She is the cornerstone of our family and her condition is very serious. It will be a very restless sleep tonight.

Gram at our wedding - Shannon, mom, Gram, me, Aunt Annie

Posted by Stephen at 9:19 PM

April 27, 2005

And More Grow Tubes...

Evening vineyard chores! Since we have 4 1/2 rows of grow tubes left to assemble and install, I had to head out tonight to put in a few hours of work. Rebecca will be out there tomorrow for a few hours, but every little bit counts so I figured I'd get some done tonight.

Got out to the vineyard about 6:30 and just drove the truck right out into the rows - figured I'd need the headlights once the sun went down. So there I sat until 9:30 putting tubes together and walking them out the rows. Got another two rows done - only 2 1/2 left to do but they've got to get done before this weekend since we're heading to Florida for our baby shower!

Posted by Stephen at 9:15 PM

April 24, 2005

More Grow Tubes

Special thanks to friends and family who helped out today!

Rebecca Mackey
Tiago Stock
Brian Korte
Sue Skemp (mom)

So the order of the day was grow tubes, grow tubes, and more grow tubes. I got out to the vineyard by 8:30 am to distribute materials and get our "production line" setup with a few chairs. So I sat out there for a bit working alone, then Tiago and Brian showed up. Tiago was a little leery of the project, because the last time he was out it was the "deer fence post delivery in the muck" day so I assured him that today would be much easier!

So we got to it, and very soon Rebecca and Shannon arrived and brought down some more grow tubes for assembly. And then it snowed. No shit! Snowing in April - very weird so we decided to set up our tent to keep out of the weather because it looked like it wanted to rain. And then the sun came out - for 15 minutes, then it snowed some more...


And so it went - chatting, assembling grow tubes, and putting them on stakes. We stopped for lunch up in the shack, then got back to it for a few hours. Sue showed up and joined in, then Rebecca, Tiago and Brian took off about 4:00. Sue, Shannon and I worked for another hour then it got really cold and windy so Shannon and Sue took off. I worked for another few hours (until I couldn't move my fingers...) then gave up for the day. Another day of awesome progress, only 4 1/2 rows left to do - check it out.

Check out Tiago's currency conversion site (Ameddica been veddy veddy good to me...) and Brian's blog which was the major inspiration in our deciding to maintain a blog.

Posted by Stephen at 8:52 PM

April 23, 2005

Bamboo and Grow Tubes

Special thanks to friends and family who helped out today!

Gary, Kathy, Garrett, Travis, Marissa, and Wyatt Croson
Alexie, Nolan, and Olivia Badura
Chris Coderre
Mickey Mackey (mom)
Ginny Smith
Debbie Hartwick
Jim and Shayna Mackey
Tracy, Evan, and Trevor Krohn

OK so we got all the vines planted last week, now what? The next step is to ensure that the delicate vines have the opportunity to get established quickly, and for this they need training and protection. Young vines are susceptible to a great many hazards, like frost, wildlife (deer, rabbits, etc.) and competition from weeds. In addition, a young vine left to it's own devices will grow quite erratically (assuming it doesn't get eaten, which it would!)

Thus it becomes necessary to install a bamboo stake next to each vine to provide support as the shoots grow. For this we purchased 5' x 1/2" bamboo stakes from Spec Trellising. It's a simple matter of pounding the stake in the ground about a foot. To speed up the operation, the kids were tasked with placing a stake next to each vine, then we "big people" went up and down the rows with hammers (and some rocks) and pounded in the stakes. Progress was great and all the stakes were done by about 2 pm.

Bamboo crew in action

Meanwhile, Shannon and her crew were assembling the grow tubes that we bought from our friends at Hillsborough Vineyards. Since it's typical to use grow tubes for several seasons, Bora offered them up for sale at the Loudoun Winegrowers meeting a few months back so we took him up on his offer. Definitely a more tedious process than banging in stakes, the grow tube assembly progressed much slower. Everyone had a good time though, with several of the little kids pitching in to distribute assembled tubes in the vineyard. It's pretty hysterical watching a 4-year old take one grow tube (almost as tall as him!) the whole way to the end of the 400' row, drop it on the stake and over the vine, then run the whole way back to get another tube. I'm betting they all slept REAL well tonight!

Wyatt and Marissa

View image 1
View image 2
View image 3
View image 4
View image 5
View image 6

So by the time the thunderstorms moved in we had all the stakes in place and just under 7 (out of 24) rows of tubes done. A very successful day - thanks again to all who participated! It is very rewarding to us to hear loved ones thank us for the opportunity to participate in the founding of our vineyard. My cousin Kathy told me that sitting in the sun assembling grow tubes, with no phones or tvs around, watching her kids run around the rows was the most relaxing thing she's done in a long time. And watching the little ones running around, thinking about our baby on the way - let's just say this is what it's all about.

Note - Marissa was the flower girl at our wedding June 12, 2004. Have a look!

Marissa arriving
Marissa and Shannon

Posted by Stephen at 8:25 PM

April 17, 2005

Tom's Crib

So we spent today visiting with Shannon's Aunt Lynne and her friends in Charlottesville, VA. They are staying in over at Massanutten, about 90 minutes drive from Charlottesville. My mom joined us for the trip, so the three of us left Purcellville last night around 7:30, tired from the long day of planting. Got up this morning and had breakfast at Waffle House (oh so yummy) then went over to Monticello to begin the day. It seemed kind of fitting to be visiting Monticello the day after founding our own vineyard. Jefferson is considered to be the father of the Virginia wine industry - you can read more about it here.

Obviously Jefferson's contributions to American history go far beyond his winemaking efforts, and visiting Monticello certainly imparts a sense of wonder at this true American icon. I'm currently reading "American Sphinx : The Character of Thomas Jefferson" to learn more about his life.

During our tour I of course took the opportunity to visit the small vineyard they have planted there. In true historic fashion, they have opted to not use modern trellising techniques (high tensile wire etc.) but instead use a more rustic approach - check it out.

We also stopped by his grave to pay a moment of respect - you really have to wonder how the founding of this country and every subsequent event may have been different if not for the contributions of Thomas Jefferson.

We spent the rest of the day enjoying lunch at Michie Tavern, then had a wine tasting at Jefferson Vineyards, and finished off the day at James Monroe's home Ash Lawn Highland which we highly recommend!

Posted by Stephen at 8:45 PM

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 8:21 PM

April 15, 2005

Final Preparations

So tomorrow is the big day! While I was at work today, Mike Newland (our planting consultant) was towing his tractor and a rental tree planter to the vineyard. Our tractor isn't large enough to support the tree planter that we're using to quicky plant the vines, thus we're using his. We met Mike at the LWA meeting a few months back.

I have a few chores tonight to take care of to make sure we're ready. First I had to swing by Home Depot to pick up (4) 5-gallon buckets which we'll use tomorrow to mix the root dip, a pre-planting mixture that prevents root shock and gives extra nutrients to the root system.

The vines arrived yesterday, and our neighbors Karelyn and Jerry were kind enough to keep them at their house overnight. I had to run over with the tractor and get them - they arrived packed in sawdust in 5 boxes. The initial plan was to put them in the pond overnight, since it's best to soak the roots prior to planting. But once I got the boxes down to the pond, I realized what a huge hassle that was going to be, so since the vines were already packed in a very heavy plastic bag inside of the box, I just took the buckets and filled up each box with water. Worked out real nice. Then back over to the neighbors to pick up the boxes of bamboo and transfer them over to the vineyard. Had to remove two piles of trash left over from the fence removal and the vineyard was ready to go. Good thing because it's dark now!

Only thing left to do is get up early tomorrow to get diesel for the tractor - now home to bed!

Posted by Stephen at 10:07 PM

April 13, 2005


UGH!!! This week is creeping by! Saturday is the big planting day. I just checked the weather and it's supposed to be dry the rest of the week which will help to firm up the soil and not turn it into a mud-fest. Plus it will be 67 and partly cloudy on Saturday - perfect day for planting. I tracked the vines and they are on schedule for delivery tomorrow. Talked to Mike Newland, our planting consultant and went over the final details. Everything is in place ready to go.

Except it's only Wednesday. ACK. Having a seriously tough time focusing on work right now - I'm in Toronto on a business trip. Tomorrow I have to somehow sit through (2) three-hour meetings as two software vendors give presentations...

whahh wha woo wha capabilities woo woo wha service level agreement whah wha whah whah scalability wha woo wha infrastructure wha whahhhhh.......

all the while wondering if the vines arrived safely? Is everything still on schedule? Will China invade us Friday night? Should I check to see if an asteroid is going to hit Purcellville on Saturday? Am I unnecessarily giving myself an ulcer?

Posted by Stephen at 1:49 PM

April 9, 2005

Spraying Herbicide

Today was quite simply the most magnificent day I've had working in the vineyard. The weather was spectacular and the tasks were manageable - a winning combination!

The day started by continuing with deer fence post installation. Obviously it doesn't go as quickly with one person (vs. four like last weekend) but it is doable. I put in 6, then decided I had better get started with spraying. Since we're planting next weekend, we needed to get down herbicide in each row to kill the grass/weeds so the young vines won't have to compete for water/nutrients. Ah, but first I need to complete the tragic plumbing fix from a few weeks ago. That actually ended up working out somewhat well, only took about an hour, plus I was able to solder in an external spigot to attach the hose used to fill the sprayer tank. So I strapped the sprayer in the bucket of the tractor (might have to rig something more permanent later...) hooked the pump up to the battery and secured the lines. Mixed in the glyphosate, donned my facemask and respirator and away I went. I figured before I actually got in the vineyard it would be prudent to test the rate of application by spraying the perimeter deer fence first. Took a couple of tweaks to the nozzle but then basically you just get to lean over the side of the tractor and drive around! Since I had put the sun canopy on the tractor it was very enjoyable.

Now that I had the hang of it I went in and started sprayed the rows. 25 gallons of mixture sprayed 14 x 400' rows at a width of approximately 3' with the tractor moving in low gear #4. Didn't finish the whole three acres because I had to call it quits at 4 PM and get showered and over to a surprise birthday party for my cousin Tom Smith (are you really 40 mate???) then over to a truly remarkable dinner at House of Klause. Will finish up spraying tomorrow!

Posted by Stephen at 10:57 PM

March 13, 2005

Final Row Turning / More Bush Hawging

Another early start to the day - out in the vineyard by 8am. So with the vines from last year transplanted over to row one, I was able to finish subsoiling the remaining 6 rows. Ahh, but first we must get the hole digger off the tractor and the subsoiler back on. Somehow I managed to wrestle the hole digger off, still ending up with 10 fingers and my back still functioning. Teenage boys will be quite useful someday...

Out to the vineyard where, I had to repaint my guidelines as they had worn off a bit from the snow, but no big deal. Also, because I had decided to leave the 200' bamboo stakes in place, I had a gap of about 15' in the center of each row that had to be turned. The gap was due to the length of the tractor, as I stopped subsoiling when the tractor reached the 200' mark. So i just had to turn the tractor around the other way and quickly do this short distance on each row. Got that done about 11am.

Now it was time to get back to bush hawging in preparation for the deer fence installation. I've kind of been putting it off because it just sucks sooo bad. Now with the vineyard rows all turned, just sitting ready to plant, there is nothing else to do but get ugly with the bush hawg. Ahhh, but first we have to get the subsoiler off the tractor and the bush hawg on. Good grief where is that farm boy???

Back in February my bush hawg came apart (for the second time) so the nice folks at Tractor Supply gave me a new one! Rebecca helped me put it together, but since it was a replacement it didn't come with instructions. (You know where I'm going with this but stay with me...) I put it together from memory, tightened down all the nuts/bolts and we're ready to go. (Stay with me...)

So this morning as I'm attaching the drive shaft to the PTO it seems to me that I'm not quite able to reach in to the shaft quite as easily as with the old one. Discounting that difficulty to the angle of the tractor, I manage to get everything hooked up and we're ready to go. (Steady...) I pull out of the driveway, head down Sagle Road to the vineyard, and as I turn in to the vineyard the shit hit the fan! Actually the bush hawg hit the tractor and the shit hit my overalls...

Basically the front support brace for the bush hawg was installed backwards, which brought the deck of the cutter about four inches closer to the tractor. Thus the deck got caught on the treads of the rear wheels of the tractor, and as the wheels turned forward it actually lifted the whole bush hawg up off the ground. The tractor started lurching forward and bouncing up and down as the bush hawg lifted further off the ground until the hitch arms could go no higher, at which point the transmission made a big fun noise and the engine shut off. Well now just kiss my country ass.

Of course it's getting close to lunch time and Shannon is bringing lunch soon - gotta fix this quick so she won't worry!

So there I am stalled in the field with the bush hawg waving in the air like a 600-pound flag. La de da I manage to get the tractor started, put it in reverse to un-f**k the bush hawg, which I then detached. Tractor tire not looky so good, but didn't pop (somehow.) Quick run over to the truck to get the tools to fix the bracing on the bush hawg and wouldn't you know it there I am sitting in the field with nuts and bolts and tools all over the place and up drives my pregnant wife.

"Ummm, hi honey. I'm being real careful..."

Happily she didn't confiscate the tractor key and send me home for the day. We had a nice lunch and just hung out in the vineyard for an hour for a little QT, as she's leaving on a business trip for a few days. :-(

So now back to the task at hand. Bush hawg fixed, tractor patted on the head (sorry about the drama there mate...) and off to find some bushes. The afternoon was spent chainsawing branches and a few trees, running through bushes chopping them down, clearing out rocks, just making a nice wide perimeter to get the deer fence in place. I think the thing that sucks most about this is no matter how careful you are, invariably you get whacked in the head with a tree branch, or some sticker bush gets under your face mask and tears into your neck. You may not think that a little branch could be that bad, but have somebody whack you in the forehead with a broomstick a few times and you'll see what I mean.

Made great progress though, and looking at what is left I'm hopeful that next weekend will be the last of the fence-pulling bush hawging nonsense. At this point I've cleared the entire perimeter except for a 40-yard stretch along the road. And the biggest relief is knowing that this is a one-time chore - from here on out all we have to do is keep it cut back a few times a year!

Posted by Stephen at 9:08 PM

March 5, 2005

How To Build An H-brace

The first row of trellis is done! OK now the vineyard is starting to resemble, well, a vineyard!

After waking up this morning I had to explain to Gypsie that we couldn't play frisbee until later in the afternoon.

Got out to the vineyard about 9am and had to take care of some routine tractor maintenance. Three different oil levels to check (engine, transmission/hydraulic, front end drive) plus some grease fittings to lube. Also had to replace a few bolts that had come loose on the hole digger last weekend. NOTE - ALWAYS check every nut and bolt you can get a wrench on before putting a new piece of equipment in service. Don't assume that they have been torqued at the factory - sometimes they are just tight enough for shipping.

Once the tractor was ready the first task was to put in the remaining line posts and the two end posts. Got that done by about 1pm so decided to have a bit of lunch.

Next task was to build an h-brace at each end of the row. The h-brace is a common construction technique used for high-tensile fences, thus it is applicable for vineyard trellising. Here's a diagram of what it looks like - view image.

Step one is the insertion of the 5" brace pin into the end post. Basically just drill a 2.5" hole in the end post and the brace - view image. Once that is done the brace is inserted onto the pin, then set in place on the brace post and temporarily held by a clamp (after cutting to the proper length and set with the level.) While it's being held level an 8" hole is drilled through the brace post into the brace then the pin is hammered into the hole.

NOTE - this next step actually gets redone on March 12, but I left this entry as it was created to illustrate this is a never-ending learning process!

Next step is to install the brace wire. A length of high-tensile wire is cut so that it loops around the structure diagonally from ground level of the end post, up and over the 10" brace pin, and back where it is then crimped together to form the loop.

The last step is to tighten the brace wire. This is accomplished by inserting a stick into the loop then twisting and twisting repeatedly until the wire forms a very tight twist. This puts immense tension on the wire which draws the two posts together very tightly on the brace, creating a very stable structure.

Repeat for the other end and it's all done! Next thing to do was to install the fruiting wire, a length of 12.5 gauge wire exactly 42" from the ground. This is the optimal height for the Smart-Dyson trellis configuration which we have opted for. The wire is looped around an end post, crimped, then run along the entire length of trellis. At the other end, it is attached to a ratcheting tensioner, then cranked down until it is very tight.

Tomorrow I'll move over the remaining vines from last year's planting, but here's what it looks like:
Row one trellis done

Posted by Stephen at 6:35 PM

February 27, 2005

First (half) Trellis

So since I'm starting a new job tomorrow I figure what better way to get myself prepared than by laboring for a while in the vineyard. Clears the head. The day started off assembling my new tool, a 3-point post hole digger. We needed the digger to place posts for the deer fence that will surround the perimeter of the vineyard, but in addition I have to move the vines that we planted last year (since we've reconfigured our row and vine spacings.) I'll also be hiring a local farm service to pound in the bulk of the trellis posts in April once we've planted, but I decided to go ahead and build one row of trellis in order to get the vines moved.

I got the digger assembled and attached to the tractor, then I figured what better place to test it out than right in the middle of the front yard! Check it out.

Then it was time to head out to the vineyard and actually try it out on a line post. It works great - takes about 20-30 seconds to dig a 9-inch hole two feet deep. Drop in the post, level it and tamp down the surrounding soil and voila - a post in the ground. Have a look.

Once I got into a groove progress went pretty quickly. Basically I mark the spots, dig all the holes, distribute the posts, line them up, level them, then tamp down the backfill soil. Most of the posts aren't exactly straight, so it plays tricks on your eyes sometimes and you spend extra time deciding which way to orient the post. Took about two hours to do half the trellis - here's how it turned out.

Had to quit early to head over to my cousins place for her daughter Marissa's birthday party - she turned 5. Marissa was the flower girl in our wedding, so she has a special bond with Shannon, and it was great to see everyone. For sure I would have stayed out in the vineyard all day and worked myself to a pulp, so the break will be much appreciated tomorrow during the first day on the job!

Posted by Stephen at 9:52 PM

February 21, 2005


Finally found my handheld GPS unit after the move from CT, so I got the opportunity to record some position data in the vineyard. First order of business was to double-check our row orientation. Using the navigate feature I walked the center row and confirmed that our rows are oriented in a due SE direction, heading 135 degrees.

Next task was to record the positions of the data loggers, in order to better analyze the temperature and relative humidity differences that occur.

View the layout of the data loggers, and learn more about the data loggers in the January 11th entry.

Next task was to record the positions of all vineyard perimeter corners, both to establish distances for calculating deer fencing requirements, as well as calculating the total area contained by the deer fence. Calculating the distance between main fencing posts turned out to be quite simple using the GPS unit waypoint feature. As I drove the perimeter, I just had to stop at each corner, and set the location as a waypoint. Then once I moved to the next corner, I set the new waypoint, then checked the distance from the previous waypoint. I continued in this manner around the entire vineyard perimeter and created this table:

Corner Latitude Longitude Distance
1 N 39° 15.263 W 077° 44.753 0 ft.
2 N 39° 15.204 W 077° 44.651 600 ft.
3 N 39° 15.170 W 077° 44.629 234 ft.
4 N 39° 15.144 W 077° 44.644 174 ft.
5 N 39° 15.134 W 077° 44.658 80 ft.
6 N 39° 15.136 W 077° 44.706 201 ft.
7 N 39° 15.160 W 077° 44.732 204 ft.
8 N 39° 15.216 W 077° 44.801 462 ft.
1 N 39° 15.263 W 077° 44.753 374 ft.

Thus the total perimeter is approximately 2,329 feet, and figuring a fence post every 25 feet means we'll be putting up somewhere between 95-105 posts depending on topography etc. plus extra for the corner bracing structures.

The GPS unit also has a nice area calculator, whereby you basically drive the perimeter again and it gives you the area, which in this case turned out to be 7.75 acres. This confirmed my earlier calculations which I had made using a 300' tape measure and a lot of walking...

Posted by Stephen at 2:34 PM

February 8, 2005

First LWA Meeting

Tonight we participated in our first Loudoun Winegrower's Association meeting, held at beautiful Hillsborough Vineyards - thanks to Bora, Zeynap, and Kerem for hosting such a great meeting. It was great to meet so many of the people we have been hearing and reading about over the last few years while we've been gearing up for our own planting this spring. We were introduced as new growers, and everyone was very encouraging and supportive, making us feel right at home from the start.

One of the main topics of discussion was the Web site, so I offered up my services to work with Dean on re-architecting the site and developing new content. Lots of work to be done, both for expanding our ability to share knowledge with each other, as well as increasing the marketing value of the site to inform potential customers of our efforts in bringing Loudoun to the forefront of the Virginia wine industry.

We also had the opportunity to visit with Mark Fedor, winemaker for Waterford Vineyards. Mark is also the COO for our ISP Roadstar Internet so we are able to connect on several levels!

Earlier today I had stopped into the Loudoun government building in Leesburg, and finally met Warren Howell, who we've spoken to several times in the past few years regarding our land use. Warren helps landowners and local farmers connect, and this is how we met Mike Reed who is placing cows on our land this spring. It was great talking to Warren about our backgrounds, and our plans for the vineyard and tasting room - he seemed very excited about our focus on wines and music. Very knowledgeable about both our industry and the county, Warren is also in the LWA so Shannon got to meet him tonight.

I could go on and on about everything we talked about, but I'll close by saying it was a great first experience, and we're excited about finally being on the scene and feel we'll be able to contribute a lot to the future of the industry.

Posted by Stephen at 10:21 PM

January 11, 2005

Vineyard Data

So before I left for India I went out to the vineyard and downloaded the data from the three temperature/humidity data loggers we put out. With the raw data on my laptop, I've been able to play around with the data and graphs a bit. It's fascinating to see some of the temperature variances that can occur in a single field. True to our predictions, the low spot (position 2) of the vineyard tends to be the coolest area. But it was surprising to see temperature differences of up to six degrees F between the three loggers. They are only a few hundred feet apart, and yet the temperature variances can be quite dramatic.

View the layout of the data loggers.

View position #1.

View position #1 data logger from ground up (looking under the rain shield.

I'm in the process of redesigning the Web site, but in the interim I've posted the data. Check out the .pdf files, particularly the "variance" ones - pretty interesting stuff. In the years to come, it will be even more interesting to perform analysis on this data during the growing seasono to see the effects of temperature etc. on the resulting brix, pH, and tA (titratable acidity) of the fruit at harvest. In addition, this data should give us an idea of potential winter damage to the vines - vinifera can be severely damaged or killed at -10 degF, while hybrids are more cold tolerant with some being able to withstand temperatures as low as -20 degF.

Posted by Stephen at 2:07 PM

January 3, 2005

Turning the Rows

So another required task in preparation for vine planting is sub-soiling each row. What is sub-soiling? Essentially it is the cutting of a groove in the soil to break through the layer between topsoil and sub-soil. This layer is called the hardpan. This requires the use of an implement (aptly named) a sub-soiler, which connects to the back of the tractor and cuts the groove to a depth of 10" to 14" depending on how many rocks you happen to find. The purpose of breaking through the hardpan with mechanical implements means the young vines don’t have to break through it. This will allow the roots to reach deep into the sub-soil during the first year of growth, which is critical to establishing healthy root systems early, particularly in the absence of an irrigation system.

(OK quick time-out. I’m writing this entry from my hotel room in Delhi, India. I’m over here on a business trip, it’s 3AM and I’m jet-lagged as hell. So as I write this I have the India MTV on, and who should happen to appear but a band called Plumb who I mixed in 1997 while I was touring with Jars of Clay. Plumb was the opening act. Kind of weird to be writing my vineyard entries, and as soon as Tiffany sang the first line I knew the voice, looked up and said to the TV "nice to see you again.")

So back to farming - what is the process? As in all tasks at this stage of the game, "measure twice, cut once" is the credo. As we were laying out the rows, you may recall that we placed marking stakes at 100’ intervals. The purpose for this is to give a guide that one is to aim for on the tractor, in the hopes of cutting a perfectly straight row. But once I got out there and looked at each interval, it seemed to be too far a distance to ensure a straight path. Note the above statement about rocks – when you’re pulling the sub-soiler through the dirt it will invariably become hung up on large sub-surface rocks. This tends to push the tractor to one side or the other, causing irregular rows. So in order to minimize the irregularities, we opted to spray paint some lines in between the 100’ marks so I’d have some smaller intervals to aim for. Glad we did! They were a tremendous help and the rows turned out great. Incidentally, thanks to Ryan and Brandon Badura for the help in marking the rows. Good comedy – several times I’d turn around on the tractor to find them spray-painting each other...

Here's what it looks like when finished - check it out.

Posted by Stephen at 8:17 AM | Comments ( 1 )

December 11, 2004

Amendments (Soil not Constitutional)

As noted a few entries ago, Doug had been out to the vineyard to take soil samples, which were sent off to the lab for analysis.

View analysis page 1
View analysis page 2

Off the top of my head I do recall that we needed to spread lime at 1.5 tons per acre, and a fertilizer mix at 415 lbs per acre. In order to properly apply the amendments, we needed to get a spreader for the back of the tractor - have a look.

The spreader has a capacity of 500 lbs, so spreading 11,000 lbs of lime and fertilzer took a few trips! The key to accurate spreading is the settings on the spreader, which similar to a small rotary yard spreader control the width of the chute opening which controls the amount of fertilizer that reaches the spinner. The first few passes were experimental to get the tractor speed and spreader settings correct. Each is dependent on the other - tractor moving too quickly or the spreader not open enough means that insufficient fertilizer is spread. Conversely, the tractor moving too slowly or the spreader open too wide means that too much fertilizer is spread.

So you make an educated guess based on the application rate matrix provided with the spreader, and the mph table on the tractor. Long story short I ended up spreading the lime in high/first gear (3.9 mph) with the spreader set on setting '8'. The spreader throws the lime a total width of 60' and I was able to make it down our 400' rows using a total of 480 lbs of lime. So since our rows are spaced at 9' I just went over 6 rows and spread the next load, then back over each section using alternate rows to ensure an even spread.

Once the lime was done the fertilzer was spread at the same speed, although at a lower spreader setting of '6' and since the lbs per acre worked out nicely with the spreader capacity, it only took three trips through the vineyard to complete the fertilizer.

Thankfully our fertilizer provider - Tri-County Farm Services - was kind enough to just park the flatbed with the pallets at our vineyard for the weekend. That was a HUGE timesaver, since it was so easy to back the tractor up to the side of the flatbed and pour the bags in (the lime came in 40-lb bags and the fertilizer in 50-lb bags.) I can't imagine having to lift that many bags up to pour into the spreader from ground-level - not fun...

So we're feeling pretty good about our first whack at soil amendments. The math worked out really well and our choice of tools proved sufficient for the scale of our current operation. I don't foresee being able to use bags of lime for any larger project - have to go bulk once we grow beyond three acres, but for now it went about as well as I could have hoped!

View the final invoice

Posted by Stephen at 6:28 PM | Comments ( 1 )

November 28, 2004

Three Acres Marked

So maybe you'll recall several entries ago we said we were going to install four acres. Then we bought vines for two. And guess what - according to the geometry of the vineyard three acres works out to be the most efficient configuration. The front portion of our land has about seven usable acres of which we've decided (based on topography and geometry) to break up into two three-acre blocks.

So 36 rows spaced at 9' = 324'
At a row length of 400' that is an area of 129,600 sq. ft.

An acre is 4,840 sq. yds. so

129,600 / 4,840 / 9 (convert from sq. yds. to sq. ft.) = 2.98 acres

Looks like we need to order some more vines!

So my mom came out and helped Shannon and I lay out the last 200' of stakes. Quite a sight that Mickey - out in the field with her $200 Santa hat by Ignacious (reknowned folk artist) marching around with bamboo stakes like she was the drum major of a marching band. OK so maybe this isn't how they do it in the Rhone valley in France but the hell with them - they don't know what they're missing. So Shannon and I worked the measuring tapes and placed the bamboo whilst mom put on the marking tape. An enjoyable morning was had by all and we finished up marking out the first block. Have a look.

Have to say though, I'm thinking about getting a laser level for the next three acres...

Posted by Stephen at 3:54 PM | Comments ( 1 )

November 27, 2004

Bush Hawging Agin

OK wireless broadband Internet is totally cool! Roadstar got us hooked up last night. Connectivity is great - I got a "T1 Lite" package - guaranteed 128k up/down and up to 1.5M up/down. So I had to verify that my VPN was working and of course there was a crisis at work - CEO needed some files updated for an investor roadshow. Ack - can't say no to that! So I made the edits, and was going to FedEx them this morning on CD but no one could come up with the hotel address for Monday before the noon dropoff deadline this morning. Oh well it all worked out OK.

So at noon it was time to take off the hat with the little propeller on top and put on my VT hokie ball cap and git back to some bush hawging!!! We didn't clear enough in preparation for the vineyard marking, so I had to finish that plus mow the entire perimeter where the deer fence will be installed. Got into some ugly bushes and found a boulder or two but it all got done. So time to call it a day - will finish the marking tomorrow...

Posted by Stephen at 3:44 PM

November 26, 2004

Marking It Out

What a day! Got up early this morning to install our data loggers. We bought three HOBO Pro RH/Temp data loggers to capture relative humidity and temperature data. Check out the product specs here. Also take a look at the software. We plan on keeping very detailed weather info in the vineyard in order to evaluate fruit quality trends in the future, among a million other things that data will be useful for!

Doug came over about 10AM and we got right to work on marking out the vineyard. First order of business was to walk the perimeter and determine where the deer fence would be installed. Once that was established, we had to decide how to lay out the rows. Since the aspect of the hill is essentially in a NW-SE it didn't make sense to attempt N-S or E-W rows, so we made the decision based on the practicality of rows up/down hill. Worked out great because this orientation allowed us to design the rows perpendicular to the adjoining roadway and deer fence.

So on Doug's advice we chose to allow 30' of headspace between the end of each row and the deer fence (for maneuvering the tractor around.) Since the roadway wasn't exactly linear, there was some difficulty getting the first line of end posts marked. There is a hill right in the middle of the vineyard and you can't see from one side to the other, so it took three tries to get the line correct so that there was adequate headspace across all rows. Based on additional room at the sides of the vineyard before the deer fence, we ended up with 36 end posts spaced at 9' (324')

Then the next challenge was to lay down the first perpendicular row - again the crest in the hill interfered with our measurements at the edge of the vineyard, so after a few tries we decided to begin in the middle and work our way out. Eureka! Using a 60-80-100 triangulation we were able to get a perfectly perpendicular row down the center of the vineyard. Next job was to create another right angle 100' down that row, then lay out the tapes and mark off the 9' between rows. Each point is marked with a bamboo stake (I'll post pictures as soon as they are developed.)

Then we had to repeat the process a second time. The goal here was to place bamboo stakes at 100' intervals down the row as guides for me when I go to turn the soil with the subsoiler on the tractor. So each 100' mark has to be exactly 9' from the next, and perfectly in line with the other stakes in the row. Now you wouldn't think that 1 inch makes a difference standing in the middle of a big field, but let me tell you that when you are sighting back along a line of bamboo stakes you can definitely tell when one doesn't line up!

Once we got the second set of 100' markers in place Doug decided we were doing fine on our own and said "see ya later!" But oops - look at the time! Have to shut down for the day and get back to our rental shack - Roadstar is coming out to install our wireless Internet connection. Will finish up over the next few days!

NOTE - I will be creating some step-by-step graphics using maps (one of these days) to help illustrate the above sequence of events a bit more clearly...

Posted by Stephen at 3:15 PM

November 25, 2004

Happy Thanks-Bush-Giving-Hogging

Ahhh... Thanksgiving. What a great idea. Shannon and I have a lot to be thankful for right now!

But duty calls - before heading over to my brother's place for dinner I have to get on the tractor and do some bush hogging to clear some more land in preparation for marking out the vineyard tomorrow. What better way to work up an appetite than bouncing around on a tractor for a few hours!

Posted by Stephen at 9:10 AM

November 6, 2004

Doug's First Visit

This morning we enjoyed our first onsite meeting with Doug Fabbioli. He came by for two hours - first order of business was proper introductions and a bit of history exchange. After we chatted for a while he said "You seem to be very driven, I get the impression that even if I tried to talk you out of this you'd go ahead and do it anyway..."

Yeah, pretty much.

So we skipped that part and headed out to the vineyard. Doug seemed encouraged by the topography of the site we've selected for the initial planting, and left us with several "homework" tasks to get done before we can start marking out the vineyard, scheduled for Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Shannon will have to get some bushhogging done while I'm in Connecticut, and Doug will be back to take soil samples so we can evaluate the conditions and add the proper amendments in the next few weeks.

Doug has a lot of great information and lots of local contacts, but most importantly has a very easy-going manner about him which makes him easy to talk to, ask questions, etc. We never sensed any condescension, just an enthusiasm about the project, and a feeling of a "shared vision" kind of like "let's do this right the first time!"

Looking forward to our next workday, which will be a big one - marking out the 8 acres for deer fencing, then marking out the 4 acres for planting.

Posted by Stephen at 11:59 AM

October 1, 2004

Order Placed!

Well it's (halfway) a done deal. Just got off the phone with Dave Haggmark of Vintage Nurseries. Ordered vines for two acres:

(950) Viognier - clone 1 on 3309 rootstock
(950) Cabernet Franc = clone 332 on 3309 rootstock

Still deciding on what varietals to plant for the remaining two acres. We will be consulting with Doug Fabbioli over the next several weeks to determine that, but we're considering:

Petit Manseng
Cabernet Sauvignon
Sauvignon Blanc

It's an awesome feeling right now - knowing that the plans are finally coming together. The past two years here in Connecticut have been tough, both of us focusing on careers with little (or no) passion, in order to position ourselves financially to fully realize what started as the spark of an idea, a brief notion that is now coming to pass. An enormous amount of work is ahead, but tonight will be one of those nights to relax, smile, just be happy, and think "This is really happening."

Posted by Stephen at 5:24 PM | Comments ( 2 )

September 29, 2004

What's a Vineyard Cost?

One of our main goals in keeping this journal (OK, it's really a 'blog') is to help any future prospective vineyard owners in their planning (and when we're old it sure will be fun to read back through these first years!) Our plan for this fall/spring is to get four acres in the ground.

In the early planning stages, at every turn is the question "What's it going to cost?" So in an effort to encourage (or dissuade) people from entering this business Shannon and I decided to be very open about operating costs. Not that it's a big secret - there is a wealth of information online outlining startup costs. One of the best is "The Economics of Wine Production in Virginia" which we have just about memorized now.

So adjusting for different row/vine spacing and inflation:

1 acre = $15,000 to plant, $3,000/year maintenance

This does not include the land!

Of course there are some variable costs (mostly labor) that can possibly get your intial costs down near the $12,000 per acre range, but you have to be realistic - are you REALLY going to be out in the vineyard for four weeks loading 8' timbers into a post-driving machine? Yeah right...

At the vineyard seminar we listened to a great session given by Dennis Horton of Horton Vineyards. He gave a hard-truth session on business plans, and indicated that you CAN make money in this business, but the absolute #1 rule is "Don't carry too much debt doing it." So we've taken that advice to heart and our financial strategy (with the exception of the land mortgage) is based on cash-only purchases. Not to say that at some point in the future a crop-loan is out of the question, but for now cash and carry is the sure route.

That said, it sure tests your mettle when you're founding a vineyard and a family at the same time, to think that you just stuck four college educations in the ground.

Posted by Stephen at 5:14 PM

September 28, 2004

Row Widths

Thought I'd share some of the variables and challenges that go into determining row width when planning a vineyard.

I've been discussing the layout of the vineyard with Doug (Fabbioli - Vineyard Consultant) over the past few days. Last year we had Virginia Cooperative Extension Agent Jason Murray out to the land to share his ideas for setting up the vineyard. Read about that visit here. During that conversation we had established a row width of 8' and vine spacing of 6' on VSP trellis. Then in March 2004 we attended a vineyard seminar during which we confirmed that our row and vine spacing were fine, although we did reconsider the trellising and began leaning towards a Smart-Dyson divided canopy configuration. But after visiting Jewell Towne Vineyards in New Hampshire for Shannon's birthday in May 2004 we again thought VSP may be the way to go since Dr. Oldak advised that the lower half of the canopy is more susceptible to fungus since much of it ends up lying on the ground.

You can already see how many different inputs and differences of opinion go into this decision, not to mention the hundred-or-so magazine articles and online research papers that we've read!

So in talking with Doug, he suggested that we actually widen the rows to 9' and tighten the vines to 5' and reconsider the Smart-Dyson trellis. Doug's rationale for the wider row spacing was for ease-of-maintenance in maneuvering a tractor through the rows. This is not a minor point! Our tractor is currently just under 6' wide, so in an 8' row you have basically 1' on either side. If you blink you could mow down a vine - not good.

In addition Doug has identified the least-fun aspect of managing a vineyard as spraying fungicide. Fungus prevention is a fact of life in Virginia vineyards due mainly to the high humidity in our region. You're not going to see any 'organic' vineyards in Virginia. It's all about chemicals and technology for us to be successful. So a typical growing season requires about 12-15 sprayings after a rainy period. Each acre requires about 45 gallons of spray for proper coverage.

So why not just get a smaller tractor to fit through the rows? Horsepower. hp is critical in any kind of farming. Our tractor (John Deere 850 with a front-end-loader, no cab) is about 25hp, which can operate a three-point sprayer with a 50-gallon capacity. That means for four acres:

spray an acre - go reload - spray an acre - go reload - spray an acre - go reload - spray an acre

Probably be about 6+ hours per spraying, and that is moving quickly.

So now along with the row widths we are reconsidering our tractor - do we upgrade? The decision is tough because you basically are trading an acre of grapes ($15,000) for the tractor upgrade. The higher hp and cab on the tractor would be awesome, and allow for a higher output sprayer (which translates to fewer 'go reload' steps) which helps make the least-fun part of vineyard management much more enjoyable.

Not to say that tractor hp and size are the only considerations in determining row width. Row width also has implications for vine vigor, which ultimately affects fruit quality thus wine quality. In addition, having rows too close together may impact the ability of the sun to reach the grape clusters. This is caused by the height of the adjoining row shading the clusters (if your strategy includes cluster exposure.) This is further complicated by the aspect of your vineyard slope in situations where you want to train your canopy on the west side of the row to shade the clusters from the hot afternoon sun while still exposing them in the mornings to quickly heat the dew off the bunches to help prevent mildew.

And to state the obvious, once the trellis and vines are in the ground they do not move. Can't "scoot them over" a foot a year later...

Much more to follow on this challenging topic! We love it!!!

Posted by Stephen at 9:15 AM

September 22, 2004

Vineyard Consultant

Had the chance to speak with Doug Fabbioli today, a Vineyard and Winery Consultant based in Leesburg, VA. Shannon and I actually met Doug last winter at Windham Winery when we visited there to ask about hosting our rehearsal dinner. I enjoyed exchanging emails and speaking with him on the phone - seems like a straight-shooter and has vast experience in this industry. He is currently the winemaker at Windham as well as Old House Vineyards. We're looking forward to having him come out to the property to learn more about our plans. Today we spoke about varietal selection and his experience with different nurseries that provide vines. I am continuing my evaluations of several and we will be making some final decisions in the days ahead, then placing the orders!

Posted by Stephen at 12:54 PM | Comments ( 1 )

September 18, 2004

Fat Deer

Can I get another "GOOD GRIEF!"

And now the deer are enjoying the fact that we live in Connecticut... Have to say that our research vineyard has taught us quite a bit about pest management - which was a major factor we were evaluating with this planting. Next step will be the final season measurements to evaluate vigor on the different rootstocks.

One thing is for sure - if the vines can withstand total neglect with us living in Connecticut, they are going to flourish with proper care.

Posted by Stephen at 8:57 PM | Comments ( 2 )

July 31, 2004

Fat Beetles

Looks like the beetles ate their fill and are done for the summer, but they almost wiped out a few of the varietals. Looks like the Seyval Blanc got the worst of it. They looked like 18" of green lace... All the vines have new growth though!

Posted by Stephen at 8:56 PM

July 3, 2004

Japanese Beetles

Good grief! Japanese beetles are having a feast on our vines! We are spraying but it's looking ugly...

Posted by Stephen at 8:55 PM

April 10, 2004

Research Vineyard

Plans change slightly and we end up planting 8 vines each of 9 varietals - Viognier, Cabernet Franc, Petit Manseng, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Seyval Blanc, Traminette, and Chambourcin. We also decide to use temporary trellising just to provide a fruiting wire to attach the bamboo stakes. Each row was subsoiled between a depth of 18" and 24" (depending on rocks...) and each vine protected with SnapMax vine shelters.

Have a look.

Posted by Stephen at 8:52 PM

March 24, 2004

Ground Breaking

Ground breaking for our research vineyard! We decided to install a small research vineyard in the northwest corner of the property in order to evaluate different methods for vine planting. We will be planting 8 different varietals in groups of 6 (2 rows of 24 vines.) Methods such as grow tube usage, starter fertilizers, and varietal suitability will be evaluated prior to the installation of the larger vineyard in Spring 2005.

Posted by Stephen at 8:51 PM

March 18, 2004

Vineyard Seminar

Today we attended an on-site seminar in Lancaster, PA on vineyard installation - site selection, trellis construction, pruning, etc. This seminar was presented by Mark Chien of Penn State University. Also presenting was Dr. Tony Wolf of Virginia Tech. The full agenda can be found here.

Posted by Stephen at 8:42 PM

October 4, 2003

Extension Agent

Today we had Jason Murray out to visit the property. Jason works for the Virginia Cooperative Extension and specializes in vineyards. He also runs several mailing lists that we subscribe to that keep us informed as to local vineyard/winery events such as tours, tastings, etc.

Had a great meeting - he was out for about two hours during which time we toured the property, discussed topography and site selection, and informed him of our desired varietals (Viognier and Cabernet Franc to start) both of which we was very supportive. He seemed very encouraged by the layout of the land, although did point out a few low-lying spots that might be problematic in terms of frost pockets and standing water. We had already identified these areas through our own research, but it is always reassuring to have a pro back up your notions.

He took a few soil samples and was pleased with his visual inspection. Didn't do any chemical analysis though. We sat outside the house for about an hour discussing trellising and training techniques, and ended up deciding on 8' row widths and 6' vine spacing on VSP (Vertical Shoot Positioning) trellis. Talked about the construction process and as Jason had recently installed a vineyard for a friend he had vivid images fresh in his mind. Always good to hear about the tough things as a reality check.

We also talked about different root stocks. This was our first exposure to this topic so we listened intently and Shannon took notes. Jason advised we look to 101-14, 110C, 3309, and possibly Riperia Gloire as rootstocks suitable for our land.

It was a great meeting, both encouraging and educational. Looking forward to working with Jason more in the future!

Posted by Stephen at 3:00 PM