Especially fragile were the baby pinot noir and table grapes we planted in June. They are only 6 months old when we plant and must be watered and weeded until they become established several months later.
The ground is uber-dry everywhere on the farm except where we irrigate. "Drought tolerant" has lost all meaning. It was a grim reminder that we do, indeed, live in a desert with 15 inches of annual rainfall. Since we didn't get the usual fall rains, we continued watering the grapes until November.
After we got our vineyard tractor back in action, we flipped into high gear to finish our work on the grapes. The vineyard looks better than ever, or at least as good as last year, and we a hopeful that our hard work will pay off with a solid 2009 harvest.
We were eagerly awaiting our first picking of table grapes in September. We were keeping a closer eye on those grapes than the raccoons! We have five varieties that we're testing to see how they do on our farm before we commit to planting more. An unexpected stranger popped up among the Canadice, the American Concord which we hadn't ordered but somehow got mixed up at the nursery.
A side note about this native American grape: Wink is a native of Concord, MA where the Concord grape was developed by Ephraim Bull in 1853 from a native species.
This is the variety found in Welchs Grape Juice although Bull was seeking a wine grape that would survive the cold weather in New England. Bull, along with other local notables including Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott shopped at Davis' Market. Bull is buried in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery on the same sunny ridge as Wink's ancestors where Bull's epitaph reads "He Sowed Others Reaped."
Wink has promised to expound on pronunciations of "Concord" and arcane historical facts about his hometown in an upcoming blog entry. Visit his blog and toss in your comments about anything!
After pruning and vine training, we mowed and watered. The section behind Max and Anno was the last one to be tied up. In the distance, alleyway is greener as a result of earlier irrigation.
Bennett Price shows our interns the correct way of pruning. We are using VSP, spur for the chambourçin (photo) and cane pruning on the noir.
Bennett teaches us about propagating prunings, like the one shown, to replace dead plants. Viticulturists say this is easy, but we don't have the hang of it yet. We'll try again in 09.
In July Raman came to the farm again with Miro's CC class. Here he's weed whacking a row.
Pruners select and tie 3 canes to the bamboo and onto headwires where fruit buds form for next year's crop.
April pruning in the vineyard
The grapes loved the perfect winter — the roots were blanketed with a layer of snow and the canes snoozed comfortably. Then during the third week of April, when the roots started to send their sugars and carbohydrates into the trunks, nighttime temperatures hung in the 20s.
We were disappointed. We expected a commercially viable harvest from five acres of third year pinot gris, and from the smaller pinot noir vineyard. We'd spend a good deal of time and money training them the previous year. Now the vines went back to the ground and we had to start over!
Freezing temps plus crown gall equals trunk damage, nemesis of Colorado vineyards, so we cut back most of the survivors. Last year when we "saved" damaged trunks, they collapsed before the season was over — it's better to let the vine grow a healthy cane from the beginning, lesson learned.
The second disaster struck when we were unable to use our weedbadger or rotatiller for most of the summer. Last February, we took the Kubota to a local shop for clutch replacement. We agreed with the mechanic that this tractor also needed an engine rebuilt.
Then things got dicey, the mechanic starting working on wind machines — crop saving devices not to be put off. Then it was fruit harvests, and the list went on. What could we do? The tractor was in pieces on the shop floor! We didn't get our tractor back until late July!!
We had occasional help from students and interns from nearby farms. One of our policies at Mesa Winds Farm is to provide interns a varied experience. Laura, Emily and Gail helped out on Zephyros Farm, Thistle Whistle and Karla Tschoepe's meat processing operation. Our interns also visited local wineries, a hop yard, distillery, the Rogers Mesa Research Station and other organic farms.
A piece of the netting machine was lost in the field last summer, irrigation trenches dug throughout the vineyard after harvest, so row access in Meadow Lark Vineyard was tricky. Finally we had to roll up our winter coat sleeves to roll up the bird nets before the ground thawed.
Before we could take down the nets we had to remove the boulders that came out of the trenches when laying irrigation pipes.
As you can see from the photos, plenty of snow! This was the perfect blanket all winter long for the farm.
December was generally slow on the farm. But one night Wink woke up with visions of trellis wire snapping in his head. On New Years Day, a beautiful bright biting cold day, we hiked down to the vineyard with Monty.
Wink loosened the headwires and we realized that we still had to collect the birdnetting off the bare canes!
Meadowlark vineyard is beautiful at present though. Last summer's pruning, trellising and alleyway planting have put this vineyard on the map.
There is still more trellising to do, but the irrigation's undergrounded and we can finish the tubing when the weather warms up in a few months.