Journey: Thoughts and Reflections along the path.
Our hours are posted online as First and Third weekends. We put out signs and banners when we are open, so that people can find us. So when we are not open we don't expect to see customers.
Recently, we are not only getting phone calls asking if we are open, we are seeing people dropping by. It's flattering to have them seek us out, with no visible indication we might be open, and occasionally disconcerting to look out the living room window and see people at the bar.
Guess we are starting to do something out there, to get more attention. Jane and I are discussing the need for a gate, to be able to be "closed" as a 2013 need to do.
2012: Growth & Learning in Vineyards.
We started 2012 managing 5 acres of vineyard, and ended it managing 15, with another 7 pending. Thats a lot of growth to manage, and we learned a bit along the way, with some lessons of what to do better, some of what we missed and a bit of what we can forego.
Pruning and Training:
Our pruning was sucessful, we pruned to two buds every 6 inches and removed excess cordon where it existed, primarily in Coop vineyard. The electro Coupe pruners were a godsend, and will be needed for 2013. Starting on the hillside of Soli Deo Gloria was successfull, we had no discernable frost damage in the flats with the later staggered pruning there in Feb/March, but hiring out for the bigger vineyards may make sense to get the fruit to ripen concurrently.
Suckering and Shoot thinning:
Needed to be done earlier, before the shoots were so tough. Starting in June was too late, we need to do these in April/May to make better use of our limited labor.
Needed to be done was at least two passes, to reduce under the wire growth. One in Feb and one in May along with hilling up the vines in December should give less weed pressure and allow easier irrigation monitoring.
We did well in general, the vineyards we irrigiate had good fruit yields and quality. Starting a bit earlier in the 2 vineyards we had system issues with would have helped the shoot growth.
Starting system upgrades mid-season is not the preferred timing, but one does what one must as you discover the needs. Equipping the staff with the Kubota RTV and necessary supplies to allow repairs was effective. Installing filters and replacing clogged emitters will continue and further sub-regulation of pressure will improve uniformity. Over a year or two of continuous improvement we should have all systems in good shape.
The Soli Deo Gloria upgrade to driven steel end posts went well once we did some technique improvement on pre-soaking the ground. Stringing new catch wires and cordon repair will be this year's big themes to give better canopy management. We will start to upgrade Athena's Vineyard with partial catch wires to open up an acre each of Merlot and Cab Franc.
Cover Crop & Tillage:
Mustard and Clover mix was easier to seed as they are similar sizes compared to the legume mix we used last year. We plan to mow them in the spring after they go to seed, and may experiment with not tilling some rows in the fall to monitor them as a prospective permanent cover.
Using a hilling disc to create a berm should reduce weeds under the wire, and also give a hard edge we can use for the roto tiller, so that we get good contact and consistent depth. We will experiment with ripping to reduce compaction and with reversing the hilling disc to remove the berm as well.
Our spray program was quite effective, a rotation of Rally WSP, and Quintec along with 1% Stylet oil on a 2-4 week interval depending on the temperatures. Two foliar applications of "Golden Glow" with Zinc showed good shoot response.
We saw mildew only in the heaviest canopy and that was very modest. Spraying at 300 psi and alternate rows was sufficient to get good coverage.
We didn't leaf strip this year, in our California Sprawl trellised vineyards its somewhat hard to do, and in our estate VSP we simply got too busy. Putting in a labor pass would be good for better spray penetration and sunlight.
The head pruned Colombard at Behlmer Vineyard got an un-authorized hedging, by the tentant to feed the goats, and this resulted in less shoot length to drive the crop to maturity, hence a very late harvest.
We used over the top of the row netting in three vineyards, and fruit zone in one, with Flash tape elsewhere. The netting works the best, but it must be picked up before harvest, and storage is an issue for the Poly as it does not go back onto the nice tight roil.
Summary of 2012:
We made 30 tons of good fruit from 15 acres, with the help of some novice labor over the course of a year. Training the labor was effective in improing their skills, though their reliabilty was less than admirable. Starting shoot thinning earlier and a second pass of weed suppression will make it easier through the season for canopy management and irrigation monitoring.
Expectations for 2013:
With all of the vineyards now under cultivation for at least a year, we should see yields continue to improve towards 3 tons/acre as the cover crop nutrients and pruning improve vine health.
Earlier start on a few cultivation practices will be easier without a three week European trip in May and with better trained labor we should get it done quicker and more completely, using the harvest ctew for the hand work to augment our labor pool.
When you are a very small operation, you must be a generalist. We are just about to open for the day, (noon) and here's what the morning has consisted of.
0530-0630 Editing the web site
0630-0645 dress and start the truck
0645-0650 look for windshield scraper, give up and use license for 1/16" frost on windshield.
0700-0730 drive to vineyard, setup staff with hilling disc for weed abatement.
0730-0830 dump run to drop brush
0830-1000 rockery for drain rock and spread in ditches
1000-1030 drive to vineyard, send staff off to fetch craigslist disk for $75
1030-1200 clean up for opening.
Today was the first outing with the hilling disc. The purpose is to throw dirt under the trellis wire, to suppress weeds before they grow. Since the disc is offset to the side it exerts torque on the tractor, causing it to crab slightly sideways.
The other fun part of using a hilling disc, is that it is dynamic, not static. The faster you drive, the better it works, splashing dirt farther at higher speed. So there is your challenge, drive at speed, slightly twisted with the tractor no longer fitting between the vines, unless you put the loader up over them.
The only sensations that I can recall being similar were snow plowing in New Hampshire, and surfing Lioness on a big wave off Gloucester MA. Mass moving at speed on the edge of control.
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