When I was working full time as an engineer I often used Gantt charts as a way of planning out a project. In those days I would use sophisticated software such as Microsoft Project. Today as a self-employed farmer my tools are pencil, paper, straight edge, and eraser much like Mr. Gantt used 100 years ago when he developed the technique. It's a great way of looking at the many pieces of a project on a time line so that first things get done first.
Our project for 2019 includes many pieces of which planting 2 acres of Burgundian varietals is most critical. Not that everything else is not important, but when you are expecting 3,3oo vines to be delivered on June 1st, you need to be ready. The trellis systems are installed and the underground irrigation piping has been installed. We still need to install fence posts and irrigation emitters and drill holes for the plants in the new block while tending to the 6 acres of vines already planted. In order to be as cost effective as possible, we will remove the metal pencil rods from our most mature vines and re-use them for the new plants. Our good neighbors at Walport Family Cellars are allowing us to use their grow tubes this season since they aren't using them. We are very thankful to them and our entire vineyard community which is so supportive of one another here in the Applegate Valley!
Our LIVE certification was renewed last year, and we have been farming organically, although not certified, for 2 years. We employ some biodynamic principles and are considering applying for certification next year. We believe that in caring for the soil we will produce higher quality fruit and better wines. It's a part of stewardship which we take very seriously. Chickens scratch around under the vines and take care of many insect pests. Weekly, we move our flock of Babydoll Sheep to the alleyway between 2 rows to mow and fertilize. Happy sheep!
To learn more about biodynamics as applied to wine and wine grapes check out this blog by our good neighbor Craig Camp from Troon Vineyard.
I spoke with Sarah at the Demeter Association (the organization responsible for certifying biodynamic farms) a few weeks ago to learn more about the certification process. I came away with a better understanding of what's involved and about the next steps. Our farm is already certified sustainable under the LIVE (Low Input Viticulture & Enology) program, so we are well on our way. For the past year or so we have been farming organically, although not certified, which is a prerequisite for the biodynamic program. In addition, special biodynamic preparations must be applied to the vineyard a few times a year. Ideally these preparations are made on the farm but they can also be purchased. Other preparations are incorporated into
compost which is the primary biodynamic fertilizer.
We've learned a lot about making compost from our county extension classes--Debbie through the Master Gardener program and both of us through the Land Steward program. Time to get to work building our piles that will be spread into the vineyard next spring. We have an abundance of materials including kitchen scraps, yard waste, and manure with bedding from our chicken coop and sheep pen. We even have worm castings from our vermiculture bin. As a bonus this spring, we had some of the neighbor's cattle in the pasture for about eight weeks who left us with a lot of good material. The process of making the compost requires the piles to be turned, aerated, and watered every week or so. It's a good workout!
Speaking of sheep, I let them into an area of recently dried out grass not knowing it was full of stickers (locally known as fox tails) and the sheep got covered with them. Debbie and I spent three hours trying to pick the stickers out of their wool. In desperation I made a call to sheep shearer John Slocum. Thankfully he was going to be in on our road the next day. He expertly sheared all five sheep in about two hours, removing their wool and most all of the stickers. The rest were easy to find and remove and the sheep are all ready for the summer ahead. An added benefit is that we are able to use the wool as mulch around some grape vines!
In the vineyard our Tempranillo and Malbec vines are in the early stages of fruit set, meaning the young berries are just starting to swell. The plants are very healthy and are enjoying a moderate early summer. They are also responding well to the organic spray treatments they are receiving. Our second leaf Viognier and Petit Verdot plants have all been two-budded and are protected once again by grow tubes. Many of the plants have grown considerably; a small number, maybe 5%, will have to be replanted from cuttings next spring. And we are expecting delivery any day now of 2,000 new vines which will give us a total of six acres planted. The new vines are Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Suavignon, all from the Bordeaux family of grapes.
In the winery we expect to start bottling this week with our 2017 Rock Tempranillo rosé up first. We are excited to get rosé back in the tasting room after selling out of the 2016 vintage rather quickly. This also looks to be our biggest bottling to date of about 900 cases, including our very first estate red Tempranillo. It's going to be a busy summer!