Saturday, June 27, 2009

Post-Bloom

This is the time of year when I start to see fruit in the vineyard and get greedy. I start to think about all the barrels of wine we have sitting out there, and I can't wait to get them in to the winery. Of course, it's not that easy.

The berries have set, and most are between BB-size and pea-size. Here's an idea of what they look like. A few more weeks from now and we'll be past the critical stage of fruit development as far as disease concerns go. This spring has produced some of the most intense disease pressure I have seen. The only thing in our favor has been the fact that all the moisture was coupled with cooler temperatures which kept the vine growth a little in check. This meant that the vines weren't outgrowing the fungicide sprays we were putting on them.

Bottom-line for this climate is that we can't grow grapes organically. Perhaps more accurately, we can't grow them organically on a successful, commercial scale. I really wish we could. Nobody I have ever met has ever said that they would prefer conventional farming to organic. Fungicide sprays are expensive, time-consuming, not always environmentally-friendly (although we all do our best), and not completely reliable.

If you look closely at the picture, you can see some spray residue on the leaves and the grapes themselves. This is mostly sulfur (an organic fungicide) that I use to fight off powdery mildew in our vineyard. The grapes are Chardonnay, and in 2006 I lost two-thirds of my crop to this fungus. I am religious now about keeping vigilant against these mildews. I have become the nozzle-head with tractor-butt, but my grapes are clean. So far.

Naturally, anything can go wrong. Best laid plans of mice and men, etc. What happened for me in 2006 was that I could go back and look at the history and say, yes, I did work really hard at disease-prevention, but I didn't work hard enough at it. These days, I take no prisoners. It's always the things you can't see that tend to bite you in the ass, and it's hard to see microscopic bad guys. I'm out there every 6-7 days for until we're past the critical time for the fruit.

It's the dream of barrels of Allegro wine sitting in our cellar next fall that gets me out of bed before 4 AM to put on the sprays that let me sleep till 6 AM the other days. And as I try to stay awake on the tractor in my Tychem suit, I also dream about the future when none of this is necessary. When we've mapped the grape genome and have been able to breed mildew resistance into our European grape varieties. That'll be the day....

3 comments:

  1. More rain today! I still sometimes lose sight of the fact that wine-making is an agricultural business. My job is difficult enough; I cannot imagine having to deal with weather in addition.

    Nonetheless, I strongly prefer my agricultural products to be organic, and I vote with my dollars. When they map the grape genome, I’ll be looking for “heirloom”-grape-based wines. :]

    Roger Swain once told me that his gardens are PMO (pretty much organic). He uses Roundup when first converting an area of land to garden, then keeps it organic after that. I’m glad that you at least strive for PMO, Carl. :]

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  2. Lee,

    I'm all for organic farming, and as I said I wish it were possible for us on the east coast in viticulture. But, for me it's more about the economics than anything else. I used to feel that pesticides were anathema to life, but now that I use them, I understand that it's all shades of gray. I feel strongly that the gas I use in my car to drive to York does more harm than the fungicides I spray in the vineyard. Driving into any city and seeing the smog and the landfills fills me with more dread about our collective futures than seeing a sprayer drive down a rural road.

    That said, there is research ongoing about mapping the grape genome in search of resistant genes that could be bred into grapes. I know that opens up the whole GMO debate, but if you are going to want organic wine, that's how it's going to have to happen if it's going to happen in the next 30 years.

    --Carl

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  3. Carl,
    There are two key differences with your analogy. First, I can avoid the city, but I cannot avoid your wine. :] Second, I tend to fear ingesting things more than breathing them from a distance, but they may be more similar than different.

    I completely understand your need to intervene for the sake of having grapes to press. Keep striving for PMO, and please don't let city smog deter you from growing "clean" grapes. :]

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