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....