A personal perpsective of life in our Virginia vineyard... Christine Wells Vrooman



And Winter Turns To Spring

Ankida sunrise at "Winter Solstice", the southern most point of the sun

First Day of Spring
"Vernal Equinox"

The sun continues its journey northward, far from its most southern position at the winter solstice. Subconsciously, one knows. The shadows on the mountains have changed. Bluebirds gather. I walk through the woods, and the spicy fragrance of autumn's fallen leaves rises from a warming earth. And the fog. I have grown to know it as the harbinger of change. Thick and white, it snakes its way over the valleys and at times settles up here on the mountain, and days are spent in a soft, quiet cloud. Winter quietly recedes, leaving behind one last snowfall to kiss the earth goodbye for another year. It has done its work. It put the mountain to sleep, coaxing it into a good long rest. And then the March winds come and the trees stretch. Ahh.... Spring is here.

One last snowfall

And the sun melts away winter's last kiss

Anticipation, with Trepidation

We find ourselves stepping joyfully, yet hesitantly into spring. I say that because much of what we learned over the winter will be put to the test in this, our second year of vine growth. Our winter was spent devouring viticulture information... reading, attending conferences, visiting vineyards and researching all we could find on the internet. As every good novel needs a villain, we are told our villains will be many as we attempt to practice organic viticulture in the East.

The Virginia Vineyard Association's annual meeting was informative, the people interesting and fun. But we found it rife with villainous topics... leafroll virus, powdery mildew, grape root borer, phomopsis... and on and on. And with each mischief-maker, the treatment was one form of chemical or another. When we mentioned we were trying to keep our vineyard organic, we were met with dire warnings. It was nothing new, we'd heard the warnings before, but when one focuses in depth on anything, that becomes their world. And there we were, immersed in a world of pests, disease and chemicals. Not the image I had envisioned of our vineyard. But will this in fact become our reality as our vineyard grows?
A couple vines displayed this darkened area. We must investigate.

And a Different Kind of Seminar
The following week Dennis and I attended a conference in DC on "Biodynamic Viticulture". This seminar was a stark contrast to to our previous week's VVA conference. Here we listened to presentations from vineyardists around the world who are successfully farming their vineyards organically and biodynamically. They spoke not of chemicals and pestilence but of vineyards as healthy, balanced living organisms, of vines and flowers flourishing together, of bluebirds and honeybees, smiling faces on workers.... (where are the harps and angels singing, you ask?) The two conferences came from different perspectives. The BD seminar focused on a "balanced" vineyard, preventative care, on plant and soil health and organisms living together in an environment where the focus of survival is not in the application of the "cides of death"... of fungicides, insecticides, herbicides. At this seminar we were met with much encouragement and were told, yes it can be done. We inwardly sighed, with some hesitation.. these folks had not farmed on the East coast of America. But they offered tremendous support and encouragement, a refreshing change for us that renewed a sense of hope.

Most vines were bright and green inside. Good stuff!

Wine Tasting at the French Embassy
In conjunction with the BD Seminar in Washington, dozens of organic and biodynamic vineyards from around the globe held a wine tasting at the Embassy. There I tasted flavors I have never before tasted in a wine. Unique, complex, intricate and truly expressive of the place where the grapes were grown. It is our hope to achieve the same unique expression of our terroir in our grapes. We will try our best not to alter our soil's flavor that is specific to our particular site. What will that flavor be? What will the components of our soil feed to our grapes? How brightly will the sun shine on our leaves? How steady will the breezes flow over our vines? So many unknowns, but still, so much wonder. A time rich with expectation as we try to peek into the future.

If Not Chemicals, Then What?
How will we avoid using conventional applications of chemicals? We will use an army of techniques and applications whose purpose is to keep the soil microbial rich and lightly textured. We will maintain an abundant supply of beneficial insects to prey on the "bad bugs" by not spraying pesticides that kill indiscriminately. We have put up bluebird and purple martin birdhouses to attract these insect eating birds. To keep the air flowing through the vines we will focus on our canopy management. We will use specially prepared BD sprays and an assortment of organically approved products to spray on the vines such as stylet-oil, sulfur, raw milk (yes, raw milk.. more about that in a later entry).

The Mighty Compost
Dennis has been brewing since last autumn a rich, compost pile. The compost is one of the main components of BD farming. Its importance to the life of the soil cannot be overstated. It not only recycles organic wastes, it stabilizes nitrogen in the soil and builds humus, essential for the roots to breathe and readily absorb their "daily nutrients". It enhances soil health, and thus the vine's health. Bella must realize its importance, as she frequently perches herself atop it, perhaps to guard this valuable aspect of our farm. She is after all a guard dog!

The Queen of Sprays
And my sister, Cindy, our apprentice "biodynamic consult" is studying the BD calendar, selecting the days we should spray the assorted BD preps, each one having its own purpose to help create a balanced soil and thriving, healthy plants whose immune system is strong. I think of Biodynamics as adding another layer of protection, health and general well-being to our vines and the vineyard and farm as a whole, an inter-connected organism that sustains itself on all levels.

The Intimacy of Pruning
I have grown to know my vineyard well. I know each of the nearly 3,500 vines. Personally! I pruned nearly every clipping myself, examined each trimming. This gives me a sense of comfort. Nearly every vine is healthy, the cutting slices a healthy green inside. For me, pruning is peaceful. Therapeutic. And all the bending over, kneeling down, standing up, added tone to this not so young body. I felt no stiffness, no back aches, no hand cramping. I like to attribute it to the energy of the vines themselves, the joy they give back to me. If joy can be tasted in a wine, our wine will most certainly impart such a flavor.

An Assortment of Size
The sizes of the vines ranged from one foot high, scraggly things, to arched, sprawling eight foot canes. I tagged those that seemed a bit too small or who had an odd spot here or there. I will tend to those more closely.
The vines were pruned back to two shoots, usually about two or three inches high. Each shoot was left with two to three buds on it. From these buds, we will select the strongest one, and that will become the main trunk for that side of the vine. (More on the pruning process in the next update)

Typical vine pruned to two shoots

All My Children
For now, the vines are still young... needing tender care and a nurturing hand. I wonder if the saying, "as children grow, so do the problems" can apply to a vineyard... if the reason this past year went so smoothly was because the vines weren't old enough to get themselves into trouble? We will raise them so their foundation is strong and healthy, their aspirations high... their structure strong enough to weather the temptations, to not succumb to the peer pressures of mildew and cane spot, and leaf rot and black rot, or chum with those nasty root borers and such. Nice, little vines..... Be good now...

Poignant Reflections
A vine "reflects" its surroundings... notice the upside down image of the nearby mountain in this droplet of sap. I see this as symbolic of our vines truly "reflecting" all that surrounds them and all that lies within them. What priceless beauty, this simplicity.