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



The Envelope Please

My six-week Black Rot field trials have ended... lesions tabulated, votes for our mystery product counted. The verdict is in.

First, the trial's protocol:
I observed and photographed 34 plants throughout the vineyard, 17 in the Spray Group, 17 in the Control Group (those that received no spray)
We sprayed once a week for five weeks at a chosen concentration and application rate
Each subsequent week I counted the number of plants affected by Black Rot (BR) and the number of lesions on those plants
The weather was favorable for continued outbreaks of BR throughout most of the time period.

At the end of six weeks:
Number of plants affected with lesions: Spray group - 12, Control group - 16
Total number of lesions: Spray group - 57, Control group - 102

The Test Product did result in an overall diminished amount of Black Rot in the Spray group compared to the Control group.

The Control group had several plants with a large outbreak of lesions, while the Spray group had no major outbreaks, just scattered lesions, so it seems the product is effective in diminishing the severity of an outbreak.

The Spray Group appears generally healthier.
One of the most striking observations is the near complete lack of powdery mildew in the sprayed group. We have been using an assortment of sprays for powdery all summer and have seen very little until the last couple of weeks when the weather has been extremely conducive for it. The sprayed plants have essentially no powdery on them, a noticeable difference from some of their surrounding plants.

Our test product holds great promise, although the results are a bit disappointing. Many factors could account for disappointing results: inadequate coverage, ineffective concentration, rain events, spores already having infected the plant before coverage, etc.
My feeling is that with further controlled studies and more defined spraying concentrations and application procedures, this test product could very well be a reliable prevention of Black Rot outbreaks and definitely already is a very effective product for the control of Powdery.
Perhaps if it had been sprayed from the beginning of the season, it might have been able to keep BR from developing, thus controlling the disease by preventing continuing outbreaks of the pycnidia and conidia spores that perpetuate the disease.

The Verdict
So..... The verdict, you ask. All being told, at this point, unless more outside testing is done with this product or another product comes up that has a proven track record, I do not feel comfortable enough with the product's effectiveness to risk losing our crop next year to Black Rot.
I definitely would like to see the company pursue the development of this product for commercial use. I am currently trying to connect this company with another east coast organic company to see if they can combine efforts to create the product we organic viticulturists are hoping to find. I think it has a very high potential of becoming one of the major weapons in the arsenal of organic vineyards/farms across the country if they develop it commercially. I will stay in contact with them to encourage them to bring it to market.

So, how am I feeling about all of this? Of course, I am disappointed this is not the silver bullet I had hoped it would be. And now we most likely will have to spray with one chemical next year to prevent BR from devouring our crop. But I feel more committed than ever to find the product that will allow for organic viticulture in the east. I will not give up until the product is created. If we can put a man on the moon...we most certainly can find the organic solution to BR.

We will continue with our organic and biodynamic farming practices.
Next year would have been our third year of such practices, qualifying us to apply for organic certification. So now, that three year count will have to begin another year. At least in the meantime, I know I can feel comfortable with my grandbabies playing in the vineyard, our dogs rolling in the rows, our bees and birds flitting about.... except for those three times we will have to spray for the BR. The rest of the year we will remain free of chemicals and do what we can to continue to promote healthy microbial life in the vineyard.

The day will come when we have that organic solution. I am patient and committed. My journey continues with or without BR, and it is in that wonderful journey where all of life happens.

The autumnal equinox is here. The sun has moved back far enough to the south to illuminate our eastern valley with those glorious striations of rainbow colors of the pre-dawn light.

It's all good.


Oh Dear, Oh Deer!

My day started with a foggy contact lens, my distant eye all "a' blurr". I didn't bother to change my contact... T'will be a day of squinting and stretching my right eye to see distances clearly until I do. I drove down to the vineyard and dropped off some organic herbicide, then continued down to the lower forty to pick some heirloom tomatoes and beans, and take the three dogs, Flippy, Killian and big, bouncy BoomBooom for a long walk. I smile as I watch my two seniors trot down this old country, creek-lined road, knowing how stiff their joints are, yet feeling their joy. We had to euthanize our dear neighbor's seventeen year old dog yesterday, so the reality of their age and the inevitable is heavy on my mind. But I choose to focus on the joy that is mine, at this peaceful and contented moment the four of us are sharing. Their bouncing ears and smiling faces. And tails that wag all about. I broaden my stride and my smile.

A couple hours later we return to the vineyard, young Boomer running up the entire drive up the mountainside, the two older ones resting in the back of the Pathfinder after their strenuous stroll. I had left open the eight foot high vineyard gate. I pulled into the vineyard to do a bit of spraying. My eye (blurry still) catches a rusty colored motion to my right. A fawn! Oh no. Boomer is loose, right behind me, still on the road. The fawn runs down along the inside of the eight-foot deer fence. Boomer, yipping and running chases alongside it from the outside of the fence. Then to my left another deer, the doe, the baby's mother, chasing in the direction of her baby. Boomer trying desperately to get to them, only doing his job of protecting the grounds. I give up on the deer and get Boomer, drag him into the back of the Pathfinder. I run to see where the deer are and to open all the gates so they can escape. I find the baby running along the north side towards the first open gate. I sigh and stand back. The baby turns and runs back from where she was heading. What?! Boomer! He jumped over two rows of seats and jumped out my half rolled-down window. NO! BOOMER! I scream. He obeys and comes to me. I put him back in the car, roll up all windows to just slightly open, drive the car out of the vineyard, take the keys, lock the doors. I return to the vineyard looking for the deer. I see them in the far corner. Then out from the vineyard rows dashes another young one, not quite as small as the fawn. Three of them! They were still panicked and kept running into the fence, their heads and legs at times getting caught in the wire. It was horrific. I silently begged them to be calm, to find the open gates. I tried not to imagine the worst. This video puts you there with me. Ugh.

(Warning: May be disturbing)

I spend another hour there, trying to coax them, watch them, make sure they get out. Then I see the mother try another leap over the fence, her head jambs up under the support beam as she leaps. I see her drop. I think I see her walk away, but the heavy undergrowth is too high. I can't see her. I wait. Then high up on the vineyard I see two walk from the border into the rows of vines. They are heading in the right direction. But where is the third? Did she get injured in that last jump? Or worse yet... I have to look for her.
I crawl down the steep embankment into the bushes and grasses that line the fence and begin walking the perimeter to see if she is down. I get about half way down and see a round mound of rusty brown lying in the grasses. I feel my heart pounding and move closer, pushing through a growing sassafras whose sweet scent surrounds me. I see it. Oh. Oh! A big boulder the same color as the deer. I blow out the breath I had been holding and continue, climbing over and through such high, heavy growth. Then I see ahead of me, the gray of her open mouth protruding from the grasses. I approach slowly, get close enough to finally see clearly.... an old limb staring me in the face. Again, I sigh. I reach the southeast corner. She is not there. They are gone. They had escaped.
I took my time walking back up the length of the vineyard. I rub down my calfs in case any chiggers or ticks might have jumped from the high grasses onto my legs. The vines are turning their fall color. Crickets are the only sounds. I give thanks for this ending.
I close all the gates, glance at the sky above me, whose clouds are all a'blurr.
If only I had changed that contact earlier in the day. Clear vision... priceless.
The gate will remain closed at all times. I was fortunate this time. The deer even more.


September! HARVEST!! ... Only One More Year

Harvest!.... At last! But alas, not for us!
But for the mature vineyards here in Virginia, the time has come. A year's worth of work literally comes to fruition. In Virginia, September and October are the primary months to snip away that luscious fruit from the vine... to capture in a bottle the effects of a year's worth of sun, wind, rain and soil on the vines, whose roots, leaves and fruit have fed all year on that magical combination... every year the expression unique. This variable is what makes a "vintage"... the characteristics that set apart one year from the next, from mediocre to outstanding... My guess is 2009 will be an excellent vintage for Virginia. In spite of the many rain events throughout the season, we had no late spring frosts, we had plentiful sunshine, moderate temperatures, adequate rainfall. If a vineyard was able to keep the fungal spores at bay, it should be a very good year for them. Being in the mid-Atlantic, we always have the possibility of hurricane effects that interfere with harvest. A heavy rainfall event just before harvest will add too much water to the vines, soak the grapes, possibly splitting them, lower the relative sugar content, and generally wreak havoc in the vineyard at just the wrong time. So far, so good this year. For those harvesting this week and early next week, a nice long stretch of mild sunny weather will add that last bit of sugar in the grapes, the sun offering them a last kiss goodbye. How wonderful we get to taste those sun-kissed grapes in years to come as we pour from the bottle the beautiful expression of that year's long and passionate relationship between the grapes and the sun. It's no wonder passion seems to flow from a bottle of wine.

A Very Tiny Harvest...
But better than none at all! We managed to find a few clusters here and there that survived the Battle of the Black Rot! At least we didn't have to worry about scheduling a crew for harvest. The power packed flavor of these pinot noir grapes was amazing...sweet, tart, rich in my mouth. Only a hint of things to come! I can only imagine a vineyard full of such clusters. It will come. And it will be a joyous occasion indeed.

The Beauty of Diversity
Because we are not only a vineyard, but a farm as well, we are at least enjoying the harvest of an assortment of organic fruits and veggies. In addition to my over-flowing rows of ripening heirloom tomatoes (about 25 different varieties with names such as Boxcar Willie, Mortgage Lifter, Black Prince, Amish Paste, Black Cherry), we are enjoying succulent peaches, pears, plums, apples, figs and mounds of summer squash, zucchini, green beans, fresh basil to make pesto, green and hot peppers, and more. The colors, the shapes, the scents and flavors... a grand finale of sorts to satiate not only our stomachs, but our memories of such a beautiful and bountiful abundance to carry us through the long winter to whom it seems we only just said goodbye.

Time So Evident
These cycles of life on the farm accentuate the passing of time. It is not a bad thing, for in so doing, I find myself clutching, but not clinging to each and every season. They all have their merits, their purpose, their own unique beauty. I cherish all the seasons. I welcome them, befriend them, work with and through them, then say goodbye, giving thanks for their presence in my life. It is all good.
Farewell dear summer. You gave me so much.
Come along now, sweet autumn.

Note: Field Trial test results due Mid-September. See you then!