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




Time to get down to some nitty-gritty vineyard talk.  Time to, at least mentally,  get into gear.  I anticipate spring will suddenly hit after lulling us into this extended winter mode, under this extended cover of snow!  It does have its merits, beyond its beauty.

The Poor Man's Fertilizer
It is well known, amongst those in the farming world, that a blanket of snow on an unfrozen ground is called "a poor man's fertilizer".  It is said that the gradual melting of snow adds a slow, steady dose of nitrogen into the soil as it is absorbed drip by drip by the earth.  Our vines were a bit nitrogen deficient this past summer.  Finding the balance in nitrogen levels is tricky, yet very important for vineyards.  Too much nitrogen creates too much leaf growth, taking too much away from the grape itself.  Too little nitrogen creates a weak, spindly plant that doesn't support the healthy development of the fruit, thus the sugar and acid levels of the grape are not high enough for a high quality wine.
Our vineyard has had a cover of snow for about five of the last six weeks, the snow melting a bit each day, then adding a bit the next!.  We did have a short period between snow events where we lost the snow cover entirely.  So would that mean we are getting a double dose of the good stuff?  I regret we did not get down before the snows came a layer of our "fortified" biodynamic compost .  But no one guessed the snows would have lasted this long, or that we would even have had a second snow, and a third and a fourth!  It is unprecedented here in Central Virginia.  But personally, I see all of this as a gift for our vines, an unexpected supplement to their health that we never could have expected... a nice dose of a celestial elixir that will strengthen them for the grand year ahead.

Pruning.. A New Winter Ritual
During the months of winter, most of the time spent in the vineyard is pruning back the vines' previous year's growth, disciplining it into a new pattern of growth conducive to a manageable and fruitful vine.  This is the first year we will be pruning primarily at the height of the fruiting wire, about 32 inches in our vineyard.  Last year I took nearly all of the vines down to two buds at the base of the vine, just inches off the ground.  I worked on my knees, bending down, bending over, sitting on a little rolling cart... you name it, I found that position, working essentially on the ground for nearly all of the 3500 vines.  I look forward to seeing how many postures I can find myself working at this level, where I will again try to change positions often to alleviate repetitive motion issues.

Over the last couple of years, one of my goals has been to try to develop uniformity among the vines.  So far, I have not come close.  Maybe this will be the year!

Our vines' sizes vary from thin, spindly one-half inch diameter shoots no taller than two feet high to thick, sprawling canes with monstrous arms stretching eight feet along the top trellis wire.  The reason for such discrepancies are many.  First off; the size of the root systems of the plants varied immensely at planting.  I remember trimming those roots before we planted them.  Some vines' root structures were thick and almost hairy.  Others had barely enough root to "take root".  We expected it would take a couple of years for these slighted ones to catch up.  Hopefully it will happen this year.
Another reason for the variation in size is the amount of water each plant was exposed to in the first couple of years.  We had problems with the irrigation system during that crucial first year.  The system couldn't reach all of the plants during a critical stretch of dry weather.  Another issue particular to our vineyard is we have an underground spring that meanders down a swath of the vineyard.  I have noticed that those plants over this area have grown much faster than those around them.  The difficult issue with this is that the fruit from these particular vines might not develop the proper sugar concentration;  in a sense they will have fruit with a higher percentage of water in them, thus a more diluted concentration of sugar and acid levels.  This is something we will have to be measuring this year as they produce and ripen the fruit.

Our Vineyard Sleuth
We are thankful we have the opportunity to hire internationally recognized Lucie Morton as our consultant for this very important year.  She brings with her a lifetime of work from around the world.  She is a sleuth in the vineyard, discovering new diseases and seemingly always thinking ahead.  She will be an invaluable asset for us.  Our hope is she will find only healthy, happy vines, but ignorance is not bliss in a vineyard.  Best to be on top of any little thing that pops up before it becomes a major issue.  So we will stand strong and tall, and take any diagnosis she has to offer after she completes a thorough physical exam of our vineyard in early March.  Stay tuned!

And Research Continues
Remember our mystery product we field tested last summer for the Black Rot issue?  A quick review... I found a patent for a product online, contacted the company.  The product had not been used in vineyards but they sent it out anyway.  I applied it to a test plot with repeated applications.  Results were mixed for Black Rot, although it definitely reduced the number of leaf lesions.  But I noticed a striking effect against Powdery Mildew.  Because of this trial, we have the interest of a couple of universities who will be running field trials of their own this year.  If their results duplicate mine, we might have generated an effective new weapon in the arsenals of environmentally sensitive vineyards in the East.  I will keep you updated as the season progresses.


The Pleasures of Country Byways
Amidst the rural backdrop, my camera captures the unique beauty that exudes from every corner of this captivating countryside.  Along the winding road through the woods runs the creek that I love, and from it I captured these frozen images of abstract beauty.


And another type of ritual found in the deep hollows of the rural countryside.

With beautiful Mt. Pleasant in the background, our dear, loyal neighbors down in the "holler" use this area of their farm to "harvest" the hogs they raised the previous season.  From these animals come a year's supply of fresh country sausage, pork ribs, bacon, ham, for family members (and a few lucky friends and neighbors).  It is quite an experience to witness.  It took me years of living here before I could actually set my eyes on the hogs that hang here... definitely not in a city girl's repertoire of familiar life events.  Definitely not an image for our daughter, the vegetarian, who happened upon the sight last month while visiting!  I still wrestle with the images, the death, the recycling of the hogs' lives.  They live a good life here.  Their demise is swift.  There is no fear.  Even after all that rationalization, I still find myself struggling a bit with it all.  I never was a sausage eater.  Until I tasted theirs.  Oh, the sausage....  We thank you dear hogs.  As the Native Americans did, we offer our gratitude and respect for the food these animals provide us.


In the midst of this Peaceable Kingdom below, notice the lone sheep, given to our neighbor as a gift for her months of tending to our flock in our absence.  He has become a family pet and is happy, fat and finding companionship with the family of cows and horses who live together in this quiet, country place.

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