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



Biodynamics Spoken in the East?!
I just returned from a viticulture workshop in PA, sponsored by Penn State University.  The topic: Organic, Sustainable and Biodynamic Viticulture in the Eastern US.  Amazing!:)  The organizer was hoping to have thirty or so people. Actual attendance was 60 to 75 I would estimate.  Among the presenters were two vineyards, one from Long Island, NY (Shinn Estate) and the other, Black Ankle,  from MD.  They both have been applying similar farming practices as we have, but they have been at it longer.  The general discussion followed along with our experiences in the vineyard... Black Rot is the major issue keeping Eastern vineyards from becoming certified organic or biodynamic.  But the discussion continued and the consensus was that practices of minimal input of chemicals and keeping the vines, vineyard and farm in balance with nature was the more desirable (and attainable) goal.  We tasted their wines and they were truly superb.  If you have the chance, find some of their wines so you can taste first hand the results of their environmentally sensitive vineyard practices.  Fabulous!

I feel inspired, encouraged.  There is more than just hope! We are seeing proof!
Onward, vineyard soldier!

Leaf Pulling
And now the all-important canopy management begins.  Last year we lost much of the canopy to Black Rot.  This year, we are developing a beautiful, full canopy and fruit zone.
The management of the "canopy" will be critical to our success.  We spent the last week or so pulling away the leaves on the east side around the baby berries so the morning sun and air can get to them.  By exposing the young berries to the morning sun, they develop a stronger skin and a greater ability to ward off fungal diseases later in life, it sort of toughens them up a bit.  We will keep the afternoon sun away from them till late in the summer when the sun is not so hot and the fruit are mature.  An overheated grape will "cook" a bit on the vine, losing its acidity (not a good thing) and the anthocyanins that provide color will be detrimentally affected.  So monitoring this sun exposure is very important, as is balancing the amount leaves removed for air movement with those left on the vine for adequate photosynthesis.

Intruder Egg Update
In a recent posting, I showed you the image of a bird's nest with an intruder egg, a cowbird. These birds lay their eggs in other birds' nest and let them raise their young, not a very admirable trait. I had decided to go back and remove the egg from the nest, as the baby cowbirds are much bigger than the sparrows and they end up getting all the food from mama sparrow and her real babies would not survive.  Here's the image of the eggs that I posted earlier.

So two days later I went down to Row 20 and planned on removing the egg, I guess tossing it into the woods.  And low and behold...

They had already hatched!  Now what to do.  It is a lot easier for me to toss an egg into the woods than a baby bird.  You can see the difference in size already.  When I watched the baby sparrow open its mouth for food, with the cowbird positioned to get most of the food, I decided I had no choice but to remove the cowbird.
So with two fingers, I picked up the bird by the torso and carried it up the vineyard in my hand.  I could feel it twitching and squirming and it was so warm.  Oh, I did not like this.  Not at all... having to kill this little creature... it wasn't his fault his mother is lazy.  I sat it in the warm sun on the picnic table while I struggled with how to "dispose" of it humanely.  Then I got to wondering if the mother bird might abandon the entire nest, knowing someone or something had discovered it and things just weren't right.  I just couldn't kill it.  I had to walk back down to Row 20, set it back in the nest and let nature take its course.

And nature did.  Upon checking on the nest two days later, I so hoped to find everyone doing well, growing, sharing the nest as one family.  As I approached, I could see the mother was not sitting on it.  She must be out looking for insects.  I pulled away the leaf covering the nest.  The nest was empty.  They were all gone.  I surmise a raccoon, or perhaps a snake found its way.  It was near the end of a row, close to the woods.  A few days later I checked in on another nest I knew had baby hatch-lings.  It too was empty.

I did hear two raccoons fighting in the woods a few nights ago. Time to put my hound to work. I will let BoomBoom roam the vineyard at night for a while.  He is the master 'coon hunter.  Best we get rid of these raccoons before the grapes ripen anyway.  And nothing would make BoomBoom happier than to catch himself a raccoon.  He caught one once down on the farm, and he spun himself and the raccoon in his mouth around in circles, pivoting on his hind legs, the raccoon flying in circles in the air by the centrifugal force of it.  I made him drop the little beast and it went off staggering into the woods like a drunk.  That better not be the same critter that is coming after my grapes.  Should have let nature takes its course back then, perhaps.

My sweet BoomBoom loves the vineyard life!

And just look at that face.  What's not to love?


Nikon Duty

Finding the Beautiful
After days of drizzle, fog and rain, the sun is out. I am laid up with a broken toe, but cannot stay indoors another moment.  It has been too many days.  So I and my securely-wrapped toe took a brief drive into the vineyard.  I had to see how the vines had tolerated all the humid, rainy days.  I held my breath as I walked into the first row, so fearful I would be met with a display of brown spots covering the leaves.  I found one or two, but the vines looked healthy, bright green, clusters of blossoms everywhere.  Joy.  Relief.  Thankfulness. We truly are conquering Black Rot I believe.  I believe, I believe!  Another five weeks and we will be beyond the vulnerable stage.  We can do it!!

Miracle in the Details
With my Nikon, I spent some close up time with my grapes.  I can't help but be amazed by the miracle of birth, whether it be a human, animal or a grape. 

Pinot Noir in Bloom

A Closer Look

Zooming In

Newborn Grapes!

And To the Gardens Below
I had to continue down the driveway to the farm, orchard and gardens.  Four days of containment felt like weeks.  The lambs have grown so.  The fruit on the peach, plum, pear and apple trees and the blueberries, the sugar snap peas and rhubarb... everything has grown and developed so in these few short days. With my Nikon I sneaked into their world.  Here are some captured moments to share with you... enough beauty to help heal a broken bone!
Patience, patience I remind myself.  They will be ripe for eating before long.

Black Cherry Heirloom Tomato


Sugar Snap Pea Blossom

Sugar Snap Trying to Fill Out

Dewdrops on lettuce

Damson Plums 

A Father's Birthday
Today my WWII veteran father turns 85, and I must say he is about the youngest 85 year old I have ever known.  In spite of thirty years or so of living with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), he is ready and rarin' to go.  He attributes his condition to his taking charge of the medications the doctors have prescribed for him over the years.  He is convinced that if he had continued taking the ultra heavy doses of steroids and inhalants as prescribed, he wouldn't be here today.  He takes less than 1/4 of what the doctor's prescribed.  His philosophy, "More is not better".  Only the minimal amount of meds needed is best for him.  And as I listened to him, I heard a common thread in my approach to viticulture.  Sometimes medication is needed, but first build a strong body, take only what is necessary to fight the disease and go from there.  Must be the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree, eh?
So Happy Birthday, dear "Pepe"!  And many, many more! Love you!