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



Berries, Bella, Sun and SAR!

Red, Black... And Blue!

The season is here! I just picked four pounds of wild red raspberries, putting three in the freezer that I will  blend into preserves with the blackberries I'll be picking next week. Scrumptious, sweet, wild.  There is no comparison in flavor to the cultivated varieties. Our red and black are wild, the blueberries cultivated.  Why are the wild so flavorful?  Well, that brings me to the explanation of "SAR", Systemic Acquired Resistance".  Simply put, it refers to the response of the plant to various elements, pathogens, diseases, etc.  The wild varieties are the products of generations of self-defense.  Studies have shown that every time a plant reacts to an attack, its defense mechanisms are stimulated; its "system acquires a resistance" to attacking pathogens.  And with that reaction in grapes, the phenolic and flavonoid compounds (chemicals that create flavor and character to wines) are released.  When a plant has an "ancestry" of strong defense mechanisms, the result is a fruit of intense flavor.
In our grocery markets, the organic produce typically has more flavor than their conventionally grown counterparts.  The conventionally treated plants that are sprayed with chemicals their entire life do not need to defend themselves to the same degree, thus are not quite as colorful and tasty. Wild blackberries are the perfect expression of SAR's benefits.  And hopefully, so will our wines! 
This is a very simplistic explanation to a very complicated process. For further reading: http://www.organicwinejournal.com/index.php/2008/11/wine-quality-organic-viticulture-and-vine-systemic-acquired-resistance-to-pests/

Shhh.... Don't Tell Dan
Bella is our sweet two-year-old female Maremma that helps her counter-part, ten year old, Dan, protect our flock of sheep.  Bella's cycle of reproduction is upon us.  After running some tests on Dear Old Dan, it was determined he is, alas, too old to become a proud Papa.  So after doing some research, we found a new love for Bella up in Northern Virginia.  She has spent the last week up there in the sweltering heat of this past week.  The news is good.  We apparently have a mating and if all goes according to schedule, Bella will become a first time Mama the end of August.  I am hoping Dan will forget that nothing happened between him and Bella, and he will see those babies being born and think of himself as the proud Papa we had always hoped he would be.  
Here Bella sits with her handsome one, "Gnocchi" behind her.

The Importance of Sun at Fruit Set
As mentioned in an earlier post, our Chardonnay bloomed during a long, wet spell, and thus the pollination of the fruit was greatly impacted.  In the images below, you can appreciate the value of sunlight at a critical time in fruit development. And we are so grateful to the "weather gods" that they spared us our beloved star, our Pinot Noir.


What Might Have Been
Walking through the vines yesterday, I stumbled upon a dreadful sight; a cluster of Black Rot infected grapes.  I am assuming the spray had somehow missed this spot and the end result speaks for itself.  Had we not sprayed our two conventional sprays directed toward this pathogen, this is what our vineyard would have looked like this year.
Be still, my heart!
With each successive year the source of the disease will be lessened, and with each year, our sprays for it will also diminish.  As much as I am opposed to the reckless use of chemicals on our earth, there are some instances where a judicious and calculated use is needed.


A Visit from Mizuho
We were fortunate to have Virginia Tech's Grape Pathologist, Dr.Mizuho Nita, come for a visit to check out our vineyard last week.  As you know, organic (or near-organic) viticulture practices are rare in Virgina, as well as dense-planting of the vines.  To put the two of them together, even rarer.  Combine that with the planting of Pinot Noir grapes... unheard of in Virginia, and perhaps the entire East Coast.   As Mizuho walked through the vineyard, I noticed him nodding his head a bit.  I surmised he was liking what he saw.   I think he was impressed by the health of the vines and perhaps a bit surprised to find us essentially disease-free.  No phomopsis, no leaf-roll virus, no antracnose, no insect damage... the list is long.  And most importantly, no Black Rot! Only a spot here and there, thanks to our two conventional sprays that are considered some of the more enviro-friendly of the conventional sprays.
We do have an area in the Chardonnay block where the vines are somewhat pale in color and the growth a bit weaker in relation to the rest of the vineyard.  We are trying to figure out the issue.  I collected petiole samples (the stem from the leaf across from the fruit cluster) from both the weaker Chard and the stronger Pinot Noir vines. The results have just come back and we are finding the weaker vines to have very high potassium levels, often caused by a deficiency of magnesium.  So we will try to adjust those levels by applying some interim sprays of Mg to see if it helps.  I feel so fortunate to have such a great team of professionals in our court.  Thank you Mizuho and Lucie!

Fruit Bloom and Days of Gloom
When the Chard fruit was just beginning to bloom in mid-May, we were enveloped for the next five days by the gloomiest of weather patterns.  We had days of rain, fog, drizzle and not a drop of sunshine.  I remember emailing Mizuho and Lucie about my concern the fruit would not set in all this dark, damp weather.  And that is precisely what happened.  Much of the fruit clusters in the Chard are pitifully thin.  I suspect we will have only about half the fruit we were anticpating.  The blessing is that our Pinot bloomed about a week after the Chard, when the sun was shining.  Our Pinot clusters are thick and full.  A blessing.  The Pinot is our shining star, and we expect to have a beautiful crop of this much sought-after grape that is considered so hard to grow in Virginia.  Mizuho warned I will have to baby them as they ripen, and of course I will!  I will post an image of our beautiful Pinot soon, and you will be able to see the vast difference a bit of sunshine makes at just the right time.

Where the Wild Things Grow
It is obvious in the forests around us that the wild berries loved the heavy dose of nitrogen soaked into the earth this winter by weeks of slow-melting snow.  Our crop of wild raspberries and blackberries are going to be amazing.  I froze strawberries from last month and will be mixing them into preserves with a combination of our planted blueberries and the wild blackberries and raspberries.  The raspberries are ready to burst forth, and the blackberries will follow a couple of weeks behind them. Mmmmm....