Well here we are again with another year half finished...
Many of us experienced an unusually harsh and long winter for 2017-2018; which seems to be a growing trend in our little part of the world. I worried as March turned into April and the snows continued with no signs of life in the vines. By this time the previous year, the vines, still in buckets, were greening up with new growth. However, when the last of the snow finally melted, all but three of our vines burst into green. Three vines lost to winter kill were less than 5% of the total. Not bad by most standards.
April moved into May, which remained colder than normal and with a lot of rain. The vines continued to produce leaves and flowers…and so did the weeds. Our soils retain water well and the rootstock is growing strong (as evidenced by the difficulty we had removing the dead vines!) so we made the decision to allow cover crops to remain between and around the vines to keep them from putting on too much growth. We are now rethinking that decision and may place a stone mulch along the rows this autumn. In spite of the scorching heat, endless rains, and weed competition, the vines didn’t show any signs of stress.
As the growth continued and we moved into the beginning of June, we prepared for the onslaught of Japanese beetles. Sprays worked until the rain washed them away. The beetles returned and we sprayed again. And again…and again. It was getting ridiculous. Then we noticed that the beetles choose the newest leaves at the tops of the developing canopy. Maybe we can use this to our advantage when the vines are fully mature and flush with growth in the next year or two and avoid spraying so much. While we don’t like using pesticides that can harm our bees and other beneficials, we also don’t want to have a population explosion of beetles every year to munch our vines and retarding their growth. They also take a toll on our orchard and crepe myrtles. The solution we’ve settled on will be to plant roses, most likely a climbing variety such as ‘New Dawn’ that will also shade the peafowl aviary near the vineyard.
Roses have been used for centuries in many wine growing regions of the world as a bellwether for the vines. Their cultural requirements are similar to grapes and they share pests and diseases. The appearance of something like downy mildew on the roses is an early warning to take the necessary precautions with the vines. Not to mention the additional benefits of beauty, fragrance, and their attraction to pollinators and other beneficial bugs. We are also installing purple martin housing to lure these voracious bug eaters to our farm.
This year, the second year for our vines, we also set up our trellis system. Most of the varieties we planted do well with the vertical shoot positioning, or VSP, system so that is the method we are using. With row lengths at or below 100 feet we chose to use steel end posts with earth anchors and aluminum line posts. We selected 12.5 gauge hard wire with Gripples® for tensioning. I can’t say enough good things about gripple tensioners and the gripple tool. They are so easy to use.
We set the first wire at 40 inches so that our Livestock Guardian Dog can pass beneath without disturbing vines or grapes. The typical height for the first wire, or cordon height, ranges from 36 inches to 48 inches. Once the wires were in place and the vines actively growing again, it was time to select and train the cordons. The Cabernet and Syrah vines took to this quickly and easily, starting into the second, and in some cases, third wires by mid-July. Approximately half of the Albariño and Norton vines also started into the second wire. The Semillion and Traminette vines are lagging behind and a few have yet to grow tall enough to reach the first wire. I suspect they aren’t well suited to our microclimate but we will give them another year or two before we replace them with more suitable vines. This is the reason we started with a small test plot before investing in larger blocks of vines.
In January and February we will begin our first spur pruning in preparation for our first grape crop in 2019!
And lest I forget, tickets are already on sale for Powhatan’s Sweet 16th Festival of the Grape on Saturday, October 6th!