Sunday, December 10, 2006

Early Christmas at the Little Winery in the Back

Yes, Christmas came early for the Little Winery.

I started off with a rental, wooden basket press. You have seen them or used them yourself. A basket of wooden staves, a large crank at the top that compresses the grapes and then the juice runs out through the sides. It was a lot of work and time, but that isn't their main problem.

Being that I rented the press, I never new what the person before me had used it on. He may have used it to press grapes that had who knows what type of wild bret yeast. Or she may have pressed their must after adding a MaloLactic bacteria, which is not unusual. However, I may not want these little critters in my wine. At least not without my choice to put them there. How well did he clean it before returning it. And, being wood, how clean could they actually clean it.

The last few times that I rented a press, I rented a bladder press with a stainless steel basket. The basic configuration of the two types of presses is very similar. You essentially have a large, vertical cylinder mounted on a base that has a spout at one spot. The grapes are loaded in the top and a top plate is attached. But, instead of a large crank that presses the grapes from the top, there is a large, cylindrical rubber bladder in the center.

The bladder is filled through a valve with water from a garden hose. The bladder fills, enlarges and presses the grapes gently and evenly against the sides of the stainless steel basket that has been perforated with small holes to make a screen. After about 45 minutes (half the time of a traditional basket press) the grape must has been pressed into juice or wine. Since the basket is stainless steel, it is easy to clean and sanitize.

At the end of this last season, the wine shop that I rent from told me that they were going to sell their rental press. Now it is mine! Isn't it a beauty? No more planning my pressing around ever other renter at the shop, no more worrying about kind of nasty critter may be left on it from someone else.

I look forward to many, many pressings ahead. And, I will tell you about them as they happen.



Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Winter in the Back Yard Vineyard

The grapes have all gone dormant for the winter, and just in time too. First frost has been hitting northern California and the vineyard has completely shut down. I expect to do a first round of pruning in a couple weeks, just to make walking though it and weeding easier.

Around the first of they year I will put the new trellis in for the new vines and a high wire for vertical shoot positioning.

On the equipment side, I just got may new bladder press.

Lots of fun ahead


Friday, April 28, 2006

My Evil Plan

My evil plan to take over the back yard is working!

Well not really an evil plan, and not the whole yard, but it is a plan and it is working.

Here was the basic idea:

Infiltration: You plant a few grapes, not too many, but enough that you can actually make something out of it, but not so much that it imposes itself as a major project. You know, it reflects a little bit of an obsessive behavior, but not anything that requires therapy or lithium.
I settled on 20 vines.

Acclimation: Not of the wines, No, the family. It has to become a non-issue. Nothing out of the ordinary. "Vines in the back yard? Oh yea. Hey, how was your day? Wow, this dinner is very good; what is that great flavor. You look great this evening. Oh, hey, I need to run." The new, young vineyard needs to be sheltered from any chance of negative discussion until they have woven themselves into our daily lives like the air we breath.

This is key. The 20 vines must be protected from ill thoughts. It would be so easy to have a discussion pop up as some dinner with family or friends that could undermine the whole plan. It would be a shame to have the whole plan die at this point just because someone wants to use the space for a lawn or something silly like that. I mean really, a lawn, in a back yard.
Let's be real!

The Foothold: The vines have survived the gophers, the rabbits (don't get me started again about the rabbits), the family discussions. Their roots are now extending down deep into the soil and weaving themselves into our daily lives.

The Expansion Groundwork: This is a risky time. I have to do it right. A conversation like this follows: "You know dear? Those vines really look good. They are doing real well too and I think they compliment the back yard well. I may put a few more in. You look real nice this evening!" (then exit quickly).

The Expansion: 22 new vines arrive. About doubling the number of existing vines. Two more rows, two more vines per row. The unusually wet spring let up finally. One reasonably dry day of digging and planting and now I am twice the grape grower that I was a the week before.

This doubling works well. Obviously, doubling can't go on for ever. The math geek in me knows that that is not possible.
But, lets see what happens in another 2 years.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Winter Pruning and Clean Up

Winter time seems to be the grapes equivalent of my Saturday morning. After a full summer and fall "workweek", they just want to sleep in, lounge around the vineyard in their PJs and not really do much. But that is pretty much where the metaphor ends.

We have just come out of a particularly bad set of weather. Lots of rain, high winds and all in all, some bummer dreary climates. I took advantage of a sliver of a warmer afternoons this weekend and spent some quality time with my vines.

The wind had wrestled some of the first year cordons free from their ties and the young wood was dangling. No damage, they are all still fairly immature and supple, so the wood where the cordon meets the trunk of the vine is pliable enough that there was no damage. I just gently lifted them back to the trellis and tied them up with fresh green twists.

I am not quite ready to dive into spur pruning yet, for two reasons.
One, the vines seem reluctant to slip completely into their winter dormancy (more on that later) and I am afraid that an aggressive pruning may encourage a burst of growth, which would be in danger of frost damage and then disease.
And two, I have never practiced the pruning techniques learned in my viticulture class on my own grapes yet.

Scary! So, I just gave a light pruning to remove the long growth that was being whipped around in the winds. I left an ample number of buds on each spur so that when I come back in a couple months. I have lots to work on my technique with. I'm sure I will do fine eventually. My vines and I will make it through this together.

Weather around here can be a bit schizophrenic; cold, then hot, then cold again. It's probably hard for a vine to figure out if it should be gowning or going dormant. One of the vines was a bit confused by the few sporadic days of warmth that we had since the colds days had come and thought it should start making fruit. I actually found a small cluster of new berries on one. Looked like they had been there a few weeks. With the rainy weather, I never went down and looked closely at the vines so I must have missed the blossoms. Silly vine. My vines are young, I am sure that we both will get through this early stage and figure out what we are doing.

I am thinking of calling around this week up to some of the wine country nurseries. I would like to get a few more vines. Some Petite Verdot. Probably too late to order them, but I think it would be fun to give my existing vines some young siblings. Especially now that I think I'm getting the hang of this.

Tim Beauchamp