Adventures of Janey Grapeseed

A Labor of Love, a Taste of Joy in Life


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Summer Transitions

Hey Everybody,

These last few years I haven’t written much. Life has taken a turn towards a few transitions: Care giving for a dementia patient, moving, selling our place (read – giving up the vineyard) and moving into a different USDA hardiness zone.

Another change is that I am posting my adventures in our “new-to-us” cottage garden here in Nampa, Idaho on my @janeygrapeseed Instagram account. I’m still working on this, trying to get all the appropriate links put together correctly. Please be patient with me. It might be glitchy for a bit.

One of the reasons I chose a moniker close to Johnny Appleseed is that that man traveled planting fruit that would benefit each community he sojourned in. I like to think that particular part of what I do remains the same; I’m still laboring in the garden for the benefit of my family and community. I still share the produce and the plants. I still tend edible crops.

One encouragement to me comes from a vineyard mentor. He stipulated that care for the vines has a lot of similarities to all plants … scientifically speaking. Even though those science items are facts, I still battle with what I know versus what I know I can implement.

For example, I know sunrise is important and plants go through amazing changes during this time of day. While I would LOVE to be out in the garden meeting plant needs at sunrise, I usually find myself setting up face washing and bathroom cleaning buckets for dad’s care. This is just where I am in life. They both need care at the same time.  I could choose to be upset but the better choice is to embrace doing what I can for both , as I can, with the help of the LORD who made them both.

Writing happens at a much slower pace but I sincerely hope you’ll join me.

With Love and Joy,

Janey Grapeseed

AKA Christine J. Webster


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Sometimes Vines Grow Sideways

March 16, 2018

Dear Friend,

Sometimes life goes sideways. You know the right thing to do and you fully intended to do it but life got in the way. Something else happened. Someone else needed your attention more and the first task was laid aside to attend to the second.

This was the case with one of my vines (and one of my friendships). I knew she needed support. It just never happened at the right time so I let her go and she grew sideways. She was named by some people we had known for years. In all honesty, she was bent when she was chosen but they thought it was cool. So I let it go longer.

Bad choice.

Today I had to make a vineyard management decision. I cut her down.

She still bore fruit while growing sideways but one idea nagged at me and wouldn’t let me go.

It is not loving
to allow her
to remain bent
when correction
can occur.

 

 

 

Now is that time. It is late in the dormant season and the buds have not yet broken through. The trunks and last year’s shoots are slightly pliable.

The first time I had to do this it devastated me. Now when I have to cut one down I am reminded that the plant is a vine. It wants to grow. The roots are still growing and its stump is still living just like the stump of Jesse in the Bible. It will survive to be better than it was before.

I farm this vine. I have everything I need to make her life better. The LORD farms His people. His abundant resources and willingness make a better life for them as well.

Here’s what I did:

  1. Cleaned my hand saw with Lysol concentrate. Rinsed the tool with water. Wiped with the concentrate. Let it stand about ten minutes. Rinsed off tool so that no Lysol residue remained.
  2. Made the cut. Cut at an angle above the very first node. Left two shoots at the base with three buds.
  3. Sealed the wound. My first choice for wound sealer would be pine tar. It has antifungal properties that are useful here in our cool climate. But since I didn’t have that around, my second choice was to seal the wound with wax. I used an old discarded candle held to a flame and gradually moved the candle around so that the dripping wax would cover the entire surface of the wound. It’s not a perfect solution but its better than nothing for now.
  4. Chose which of the two shoots I wanted to train up as the next trunk
  5. Set a metal U-channel post for its support. I have used grow tubes in the past but don’t prefer them. They attract bugs that do not benefit the vine and become a breeding ground for algae, moss, and fungus all of which I fight against here on our cool weather site. Vines trained up in grow tubes tend to be weaker initially as well. Yep. Not a fan. Use metal where you can.
  6. One last thing. The buds I’ve chosen need to be positioned in the sun. They will be healthier that way and grow stronger shoots which is what we’re aiming for in a trunk.

Don’t be afraid to correct the vines. It will be better for both of you in the long run.

 

Be fruitful,

Janey

 

Ps – Here’s an update.

One shoot grew up and made top wire height. I was so proud of her for rebounding nicely until one day in July when I noticed that shoot was dying. (Today is July 15, 2018)

Dead center in the vineyard something was horribly wrong. There was a whorl of thriving shoots at the base but the intended trunk had failed. Slowly I inched my fingers down the sickly stalk to locate the problem. There was definitely a problem at the very bottom of it. Somehow bugs and disease had eaten away through the tender new growth of just this one. This chosen and amazing one.

 

I grieved.

Again.

Days later I looked with fresh eyes. Maybe there is still a shoot worthy of training up. There was. Directly opposite of the first cut was a small shoot bringing with it a vestige of hope. That one tiny cluster of grapes made me so happy. “Come here, you.” I said and tied it up to the metal post. “Now we wait to see what will come of you.”

 

Look carefully for that cluster just above that bottom layer of greenery.

I cannot escape the relationship this vine has had with me as the LORD used it for lessons in a relationship gone sideways. It seemed like there wasn’t any hope. Our ways parted.

Then at a Community Worship Event out here on the Key, a preacher was talking about unity in the body of Christ. My heart turned to grieving over this broken relationship. “But I didn’t do anything wrong” I told the LORD privately. “I just wasn’t the friend she wanted me to be. Should I have to apologize for being myself … For not dropping my life to be who she wanted me to be?!”

There is a process to unity, the preacher said.

  1. Not knowing
  2. Knowing
  3. Loving
  4. Liking
  5. Needing

My friends and I were both pretty needy. We began at point five and got stuck there… essentially growing sideways. Just like the vine, our relationship won’t change until some difficult choices are made and we begin the relationship anew, from the bottom up. Or like another pastor said, in order ” ’cause that’s how numbers work.”

The vine needed me to see the good still living in it. It needed me to gently tie hope to love’s support. My friends need that too.

So here’s today’s challenge. Look for the good. There just might be hope.

Live Blessed & Fruitful
Janey


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Weeding the Shade Line

March 20, 2018

Aside from pruning, tis the season to weed.

Why do I weed in the rows and leave the aisles alone? In between the rows I want erosion control for the hill so I save my strength for the area directly under the vines. In the rows I want warm soil and freedom from things like plant competition and disease.

Marechal Foch is mildew resistant. Resistant does not equal immune. People have told me to plant roses at the end of each row because the roses will tell you all about impending disease threat before it reaches the vines. Well, I don’t have to. Dandelions catch the mildew first. Then the roses. Then the grapes. Dandelions are … Um … Free … and children love to play with them. They are prolific even when sick with disease pressure. They remind me that ground care should be part of my care giving responsibilities as I make efforts to love and nurture the vines.

The thing about having dandelion roots in the rows is that those huge tap roots steal nutrients. Where I live, the soil is already poor and I want all the available nutrients in a three foot radius around individual vines to enjoy proper nutrition. It’s my logical, loving self shining through.

Another thing about where I live are the fir trees. They tower along our southern and northern borders. Because the trees to the south shade the vineyard, I want to increase soil temperatures by decreasing ground covers. Shade cools the ground and ground cover cools the ground. One or both have to go. Since the trees are on my neighbor’s property, our rows get weeded.

Not everybody here on the Key choses to weed their grapes. To be honest, I haven’t been able to weed every year. Life happens. Sometimes the best we can do is to weed whack . Steve and I are doing this vineyard by ourselves and we have to make it work as a part of our lives. We do what we can.

Sustainability here means I need to make sure I have the healthy back and legs I need to get this job done and plan my time accordingly as well. Depending on my time availability, I might choose to weed entire rows (lots of time) or I might just concentrate on working the shade line (not so much time). There are two shade regions in our vineyard; the firs that shade the lower third and ornamental hedge that shades the upper third planted by my western neighbor. The lower third gets the more dramatic shade so that is where I concentrate weeding time.

Working smart here means using the right tools. A rototiller is not an option because of the hill but mostly because we farm a glacial esker and stones seem to self generate no matter what we do. However, a good hoe, a pitchfork, a claw, and a kneeling pad come in handy. 🙂 The hoe and pitchfork make things go so much faster.

There seems to be a controversy about tilling near the vines. I understand. Disturbing the root system is not so beneficial. In the vineyard as in life, we need to pick our battles. Weeds also disturb the root systems as they compete for space and nutrients. So I pick getting rid of weeds to allow vines to thrive even though I may disturb them a teensy bit.

First choice is to get the weeds out of the rows. The next choice is to prevent them from returning.

Another thing I’ve learned about weeding the rows… Scattering food grade cornmeal on the freshly weeded ground is both a pre-emergent (keeps weed seeds from germinating) and and anti-fungal agent. My first 40 pounds I had my son order from the local pizza shop he worked at. Now I’m trying to find an alternate source because the stuff really works well.

How much does it warm the soil? By about three degrees. In our cool climate I’ll take all the degrees warmth I can. 🙂

Labor in Love,

Janey


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Love Cuts

March 16, 2018

Sometimes life goes sideways. Sometimes when life goes sideways, love cuts it down.

You know the right thing to do and you fully intended to do it but life got in the way. Something else happened. Someone else needed your attention more and the first task was laid aside to attend to the second.

This was the case with one of my vines. I knew she needed support. It just never happened at the right time so I let her go and she grew sideways. She was dubbed BeatNick by some friends. In all honesty, she was bent when she was chosen but they thought it was cool. So I let it go longer. Bad choice.

Today I had to make a vineyard management decision. I cut her down to the ground.

She still bears fruit but one idea nagged at me and wouldn’t let me go. It is not loving to allow her to remain bent when correction can occur. Now is that time. It is late winter and the buds have not yet broken through. The trunks and last year’s shoots are slightly pliable.

The first time I had to do this it devastated me. Now when I have to cut one down I am reminded that the plant is a vine. It wants to grow. The roots are still growing. It will survive to be better than it was before. I am the farmer. I have the power to make her life better.

Here’s what I did:

  1. Cleaned my hand saw with Lysol concentrate. Rinsed the tool with water. Wiped with the concentrate. Let it stand about ten minutes. Rinsed off tool so that no Lysol residue remained. If you love your vines, clean your tools
  2. Made the cut. Cut at an angle above the very first node. Left two shoots at the base with three buds.
    Vines bleed. They remind me of straws… earth straws. Seal the wound. My first choice for wound sealer would be pine tar. It has anti-fungal properties that are useful here in our cool climate. But since I didn’t have that around, my second choice was to seal the wound with wax. I used an old discarded candle held to a flame and gradually moved the candle around so that the dripping wax would cover the entire surface of the wound. It’s not a perfect solution but its better than nothing for now.
  3. Chose which of the two shoots I wanted to train up as the next trunk.
  4. Set a metal U-channel post for its support. I have used grow tubes in the past but don’t prefer them. They attract bugs that do not benefit the vine and become a breeding ground for algae, moss, and fungus all of which I fight against here on our cool weather site. Vines trained up in grow tubes tend to be weaker initially as well. Yep. Not a fan. Use metal where you can.
  5. One last thing. The buds I’ve chosen need to be positioned in the sun. They will be healthier that way and grow stronger shoots which is what we’re aiming for in a trunk.  

Don’t be afraid to correct the vines. It will be better for both of you in the long run.

Labor in Love,
Janey

 

 


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Taste Walla Walla: Taste Joy

Steve and I were blessed to  be able to attend Taste Walla Walla this year.

So blessed to be included in this event 🙂

Unfortunately we couldn’t make it to all the tables. Of the wineries there to showcase Walla Walla we were only able to taste through about 56 wines in the two hours we attended. (Yes, spit cups were necessary.) Perhaps we will be able to taste through some of the ones we missed in the near future when we take a few Gig harbor folks out to Walla Walla this April.

Here are some highlights:

Wines:

Peppepr Bridge — We both enjoyed the 2014 Trine made by  Jean-François Pellet.  He is  a proponent of sustainable vineyard practices and innovation.  This shows through in his wine making.

Adamant — Devin and Debra Stinger joyously crafted a spectacular Albariño. This pair of wine enthusiasts are great ambassadors for the #WallaWallaWineAlliance and they make some pretty tasty wine.

Saviah — Rich Funk delivers elegant wines. If texture and mouth feel are important with flavor that is just as deep as it is velvety, you’ll want to check out his The Stones Speak label.

Tertulia — Their  label pictures an icon of friends gathering together and the more we spend time with the winemakers of Walla Walla and their wines, the more we feel like friends. Friendship and hospitality really are talents this wine community has tons of. Check out Ryan Raber’s Blue Mountain vineyard wine, Elevation. It is a memorable Cabernet Franc that I highly recommend. 🙂 Truly the best I’ve tasted in a long time.

Solemn Cellars — Justin Basel is a young winemaker raising his family in the wine farming traditions. His enthusiasm shines through in the wine he makes.  Each wine reflects his heart, his vines and the life that is poured into them.

Tranche — is another offering from the Blue Mountain area that is worthy of our attention.  From the sheep grazing among the vines to the square cement fermenting tanks, this is a winery to watch. Exploring Rhône style wines with new world technology, they add their bit of character, their slice of life, to the Washington wine scene.

DaMa wines — Mary’s wines are so packed with flavor. You might find the aromatics of her wines intriguing in a name-that-flower kind of way. One stood out as a bouquet in liquid form — not obnoxiously pungent but pleasant and welcoming. What caught my attention was the balance with which she crafted those aromas and the incredibly long finish her wines possess.

Steve and I also had the pleasure of talking with several of the winemakers. Steve connects with them on a marketing level and I try to get a growing/wine making  question into the conversation. This trip I learned a couple things about corrective measures for wines that don’t turn out quite as you planned.  I’ll save that for another post.

Until we meet again,  may the True Vine grant you a taste of joy and a sip of His glorious goodness. Amen.


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Grapes that Fall: make good wine all the time

The experience at #SeattleWineAwards was on the horizon and I asked the LORD, Maker of the grapes, to lead me to the grapes that fall — to the wise words of experts that help or encourage me in my “classroom” of three 80 foot rows on Weaver’s Hill. The day had finally arrived, my chores were done and we had a sitter for our Dad who turned 90 this year. The Seattle Center’s #FisherPavilion and its beautiful fountain provided the perfect setting for this event.

My eyes were scanning white blanketed tables displayed  with Point-of-Sale materials and and my mind was processing a lot all at once. In between sips of wine and bites of shrimp with herb butter and fly fish roe infused with spicy wasabi, wine and winemakers were getting accolades.

One gentleman stood apart from the festivities. His name is Dick Boushey. “Go talk to him,” prompted my husband. “He’s too far away,” I thought. Then I prayed, Father in Heaven, if you want me to talk to this man, please bring him to me.

It wasn’t long before Steve was getting my attention and directing my gaze to this same man who was now just steps in front of me.

Mr. Boushey was focused. He had come with his own agenda as he tasted wine, mingled with attendees, and talked with winemakers. I was shy about interrupting his thoughts but my husband, Steve, wasn’t. He jumped right in to mention how many wines featured here and nominated for awards had some connection to Boushey Vineyards.

Getting bolder I piped in, “Every time we come to these wine events there seems to be a theme: a varietal, an AVA, or a vineyard. This time it is you.” He just smiled.

I wasn’t quite sure what to say next  but out came, “When you seek out a buyer for your grapes what do you look for?” I asked.

“Experience.”

“No. When you meet a potential buyer you have never met, what do you think of, what is your mental checklist, your criteria?”

Never have learned to smile when I concentrate. In this context, paying attention was a higher priority. 🙂

“They have to be able to make good wine consistently over several years. “It goes like this,” he says, as his arm makes a wavy motion like a dolphin swimming in and out of water. “Sometimes you get good years and sometimes you get bad years but that’s not what the consumer wants. The consumer wants good wine every year. The people I want to sell my grapes to need to be able to do that. The bad years don’t bother them.”

“How do you know?”

“You taste their wine.”

Ahhh. This answer, too, is not just that simple. If you want to taste what they do in a bad year, you have to know the good years from the bad and where they get their grapes and what happened to the grapes growing in those places at those times. After all that information permeates your conscience the same way aging wine deeply colors barrel staves, you also need to be able to decipher their wine-making styles and methods. Often this is too much information for the common person.

I have a lot of respect for Dick Boushey. He is an expert. He is a hard working farmer who retains and uses information for the good of his farm. He is a farmer first and he has remained a farmer first over the three random visits we’ve shared at wine events spanning several years.

The first time I met Mr. Boushey was at a Washington wine event. The grape that fell from the bounty of his wisdom was this, “ People forget that we are farmers first.” The comment stood out because it was like a grape of gold in a setting of silver – the highly acclaimed farmer was in the middle of a sea of elementally different approaches to the main product. He was immersed in salespeople, not farmers. I’ve never forgotten it. The seed took root and became a dicot.

The next time I met Mr. Boushey he was exiting another Seattle Wine Award venue. Something inside propelled me forward to grab his attention and let him know that I had actively heard what he said. After a pause long enough to let my eyes glaze over and my tired body get very close to falling asleep on my feet, he responded. He grabbed my shoulder with the force of one who rescues another from certain drowning and pulls them to safety. My entire network of senses woke up. “Thank you for remembering that” he said quietly and then he was gone.

At this last encounter, we were able to have a conversation. In addition to how often  Boushey Vineyards was represented here, and the strategies of grape sales, we were able to talk about farming.

JG: We’ve had problems with fungus out here.

DB: It’s more about prevention than solutions.

JG: Given the chance, I would plant to brown roots instead of white ones.

DB: It’s different here than on the other side. Powdery Mildew is something we struggle with. (He paused.) Fungus has been a big problem this year.

JG: I corrected with eggshells, Borax, and Epsom salts.

DB: Sometimes you have to do that. We use Kaligreen. He went into another one of his long pauses then added, “Ahhh, another farmer.” He smiled and laid his work weathered hand gently on my shoulder.

He promptly walked away to taste the wine of yet another winery, likely to decipher one more potential buyer. I stood there quite out of my element. The words that came out of my mouth in conversation with this human being actually sprinkled in some flavor — that was something I wasn’t prepared for.

Yet, I felt as though something important beyond voicing lessons well learned had just happened.  His hand conferred upon me, a non-consequential persona, a blessing of sorts.

While important people handed out framed certificates, a tangible memento of my own award and the encouragement of my Maker to continue tending vines, waited for me at home; two lengths of ten foot steel scrap pipe.

Our Douglas fir end posts are beginning to fail. Two had rotted at the base and fallen rendering them useless. Our vines desperately needed replacements because they depend on the trellis and its essential anchoring of wires. I wanted posts that were organic friendly and would last forever but our extra resources were betrothed to other projects.

Unable to provide an adequate solution on my own, this was a matter I brought to the throne room of my Heavenly Father, keeper of our vines. Essentially, by calling on His name in prayer, I sumitted an entry. Then, in the heavenly realm, quite unknown to me, the entry was  considered and nominated.

When we tried to pay for our newly arrived posts, our supplier refused payment. This was a blessing beyond words for our shoestring vineyard budget. God worked something special for Weaver’s Hill, my request had been granted.

This year during the Seattle Wine Awards, I was awarded. There was a treasure set aside for me quietly in heaven while at the same time in the middle of a sea of sales people other awards found their way to important people within the wine industry. The Maker of grapes, The Blessed Creator Himself, gave not-so-important-me an award.

Happy dance!

In the middle of industry positioning, buyers and sellers both enjoying good music in a quasi-party atmosphere; there of all places, through the kind expressions of a well known, albeit humble grape farmer, a grape had fallen and I was blessed in a way that I would never forget.

 


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Dry Farmed at Last!

Weaver’s Hill News

We are officially dry farmed!

No carrying gallon jugs. No hauling hoses through the aisle maze. No overworked well. No aching back. Sometimes you just have to do the thing you have talked about.

This is a bit of a risk with the fungal stresses and herbicide stresses our vines have endured. So here are a few pictures of their progress.

IMG_20160724_vineyard 1

Meet Stephen, the lower vine needing more nutrients

Sharin and Jonathan are doing well

Sharin and Jonathan are doing well

Introducing "Happy Herbert" so named by Katrina. Nutrients will make him a bit more cheery I think.

Introducing “Happy Herbert” so named by Katrina. Nutrients will make him a bit more cheery I think.

Ryker bears good fruit in difficult times

Ryker bears good fruit in difficult times

Notice the diversity of vine color. Some vines are looking less healthy and more stressed than their brothers and sisters only feet away from each other. Canopy color and leaf fall will likely not occur simultaneously this year. ( There appear to be no more leaf claws in the canopy this year which means auxin health may be returning to normal. YAY!!!)

Berry sizes are quite different among the vines. Some of the berries on the discolored vines are larger than those on the deep green canopied vines. Some berries on the super struggling  vines are very small; these are also vines that bore the brunt of the 2-4-D fall out.

Shoot growth is not uniform throughout the vineyard.

Many of these changes I suspect are the result of the cumulative effects of Black goo stress, Water stress and the variation of nutrient availability individual vines experience. The weaker vines on the right side of the upper quadrant are also the ones planted out still sporting white roots instead of the stronger brown ones; haste makes waste in the vineyard too.

To aid them in their livelihood, I plan to #fertilize this fall but not with ordinary combinations of (nitrogen(N) – phosphorus(P) – potassium(K) . I plan to use Epsom salts (Magnesium sulfate), Borax (sodium tetraborate) and powdered eggshells (Calcium +). Magnesium and boron are scarce on our rocky well drained Northwest slope. They also fall through the soil at different rates. Of these last three, boron is the quickest to wash away with the rain. Calcium binds to these elements and remains in the soil longer. Because of these socially adept qualities, calcium enables the roots to take these other nutrients up as needed.

#Farming this bit of the Key is different than farming Eastern Washington because our soils and environments are different but it is not impossible. This outdoor classroom God has given me is teaching me so very much about the good stewardship of resources.

Yet my solution is an experiment of sorts, an educated guess. Can the lethal effects of #BlackGoo be reduced or cured by this new fertilizer combination? That would be a very big deal. LORD willing, next year we’ll have a much healthier  dry farmed vineyard.

Grow well,

Janey Grapeseed


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The Fermentation Happy Dance

Our wine is finally in for the season. What an adventure!

Birds got almost half the crop this year.

Sad.

Gathered what remained and had a celebratory harvest breakfast.

Glad hearts all around.

We had everything we needed.

  • Equipment. (Thanks to the Berry Family, fellow winemakers and friends, for harvest and fermenting buckets and lab supplies. Thanks to Chris Smeaton, viticulturist, wine maker turned wine vendor, for use of his refractometer)
  • Help (Thanks to our gardening enthusiast daughter, Sharin who helped clip off the clusters with us).

Crush was fun. 🙂 Steve and I plucked off every good berry from the stems with gloved hands. We then used elliptical base glass wine bottles to “stomp” our fruit.

Pitched in basic red wine yeast and Covered the big yellow bin with a sheet.

P1000935

Baby Touraine; 45 pounds of berries destemmed by hand, 21.5 Brix, 12 day primary fermentation

I later found out that what Steve dubs our Redneck wine making methods (destemming done by hand and open tank with a floating cap covered by a tarpaulin) are a common practice of Touraine, in the Loire Valley of France according to Emile Peynaud. That’s cool!

Done.

Happy.

Fermentation began. No primary wash. No primary sulfites.

Anxiety frothed to the surface. Not so happy.

Does room temperature matter? Did I clean the closet/wine room well enough? Is the must too hot? Is punching down the cap two times a day too much handling or the proper thing to do? Are those few bubbles I see in the fermentation indicating that the yeast is not working well? Was the yeast starter mucked up? Is it supposed to look like that? Oh, I forgot to take the initial hydrometer reading; So sad to give up that statistic; there goes being able to calculate potential alcohol!

I don’t want to loose any wine because we don’t have that much to begin with. Can you add hydrometer test samples back into the must if the sample is still “clean”? Yes? Whew.

This year we wanted to do malolactic cultures and finish the wine differently. The must would have to be at 0 brix before adding the cultures. The must cap is falling. The must temperature is falling. A refractometer shows we have 5.1 brix still in the must. Temperature levels off. Days later a retest of the sugar content reports the same brix. Do we have a stuck fermentation? Will we be able to even do malolactic this year? What causes stuck wine? We did get herbicide damage (ignorance is NOT bliss.) again and and a few dried up clusters… Have our circumstances and choices wrecked the entire vintage?!

How does a winemaker fix a stuck batch? More reading and I’m about to go get B1 from the grocery store nutrition center to give fermentation a reboot.

Sound a tad spun up, don’t I? Being new to this and wanting so much for it to work out well is a little stressful.

We are so frustrated with the process and tense with each other.

Prayer. God please help us make wine. God help us to be pleasing to you in all of who we are. Amen.

One last hydrometer test.

0 Brix!!!!

Happy Dance. Joy replaces stress and anxiety. I feel a burden lifted.

We get to do the malolactic and finish the wine. Out come the carboys. Which one should we use – 5 gallon or 3 gallon? Are we aerating too much? Are we pressing too hard or too softly? How do you get the air lock to have the same amount of water in those reservoirs on both sides? Perhaps the malo culture will lower our acidity and take the tart taste down a couple notches… will it be enough to make it worth the effort? How much do we add to the smaller carboy? If we have wine to the top, how can we stir it each week without losing any wine?

So many things to learn. Thank you to people willing to share their expertise in our wine journey this season:

  • Brian Carter– Wine yeast specialist and blending educator (compacted yeasts do not add much to the wine. Not enough wine for the fermenting vessel? Add glass beads until your wine reaches the top.)
  • Ryan Raber – Wine grower and friendly fellow wine geek ( gifting a resource: Knowing and Making Wine by Emile Peynaud)
  • Jean-François Pellet Wine grower, winemaker, encourager, sustainability advocate, inventor – (Work wiser not smarter; pointing the way to a valuable grape growing resourceThe Science of Grapevines: Anatomy and Physiology by Markus Keller)

Most of all, thanks be to the God and Father of us all in whom and through whom and to whom are all things. He taught me so much already this wine making season.

God’s Fermentation Lesson:

Wine has a primary fermentation that prepares the way for the secondary or finishing fermentation. Before you roll your eyes at the basic obviousness of that statement, watch how the Bible and the wine adventure unfold into a parallel truth.

John the Baptist stirred the people up (primary fermentation) to connect fathers with sons, to call the people to repent and to bear fruit in keeping with repentance (Luke 3:8), to teach that One was coming who was greater than he who would baptize differently and so John prepared the way for the Christ, the finisher, to complete His work (malolactic fermentation).

When the people asked John about purification and the ministry of Jesus, John’s last testimony was this, John told them that he must decrease in order that He, the Christ, might increase. (John 3:25-35)

This is also true of fermenting wine. The grapes come in with a sugar reading somewhere in the 20-25 degrees Brix range. Our Marechal Foch came in at around 21.5 this year. We were advised to pick early because of weather and bird activity. So we did.

Through primary fermentation of dry wines, grape sugars are transformed and the end result is a 0 Brix reading…or should be. Only when sugars reach zero can the finishing work of the malolactic safely begin.

Bacteria are a bit risky. If sugars remain in solution or yeast is still active, the wine goes into a funk promoting off odors, colors, etc. Any number of things could go horribly wrong.

We would rather enjoy the fruit of our labor than toss it.

Wouldn’t you?

God does. I know it.

19 It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether [a]there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.”Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized [b]in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. Acts 19:1-6New (NASB)

Finished wine is quality wine. Allow the primary sugar transformation (baptism for the forgiveness of sins) and the secondary fermentation (baptism with fire and the power of the Holy Spirit) to begin and finish your adventure, your wine- that life God calls you.

Happy Dance Prayer

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your [a]participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. [b]For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my [c]imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the [d]affection of Christ Jesus. And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may [e]approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless [f]until the day of Christ; 11 having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:3-11(NASB)

Amen


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Why do you Water?

“Why do you water at all?” asked J-F Pellet.

The thought, and general implication, is that since western Washington gets so much rainfall, grape growers shouldn’t need to water. Nature will provide enough.

Well, nature does provide but things are changing. Our area is 93.72 inches BELOW our average rainfall. Western Washington seems to be drying out.

I was forced to water because I love the vines. And so the story begins.

At first I was going to dry farm. Essentially, this is allowing the vine to use only whatever rain water or ground water is available naturally. It’s not an evil idea. In fact in some parts of the world it is the law. At our house, it meant lower dollar investment and decreased labor. Sounded good to me at the time.

Depending on atmospheric good fortune alone the dry farmed vine is then forced to seek out water through its own devices and …hopefully… increase in strength as its roots go deeper and deeper continually hunting moisture.

That works if you get lots of rain at the right time in the vine life cycle AND if your vine root structures intend to grow down instead of fanning outward.

Marechal Foch is a hybrid that seems to have forgotten the meaning of “tap root”. Its roots follow water in a three foot radius from the trunk with a relatively shallow depth looking something like a short version of a windblown umbrella skeleton. I can remember one of my helpers, Luke, was digging out a sickly vine; he was shocked that the roots went in a shallow radius from the trunk UP the hill. He expected them to travel down the slope if not down deeper into the soil the plant resided in. Oh well…real life has its little surprises.

At one time, I was advised, “When you see the grass along the roadsides start to dry out, then begin to water your vines.” That was helpful in that it was a guideline to follow but it did not give my vines what they needed.

Every week I’d haul gallon milk jugs filled with yummy well water up the hill. It was hard work but I didn’t mind. Exercise is good for the soul… as is caring for the vines. 🙂 (If you ever want to help out, let me know.)

What happened is that the vines needed relief. The extra stress drought pressure brought them proved to be too much for them to handle. They had other stresses I was unaware of at that time. My attempt at dry farming compounded their work load beyond their capability. I was being harsh to them even though I didn’t know it. Stressing the vines just to stress them without understanding their situation IS evil.

The vines decided they’d talk back.

Disease increased as water needs increased. We’re not talking a little episode of powdery mildew, we’re talking “Run go get the hazmat suit!” type of disease pressure. Black zit like volcanos on practically every shoot with ‘roots’ into the pith, wood boring beetles, lethal fungal triumvirates called black goo and an over zealous pruning season came together in such a way that the vines were screaming at me for help.

I had to cut them to the ground and begin again but that’s a story for a different day.

There are other watering options – bucket drip, line drip, trenching, high sprinklers and low sprinklers. I had to choose the least costly, albeit most beneficial, one.

Hauling gallons up the hill in the heat became to much for me. I decided to use the house hose. With all our hoses joined together, I can just make it all the way around the vineyard. 🙂 The vines were divided into three sections and the hose route mapped out. Each vine was allowed five minutes of a low sprinkler whose umbrella of water droplets reached a height of maybe five inches but gave the ground a good soak.

This option provided a wider root zone surface area with moisture. Remember, we have roots that travel out away from the vine and aren’t interested in plumbing the depths below it. So whetting three feet or so of ground beats targeting one drip area that might get to three inches of the surrounding soil.

Trenching would be good for the roots too if I could make it work. The slope of the hill and the cost of realigning our well to pump water directly up the hill through a network of pipes is daunting on several levels. Our piece of the Key Peninsula Esker (a long sand and gravel glacial meltwater deposit) has excellent drainage. More water would get to the lower vines than those higher up the hill and that just seemed to create more problems the longer I considered it.

A new friend recently said, “Don’t work smarter, work wiser.” Wise watering works with the site and the vine and considers everyone.

Water usage in arid climates has a fascination for me. What do they do?

I found a grape grower consultant talking about conditions in Afghanistan. Armed with information about watering priorities in conjunction with vine life stages, I decided to water between bud break and veraison; that is from April through late September.

I stop watering one month before first frost. Usually frost occurs sometime during the first couple weeks of November. So as the season turns from summer to fall, children go off to school, and the spiders cast their nets for awakening flights of rusty winged termites, that is when our vines enjoy only moisture provided by rainfall. This enables the vine to harden off; shoots become canes, berry pips mature, leaves abscise correctly. Each vine is properly readied for whatever winter can throw at them.

In a perfect, consistent world, that would be the case. But Life has its little surprises. We are so much drier this year that I am tempted to rethink the wisdom of my previous stop-watering-date.

Now that I’m reading Keller’s book, there are other watering nuances to consider. I may tweak what I do … or not. Then I will share with you here what I learn and what I decide and if what I’ve chosen works well.

Until then, May our partnership with the Creator of water and dry land make farming a joy,

JaneyGrapeseed


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God Agreed

Somebody thought I should study viticulture …and God agreed.

First the back story –

Taste Walla Walla arrives every year and this year was no different or at least that’s what we thought.

Steve and I go up to Seattle where winemakers, growers, and marketeers of this renown AVA gather to promote their product. Every year by God’s grace we hope to connect with the people and find some wines that he can promote in the grocery store he represents. As we sat in our hotel preparing our minds for the event, Steve was commenting about the courtesies involved in reaching out to wine folk. Sometimes in, what I can only describe as akin to speed dating, seeing people as real people and the art of common courtesy can get lost. Buried under the the volume of choices and information presented to one’s brain and the short amount of time allotted to traverse the gauntlet from one end of the room to the other are the manners we all possess in some corner of our person.

We agreed that this time would be different. I was going not just as Steve’s “plus one” but as a blogger. I reached out to the people putting on the event. I was pleasantly surprised when they actually responded. Then I responded by acting on their suggestion to reach out to Pepper Bridge, a winery in Walla Walla that has made sustainable operations its heartbeat. I decided on a few farming questions to ask when I got there and promptly forgot all about these exchanges in the flurry of trying to analyze as many wines as possible – yes, actually taste not just imbibe. 🙂

Then we got to the Pepper Bridge table and I was greeted with – “Ohh you are Christine? Jean-François told me to come get him if you came by.” She did and I talked with one of the wine-growing greats for the better part of half an hour.

I suppose it went well. I did more listening than asking questions and I learned quite a bit. The conversation ended with an invitation to visit his vineyard.

Fast forward a few months and we are preparing to go to Walla Walla. It’s my 50th birthday gift from my husband. 🙂 As we’re planning, Steve brings up the Pepper Bridge invitation. “Why don’t you ask him if we can stop by?” Totally out of my comfort zone, I did. Mr. Pellet responded with welcome.

Wow.

Now here’s the God-story —

I couldn’t help thinking that I should make the most of this short visit so I e-mailed Jean-François again. This time the question was, “Is there any book I can get at the library to prepare for our visit?”

He responded to that too with a vague answer about a new book posted on the UW viticulture website.

I found the book. Written by a Swiss grape-growing gentleman, Markus Keller, who is a professor at the UW. It was a costly textbook, second edition. So I got on the phone to our library who didn’t have it and refused to do a digital inter-library loan for me.

Now what do I do? Pray.

God… we don’t have the money for this. Please either convince Steve to invest the $150.00 in this textbook or please provide the funds. Help me to read the 509 pages and to be conversant in it by the time we go. I have 6 weeks to get that done plus all the other things I need to do and have already committed to! Please help me. I do not want to be put to shame and this is an incredible opportunity. Amen.

That day I got a call for a job that paid $120.00. Armed with that information I asked Steve if I could order the book and work the job. He said , “yes.”

I found the book again online only this time it was being sold for $129.00 with free shipping. Pressed the continue to checkout button and it was a done deal.

Except for the time it takes me to digest information and the extra ten bucks I needed, I was good to go.

More Prayer.

God….., How can I tell people about this story and tell them you only provided most of the funds but not all of them? They would say it was just me making an effort to get what I want, not a God-thing. When you do things, you do them completely. When you provide, you provide completely. I need $10.00 more. Amen.

We got sick. Very sick. Not going to go to that job if I’m this sick kind of sick.

More prayer.

God, now I’m in a terrible fix. I can’t go to work like this. The book is ordered. Will I have to return it?! Can you do something about this please?

Then I began to stew about the study part. Those who have been given a trust must prove faithful after all… The book wouldn’t arrive for another few days.

Not so. The book arrived in record time. In fact, the ink was still wet. I know this because it smeared when I highlighted a few words. Ah, the benefits of actual ownership….

I got better. Not just well enough to work but actually all better.

I went to work. I told the story…leaving out the, ”Yeah, I almost have all the money.” bit but praising God for providing work to pay for the book.

Study was more manageable. 509 pages without the research citations turned into three hundred something. My mind is absorbing grape geekery at an amazing rate though I’m still teeter-tottering about how much information I can retain and be conversant in….Thanks God, that the book came early.

Once again I was thinking about the “almost completely paid for” situation and sent up a repeat “request” to the Most High.

Out of the blue…

Steve’s dad calls up. He has something for us. Can we please come down and get it? Steve is too sick. I have only a few minutes before I need to be at work on my second and last work day. I go visit Dad.

To my utter astonishment he hands me one $10.00 bill and ten ones. “Ten for you and ten for Steve,” he grins. “I won $100.00 in a contest and I’m sharing with you guys.”

HAPPY DANCE!!!!

God provides 100%

Off I go to study viticulture because somebody thought I should… and God agreed.