Spring is most certainly here with all of the attendant work: we have beautiful buds pushing out everywhere, bud break first started in the Sangiovese and Tempranillo and quickly made it’s way through the Rhone varietals. We had ferocious winds and rain a couple of nights ago–Phillip was kept awake by his worry for those vulnerable baby shoots, he imagined waking up to destruction in the vineyard…but all is okay! (We are still slightly worried about frost damage, but at AmByth we seem to not suffer much from this malady to young buds.)
There’s nothing like driving a crawler on AmByth’s steep hillsides to clear the cobwebs. It’s great to have the grapes put away for the year, and to be FARMING again. A couple of days ago, we applied BD Prep 501-Horn Silica-combined with dried Horsetail (equisetum) tea to all of the vines, olive & fruit trees and vegetables. Horsetail always gives a little boost to the plant’s immune system (acting against fungus) and 501 attracts light into the roots through the leaves for the work to come in the winter–the REAL work in the vines and trees.
A brief pause for thought–working in the winter, everything goes dormant, right? Correct, our vines and fruit trees go dormant (shedding leaves and shutting down for the year, the olives remain their silvery green but they, too, are resting until late Spring), but think about Spring and that BURSTING forth that occurs. All of that energy comes from the roots clamoring out to get some sunshine. In order to do that, they need to prepare and be strong. Applying 501 in the fall aids in this process. Following the 501, we chisel the vineyards–a gentle opening process which encourages the sun’s rays to penetrate further and to prepare the ground for the winter rains. In the next couple of days we will be applying the first of 3 BC preps (Barrel Compost). This spray holds all of the BD preparations and has been aged in the ground, maturing and growing billions of enzymes to be transferred to our earth to make the soil a living, breathing entity (in other words, enzymes that will eat, sliver and slide through the soil aiding in the decomposition processes and further aerating the soil).
2009 Harvest Underway, Sourdough Starter, Biodynamic Spray 501 & Egg Shell Tea, an update on Powdery Mildew
Wow…there is so much to do and so little time: a reference to keeping a blog updated in the midst of harvest!
Here are Phillip’s notes from last week: On the 12th of August we did our earliest (in the month) pick ever by going through the Tempranillo and Viognier and hand selecting only ripe bunches, which on average we had 1 to 2 ripe bunches per vine. It felt too early in the season as there where plenty of what seemed to be unripe fruit still hanging. However, the results in the winery showed the fruit we picked was indeed ready with perfect sugar, pH and total acidity levels. Armed with these results and perfect weather over the next few days-ripening the remaining fruit very quickly (as the birds continued to bring to our attention to)-we picked again on the 16th. A terrific crew turned out to help on a perfect Paso morning. The crop load on these two varieties was similar to last year-very light, about 1/2 ton an acre (please let it rain a little more this year!)-so the pick was fast and we were through by 8:30. The grappa didn’t stand a chance though, that was finished by 8.
Photo above: just stomped Tempranillo; photo below: 3 day old sourdough culture
Thank you to our annual volunteer and Mary’s garden mentor: Swantje! It was her brilliant idea to get a sourdough starter “brewing” using yeast from our grapes. So while Phillip was pressing off the Viognier, Mary and Swantje were busy in the kitchen assembling the “mother”. Using Nancy Silverton’s Breads of the La Brea Bakery as a guide we started the fermentation with a cluster of just picked Tempranillo grapes. It is a simple recipe to follow, but it takes commitment. As of this writing, Mary is on day 11 of a 15 day starter-feeding the starter 3 times a day to get it ready for baking. It is an interesting process to watch (and smell…”whoo wee, stinky poo” is a common expression here, especially with a 2 year old saying it!). It is actually a miracle, to witness the transformation of something because of yeast. Don’t be shy to ask for some starter for yourself…there’s plenty!
Sunday, August 23rd we applied Biodynamic Prep 501 (horn silica) on the Mourvedre, Counoise and Roussanne in all 4 vineyards. These grapes are typically late to ripen so the 501 early in the morning acts to add available light intake into the plant and aid the ripening process. We sprayed an egg shell tea on all of the remaining vineyards with fruit. This does the same thing as 501, but in a milder degree. All of these plants will ripen in the near future so they don’t need as much encouragement as the Mourvedre, Counoise and Roussanne. We had 6 brave volunteers arrive at 6 a.m. for a 1 hour stirring to aerate the silica before applying it to the vineyards with backpack sprayers by foot.
Photo above: Ian and Bryan stirring in a barrel; photo below: Charissa, Yen, Amiee and Kumiko
As far as the ongoing battle with powdery mildew, in the last month we treated individual plants in the Mourvedre with the mildest solution of Milstop, a potassium based anti-fungal agent approved by Demeter. We didn’t want to apply it as a general spray throughout the vineyards, as so many plants seemed to not be affected. The system seems to have worked as the problem appears to be in remission. However, the Grenache Blanc is a different story: it has a heavy crop with no powdery mildew showing on any fruit at all, but with quite a few plants showing it on the canes. We decided to treat all of these plants with the minimum spray required. As we hand sprayed each plant individually, we applied varying quantities depending on its size and possible visible problem. So far this year, we have removed all of the fruit from only 1 Tempranillo plant we thought wasn’t good for picking. Our approach is a good start, but next year we’re going to apply preventative teas earlier and more frequently to see if we can nip it in the bud (excuse the pun!).
The morning concluded with an incredible breakfast made by Lety, as she puts it, “A Mexican, Mexican breakfast, from Vera Cruz”. Unfortunately, some Minute Maid orange juice made it to the table (not quite Mexican, Mexican), but we also shared AmByth harvest wine (a special wine Phillip makes just for our harvest volunteers) and Corona. She served an incredible casserole made with tortillas (that has affectionately been dubbed “Mexican Lasagna” by our middle son, Morgan). It was delicious, and such an incredible conclusion to a morning full of hard work.
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Tuesday and Wednesday (12th – 13th) brought a close to our Springtime spraying sequence of Biodynamic Preparations 500 & 501. Tuesday morning Phillip was out at first light to stir the 501 (Cow Horn Silica) for 1 hour before applying it. As usual, we spray all BD preps on foot, with backpack sprayers to ensure better control over the spraying coverage. We feel this gives us more insight into the vineyard as each vine is sprayed and inspected. And there is a certain “vibe” in the process, the vineyard is visited by man on foot instead of the disruption of a tractor(diesel fumes, soil compaction, the breakage of tender canes as the tractor passes through, the absence of the sounds of birds and owls…just the rumble of the crawler…no thank you!) The 501 is normally a 4 hour process, but we thankfully (!!) had the help of 3 volunteers and the process was completed in half the time. Thank you Neil & Nick Sowerby, and Pepi!
Biodynamic Preperation #500/Cow Stomach Spray, Fermenting Valerian Root/Horsetail Tea, To Weed or Not to Weed?
>Today is a Fruit Day on the Biodynamic calendar, which is the ideal working period for the vines. At the moment we are stirring for 1 hour a mixture of Horn Manure (BD 500) and cow stomach diluted in water (rate of application: 2.25 oz. Horn Manure/acre + diluted in 3-4 gallons of water/acre + 1/5 liter of cow stomach). We will begin spraying it at 1 p.m., this is believed to be the time the earth is breathing in as the sun begins its descent in the sky. We are applying this mixture to the whole property–which includes the 20 acres of Oak woodlands, as our steers are living in the woods, eating the grasses that grow under the trees. This mixture is to be sprayed in large drops on the earth itself, to stimulate the enzyme growth in the soil.
Phillip has made a decision regarding the older vines and weeds…we are not going to pull out every single weed that remains under each vine after the last passes through the vineyard with the spader. We believe the vines are old enough, meaning their roots are deep enough, so that the roots are not having to compete for water with the weeds. The roots are tapping into their own water source deep in the earth. We will continue to hand weed around the younger vines, and olive trees as the roots are more shallow and closer to the surface. And of course, we are removing the larger weeds that are more of a nuisance, however, we are continuing to think outside of the box. This is a NATURAL farm, which includes a relationship between all things that are here naturally, and rightfully. It is a thrill for me to walk through the vineyards and observe all of the bees feeding from Fiddlenecks (a beautiful, bright yellow native winter annual). If we remove absolutely everything, we are disrupting a natural habitat for the beneficial insects we have present. This is an experiment, let’s see how the vines cope as the summer passes by.
After a long, long, long 3 year back and forth with our county, we have finally broken ground on our winery building! Initially, we designed a very large, architecturally “modern” winery enabling us to utilize gravity for all aspects of winemaking instead of using pumps, we were to have barrel storage underground, we planned a beautiful tasting room, etc. etc. etc. But the county made our dream building nearly impossible for us to build, so we scrapped that plan and moved the location of the winery to another building site on the property and are now erecting a very basic building–a winery that is purely functional, no underground storage, and no public tasting room, and sadly, no use of gravity (except utilizing the forklift when necessary). We expect the building to be complete in about 6 weeks, come on over to celebrate!
We have a Yarrow Tea made that will brew for 2 weeks before we apply it to the vineyards. Yarrow, BD preperation 502, is a lovely herb. It is used for reproduction and growth functions, and it has a strong connection to potassium and sulphur. It’s Latin name, Achillea millefolium, is derived from the legend that Achilles used yarrow on his men for it’s wound-healing powers. We use it to attract trace elements that vitalizes potassium.
Janis Switzer published a nice article about is in our local rag: www.sanluisobispo.com/living/food/wine/story/493845.html
Check it out!