Bud Break Amongst the Poppies

Sangiovese has awoken from it’s dormancy and leafed out this week. We were concerned this past weekend as the rain amounted to 3 inches that the baby buds would be broken, but this afternoon they were nearly translucent in the sun, and so beautiful against a poppy-strewn cover crop. Sangiovese is always our first varietal to bud, closely followed by Tempranillo. The vineyards are particularly beautiful right now, they are teeming with wildflowers and the hum of bees is a constant companion whilst meandering up and down the hills. We are counting our blessings.

Biodynamic Sprays, Mowing, Rhythms of the Farm and a Homeopathic Solution to Powdery Mildew??

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.)

Back to the Spring work…Phillip commented to me that he is getting much more used to everything–the “year’s work ahead” seems much less daunting, perhaps we’re just getting better at what we do (farming-wise, and read on so this doesn’t sound so egotistical). Phillip is on day 8 on his tractor mowing, followed by 8 more days of disking, we are planting the Spring gardens, and oh yes-the weeding continues. We are eagerly waiting for Dutchess, our dairy cow, to give birth (is today the day?) The 09’s are blended and we’ve been busy bottling the 08’s, we will soon start preparing the May wineclub shipments and we have some fun events on the calendar. There are many, many other tasks to move forward with, BUT! this year it all seems manageable. Perhaps we are starting to achieve the ultimate goal of Biodynamic farming: to realize the rhythm of the farm. This sacred piece of land we’re tending has it’s own rhythm, as Phillip and I do, and we open our hearts, minds and souls to become more intimate with it daily.

A new sight at AmByth is our “stirring machine” (looks interesting, huh?). Phillip saw this in a book about a Tuscan Biodynamic farm and has been waiting until the time came to erect such an apparatus for our farm. Yesterday afternoon Biodynamic Preperation 500 was applied to the soil in the afternoon after stirring it for one hour in the barrel (shown in the photo). And as the sun rose this morning we were out stirring Biodynamic spray 501 (applied only to the Sangiovese). Both of these sprays are applied mainly in the Spring and Fall, and in a succession of 3. 500 is sprayed on the soil, and 501 on the foliage. It feels good to be back out in the vineyards, to see the growth, to apply the BD sprays and teas, to hear the sounds of life. 

Yet, the threat of powdery mildew infecting our vines looms…we are trying to new tool to combat it: itself!! And where did this come from? Mainly from reading our homeopathic books–“treat like with like”, and conversations with Gilles De Domingo, the winemaker from Cooper Mountain Vineyards in Oregon (a Biodynamic vineyard and winery). We took effected powdery mildew cuttings from about a dozen plants and burned them by themselves. We then took the best ashes (about 5 to 6 tablespoons) and ground them for an hour in a mortar and pestle. We then took 1 teaspoon of the ground ashes and mixed it with 8 quarts of water in a container and shook this container forcefully 10 times. We kept 10% of this quantity and discarded the remaining 90%–we then added 8 quarts again to the 10%, shook forcefully, kept 10%…etc, etc. We repeated this process 30 times (photo at left is our volunteer diluter, John). We sprayed just a whisper of this homeopathic spray on potentially infected vines, hoping to discourage further powdery mildew spread. We will continue to spray this as necessary. And we’ll definitely keep records and share the success or failure!

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.

We also have a Valerian Root/Horsetail Tea fermenting in an oak barrel for 2 weeks. We will add this fermented tea to the 2nd or 3rd BD 500 spray we apply to the property. It is believed this spray will aid in keeping the powdery mildew in the soil, instead of on the vine.

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.

Spring Work, Nearly Completed

Wow! Spring brings such activity in the vineyards and winery, you’ll see by the attached photos the small grape clusters on the Viognier are appearing and growing rapidly every day. We’ve seen the clusters on the Grenache, Tempranillo, Sangiovese and of course, the Viognier. And our olive trees are loaded as well. It is such a sweet sight to see the vineyard healthy and producing for this year’s harvest.
We’ve planted the new Syrah vineyard, over 600 vines and mounded them under dirt to protect them from frost. The concern of a late frost is still present, freezes are not desperately welcome this time of year with all the rampant new growth occurring. Last year, all of the vineyards were hurt in the freezes–this year, God willing, those affected vines will make their comeback! It’s very exciting, a finger-crossing time of year for Phillip and me.
On March 31st, Phillip racked the 2007 wines and compiled the Rhone blend. We have made another Chateauneuf de Pape style blend, very similar to the ’06: 60% Grenache, 32% Mourvedre and 8% Syrah. We also have 1 barrel of no-added-sulfite Grenache, 1 barrel of no-sulfite Tempranillo/Sangiovese, and 2 more barrels of this Spanish/Italian duo in a new American oak barrel with minimal sulfites added. There is another single barrel of Mourvedre as well. All in all, and exciting line-up to look forward to and savor in 2009!
We leave this afternoon for Tuscany for nearly 3 weeks. We are visiting quite a few organic/Biodynamic wineries whilst there. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get online and post some interesting stories, pictures, updates, etc.