Wind! New Olive Plantings,Continued Flowering in the Vineyards

Last week found us reeling from 105+ degree temperatures over the weekend, to wind gusts up to 50 mph howling through the vineyards, for about 36 hours. We were abruptly awoken in the middle of the night to doors and windows slamming from a sudden onslaught of the wind. Morning beckoned us to the vineyards to survey the damage–Tempranillo and Syrah showed the most damage with broken off canes, some plants reduced back to bare wood. After the initial shock and despair (Phillip tends to be dramatic, but after a cup of tea chased with a glass of wine, he recovers quite nicely), and upon further examination, not all was lost. Phillip, Gustavo and Lety spent 2 days in Mark’s Vineyard, cleaning up the broken canes and removing them from the tangle of the vine. At the same time, they used machetes to take off the tips of the almost too long canes on everything, except Grenache. We take the tips off the vines so the energy of the plant goes into the small grape clusters developing, instead of continued new growth into the canes and leaves.

We’ve also been busy planting over 100 olive trees on the estate. We’ve continued to line the roads leading through the vineyards to the house and winery with trees, and added over 25 trees to the landscaping around the house. You can see from the above photo we’ve been engaged in some illegal behavior: child labor. Even our 18 month old son, Bede, has a hand in the planting. He especially enjoys the watering…anything with a hose, water and a container and he’s in heaven!

The vines continue to flower, the action just before “fruit set”. The plants have truly gone crazy, even the Mourvedre; it went from “Okay, I’m alive, I’ll grow slowly at my own pace”, to “Wow!! Look at me, I’m over 6′ tall now and still growing!!” We only managed to apply 1 application of BD 501 (the preps like to be applied in 3’s), but if a vine is going through flowering, it could damage the delicate flowers to apply 501, so we will wait until the fruit has set, then complete the series with 2 more applications.

Sadly, we have bidden farewell to the re-planting of Grenache Blanc and Counoise we put in the ground early this January. Of the 125 new plants, there is not a peep out of a single one of them. It is crazy, these 2 varietals are surrounded on both sides by Marsanne and Mourvedre replants and both of these are growing exceptionally. We will re-plant “green plants” in 2 weeks–this means they are alive and kicking, and we’ll have to hand water them through the summer to get them established (instead of planting bare root in the winter and allowing the rain to penetrate the roots to promote growth, which is what we prefer to do as a dry-farmed estate vineyard). We’re also applying 10 gallons of water by buckets to the olive trees–this is the 2nd of 3 waterings we’ve planned for this summer.

P.S. You can now find AmByth Estate wines at Zatar Restaurant, in Berkeley, CA. Check them out,

Horn Silica (BD 501) Sprayed, Flowering in the Vineyard, Shoot Thinning

We’ve observed Sangiovese flowering this week–beating the Tempranillo ( temprano: which means ‘early’). Also, just this morning as we were driving through the vineyard–which happens to be our driveway, Mary slammed on the brakes and said “I know we’re late, but I think I just saw the olives flowering!” and sure enough, those little guys were looking like perfectly popped popcorn. This doesn’t necessarily mean the fruit is setting. As Jancis Robinson describes this stage in The Oxford Companion for wine:

“Flowering is an important event in the annual growth cycle of vines, the
process preceding the fertilization of vine flowers and their subsequent
development into berries. The sequence of events includes the opening of
individual flowers, with the calyptra being shed, pollen being liberated, and
ovules becoming fertilized. Fertilization leads to berries being set, the
stage following flowering…the flowering process in the vineyard is so notably
unspectacular that is likely to be missed by the casual observer. The
vine-grower, however, is aware that this process is particularly important in
the chain of events that leads up to harvest…Flowering, or bloom, takes place
about six to 13 weeks after budbreak…”

So naturally, this is an important time for us. Just as exciting and refreshing as witnessing budbreak is, this is equally as emotional. Only this time, our fingers are crossed that those babies will develop into flavorful, healthy berries.

On Wednesday, May 14th, Phillip and Gustavo applied the first of a series of
3 sprays of BD501, ground up horn silica. The stirring began 1/2 hour before
sunrise and continued for an hour making alternative vortexes and chaos. BD 501
is sprayed on the foliage of each plant. It attracts light into the plant. Later in the growing cycle, at harvest, it can be used to encourage a vine to ripen it’s fruit if necessary. The application rate was 3 grams an acre in 3+ gallons of water.

We’re shoot thinning StoneCross, PlayGround and Terrace Vineyards at the
moment. It is back-breaking work as the plants are so close to the ground and
the temperatures outside are in the high 90’s. All the new plants are taking well with the exception of Counoise and Grenache Blanc. We hope they’re just being tardy… We’re also applying 5 gallons of water via buckets to these 600+ little darlings.

Oak Bark/Chamomile/Egg Shell Tea

Wed May 7th.
Gustavo and Phillip applied an interesting tea to the foliage of the vines and olive trees. For two hour we simmered ground oak bark (from our oak trees) with ground egg shells, and then poured the combination over chamomile and left over night (1/2 oz per acre of each, with about 3 gallons an acre). Amazingly, it was an absolutely delicious tea that Phillip was quite happy to drink direct from the spraying wand whilst applying. Philippe Armenier (BD consultant) is concerned that this year is part of a 13 year cycle that will give us some interesting weather of extreme cold to extreme hot temperatures in episodes. He wants us to prepare the plants for this and the tea was one of the ways. Other benefits of the tea are calcium additions and the extra silica on the interior of the egg shells enhance light to the leaves.

We’ve had some heavy winds the past few days that have taken their toll on the Syrah and Tempranillo weak canes, snapping a lot off. We had shoot thinned the Tempranillo very lightly, so no problem there. We’ll get rid of the snapped canes and then go back through when they lignify (become wood) to thin a little more. Next year I think we’ll follow the same regimen for the Syrah as the Tempranillo.

Once again, as every year, it seems some small leaf hopper action at the bottom of Mark’s vineyard.

As the long range forecast shows nothing cooler at nights than 46 degrees for the next 10 days, we’re uncovering the new plants (600 of them), which really seem to have taken well and will try and to get 5 gallons on them in the next week or so.

Hospice du Rhone, More BD Sprays, Tempranillo Scare

What a full weekend.
We poured at Hospice du Rhone on Friday and Saturday, May 2nd & 3rd with a modicum of success for a no-name-new-winery. No deaths at the table (a good sign), with several people wanting to sign up. One kind gentleman proclaimed, “the best wine here!” (he wasn’t a relative or acquaintance), that might have been a little over board but still a pleasant comment to hear.

Whilst Mary and Phillip were pouring, Gustavo was applying a nettle tea Phillip had prepared on Thursday, 1/2 oz. per acre in about 3 gallons of water sprayed on the foliage: health and a promotion of iron balance is the main goal of this tea.

A week ago we had a minor shock with all of the Tempranillo. All of the leaves started to curl and the new growth and tendrils turned yellow (shades of Sangiovese last year, I thought). The problem didn’t get any worse than the first day I noticed it, and then held for a couple of days and before starting to improve. A week later it is all looking great, a communal flu? I’ve been told that Tempranillo in this country is a “dirty plant” because of its suitcase origins and is subject to virus attacks, so…

Biodynamic Sprays (500) and Spring Frost

This Spring continues to surprise us, yesterday I read this is the coldest Spring in Paso Robles since 1975. We’ve been hearing from vineyard owners/managers that they are nightly having to deal with frost in the vineyard–many of them look at us with tired eyes as they are the ones up in the middle of the night turning on the frost protection systems. Thankfully, we have not seen any damage in our vineyard, it seems that our hilltop location and strong winds through the vineyard keep the cold from settling in. It requires 4 hours of 28 degree temperatures to cause a frost alarm, we have had low temps in the middle of the night, but we’ve seen only a handful of vines showing damage.

Our BD spraying calendar has kept everyone busy:
April 11, 21 & 30–BD 500 applied in the afternoon: 20 units stirred for 1 hour and put in a backpack sprayer and applied in droplet form, 3 gallons per acre. **The spray on the 30th also consisted of cow stomach (which enhances the plants ability to absorb light and remain green for longer). Normally, we would have added this sooner in the year, but our consultant wanted to be present when applied.

Our First Bottling!

Yesterday, March 20th, the first day of Spring also hosted the first AmByth Estate bottling! We bottled at Venteux Vineyards, where our bottling line is stationed until the winery is completed. With tweaking the machine over and over, and patience, we were able to bottle over 150 cases of wine. It was exciting to come home with our bottles in my arms, and place them on the island for continual perusal. Between Lety, Gustavo and ourselves we had a lovely celebratory dinner last night. It was very special.

Mowing/Flailing/Planting/Bud Break

The title says it all, AmByth Estate has been a hive of activity of the past 10 days. Phillip began the seasonal sun-up to sun-down attachment to his tractor. He has been busy mowing to get the weeds down. He met with Philippe this week and has quite the schedule in the vineyard.

We had great help from Lety, Gustavo and Etienne (a student from Burgundy here for a couple of weeks) in the vineyard, planting new vines. They were able to get 200 vines in the ground. We mainly re-planted vines that we lost last year in the late freeze.

And we’ve seen bud break in the past week: in the Syrah, Tempranillo, Grenache, Mourvedre (Terrace), Marsanne, Rousanne, Viognier and Sangiovese. You can see the beautiful, fresh leaves in the photo (this is why we have deer fencing, they love to munch on these tender baby greens).

Pruned Vineyards and Good News!

What an incredible time of year it is!! The grass and weeds are growing at about an inch a day in the vineyards. Early morning fogs/dew sit on the valley floor. The warmth during the day is making the vine blow out their buds, but no bud break (vineyard lingo) yet. All of us are asking one another, “Do you have bud breaking yet?”.
Last week we finished pruning, and the next descending moon we’ll tackle the olive trees. Now it’s time to dig holes for the new/replacement vines and olives that will be arriving any minute. We’re also adding an extension to the Syrah vineyard where the original winery site was–so we picked up extra vineyard space!
We are in ‘Planning Permission’ with the county for the winery building and are looking at the end of July for completion. This is will be our first harvest on the premises! For the past 2 years, we’ve used Venteux Vineyard’s winery building (thank you Scott and Bobbi). We racked our 2006’s a couple of weeks ago and hope to bottle it on our new bottling line in the next descending moon. Our labels are being printed as we speak, and our corks and foils are here. It really, really is beginning!
We also got a call from our first customer–non-family, non-friend-of-family, non-business-relation. Just a normal person who found us online. Thank you Cynthia!!