Temperatures in the vineyard this morning teetered below 14 degrees. The forecast for Napa Valley, where many California wines are grown, was 72 degrees. We’re not complaining. Indiana winters give us amazing opportunities to be creative — both in winemaking, and in dress. The colder it is outside, the more we prepare ourselves for the eight hours of labor ahead. A blistering cold morning keeps us on our toes all day. And for some of us really creative types, it keeps our drinking water in a sock:
Of course we know about layers. We were born in ‘em. Carhartt? Yeah, we exchange Christmas cards every year. We all have overalls. Ross wears the arctic ones he bought out of desperation, and tucks them into his arctic boots that can sustain negative 30 degree temperatures, according to the box. That ought to do it out here.
A typical vineyard worker’s layers are as follows: 4-5 shirts, including thermals, vests and sweats; long johns under pants under overalls; vineyard boots, plus an extra pair of waterproof boots, similar to a mail carrier’s; hand and foot warmers sandwiched between two pairs of gloves and two pairs of socks; a hat; and usually something to cover the face.
One might assume we drink lots of locally grown, estate bottled wine to keep warm. Actually, just tea, mostly. Chai is our fav.
Oh, and we don’t get very good cell reception out here. Or Internet reception. Too cold. In fact, we’ve replaced all our smart phones with smart wool:
Pruning at Creekbend is a winter-long project. With 54 acres to prune and only three of us in the vineyard, plus some assistance from the landscaping crew (including the lovely Sheila, above), we have quite enough to keep us busy until March. We will be working any day that it isn’t raining or blowing snow horizontally. Today, we’re pruning the Catawba field, just under 13 acres of vines.
Why do we prune? Pruning focuses the growth of the vine where we want it, and determines how much fruit a vine will produce. Grape variety, location, soil conditions and climate all play a role in how best to prune a vine.
We have 33,000 vines ranging from 2 to 18 years old. The younger vines require a lot more attention to ensure that the trunks and cordons are the best quality in order for them to last 25 or 30 years. This has been made even more difficult because of the severe freeze event we had last spring which caused a lot of tissue damage.
The older vines are more resilient, and have made it through the last two years of drought, though next year will be the telling year. We do spur pruning on all our vines, normally leaving two or three bud spurs. This regulates next year’s crop, but we still have to adjust some varieties due to their ability to produce very bountiful crops.
Last year we built a trailer that has greatly enhanced the pruning experience for the vineyard crew. As you can see in the pictures we ride on the back of the 15 foot trailer and adjust the height so the cordon is at a very comfortable level. This is not only more ergonomic, it has reduced the pruning time by more than 25 percent!
This photo says it all. Harvest has nearly come to an end. We’re wrapping up the 2012 growing season with a popular grape that has really earned its keep this year. Chambourcin. You know her in two forms: a dry red and a beautiful rosé.
Some notes about Chambourcin from Ross, our assistant vineyard manager. It’s a lovely read, so you should pour yourself a glass of something beforehand.
I think this year has been a testament to the persistence and adaptability of our favorite woody perennial. The year awakened early with mild temperatures in the spring. Pruning in the warmth was bitter sweet; we enjoyed a break from the biting cold but the warmth woke the vines up early. As the buds began emerging, the promise and beauty of the new growth was mingled with dark foreboding; an early frost would almost certainly kill the new shoots. The frost happened and, although not as bad as it could have been, the damage was disheartening. Would the vines come back and bear fruit? As the year progressed, the vines began to give subtle hints that their sweet berries would grace the vineyard in abundance!
Once clear of the perils of spring, another challenge loomed for the vines and their young fruit. Day after day and week after week passed without rain. The ground dried out and cracked. Grass lost all trace of green and stopped growing (less mowing!). This type of weather being quite unusual for this region, many were watching with great consternation. Tales of failures in other crops prompted a wary eye to be cast across the rows of vines, so recently in danger from the frost. But at the end of the year looking back, we can all be thankful for the persistence of the grape! Not only did the vines make it through, but in response to the hardships the canopies of leaves and graceful tendrils were open to the nourishing sunlight, the salubrious breezes, and the eager harvesters more than ever before. What an amazing year; this will be a vintage to enjoy with thankfulness. Thankfulness that good things come from life’s many pressures.
Ross. Possibly writing poetic things about Chambourcin.
Vineyard staff, loading the lugs
Bernie and Ross, rain or shine
What do wine grapes and babies have in common? They are precious, and they don’t sleep. Traminette was ready to pick this morning, mud or shine. One more day on the vine could have exposed Traminette to the dangers of rot and over ripening, and we didn’t want to lose the optimal flavor bursting from these grapes today. The rain was just background noise.
Traminette is a delicious white grape that makes a floral/spicy aromatic wine with a hint of sweetness and a lingering aftertaste. It’s the Midwest version of Gewürztraminer, and so widely loved that it’s been chosen as Indiana’s signature wine. We have two fields ready to pick today, roughly 18 tons of fruit, and are crushing some now, actually.
The crushing process
Pre-crush. About 1,000 pounds of beautiful Traminette
Basically, the vineyard looked like a screensaver yesterday. We were lucky enough to walk through it all morning, harvesting row by row until we collected 1.5 tons of Chardonnay and eight tons (the average weight of an adult male elephant, btw) of Vignoles.
Chardonnay, 8:30 a.m.
Abby, among the Vignoles
A word on Vignoles. We grow it on some of the highest and best ground at Creekbend because it is typically slow growing, small producing and prone to rot. When done right, its flavor is a beautiful balance of peach, pear and apricot. This year’s vintage tastes amazing. Skins are warm yellow and tie dyed with rustic purple. Looks weathered like your grandma’s Tupperware. Tastes as clean as the best German Riesling.
Chardonnay was harvested first thing yesterday morning and our winemakers were crushing it in batches before lunchtime. Another delicious grape, though entirely different in flavor. This fruit has a rich honey profile with lemony finish — very sweet as a grape, but after fermentation it will make a dry white wine with almost no residual sugar. We like it in either form.
Another day in winemaker’s paradise. John crushing the Chardonnay.
We’ll be harvesting four days straight next week. Stay tuned! The fun is just beginning.
Meet Valvin Muscat. These white wine grapes develop early and burst with flavor right off the vine. They are exotic, the pineapple of wine grapes. But also floral, and we might even say tropical. Their low acidity allows for a dry wine style, but there is just something a little different about a Valvin Muscat grape. We have found this particular grape’s flavor is best when picked at high pH. Which is why we had to pick this year’s crop, a whole 2.5 tons, before lunchtime today.
Ross, harvesting the Valvin Muscat
Valvin Muscat 2012
Harvest season is officially on. The picking began at 7:30 a.m. and ended with an additional 2.3 tons of Pinot Grigio, another dry white grape that we found to be perfectly ripened on Monday. This year we’re working with about a half-acre of mature Pinot Grigio and a half acre of four-year-old vines. Our vineyard staff found no rot whatsoever in the Valvin or Pinot crops, but did come across a few bees.
Ben and bee
We also had some visitors from WTIU who filmed some action shots in the vineyard. We think the grapes really enjoyed the attention.
Expect to see a lot more from us this fall. We’re looking forward to a fantastic vintage!