Vineyard Journal Archives

January 5, 2014
Eight inches of snow today with sub-zero temps forecast for this week. The birds are eating the juniper berries from the trees near the house. They must be really hungry as these astringent berries are the very last thing they choose to eat.

January 12, 2014
This year, 2014, is a milestone year for the vineyard. Our first vines, the Concord block, were planted in 2004 making them 10 years old. But perhaps more importantly, this is the 7th year after having 6 years of fruit production. It had been our policy to train the vines to a 3-wire, 6-arm system. We pinched off fruit in the first years to focus the vine’s vigor in growing sturdy arms which would later carry the weight of much fruit. This practice is inspired by verses in the Bible, specifically instructions to the people of Israel on how to establish crops in their land when returning from Egypt. (Leviticus 19:23-25) But beyond this, other instructions speak to a practice of leaving the crop every seven years for the poor in the community. This “sabbath rest” accomplishes many things. The land gets a rest from being planted heavily with a seed crop, instead bearing only a small amount from fallen seed from the previous year. Vines are left unpruned and rest from heavy fruit production, and instead spread leaves for their own nourishment. The poor and the animals benefit from a food source. And I suppose the owners and workers get a rest as well. So here we are at the 7-year mark with our Concord vines. We know Concord is a desirable grape for juice and jelly-making and therefore would be attractive to people to gather especially if it’s free! Will we trust the Lord in this Sabbath year? Is this anything anymore? Will there be much fruit? The decision is made to leave the Concord vines unpruned and see how it goes!

“And six years thou shalt sow thy land, and shalt gather in the fruits thereof: But the seventh year thou shalt let it rest and lie still; that the poor of thy people may eat: and what they leave the beasts of the field shall eat. In like manner thou shalt deal with thy vineyard, and with thy oliveyard.” – EXODUS 23:10-11

January 21, 2014
Officially snowed-in today with more snow and wind coming. It’s a good day to catch-up on some computer work.

January 30, 2014
Venus reappears from behind the Sun, now as a morning star in the southeast sky. This concludes my adventure with Venus after noting its dazzling persistence last year as an evening star. However, this year promises two lunar eclipses and a partial solar eclipse all visible from our area so I’ll be all over that.

February 18, 2014
Today was the first day I was able to work in the vineyard due to the snow and low temperatures. Brian plowed a path through the remaining snow for me and my wheelbarrow. Starting in the LaCrescent block since they seem to wake up first in the Spring.

“where I draw the line”

March 3, 2014
I don’t consider myself to be very girly, neither am I overly concerned about my normal daily appearance. I don’t color my hair, paint my nails or get spray tans. In fact, it saves hundreds of dollars a month to NOT keep up an image. But over the last year, my bottom front teeth have slowly moved and started to overlap. This is apparently where I draw the line. Today, as an adult, I had braces attached to my bottom teeth with the prognosis of 4 months of treatment. Oh my gosh. This is much more of an ordeal than I expected, but what can I do now but stick with the plan?

March 16, 2014
We met this evening with 5 other wineries to discuss organizing a wine trail. The nice folks at Harmony Winery in Fishers were our gracious hosts. The importance of a trail as a marketing tool may be greatly diminished now by the internet and common use of cell phones, but there is much to explore along this line.

April 2, 2014
After noticing a section of consecutive vines that had little growth last season, it was determined these vines had been damaged in the lightning strike of August 2011. I skipped over this section and will revisit after bud break to have a better idea of where the vine is viable.

April 13, 2014
At my bird feeder there have been large groups of grackles and starlings – ordinary birds or even nuisances by many people’s standards. But today I ponder the feathers of the grackle – black with flashes of green and blue like a dark puddle of oil. No, like a prince in a iridescent taffeta breast coast and tails, his princess in a matching gown with a flowing train. The starling stands guard at the banquet covered in golden filagree – the work of a jeweler. If starlings were rare we would boast of even a quick glimpse of this elegant design. We might put one in a cage and say, “behold, the magnificent European Starling!”

April 15, 2014
A lunar eclipse occurred early this morning and I missed it! I assumed I would wake up in the middle of the night as usual and easily catch the 3 a.m. event. But of all nights to sleep through…oh well. I will get another opportunity on October 8th.

May 6, 2014
Returning to the lightning-damaged LaCrescent vines, I was able to trim most vines back to between the first and second wire, retaining a healthy trunk. Most of the trunks were split where they touched the second wire, split the way a tree trunk looks after a lightning strike. The lightning must have traveled along the wire affecting about 2 dozen vines. A few were showing no signs of life but may send up a sucker still.

Trunk on left is normal, other two were split open by the lightning strike and the vine has tried to heal the wound.
A cross-section of a damaged vine shows dark dead tissue through half of the diameter

May 15, 2014
The mockingbird decided to join me in the vineyard today. I suspect there is a nest in the juniper tree just off our patio because he is most often seen there. But today he sat atop a trellis post just one row away from where I was working. He quickly started his loud and cheerful repertoire and I found it amusing…for about an hour. His incessant list of songs was interrupted only by the occasional plucking of something from his feathers. In my annoyance I began to wonder if he knew these songs innately or did he learn them? Should he be praised for special talent or chastised for repeating everything he has heard? In that long string of tunes, ringing like a car alarm in my head, was there one tune the mockingbird could call his own? I guessed there was not, but if so, how would we recognize it? Then I felt a little sorry and loved him again.

June 2, 2014
Strawberries look great this year! I was able to pick 2 quarts today. Enjoyed a nice timely rain, 8/10ths of an inch.

June 21, 2014
It was a lovely day to be open at the winery. This year we have decided to forego the Farmer’s Market, as much as we miss being there, and be more available for folks out here on Saturdays. Today our visitors included a couple who reserved what we call a “Table for Two.” They enjoyed a shady spot with a close view of the vineyard, sharing some wine and a snack before the Dave Mathews concert.

June 27, 2014
The tree crew is here to remove an ash tree and restructure the neighboring oak after some storm damage. I know I shouldn’t have favorites, but this old oak tree truly has my heart. (Don’t tell the other trees.) The strawberries are finished but the black raspberries are coming on and look to be having a good year as well.

July 8, 2014
It’s nice when something works out unexpectedly well. An order for bottles had been placed and I was awaiting an email or phonecall to tell me when the box truck I specified would make its delivery. Instead, yesterday I spy a man walking our long driveway. Greeting him, he informs me he has a full-size semi-tractor-trailer at the road. Of course he does. Its always this way. No matter how many conversations I have about box trucks and the narrow winding driveway, there’s always a full-size semi that shows up. But it’s not this nice young man’s fault, so I calmly tell him he must return to the dock and move my pallets to another truck. He explains the box trucks with his company do not make deliveries outside of Indianapolis. Nice to know.

So given the rain-saturated lawn and the presence of stone and mulch piles, asking him to navigate the driveway was out of the question. He DID have a lift gate (also requested) so he dropped both pallets at the end of the drive, slightly into the damp grass. This left plenty of room for my egress as I had a doctor’s appointment. I made a call to Brian mostly to vent my frustration and left for town, fully aware of the rainy forecast. As usual, Brian interpreted my venting as his call to action so he proceeded home at 10:30 a.m. to solve this problem. After he loaded a few boxes of bottles one-by-one into the bed of his truck, our neighbor across the street approached and said the forks were on his backhoe and volunteered to move the loaded pallets. He was able to steer between the stone and mulch piles near the rear of the winery and plop one pallet inside the building and the other just outside. Brian then hand-carried these inside just a few feet. By the time I got home, maybe 90 minutes later, all the boxes were snug in the winery. It was raining again within the hour. As frustrating as things may seem, it can always be worse…and wet boxes would have been so much worse! I had walked away and thrown up my hands but God caught it. A big thanks to His angels, Brian and Gary.

July 22, 2014
Braces are off! Now I can attack some of those huge sandwiches I’ve been tortured by on TV for the last few months, like White Castle’s Chicken & Waffle slider!

July 31, 2014
With two good bottling days behind us, we’re back in stock with Native Harvest and Apple Spice. We had a nice group of all guys to help this year. I think they had a good time! Native Harvest is a Concord wine that has given up its grapey-ness with aging and taken on more of a cherry fruit profile. It’s especially nice with dark chocolate!

August 3, 2014
In my personal study of the Bible I enjoy looking deeper into meanings of words in the original language of Hebrew of Greek. Such an opportunity presented itself as I tried to reconcile a contradiction between two passages. As mentioned earlier, the instruction given the Israelites in Exodus 23:10-11 clearly states the fruit of the sabbath year is given to the poor. However the instruction in Leviticus 25:3-5 says “thou shalt not reap, neither gather the grapes.” So my question is, how do the grapes get to the poor if no one is allowed to gather them? I found an answer today that both explains the situation and demonstrates how far removed our culture (and translations) are from ancient practices.

“opening the gates”

The passage quoted below contains twice the English word “gather.” The first occurrence is the Hebrew word ASAPH (Strong’s Concordance reference number 622) meaning as we would expect “to collect, assemble, or remove.” The next occurrence is the Hebrew word BATSAR (Strong’s 1219) translated “gather” in the King James Version and “cut off” in the New American Standard. Neither translation captures the full meaning “to make inaccessible, enclose or fortify.” I believe it would be most accurate to say “thou shalt not…close off the grapes of thy vines undressed.” It makes sense that small vineyards were fenced or roped off to keep out unwanted foot traffic or animals as the grapes fully ripen. In other words, “open the gates” on the Sabbath year. And further I suppose this allows the poor to come freely into the vineyard and pick the fruit for themselves with no shame or consequence. This concept of “opening the gates” will be what we share with the community as we welcome Sabbath harvesters.

“Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather (#622) in the fruit thereof; But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for the Lord: thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard. That which groweth of its own accord of thy harvest thou shalt not reap, neither gather (#1219) the grapes of thy vine undressed: for it is a year of rest unto the land.” – LEVITICUS 25:3-5

August 14, 2014
My tractor tires are shiny black rolling in the dewy grass. By 10 o’clock the vine’s leaves have dried from the morning’s fog and are ready for an application of fungicide. This late in the season I switch to a different rotation of products. The harvest interval for Penncozeb and Rally are 66 and 14 days respectively, so they are replaced by stylet oil, neem oil and phosphorous acid. As oils are risky to use in 90-degree temperatures, this stretch of cooler days helps. Our wet spring and summer required diligent effort battling what could have been a further spread of last year’s outbreak of downy mildew. But happily the vines look very healthy. While fungicide use has been aggressive, insecticide has been unnecessary. Japanese beetles are a no-show this year…with no complaints! I never saw more than a dozen total, although one found its way in my shirt and bit me!

August 15, 2014
The most visible problem in the vineyard this season is galls on the leaves. Phylloxera is the culprit here bothering two of the five varieties we have. The Swenson Red vines are especially suffering from galls and I’m hoping they even have enough leaf structure to sustain them, gathering what they need to survive the winter. This photo shows happy fruit, but the leaves are full of bumpy invasions. There is just now a foliar spray for phylloxera on the market but it is SO expensive we could not consider it. We’ll wait for reviews from other vineyards before making that investment. Phylloxera is our native pest that threatened the European wine industry 150 years ago when enthusiastic viticulturists took infested plants back to their vulnerable habitat. The roots of our native vines are tolerant to the pest’s chewing in its grub form but the leaves still react to the pest in its adult form.

August 20, 2014
We mailed over 400 letters today to churches within a 30-mile radius. We feel that churches have a built-in network of groups that might mobilize in response to free grapes. The letter described our Sabbath year in the vineyard and presented the opportunity for youth groups, team building, food pantries or fundraising. We even hope some might attempt making communion juice. The letter announces the “opening of our gates” from September 8th -13th for 2014. A copy of that letter can be found here: “Open the Gates” Announcement

August 26, 2014
A big thanks to Barbara Lawson who brought out two different groups of ladies on both Monday and Tuesday for boxed lunches on the porch. She endured the heat and back-to-back chicken salad sandwiches! What a sweetheart she is – no wonder she has so many friends!

These girls know how to have fun!

September 8, 2014
This was the first day of being open for Sabbath picking in our Concord block. What a response! We estimate we had 200 people here today. Some were church groups, but the great majority saw the ad on Craig’s List. Many families came to get grapes for juice and jelly. So many hard working people hauling out coolers, baskets, buckets, boxes and bags full of grapes. The Times newpaper even came to do a little story featuring Terri Ditslear and her church group.

We truly enjoyed seeing how children reacted to the property. As a rule, the kids would pick grapes for about 10 minutes, but then found other ways to amuse themselves. The group above plays a game of duck-duck-goose! One tyke put his grape-picking gloves on, but quickly spied the antique tractor.The girls (below) enjoyed playing in the sandy surface near the winery.

We hope all of the many families have happy memories of their visit. Now the real work begins when the grapes get turned into juice or jelly.

September 13, 2014
Today concludes 6 days of Sabbath picking. Now our visitor total exceeds 500. We had two nice days Monday and Tuesday, one day of rain and three cool days. The crowd was undaunted by the weather. Some groups came back for more! It was an absolutely humbling experience to be thanked so often by the grateful pickers. We were thrilled to have such a great response and are already looking forward to 2021, seven years from now, when it happens again!

October 8, 2014
A total lunar eclipse was predicted for 5:15 this morning and I was determined to see it. The full moon was so bright in the clear sky. Its position about 40 degrees above the west horizon was comfortable for viewing from the west window of the house. The trees and autumn leaves were obstacles but it was chilly enough to prefer the indoors. With the moonlight I could see detail in the yard like it was daytime, but more like a black and white version. Like clockwork at 5:15, a black cap formed at the top left of the moon. The dark shadow moved across the moon changing quickly enough that it was hard to look away. With only a third of the moon darkened, I noticed how diminished the shadows were in the woods and on the floor of the room. After 30 minutes the resulting crescent was not the familiar shape based on the moon’s roundness but rather the larger curve of the earth’s shadow. It was truly a foreign and strange sight. If someone was unaware of the event and suddenly saw the moon in this state, they might be fearful of this unknown object.

As the remaining lit crescent grew smaller it was even less familiar. With only a sliver of light left the whole circle of the moon suddenly reappeared and began to glow a warm yellow. The sun’s light was no longer reflecting directly off of the moon so all bright white was gone. The lower right portion was a much brighter yellow with the highlight wrapping gradually to each side. I was impressed with how wonderfully spherical the moon suddenly was. A bright full moon seems a flat disc, and the crescent moon a 2-dimensional bangle, but this…this glowing globe had a new mature identity, made fully known in the diffused light. This must be the way a mother feels to look at her child’s senior portrait. A face so familiar seen in a new light.

“something new and wonderful”

By then, it was 6:30am and very dark. The trees were silhouetted against a slightly lighter sky but no light fell to the ground. I took a few photos of the moon knowing it wouldn’t be much with my camera, but felt I had to capture the memory. Through my binoculars a star appeared just to the right, now able to compete with the subdued moon. An hour and 15 minutes have flown by. This would conclude the show for us here in the Midwest. The moon would continue toward the horizon dropping into the dense leaves of our woods. The sky would soon brighten with the rising sun making the glowing moon more and more difficult to see. People in the western U.S. and Australia would have the moon aloft to see it emerge from the shadow in another hour and a half. But I’m quite satisfied with what I witnessed, touched with a sense of awe, yet reassured by the predictability of it all. I’ve seen something new and wonderful in my old friend and hold it dear in my heart.

October 15, 2014
We are enjoying some dramatic fall color in the vineyard this week. The different grape varieties are very apparent now as they each have a different time table for going dormant. Our maple trees in the woodland are at their peak with bright yellow foliage and the dogwood on our patio is crimson red.

October 23, 2014
At the end of a girls’ day out, I was mindful of the setting sun driving home. A partial eclipse of the sun had begun about 4:30 p.m. and I was hoping for just the right cloud cover to see it. The 30-minute drive so far revealed no sign of the sun, just a bright band of pink near the horizon. Have you noticed on a cloudy day the sun will often peek under the cloud layer right at the horizon? I’ve seen more this often at sunrise but was hoping for that same effect during this event. By this time, every building and tree became an obstacle to my view. Still driving, the bridge over the interstate suddenly lifted me up where I could see. The pink band was glowing brighter. Had I missed it already? I took the roundabout and went back over the bridge but soon realized I was a traffic hazard to those less interested in the eclipse and more concerned with getting home. The challenge was to find an unobstructed view and fast!

I drove toward the hospital surrounded by much flat ground and parking areas. Abandoning my car in the southwest corner of the lot. I took my keys and tromped off into a wet and weedy patch with my hopes then fixed on a topsoil mound. A worn path told me I was not the first to climb the mound and I wasn’t sure if this was creepy or comforting. The gradual gravely slope lifted me up another 30 feet or more. I was looking down on rooftops of houses I didn’t know existed. But there it was – the sun! I was right on time.

“you really missed it”

The bright orange ball was sitting on top of the horizon, just under the thick clouds that had blocked its shape all day. Too bright to stare at of course, I found I could blink my eyes and see the second orb of the moon. It was overlapping the sun by half its diameter taking about a quarter chunk out of the top right of the sun. In less than a minute, the sun dipped out of sight with the dark corner becoming more obvious and then it was over. For me at least. Others living further west would see the moon move across the sun’s face and pass to the left. On the darker trek back to the car I passed a couple of dogwalkers. I wanted to tell them “you really missed it” but decided to neither chastise then nor explain myself. It was my moment. I couldn’t really communicate the experience to someone else. The eclipse occurred exactly as predicted. The sun and the moon faithfully kept their appointment with each other. I was glad to have been there too.

November 23, 2014
It’s a few days before Thanksgiving, and we are thankful for this year’s harvest. Despite the Concord grapes not gathered for winemaking, we enjoyed large yields in the LaCrescent and Swenson Red blocks. Today we finished transferring the new wine off its yeast sediment and snugging it all up for a winter’s nap.

December 21, 2014
It’s the first day of winter, so I relish a bit of Christmas spirit by making trees out of pine cones. Our pine trees near the drive are having an extant cone year, so I had previously dried armloads of pine cones for crafts and gifts. Lots of spray glue and glitter in my life right now! But I love what the little trees do for my holiday village…what a happy little place!