Depending on who you ask, our region’s average last frost is May 10th…or the 15th…or the 30th. So it’s hard to breath that sigh of relief until we are out of that May window. The vines typically show much growth in May but the threat of frost is ever present. Frost is one thing and a freeze is another. The week of May 3rd began with a hot 82-degree day. Five days later the temperature plunged to 28 degrees plus some wind chill There are several strategies to mitigate the difference of a few precious degrees but at 28 there is nowhere to hide.
We began our pruning for 2020 in the LaCrescent block with that variety always being the first to emerge. Much effort went toward retraining some misshapen or diseased vines. New shoots were unfolding picture-perfect on newly-stretched cordons. Those efforts were thwarted by the freeze, causing this year’s growth to eventually come from different parts of the vine than we intended. Other varieties were less impacted and experienced spotty injury that still follows the existing shape. The Concord vines had not been pruned before the freeze event and remain unpruned still. It appears that the first buds on last year’s canes are the dominant growth and that is what we would hope for anyway. They will need a little haircut to remove the damaged ends which budded first. Overall this year’s harvest yield will be lower than average, but we are thankful to see the vines recovering, generating plenty of leaves to remain strong and healthy.
Often I have tried to take before & after shots of vine pruning, but the background is usually so confusing the vine is indiscernible. Approaching the ends of the rows both east and north, I tried again. This “before” picture illustrates a vine that has been pushed to the east over the years by persistent wind. This opens up a sunnier position to the left and encourages growth of canes rather than growth on the established spurs. At some point, the vine needs retrained to better utilize the trellis. The “after” picture shows a big cut where the original trunk is retired and the more vigorous new growth is trained up in its place. This method also works in situations where the trunk is damaged from disease or splitting.
The coronavirus outbreak has us all washing our hands like madmen, but sanitation in the vineyard has been a priority for many years. We have to manage the spread of crown gall caused by soil-borne bacteria by cleaning our equipment and we promptly dispose of last year’s cuttings to reduce fungus spores. These are the old challenges along with known pests and the threat of late frosts and freezes.
This year’s challenges include discovery of new pests and cold weather damage. The identification of scale on a few trunks adds to our oppression by insects. This type of scale is an insect that sucks the bark but never moves. The small discs are usually found in pairs. Their low number warranted only removal by hand. I wonder if the vine’s normal shedding of bark will dislodge them over time?
Trunk splitting is something we don’t see much of other than our lightning incident. This spring we have seen several vines declining and traced it to a split in the trunk. This was likely caused by a previous winter’s cold snap. The winter of 2019/2020 was not nearly cold enough to create the problem and last year’s growth was already affected.
It’s easy to procrastinate the task of pruning. Starting too early or cutting too short can make buds more susceptible to a late freeze. But in order to be done in time you have to start. The center photo above shows a weeping cut, a normal occurrence as the days warm up. In this instance a gelatinous drip combined with a quick change in temperature to freeze in mid-air. The week of May 4th was full of frosts and a whopping freeze event. It remains to be seen what the effects will be on this year’s productivity.
This opening line of a hymn by Fanny Crosby comes from an obscure passage of scripture near the end of Solomon’s writing in Ecclesiastes. It’s not clear what the “silver cord” is but the context is the brevity of life.
Our vineyard trellis is a 3-wire system with rows ranging from 100 to 300 feet long. Trellis wires occasionally break and need spliced or replaced. Several years ago, we had a lightning strike that oxidized the wires on 2 rows, removing their galvanized protection. These wires had eventually rusted through and needed replaced, but of course we waited until one broke this week before undertaking the project.
As we spend time on repairs, I struggle with how quickly things erode and break down. We have huge end posts made of black locust wood, cut 8″ x 8″ x 12′. Traditionally, they are thought to last a lifetime, or realistically 30 years. But we have had several already rot below ground in 16 years. An end post is a challenging repair. Many more line posts of red cedar have also rotted off and dangle, still attached to the wires but longer the ground.
It’s frustrating that things I thought were done are coming undone before I can get to the end of the original list. Time goes by faster every day and I’m getting older sooner than it seems. Solomon would remind me that life is short, things of this world don’t last, and I need to make my actions count for good.
“Someday the silver cord will break… And I shall see Him face to face and tell the story – saved by grace.“ FRANCIS J. CROSBY (1823-1915)
Yesterday was a warm day with temps in the 60s. We were able to work a good long time in the vineyard with a couple of breaks. The forecasted storm traveled a path farther north than expected and an unusual bank of clouds captured our attention. What must have been a space between two systems resulted in a light band running coincidentally horizontal from our perspective. Given the current circumstances of corona virus shut downs, the message was clear. Flatten the curve.
On March 12th, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of the novel corona virus a worldwide pandemic. We had been hearing the news for many weeks now, but this declaration felt like a turning point. The upcoming weekends then would have Indianapolis as host for several basketball tournaments with spectators coming here from all around the world. It is not unusual at all for these type of events to bring visitors to our winery, just 20 minutes north of the city. On the evening of the declaration, we knew we had to make a decision. We certainly did not want to worsen the problem. One last trip to the grocery would shore up our normal emergency supplies with some fresh milk, eggs and bread. The “french toast kit” we call it, often what people buy just before the snowstorm. Oh, and cat food too.
The next day we posted on our Google page and outgoing voice mail the fact that our public hours would be temporarily and voluntarily “suspended” until things settle down. We were fearful of using the word “closed” because of possible misunderstandings and rumors that we were out of business. It felt very against the grain at the time. We kept an appointment the next day with our accountant who had our taxes ready for filing. The winery, as an LLC, is required to file a report by March 15th and that deadline was never extended. We are grateful to Penni who graciously received us as we signed the necessary forms for her to file online. No trip to the post office.
By the next day, all of the basketball tournaments in Indianapolis had been cancelled. This was a great relief and validated our personal decision. A few days later, restaurants and bars were requested to stop indoor seated service. Then it became mandatory. Then came the threat of license removal if businesses continued to serve indoor patrons. Currently, the governor has a “stay home order” in place for all who do not have jobs considered essential services. Many restaurants have restructured into drive-thru only, delivery service, or curbside pick-up.
The Indiana wine industry, voiced by the Indiana Winery and Vineyard Association, has instructed its members to close tasting rooms and pursue curbside pick-up. Those who have Direct Shipper permits can utilize that revenue stream, but we do not have that permit. Home delivery is not something any winery would be permitted to do. Although we could do curbside pick-up, we feel that would encourage more travel in general than is essential. A lack of wine is not an emergency, in my opinion. In fact, if a person would drink in response to extreme anxiety this could trigger (in my opinion) the brain’s association of alcohol with stressful situations and develop a future bad habit. (Again, this is not medical advice, just my opinion.) So until things improve (or get much much worse) we are committed to staying closed to the public. We, on the other hand, have lots of work to do. The whole vineyard needs pruned this time of year, so that works out. And we have a building permit now to begin construction on the interior of the winery structure. Lots of work to do.
So this is life on Day 14 and I’m a little wordy today for not talking to folks in so long. We apologize to the bachelorette party bus that we had to cancel. A big thanks to the guy who was working at Lowe’s at 7:01 am when we needed a new sump pump. And thanks to the staff at the Indiana State Laboratory who handled our quarterly water sample for required testing. We truly appreciate all of you who have stayed home or continued to carefully work an essential task for the hopes of flattening the curve. We look forward to seeing you all on the other side of this thing!
There is very little automation in our processing at Country Moon Winery, so things are very “hands on” from start to finish. This year, in an effort to get empty picking lugs back to the crew as soon as possible, we decided to try our hand at field crushing. Kasey and Konner worked hard at exchanging lugs for tokens, dumping lugs, and turning the crank – yes, by hand! Some tight-fitting lids allowed us to transport 5-gallon buckets of crushed grapes to the vineyard, condensing the loads and reducing trips to the winery. The LaCrescent variety is notorious for its long tangley stems. It was discovered that the destemmer jammed less often with the cover and collection bag off – another advantage in working outdoors.
June is wedding season, but it was also engagement season here at the vineyard! Austin Hochstedler wanted to create a special surprise experience for his future wife so he enlisted the help of his sister, Ashlynn, who has a photography business, along with his mother, Angie Hochstedler. After Angie contacted us with Austin’s intentions, we hoped for good weather in spite of the forecast of rain. With this rainy spring, there have been many days where a trip through the vineyard would be muddy at best and dangerously flooded at worst. Fortunately, when June 22nd came the weather cooperated and the couple received a beautiful afternoon.
The mother and sister arrived first and picked out a spot from where they could photograph the proposal. Austin and Rebekah dined nearby for lunch after which Austin texted his mother saying they were on their way. The couple appeared at the tasting bar as usual customers with Rebekah none the wiser. I asked them if they would like to taste some wine or take a vineyard tour. Rebekah jumped at the chance to take a vineyard tour which made all of our jobs easier. Off they went and we could hear squeals and laughter not long after. The family generously shared photos with us, some of which we assembled as a little slideshow for a Facebook post. (See 7-5-2019) Congratulations, Austin and Rebekah! We feel honored to know your promise to each other began here! We wish you all the best.