Our Wines Take Flight

Introducing the “Pick 4 Sampler”

To help meet the challenges of 2020, we are changing the format of our wine tasting. The new individual packages include a flight of 4 wine selections totally 6 ounces and a shot of crackers. The “Pick 4 Sampler” sells for $5.00 and creates several advantages including faster service and ensured sanitation. The disadvantage is we will miss the opportunity to chat with visitors about each wine as our previous presentations afforded. Please feel free to ask questions or request a tour through the vineyard where we can again drone on about the vines.

Coronavirus Reponse – Day 100

Welcome to our new normal.

On Saturday, June 20th we resumed wine service as Indiana moves into Stage 4 of the Governor’s re-opening plan. It’s been 100 days since we first sheltered-in-place back in March. Then we started the curbside pickup, but finally now guests can again order a glass or bottle of wine and enjoy it in our outdoor seating. Aside from the social distancing requirements it all feels nicely back to normal.

Our wine tasting, however, has undergone some changes. It was decided the interaction time needed to be reduced at the tasting bar. This speeds up the wait time for those distancing in line, and our individual packaging ensures the server is not coming in contact with used cups. So now until further notice, the “Pick 4 Sampler” is your wine tasting and sells for $5. You can make their selections from a list of 11 wines, receive your sampler and be on your way to the seating area. A one-way traffic pattern asks guests to circle back to original line for additional purchases. Yes, it’s a little awkward and it gets hot under those masks and gloves but this is our new normal. We hope you know that your safety is important to us and also hope you have confidence to get back out to the Indiana wineries and enjoy the rest of the season!

A Seriously Late Freeze

LaCrescent vines regain their green after cold snap

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.

Left: The brown shriveled start of a desirable shoot hangs from the spur. Two bully shoots emerge from the spur’s node creating a challenge for next year’s pruning. Right: Shoots that survived the freeze still bloomed and pollinated on schedule by Memorial Day. Looks like a nice fruitset on these clusters all the way to the tip.

Coronavirus Response – Day 62

It’s time to start thinking about opening up!

A robin laid her eggs just off the patio in the low boughs of a juniper tree. With our frequent trips to the vineyard this spring, she is likely regretting her decision. As much as we try to cut a wide path around, she almost always jumps off the nest with much squawking.

This little nest inspires us in many ways. Despite the virus lock-down, the elements of spring have continued full-steam ahead. Soon these baby birds will have to awaken to the world and face the challenges it holds.

Our Facebook page featured the photo above with the same caption. We needed to finalize our decisions on how to re-open the winery after two months of having no public hours. The end of April, the governor revealed that his plan would unfold in 5 phases. The Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission (ATC) also advised the wineries that we fell in the 4th of the 5 phases as “Bars, Nightclubs…Tourism.” We were okay with that, but there were still some decisions to be made.

The release for phase 4 is June 14th and then at 50% capacity. Focusing on Saturday hours still, that puts our first possible day to serve wine on June 20th. That’s a long time from now. So we are sensing it is prudent to institute the curbside delivery used by other wineries during the stay-at-home order. May 16th will be our first day to operate in this fashion. I was hoping that the robin’s nest would again serve as our graphics for the announcement, but the week has gone on with no change. Resorting to some bad photo enhancement, the following image accompanied today’s posted schedule for curbside pickup, outdoor tasting, and finally party hosting.

We’re open but it’s not pretty!

Quarantine Rice

Using only simple staple foods and spices, this recipe is handy when you can’t get to the store.

Choose our LaCrescent wine for Mexican combinations.

In a 9 x 13 pan, stir together:

1-1/2 c. rice
15 oz. can tomato sauce
2 c. water
4 tsp. minced onion
2 tsp. dried cilantro or parsley
2 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. chili powder

Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.

As a side dish, this makes 12 servings – nice for leftovers. Add some canned chicken for a great burrito stuffing. If you want to jazz it up even more, the rice quantity can be made up of any combination of white rice, wild rice, red rice or orzo pasta. Adding some black beans (drained & rinsed), green peppers, diced tomatoes, or corn is all good with no other changes to the recipe. Or take it to the limit with all of the above plus raw chicken breasts that all cook up in the same time, then top with shredded cheese before serving.

Retraining a Vine

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.

New Challenges in the Vineyard

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.

Coronavirus Response – Day 44

Peach cobbler, strawberry soda, and homemade bread.

It’s April 25th, the 44th day of the “Stay-At-Home” Order, and thankfully we are still healthy. So are all of our extended family members. In fact, we have only heard of one person we know that has had the virus and they contracted it in another state. But we are NOT in any hurry to turn things loose! The winery remains closed for public hours as we await the governor’s word expected in a few days. The curves for the state and the nation still seem to be climbing straight up.

Do not harm the oil or the wine
With no other complications, our challenges remain all about the food. I’m actually starting to enjoy doing some baking with a goal of always having a sweet treat available and some form of bread. Many things we were “saving” for some future purpose are now fair game; this includes soda mixers, cheese trays and crackers from the winery inventory. It’s been fun to open some bottles of wine from other sources put aside for a “special occasion.”

There is much to learn about what works and what doesn’t work and we will be more prepared next time, heaven forbid there is a next time. In our “emergency” supplies, the canned goods have proven sufficient, and other dry staples have stored well. The biggest spoiler was oil. Both olive and canola oil in storage have turned rancid making some cooking and baking difficult without it.

We have tried ordering online for shipment with only partial satisfaction. One order was missing an item. Another order of 4 items was delivered in 3 separate boxes. This was guilt-producing on our end, feeling like the delivery services are already hard-pressed. Exploring the Order/Curbside Pickup scenario, we were disappointed as earlier expressed. We have made only one venture into the grocery store during the quarantine so far, but plan a trip next week.

Clockwise: A special delivery of peanuts keeps Brian’s spirits up; Using up those eggs with a griddle full of omelettes; Why is toilet paper still a problem?

A land flowing with milk and…eggs
By observation, it seems the more processed a product is, the longer it takes for inventory to recover. Stores seem to have plenty of fresh farm products like milk, eggs, butter, meat and poultry. They may need folks to buy these things to keep things flowing. Paper goods tend to be a problem still as well as sanitizing products. Fresh fruit and vegetables have been avoided and I’m not sure why. It may be their openness to touching and squeezing that bothers me. Ice cream is also off the table since the package is difficult to sanitize or change, it can’t be “timed-out” at room temperature, and we’ve heard the virus is not killed in the freezer. It’s also observed that everyone has a different comfort level and people draw their lines in different places. I’m thankful for the freedom to have various opinions.

Coronavirus Response – Day 34

Renewing the vision

With the “Stay-At-Home” Order it would seem we have a little extra time. Actually we have more than enough to do both indoors and outdoors, but I have allowed myself to finally indulge in some things which were pushed aside. These things seemed less urgent but are still important, like reformatting our Vineyard Journal archives to the new WordPress website, organizing tax file drawers, and creating a vision board for the business.

Vision boards are a Millennial remake of those cut-and-glued posters we made back in school. I had no shortage of magazine clippings collected over the years. They were kept in folders labeled, Decor, Displays, Merchandising, etc. – all for the purpose of inspiration. A basement wall was previously poised with rigid foam and black flannel as a quilt photo background. I thought creating the board would be a project Brian and I could enjoy together but I was wrong. He did find one picture of a fire pit before losing interest. (I believe he shares the vision, but he’s not going to sit in the basement and cut out pictures.)

Remnants of my quilt life remain in the mix mostly because I could not bear to take them off the wall. One little quilt represents the vineyard surrounded by corn and beans and the other the night sky; I found they blended well with other elements of our TASTE, GATHER, EXPERIENCE theme. Many of these things have become a reality such as the vineyard, butterfly garden, fire pits, shade sails and new tractors. Others lie on the horizon as we begin work on finishing the interior of our winery building. We look forward to having merchandising space and party hosting indoors. Things like logo glasses are also nearing reality.

The board may have felt a somewhat juvenile effort at times, but I can say it has truly renewed my vision. I remember now the purpose of the soaring ceiling and its cathedral impact. Amidst the pressure of vine-tending I’m reminded of perennial flowers needing planted and experimenting with wine mixer recipes. Most importantly, the smiling faces of happy strangers make me look forward to meeting the wonderful assortment of folks still headed our way.

Someday The Silver Cord Will Break

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.