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 touching 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.


Coronavirus Response – Day 22

Just like camping, it’s all about the food.

Raiding the refrigerator
Fortunate to be able to work at home, we were also fortunate to not be sick, neither did we urgently need any emergency items like prescription refills or cleaning supplies. Also being blessed with electricity and clean water made this crisis an easy but unique challenge. Our main concern hunkering down was using the food we had in an efficient manner. The fresh fruits and vegetables needed to be eaten first so I created meals that used up the last of those things. A solitary Granny Smith apple added zing to chicken salad. A little lettuce and an open bag of chips become a southwest plate. Finally the tomatoes and the last half of a cucumber blend with staple goods of pasta and canned ham. I can’t explain why I took photos of these things but here they are.

What’s hiding in the cupboard?
Trying to avoid running out to the grocery, it was fun to see what I could find in the back of the cabinets. One pleasant surprise was an assortment of morsels purchased in December for a cake decorating project but never used. These things are still going far to perk up some ordinary recipes. Stale marshmallows worked just fine in a crispy rice treat featuring three kinds of breakfast cereal. The stock of canned goods, pasta, rice, pancake mix, and instant oatmeal are holding out just fine.

Digging a little deeper
The longer this goes on, the more stubborn I am about going to the store. We have placed a very small shipment order from a restaurant supply; this was mostly about buying baby food for an ailing cat, although we added peanuts and iced tea bags as luxury items. Getting more creative, I discover still more items willing to help our at-home menu. A fancy wedge of wine-soaked cheese was a guilt purchase from a store sampler, and given that we are not fancy cheese people, this dry wedge was ripening further in our refrigerator. Turns out it is fabulous when shredded over pizza or pasta. Fresh wild chives add a spark to mashed potatoes and egg salad. Handfuls of take-out packets spike up canned tomato sauce for burritos. Even a shocking expiration date on a gelatin package did not stop me from making a nice dessert with some canned pears.

Shopping in Zombieland
Finally at 22 days in, today (April 3rd) we made a real trip to the grocery. We had placed an online order several days earlier for curbside pickup today. Of the 7 items on our list, we received only 5. No breakfast cereal and no coffee…but there was milk. Actually if there had been no milk, I would have accepted that but having milk and no cereal was just wrong. We broke down and entered the store armed with masks and gloves. Once inside we splurged a little and purchased chips, pop and frozen pizza. Arriving home we stripped some items of their outer “contaminated” packages and set others off to “time out” in 3 days. Then we promptly stripped our own packaging, threw our clothes in the washer and took showers. Feeling a little freaked out.

Coronavirus Response – Day 14

A message in the clouds: Flatten the curve

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!

Chocolate Spoon Bread with Port Wine Sauce

A decadent dark chocolate dessert produces shockingly rich results. Try your own combination of dried fruit and nuts.

Pairs nicely with a sherry glass of Country Moon “Native Harvest” wine

3 c. milk
3/4 c. cocoa powder unsweet
1/4 c. sugar
6 c. wheat bread cubed 1/2″
3 eggs
1 c. semisweet chocolate morsels
1/2 c. dried cranberries
1/2 c. sliced almonds
1/4 c. quick oats

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a saucepan, heat milk over medium heat until steaming but not boiling. Remove from heat, add cocoa powder and sugar. Stir gently and set aside to cool. Grease 9″ x 13″ casserole dish. Choose a sturdy but airy bakery loaf of wheat bread. Cut bread into 1/2″ inch cubes and add to casserole dish. Whisk eggs and drizzle over bread. Measure chocolate morsels, dried cranberries, sliced almonds and quick oats, then shake evenly over bread. Pour milk mixture evenly over bread. Press any dry areas into liquid. Do not stir. Cover with aluminum foil and cook 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. port wine (or Native Harvest)
1/4 c. cocoa powder unsweet
1/4 c. sugar
2 tsp. cornstarch

Stir together and simmer on low heat until thick and creamy. Cover and set aside until bread is ready to serve. Reheat sauce and drizzle on individual servings or over the entire dish.

Introducing “Small Batch – Small Bottles”

Gift baskets are created to be appropriate for any occasion.

At every winery, some years have higher yields than others. We have discovered that when we have a small quantity of wine from one of our varieties, we can make a bigger splash by bottling in half-bottles or 375 ml bottles. This will also be handy for special, boutique recipes. We experimented with three wines this year, making necessary changes to the labels and we are happy with the results! The gift baskets shown were designed to work for any occasion but are especially nice as a hostess gift during the holidays. Let us know if we can prepare some custom gift baskets for your or your business!

“Crushing it” in the vineyard

A first attempt at field crushing

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.