Fumie's Sphere

Insights into the worlds of winemaking and nature

Songbirds November 21, 2018

The very hot and very dry summer came to an end in the middle of August when we got over 5 inches of rain within a few days. The heat continued, but the rain made a comeback to my rain gauge from time to time. A hot and dry summer is good for the grapes, but when it became rather droughty, it brought a different kind of concern to the grape growers, myself included. So, it was a welcome change to see some rain every now and then. As the grapes were already well underway to early harvest due to the mid-summer heat, that also kept the disease pressure low; occasional rainy days even felt refreshing following the extremely hot period.

At the beginning of September the rain went away somehow, and it started to dry out again. I recalled the beautiful fall weather of last year – sunny and much warmer than normal temperatures – which brought us a great harvest time. After a soggy summer, it appeared as if we’d be reliving the true summer of 2017. I started to prepare for the harvest, which was for sure to come earlier this year, without much doubt to have the same sort of harvest time as last year, based on the dry summer we’d had.

The changes happened when the remnant of tropical systems dumped the moisture in the middle of September. It was not necessarily rain, but high humidity in the forms of dews, mists and fogs all the time. There were not many occasions for the grapes to dry out; the excessive moisture promotes the growth of the spoilage microorganisms, namely bunch rot, aka botrytis, and downy mildew. Now we had to forget about the low disease pressure: we’ve got to do something! Luckily the grapes were ripening quickly so we started our harvest. Diamond came in first (if you are a fan of Evening Glow and/or Fialka, this variety gives the flavor you love), and Maréchal Foch and Pinot Noir followed.

October 2018 turned out to be another memorable month, to say the least, in which we weathered two totally separate seasons in just one month. The first half was more or less like summer, while the latter half brought a sure taste of winter. Rain also prevailed throughout the month. We tried to move along as much as we could before the spread of the diseases would become a serious threat to the grapes.

One day when I walked out from the winery barn to head back to the house, I heard a clear musical whistle in the backyard. Oh, a White-throated Sparrow! I instantly stopped to look toward the brush where the voice came from. It was another gray damp day in the first week of October. The whistle was repeated a few times then quiet down. White-throated Sparrows appear in spring when we have wet weather before trees bud out around here. They always seem to be busy feeding on the leftover seeds from the previous year, and somehow move away when the sun gets higher in the blue sky as the season progresses into summer. The misty October afternoon resembled the rainy spring weather in which I’m used to seeing them. I heard their song time to time though never caught them in sight.

We finished our harvest on October 14th and were busy processing the grapes the following day. I was a little nervous as a storm was called for in the afternoon – when we crush and press the grapes, we have to leave the front door of the winery barn wide open. The winds picked up gradually, and by early afternoon stormy looking clouds filled the sky that appeared to be getting ready to come down. I heard the distant roar over the Lake. “Must be the cold front approaching,” I thought as I’d had the same experience in the past. Fortunately, it never poured here while we were working. By shortly after sunset we finished cleaning and closed the door. I felt relieved.

The cold front swapped the season from summer to winter overnight, and it remained wet and chilly the rest of the month. I started to see Northern Juncos frequently in the yard who are messengers of the coming winter. Bluebirds were often on the power wires – do you know we have year-round bluebirds here? White-throated Sparrows were still heard in the brush in the cold rain along with the familiar voices of Cardinals, House Finches and Common Flickers.

While I waited for the foliage, the winds ripped a lot of leaves from the trees this fall. My backyard was no exception as the brush turned bare gradually as I walked back and forth between the buildings everyday. One moment I came to a halt to look around the brush – I hadn’t heard the clear whistles for a few days. It was the last week of October under the gray sky that was such an accustomed scene by then. “Maybe they left,” I thought. “I don’t know where they overwinter, but they have a place to go.”  It felt like the chilly mist was coming in from the Lake. “I’ll see you again in the spring rain.” It was my promise to the Songbirds for sure to return next year.

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