Fumie's Sphere

Insights into the worlds of winemaking and nature

Cutting the Buds March 28, 2022

Filed under: Grape Growing,In the Vineyard,Viticulture — Thorpe Vineyard @ 6:14 pm
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The winter of 2021 – 2022 came in easy as was the last few years. Warmer than normal temperatures dominated in December into early January. I was both thinking and hoping that the pattern would hold as long as it could. Then the wind changed. Yes, I felt it, and it was true. Suddenly we started to see the single digits for the low of the day. That made me nervous. When it plunged into the negative territory, a red flag popped up. “It’s not good.” I couldn’t even remember immediately when we saw a negative number last time. 

Grapes are generally a plant in a temperate region of our Planet. So when it gets colder than certain point, they simply don’t survive. They start to lose their live buds on the canes when temperatures dip below their limit. Sometimes their trunks split. Eventually the whole grapevines can die from extreme cold.

I saw the negative numbers in my vineyards twice in January: -4.5 and -1.7 degrees. And about a dozen of single digits in January and February. I was getting ready to go out to obtain some sample canes of each variety we grow in the vineyards to test so-called bud mortality rate before pruning the vines. We have to make an adjustment of how many canes to leave on the vines depending on this rate to maintain the crop level at harvest. More dead buds, more canes to stay on the trellis. 

So I went out and brought back an armful of grape canes. They were placed in the water in a bucket and stayed in a comfortable temperature to “wake up” for a few days. Honestly, I don’t remember when I did this last time – we were so used to having a mild winter that did not give me any alert to cut the buds. But, well, here I’m going. 

This is a cane of Cayuga White. What I do is to slice the buds on the cane in half and look inside. Is the bud green or brown? If it’s green, that’s the sign the bud is alive and likely would grow into a shoot to bear grapes in fall. The arrow is pointing at the bud sliced off from the cane. Can you see the center of it is bright green? 

On the contrary, this is a Riesling bud. It looks brown meaning it’s dead. I keep cutting each bud on the canes and come up with a tally in the end. That will give us an idea how to prune the vines this spring.

While cutting the buds of Riesling, I noticed that most of the dead buds are toward the end of the canes. Hmm… I tried to recall what might have been going on to cause it. Eventually I came to suspect that many of the vines got downy mildew on the tip of their growth last summer. Perhaps the disease hindered the buds from attaining enough cold hardiness to get through the extreme temperatures. — I have to come up with a better spray program for this season. I sit and cut the buds and listen to the vines’ stories. (By the way, the bud mortality rate was not so high that made me feel relieved…)


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.


Bluebirds nesting in the Vineyard June 1, 2017

Filed under: At The Winery,Bluebirds,In the Vineyard,Nature — Thorpe Vineyard @ 2:48 pm

Bluebirds nesting in the Vineyard

Father Bluebird guarding the Box

On the way back from the vineyard work one afternoon I saw a pair of bluebirds hopping around one of the bluebird boxes at the end of the North Vineyard.  I knew they’d made a home out of it this year — the second time I can remember in the last over 20 years.  I had kept seeing them flying back and forth between the box and the woods; sometimes obviously protecting it from other birds trying to sneak into it.  I walked back to my house to drop my tools off on the porch while eyeing on the male bluebird perched on the vineyard post just above their sweet home.  I had my camera in my hand, and quietly started walking toward him.

Maybe around 70 feet I took the first shot.  Well, it was a little too far; his figure was just a small dot in the screen.  I went a little closer to take the next shot.  Hmmm, still a little far away.  The bluebird was, of course, watching me approaching to their box.  I went another 10 feet.  Maybe a little more.  — How close can I get?  I kept inching up while shooting him every so often.  Then one moment he finally took off.  He flew toward the other end of the vineyard, but swirled above the grape vines and landed on the top of another post in the middle of the vineyard.  We looked at each other for a moment, then I walked away to go back to my house.





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