Monday, November 13, 2017

Fall has finally arrived in the vineyard

Fall arrived, if only for one day. Today it's back to warm and wet but yesterday it was cool, crisp, and sunny with frost overnight. The red vines have dropped their leaves but the white vines and hanging on. The grass and weeds have control. Next have to get out there with a shovel and dig out the docks. Then Alex will have to strim. Finally we will go in and select out the main shoots and prune away the rest. Then Alex can build the overhead trellis system we'll be adopting from Spain. Trying to be patient.
Red vines have dropped most of their leaves
White vines hanging on to leaves

The rest of the garden doesn't look too bad. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Some ways you can help the California fire victims

Google Crisis Map 
California’s Wine Country is in a state of emergency as more than a dozen wildfires burn through large swaths of land in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake, and Yuba counties. The fires have destroyed at least 3,500 homes, caused at least 30 fatalities, and forced an estimated 25,000+ residents to evacuate, with that number expected to rise. 8000 firefighters are involved in the fight, some from as far away as Australia.

I look at the newspapers and online posts each day with horror. I followed and am helping victims of the hurricanes in the past weeks since Harvey, Irma and Maria wreaked such devastation, and now fire in Napa and Sonoma. There isn't much I can do from where I am in Ireland, but if I can help direct people to things they can do, then I will try. Essentially, you can donate money, supplies, or time. Here's where.

The Atlas Fire burns east of Wooden Valley Road in Napa County, California.STUART PALLEY

Some things you can do for the Calfornia Wine Country today.

If you’re local, Google is maintaining a Crisis Map with open shelters and other resources listed. The Sonoma Valley Visitor’s Bureau has a list of hotels offering special rates for evacuees and the Sacramento Bee has a list of ways for local people to help. The Bay Area NBC affiliate is maintaining an up-to-date listing of things people can do to help. Here are a few specifics.

1. Donate to the Red Cross

The  Northern California Red Cross, which helps distribute disaster relief aid, has set up a special service for disaster management and relief in the wake of the fires. In addition to online donations, you can call 1-800 RED CROSS or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. You can also volunteer for service and they will deploy volunteers where needed. More than 5000 people have volunteered in the first 48 hours.

2. Open your home to displaced people

Many thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes, thousands already have no home to return to. Airbnb has launched its Open Homes program for those seeking shelter free-of-charge at a residence outside of but near the affected area. The company is also looking for those willing to volunteer space at their own unaffiliated home for evacuees. If you have a room to spare, please contact Airbnb who will coordinate emergency shelter for those displaced by Wine Country fires.

3. Donate clothing

Most people left their homes with just the clothes on their backs. There is a need for clothing as people remain in shelters for prolonged periods. San Francisco store Love on Haight is giving away free clothes to fire victims. If you are looking for an easy place to donate, they have set up several collection points in the city. They need volunteers..."In SF...feel like helping...we need people to help sort clothes...donating clothes? bring them is always more awesome!"

Many of the volunteer organizations are inundated with clothing and need money to purchase other supplies.

4. Donate money

There are many relief organizations setting up fund raising. Two reputable regional groups that assist victims of the disaster are:
GoFundMe has put together a centralized location for all the fundraising campaigns supporting relief efforts here.
  • Jake Kloberdanz, a local winery owner, started a GoFundMe campaign specifically to raise money for fire and rescue organizations to help fight the blazes.
The Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund is collecting cash donations here. The City of Santa Rosa set up a YouCaring page to assist Tubbs Fire Victims. Bay Area sports teams, including the San Francisco 49ers and the Golden State Warriors, pledged $450,000 on a YouCaring page and have invited fans to contribute to #BayAreaUnite for California Fire Relief.

5. Donate food and supplies
To donate to food pantries visit these pages: 

6. Donate pet supplies

Petaluma officials have posted on social media asking people to donate supplies, including baby food, pet food, water, blankets, and toilet paper, to evacuation centers (NBC Bay Area has a full list of  drop-off locations and reputable charity drives).

You may also donate to local animal shelters, which are helping people keep their pets safe.

7. Volunteer to help at shelters
The Bay Area NBC affiliate is maintaining an up-to-date listing of things people can do to help, including information about how to find out where volunteers are needed. 

Those who want to volunteer should sign up and update a volunteer profile here with the Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership, or visit the Northern California Red Cross page here.

Our first harvest

A few more red grapes.

This is for the white crop.

Well, we aren't going to be making wine just yet, nor is there enough for a jar of jam. But tasting these delicious tiny morsels that explode with flavour has been fun. We decided to pick today because we are expecting Hurricane Ophelia to hit on Monday. It might even cause a stock market crash according to an article in Forbes. Another article in Forbes today describes how rare it is for hurricanes to come up our way. We figured it was time to get ready, especially since another system would be affecting us in the days leading up to Ophelia.

Lesson 1. Harvest requires daily attention to catch the grapes at their prime. We missed it and ended up with some raisins, some eaten by birds, and a few choice mini grapes. The red Rondo grapes are very dark skinned and have a strong burgundy-type flavour, with blackberry overtones. The few white grapes had a distinct flavour of a Riesling. There were quite a few flower heads that had not been pollinated amongst the white vines. As grapes are hermaphroditic (have both male and female parts on them), I wonder what held them back. Anyway, we weren't too worried about the crop this year as we didn't even expect one yet and certainly would not have gotten enough for winemaking.

The vines are amazingly robust, and the red vines get beautiful leaf colour in the Fall. We'll have plenty of woody stem to train up into the trellises. Alex has already designed them based on what we currently have and what we are planning for the future. Although the Rondo did well, he wants to try Pinot Noir next. And that makes sense as it is reported to have a similar pattern of cooler weather and short season performance as chardonnay.

Our next task will be to clean up the area, dig up the biggest weeds, cut back the vines after selecting the two strongest in each plant, and work on the next year's progress. So far so good. The vines did much better than the corn. Didn't think silver queen would like it here.

Red vines producing nice fall colour.  

White vines flourishing

And we also picked the corn.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Wine country fires

My heart goes out to all the Californians whose lives are completely disrupted by the horrendous fires raging through Napa and Sonoma. Dry conditions and strong winds caused such rapid escalation and devastation. More than 50,000 acres engulfed in Napa. Many injuries, at least ten known dead and the toll is likely to rise.

They said the grape harvest has already been completed for most, but the impact on the wineries and vineyards is inestimable at this time. Growing grapes and making wine is a labor of love. Many livelihoods and lives will have been destroyed by this tragic development.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

From grapes to raisins

Picking some red grapes
The red grapes we had this year were small but very tasty. There were no white grapes on the three year old vines at all. The new vines are all alive and doing reasonably well. The vineyard itself is terribly overgrown, but I plan to go up and dig out the biggest of the weeds and clear around the plants. Then I plan to select out the best main shoots, which have already become woody. I have to wait to prune until the plants go dormant. Next year will be the real test I believe. Meanwhile, the tiny grapes are shriveling into raisins.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

We have grapes!

We returned after two months away sailing in Spain to find the vineyard overgrown with grass and vines trailing every which way. But all the new vines have survived and we have grapes! Our three-year old Rondo vines are producing sweet, albeit small, red grape clusters. We have not found any white grapes yet.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Our trip to Galicia Spain, home of albarino wines

Alex and I spent two months cruising on our boat in the northwest region of Spain this summer. It was a remarkable trip for so many reasons. First, the Rias Baixas in the region south of Finisterre are a superb cruising area, with multiple Rias or inlets that have an interesting coastline, lovely old villages and towns, beautiful barrier islands, the best seafood in the world, temperate weather, and fine wines. Oh, and it's not very expensive.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Daria's Vineyard included in an article about winemaking in Ireland

A very interesting article written by Gaby Guedez for The Taste magazine on "The past, present and future of winemaking in Ireland" features this blog and our effort. We are honoured to be included in such a prestigious media outlet and well researched and written article. Many thanks, Gaby. We will keep you abreast of our progress.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Success in the new plantings

It's nice to report that all the newly planted vines have taken, have leafed and grown to about a foot tall.  That's a relief. Even the chardonnay test vines have sprouted and actually look more vigorous than the others. Yea!

The original vines planted in 2015 have grown massively this season, as everything else seems to have done, and are flowering profusely, both red and white. We may actually have a small harvest this year. Next year we must prune without reserve. First, we have to learn how.

“Professional wine courses for amateurs or aficionados, using e-learning, so allowing you to follow your course from home, 24/7″.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

New vineyard underway

Well the older vines are thriving with lots of tiny flower bunches, the chardonnay test vines are alive and well, and the new solaris vines are all waking up. This is exciting. Much better than watching grass grow.

New chardonnays

Monday, May 15, 2017

They're alive!

Checking on the new vines
Alex pointing out the flower buds

Our vines are sprouting. The two-year old vines are loaded with little clusters of flower buds along with their leaflets and tendrils. This weather has prompted everything to come to life. It's so encouraging to see. Even the little rondo that didn't do much last year has come to life.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Spring is sprung

Solaris 3-yo vines
There is so much to be done, and Alex has done half of the major work already. Half the new vines have been dug in. Unfortunately, I cant help much as I have a pinched nerve in my hand causing excruciating pain. The rain has ceased and we have dry but cooler than normal weather. Unfortunately, we also have too many things happening at once: book launches, health issues, holidays, volunteer commitments, lectures, incessant travel. We have work to do on the boat on the garden, on ourselves. Have we bitten off more than we can chew? (What a funny expression!)

Rondo just waking up

New chardonnay, freshly planted and budding

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Building a vineyard

Earlier this week in Daria's Vineyard

Alex has been very busy planting fence posts in the field. He bought a trailer load on Monday and by Friday he had a good number of them planted. That's the hardest part of creating a vineyard. He is working very hard while the vines sit in clumps in the ground awaiting their day in the sun. 

The soil is curious. It has a clay in it that almost feels sandy. We really should have it analyzed to tell us what it is. But our philosophy is that if grapes love poor soil, then these grapes are sure to get it. Fortunately for Alex, the ground is quite soft now and the light NW winds are cooling us off as we work. 

I've been weeding and pruning the vegetable garden. 

Progress made by Friday

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Grape vines have arrived

Bare rooted vines have arrived just as Alex was building the new fence around the field area we set aside for the chardonnay vines. So he quickly planted the chardonnay and started digging in fence posts for the rest, back breaking work. Luckily, he bought the fence posts just the day before yesterday.

The new vines are solaris like the first four we planted experimentally. They've done reasonably well. Alex thinks he had ordered 25 vines, but two bundles of 25 arrived. When we checked the order, we realized he had ordered the 50. That's a lot of holes to dig.

We will now be officially a vineyard with 54 solaris vines, 5 chardonnay and 6 reds. They are Vitis solaris FR60 on SO4 rootstock, clone 31 Op. Full details below.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Floods and vineyards

When it's climate change and not global warming, what we face is extremes of nature not a gradual shift. This year exemplified how unpredictable the climate has become. After years of drought, vintners in California are treading water wondering what will happen to this years' crop. The Russian River Valley flooded under feet of water and more rain was on the way. Luckily the vines were dormant.

But it wasn't just in California and Nevada that rain wreaked havoc. Australia's Swan Valley and the south of France and Italy experienced periods of heavy downpours and flooding in 2016. And it's become a recurring nightmare.

Fortunately, that's one thing we are not likely to have to worry about as our vineyard is on a nicely sloping hill. All the water runs down to the sea, but we have to ensure that the topsoil doesn't go with it. That's why we have left the grass around the vines. Right or wrong, it's our current choice.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The wines of Lombardy

Terraced vineyards in Lombardy

Moving a bit too fast to photograph the vineyards en route.
We just got back from Italy, skiing in the Alpine resort of Livigno. It's a 4-hour trip from Milan's airport. Along the way, we saw grapes being grown on the tiniest of plots, and terraced up the steep hills. They grow the grapes vertically, tied to individual sticks until the vines are strong enough to stand up on their own. That's a recommended technique for Chardonnay which keeps air passing through thereby reducing mold so, was interesting to see. We saw a sign up on the hill with "Inferno" written on it and learned later that it is one of the typical wines of the region, and the first we were able to sample.
Lake Como on a hazy winter's day
Lombardy’s most popular mountain destination is Valtellina. Bordering with Lake Como in the south and with Switzerland in the north, Valtellina extends for 200 kilometers in a varied landscape beginning at an altitude of 200m, reaching an height of 4000m at Bernina. The sun-bathed valley floor is cultivated with apples, replaced by woods and terraced vineyards as you ascend. Here the Nebbiolo grapes produce excellent red wines. The interesting history of winemaking here dates back to before Roman times when the Etruscans and Ligurians produced wines. It is thought that the Nebbiolo grape was introduced to the region by the Benedictine Monks in the early Middle Ages. .

Friday, March 24, 2017

The vines are awakening

It's just two days into Spring and the buds are getting robust. The white vines are slightly behind the red ones in development. Now's the time to keep a close eye on their development.

Red grape vine budding strongly

White grape vine just beginning

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Chardonnay vines have arrived

I know, I know, they don't look like much. Well they aren't really. I only bought five plants as an experiment. Everyone says they won't work here, but someone has said that for every thing that anyone has ever attempted for the first time. Climate change is accelerating faster than anyone thought, so maybe I am right. Maybe not.

Now why would I want chardonnay when some people preach ABC - anything but chardonnay? Because chardonnay is a grape varietal with an identity crisis. Developing a fine chardonnay in your backyard has to do with both where its grown and how it is made. I am thinking Chablis, the fine French vintage, not Gallo who tainted chablis as serious white plonk.

We have clay soil as does the Chablis region of France. Chablis is made from 100% chardonnay grapes gown in clay soil. The Chardonnay varietal is expressive as a rainbow or generic as a blank label. She can be both a rock star and a street hawker, a prima ballerina and a cheap harlot. Why does Chardonnay have this split personality? Because she takes on the characteristics of the soil, the conditions and the maker more so than any other varietal.

Can I make a great Chablis?  I won't know until I try. Anyway, it will be years before my chardonnay vines let me do that.

For now, I'm learning what I can about how to get started.

Chardonnay bare root grapevines clone D258 Duft on SO4 31 Op rootstocks @ €5 each. €33.45 w/P/P

What it may look like one day. 
Source of grapevines: Grape Expectations, 29 Carrickmount Ave, Rathfarnham, Dublin 14, Ireland 
Phone 00353 86 8878047

Saturday, February 25, 2017


We just ordered 50 vines (Solaris SO4) @2.60 ea from Derek Pritchard of Winegrowers Supplies in Somerset England.  They will be shipped in early April. We wanted to buy some chardonnay vines to test but he wouldn't sell us any saying they were too late ripening for our area. Curious that someone would refuse to sell us something we wanted to try. We'll get them from another grower.

Now that we've had 4 vines to experiment with, hopefully we'll make fewer mistakes with the next batch. This is exciting.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Finally managed to prune and train

Last week, we had a spell of beautiful weather after several days of strong frost.  As it's already February and things are starting to bud, I thought it was time to take the plunge ad prune. I documented my work by taking one photo of each vine so I can compare this year's growth to Next year's. Here we are.

Red grape vines (Rondo) 

The red grape vines were variable in their take. Two did well, two did poorly and one is mediocre.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Wicklow Wines on RTE radio

Nice interview with Wicklow Wines, who are making fruit wines in Ireland. They started with strawberry, blackberry and elderberry, all of which grow naturally here. They don't make it with water the old wives traditional way, they press the fruit like grapes. Pam and Brett launched their limited edition strawberry wine at Bloom 2016, to good reviews. From meadow to glass, Móinéir wines reflect the unique characteristics of the Irish countryside... the terroir concept moves to Ireland.

Listen to the interview here:

Here is their website.

Where to buy or try.  Have to remember to buy a bottle at McCambridge's in Galway. Or we can go to Pantry & Corkscrew in Westport and try a glass there. Interesting that it's being carried by Aniar. JP must like it = quite an endorsement.