Tuesday, 13 October 2015

The harvest

Our first grapes.

White grape vines more robust
Red grape vines produced fruit

I harvested my first grape yesterday. It was pea sized. It was delicious. Sweet and juicy. Gorgeous deep colour. Thick protective skin. It was such a treat. We had not expected a 'harvest' in the first year.

Well, okay, it's not really a harvest. It's more of a tasting. Only the red grape vines produced fruit. The white vines grew more robustly than the red vines, but the red vines were the only ones that fruited.

At least we know it can happen  -- that grapes may form and ripen in our climate.

Interestingly, we had the coldest summer on record but October has been magnificent. The Azores high has blanketed Ireland and it forced Hurricane Joaquin to go south.  Yippee!  Gorgeous sunshine, gentle breeze, mild days, and cold nights. We actually have a real autumn with trees changing colours rather than just turning brown and blowing off. Perhaps climate change won't be so bad for Ireland after all.
The vineyard in October.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Impact of Climate Change on Viticulture Globally

Numerous articles have been published about the effects of climate change on the wine industry and mitigation strategies are already being implemented. It is always interesting to me that man feels compelled to control his environment. That usually lasts long into the period after realization has set in that controlling it is in fact impossible and moving on is a more sensible solution. But of course, moving on from an estate that's been in the family for centuries is not a really feasible proposition.

The higher likelihood is that someone recognizes the potential and establishes competition elsewhere which eventually becomes more successful. At that point, the original estate begins to need more income and finds new crops to plant that are more suitable to the new environment. At least, that's how I imagine things to work and have read similar stories.

Michelle Renee Mozell and Liz Thach write in their recent review article, "Though wine is not essential to human survival, wine is an important product of human ingenuity." They tackle the global literature  about the impact of climate change on the global wine industry. It's that human fascination with wine that makes wine production a sacrosanct activity and may even be the impetus that gets governments on board the climate change mitigation train.

The entire range of grape growing climate zones is about 10°C globally; for some grapes, such as Pinot noir, the range is an even narrower 2C°. Many progressive wine growers have already taken steps to mitigate the effects of climate change, including cooling the grapes by misting and changes irrigation practices. But in the long run, those types of practices will be affected by availability of fresh water as we are seeing in California. Some are changing the manner in which they process the grapes into wine and others are planting new more tolerant varieties or buying up land in more favourable climates. It is surprising how aware these growers are of the changing climate compared with the naysayers in the public domain. But of course, farmers and fishermen are always among the first to notice the changes, it's just that they are infrequently asked by the scientists to share their observations. Perhaps now they will be, especially as funding for science drops out.

But there are three areas that still need research to determine optimal strategies:
  • studies to identify how plants, microrganisms and pathogens will respond to simultaneous rise in temperature and CO2 while rainfall decreases in traditional wine growing regions
  • means by which to reduce emission of the greenhouse gasses, nitrous oxide and methane, by vineyards during the production of wines
  • resource management throughout the production chain

The authors conclude, "wine's future is tied inextricably to a vital Earth and a vital population. Grape growers and winemakers must understand both the dire condition of the planet and the small, but significant, role their industry holds in the human matrix. They must seek, therefore, in a responsible manner, their proper and effective role in the adaptation to and the mitigation of global climate change. The future of the wine industry is dependent upon an effective course of action. The Romans declared, 'Vino veritas,' or 'in wine there is truth'. The simple, yet tragic, truth is the Earth's climate is changing. How the wine industry responds will determine if the industry is to survive."

Wine Economics and Policy 3 (2014) 81–89
The impact of climate change on the global wine industry:
Challenges & solutions
Michelle Renée Mozell, Liz Thach
Sonoma State University Wine Business Institute, 1801 E. Cotati Blvd, Rohnert Park, CA 94928, USA

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

The science of wine

Original edition cover.

Current edition.

Being a scientist by training, I would naturally be attracted to the scientific side of things, although I do believe that viniculture is as much an art as it is a science, perhaps even with a little witchcraft thrown in. Maybe like in the book Blessed are the Cheesemakers we should be humming the Sound of Music to the grapevines to make them grow luscious grapes.

Anyway, this title -- The science of wine -- by Jamie Goode caught my attention.  Curiously, the first edition has a subtitle FROM VINE TO GLASS. The second edition in the photo has the same subtitle and was published by University of California Press and is being sold for $39.95.  The copy I purchased has the title Wine Science and subtitle The Application of Science in Winemaking. Personally, I prefer the simpler from vine to glass which says it all without redundancy. The publisher's name, Mitchell Beazley, also appears on the cover of my edition, which is confusing as I have never heard of that imprint and it looked just like another author's name. That version is available on amazon for $23-26 and shows it being shipped from the UK. Not to be confused with the Wine Science, Fourth Edition: Principles and Applications (Food Science and Technology) July 7, 2014 by Ronald S. Jackson which sells for $122.45 in print and $77 in Kindle. All versions are hardcover. Confused yet? I was but it is worth the effort.
Current edition, different publisher?

The fact that the second edition was released April 1, 2014 makes it that much more interesting to me, as it's not only April Fool's Day it is my namesake day. Yes, St. Daria's Day is April 1. But I wonder why they changed the title. The edition I have shows up with a publication date of April 10, 2014.  So what made them change it between April 1 and April 10? It may be that one is published in the US and the other in the UK but why would both be available in both places. And why change it to a title that is already in use. Plus the author released a Kindle only supplement which has the chapters that were cut from the second edition but appeared in the first edition. Among them was the chapter on the effect of global warming, so naturally I had to buy that, too.

But anyway, I seriously digressed.  The book is divided into three sections. In the Vineyard, In the Winery, and Our Interaction with Wine.  That makes a lot of sense. As I sat down to read it, I was pleasantly surprised by the author's style. It is not overly scientific but rather quite readable.  The author's own knowledge and experience is supplemented by analysis of the most current scientific literature and interpretation by experts in each of the fields. It is a rich mixture of fact and opinion that he presents the reader.

The first part covers everything that affects the vineyard from the biology of the plants, terroir in terms of soil structure and climate, the interaction between roots and elements in the soil, key diseases and pests, different theories of plant management, biodynamics in the vineyard, moisture control and stress, and trellis systems, pruning and canopy management.  In a short 87 pages, I felt the author had imparted a wealth of knowledge that would serve us well in growing the grapes for the first few years.  I will come back to this book time and again.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Vines are dying in California

I have a feeling I'm not going to like being right.   A comprehensive study has shown that climate change accelerated by man is responsible for the drought in California and will continue to have significant effects. An article in the New York Times said:

"A report this week by researchers at the University of California, Davis, projected that the drought would cost the California economy some $2.7 billion this year. Much of that pain is being felt in the state’s huge farming industry, which has been forced to idle a half-million acres and has seen valuable crops like almond trees and grape vines die."

It's not even that the grapes have become raisins, it says the grape vines have died. I've just found a picture and stats on how much impact the drought has had. They are not yet talking about this much but if you dig a little you'll find that it bad and getting worse.

"Dead and dying grape vines in Bakersfield, California, USA. Following an unprecedented four year long drought, Bakersfield is now the driest city in the USA. Most of California is in exceptional drought, the highest level of drought classification. 428,000 acres of agricultural land have been taken out of production due to lack of water and thousands of agricultural workers have lost their jobs."

If "wine is sunlight held together by water" as Galileo professed, then California is in deep trouble. They have way too much sunlight and way too little water.

Some producers are benefiting from the drought. Oregon and Washington state are replacing apples with grapes which need only half the water.   Vintners in regions of California less affected by drought say their yields will be lower but the wine tastier as a result of reduced rainfall.

But for many in the regions most affected, including Napa and Sonoma, the situation has been dire and getting worse sparking water wars. In each of the last four years, people thought it was as bad as it could get, but it keeps getting worse. And yet, it's even worse for the nut farmers.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Climate change confirmed daily

Click to Download
Today, there was an article in the Washington Post about  lobsters moving north into colder waters causing the lobster fisheries to collapse in the southern reaches and dramatically increase in the northern reaches. http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/lobster-population-is-shifting-north-ocean-warming-blamed/2015/08/18/a141b9ec-45bd-11e5-9f53-d1e3ddfd0cda_story.html

Birds are not just shifting latitude but they are also moving inland.

And algal blooms have caused catastrophic beach messes in the Caribbean.

Flowers and trees are blooming and leafing earlier in some zones and later in others. http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/science/indicators/ecosystems/leaf-bloom-dates.html

The length of the growing season is changing rapidly. http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/science/indicators/health-society/growing-season.html

Including in Ireland, where summers are expected to be warmer and drier, and the length of summer longer.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

The Effect of Climate Change on Viticulture in Europe

I thought that this was a breakthrough idea I had, growing grapes in Ireland in anticipation of climate change that is. Then I started doing some research.

It turns out there is a major effort underway in Europe to identify climate change mitigation strategies. Called rather cumbersomely, ClimVineSafe, the cross-european border participants are looking for short-term solutions that would keep the viniculture industry safe. The Portuguese are at the forefront of the movement.

A major review paper has been published to analyze everything that is known about the subject. It is very detailed. A new study is being conducted to see which strategies might be most effective. This is a very interesting development. Although I wasn't the first to think of this, clearly I was on the right track and our strategy of growing grapes in Ireland might just not be so hair brained* after all.

An overview of climate change impacts on European viticulture
H. Fraga*, A. C. Malheiro, J. Moutinho-Pereira and J. A. Santos
Food and Energy Security Volume 1, Issue 2, pages 94–110, November 2012
Article first published online: 17 FEB 2013 DOI: 10.1002/fes3.14

I am going to study this and report back what I learn. Stay tuned.

* highly scientific term

Sunday, 2 August 2015

The geography of wine

The first book I decided to read was called The Geography of Wine: How Landscapes, Cultures, Terroir, and the Weather Make a Good Drop by Brian J. Sommers. I learned a lot about terroir and even more about geography. Who knew geography was so complex. No longer just about maps and capitals and oceans and continents, it's all about the composition of the earth, the topography and how it influenced trade and commerce and human development. It's about transport and evolution of housing and farming. I learned more by reading that book than I have learned in a long time.

I really like that book.There was a lot of repetition, but repetition improves memory so I can't fault the author too much. It explains how different regions evolved different methodology and resulted in very different wines for specific reasons tied to those regions. For example, the great houses of Bordeaux had access to easy transport via rivers to big cities where the markets existed.  So they developed their own vineyards that produced their own varietal vintage wines in huge estates.

In Burgundy, the wine had to be transported over land which was costly and the wine didn't travel well. So they pooled their resources with other grape growers to increase yield from which they made blended wines that traveled better and could be transported more economically in larger volumes. They also got together and built a canal to further reduce costs.

What I also learned was that grapes don't like rich soils. They like long dry summers and south facing hillsides. Grapes also grow enormously deep roots which help them find water in more arid places. But this was a development based on their need to grow very tall to reach sunlight above the canopy of forest. To grow that tall, they had to have deep roots to anchor them and tendrils to support the vines and the heavy fruit as it developed.

Grapevines basically take their nutrients from the rocks in the soil as they break down. They like rocky awful soil. That's why you see them in crevices of mountains like high in the Alps. They also like a lot of sunlight on south facing slopes near the sea.

South facing, sloping land, poor soil, near the sea. Check. Okay. So we got lucky again.

Grapes also tend to have a temperature band that they like. They basically don't like extremes.  They hate it when it gets too hot in summer and they can't tolerate extreme cold in winter.  But they do need a change of seasons.  They need to rest during a mild winter and produce over a long summer. Okay, so we don't have extremes. That part is good, but will it get warm enough for long enough and stay dry enough over the summer? That remains to be seen.

Okay, so just remember. This is an experiment and another great adventure which has just begun. Let it continue in earnest.

By the way. There is another book by the same title. I am not likely to read that one at that price.

The Geography of Wine:Regions, Terroir and Techniques
Editors: Dougherty, Percy H. (Ed.) $159 hard cover or soft cover $119 for the ebook

Sunday, 26 July 2015

What's in a Name?

As soon as Alex had built the gate, I knew we had to have a name for the vineyard, which I voiced out loud, "We need to name the vineyard."

"It's Daria's Vineyard," he blurted out authoritatively.  I countered saying it should have a more romantic name. He said, "No, like Martha's Vineyard, this is Daria's Vineyard. It was your idea, and so it has to be your vineyard. Besides, it won't be producing anything significant in our lifetimes, so we might as well make people wonder who was the person who crazily planted a vineyard in the west of Ireland."

And so, the vineyard was christened, Daria's Vineyard. Wait, was my dear husband calling me a crazy person?  I suppose so, but then I guess the shoe fits.

Now that we have a name, we'll need a sign.  Not just any old sign. Vineyard's always have interesting signs that tell a story.  So, we'll have to tell a story, too. Let's see.  It's a vineyard by the shore where the mountains come to down to the sea. Works for me.

First we need a medium.  I happen to have several very nice pieces of driftwood I didn't know what to do with.  Looks like I'll have to see if any of them work. Then I happen to have leftover oil paints from the sign we painted in Horta in the Azores that needs to be used up.  That sounds like a good start.

Now, I'll need a design.  Let's see, a stylized shore scene, a line drawing of the Holy Mountain that we see prominently from the vineyard, and of course a representation of Vitis vinifera.  I wonder if I'm up to the task?  The last time (and only time) I took an art class, I had some minor perspective problems. But let's not worry about that.

Okay, final thing on the list before we begin. Typeface.  Let's try a few out.

Darias Vineyard  - too stodgy
Daria’s Vineyard - whimsical, not bad
Daria’s Vineyard - too plain

Daria’s Vineyard - don't like cap D but OK

Daria’s Vineyard - too thin to paint

Daria’s Vineyard - bit too strong
Daria’s Vineyard-hey I like this one but I can't get it to work in blogger.
By the sea

This one looks right:  DS_Celtic-2.  I can see the brushstrokes forming now. Good to paint. Not a very popular typeface but pretty distinctive for an Irish vineyard. Yes, I think this will work. Right, so let's get to work. I'll just painted myself a sign to post on the lovely gate Alex built.



Daria's vineyard, established 2015 near Croagh Patrick, where the mountains come down to the sea. All of that on one little sign. I left out the "by the sea" and introduced a sailing boat instead to say the same thing visually.

It looks better in real life than in this photo, and I am really quite pleased. It was hard to get the whole thing into the frame as the greenhouse just isn't high enough and the sign is rather substantial.  The Paint is still wet so we'll just have to keep our paws off until it sets.

When we post the sign we'll complement it with a toast of a bubbly we'd been saving. We tend to do that with bubbly. We save the really special ones for special occasions and then forget to drink them. It wasn't like christening a ship, which I cannot believe they still do with a bottle broken over the bow.  Why would you want to damage a brand new vessel?  Or a lovely new gate?

So here's to Daria's Vineyard.  May it produce surprising reproducible results that delight the wine tasters for their boldness. Sláinte!

Here's a video showing the detail for the full length of the sign.  

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Grapes on the vine!

I've been reading the books I bought about growing grapes and making wines. One of the factoids picked up was not to expect newly planted vines to produce grapes for four years.  So naturally we were majorly surprised when we went for a stroll in our newly planted vineyard to (a) be able to see our plants from a distance as they had grown substantially in a week and (b) see grapes forming on some of the red grape vines. Yes, they do appear to be grapes there. How exciting!

Then I came across an article in the Boston Globe dated July 18 by Ellen Bhang about two vineyards, one in Maine and the other in Massachusetts that are producing interesting sparkling wines. Morphos by Oyster River Winegrowers is made from cold-hardy seyval blanc and Cayuga grapes from the Finger Lakes region of New York. If I recall correctly, that's grape juice and grape jelly country.

The second is from Westport Rivers in the SE corner of MA and they've been making wines for 25 years.  They have vinifera planted on 80 acres. They make a bubbly white from chardonnay grapes called Farmer's Fizz.  It's a prosecco like drink in brown bottles with just under 11% alcohol. I think I could get used to that.  Effervescence is captured from the primary fermentation.  And the brilliant part of it is that doesn't have to be aged.

Hey if the they can do it in New England, then we can certainly do it in Ireland. I'm getting excited.

In an aside, the first french female named Master of Wine is concentrating on organic wines.  I like that concept, too.  Isabelle Legeron, Master of Wine, London: https://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/food-dining/2015/04/04/natural-wines-are-tech-free-additive-free-and-organic/x1sWS0kfYKWKxNXCQXatqK/story.html

And finally, in the Science of Wine I learned that planting things that complement grape growing in the rows between actually causes them to be more robust. It harbours natural insects that keep grape diseases under control.  I like that too.  And given that we have left the grass in place, we just cut it down periodically, we seem to be getting things right by hook or by crook.  Or maybe others have just gotten too fussy and forgot that evolution has been around much longer than man.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Picking the grape varieties. Viti-culture

When I titled this picking the grapes, I didn't mean the fruit itself.  I meant the vines. You have to start somewhere. I am happy to say that the vines we chose -- well Alex selected -- are alive and actually growing. That's a good first step, I suppose. This is after all agriculture, and we know how intelligent it is to get into that with climate change around the corner.

As you can see, we are not especially pedantic about keeping the grapes weed free. Here's another one of my hair brained theories. Grapevines evolved into vines because they were growing in crowded conditions. In their native territory, they climbed trees to reach the sun where their fruits could ripen. No wonder they like poor soil. Well, if that's the case, then clearing everything around them will keep them short and fat, rather than reaching for the sun. Let them have a little competition if that's what they like, I say.

The grape is a particularly interesting specimen. There is only one species, Vitis vinifera, and hundreds of cultivars that are grown in different regions and largely responsible for the rich variations in the resultant wines. The grapevine varieties we picked are Rondo for red and Solaris for white, both on SO4 stock. These are cultivars that are supposed to do well in Ireland outside without polytunnels. So far so good.

The vines are grafted onto SO4, the rootstock of Vitis berlandieri, a native of North America, which is particularly resistant to phylloxera -- the disease that almost killed off the great vineyards of Europe -- and lime, which is a major component of the soils of France where grapes were grown.  Generally, grapes like acid soil. I was about to mulch them with pine needles but now I am not so certain. Better read up on SO4 first.

I look at this as the year of getting to know each other. The growth cycle of grapevines is an annual process beginning with bud break in the spring and culminating in leaf fall in autumn followed by winter dormancy. The stages of the annual growth cycle usually become observable within the first year of a vine's life. The amount of time spent at each stage of the growth cycle depends on a number of factors, most notably the type of climate and the characteristics of the grape variety. This is our introduction to viticulture. And it is the grapevine's introduction to how much we will do to support its development. 

From a winemaking or viniculture perspective, each step in the process plays a vital role in the development of grapes with the ideal characteristics for the making of a wine. Some things are good. Others are bad. Viticulturalists  monitor the effects of climate, disease and pestilence in facilitating or impeding the vines progression from bud break, flowering, fruit set, veraison, harvesting, leaf fall and dormancy. Human nature is to control all of the above, reacting to situations with the use of viticultural practices that we have yet to learn -- like canopy management, irrigation, vine training and the use of agrochemicals.

How far we are willing to take it remains to be seen.  At least our grapevines are visible from a distance in the field now. That's a good baby step.

Welcome to Daria's Vineyard.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The journey from grape idea to winemaking

Idea -- research -- selection -- purchase -- delivery -- weather -- field -- planting -- learning -- growing -- harvesting -- experimenting -- production -- aging -- tasting -- labeling -- drinking -- marketing -- selling -- writing... that's perhaps a typical approach to an idea.  Nope. Not in this case. In this case, we just jumped right in.  Ready to come along for the journey?  Here we go.

 Viti. Vini. Vici.

"Viticulture (from the Latin word for vine) is the science, production, and study of grapes. It deals with the series of events that occur in the vineyard. When the grapes are used for winemaking, it is also known as viniculture." Someday we may be lucky enough to have to change the title of this blog from Viticulture to Viniculture. For now, we are being modest.

Exhibit on climate change at the Franklin Institute in
Philadelphia corroborating my theory.
It all started with the notion that climate change is causing our climate here in Ireland to moderate while the climate in southern France, Spain, Italy and Greece is becoming more arid.  The climatologists say we are going to have less rain and a longer growing season. Meanwhile, the Mediterranean countries are getting hotter and the latitude at which certain crops grow is moving northward. Grapes are highly temperature sensitive and grow in a narrow band of latitude north and south of the equator.

The choice species have when conditions change is moving further north or adapting. Most things don't adapt well, so as the desert expands northward into Europe, food production including wine will have to shift, too.  That's where we come in.

We learned that growing wine grapes used to be popular in Great Britain. Hey, if they can grow grapes and make wine in England, we should be able to do it here much more readily with the remains of the Gulf Stream bathing our shores. Of course there may be a reason why they fell out of favour in GB, but we didn't actually go about this very logically. 

We did a bit of research (ie, google) and learned that there is one vineyard already established in Ireland. Lusca Irish wine comes from Llewelyn Orchard. They make apple cider, too, which I would like to try making as well. Our apple orchard has suffered some disease setbacks but we did produce a fair bit of apples this year for the first time. We attribute that to the bees that our friend has introduced to our land. They should be good for grapes, too.

We've begun our journey by jumping into it with 10 vines -- 6 red and 4 white.  These vines were selected for producing grapes outside without cover in our specific climate. And they are supposed to make a decent wine.  We added to that a pile of books, and are now well on our way.  We actually got it somewhat backwards. Got the grapes, planted them, then got the books. But so far we've learned that grapes generally:
  • Like a maritime climate
  • Like relatively poor soil
  • Like to be on a hillside 
  • Like facing south
Well, we got lucky and, as you can see, it's sloping land with poor soil facing south above the sea.  Check.

The plot is named Daria's Vineyard.  The label, which we won't need for a few years yet, is yet to be developed.  I was thinking Happy Whale, but that space is occupied by the company Vineyard Vines. I think I'll need to be more creative. The cool thing here is we have years to work on brand development before we actually have enough grapes to harvest.

Here is the vineyard:

And here are the books:

Now let's get down to business while the grapes grow for the next three or so years. Hmm, I wonder if we should plant an olive tree or two, too? Maybe some figs? Lemons? We already have an avocado in the greenhouse.