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:

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.