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.