Sunday, 11 December 2016

Finally, leaf fall

The weather in Ireland has been ridiculously mild this Fall. Few gales or storms. Way above average rainfall for September and below rainfall figures for October. Unusually, we had two days of intense all-encompassing fog which obliterated the world, then froze it in dendritic patterns.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Dormant season

This week we had a cold snap. Ground frost and freezing fog turned the landscape into Narnia. The water froze solid in the containers the cats drink from and the glass in the cold frame was covered in gorgeous crystal patterns. So I went into the vineyard to see if it was time to prune the grapevines.

Interesting!  The red grape vines had dropped all their leaves, but the white grape vines were holding on tightly. Still fully leafed. So "not yet" was the answer.

I raked the leaves from the lawn instead. The trouble with planting deciduous trees is that they drop their leaves and make work. I think I'll go for more evergreen from now on.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Fall in Daria's vineyard

The red Rondo grapevines have dropped their crimson leaves in our absence.  We were in Manchester for a few days and returned to see Fall in progress. The white grapevines are still holding on to their thick green foliage. I wonder if they will change colour yet before dropping to join their red sisters. We shall see. 

Whenever I visit the vineyard, I always have an escort of at least one cat. This time Thelma the crazy feral feline came along, winding around my legs in an effort to commit a crime against humanity by tripping me. It failed. But she nudged and nudged until I picked her up, which freaked her out as usual. 

We had several days of wet foggy windy days. Now we have southerly winds bringing in sunshine and warmth in the second week of November. So in a few weeks, if the cold does come and the vines begin their hibernation, I will begin the pruning. Until then, I watch and document and learn. 

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

NEW Wine for Seniors

NEW Wine for Seniors 

A glass before bed could assist with a good night's sleep.

Clare Valley vintners in South Australia,
which primarily produce
Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Grigio wines,
have developed a new hybrid grape
that acts as an anti-diuretic.
It is expected to reduce the number of trips
older people have to make to the
bathroom during the night.
The new wine will be
marketed as PINOT MORE.

Sorry, my cousin thought I deserved this so I'm spreading the news!  

Friday, 4 November 2016

Frost has arrived

The last two days brought northerly winds and the first frost of the season. We have days with showers alternation with days with brilliant sunshine. Then there are the days like today where the showers and sunshine make in and out conditions all day long. If we had had any grapes, they would have been harvested sometime in October. This year, as last year, October was brilliant. Mild and mostly dry without any massive storms.

So far the grapevines have not dropped their leaves yet but the trees are mostly bare on our property. Inland, there is lots of colour .-- not scarlet, orange and golden like in New England -- mostly yellow. I love having trees to look at and love. We have moved all the sensitive plants to the greenhouse and into the house.  We are working on cleaning up the vegetable gardens and Alex is bringing up plenty of seaweed that washed up in the high tides.  Another season is coming to a close.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

The making of wine in Ireland's history

As I wait for the grapevines to become dormant in this very mild autumn, I ponder the next steps in our venture. We only had one cluster of grapes this year on the rondo variety; they disappeared before we could taste them. I have been staking and tying the vines with old nylon stockings which are very gentle on the vines. I will prune judiciously for the first time when they lose their leaves. Meanwhile, I continue with my research. 

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Proof of terroir

My recent interest in malbec has led me to discover that vintners in California and in France have started producing their own malbecs. Those in France naturally claim that it's the original home of the malbec grape. Forget that they virtually gave up on that grape a long long time ago.

Argentina produces a stunning wine from the malbec grape grown in the high altitudes of the Mendoza region. So now everyone wants to bring back their version of malbec. Of course, there are folks out there who think that terroir is a bunch of nonsense. They suggest that it's all up to the grape and the vintner. So they plant some on rootstock in California; but the malbec grapes in Mendoza are on their original roots before Phylloxera. Now, I wonder if the malbec in Bordeaux was transplanted onto American root stock. I'll have to look that up. I think it would have been.

Friday, 9 September 2016

We have grapes!

Okay, well I cannot say that we have many grapes, nor can I call them bunches of grapes. But we do have some visible succulent fruits, on the same plant as last year, and in a cluster. They appear to be ripening as we speak. First week of September. The weather was humid and warm last week, damp yesterday, and blustery and damp today. A gale is forecast for this afternoon. Just what we don't want at harvest time. Not that we have to worry yet.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Conducting research

I'd been reading The Vineyard at the End of the World, by Ian Mount, and learning a lot about what not to do with vines and grapes and winemaking. It's a fascinating story about the Mendoza region of Argentina. But even more fascinating is the wine that resulted...Argentinian Malbec. I have already posted about this book before.

For centuries, Argentine wine was famously unpalatable — ­oxidized and drinkable only by Argentinians who were used to the potent grape juice. The Vineyard at the End of the World tells the often tedious four-hundred-year history of how a wine producing region arose in the high Andean desert.

Inspired by the success of California wines, a couple of maverick enologists decided to reproduce the success of the Americans by planting and creating Argentinian cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. They wisely decided that to play on the world stage you have to produce what they value first. After all, if their Californian and Chilean neighbours were being taken seriously, why couldn't they?

Monday, 29 August 2016

Microscopic grapes and progress in vines

Starting to look like a mini vineyard

I was tying up the vines, some of which have reached the top wire this year, when I noticed one vine choking it's grapes. The tendrils of one branch had curled around the babies and closed so tight they weren't able to breath. Naturally, I liberated the babies and tied up the vine, using bits of 'nylon' stockings as the ties. They work so well. They stretch forever and don't hurt a thing.

Monday, 11 July 2016

The Vineyard on the Wild Atlantic Way

I am reading an interesting book called Vineyard at the End of the World by Ian Mount. Although it's a bit too detailed in the minutia of history, I am learning a lot about how not to make wine.

What I am learning most of all are some of the mistakes and tricks that lead to a successful vintage. Like you need to have a dry spell at the end of the ripening period just before harvest to concentrate the flavours in the grapes. Dilution with water, which is what was happening in Argentina as the grapes were sold to vintners by weight so they watered them to increase yield, causes bad things to happen chemically. It is also important to reduce the yield by limiting the number of shoots and clusters so that all the effort goes into the remaining grapes. That's going to be a hard lesson to learn.

Sudden growth spurt

Our weather was warm and dry in May and early June, then shifted to wet and cool for late June, and is now wet and warm in early July. It's creating interesting growth patterns in our gardens.

Our strawberries stopped blooming and producing very early, our gooseberries were sparse and small compared with last year, the blueberries are doing much better than last year, and our fruit trees seem to be ready to produce, some for the first time. We have loads of raspberries, which we adore. Every year seems a bit different. I would hate to be a farmer in these times.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

From Ireland to NJ

Here we were visiting our old stomping grounds in southern New Jersey and were most pleased to learn that scores of vineyards had popped up all over the sandy reaches of the southern shore. We were staying at the Southern Mansion and decided to visit Cape May Vineyards. A relatively recent vineyard by French standards, it's a small place, impeccably detailed for tours.

The main building where the shop and tastings are done also has local products that complement wines, like bottle stoppers, glasses, Chesapeake Bay spiced peanuts, and lots of stuff with great quotes about wine.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Wacky weather - dry and hot!

We have had the most extraordinary weather throughout the month of May and now well into June that we have ever experienced here in Ireland. The figures for Newport show a very low figure for rainfall for Newport, the closest town to our location. There were at least two weeks straight with no rainfall at all. Extraordinary. We were watering the vegetable and flower gardens but not the vineyard. Grape vines are supposed to like dry and hot.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Cool climate and clay soil = Chablis?

The truth, I have learned, is that cool/cold areas are best suited for white wine production for a variety of reasons. Whites generally ripen earlier, and they are more forgiving, flexible and adaptable. It is easier to make a good wine from a wider range of maturity than reds. So cool regions that have shorter seasons may still produce acceptable and even excellent white wines. That is not so true of red wines.  Red grapes need a long season of hot weather to mature to just the right sweetness.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Leaves unfurled

Now we know. Our new grape vines survived the winter.

We've had the most unusual weather. More than a week of warm sunshine and absolutely no rain. We have not watered in the vineyard or orchard, only the vegetables, flower garden, and greenhouse.

We launched our boat on the high spring tide in Killybegs on Saturday the 7th of May and delivered her from Donegal to Mayo arriving home Tuesday the 10th. We had no rain and little wind en route and it has not rained since. That's a long time without rain and wind in Ireland. How will the vines react to dry stress?  How will they react to a mild winter and frost only for a few weeks in April. Whatever wind we've had has been easterly and northerly again this whole week.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Where have the bees gone?

It appears that our bees have died. There is collapse of hives being reported all over Ireland this winter. The beekeepers remove the box and find dead bees clustered and the honey untouched. They are thinking that it was the wet summer and cool wet winter that caused disease to kill them off. Up to 50% loss and more being reported. Tragic!

But that spells disaster for our orchard and vineyard.  There are plenty of bumblebees. I saw one wasp and quite a few flies, but the fruit trees are laden with flowers that, for the first time since planting, have not been blown off by hurricane force winds. So I went out with an artist's brush this afternoon and pretended to be a bee.

I had seen an article about the Chinese pollinating their crops by hand because of the collapse of their bees and other insects. So I decided to try the same. I don't know if what I am doing will have any effect but I have to try.

 Meanwhile the grapes have not yet unfurled their leaves as it has been cold. But signs of life continue and hope remains eternal. We'll see what this foray into food production will yield this year.

We had one good year with a bumper crop of apples (2014). One bad year with nothing of note, no apples, one mini-pear, and a few cherries eaten by the birds just as they ripened. Growing food is not easy. I wouldn't want to have to depend on it.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Signs of life

In my last post, I said winter was over. But it had only just begun. Now in April, we've had brilliant sunshine but frost almost daily. 

Our experimental grape vines seem to have survived the winter.  They have not leafed but are budding strongly.  Hope!

The weather has been very strange. The winter was mild but very wet and stormy. Then the cold snap came just before most things started budding.  A few garden plants didn't survive but I am hopeful that the cold was enough to harden the grape vines. They need a bit of cold weather to shock them into action.The last week has been blissfully sunny with no rain at all. How very strange. We went from 3 degrees C to 18.5 degrees centigrade overnight. Now it's back down to 3 degrees again as we cycle within a huge anticyclone and the winds clock between northerly and southerly.

The fruit trees are laden with flower buds ready to burst open, but there is no sign of the honey bees. The hive appears to be dead. How sad, how very very sad. Especially after reading the astonishing novel called The Bees. I couldn't wait to watch them this year having studied their behaviour and read this profoundly influential story. But only bumble bees have appeared in our garden. What will we do?  There is word of hives having collapsed all over the country, thought to be the aftermath of an extraordinarily wet and cool summer that never came last year.

Meanwhile the climate change reports indicate that globally March was once again the hottest month on record (not here!) and the 11th consecutive month of increasing temperatures. According to data from the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), the average global temperatures were 1.07 °C (1.9°F) above the average in March since records began in 1891. Data released by NASA shows that March was 1.65°C (3.0°F) warmer than the averages between 1951 and 1980.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the primary keeper of such data in the U.S., reported even more dire news. "The average global temperature across land surfaces was 2.33°C (4.19°F) above the 20th century average of 3.2°C (37.8°F), the highest March temperature on record, surpassing the previous March record set in 2008 by 0.43°C (0.77°F) and surpassing the all-time single-month record set last month by 0.02°C (0.04°F). The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for March 2016 was the highest for this month in the 1880–2016 record, at 1.22°C (2.20°F) above the 20th century average of 12.7°C (54.9°F)."

So according to NOAA's figures, we've already surpassed the 2 degree mark. Anomalies are occurring all over the world.

Meanwhile, last month we visited the Chiltern Valley Winery & Brewery near Henley in England and learned all about small winery viticulture in the UK. They had just pulled up all their grapes and replanted with new varieties. Their wines are quite interesting but they produce mainly with other growers' fruit. We learned principally that it takes a fair bit of investment to get a little operation going and so it's best to produce small quantities of liqueurs. We also learned that we planted the vines in the wrong orientation (up and down the hill instead of across the hill facing the sun).  It was great fun, the guide was very knowledgeable and entertaining, and fun was had by all.

Now let's get back to growing grapes.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

March has arrived and winter is over

White grape vines still asleep. 

Red grape vines showing signs of life.

It is the 12th of March and winter hardly affected us this year. We had a few days of sleet and hail, lots of rain and wind, but very little snow and frost. It was generally mild the whole way. We did have about a week of cold weather that has just passed when there was frost on the grass so hopefully the much needed snap will have done its duty on insects and sleeping plants.

This week, warm dry weather has arrived. Lots of shrubs and flowers are budding. But the plants in the vineyard are still asleep. It's our first winter and I am anxious about whether the plants survived and if they will produce this year. I am excited about seeing them grow to the height of the stakes Alex erected. He wanted to buy more plants already but I stopped him until we see what happens in this first year.

The strongest El Nino on record and the warmest February ever are wreaking havoc throughout the world but mostly in the Pacific. There was little snow in Europe and we did not go skiing, opting to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary and Alex's 60th birthday with friends and neighbors. I gave Alex a drone for his birthday so hopefully he'll manage to get some footage of the vineyard and we'll even be able to spot some of the plants from up high.

In the meantime, we've been starting lots of plants in the greenhouse and have prepared the vegetable beds in the garden. Alex even moved the lawn yesterday.  The climate report for Ireland was issued by Met Eireann last week and the effects are already noticeable. Our average temperature is 0.8 degrees higher than 100 years ago. The extremes are expected to get extremer. Let's hope that bodes well for our little vineyard overlooking the Holy Mountain and Clew Bay. Our guard cats certainly enjoy it.

One guard cat on the alert.