Pruning Time!

It’s February, and that means pruning in the vineyard. This morning the thermometer reads 17 degrees, and John says it’s so dry you can’t see your breath. Pruning is a hellish job in weather like this. Hand warmers and toe warmers are small luxuries that barely help.

John likes to patch his jacket with duct tape. Stylish and effective!

John likes to patch his jacket with duct tape. Stylish and effective!

Every single vine in our twenty-five acre vineyard must be pruned, and like everything else on Ox-Eye, it’s done by hand—a daunting task, but not always unpleasant if the sun is warm and your iPod is charged. On days like this, though, music from iPods only stings ears that are already throbbing in the frigid air.

We prune for many reasons. The obvious is to maintain the vine’s form for easier management. A vineyard could look like kudzu if allowed free growth. Pruning concentrates the grape clusters for easier harvest, and allows the grower control over bud quality and quantity. Growers also control quality by insuring a healthy balance of grapes to vine.

Notice the horse?

Notice the horse in the background? We let our horses roam about the vineyard in the winter to increase their pasture. Surprisingly, they don’t hurt the vines at all.


The cordon is the heavy vine that lies along the fruiting wire. We spur prune by snipping last year’s growth off the cane, the spurs, down to two buds.

Spur pruned

Got a long way to go, buddy.

Pruning is done when the vine is dormant: after the leaves have fallen and before bud break. Ideally, pruning will be finished before sap starts to rise, but that rarely happens at Ox-Eye. Many vineyards start pruning as soon as the leaves drop, but at Ox-Eye we wait until January, when the vines are in deep dormancy. By doing this, we not only have a clearer picture of winter kill (hopefully not a whole vine), but we also retard the advent of bud break. Slowing bud break is vital in Virginia, where we often have spring frosts and freezes that can destroy a crop. Bud break usually happens mid-April.

We primarily spur prune (as opposed to cane prune). Spur pruning involves snipping back last year’s growth (the spurs) off the cordon, an older cane that lies along the fruiting wire. We leave about two buds on each spur. These buds will break open in the spring, flower, and hopefully be grape clusters in the summer.

Occasionally we’ll see a cane that’s been damaged or has bad spacing between spurs. In this case, we’ll cane prune; that is, we’ll cut off the old cordon and lay down one of its long, healthy spurs in its place. Some grape varieties respond better to cane pruning, but generally we spur prune.

As you can see from the pictures, we’ve got a long way to go this winter. Keep it moving, John!



This Pinot Noir needs a haircut! (An old picture from a drier year. It was way worse this year, but I forgot to take a picture.

This Pinot Noir needs a haircut! (An old picture from a drier year. It was way worse this year, but I forgot to take a picture.

The Lemberger rows are 750 feet of jungle.

I hate hedging. I’m five inches shorter than my husband, and over two inches shorter than my daughter. Those inches are significant to a person chopping through the upper canopy of dense growth. Plus I’m old. Believe me, hedging is tough work.


I’m hedging reisling earlier in the season, before it became a tidal wave. Even so, it’s hard work for me. I wear overalls in the vineyard because I like loose clothes when I’m sweating. They look awful, though.

John also hedging riesling, earlier in the season. He's taller and a man. It's easier for him.

John also hedging riesling, earlier in the season. He’s taller and a man. It’s easier for him.

My husband offers encouragement. “Quit whining. You want to get rid of your bat wings, don’t you?”

It’s true, hedging is great for the upper arms. Like most jobs at Ox-Eye, hedging is done by hand, one row at a time. With close to twenty-five acres of vines, though, there’s a lot to hedge. (In fact, we can’t do it all ourselves—Hector and his crew are vital to us—but we do as much as we can.)

It’s late July, and we’re in the midst of a heat wave. Temperatures are reaching the mid to upper nineties, but feeling like a hundred. And it’s humid. The combined influence of heat and moisture has boosted vigor in the vineyard. The growth cascades over the top catch wires like a pipeline wave, hiding the grapes in a curtain of greenery. This is, in fact, our second pass through these vines this summer, but it feels like the first.


Under the best of conditions, hedging is my least favorite vineyard job, but in this heat and humidity it’s Hell. We go out early before the sun’s too strong, slogging through dew in the high grasses, and quit before noon. Then, after dinner, we’re out again until the sun dips too low. Even so, salty sweat beads down our back and drips from our foreheads to sting our eyes. Each row, we hedge down one side and back the other. It takes John, my encouraging husband, about an hour to do one 750-foot row. It takes me more than twice that time. In fact, I rarely finish a row on my own—someone usually comes to “help Mama out.” I get an awful crick in my neck from looking up so long.


There are several reasons why we hedge. First, a heavy canopy traps in heat and moisture and blocks air flow, making a perfect environment for disease. We don’t want that. Also, the vines’ energy should go to the fruit and not to growth; by hedging we encourage that. Only a certain number of leaves are needed to ripen each grape cluster. Lastly, the grapes need sunlight to ripen, and hedging allows the sun through. We not only hedge, but leaf pull around the fruiting zone on the east facing side, so the soft morning sun can reach the clusters and dry them off. We don’t leaf pull as much on the western side because harsh afternoon sun can burn the grapes. Leaf pulling is usually done separately from hedging. I don’t mind leaf pulling.

Leaf pulling helps grapes get exposed to the sun.

Leaf pulling helps grapes get exposed to the sun.

Here’s what’s depressing: I hedge a long row for over half an hour and still see the start of row, but the finish is not in sight.

Japanese beetles are a problem. They swarm the vineyard usually on the north end (don’t ask me why), devouring the leaves. All winegrowers in Virginia are at war with the Japanese beetles. My sister-in-law, who is Japanese, insists, “These are not Japanese beetles. Japanese beetles are pretty.” Call them what you like, when I’m hedging I hate them. They dive bomb me, getting into my hair and down my shirt. They poop on me. This is another reason hedging is no fun.

japanese beetles

Japanese beetles are nasty.

Every now and then I come upon a bird nest protected in the vines. This startles me until I see that it’s empty. Here’s why: where there’s young defenseless birds or unhatched eggs, there’s often a snake, maybe winding its way through the tall grass, or maybe already slithering in the canopy, unseen in the foliage. I’ve seen them in the grass. My daughter had an encounter with a rat snake in the canopy. Rat snakes are hulking gray-black things with white bellies.

This nest was empty. I'm not worried about a snake nearby.

This nest was empty. I’m not worried about a snake nearby.

The Mexicans laugh. “Hey, jeffe (that’s John), Manuel chopped the head off a black snake this big, ha, ha!” The Mexicans always laugh, but they don’t like snakes either.

Hedged Chardonnay.

Hedged Chardonnay.

As I write John and my daughter are slaving in the vineyard. I’m here, at the kitchen table, typing this blog. Truth be told I do very little vineyard work. John just calls on me when he’s deperate, or when it’s an all-hands operation like netting (about to happen). But the point I’m trying to make is that while there’s an undeniable romanticism surrounding vineyards and wineries, there’s also a heavy dose of blood, sweat, and toil.

Spring Planting

Spring Planting 2016

(I wrote this a month ago. I’m only now posting it. Info still good.)

Today will be hot, I’m thinking 80’s. Saturday was in the mid 90’s, and my customers stepped into the tasting room with sweat beading their foreheads. The tasting room was a little stuffy, but a soft breeze cooled the covered patio. It’s the last day of May and after thinking summer would never come, here it is!

We’ve had more rain than we like, which is a much bigger problem later in the season during ripening. Right now we watch for disease settling on the grapes. So far, everything looks fine.

Spring Riesling

Spring Riesling

Every spring we replant vines as needed, and this year we added a new variety: St.

When vines die, John has to get out the shovel. No other way to do it that I know of.

When vines die, John has to get out the shovel. No other way to do it that I know of.

Laurent. It’s an Austrian red (so is our popular

She's holding a few vines from the nursery. The European vines have been grafted onto American root stock to guard against phylloxera, an aphid that can destroy a vine.

She’s holding a few vines from the nursery. The European vines have been grafted onto American root stock to guard against phylloxera, an aphid that can destroy a vine.

Lemberger) which, if all goes well, will add to the cépage (blend) of our reds. We planted Grüner Veltliner (an Austrian white)

Planting St. Laurent.

Planting St. Laurent.

a couple years ago, and hope to

ferment a few carboys this fall. Anybody see a trend starting? The Grüner—Groovy to its fans—produces a dry, citrusy, Sauvignon Blanc-like wine great with food. Those of you who love saying Gewürztraminer should have a field day with Grüner Veltliner


After planting vines, we place milk cartons over them to protect the tender graft from the elements. The carton also helps protect the vine from rodents. We then stick a

We make sure the graft is several inches above the ground. The vine will settle some, and we don't want the European vine to send out roots and attract phylloxera.

We make sure the graft is several inches above the ground. The vine will settle some, and we don’t want the European vine to send out roots and attract phylloxera.

Milk cartons protect young vine.

Milk cartons protect young vine.

bamboo stake into the ground close to the vine and fasten the stake to the fruiting wire. The young vine will climb this stake, and when it’s tall enough will lay down along the wire making a cordon. Along this wire is the fruiting zone.

Today’s job (and for the rest of the rain-free week) is to tie the newly planted vines, which, after 2 and a half weeks of rain have put out some growth, to the bamboo stake to encourage upward growth. Believe me, after a couple hours of this work you can hear your spine creak!

Memorial Day weekend was hopping in the tasting room. We recently purchased the

Chip reader. Sloooow.

Chip reader. Sloooow.

chip reader, which we hate. When we can get it to work, it slows each transaction by about fifteen seconds. Fifteen seconds may not seem like cause to pull your hair out, but when you have customers strumming fingers on the counter, those seconds seem like an eternity.

We’ve done some landscaping around the patio. The job’s not finished yet, but already how pretty! Imagine sitting out here with your glass of dry rose’, roasted red-pepper hummus and pretzels (new in the tasting room), and a good book. Or better yet, sit out there with a group of friends sharing a bottle of crisp Chardonnay and a block of brie. We can supply the wine, hummus and brie, you supply the book or friends.

Some patio landscaping

Some patio landscaping

Our earthly life is short. Make the moments count!

Winter and the Vineyard

A couple nights ago, Virginia vineyards were hit with a freeze. On Ox-Eye, temperatures dipped down to 23 degrees. If we had had bud-break, this could have been disastrous for the vintage. Many Virginia vineyards did have bud-break

Buds swollen and ready to break.

Buds swollen and ready to break.

—some even had several inches of growth. Fortunately for us, our greenery is still tucked away in the swelling buds and seems to have been protected against damage. The vines aren’t dormant, though; the sap is running strong, and time will tell if there is trunk damage due to the freeze.

Every season my husband, John, the owner/grower/winemaker of Ox-Eye Vineyards, has something to worry about, and in the winter it’s about cold temperatures and moisture (or lack thereof.) I thought this would be a good time to interview John about winter issues in the vineyard. I started out with a simple question, the sort to which I already know the answer: “So, John. Tell me how snow effects the vines?”

“No real effect.” He stopped there, and I thought my interview was over. Then he continued, “Other than providing insulation against cold weather damage. And a slow leaching of moisture into the soil, which is good.”

So snow is good.

Snow provides needed moisture into the soil while insulating the vines.

Snow provides needed moisture into the soil while insulating the vines.

The cold issue is a little more complicated. My plan was to write this as a true interview, in Q/A style, but my fingers couldn’t type fast enough, so I had to paraphrase.

With a top elevation of 1840 feet, Ox-Eye is a relatively cold-climate site. For that reason, John chooses cold climate varieties such as Riesling (our most cold hardy), Lemberger, Chardonnay, and Traminette. Generally, these vines can handle temperatures down to -10F, but the danger zone for temperature must be kept in context with how warm it’s been. If the winter has been sufficiently cold, then the vines should be dormant, making them less vulnerable to cold. A lengthy warm spell in, say, January, however, can present a problem if the temperature suddenly nosedives. That’s exactly what happened this year.

Why are freezing temperatures a problem? Vascular damage (that’s trunk splitting to us laymen.) If a trunk splits, the vine will likely be lost. It’s possible to recover from vascular damage, but the vine is now weakened and susceptible to diseases such as crown gall, a form of plant cancer. When John sees crown gall, he knows the vine is suffering, but even crown gall isn’t always a death knell. If there’s healthy bud beneath the tumor, John will prune away the diseased portion and hope for the best.

The presence of spring greenery when the freeze (or frost) hits means probable loss of crop. If the grower is lucky, secondary growth will emerge, but the crop from secondary growth is significantly smaller than that from primary growth.

This is budbreak. No grower wants a freeze with young buds on the vine. Happily, this picture was taken well after the last freeze.

This is budbreak. No grower wants a freeze with young buds on the vine. Happily, this picture was taken well after the last freeze.

A fall freeze is also a danger because the vines might not have sufficiently hardened off. Hardening off is the gradual changing of new, green growth to woody vines. Vines begin this process in the fall, when they days are shorter, and continue all winter. If a vine hasn’t sufficiently hardened off before the first cold snap, part or all of the vine might die.

Is there anything a grower can do to protect vines/crop from an untimely freeze? Extreme measures (helicopters and windmills to stir air or push the warmer air below the colder air) are too expensive for most sites. Before bud-break, some growers might spray paraffinic oil to slow down bud-break by several days. After bud-break, some growers with overhead irrigation systems might spray water on the vines. The water will freeze over the greenery before the dangerously low temperatures hit, thus protecting the crop (hopefully). We don’t have this kind of irrigation system–in fact, we at Ox-Eye don’t irrigate at all.

John’s best advice to those considering entering the grape growing business is to choose a good site and to understand that site. A good site is sloped for air drainage, has relative elevation to avoid frost pockets, has deep and well draining soil, and has good aspect (in our case it’s East South East). Avoid western exposure because it encourages early bud-break, which could be disastrous (see above), or cause sunburnt fruit from the harsh afternoon sun.

Don’t buy into the latest fad grape. Look at long term empirical data for your area. Data for Virginia’s Piedmont is not the same as the Chesapeake, or the Shenandoah, etc. Check records for absolute highs and lows, heat/degree days, average dates of first and last frost, and compare this data with the requirements of the vine variety. Variety selection is key. There are a blue million grape varieties out there, and Virginia hasn’t scratched the surface between what may and may not work.

It’s April 12, and are we out of the freezing temperature woods yet? John believes in the connection between full moons and freezes. (Don’t tell John I wrote this! He thinks it makes him sound like a kook.) No freeze is expected between now and the next full moon on April 22, so we at Ox-Eye are beginning to breathe easier, knock on wood!

Here’s to 2016!


Tis the Season to Be Shopping

Tis the season to be shopping, and our tasting room has some great stocking stuffers, not to mention gifts for under the tree (or in the cellar!) First off, I’d like to introduce you to a recently published book now available in our tasting room. Then scroll on down for some other gift ideas.

The Virginia Table—a beautifully bound  paperback, the brainchild of a partnership between Early Mountain Vineyards and Our Local Commons, a team of storytellers who IMAG0114bring vibrancy to the Virginia’s locavore culture (for those who didn’t get the memo, a locavore is a person who seeks locally grown/raised foods.) Loaded with engaging photographs, the book sweeps the reader into Virginia’s world of winemaking, cheese making, cidering, butchering, brewing, milling and more. Meet the artisans behind these food crafts. Meet the chef’s of some of Virginia’s hottest new restaurants and enjoy the recipes they share in this timely volume. The perfect gift for your favorite Virginian!



Metal Wine Baskets, Tea Towels Cheeses, Crackers, and other picnic yummies:

Wine Bottle Globes with Ceramic Wicks (also wicks can be bought separately):



Gift cards:


Cork screws, Haleys Corkers, Vacuvin Wine Savors, and Vacuvin Stoppers:


Ball Caps and T-Shirts(long and short sleeved):


Paintings (Currently works by Michael Papit on main floor and Wendy Lam upstairs):


Oh! Did I mention we sell wine?


Did you notice the Shop Small bandanas? Small Business Saturday is the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We have a special treat for half case sales on that day. We hope you’re able to stop by our tasting room to see us.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Getting Close to Harvest!

In the Winery

Lots happening in the winery. We bottled our third vintage under our own label last spring. We added a new wine to the line-up: Shy Ox. This is a blush, of course: a blend of Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Noir. It has a light strawberry nose, a crisp finish, and has been a popular summer wine. We also changed our White Ox blend. Instead of Chardonnay and Riesling, the 2012 White Ox is Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer, and is lovely! I mean it.

Our 2012 reds are sitting happily in their barrels. We’ve bought more barrels, some new French, American and Hungarian Kadar. The 2012 whites have all been bottled, and the stainless steel tanks are cleaned and waiting for the 2013 harvest: a harvest that is about to happen.

Back in the Vineyard

As the grapes ripen we start worrying about birds and deer. A deer fence keeps most of the deer out, but the birds? Keeping them off our dark grapes (they don’t show interest in the white grapes) requires netting. Here are a few pictures:


We buy netting in 2.5 mile rolls, and net both sides of the vines at the fruiting zone.

I like this picture because not only does it show the vineyards in the distance, but it's a great advertisement for one of Charlottesville's finest establishments.

This is the view from the top of our vineyards of beautiful Swoope. Those are the Alleghenies in the background. It's hard to tell from this picture, but the dairy farm is actually quite a way down.

I know I'm talking about Pinot Noir, but this is Cabernet Franc turning color (mid-veraison). I took this picture a couple weeks ago. I'll get some Pinot Noir pictures tomorrow.

Harvest will start this Saturday, as we bring in the 2013 Pinot Noir. It looks good. This past week of hot days and relative dryness has allowed the fruit to ripen. The sugars are measured in a unit called brix. As the sugars rise during ripening, the acidity drops. The trick is to harvest the grapes when the sugars are high but the fruit still holds enough acidity to make a balanced wine.  Sugars equal alcohol, but a wine without acidity is fat. It sits heavily on the tongue.

Last check our Pinot Noir was at 22+ brix and still holding good acid.  By harvest it may be up another couple brix. Ideally we like our Pinot Noir at about 23 brix. We seem in danger of having a nice crop!



Down on the Farm

Whoa! It’s been close to a year since I’ve made a blog entry. That’s mostly because I’ve been working hard on my novel (stop laughing). But it’s early morning here on Ox-Eye Farm, everyone else is asleep, and I feel inspired. So much is happening on the farm, in the winery, and in the tasting room.

I’ll write in two segments. First, On The Farm:

What a weird year, so far! We had a spring that didn’t seem interested in arriving. At first this pleased us. A long winter is more comforting to a winegrower than a warm February that might cause early bud-break followed by a killing frost or freeze. But, at long last spring did arrive, buds did break in late April and what happened? A killing freeze.

We were luckier than most, losing only a small portion, maybe less than 3%, of our fruit. Some vineyards were totally wiped out. To hear “we lost 50% of our crop to frost” is not uncommon this year.

Situations like this cause wineries to scramble. Virginia fruit is at a premium. Even without the killing frosts and freezes there are more Virginia wineries than vineyards can support. Happily, we don’t have to search for fruit, since John grows all his own and still sells fruit to select wineries.

So after winter pruning came spring planting. We increased the size of our vineyard by planting 3 more acres of Gewurztraminer. That brings our total acreage under vine to 23. We’ve decided that while most of Virginia’s vineyards prefer the hybrid Traminette to the parent grape Gewurztraminer, our site does just the opposite. We’ll phase out Traminette over time.

Soggy summer! Maybe I should say another soggy summer. Almost daily rain in June and July caused massive headaches for Virginia’s grape growers. The reason? Diseases. Molds. Excessive growth. So far, John has kept the diseases and molds at bay, for the most part. We’ve been helped by the almost constant wind that flows off the hills. As for growth, John and the kids, not to mention Hector, Nora and Karla and their crew, have spent many sweaty hours with hedge trimmers. I’ve done a few rows myself, and have earned the honor of being the slowest worker on Ox-Eye. Our June 20, 2012 post Pictures! has some pictures of the hedging process.

Now we’re in ripening season. It’s time for the rains to STOP. This could be a good year for us. The crop is large and healthy. KNOCK ON WOOD.

Because of all the rain, the farm is lush and beautiful. Green grass and wildflowers – a big spring for Ox-Eye Daisies. Right now Queen Anne’s Lace, Black-Eyed Susans, Red Clover, Iron Weed, Sweet Rocket, Least Viper Bug Loss, and many other flowering weeds, including Ox-Eye Daisies, cover the fields.  Here are a few pictures I took. I’m not a botanist, so let me know if I’ve misidentified anything:

Chickory. Okay, very common -- kinda ugly. But good picture, don't you think?



Square-stemmedMonkey-flower. At least I think that's what it is.

Bladder Campion

Bladder Campion

Spotted Knapweed.JPG

Spotted Knapweed


Spotted Touch-Me-Not. Love the names of these plants!

Harvest will begin sometime late this month or in September, and end sometime in mid to late October, most likely. We did have one year when we brought in the Cabernet Franc in mid November, but that was unusual. But, then again, each season is unusual in its own way. Typically, we’re the last in Virginia to harvest some of our varieties.

And then the season is over in the vineyard, and all eyes turn to the winery. Stay tuned for the next post on what’s happening there and in the tasting room.

Goodness! It’s raining again!

Mike Lund FOOD

Mike Lund Food, 300 N. Central Ave., Staunton

Staunton has for good reason developed a reputation as not only a “foodie” town, but a “locavore” town. This means we in Staunton love food and we want it locally grown. Several of Staunton’s restaurants (Zynodoa and Mockingbird for instance) respond to this call for locally grown. I’d like to add a caterer, Mike Lund Food, to the list of locavore food providers.

Chef Mike Lund was trained at the Inn at Little Washington, and came to Staunton as the head chef to the popular gourmet restaurant Zynodoa. He

Remember the hot dog stand? Now Mike Lund FOOD!

later decided to start his own catering business.  Located in a hole in the wall shop that used to be a hot dog stand on Central Avenue, Mike Lund Food now offers full catering services.

Our first introduction to Mike Lund and his food (besides enjoying his cooking at Zynodoa) was last November, when Mike biked over to our tasting room to ask if we’d hang a flyer offering Polyface turkeys, fully cooked and prepared in his special way – marinated in a honey brine and roasted – for the Thanksgiving table. We not only hung the sign, we bought two turkeys, and they were delicious! I highly recommend reserving one for this Thanksgiving.

Next, John surprised me with a Secret Supper. Now, I’ve got to tell you, this was the most wonderful evening of my life, and the surprise was total! John drove me around town before stopping in front of Chef Mike’s unassuming storefront. Inside, Mike said, “Welcome to your private restaurant for the evening.”

Mike’s shop is narrow and intimate. The walls are lined with cookbooks. The back half is Mike’s kitchen, which is fully opened to the front half, where Mike had set a rustic wooden table for our dinner. We were soon joined by two friends, and began four hours of eating, drinking, and chatting with Chef Mike while he prepared the most delicious dishes, made primarily from local, in-season foods. Here is the special menu he created just for us: Mike Lund Menu

As you can see, I had him autograph it for me. Check his website to learn how you can arrange your own Secret Supper.

Then, last summer, we surprised our teenage daughter, Harriet, with two cooking classes with Chef Mike in his shop. These were private classes, but Mike can also accommodate small groups. Harriet opted for a class on knife skills, where she learned to properly slice, dice, etc., and made many yummy things in the process. In her next class she prepared of a full meal.

Chef Mike shows Harriet how to scale a fish.

She opted for fish, and Chef Mike had a full red snapper waiting for her on the scheduled day. It hadn’t even been scaled yet! The classes were possibly Harriet’s favorite birthday gift ever.

A happy cook.

Staunton has many great treasures, and one of them is definitely Chef Mike Lund!

A Fine Feathered Friend

Yesterday we had a pretty visitor in the tasting room. We have work being done upstairs, and when the workers arrived they found a parakeet flying around!

Pretty Visitor to Ox-Eye Tasting Room

Don’t know how it got there. It flew out a window and spent some time on our roof.

Here’s another image:

Another image of Parakeet

Anyone missing a parakeet? Search downtown Staunton!

Vines to Wines

I apologize. John wrote this blog back in July, and he thought I had posted it, and I thought he had. So here’s late news! By John:

This is my first-ever blog entry.  As the winegrower, I spend little time in the tasting room compared to my wife, Sue.  I am out in the vines and in the winery.  This time of year is very transitional.  After much work in the vines I am content that the fruit is in good shape with no disease, that the canopy is hedged, and that the shoots are in position to maximize sun and airflow.

Hedged and looking good.

The weather has been pretty good.  No real extremes and not too much rain.  [Okay, since John wrote this the rains came, but things still looking god.] Now I turn my attention to the winery.

In the winery, I am making sure the equipment is all in good shape and clean.  Our press is a massive beast (6,500 pounds of German iron and stainless steel) going on its 4th decade of service.  We named him “Puff”.    Puff needs TLC.  That means glycerin on the rubber bladder, a couple of new high pressure valves, some gasket repacking, and gear oil on the chains that turn the drum.  When Puff is fully loaded he holds 1 ½ tons of fruit that he spins and squeezes under my careful control.

Puff filled with grapes, ready to sqeeze.

John monitors Puff. This looks like hard work, John!

Next I finalized my barrel order for the coming harvest.  I have to consider what kinds of cooperage I want to add to my existing inventory.  I am using a combination of French oak barrels from the Allier Forest in France, Hungarian oak from the Kadar Forest, and American oak primarily from Missouri.

One of the more challenging and confusing things that are critical to a successful vintage is yeast.  There are many dozens of yeast strains available.  Most of them are isolated from famous areas that are long established wine growing regions.  A variable to take into account is the alcohol tolerance of the yeast.  As the yeast consumes the sugar in the must (grape juice) it converts the sugar to alcohol and CO2.  High Brix yeast can easily kill off some yeasts leaving the winemaker with the dreaded “stuck fermentation.” Some yeasts can only tolerate lower levels of alcohol but have other attributes that make them highly desirable.  Temperature is another variable that needs to be considered.   During fermentation a lot of heat is given off by the activity of the yeast.  The highest I have recorded is Pinot Noir (2010) at about 100 degrees F.  Scary!  All of the whites ferment in temperature controlled tanks at low temperatures (about 55 degrees F.) for a couple of weeks.  The whites are kept cold to help retain the fruity esters that can volatize leaving the wine without much varietal character.

Soon I will begin to test the grapes for sugar levels and ph.  As the fruit matures I also taste the juice, chew the skins and seeds to check the level of tannin maturity, and keep an eye out for disease that may erupt.  Now I just wish for no rain until November.

[In fact, we have started the harvest. Last Friday we harvested the Pinot Noir, and tomorrow the Gewurtztraminer will come in.]