Sunday, September 8, 2013

Pray for No Hurricanes



If you’re like me, you’ve been loving the weather these past few weeks.  By all accounts, we have had strange year, and for those of us in agriculture it’s been an extraordinarily tough one.

What started out as an average spring—with budbreak in the vineyard happening later than the wicked-early dates of the past few years—still provided us with a few frost scares.  I have numerous colleagues who sustained significant—almost traumatic—damage to their crops for this year.  (When a vineyard is frosted, secondary buds will push, but the resulting yields are usually down anywhere from 50-75%.....)

Then the spring stayed cool and Mother Nature turned on the water faucet.  Record amounts of rain came down in places, leaving us to worry about mildews and molds nightly until….about June 20th or so the heat came on and the growing season entered high gear.  I’ve never seen as much explosive growth as this year, as if the vines were waiting for it, like a switch being flipped.  All that rain had made the nutrients in the soil overly available to the vines, and the heat opened the flood gates. 

It was tough to squeeze five weeks of work into two weeks of time, and we felt behind for all of it.  Luckily, Matt and Rebecca did a great job with our canopy, and the grapes finished the summer sitting pretty.  Problem was, they were still growing.  And this is where I we’re lucky no one can see much of our vineyard, because I had to pull out an ugly trick.

In order to stop the vines from growing, we let the weeds underneath the vines take over.  Everything from marestail to pigweed to foxtail grew like crazy, soaking up the all the energy that had poured down on us this summer.  It got so bad that we had to physically push the weeds down to keep them out of our fruit zone.  But then a crazy thing happened.  The water stopped and it the sun started to shine in earnest.

And the weeds worked just like a brake, stopping those vines from growing in their tracks.  I’d never seen it work this well.

Beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon clusters at Allegro
Now, when you go out in the vineyard, all you see is row after row of vines quietly ripening fruit, having given up on the struggle to grow leaves.  And, this is a great thing, because I’ve never seen such beautiful fruit before.  Allegro may be primed for a record-setting yield, but let’s keep this in perspective: most vineyards achieve 3-4 tons per acre on average.  Our average is 1.5 tons per acre due to our older vines.  I’m only hoping to see 2.5 tons per acre if we’re lucky.  (Aahhh, the curse/blessing of growing grapes in York county…..)




So, as you enjoy this wonderful weather, believing it a respite from the heat we had, bear in mind that I’m over here thanking my lucky stars for it after a roller-coaster ride the like of which I’ve never seen.  It’s not over yet, but so far we’ve had the slowest start to the hurricane season in the last thirty years.  I just hope they stay away, along with the birds, the deer, groundhogs, yellow jackets, fruit flies, stinkbugs, lady beetles, etc, etc, etc.

It;'s far from over, but you’ll have to come out next year to see if we hit the jackpot……

6 comments:

Christine Treadwell said...

That Cabernet Sauvignon cluster is absolutely stunning. Is that this year? Good job on all the hard work and how well it turned out. Good thing you really know what you're doing when it comes to growing wine. And it's about time some luck fell your way in a challenging growing season!

Anonymous said...

You mentioned the age of the vines and made me remember some of them were planted in the 1970's. But vines (like wine) get better with age in quality grape production. Good luck this harvest. Hope the brix is high and the rains stay away.

Eric Radomsky

Carl Helrich said...

Thanks, Christine, sometimes I wonder if it's more about luck than anything else. Well....luck and hard work....

Carl Helrich said...

Eric, you're right that vines get better with age. A lot of the vineyards in production right now are less than ten years old. It makes me feel fortunate to have an older vineyard to work in, despite its inherent issues.

Harvey Duze said...

Carl:

Don't forget that you also have the spirits of John and Tim (and Dudley) watching over the vineyards. Hard to believe it has been almost 10 years since John's passing, and we're happy that you and Chris have continued the legacy he and Tim started. The very best of luck with the harvest.

Harvey

Carl Helrich said...

Harvey, you're absolutely right, and I think about them often in the vineyard. They were wise souls, and I couldn't do it without their guidance.