May 30, 2014

Is there such a thing as a perfect day? We’ve all said it before but have we actually experienced it? I can’t think of the last time I really did have one, especially working all day in the vineyard, but this month, on a beautiful May day, I actually did. So what all happened out there in Alsea?


Diego in the field

We arrived at our Alsea Vineyard around 9:30 am, a mere two-hour drive from our home in Portland. The weather was warm and sunny, in the high 60’s or low 70’s. Normally I love hot weather, but when you’re working in the vineyard under the sun, it gets really hot really quickly. So this temperature was just right, and a slight breeze would blow just when you felt like your skin needed it. Our small crew of five got to work right away. The days agenda included knocking off all the suckers and cutting off shoots, tucking the vines, mowing the grass and spraying the plants with sulfer. A full days work for sure.

This work is easy and satisfying because you know the plant is saying “Ahh…thank you” after you knock of its suckers and cut off its shoots growing from the bottom of the trunks. Getting rid of them directs the energy to work on the fruiting canes rather than non-productive areas of the vines.
Here's what the trunk of the vine looks like before and after you cut off the suckers, water spouts and extra shoots. This needs to be done many times throughout the summer because they will grow back quickly!

This work can be fun or totally grueling, depending on your state of mind. Of course on this perfect day in Alsea, my mind was clear and went back and forth between chatting with others about completely trivial Hollywood gossip to delving into deep thoughts about life. Even my back and knees didn’t bother me that day like they normally do after bending over and squatting up and down several hundred times. As we worked our way through the rows, we all began to notice the same thing- our fruit yield looks extremely promising! Apparently there was no frost damage this year like we had for the past two years. Each fruiting cane had lots of and lots of baby clusters that will ripen into beautiful Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier or Pinot Blanc. Barnaby and I almost ran to each other with stretched out arms overcome with joy at the prospect that we just may get close to a ton per acre! [Note: “normal vineyards” can easily produce well over a ton per acre and in some parts of California, several tons per acre is typical. This is what you deal with when you have a cold-climate site.]

After our joyful proclamation of a promising harvest, our perfect day continued and we all went back to our duties. As each of us were getting back into our groove, we heard bees buzzing. I mean A LOT of bees buzzing. At first no one said anything, but then we all looked up and saw a giant swarm of bees coming at us. Well, not exactly at us, but in our direction. Everyone just hunkered down and let them pass over us. None of us were afraid but at the same time it was a little eerie. I filmed part of it and if you watch the short video, enlarge the image as much as you can. You can see how many bees there are if you look at the leaves of the trees, they flicker because of all all the bees.

What was happening with these bees is that they were swarming and all went into one of our hives! This was pretty exciting to witness especially since once of our hives died or they all left some time early this spring. They quickly began cleaning house and pulling out debris left behind from the last inhabitants. We were pretty bummed back in March when we saw that only hive was active. Last year we didn’t get any honey but now after this swarm, we now that we have two very active hives so hopefully that means more honey!!

This is the hive that was swarmed. As you can see, they are now very busy bees.

Lavender in the vineyard.

We planted a lot of various flowers and ground cover to give the vineyard biodiversity, both for the soil and the bees. Spring is the best time to observe how all this works together in harmony, feeding and nurturing each other. It was so satisfying to see all the hard work we have put into this vineyard finally blossom into something magical. Below is a video of Barnaby explaining what we did several years ago using seed balls to spread the seeds. Today, many of these plants thriving in the vineyard.

Around 5 pm the vineyard was mowed, all the vines where properly cleaned up and freshly sprayed with a light coat of sulpher to protect them from mildew and of course, the bees where still buzzing but slowing down a bit as the temperature was cooling down. As we wrapped up our work and all headed back to the van, we took a long look at the vineyard. “You know” Barnaby said, “I think this is the best our vineyard has ever looked.” We all slowly nodded our heads in unison and then each of us took turns saying “Yup,” “totally man” and “It sure does.”