Monday, April 21, 2014

Updates (& Photos) From Baker's Mill Vineyard

The red clay soil is laced with quartz and lots of other rocks.
I just got back from a weekend at my family's mill house property in the Blue Ridge foothills of Virginia. Unfortunately, my baby Chardonnay vines haven't sprouted any new seasonal growth yet. They're just about a year old, and even though they're still dormant, they look relatively healthy. It seems other vines at nearby vineyards are still shut down, and after a long and harsh winter it's easy to understand their hesitancy to open up. The coming weeks should see new growth, and I'm hopeful that my vines will take off during their sophomore year.
Launching a preemptive attack against the moles that infest the soil.

I'm still incredibly new to this process of growing vines, and there's a steep learning curve when it comes to all the hazards and pitfalls of managing a vineyard in Virginia. For example, I didn't realize that moles could present such a threat. As you can see, the soil in the vineyard consists of red clay, which is easy for moles to dig through. Mostly, they're looking for their main food source, grubs. But they also attack and destroy root systems. There is no top soil here, just red clay and lots of rocks (quartz, and other rocks I haven't yet identified). The moles tend to stick around in that top 12 inches of soil, which isn't as rocky as the deeper soils.

Since last year I've been using these solar-powered electronic devices that frequently emit a high-pitch sound, which is supposed to scare away the moles but not bother the vines. So far, it's been quite successful. But the moles are everywhere in the area. Remember the Bugs Bunny cartoons where Bugs burrows quickly through the ground, leaving behind a trail of raised dirt? That's kind of what it looks like in many parts of this hillside.

Luckily, my family has three dogs who patrol the entire property. While I'm working in the vineyard, they're always digging into the mole trails. The dogs love scraping up moles, chewing them to death and then playing keep-away with their dead bodies. For them, it's hours of entertainment. But even they can't keep all the moles away.

I'm sure everyone says this, but I have the best vineyard dogs:
Cappuccino (white and brown) and Coffee (black) on patrol.
So, as an added protection, I dug a trench around the vineyard and inserted a barrier of hardware cloth. Basically, it's an underground wall of woven wire, designed to block the moles from the vineyard. It was a ton of work, so I'm hoping it's effective.

My Ma (Vineyard Manager Extraordinaire) knows all too well what moles can do to her vegetables and flowers, so she helped me install the wire. She also told me she's seen deer droppings near the vineyard, which is concerning. Deer are notorious vineyard pests in this area, and they have been known to scarf up grapes and vine tendrils. Again, the dogs help out a lot with this problem. Unless they're all sleeping inside, they chase off any deer that get remotely close to the vineyard. But it's becoming increasingly clear that I'll need to fence off my vines before they yield fruit. After all this work, the last thing I want is a late night deer raid that results in a lost crop and destroyed vines.

Hopefully my next vineyard update will include pictures of beautiful green shoots and leaves as the vines come out of dormancy. This second year is all about the vines getting stronger and more stabilized, beefing them up for next year, when we might see some fruit.

Cheers and thanks for reading!

Taking a break, sipping Chardonnay with my dad, listening to
the waterfall, reminding myself what the hard work is all about.

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