Friday, August 13, 2010

My Garden's Earthly Delights

Spent 2 days after returning from the Alps planting the fall garden and getting the maturing summer garden in shape. We have melons on the vine, tomatoes, eggplants and more, but my favorite season is autumn, in the garden and at the table.

These are the some of the fruits of our labor. Despite being poised on the verge of failure in the vineyard and still overwhelmed by the persistence of homebuilding tasks, I do have moments of pleasure when I go into the garden and the garden goes into me.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bunches of Woe

Walking the vineyard again, I am dropping half of the half of the clusters left on the vines because of the oidio damage. Damaged grapes will not make good wine. And I’d rather do the culling now so I won’t have to do it when I harvest or explain how to tell what’s good from bad to anyone who helps. And I don’t want the sick bunches infecting what’s left of the good.

In the end, who knows how many good grapes we’ll be able to harvest. Right now we are down to a quarter of what I estimated in the spring. But now I have a new problem.

Because I decided to resurrect a dying vineyard of old vines (40 years is old by Italian standards), mine are not the orderly conduits of a modern vineyard efficiently delivering sugars and nutrients to each consistently sized leaf and cluster at precisely meted intervals along each branch. No, my vines are – even though I’ve moderated their sprawl a bit – all over the place. You can still see vineyards like this around, more and more of them let go to weeds. Also, because I’ve removed almost all the clusters on some vines, the fruit loads are different for each. And not all the clusters are the same size or growing at the same rate. And they are not all at the same place in each vine’s nutrient pipeline. The point is some of the clusters on some of the vines are starting to turn pink! This is veraison, the transition to ripening signaled by a change in color of the grapes. This usually happens in August, but it usually happens to most of the clusters on most of the vines in a vineyard at the same time. But not in mine. Oy! Or should I say Oidio!

With the grapes all ripening at different rates I will not be able to harvest them all at the same time or begin a single vat fermentation as I had planned, and, from the looks of it, they could reach the stage of ripeness weeks apart. This means I either have to ferment several small batches or keep adding grapes to the primary fermentor over a graduated harvest. The first option is tedious, requires much more equipment, and is guaranteed to render inconsistent results. The latter risks contaminating the single batch each time I add grapes. What to do?!?

For now, my plan is to ferment in two batches and to pick within a ripeness bracket where the grapes that ripen first are not too ripe and the ones that ripen later not unripe. This involves measuring both the sugar and the acid in the grapes, but I will come to this later.

Meanwhile, since I can no longer spray copper sulfate to control the oidio once veraison softens the grapeskins, I can only hope the oidio doesn't return with the fogs of autumn and enough good grapes make it to harvest to make at least a little wine.

I am not a praying man. But I am beginning to see how one becomes one.