10 Reasons Why This Year’s Harvest Failed

» Posted by on Oct 18, 2014 in Wine Making at Quiggle Vineyards | 0 comments

10 Reasons Why This Year’s Harvest Failed
This is my first post in this category so I will make a few brief statements here about Quiggle Vineyards. In 2002 I got the grand idea to raise a few grape varietals and from them make wine. I read a book called “From Vines to Wines” by Jeff Cox to educate myself. I recruited a group of friends to help me build the trellis system. I planted about 75 vines in my first year with my own muscle, sweat and blisters. Originally, there was Muscat of Alexandria, Zinfandel, and Merlot. Later I added Catawba. Someday I will write about (and share) the experience of building and nurturing my small vineyard. Today I am jumping into the present.
Muscatawba in the press

Muscatawba in the press

You are looking at a picture (Left) of the five lonely gallons of wine that will come out of Quiggle Vineyards in 2014. It’s a new blend that is inspired by the total sum of grapes that could be harvested. I call it Muscatawba. There are a good number of reasons why there was no substantive harvest this year, and I thought that I would put them down to publicly shame myself into doing a better job next year.

The Shed

The Shed

  1. My lack of dedication to the Vineyard. In order to have a successful harvest, you must dedicate yourself to it. The vineyard must be kept free of weeds. The vines muse be sprayed. The vines need watering at certain points. The trellis system must be maintained. The vines need to be trained and trimmed. The problems listed below must be addressed. This requires time. I did not put the time in this year that was needed.
  2. The Shed. This spring I decided to finally build a shed I’d been talking about “do it yourselfing” for a couple of years. I researched shed plans. I looked into shed building companies. I went to Home Depot to see what they had to offer. Then, during the “4th of July sale” I bought a shed kit. I figured it would save me almost two thousand dollars to buy a kit and build it myself. Buying the kit also would save me the time, and potential errors, of having to do all the cuts myself. I thought it would take me a month of weekends to complete. Life (#10) got in the way, along with a bad back and too much heat for me to handle working full days in the sun. October 10th I put the finishing touches on it. Take the time I spent on the shed and put it into the vineyard and voila! More healthy grapes.
  3. Drought. California is having a serious drought. Think I’m kidding? Check this out: http://photos.mercurynews.com/2014/01/25/photos-drought-affects-northern-california-reservoirs/#1 . It’s a serious problem that’s growing worse. Grapes need water. There wasn’t nearly enough this year. Do I have irrigation? Yes I do. Did I run it a lot? No. Why? Aside from complying with water restrictions, see number #5 below.
  4. Despicable bug

    Despicable bug

  5. June Bugs. I hate these evil green bastards almost as much as I despise gophers.
    They started coming around two seasons ago and have gotten progressively worse each year. This year they destroyed 3/4 of the Muscat grapes before I gave up waiting for the average brix to go over 18 and harvested what was left, early. I researched solutions that include knockdowns and preventatives, but ultimately came up with narrow-hole netting as the best recourse to try because it would also lend itself to solving #7 below. #5 got in the way.
  6. Money. Ah, yes. The cost of running your vineyard.
    Like many other things in life, it’s more than you expect.
    I had a really good contract at MedImpact. It paid well, the work was rewarding, and the people in my sphere were good. I hoped to convert it to a permanent position. Alas, it was not to be. Near the end of July I learned when the contract would expire. Now my job is looking for the next job. My plans for netting, as well as some other wine equipment fell out of the priority queue.
  7. Powdery Mildew. A puzzling perennial problem in my vineyard. Puzzling, because everything I’ve read says the temperatures that are regularly reached in my domain should kill this bad stuff. This is where my lack of a UC Davis education fails me. I am not completely sure of the problem. I have learned that spraying Stylet oil helps to curb and control the problem. But it has to be done every two weeks or so. I paid a high school kid to do it ONCE for me this year (before #5 bit me in the ass). Lugging around the four gallon tank on my back is a bit more than my back can take these days.
  8. Die, gopher, die!

    Die, gopher, die!

  9. Varmints. The most hated, of course, is the gopher. A gopher doesn’t come up out of its warren to eat grapes. It eats the roots of the grapevine. Sometimes, right up to the root ball, which will kill the vine. There’s nothing more fury inducing than walking through your vineyard one Saturday morning to find a vine you’ve nursed for ten years suddenly dead. Ten years is a good chunk of your life. I had the pleasure of participating in a “wellness” study sponsored by the Chopra institute as part of a control group. Along with some saliva, blood, and stool samples, I had to fill out a bunch of questionnaires. Every time I came to a question like “Are you one with nature”, or, “do you have love and respect for all living things”, I wanted to answer (5) Strongly Agree. However, the gopher and the June bug kept coming to mind, both of which I would terminate with prejudice at any and all occasions. And so I could not. There’s a family of Opossum in the neighborhood. Birds eat grapes. So do rats and raccoon. Something is eating them right off the vines, at night, as they ripen. A little at a time. But it adds up.
  10. Leaf Curl. One of my Muscat vines started looking strange a couple years ago. The leaves were tiny and curled, the berries produced where ¼ of the usual size. The following year, two more vines adjacent to it exhibited the same growth. This year two more. That’s five now. And none of them produced any grapes this year. I’ve got more research to do. I think I’m going to have to destroy them and replant.
  11. My beloved weakness

    My beloved weakness

  12. Madden NFL. I admit it. I spend too much time playing it when I could be productive doing something else. The sad part is, I don’t play enough to be truly competitive in my leagues. So much like my real Miami Dolphins, I’m a mediocre player who season after season comes close but does not make the playoffs. If I played more, I’d be better. Life (#10) and the vineyard would suffer it. Every year I quit for a while. And then the next version comes out and like a Vulcan going through Pon Farr, I cannot resist the pull to return.
  13. Life. I have one. Three kids of various ages and ALL that that implies. A demanding wife with a never ending list of things for me to do. Work, when I have it. A book I am writing and serious about finishing. Reading, because you can’t write if you’re not reading. Friends. Cooking. Sleeping, occasionally. Everyone has these time consumers in one way or another. Where is the vineyard in the priority list? If only I was independently wealthy and could make it one of my “jobs” – and hire some help.     

Hope for the future rests in the sampling I did yesterday. I took my son to school and my daughter stayed home from ESS to help in the vineyard. It would have been nice to call it a late harvest. We went through the lower vines and cleaned out all the reds. 98% of the clusters we bad or completely gone. Dried husks. Stems with no grapes at all. Half of a Home Depot orange bucket was semi-intact. I selected the ripest most perfect berries from a few of these partially intact clusters, sat down and sampled them. Zinfandel and Merlot. They were amazing. Better than any grape you’d buy in a grocery store. Sweet, robust, eye opening. One bite filled me with hope and shame. If I ever get this right, I will make the most amazing wine right here in my backyard.

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