Weather you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festival of Light, Yule or Winter Solstice you are following ancient traditions. The end of the harvest, usually a jubilant time, finds farmers responding to the shorter days and the first frosts by preparing the plants and animals for winter, also an ancient tradition.
In late fall as the leaves are dropping from the grape vines, there is a flurry of activity in the roots. They are pulling in and storing the last nutrients of the season and holding them until the spring to provide energy for bud break, early cane and leaf growth. One of the most important tools in the BD tool chest is the preparation of BD 500, essentially specially composted cow manure. When properly prepared and applied to the soil it has the effect of stimulating root activity and enhancing the vitality and activity of roots. It is a traditional and obviously logical part of the biodynamic practice to apply BD 500 in the spring to help with the new season’s growth. When looking at vine growth in an annual/cyclical perspective it becomes apparent that a fall application is beneficial. In a sense it puts the vines to bed for their winter rest with a full belly of nutrients so when they wake in the spring they can burst into activity with everything they need. This is something we do each November at Montinore and we have seen a real benefit over the years.
As a Biodynamic farmer, one develops sensitivity to the life cycles of growth on the farm. By paying attention we can time our actions to take advantage of the ebbs and flows of the life energy through the year. May your celebration of the season, however that may look, be joyful and fruitful.
Years ago when I bought my house near the winery I was attracted to the site, the eastern exposure and views and proximity to our vineyards. The house was great and there were a lot of amenities including an old grape arbor that I wanted to re-work. It had collapsed but the old Concord and Niagara vines still clung to the remnants of the original arbor. Being the good son of an Italian that I am, I soon rebuilt and expanded the arbor to include more grape varieties and of course a long table where I could share meals with family and friends.
Tonight, years later, I was finishing the last bites of dinner and looking up at the grape clusters over my head. Each variety reflected the weather conditions of that short period of "bloom" aka, "fruit set" when the tiny grape flowers are pollinated and turn into individual grapes in mid to late June and has since evolved. If the weather is too rainy or windy or cloudy the flowers won't completely pollinate and the grapes clusters wont fill out with plump ripe grapes. If it is mostly sunny, not too hot and generally nice for us humans, the grapes are happy too and the fruit set will be maximized producing full plump clusters of round ripe grapes.
This year (2013) had mostly favorable conditions but there were short periods of storms and even hail in our area that interrupted fruit set in some varieties. On my arbor the early Concord and Niagara vines had incomplete set resulting in sparse clusters due to cool weather early in the bloom period. Likewise, some of my later blooming varieties suffered due to high winds and hail during bloom resulting in clusters with less than normal grape berries/cluster. Our Pinot Noir and Gris were lucky enough to bloom in a window of good weather favorable to the pollination of each flower on the cluster resulting in full clusters of plump round berries.
Observing this variation reminded me of why we all are making wine here in Oregon. The great wines of the world are made on the edge of their viticultural zones, especially the Pinot family. Contrary to folklore, the vines don't need to suffer, but they do need daily variations in temperature, the wider the better without being extreme. This only occurs on the edges of the viticultural zones for each variety. Oregon is that edge for Pinot, we are a cool region; in the summer our daily highs are in the 80s and night temps average in the 60s due to our Pacific coastal influence. Perfect! But... with this comes coastal storms at bloom and sometimes during harvest.
Isn't it a safer bet in a warmer climate? Yes, but we wouldn't find that perfect balance of daytime heat, nighttime cooling combined with exceptional soils anywhere else. We are not here for guaranteed returns on our investments. We are not here for a consistent predictable vintage. We are here because we have the potential for greatness. Not just good wines, wines that people pull out of their cellars for their birthday, anniversary, or just that day when it's time to celebrate life. These are the wines I want to make, this is what makes all the work and worry worth while.
Some years we fight with the birds and the weather to keep our grapes on the vine long enough to achieve that perfect ripeness. Some years we can't make enough to meet demand. All of these challenges impact our lives and our livelihoods but when we know people will savor, contemplate, and even cherish the wines we make, it makes all the risks and efforts worth while. We may be living on the edge but this is where the view is the best!