In early September the pressures of running a vineyard enter a lull. Touring families vanish from the countryside. With kids to get back to a routine of school, sports and other activities, families have less time for countryside romps. Even so, the tasting room continues to be busy with wine tourists.
Dark purple and golden fruit hang throughout the vineyard, and the vines are putting all their resources into developing sugars, tannins, and acidity in the berries. Electric fences and netting are up, so there are no major jobs to do in the vineyard. It’s a good chance to fix broken things and try to get caught up with the weeds.
We’re on the brink of a couple of months of non-stop activity. There will be a brief window of time where the sugar and acidity in the fruit is just right. So in just a few days we’ll be out in the vineyard, racing to bring the harvest in so we can capture all of those wonderful flavours and aromas in the bottle.
We still rely on volunteers to harvest a large chunk of the grapes. At our Harvest Party, fifty people descend on our vines and spend an Autumn morning in the vineyard trimming juicy fruit into yellow harvest lugs. It’s a great trade — we provide an outdoor experience in a beautiful vineyard, a hearty lunch, live music and a glass of wine, and they give us much needed help in harvesting the grapes.
Consider joining our harvest brigade on October 1! Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to join us, and we’ll send you more updates!
At some point in the County’s history, European settlers thought it might be nice to import and plant a flowering relative of the Morning Glory. It thrived. Convolvulus Arvensis or Field Bindweed sports fragrant pink and white flowers which dot our vineyard landscape like a constellation of stars.
Pretty, but it grows up into the grapevines and fouls the equipment, choking the vines and slowing work down. Vigorous, it carpets the ground in a thick layer , growing on top of itself.
Some people liken it to the Terminator; you cut it down and it comes right back. The adult plant spread by sending lateral roots three feet underground, and then shoots up to the surface. There is no way to cultivate the deep main root, it’s so deep, and the shoots only break off when you pull them, leaving the main plant to cause further mischief.
I spend a lot of time battling this invasive plant, and contemplating how to get rid of it. Most of our Bindweed control is by hoeing by machinery and by hand — tedious, backbreaking work, and the bindweed just grows right back within a couple of weeks.
Roundup might kill Bindweed, but our farming philosophy is to avoid the use of herbicides. We fear damaging our grape vines.
Bindweed doesn’t grow well around clover and grass — it thrives only in the disturbed soil. So if we grow a cover crop and cultivate the land less, that could reduce its hold over our soils.
Shade is also helpful, so if we can keep the bindweed from crawling up the grapevines to the sunlight in the early season, shade under the vines will reduce its vigour.
In ancient mythology, Hercules defeated a similar monster, the many-headed Hydra. If you cut off one of the heads of the Hydra, two more would grow to take its place. Bindweed is the same way. If you cultivate one stem, three more grow in its place. Hercules only defeated the Hydra by mounting another adventure to cut off the head of Medusa, then returning to use the powers of the Medusa head to turn the Hydra into stone.
If only we had a Medusa to help battle the Bindweed.
We also learned of an insect that eats Bindweed — a tiny mite that feeds on the stems, weakening it. Perhaps that’s our Medusa. Enlisting an army of Bindweed Mites might turn the battle in our favour. The Bindweed Mite is reputed to only like Bindweed — not grapevines.
But then, we’re a little reluctant to introduce a foreign species to our ecosystem to battle a foreign species. In history, that plan has often had unintended consequences. Check out our blog posting (Coccinella) about the unintended effects of foreign ladybugs and consider the fate of the Old Lady Who Swallowed a Spider. Despite our trepidation, our Bindweed affliction is so bad we are tempted to try a trial of the Bindweed mite.
I get up early in the morning and walk through the vineyards, fretting all the extra work and worry caused by the Bindweed. As the sun rises higher, the flowers open and a fresh, flowery slightly peppery aroma wafts in the early summer morning.
Aaah. Perhaps we should just live with it, I think. After all, it is quite pretty, and the bees seem to like the flowers.
Hardly any rain fell in the entire month of June, in contrast to last year where we thought our new grape vines would drown with the constant rains.
Normally vines are a drought-loving plant. Dry air keeps fungus from sporulating and UV radiation kills it. Downy mildew and powdery mildew, two major enemies of viticulturists, are nowhere to be seen this year. But as the days pass with only morning dew for moisture, our normally moist Hillier Clay Loam becomes harder and starts to dry and crack. The new vines that I bought this year to fill in empty spaces will have a tough time weathering such a dry spell — they just haven’t had time to grow extensive root systems like the mature vines have. Action needs to be taken or they won’t make it.
“I have a guaranteed way to make it rain,” I told a friend.
“Are you doing a rain dance?”
“Nope. I’m going to water the vines.”
Watering the vines was a fairly large job. We have no irrigation equipment. Fortunately what we do have are two energetic teenage daughters. That day, one of them could be found nearby resting in the hammock.
“Eva,” I said, “I need some help. I need you to water the vines.”
“ALL OF THEM?!” she said.
I chuckled. “No, silly, just the baby vines.”
A few weeks ago we planted 300 replacement Pinot Noir 115 on So4 and Pinot Gris on 101-14 in empty spaces where vines had been killed by the frost or the tractor. With few exceptions, each new plant had by now sprouted a green leaf or two.
Fortunately, the majority of the new vines were planted close to our building. I helped Eva screw together 6 or 7 garden hoses and most of the vines could be reached. I worked on ahead pulling the weeds away from each new plant and kicking a small divot around them. Then Eva followed behind and gave each a good spray. Those the hose couldn’t reach were watered with a bucket.
Once that was done, Eva retired back to the hammock.
Since about 100 other replacement vines were distributed throughout the rest of the vineyard, and we only had a limited amount of garden hose, another approach was needed.
For this I enlisted Anika, my other teenager. Her job was to ride behind the tractor in our old trailer with six totes full of water. I drove up and down the vine rows and whenever we came to a baby vine, Anika would leap out of the trailer and pour half a pail of water on it. She did it all with a smiling face and lots of positive energy.
All the work was accomplished with positive energy and pleasantries. We went home, satisfied by a good day of work, exhausted and sunburnt by the hot day.
And the next day there was a good hard rain that drenched the vineyard.
Summer is almost here and activity around the winery and vineyard has become constant. On Wednesday Cecil, Candace, Sue and I enjoyed the sunlight and the light breeze in the vineyard as we all worked tucking shoots up into the trellis system. It’s enjoyable to work amongst the greenery and chat with everyone. “Many hands make the work light” and we got a lot done.
The next morning I packed up several cases of wine to bring to the Wine and Spirits Festival and made the familiar drive back to Toronto.
After a day or two break with my family, it’ll back to the County on Saturday. At 9 am I’ll be donning my tour guide hat and hosting our third annual Winery Bus Tour to Prince Edward County. (see Come on a Romp Through the County)
Everything is looking beautiful in the County and it’s hard to leave even for a day or two, but I was able to snap a few pictures to share.
Right now our tasting room is open Friday through Monday. In July and August we’ll be open every day.
Our neighbour keeps the land tidy, counts the bales he takes from our land, and deducts a fee from the bill he sends us for keeping our lane clear in the winter. I love the old farm equipment he uses. When I was a kid I used to ride behind equipment like this on a hay wagon at my grandfather’s farm. The bales would come out as fast as my cousins and I could stack them. Great memories of green smells, warm sunshine and itchy eyes.
The fragility, vitality and optimism of the green shoots intrigues me. If they touch something they’ll wrap around it and pull the vine up into the sunlight.
An eight year old pinot noir vine that was pruned right back to the crown.
Normally this vine would have two canes tied up to the trellis, but in the process of burying and unburying, one in a thousand vines gets so damaged the solution is to prune it right back and hope for the best. In this case, the vine pushed four new shoots, which we’ll carefully protect from the cold this winter. We’ll only be rewarded with fruit from this vine in fall 2017.
In the next week or two tiny flowers will bloom, self-fertilize, and start turning into grapes.
Out at Broken Stone Winery, Spring has gone from a slow cool start to finish windy and hot. It’s the dry sort of weather where Norm, my farmer neighbour, starts saying things like “even the rabbits are carrying their own water”. Over our septic tank, the green growing grass quickly went from lush and soft to crisp and brown.
Grapevines love dry weather, and our clay soils retain water for a long time to keep nourishing their deep roots. So even as the grass wilts, the vines thrive. An explosion of green growth has begun the annual transformation of our barren fields into orderly hedges of vines.
Our crew has been tying up grapevines since the beginning of May. At last, they are painstakingly tying up and pruning the last few rows of Pinot Meunier. It’s a job that gets slower and slower. Each day the green growth on the vines grows another inch. A job that went quickly when the vines were still dormant becomes one of artfully weaving each cane onto the trellis, being careful not to disturb the greenery sprouting from it. Then the vine is secured to the trellis with twist ties.
The vines are doing really well so far, pushing lots of shoots, quickly making up for a slow start in the cool Spring. It will still be a scramble to keep ahead of them during their period of fast growth over the next month or so.
Other winemakers say that the hardest part of starting a winery isn’t growing the grapes or making the wine — it’s selling it.
I tell people that wine is easy to sell. They should try selling financial data, like I used to. I would ask a customer, “would you like to try my financial data?” They would cross their legs and look at their feet, and politely say “Uhh…”
But when you ask people, “would you like to try some of my delicious wine?” they get excited, their eyes glow in anticipation, they grab a tasting glass and line up three deep at the tasting bar.
So when we opened our winery store three years ago and did our first tastings, we thought, wow, this is great! People really love their wine!
Wine is certainly a pleasure to sell. It’s a product we love and people enjoy. If someone shows up in our tasting room on Closson road in the middle of Prince Edward County, they’ve sought us out. It’s an experiential transaction which is about more than just the wine — it’s about lifestyle, it’s about enjoying the country, it’s about the craftsman conversing with the consumer.
But it’s hard to sell enough wine at a price that makes it all worthwhile. We need to grow by leaps and bounds to make a business out of it. With only one Big City Income at chez Kuepfer, the time has come for Broken Stone Winery to leave its infancy and start contributing to the family, so to speak. We need to leave the farm and go out into the world to make a name for ourselves. Last year we dabbled in farmers’ markets, which was good exposure, but an excruciatingly slow way to sell wine. Now we can’t just rely on people to randomly show up. Now we need to kick it up a notch and get the word out about our beautiful vineyard and delicious wines. We need to give people reasons to actively seek us out.
One way to do that is simply to get more people to taste our wines. What’s the saying – “if the mountain doesn’t come to Buddha, then Buddha must go to the mountain.”? In a fit of ebullience, we signed up for five successive off-winery events in April. They were a great opportunity to reach people who otherwise wouldn’t have tried our wines. First there was an event at the Drake Hotel in Toronto and Riverside Winefest on Queen Street East. Then we went to the Toronto Food and Drink Market, a medium-sized trade show in the Enercare Centre in Toronto. Then County in the City — a Toronto Taste-and-Buy event. And then County in the Capital, a similar event in Ottawa.
Whew, that was exhausting! We don’t really make a profit at these events themselves. The tickets or orders that we collect generally cover the cost of entering, the cost of the wine, and our time if we are lucky. We look at them as a chance to promote the winery as well as events, newsletters, bus tours and wine clubs. Between the five events we touched thousands of wine consumers. The best thing that can happen is that someone new decides to come to Prince Edward County and add our winery to their must-visit list.
Feedback is quick and clear. Some of the most common questions we had at the events were:
“Broken Stone Winery… are you guys new? How long have you been open?”
“Broken Stone Winery… I was just in the County… how did we miss you?”
“Broken Stone Winery … where are you?”
(And occassionally “Wow, you’ve come a long way. I didn’t know that they made wines in Prince Edward ISLAND“)
Obviously we need a bigger sign — lots of people are coming to the County but somehow missing our winery!
By being at the events, we’re reaching a lot of people that haven’t heard of us and have been coming wine touring to Prince Edward County. We’re also County ambassadors, handing out wine tour maps and reaching people who have never heard of our wine region. Getting the word out about our winery is hard work, but all the effort will be worth it. It’s just a slow and steady process and we need to have faith in its eventual success.
Now after all that marketing work, it’s back into the vineyard to begin the hard work of pruning the vines for a new season…we can’t wait!
For a change of pace, we’re posting a travel note from our assistant winemaker Candace Battig. It’s hard to believe that just as our vines prepare to bud, the Kiwis will be just finishing their harvest.
“Summer 2016 has come to a close! That is — if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere.
This past Winter, with the vines put to bed and all quiet in the vineyard at Broken Stone Winery it was the perfect chance to hop down to New Zealand to see what grape growing is like down there.
Kiwis are famous for their screw tops and sauvignon blanc wines — but if you look closer you’ll find they also make remarkable Pinot Noir. On the south island of New Zealand, Central Otago has made a name for itself in the past 30 years as an excellent Pinot Noir producer. They are an interior wine region with hot days and cool nights (similar to Prince Edward County). After researching the wineries of Otago, a small organic winery by the name of Aurum stood out as the perfect winery to spend a vintage with. Aurum is a family-run organic winery with ten acres under vines. At Broken Stone we believe that a healthy balanced vineyard ecosystem with strong vines produce the best grapes for winemaking, and Aurum shares our ethos. With this in mind, we were keen to see what tips and tricks we could pick up from a similar sized vineyard half way around the world.
I arrived in February at the end of the Kiwi summer as the vines were just hitting veraison. Nets were cloaked over the vines 7 rows wide to keep the birds at bay and workers were busy patching any holes. We also cover our vines at Broken Stone. However, we use side nets that cover the fruiting zone in each row individually. In conjuction with a recording of birds of prey and distress calls, birds are encouraged to find a meal somewhere else. At Aurum, the advantage of draping nets over several rows is that the vines on the interior rows are completely protected. The exterior rows are only slightly vulnerable to a bird sticking its beak in through the netting to enjoy a tasty grape snack. However, such a large net requires specialized tractor equipment to string the nets across multiple rows at a time. That’s a job you don’t want to do by hand!
The last of the cluster thinning was also occurring. In the vineyard there is always a balancing act happening. To produce the best winemaking grapes, you must have the optimal ratio of fruit to vegetation. This means leaf-pulling and hedging but also cluster thinning the grapes. In cluster thinning, the grapes are thinned based on how long their accompanying cane is, since it is the leaves on the cane that absorb the sunlight, convert it to energy and create the sugar in the grapes. Too many grapes on a small vine and the plant won’t be able to ripen them in time for harvest. To avoid this problem, workers remove clusters of grapes from canes that are too short, so that the vine can focus on ripening the clusters on longer canes. Now, if you’re a numbers person, you could also say the vines are thinned to produce two tonnes per acre, which is the same target we aim for at Broken Stone. This target keeps the vineyard happy ecologically and the winery happy economically.
With these final jobs complete, it’s time to take a moment’s rest as the grapes ripen. The long hours of harvest are just around the corner in New Zealand.”