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.”
Plans for our annual bus tour to Prince Edward County are coming together on June 18. This year we visit five unique wineries and have a delicious barbecue lunch at Broken Stone Winery. We anticipate our third bus tour will be as magical as each of the previous. This is a great chance to sample and buy spectacular local wines, to meet the growers and winemakers, and to get an inside view of the energetic wine scene in Prince Edward County.
Don’t miss out — reserve your seat now by reaching out to the winery via email or telephone, and we’ll look after the details.
Tour wine country safely and comfortably with Broken Stone Winery!
European grape varieties Pinot Noir and Chardonnay comprise the largest part of our plantings. Mediterranean in origin, they’re vulnerable to the coldest part of our winters. Although Winter was gentle this year, in February there were still a couple of days where temperatures plunged close to -30 degrees. So most of the buds above ground will have been damaged by the cold.
Fortunately, we went to great expense and effort to bury four canes underground for every single vine. A protective blanket of soil is remarkably effective at providing the critical extra degrees of warmth to protect the vines from the ravages of winter. The buds on the buried vines will be undamaged. Just a couple of degrees difference means the difference between having a crop, and not.
“Budbreak” is when the vines start their new growing season. In Prince Edward County at our site, budbreak typically starts at the beginning of May. Before budbreak, we have a huge amount of work to do. All the old canes that weren’t buried have to be pruned off, hauled out of the vineyard, and burned. Then we fire up the tractor, reverse the blades of our hiller plow so now it’s a de-hiller plow, and drive up and down the rows, tearing down the hills of soil. Next step is to use the grape hoe attachment on the tractor to pass within centimeters of each vine pushing soil away. In the end, there is almost no soil left over the buried vines.
We used thousands of twist ties to tie last year’s canes to a low wire. So now the back-breaking labour begins — we reach down with our gloved fingers through the soft soil, grab the wire, and shake the dirt off the canes. Then we carefully snip the twist ties to loosen the canes.
Tieing up begins. The canes need to be tied up onto the trellis, so when the buds push green shoots, it’s easier for us to arrange them into a nice, tidy hedge. A crew gets out in the field and carefully arranges the canes in an orderly system on the trellis.
All this preparation happens under time pressure. If budbreak occurs before we’re done and shoots start growing, everything gets more difficult. The infant shoots are incredibly delicate and easy to knock off the cane — each shoot that gets knocked off means less wine at the end of the season. And in buds that start to grow underground, shoots think they’re roots, and come out looking like white worms. Do they turn back into shoots if you pull them up into the light, or do they shrivel off when they hit the air to be replaced by a new shoot? I’ve never been quite sure.
Ideally, we’d finish all our pruning and tieing up by budbreak. But there’s a tricky balancing act of hiring just enough help but not more than we absolutely need. Combined with delays from the occasional Spring rain we’ve never been able to get the timing quite right. Quite often we find ourselves still tieing up well into May and finishing the final touches in early June!
Meanwhile, there’s lots happening in the winery, making wine, planning events, and getting ready for the summer season…but that’s another story.
Winter is such a great time to rest and dream and plan. Spring is the time to put the dreams into action!