They say Pinot Noir is tough to grow, but last year we struggled with our first crop of Chardonnay…
“This vineyard is a write-off!” shouted my vineyard employee (I’ll call him Bob) and stalked out of the Chardonnay to go work on softer ground in the front vineyard.
Even the hardiest of workers can get frustrated when the heat is hot, humidity is high and the mosquitoes are thick.
It was June 2013, and admittedly, I had neglected a mowing or two in that corner of the vineyard. The weeds were three feet high. Vines were flopping out into the rows, three or four feet long, rendering the rows impassable by tractor. OK, it was bad. We desperately needed to tuck the vines in so I could mow and plow with the machinery.
“It’s not a write-off. But we better tuck that vineyard right away or it will be!” I said, following him for a few steps. Bob harrumphed and kept walking.
Sometimes the only way to get the hard things done is to do them yourself. I spent the next few hours out in in the back vineyard doing a quick emergency tuck. As mosquitoes munched my back, I carefully pushed the errant vines under the trellis wires and out of the way. I’m somewhat immune to mosquitoes as a legacy of five summers of tree planting in northern Canada (but that’s a whole other adventure). The heat I had to tolerate and soon sweated through my shirt. It was a tough tuck indeed!
When the vines were out of the way and in no danger, I hooked up the Bush Hog mower to my Zetor tractor, and made short work of the weeds. Things looked much better and we went from there. I didn’t blame Bob for the bad day and I think he appreciated getting some help to put things back on track.
But last year our Chardonnay did struggle. Before the weeds grew, we already had poor fruit set: when the grapes flower, they self-pollinate. If the wind is blowing the wrong way, or it rains that day, the pollination is imperfect and you get poor “fruit set”. Then, instead of nice big clusters packed with juicy grapes, you get small loose clusters.
The weeds continued to be a problem throughout the summer. We mowed the weeds in the middle of the rows, but the big Bush Hog doesn’t mow under the vines. There, we needed to hoe each vine and pull the weeds by hand. No one could seem to find the time for that between tucking and leaf pulling and rainy days.
By the end of the season, the grapes looked less than perfect. In the moist, humid conditions leading to Harvest, half the grapes had turned brown. I wanted the ripe grapes to look golden. I started to believe Bob — maybe the Chardonnay was a write-off. But we carefully harvested the grapes, and meticulously processed them, and turned them into wine anyway.
The aroma during fermentation was glorious. Our first Chardonnay wine is delicious! Sometimes things go right in spite of things going wrong. It was worth it!