The Continental Divide of Wine Making

When I planted my Marquette vines five years ago, I had every intention of becoming an organic grape grower. It was really never a conscious decision; it just fit my philosophy of putting the best ingredients in our mouths and not demanding perfect looking fruit.

So I tolerated foliar Phylloxera which made many of my leaves look like pimply teens. I allowed an invasion of Japanese Beetles who ate and mated away the summer like gluttonous honeymooners on the all-you-can-eat vineyard cruise. I avoided weed killers like Roundup in my rows, letting more than a few dandelions take root around my vine trunks.

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Meanwhile, I kept reading and re-reading my grape-growing books like From Vines to Wines, the classic home-winemaking manual which was making me smarter about my viticultural experiment.

Unfortunately, I never read the Appendix.

Everything was moving along nicely for my vines until late-summer. That was when I noticed small grey-brown specks forming on my grapes. They were tiny, so I paid no heed. Then they grew into freckle-size marks. But I was calm. Finally, I went away for a week or two and returned to hundreds of “mummies” – grapes that had completely shriveled, dried up, and become hard black raisins akin to large Malabar peppercorns. I would eventually lose about 60 percent of my crop that year.

I finally read the Appendix.

What I learned was that there is a Continental Divide in grape growing. East of the Mississippi, where summers are hot and humid, with prevalent thunder showers, wine grape growers need to play by different rules. Fungus abounds in those steamy conditions, and a form of fungus called Anthracnose did my grapes in.

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Donning a mask for the spraying of fungicide.

By the next Spring, I started the ritual which I performed just the other day: I don a mask, eye protection and a 3-gallon backpack sprayer. (thanks for the practical birthday gift, Dad) I spray my buds and shoots 4-5 times during the growing season with a readily available product called Immunox.

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I never apply it close to harvest and in fact I have no need to do so. The reason is that Anthracnose only attacks the young grapes when they are still green. Once veraison occurs, and the grapes turn from green to red – when the sugars rise and acidity falls – the Anthracnose won’t attack.

It’s a disease of the young, and there’s nothing like losing a harvest to help a grape grower grow up.

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