Brianna was ready to be picked Sunday morning, August 14! It was a beautiful bumper crop totaling just over 3 tons (over 6,000 lbs) for 270 plants.
We installed bird netting on our Marquette vines yesterday, and got a good start on the Frontenac vineyard. The birds tend to notice the "red" grapes first, and when they start to sweeten, swoop and and do their damage. Not so bad to put out, but not so fun to take off after the vines have grown out of the netting and tendrils hook on... But a necessary practice if you want to harvest.
Another year in the books at Calico Skies Vineyards! In 2010 we planted five acres of vines just North of our Tasting Room/Production Room. Originally pasture ground, our site is ideal for wine grape production with South facing slopes, well drained soil and not a tree in site- allowing for full sun and great air circulation.
The characteristics and quality of each vintage starts in the vineyard. You can follow the journey of our wines from grape to glass starting with pruning come late February, bud break in May, rapid shoot growth and pollination in June with continual combing and maintenance of shoots for optimal sun exposure of the fruit through August. Bird netting goes on as soon as the berries start to sweeten and we are at constant alert of signs of disease and pest damage. Each step along the way is imperative to producing the highest quality grapes.
Mother Nature keeps things interesting for us and gives each vintage its own distinguishing characteristics. Vintage 2015 had its fair share of ups and downs. The vineyard broke bud around the first of May. We were hit with a hail storm where we basically had to hit the restart button on growth from secondary buds pushing back our harvest date and setting us back in yield as secondary buds aren't quite as fruitful as the first primary buds.
The secondary shoots came back strongly, however, and we were back on track. We are always concerned with a late frost after bud break and we were at risk mid-may but were able to protect the new shoots by a foliar spray to make buds hardier.
We had pretty ideal weather after that. Enough rain in the spring and sunshine in the summer along with a late fall to help ripen the fruit and make up for the delayed start in the spring.
Our 2015 Frontenac Gris's journey is going to be in uncharted territory for us as it is destined for some sparkles! More to come on that!
We had an outstanding crew to help pick bring in our La Crescent crop the second week of September with a few wine club members in addition to a group from Dordt College.
Marquette came in over the course of four early mornings mid-September. There were a few days of picking solo, hence the four day time frame picking in the early morning and stopping by 11 am whether it's complete or not. We try to pick during the early mornings while the fruit is still cool maintaining fruit quality and keeping a wild fermentation at bay.
Frontenac was ready for harvest the next week, leading to another multiple day harvest- careful to bring it in during the best conditions for the grapes as possible- again, during the cooler morning temps
Harvest is just one part of the puzzle, of course. While we are working hard to bring the grapes in, we are busy with crush in the production room. That's a story for another time.
Caps are starting to fall off in the La Crescent lot revealing the pistil and stamens/anthers. Bloom time!
Mother's Day Hail Storm
It happened again... Hail damage- the second year in a row... It was earlier in the season this year, however, most of the buds were out and extremely sensitive. The hail, ranging from pea sized to quarter sized, completely knocked off most of the shoots and buds. While some foliage remains, stems are bruised and leaves are torn leaving the plant open to infection. We are hoping that the secondary buds will be coming out and will be somewhat fruitful for us.
Grapevines are a perennial plant and are not a commodity crop. I have been training these guys since 2010 when we first put their roots in the soil. We won't just be able to replant for the season. The damage that they received this year will affect next year's crop in addition to the 2015 harvest while still trying to recover from the 2014 damage.
Thankfully, we do get a second chance. Their secondary buds should be working on coming out as long as they weren't ripped off as well. These buds should be somewhat fruitful and be able to keep the vine going. If we are left with a lot of missing shoots on the cordon we will be looking at replacement from growth lower on the trunk.
A labor of love! Continuing the journey...
Readying the new vines that were planted on the test vineyard this past spring for fall/winter! Tying up the vines to the bamboo canes a pulling up it taking off the grow tubes so they can harden off before the first hard frost.
The late spring got us behind the late frost set us back and the hail we received in early June cause a lot of damage to the growth and flower buds that did survive the frost. The vines had a great recovery after the hail with lots of new healthy foliage and some new flower buds. This put the flowers/fruit at different stages so we are attempting to get two different crops off of our Brianna vines-the fruit that set off of the original shoots and the fruit that set after the hail (first crop/second crop).
A Good Year...
It ended up being a fantastic year in the vineyard! This was our fourth growing season, so we were looking forward to a "full" crop/harvest in much of the vineyard. We didn't have any issues with early growth+frost or late frost, which was our biggest problem last year (2012), where we saw early bud break on our acre of Marquette and acre of La Crescent in late March early April. Shoots were 1-3" long and had already sent out their flower buds... Knowing we can receive a frost up to the first week in May, this was cause of concern. We received a frost April 10th and 11th which caused us to loose the growth and flower buds that we had as well as completely killing some of those buds. This set our Marquette and La Crescent vines back at least one year and we spent time replacing cordons with shoots that had come from the trunks.
We started pruning in late winter, finish early spring and had a great start to 2013 with a decent amount of moisture in the spring of which we missed out on in 2012, with little rainfall in the summer, good for vineyards - they don't like wet feet! and this also reduces disease/fungal pressure. We spent many hours in the vineyard thinning flower buds and shoots to the amount we thought the plant could ripen the grapes to their full potential. Combing, combing, combing... We also took time to position the growth of the top growing wire downward which allows for better sun penetration to the foliage and fruit, air circulation, easier harvest, and in the end, easier to prune - still looking forward to that. ;) Weeds... It is starting to become easier to keep the row free of "weeds" as the vines continue to have a hardier, more woody trunk.
We allowed our half acre of Brianna, half acre of Frontenac Gris, and acre of Frontenac to have a full crop, leaving most of the flower buds but keeping the amount per plant to 72ish flower buds giving us 72ish grape clusters, ideally. Because of the issues we had in the Marquette and La Crescent vineyard in 2012 spring, we kept those to half a crop, removing half of the flower buds.
We harvested our Brianna August 17th at 17 brix. Brianna is harvested a little less ripe to keep the fresh, fruity flavors - that pineapple, banana that we love in the wine!
A huge thank you to everyone who came out to help with harvest this year! We could not have done it without you! After 4 years of growth - the training, the thinning, the combing, the pruning in the bitter cold... It was so rewarding to see such beautiful berries. Looking forward to tasting the 2013 vintages! Cheers!
Ashlee: owner/operator and manager of our 5 acre vineyard.