Tuesday, July 8, 2008
First seeing the beautiful exposures sloping to the south, I thought "how nice a vineyard would look here". My hunch was that the ground and area could be great for grapes, but what did I know? My one real vineyard experience, taking care of the muscat plantings at Pirgalaki on Samos, had rooted a love for vines, yet that was a far cry from taking raw land and making a vineyard. Grape Hill was CRP land when we bought it and much of the farm remains in CRP. (We actually had to pay significant money to withdraw the vineyard and house from the government contract we inherited with the purchase.)
The Little Vineyard owes much to Stan Clark, who was the dynamo leader of Walla Walla's Viticulture Institute and who became a great friend to us. Stan came out in 2003, looked over the area, and shouted "Sure, let's put in a vineyard" and off we went to make it happen! (Stan died suddenly last year. He is sorely missed for his great energy, his knowledge, his infectious enthusiasm.)
We drove to Benton City to pick up the vines from Tom Judkins, drove to Sunnyside to pick up the end posts and stakes (very nearly wrecking the truck...who knew that 120 rods of steel would weigh that much?), and Stan dove in with his classes to stake and plant the rows. Alan Wernsing came in soon after to build the eight-foot high deer fence all around the vineyard.
The deer fence was just the first of many lessons about critters and grapevines. Gophers love the new roots and took out half the cab franc and merlot. Battling gophers means a constant vigil...no fence will keep out these guys. Hooray for our beautiful raptors...hawks most days and owls at night. Other birds are not so welcome. We learned the hard way how quickly a flock of birds will strip the fruit off the vines just about a day before we would be picking ourselves.
There is constant learning. I had no idea that planting a vineyard would mean that the neighbors can no longer use aerial crop spraying for a mile around. Asparagus apparently works as a barrier to gophers. Sound devices don't stop any critters, and hungry birds seem to look for mylar reflectors from 1000 feet up to zone right in on our fruit.
We put our first wine into bottle this May...a very funny learn-as-you-go experience in the kitchen at our Bellevue house. We learned how to use the siphon pump and the corking stand without too many spills. The shrink-wrap bottle-top foils are really cool. No, we haven't got a name for the wine, much less any idea where we will store the hundreds of bottles we will be making this coming year. But I had my first great wine success with a lots of thanks to Stephanie Briggs. We did that first bottling from a carboy of cab, syrah, and a little petit verdot...unoaked for early summer drinking. They do this all the time in Bordeaux...making less serious wines from quality grapes, showing them no wood at all, and drinking them "fresh" or slightly chilled all summer long. That first bottling is pretty terrific, if I do say so! We have to leave it decanted on air for about three hours ahead of drinking and then the young powerhouse softens into a full-bodied delight...one big strong smiling farmboy!