Friday, November 27, 2009

Cerro Prieto's End of Harvest, 2009? Part 1

The days are short,
The sun rides low,
Yet still out into
The vineyard I go.

Just because the harvest is in, most folks think the vineyard work is done. A nice thought, but far from fact. In truth, once the final grape is picked, a frenetic 3-4 weeks ensues. Cerro Prieto Vineyard is, as many of you know, a straight up/ straight down vineyard. Everything that could be done easily and quickly on a flatter, more level vineyard takes two to three times the work and effort to complete here. The spectacular death-defying 45 degree hillsides which give the vineyard its beauty and charm, also make for double and triple the work at season's end.

The tasks? Well, in no particular order, the $1000 computer/speaker/battery
units that produce bird distress and hawk calls (used to scare away grape eating birds) need to be taken down, speakers unhooked & wire retrieved, then boxed and stored. And we have 15 of them, many placed on the steep hillsides. The hawk kites and windmills, also used to scare away birds, need to be disassembled, carted to the barn, and stored delicately. Windmills and kites usually are used one/acre, but due to the multiple blocs we have, many require 2-3 kites and windmills per bloc, in that line of sight is limited on steep hillsides nestled in between the oak trees that frame the vineyard. For the record, it has been estimated that we have over 5,000 oak trees surrounding our vineyard.

The last item of bird protection measures is the approximate 18 miles of bird netting that we use to protect against bird damage. Much of it just stays rolled up beneath vines tied to the drip hose, but during harvest, if distress calls, kites, and windmills fail, we have to immediately put up the netting to protect the crop. This year we probably had no more than 9 miles of netting in use, but it is absolutely essential if flocks of hungry birds decide to "eat at Cerro Prieto". If we have a varietal that ripens a few days before our neighbors' grapes, or conversely somewhat later, then the grape stealers appear in massive clouds. There is an old dictum: "once birds start eating in YOUR vineyard, there is no keeping them away." Hence the tremendous effort to get "anti-bird" devices up and running well before grapes go thru verasion.

Once grape protection devices are stored, the next most critical job is getting erosion prone areas re-seeded with cover crop(fescue, clovers, bromes, barley, filaree), AND hand spreading hay over the seed. With some hillsides approaching 45 degrees inclination, failure to seed and cover with hay can cause severe erosion in case of high rainfall storms. Currently, there is an El Nino current offshore, and some meterologists are calling for a wet winter. Should anti-erosion measures be left undone, on the steepest hillsides loss of an entire row is likely...and cost to rebuild an eroded row with RR ties, cinder blocks, stakes, baling wire, and lastly 3" gravel, comes to around $1000 per 200 feet of lost row.

In the big, dark, wet of 2005, even with erosion control measures, we lost over 1000 feet of rows. Some of the vines between rows, while still standing, had 8-10 inches of their roots laid bare by the multiple 5" rains we had, each occuring in 5 hours or less. ( Continued in Part 2).

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