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Monday, 18 January 2016

In the Vineyard

January is already drawing to a close, and I'm focusing on three different aspects of my mini-wine-business: in the vineyards, pruning, removing the canes, hoeing up around the vines, and other miscellaneous activites like cutting grass, fixings drainage channels, and fences, and generally tidying up; in the bodega, bottling up older vintages from barrels, and filling said barrels with new vintages; and on the home front, writing a HACCP (pronounced "HAZOP"), ie a food safety management plan! Amongst other things. But enough of that! Here's my latest news from the mountains:

In the Vineyard

The other day I was in my other Garnacha vineyard in El Tiemblo (Sierra de Gredos), having completely finished pruning the first (rock rose infested) Granacha vineyard that I wrote about in my previous post. Actually, I still have to finish raking up pine needles and checking and fixing the perimiter fence, but those tasks I have relegated to a lower priority, to be done 'some other time'!

So I spent the whole day here in this vineyard, but in a terribly inefficient manner - I only did 5 rows of about 10 vines. But I did them absolutely beautifully! More like gardening, rather than agricultural labour! I did it this way for a few reasons:
1. The vineyard now looks really beautiful as seen from the gate, so that keeps the owner and neighbours off my back - no more comments on how bad the vineyard look, etc, etc!  I'm used to it by now and I pay no attention, but it's still annoying!
2. A whole day's exclusive pruning is sore on the back muscles, so it's better to do a whole range of different activities that use different muscles
3. It was great fun and immensely satisfying to make such a beautiful 'garden' in the vineyard!

Here's some photos:

Natural State
The photo above (Natural State) shows the vineyard in, errrm, its natural state at this time of year; except for the near foreground, the vines are unpruned and there's lots of dead grass from last year between the rows; and there's new grass growing already, which is quite strange, but not surprising given climate change and generally increasing temperatures. I've even heard news of grapevines budding already - but not in Gredos.

 First Rows
The photo above is of the first few rows of the vineyard as seen from the road. After pruning the vines, I then cut the long grass with a sickle, and then hoed up around around them. I think this is a good idea, as the vines will be able to benefit from 100% of the rain that falls on them, with no competition from the grass and plants. They don't actually need all that water to survive, as their roots are very deep and can find water that the short-rooted plant cannot; and they are hardy drought-resistant varieties anyway. But even so, a little extra competitive advantage won't do them any harm, what?

Then I even raked up all the dead grass between the rows! I don't think there's any good agricultural reason for doing that, but what the hell? I felt like doing it, and the result look quite nice, no? It will be interesting to see if there are any consequences. For example, all the new grass might grow better now that there are no dead leaves and grass in their way. Maybe this spring these first few rows will be overwhelmed by new grass? Has my intervention upset the balance? 

Above is a close-up of a pruned vine and its immediate surroundings.

Above is a lovely worm, evidence of a living healthy and balanced soil. Worms aerate the soil via the tunnels they make, thus helping to protect it from erosion; and they also improve its quality by eating, digesting and exceting it! Go figure!

Healthy balanced soil is very important, because vines can extract from it all the nutrients they need, neither too much not too little, but the perfect amount of each nutrient and micro-nutrient. Industrial-chemically farmed vines produce unbalanced faulty grapes because the soil they live in is biologically dead - it's just a substance that holds the vines upright, and which has an excessive over-abundance of some nutrients and a complete lack of others. There's no way possible to make a complex, interesting, terroir-expressing wine with grapes from that quality of soil. (Enough ranting already - Ed.)

A piece of bad news and really annoying too, is that 'someone' (I'm guessing the owner) took it upon themselves to prune the vines that I had deliberately allowed to climb up the various trees growning in the vineyard. This was so I could make a tiny experimental batch of 'Roman' wine. I haven't spoken to the owner about it yet - I'm letting time pass so I won't be so upset and angry when I do bring the subject up.

The Romans had three systems of grapegrowing: trellised and bush vines which we inherited from them, and also a third method which consisted of letting the vines grow up trees, which we have lost today. Pliny and Columella write about it at length here and here, respectively.

I hope to finish pruning this vineyard soon and make a start on my third, newly acquired, Chelva vineyard here in El Tiemblo.

That just leaves the Carabaña (Airén/Tempranillo) and Villarejo (Malvar) vineyards, but they have interesting issues/complications, ... which is another story!

I've also done some work in the bodega and at my computer, but I'll leave that for another post and another day.

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