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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.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Attack of the Rock Roses (Part 2)

(continuation of Part 1 of the Attack of the Rock Roses)

So I did some physical exercises for a few days, in preparation for my counter-attack against the rock roses; a few press-ups and some abominable crunches in the morning, and some hand, finger, ankle exercises whenever I remembered during the day.

I had intended to start at the crack of dawn, but no plan ever survives contact with real life and my morning ended up full of distractions and complications. It was only after lunch that I was able to get out to the vineyard.

The was no way I was going to tackle the main 'briar patch' on the first day! It was far too daunting. I started with an easy part, working my way down the nearside boundary, where there weren't so many rock roses to uproot, only two or three every row. The going was good, and I even managed to work my way along the bottom boundary for a few meters. But the days are short at this time of year so it soon got dark and I had to stop.

The densely populated main 'briar patch'

Next day I was back, this time bright and early in the morning. But I still didn't feel like starting on the 'briar patch' so I just continued what I was doing - working my way along the bottom boundary, uprooting the sparcely spaced rock roses. Crouch down, grab the stalk near the ground, pull out, put in a pile; repeat all day long!

The sparsely populated bottom boudary

I finished the bottom boundary and started working my way up the far boundary towards the main rock rose patch. When I got to the edge, I stopped, and I went to to the top of the far boundary and started working my way down until I reached the other edge of the main patch. Then it was time for lunch. Perfect timing. I would do the final assault after lunch!

The southern edge of the briar patch

So after lunch (short) I dove straight in to work. I was bearing up well, physically, nothing was too sore. Yet! It was tremendously boring work, as it took me ages to clear each square meter. I seemed to be constantly in the same place and not making any progress at all. There were hundreds of little rock roses in each square meter, and medium sized ones, and large ones too. The tiny little ones were the easiest to pull out, obviously, but they were also the most boring. They were infinite!

so many rock roses

Now everything was starting to get sore, just like I had anticipated: quadriceps, back and fingers mostly. I would alternate squatting down on my haunches (that way my back wouldn't hurt) and when my quads complained I would stand up straight and bend over to grasp and pull (that way my quads wouldn't hurt). In the end though both back and quads hurt like hell! There was nothing I could do about the fingers though, I just had to keep grasping and pulling.

It was now a race against time. I really wanted to finish the uprooting before sunset, otherwise I could have to come back another day to mop up. Not only are the days short in January, but the vineyard is in a valley surrounded by high mountains, so the sun actually 'sets' earlier than usual.

In the end, I managed to uproot all the rock roses before dark.

neat piles of uprooted rock roses

But I had to go back another day after all - to remove all those piles of uprooted rock roses that I had neatly piled up.

more neat piles 

So on the third day, with great satisfaction I threw all the piles of rock roses over the vineyard boundary into the neighbouring pine forest where they would decompose.

But another unexpected task came up which took me the rest of the day to deal with: there was quite an extensive area of the vineyard that was covered with pine needles, fallen from some neighbouring pine trees. I don't think that an excess of pine needles can be good for a vineyard's soil. Nothing much can grow in a pine forest becuse the pine needles are very acidic and don't allow other plants to thrive.

Piles of pine needles, and pine trees at the vineyard boundaries

I spent the rest of the day raking up pine needles and returning them to the forest. But again darkness fell and I had to stop before I could finish properly. I don't know when I'll be able to finish that task.

That was an extra, unscheduled and unexpected three days spent in this vineyard. Other tasks now beckon. At the top of my list of priorities, I have to bottle up ten barrels of red wine. This has to be done soon, because 1) the wine has been in the barrels long enough, and if it stays too long it will taste too much of oak, 2) the wine has to age a while in bottles before I can sell it, and 3) I have to free up the barrels so I can put new wine into them. Next on the list is the pruning - and I have five vineyards now to manage: Airén/Tempranillo in Carabaña, Malvar in Villarejo, Garnacha I and Garnacha II in El Tiemblo, and now Chelva in El Tiemblo too. So the sooner I start, the sooner I will finish, hopefully by March/April. Further down my list of priorities, are a whole load of other tasks and activities, some more fun than others, which I'll deal with too, when the time comes.

But I'm not happy about those pine needles. I wonder if they've even been raked up and removed before. The poor vines affected (around 50-60) must have been suffering for years if not decades. I really ought to give them some lovely manure this winter. We shall see. But other urgent tasks beckon too. Stay tuned.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Attack of the Rock Roses (Part 1)

Not so long ago in a vineyard not so far far away, all was in harmony and equilibrium. The dominant life-form (Garnacha vines)  were busy producing beautiful, aromatic, complex and well-balanced must, in collaboration with all the other minor life-forms who also lived in the vineyard. All lived together, the many species of grasses, plants, flowers and thistles and the many species of insects and assorted beasties, all the way down to microscopic size and even the invisible yet important unicellular life-forms like bacteria and yeasts; and also the occasional macro life-form which either lived in or just passed through the vineyard, like spiders, worms, birds, goats, sheep, cows, all the way up to the vigneron himself!

Old vine Garnacha vineyard, in El Tiemblo (Sierra de Gredos) Spain:
Harmony in the vineyard
But then, one day when the vigneron went to the vineyard to start on the annual pruning, he found that the balance and the harmony had been lost; for one of the minor life-forms (the Rock Roses) had invaded the vineyard and were starting to dominate it, to the detriment of the rightful species, the Garnachas.

Invasion of Rock Roses
Most of the rock roses were concentrated in a patch at the bottom of the vineyards out of sight of the top gate, hidden by a dip in the land.

Rock Rose patch at bottom of vineyard

What had happened? How had this come to pass? Was this a case of too little intervention by the vigneron? Perhaps. Some of those rock roses were quite tall and must have been there for at least two years. Others were small, less than one year old.

A tall deep-rooted 2-yr old rock rose
Rock roses are OK 'near' and 'around' the vineyard as they provide a habitat and biodiversity, and they look nice and smell good, and make a positive contribution to the quality of the grapes and must and wine. But no way can they be allowed to grow 'in' the vineyard among the vines. This is because rock roses and actually bushes and can even turn into small trees if the conditions are right for them. They are perennials, have long deep roots and would directly compete with the vines for water and nutrients.

Too many rock roses in the vineyard

This is totally different from life-forms such as grasses, plants, flowers or thistles, which are annuals (ie die off and decompose within the year), have short roots and don't directly compete with the vines.

So, there's no doubt about it in my mind. They have to go! But how? Having renounced the use of chemical weapons of mass destruction, I will just have to uproot them all by hand! By crouching down and/or bending over, then grabbing and pulling.

I can feel the pain already - all those muscles that I don't normally use, in my feet, bum, back, hands and fingers!!!

So the plan of action is one or two days of mobilization of muscle power (situps, pressups, toestands, ankle rotations, hand and finger exercises, etc) then launch a counter-attack on the rock roses.

They're everywhere

Rock Roses invading Garnacha vineyard

I hope to be done in one or two days!

Happy New Year, btw :)
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