Archive for the ‘Viticulture’ Category

Frontenac Vintage Update


My relationship with wine grapes is a complex one. I did piles of research a few years ago to be well prepped for the potential day in the future that I would have wine grapes in my very own back yard. I since have become a believer in the apple culture we live in here, and am heading to Normandy in two days to glean from their hundreds of years of apple food culture they’ve got on us. I’m going to be hanging out with cider and calvados producers, tasting, and asking questions. Now, a couple days before I leave, I’m staring at ripe wine grapes in my backyard for the first time. My excitement at the possibility of a grippy, robust red grape wine from my yard has been renewed.

For the other northern viticulture geeks: this was an extremely wet year, lacking any stretches of hot weather in July/August. This was year 3, and despite brutal winterkill, a few fruiting canes put out fruit, and I let them go to see what happened. I have a dozen or so bunches. This year I’ll lay the vines down to protect them more. I’m surprised that these grapes have ripened. It was a fantastic year for mushrooms, put it that way. I’m wondering if my severe aphid problem offered a hand by de-leafing the lower third and exposing the fruit to sun for quite some time. Not sure. All I know is I’m now very excited about the prospect of next year’s harvest. Year 4.

Viticulture Update


My last update was a year ago, almost to the day, so I’m due. Having taken a quick look at last year’s photo, I’d wager a guess the vines are 3-4 times larger this year. At least. The shot on the left is of a vine reaching over the top trellis wire, almost 6′ high. Although I have stragglers of a couple other varietals, I’ll generally be focusing on two: Frontenac, and Frontenac Gris.

A few big changes this year. First, weather. Spring was late with no hard freeze or snow post-bud burst like last year. Last year our late May nastiness killed many to the ground for a few weeks. So 2011 has been smooth sailing in that respect. Next big difference is pruning. Last year I pruned them back to one bud, with the intent on having them send one shoot which would form the main trunk in future years. That’s what the book says… Worked last year training-wise. But come spring, it was evident that my long trunk canes were winter killed. All of them. So this spring I didn’t prune at all. I figure they can go crazy for a year to develop some mature wood and pump some solar energy into their roots – I’ll worry about the trunk training later. Winter kill is something I’m going to have to figure out on my own. Viticulture advice generally isn’t geared for this growing zone. Last big change: fruit. Some of the vines are deciding to fruit this year [see bottom photo], and although it’s only year 3, and I should be waiting for year 4 by the book [ie. pinch off all fruit clusters this year], there are only a few and I’m curious what they’ll do.

Like last year, June is hard on them aphid-wise. They drove me nuts last year, but I let them be and by later in the summer, aphids were no longer an issue. With far more vigorous growth and vegetative mass this year, I’m not worried about them. I give the bottom trellis wire a periodic shake if I walk by to piss them, but otherwise no intervention.

I’ve mentioned to many that my fervor for grape growing has been tempered significantly by my successes in ‘orchard fruit‘ wine [like the term, I credit Xina Chrapko, organic wine maker in our province]. But I can tell you that I’m glad I planned ahead 4 years ago and put them in. I’m getting the sense that I’ll be very glad I did a few years down the road.

Lawn Converted Into Food


Over the past few years I’ve watched a few hundred episodes of Gary Vaynerchuk’s Wine Library TV, and am a regular commenter there. Recently, I’ve been enamored with Daniel Klein’s ‘Perennial Plate‘ project about eating locally in Minnesota. So recently I had a bit of a ‘duh…’ moment, realizing that I had the gear to do some video blogging myself, and really should be using it as I really enjoy the nature of video for blogging purposes. So meet Kevin TV. I intend on keeping it a tad ghetto, one-take-esque, and uncontrived. We’ll see how it evolves. I’m especially excited about the video format come harvest and hunting season, and for farm visits.

This one is a simple mid-July garden tour of my recent ex-lawn. I intend on following it once a season over the next few years.

Grape Vine Update June 2010 [Year 2]


Quick vine update for other grape growing nerds. My Frontenac along the house are nearing the bottom wire of the trellis – which makes me happy daily. When I built the trellis, it felt very ambitious to expect the wee little grape plants to ever approach the wires. The bottom wire is 4′ – and should be easily achieved in only year 2. Impressive. I pruned them hard – down to 1-3 buds, hoping to have a strong shoot to train up – which seems to have worked for the vines that survived the spring. I’ve got stakes in the ground with twine running to the bottom wire, and am training them up the twine with vinclips – which are very effective at their job. Training them is one of the more enjoyable garden tasks, no question about that – popping another clip on them as they grow up every few days.

My Frontenac Gris seem to be doing equally fantastic. The Sabrevois and Louise Swenson aren’t nearly as excited to be here – although both varietals seem to have had a similar survival rate over winter. I unfortunately learned the hard way that these vines can survive the cold, but not snow once buds have broken – I lost a few in the spring in the cold snaps. I should have helped them more with some protection. Lesson learned. My intention has always been to see what does well, then propagate those plants to replace what I’ve lost. I’m suspecting that first propagation may happen next year.

I seem to have an aphid problem – you can see them leap off the leaves when you brush the leaves. I’ve had similar aphid issues on ivy vines before, and am fearful that this may become a significant problem. Anybody with ideas, please weigh in. [I've done the 'blast with water' method, doesn't seem to do much]. If it worsens, I’ll get bad-ass on them somehow…

My Northerly Backyard Vineyard: Year 2

At 53o 34′ latitude, this photo is a small triumph: my grapes seem to have easily survived their first winter. I pruned them back hard a week or two ago, looking to encourage vigorous growth out of one shoot in an effort to train a mature-wooded trunk by year end. Grapes are impressing me with their vigour – exploding buds here there and everywhere, clearly motivated to live.

I’m still a long way off from maturing fruit and actually making wine of any quality, but this was an important step in that direction. In the meantime, I’ll be happily making wines with other locally abundant fruit so that I’m prepared when the time arrives.

If you’re crazy like me, some our best national viticulture resources are Bert Dunn and Alain Breault & Mariette Lagueux. These folks have been pushing the limits of northerly viticulture for decades [thankfully] and seem to be part of a tight community that’s very willing to share and help out anyone willing to discover the new frontier with them.

The Vines Arrive

After far more planning and preparation than I generally would care to admit, after all the months of anticipation – this day has finally arrived. It had been delayed by the Frontenac Gris varietal not yet being released from quarantine by the CFIA. I’d then been watching for the post truck for days, hoping that they’d have something for me. Today, after a long truck ride across the country all the way from Quebec, my vines are at their new home!!! I was very pleased with how healthy and happy the vines were upon arrival – it exceeded my expectations, which have been lowered by spindly seed catalog perennials [cheap shot?]. My new buddies:


Frontenac Gris


Louise Swenson

I was slightly choked that they had to arrive during the one period of heavy rains all year. My soaked self felt slightly better thinking that I may dodge the number one killer of young vines: lack of water. Hope so, anyway.

So they’re finally in the ground. Now the adventure of caring for them to see if I can make them survive and hopefully thrive. Only time will tell…

Proof That I’m Crazy: Viticulture In Edmonton

It’s time I start talking about it. I’m a tad crazy. Perhaps overly optimistic. UPS delivered the hardware for my grape trellises today, and the galvanized wire went up. The hardware had to come from the US, because, well, basically growing grapes locally just doesn’t happen. Because most other people aren’t crazy. After so much research and planning, it is very rewarding to finally be ready for planting.

My grapes arrive this week from reputable Quebec growers Alain Breault & Mariette Lagueux. They were referred to me by long-time grape grower Bert Dunn. These fine folks are proof that I’m not the only crazy one growing grapes in the previously grape-less north. And fortunate for me, much research has resulted in new north-hardy grape varietals. And if James Lovelock is right, I should have California’s climate here in a couple decades anyway…so I’m just…thinking ahead. Nah…just crazy.