I am always behind the times on TV shows but I did finally watch most of Yellowstone, and there was one particularly memorable line for me. The family patriarch John Dutton (played by Kevin Costner) is on horseback with the city-bred outsider who looks over his land and says, “It must take a lot to run this ranch.” The grizzled patriarch responds, “it takes everything we’ve got.”
This reminds me very much of Calluna. I can’t claim the heroics of Yellowstone, and we certainly don’t subscribe to the Dutton family’s violent solutions to problems, but the work required to run Calluna Vineyards can stretch me to the limit. While there are many great joys running a vineyard and making wine, the challenging days can outnumber the glamorous ones. I have some great people who work with me and I do try to delegate, but it is not always easy, especially in the field. For your interest, here are some of the issues which we have been dealing with recently…
Recall in our previous newsletter that I said we were finishing the planting of the last fire damaged vineyard block this Spring. We have just completed this task, but it took several days longer than I anticipated. Perhaps I have forgotten how tough it is to dig 3,200 holes. The holes must be adequately large. The vines must be planted carefully so that the roots are pointed down when the hole is backfilled – if not, the phenomenon of “J Rooting” will guarantee a weak vine (ie, the roots will grow back toward the surface). Labor is harder and harder to get these days, and more expensive. Supervision is critical. Then the new vines must be irrigated carefully, and that means every drip emitter in the vineyards must be checked to ensure they are working properly and in the right position. If you don’t take care that all is done right, a less than optimal vineyard is inevitable.
Calluna Wild Life
We have lots of animals visiting our property – coyotes, foxes, bobcats, skunks, rabbits, and our neighbor immediately to our north reports a mountain lion – but the only animal I really fear is the deer. They can chew down a vineyard overnight, especially a young vineyard. After buying the property in early 2005, our first enormous project was to build a deer fence on the perimeter of the entire 80 acres. That does a good job of keeping them out but every once in a while we get deer in – sometimes, a tree falls on the fence in the woods, sometimes a deer might just walk in through the gate with a car, we don’t always know.
Hearing that deer have entered the property will ruin a perfectly good day at Calluna. We must drop whatever we’re working on to assemble 10 or more people to march in a phalanx along the perimeter of our 80 acre property to flush out the deer. We leave our gates open with the hope that the deer will run the fence line and then exit through a gate. But you need a person at each gate to observe if the deer has actually left. It is painful, and expensive.
Unfortunately the other week, as we were completing the replanting of Block 5 Merlot, a member of the crew found a deer on the property. Immediately, we had to stop and revert the crew to focus on locating the deer. We worked to flush it out, yet could not find it. This may mean the deer escaped the same way it came in – which is not a comforting thought. We must remain on high alert as our vineyards leaf out.
Just mowing down our property is a major, multi-day task, so we tend to wait until the last rains and for the grasses to start drying out. If we are lucky, we only have to mow once. Mowing late also allows the annual portion of the cover crop to reseed itself, so it will grow again next year. But this year, the rain kept going through early May, and totals for the rain season were near 50” – the grasses on our property are all 3-5 feet high. If I show our vineyard now to visitors, they think our main crop is grass – you can’t even see the vines from many angles. We’ve begun mowing now, as it is likely the rain is over for the season.
Water Line Problems
We live on well water here and we are fortunate to have a great well. Through the various series of drought years we have had here, our well has been consistently strong. However, it is way down at the bottom of our hill and there is very high pressure in the water line as the pump pushes water up. With the high pressure, the fittings along the water line (couplers, elbows, etc) are always at risk.
Last year we had a small earthquake that did not seem like a big deal. But our water system stopped working! That relatively small earthquake moved the water line just enough to cause it to break in four different points. It is a big job to get it fixed as we need specialty well and pump contractors for that work.
And, just last week, our water stopped again. When I went down to inspect the line, I found the new neighbors were doing some trenching and ran right through our line. Fortunately, their contractor had the requisite skills to fix the problem quickly.
Replanting our Petit Verdot
Another project we’ve been working on is the final grafting of the newly replanted Petit Verdot (PV) vineyard. For this one, we planted rootstock a couple years ago and we are “field grafting” the PV budwood onto those rootstocks. The PV budwood we wanted, Clone 400, is hard to get. Fortunately, I have a friend at one of Napa Valley’s best vineyards who allowed us to take budwood from his PV vineyard two years ago. But as his vineyard was young, we could not get enough budwood to finish the job last year. So we collected more budwood from my friend back in January and are now completing the job. These specially focused workers make a cut in the rootstock trunk and attach a similarly cut single bud from the budwood. They wrap it with medical-looking tape and then we put a grow box on it and wait for the bud to push. It is quite an amazing process that you can propagate a vineyard this way. But it is a lot of work, first to get it done, and then to carefully manage the irrigation process while the vines are so young.
Having described all of the above chores at Calluna, I don’t want you to think I am getting disillusioned. I do have to coordinate an awful lot of work to make Calluna function, but there is one important driver that makes it all worthwhile: I believe in the quality of wine we are making. And I believe that the quality of the wine in your glass is a direct reflection of the attention to detail and precision that winemakers and growers have in the vineyard. At Calluna, our quality is very much due to the fact that we own these vineyards and pay close attention to what happens in the vineyards and to the entire winemaking process.
Ultimately, even after the most difficult days, it is always greatly satisfying to sit on our patio and look out at the beauty of our vines with a glass of wine, knowing the effort has gone into making it all happen.
Until next time!
Founder & Winemaker