The early winter frosts last year, 20 below in some Palisade locations, and late spring freezes this year impacted random vineyards on the Western Slope. Our harvest was less than last year due to temp factors, plus we lost half our pinot noir vineyard due to virus.
We took table grapes to the farmers markets, and we froze 8 gallons of Concord grape juice too. Max made a batch of Chambourçin Rosé as well as a tiny batch Pinot Gris. All the rest of our grapes went to Jack Rabbit Hill this year. We look forward to sampling the results!
Wink rented a mini ex (small excavator) and spent a couple of days in December digging out the virus vine roots so we can replant. We first tried to pull them out with a chain, but that left far too much in the ground to regrow. The vineyard is a complete mess right now, so don't even want a photo! Five rows look like a giant gopher plowed through and tried to eat the wires and sprinklers on the way.
The big news in the vineyard is that we finished the major pruning by July 1st!! Thanks to Lindsay, Trevor and Rebecca for their discipline and hard work in achieving our vineyard goal. We rewarded ourselves with a serious celebration dinner.
The other big news is that we trained our Babydoll sheep not to eat the grapevines. Robbie Baird LeValley was instrumental in accomplishing this sheep behavior modification. Turns out ruminants can be trained to eat or not eat the plants farmers want to manage better. Plus animals fertilize and weed at the same time without petrochemicals!
1. The sheep are fed delicious fresh-picked grape leaves. These canes needed to be removed anyway.
2. Robbie and Dakota then give each sheep a capsule of a salt that makes them "wish I hadn't eaten the whole thing."
3. Stumpy, our bold black sheep, samples a grape leaf. This isn't unusual when they are testing for taste. We spent many hours watching to see if they forgot their lesson.
4. Some of our sheep had to take a remedial course, but most of them cleaned up around the vines beautifully. We removed the sheep from the grapes 90 days prior to expected harvest per organic standards.
We ordered 500 pinot meunier and pinot gris this year to replant in the North Section of Meadowlark Vineyard. It makes sense to fill out the vineyard, but the job is a killer. We start by auguring a hole, then fill it with water from our sprayer with hoses and buckets. Then we plant our dormant vines that have been trimmed to two buds (photo to the right). We add soil amendments and more water.
Fortunately we had visitors to the farm that helped one Sunday afternoon. It was greatly appreciated and we finished planting all 500 vines in about 4 days.
Pruning workshop May 23
As the photo shows, it was a cold and windy day when Bennett Price, from Debeque Canyon Winery, came to Mesa Winds Farm to teach our Young Farmers about viticulture and training grapes. He's an excellent teacher with much experience and knowledge.
When the weather became a little warmer, we spent the day pruning in Meadowlark. The time went quickly because the work was so enjoyable. When we looked up, it was 8pm!
In early June we will be picking up thirteen Babydoll Southdowns from eastern Kansas and Nebraska. These sheep will form the core of a flock we are training to graze in our vineyard, mow and fertilize. We have obtained a small grant to document our efforts so sheep might be useful in other vineyards or farms.
We are excited to have the opportunity to work with this small heritage breed, and we are doubly excited to have such fine breeding stock! We will have much to say about this project once it is underway.
Early pruning & care
What wasn't so pretty when we harvested our grapes in October — the bunches on those particular vines were not ripe and berry size was stunted. We had to drop them to the ground rather than add them to the wine.
We tagged the afflicted vines and cut samples in April to be tested by Agri-Analysis in California. Indeed we have one virus, Leafroll 3, which no doubt entered our vineyard on the nursery stock at planting.
The virus is transmittable, cannot be cured, will result in reduced harvests over time. We will likely remove those diseased vines and replant next year, also completing the last row in that vineyard.
Is this why so many vineyards in Colorado are not profitable? First, the trellising and planting costs are high. The lag time between planting and harvest is measured in years. And establishing a vineyard without gaps and problems can take even longer! Our pinot noir vineyard has been plagued from the beginning.