“Nick. it’s Joel.”
“Hey, what’s up?”
“I wasn’t sure if you have gotten yourself on the Cornell Extension Services list and wanted you to know about the upcoming short course at their experiment station in Geneva. Thought maybe we could ride together with John Peterson—it was his suggestion.”
Nick had received notice of the day’s proceedings and he was planning on going.
“Sure thing. Who’s going to drive?”
“John volunteered to do that. Since he’s south of me and you are north of me, he’ll pick me up first and then come get you.”
“OK. I’ll be ready at 7:30. See you then.”
The extension service periodically invited winemakers to review their latest research discoveries and to also engage in comparing local wines with benchmark wines produced elsewhere in the world as a study not in wine styles but in what is behind producing those styles—in other words, the technicals.
This next event was to focus on cool climate precautions, which, though late was also timely, considering that not too many days back a frost swept into the region one evening that threatened the budding vines and that it was still the month of May. Because it’s normally cool enough well into May in the Finger Lakes, the idea of installing frost pots didn’t catch on because the vines usually were not budded out yet. But Nick’s first year as a grape grower turned out to be an anomaly. The warmth of April pushed budding and bloom came in the first part of May. Still, frost danger doesn’t diminish in the region until around Mother’s Day.
The answer in the Finger Lakes for years when buds are susceptible to frost has generally been to dump bales of hay strategically and then light them to smolder, producing a warm smoke that is likely to emanate into the vine rows and push cool air up. This system works well as long as the frost does not bring the temperature too far below freezing and as long as the frost doesn’t exceed its already tenuous welcome. In Nick’s case, however, the native and hybrid grapes in his vineyards were far more frost hardy than the vinifera vines that had been steadily going into the region’s earth. His vines fared well.
When John and Joel arrived to pick Nick up for the drive to the extension station, they were in a jolly mood. He got into the car and within minutes had been infected by the two—they had so much fun that the 45 minute trip seemed to take seconds. It wasn’t until they exited John’s car in the parking lot when Nick noticed the relative “junkiness” of the vehicle. He didn’t know it then, but over the years he had learned that one of many of John’s eccentricities was that he never bought a car new and he never got rid of a car if he could avoid doing it. He had two sales people on the road for his winery and he supplied each with a relative jalopy that made driving them a precarious endeavor; in fact, breakdowns on the road were so common that sales people were difficult to keep and along with making wine, John spent a great deal of time interviewing people for sales positions.
Another of John’s eccentricities was that he did not allow others to do much work in his cellar. As a result, he took responsibility for making the wine and keeping the cellar clean—he failed at the latter, which, in the end, he and his winery paid for dearly. But that would be in the future.
On that day at the experiment station, Nick learned more about cool climate methods for vine pruning, shoot thinning, frost protection, and the spray schedule. Some of what he learned had to do also with the shape in which to leave vines after harvest relative to how the growing season went. Midway into the course, Nick realized how little he knew and how much he would have to learn to be both a grape grower and a winemaker. He began to doubt his ability to do both. Still, he was happy to have learned an awful lot in the class; then, the drive back home made him truly happy.
In the car, Nick talked about his plans and about his problems, especially the part about not being able to replant his vineyard. Since Joel worked at one of the region’s two premium Riesling producers, he promised that he could secure a few tons of Riesling for Nick’s first harvest and maybe even a little Chardonnay. He even offered to press and deliver the product as juice. Nick definitely was interested. John had earlier said that he would buy some of Nick’s Aurora grapes; in the car he solidified a deal to take the whole crop, which was expected to be about 15 tons. At $300 a ton, the money wasn’t terrific, but after deducting for the cost of growing the grapes, he would have enough to cover a piece of the annual home mortgage payments.
For Nick, the experience gave new meaning to the phrase “a fruitful day.”
If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.
Copyright Thomas Pellechia
May 2010. All rights reserved.
May 2010. All rights reserved.