The good the bad and the bunch-rot

As we moved into the 4th year of the vines the basic lesson we got was that whatever you learned last year is probably irrelevant because weather conditions are infuriatingly inconsistent. The season started with near-perfect growing conditions (although this also applies to weeds, wasps, fruit flies and cut-worms as well as grapes), and this lasted well into August. Then the rains started, punctuated with warm days here and there. The resulting humidity created a near-perfect storm for mildew so we had to spray more frequently than previous years which we don’t like to do. Many vineyards in the area don’t like to do it either, and they lost their entire crops as a result. We have a new plan for next year.


Lesson one was that cut-worms have an aversion to crawling over crushed egg-shells. If you spread them around the trunk of the vines, it acts as act as a deterrent to the pernicious little beasts. Of course we only discovered this after the damage was done, but in anticipation of renewed hostilities next spring, we are now eating more eggs than ever, and we even have people collecting them for us from as far away as Alberta. Hopefully our friends in Ontario and other places will jump on the bandwagon as well because with 2000 vines to protect we need a lot of eggshells. If the cut-worms don’t eat our vines and ruin us financially, the increase in our cholesterol levels will surely kill us.


Lesson number two was that good weather speeds up the ripening of the grapes and attracts wasps. These guys are not a catastrophic risk to the fruit but swarm around and occasionally sting people in the vineyard. Fortunately they are randy little buggers and you can buy these incredible traps that give off some sort of wasp aphrodisiac which lures them into the trap and drowns them. Quite a good way to go, I suppose. The demand for these traps was insatiable, and there were never enough to go around. In scenes reminiscent of Black Friday, dozens of farmers clamoured around the local co-op every time a new delivery came in, and there were several ugly crowd incidents but fortunately no deaths or injuries (except to the wasps).We woke up way too late just as fall started to arrive and the wasp libidos started to wane, and purchased dozens of traps which we can’t use until next year.


The weather also resulted in encouraging levels of botrytis (also known as good bunch rot or noble rot) and this augured well for a fine 2013 vintage. Blissfully ignorant that the good rot can turn to bad rot in a heart-beat, we were actually becoming quite complacent until Alan, our buyer paid us a visit and enlightened us. In order to prevent the onset of  sour rot, he recommended harvesting immediately as the acid and PH were well in balance already and the taste should be fine. Organizing a harvest at short notice is like buying an airline ticket the day before travelling – it gets a bit expensive, but we knew the Goldie cavalry was arriving the next day and we could press-gang them into the picking squad.


The harvest was further complicated by our decision to pick only the fruit which had no rot, good or bad because the only way to really tell good rot from bad rot is by sniffing or tasting each affected bunch. No one wants to taste rotten bunches so Alan recruited his good friend Eric who did a second pass at what was left and was easily able to distinguish between the subtle differences between good and bad rot. He saved us a lot of fruit. By the end of the day Ann and I were quite good at it as well, and we took it upon ourselves to carefully monitor the last 11  unpicked  rows which we had decided not to harvest for another two weeks to give them extra time to ripen. We were, however, quite unaware of the hazards of doing this until an angry wasp flew up my nostril and stung me.


The main harvest was completed in about 6 hours, but the vineyard now resembled a battlefield with rotten bunches laying everywhere, and the fruit flies already descending on them in droves. John & Morag Goldie eventually arrived after the battle to bayonet the wounded, but just in time for afternoon tea. Determined to do their bit, they insisted on touring the vineyard cutting off  any rotten bunches still on the vines (the official term for this is dropping), and to picking up all the rotten and squashed bunches. Reminiscent of the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland John would mutter “Off with their heads!” as he went. None of this was by any means a trivial task because there was well over a ton of grapes to dispose of. For weeks after we were plagued by fruit flies until Ann jumped on the internet and discovered that you can deal with them by putting a little wine in some dishwashing liquid and leaving saucers of it all around for them to drown in. Personally, if I had my druthers (as my father used to say) I would rather go the way of the wasps who at least died with a smile on their face.


Summer has flashed by, but tucked somewhere in between seemingly endless tasks in the vineyard we knew we needed to take a break. We chose poorly. Sean had long been thinking about replacing the laminate floor in his apartment, which had been initially damaged by a ruptured fish tank. The infamous Calgary flood of 2013 finished off the floor completely so we decided helping him replace it would be the humanitarian thing to do and we set off for Calgary with the Honda Fit piled high with (mostly) unnecessary tools and equipment. The journey was uneventful until about 30 kilometers after Golden the warning light announced that we were running out of gas. This elicited a lot of finger pointing as to who forgot to fill up in Golden, followed by a spirited discussion about whether or not there was enough gas to get us to Field and then whether or not there was even a gas station in Field (which is little bigger than a bee’s ass). Ann’s faith in her car was unshakable and she even upped the ante by claiming that if necessary we could even get to Lake Louise on the reserve tank. By that time we were exactly half way between the two towns and I finally exercised my casting vote as driver and we returned to Golden. We just made it, and I know this because the tank took more gas than even the vehicle specs admitted it would.


There were no further incidents on the journey, and after checking in with our kind hosts Bill and Barb Spence we headed off to Sean’s to assess the damage. There were a IMG_1894number of things we foolishly hadn’t taken into account: (a) having to carry 50 boxes of floorboards weighing about  35 pounds each up a flight of stairs to the apartment; (b) pulling up the old boards and underlay; (c) carrying all the old boards down the same flight of stairs to get rid of them; (d) numerous trips to the city dump; (e) the temperature in Sean’s apartment; (f) the fact that Sean was obligated to work most of the time we were there (really?). And on it went. Not having much of a clue what we were doing Ann and I got about half way as time ran out and we had to return home to entertain our next visitors. We discovered that the heat in Sean’s apartment together with the lack of edible food resulted in me sweating away almost ten pounds. Ann’s equivalent stats are apparently classified. We were back again two weeks later to finish the job. By no means professional quality workmanship, but then I guess you get what you pay for. This time thanks to Ann & Stuart Chalmers for accommodating us.


Thorny Vines continued to be a popular holiday destination during 2013, taking up more than 3 full pages in the visitor’s book excluding Hayley and Connor who signed in the wrong place. Some visitors came more than once: Joanna Russell in a desperate attempt to hang on to row 32 and fend off a determined charge from her future brother in law Gabe, Robbie and Carly Quirk and the Spences who were lured here the second time by the prospect of seeing the new Calgary Flames prospects in action.


Not all visitors qualified for “Adopt  a Row” status,  notably Mike and Sean who aren’t eligible anyway, but Mike’s (considerably) better half,  Alana, cleverly roped him in to help her qualify for her row. Mike Brosseau and girlfriend Kim did more than enough. Alex and Helen Derry visited us for the second year in a row, and would easily have qualified for another row each except we have had to impose a limit of one row per customer or we wouldn’t have enough left for anyone else.  The Owens clan joined us for Thanksgiving, and spearheaded by Jane worked tirelessly at rolling down the netting, this time getting it on the correct wire.


Those of you not mentioned specifically including the Wilkinsons, Russels, Frasers, Conways, Parts, Molenaars and Spences. You will all probably be grateful, for this omission but your company was much appreciated, but you need to try harder next time so I have more to write about.