Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Spring 2010 Winemaker Article

Just in time for spring in the vineyard, I just completed another article for Winemaker Magazine. It's all about spring frost protection. Check it out in the latest issue or at

New posts coming soon!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Winemaker Magazine Article

I've been very remiss in updating the blog this summer, that will change soon. In the meantime I'm happy to say that I've written my first full-length article in Winemaker Magazine! Te article is entitled "Ripening Techniques For Cool Climate Vineyards" . You can find it in the August-September 2009 issue of Winemaker Magazine. Checkout the website at:

The vineyard this year has been a real challenge. We are experiencing what seems to be the worst summer weather we've had since I planted in 2001. Non-stop cloudy, cool and rainy weather here in the Northeast US. July has been terrible and I've been fending off downy mildew and rot all summer long. I've been trying to keep the canopy very thin but it's been difficult. I'm still keeping up hope for a hot sunny August and September. I hope your vintage is going well in your vineyard. I'll post some pictures and updates soon.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

New Video: Grapevine Pruning II -Double Guyot

I've finally finished the video on cane pruning. It's only about a year  late. I actually planned on doing a cane pruning video first but the footage  was lost somehow so I just put the spur pruning video out there anyway. So I hope you enjoy the video. It shows me cane-pruning two vines using the French Double Guyot method. As always comments and questions are welcome. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Regent Wine Grape

Four years ago I began searching for a red grape variety to replace the Frontenac vines in my vineyard. I had chosen Frontenac when I originally planted my vineyard along with three other varieties for trial. The reason I had decided on this University of Minnesota variety had to do with a lot of unknown variables. There was and is literally no one other than me who is growing fine wine grapes within a 50 mile radius of my house. Oh there are plenty of people growing grapes and making wine, but by and large they are Italian immigrants who have planted what would "grow with little effort" in the USDA zone 5b climate of New York State's Capital Region. That is to say, vitis labrusca grape varieties like Concord, Niagara and the like. They grow well, make delicious jelly, pies and juice, but terrible wine in my opinion. So when I planned my vineyard with nothing to go on, I had to take into consideration the all-time record low temperature of -28F and the more regularly occurring low of -10F. After a lot of research, Frontenac seemed to be a good choice. It is very hardy, to -30F or better. I also read many claims of very good "Pinot Noir like" wines being produced with it. I planted it figuring that it would guarantee me a crop despite winter lows and hey, if I could produce "Pinot Noir like" wine with it, I was all set.

As a grower, this is how you begin understand what that ambiguous French word "terroir" (pronounced "ter-wah") means. This word has been used to denote the special characteristics that geography has bestowed upon grapes. It can be very loosely translated as "a sense of place" which is embodied in certain qualities, and the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the grapes which contributes to the quality and distinctiveness of the finished wine. In layman's terms: those Frontenac grapes did not like the terroir of my backyard. The vine was overly vigorous, prone to bunch stem necrosis (rot that killed the stems and prevented many grapes from ripening) and the wine was just plain bad. I made three vintages and it always tasted like funky, bitter grape juice with tongue-burning acidity. It was full of off-flavors and not pleasant at all. I know there are growers out there who are making pleasant wines with this grape even enjoying commercial success with it due to their terroir and wine making techniques, but not me. Thus began my quest for the perfect grape to replace it.

Replacing a variety is actually exciting when you have a bit of experience under your belt. You begin to imagine a new variety ripening perfectly and the wonderful wines you will make with it. As I searched around taking into consideration my climate, site and other factors, I narrowed it down to a few varieties. One of them I stumbled across was a German red variety called Regent. The information out there is scarce but it is described as being bred in 1967 by Professor Gerhardt Alleweldt at the Geilweirlerhof Institute for Grape Breeding in Germany. It is a cross of the vitis vinifera variety Diana (Silvaner x Muller-Thurgau) with the interspecific hybrid Chambourcin. Thus it is still considered an interspecific hybrid. Since it has such a great percentage of vitis vinifera in it's parentage though, in Germany it has been declared vitis vinifera. I read that it makes deeply colored wines with good tannins and red fruit components, as well as being able to handle oak well. The wines have been described as "Southern Rhone" in character. Possibly one of it's best qualities is that it is very resistant to fungal diseases. All of this sounded great so I began to search for Regent vines and Regent wines, to no avail. No one had the vines, and the wine!? Nowhere to be found in the U.S.A. They seem to be available in the UK but not here. I also couldn't find any information on it's hardiness, which was a concern to me.

I finally got in contact with some growers who were familiar with it in some grape growing groups and found a source for the vines as well as "unofficial" claims of hardiness down to -14F. It seems to be gaining some popularity in the Puget Sound area of Washington. It appears there will even be a commercially available Regent this year from a Washington grower. Here in the Northeast I have yet to find anyone growing it amature or pro. I decided to give it a try and planted about 25 vines three years ago. I harvested my first small crop, eneough for a stand alone varietal this year. I'm going to give my assessment of the vine after three years of growing it (which is not a lot of experience) in Upstate New York:

1. Regent has very controlled upright growth with low to moderate vigor. I have my vines grafted on 101-14 for my heavy soils and phylloxera resistance. It is easy to manage so far which is interesting because every other variety I grow is quite vigorous for me.

2. It is very disease resistant, I spray it every other time I spray Cab Franc and Riesling and have had NO problems with disease.

3. It ripens in early October for me, just after Marechal Foch and well before Cabernet Franc.

4. So far I have had no winter damage on it with low temps around -5F. I hill up the graft union and blow as much snow as I can on them but no other protection.

5. I harvested about a week before I would have liked to this year at 21 brix and 6.1 T.A. I would have liked to let the grapes hang to about 23brix but the bees were destroying my crop so I had to get them in.

6. So far the wine seems good, but I'm thinking the extra week would have been beneficial. It has excellent color, an earthy nose with spicy hints. The flavor is a bit too young to judge yet but seems pleasant. I'll keep up posting on it as it develops.

So did I make the right decision? I'll know in a few more years, but that's how you find the perfect grape. There are no shortcuts. I'm pleased so far but only time will tell. I hope this information helps others who may be interested in this grape. Please feel free to ask any other questions you may have about it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Vineyard in Glass

Here are some pictures of my vineyard and surroundings after the recent ice storm that hit the Northeast US. The ice sure put a beautiful twist on things. Enjoy...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Hilling Up The Vines and Winter Protection

Growing vinifera wine grapes in the Northeast United States or any other cold-climate growing region, requires special effort. Vinifera grapes include the classic wine grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Merlot and Riesling to name just a few. Many people feel that these grapes make the best wine, including me. They are however, very susceptible to disease and cold temperatures. Although cold tolerance varies from variety to variety, as a general rule if your winter temperatures flirt with anything below zero Fahrenheit, you will need to protect your vines for winter. If your temperatures regularly get below -15 F, you may not want to attempt to grow vinifera grapes and choose French-American hybrids or other Hybrid varieties of wine grapes. They don't make as high quality wines as vinifera(in my opinion), but some of them can and do make excellent wine. In my vineyard the risk for temperatures well below -15 F  exists. Fortunately it doesn't happen with any regularity. As a matter of fact I cringe as I write this because I feel like I'm "due" for some very cold weather since it hasn't happened in a few years now. Since the risk of these low temperatures is there I have to take precautions to protect my vineyard if I want to produce grapes every year. 

The first precaution is the varieties I have chosen to grow. When I planted my vineyard eight years ago, I did a lot of research to try and determine what I could plant. I've detailed that  research in previous posts like this one: 

In my vineyard I have chosen to grow two vinifera varieties; Cabernet Franc and Riesling as well as two hybrid varieties; Marechal Foch and Regent. If I do experience very cold winter lows and it kills the buds on my vinifera, these two hybrids will likely survive and I won't go a vintage without making some "estate wine".

The second precaution I take is protecting my my vines during winter. The vinifera varieties I've chosen to grow, Cabernet Franc and Riesling are the most hardy vinifera that I am aware of. They are both hardy to -5 F or a little colder and they will not be killed until the temperature drops below -16 F. Being "hardy" means that the temperature can drop to -5 F without the grower having to protect the vines in any way. Temperatures lower than that will begin to kill buds, wood and eventually the vine itself as it gets progressively colder. As the previous post I referred to details, I used to completely bury my vinifera vines each year. Burying vines will ensure their survival even in very cold climates where temperatures drop below what the vine can normally tolerate. It is also a lot of work! I would prune each vine to 4 or 5 canes in late November after thanksgiving. Then I'd bundle each vine using wire ties. I have my vines planted at about 45 degree angles using a "j" type training so that after bundling, I could carefully lay them down. I'd then dig a little trench so that the whole vine could lay flat on the ground. Then I would pin the vine to the ground using pins made from trellis wire. Next I would take dirt and mound up the graft union with about 4-6" of soil, burying the lower portion of the trunk and the graft union. After burying I would cover the whole vine with straw, canes and all. Like I said, it was a lot of work and I had to do that with more than 50 vines! Some vineyards in Minnesota do this for vineyards of thousands of vines, wow! It works though and it will protect your vines from winter injury if you want to grow vinifera in a cold climate.

I have since changed my methods to a simpler, albeit riskier method of winter protection called "hilling up". This is commonly used in places like the Finger Lakes of New York and some Mid-Atlantic state vineyards. It's easier because all you are doing is mounding soil up around the graft union or scion of the vine. By protecting this part of the vine, the grafted vinifera wood, you ensure that a new shoot will grow even if the rest of the vine is killed by cold temperatures. This method works if there are many years between extremely cold low temps like in my vineyard. The nice thing here is that even by hand it only takes a few minutes to hill up a single vine. I can hill up all my vines in an hour or two.

The third precaution I take is growing multiple trunks. Again, a technique used in the Finger Lakes and other areas. By allowing a new shoot to grow from the base of the vine each year you are basically upping the chances that one of these trunks will survive if very cold temps do occur. I have also taken it a step further. The shoot that has grown during the previous growing season is still very thin and flexible in the fall. It is easy to bend it down to the ground, lay it flat and pin it in place. A shovel full of dirt or two and it's covered. This provides a little form of insurance so that if perhaps, the rest of the exposed parts of the vine are killed, I have some one year old buds that will produce at least a small crop. 

The fourth precaution I take is kind of site-specific. Since I have a small backyard vineyard and we generally receive a good amount of winter snow, I use it as insulation. By blowing as much of it as possible onto my vines, it acts as extra protection for the trunk and graft union. It rarely gets high enough to cover canes and cordons though, and you can't always count on it to be there when cold temps arrive, but it helps when it does come.

So there you have it, that's how we "crazy" cold-climate growers fight old man winter. I'm sure anyone in California or other moderate growing regions who reads this is probably very appreciative that they don't have to deal with this stuff. It does take a lot of effort but I think it makes you appreciate the finished product even more. I think of it like the rich kid who has everything "handed to him from daddy" versus the poor kid who has to fight and claw his way to success. Which one appreciates what he has more? I know that when I pour a glass of Villa Ruzzo Cab Franc or Riesling, I can taste the work, effort and love that went into making it along with delicious fruit, earth, pears, petrol, blue stone and vanilla oak. But who knows,  maybe it's just in my mind. 

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Backyard Vineyard & Winery In Winemaker Magazine!

I'm very excited to announce that Backyard Vineyard & Winery is in the December 2008/January 2009 issue of Winemaker Magazine. I'm an avid reader of WInemaker and you'll find a link to it here in the "Helpful & Interesting Links" section.

You'll notice right away that the introduction is lifted from the first post I ever made here. There's also a lot of other info too. The article is on the last page of the magazine in the "Dry Finish" feature. Hope you enjoy it!

I will also be gettimg this years harvest details up soon as well as some pictures from the vineyard. Stay tuned....

(Click on article to enlarge)