Second Year Vineyard - Part I

My first-year vineyard experience was by all accounts a success (1st Year Parts I and II). The level of effort both mental and especially physical was taxing, yet satisfying. My expectations and excitement for the second year were sky-high. I believed I was prepared but as learned on several occasions the previous year—”you don’t know what you don’t know” (Socrates). New unexpected things would likely happen or to put it more bluntly, shit happens!

As we began to climb out of the winter hole in March, first on the agenda was installing the trellis. I had purchased from a local grower recycled 12 gauge wirein-line wire tighteners (think ratchets), and steel posts. I had a small crew. Due to a plethora of stones under the subsurface, the initial challenge was setting the posts using a manual pole pounder – near impossible. Muscle behind a sledgehammer struggled to force the steel posts through the minefield. A gas post driver found at the local rental shop did the trick. The next challenge was taming the wire as it was unwound. We didn’t have a spinning jenny, and the crew paid for it. They had to lay out and straighten wire in the adjoining field. I then paid for it once the work was complete, paying handsomely for their well-deserved effort.

In early April there was no sap running in the upper vine trunks. When cutting a pencil-thick vine trunk several feet from the ground the interior was brown. The upper buds were hard and lifeless as rocks. The -3 degrees Fahrenheit in January with consistent single-digit low temperatures had probably nicked the young vines. I had to prune the vines back near the ground where the sap had begun to run, leaving at least two or three buds. I also needed to clear the mounded soil from around the base of each vine, which had protected the tender graft union during the winter. 

The wind is a common companion in the valley during the spring. You can work outdoors in all kinds of weather conditions—sun, cold, wet, and yes, breezy. But I’ve learned not necessarily when windy. See the adjoining image from my Tempest weather station as an extreme example of a windy valley afternoon. I’ve found when the wind is averaging 5 to 15 miles an hour with higher gusts above 20, it’s too taxing to fight it. Also, constant wind dries everything out, especially the soil. Compounding the situation, the spring had not been moisture ladened. We were at nature’s mercy since reinstalling my drip irrigation was not on tap yet. When leveling the dirt mounds, I formed wells around the base of each vine, then watered by hand—when the wind wasn’t blowing.

12 Riesling and 12 Pinot Noir grafted rootstock were delivered in early May. They were to fill gaps in various rows. Thank goodness my son-in-law was available to help. The ground was dry and hard, it took both a pick axe and shovel to get the task done. I had a soil supplement to mix with the existing soil providing a good growing medium for the rootstock. Our plan was to get the rootstock planted, with irrigation completed.

With pruning, planting, and irrigation in place, we had to head out of town for two weeks. There were officially 110 vines in place. 

In my absence, bud break occurred, i.e., green shoots and leaves were breaking. As it turned out, something else unexpected was breaking as well. Animals were nibbling and in essence, destroying the new vine shoots near the bottom of the vines. And that wasn’t all. Small holes had appeared near the bottom of more than a dozen vines. Lions, tigers, and bears, oh my! No, rabbits and prairie dog children. Carefully monitoring the situation for 48 hours, I found rabbits in the vineyard during the early hours. There were also small prairie dogs approaching the wildlife fence later in the morning—undoubtedly sent by their parents for hole-digging practice.

What to do? While I pondered the options, I quickly deployed Blue-X grow tubes. Used during the previous season for the first-year vines, I knew they offered good at-the-ground protection. There wasn’t enough for the entire vineyard so I cut them in half and put out as many as possible. I also ordered a few more. Could this weather the critter storm? I doubted it. A  more permanent method was required. In talking to a few folks, an electric fence was the go-to solution. I didn’t care for it. Managing a year-round electric fence seemed burdensome. Chicken wire came to mind, though my local pundits poopoo it. “They’ll burrow under, climb over, etc.” I wasn’t deterred. Using the existing wildlife fence, I wired the chicken wire to it. I’d bend the bottom 3″ of the wire parallel to the ground, securing it with stakes and rocks. Per standard procedure, it took me two rounds. First used was 2″ chicken wire. The next morning there was another rabbit. I chased it around and after a couple of tries, it scampered through the 2″ wire. Okay, back to Ace Gambles Hardware in Hotchkiss to purchase 1″ wire. It worked and nary a critter has been in the vineyard since—except for my trusty dog (more on this later).

With the critter problem managed, it was time to monitor growth and prune the quickly growing vines to the trellis. Pruning to the trellis was new for me, so I watched several videos and talked to a local grower. Thus begins part two of my journey during this second season. 

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