Peregrine Falcons, The Polar Vortex and Other Glimpses of The Oregon Wine Symposium

I felt like Barbarrosa was asking me "What's to eat?"
I felt like Barbarrosa was asking me “What’s to eat?”

I have been away from the farm for the past couple of days attending The Oregon Wine Symposium in Portland, Oregon.  Trust me, it’s not as glamorous as it sounds.  Lots of hours spent sitting in rooms listening to experts discuss Vineyard Nutrition, Alternative Weed Management and National Distribution.   So rather than bore you with all of that, I’ll just stick to the highlights.  Like these two impressive birds that are, I kid you not, falcons with jobs.  The top falcon is Barbarrosa, a female Peregrine Falcon.  The other is Copper, a male Red-Naped Shaheen.  (Nope, I hadn’t heard of it either before today).

Copper, the Red-Naped Shaheen.
Hard Working Copper, the Red-Naped Shaheen.

These falcons are hired along with their handlers at harvest time to patrol vineyards for migratory birds that eat grapes.  It’s an important job.  A flock of hungry birds could wipe out our whole 13-acre vineyard and an entire year’s work in a matter of hours.  I’d love to hire these falcons to chase birds out of our vineyard.  But it costs tens-of-thousands of dollars to have a handler and a couple of birds camp on your land for several weeks during harvest.  That’s more than a small vineyard like ours can spend.  Still, it’s cool to know larger vineyards are using this natural and (mostly) non-lethal means of bird control.  (FYI, we use noise makers, remote control airplanes, our six dogs, and balloons.  Cheap and non-lethal, but also not super effective.)

Jet Stream Arctic Oscillation.  Image borrowed from NOAA and The National Climate Data Center.
Jet Stream Arctic Oscillation. Image borrowed from NOAA and The National Climate Data Center.

The most exciting speaker I’ve heard so far is the climate expert that explained why everyone’s weather is so crazy right now.   He says the water around The North Pole is warmer than normal, which is causing the jet stream to freak out.   These two globes tell the story. The jet stream on the left is normal and the one on the right is freaking out. When the jet stream fluctuates like that, it not only moves more slowly, which causes weather systems to get stuck, it also produces more extreme weather.  So whatever is going on weather-wise where you are, it’s probably unusual, possibly extreme, and it’s sticking around for a very long time. That’s the best I can explain it.  Click here to read a great webpage about it that’s written by actual scientists.  Also, if you follow such things, a La Nada weather pattern is lingering in the Pacific but the dreaded El Nino could return sometime this fall or next winter.

Big Backhoe
The T-Rex of Backhoes

I also got to see some mega machines!  I think this backhoe is the biggest.  It towers over everything in the exhibition hall, kind of like the biggest dinosaur skeleton in a museum.  I have no idea how they got this in the building or what you would use it for in the vineyard.  But it is getting a lot of attention.

Mega Grape Harvester and Hedger.
A Mover and Shaker in the Vineyard

If the backhoe is the T-Rex of the expo, this piece of gear is the Stegosaurus.  It is an automatic harvest machine that’s designed to drive between the rows in the vineyard and shake the vines to loosen the fruit.  The shaking is done by big arms that fold out, so you don’t see those in the picture.  Nothing like this is used in any vineyard ever I’ve seen.  We’re all so small in Elkton, our fruit is hand-picked.  A piece of gear like this runs hundreds-of-thousands of dollars.  You’d have to sell a lot of wine to justify that kind of expense.

Got Growler!
Got Growler!

Finally, here’s  peek at the future of wine packaging.  These jugs are called Growlers.  They’ve long been used for beer and now they are being legalized in states, including Oregon, for wine.  A Growler is a refillable container that can be filled with wine straight out of the barrel or from a keg.  So if this is legal where you live, you can buy a Growler and take it to a winery or pub to be refilled again and again.

Growler Art
Examples of Growler Art done for breweries.

Growlers can be painted or etched with cool artwork or logos, which can turn them into collector’s items.  And, they eliminate the cost and environmental impact of using an individual wine bottle for every 750ml of wine.  Of everything we do in the vineyard and winery, the production and shipping of glass bottles has the greatest carbon footprint.  Growlers and kegs are a direction we want to go with our Big Leaf wine because we think it’s more environmental and more fun.  So it’s exciting to find Growlers like the green glass ones above that are being made specifically for the wine industry.  The amber-colored glass used for beer growlers isn’t the image I want for a premium wine.

Some cool artwork in the Oregon Convention Center.  A Dale Chihuly, perhaps?
Some cool artwork in the Oregon Convention Center. A Dale Chihuly, perhaps?

So now you know some of the fun stuff wine people talk about at their symposiums and trade shows.   It’s probably not what you expected.  But it’s the biz.  I’m off now to learn about the spread of Red Blotch Disease on the west coast, and then Public Relations.  More later from the farm.


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