I apologize for the extended radio silence of late. For a while there, there wasn’t much going on (translation, it wouldn’t stop raining) and so there wasn’t much to blog about. And then, all of a sudden, everything was happening all at once (translation, it finally stopped raining) and I didn’t have time to write. A sorry excuse, I know. But it’s hard to sit inside in front of the computer when you’re seeing the sun for the first time since Christmas.
Hopefully you will find this blog post was worth the wait because I have three huge updates to report. First, there is now a staircase to the top of The Tower. Also, the concrete work is underway on the new Wine Sipping Porch. And, perhaps best of all, the vineyard has made it through the spring frost season without any damage to the new green shoots!
I’ll start with everyone’s favorite subject, The Tower. Bob has engineered a three-flight staircase to the top that actually is a pretty easy climb (as long as you don’t look down too much). The first flight begins in the cow pasture behind the Donkey Barn and goes up about a dozen steps to the bottom of the corrugated steel on the barn roof. The second flight takes a sharp turn to the left and scrambles up the steel roof to its peak. And the third flight takes a sharp turn back to the right and goes all the way to the top of the silo. You can see all three flights, as they appears from the ground up, in the title photo of this post.
There are no railings on the stairs just yet, so it’s still a scary climb to the top. The first two flights aren’t bad, but on the third one, I kind of had to crawl up them on my hands and knees rather than walk. As you can see from the picture of Nick on the landing, it’s way up there!
Once at the top of the stairs, it’s an easy hop onto the Observation Deck. The concrete work is complete so there is a nice flat surface to stand on, and as you can see, Bob moved a couple of P.A. speakers up there to turn the silo into a Sound Tower. On this particular day, it was blasting Pearl Jam loud enough for the crew working in the vineyard to hear it. They had asked Bob to borrow a Boom Box. Bob put this together instead. (As I sit here typing, I can hear Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Voodoo Child rockin’ the farm from the top of The Tower. I think Stevie, and Jimi, would approve).
Since I don’t recommend sipping wine on top of The Tower, I am glad to report that Bob and the crew are also making good progress on The Wine Sipping Porch. Bob dug up the old porch and most of the front lawn with it back in February. Then, it started raining and the whole yard turned into a sea of mud. As much fun as that’s been, it’s nice to finally get some concrete in front of the house!
They’re pouring the new porch in sections, and so far, five of the ten sections are in (told you we’ve been busy). To get the concrete to the porch area, Bob made a chute out of a piece of plastic sewer pipe and then he welded a disc onto the end of a steel pipe to make a ram rod to ram the concrete down the chute.
Bob invented another tool to smooth the wet concrete after it’s poured. And for lack of better words to describe it, it’s a giant vibrator. He took a skill saw minus the blade and mounted it to a board. When he turns on the saw, the motor on it that would ordinarily turn the saw blade vibrates, and the vibrations move through the board to smooth out the concrete.
You can see the effect of the tool in the photo below. Behind the board is the concrete that has already been smoothed and in front of the board is what the concrete looks like before the vibrating board travels over it. Bob and Nick guide the board as it vibrates and it takes a couple of passes to get everything smoothed out.
If this were an ordinary porch, that would be it, just smooth out the concrete and let it dry. But this isn’t an ordinary porch. It’s a Wine Sipping Porch. So to make it a little bit special, Bob is tinting the concrete and stamping it with texture.
The tint is created by sprinkling colored powders over the wet concrete. The first powder is sort of buff-yellow-orange in color, and the other is more of a buff-orangy-orange. Together, when dry, they look a little like the red clay of our soil accented with sandstone.
After the powder is on, the texture is added with a giant rubber stamp that imprints the concrete with the texture of natural stone slate.
I don’t have any good pictures yet of the result because all of the finished sections of concrete are being kept covered so they aren’t damaged by work on the remaining sections. But if our good weather holds, I should be able to post some pics of the finished concrete later this week. Better yet, we’ll be able to sit out there and sip a little wine!
Which brings us to the vineyard, where for the most part, the vines are thriving. Mother’s Day is, unofficially, the official end of the spring frost season in our part of Oregon, so we seem to have made it through with only one night of burning stumps.
With the frost worries behind us, the frost curtain has come down from the vineyard fence and our attention is now turning to the suckers. Suckers are unwanted shoots that grow low on the trunks of the vines. They’re called suckers because they’re not going to produce any usable fruit for us, so they’re just sucking energy away from the vine that could go towards producing and ripening grapes.
Suckering is easy, if you don’t mind bending over or crouching down all day long. All you need to do is snap the suckers off of the vines with your fingers. Anyone can do it. And the good news is, it goes on all summer long. Because no matter how well you sucker, more suckers grow back. So when people stop by and want to help out in the vineyard, we can always send them out to do some suckering. (Some people might feel like a sucker if sent out to sucker. But no need. Suckering can be a very Zen. There is no beginning and no end. You just keep on suckering).
Despite our stretch of warm weather, and even getting into the 80s for a few days, I am very sad to report that many of the vines in the low part of the vineyard are still without leaves. And at this stage of the growing season, we have to assume that any vine without leaves is dead. I did a count the other day and came up with 227 dead vines and at least that many more that are struggling to get by with just a leaf or two. I doubt very many of those vines will make it in the long run. So we could be looking at 500-600 dead vines, or about a half-acre total across the affected area.
This is a heartbreaking loss. We have invested so much time and love and care into those vines it hurts to lose even one of them. The most likely explanation for The Dead Zone (as I now call it) remains Winter Bud Kill during our week-long cold snap in December. There wasn’t much we could have done about it then, and very little we can do now, other than decide whether to abandon the ground or re-plant. We’re going to watch how the living vines develop and likely decide what to do when we see what we have left in this section of the vineyard next spring.
But, the good news is, the lost vines are just a fraction of the other 13,000 or so vines that are reaching evermore skyward to soak up the sun. We’re watching closely now for flowering. That’s when the inflorescence, or the little clusters on the shoots drop their caps to reveal tiny, white flowers.
Flowering is an important time in the vineyard. The flowers, once open, are self-pollinating. Once pollinated, each little flower will turn into a grape. And every 100 or so grapes, or every good-sized cluster, is a future glass of wine! (Sing with me; “One Hundred Clusters of Wine on the Vines, One Hundred Clusters of Wine….”)
So, that’s what’s been happening here on the farm for the past few weeks. Right now, the sun is shining, the music is playing, and I am sure there are plenty of new suckers to be suckered. So I’m going to quit blogging now and round up the dogs and head outside.
We should be in the mid 80s by Wednesday, so I plan a full week of horse washing and dog baths and I might even try to give Luigi and Jenny D. their summer haircuts. I’ll be sure to get pictures if I do because you haven’t really experienced life on the farm until you’ve tried to shave a miniature donkey.
Happy Mother’s Day everyone, and most especially to my Mom, Eileen, who became a Mom when she gave birth to me on Mother’s Day back in 19-something-and-something. Thank you for bringing me into such a great life! I love you!