Hard Harvest 2017 or Run Bambi, Fire!

Harvest 2017 is now wrapped.

Wine is in barrels and tanks, and the grape vines are shutting down for the winter. It has been a rough harvest for two reasons: deer and fire. One affected me directly and seemed like a big fight until my perspective was shifted. I fought deer, while virtually everyone I know in the wine industry has fought fire.

Last winter was one of the wettest California has seen in years and maybe even decades. Some of the storms were serious monsters. One of these monsters made creeks rise, washed out trees, moved a great deal of debris, and affected structures. These structures included a line of fence that protected the Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyard that I manage. The vineyard owner said he would get the fence fixed, but as winter became spring, spring became summer, and summer turned to fall, it was never completed. This lead a herd of deer taking up residence in the vineyard, and it lead to me trying out ever deer deterrent on the market.

Sprays full of rotten eggs, vinegar, garlic and onions, just seemed like a salad dressing to them but made my stomach turn. High pitched noise makers, that ran in cycles or were motion activated didn’t faze them, but gave me a headache. Bringing over our dogs had the deer run out of the vineyard but simply gave them some exercise and left me panting. After the dogs were gone, the deer moved right back in. The vineyard owner tried to chase them out while on a mechanical mule, but they just ran around him. He also tried shooting at the ground near them (as he is too residential to hunt them on his own ranch) but they didn’t fear the sounds of the shots in the least bit.

So, in the spring the deer ate a large majority of the shoots off the grape vines, removing the buds that would become grape clusters. Thus, before it began, my potential harvest was cut in half. In the summer the deer avoided the little green berries that would become grapes because they were hard and acidic, but they continue to graze on the vines.  This removed leaves and the photosynthic capacity of the plants and giving them less change to make sugar and put it into the grapes, so less grapes grew.  My last-ditch effort to save the grapes that were growing was with deer and bird nets. As the grapes began to turn purple at verasion, I and three other people stretched nets around the vines. We tried to do our best to secure the netting under the fruit zone with clothes pins (as suggested) but the pressure on the netting was too great, so hundreds of little bits of wire were used to knit the net together under the fruit.

These ties were placed every 6-12 inches and after a long day, we thought we might stand a chance against the deer. But that momma deer, her three yearlings, and a few that had joined her, proved to be destructive. They ripped the net, stretched the hole into any potential weakness in the knitting, and pushed the netting further into the plant, until the shoots and fruit were easy to access.

On Sunday, September 24th, two weeks ahead of last year’s pick, we removed the nets and collected the grapes that remained on the vines. –All 25 lbs of them. Just one small bucket’s worth.

 The vineyard should have produced 2500 lbs, but the deer reduced it to 1/100 of its size.

Luckily friends with a Merlot vineyard up the hill, didn’t suffer from the deer and they allowed me to pick 900lbs from their vineyard that was not spoken for.

So, a barrel has been made this year, but with no help from the deer.

 

I hoped deer would be the worst of it this year, but late last Sunday night, fires broke out all around Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino. Thousands of homes lost, wineries and breweries gone, and lives lost. For nearly a week the fires raged with little to no containment. Getting people to safety was the primary concern, and evacuation areas have grown and grown. Still some vintners were continuing to pick some of the 20% of fruit still on the vine.

Firefighters held ground where they could and protected home that might be saved. The split in a neighborhood, where homes still stand on one side and there is only ash and chimneys on the other, has been named the Line of Sorrow. Many people are still missing and power outages, destroyed phone lines and maxed out cellular towers have not helped in getting them found.

Vineyards have proved to be a good fire break and many wineries still are standing. Homes, hotels, restaurants, historical places, and the surrounding forests have taken the brunt of the flames.

Signorello Vineyards along the Silverado Trail in Napa, Calif., on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017.. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group) Source

The towns of Santa Rosa, Glen Ellen, and the Valley of the Moon are virtually gone. I estimate that over $100B in damages has been done. (Wine Industry Insight Fire Update)

The valley floor of Napa Valley is nearly untouched, but the people that call it home have lungs full of smoke.

Now that some of the fires have been partially contained, the weather is working in the favor of the firefighters with lighter winds and the forecast of rain on the way, and evacuation notices have been lifted, hope is blooming. Homes are being found still standing, neighbors and family have been found safe, and the community is uniting. The wine industry will rebuild and be strong again. But with the loss of home many physical memories were also lost. The smoke and singe will remain with everyone affected by these fires for years to come. Harvest 2017 has been one for the record books.

To help the victims of the fires in Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino check out this site.

 

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