A Year in the Vineyard Project
Completed December 13, 2011
Video - A Year in the Vineyard: the Four Seasons
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We follow the year-long management of a vineyard, Rosewood Estates on the Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Canada. In the winter we learn how vines are pruned in preparation for the new year's growth. In the spring we learn how canes are tied down, and then observe bud burst and early growth, the first round of shoot thinning, and the development of grape flowers. During the summer we see the growth of the grapes, and some of the vineyard activities such as leaf thinning and crop thinning. During the fall, as the grapes are ripening, we observe how the grapes are monitored for ripeness, and then are picked and delivered to the winery.
I was thrilled to be able to pick grapes for the first time in the fall of 2009. One of my WSET teachers, Karen LaVigne who is the Sales Manager at Rosewood Estates, invited the class to help harvest a small block of Pinot Noir on a Saturday morning. I was excited by the idea as was Jeanne, so we emailed Karen right away to confirm our places.
It was mid-morning as our rag-tag group of pickers strolled across the parking lot towards the Pinot Noir with our secateurs in hand — we'd had to wait to let a heavy morning dew dry. A retail customer, who had just driven up to buy some wine, clearly identified my amateur status and pulled me aside. "How did you get to do this?" he asked, "I'd like to try it too." I identified with him totally. I know that I would have been envious if I'd been in his shoes.
I thought about that little experience several times as I began to set up WineDiscovery. It helped identify my audience for me — it's really me, and people very like me. I like to buy wine at the winery, I like to talk to the people there, I like to find out more about how things work. It's all part of learning about wine. As Jancis Robinson wrote,
"... true wine appreciation rests not in evaluating a glass of wine in isolation, awarding points according to its performance against some notional objective paradigm of wine quality, but in learning as much as possible about where, how, and why it was produced."("Regional Flavour", Vines Magazine, April/May 2010, p. 24.)
So this project is for the gentleman in the parking lot, and for all of the people who take the time to drive up to the winery, who talk and read about wine, and have (to a greater or lesser extent) been bitten by "the wine bug".
I decided to explore the cycle of the year in the vineyard in a very hands-on and practical way and to share my findings with this keen audience. My initial assumption was that the focus would be on written articles, with videos as a small supplement. But the visual nature of the story, describing the work in the vineyard, along with the fact that to capture part of the story on video you really have to be behind the camera all the time, has pushed the focus firmly towards the side of videography. In addition, as I began working with Will Roman, the operations manager at his family's winery and meadery Rosewood Estates, he did such a great job demonstrating various vineyard chores and activities on camera, and telling parts of the story, that I wanted to focus on his presentations.
So while I have written about winter and spring, the writing is just a supplement to the video rather than the reverse. And as the time commitment seemed to mushroom, I have (at least for the time being) given up the idea of writing about the summer and fall, and will let the video (and Will) do the talking.
You also have to understand that unlike the books that I've read and will reference from time to time, which look at viticulture from a global perspective, this project is focused on one small area of Niagara, and on the cycle of several very small vineyards within that area. The place is the Beamsville Bench (map and description) in Niagara. The vineyards are the home vineyards Rosewood Estates, part way up the Escarpment on the west side of Mountain Road, and I have also taken some photographs of the home vineyards of Hidden Bench, just a few hundred meters further towards the top of the Escarpment on the east side of the road. So the focus is on the vineyard practices in this particular place, and practices may differ in other vineyards, in other parts of Niagara, let alone in other parts of the world.
All of this is made possible by the incredible generosity and good cheer of Will Roman of Rosewood Estates, who spent many hours patiently taliking about and demonstrating vineyard work in fromt of the camera. I also want to thank Steve Roche, the Vineyard Manager at Hidden Bench.
I also want to mention two very readable and enjoyable books that I have found invaluable. The first is one of my "go to" resources: Viticulture, by Stephen Skelton MW. This is an introductory text (and so is at my level!) but it has a very comprehensive coverage of most aspects of vine and vineyard management from a global perspective. The second book is Jamie Goode's The Science of Wine. The section entitled "Part One In the Vineyard" covers ten topics from the scientist's point of view, and it is particularly helpful to the non-expert both because of the accessible writing and because each topic is essentially self-contained.