How a Gardener Sees the Wine Grape

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Introductory Thoughts:
During my most recent trip to California I was asked by a friend what my relationship to the grape was and I didn’t really have an answer for him. At the time Quarryhill Botanical Garden was all around me and for some reason I just wasn’t thinking clearly. A few days later we were at the vineyard, just before I was about to leave to travel north alone, and this is how I saw it but I still really don’t know how I see the grape. I think I should have said that I see everything around the grape, but not the grape. Deep down in my heart, I know I don’t have to think about the grapes since people are paid to worry about their needs already, and I am just not part of that process. It is funny though that I do not see them as I see all of the other parts. I see the vines, I note the pruning, and I care about the winemaking process, so I am not a complete tourist, but I truly do ignore the grapes. Since I cannot drink alcohol without getting terribly sick, this is part of it, but I hope that isn’t simply an excuse. I guess this year I should get to know the grape better.
Unknown Arctostaphlos.
Vineyard Walk with Mr B
On the way out to deliver my bags to the car, we both saw this tree and were drawn to it. I have a thing for what we call manzanita, madrone and/or Arctostaphlos. So far, this is the only one at my father-in-law’s house we’ve found and both my husband and I stared lovingly at it for sometime together as we began our walk around the 10 acres before I left for home a few days ago. The deeper the color of the bark, the more we’re drawn to it for some reason. There is a skin-like leathery-ness and the quality is really kind of mesmerizing. Whenever we go on garden tours or for drives in CA, we always seem to look for it.
Unknown Arctostaphlos.

Here is that same tree as it reaches for the sky. I will need to figure out which tree it is though and then attempt to propagate it. Plant junkies may not be able to take plant material into California, but you can take your plant matter out when you cross the border back into Oregon. I forgot to mention that makes plant shopping in California a lot easier, and I understand why they want to monitor those of us crossing the border.

The vineyard is located in Lake County, CA, an area that essentially surrounds Clear Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake in California. Sadly, the lake itself is heavily contaminated with mercury from an old closed mine that is now a Superfund site, but that fact certainly does not ruin all of the natural beauty surrounding the area. If anything, the beauty should encourage a quicker cleanup of the area.

Mt. Konocti as seen from the vineyard. Small olive tree block is made up of Arbequina olive trees.

The area is volcanic and there are small faults nearby. The largest of the old volcanoes that encircle the lake is Mount Konocti and at 4,305 ft it can be seen from all over the area. Coming from the Northwestern Region of the United States I am very familiar with our volcanoes, but I find that I laugh at myself whenever I realize how easily interested I am in other peoples’ volcanoes. I think it is the ecologist in me, trying to figure out how the nature of that ecosystem figures into the landscape, the plants, and in the case of what my husband is doing, growing wine grapes.

Since they are continuing to rip out the last vestiges of the old walnut orchard by having the massive trees taken out, it allows us to look into the soil quite a bit. Some of this actually helps to determine what kind of irrigation techniques they may want to play with and it gives them a much clearer idea of what to expect in terms of drainage. Without going into too much detail concerning the grapes and their grafting, the grape vine stock chosen has a two part methodology to it. Pick the wine grape you want to grow, and then pick the root stock to grow it on. Root stock is chosen by determining what you’re growing the grapes in. In this case, we have heavy clay volcanic soil.
The great side-effect of all of this geological exploration is that it allows the gardener an opportunity to pick up some cool rocks. In this case, I am highlighting the obsidian that I picked up to bring home. It doesn’t look sharp, but it is. It will get a special place in the garden and it will come with a safety warning for the foster kids. I really had a difficult time keeping them in the garden last year, so this year I have changed my angle. A dangerous rock made of volcanic glass seemed like something some of the kids would really like. It might even get a special box so that it will look that much more special.

After looking through the rocks at one end of the property, we headed back to the plantings nearest the house so that Mr B could show my the gabion he’d made to accompany their sign by the highway. Before we arrived at that site, we had a lot of other stops and things to see.

Oldest block of grapes. 10 year old planting of Barbara or Sangiovese.
Gorgeous stand of Miner’s Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata). It is an edible Western native plant the name of which comes from the fact miners ate it for its Vitamin C in order to prevent scurvy. Back then, the citrus trees were not yet what they are today! That is so hard for me to fathom because it wasn’t that long ago.
Western Redbud buds (Cercis occidentalis). Native to California and the American Southwest Lake County is full of them but they were not yet in full bloom as the ones near Sacramento were. I regret not having been able to snap a photo of one of them.
This is Squids the official Winery Cat. She is the least feral of the cats running around the house and she is a happy outdoor cat who eats snakes, mice and lizards during the summertime while following my husband around from task to task.
I fell behind while hanging with the cat and this is Mr B waiting for his two ladies to join him. We both followed him around during that brief walk around the vineyard. It was nice to spend quality time with his other cat because I haven’t been able to much before. I think he has domesticated her much more over the last few years.
Really nice big old vine. The outer pealing is normal. I was curious about that. The irrigation you see is part of a drip system. Growing in a fairly arid region, they have to limp the vines along with water from above not only due to expense, but due to the fact the vines must be encouraged to grow deeper and deeper tap roots. This helps over time to help the grapes to develop deep and richer taste, enriching their terroir.
Unknown Eucalypus and bloom. Any thoughts?
Unknown Eucalypus and bloom. Any thoughts?
Mr B and Squids.
New Lake County Wine Tour Signage.
Gabion being made by my husband. So proud of his incorporation of native stones into this signage. If working around Frank Lloyd Wright ever taught me anything, it was the importance of including things from the surrounding native environment and culture into your new construction.

So as you can, none of the grapes were out to discuss, but I suspect that during my next trip to California in the coming months there will be more to say on their behalf.

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