Shinn Estate is in the first year of their organic certification process. Barbara Shinn shares her progress with us.
Heaven…..bloom. The vines are blooming and the mixture of vine blossoms and clover blossoms smells like jasmine. This is the earliest the vines have bloomed in the history of growing wine on the North Fork. It is hot and it is dry. As I bike through the rows I feel the thousands of micro moments of fertilization that are taking place every second. The whole being of the vineyard is about exhilarating fertilization. Isn’t that incredible? Love.
Today at 1:00 pm a locomotive train came rolling through my brain, again. A blog called “Wine Seriously” posted an article titled “Can 100% Organic Grapes be produced on Long Island?” Jose Moreno is the author and the in-depth article is very well written. Unfortunately, once again, the local naysayers are happy to say nay: Quoted from the article as thus:
“As Perrine (co-owner Channing Daughters, Hamptons, Long Island) pointed out: “Organic is virtually impossible in rainy climates like Bordeaux, Friuli, and LI; downy mildew and black rot cannot be contained by using organic methods.”
In Pisacano’s view, (vineyard manager Wolffer Estate, Hamptons, Long Island and owner Roanoak Vineyards, North Fork, Long Island) :
“organic certification is too demanding and expensive, apart from the fact that the level of humidity in the area is just too high to allow for organic practices for preventing the control of diseases and molds like powdery mildew and botrytis.” Barbara Shinn said that she saw no reason why full organic conversion couldn’t be achieved in either North Fork or Hamptons AVA vineyards. On the other hand, Jim Silver of Peconic Bay Winery (North Fork, Long Island) said flatly that any idea of producing organic grapes in Long Island is simply impossible—the stuff of dreams.
Ah, the stuff of dreams. Yes, it is my dream. And my reality.
As the vines finish blooming I love to cradle a cluster in my hand and smooth over the desiccated blossoms, letting the flower caps tumble off and see the immature berries. If we have shatter, my palm will be filled with berries the vine has rejected, conversely, if only a few pinhead sized berries let loose then we might have a good fruit set. I have to wait until the berries are pea-sized to know for sure. At fruit set the clusters can look full and then in a week or two I can look at the clusters again and the vine could have rejected half the potential berries. It is a quiet time of waiting and looking.
Jose Moreno, the blogger of “Wine Seriously”, visited again for a full walk-about. He is intending on reporting in on his blog by the end of the month. More controversy to follow? It is so strange to me that some who are in the business of viticulture wouldn’t let someone else farm in peace.
The birds are singing this year like I have never heard them before. It has gone on since bud break. What is this joy? They are calling not only from the vineyard but from the surrounding farms. And in the vineyard there are birds nesting in the vines everywhere. I ride my bike through the rows in the morning and they flit up onto the trellis wires and shout me away until I tell them to shrug it off, it’s ok.
And then there is George the groundhog who lives under the pile of vine stakes and doesn’t eat the vines (I think he is King of the Mountain and keeps the other groundhogs out, kind of like Diamond the crack dealer who kept the neighborhood safe when I lived in the flatlands of Oakland), and our ephemeral little fawns who live in the vineyard now and eat clover and not even one grape leaf. Her mother has given birth to twins every year for three years and they grow to adolescence in the Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sauvignon Blanc until they grow up and join the herd across the way. The fawns are tiny right now, just little brown critters, spindly and saintful. They see us before we see them; they jolt themselves up and duck under the trellis to the next row and keep moving until we walk away.
Every day my vineyard guys and I report in on where we saw them and we all smile and feel like we are their guardians, but we know that nature adheres to a much higher level of intelligence than we can comprehend. We probably don’t matter to them one bit. All is good.
It is so dry and hot that many vineyard managers may suppose that it would be impossible to get hit with downy mildew this year. I kept a small row of nursery vines unsprayed as a control check since this year the main experiment in the vineyard is organic downy mildew control. Sure enough today the nursery row had downy, and the 20 acres of mature vines are clean. Something to be pleased about. To some extent I have relied on a new biological control which is an extract from the giant knotweed plant.
Now that the control section has proven we can indeed get downy mildew here no matter the weather conditions, I have the opportunity to conduct a trial between hydrogen peroxide and a new organic algaecide. It interests me because downy was just reclassified from the fungi plant kingdom to the algae plant kingdom. Perhaps organic control of downy has been so tricky because for decades we have been fighting downy the fungus instead of downy the algae. Thrilling.
And on to the dog days of July……
Ed Note: Jim Silver of Peconic Bay Winery has previously contacted the Organic Wine Journal about how he was quoted in Wine Seriously. He does not recall making this statement and applauds Shinn Estate’s attempt to grow grapes organically on Long Island.