Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine


The Blur of Midsummer

Shinn Estate is in the first year of their organic certification process. Barbara Shinn shares her progress with us.

July 3, 2010

I dug up the biodynamic horn prep 500 this morning. This year the compost took an extra month to come to fruition. I had to be patient as I kept the horns buried and let the worms do their work. Last winter was very cold and wet and the winter composting was practically nonexistent. Now that I have waited the compost is perfect and I will keep it in hibernation until I use it in the spring.

July 6, 2010

It is 8:30 in the morning and it is already 86 degrees. The sun looks ominous as it continues to rise…it is a huge orange ball with a distinct outline, so close to the earth it looks surreal. The wind turbine sits still and no bird or cricket is making a sound. By noon it will be 100 degrees. We are having the hottest and driest year ever in the history of Long Island winegrowing and the soil that was so spongy a few weeks ago is turning to dust. Tonight I will have to begin a round of irrigation.

July 10, 2010

In the afternoon I ride my bike to the middle of the vineyard and switch over the irrigation zones to prepare for the nighttime watering. When it is this hot the waves of heat and humidity bounce back up from the dried grasses into my face and my sweat streams out. Carlos is on the tractor everyday but has to stop by lunchtime because the air conditioning is out; if it is 85 degrees outside the inside of the tractor is at least 100. The cover crop has gone dormant and only the vines are green. Unbelievably, I see tiny spots of some downy mildew on new leaves, but it gets burnt out in a day; the mildew pressure from humidity is barely countered by the heat. This is priceless information because it is easy to assume that a hot dry year would not allow for this type of mildew, but the humidity obviously plays the lead role.

July 20, 2010

This morning Carlos washed the caked dirt off the radiator of the tractor and it gushed coolant. The tractor is down and Bobby, my usual mechanic doesn’t have time to replace it. Anthony, our winemaker, considers the task for a moment and miraculously says he can do it. John Deere is overnighting a radiator from Canada…this is like manna from heaven.

July 26, 2010

Black rot in the South Merlot. This is not like manna from heaven.

My vineyard crew discovered it as they were cleaning stray canes from the trunks. Carlos called me and presented me with a handful of clusters with brown berries scattered throughout. Standing there in the break between the North and South block I felt as though the air was sucked out of my body and my guts were curdled. We immediately went in and removed any clusters showing signs of infection. This quick response is necessary when farming organically in a region just discovering how to farm wine this way. Sanitation is key so that I can move on and bring in a beautiful crop.

August 3, 2010

The black rot is at bay and the berries are maturing and becoming immune to infections such as this. Alice Wise our local Cornell extension specialist along with the plant pathology department of Cornell University upstate were incredibly valuable in diagnosing the problem. It is useful to have the assistance of this knowledgeable team which will help in avoiding this kind of problem in future seasons.

August 7, 2010

Although the nights are cooling and the mornings soften, the rhythm of this hot summer still reverberates in the vineyard. The vines are making due on a parched diet of very little water. I have to find the balance between withholding water for ripening purposes with the need to keep the vines somewhat hydrated. I pull soil plugs in every block to see how much moisture is available and am amazed that each block will completely dry out in a matter of 4 days. I can’t fathom how the vine’s roots are able to seek and find nutrients in the dry ground. I guess this is why we have made wine from grapes for centuries.

We are now finishing veraison….and so begins the ripening season…..