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Saturday, October 10, 2009

CHANGING OF THE GUARD

It was now May when I finally returned to the vineyard. Ed had sent me a disturbing text message a couple of weeks earlier that said to find someone else to take over the vineyard responsibilities. Ed was always a straight shooter with me so there was no question that he meant it. What was the straw that broke Ed's back I'm not really sure. I think it was a combination of things.....Spring was in the air and for a retired fireman maybe he wanted to get in some fishing. He saw the weeds popping up again and we really didn't find a successful plan of attack yet to keep them in order. Ed had a loving interest in all the grapes that he worked so hard to keep alive, and to now fighting more weeds must have felt like a losing battle. Also the vines were growing in all sorts of directions and they needed major pruning in 2009. We had left them alone the previous year so we needed to spend some real time in training them. Because the vines were still small, most of the pruning was close to the ground; this in itself required alot of knee bending and hip turning, both of which would have affected Ed's "war" injuries. And then the irrigation system still needed tweaking.....the parts we were sent to tie the secondary line in with each of the rows didn't work, and we needed to order different ones. I'm sure Ed saw it as a never-ending project.

So I went down to Virginia and started to do some tilling to help out on the weed problem, leaving only the weeds left directly under the wire for another method to conquer. When Ed showed up on that Monday he proceeded to use a Stihl tiller to reach in these tough spots, but by this time they were already 12" tall and easily bound up the tines. An hour of this under his belt pursuaded him to once again bring up his notice to depart, which I having no real say in the manner graciously accepted. Prior to this I had put a classified ad in 2 local weeklys, and I was going to be interviewing possible candidates in the next day or two in hopes of finding another Ed.....someone who could truly take care of the grapes in my absence.

Farm work is hard. It demands your full attention, from sun up to sun down, maybe up to 7 days a week. Some jobs can't be done when it's raining, while others can't be done when it's windy. Being too hot initiates certain action (or inaction), too cold forces priorities to change. And as I said in a previous blog, grapes need your full attention.

On the one hand with unemployment so high you would think I would have received alot of candidates to apply for the job. On the other hand the locals know how hard farm work is, or maybe there was some hesitation on being able to learn what was required in a vineyard. There is quite abit of bull work, but there also is a very methodical approach to the work that needs be done. All in all I interviewed maybe 8 to 10 people, one of which had vineyard experience who played hardball relative to the wage he wanted. I'm not sure who lost in this case, but we couldn't meet eye to eye on terms so he didn't come to work for me.

I ended up hiring 2 guys, Jerry and Ken. Jerry was to be my primary vineyard person, while Ken was to be a backup but primarily assigned to special projects. We had quite a few little things that needed to be done to achieve the ultimate look, and none of these projects really became priority #1 when I went down there, but they still needed to be done nevertheless.

So towards the end of the week I ended up hiring them, with Jerry receiving one day's training before I had to return up North. Ken received no input from me at all, so I put his start date on the back burner until I could return.

Jerry's main assignment was to prune grapes while I was gone. I'm sure he must have been a bit tentative with only a day's worth of training and no one to refer to when he came across a tangled vine. He also did a little weeding by hand using a cultivator (claw) and took over the mowing responsibility. He had his work cut out for him with 2000 sprawling vines to prune, and knowing he was shy on the pruning I wasn't horribly worried about returning to a bunch of sticks sticking out of the earth where full vines had been. And there was also putting some of the finishing touches on the drip system.....I wasn't sure where Ed had left off so Jerry went around and inspected each vine and dripper to assure they were all in place.

1 comment:

  1. Dave - I used to think summer was the season for turnover, but it seems to now be the fall. Congrats on the great progress you've made so far and all the best as the vines develop! - Mark J.

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