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Monday, May 17, 2010


Alot has happened since my last entry. Part of it is that I have been relentless and focused on getting the work done that needed to be, and a good part of it is that I have had the help of others when I pleaded to the world for help.
To begin, Jerry disappeared from the map. His landlord even showed up looking for him because he skipped out of paying his rent. He has become a ghost who someday will reappear....they always do. And then I looked at several people to fill his spot, only to find out that the better, reliable workers were all taken elsewhere, and those that feigned an interest were no shows or not committed to the cause. Maybe the recession is over (or maybe farm work is REALLY hard and no one wants to do it). So what I did was get hold of Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia and presented internship openings to see if I could get any students that wanted to learn the vineyard trade. They are having their exams now.....possibly some interest there when they're over ?
But in the meantime I had to get to work. The vines were due to be shipped in at the end of April and lots had to be done before then.
My older son was shamed into helping for a week, so we drove down together in a 17 hour drive, stopping at vendors to pick up wire and machinery, along with stopping at a plastics vendor to chew him out for poor delivery. It was a long drive but Chris made it through without a complaint. Our mission together was to lay out the fields (Block 2) in a grid pattern and start pounding in posts. We did nearly all the field while he was in town. I think Chris had a new found respect for the work that goes in to just this step alone. Poles just don't "appear" in the fields. Each one needs to be placed, jockeyed into position, pounded, readjusted, and pounded again. Over and over and over. The 2 of us completed all the poles for the Petit Verdots, and got well into those needed for the Cabernet Sauvignons.
During this time Diane came down for a few days. Flew in and flew out. It gave Chris and I the chance to just work till we dropped.....Diane took care of feeding us along with doing some vineyard work in Block 1.....planting new vines where vines had died over the winter (or before) . She could only stay a few days, and found her escape on a Monday. Chris was quick to jump on that bandwagon too seeing it as his only available exit strategy. I don't blame him really. When I get down on the vineyard there is so much work that I rarely come up for air. Any food in the frige or the cabinets is used to allow me to survive and continue working. I just can't find the energy or time to go into town to buy food for well-rounded meals. With Chris he felt captive to this mentality and with his major contribution behind him returning to Massachusetts was looked forward to as a place for recovery.
And with a few more posts to pound in, I hired a guy who talked the talk but didn't walk the walk. He did however drive the tractor for 3 days so I could pound in the balance of the posts we had (we were still short around 20 posts which we'll get in at a later date). I offered him plenty of work after I left, recognizing this wasn't a career move for him. Being yessed to death but no-showing seems to be a trend down there. I was once again totally empty handed.
So a few weeks went by and I did a return trip to New England to earn a living, to only have my mind back in Virginia knowing vines would soon be on their way. Over 2700 vines arrived at the vineyard during that last week in April. I tried to contact the UPS driver to have them placed in the shade......communication was difficult at best. Fortunately my next door neighbor was able to move them well under the car canopy to keep them from being dried out in the sun.
On this trip Diane drove down with me along with her brother John. I think he was purely curious about the whole process. Diane and I have been talking about it for years. Her sister Annie came down once to help put in a fence so there were stories that needed to be tied together and a visit by him would allow this. And of course his help was surely needed.
Once again I was driven to get as much work done as I could, especially with 2 other people volunteering their blood and sweat (well, Diane is not really a volunteer). Diane focused on planting the Petit Verdots, while Johnny and I drilled holes with a gas powered auger ahead of her to speed up the planting. After 3 days John had fulfilled his duty.....the Petit Verdots were fully drilled and fully planted and he found a flight home. Once again we had dove into the project head first. No time to show John the sights, something he wished we had time for. Diane promised that if he came back "off-season" we would have time for more touristy stuff.
So that left Diane and me to get as much done in the upper field for the Cab. Sauvignons.
We did leave the vineyard for a short while though.....a kind of a breather. We visited Smithfield and went to a farmers market......nothing great there to buy, and the a local Inn was selling alot of their furnishings that didn't go along with their remodeling plans.....nothing there we needed either. Diane also zipped into town to pick up some food for me too, since she knew once she flew home (an unplanned flight, but I had to stay to finish the planting) I wouldn't leave the land.
Our efforts were spent on drilling holes. The Cab. Sauvignons required 1750 holes, and with that they need to be measured out between the posts before they were drilled. It is a 2 person job to efficiently do this. Constantly lining up the holes, measuring off of each post, and then drilling.
Now don't think that drilling is easy. Picking up an auger, placing it in position, repositioning it as required and then finally drilling is like doing 4 bench presses per hole. And then don't think we're drilling through soft crumbly loam.....THINK CONCRETE !! It has been dry for so long that the clay-filled soil was impenetrable. Even with both of our weights leaning on the 2 handles of the auger, there were times when the auger bit only was able to dig down an inch or two and kick up fine silt. It was tough going But after 4 more days we were able to drill 1140 holes.
Now this number wasn't the "magic number" we wanted, which was 1750 holes. But understand Diane's brain was clicking to solve this problem....i.e. not having the time to drill and plant all the vines. Her idea was to completely empty a spare refrigerator we had of its shelves and use it to store the vines we couldn't plant, which is what we did. We placed (more like jammed) 625 vines in the refrigerator (make a note that this is maximum capacity !) and turned on the machine to 37 degrees. This would keep them dormant until we were ready to plant them.
It was now time for Diane to fly away. She had an early (early equals 5:30 a.m.) flight out of Newport News on the following Monday, and that left me with the duty of planting all the Cabernet Sauvignon vines not put in cold storage. It took 4 days to do it....that's alot of deep knee bends (thank god it wasn't more bench presses), but it was finally done in time for me to drive back on Friday.
I had been down there 2 full weeks. With the help of John and Diane (and of course Chris previously), we got alot accomplished. There is a ton of work left, not to mention that grapes are actually growing on all our vines in Block 1 that have to be pruned off.
Block 1 needs to be pruned. A spray schedule has to be initiated. The irrigation system has to be extended into Block 2 (and that requires drilling wire holes, running wire and drip lines, putting in the drippers), completing the planting of the chilly Cabs., weeding (and weeding and weeding). It has now become a full time job.
I am due back in 2 weeks. Can't wait. Really.

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