- I have some catching up to do. I'm afraid I just haven't found the
time over the last month to update this blog. It's not that I haven't
had wine making notes to share, it's just that between getting ready
for Christmas and taking care of my wines I haven't found the time to
provide any updates.
Ok, first things first. About the
vineyards... all of my vines at my San Tan vineyard have been fully
embraced by dormancy. I continue to have issues at that site though
with moles or gophers. I'm not sure which it is but I'm hoping it's
moles since they should have little interest in the vine roots. The
vines at my Usery Pass location are quickly going dormant but they
aren't entirely there yet. The vines at my Superstition Vineyard are a
mixed lot; several are dropping leaves but some are still largely
green. I've reduced the watering schedule at all three locations to
virtually nothing. Beyond that all I can do to hurry dormancy is to
prune those vines that aren't quite there yet, as well as pulling their
leaves. This is an effective trick when used late in the season, but
beware, if you do this too early you may provoke the onset of bud break.
up I'd like to tell you about my experience with California grapes. I
searched high and low this year for Arizona grown grapes to supplement
my own production, but to no avail. Every pound of grapes in Arizona
was bought up well in advance by commercial wine makers, leaving
nothing for the hobbyists like me. So I ended up buying seven pails of
frozen crushed grapes from Brehm Vineyards in California. The varieties
I chose were all from Bordeaux. Look for a bit more on this subject in
this blog in the coming days.
November 20 - I'm pleased to report that my 2010 Tres Blancos took first place at the Arizona State Fair.
- All has been quiet in the vineyards and my 2011 wines are resting
comfortably in their various carboys and barrels, so I haven't had much
to write about lately. This time of the year there's really not much to
do in the vineyards, other than checking on the irrigation system and
infrequent spraying of fungicides and pesticides.
I did recently submit my sixth article for Arizona Vines and Wines magazine. If this article looks familiar there's a reason for that. It's basically a rewrite of a blog post
I did several years ago. After struggling to get it down to one page in
length (what I'm typically allowed), I learned that they could have
accommodated a bigger article this time. Unfortunately I didn't have
the time to revise it further at that point.
I attended the
Arizona State Fair this year, specifically to check out the wine garden
and see the amateur wines on display. Here are a few random
were apparently only eight entries in the hobbyist wine making
categories, and when I was there none of the bottles on display had
been opened. The beers had been judged at that point, but not the
wines. The display cabinet with these wines was inside near the other
Culinary Arts entries.
events scheduled for that day were several rounds of commercial wine
judging and a grape stomping event. Each of these events was spaced out
by a couple of hours. I sat through one flight of red wine judging.
judges for the most part appeared to know what they were doing. Most
were in the wine trade and a few were restaurant owners or managers.
- It's not clear to me whether the same judges would be evaluating amateur wines as well.
commercial wine makers in the wine garden included Page Springs and
Stronghold, but otherwise were dominated by smaller players. Pillsbury
was notably absent.
- Attendance at the tasting and in the wine garden in general was light.
was astonished to find two small wine makers with meads and one with a
Muscadine wine. Meads are a bit of an acquired taste and Muscadine only
grows in the south-eastern US. The maker of the Muscadine wine actually
works with a vineyard in Arkansas which harvests and freezes their
grapes for shipment. That's a lot of trouble and expense to go to for a
wine with limited commercial appeal.
Could it be that only 8 wines and 3 beers were submitted in the whole state?September 25 -
The tasting panel included seven experts.
Blending wine can be a very educational exercise. Of course, commercial wine makers do this all the time. I've discussed before
the reasons, so I won't delve into this too deeply again. Why am I
mentioning this now? Well, I've been thinking more and more about
what grapes work in the lower desert and what grapes don't work. Firmly
anchored in the "working" category are two reds that I really like,
Tempranillo and Barbera. Alone however they don't offer the complexity,
structure, and balance necessary to make an exceptional red wine.
Together they should have more possibilities. Of course, my Pseudo
Tuscan includes both of these grapes but it also includes a number of
other varieties, and the ratios are determined at this point not by
what works best, but instead by what grapes I have to work with. I was
inspired then to pick up a couple of better commercial examples of each
to experiment with. Bench trials are typically performed by starting
with two wines in three blended samples; the first is 25% the 1st and
75% the 2nd, the second is 50/50, and the third is 75% the first and
25% the second. Once you determine your favorite you can further refine
the blend. This is exactly what I did with the two commercial wines I
picked up for this experiment. To my palate the best blend was 75%
Tempranillo and 25% Barbera. Of course, grapes grown here will be much
different than those grown in the more moderate climate of Amador
county California, so any attempt to blend finished wines from my
own grapes would be an entirely different exercise. Still though,
blending can be very educational and it's something I encourage you to
experiment with as well.
September 11 - I bottled the 2010 Tempranillo yesterday. This was made from grapes sourced from RanchoMaria Vineyards near Benson.
September 1 - I forgot something in that article on maximizing color. Something rather important... I forgot to mention Saignée. This involves bleeding off a certain amount of juice right after crush, thereby producing a
This is the best red wine I've ever made. I'm planning on entering it in the Arizona state fair.
as well as further concentrating flavors and color in the remaining
juice or must. This is the oldest and most traditional method of
improving color, but one that I haven't yet tried. The total volume of
my red grapes hasn't been sufficient to attempt this, but it's
something I should be ready to try next year.
opened a bottle of my 2008 Pseudo Tuscan this evening. That was the
first year I attempted to make this red blend, and by all rights, I
should have waited another year. The vines weren't mature enough to
produce quality fruit and I didn't have the volume of grapes necessary
to make even a small amount of wine. I had to augment it with wine from
Cabernet Sauvignon concentrate. If you were to compare this wine to a
number of commercial Super Tuscans
this one would come in... dead last. Still though, despite all of its
faults, I like it. It represents a beginning... a first attempt, and
many lessons learned. August 30 -
Fermentation of the Pseudo Tuscan is chugging along nicely. I pitched
the yeast four days ago. It ought to be completed soon. I'll probably
hold off on pressing for a few days in order to extract more tannin
from the grapes.This may require some dry ice to create a CO2 blanket
to prevent spoilage.
When I pressed the white grapes
for my Tres Blancos white blend I didn't add Bentonite.
I'd like to tell you that this was part of an experiment to see if I
could retain more aromatics, but in fact, I just forgot to add it. Now
we're the better part of a month past pitching the yeast, but the wine
is noticeabily cloudy and not clearing very fast. It might clear given
enough time, but I'm going to add a very small amount of Bentonite at
the next racking to help move things along.
Color in Desert Grown Grapes
extreme summer heat does nothing for color and tannin development in
red grapes. I'm not sure exactly why this is, but I suspect that either
the grapes are ripening too quickly to develop normally, or the sun is
simply bleaching out the color. Perhaps both explanations are correct.
of the cause, this issue can be addressed. Here's how:
- Select the right
varieties. I'm quite fond of Nebbiolo for desert
vineyards, but I have to admit, the color is not satisfactory. In their
region, Nebbiolo grapes produce wine with a deep burgundy
color and a slight orange tinge. In the desert though, they produce
more of a rosé or blush wine. Grenache is another grape that struggles
to produce good color in the desert. These varieties end up being good
blending grapes, but aren't suitable by themselves unless you want to
produce a blush wine. Some varieties though produce good color
regardless. Barbera is showing good results in the desert, in many
different respects. Petite Syrah produces excellent color and could be
used to bolster the color in a red blend.
- Hold off on harvest.
This one is self explanatory. Amateur grape growers tend to harvest too
early, and in the desert that exacerbates the color problem. You need
to keep them on the vines as long as possible. This will require an
aggressive irrigation schedule and a patient disposition.
- [9/11/11 EDIT] Saignée.- This involves bleeding off a certain amount of juice right after crush, thereby producing a rosé
as well as further concentrating flavors and color in the remaining
must. This is the oldest and most traditional method of
macerate your grapes, This involves keeping your
crushed grapes under refrigeration for a week or more prior to pitching
the yeast. During this time without alcohol present extra tannins can
be extracted from the skins, without extracting excessive bitter
compounds from the seeds. Make sure to add SO2 at crush followed by
enzymes 24 to 36 hours later. Studies have found little benefit in
extending the pre-ferment cold maceration beyond one week.
- Use enzymes.
Generally enzymes are used to break down pectin to aid juice extraction
and reduce cloudiness in the resulting wine. However, certain enzymes
are especially good at extracting color. Lallzyme EX and EX-V are two such
- Add tannin pre-ferment.
Adding tannin before fermentation may help stabilize color in reds.
This is believed to be the result of binding tannins from the grapes
with those from the tannin product, producing more stable pigments. The
jury is still out on this one though, with some studies suggesting
there's little benefit in adding tannin. Popular tannin additions
- Tan'Cor Grand Cru
Powders and Chips
- Add tannin post-ferment.
Adding tannin after fermentation may help as well, but be careful,
excessive tannin may cause astringency.
- Add yeast hull products
pre-ferment. OptiRED is a popular additive that may help
stabilize color. According to the manufacturer it "provides
early polysaccharide availability for the complexing with polyphenols ... which...
results in smoother red wines with more stable color".
- Extended post ferment
Leaving the skins in contact with the wine will obviously help extract
more color, but there are two risks here. First, with fermentation over
there's a real risk of oxidation or infection, and second, with alcohol
present bitter compounds from the seeds may be released into the wine.
You can reduce the risk of spoilage by adding dry ice several times a
day to the primary. Dry ice will last longer if it can be suspended
above the wine.
While color remains a challenge in desert
grown red grapes, there are things that you can do as a wine maker and
grape grower to address it.August 23
- After completing several business trips that kept me occupied for the
last two weeks, I finally have the time to focus again on my wines. I
removed all of my red grapes from the freezers and started my 2011
Pseudo Tuscan. This is my red blend and includes nine different
varieties. For 2011 they are:
- Tempranillo - 16.5%
- Petite Sirah - 7%
- Zinfandel - 5%
Sauvignon - 4%
- Petite Verdot - 3%
combining the grapes in food grade buckets and allowing them to
completely defrost, I then checked the chemistry. I was astonished to
find the specific gravity at 1.100. In many parts of the world this
would not be suprising, but here many varieties struggle to get the
above 20 degrees. In past years I've actually had to resort to
chaptalization. I attribute the high SG this year to the predominance
of Barbera in the mix, which can continue to gain sugar even on the
hottest days, as well as delaying the harvest for each variety as long
as possible. This SG will put the final alcohol content at 13.6%, which
is a bit high but not excessive. pH came in at 3.99 so I added tartaric
acid to get that down around 3.6. I also added tannin in the form of
Fermotan, Tan'Cor Grand Cru, and medium toast French oak powder. My
final addition was Lallzyme EX, an enzyme product.
been following this blog for a while you know that one of the biggest
problems with desert grown grapes is a lack of color and tannins. I try
to address this by adding tannin pre-ferment in various forms as well
as specific enzyme products like Lallzyme EX. I also use Opti-Red but I
don't add that until I pitch the yeast. I've found that an extended
cold maceration can help as well.August 14
- Well, it's over. I harvested the last of the grapes over the last few
days. The last to come off the vines were the Nebbiolo and part of the
Tempranillo at my Superstition location, the Petite Sirah at my Usery
Pass vineyard, and the Grenache and Syrah from my San Tan vineyard.
of these red grapes have been destemmed and frozen. They will
combined and fermented to make my Pseudo Tuscan red wine in the very
With the grapes harvested, I removed
the last of
the bird netting and reduced the watering schedule to 15 gallons per
week per vine. Once the heat breaks I'll reduce the irrigation schedule
- The end is near!!! The end of harvest anyway. In recent days I've
done a partial harvest of Petite Sirah at my Usery Pass vineyard as
well as a partial harvest of Tempranillo at my Superstition location. I
also brought in the last of the Barbera from my San Tan vineyard and
all of the Petite Verdot as well.
Each year I learn
Several vines are producing grapes for the first time this year.
Grenache has been a bit of a disappointment. The grapes are showing a
lot of damage from the sun (sunburn and dessication), and they aren't
developing good color either. Petite Verdot was a variety I had high
hopes for, but at harvest each bunch had a number of green and raisined
berries. This required a time consuming hand sort. I'm quickly falling
in love with Barbera though. This variety had no problem pushing Brix
up despite the heat and all in all I saw very consistent ripening.
- A lot has happened in the last few days. I harvested the last of the
Muscat at my San Tan vineyard. Those were the last of my white
wine grapes to be harvested so I proceeded immediately with
pressing them. In addition to my Trace Blancos, which will later be
split into two batches, I'm also doing an ad hoc white blend of Himrod,
Neptune, and Chardonnay grapes from my Usery Pass location. As I've
mentioned before, two of my micro-vineyards are on the property of
others, making me a share
cropper of sorts. This ad hoc white blend will be given to
the owners of that property.
I tested the must for
each of the blends and here's what I came up with.
0.5% Acid (5 g/l)
Ad Hoc Blend1.085
specific gravity is fine where it's at, but obviously an acid addition
is required. For pH, the rule of thumb indicates that a move of 0.1
will require 1 gram per liter. I've actually found that with my grapes,
about half that amount is pretty close. Contrary to popular belief a
minor post ferment acid adjustment can be made, so I can add more later
if needed. The acid needs to be up around 7 g/l though, and for the
Tres Blancos the two acid adjustment calculations came out a bit
different. (I chose not to test the acid on the small ad hoc blend.) To
get the acid where it needs to be I should add 2 g/l, but to get the pH
down where it needs to be I need to add 3 g/l. I decided to just split
the difference and add 2.5 g/l. The ad hoc white blend needs 1.8 g/l to
get the pH down where it needed to be.
- Yesterday I brought in the Cabernet Sauvignon at my Superstition
location as well as the Zinfandel at my San Tan vineyard. Both were
showing good signs of maturity and reasonable Brix levels (22 to 23 and
24 to 25 respectively). The harvest is winding down.
pressed a batch of blackberry wine that I started about a week ago.
This was actually two batches; the first included some Concord Seedless
and the second included some Syrah and Barbera. I used RC212 and BM4x4
yeasts for these batches... the BM4x4 is a blended yeast that's popular
for Italian wines. I was surprised how much of an Italian character it
gave this blackberry wine.
- In past years Muscat has done quite well, showing only minimal signs
of sunburn or dessication. This year is different... Muscat looks like
hell. The grapes were badly sunburned and many were lost. I harvested
the few I had at my Superstition location several weeks ago, and I
started harvesting those at my San Tan location last night. I had to
discard many of the grapes because they were too badly damaged.
- I'm starting to think that I've dropped into an alternate universe,
one where Cabernet Sauvignon is harvested before Tempranillo. Every
year I've had grapes to harvest, the Cabernet wasn't ready until at
least three weeks after Tempranillo, but this year I'll harvest
Cabernet first. It's testing out at 22 to 23 Brix, and showing
excellent signs of ripeness, so I'll likely harvest the Cab tomorrow.
Tempranillo may need another week or more.
- I brought in the last of the Barbera at my Usery Pass location. Brix
ranged from 21 to 26 and the grapes were showing excellent signs of
maturity. Petite Sirah at my Usery Pass location needs more time on the
vine; Brix is only about 19. Tempranillo and Cabernet at my
Superstition location are very nearly ready to harvest. I'm seeing
signs of dessication but they're holding up fairly well. At my San Tan
location I still have some table grapes to harvest, as well as the
Barbera, Petite Verdot, Grenache, Syrah, and Zinfandel.
started two small batches of Blackberry wine from the berries I
harvested just a few months ago. They had been languishing in the
freezer since mid-May. One batch is my yearly port-style blackberry
wine, and the other will be a sweet (non-fortified) wine for friends. I
enhanced the former with Syrah and Barbera grapes and the latter with
Concord Seedless. The grapes should help round out the flavor profile.
- I harvested Sauvignon Blanc yesterday at the San Tan vineyard. The
Brix was 21 to 23 degrees, and most grapes were showing good signs of
maturity. The harvest of table grapes is almost complete.
I'll check on my Usery Pass location. I'm expecting the remainder of
the Barbera to be ready for harvest there.
different. The extreme heat around the first of July stunted the
development of some grapes and caused a good deal of sunburn and
dessication. This has been a rough year for Muscat. I've lost much of
the crop due to the heat. Thompson Seedless has performed exceptionally
well though. Tempranillo has matured later than usual. In past years
I've started harvest on or before July 4th, but here it is the 22nd and
it may be another week or so before I bring in these grapes.
- Harvest continues. I started a partial harvest of Barbera at my Usery
Pass and Superstition locations. I also brought in the Syrah at my
Superstition vineyard. I didn't even check the Brix on this one... the
grapes were showing signs of maturity as well as the first signs of
raisining or dessication. I was surprised when I checked the Viognier
at my San Tan vineyard. The riper clusters were testing out at 23 to 25
Brix. Not all clusters were that ripe, but I went ahead and harvested
it all. I tested the Brix of most of the remaining grapes at my San Tan
vineyard. Here are the numbers:
- I harvested the Himrod, Neptune, and Chardonnay grapes at my Usery
Pass location in recent days. Tempranillo at my Superstition location
is still hovering around 18 to 20 degrees Brix. In past years
I've harvested all of my Tempranillo by now. At my San Tan vineyard
I've been bringing in Concord Seedless, Flame Seedless, and Thompson
Seedless. Harvest of my wine grapes down there is still a ways off.
- Sauvignon Blanc - 20.5
- Zinfandel - 18
- Muscat -
- I apologize for the lack of updates. I've been on a nearly three week
drive around the country. Before leaving I made sure the bird netting
was up at all three locations, and someone was keeping an eye on the
irrigation situation at each location.
home from my
trip yesterday to find the Tempranillo at my Superstition vineyard at
19 to 20 Brix, and generally looking quite good. The Himrod and Neptune
at my Usery Pass vineyard were at about the same Brix, but as white
hybrids I decided that was far enough.
These two varieties are
considered table grapes, but I'll be using them in a semi-sweet white
wine in the style of Riesling or Gewurtztramminer.
presently working on my next article for Arizona Vines and Wines. The
subject for this one is Oak Barrels and Adjuncts. I think it'll be a
- Quite often when people find out that I grow grapes, they'll tell me
that they have a vine or two in their yard, but they've never produced
grapes. I respond immediately, "you're not watering them enough." I
know that because no one ever does water their grapes enough, unless of
course they have read and followed the advice I've offered in this
blog. Mid summer each vine needs between 25 and 35 gallons a week. I
also advise people to prune their vines correctly. Many will allow
their vines to sprawl out over a porch overhang or some other
structure. Vines need to be pruned correctly each winter to encourage
grape production. The final reason for a lack of grapes is that the
variety is just sterile or male to begin with, and will never produce
grapes. Some garden centers sell these vines for decorative use, and
since they're grown at the same nurseries it's possible for vines to be
June 5 - With
some grapes going through véraison
and temperatures well above normal, now is the time to
maximize watering. Depending on soil conditions and other
this time of the year each vine may require 25 to 35 gallons per week.
You can't scrimp on water if you want grapes.
is bird netting. I started hanging netting yesterday at my San Tan
vineyard and I hope to have it completed at all three locations within
a week. This subject probably deserves a full article unto itself, but
all I have time for at the moment are some quick notes on the subect.
bird netting is definitely my least favorite vineyard task,
without it I'd have no grapes. You may think that since vineyards in
the large wine grape growing regions of the world don't generally use
it, you might be able to get by without it. Unfortunately though
without it, birds will consume the vast majority of your grapes. In
areas where grape vines vastly outnumber birds, they aren't so much of
a concern. Nowhere in Arizona can you really get by without it.
how to get netting on your vines and stop the birds from wiping out
- There's something very cathartic or meditative about a vineyard.
Today was one of the most stressful days I've experienced in recent
memory, both personally and professionally. After a visit to my San Tan
vineyard though, my nerves were calm and my spirit was lifted. I
then came home and opened a second-run
red wine I made in 2009 that's drinking incredibly well right now. Who
needs a therapist when you can grow grapes and make wine?
- Acquire the materials.
If you're working with no more than a few dozen vines, the 1/2" black
nylon netting available at most home improvement centers and gardening
shops will work fine. For larger operations there are more economical
and easier to apply netting solutions. You'll also need clothes pins...
yes, clothes pins. We'll get to them in a moment.
- Wait for it... wait for
it... Don't hang the netting until you see signs of véraison.
The longer the netting is over the grapes the more problems you will
have with the vines growing through it and getting tangled up with it.
- Tidy up your vineyard.
If you've been following this blog for any length of time you know that
I am vehemently opposed to thinning leaves or reducing the canopy.
These are practices done in cooler and more humid environments to
improve airflow and get more sunlight on the grapes. In the lower
deserts of Arizona we don't have any humidity and we get so much
sunlight, even through a dense canopy, that sunburn of grapes
real problem. With that said, the netting will go on easier if you do a
bit of hedging first and tie loose canes back to the trellis. If you do
trim up errant shoots and canes, make sure that you've left about ten
or so leaves beyond any clusters of grapes. The sugars building up in
the grapes come from leaves further out on the shoot. Leaving too few
leaves may reduce the Brix and prevent some of your grapes from
ripening properly. Also make sure to cut back or remove any tall weeds
since they'll get in your way as you secure the netting.
- Get a friend.
This is really a two person job, and even then it's a bit like herding
the netting. Place the roll of netting on top at the end
of the row leaving about 6
to 8 inches extending beyond the first post. Unroll the netting
entirely, then with your friend on the other side start working the
netting down until it's hanging down at about the same level on both
up the end.
Return to the end where you started and beyond the post, near the
ground, place the corners of the netting together and then roll them
up. Use a clothes pin to hold it in place. Move up a foot or two, place
both sides together again, roll them up as before, and clip. Continue
rolling and clipping until you reach the top.
- Tie up the bottom.
Just as you did on the end, you now need to secure the bottom. Pull
both sides together under the vines, roll them up, and clip them
together every foot or two. Close up the far end of the row as you did
the starting end.
- Check for gaps.
Birds are smart and determined. If you've left any gaps, they will find
them. Make a fist and try to work it through any gaps you can find. Any
gap large enough for your fist is large enough for a bird to enter
Look especially closely around the posts and vine trunks. Close up any
gaps with more rolling and
- Keep an eye on things.
Your grapes are almost irresistable to birds. They will constantly be
searching for any openings in your defenses. Sometimes they'll get in
but won't be able to get back out. You need to check your vines daily,
possible, for any signs of problems. If you've done everything right
though, you shouldn't have any problems.
- Undo everything after
As soon as harvest is complete, trim off any shoots that grew through
netting and clip off any tendrils that wrapped around it. If you're
careful you should be able to get two or three years out of this
netting. Roll it up and store it away until next year.
- Véraison!!! My Concord Seedless at my San Tan vineyard is
showing definite signs of color. In fact, some of the grapes look
Here's the dates for véraison
over the last few years:
- June 12 - Mars Seedless and Petite SIrah
- 2009 -
June 15 - Tempranillo
- 2008 - June 9 - Tempranillo
I need to scramble to get hedging completed in advance of hanging
- Since my last update I've been busy pruning and hedging my vines in
advance of putting up bird netting. Netting is absolutely
essential in this environment; without it I'd have no grapes. In order
to hang the netting the vines need to be trimmed and tied to
I've slightly modified my spraying
schedule for 2011.
In 2010 I had great success in keeping everything under control except
for powdery mildew. For that reason I've added Myclobutanil to my
and Insect Control in the Sonoran Desert, Revisited
to 2009 my spraying schedule was sporadic, but mostly sufficient. Aside
from a recurring problem with Grape Leafhoppers,
everything was kept in check. For 2009, thinking that my previous
spraying approach was overkill, I decided to try a "light
and spray only when necessary to deal with a specific problem. This was
a mistake. I had problems in 2009 with Powdery Mildew and Leaf Skeletonizers that
I didn't have before. For 2010, I wanted to proceed with a
comprehensive spraying program that would control all of these
threats. After a fair amount of research I ended up with a spraying
schedule that included a variety of organic and sythetic chemicals. I
was largely successful in keeping everything in check, but powdery
mildew was still an issue. For 2011 I'm adding Myclobutanil to the
Identify the Enemy
place to start when considering what and when to spray is the
particular threats you are dealing with. There's no point in spraying
something that is specific to a threat that your grapes will never see.
Fortunately, here in the desert the list of potential threats is very
short. Diseases like Black Rot and Downy
exist in the lower deserts; our temperatures are too high and the
humidity is too low. Also, many of the insects that cause grape growers
headaches in the eastern US haven't yet established a presence in
The perennial fear for grape
growers throughout most of the US is Pierces
Disease. This disease is caused by a bacterium called Xylella fastidiosa,
and is spread by insects like the
These insects or "vectors" as they're called inadvertently carry the
bacterium in their guts and spread it while feeding on sap from grape
vines and certain other plants. The bacterium basically cuts off
nutrient flow inside the plant, choking it to death from the inside.
Once established in a region, the disease is virtually impossible to
eliminate. The only option for most grape growers is to either replant
with far less interesting varieties that are resistant or tolerant, or
simply stop growing grapes altogether. Fortunately, at this point at
least, this disease and its vectors are not widespread in Arizona.
Glassy-winged Sharpshooters have been spotted in the Senoita wine
region of Arizona, but aggressive management practices have kept their
numbers in check. Some sources indicate that Pierce's disease has been
found in the greater Phoenix area, but maps that show the spread of the
disease across the country usually show a question mark over central
Arizona. It seems that there may be a few pockets of the disease in the
state, but it's not widespread.
the disease and pests that I need to control are Powdery
Grape Leafhoppers, and Leaf Skeletonizers. I do occasionally
see damage to my vines caused by various unidentified
insects, but the damage is not significant and if I'm
for Leafhoppers and Skelotonizers I'll probably control these
others as well.
The Chemicals and the
time you're at a party or in a crowd, start talking loudly about how
you intend to spray chemicals in your yard or garden. Count the number
of dramatic gasps that you hear, then listen for those mumbling under
their breath about how environmentally insensitive you are. The word
"chemicals" it seems, has become a dirty word. I suppose these concerns
are not without merit, after all the widespread use of DDT devastated
several species of birds, and the use of Agent
Vietnam during the Vietnam War has been associated with all manner of
health problems in returning GI's as well as the Vietnamese
people. I think these chemicals and their applications were
exception and not the rule. These chemicals and their side
effects were clearly not understood, and their application was extreme.
get me wrong. I'd be thrilled if I could get by without spraying
anything on my vines, and if I have to spray at all, I'd rather spray
something that's naturally occurring and carries a low risk of
collateral damage. Unfortunately it doesn't seem that effective organic
equivalents exist for the control of all diseases and pests. But lets
reconsider the notion of chemicals as a bad thing. After all, water is
a chemical, but obviously it's not a problem. The organic insecticides
and fungicides that are commonly used can all be classified as
chemicals, but no one is suggesting they shouldn't be used. Even many
synthetic agricultural chemicals actually carry very little risk of any
problems, especially when applied according to the manufacturers
recommendations. Remember, the biggest problems with DDT and Agent
Orange were with their indiscriminate application and improper
handling. Now I'm not suggesting that either of those should still be
available. Clearly banning them was the right thing to do, but the
lesson here is to follow the directions no matter what chemicals you're
If you are going to spray anything, synthetic
it's important to understand how it works and what risks are associated
with it. Let's consider the chemicals that I'm familiar with and intend
Organic versions of Stylet Oil are available.
Although Pyrethrin is naturally occurring, insecticides may use
synthetic versions known as Pyrethroids which don't qualify as organic.
What Are They?
powder is just copper sulfate. It's very effective at controlling
blight, mildew, rots, and a variety of other fungal diseases.
oil is a vegetable oil pressed from the fruits and seeds of the
evergreen Neem tree which is native to the Indian subcontinent. It's
effective at repelling many types of insects by making the plant both
unpalatable and an unpleasant place to reside. It also helps
control mildews, rots, and fungal infections, probably in much the same
way that stylet oil works.
Stylet oil is simply food
mineral oil. It controls mildews, rots, and fungal infections by
breaking down cell walls. Stylet oil can be combined with some other
pesticides or lime to extend it's capabilities. Do your research though
before combining chemicals to make your own sprays. Some combinations
could produce unexpected results.
is a steroid demethylation inhibitor, specifically inhibiting
ergosterol biosynthesis. Ergosterol is a critical component of fungal
cell membranes and without it the cells die.Pyrethrins
are naturally occurring esters extracted from chrysanthemum flowers
that kill insects when concentrations are high enough, and serve to
repel insects when present in lower concentrations. Synthetic versions
of pyrethrins are called pyrethroids.
commercially as "Sevin", is a chemical in the carbamate family. What
this chemical does to insects is insidious. It's a cholinesterase
inhibitor; I'll give you the short version of what that means... as
neurons fire in the insect's brain, carbaryl prevents them from turning
back off again, basically sending the little bugger into seizures or a
full nervous breakdown followed by an untimely death.
is a synthetic chemical introduced in the 1980s that's analogous to
nicotine, which itself is actually a naturally occurring insecticide.
This chemical is generally applied to the soil or irrigation water
rather than the plants themselves like most insecticides. The
plant draws the chemical up through the roots and as the insects suck
the juice out of the plants or eat the leaves they suffer a severe
nervous breakdown not unlike that of carbaryl. While deadly for
insects, this chemical is surprisingly benign for most animals. It's
commonly used as a treatment for fleas and ticks on dogs, and in lab
tests, rats have consumed large quantities of it with no ill
You may be wondering why I would use
overlap in their capabilities. This is actually a good approach because
over time insects can build up a tolerance or immunity to any
particular insecticide. If you are employing a variety of chemicals
this is less of an issue.
Collateral Damage and
use of some chemicals has unintended consequences. Residual
copper sulfate on grapes can cause the production of H2S during
fermentation. Both carbaryl and imidacloprid have been associated with colony collapse disorder,
the widespread and poorly understood loss of honey bees throughout
North America. Fortunately for us, bees have little interest in grape
vines, so the use of these chemicals in vineyards carries little risk
for the bees. Still though, you shouldn't apply either of these
chemicals if bees are active in the area. Another area of concern is
marine life. Some aquatic animals (especially crustaceans) are
sensitive to both carbaryl and imidacloprid since their nervous systems
are similar to those of insects. Care should be taken not to apply
either near sensitive marine environments.
Although subject to change, at
this point I'm leaning towards....
I'll just alternate between an anti-fungal and an insecticide every two
weeks or so after bud break, being careful not to use Bordeaux powder
close to harvest.
break - Stylet Oil
- Bud break - Imidacloprid
week - Myclobutanil
weeks - Pyrethrin
- +5 weeks - Bordeaux Powder
weeks - Carbaryl
- +9 weeks - Neem Oil
One word of caution about the
these chemicals and our heat. It's generally inadvisable to apply most
chemicals during the heat of summer. We start hitting 100 degrees about
mid-May. At that time you should start spraying as late in the evening
as possible. Later in the summer as temps exceed 110 mid-day, you
should consider discontinuing spraying since night time temps will be
too hot for the safe application of many chemicals. Spraying in the
heat stresses vines and causes more harm than good.
seems like a good place for a disclaimer... I'm not a chemist nor do I
play one on TV, so don't use this article as a substitute for more
authoritative sources. No matter what products you're using, make sure
to read and understand the labels. It's also a good idea to
up on your chosen chemicals; there are some excellent resources on line
for doing just that. Remember too that organic chemicals are still
chemicals and their use may carry certain risks.
- My table grapes are girdled. I finished this task yesterday. Now you
may be wondering what's girdling... it's actually a groove cut into the
bark around the base of a vine. By cutting a circle into the trunk you
prevent carbohydrates produced by photosynthesis from making it down to
the roots. Everything is forced into the grapes, thereby making them
larger. Commercial table grape vineyards just spray everything with
gilberic acid. It accomplishes the same thing but is much less labor
intensive. I also dropped quite a bit of fruit on my table grape vines.
If you want larger grapes, cut off the bottom half of each cluster.
This can be done in tandem with girdling.
Girdling just requires a groove
to be cut in the trunk near the base.
Grape from girdled vine on left,
untouched vine on right.May 3
- I apologize for the lack of updates. My day job and other
responsibilities have kept me fully occupied recently. Things are
proceeding nicely in the vineyard though. Some grapes are approaching
pea size, which means that I'll need to girdle the Thompson Seedless
very soon. I'm starting to see some color in a few Blackberries; the
harvest ought to start soon. I just completed another article for
Arizona Vines and Wines. This time the topic was getting started in
hobby wine making. Look for the latest issue at wine shops before the
end of May.
As soon as time permits I'll post a
refresh of my Disease
and Insect Control article
from last year. There are a few corrections to make. I'm also working
on an article on improving color in desert grown red wines.
- The vines are growing like crazy at all three locations. Like
previous years, one of the last varieties to go through bud break was
the Cabernet at my Superstition vineyard. I'm a bit overdue on the
second spraying of fungicide. Insect pressures are low at this point,
but I'm determined to keep powdery mildew under control this year.
presently working on my next article for Arizona
Vines and Wines. The topic for this article will be on
getting started in home wine making.
- Bud break has occured. The first vine this year was a new Nebbiolo at
my Superstition location. This vine was just planted late last summer
and only grew a little in the fall before dormancy. I noticed this
first emerging leaf of the spring just yesterday, March 6th. Now the
- THE END IS NEAR!!! The end of dormancy anyway. I'm scrambling to get
pruning completed as well as preseason spraying and trellis repairs.
Bud break could happen any day now.
- I'm seeing definite signs of swelling buds at my Superstition
location. This is early. I don't normally see bud break until early
March. I have mixed feelings about this. While on one hand an early bud
break would lead to an early harvest, thereby missing some of the worst
of our summer heat. On the other hand a longer dormancy period is
generally considered important for fruit quality. It's in mother
nature's hands though. There's no sense in worrying about things you
cannot change. Indications of an early bud break have prompted me to
wrap up pruning early. I also need to get my pre-season spraying out of
- In preparation for racking the 2010 Pseudo Tuscan, I tasted a sample
tonight. It's probably not good form to speak in glowing terms about
your own handiwork, but this wine is fantastic. I'm very satisfied with
the way it's turning out. Not all is well though at Goldmine Mountain
Cellars. I have a small barrel of Pinot that's gone south. What exactly
is wrong with it is unknown, but it likely became infected with
something. It doesn't taste like acetic acid (vinegar) but it is quite
sharp. I'm going to rack it into unlabeled bottles and give it to my
neighbors for use in making sangria or wine spritzers. They
already tasted a sample, so they know what they're getting themselves