Monday, April 13, 2009

Puttin' on the grapes

On Wednesday, April 8th, Billy Worthey and I made a trek to Lourdsburg, New Mexico. There is a sizable grape grower out there. He has about 200 acres of grapes for wine. A multi-generational Frenchman, Emanuel loves his grapes. In the arid soils of the Southwest, he has found many problems over the years and is always looking for ways to deal with them.

Soils in this region tend to be very high in minerals and low in organic matter. therefore, they tend to compact easily. Where Emanuel's farm is he has pretty sandy soil that doesn't hold moisture for very long...remember there is very low organic matter... In the past couple years, he's been growing here for 10 years, his yields have dropped from 10 tons per acre to 4. The biggest contributor to this problem is root knot nematodes, aka, Texas Root Rot. The nematodes like to eat organic material in the soil. When there is such a low amount of food, the plants themselves become the food. The nematodes eat down the root hairs, preventing the plants from being able to get their needed nutrients. Signs of this can be seen on the trunks of the vines as the bark begins to crack and peel away, making the plant susceptible to other pests.

Some methods Emanuel has tried include a range of synthetic chemicals, applied topically and systemically through foliar feeding, and subsurface irrigation. He really feels like he is not seeing any improvements and is looking for anything that can help save his farm. His crop consultant has suggested the use of beneficial microbes to help build the soil, increase the water retention and organic matter, and hopefully to out-compete the root knot nematodes. Without getting into too much technical detail, the logic behind this is to focus in building soil. Since about 90% of diseases and pests come from the soil, this is a logical place to start and to focus the most amount of energy.

We are really looking forward to getting EM1 in as part of this project and hope to supply some better pictures as the season goes on.


Marc said...

I am managing a 2 acre Pinot Noir vineyard in experimental western Washington. When I arrived on the scene last year there was a serious Botrytis infection. The owner had never sprayed anything on the 5 year old vines. We began with a combination of 'standard' sprays, compost tea, and EM1, applied in succesion. We have no visable botrytis this very wet year, and plan on backing off on the occcasional Rally and Rubicon applications in favor of compost teas and EM1 [sometimes combined]. I consider this a success, particularly since we are seeing more earthworm activity and the soils appear healthy.
I do have a question. As a winemaker I do some indigenous fermentations [no added yeast]. If EM is used in the vineyard it most certainly ends up in the fermenter. I wonder how that affects the fermentation? Does EM1 eat or compete with Saccaromyces cerevisae [wine yeast], or do they get along? I know this is a difficult question, but at least I will throw it out there.

TeraGanix said...

Hi Marc,
Got any pictures of the vineyard?

Saccaromyces cerevisea is in EM1 so there will not be any competition. It will be a different strain so will produce different flavors.

I have experimented with making beers with EM1, but not wine...yet.


Marc said...

Hello Eric
Since my previous post, I did do a fermentation with the Pinot Noir grapes from the Avitino vineyard. This vineyard has had EM1 applications recently. It is always difficult to tell what is going on in a fermenter because the chemistry is so complex and rapidly changing.
It was an unusual fermentation.
I inoculated with a yeast strain called BDX, which is a standard Bordeaux isolate. I have used this strain every year during the last decade and am familiar with its kinetics. [I will spare you the details concerning why I used a Bordeaux yeast instead of a Burgundy isolate]
Prior to adding the yeast I added 45 ppm SO2 ---and allowed the crushed grapes to sit in their juice at 56 F. for 4 days. We call this “cold soak”, or properly termed 'pre-fermentation maceration', which is a very common practice.
Fours days later when I went to inoculate, the must was already showing signs of natural fermentation. This is not unusual, BUT NOT AT 56 DEGREES F. Wow!
Another aggressive fermentation observation is this: We decided to make some Port, so took 15 gallons of the [not yet completely fermented] wine and added 2 ½ gallons of 154 proof alcohol into it. Their was still some un-resolved sugars [standard issue for Port]. The fermentation should have ceased, but it did not. It continued to ferment most of the sugars out at 56 F. Any yeast that can continue to feed at 18% alcohol is unusual and very tough.
I do not know if the EM1 organisms had anything to do with the fermentation Kinetics, but next year I will be careful to work at lower temperatures with the grapes from that vineyard, as the natural yeasts seem to be behaving more like white wine yeasts.
I would be curious to know if the St.Clair vineyard has experienced any similar aggressive yeast behavior.

TeraGanix said...

Hi Marc,
I'll have to ask at the winery. I have not heard anything in regards to changes in the fermentation at St Clair. I can say the wines are tasty!