Drilling a New Well

drilling rig set up and drilling

The time has come to drill a new well. In the almost 6 years that we have lived here in west Texas, our water levels in each of the wells have dropped. Unfortunately, it is not just us, it is everyone in this area. When we bought the land in 2007, there were already 3 wells on the property. At that time, after test pumping to see how much water they could produce, we put submersible pumps down 2 of them.

In 2008, we began the vineyard and could continuously irrigate 10 acres at a time, pumping more than 120 gal. per min. Now, the wells refill rate allows us to irrigate only five acres semi-continuously, pumping ~50 gal. per min.

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Vineyard Work Post Harvest

vineyard Oct 16, 2013

Now you can see the vineyard after harvest. If you look carefully,  you can see in the upper left, a drilling rig – to the left of the barn. No, we are not drilling for oil! We are drilling a well to a deeper aquafer for water- but, more about that later!

You might think that since our last grape harvest of 2013 is finished, we would be kicking back and relaxing.

That is what our children thought!


Quite the opposite is true.

We have finally finished hoeing the vineyard (all 27 acres of it!) for the last time of the year.

Yes, it was a wonderful workout, great exercise and time to work together as a family. But, ask any of us and you will get the same answer – we are glad to be done! In fact, “glad” doesn’t accurately describe the feelings experienced upon completion.

We had to hoe for 3 reasons. The main one was to remove all the organic material from under the vines – this was a safe haven for wintering over bugs. Secondly, we wanted to get rid of the weeds before they went to seed (especially the tumbleweeds) and since we were so close to harvest, we were limited as to what could be sprayed. And thirdly, a dirt mound had built up under the vines as a result of tilling (discing) the rows – next year we will be going “no-till” so this will not be a problem.

To keep the weeds under control we can spray Roundup. But, since this can also kill vines, we like to minimize our use of it. So, that brings us to our latest activity…

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Last Grape Harvest of 2013

Montepulciano grape clusters

It is hard to believe, but another year of grapes is over!

We harvested all the Montepulciano and Aglianico last Saturday. Just like that, in one fell swoop – they were gone!

Now, we must wait another year for the delicious taste of grapes.

Well, maybe I AM being a bit dramatic because, there are still a few grape clusters that did not come off in the harvest and, they are ripe for the picking.

But, it is not the same.

You have to hunt for the grapes now!

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Joe, Hoeing and Winemaking

Joe Sept 2013

You might remember Joe, John’s older brother who has visited with us many times and each time we work him almost to death! Despite all the work, he comes back! And, he has been with us now for almost 2 weeks. It is amazing that he can put up with us AND the work for such a long stretch!

Joe lives in Tennessee and actually plans his vacation to be here during strategic times. He, like the rest of us, really enjoys harvest. And, while he has been in on the last couple of Roussanne harvests, he will miss the two largest harvests – Montepulciano and Aglianico. We will probably harvest these last varieties in a week or so.

Once tucking the grapevines was completed, we began to hoe the vine rows between the vines and then using the tractor, the centers of the rows are cultivated or tilled which kills the weeds. This is where we, and Joe, are now – hoeing.

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Pellenc 4560 Grape Harvester in Action – Video

Pellenc 4560 grape harvester

As you might remember, last year John and the boys made a trip to California to see a Pellenc 4560 grape harvester in action. And, then, we purchased it! I must say, it is one amazing machine. So amazing in fact, that I thought those of you who can not physically join us for grape harvest might like to see a “mini” version through video.

With that in mind, last week while harvesting an acre of our Roussanne grapes (a white, French variety and our earliest to ripen), we videoed the process. This is an example in which I use “we” loosely! It was actually our 17 year old daughter doing the videoing. She looked like a sports photographer running from one end of the vineyard to the other and back again. All to make sure there was enough good video footage to give you taste of grape harvest. Well, not literally a “taste”, you will have to visit us for that, and if you can, you are welcome!

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Roussanne – 1 Acre Harvested!

Pellenc harvester over grape turn row

Although John and the boys have been doing some custom harvesting, for us, the first harvest of 2013 was last week -1 acre of Roussanne! After testing the pH and Brix, one winery decided it was time to harvest. And, we did on Thursday night!

For the best quality wine, the grapes need to be picked at their coolest temperatures. Sitting in the bins during the transportation from our vineyard to the winery, they can become quite hot. This heat allows undesirable yeast to begin acting which gives “off” flavors to the final wine. So, it is important to begin with as cool a temperature as possible. For us here in west Texas, the daytime temperatures are still in the high 90′s. The temperature drops off in the night causing the coolest time to be from 10 pm through the early morning hours. The time we begin harvest depends upon what the winery wants, how much is to be harvested and when the grape bins arrive. Many of our harvests begin between midnight and 4 am.

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Roussanne – Testing the pH and Brix

Roussanne clusters

It is that time of year again – time to begin checking to see just how ripe the grapes are and if they are ready to harvest. For us, grape harvest is the culmination of the work we have done all year – a very exciting time!

The Roussanne grapes are our earliest ripening variety. When fully ripe, the Roussanne (a French white grape) has characteristic tastes of almond, pear, honey and pineapple. If we lived in France, we would have to abide by the rules set by the French government. These rules would dictate exactly how the grapes were grown, the standard for ripeness and the way the wine was made. But thankfully, we don’t and ripeness is determined by a variety of factors.

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Homecoming and Harvest Preparation

Before I tell you how close harvest is, let me just say, it is so good to be home!

Don’t get me wrong – I had a wonderful visit for 10 whole days in Macon, Georgia with my mom (aka Mimi) and my sister (aka EC). But, you know the saying, “there is no place like home!”.

Mimi and EC

We had fun just spending time together not to mention all the eating we did! We went to a favorite hometown cafeteria, the S & S Cafeteria, three times! Yep, you read it right, 3 times. And, each time I ordered the liver and onions. It was just that good! We also visited the Grits Cafe in Forsyth, Ga. and the Cheesecake Factory in Atlanta. Before you ask, I did order (and eat) the Turtle Chocolate Cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory but only after a salad! No regrets, just indulgence.

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Vineyard Work – More Tucking!

untucked vines july 2013

Last week we took time off from vineyard work to help our oldest son and daughter-in-law who are building an ICF (insulated concrete forms) house on their land that adjoins ours. While we took a break, the vines did not – they keep on growing! 

We had made it completely through all the varieties in the vineyard tucking for canopy management. If you remember, the shoots and leaves are the canopy. To help with pest control (insects and bugs) and to make harvesting easier, we work to have controlled upward growth utilizing our trellising system. Above the cordon wire, we have guide wires at 5 ft and 6 ft on which the tendrils of the shoots can grab and grow upward. The shoots that do not grab hold to these wires, we tuck up into the wires to prevent them from sprawling downward into the vine row.

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Vineyard at Sunrise

sunrise over west Texas vineyard July 2013

For the past month we have been tucking the grapevines up into the guide wires and this week we finished! Tucking is done for canopy management and ease at harvest time. Thankfully the temperatures are a bit more moderate, only reaching the high 90F’s.

Normally, John and I have “mommy/daddy” time in the mornings before breakfast. We take time to have coffee in bed together and talk before properly starting the day. This week, however, we did something different – we had our morning coffee on top of the filter house. If you remember, for now we have a platform that looks out over the vineyard but eventually we will put a roof over it and make it a proper pavilion – the photo above is the sunrise over the vineyard that I took while there. It is so peaceful out there in the early morning hours! But, I must admit, getting out there so early is the challenge – morning coffee is also very good in the comfort of bed!

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