Archive for the ‘Farms’ Category

Photo by Anthony Two Moons.

Photo by Anthony Two Moons.

From Santa Barbara to British Columbia, Native American vineyards are a growing business

When the first wine grapes were planted in California by Spanish missionaries in the late 1700s, the Chumash people’s economic empire extended from the Malibu shores through Santa Barbara to the Paso Robles plains. But by the time the modern wine industry emerged on the Central Coast a couple centuries later, the Chumash were struggling, much like many Native American tribes. The few dozen who managed to achieve federal recognition as the Santa Ynez Band of Mission Indians were left with a little slice of land, where most residents lived below the poverty line.

Fast forward to today, and the Chumash are once again propsering, thanks to a successful casino and resort they built on their Santa Ynez Valley reservation in 2004. Six years later, with hopes of expanding their reservation, the 154-member tribe bought a nearby 1,400-acre property for a reported $40 million from the late actor-turned-vintner Fess Parker. The land came with 256 acres of vines, the Camp Four Vineyard, planted with 19 different grape varieties. While honoring existing contracts for the fruit (one-third of it goes to the Parker family’s brands, while most of the rest is sold to about 70 small producers from all around the state), the Chumash started making their own wine, and released their first vintages of Kitá Wines last month.

While the project is the latest in a small but growing number of Native American tribes entering the wine business—including three in Northern California, one in Arizona, and one in British Columbia—the Chumash are the first to tap one of their own to run the show: Tara Gomez, the 40-year-old daughter of the tribe’s vice chairman, is the first head winemaker of Native American descent on the continent.
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Grape harvest in the new world.

Grape harvest in the new world.

A first look at vintage quality down under, with eyewitness reports from growers and winemakers

Ready to taste the first wines of 2013? While vines are just flowering in Europe and North America, the Southern Hemisphere has picked, crushed and fermented this year’s crop. Australian vintners report that the 2012-2013 crop was small, thanks to dry conditions in the east and storms in the west. New Zealand’s North Island faced heavy frosts to start the season, while on the South Island, a compressed harvest made for a logistical nightmare.

Here’s a sneak peek at the upcoming vintage. Check back Thursday and Friday for South Africa, Argentina and Chile.
Australia
Region: South Australia: Clare Valley, Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Eden Valley, Limestone Coast

The good news: Low yields and dry conditions produced concentrated wines

The bad news: A series of heat waves reduced the size of the crop

Picking started: Mid-February

Promising grapes: Shiraz, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling

Analysis: Vintners in South Australia will remember 2013 as one of the earliest and shortest vintages in recent memory. Winemakers are excited with what they picked, reporting good to outstanding quality in both their white and red grapes. “There will be some truly awesome wines from 2013, just not as much of them to share,” said Paul Linder, winemaker at Langmeil in Barossa.

A combination of hot weather and below average rainfall in the spring reduced grape yields across the state. John Duval, of his eponymous winery in Barossa Valley, said vintners had to be diligent with their irrigation to protect grapes from withering on the vines. He said yields were down between 30 to 50 percent in Barossa Valley. Cooler growing regions such as Adelaide Hills and Coonawarra in the Limestone Coast avoided the worst of the heat.

A heat wave jumpstarted harvest in mid-February, with growers scrambling to pick grapes as sugar levels spiked. The upside to the dry conditions was low disease pressure in the vineyards and a small crop that produced concentrated grapes. “Reds are showing excellent color and flavor, with balanced tannin structure,” said Duval. Winemakers in Eden Valley and Clare Valley reported good natural acidity in their Rieslings, despite the heat.

 

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Jameson Canyon Ranch - Reata Winery

Jameson Canyon Ranch – Reata Winery

 

A winery worker suffered minor injuries Tuesday morning at a warehouse on Kirkland Ranch Road in south Napa County after the bolt of a 7,500-gallon steel tank filled with red wine failed, according to CalFire/Napa County Fire.

An employee was injured at about 1:25 p.m. at Jameson Canyon Ranch/Reata Winery when the lower door of the steel tank burst open after the bolt ruptured, causing the wine to spill, according to CalFire/Napa County Fire.

 

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With the relatively large 2012 crop came the expectation that the 2013 grape market would be less active than last year. That has proven to be somewhat true, but only in the realm of “hyper” activity that leads to rapidly increasing prices.

Grapes are being traded, at least to the extent they are even available, since most of them are tied up under multi-year contracts. However, there is no “reckless competition” for grapes experienced last year. Pricing seems to be at or slightly above last year’s levels.

Depending on the variety, the coastal market is arguably more robust than last year at this point. With much less spot market fruit available, buyer interest is high. Reds in particular have brought great interest in 2013; Cabernet Sauvignon specifically.

Coastal areas outside of the most premium growing regions seem to be bringing the most interest for all varieties. This is due to buyers wanting to purchase great quality coastal fruit that allows them to average down the grape cost of their higher end programs. With that being said, there is much less hyper-activity around Napa Valley Cabernet and Sonoma County Pinot Noir. There is still strong demand, but buyers seem to be more interested in averaging down the cost of their high-end programs rather than fervently competing for additional high-end fruit at historically high prices.

 

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Attack of the drones?

Attack of the drones?

 

The word “drone” tends to conjure up images of planes that kill terrorists or of creepy surveillance tools.

But tiny drone airplanes made of foam may be more useful in rural environments, one researcher says. There, the fliers could revolutionize agriculture, reducing the need for pesticides and improving crop production.

Because drones can fly cheaply at a low altitude, they can get highly detailed images of cropland, said Chris Anderson, the CEO of 3D Robotics and former editor-in-chief of Wired, here on Saturday (May 18) at this year’s Maker Faire Bay Area, a two-day celebration of DIY science, technology and engineering. Drone-captured close-ups of fields could help farmers tailor their pesticide treatment and identify subtle differences in soil productivity. [Rise of the Drones: Photos of Unmanned Aircraft]

Vast unknown

The automation of farming has led to fewer farmers tending massive plots of land. That means they don’t know how each leaf looks, notice changes in the height of plants, or the color of soil

“Once upon a time farms were small and people could walk the farm,” Anderson said. Now, however, “farms are too big to measure and too big to manage.”

As a result, farmers may not know about the condition of vast stretches of their land and make many decisions as if plots of land were uniform. For instance, they may blanket their entire crop with fungicide in June because fungal infections typically strike in July, whether or not their crop is actually afflicted, Anderson said.

 

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LaMotte

La Motte Wine Estate Vineyards.

The Blushing Bride, a rare white or pink flower with silky, pointy petals, is somewhat of a legend in the Franschhoek Valley. The story goes that it was discovered in the surrounding mountains in 1773 and came by its romantic name from its use in a rather romantic tradition. A French Huguenot farmer who was in love would wear this flower in his lapel when he decided to propose to the girl he fancied. The pinker the flower, the more serious his intentions were, causing the bride-to-be to blush at the sight of the flower.
 
Sadly, as with other near-extinct fynbos varieties in the region, the Blushing Bride disappeared from sight for many years. It was rediscovered about a century ago and since then conservationists have been determined to return the iconic flower to its former glory.
 
Today Blushing Brides, rare disas and various kinds of proteas are being brought back to life on the La Motte Wine Estate in Franschhoek, where they can be seen in full bloom in the estate’s large Protea Garden. La Motte’s proud collection of rare flower varieties that are lovingly cultivated and re-established in the area is one of the reasons for it to have been awarded Champion status in the Biodiversity in Wine initiative (BWI).
 
Although best known for its international wine brand, La Motte is an estate that has conservation and sustainability at its centre. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the beautiful Organic Walk guiding visitors through the vineyards, fynbos nursery and gardens on the farm and concluding with a tasting of the organically grown Pierneef Sauvignon Blanc.
 
The walk offers visitors the opportunity to see how passionate La Motte is about sustainable farming and conservation. Visitors have the chance to see and smell the Protea Garden and stroll through the sustainably farmed and organically grown vineyards, the indigenous landscaped gardens (this time of year a carpet of lush green and soft purple and white), the nursery where micro greens and orchids are cultivated, and the biodynamic vegetable and herb gardens that supply the Estate’s award-winning restaurant and farm shop with fresh seasonal produce.
 
Head Chef Chris Erasmus and his colleagues at Pierneef à La Motte restaurant visit the garden in their gumboots every morning to pick out the freshest seasonal produce for their signature Cape Winelands cuisine. Chef Chris also guides on what to plant in the garden and places orders ahead of season. Beautiful things are grown, like purple speckled beans, cucumber-shaped aubergines, peas, watercress, yellow and purple carrots, radicchio, kohlrabi, sour fig, rocket, sweet basil and the fine succulent Pork Bush (“Spekboom”) which can be used in salads.
 
La Motte has been farming organically since 2007 and in 2009 received EU and NOP organic certification by SGS in France and NOP organic certification by LACON in Germany. Everything on the farm bears testament to this ethos.  La Motte has long been a leader in flora conservation work and sustainable, eco-friendly farming practices in South Africa and this commitment has just earned it the title of South Africa’s top practitioner of sustainable wine tourism by the internationally respected Great Wine Capitals of the World (GWC) network. GWC annually awards top performers in wine tourism in ten wine regions of the world, including South Africa. 
 
La Motte was also the overall winner of the South African competition for the second year running, making it the best wine tourism player in the country, thanks to its acclaimed restaurant, art museum, architecture and wine.
 
A closer look at how things are done on the farm reveals a rare attention to detail in every aspect of the farm’s life. The Rupert family and its wider La Motte family are visibly passionate about sustainable farming and conservation.
 
More than ten percent of the land is dedicated to conservation. The entire farming operation is set up to be self-sustainable, which means that almost everything that is needed to keep the farm running is produced on the farm. Everything is about quality over quantity – a method that takes time to yield results, but pays dividends in the long run.
 
One case in point is how water is treated on La Motte as a precious and limited resource. Water used in the wine cellar is treated and purified using natural methods only, never with chemicals. The farm dam provides all the water the farm needs and receives its water from the Kastaiingsrivier and rain. The farm uses drip irrigation to save water and water meters are used throughout the farm to monitor water usage and catch leaks.
 
Special attention is also paid to the rehabilitation of the soil to keep it healthy and chemical-free. No chemicals have been used on the farm for the last seven years. Special earthworms are fed the kitchen waste to recycle it into concentrated compost that is diluted with water and used across the farm to nourish the soil and plants. Only natural methods are used for pest control and fertilisation. Dry mulch is used to keep out weeds and wet mulch is used to keep in moisture.
 
Visitors can extend the Organic Walk by taking the 5km hiking trail into the surrounding mountains.
 
The herbs grown on the farm, including lavender and buchu, are used for the extraction of essential oils that are used to make the range of Arômes de La Motte body products sold in the farm shop.
 
As CEO Hein Koegelenberg explains, La Motte took the path of sustainability at around the turn of the millennium. This meant that quality and consistency would come first. The whole La Motte experience has become testament to this new sustainable way of thinking, and today the estate’s international awards prove that it was a journey the international wine tourism industry supports and honours. It is an ethos that enjoys sharing its passions with guests in a way that both entertains and educates and in the end it has winners on all sides: the estate, its people, its visitors, the environment, the local tourism sector, and the regional economy.

 

A French study found chemical residues in wines, but at low levels; experts hope to eliminate need

Disturbing reports of pesticides and fungicides in French wine have raised concerns for consumer safety, but the laboratory that sounded the alarm said the results of their study were misrepresented. The lead author said that chemical residues in wine are too small to have an effect on drinkers, but he added that vineyard workers are being exposed to a significant health risk.

“You’ll consume much more pesticide residue eating apples and strawberries than drinking wine,” said Pascal Chatonnet, Ph.D., owner of Excell laboratory, which works with wine and food industries in several countries, and runs labs in France, Argentina, Spain and Chile. “Your liver will be completely destroyed long before you’ll have toxicity from pesticide residue in wine.”

According to his analysis of 325 French wines produced between 2008 and 2010, 90 percent of the wines showed traces of up to nine molecules related to pesticides and fungicides. None of the molecules are known carcinogens, and the vast majority of wines had levels significantly below legal limits. Only 0.3 percent of the wines did not meet current regulations. “There is no health problem in drinking wine in terms of pesticides,” said Chatonnet. “We have no reason to believe there are high levels of pesticides in wines.”

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Virginia creeper leafhopper.

North Coast wine grape growers in Mendocino and Sonoma counties are on the lookout for a new, damaging pest that snuck into several vineyards last season and caused considerable damage: the Virginia creeper leafhopper.

Despite bud break that started a week or so later than usual and two frost events in the middle of the month, new shoots in the wine grape vineyards along the northern California coast had pushed out 6 inches and were growing fairly rapidly in the waning days of April.

Weather has been mostly ideal and temperatures were a warmer than normal, reports Glenn McGourty, University of California Extension viticulture advisor for Lake and Mendocino counties.

Bud break in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir blocks began the first of April. Should the warm temperatures hold, he expects Chardonnay vines to be back on track to start flowering on time around May 20.

A passing cold front in mid-April sent temperatures down as low as 28 degrees in the coldest spots of Potter Valley and Redwood Valley. However, McGourty received no reports of damage. “Growers kept on top of things with their frost protection,” he says.

To mitigate the impact on endangered salmon and steelhead in diverting water from the Russian River and its tributaries, many growers in the river’s watershed in Mendocino and Sonoma counties have built ponds and reservoirs to store rainfall runoff for frost protection and irrigation use.

Although precipitation since the first of the year has been light, heavy rains last fall and early winter, have filled these off-stream storage facilities.

Since July 1 of last year, the two-county area has received an average of 27 inches of rain. Only 5 inches have fallen since the first of January. Normally, from July 1 through the following mid-May, Ukiah, Calif., in Mendocino County records about 35 inches of rainfall.

“With the reservoirs full, we’re in good shape for water, right now,” McGourty says. “Still, growers will be watching their water usage this season pretty carefully. Wildflowers are blooming and the vegetation in the landscape seems to be drying down about two to three weeks ahead of normal. It could be another dry summer.”

Temperatures in the 70 to 85-degree range through much of April were ideal for growth of the powdery mildew. To control it, growers have been spraying their vineyards with wettable sulfur, stylet oil or other fungicides.

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Raging california wildfire!

Raging California wildfire do not stop agricultural work!

 

A group of farm laborers who chose to seek shelter from the suffocating smoke of a California wildfire last week were terminated for taking a break.

At least 15 workers at Crisalida Farms in Oxnard, California, found themselves struggling to breathe last week as the Camarillo Springs wildfire blackened the sky with smoke and ash. The blaze damaged more than a dozen houses, threatened 4,000 homes, and burned a store of highly toxic pesticides that caught fire at an agricultural property.

Located just 11 miles south of the fire, workers at the Southern California strawberry farm had a difficult time breathing as they laboriously worked in the fields. Their boss had warned them that taking a break would compromise their jobs, and they were faced with a dilemma.

“The ashes were falling on top of us,” one of the workers told NBC LA. “[But] they told us if we leave, there would be no job to return to.”

On the evening of May 2, the Camarillo fire had reached about 10,000 acres and was only 10 percent contained. About 11,500 people had been evacuated at this point as hazmat teams warned locals not to inhale the smoke – especially since it contained toxic chemicals from the pesticides that had caught on fire.

 

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Wealthy Chinese now buying so much more than just ...

Wealthy Chinese now buying so much more than just …

 

Christie’s is capitalising on the thirst for wealthy Chinese consumers to buy wineries by opening the world’s first estate agency for would-be vineyard buyers.

Vineyards by Christie’s International Real Estate, billed as the “first global advisory for buyers of vineyard estates”, is to open in Hong Kong.

Run by both wine experts and luxury property specialists, the agency will offer a consultancy service for clients looking to acquire vineyards around the world.

According to David Elswood, Christie’s international director of wine in Europe and Asia, the idea for the agency came after continued demand from clients at the auction house’s wine auctions in Hong Kong for advice on buying vineyard properties overseas.

“We are uniquely positioned to offer this highly specialised vineyard advisory acquisition service and we look forward to this exciting venture,” he said.

In addition to advice on which wineries are on sale around the world, Christie’s will also provide clients with custom travel arrangements and translation services.

“Wineries in sought after locations are often small and discrete, and without guidance, buyers never even know they are on the market.
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