Welcome to the 40 Knots Vineyard & Estate Winery blog. Here is where we will be highlighting events and news from around the winery.
Pruning out in the vineyard started on New Year’s Day, and we haven’t stopped since. It will likely take us about two months to complete the entire property. And, I couldn’t do it without my pruning team of Sean, George, Andrew, Molly and Olivia.
We have to prune the dead wood, and reduce some of the living wood, to allow the plant’s energy to zero in on the grapes, instead of the rest of the plant. Some wineries use spur pruning, but we find that it can leave gaps in the plants’ growth. We prefer cane pruning, as it offers better frost protection, and produces a higher yield, with a more fruit-forward taste from our grapes. Once trimmed, the cuttings are swept and collected in a mulcher and collection machine.
Sounds simple, fairly easy. It could even be considered therapeutic.
Every vine has its own unique and individual characteristics. Each one has to be assessed and decisions made on how, and what, best pruning cuts need to be made. This decision will decide on what fruit it will bear this year, and even years to come. Some make you think harder than others.
• You have your electric pruners in your hand – Which are awesome!
• Protective gloves on (the electric pruner has no discrimination on what it cuts – wires, wood, or fingers)
• Essential ear buds and music
You are making multiple fast cuts, keeping track of your free hand to pull the wood out of the wires, when you realize you have cut every cane off the vine.
Nothing left but the stem!
No worries. It will still produce some canes. I promise. We will all make a few mistakes.
Pruning is the most important task during the growing season.
Once the canes are more nimble, we will begin tying the canes to the tie wire just before bud burst. Be careful not to knock off those precious buds!
Every year is a new recipe for growing grapes, and it starts with pruning. No need to record the ingredients, because they will change. You have to adjust, and make modifications to your growing recipe throughout the year.
These recipe ingredients come from traditional, sustainable, and organic farming practices. We prefer to call our method Ethical Farming.
When you stop by, ask for a tour to see what’s going on in the vineyard.
With our decision to make premium wines, using old methods, we took another step backwards with 2015 vintages, to continue with that commitment.
The most interesting of these is our first harvest of Schoenberger. It is a full on skin, pips (seeds), wild fermentation, l'orange style. This style of white is full of body, tannins, and anti-oxidants to provide a natural preservation of the wine.
A few thousand years ago, a wine maker couldn't run down to the local shop to buy sulphites to preserve their wine. The ancient methods are more labour intensive and require more coddling, and more love, than just throwing juice in a tank. We have a lot to learn, and need to start making modifications of terra cotta in our winery.
With our master wine maker, Matt Dumayne, and wineries such as Haywire in the Okanagan, who are leading the way using older methods, we feel there is a huge edge on making the best wine in Canada using these styles.
Our first attempt is staggering above our expectations. In the winery, nearly 70% of our fermentations are wild/native due to the natural health of our vineyard and cellar. The wines are showing beautiful aromatics even though they will be sleeping as they age before we release.
Whether we are cold-soaking red grapes, rolling puncheons every two hours, or monitoring the dehydration process of our sauterne style Pinot Gris, the hard work is worth the quality.
We will be very excited to release our 2015 vintages in 2016.
This past summer, we had an expediently fast growing season, due to the higher than normal heat units in the Comox Valley. We experienced many days of near 40 degree C days in the vineyard. From shoot thinning, deleafing, bunch thinning, to bird netting, it was non-stop activities.
- all grape varieties responded well to heat
- heat helped structure deeper, stronger, root formations
- heat developed beautiful tannins in the grape skins
- had to use some irrigation, whereas typically we do not
- good sparkling wine doesn't have tannins in the skins, therefore we elected not to make any 2015 French Traditional sparkling, to uphold our reputation for premium sparkling
Along with heat, pruning methods, and shoot thinning, we focused energy into fewer bunches with earlier ripening resulting in the highest brix levels (sugar content), ph levels, and intense flavors, that our Comox vineyard has ever seen. All brix levels were well above 20 brix with most above 24 brix. That is a good thing.
Even though not all varieties matured at the same time, we did find them much more compacted this year than previous. Harvesting began the last week of August, and ended the first week of October.
Now with fall rains starting, bud hardiness looks fantastic as each plant starts to suck up its energy for winter stores, and go into hibernation.
Next stop... pruning.
If you ever want to learn more, stop by the winery for a vineyard tour.
With the Comox Air show coming up this weekend, I wanted to reflect a bit on my passion for flying, and its relation to the quality of our wines.
The excitement that I still feel when I hear the words "Cleared for takeoff on the active runway," or the peace of the phrase from the tower, “Cleared straight in, number one for landing," are reflections of what care and attention we want in our wines. We enjoy passing on our passions to those that appreciate detail, and a love for great wine.
Although the weather has been fantastic in the Comox Valley, and our 40 Knots production will certainly reflect that, we’re very excited about our Stall Speed vintages. Grown in the Okanagan, but produced and bottled here, the grapes will result in amazing wine.
However, the extreme growth rate of the vines has left me little time to get airborne, so I thought I’d share some reflections of my aeronautical passion, so you can appreciate some pilot, and aircraft activity, at the air show.
Flying is Freedom
Flying, the freedom, the view, the challenge, and a moment in time that life really does stand still, while you are wheels up. There is nothing like it.
Our Stall Speed label was inspired by the wonder of flight. Here are two perspectives.
Dictionary Version of Stall Speed:
Stalls in fixed-wing flight are often experienced as a sudden reduction in lift as the pilot increases the wing's angle of attack and exceeds its critical angle of attack (which may be due to slowing down below stall speed in level flight). A stall does not mean that the engine(s) have stopped working, or that the aircraft has stopped moving.
Layne in the Cockpit:
A stall, a point at which I reduce the engine power. The cockpit noise begins to reduce as the roar of the engine and propeller come to a dull idle, and I am left with the sound of the wind. At first rushing by, and slowly fading to a fast freeze…so silent compared to only seconds ago…leaving an eerie sense of calm and peace in the aircraft…holding back on the stick throughout this dance, the aircraft gives up its grip on the air. It is no longer an aircraft, it is no longer in flight.
It’s a comfortable chair, with a helluva view, falling peacefully towards the earth. The first time you do a stall, it is beyond exciting, almost scary. Now, with experience, it is part of life, and you must understand it, respect it, and above all, not fear it. Know how to get there, recognize it, and get out.
But, enjoy the moment when you bring everything to a brief standstill...when noise, gravity, and speed are all at zero...Every pilot smiles at this point, even for just a second, before the fall and recovery face reappears.
For me, it feels like I conquered life, stopped it and breathed it in for a brief moment, and then let it go back to the wild.
Look Up. Way Up.
As a sit here in the vineyard writing this, an American F16 jet has just been cleared for final to CFB Comox and flies over my head.
The Canadian Forces CF18 arrived earlier today for the Comox airshow. The American B52 Bomber is to arrive yet today.
This weekend’s airshow is a great opportunity to see two awesome squadrons open their doors for the public, to come and see inside our Armed Forces, and Search and Rescue heroes.
Come out and see them. What they all do is Awesome.
Welcome to Tsolum. Or, welcome to Comox Valley earth and sub soils, and some agri-science about growing grapes.
The general Comox Valley area is predominant to “Tysolum” earth. Our slightly rolling hills have medium to moderate glacial deposits and/or glacial till below the surface, and coarse fluvial deposits near the surface. It’s finalized with a frosting of 4 to 12 inches of organic marine-rich top soil.
What does that mean?
Historically, it means it is great for growing Douglas fir, western red cedar, alder, maple and grand fir trees, supported with an abundance of wild berries like leg-tearing blackberry vines.
However, with rich peat soils and great water retention during early season, and drainage in late, it creates amazing growing areas in the lower lying areas in the Comox Valley, especially for vegetables, fruit, hay crops, and even malt-grade barley.
So what the hell does that have to do with Grapes? Even more, what does it have to do with grapes from a “Noble variety” vs. those that have been breed to grow in our climate?
For lack of a better term, our little property sits at the tip of an iceberg, just 925 meters from the Salish Sea, where the Powell River ferry lands. The deep harbour was created, in part, by a glacier. The bonus, is that the historic event deposited a more than average amount of till, sand, and rocks on this small area, which is now above the sea some 120 meters.
Poor soil for the general farming activities in the Valley, our 25 acres does not grow blueberries, cranberries, or corn, very well at all.
The plus side - great drainage, mineral contact, and sloping land towards the sea provide in part, a small piece of rare land in the Valley that can sustain noble variety grapes - Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Gamay Noir, Chardonnay, and Auxerrois.
Not without its difficulties, with great drainage comes stripping of nutrients. Pedicle testing and soil sampling is a must. With the slow road of composting, and adding that back to the soil, diligence and patience will be a virtue.
The terroir itself benefits from so much more. This small micro climate inside a micro climate generally boasts 3.6 degree Celsius higher temps than the recorded temperature.
Our viticulturist, Theo Siemens, has spent considerable time working with Pedro Perra, a Chilean wine terroir expert, and Dr. Scott Smith, from the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre. Theo is applying his experience and knowledge to the 40 Knots terroir, and has a great go-forward ethical plan for us to work with.
Here are some of Theo’s thoughts and recommendations.
“Comox Valley soil types typically fall into the Tsolum Soil profile with a Gleyed Humo Ferric Podzol subtype. Factors that most influence viticulture practices on these soil types are:
5) Sedimentary rock profiles
6) Rich in iron oxidized soils
7) Presence of granite rock brought from coastal mountains by glaciation
8) Soil texture (loamy, sandy, till)
40 Knots soils, rich in iron and aluminum, are oxidized by acids and water, while sub soils are seasonally saturated (liquefied) by the high water table. The results are leached soils rich in iron and aluminum, with low PH. Historic fertilizing practices suggest that the disconcerting anemic soil-sample results are due to leaching and not under-fertilizing. In other words, while fertilizers have been applied by the previous owner (last application in 2012), they are being consumed by plants and/or being washed away by rain.
There lies the crux of your challenge.
It is my strong belief that compost application is the solution for the long term health of the vineyard. As compost breaks down slowly (25% first year, 50% second year and 25% third year), it is the perfect and almost complete time-release fertilizer. Compost, depending on composition, tends to be more alkaline, therefore balancing the soil PH as well. While composts tend to be low in nitrogen, this can be adjusted easily by way of cover cropping, which is already being completed with white clover, or by applying organic fertilizers.”
Focusing on ethical and sustainable farming practices, composting, mulching, adequate cover crops, specific irrigation regime (going towards little to none), we are, in Theo’s words, “creating an evolution in our vineyard, not a revolution.”
Is that it, all done?
Not even close.
Knowing what you have for earth is the beginning. Establishing a realistic plan to be sustainable is next. Being willing to commit to a very long term ethical and sustainable farming model is going to be the hardest decision, or the easiest.
For me, it’s easy.
It is how I grew up farming. As a kid, I saw the benefits in the land and the product.
How could I not see it now?
Even though the 20th of March is the official day, it is clearly spring. We can hear the sea lions barking with excitement, the Robins are bathing themselves to look good, woodpeckers have found the loudest piece of manmade tin to rattle against, and so many of our flowers are in bloom. Sorry Easterners, it's awesome on the West Coast.
Our vineyard and winery chores also know it's spring.
When I posted last, we were making our pruning cuts. Now, we are pulling the wood out of the trellis wires and tying the new canes down that will produce this year’s grapes. We are at 50% complete on this last step. All will be completed by April Fool’s day. My bet is on March 27th for bud burst.
Over a one day period, wood is pulled, canes are tied, and rows are flailed and mulched. We don’t burn our last year’s wood, it is all mulched back into the rows.
After the field personnel leave at night, the rotary flail does the first pass, making wood flat and in smaller 4 to 8 inch pieces. Next, the Kubota zero-turn mower, with a mulching kit, goes over the row. This machine is amazing. Sold to us last year from Russell at North Island tractor, it has cut our mowing times by 1/8. Fine cutting around the winery, or mulching down the row, it will do all of that at lightning-fast speeds, significantly reducing fuel use and increasing quality of mulched organics to the vineyard.
No, I don't own a Kubota dealership, just excited about efficiency and reducing our footprint.
All the varieties are looking awesome! The original owner, Bill Montgomery, did a fantastic job choosing the some 50,000 root stock, 85% from a nursery in France. Thank you, Bill.
Next time, winery talk.
No, it’s not really spring, yet. We have no control over this warm weather, so we are pruning very fast.
In just eight work days, we have completed 80% of the pruning cuts. And, we converted from cordon pruning to cane. Cordon pruning brings vines out of old wood, while cane pruning brings vines out of last year’s growth. This style will prevent any old, woody taste to the grapes, keeping the fresh and lively, ultra-premium wine we strive for.
The vines are also attempting to push buds, but with a little weeping from the cuts they have slowed back and will avoid any damage, if a forsaken frost shows itself.
Viticulture expert Theo Siemens, of Okanagan Crush Pad, recently visited our vineyard to analyse our structure, so we can forge on with sustainable farming methods, and ethical organic practices. Besides training all staff in pruning techniques and canopy management, he performed an assessment of our four horizons of soils, right down to the mother rock.
Within the four horizons, we find distinct, non-typical earth for this area. These zones are respective to a glacier deposit, or till.
1st horizon - very little peat, and four to eight inches of top soil
2nd & 3rd horizon - sand, some large rock, gravel and pebbles, with some loose dry clay
4th horizon - very hard layered clay with mother rock.
We are seeing root formations from the vines, in most cases, down to the 4th horizon. That’s great news! What we don't see is any water holding, or pooling in these layers, even after the substantial amount of rainfall we have had. More awesome news.
The contact with minerals for the roots, and great permeability and drainage in the soils, gives us a great terroir opportunity to have complex and distinct tastes in our wines.,
If you’d like to know more about our operation, and the lifecycle of our vines, pop in to our Cellar Tasting Lounge, or shoot me an email, at Layneat40KnotsWinery@gmail.com.