Buzz, Buzz, Buzz. As former beekeepers, we rushed outside at dawn – was it a swarm of bees landing on the deck? But no, it was just the crew of vineyard workers with their noisy weed-eaters; another rite of passage in the vineyard in spring. A few days before, two vineyard workers had pushed huge lawn-mower-type weed whackers up and down the hillside rows, trying to knock down the 3 foot weed and cover-crop growth from the generous spring rains, and the present crew of guys was now doing the final mowing and cleaning up the tight rows where the bigger mower wouldn’t fit. Throughout the Napa Valley, where wildflowers have been planted between the vines, the weed-eaters always try to mow around them, leaving colorful swatches of flowers.
We always laugh when the port-a-potty gets towed into our vineyard, and is held in place by rocks at one of the few flat positions on our hillside property – a true sign of a vineyard crew coming to perform some magic. This week, it’s the suckering and shoot positioning of the newly emerging bushy vines. On each side of the vines’ trunk, the permanent arms are pruned early in the year to leave equally spaced spurs that will send out one or two shoots each. Each shoot may have one to two bunches of grapes and will grow to almost 6 feet long. But inevitably, all of the shoots are not strong enough to hold the fruit and become the basis for next year’s spurs, nor do they all have large bunches of grapes, so they are gently removed while the canes are still green, before they have lignified and taken on strength and form a bark.
We have set up 14 bird boxes, (actually, they were single bottle wooden wine boxes that a friend reconfigured with the specific proportions for these insect-loving birds) throughout the vineyard, and they all appear to be rented out. The colorful blue birds and tree swallows have filled them with nesting material and fly protectively around their dwellings, alternately swooping through the skies for insects and watching for intruders from their perch on top of the box. The first of the babies have hatched, creating a flurry of activity and dozens of daily trips to the nest. Hopefully they like the bad bugs that infect our vines as much as we enjoy watching them nest.
Our hillside vines were slow to bud out this year, but with the generous spring rains the vines have grown several feet since the tiny new leaves first appeared in early May, their tendrils reaching out and adding new leaves daily as they grow.
There is a mass of color against the light green of the vineyard, with pines and oaks on the hills surrounding us, where the wildflowers we planted several years ago have finally bloomed. Our strawberries, citrus and artichokes are giving fruit, the vegetable garden is planted with seeds sprouting in neat rows, and the first tomato blossoms have appeared. It’s going to be a wonderful vintage, for the birds, for us, and for our grapes!