Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Young Oak Vineyards - Vol. 13: Neighbor Mark Vernon Reports Big News!!!!!

Hi all,

Mark Vernon, Ridge Winery COO and neighbor extraordinaire, has reported to me that "green things" (leaves) are emerging from the sawdust inside the milk cartons, which you can see to the left.   

, Mark!  That heat wave probably got the grafts & rootstocks going PDQ.

Regards, John  

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Young Oak Vineyards-Vol. 12: Emerging Tendrils!!

Hi all,

Working down in the vineyard this Memorial Day weekend, I was reminiscent of another life, in another world, at another time thanks to the recent Moffet Field Air Show.  As I looked up to the blue sky, I saw a B-17 Bomber lumbering by the clouds and I thought I could be a Frenchman working on his vineyard in German occupied WWII France watching the Americans looking for a German tank convoy!  Here's to the men & women of our armed services, past and present.

Above you can see the new grapevine tendrils (v shaped structures in my palm) emerging from the new leaf grow looking for something to grab onto, coil around & support future growth.  It is amazing  & miraculous how the cells of the plant differentiate into new and different structure just as our stem cells differentiate into the different tissues and structures of our bodies!

Now that I have received my "Gripple Tool" & my pink "Grow-Tubes", I have a flurry of work to do to put in the trellis wires in the next couple of weeks to help encourage that growth.  So we will have lots to report in the near future.

But this weekend I just had to go camping at Foothill Park with my youngest daughter, Suzie, and some of the great Escondido families to share stories around the campfire!  Hope you too had a great Memorial Day weekend.  Wishing you and your families are all well, especially those with members in the armed services.

Regards from down in the vineyard,

Monday, May 19, 2008

Young Oak Vineyards-Vol. 11: Its Growing Season!!

May 18, 2008

Hi all:

Well the heat is here! And we are at the start of our warm weather growing season. But these grapevines you have planted have not done too shabby during the early spring for the last 78 days. As you can see from the attached photo, we have several cane shoots in full leafy foliage with flower bud clusters as I am holding in my hand. These clusters will soon bloom into tiny flowers from which the fruit (grapes) will swell. I have attached a great photo montage from Michigan State University showing the stages of grapevine development. Check it out:


Next time we will be pruning down to one main shoot on each grapevine and putting on a growth tubes. I ended up purchasing the pink ones (Paris Hilton, you win), but more about that later. I should be receiving them next week, along with my "Gripple" tensioning tool! My neighbor, Mark Vernon, had the super crew from Vinescape plant last week with very interesting techniques to protect the grafted rootstocks. Each rootstock is protected by an empty milk carton, open on each end. Further, the planted rootstock is covered with sawdust inside the milk carton. Those guys really know what they are doing!

Trying to stay cool down in the vineyard,

Young Oak Vineyards - Vol. 10: Now, That's A Vineyard. !!!!

March 30, 2008

Hi all,

Not much to report at the end of Spring Break at Young Oak Vineyards, but it sure is looking like a vineyard!  The attached photo was taken from my dilapidated balcony off the living room.  It was a lot of back breaking work, but we made all the little terraced moats around each grapevine for the drip rings of the watering system.  The grapevines are all starting to show healthy leaves, although a couple didn't make it and will need replacing.  We are going to start to put in the support wires for the the trellises, soon, after I purchase my "GrippleTool".  Check out their website animations under the "trellising" section for "looping around an end post":


Gotta love new technology !!

My neighbors Mark & Dianne Vernon, have retained "Vinescape" to install 100 vines adjacent to our vineyard.  I can't wait to see what I am doing wrong when these pro's do their thing.  They started laying out the vine rows with a laser!!  I have to say that some of our planters were not quite laser straight, so we had to move a few of the grapevines!

Hope you all had a nice Easter, restful break and /or a pleasant rite of spring! 

Best wishes from down in the vineyard,

Young Oak Vineyards - Vol. 9: Botany !!!?!

March 26, 2008

Hi All:

I have to make a confession now.  When I applied for my bachelor's degree in biology, I had never got around to taking botany, a required class for the degree.  Since I was entering the graduate program at the same institution, they gave me my bachelor's anyway, but required me to take botany as a graduate course before I could advance in my master's program.  At about half of a semester into graduate program, I grew weary of another 2 to 3 years of college, so withdrew and follow my nose into the field of ?:

But that is a whole other story, for another time!  So, now that I am actually teaching biology, and we do cover botany, I kinda have to get my pistils and stamen straight!  Fortunately, I have picked up a few things about plant physiology here and there.  And depending how things work out this summer, I may get to spend a week at Texas A&M doing some teacher field work on botany research, where my other good old (long?) friend from kindergarten, Duncan MacKenzie, hangs his hat.  This is from the Texas A&M website "Yell" section:

AGGIE YELL [Hands flat, with index fingers and thumbs touching to form an "A"]

A-G-G-I-E-S , A-G-G-I-E-S,
 Aaaaaaaa , Fight 'em, Aggies !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Texas & Football, what can I say!  

Well , the grapevines buds are growing with each day of sunshine.  And the leaves are now forming, as you can see from the attached photo.  With the watering system in place, with a big thanks to friend of the family Gary Fine lending a hand this last week, the concern now shifts to survival.  The deer should be kept at bay by our fencing albeit only six feet tall.  And the gophers actually do not eat the grapevines, but are more of a menace to the root system, so we don't expect too many loses there.  But the big concern are the rabbits!  Other than Elmer Fudd's approach, anybody have good ideas?

On vigil down in the vineyard, John

Young Oak Vineyards - Vol. 8: Thank You !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! and more !

March 18, 2008
Hi All:

For those of you who did not get the e-Vite "Thank You !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!", well thank you for all your help and encouragement! With the help of our many friends & family, we have established a small family vineyard. The initial soil preparation was done in the Fall & early Winter of 2007. Then, 200 Cabernet Sauvignon grapevines were planted on March 1, 2008 by over 50 friends & family members in less than two hours. It was a great day, with a little work, great friends, great food & great drink! Please enjoy our on-going journey as we learn, build and share our experiences!

Best regards to all,
Post script:
The vineyard is quiet with only the noise of the March wind as we past the "Ides", waiting for the warmer weather to begin. You know, the "Ides" was just the Roman 15th of any month (mid-month) until Julius Caesar was assassinated on the "Ides of March". And then, Shakespeare went and re-told the story, making it a day of impending doom! ($700 worth of grapevines and nothing is growin' !!)
But wait, we have had some nice rain and some warm days! And yes, the sun has been out a lot! Well, to borrow a line from Dr. Frankenstein:


Yes, this weekend almost every grapevine has budded with 1, 2, 3, 4, even 5 buds! I have attache a picture of one of the grafted shoots and there, opposite my finger, a third way up from the root stock graft is a big bud. There is also a smaller one on the base of the shoot below my finger.

As you can see in the picture, along my arm we have put in the main drip lines along each row. I am still plumbing away to get the entire watering system connected, so I don't have to water by hand much longer!

So, I will keep you posted as things progress in the Spring. We will finish the watering system in a week or two. Then, the trellis wires are going in. And finally we have to have the discussion about "Grow Tubes"!! Should they be blue or pink!! And it is not a decision for Paris Hilton!

Regards from the vineyard,


Young Oak Vineyards - Vol. 7: Trelli?

February 24, 2008

Hi all:

As my son noted to his friends on their Christmas sojourn down the Baja California peninsula in our RV last year, the singular and plural forms of those succulent desert plants are cactus & cacti.  So why not trellis & trelli, instead of trellises?  At any rate, we are down to our last task of the vineyard preparation before our planting party, and that is the trellises!

Over the years, I have observed many, many vineyards, usually while driving at 70 mph going somewhere on vacation.  But for the last couple of years, I have been slowing down and even stopping, to the annoyance of my kids, trespassing on private property and making a lot of measurements of the vineyard rows, trellises & spacing variations, particularly the ones around the Palo Alto Hills & Los Altos Hills.

What I have gleaned from this exercise and from my many conversations with knowledgeable acquaintances, is that a lot of consideration for vineyard layouts comes from a balance of mechanization, the lay of the land & the best orientation for the grapevines.  In the old days, typical vineyards in Napa had rows that were 8 or even 10 feet apart, mainly for passage of large tractors, like a D-9 Caterpillar.  Grapevines were placed 6 feet apart along the rows, so they had plenty room for growth.

But modern vineyard practices have put an emphasis on creating a balance between the good nutrient supply from the sun & roots and stress on the vines by crowding them slightly, forcing adjacent vines into competition, giving the grapevines what the growers call "vigor".  So we have decided to lay out our trellis rows at 6 foot widths with the grapevines 4 feet apart, in the hopes of producing a better wine grape.  We are using what is called the two-wire trellis system and as the grapevines grow, we will use the cordon method of pruning, which is similar to ornamental espalier pruning (flat pruning) along a trellis or wall, like the diagram shows, but involves very careful pruning at specific locations along the canes & at specific buds.

Fourth season
At the planting party, after we plant the grapevine seedlings, we will be tying a piece of twine loosely around the main shoot of the seedling and draping it up to the trellis wires to train the main shoot to grow into the trunk after the first or second year of growth.  

But we are getting  ahead of ourselves about what will happen at the planting party, so we will save that for next Saturday!  I hope you have enjoyed these e-mails as much as I have enjoyed writing, plagiarizing & copyright-infringing them!  To our family & friends who cannot be with us on March 1st, we will all raise a glass and know that you are with us in spirit!

Best regards from down in the vineyard, John

Young Oak Vineyards - Vol. 6: Preparing the Soil

February 20, 2008

Hi all:

An acre, from the Old English for an "open field", is defined as the amount of land that is tillable by one man with an ox drawn plow in one day.  Well, I could have used that ox this last week!   I had trouble finding someone willing to disc our field this early in the season.  And although the weather has been pretty dry for last couple of weeks, it is dangerous to operate a wheeled tractor on a slick hillside.  What I needed was a "crawler tractor" with treads like a tank, but the few tractor services around here were unable or not willing to start this early.  As I was panicking about what I could do, I actually found a community college professor in Marin County who plows his own fields with his team of Clydesdale horses (holy Budweiser!), but the logistics of moving his team of horses was not possible.

Finally, I found a "Ditch-Witch" crawler tractor with a 48" wide rototiller attachment (see picture above) and just before the rains of this last Tuesday, I was able to rototill our field, which begs the question, why do we till or plow.  According to one source, "plowing prepares a seed bed, controls weeds, turns under crop residues, weeds, composts organic matter into the soil. In, addition, plowing helps regulate soil ventilation, moisture, temperature, and makes plant food more readily available to the planted crop."  That's a mouthful!

Some 5000 years ago some prehistoric farmer got the idea of hitching his ox to his digging stick.  Primitive stick plows still are used in some parts of the world. The ancient Romans shod the point with iron or bronze to protect it from wear.  The Dutch improved the Roman plow, who needed a different shape for their soils. The colonial plow was a heavy wooded & wrought iron 10' long beam.  It took several teams of horses or oxen to pull it & often needed repairs. In 1797, a plow of solid cast iron was patented in New Jersey & soon after Thomas Jefferson invented one which could be pulled more easily.  In the western expansion of North America, this plow could not successfully break the tough sod formed by the matted roots of the prairie grasses.  Even with 5-10 oxen pulling, the sticky black soil clung to the plow and had to be scraped off every few steps.  John Lane made a plow with polished steel circular saw blade which would "scour" the soil off the plough without cleaning (what we know as discing today). In 1837, John Deere, a blacksmith of Grand Detour, Illinois, made further improvements and founded the now famous farm implement company.

But plowing, on the other hand, releases a lot of carbon into the atmosphere, so there is a big movement in the farming community to sequester greenhouse gases from the atmosphere by plowing as little as possible increasing the carbon content of the soil.  This is probably the last time we will turn the soil in the vineyard.  After we plant we will propagated specific species of native grasses that act as ground cover around the grapevines and only "weed-wack" them down seasonally.

One more thing to do before we plant and that is to get the trellis set up and we will discuss that next week!

Regards, John

Young Oak Vineyards - Vol. 5: Grafting Clones

February 17, 2008

Hi all:

GRAPEVINEWe left off with the question of what is a grapevine "clone". Sounds like something from "Dolly the Sheep" !! But "vegetative cloning" has been done for thousands of years. The earliest record of grafting is from China around 5,000 B.C by a diplomat's work on peach trees. The Romans were famous for their grafted olive trees.

A "vegetative clone" is a plant that has been reproduced without a seed, directly from a bud or a shoot. In fact, the Greek origin of the word "clone" means "twig". This asexual method of reproducing guarantees that the offspring will be genetically identical to the original single parent plant.

To do this in grapevines, a cutting is made from a shoot, the new growth from the cordons that become the fruiting canes of the desired grapevine (see diagram above), and then grafted, literally spliced together, to a desired grapevine rootstock shoot (see diagram below). Care is taken that the root side of the cuttings are oriented downward and the leaf sides are oriented upwards, so that when the grafted cutting is placed in the soil root side down, it will sprout roots and the leaf side will sprout leaves. And so it is allowed to propagate in a nursery, and then the new little plant is potted for planting in a vineyard.
In our case, the "Foxy Grape" rootstock that Duarte Nursery currently had available was #3309C with the Vitis vinifera Cabernet Sauvignon Clone #06 grafted to it. This clone was developed in Jackson, California as a "Good Blending Choice For Ultra-Premium Wine Programs" [Link to Duarte's Facebook Page]

I have listed Duarte's notes below:

Attributes - Good choice for diversification. Lowest yielding cab clone (60% of Clone 7 or 8). Best on high density spacing. Excellent wine quality. High skin to pulp ratio. Small to medium size, loose clusters, variable size berries

Tasting Notes - Aroma: vanilla, black olive, soy, cinnamon, clove. Flavor: berry, olive.

This is a really nice, high quality Cabernet Sauvignon grape. Its yield (the number and size of grapes) is less than other clones, but the wine it produces is superior. The #3309C rootstock needs good drainage and I think that with our slope we will have that. And although it is not the "La Cuesta" clone, this is a really high end grape used in very fine wines! Sounds good to me, so ... , this is what we bought and what you will be planting in 18 days!! My son, Scott & I will be picking up our vines on Friday, February 29th, fresh from the nursery !! They are already propagated little potted plants, that can be planted anytime of the year, so let's do it !!

Regards from down in the vineyard, John Sphar

Young Oak Vineyards - Vol. 4: Rootstock

February 10, 2008

As I had previously mentioned, our soil results were reviewed by the good folks at Ridge, particularly David Gates, V.P of Ridge Vineyard Operations.  David had commented about the suitability of our soil for specific grapes, either Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel, and then he recommended 6 different grapevine rootstocks that would be compatible with our soil.  Which gives rise to the question, what is a rootstock?

First a little background information.  The native grapes of North America, generally known as 
"Foxy Grapes", don't make particularly good wines.  And the grapes grown in Europe, Vitis vinifera, which make really good wines, didn't & don't do very well when they tried to grow them here, recorded as early as the 16th century by the French in their new colony, Florida.  Even Jefferson had difficulty growing grapes at his beloved Monticello.  He planted more than 24 European grape varieties, and considered wine was "necessary of life".  But as noted in his Garden Book, constant replanting of the vines indicated that they didn't grow well and there is no record of wine ever being produced.  Further, he noted that growing grapes for wine was "like gambling".  By the way, during 1801, his first year as President, Jefferson spent $2,262 on imported wine, more than he did on food.  Presidents of the time were required to furnish food and drink for the President House staff and guests out of their own salaries.  During his eight years in office he spent $10,955 on imported wine; in 2008 currency that would amount to more than $175,000.

It turns out that the 
Grape Phylloxera, or Daktulosphaira vitifoliae, a native North American aphid, killed off the European grapevines when they were grown here.  Our little aphid would eventually spread to Europe by 1870's, almost destroying the French wine industry.  Too make a long story short, our North American native grapes, are resistant to Phylloxera.  Eventually, someone figured out that the European grapevines, Vitis vinifera, could be grafted onto these "Foxy Grapes" roots, which made it possible to grow European grapes here.  Too bad the French didn't listen to Spanish, who were grafting Spanish grapevines onto Mexican native rootstock as early as 1524.

Armed with my list of recommended rootstocks,  I did a Google search for grape rootstock and found 
Duarte Nursery, located near Modesto, CA, which happens to be "the place" to go for wine grapes rootstocks.  I wanted to find one of my recommended rootstocks grafted with the "La Cuesta" Cabernet "clone", which gives rise to the question, what is a "clone" and how do you "graft" it?  But I will save that for next time!

Regards from down in the vineyard (and it really is looking like a vineyard now!),
John Sphar

Young Oak Vineyards - Vol. 3: The Lay of the Land

January 30, 2008

Hi all:

We are working hard here at the vineyard. What struck me about this property when I first saw it, is that it had a perfect southwest exposure for maximum sunlight on a hillside ridge with a 10 degree slope. What was left of an old fruit orchard that had been on the land, was a few rotting stumps of apricots & other fruit trees here and there, but otherwise it has been in fallow, uncultivated, for 50+ years. The story we heard was that when the house was for sale and when the realtor showed it, the clients often never got out of the car, because the house was, shall we say "unsightly". Fortunately for us, there were no other buyers attracted to the potential of the property.

At any rate, back in October '07, before the rains, we took soil samples, about a cubic foot of soil from two locations at about a 10 inch depth. It had been a very hot & dry summer and the soil was dessicated, completely lacking of any moisture. We had the soil analyzed by Farmecology, an independent laboratory in Hopland, CA recommended by Mark Vernon of Ridge Winery. There is some concern that there might be heavy metals in the soil, like mercury, since there are known deposits of cinnabar, mercury sulfide (HgS) in the Santa Cruz Mountains. But given that this land has been used as a fruit tree orchard for a hundred years and we are 200 yards from an existing 30 year old Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard, the likelihood was that there would be nothing to out of the ordinary present.

In fact, our soils analysis came back "normal", that is to say there was nothing to worry about. Although the calcium level is unusually high, probably from amendments from the orchard period, but there is no need to amend the soil. The deer fencing is almost completed and we are starting to build a rail road tie stairway down to the vineyard. And then the plan is to "weed-wack" the new crop of grass in mid to late February, depending on when the rain let up. My backyard neighbor, Brian, has offered to loan me his tractor to rototill the vineyard. After the soil is ready, we will put in the trellising and drip lines to be ready for planting.
We will be sending out an e-Vite soon with all the particulars for the upcoming planting party!

From down in the (future) vineyard,
John Sphar

Young Oak Vineyards - Vol. 2: The Adventure Begins

December 2, 2007

Hi all:

First of all, congratulations to all the
Escondido Elementary School PTA auction winners who successfully bid on the Emery-Sphar Vineyard Planting Party. By your efforts, you have helped raise a $1,000 towards an auction total of over $60,000 for our children's school. We are really looking forward to a wonderful day of a little work, great food, conversations, music & celebration with you, our friends & family!

Secondly, as you seem to be interested in vines & wines, I thought I might give you some background information on this project and then keep you posted on the process & progress towards the vineyard planting date. If you do not wish to receive these e-mails, please let me know and I will remove from my list and just send a couple of reminders nearer the vineyard party date, March 1st.

My interest in wine goes back to my childhood (John's), so when Kris found this orchard property, I jumped at the opportunity to have our own grapes. In my childhood, I always looked forward to the traditional sips of wine at family holiday dinners. And then there was the time I brought a little bottle of wine to school in sixth grade to have with my lunch (and got into big time trouble for that)! My family did a lot of local vacation road trips, many to the Napa & Sonoma Valleys or other wine regions and I always enjoyed the historical displays of wine making. I was very fortunate in that by the time I was in high school I had visited most of the major cellars in Northern California.

However, it was my college days, sippin' wine, looking at world maps & reading National Geographic with my buddy Al, that really caught me up in the enjoyment of wine! I took Vitaculture 101 - Intro. to Wine, from Professor Singleton at UC-Davis. Prof. Singleton had written our text and had introduced many innovations in fermentation techniques, although the only one I can remember was his idea about adding oak chips to the huge stainless steel tanks that the bulk winemakers use (actually, not so memorable!).

Oh yeah, I also once had a bottle of Heitz Cellar, 1969 - Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon! I would say that was the best red wine I have ever tasted (visualize a taste of a wonderful combination of flowers & food!!) And so for the past 25 years I have enjoyed what wines I could afford, but I am ready to try the next level, growin' and makin' my own.

From down in the (future) vineyard,
John Sphar

Young Oak Vineyards - Vol. 1: In The Beginning

November 23, 2007

Hi all:

As some of you know, we were able to buy a little land in the hills with a run down house that I will be spending the next 20 years remodeling. But here's the thing, we have a perfect south western exposed hillside for grapes and the only thing that is keeping me from putting in a vineyard is all the work & labor (which I should be putting into the house).

So far I have had my soil analyzed and I have too much calcium (possibly a natural geologic phenomenon of the clay around here), so we may have to add some other amendments. I am getting an amendment recommendation from my neighbor, who is with Ridge Winery, actually from his vineyard master. They are also going to recommend a particular varietal best suited for our soil, either Zinfandel or probably Cabernet Sauvignon and probably a clone of the "La Cuesta" Cabernet of Woodside, which I think Dr. Fogerty of Fogerty Winery developed.

Then I got this great idea to "out source" much of the labor as a fund raising item at our daughter's elementary school PTA auction! So, with a little creative packaging we have created an event!! Here is the copy for the auction listing:

This is for all those oenophiles out there. How cool is this? Mark your calendars for Saturday, March 1 for a phenomenal day all about wine from start to finish. BYOS (bring you own shovel!) and plant 8-10 grapevines each at the home vineyard of Kristen Emery and John Sphar. Follow up with a luncheon with Mark Vernon, COO of Ridge Vineyards and Winery, Ltd., for a discussion of wine and wine tasting. For families with young children, they will be entertained by John and Kristen's children. Even better, you'll receive a couple of bottles of the first vintage in about five years after the vines mature!

At any rate, we would love to have all our family & friends join us as well along with the hired help (20 auction winners). It should be a fun day and we hope you all can come. I'll send you details as we get closer to the date, but I gotta get back to diggin' fence posts!

Best regards,

Young Oak Vineyards Starts A Blog!

Hi all,

I am switching from my e-mail blast to a blog format for the goings on at Young Oak Vineyards. I too can be like Arianna Huffington! View all my e-mail blasts, now blogs above. I have put the real date of publication within the blogs.

The warm growing season is upon us here in Los Altos Hills, CA, after our first heat wave of the 2008 hitting over a 100 degrees. Its a little cooler today with our typical morning fog kissing the coastal hills and a high today in the low 90's, helped by a gentle breeze. Hope all of you are healthy & well.

Regards from down in the vineyard,