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Winemaker's Journal — Vineyards on their summer growth spurt

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Tiny grapes
A grape bunch just starting to gain size on a row of Chardonnay.

Vineyards have bloomed and those blossoms are now turning to beady green grapes. Vines are growing prodigiously. It's been a pretty magnificent spring with few threats from early spring frost or heavy rains that can cause mildew problems. Word is going around that it could be another great crop for Washington vintners.

I gauge what's going on elsewhere by the what's happening the microcosm of my own tiny vineyard. I chopped back yards of gangly vine whips this weekend, stripped out leaves and pruned low branches in ongoing effort to get sun to the tiny grape bunches. 

I also sprayed a concoction of water laced with fungicide, sulfur and a couple eggwhites with a sprinkling of cayenne to keep all bad things away from the vineyard. The fungicide (1 teaspoon in 3 gallons of water) is obviously meant to limit the growth of mold, which can ruin a crop once it takes hold. The sulfur (3 tablespoons) I alternate with mineral oil (1 tablespoon) as an organic insecticide.

The egg whites and cayenne is meant to keep larger predators away, and is purely experimental. After writing earlier about my problems with deer nibbling young shoots and buds, I received several suggestions on how to discourage the rascals. Bars of Dial or Irish Spring soap, Costco fabric softener dryer sheets, several fencing ideas, a dog and rifle.

The cheap and peaceful egg white idea was suggested by Don Julien, president of the Wenatchee Valley Enology Society and an avid rosarian, the kind that grows roses although he may be a good Catholic as well for all I know. Eggwhites, he said, were found to be effective in a spray — sometimes combined with cayenne or peppermint oil — at repelling deer from eating roses grown by members of a Seattle area rose cultivating group when he lived there. I say, anything is worth a try.

I have the dryer sheets stapled all over the vineyard trellis and that seems to have helped, whether due to the obnoxious fragrance or the waving white flags flapping the wind, I'm not sure. Maybe with all the new spring growth, I just don't notice the damage as much.

But the deer do not scare easily. I walked out to check the vineyard recently and came face-to-face with a young doe who looked at me as if to say "Who invited you to dinner?" I had to run at her yelling and swinging a pole to persuade her to leave. Now, if only I could train her to prune out the excessive vines and leave the young grapes alone, we could both be happy.