Vineyard Maintenance

Breaking ground

Very exciting things are happening for us here at the winery! After planting our vineyard 4 years ago, we are now ready to leap into phase two of development – construction of our winery!

This winter we received our manufacturing license, which means we now have the green light to move ahead. But planning for construction of the winery involved some big decisions to make. One of them being whether to start fresh with construction of a brand new building, or to use and work within an existing horse arena that we have on the property. As a major reason why we took over my Grandpa’s retired horse ranch was to keep the land (and his life’s story) in the family, we decided that keeping the arena standing was important for us.

Painted barn

So, we decided to build our new winery in the arena, to sit atop where my grandpa, my dad, and I, among many other family members, all rode our horses for years.

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Staking out our future winery in the arena

Then in February, we broke ground!

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Luca, of course, had to help out with the digging

The next step was to pour the foundation…

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then the framing began…

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and within one week it was done! The finished product is a 70 x 35 foot winery, with 14 foot high ceilings. And we couldn’t be more happy with it!

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At the right of the winery, in front of the large door, will be our covered crush pad. To give us the option, our crush pad will also extend to outside of the arena. To do this, we had some massive doors built into the side.

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Laurent and Luca on our future crush pad

The next step includes all the plumbing and electrical and the pouring of our cement floor. We are well on our way to being done for this years harvest in the fall!

In addition to construction, we have also been at work in the vineyard. Compared to the record breaking temperatures we experienced last year at this time, the spring we have had this year has been considerably colder and wetter. But regardless of the weather, the vines need to be pruned!  So, dressed in gum boots and rain coats, we set out to give our vines their annual haircut.

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As these 2.5 acres are our test plot, we have experimented with various methods and techniques to contrast and compare the vines productivity. Originally we planned on spur pruning the Pinot Gris and cane pruning the Epicure, L’Acadie, and Seyval Blanc as we have read that each of these varieties produce better with those methods. But, last year we tried both pruning methods on each of the varieties and found there was no difference in their quality or productivity. So, as spur pruning is relatively easier to do, we decided to use this method throughout the vineyard.

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With the pruning done and construction well on it’s way, we now have some time to sit back and wait for the sun to spring our vines to back to life.


It’s countdown time!

It is the most exciting time of the year! All the hard work has been done for the season and now it’s up to Mother Nature to dictate our first day of harvest.

Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris

After following one of the hottest and driest summers, we thought we might be harvesting early September. But now we’ve entered a cooling spell that has pushed harvest off until, most likely, the third week of September.

Seyval Blanc

Seyval Blanc

As the grapes continue to ripen and increase in brix, the birds are increasingly enjoying eating them. Thankfully we installed netting on the Pinot Gris and Acadie. To see whether the birds were really a threat to us and if nets actually made a difference, we decided not to install netting on the Epicure… and this is what we have left:

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Epicure – a feast for the birds

Lesson well learned. Next year we will be installing netting on ALL of vines.

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Pinot Gris -protected behind the nets

So what do we do while we are in countdown mode? We prep! The fermentation room is sparkling clean and has been reorganized to include two 200L stainless steel tanks, 7 additional carboys, and even a baby 24L French oak barrel that are all waiting to be filled with fresh juice.

We are all very excited and anxious to see what wines 2015 will bring!


Hot, hot, heat!

It has been the hottest and driest summer that we have seen in years! Beginning in May, we had record breaking heat and it feels as though the sun hasn’t let up since then! For our vineyard, this weather is amazing as everything seems to be about two to three weeks early. This means that there is no doubt our grapes will ripen to the ideal levels this year, which also means we will have the potential to make some amazing wine!

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The drought conditions, however, has also meant that we’ve had to water the vines this summer. Particularly the vines that are growing along the rocky and gravelly sections that braid throughout our vineyard. Originally thinking that we would have too much water being located here in the Fraser Valley, we didn’t install an irrigation system. So, thankfully the Belgian brigade were all here to help us water by hand.

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Laurent, Luca, and Fabio driving out the container of water

Fabio, Marie-Line, & Jean-Marc bailing buckets

Fabio, Marie-Line, & Jean-Marc bailing buckets of water

Over these past weeks the grapes passed through véraison, the process where they begin ripening that results in a change in colour.

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Véraison of our pinot gris

This ripening, however, also means the grapes are becoming sweeter and sweeter – and a delicacy for the flocks of local birds. To prevent losing too many grapes to the birds, we decided to install a netting system.

Laurent preparing the nets

Laurent preparing the nets

The nets also help (somewhat) in deterring the three deer that seem to be increasingly stopping by to enjoy our excellent selection of grapes. These three deer have become Laurent’s most recent nemesis – driving him to endlessly patrol the vineyard on bike, armed with an old Tibetan bell, ineffectively trying to scare them away. The scene does make for a good laugh.

Final nets installed

Final nets installed

Currently, we are monitoring and measuring the sugar and acidity of the grapes. From our hot summer weather this year, the grapes are measuring a higher sugar content compared to this time last year.  Now all we have to do is wait patiently until the time comes to harvest!


Summer sun and véraison!

With the summer sun high in the sky, our vineyard is simply thriving!

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Being the first year that we left our vines to produce grapes, we had no idea what the result would be.  All we were able to do was wait to see if all this work we’ve done would be worth it. Earlier this spring, we waited with anticipation until we saw the vines flower – and they did! We then worriedly waited to see if any berries would form – and they did!  Since then, we have been waiting to see if the grapes would grow and have the chance to ripen… And here, our expectations for our very first harvest year have been surpassed!

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Seyval Blanc

In fact, all our varieties are producing what is looks to be an incredible harvest of beautiful, healthy, and RIPE fruit!

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Seyval Blanc

Last week, the Pinot Gris reached the stage of véraison, which refers to the onset of ripening and the increase of sugars (future alcohol) in the fruit. You can actually see this happening by the changing colour of the grapes – from green to rose – like in the photo below. With a number of weeks still ahead of us of warm and dry weather, we now feel confident that we can successfully grow Pinot Gris right here in Yarrow!

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Pinot Gris

Our Acadie grapes are actually already deliciously sweet and will probably be the first variety ready for harvest this year!

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L’Acadie

Lastly there is the Epicure, which have tended to be a bit behind the other varieties since planting. They are also producing beautiful grapes, but will need a bit longer to ripen this year… they are still giving a strong ‘green pepper’ taste, which should hopefully burn off in a few weeks time.

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Epicure

In the meantime, we’ve been working at maintaining a health canopy that has good air flow and allows the sun to penetrate the whole vine and reach as many leaves as possible. This involves pruning the top and sides of the vines, as well as pulling some leaves around the grapes to ensure the winds can reach them – which helps to keep the grapes dry from any moisture and therefore, prevents mildew or bunch rot.

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Laurent and his pruners!

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Pinot Gris after some leaf pulling

This week we’ll begin testing the sugar level of the grapes, which will tell us exactly how ripe they are…  and ultimately their potential for wine making! Very exciting times!


Our first grapes!

With a record-breaking July that brought us the most hours of sunshine we’ve had in 60 years and a beautifully warm and sunny August as well, the conditions have been perfect for growing grapes! Despite our vines being only 2 years old, and that we snipped off as many little grape clusters we could see this spring to encourage the vines to grow roots not grapes, last week we discovered this…

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Pinot gris

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L’Acadie

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Harvesting our first grapes!

Not only did we find beautiful clusters, but they were ripe, sweet, and full of flavour! Since we are the first to begin a vineyard in the Yarrow area, these grapes have given us all the encouragement and reassurement we needed to know that our vineyard holds the potential to create amazing wines!

Our very first Pinot Gris harvest!

Our very first Pinot Gris harvest!

Of course, these past months have also involved a lot of maintenance in the vineyard, such as weeding and pruning. Thankfully, we’ve had tons of help! We owe a huge thank you to Josh, who has been invaluable in keeping the weeds under control all summer long. Also, Laurent’s parents came to visit from Belgium and helped tremendously with pruning.

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Josh & Brice

Laurent's parents, Lina & Jean-Marc

Laurent’s parents, Lina & Jean-Marc

Now with our work in the vineyard pretty much done for the season, and with the cooler temperatures and wetter weather, the time has come to seed grass between our vineyard rows. We decided to seed a mix of grasses that will add beneficial nutrients to the soil and keep our vines happy.  Laurent and my Dad teamed up to tackle this task…

Laurent seeding

Laurent seeding

Dad pressing the seeds into the earth

Dad pressing the seeds into the earth

With the growing season coming to a close, beginning construction on the winery will be what keeps us busy over the coming months. At least we now know that we will have ripe, healthy, and tasty grapes to make our wine – one very important thing we can check off our list!

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Then, comes summer

It was just over one year ago (May 21, 2012) that we planted our first vines. Considering it has been only 13 months,  it’s amazing to think that this…

Little guy in his new home

has grown into THIS!!

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I think it is safe to say that our vines are very happy here!

With all this growth, we have been busy this past month tucking the shoots between the wires and pruning off any sucker shoots along the bottom. Because we will be cane pruning all our varieties, except for the pinot gris, we have decided to just let the vines grow in all their glory this season. We will select the cane for next year during the winter months, when the canes are stronger and more pliable, making it easier to bend along the bottom trellis wire. However, we do have to prune off the tips of the vines to maintain some control and ensure they don’t grow too far beyond our trellis system.

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Before pruning

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After pruning

For the pinot gris, we will do spur pruning and have already begun to train a few along the wire, like in the photo below.

Pinot gris, year two

Pinot gris, year two

It is so exciting and encouraging for us to see how well they vines are doing. It’s actually beginning to look like a real vineyard!!

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… and the vineyard springs to life

During the month of May, our vines have grown incredibly, jumping full force into early summer.

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This means we have also been busy keeping up with the pruning. These past weeks we have been continuously strolling up and down the rows, taking off any sucker shoots to ensure that the energy of the vine is being put into the straightest, strongest, and most desirably placed shoots. For those vines that had already established themselves last year and were only pruned back to the fruiting wire, we have left three to four shoots at the top like in the photo below. Just in case… we also left one shoot at the bottom, should anything happen to the upper part of the vine.

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Later on this season, we will begin selecting and training one or two of these best shoots to grow horizontally along the fruiting wire. We are using the vsp cordon training system, but are still in the process of determining for each variety whether we will use spur or cane pruning method.  We still have some time to figure this one out and I’m sure there will be a more detailed post about all of this in the near future.

Of course, the vines have not been the only ones springing to life – so have the weeds! So, in addition to pruning, we have also been back to weeding. However, because of all the work we did last year, the weeds have not come back as strong as before.  Amazingly, we have already finished one round of weeding the entire vineyard. Now, we just need to stay on top of it!

The award for the most dedicated weeder this season goes to our good friend....Sheila!

The award for the most dedicated weeder this season goes to our good friend… Sheila!

In addition to this, we also planted a new smaller plot. Here we are trying a row of Riesling, just to see how they do in this soil and climate. Although we just planted the Riesling a couple of weeks ago, they have already budded and begun to grow, which is an encouraging sign! The remainder of this plot has been dedicated to more Pinot Gris as they seem to be growing great so far in the other plot.

Laurent and my Dad, Barry, planting

Laurent and my Dad, Barry, planting

Me, myself, and I at work

Me, myself, and I at work

Lastly, birds have also been creating new little lives on our vineyard! A few weeks ago while weeding, we encountered a Killdeer who was not particularly happy with our presence. We were really surprised to see it in the vineyard because they are shorebirds, but apparently our little creek must provide a good enough shore for them. Interestingly, the Killdeer did a little ‘broken wing’ dance for us, which meant there was most likely a nest nearby. By pretending it had a broken wing, it hoped we would think it was injured and follow it, therefore leading us away from its eggs.

The Killdeer pretending it has a broken wing

The Killdeer with a  ‘broken wing’

Because of it’s persistence, we realized there must be a nest in the area. This made us a little worrisome and be extremely cautious about where we stepped – Killdeer eggs are pretty well camouflaged and laid simply on the ground among rocks and blades of grass. So each time we went out to this particular section of the vineyard, we searched for the nest, while the two Killdeer would continue to try and persuade us to leave. It wasn’t until the following weekend that our friend Freya actually spotted the eggs! Thankfully, we then knew where they were and were able to section off this part of the vineyard in order to protect them.

Killdeer nest

Killdeer nest

Then, just this weekend… this is what we found!

Baby Killdeers!

Baby Killdeers!

Now they are scurrying around on their wobbly little legs throughout the vineyard.

Mom and baby

Mom and baby

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We also had some Canadian geese nest near our creek…  and last week we noticed these little  guys!

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Mom, Dad, and the goslings

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