Twisted & Gnarled Vines.

On Sunday we were at Twisted Vines Bottleshop & Bistro in the booming metropolis of Arlington, Virginia.  Arlington is more city than suburb, and very much a part of Washington.

Twisted Vines is on Columbia Pike, a road that dates to 1810, when the the United States Congress chartered a turnpike company to build three separate roads through the District of Columbia.  What is now called Columbia Pike was built through what was then known as Alexandria County (Washington and Georgetown were across the river in Washington County, both of the District of Columbia).  This road gave access from the Long Bridge, which predated the existing 14th Street Bridge, to the Little River Turnpike. These turnpikes were critical for connecting the nascent city of Washington to the west, since it did not develop organically as a port or crossroads, but was a creation of political expediency and compromise.  Access to the Little River Turnpike meant the ability travel the trading routes of the Shenandoah Valley along the Great Wagon Road that originated in Philadelphia, traveled west to Gettysburg, then south all the way to Augusta, Georgia.  At Roanoke, the Great Wagon Road met the Wilderness Road, which transited the Cumberland Gap, thereby linking Washington to the fertile frontier lands of Kentucky and Tennessee.  The Carolina Road also joined the Great Wagon Road at Roanoke, providing access to the Piedmont regions of North and South Carolina and Georgia.  Linking Washington to all these places was a very big deal.

Columbia Pike was built on an existing cow path and called the Washington Graveled Turnpike.  Other names given to it over the years include the Washington Road, the Columbian Road, and the Arlington Turnpike.  The road was not paved until 1928 when the U.S. Department of Agriculture paved it with concrete from the bridge west to Palmer’s Hill in Barcroft.   It’s an interesting and storied thoroughfare; for an exhaustive history of the Columbia Pike, see this page. Today it is a vital and vibrant commercial corridor, and Twisted Vines fills a definite community need for a place to gather with friends for a civilized repast. Many, many thanks to our wonderful hosts Josh and Sybil Robinson, the owners of Twisted Vines. They’ve created something quite special.

But we digress.  The event featured the work of local photographer Daniel Taylor, who mingled among many friends (old and new) who sampled our wine, viewed his work, and learned a bit about us.  Among the first guests were Paul and Warren of the Virginia Wine Time blog, whose profile of the event gives a better summary than we could possibly provide.  Readers of this blog most likely read theirs, but if you missed it you can read it here.

One thing we don’t want in the vineyard are twisted vines. The very notion is antithetical to our goal in the vineyard.  We want our trunks straight as they emerge from the earth, and our cordons straight along the fruiting wire, and we want our canes growing straight up into the trellis, so the sprays can penetrate easily and keep the leaves and fruit disease-free.  Getting the vines to grow that way begins now with pruning, and last Saturday we began the work of taming these weeds so they produce the fruit we need.  It takes a practiced hand to not leave too many shoots.  Sometimes the cordon is too far gone and needs to be replaced, and a newer cane is laid down to take its place. This is a decision not made lightly, but with acres of vines to look after it is a decision that must be made swiftly and decisively; once cut, there is no going back. Too many shoots means a large canopy that causes the vine to put far too much energy into producing leaves when that vigor must be directed to ripening the fruit. One hears the word “balance” time and again in this business, and here it is particularly critical. A balanced vine is a productive, happy vine.

With 2012 we enter our fifth vintage, but only now are we becoming accustomed to the rhythms and patterns of the growing season.  Now it is time to take up pruning the vines.  The time and reasoning are nicely described by François Bouchet in his Bio-Dynamic Agriculture (François Bouchet, L’Agriculture Bio-Dynamique, comment l’appliquer dans la vine (Éditions Deux Versants, 2003).

Following the Twelfth Night Feast, traditionally set on January 6th or twelve days after Christmas, softly comes the period of breathing which separates the centripetal phase of autumn and the centrifugal phase of spring.  The days already start to lengthen, while the inversion of the sap flow, or, according to our physiological model, the apnea phase, is also beginning.  It is possible to begin pruning, since risks of eutypa contamination are on the decrease from now on.  The vine is ready to weep at the slightest warming brought about on a sunny day, thus preventing spores from being moved towards the inside.

Our crew started with the established vines, and will move to last year’s plantings in the coming weeks. The pruned wood is placed in the middle of the row where it will be chopped up with the bush hog to return organic matter to the soil.  If we had disease issues the wood should be removed and burned, but fortunately to date we have not had the need. When we turn our attention to the new vines, they will have to be “unhilled”, because soil is piled around the graft union to protect them from freezing during the first year, and it is better to do that closer to bud break in the spring.

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