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Tending The Vines In California

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Misty morning start

About five years ago my friend Dave decided to plant a little vineyard of around three acres behind his house. He lives in Sonoma County so conditions are pretty much perfect there and he has already produced a few cases of pinot noir.

The problem is that vines need lots of attention if you want to manage them well and, being a full-time business man, Dave found he couldn’t manage on his own. So he decided to call in the troops, made up, as he says, of all his new best ex friends!

Despite his best efforts to work them to death, however, most people who come once actually come again to toil away in the hot sun and then relax by the pool with good food, wine and company, plus a little music provided live by Dave and some of his guitar and accordion playing campaneros.

Lighthouse Beach

One family had flown from Tennessee just to be there but most of the helpers come from San Francisco to enjoy a weekend in the country. After they’ve finally escaped the Golden Gate Bridge traffic,  they enjoy the gorgeous drive out along Highway One which has the most spectacular ocean views for miles from Mill Valley to Jenna and the Russian River. They stay in ad hoc accommodation at the vineyard, like Airstreams and tents tucked away under trees in the bottom of the garden.

Dave's Meadow

The first time we went we drove through the early morning mist to get there and found all the fruit trees in bloom which was a lovely sight. This time I found a patch of meadow with poppies and nigellas growing among wild grasses.

Work usually starts way too late when the sun is high and the heat is up because no one can get their acts together at a sensible hour. But then everyone hits the vineyards and starts working.

Pruning the vines

When we were there in early spring we trimmed one year old vines down to knee height and lovingly wrapped cardboard protectors around them. We made sure the drip irrigation pipes were connected and cleared away the weeds.

This time we rip away the cardboard protectors and unravel each set of vines to find the strongest one. We cut off all the other stems growing from the base and leave four or five shoots on the main vine. Then we tie all the vines to the poles and clear up all the weeds, cuttings and cardboard protectors. All this in the afternoon heat which has us sweating and puffing and feeling faint and wondering why we are doing this manual labor on a holiday weekend!

It’s an eclectic bunch of people, with lots of italian being spoken in the vineyard which seems to be the right sound for this hot landscape, along with russian, a smattering of yiddish and english in various accents from the west coast to the east and as far away as Zimbabwe. Most of the voices are saying, “****, it’s hot!”

Lunch break

But then there's the pool and people jumping into its cool depths fully clothed. And the cheese and biscuits and brownies, not to mention a glass or two of Dave’s finest. As the sun gets lower in the sky, the music starts and dinner is served at the long table, the chatter gets louder and the sun sets on the newly tended vines and who, in their right mind, would ever want to leave?

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