Our Malbec 2013 Vintage

Falling in love with Malbec

Our Malbec harvestIn September 2010 we planted the first 2 1/2 acres of our vineyard with Malbec vines.

Earlier this year I registered myself as a winemaker with the Argentine licencing authority (Instituto Nacional de Vitivinicultura) and was granted a licence to make wine and to sell my wine to the public.

In March we harvested our very first crop of grapes which we fermented and then nurtured and fretted over for 6 months. 

The INV inspector recently took samples of our wine for analysis and Continue reading

Springtime

November has been a very busy and, at times, exciting month for us. As we pass further into spring time, more birds and insects appear on the farm as well as a surprise visit from a wild cat kitten (Geoffreys Ocelot or Gato Montés).

One of the many insects that appear in spring time

Earlier in the year we had decided to plant a cash crop to provide us with an income for the forthcoming season. So we
ploughed and prepared some ground and hand planted around 2000 melon seeds (honey dew) and butternut squash seeds, plus a couple of rows of sweetcorn and a part row of small, sweet, red peppers. An irrigation system was dug and after a week the first seedlings appeared –  and then some disappeared, thanks to the local hare population! Which means we will soon have to re-sow the ‘missing’ plants.

Watering the melon field before sowing

Late one afternoon we saw smoke above an adjacent farm. As most of the locals burn their fields to remove stubble and dried grass, we were not at all worried. However, as time passed, we could actually see flames quite close by, and spread over a very wide area. On investigating we found that a wild fire had started and was covering most of the 60 acre farm opposite us. Graciela asked if the fire brigade had been called and offered our help. The local policeman told Graciela that the brigade were on standby and would come out if it got serious! Five of us neighbours put out the fire with our shovels and pitchforks. That took us just over two hours of very hot work. Once the fire was out, everyone thanked each other, and went back to their farms, job done. No excitement, no shouting, no orders, just everyone pitching in and quietly getting the problem sorted as a team. A very down to earth approach.

Fighting the fire on the next door farm

The fire was spreading across the farm

Spring not only brings new plants, birds and animals to the farm, it also brings weeds in vast quantities. If we take even a week off weeding, the irrigation ditches soon become choked. Not surprisingly we have spent some time cleaning our 5 kilometers of internal ditches.

Ditch cleaning

Not all the ‘weeds’ are unwelcome though. The irrigation water brings with it a whole host of seeds that self set in its edges. So far we have harvested many handfuls of asparagus (more of that later) and we have mint and fennel growing on the ditch borders as well as some grapes!

Wild asparagus picked on the farm

Our old apricot trees and quince trees have blossomed and it looks as though we might get a good harvest from them this year. The large fig tree is not doing very much at the moment, but the four smaller trees are heavy with green figs which will be picked soon.

Quince tree blossom

Our area once grew asparagus and all the irrigation ditches in the area are covered in asparagus plants, ours included. These plants are wild, but the asparagus spears are of excellent quality which we have tried and thoroughly enjoyed. However many of the public know that wild asparagus grows here too. They come and pick it from the public supply canal, and since our farm was not farmed for many years, they have been picking it from our ditches too. So we have been plagued with people coming onto our farm to collect asparagus (sometimes to sell later in the street). All have left the farm when asked and we have had no problem, but we have decided to put up proper perimeter fences to replace the single strand of barbed wire that currently defines our borders.

Putting in fence posts and cleaning ditches

Our farm entrance has had a face lift too and now sports a set of wooden gates with our farm logo carved onto the top bar of each gate.

The new wooden gates at the farm entrance

And, of course, we take time off to enjoy ourselves too!

Graciela, Nenina and Titan

The Vineyard

At last, after a number of delays and problems, we have finally completed the planting of the first hectare (2.5 acres) of our vineyard. The whole process took us a couple of weeks and it has taught us a whole host of new skills. We used contractors for the heavy work and now most of the vines have been planted, we will continue the ground work and irrigation works ourselves.

The people who dug the 2800 holes and planted the vine plants rejected 150 of them as being substandard. With no quibble at all, the suppliers of the vines agreed to give us replacement plants. So, in a few weeks time we will complete planting the last couple of rows.

Why did we plant Malbec vines? Well our finca is located exactly in the area where French colonists first planted the Malbec grapes in Argentina. In Europe, at that time, itwas not a sought after variety, but as it prospered so well over here it became one of the leading grapes in Argentina. Most of the fincas around us are now devoted to fruit or alfalfa, so you could say that our vineyard has brought Malbec back to its origins in our part of San Rafael.

For the technically minded the support structure for our 2800 Malbec vines was built from 600 wooden posts, each 2.5 meters long, which were strung with 9 km (5.5 miles) of wire. Also 80 small tree trunks were buried around the edges of the field to act as ground anchors for the end posts. 160 adjustable wire tensioners were installed to keep the support wires rigid.

The photos below give an idea of the work – as well as the tea and meal breaks involved!

Initially the whole hectare was marked out with temporary stakes and wire.

Marking out the field for the posts

Then 40 furrows were ploughed across the width of the field. These furrows were where the posts, plants and initial irrigation channels would run.

Ploughing the (straight) furrows across the field

The short tree trunks were then buried to act as ground anchors for the system of posts and wires.

The holes for all the ground anchors are dug

Each morning started with a cup of tea/coffee/mate. No briefings, no “team talk”, no “morning management meeting”, no identifying targets – just everyone having a natter, a cuppa, then off to work.

Each day started with a cuppa

The end posts for each rows were then installed.

The head posts were the first to be put in place

Work stopped at this stage until we had built a set of channels to connect all the furrows to the farm’s main irrigation system. Even Mary and Fred were put to work helping to clean the return channel for the irrigation water.

Team effort - no one was allowed a day off!

With the temporary irrigation system in place we then waited for our turn for irrigation water.

Watering by moonlight.

On Sunday night, at about 1am, and by moonlight, we irrigated the wholefield. This wetted the ground ready for planting. Remember we only get water once a week here and there is no other source for watering in new plants. Hence wandering around the farm in the dark!

The holes for the vines were dug in the damp ground

The next morning the ground in the furrows was still nice and damp. As the 2800 holes were dug, we went off to collect the vine plants.

Collecting the vine plants

The vines were planted and then the remaining wooden posts were distributed around the field and then placed in each hole. They were so well placed that no matter which way you looked, they all stood in straight lines. Nice.

Intermediate posts in place

Now came the stringing of the support wires for the vines. And I think it is time for an artistic photo.

Barbeque time again

Vines and posts in place, wires being strung and tensioned. The field now has the feel of being a vineyard at last.

The vineyard is taking shape in the evening sun

As the vineyard construcion neared completion the workload for us increased. Graciela hand weeded the furrows to remove the local chipica grass – very invasive and very difficult to eradicate. We did not want to spray with herbicide, so hand cleaning was needed.

Hand weeding instead of using herbicide sprays

After the third irrigation the wires were re-tensioned, protective plastic collars were put on the vine plants and plastic tapes put in place to train the vines up to the wires.

Construction complete, but now the work starts. Weekly watering, keeping an eye open for diseases, routine training and pruning. Changing over from the temporary to a permanent irrigation system, Weeding and years of tender care.

 Now, if you can wait for another 3 to 4 years you can taste a bottle of our Malbec wine.

Work complete. Now for years of tender care.