Alta Marfa

A Vineyard and Winery Estate in the Davis Mountains of West Texas.

32. Back in the Game

At the time of the last blog post things obviously were not great. The fact that most of the 6,000 vines that we had just worked so hard to plant were dead was definitely hard to swallow. Things are looking up though...

We will have new vines for next year!

We had been in conversation with the nursery we sourced our vines from, trying to figure out what happened, and discovered that a few other Texas vine orders had experienced similar issues. The nursery believes the packages of vines were mishandled during there freight journey across the country. The nursery graciously accepted responsibility and will be replacing all the vines at no cost! What a relief! We were determined to replant but were not sure if we would have the money to buy vines for next year and may have had to wait a few years, which would have further delayed our first vintage. 

Due to different vine availability we will be receiving test patches (25 vines each) of a bunch of new varieties, which we did not plant last year including: Tannat, Sagrantino, Aglianico, Souzao, Carmenere, Cinsault, Dolcetto, and Grenache. Very Exciting!

We are looking forward to planting again next spring, but until then we have about 550 vines that ARE growing!

 Taking a break to look at the flowers!

Taking a break to look at the flowers!

Katie and I have put in steaks for about 75 vines so far. We got these hardwood stakes from a mill in Pennsylvania. We originally had ordered steel T-posts for each vine (6,000 posts = 48,000 lbs of steel) but our order kept getting delayed and they were reaaaallly expensive so eventually we decided to cancel the order and go with these cheaper untreated wood posts. 

 Vines tied to their stakes, Blue Mountain in the background.

Vines tied to their stakes, Blue Mountain in the background.

 This Negro Amaro vine is one of the stronger ones.

This Negro Amaro vine is one of the stronger ones.

Some of the vines are even getting tall enough that we have tied them up to their posts with twine.

 This little guy managed to hang on to its grapes somehow.

This little guy managed to hang on to its grapes somehow.

 No longer.

No longer.

 I found this vine surrounded by cab vines, but it's definitely not cab, my guess for now is mourvedre.

I found this vine surrounded by cab vines, but it's definitely not cab, my guess for now is mourvedre.

 Picking up my straw bales in Balmorhea.

Picking up my straw bales in Balmorhea.

 Driving around Marfa with a truck full for straw.

Driving around Marfa with a truck full for straw.

 Laying out the bales before spreading out the straw. As you can see the grasses in this area of the vineyard are very sparse and you can see a lot of bare soil. You can also see from the white vine protectors that there aren't many surviving vines in this area of the vineyard. 

Laying out the bales before spreading out the straw. As you can see the grasses in this area of the vineyard are very sparse and you can see a lot of bare soil. You can also see from the white vine protectors that there aren't many surviving vines in this area of the vineyard. 

This is an experiment in soil management in the vineyard. There is an area of the vineyard where the soil is very bare and there is almost no grass because the drilling rig that drilled our well drove over it and compacted the soil. The sun beats down on the bare soil and turns it into concrete and nothing grows. Then when it rains the ground is so hard that the water runs off in sheets rather than soaking in. These straw bales were spread out into a 3-4 inch thick layer that will hopefully protect the soil form the sun and keep rainwater in place long enough for it to soak in and allow the grass to grow again.

 Daikon Radish! We are experimenting with planting daikon in the vineyard, as it grows it splits open the top soil and then when the plant dies in the winter the root decomposes and leaves a fissure in the soil that rain water can drain into.

Daikon Radish! We are experimenting with planting daikon in the vineyard, as it grows it splits open the top soil and then when the plant dies in the winter the root decomposes and leaves a fissure in the soil that rain water can drain into.

 I think this is a yellow saltmarsh caterpillar.

I think this is a yellow saltmarsh caterpillar.

 This is an example of a vine where the scion (the fruiting part of the vine that is grafted on top of the root stock) did not survive but the root stock is growing. I tried transplanting a few vines from one corner of the vineyard where none of the vines around them survived, to a more convenient location near other survivors. All of the vines ended up surviving, though it seemed very traumatic. I decided not to try and transplant any more, instead I decided to try a different experiment of ceasing irrigation one some of the more isolated vines.

This is an example of a vine where the scion (the fruiting part of the vine that is grafted on top of the root stock) did not survive but the root stock is growing. I tried transplanting a few vines from one corner of the vineyard where none of the vines around them survived, to a more convenient location near other survivors. All of the vines ended up surviving, though it seemed very traumatic. I decided not to try and transplant any more, instead I decided to try a different experiment of ceasing irrigation one some of the more isolated vines.

 We found this tomato plant growing in the ditch. I can only assume it it grew from a seed that dropped from someone's sandwich.

We found this tomato plant growing in the ditch. I can only assume it it grew from a seed that dropped from someone's sandwich.

 We weed-wacked the entire vineyard area before planting. The result has been tons and tons of flowers like this sprouting up throughout the vineyard.

We weed-wacked the entire vineyard area before planting. The result has been tons and tons of flowers like this sprouting up throughout the vineyard.

Here is a little video I made showing the transformation of Alta Marfa over the past two and a half years.