I believe we have a plan. I'll get into that in a moment. Chances are this whole situation with the frost-killed vines is partially our fault. So first, a little back-story might help you at this point.
We experienced an early freeze in November '05. Pretty much wiped out all of our new vines. That had us thinking we should attempt to get the vines into dormancy earlier. We stopped watering the new plants for a short period at the beginning of November '06 for this very purpose. The thought was that if we can get them to sleep early, we avoid a similar tragedy.
Apparently that was the wrong thing to do. Getting them to bed early, yes. But depriving them of water, no. It's the desert, Maynard. Duh.
Merkin East still has decent growth in the older vines, as well as in the vines just slightly up from the "deceased boomerangs." That indicates that it's possible to make this vineyard work if we can get the vines past the first couple years. Merkin South, however, is pretty much a wash. So here's our new plan:
We're going to treat Merkin South as a test site. We'll be planting the same varietal on the same rootstock across the whole vineyard, but each row will be treated a bit differently. We have several approaches on paper that should work—everything from berming to mulching to over/under-watering to grow-tubing to foot massaging. We have about 10 of these pure experiments, which we will alternate across the vineyard—one through 10, then start over on one until we run out of rows. It may take us a few years to get it right, but in the end we will know for sure what works and what doesn't.
These are the activities of a true pioneer. Too bad it's not free. If it were, it wouldn't sting quite as much.
On Merkin East, we're just going to go with our best guess and hope we're right. We've been receiving some excellent advice, and we're listening carefully.
Merkin West is another story altogether. The vineyard is kickin' booty. We had even growth across the whole vineyard, everything pushed buds around the same time, and there was almost zero winter kill. We should have some Cabernet Sauvignon off these vines this year, maybe 1.5 tons if we're lucky.
Az Stronghold Vineyard (formerly Dos Cabezas) is also well on its way. All the hard work Fabian, Chris, Craig and their crew did over the last several months has clearly paid off. It's going to be a good year filled with some interesting new experiences. For photos, check out the journal section of my site, www.caduceus.org.