One year recap
One year ago we made the decision to buy a vineyard. I’ve seen bud break and the blossoming of the fruit trees. I’ve seen the little grapes, peaches, and apples growing, but also experienced how the vines got sick. I was there at harvesting when whole families came over to the vineyards to pick the grapes by hand – although last year, there wasn’t too much to harvest. I’ve seen the vineyards covered in snow and I’ve seen the snow melting. Now I see the blossoms again and I think this would be a good time to reflect on the past year.
“Vineyard needs a slave, wine needs a master”
There’s a saying in Croatia, “vinograd treba slugu, vino treba gospodara”. Translated to English this would mean “vineyard needs a slave, wine needs a master”. This century-old saying stands for the two sides of making wine: lots of hard work at the vineyard, but also mastery of the complicated processes of winemaking. Last year we’ve already become familiar with the amount of work that’s required to maintain a vineyard. Unfortunately, we didn’t enter the world of wine in a good year. In 2015, many vineyards in Slavonia suffered from serious frost damage, something that didn’t happen for more than 10 years.
Adventures and misadventures; frost and fungus
The annual growth cycle of grapevines begins in spring with bud break. On the vines grow tiny little buds that start to swell and sprout. Bud break refers to the bud ‘breaking’ into new shoots. Shortly after bud break, young shoots are very vulnerable to frost damage. The small flower clusters that will become grapes are only protected by two or three leaves. If you’re unlucky, frost can wipe out the whole vintage. It was exactly during that critical period after bud break that night temperatures dropped to -7 C°. We happened to be at the vineyard that week and witnessed the vines shrivel within a few hours.
The photo above with our dog Kaya was taken on the day after the frost, early in the morning. The damage isn’t too obvious yet, but if you look closely you’ll see that the leaves are a little limp. The photo’s below show the vines at the end of the week; piles of misery. The green shoot on the photo was one of the few ones that survived.
Still, it should have been possible to get a small harvest, if it weren’t for the fungus that was the deadblow for the vines. Due to a miscommunication, the vines were sprayed too late after these got infected. When we aren’t around, our neighbour Zwonko keeps maintenance of the vineyard. He doesn’t speak English and at the time my Croatian was limited to three words: ‘da’ (yes), ‘ne’ (no), and ‘Živjeli’ (cheers). I’m still far from fluent, but Zwonko’s son Domagoj does speak fluent English. He lives in Zagreb, but nowadays he comes over to Bukvik when we are around. This enables us to communicate properly with Zwonko. Also Domagoj is the best guide if you’re looking for a fun evening – very important! 😀
The consequences of last year
Due to the frost and fungus, our vines have been sick and weren’t able to grow to their full potential last year. The vines weren’t in good condition and haven’t been able to prepare properly for the winter. Early February, we were at the vineyard to join Zwonko for the first pruning of the year. Unfortunately, the vines didn’t look good. We have to wait to see how the vines will develop, but this year’s harvest will probably be a small one.
We’ve experienced firsthand some of the perils along the way to the harvest of perfect grapes. However, we didn’t give up hope. We’ll see how the vines develop the coming months. If this vintage won’t result in grapes, then the next year hopefully does. We enjoy our days at the vineyard regardless. Each visit, we learn more about maintaining the vineyard and the process of making wine, and I’m sure that eventually there’ll be a day that we’ll drink our own wine 🙂