Thursday, August 25, 2011

News from Meramec Vineyards

As I prepare for a great natural history and wine tour of Oregon's spectacular Willamette Valley (prairie that hasn't been grazed to hell, savanna, big stately white oaks and an award winning vintage of pinot noir), I encourage you to visit Meramec Vineyards on Friday evenings for their Wine Down Fridays. Meramec's 06 Norton is outstanding (I think they sold out of the 05, which was stellar), and the bistro makes fantastic food.
Here's the latest from Meramec's newsletter:

Crushing - what we're up to

You may notice some activity around the back of the winery building out there on the crush pad. That's where the new vintage begins. (Well actually it begins in the vineyard but the processing starts on the crush pad.) The grapes are picked in large ton bins. The bin is dumped into the crusher which -duh- crushes the grapes. It also destems them... that is takes the berries off the stem and spits the stem out the top while the berries get squished between the rollers and pass with the juice through a hose connected to the bottom. This hose is connected to a pump which transfers the juice and pulp, skins, seeds (all but the stems) into the press if it's white grapes - reds go directly into the fermentation vessel.

And the white varieties are first. They are the early grapes. So we have processed the Seyval (think Bistro Gold) and now the Vignoles.

After pressing, the juice is transferred to a container where the fermentation begins.

An old friend experiences the birth of the wine.
The other day an old friend, Andy Ayers came by. (St. Louisians might recall Riddle's Penultimate Cafe - Andy's restaurant - closed now - with the greatest wine list). Andy came for some fresh Vignoles grapes for delivery and purveying to various restaurateurs. His business and passion now is promoting all locally grown products to the restaurant trade. At any rate, Andy got to taste six day old Seyval fermenting in the tank as well as fresh wine grapes.

He was for many years a wine judge for the State competition, a man with a good knowledge of wine and a well refined pallate. He was excited to taste the wine at such a young stage and also to taste the grape itself. It was something in all his years he had never done. He said it is amazing to taste this and try to envision the final product.
That's what we do.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Into the woods in late August

Friday, August 19, 2011

Glades ablaze

The recent rains saved the dolomite glades of the Western Ozarks from complete dessication. Several weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of sampling dried vegetation on a glade in 104 degree weather at high noon; even the stalwart glade-obligate Rudbeckia missouriensis was shriveling to nothingness, certainly not thinking of flowering. This week, following several rain events in late July and early August, the Rudbeckia is a showstopper on the glades, along with prairie dock and the first few flowers of the short, bright purple Liatris cylindracea. Liatris aspera (ice cream plant for deer) is tall these days, but the flowers aren't open yet. The season begins for brilliant bloom cycles on dolomite glades; even the diminuitive Heliotropium tenellum sent out a second round of blooms (thanks to all the rain).

As we move towards late August, thoughts turn towards glade burning. If the thatch layer is thick enough, late August-early September is prime time for burning off glades. The woods won't burn these days with all the moisture and average 50% rh everyday. No burn lines are needed for growing season burns on glades. The fire magically goes out at the edge of the woods...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Summer whites

Every September, I scavenge my wooly backyard and the abandoned lot next door to bring my secretary a wide mouth Mason jar filled with brightly colored late summer wildflowers. They’re seldom celebrated like spring wildflowers, but the early goldenrods, sunflowers, tall, rangy polygonums, and dome-like plants of the genus Eupatorium always make lovely arrangements for her gray walled cubicle. As August progresses, so too does the bloom cycle of the white flowering composites-- the bonesets, thoroughworts, and white snakeroot, all common and widespread throughout the Ozarks.

Plants of the genus Eupatorium occupy a wide range of landscape types, from prairies and fens to woodlands and streambanks. There are also species in the genus that are loyal to trash dumps and roadsides. Several years ago, on a visit to an overgrazed hardpan prairie in southwest Missouri, I learned firsthand what Julian Steyermark states in his description of Eupatorium serotinum (“the weediest of the genus”): “…like other members of the genus, it is usually avoided by grazing animals.” While looking out across the prairie, it was clear that ruderal species abounded, among them, E. serotinum (CC value=1) and E. altissimum (CC value=3). The plants that grazing livestock avoid are the plants that colonize overgrazed land to the exclusion of the ice cream plants (invariably the plants with higher CC values).

And, unfortunately, such is the state of many of Missouri’s formerly high quality native prairies, now dominated by grazing increaser plants.

E. perfoliatum (CC value=5, pictured) can be found in high quality fens in the Ozarks and in moist areas, along streambanks, at the base of moist cliffs, in wet prairie, marly fens and seeps on glades. The textured leaves wrap completely around the stem (perfoliate) and have widely spaced soft white hairs. Growing to approximately three to four feet tall, the white flowers of E. perfoliatum make a statement in the fen matrix where it blooms alongside the bright yellow Rudbeckia fulgida. While cows avoid E. perfoliatum on the prairie, deer clipped the stalks and leaves to nubs in my fen sampling plots this summer.

E. rugosum is a common Ozark woodland plant that begins its bloom cycle in early August. It can be found in dry rocky uplands, and in woodland borders where it grows to approximately 2 feet tall. Bushy in form with bright white flowers, E. rugosum is always present in my late summer bouquets. Deer do not favor this plant, and in woodlands with deer overpopulation problems, this plant can spread quickly and become the dominant groundcover in the fall. Known as white snakeroot, this plant contains the toxin tremetol which causes an illness in domestic livestock that can poison milk. In the early 1800s, milk sickness caused by livestock eating E. rugosum killed hundreds of early settlers, including Abraham Lincoln’s mother. In 1818, almost all the residents in Pigeon Creek, Indiana died from this illness. Read here a well researched account from an Appalachian history website about milk sickness, about the Ohio farmer who discovered the plant that caused it and the medical doctor who tried to discount his discovery.

Not a Eupatorium but in the same tribe, Kuhnia eupatorioides (pictured) begins to bloom in late August on dolomite glades and rocky ledges in the Ozarks. Find it blooming alongside the deep yellow blooms of Helianthus occidentalis and Solidago gattingeri. With the recent rains and clement temperatures, the late summer wildflowers are in peak form these days.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The splendor of a leafhopper

Since moving here in December 2007, into a bleak and desolate property with big trees that I loved when I first saw them, we've amassed a big list of insects who have passed through or made their home in the yard. Burning the property on regular rotations with varying intensities has increased biomass, of course, and increased the diversity of biota. Lots of pollinators, of course, come in for the wildflower diversity, and a wicked wheel bug shows up every fall under my porch light. We see beetles, including the common green tiger beetle that can be found on paths in woodlands throughout Missouri. But among the most colorful and darling of them all is the candy striped leafhopper (Graphocephala coccinea) who makes his home in a thick, rigid stand of Silphium perfoliatum under the walnut tree.

According to a roving naturalist in New York, candy striped leafhoppers are among the most common insects in Manhattan, showing up in little stoopside plantings of ornamentals and big trees. These leafhoppers are common throughout North America, and often found in urban settings, but that doesn't diminish their beauty. Known from woodlands and meadows, they are dependent on supple vegetative growth. Candy striped leafhoppers are sapsuckers, living on the sap from live plants. They lay their eggs in the stems of the plants upon which they feed. Other leafhoppers are loyal to certain host plants, but candy striped leafhoppers are generalists. They have been documented as feeding on Rubus sp., sunflowers, and, in my yard, the stiff, rigid leaves of Silphium.

According to gardening websites, these leafhoppers can cause damage to plants, but I haven't noticed it on my own. Some websites promote killing leafhoppers, but mine won't. The insects will pierce a leaf to suck the sap from it, leaving a little damage, but they don't cause the damage that, say, a Japanese beetle can cause on grape leaves. Their mouthparts are secretly hidden behind that big smile of a black stripe that runs across their faces. They may cause damage and serve as vectors for certain plant diseases that cause wilt and yellowing. I haven't noticed damage caused by any of the leafhoppers in the yard, and if I do, I probably won't care a whit, just pleased they found my yard hospitable enough and full of enough rapidly growing plant life that they themselves could find a meal, lay eggs, and add to the diversity of the area. Candy striped leafhoppers can rest assured that I am not one of the 50 or more people who wrote in to a gardening blog proclaiming that they will kill leafhoppers if discovered. How could you kill a creature like this one?


Saturday, August 06, 2011

Minor recharge

I knew it was an anomaly to see enough water in the Prongs in September 08 that we could float from the headwaters of the Jack's Fork to Bay Creek. But with the prolonged spate of unofficial drought, the river levels throughout the Ozarks have dropped to almost portage-required levels. (Frankly, no one wants to portage when they're on a three day float with all that danged gear in the canoe. So we wait for rain.)

Huzzah! for the scattered showers the past few days and that big massive lightning-filled storm that raked across the Ozarks on Friday while I was on a glade. A respite from the heat, a little bit of water for the river levels, and vegetation saved from browning out just in time. So far, only one woodland wildfire has been reported from the Ozarks, one small one located down in Elk River Hills country.

I was in the igneous Ozarks the past few days where the rivers don't depend on springs, but on rainfall alone. Gorgeous rivers in the St. Francois Mountains--clear, free of cows, no junk on the rocks, but low, low, low water levels. Still floatable, but only barely. Nevertheless, we may be out of that high pressure heat dome that turned my Nalgene bottle into something different as it sat in my car with the windows down:

I'll probably never float the Prongs for my September birthday float again unless we have tons of rain, but I think I found my next river trip, all surrounded by derecho-impacted land that is being sold for a song these days. The richness of the woodlands impacted by the May windstorm is incredible, with immensely diverse wildlife, plant life, and tree regeneration. Those rare areas that weren't logged after the windstorm are regenerating shortleaf pine and hazelnut! The same associations in the 1800s land surveyor records, by the way...