Sunday, October 10, 2010

Vineyard update: Harvest final

Yield skyrockets; learning curve remains gradual

The technique I used to preserve grapes through the summer worked too well. In the end, the grapes turned overripe and began to fall off the vine. This outcome is not entirely bad, though.

I managed to extend the season for my young St. Vincent grapevines by shielding them from pests with a gauzy fabric —

The famous Shroud of St. Vincent

We had no losses whatsoever from Japanese beetles, and I did not have to harvest early to preserve the yield from grape-munching birds.

In the deluges of the first half of September, at least 10 inches of rainfall soaked the vineyard, keeping sugar levels low. Throughout late September, Brix levels remained at 15-17. I held out, hoping for 22-23, corresponding to the typical wine alcohol content of roughly 12 percent. Assuming I could stand pat until I ran up against the danger of frost, I allowed plump, heavy clusters grapes to remain on the vines into October.

However, on Sunday, Oct. 3, I encountered an unexpected loss: a few clusters had fallen off the vines and gone splat on the earth below. I learned from my viticulture mentors that this behavior is typical of St. Vincent grapes, which do not necessarily reach optimum sugar levels before they become overripe.

Destemmed in minutes.

Pressing with hands and fists provides a pleasant tactile experience.

I harvested and processed the grapes immediately.
Grapes: 14 pounds
Brix: 17
Sugar added: about 2 cups
Corrected Brix: 24
Wine: 4 liters (including probably 1 liter of yeasty sludge)

These results, while puny, represent an exponential spike from last year's yield of a total of 74 grapes. Yes, we counted them (It was easy).

Next year, I will set more modest expectations for sugar values and be ready to harvest before fall-off-the-vine syndrome kicks in.
3L wine + 1L sludge.

This year, three of our plants produced grapes. Next year, three more will begin producing. Another two plants are in their first year. So, we're still at least two years away from a potential yield that will allow us to make a 19-liter-carboy batch of wine. The quest continues.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Prairie State Park

Late-summer prairie flecked with color

Not far from the rugged hills and valleys of the Ozark Mountain region, the state maintains a stretch of prairie. In late August, we visited Prairie State Park in western Missouri, about 30 miles north of Joplin (Google map).

One of the staff members at the park warned us that we were in an in-between time for flowering plants. The late-summer bloomers were burning out in the heat, and the plants that were waiting for cooler weather were still waiting.

An impatient observer might sink into boredom at the prospect of the prairie's freeform flatland expanse. Just a field of weeds, right?

Well, no. The closer we looked, the more we saw.

Flecks of color made their appearances as we approached ...

... along with exciting geometric patterns!

Even things that were rotting created interesting shapes and muted colors.

We saw this smear of white from far away. Close up, it revealed its bushy texture.

Small herds of elk and bison roam in sections of Prairie State Park. We saw a lone bison grazing in the distance (brown dot, left of center).

I remember reading Annie Dillard’s advice for nature lovers in Teaching a Stone to Talk or Pilgrim at Tinker Creek: Find a good spot, sit still, and wait for nature to come to you. As I recall, she was writing about critters. However, to discover the details of the prairie, you can’t wait for it to come to you; you have to go to it. Could this dynamic have been a factor in charging the current of the American westward movement? Just a thought ...

Considering that this is what we found during an in-between time, what could we possibly expect during peak times?

Blue is one color to expect in the fall, an expert in plants and animals at the park said. Blue asters will bloom in plain sight, and, tucked down in the grasses, blue bottle gentians will flourish. Feathery plumes of Indian grass will shoot up in autumn as the tallgrass prairie reaches its peak.

Into winter, wildlife, including deer, bison and short-eared owls, is more visible with less cover, the expert said.

After your visit, eat at the Bulldog Cafe in Liberal, about 5 miles to the northeast.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Neighborhood fireworks

The neighborhood fireworks display projects American values much more forcefully than any extravaganza orchestrated by a large organization.

The neighborhood shoot-up is spontaneous, unpredictable and self-directed. If you want to light a few firecrackers and bottle rockets and call it a night before last light, fine. If you want to spend a week’s pay recreating what Francis Scott Key saw, have at it. If you hate fireworks, close your doors and plug your ears for three hours.

Viewing the blasts from your front yard is a 360-degree around, 180-degree aloft, head-spinning experience. If you look in one direction, you will probably miss something behind you. If you look high at the colorful firebursts, you will miss the grounded sparklers. After a while, you realize it doesn’t matter where you look; something is sure to pop up.

In any case, many individuals are contributing all at once, delivering an overall effect that is more stunning than an orchestrated demonstration that forces you to look at one thing at a time. It’s the exciting one-and-many experience of American culture.

This video sort of tells a story and strives to render the spectacle. But fireworks never come off well when mediated, whether by photography or video, wobbly or still. Next year, find a neighborhood where fireworks are legal and prevalent, and see for yourself.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Urban vineyard update; The Shroud of St. Vincent

Last year was the first time the vines produced grapes. The yield was negligible, about 100 grapes all told, but, with so little to lose, the season provided a valuable education in the war against pests. Last year’s campaign went badly, as Japanese beetles devoured the leaves in June and, in August, birds scarfed at least 50 of the 100 grapes. However, toward the end of that campaign, I had learned how to fight. This year, I believe I have the knowledge and the means to win.

First, here are two lists of things that don’t work:

To fight beetles, I sprayed the vines with carbaryl. That poison killed bugs on contact, but new arrivals didn’t seem to be affected. I also tried those “traps” that lure the bugs with sickly sweet bait. They are worse than useless; they actually attract the bugs to the foliage. Even though I followed directions and placed the traps at a distance from the vines, I still attracted thousands of Japanese beetles from other neighborhoods. Some ate themselves to death in the traps. Others explored the area, found the vines and shredded them.

Against birds: I tried fishing line, mylar streamers, shiny clattering objects, and a fake owl. Birds ignored them all. I encased grape clusters in garden netting of thin, black, half-inch mesh. Fluttering birds inserted their beaks into the gaps and plucked one grape at a time.

Then, late in the battle against the birds, I tried something called seed guard, a white, lightweight, see-through garden netting from Dewitt Co. in Sikeston, Mo. I wrapped the areas of the vines where grapes still grew. Birds could not reach them. This gauzy fabric proved to be effective against pests but also allowed plenty of ventilation for the vines. I watched for a possible greenhouse effect, but the wrapped areas remained vital.

This year, I am using the Dewitt seed guard on a large scale. I’ve wrapped the vines as if they were the object of a Christo project. The netting undulates in a breeze, creating a ghostly presence, especially in the evening. For this reason, I have chosen to call my installation The Shroud of St. Vincent, after the variety of grape I am growing.

The shroud is a labor-intensive project, though. For one thing, it’s fragile, held in place by garden staples and clothespins. Earlier this month, two storms blew it down. It takes about an hour to reconstruct. Whenever I need to apply fungicide, I have to unwrap the vines and rewrap. That's a small price to pay — I'm winning the war.

The Japanese beetles are here, but they can’t penetrate the shroud. Hah!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Odds are, you’ll find a winner at 7C’s

Owner Dwight Crevelt behind the tasting bar at 7C’s.
The winery is about 20 miles north of Springfield.
Take Missouri 123 just beyond Walnut Grove
and turn east on 560th.

Among several discoveries at 7C’s Winery, I had one big surprise: I tasted a mead that I actually liked.

Until last Sunday, I have known the honey-based wine, which was popular in Europe from the Roman Empire through Medieval times, as a drink with an bitter kick at the end. But I’ll try anything more than once.

When I sipped Dwight Crevelt’s mead, I enjoyed the floral nose (he didn’t name it Wild Flower Mead for nothing), the light, soft nutty notes on the tongue, and a finish that you might call bashful. I kept waiting for the dreaded aftershock, but it did not arrive. I’d never tasted a mead this smooth, I told Crevelt.

"Oh, you were expecting that punch right at the end — Yeah!" he shouted, pumping his fist. Then, in a matter-of-fact tone, he gave me the reason for my unexpected pleasure: "Mead has to age."

I was surprised to learn, though, that by aging, he meant as little as 5-6 months. Apparently I’d been tasting one bad mead after another by a crowd of woefully impatient mead makers.

The name of the winery, by the way, refers to the initial of the first names of the extended Crevelt family.

Noteworthy 7C’s wines include: an earthy, spicy and fruity Norton; Branding Iron Red, a dry blend of St. Vincent and Chambourcin; and Cattle Drive White, a semisweet Vidal. All of these choices will meet expectations for state-of-the-art Missouri winemaking for these grapes.

The wine titles and labels have a cowboy theme, which threw me a bit in light of the winery’s location in the hilly Ozarks. Maybe the theme derives from the Crevelts’ years out West, though Las Vegas is not exactly a cow town.

In Las Vegas, Crevelt worked the gaming industry — hardware and electronics. Among his achievements, Crevelt developed and updated card-reader electronics for electronic gaming machines while working for a Las Vegas maker of slot and video gaming devices.

For a sampling of his work, see this search result from IPEXL, an intellectual property exchange directory. He also has his own gaming consulting firm that explores vast areas of automated gaming.
The 7C's building stands on high ground.
Click on the photo to enlarge.
The winery holds regular Sunday afternoon
musical get-togethers on the grounds.

Wine trail leads to Le Cave Vineyards

Le Cave owner Beth White among her vines.
The winery is south of Billings on 413.
Turn east on Jasmine Road (watch
carefully for the modest winery sign).

During a visit on Sunday, June 6, to Le Cave Vineyards south of Billings, I learned about the efforts of the wineries of the Ozark Mountain Wine Trail to promote their wines across the lengthy range of the trail, from Seymour in Webster County to Oronogo in the Joplin area.

The seven wineries have joined forces to host occasional get-togethers at their various locations. Sunday was Le Cave’s turn.

"Instead of waiting for the people take the wine trail, we’re bringing the wine trail to the people," owner Beth White said. "We all take our wine, and we all pour."

Le Cave’s Spring Fling event unfolded in the shade of walnut trees near a stand of vines. Wineries represented were Keltoi, 7Cs, Oovvda, and Whispering Oaks. Visitors settled in with picnics, bought wine and listened to a live band.

Discussion of Le Cave’s wine included conjecture about the influence of the walnut trees on the wine flavor. At the tasting bar, one of our hosts suggested the Norton had a hint of walnut. Maybe so.

I loved the Frontenac, a cold-climate grape. The luscious dry red had depth but somehow remained restrained and gentle — soft fruit, soft oak, rich finish.

I liked the 2008 Chambourcin: deeply rich red color, touch of spice. The 2007 Chambourcin does not measure up to the 2008.

Coming Saturday, June 12: Pierce City Arts Festival

Festival planners invited the Ozark Mountain Wine Trail to provide tasting for the event, said Larry Green of Whispering Oaks Winery. The festival website says tasting will occur at Bookmarks, LLC (corner of Walnut and Commercial) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The old barn at Le Cave has a fascinating ceiling
that made me think, for a moment, that I was
inside a wine barrel. Click on the photo to enlarge.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Update: JazzBird identified

A member of the Springfield chapter of the Audubon Society has identified the aforementioned JazzBird as a white throated sparrow. This syncopating tweeter has since moved on to Canada for a series of gigs on the summer festival circuit. He plans to return in the fall. Photo credit: PEIBIRDER / Photobucket.

Listen to some of his tunes —

Friday, May 21, 2010

Heinrich the hands-off winemaker

In the video, Heinrich Grohe talks about his grapes and wine in response to questions from my friend, Steve Koehler.

In a recent tour of wineries in central and eastern Missouri, we visited Heinrich Grohe at Heinrichshaus Vineyards and Winery near St. James, Mo. Heinrich was our first stop, but if we’d known his wines were best, we’d have placed his visit at the end. All subsequent wineries had something to enjoy, but we could not avoid a small feeling of letdown as we realized, over and again, that nothing we tasted the rest of the way quite measured up.

Heinrich expounded on his minimalist approach to winemaking.

"What I’m giving you is the real McCoy," he said. "I want to see what the grapes are capable of doing if left on their own."

So, the "real McCoy" line is not a boast but an expression of humility. In the face of a wine industry dominated by advanced biochemistry and aggressive marketing, Heinrich is just letting the grapes to their thing.

By tasting, I find he’s clearly doing something different.

His Cynthiana achieves a sublime balance of spice and gentle oak.

His Traminette has a trace of floral quality, unlike other Missouri Traminettes I’ve tasted with powerful floral essence that announces itself at a great distance from the nose. At first, I was almost disappointed by the slight aroma. But, upon tasting, I understood that he’d somehow stuffed all that fragrance back into the wine itself, from which it explodes on the tongue.

Was the
Traminette acting independently, or did it have help? Heinrich wouldn't say. He loves to talk about wine, but he guards his winemaking secrets.

He poured samples of Prairie Rouge, an off-dry red. What grapes did he use to make this wine?

"Good grapes," Heinrich said.

Below: Heinrich in the doorway of his tasting room. Click on the photo for a larger, clearer image.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Who is this JazzBird?

It's springtime, and the JazzBird has returned to my back yard. Does anyone know the common name of this remarkably swinging warbler? I love the way it integrates long and short notes and approximates the jazz 4/4 triplet pulse.

This audio clip includes several of its solos spliced together. Kind of like the way Dean Benedetti recorded Charlie Parker solos, only I have provided noise reduction ...

Please listen to the clip and leave a comment if you recognize this mysterious avian hipster.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Helping sources make sense

In my Intro to Journalism class on Wednesday, April 21, I showed a news video by KYTV in Springfield, Mo., about a fire at an apartment complex on Sunday, April 18, in the nearby town of Republic. I showed the video as part of a lecture about the leveling effect of the Internet for news presenters of all media. However, the lesson from the video took on an ethical dimension.

The KYTV report gave details about the fire: no injuries, 16 residents displaced after losing nearly all of their possessions.

The video included an interview with a couple who lost their home and property. The reporter set up their appearance on camera:

The flames spread pretty quickly, leaving several families without almost everything.

The couple then appeared in the video, each of them draped in a blanket. The man had this to say:

All we grabbed was my shoes, her purse and a cell phone — and my dog. And that was it. That’s all I got. We just lost our premature twins two months ago, and they’re sitting in urns on a stand in there, and it’s gone. It’s gone. What am I supposed to do? I just lost everything I own in there.

The “premature twins” remark, coming out of nowhere, provoked nervous laughter in the classroom, along with eyes popping and jaws dropping. It was a “TMI” moment, so to speak, a strange and unexpected glimpse into the lives of these two people. Several students said, in more colorful words, that the presentation made the couple look foolish.

Did the news video have to have this effect? In the reporting and editing of that video, could the man’s confessional moment have been treated in a way that preserved his dignity and also drove home the emotional impact of loss?

If the answer is yes, then the solution would be to expand the voice-over set-up in this way:

In one case, the fire intensified the sense of loss for a couple who were already grieving.

I think this extra line would have put viewers on notice that something unusual was coming. It’s a simple solution to this ethical problem of fairness. In any news presentation, you can’t just switch people on and let them talk. All quotes — print, broadcast or online — need context; otherwise, they can’t make sense.

By the way, I respect KYTV’s news department. This kind of thing could have happened to any news organization in the heat of deadline. The rarity of such an event at KYTV demonstrates the quality of its work.

Also by the way, I flubbed the teachable moment in the classroom. I’m writing this post to catch up to what I should have said at the moment when eyes popped and jaws dropped.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Oldfield Opry

Video scenes: Banjo solo by Glen Dale Robertson;
Eddie Goins singing "This Ole House" with Kerre Thompson.
Ending photos: Denise St. Clair with Kerre Thompson;
Phil Baker as Willie Makeit; Jess Grimes.

Last week we tried something new, the Oldfield Opry. We’d known about it as an Ozarks mainstay of traditional music. We’d driven by it during fall color and spring blossom tours. Then, our friend Jane Toben invited us to go. And so we went.

The music

The Oldfield Opry Band struck up promptly at 7 and played a variety of country, folk, gospel and traditional Americana tunes. It was clear from the beginning that the players and the listeners were fully committed to the music, in a fun way. Shouts, whoops and hollers of encouragement spiced the performances, but no one went nuts. Carpet covering the walls assured best possible sound quality, and concrete floors provided a perfect surface for clogging. The stage, the room and the people cooperated to maintain a low-key, relaxed atmosphere.

The musicians on March 27 were:
Hank Thompson: lead guitar
Dave Thompson and Steve Beyers: rhythm guitar
Glen Dale Robertson: banjo
Eddie Goins: bass and MC
Jess Grimes: fiddle, pedal steel, dobro
Denise St. Clair and Kerre Thompson: voices
Other musicians who appear regularly include Dwight Armour, Tonya Gardner and Doyle Yoder, Goins said.

Each musician brought distinct talent to the group. Among the my memorable moments:
  • Robertson’s elegant banjo solos.
  • Grimes’ understated delivery of melodies on violin.
  • Beyers’ yodeling.
  • St. Clair and Thompson’s masterful harmonies.
After intermission, guests are welcome to play or sing with the band. Jane Toben sang, in a honeyed alto, "Don’t Forbid Me," a tune that was a hit for Pat Boone.

Assorted surprises

Phil Baker, performing as Willie Makeit, provided hillbilly stand-up heavily perfumed with bathroom references. He played a guitar constructed of plumbing and toilet materials. I love bathroom humor.

Storm: For a short time, a torrent of rain rumbled on the metal roof like unknown manufacturing machinery. Then, when a tune ended, the downpour kept thundering like berserk arena applause.

Cloggers: Throughout the evening, the Pride And Joy Cloggers filled the aisles with smartly chiming foot-strokes. For the closing tune, "Orange Blossom Special," a clogger who looked about 8, with "Cameryn" on the back of her Pride And Joy T-shirt, took a solo turn, down one aisle, across the space in front of the stage, and up the other, her heels and toes shuddering with jingling blasts against the concrete floor.

The cat aloft in a box

The open rafters of the building invite the eye to look up. Among the network of roof supports, a box with no bottom perched, a stuffed toy cat dangling from within. Eddie Goins said the inspiration for the cat in the box came from a song.

"Several years ago one of the band members started singing an old novelty song called ‘The Cat Came Back’," Goins wrote in an e-mail. "Someone got the idea of tying a cat on a string and dropping it down when he sang the line ‘the cat came back.’ " Goins said “The Cat Came Back” is one of their most requested songs.

There's room for about 200 people
in classic theater seats.

The food

Served by volunteers, the fare was simple and plentiful: hot dogs, cheesy dogs, chili dogs, nachos, popcorn and pie. No one needed to fear making a mess of a meal while sitting in one of the old theater seats. Dinner was served on a big plastic platter, big enough for a Thanksgiving turkey. I don’t know what kind of hot dogs they were, but mine was more softly plump and richly textured than any ballpark dog. Dinner for two — including chips, drink and pie — cost less than a single standard issue Major League Baseball wiener.

About the Oldfield Opry

The band is an established institution that dates back to 1977, according to the opry’s flier. The regular Saturday night performances are the band’s presentations, not jam sessions.

Location: The fork in the road at Missouri highways 125 and T.
Follow this link to a Google map.

Performances: Saturdays, 7-9:30 p.m. Donations encouraged.

Background: Local musicians Hank Thompson, Bill Gardner, Steve Beyers and Johnny Walker established the opry in 1977 at a vacant Oldfield store owned by Walker. Supporters launched a fundraising drive to build a new building across the road, where the opry moved in 1990. Source: the Oldfield Opry flier.

On the Web: Find the opry on Facebook.

Video: See two blog posts with video by Chris Brewer, a video reporter who worked briefly for the Springfield News-Leader. Unlike me, Chris is a professional videographer; I just shoot video for fun. I highly recommend his two blog posts:
The Oldfield Opry is a real Ozarks gem
My return to the Oldfield Opry

A note to my jazz friends

I’m sure you are asking what I see in the Oldfield Opry. The answer is: A community of like-minded people formed around the commonality of music. Same as in jazz, but without the chord substitutions. Surely you can accept this much. (As Louis Armstrong said, "If you have to ask, you’ll never know.")

I did find some elements that jazz shares. For example, the opry band has many interchangeable players, making for a slightly different lineup each night. This format is not unlike the Mingus Big Band in New York, which has a depth chart of three or four deep for each chair to account for the unpredictable schedules of the players.

Also, the Oldfield Opry Band has a theme song, similar in function to the "52nd Street Theme" that some jazz groups play to close their sets. The Oldfield song has lyrics, though. One verse goes like this:

Come on out to Oldfield on a Saturday night. You won’t see no drinkin’ and you won’t see no fights. Just good friends and neighbors; they’ll sure treat you right, at the Oldfield Opry on a Saturday night.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Urban vineyard update

Vines pruned. Buds ready to burst. Arriving on the scene today is an essential element: the sun.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Vancouver splendor that NBC misses

After two trips to Vancouver in recent years, I have no more than a tourist's knowledge of the city. Even so, it's impossible to overlook the magnificent nature-to-urban panorama of the waterway that splits the city below Stanley Park, from English Bay into False Creek. From the west, the bay leads to the "creek," and, near the east end of the creek, the Olympic Village rises up. For some reason, NBC broadcasts few scenes from this beautiful and exciting part of the city. Instead, NBC parks itself in the harbor at Burrard Inlet at the north end of the city, among the docks for cruise ships and mercantile vessels. That's like broadcasting from the New York City Passenger Ship Terminal instead of Central Park.

My snapshots provide scenes of what NBC has overlooked.

I pointed my camera one way and found a heron and an oil tanker:

I pointed my camera in the opposite direction and found a tree growing out of a highrise:

I am not faulting NBC for failure to acknowledge this summer event from several years ago. I am just saying that the network doesn't seem to be aware of this part of the city, a paradise of water, landscape, steel and glass. In this scene, thousands gathered in the summer of 2006 for the annual Olympic-sized fireworks competition that spreads over several weeks. For these events, people come early to get good spots and party through much of the evening until the late-setting sun has departed long enough for the show to begin —

Totem pole maintenance in Stanley Park:

Raven and the First Men
, Haida artist Bill Reid's rendering of his culture's myth of human origin, at the Museum of Anthropology —

The museum preserves ancient totem poles and other First Nations art and artifacts. It also hires First Nations artists such as Reid to carry on the traditions and break new ground.

One artist, Robert Davidson, transforms iconic cultural images into contemporary forms. Davidson is one of several artists who use software-driven laser knives to carve designs into anodized aluminum compositions.