While it’s true that farmers or winemakers are on the hunt for replicable efficiencies like any other business, they differ in that the primary task of nurturing a living thing does not square with business language.
In the farming and winemaking I’m familiar with, it felt like riding a wave of near failures to an end result that looked nothing like the business plan.
Whether it’s like the farming example pictured above - (a) frost damage on the new shoots - or a winemaking challenge - (b) a stuck/slow ferment that extends into spring - it’s (uninvited) information specific to your situation that provides the education.
Here’s what happened to the vine last week: the plant came out of dormancy, pushed new growth, and a few hours of cold air killed the young green shoots.
The obvious takeaway is that this frost is going to decrease 2021 yield and hurt the pocketbook.
A different way to look at that damage is a lesson on the following subjects.
1. Yield Trial Frost knocks back yield, and in the wine world there is the idea that a decreased yield equals an increase in quality. In my experience a moderate yield is best for plant health - not a massive decrease in cropload - but we get a chance to test this.
2. Site Suitability: The late frost in Spring, and potential early frost in Fall, tell us that certain plants are not suited for this ground. Regardless of what the Grape Atlas says, the surest way to assess suitability is to see evidence firsthand.
3. Vine Training: In vineyard management, vine training is said to affect many things, like yield, ripening time, and cold hardiness. These damaged vines will mimic attributes of different training systems, letting the grower know what’s the best look for this site.
The other example of an unintended learning opportunity is a stuck ferment, which means the winemaker is dealing with spoilage risk while the wine remains in an unfinished state. The business-like course of action is for the winemaker to intervene to get the ferment back on track to fit the production calendar.
The alternative is to turn it into experiments on the following.
1. Effect of Long Ferments. Long uncontrolled ferments with wild yeast are at risk of spoilage, especially in non-sanitized vessels like oak. When I pushed this I realized that not only did the wine not spoil, its capacity to age increased.
2. Adding Wine Character. Among the barrel ferments that were slow to finish, each developed a character that enhanced the final blend, something that wouldn’t have happened in a sterile environment, such as heavily sulphured wine in a stainless steel vessel.
3. Key Factors on Spoilage. When there was spoilage, the single greatest factor was oxygen contact with the wine. Sulphur levels, temperature, and age of oak vessel seemed to matter less. I didn’t waste time in the future with the other factors.
To close, I’m saying that farmers and winemakers play by a different set of rules, but I know that on-the-fly experimentation happens in all small businesses, especially the ones directed by passionate owner/operators and not a board of directors looking at quarterly results.
See you next Friday,
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