Quicksand--n. The behavior of a soil that is composed of saturated loose sand that when agitated suddenly suffers a transition from a solid state to a liquefied state, having the consistency of a heavy liquid. The liquefied soil loses strength and cannot support weight, and objects sink to the level at which the weight of the object is equal to the weight of the displaced soil/water mix. In extreme cases whole buildings in a 1964 Alaskan earthquake quickly sank and rolled onto their side. Contrary to the old wives tales, an object can float due to buoyancy, so it is best not to struggle - which could ultimately swallow you up.
The Larner Estate Vineyard is primarily composed of Marina Sand, a widespread formation defining the Ballard Canyon American Viticultural Area (AVA). This low-vigor loamy sandy soil allows for outstanding growth where nutrient and water is cherished by each vine. However in cases of frequent rain cycles, experienced in the Winter 2016/Spring 2017 the subsurface can become saturated, sometimes leading to quicksand. While it may appear relatively firm, the occasional tractor working the vineyard becomes a prime target. Bud-break occurred on March 23rd of this vintage, shortly there after was the perfect time to rototill our alternating rows of nutrient-rich cover crop back into the soil to allow for subsurface composting, enriching the feeder roots. This pass does cause some agitation, and therefore we remained vigilant on every part of the vineyard to ensure these tractors would not get sucked up, as they are not very buoyant.
These frequent rains have continued to fall in weekly events, allowing the salts in the soil to be leached away, paving the way for better nutrient uptake. This flush refreshes the soils and allows the roots to work together in making a healthy and balanced vine, with better yield potential than the last 4 years of drought. Of course it is still early in the growing season to predict, but we are off to a terrific start as canopy growth has already surpassed previous year’s length. In May comes the most inspiring moment of the year when the vines begin to flower forming this year’s grape crop, which we love to share at our annual vineyard gathering for wine club members.
The remaining alternating cover crop rows, a refuge for our beneficial insects before they move back up into the canopies, were also mowed in March to drop the frost layer, which was well served as 5 nights so far this season have gone below freezing. This second pass for mowing also was quite nerve racking as we diligently ensured our tractors stayed on Terra Firma, to avoid the quicksand. It is uncanny how this vigilance in our farming has paralleled our continued struggle to obtain a winery and tasting room permit on our estate, so far a 7-year saga. As many of you may know we are closer to reaching this goal, but know the ground we walk is easily disturbed by agitation.
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