29 July, 2011

Growing Tomatoes at the Beach

I live at the beach. It's great. I've got about a 5 minute walk and my feet are in the sand. Another 5 and I'm on the docks and able to purchase fresh local salmon, crab, halibut and more.

Mavericks - Robert Scoble (@scobelizer)
Even better, the weather is extremely moderate (read: cool). High temps in the height of growing season are in the mid-60s (~18C). My wine cellar is at ambient temperature and that costs me nada. We are the world capital of things like brussels sprouts, english peas, summer squash/zucchini and Mavericks surfing.

Tomatoes? - Not so much.

I mean, there are things that we CAN grow there, like basil. It's nice, if you like small green weedlets for your pesto. You can water it and fertilize it and love it and sing like Pavarotti to it, but it's just not happy.

Also, there's the San Francisco Fog varietal tomato. It's been hybridized like other commercial non self-pollenating plants. Call it GMO-lite. It pretty much tastes the way you'd expect a hybridized sun loving fruit that's grown in the fog to taste.  So WhyTF are we thinking of growing tomatoes at the beach? Maybe I should spend some serious coin and get some greenhouse activity going...get it warmed up with heaters and moistened up and keep the tomato worms at bay.

OK...so I just returned from the 4th annual WineBloggersConference held in Charlottsville, VA this year.

Overriding theme: It was HOT and STICKY !!!(although, I think this map graphic was from a few days before the conference) and when I mean STICKY, think of 115F (46C) heat index. Some folks were lucky enough to choose to head out to the "Outdoor Sauna Wine Tasting" on Friday nite. We stayed close with some friends and went to a great local place for dinner (review/post forthcoming.)

Now, these were record heat indexes, not by much, but, when we think of Virginia in ANY summer, it leads our minds to chiggers and locusts and heat indexes and, well, outdoor sauna wine tastings.

I saw a recent post saying that 47 Virginia wineries presented their wines at the conference. Many thanks to them for coming out. I truly do appreciate your efforts to put your best foot forward and show your wares to the WBC community. While I found a couple of wines that were very nice and a few that were outright drek and just plain out parts cleaner, the vast majority were positively and extremely unremarkable. That's unfortunate. The community is certainly looking to play not just on what seems to be their strength in Cabernet Franc and Viognier, but in other varietals including some that are just plain tough to grow in the best of environs. Unfortunately, I just don't think Viognier is a varietal that belongs solo. Needs it's partner Syrah up north and the menage-a-trois including Marsanne and Rousanne down south.

Now, back to that dinner. I was chattin' with my pal, the MD at a medium size (10000 case) winery about the crazy difficult growing conditions and he mentioned a discussion he had with one of the locals in which he discovered that they had sprayed (sulfur) 12 times already this season. 12 times by the end of July. Veraison recently started or is just starting for the majority of folks. Ugh. Another pal and I were chatting about the conditions and he said one of the locals responded to his question "what are the difficulties with the growing conditions?" with the comment "Yes. All!"

It's true. Growing grapes here is challenging to say the least. Wet, hot, still.....even in the most moderate of seasons. Vinifera, for the most part, just doesn't like it wet. Powdery mildew, Downy mildew (maybe not when so hot) and other leaf-spotting fungi. Bleck.
One can employ some progressive strategies for growing like Smart-Dyson trellising, and that might help a bit if it's warm and dry, but if the air is still and wet, then there's no where for the wet to go. BAM, instant mildew and fungus, save for our (well, their) friend "Thiolux featuring Sulfur Dioxide!"

Now back to that tasting of 47 VA wineries and their wines. LOTS of them had some really good sulfur stank. Most others were just sloppy... lazy....boring with a HINT of sulfur. Some tried to hide things. Others just didn't.

So, while it's certainly true that VA can make good wine, at what cost? Literally? Probably alot. Figuratively? Dunno....but lots of other stuff I don't like.

I'm thinking that VA sounds like a good place for my tomato farm.


  1. Hey Jason -- Great post. Although that weather map graphic is kind of in need of some Viagra! ( just kidding)

  2. I'm confused by the whole tomato metaphor. Tomatoes grow great in Sonoma County. And grapes grow poorly in San Francisco. What's your point here?

    Mildews and bunch rots are problems in coastal CA wherever fog creates 100% humidity on a regular basis. These grape farmers have to spray as well. Maybe not as often, but they have to be just as careful about spraying too close to harvest so that the chemicals do not end up in the must.

    Sure, Virginia has problems, many of them stem from the industry's youth. Sometimes people spray too late, and sometimes they add too much SO2 to their wines. I understand you don't know the difference, but then why do you act like you know where the off-aromas are coming from?

    I think the main problem is that you had no idea how to cull the very good wines of VA from the lesser ones made by people who either don't care or are just learning. Are the people who make great wines that sell out to their returning customers going to care about providing a blogger from CA with their best wines?

    I'm not blaming you for not knowing your way around VA wines, but your metaphors don't work very well, and when you peel away your bluster, you aren't really doing much more than making fun of something that you don't know much about. I understand that is par for the course in wine appreciation and blogging, but if I were you, I would strive for more, since you are taking the time to write posts and update your blog.


More than happy to have your comments below. Thx.