My I’m Large

My, I’m Large
My, I’m Large
My, I’m large
Just before I fell asleep last night
I lost track of my size
I think I’m huge now

I don’t know why
I still seem to fit inside my car
‘Cause I’m not the same size
I know I’m huge now

Ever since I was a kid I’d lay in bed at night
And it would seem like my body got bigger
Always in the morning I’d be back to normal
but look at me now, I’m so enormous

Little persons all around me
Sweep the streets and mow the lawn
It’s so lonely being different
I’m afraid I might hurt them

-“My, I’m Large” – The Bobs

Since I last checked in, I have been pollenated and am slowly getting closer to being a real life Napa Cabernet Sauvignon wine! In reality, I’m not really “ripening” yet. I am slowly gowing through a growth spurt of cellular division. Since I last posted photos, I have grown at an exponential rate…My stamen have fallen off and my pistil has expanded over ten times it’s original size. Look at that picture on the left. I had the “winemaker” pull a neighboring berry and bring it into the lab. That little brown spot dead center of the berry; that’s the original tip of my stamen where I was pollenated.What’s going on inside right now? Well, as you can see on the right, two seeds are slowly developing. Otherwise my interior is mostly a gelatinous mixture of plant cells, chlorophyll, and malic acid. All my neighbors and I are a good centimeter in diameter. Compare that to the begining of the month when I was less than a millimeter across and you can see how far I’ve come, yet a long way to go. In a few weeks verasion will begin…that’s when the real changes begin…more on that next time!

Until next time,

Gilbert Grape

Cork Resting and Processing – Part 5 in Winemaker Andy Schweigers’ Portugal Journey

After our morning in the forest, we followed (well not literally) the cork road an hour north to M.A. Silva 3; the yard and processing plant which is the next step on a corks’ journey. While most companies allow the cork to sit on the forest floor for an indeterminate amount of time, Silva brings it to this facility on the day it is harvested.

Trucks loaded down with cork are unloaded and restacked by hand.  Pieces that have burls, knots, are very misshapen, or that are otherwise unsuitable for cork may be sorted out at this time. Samples are taken for the lab for a second glance at TCA levels in the bark material. The piles are all numbered. These numbers will follow the cork all the way through to finished product. Now begins the rest. At harvest, moisture is spread unevenly throughout the slabs…some are drier than others, some have dry spots.  These slabs of cork will be allowed to rest on the concrete slabs from 6 months to a year. Samples will be drawn periodically to determine if the moisture level is consistent throughout each individual slab as well as that stack as a whole.

After it has been determined that the cork is ready to be moved on, the cork is stacked onto large stainless steel racks. The racks are then lowered into a steamer. Chlorine free water is brought to a boil and these slabs “cook” under pressure and steam for about twenty minutes. When it is done, the cork is much more sanitary and has flattened out substantially, making it much easier to handle. The steamers are powered by burning cork pieces that are recovered later in the processing. From here, the slabs are brought inside for some preliminary sorting.

Next to the steam vats is a large warehouse, almost the size of a Costco. In here are about twenty sorting stations. At each one, a man with a very strong dominant arm holds court. Piece by piece, he removes a freshly steamed slab from the pile and cuts a thin slice off of two sides from each piece with a long, thin scythe like knife. In that instant, he evaluates the porosity of the cork and sorts it in to one of several different piles based upon grade. Now, I’ve always been a hands on kind of guy…so in my broken Portuguese, I asked one of the men if I could try, he smiled and handed the knife over. Anxious to try a new opportunity, yet also not wanting to hospitalize myself, I gave a tentative pull. It was a lot harder than it looked. My new friend smiled, adjusted my stance and how I was pulling. It became EVER so slightly easier.

As the sorted piles grow, they get palletized, labeled, and loaded on to trucks…from here, it’s a three hour drive north to Porto which it was time for our busload of winemakers to do as well.

There are two important things that happen in this sort. First of all, they are getting a pre-sort on the quality of the bark. Secondly, there is now a very smooth surface on two sides of the cork…but that wouldn’t become evident until the next day, when we got to see the cork being punched…

Flower Power

Far out man…it’s time to flower! Let’s set the mood.

When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars
This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius
-Age of Aquarius, 5Th Dimension

Today I am a flower!

No, not your typical flower. Nobody ever goes to the florist and orders a bouquet of Vitis Vinifera for Mother’s Day and there’s probably a few good reasons why. First of all…I’m not that pretty of a flower. Compared to me a mixed brocolli and cauliflower arrangement is more pleasing to the eye, but to the man on the tractor, I’m plenty attractive. Ok, enough of being coy…here’s how I look now.

As you can see, the cap (calyptra) has now popped off revealing my pistel and stamen. My flower has no petals and I also have no distinctive aroma.I’m all self contained; no bees required.Since I contain both the male and female flower parts, I can self polinate with the help of wind and gravity. In the coming weeks, the now unneeded male part of my anatomy falls off, leaving just the polinated pistil.

Sometimes, high winds can blow the pollen away, rain water can wash the pollen off, or excess heat can stress the pistil. When this happens, the pistil doesn’t ripen. In most normal situations, the pistil will fall off the cluster. This is called shatter.

If you were to walk out into a vineyard in late June and tap a cluster, you would see a mixture of stamen and unpolinated pistils fall off in your hand.

For now, I just need to keep my fingers crossed that we don’t have any unseasonal rains. Meanwhile, my caretakers will be keeping a careful eye out for mildew so I can grow nice, clean, and healthy.

That’s all for now! I’ll check in after my next growth spurt.