This year, my vineyard was decimated by Downy Mildew – lessons learned

I have a small vineyard on Cedar Creek Lake, an hour south of Dallas. I do all the work myself. It’s fun, good exercise, and at times, cathartic.

Unlike other agricultural crops, with grapevines you only get one chance every year to harvest fruit. If something goes wrong, it’s 12 months before you can try again. A lot of things can go wrong: an early or late frost, hailstorm, severe freeze or drought, insects, birds, and other animals. But the greatest vulnerabilities are diseases: bacteria, fungi, or viruses. 

One month before this year’s harvest, Downy Mildew crept into the vineyard (it only takes one microscopic spore) and ravaged the grapes, I lost the entire harvest.

To prevent the three major vineyard nemesis (Downy Mildew, Powdery Mildew, and Black Rot), beginning at bud-break, I spray the vines with Mancozeb every two weeks. But the fungicide can’t be used within one month of harvest because it will taint the grapes. This year, the vines were infected during those final four weeks.

I didn’t know, but there’s another product that can be used prior to harvest. Though not as effective as Mancozeb, it adequately protects the vines in those final weeks.

I lost one harvest – no wine bottles labeled 2023 – but I get another chance next year. 

The main take-away is that I must learn from my mistake, and not just in the area of viticulture. What lessons can I learn that will apply to all areas of my life?

Here are two life-lessons that I’ve learned from the ruined harvest.

    • Some events are more critical than others and demand extra thought and caution. If I plan a date night for Mary and me and the dinner is mediocre and the movie boring, it’s just a disappointing evening. No great loss. But if I’m planning an international trip for 50 friends and make a mistake booking the international flights, the result could be catastrophic. So the greater the consequences of an event or decision, the more careful and obsessive I must be in making sure all goes well. It’s also wise to solicit multiple people’s opinions and critique of the plans and progress; the more “eyes” you have on a project, the better. On a scale from 1-10, 1 being “not significant” and 10 being “extremely significant”, rate every project/event in your life and concentrate more on the higher valued ones.  
    • The closer I get to a high-value event, the more focused and mindful I should become. I must not get distracted. I must not assume anything. I should check, double-check, and triple-check all details.

I’m currently winterizing my vineyard. Next year will be my best harvest.

16 Replies to “This year, my vineyard was decimated by Downy Mildew – lessons learned”

    1. Peggy, thanks for taking the time to respond. I particularly appreciate the link you sent. I read it and learned. What type of work do you do?

  1. Especially, I offer my condolences on the ruination of your much anticipated harvest. And, I know from witnessing your superb attention to detail (in church music, international trip planning and many others, I’m sure) the loss of this year’s grapes was tragic as you ruminate over what you could have done sooner/differently. Happy 2024 harvest!

    1. Thanks, Pat, for kind and comforting words. I thoroughly enjoyed our time together on the British Isles trip. I’m glad you and Roger are our friends.

  2. Sorry that you lost your crop after investing so much time and energy. But I like that you were able to glean some important lessons from this. I always enjoy your wisdom and insight …I learn so much from you. Thanks for sharing…

  3. Beautiful. I’m sorry that you lost your harvest, but I’m grateful for what you have shared. Happy Thanksgiving to you and Mary, Lynette

  4. Sorry you lost your harvest. God has other plans for the time you would have spent hard and bottling. Next year will produce hundredfold

  5. So sorry to hear about this infestation of your vines. Having lost so many plants completely due to hard frosts in January 2023 I have made different autumn plans this year and our garage now has heating that stops the temperature dropping below 5 degrees C and some of the less hardy plants have a temporary home in the garage.
    I agree that the higher the stakes, the greater the attention to detail required. I would add another factor. How relaxed are the people who are taking part in the event? If it hasn’t cost them too much and it’s a bit of an adventure they will ride with a few mishaps. However, if they are spending their life savings and this is the only time they can travel to this particular destination then even the weather being dismal can turn it into a “disaster”. I have noted that travel companies, seeking feedback, often ask what the weather was like during the client’s stay.
    I suspect that we never truly realise how professional growers have to be completely aware of the state of their plants/crops at all times. Producing the same quality of product, week in, week out, is more difficult that we can imagine. In the UK, a beautiful field of wheat can be battered by a rain storm just when it is ready to be harvested.
    With best wishes for your grape harvest in 2024.

    1. Angela, again, thanks for responding. You always have good insight. You’re right about how the weather affects our perspective. I’ve had friends who are realtors say that sometimes a buyer is influenced by what the weather was like when they looked at a particular house. If it was sunny and a good temperature they are more open to buying. We humans are so susceptible to emotions.
      I, too, am amazed at how our local grocery store has fresh fruit and vegetables…every day. The logistics involved in planting, harvesting, shipping, displaying…must be mind boggling. Take care, Don

    1. Mary, thanks for well-wishes. The vineyard is now dormant. I love the cycle of life as seen in fruit bearing plants. Have a good holiday season. Don

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