Friday, March 02, 2007

McLaughlin Vineyards Featured in The Newtown Bee (CT)

Agriculture Is Alive And Busy In The Winter Months
By Kendra Bobowick
Newtown Bee (CT) March 1, 2007

(Note: This feature story about agricultural businesses is fasinating. McLuaghlin picks up half way down. Mcaughlin's deserves their own feature, which I will do in the future. Great run, real family farm winery...and they make their own maple syrup too!) CDV

Greenhouse Manager Fabienne Andette waters the early sprouts of plants grown at Lexington Gardens. She is part of the community that the Connecticut Agricultural Business Cluster hopes to promote.

Fields normally bristling with new growth in the spring and yielding farm-grown vegetables, flowers, or even ice cream from Ferris Acres Creamery may look tucked in to sleep for the winter, but the weather is misleading. The agricultural world is in fact busy even during the snowy, frigid winter months.

"People might think that once the snow falls or crops have been harvested that farmers go away on vacation for the winter. It's not true," said Connecticut Agricultural Business Cluster (CABC) representative Kelly Fuerstenberg. "There is equipment and machinery to maintain, [farmers] are starting things in the greenhouses. They're busy."

According to the CABC, pruning, planting, maintenance and prep-work are among the tasks busying farm establishments in the state. Newtown's agricultural residents explain exactly what is taking place locally.

"There are things going on, things are cranking up," Lexington Gardens owner Tom Johnson said. Along with his Greenhouse Manager Fabienne Andette and Nursery Manager Stacy Smith, he nodded his head to agree that much takes place agriculturally while the snow falls.
"There is a reasonably large growing operation as we speak," he said Monday. "We planted pansies in January and just started to see the first flowers. The buds are opening now." As far as his garden and plant nursery are concerned, work goes on "behind the scenes," he said, in order to provide consumers with the plants and materials they prefer as the gardening season warms the early spring air. Supporting Mr Johnson's statements, Ms Smith said, "What they see is a long process and has been a long time coming."
Already rooted and sprouting young leaves are a variety of onions, chives, and herbs, including basil, filling the Lexington Gardens growing areas. One greenhouse is filled end-to-end with daffodils, pansies, and salvia, among other annuals.

These plants must be seeded and sewed in advance, in anticipation of sales, Ms Andette explained.

Work must be done backward in the gardening business.

Mr Johnson described the essentially reverse planting and growing process, which hinges on when a consumer will want to buy certain items. "[Planting] is based on the anticipated time when things should be sewed or sold..."

Already his greenhouse is filled with short, but thriving plants.

Plants cannot be rushed, however, as Ms Andette explains. Summer bulbs or seeds come in and people are struck with a spring fever in December.

"After Christmas they want that spring feel and might get anxious and start seeds too early," she said. February is even too soon for seeds, she said.

Plants do not grow well if they remain indoors too long. "They become weak and spindly," Mr Johnson said, and advised that customers do not go home and plant right away. Read the instructions and go by what is written on the packet, his managers agreed.

Wine may be among the warming thoughts, but the grape vines themselves may not be in mind. Morgen McLaughlin of McLaughlin's Vineyards admits that, "The grapes do go to sleep with the bears," in the winter, but work remains.

"[Work] shifts into the winery, not in the fields," she said. Fermentation is taking place indoors, she explained. Looking back at the end of the grape-growing season and the months before winter, she said the grapes were brought into the winery, crushed, pressed, and fermentation finished in the late fall. "Young wine" is now in the tanks, Ms McLaughlin said.

"You have wine because the juice has fermented into alcohol, but it's not ready to be bottled," she said. Winter allows time to handle this wine.

"Now we're doing the racking, moving the young wine from tank to tank as the sediment falls," she said. Though dormant, the vineyards are also a site of activity.

"We do the pruning now, between now and April and cut back last year's growth," Ms McLaughlin said. "We tie the plants to a trellis system."

Conjuring another familiar New England site, Ms McLaughlin notes that the maple sugar is also boiling down, which begins at the end of February.