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Category Archives: Gardening

2016 January Vineyard Update

I am determined in 2016 to track, month by month, a whole year in the vineyard and the winery. For those of you who have lost sight of our operation, because I haven’t posted or kept up this blog for about 2 years. I just want to share what it is like to live in a California wine region (the south, south Bay Area) and to learn to manage a small vineyard and wine making operation on our plot of land. We have about a third of an acre of Cabernet and Merlot grapes. With a group of very committed friends and relatives, we installed a lyre system of trellising and stuck the twigs we purchased from UC Davis in the ground, 10 years ago this coming April.

After two disastrous attempts to make wine from our grapes by simply following directions from an instruction manual, I was lucky enough to start mentoring with a professional wine maker, Ted Medeiros from Medeiros Family Wines (formerly from Sycamore Creek Vineyards.) We live within three miles of most of the south Santa Clara County vineyards. While these wineries do not have rock star status like Napa, Anderson Valley, Sonoma, and Paso Robles, there are some very good vintners. Ted happens to be our favorite. His style of wine making honors the terroir and the integrity of the grape as it speaks of the weather and soil’s influence in any given year. Apparently, we are not alone in our appreciation of his detailed attention to vineyard management, to wine making and to the quality of wine he produces, as evidenced by several of his wines receiving the coveted Best of Show, Gold and Double Gold medals in the prestigious San Francisco wine competition a couple of years ago while he was winemaker at Sycamore Creek. Long story, longer, he has generously given his knowledge and his time over the last few years to help me learn to make a decent wine. (And I have to tell you, the process is much more complicated, than I ever could have imagined when beginning this journey.)

First, we had to re-balance the vineyard, which took a couple of years. Then I had to hone and to learn all kinds of subtleties in the wine making process that are not mentioned in the home wine making books. Go figure. I know I could have taken that correspondence course from UC Davis in wine making, but, frankly, I have been going to school or teaching my whole life, and I am just done with the academic scene.

The one-on-one tutoring has been wonderful. Many an afternoon, I have put out an SOS for help after tasting the aging wine in the barrel and been horrified by where the taste was headed. Over Ted would come in his mud caked boots from his own vineyard work, probably dog-tired, to help me out. My husband would come home from a long commute from his Silicon Valley day job to find Ted and I in the barn with our noses in a glass or in the bung hole of a barrel trying to figure out how to salvage a year’s work that probably should have been scrapped because of mistakes I made early on in that year’s production. Ted’s wife, a super taster, would bring us back to reality, and pretty much tell us the wine was crap by the way she wrinkled her nose. (Ah well, not every year is salvageable.) She has also given me the wonderful gift of interpreting Ted’s techno speak into a simpler version that even my math/science averse mind could understand.

Of course, we have loved it all: the wine-filled compost pile in the first years; the brutal advice; the out and out lies of our devoted friends, who swore the wine was “not that bad;” the wild and raucous annual harvest work-parties; the assembly-line efficiency my husband created to bottle and to label the wines; the new looks of shock and wonder on our friends’ faces the last couple of years as they tasted the wine and enthusiastically went in for a second sip. We are doing it. We are finally making a good solid Wednesday night wine. Yee ha!

We love this hobby. We love living in a state obsessed with growing grapes and making wine, where sniffing, swirling, sipping, pairing never gets old.

Ps. The vineyard was quiet in January. The vines are dormant.

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Vineyard Update – A Photo Journey

The first six months of 2015 in the vineyard – a photographic journey:

No rain this winter.

No rain this winter.


February's tangle of canes.

February’s tangle of ca

6-2015 7726-2015 197Pruning the canes.

Bud break. And so it begins...
Bud break. And so it begins…

Explosive growth.

Explosive growth.


Teeny, tiny grapes.

Teeny, tiny grapes.


Thinning.

Thinning.


Look at that pile. All this just to give the grapes some breathing room.

Look at that pile. All this just to give the grapes some breathing room.


That's more like it.

That’s more like it.

 

Beautiful, full crop this year.

Beautiful, full crop this year.  Aah, fruits of the land and nectar of the gods.

The fruit is continuing to develop. To see an actual crop of grapes emerge, fill out, and ripen on the vines is exciting.  Our friends, whom I make walk up and down the rows, every time they come over, may not agree, but they put up with my “want-to-be-a-farmer” quirks. (Thankfully.)  They do draw the line at viewing the bat house on the back of the barn beside the last row of Merlot.  Funny, they don’t seem to care a bit how great a fertilizer bat guano is. Redemption comes at the end of the tour with pulling a cork and sipping a glass of wine on the deck. Gotta love summer!

Tomatoes Talk

When the nights cool enough to thicken and to dark-spot the skins of the tomatoes, it is time to pull up the summer garden.

Nov 2013 021Today was the day the tomatoes spoke. With a bit of regret, I pulled out the withered remains of the most abundant, lush vegetable garden I have ever had.  This Fall has been so mild I  wondered if the garden might keep producing into December.  The middle of November is not bad for a long growing season, though. I’ll take it!

Right before dismantling the tomato cages, I remembered I had planted potatoes (a first time try) in between each string bean plant. (They are companion plants.)  The potato greenery died and blew away a few weeks ago.  Wondering if there might actually be potatoes in the dirt, I got on my knees and started digging. Random sized potatoes popped up.  Delighted with each find, I kept at it, finally ending up with enough for a whole baking pan of roasted potatoes…or Roasties, as my husband calls them.  Thrilling!

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Then it was on to the pomegranate tree.  Since my husband’s google search, we now know not to harvest the pomegranates until the skins break open into a gaping jaw.DSCN0270   By the way, did you know that pomegranates are one of nature’s highest nutrient foods?  “Eat and get healthy!”

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When I got to the  kale/parsley patch,  I just couldn’t  pull it up. Each has  made  a remarkable comeback  in the cooler weather of the last couple of months.  I will wait for the frost to flatten them.

Crazy…how much produce came from this last picking of the season! Bounty everywhere!

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As excited as I get by food coming from backyard dirt, not all was rosy when plopping the bowls of veggies on the counter top.  As I was making dinner last night (a delicious meal baked in a sugar-baby pumpkin), I noticed  three or four slow-moving, little black spots on the white cupboard doors.  Hands messy with pumpkin goop, I couldn’t kill them at that moment.  When my hands were finally clean, they were gone.  “Eww!” I decided not to think about where they had gone. You cannot be squeamish living this intimately with the land.

About the pumpkin goop, my niece gave me the most unusual, fun, Fall recipe using a small sugar -baby pumpkin, Nov 2013 030stuffed with a Gruyère/bread mixture. The worst part of the prep is cleaning out the pumpkin. However, since it bakes for two hours, it would be a great dish for do-ahead company meals. The dish reminded me of Swiss food, lots of cheese and bread.  I used the gluten-free Against the Grain Baguette

 (http://www.againstthegraingourmet.com)  for the bread.  I recommend toasting the bread before using, so it holds its structure during the baking.

Here is the link to the recipe:
http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Pumpkin-Stuffed-with-Everything-Good-361169

As I prepared the pumpkin dish, the gift for the day of garden labor was this beautiful sunset.

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Enjoy Fall, Everyone!