Tax Day is about when I usually expect to see buds swell-up, looking like pop-corn, with an occasional leaf showing too. Cabernet is our earliest variety to start the growing season, with Zinfandel being one of the latest. This year we appear to be right on time, or what we would call “normal.” If you had asked me two Months ago when I thought bud-break would occur, I would have told you it was going to be much much earlier than now because we had such a dry and warm December – February. I don’t think we had much more than an inch of rain over those months. Back then I was checking the National Weather Service web site several times a day, hoping for a sign. Then on March 3rd they reported:
“We are keeping an eye on the long range portion of the forecast … We usually do not put a lot of weight in forecasts this far out…however in this case the models … show a small spread stretching from the coast across the Pacific … There are signs that the storms could just slowly progress over California and be followed by another one later that week. Again…this is very far out…however it is one of the most encouraging signs we have seen for rainfall in a long time.”
On March 15th, temps began to cool and the rain started. Over the next month it rained about 12 inches on Old Hill Ranch, filling the streams, saturating the soils and watering the very peaked cover-crop. Today everything looks lush and gorgeous. What a difference a month makes!
As mother-in-law of Will Bucklin and mother of Lizanne (author of the July 12, 2011 blog entry, “Newest Residents at Old Hill Ranch,”) it’s been my delight the past few years to stay at Old Hill Ranch for a couple of weeks each summer while Lizanne and Will take a much-needed vacation.
I observe the bees, take care of the house, veggie garden, and the chickens (ever vigilant about the very aggressive Mr. Rooster: the one day I did not wear the rubber boots, Mr. Rooster gave me several bruises!) But mostly I hang out with Tanner, Little Boy & Little Girl, the latter being the Old Hill Ranch resident dog and two cats. There’s not much to say about the kitties. Cats are cats, and as sweet and affectionate as these are, they pretty much take care of themselves and provide warmth in bed for me – whether I need it or not!
Tanner, on the other hand, becomes my constant companion for the two weeks – never straying far from my side, as we take frequent walks around the vineyard, or water the garden or flop on the couch for a marathon reading session. He especially enjoys the food I cook for him – based, I might add, on what Will used to “cook up” for Tanner when he had more free time. So, yes, some of Tanner’s seeming devotion to me might be based on cupboard love, but I also know that he just loves having a human companion, and as someone who grew up without a dog, this friendship he has bestowed on me has become almost as precious as my relationship with my grandchildren.
It is thanks to Tanner that I see Old Hill Ranch not just as the spectacular vineyard it is, but also as one of the most beautiful, pristine places I’ve ever been. On our walks Tanner has shown me not only the beauty to be found in a gnarled old vine – its branches heavy with those luxuriant bunches of grapes – but also the beauty in the seemingly endless variety of cover crops that Will plants, so many of which flower at various times. (The stands of flowering buckwheat were beyond gorgeous! Will planted the buckwheat to help provide Lizanne’s bees with additional food.) Tanner also has opened my eyes to the wonders to be found in the brush and woodpiles that populate the perimeter of the vineyard. Needless to say, he is looking for “critters” in those woodpiles, so now whenever I see a woodpile I see it as a home or shelter for some form of wildlife and not just a pile of wood. As Tanner races ahead and barks suddenly, I now know to stop and look: maybe he has seen a jackrabbit or a coyote, and if I’m lucky, I will too.
During the two weeks I’m at Old Hill, Tanner and I watch the grapes mature – slowly, ever so slowly this summer due to the cool temps, but mature they did enough for me to see them ripen a bit as I have each of the past few years. It is a never-ending source of wonder to think in time those grapes will be transformed by Will into marvelous wine
For many years I lived in rural southeastern Connecticut and for some of those years our closest neighbors were a family of dairy farmers. Upon meeting them for the first time, I remarked on how much I enjoyed looking at their cows in the field, to which Farmer Steve replied as he looked at me amusedly: “City Girl, eh?” And even now, after so many years, and despite the fact that I never did live in a city (just the suburbs!) my visits to Old Hill Ranch over the past few years have made me realize that indeed, I am a City Girl in a way, but thanks to my sojourns at Old Hill, each summer I feel less like one.
Ellen Gill Pastore
What brings Will off the ranch and to the big city? Family Winemakers of California! Yesterday we poured the Buckin portfolio among hundreds of wineries of all sizes at the 21st Annual Tasting at Fort Mason. Yet in a veritable sea of wine, it was great to see people were still captivated by the story of Old Hill Ranch. Will can spin a yarn, too. He got going on the topics of dry farming, wildlife management, bottle thickness, cork finishings, and the masculine vs. feminine qualities of the Grenache and the Petite Sirah. Here he is getting real with a lovely customer. Lovely customers, I hope you’re reading. Thank you for coming to see us!
Some weeks back Will lent me Jonah Raskin’s Field Days: A Year of Farming, Eating, and Drinking Wine in California, and told me to read it to get some background on the vineyard and his family.
Now I can see why.
Though he can go on for days on anything to do with farming, Will’s usually laconic when talking about himself. The book, written after Raskin spent a year getting to know the family and the farm, as well as other family farms in California, is a thoughtful memoir/history of the organic farming movement including the great story of Otto and Anne Teller. By interviewing the family, researching local history, and living and working on Oak Hill Farm he learns to “eat with your heart” in the birthplace of slow food in California. Inspired by the book, check out the delicious corn patch I spotted at Old Hill recently. Is this not the picture of summer and mindful eating? I would not mind eating a fresh cob with my heart. Not at all.
One year ago today I made the following post…
“Late July is the slowest season for me. The vineyard is on its own and there is just not as much to do.
With all the late rains this spring and the cool summer everyone is a little worried about the vintage. One grower reported that he heard that it was the coolest summer in 40 years. Another said the average summer temperature was 5 degrees cooler than normal. It is pretty much what we talk about.
With all this anxiety about the cool summer I sometimes imagine that the vineyard won’t ripen and we won’t harvest any grapes. Yesterday I became really excited when I was in the vineyard and I saw for the first time some berries turning color. Just a very few berries but enough that I was encouraged and for a moment I felt the excitement of harvest looming.
So veraison is just starting and we are about two weeks behind “normal.” The peach trees are heavy with large firm beautiful fruit that is moments away from perfection but I am leaving for vacation and I won’t here for the fruit orgy!”
Exactly one year later and nothing has changed.