Skip to content

2013 Year in the Rear.

November 16, 2013

It appears that we might get some rain finally! I am guessing that 2013 will go down in the history books as the driest year on record. We have had 3 inches since January. In a “normal” year would expect more like 15 inches.

With little to no rain in January or February, we started to cultivate the vineyard in mid-March as the ground became dry. April was windy, warm and dry. Buds started to appear by the first week and by the end of the month, everything was out several inches.

This was in spite of the delay tactics we employed, what old timers call “long pruning.” Long pruning is a technique to delay early bud break as a means of frost protection. We don’t usually have much frost but I use it as a hedge against climate change. My hope is that if I can delay bud-break then I can lengthen the growing season as the grapes are more likely to be hanging during the shorter and cooler days in October.

long pruned

long pruned

The process is as it sounds, we simply leave more buds on the plant than we actually want at the first pruning on March 12th, leaving a longer spur. As the ground is warming the freshly cut plant bleeds sap which is what delays bud break. We returned on March 27th, just as the buds are starting to push to remove more buds, each time inflicting a small wound and hopefully delaying the bud-break.

Things moved very quickly and by May 1st we were basically done with our spring work load well over a month earlier than a typical year. We began to speculate that might begin harvest in late August. However, as fall approached, the weather became more seasonable, and things slowed down. September and October were downright gorgeous, with a few light and early dollops of rain, but mostly dry and seasonable weather. Harvest began on September 13th, exactly two weeks earlier than 2012.

The quality of our harvest seems to be fantastic, but ask me in a year. The acids in the grapes were a little unbalanced with high malates (due to the short growing season I suppose) and low tartarics. Given the dry year and the dry-farming, the yields were quite respectable. We probably dropped more fruit than we would have if there had been more moisture in the ground, but it was the right thing to do and we still ended up with just under 3 tons to the acre.

It is now mid-November and it appears we may get a little light rain but the forecast is still very quiet. I am very anxious to get some moisture in the ground so the cover crops can germinate and lift my mood away from the threat of a looming drought.

“mixed blacks”

November 5, 2012

Tax Day

April 17, 2012

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!

City Girl

October 19, 2011

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
Monterey, CA

Story Hour with Will

August 22, 2011

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!

Book Report: Field Days

August 5, 2011

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.

Historic Vineyards on Fermentation

July 30, 2011

Tom Wark’s got an excellent wine blog called Fermentation. I was happy to open it today and see a story about old vineyards and their importance to California wine, with a special nod to Old Hill.