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It’s a concert out there.

July 10, 2011

I visited Old Hill yesterday and took a walkaround with Will. The ranch is just teeming right now with early summer buzz and bloom. You can hear it in the bird calls and smell it on the fig leaves. We talked about the biodiversity of the vineyard and how sustainable  farming works not by eliminating the undesirables but by supporting every species and understanding that their balance contributes to the working whole. It’s great when a grower defends birds, insects, and poison oak so much. With a broad arm swooping North across the valley floor and the mountain in the background, Will explains his attitude, “It’s a concert out there. The more life the better.”

A Bowl of Cherries

July 6, 2011

Today I picked the last of our cherries. We are usually done picking our eight cherry trees by solstice. It does indeed look to be a late harvest this year!

The vintage 2011 cherries were not particularly good. They did not get sweet enough and the texture became a little soft. We also lost about half to splitting because of the late rains. After a year of anticipation it was a bit of a disappointment. sigh

But the apricots are fine and the Santa Rosa plums are crazy flavor bombs that explode with sweetness and sourness simultaneously. The peach tress smell of ripe peaches and the fruit is turning beautiful color. We have had one ripe cherry tomato and a few blue lake beans. The corn looks close and of course we are already tired of zuchinni. And so the anticipation continues!

Harvest Update 2011

June 29, 2011

Harvest Update 2011

Yesterday we received half an inch of rain. I would like to say it is unheard of to have rain in late June but it has happened once or twice before since California became a state. Given we had rain in early June too, this is shaping up to be a remarkably cool and wet spring, …I mean summer!

As I wrote in our spring new letter, “My cheeky reply to those who ask how this crazy weather is impacting the 2011 harvest, I say, I would rather die from drowning that from thirst.”

I think I still believe this.

The fruit set looks to be quite promising, except in the Grenache, which was flowering during the last rain on June 2nd and experienced “shatter”. Shatter is what happens when the flowers fail to pollinate and the resulting clusters end up with fewer berries. All the other varieties looks to have set a big crop, especially the Zin! Now with all this moisture in the ground it seems quite possible that the vines can ripen all that fruit.

However I expect we will drop much of that precious fruit. The vintage is already late and I worry that we may have early rains like we have had the last two years. Thus, I expect we will drop a pretty penny, so to speak, so that the fruit can ripen early before the onset of the fall rains.

In the mean time we need to deal with vigor. Vigor is not usually a problem given the vines are ancient and by this time of year the soil is usually dry. Dealing with vigor is a manual job. We will spend lots of money and time manipulating the canopy, removing shoots and leaves as to allow air and light on to the fruit.

And I am going to have to figure out how I am going to drive a tractor into this sea of green!

Lessons in Fruit

June 28, 2011

Notes from the Field: A trip to New York 

I was thinking of the young students of the Bay Area and their garden plots when I visited a public school in Central Brooklyn a couple of weeks ago.

Before I left I had been reading up on Bucklin sis Arden Bucklin-Sporer’s work at the San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance, a group that supports SF schools in the year-round learning opportunities of a school garden. Arden is a pioneer of school garden work, she did write the book, after all. Northern California’s climate and agriculturally rich history is supportive to this type of hands-on nutritional education. The school-farm movement in urban New York may not be as geographically lucky, but it is gaining momentum.

For now many students are learning the basics about where fresh fruit and vegetables come from, how to ask for it at home, and where the nearest farmers markets are located. The school I visited didn’t have a garden (yet!) but explored the fresh food curriculum through art and apple tasting. Their fruit face paintings were impressive. So was their enthusiasm when reaching for those last Crispin slices. Next step: growing their own. Who knows, there may be a future farmer among them.

Dry Farming: Let’s Talk About it.

June 7, 2011

I’m around wineries, tasting rooms, and wine shops quite a bit, and this exposure has acclimated me with certain wine buzzwords. You know, things that people think they should ask about the pedigree of the vintage and the vineyard before they make a judgement on its quality – how old are the vines, are they organic, are they estate grown, etc? The thing I’ve noticed is the thing that people don’t tend to ask but that they should: “are the grapes dry farmed?”

Dry farming is de rigueur at Old Hill, and Will can expound further (in volumes, no less) about the environmental and qualitative benefits of this classic farming method. I am sure he will, in future posts. But for getting the conversation started, I want to give a thumbs up to the SF Weekly for their recent post on the subject, which mentions Bucklin and other Sonoma producers who don’t irrigate their vines.

Farm Camp comes to Old Hill

June 3, 2011

Farm Campers getting to know some vines. Photo by Chris Detrick, Salt Lake Tribune

Guest blogger Stephanie here. Considering myself lucky to have spent a day at Farm Camp some weeks ago with a few Utah restaurant employees who were in the midst of a hands-on California wine educational tour. The last stop was Old Hill Ranch, where Will gave us a tour of the ranch and its storied history.

The Salt Lake Tribune’s Kathy Stephenson recorded their whole trip beautifully with words and Chris Detrick did the same with pictures here, so there’s no need to get into the details. But I will add that as an avid restaurant goer who asks a lot of questions about the origin of my food and drink it was a welcome sight to see servers, chefs, and sommeliers there on the ranch learning first hand about the source of the wine that they sell. What better way to consult a customer through a 10-page wine list than to have had a personal experience on a vineyard, talking to the winemaker and seeing the great old vines themselves? It’s a great idea and I hope it starts a trend in cross-platform gastronomic education. Credit to Francis Fecteau, owner of the Utah wine brokerage Libations Inc., for organizing the trip and for recognizing the power of the place. Credit to Will and Ted Bucklin and Lizanne Pastore for an midday feast of BBQ chicken and potato salad. Served outdoors on a long picnic table with some Bucklin Zin, it’s the taste of summer.

Flavor Analysis. Photo by Chris Detrick, Salt Lake Tribune

Deer Abatement

June 2, 2011

My farming mentor and step-father, Otto Teller, famously replied when asked why there is no deer fence around Old Hill he said, “Deer gotta eat too”.

I am happy to have the deer around but I prefer that they focus their attention on the riparian areas that are rich in deer food such as poison oak. Of course the deer are interested in vines too and so we try to discourage their vine grazing while allowing them access.

It turns out that deer and I have something in common, that is our complete and total loathing of bounce, the scented dryer sheets. My mother has been using them on her roses and Chuy is using them to keep the deer out of his flowers. He says you can make an aroma barrier that the deer won’t cross.

We have been using other tools that discourage deer but with all the rain this year they seem to wash off. So we are giving this a try. I promise the wine will not be scented!!! And so far they seem to be working. We made little tea bags with the sheets, filling them with blood meal which also repels deer, and then attaching them to the stake with a cloths pin.

I enjoy the irony of using clothing pins to attach dryer sheets…but I will leave the tea-bag jokes alone

The Beauty of Bounty

November 7, 2010

Fall is in full swing. Mom’s Red Barn is chalk full of produce and the vineyard is a gorgeous mosaic.

2010 Harvest is History

November 1, 2010

The large storm that was prognosticated to moved through California last weekend provided the necessary motivation to finish the 2010 harvest. I didn’t see any advantage to having three inches of rain fall on our ripe Cabernet and we finished picking just as the rain began to fall. The grapes are now safely fermenting away.

We have had our share of trials and tribulations this vintage but in the end it turns out to have been a good harvest. Our grape yields were down significantly, but the grapes we did harvest were delicious and the winemaking was easy.

It has long been my theory that if the vines are well tended that the wines will make themselves. In the ten years that I have been taking care of Old Hill this is the first year where I can say that this theory has come into practice on 100% of the wines, and for that reason it was so easy. (and because we made so much less wine!)

I am fairly certain that because of the weird weather over this past growing season that the press will pan the 2010 vintage. And while I don’t like to prognosticate about quality, I am going to go out on a limb and say that this vintage is up there with our ’07, and ’08…but only time will tell.


October 13, 2010

On Monday we harvested the “Mixed Blacks”

Then I went to the winery and tasted the Zin in Costello. It was good!