Sunday, April 22nd, was a gorgeous spring day at the Frey Ranch, graced with abundant wildflowers bursting from the scorched earth. Eliza was jogging along a trail and heard the hum. She followed it to a huge swarm of bees hanging underneath a burned Douglas fir log. Little Freylings Bo, aged six, and Yeshua, aged five, and Grampa Jonathan were the guardians of the swarm for two hours while Katrina and Carolyn scurried to gather bee suits, a cardboard box with a secure lid with holes punched in for air, and a custom bee brush to softly sweep the swarm into the box.Just as we walked up with our equipment, the swarm decided to move on. We were so disappointed, but our veteran beekeeper, Carolyn Brown, hoped we would get a second chance. We followed, jogging between charred trees with craned necks, keeping the swarm in sight, and it soared higher and higher. Carolyn told the boys, "Old-time beekeepers used to bang on a pot to bring the bees to earth." And voila, a few yards away we found a little cooking pot lying in the burned dirt. Bo began to rhythmically bang on the pot and within thirty seconds the swarm tightened up and drifted down to earth! The bees settled on a low oak tree branch and five minutes later we had a healthy new colony to bring home. The boys were thrilled and we added the magical pot to our box of bee equipment.
If all is going well within a hive in the springtime, the bees find themselves bursting at the seams with overpopulation. Then the mysterious collective wisdom of the colony signals that it’s time to "give birth" to a second colony. The worker bees fashion special queen rearing cells and the reigning queen lays eggs in them. The embryo queens are carefully tended and fed a royal jelly. Just before the new queens are due to hatch, a powerful agreement between all the bees triggers half of the population to fly out into the world in a great swarm to seek a new home. The old queen goes with them and is carefully protected in the center of the swarm. They will land on a tree branch, fence post, or a gnarled Cabernet grapevine (see below), and send out scouts to find a good site. Bees have only two to three days to find a new home after they leave their mother colony.
They sometimes settle into less than desirable locations for their new hives. Statistics show that fewer than twenty-five percent of swarms survive their first year. If you are a lucky beekeeper, you will have a chance to capture a swarm and provide a secure home for it.
In the coming days we have been blessed with four more swarms of honeybees. We hope that by housing them in clean, well-made bee boxes, they will thrive. If nature provides a steady stream of flowering plants, the honey crop in the fall should be abundant enough to feed the bees through the winter, as well as provide some honey for our friends and family.
If it's a light crop, we never extract honey, but instead leave it all for the hard-working bees.
After our new bees are settled in and the queens begin laying again, we plan to move one hive to our new winery site. Honeybees will play an important role in the pollination cycle of the gardens and native plants that will surround the new winery. Please come and visit the bees when our new tasting room opens in the fall and discover more about nature's gift of the honeybee.
Several insecticides that are harmful to bees will be banned soon in Europe. You can help make it happen in the U.S. as well.
Here at Frey Vineyards we are longtime eclipse-chasers. Our penchant for gazing upward was instilled at an early age by Paul Frey Sr. Two of his twelve children, Jonathan and Paul Frey, studied physics and astrophysics at University of California Santa Cruz and went on to become winemakers for the winery. Jonathan and his wife Katrina traveled with brother Nathan Frey to Baja in 1990 to see their first total solar eclipse. At high noon, as the sky began to darken, they stood on a hillside looking down at a Mexican family farm. Chickens flew up to their roosts in the trees and the cows turned around and headed to their beds in the barn and the glory of the eclipse began.
Katrina and Jonathan’s most recent eclipse trip was on a Sky and Telescope cruise to Indonesia to see the 2016 solar eclipse over the Indian Ocean. On board they met Polly White and Michael Zeiler of The Great American Eclipse, who were getting fellow travelers excited about the August 21st, 2017 eclipse that will streak coast to coast across North America. One day on the deck of the ship, Polly and Katrina hatched a plan to craft an exclusive wine to honor this extraordinary event.
What started out as just one wine quickly become three when the opportunity arose to debut Frey Vineyard’s first-ever organic non-sulfited sparkling wine. On a previous eclipse journey to Mongolia in 2008 Katrina and Jonathan met fellow eclipse-chaser Dr. Lobster. We called upon him for inspiration for the back label texts. Frey label designer Nicole Paisley Martensen culled vintage engravings from old astronomy books, and furthered her research with excellent resources from eclipse authority Fred Espenak.
We are proud to bring you Umbra Organic Zinfandel, Umbra Organic Chardonnay, and Totality, our first organic sparkling wine. We’re looking forward to toasting the cosmos on August 21st!
“Umbra” is the dark inner shadow of the moon.
“Totality” is the period of a solar eclipse when the moon completely covers the sun.
For more information on the best places to view the August 21st, 2017 eclipse and to order eclipse-viewing glasses that make it safe for viewing the partial phases of this grand spectacle, log on to The Great American Eclipse.
It’s been a very busy summer here. Our 2013 crop is shaping up very well. In spite of the various weather extremes, frost at the end of May and heat spikes in July, the grapes are thriving. Cabernet Sauvignon looks particularly robust. It’s a one in five year heavy crop set. Cabernet continues to be our most popular red varietal and we have a delicious 2011 offering right now.
The grapes are moving into veraison, a term that indicates the berries beginning to change color. Green Chardonnay grapes soften to a frosted gold and begin to acquire their individual flavors reflecting this particular time and place. Each year the wines tell a different story. For example our 2012 Organic Chardonnay is filled with distinctive, crisp fruit and a caramel golden finish; a mirror of the great harvest of 2012.
Veraison of Frey organic Zinfandel grapes.
Pinot Noir berries are the first reds to reach veraison, moving from green to a luscious purple. It looks like a great Pinot year, which is a good thing since our popular 2012 Pinot is selling so briskly that it will soon be gone.
There are now 14 new acres of grapes, Tempranillo, Muscat, Barbera and Malbec.
The Malbec will probably become part of one of our popular blends, Natural Red, Organic Agriculturist and Biodynamic® Field Blend. We’re discovering blends have the capacity to become a complex intriguing whole that is more than their individual parts.
Frey biodynamic zinfandel vineyard and row of olive trees.
It's April and things are jumping in our Biodynamic vineyards! We've just completed pruning, and now are tying the newly pruned canes onto the trellis.
Alex Babbitt returning for his third year with us, here among the crops of fava beans, field peas and clovers that have fixed atmospheric nitrogen into the soil, and now are being mowed.
The April days are warm, but frost still threatens some nights. Our valiant frost team of Adam, Derek, Tommy and Jonathan are alerted by remote thermometers when the temperature dips to 36 degrees. Then they arise from warm beds and head to the fields to be poised to turn on sprinklers just before temperatures reach the freezing point. The moving water protects the tender grape buds and stays on until the sun rises. It's common to have frosts in April, and not unheard of to have a frost or two in May.
Preparation is also underway to plant 12 more acres of vines. We're very excited to be introducing six new varietals into our vineyards. Two acres each of Malbec, Grenache, Moscato, Barbera, Tempranillo (Spain's noble grape) and Vermentino, also known as Rolle, are all varietals that should thrive in our climate. If all goes well, we'll begin making unique organic wines from them in 2016!
Frey Vineyards’ core values include purity, quality, truth in labeling and transparency. We choose to hang our hats on the Demeter Biodynamic Farming and Processing Standard that embodies all of these same principles.
This chart shows a concise history of the Biodynamic timeline and the foundations of Demeter:
Biodynamic® is defined by the Demeter Farm and Processing Standards and is protected via a certification mark, which is an inclusive type of trademark. Demeter International is the first, and remains, the only ecological association consisting of a network of individual certification organizations in 45 countries around the world. Demeter US has 163 members and reaches over 10,000 certified acres.
I’d like to point out that Demeter US was formed seventeen years before the USDA National Organic Program (NOP); following the evolution of farming practices in the last century, one could suggest that Biodynamic agriculture is the parent of organic. At Frey Vineyards we adhere to the Demeter Farm Standard, which incorporates NOP practices, but goes a step further because it retains the view of the farm as an integrated whole.
The Demeter standard requires whole farm certification. 10% of total acreage must be set-aside as wild area to promote biodiversity. Because the farm is managed as a self-contained system, fertility is generated via the integration of livestock, compost, green manure, and careful crop rotation. Disease and insect control are addressed through botanical species diversity, predator habitat, and attention to light penetration and air flow. The use of the preparations is required. There are eight preparations in all, made from herbs, mineral substances and animal manures, that are utilized in field sprays and compost inoculants applied in minute doses, much like homeopathic remedies are for humans.
The Farm Standard is historically significant because it dates back to the beginning of the modern sustainable agriculture movement and captures key agronomic principles not comprehensively addressed within any other agriculture certification system. As such, Biodynamic agriculture represents one of the highest paradigms of sustainable farming, and offers one of the smallest carbon footprints of any agricultural method.
Standards are developed democratically, seeking input from farmers and processors and then vetted and voted upon annually by the international Demeter board. The standards are living and evolving and deserve respect from everyone who cares about Biodynamic agriculture and anthroposophy.
Lily Frey by Biodynamic Cabernet vineyard.
You’ll notice that the standard does not attempt to certify a farmer’s spirituality or understanding of Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy. We believe this is outside the scope of our work. However, we do observe that once a farmer begins to seriously apply the principles and practices of the Demeter standard, they are often quickly led to powerful personal insights.
So how does the Demeter standard inform what we do at Frey Vineyards? We plant leguminous cover crops for soil fertility (top left in photo above). We make our own compost from on farm ingredients (top right). All the herbs for the preparations are grown on the farm, and then applied to the vineyards and gardens (bottom left). And eventually the grapes are harvested at the peak of ripeness. Frey wines are then crafted and labeled in accordance to the Demeter Biodynamic Wine Standard (bottom right).
Over 32 years we’ve trained several hundred interns and aspiring farmers. Other Frey ranch activities include working winter grains into our cover crop rotations. We are doing everything we can to battle GMO’s and educate our customers and fellow farmers. And we continue to develop appropriate power for the winery.
In conclusion, Frey Vineyards is committed to the spirit and spread of biodynamic farming, starting with our children, our family, and our community.
John Muir was thinking about Sacred Connections when he wrote:
"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find that it is bound fast, by a thousand invisible cords, that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe."
When I heard the words “Sacred Agriculture,” the first thing that popped into my head was that I was raised by a mother who believed in fairies. I’d like to tell you how those fairies led me to Biodynamics and eventually to the beautiful land in Mendocino County in Northern California that was to become Frey Vineyards. My mother discovered her fairies in the woods and brooks of Vermont, but managed to find them again in the perennial garden she created in the backyard of our little house in Holland, MI.
I would spend hours nose down in the lilies of the valley under the lilac bush daydreaming about the hidden intricate world of the fairies and sometimes spotting evidence; a broken stem or little flower caps strewn upon the ground were signs of a night of wild revels.
But eventually I grew up, went to a Quaker College, became a Vietnam War activist and a hippie and moved to California, and generally got distracted from the fairies. Still, I managed to spend parts of each summer working with my grandfather in his perennial garden. He would chat with his garden and ask it what it wanted him to do next. I came to see the dozens of beds as a responsive and living being. By now I was seriously considering a career in the nursery business, so when I heard about a Biodynamic Agriculture conference at High Mowing Waldorf School in New Hampshire, I decided to check it out. I was thunderstruck with the beauty of a display of sensitive crystallization images.
Sensitive crystallization provides the viewer with a visual preview of the unique fingerprint possessed by a given substance.
The deep, hidden, exquisite intricate order thrust me back into the land of fairy and I vowed to learn more about Biodynamics.
Returning to California, I apprenticed with Alan Chadwick. Fellow apprentices were Jonathan Frey, who was to become my husband, and Chris Tebbutt of Filigreen Farm in nearby Anderson Valley
Alan Chadwick raspberry pruning demonstration.
Chadwick saw man’s central occupation as a gardener and farmer, always giving back to the land selflessly and being rewarded with the glorious abundance of nature. He taught us the French Intensive Biodynamic method, lectured on Rudolf Steiner, introduced me to the Revolutionibus, the rhythms of the cosmos, the Archangels and the elemental beings. My fairies were back.
After a year and a half of apprenticeship, Jonathan and I got married and moved to the Frey Ranch in Mendocino County and started to lay the groundwork for Frey Vineyards. Today we have grown from 100 to 1000 acres.
Frey Vineyards in Redwood Valley, California
We farm 140 of the 1000 acres with the vineyards meeting the edges of the forest. At Frey Vineyards we delight in the biodiversity of our land, whether it be the native wildlife in our forestland, the cover crops replenishing our soil, or the multi-talented four generations of the Frey Family who live here. Each of them has their unique experience of SACRED AGRICULTURE.
Clockwise from top left: Luke Frey; Johnny Frey; Karla, Rob & Leora Gitlin; Matthew Frey.
Luke Frey, my brother-in-law, has made it his job to produce all of our Biodynamic preparations and to care for our farm animals with great devotion. He is a master prep maker, studying with Hugh Courtney at the Josephine Porter Institute and completing Dennis Klokec’s Consciousness Studies Program.
We have a lot of hard-core gardeners on the ranch. My son Johnny, seen here double digging our garlic bed, is a devotee of Yogananda, who saw God in all mankind and taught man to seek for meaningful work and then perform it in a sprit of gratitude and service.
Karla Frey’s garden anchors her to the Jewish cycles of celebrations. The Sukkat festival reminds us that God will provide for man’s needs and man in turn must be grateful.
Brother-in-law Matthew married Sandra from Bolivia and has embraced the Inca philosophy of no separation between man and nature. Matthew’s garden is his sense of connection. He says, “If I’m late at planting it, it calls me. I save my seeds and somehow they know me the next year. Every time I add a garden vegetable to my meal, it becomes a part of me and keeps my body and mind and spirit balanced.”
As you can see, we have a beautiful rainbow of philosophies about SACRED AGRICULTURE. At the same time Frey Vineyards is a big business selling 92,000 cases of wine across North America, Europe and Asia. So how do we communicate our agricultural practices to our customers?
Stay tuned for the second part of Katrina’s article on Sacred Agriculture in our Spring Newsletter.
The harvest of 2012 promises to be one of exceptional quality here at Frey Vineyards for our organic and Biodynamic® vineyards. After two challenging years, 2010 and 2011, which were marked with late soggy springs and early wet falls, we finally have a picture perfect year.
During early June when the grapes were flowering, the weather was just right: moderate temperatures, clear skies and no wind. If it is windy during the 10 day flowering period the delicate blossoms can “shatter,” which means they fall off and the clumps are tattered. We’ve had a hot, but not too hot, dry summer that our organic grapes have loved. Biodynamic sprays have protected the vines and there was very little, if any, mildew problems here in Mendocino County.
Harvest began in early October with the picking of Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. In addition to our permanent vineyard crew, we’ve had the help of fifteen extra people to work in the cellar and the vineyards. Everyone worked really hard to get the grapes in with the most amount of care. In contrast to the previous two years, all our varieties will be picked before the first rains, except for the Cabernet, which is known for its weather resistance and thick skins that can hold up to moisture. All of our 2012 fruit is of beautiful quality: perfect sugars, great acidity, and no mold. The wines of 2012 will show slightly higher alcohol levels than the past two vintages because sugars are higher when the grapes are allowed to come to full maturation.
In the next two weeks in the vineyards we’ll plant this year’s winter grains, as well as our traditional cover crops of legumes that add nitrogen to the soil. Our work in the vineyard is always looking ahead, but we relish the thought of enjoying this memorable 2012 organic vintage!
San Francisco-based Organic Conversation Radio show with Helge Hellberg and Mark Mulcahy recently interviewed Katrina Frey and others as part of their "Celebrating Women Leadership" Earth Day special.
Katrina was interviewed first, where she talks about the fight to keep added sulfites out of organic wine.
You can hear the complete show and all the interviews at Organic Conversation's website.
It’s a rare harvest day that our winemaker Paul Frey is not found in the wine cellar from dawn to the wee hours. But on Oct 26-28th, Paul traveled to Madison, WI to defend the USDA organic wine standard. He joined fellow organic winemaker Phil La Rocca of La Rocca Vineyards, along with Steve Frenkel of Organic Vintages, who distributes organic wines in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. They each addressed the National Organic Standards Board to argue against a proposed amendment that would allow the addition of sulfites to organic wine for the first time. Paul Frey said, “The other attendees we spoke to expressed broad support in continuing the ban of sulfites in USDA organic wines. People who believe in the foundation of organics recognize that sulfites do not belong in organic foods and wines.”
Philip La Rocca said he went to Madison, “Because I thought it was important to not just fight against sulfur dioxide in organic wine, but also because we need to be careful that we don’t open the door to allowing other synthetics in organic production. Let’s keep organics pure.”
Steve Frenkel said, "I flew to Madison because I think it's very important to maintain truth in labeling. The consumer has a right to transparency in making choices about what they are drinking."
Signed petitions are being collected by the OCA, to be submitted to the AMS Administrator who oversees the USDA's National Organic Program. Please help safegard organic food standards.
Last week Marie and I tucked our bees in for the winter. Our esteemed teacher from Sonoma County, Serge LaBasque, advises that these winter preparations be completed by Nov 5th. We removed empty boxes and reduced the number of frames in each box from 9 frames to 6 in addition to solid follower boards that form an inside wall about 3 inches from the outside wall. This results in improved circulation throughout the hive to combat the damp of our northern California winters.
Marie harvested 3 beautiful frames of honey from her strongest hive and donated two of them to my weak hive that is still rebuilding from their bear attack last spring. In spite of the rich diversity of bee fodder plants here on our Biodynamic® ranch, our other 4 Golden One Room hives had only enough honey for the bees to get through the winter. Other local beekeepers have also observed that it is not a big honey year. The rains of May and June slowed down the major honey flow.
As the days grow colder, the bees hunker down in a cluster in the heart of the hive and keep their queen and each other warm, only venturing outside if it’s a warm sunny day.
Honeybee sipping Frey organic Sauvignon Blanc grape juice during harvest season.