Eliza Frey with wild mustard in Frey biodynamic Cabernet vineyard.
After weeks of rain and the chill of the polar vortexes, spring is arriving in Mendocino County. One of my favorite spring pastimes is taking to the fields and gathering wild spring greens, or edible weeds – a tonic to the body and the spirit. With their beautiful shapes, shades of green and wide array of flavors, they make a wonderful addition to springtime cuisine. Wild edibles spice up any salad or sandwich, add layers of flavor and texture to stir fries, deepen the flavors of soup or provide a unique garnish for any dish.
Wild edible plants connect us back to the abundance of Mother Nature, and to our ancestors, who relied on foraging for survival. Wild plants don’t need humans to help them grow, and there is something beautiful and complete about their ability to get what they need and thrive on their own. Gathering wild greens is easy and fun as long as you follow some common sense guidelines.
Make sure you know what you are eating! Never eat any plant without first knowing that it is edible. Many wild edibles have close look-alikes, so make sure you are well informed before ingesting any new plant. The information below does not include identification details for the listed plants. A great way to make sure you’re being safe is to find a friend or neighbor who is knowledgeable and invite to come forage with you. Local foraging classes and groups are popping up all over the nation. There are countless websites and books about gathering wild plants, and a quick internet search can connect you with plenty of resources.
Edible weeds are only healthful when harvested from areas free of chemicals and pollutants. Avoid harvesting from chemically maintained lawns, near motor roadways, non-organic farms or in areas where there may be high dog traffic. After harvesting wild greens, make sure to wash them thoroughly.
Never harvest an entire stand of wild plants. A general rule of thumb is to leave at least 2/3 of any given patch untouched, allowing the species to complete its life cycle and reproduce, and ensuring that there is plenty for wildlife.
The abundance and variety of wild edibles varies greatly among different climates and regions. While the varieties listed below are available and abundant for Mendocino County, California, in spring, your location will ultimately dictate what you have access to and when.
Here are a handful of my favorite green treats to gather on the Frey Ranch in late winter and early spring:
Miner’s Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata)
Miner's lettuce, an annual flowering plant, is also known as Indian lettuce, spring beauty, and winter purslane. Native to the west coast of North America, it prefers cool wet areas, and in inland Mendocino County it is available from Late January to April. Fleshy stems lead to rounded rosette leaves that cup the morning dew. White or pink flowers develop on a slender stem that grows out of the center of the leaf. It is abundant at the edges of our vineyards, in shady areas at the forest’s edge.
It is best picked when fresh and green, before flowering. The stems are crisp and juicy, and the leaves are tender with a mild watery flavor, well suited as the base of a salad, or used as a substitute for lettuce in any context.
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Chickweed is a low growing annual that reseeds yearly and emerges in late winter, as rainfall and warmer temperatures allow germination. Its tiny leaves climb wispy mats of stems in semi shaded edge areas and sunny fields. As it matures tiny white flowers form at each leaf node.
It has a pleasant, mild flavor and is a great substitute for sprouts on sandwiches and in wraps. It is also lovely in salad. It gets slimy when cooked so try enjoying it raw. For larger, leggy plants, you may want to use only the leaves, as the stems can be a bit fibrous. Chickweed doesn’t store well, and is best eaten within a few hours of harvest.
Common Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale subsp. vulgare)
This is the most common variety of dandelion, although there are thousands. Dandelion is a perennial plant native to Europe. In California jagged leaves re-sprout from taproots in the late winter. In wetter climates the greens can be harvested throughout the growing season. A thick, fleshy stem develops and forms bright yellow, multi-petaled flowers that eventually turn into globes of fluff that scatter on the wind with our wishes. Dandelion’s nutritional value eclipses most of the fruits and vegetables you can buy in the grocery store. It is recognized as a tonic to the liver, kidneys, blood and digestion.
Dandelion has an intense bitter flavor that is somewhat of an acquired taste. The entire plant, including the leaves, stems, flowers, and roots, is edible and nutritious, packed with vitamin C, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, thiamin, riboflavin, beta-carotene and fiber. Due to their intense flavor, greens are often cooked, and are delicious with a bright lemony dressing. The flowers of dandelion are also beautiful and pungent before they start to form seed heads, great as a garnish or sautéed with garlic. Dried and roasted roots can be ground and brewed as dandelion coffee, and are an ingredient in traditional root beer.
Wild Mustard (Brassica Spp.)
Wild Mustard is found all over the world and mustard and its cousins radish and turnip have been grown since ancient times. Here in Mendocino County the spring brings an explosion of color as the bright yellow flowers fill the vineyards, delighting bees and foragers alike. Mature plants can be up to 4 feet tall, but they are tastiest when harvested young.
The mustard flower is a beautiful garnish on salads, with a rich pollen-like flavor and gentle heat. The greens need to be harvested young, as they get spiny as the plant reaches maturity. They are a wonderful addition to any stir fry, chopped fresh in potato salad, or served wilted with a vinaigrette dressing.
As flowers drop and the plant forms seed-pods, the tender green pods can be harvested and pickled. As the plant finishes its life cycle the mature seeds can be harvested and ground into mustard.
Sheep’s sorrel (Rumex acetosella)
Sheep's sorrel is a low growing perennial herb in the buckwheat family is native to North America. It makes its home in disturbed soils and spreads from seeds and fleshy, horizontal roots. Clumps of green arrow shaped leaves form at the base of the plant, which redden as the plant grows and forms upright flower stalks for tiny reddish-brown flowers and seed pods.
Tender green leaves have an intensely tart lemon flavor that is a great accent in salads and soups, and adds pop to pesto. Its seeds are also edible and can be eaten raw or cooked.
Winter Pea Shoots (Pisum sativum)
While winter peas are not wild in our vineyards, they are part of our annual cover crop mix. Peas are legumes that fix nitrogen into the soil. They grow tendrils that help them climb amid ryegrass and bell beans and have fleshy silvery leaves that form in whorls along the rigid stem, and they form beautiful edible pink flowers as temperatures rise.
Harvest the top 2-4 inches of the pea shoots to enjoy their distinctly sweet and nutty flavor that is wonderful raw or cooked. Try them sautéed with garlic and olive oil or in place of spinach in your favorite soup. The flowers are tender and mild and gorgeous as a garnish or salad ingredient. Consider adding them to a winter cover crop for a delicious supply of late winter greens!
We are excited to be building our new winery on West Road in Redwood Valley. Our new site is located amongst vineyards that we have farmed for many years, but we rarely had the opportunity to show off the beauty of the land to visitors. It is a south-facing parcel that is tucked up against forested benchland and is home to a few majestic valley oaks and a scenic irrigation pond.
We knew that for the design and construction of the building we would need a team leader who was aligned with our vision for an energy-efficient and sustainable space. Craig Frost of Frostline Systems, based in nearby Willits, was the perfect person to head up the design and build. Craig has experience in mechanical engineering, architecture, and construction and has been involved in the remodeling of the Cotton Auditorium in Fort Bragg, the construction of Laytonville High School and low-income housing in Mendocino County.
The outer shell of our new winery is a 43,000 sq ft metal building that measures 37 ft tall and supports a roof of solar panels. This is the first time in our winery’s history that the majority of our wine tanks will be housed indoors, which will allow better humidity and temperature control. The building will be night-air controlled, pulling in cool air at night, and using the temperature differential between day and night to regulate the inside temperature. It is the most passive system we could achieve given the size of the space, and with the help of the solar panels, it will be energy self-sufficient over the course of a year.
Wherever we can, we are choosing green materials and creative detailing. We are using NorCal Concrete recycled concrete blocks for the retaining wall that supports the ramp leading up to the crush pad. The 380 ft long wall is capped with a decorative bas-relief of iconic shapes and images from our area. Vineyard truck drivers hauling grapes will start at the bottom and see imprinted grapevines and wildflowers, then forest with mushrooms and bear, then ocean with sea creatures and a surfer.
The tasting room and office floors will be made with recycled maple from the flooring of an old school gym. The doors will be fashioned from recycled redwood from water tanks. We have been able to salvage some of the wood from trees lost in the fire, and although it isn’t strong enough for structural lumber, we will be able to integrate it in trim work and decorative pieces.
Tasting room visitors will have the added treat of a self-guided nature trail through beautiful pollinator gardens, up the benchland to survey the vineyards from above, and down along the bio-swale and the pond habitat.
Our construction crew has been phenomenal in providing excellent skills and dedicated labor. Johnny Frey, our third-generation assistant winemaker, has been Craig’s main assistant with designing and building. “I often call up Katrina and tell her how amazing her son is,” Craig confesses. “We work really well together and we’re able to achieve a lot in a short amount of time.” In addition to Craig and Johnny, we’ve had the pleasure of working with owners of local companies: Ryan Mayfield of R and M Construction, Josh Smith of Smith Concrete, and Chris Solomon of Solomon Electric.
The wet winter here in Redwood Valley is great for grapevines, but not as easy on construction, so our concrete pours have been delayed. We are on schedule to have the crush pad ready in time for harvest 2019, and we’re planning on celebrating with a big party. We’ll keep you updated on our grand opening date, and we can’t wait to share our new space with you!
Since our beginning in 1980, we’ve been innovators in the organic winemaking field. Innovation involves asking questions: How can we develop the best vineyard management practices to accomplish a holistic farming system? How can we increase carbon-sequestration in our soil? How can we explore new techniques on the bottling line to preserve our wines’ delicate flavors? The wines we produce have always been a direct reflection of our ecological goals and our stewardship ideals.
Behind-the-scenes at the winery is our commitment to environmental protection through our packaging. Over the years we’ve taken strides to seek out environmentally friendly packaging options and like-minded vendors to work with. We’ve experimented with different types of closures, recycled label papers, and shipping boxes. In the same way our customers make a difference by supporting organic agriculture, we can make a difference with sustainable packaging choices.
For the last several years we have been sourcing our corks from Ganau, a company based in Sardinia, Italy. Ganau has been sustainably harvesting cork from Mediterranean forests since 1941. We purchase Ganau’s agglomerated corks, which are formed from micro-granulated bits of cork compressed into a solid closure. Molded corks are a resourceful use of cork scraps and help maintain the cork industry as zero waste. Ganau uses a proprietary steam-cleaning process to remove TCA, a compound that can impart musty flavors in wine, as an alternative to the conventional chlorine-heavy method. The agglomerated corks work well for us because they create a tight seal on the bottle that prevents any oxygen infiltration, which is essential to protecting our non-sulfited wines. Oxygen-taint is down significantly since incorporating Ganau into our bottling line, and we are so happy with the results.
Envi 100 Wine Labels from Monadnock paper mill
With the redesign of our Biodynamic portfolio in 2013 we wanted to source a recycled label paper that would truly represent the ecological principles of the wine inside the bottle. After much research and development (think: mock-up wine bottles plunged into ice water baths to test for durability, and shipped to Frey friends across the country to test for scratches) we were thrilled to discover Monadnock mill in New Hampshire. Founded in 1819, Monadnock is the oldest continuously operating paper mill in the United States. Monadnock developed Envi Performance Label stock to be 100% PCW recycled, Forest Stewardship Council Certified, and processed chlorine-free. The paper has all the elements we were looking for and it prints beautifully.
Monadnock produces up to 50% of its electricity requirement with onsite hydropower, with the other half derived from purchased wind-power, and all their products are manufactured carbon neutral. Their dedication to environmentally responsible ingenuity and impact-reduction goals has created a delightful business relationship.
Kraft case boxes and recycled pulp liners
Last fall we debuted our kraft recycled case boxes imprinted with our signature Frey logo. Previously we had been using white cardboard boxes to ship wine to our distributors. The change came about when we started researching the differences between recycled (brown) cardboard and virgin (white) cardboard. Compared to 100% recycled cardboard, each ton of virgin cardboard produced uses 24 trees, 33% more energy, 49% more wastewater, and releases 37% more greenhouse gases in the process. The choice was simple once we realized how we could reduce our footprint in this area.
Our direct-to-consumer shipping materials are also eco-friendly. To cushion our bottles during shipping, we use molded pulp liners that are made from 100% recycled materials in a chemical-free pulping process that uses open-air drying. The pulp liners are also BPI-certified compostable, which is the best option to stay out of the waste stream, and can be composted at your local green waste site or in your backyard compost pile. The winery brochures that we include in each order are printed at Greenerprinter on 100% recycled uncoated paper with vegetable-based inks.
We are grateful to be surrounded by such natural beauty that continues to remind us of our responsibility as caretakers of the land around us. By making ecologically conscious choices at every level of our business, we hope to inform and engage our customers, our suppliers, and our community in a deeper conversation about how we can work together in an increasingly sustainable way.
Mustard blowing in the wind in Frey organic Cabernet vineyard, Spring 2019.
The season turns and cycles of vineyard work turn with it. With the release of the first 2018 wines, we are looking ahead to a great 2019 vintage.
We will be wrapping up pruning next week. Pruning is arguably the most crucial of all vineyard processes, as choices about which wood to remove or leave determines fruit set this year and into the future.
Pruning is also the most time-consuming, labor-intensive task of the year. The human-power needed to prune over 300 acres of grapes is vast, and the work spans December to April. This year the gift of a wet winter has slowed things down a little, with several days missed due to intense rains.
The abundance of water has been great for the growth of annual cover crops. We use a mix of rye grass, triticale, bell beans and pea shoots (check out the post on foraging greens in the vineyard). The cover crops help hold soil in place through wet winter downpours, the roots provide food and habitat for soil life, flowers provide forage for pollinating insects and the bodies of the plants will return to the soil to continue to feed the soil food web.
Each handful of healthy soil can contain billions of vertebrates, invertebrates, fungi and bacteria – the myriad life forms that support all life on earth. Grape vines cannot uptake vital nutrients and water on their own. They depend on these smaller beings to process nutrients and make them bioavailable. This robust yet delicate ecosystem is a universe beneath our feet, and as farmers we feel a duty to protect and enhance it. Our organic practices are a stand against the poisoning of soils, waters, animals and people that is the result of widespread pesticide, fungicide and herbicide use. Chemical agriculture weakens the precious web of life from the ground up.
Refusing chemicals on the farm is more labor intensive, and with lush growth after such a wet winter we anticipate needing to work hard to combat mildew and fungus in the canopy of the grape vines. Wire trellis systems throughout the vineyard allow us to pull canes up and away from the fruit to allow more air-flow around developing bunches of grapes. In particularly lush sites we will also need to thin leaves by hand to ensure mildew and mold do not have a chance to set in.
A busy season lies ahead! Along with routine vineyard tasks we will be adding 16 new acres of Chardonnay vines at the Road D Ranch. Vines have been ordered and plans for irrigation and layout are underway. As always, we appreciate your support of our endeavors and your choice of organic wine, for the planet, the waters, our children, and your enjoyment. Cheers!
Sunset at Frey Organic Vineyards, Spring 2019.
In 2015 we set up an automatic camera in protected forestland near our organic vineyards to learn more about the local wildlife. The camera was placed at a spring high up the mountain. What a surprise it was to discover that so many animals visited to bathe and drink, including bears, foxes, deer, and many species of birds. The abundance of bears was especially surprising, as the shy and elusive creature is rarely spotted in person.
Another surprise was footage of a fisher (Pekania pennanti), a sleek and cat-like member of the weasel family, widespread in Canada. A narrow branch of their territory reaches southward to the northern Rocky Mountains, the Cascade Range in Oregon, the High Sierras, and amazingly along the Northern Coast Range of California where Frey Vineyards is located. It’s a beautiful creature that needs forestland to survive.
In 2016 we added a second camera at a bear wallow about a half mile from the first camera. Familiar faces appeared such as one particularly large, tranquil behemoth of a bear, as well as a wary bear always looking over his shoulder. In the following years we added a couple more cameras, most of which were lost in the great fire that swept through our area in 2017. The one that survived captured scenes of a slow-moving forest fire, which we’ll post soon.
The wildlife just a short walk from our home and vineyards reminds us about the importance of farming sustainably and organically, without synthetic pesticide drift to contaminate the water and ecosystems that sustain all of us. We hope you support organic food production by choosing organic when you can.
Check out our YouTube channel for the short versions.
By Chef Tamara Frey
Enjoy lightly braised asparagus and wine-infused Portobello mushrooms in a basket of flaky filo, blanketed with a tarragon hollandaise. The steps are simple and the medley of flavors will wow your guests. We served it with a bottle of Frey Organic Pinot Noir. So good!
1 box filo dough
5 large Portobello mushrooms (can use other mushrooms)
2 pounds fresh asparagus
2 pounds unsalted butter
1 jar roasted red peppers
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 large lemon
1 1/2 teaspoons tarragon
2 pinches cayenne
1/2 cup Frey Pinot Noir
salt and pepper for seasoning
Make the filo baskets
Filo dough comes frozen, so leave the box in the refrigerator for a day to thaw before gently unrolling the sheets. The sheets I used came in rectangular size of 13 x 18 inches, so after applying the butter and stacking, I cut each in half to 13 x 9 inch rectagles. While working with one sheet, cover the rest with a cloth to prevent from drying out.
Melt 1 and a half sticks of unsalted butter in a sauté pan. Start by gently laying out one of the filo sheets and brush on the melted butter with a pastry brush. Take another sheet and put it on top of the buttered sheet. Continue layering the filo sheets this way, with the melted butter in between each sheet until you have 8 layers. If a sheet tears, as it often does, just patch it up with a piece of filo using a dab of melted butter as glue.
With your 8 layers stacked, cut in half down the middle. Grab one of the stacks and fold the sides in at about half-inch increments until you build up the sides a bit to create a simple basket about 4 x 5 inches. Bake in oven at 375-degree for approximately 12 to 15 minutes, until top and bottom are nicely browned and the basket has puffed up. Set cooked filo baskets aside. (If making the baskets a day ahead, store in a cool place covered with plastic wrap, then flash heat in a 300 degree oven when ready to assemble.)
Prepare the mushrooms
Thinly slice the mushrooms. Melt in a sauté pan 5 tablespoons of unsalted butter. Sauté the sliced mushrooms a few minutes until done. Add 1/2 cup of Frey Organic Pinot Noir and reduce the juices until a bit thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. (May need to reheat when it is time to assemble the baskets.)
Prepare the asparagus
Rinse the asparagus. Holding one spear in both hands, gently crack it where it naturally breaks. Repeat with all the asparagus spears and discard the bottom parts. Melt 4 tablespoons unsalted butter in a sauté pan, add the juice of 1/2 a lemon, and sauté the asparagus on medium heat until al dente, which is still a bit crispy, or you can cook it to your liking. Set aside. (May need to reheat when it is time to assemble the baskets.)
Prepare the hollandaise
Hollandaise can be tricky as we all know. People are afraid to attempt it. The following is a simple hollandaise recipe using a Cuisinart that I’ve had immense success with. Years ago when I had a little cafe and labored over the classic water-bath hollandaise method, one of the other cooks gave me this fabulous recipe. I have never gone back to the classic French method I learned in culinary school. I love that the consistency of this recipe holds its own every time. It is the one-one-one method: 1 egg, 1 yolk, 1 lb. butter. Here it is:
Melt a pound of unsalted butter in a saucepan on medium to low heat. The melted butter cannot be too hot, nor too cold. Lukewarm is perfect. While the butter’s melting, put the large egg and the large egg yolk in the Cuisinart. Let it run for a minute or so until the mixture becomes light-yellow and creamy, and warmed by the Cuisinart. Then, very slowly, in a thin stream, pour the warm melted butter into the mix while Cuisinart is running. Turn off machine and test for thickness by carefully putting a spoon in the hollandaise. If the spoon comes out coated, without the hollandaise running down the spoon, then consistency is good. Turn on the Cuisinart again and add the juice of half a lemon, one and a half teaspoons of the tarragon, a pinch or two of cayenne and salt. Pulse the Cuisinart and mix, then taste for seasoning. Adjust as needed. You might enjoy more lemon juice or more of a kick with the cayenne.
Prepare the Roasted Red Peppers
Slice in thin strips and set aside.
Assemble the asparagus baskets
Best to serve the filo basket, mushrooms and asparagus piping hot, as all three cool quickly.
Place a filo basket on a plate.
Place two or three spoonfuls of mushrooms in the filo basket.
Then 4 or 5 asparagus spears.
Partially blanket the mushrooms and asparagus with the warm hollandaise.
Lay 2 roasted red pepper strips in an X pattern across it all.
Serve and enjoy!
Copyrighted 2019, Tamara Frey