Frey Vineyards Native Plant Garden
By Carolyn Brown, Lead Gardener at Frey Vineyards
Some of the most engaging aspects of gardens are the visiting butterflies, birds, and other wildlife they attract. About ten years ago our friend and neighbor, Cathy Monroe, inspired and educated us about the importance of gardening for monarch butterflies with her California Naturalists capstone project. Katrina Frey has been an adamant supporter of establishing native milkweed plantings and providing habitat for these regal fluttering beauties and we have planted out several small pilot project gardens in the Frey vineyards. In the winter of 2020 and ‘21 we built a greenhouse and shade house and began propagating California native trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and bunch grasses for our one-acre butterfly and pollinator garden.
The garden is located at our new winery on a 12’ tall berm. In addition to providing wildlife habitat, trees and woodland shrubs, it will provide a living privacy screen for our neighbors and the chaparral plantings on the sunny southern side will create a seasonally changing landscape for the winery. The garden has plantings of three of the four species of milkweed that are native to Mendocino county. Milkweeds are the sole food of monarch butterfly caterpillars. As the successive generations of monarch butterflies make their annual northern migration they rely on finding stands of milkweed to rear the next round of caterpillars. In addition to milkweeds, the adult monarch butterflies need a seasonal supply of floral nectar and pollen to fuel their long journeys.
Our garden has a wide variety of drought-tolerant California native plants that bloom throughout the season. The garden also provides habitat and forage for native bee species and other beneficial insects. Many species of these insects are, in turn, foraged by birds such as swallows, chickadees, and bluebirds who rear their young in the dozens of vineyard nesting boxes. A few years ago, Nathaniel Frey began building and hanging birdhouses in the vineyards and hundreds of birds have successfully fledged in them. Both of these projects exemplify the Frey family’s commitment to fostering biodiversity in their vineyards. Farming in ways that support biodiversity is a foundational premise of both Biodynamic and organic farming. Biodiversity creates a complex web of microorganisms, insects, and animals which contribute to a fertile and resilient farm ecosystem. Biodiverse farms are better able to withstand environmental stressors, pests, and diseases than conventionally farmed mono-cropped systems. Also, they are so much more fun to visit and work in!
In 2015 the National Wildlife Federation launched The Mayors’ Monarch Pledge, a national campaign asking mayors and heads of local governments to commit their cities to specific actions that support habitat for monarch butterflies and other wildlife. At the program’s inception, Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said, “If we all work together — individuals, communities, farmers, land managers, mayors and local, state, and federal agencies — we can reverse the monarch decline and ensure every American child has a chance to experience amazing monarchs in their communities.” Ukiah’s former mayor, Juan Orozco, signed the Mayors’ Monarch Pledge in 2021. Frey Vineyards has donated many of our plants to several local monarch garden projects. When you come out to our new winery, plan on taking some time to walk through and enjoy our butterfly and pollinator garden. You may even get some ideas for creating your own monarch sanctuary at home.
Mayors and other heads of local and tribal government are taking action to help save the monarch butterfly, an iconic species whose eastern populations have declined by 90% and western populations by 99% in recent years. Through the National Wildlife Federation's Mayors' Monarch Pledge, U.S. cities, municipalities, and other communities are committing to create habitat for the monarch butterfly and pollinators, and to educate residents about how they can make a difference at home and in their community.
Flowering lupines, olive trees and budding organic Zinfandel grapevines at Frey Vineyards
Early in the season it looked like we were set to get average rainfall with heavy storms in October and December. Those early rains got cover crops jumping out of the ground and brought us a good portion of the way towards our needed rainfall. Things were looking good!
That changed with record dry conditions in January and February. The dry spell sent cover crops into flower and stalled growth earlier than usual. We went forward expecting a very dry spring and rushed through work that is often done in April and May. Late winter made for wonderful working weather but was concerning as two of our normally wet months were as dry as summer. We hardly had any pruning rain-out days and are far ahead of schedule on vineyard tractor duties because of workable soil conditions. Pruning just wrapped up this week, as early as ever due to fair weather through the winter months.
Unexpectedly, the rain gates opened in April with the “April Amelioration,” as meteorologists have dubbed it. With our most recent storms this week we are approaching average annual rainfall for Redwood Valley. The doom and gloom of our dry winter have given way to saturated fields and flowing streams. The groundwater combined with longer days is giving a new growth flush to remaining cover crops.
Wet April conditions have helped to quelch the fear brought on by record breaking spring heat waves. February and March both saw 90 degree days, causing early bloom in many fruit varieties. This caused problems later as late February brought a cold event that damaged fruit set in plums, peaches and almonds across the state. Gladly, grapes were still dormant at that time and should move forward unaffected.
Bud break on all varieties came right on schedule, middle to late March. All of the vines are happy and healthy and growing strong and enjoying the water this week with more rain in the forecast. Expectations are high for an average to above average crop after last year which was the smallest harvest seen in decades due to drought conditions in our region.
Although we feel relief from the recent weather, the sporadic and unseasonable patterns illustrate increasing unpredictability in farming conditions. Plans for new plantings have been delayed because of water insecurity. We are starting another growing season without water from the Redwood Valley Water District irrigation, which was cut off last year and has yet to become available again. We are limited to stored water from on-site reservoirs for frost protection and irrigation through the season.
Despite these difficulties and insecurities we are grateful to be growing grapes here for another season. April showers bring May flowers; we are looking forward to abundant grape flowers next month!
Frey Syrah grapes, Spring 2022
Gnarly ancient Cab vines with moss!
Budding organic Syrah grapes
Syrah grapes budding out
LEMON MERINGUE PIE on a GRAHAM CRACKER CRUST
With Strawberries and Cream
Lemon meringue pie is a tasty and refreshing dessert classic. I prefer using Meyer lemons and fresh farm eggs. I’ve always loved lemon meringue on graham cracker crust, paired with a Frey organic white wine!
Makes one pie
For the crust:
Preheat oven to 300 degrees
2 cups crushed graham crackers
2 tablespoons finely chopped lemon zest
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons vanilla
12 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
Mix thoroughly and press into a pie pan.
Bake 15 minutes and set aside.
For the filling:
Mix in a medium saucepan:
1¼ cup sugar
6 tablespoons corn starch
¼ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons finely chopped Meyer lemon zest
Mix until smooth: 1 cup fresh squeezed Meyer lemon juice
Stir in: 4 large beaten egg yolks (save whites for the meringue)
Add: 2 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into pieces
Add slowly and stir constantly:
1 ½ cups boiling water
Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about a minute until smooth, thick, and creamy.
Remove from heat and pour into your baked pie shell.
For the meringue:
Make sure meringue bowl is very clean and dry. NO egg yolk should be in the egg whites. A glass bowl is best.
Beat 7 egg whites (the 4 egg whites you saved, plus 3 more) on medium speed until foamy.
¾ teaspoon cream of tartar. Beat a minute, then increase speed to high and beat until soft peaks form-about 4 minutes.
½ cup superfine sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt.
Beat at high speed one more minute and add:
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon finely minced Meyer lemon zest
Beat at high speed another minute until shiny stiff peaks form.
Spread onto the pie filling, forming peaks and bake in at 325° for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown.
Let it cool for an hour or so, then into the fridge to cool another few hours.
Serve with Maple Vanilla Cream and sliced strawberries!
To make the Maple Vanilla Cream:
Use whipping cream. Whip until almost done, then add maple syrup and vanilla to taste. Finish whipping, put in a bowl, lightly sprinkle with Meyer lemon zest finely minced.
Pair with your favorite Frey organic white wine. Enjoy!
Bluebird mother sitting on her eggs.
In 2020 we put up 33 birdhouses in our vineyards to attract bluebirds and other species in need of nesting sites. They also help the vineyards by feeding on insects. 102 chicks fledged over that summer. Check out my blog post last year for the backstory and how we used mostly recycled wood to build the boxes. Birdhouses are easy to make and maintain, and we encourage you to make your own to help out your local bird population. A great resource can be found at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.
This year we nearly quadrupled the number of birdhouses to 121, and 554 chicks successfully fledged the nests!
172 tree swallows
29 house sparrows
11 ash throated flycatchers
6 white breasted nuthatches
This is more than quadruple the number of fledglings from 2020. Last year we learned that the birds in general prefer boxes hung on metal stakes in the open vineyards over boxes placed in trees. If a box was vacant, more often than not it was in a tree. The birds know what we observed: boxes in trees had a higher rate of disturbed nests. Racoons and snakes can easily climb trees and reach in for the chicks, but the metal stakes are nearly impossible to climb for predators. Also, mice like to turn birdhouses into their private apartments. Even after eviction, birds seem to avoid the boxes. No mouse squatters appeared in the birdhouses hung high on metal poles. Of course not all birdhouses in trees had problems and birds will use whatever suitable hole in a tree they can find, but in general the rate of troubled nests was much higher in trees.
Of the 121 birdhouses, 26 remained unoccupied throughout the breeding season, usually those on trees or were in the shade for most of the day. Of the 95 boxes that were taken up by the birds, 36 of them were used twice! After a pair finished raising their brood and moved on, another pair sometimes moved in. That makes 131 successful nesting pairs using only 121 boxes.
As spring turned to summer, the number of nesting birds dropped off and the number of chicks per family declined as well. In spring when insects were plentiful, bluebirds and tree swallows averaged 5 or 6 chicks in a box. Later in the summer the average dropped to 3 or 4. Nature can be brutal, as many chicks don't make it. A brood of 6 chicks might decline to 3 later in the summer, probably because of fewer insects for the parents to catch. Inexplicably, around three nests were completely abandoned, each with 5 or 6 fledglings, the parents likely victims of predation.
I checked all 121 birdhouses about every 10 days, often with the help of my 10 year-old sun Julian and 6 year-old daughter Sofia, counting the eggs, chicks, and noting if they had fledged. Some online sources recommend checking every 5 days, but it takes a lot of time to go from box to box, using a ladder or climbing onto the back of a pickup to reach the boxes. Each box has a door for inspection and cleaning. After a pair of birds raise and fledge their babies, the nest gets cleaned out. If it’s not too late in the season, another pair of birds will use the same box. When cleaning out a bird box, be sure to wear a mask and take note of which way the wind is blowing. The chicks leave a lot very dusty bird waste behind, that you don’t want to breathe.
The boxes set up last year were left out in the vineyards over the winter. They got noticeably weathered by the cycles of rain and sun, cold and heat, after just one season. So this year most were removed at the end of summer and placed in dry storage for the winter. They’ll be put out again early next spring. We hope this will add several years to the life of these wooden birdhouses. At the ends of the rows of most of our vineyards are metal pipes used as anchors for the trellises. The metal stakes, with the birdhouses attached on top, can easily slip into these thick pipes, making for easy installation and removal. Removing them at the end of summer also helps the harvest crew, as they otherwise would have to get them out of the way for the harvest machines.
We look forward to spring 2022 for another season of raising bluebird chicks in the vineyards!
Stack of birdhouses ready to be attached to the metal stakes.
Birdhouse at the end of a row of grapes. The metal stake slips right into the anchor post.
Birdhouse squatters soon to be sent on their way!
A lovely spring day for a birdhouse in the vineyard.
Ash throated flycatcher chicks!
Harvest started earlier than usual in 2021, due to the smaller than average crop. Low yields were the result of an extremely dry year, but these low yields produce concentrated flavors. Fruit quality was exceptional across the board, the fermenting wines smell and taste rich and fruity. We had an all-star harvest team both in the field and in the cellar.
Crop estimates were low this spring and yields were down by around 50%. We were lucky to start partnerships with more organic growers throughout the state who helped ensure we have enough wine for the season. We are looking forward to a more bountiful harvest in 2022.
The weather was in our favor throughout the weeks of picking. Early on there were some very hot days but the grapes held up and we had no damaging rains or frost before the crop was brought in. We were blessed with clear skies in our region all summer and avoided the threat of smoke taint from wildfires.
Since the harvest was small and quick there was plenty of time to finish spreading compost and planting cover crops before heavy rains fell in late October. An atmospheric river washed over the lands, bringing several inches of rain, ending the threat of fire season, swelling dry creeks and filling ponds. Now warm weather is ushering in a “second spring”; you can almost feel the grass growing.
We haven’t had a killing frost yet and are busy building this year's compost piles and tidying up for dormancy. The vines have a chance to soak up sunshine and rain before losing their leaves. They’re making good use of the wet and mild fall weather, storing carbohydrates in their roots for a strong bud break and full crop next season.
The olive crop was riper than usual and came in earlier than ever with a decent crop. Oil is milled at the local olive mill in Hopland, the hub of olive processing in the county. Growers large and small bring their olives to be pressed at the Terra Savia facility.
We thank the land for continuing to support us from the ground up, and are grateful for rains to hydrate soils and end the threat of fires for the season. Aside from the drought conditions, 2021 has been an excellent year for fruit in Mendocino County. We look forward to sharing these wines and wish you all health and well-being.
MAPLE APPLE CRUMBLE PIE
I was in New England recently and with the apple trees and maples in full splendor, got inspired for this recipe.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
FOR TWO PIES
Line the pie pans with 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, 1 tablespoon per pan. Spread the butter all over the pie pan. I used my washed hands to do this, the best tools for the task.
FOR THE FILLING
Place in a medium to large sauce pan:
10 Granny Smith Apples. Any good baking apple can be used. Quarter, core and slice as thin as possible. I prefer not to peel the apples.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons cardamom
Zest of one large lemon (Meyer lemon would do also)
2 cups Frey Viognier Wine (any nice white wine will do)
1 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla
Bring to a boil and simmer approximately half an hour, until apples have cooked, and the wine maple syrup sauce has reduced and thickened. Meanwhile prep the crumble.
FOR THE CRUMBLE
4 ½ cups thick cut oats (any oats can be used)
½ cup maple syrup
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and chopped.
2 tablespoons vanilla
Place oats in a Cuisinart or blender or vita-mix, and blend smooth. Add the cold-chopped butter and vanilla and blend.
Add the maple syrup and blend. It will be somewhat sticky and hold together.
ASSEMBLE THE PIES
Place the apple filling in the two pie shells that have been lined with the unsalted butter, half of filling for each.
Break up the wet crumble generously on top of the apple maple filling, dividing it between the two pies and bake for approximately 20 minutes at 350 degrees, or until crumble is toasty and golden.
Serve with vanilla ice cream and enjoy!
Andrew, Carolyn, Monet and Jessica – Gardeners extraordinaire at Frey Vineyards!
A central focus of Bio Dynamic Farming is to keep in or restore to at least 10% of a farm’s native vegetation. This provides habitat for wildlife and insect species that together create a healthy and resilient ecosystem. In turn, the presence of these animals, insects, plants and microorganisms help protect the crops from harmful predators, parasites and diseases. Frey Vineyards is working to reestablish native vegetation on a large berm at the new winery. The berm will be part of a nature trail where visitors can enjoy the beauty of our vineyard nestled in the surrounding oak woodland, learn about key plant communities and the wildlife that they support.
The plants chosen for this project will provide habitat and forage for pollinators and birds; create a landscaped backdrop for the winery; and provide privacy and a shield for our neighbors. These plants are being propagated and grown out in a shade house and hoop house at the new winery site. Last fall, acorns were collected from favorite heritage oaks growing at the original winery site and were planted on the berm with the first rains. This summer these pioneering trees are now a few inches tall. They will be the backbone of the new plantings on the berm. Oaks are the superfood of the plant kingdom. “A mature oak supports thousands of caterpillars, making it a foraging heaven for birds and other animals. In 87% of U.S. counties, oaks feed more moth and butterfly caterpillars than any other type of plant.” (From “The Chickadee’s Guide to Gardening“ by Doug Tallamy).
Native flowering shrubs are being grown out in 1-gallon pots and are ready to be field planted with the coming fall rains. The plants selected are those that will provide an extended period of bloom throughout the growing season, giving our insect visitors an abundant and varied source of nectar and pollen. We are also growing out three species of milkweed native to Mendocino County. Milkweed is the only host plant of Monarch butterfly larvae and it is also a favorite nectar and pollen plant for many insects. This fall we will seed flats of perennial bunch grasses native to Mendocino County. The grasses will be interplanted with native wildflowers to create meadow areas. Together, the grasses and wildflowers will provide displays of color and visual interest throughout the seasons. The grasses will help stabilize the bank and protect it from wind and water erosion and they also provide overwintering shelter for many species of bees, bumble bees, other insects, as well as nesting materials for birds.
When we talk about protecting pollinators and butterflies, perhaps the first species that come to mind are the European honeybee and the Monarch Butterfly. These two beloved species have seen devastating losses over the past several decades; however, California has over 16,000 identified species of bees and over 1,177 species of moths and butterflies. Many of these fragile creatures are suffering from the same environmental threats as the honeybees and Monarch butterflies. The European honeybee is essential for the pollination of many of our food crops, especially those grown in large monocrop systems, because the hives can be moved into a crop during flowering and fruit set and moved on to another crop after the bloom has passed. The pollination services of the European honeybee in large agricultural systems are necessary because the native pollinators are unable to survive in these mono cropped systems. There is not an ongoing source of nectar and pollen in weed free mono crops environments to support and sustain their populations and the pesticides used are as toxic to beneficial insects as they are to the target pest. However, our reliance on the European honeybee has caused significant stress to these essential creatures. Bees, like us, need a balanced and varied diet. When they are moved from crop to crop, they are getting mostly one type of food at a time which leads to nutrient deficiencies. Also, there may be toxic pesticide residues on the crop, in field irrigation water that the bees drink, or in adjacent fields that the bees fly to. These toxins can be fatal on contact, diminishing the population of foraging bees. Sub-lethal doses are brought back to the colony where they may build up in the wax honeycomb, in much the same way as they build up in the fatty tissues of mammals. The accumulation of these toxins cause ongoing stress to the colony. The bees also go through a stressful period of reorientation each time they are moved to a new field throughout the pollination season. They need to learn where the flowers and water sources are and must slowly reorient themselves to the new landscape so they can find their way home. Also, some foraging bees are often left behind with each move, diminishing the foraging workers. Finally, colonies of bees are transported into crops for pollination services from great distances and diseases and parasites can spread rapidly between colonies during these concentrated situations.
In the same way that our attention has focused on the plight of the honeybee, so too have we focused on the loss of our exquisite Monarch butterflies. These remarkable creatures make up two groups. The Western Monarchs migrate from the coast of central California throughout states west of the Rocky Mountains. The Eastern Monarchs migrate from central Mexico up to the northern plains of the United States and Canada east of the Rocky Mountains. Loss of habitat, loss of milkweed species, climate change, pesticides and diseases, have all contributed to the devasting decline of these magnificent butterflies.
How can we farm and garden in ways that protect and nurture these essential pollinators? At Frey Vineyards we strive to create healthy, viable ecosystems on the farm. For example, many bird species rely on insects to feed their young, so over 100 bird nest boxes are distributed throughout our vineyards. Blue Birds, Tree Swallows, Ash Throated Flycatchers, among other species, use the boxes and they help keep insect pest populations down. Planting local, native plant species also helps to foster healthy farm and garden ecosystems. Insects have evolved with specific plant communities, using a variety of plants that are native to one’s region and choosing a selection of plants that provide a continual bloom throughout the growing season will provide the best food source to attract and sustain these beneficial creatures. Making a commitment to not use pesticides or using only the least toxic methods possible at only the most vulnerable stages of a pest’s lifecycle is also essential. At Frey Vineyards, farming practices follow the strict USDA Organic Farming and Demeter Biodynamic Farming standards. Regulations governing pesticide use in both organizations prohibit the use of any synthetic compound and best practice guidelines further require that judicious monitoring take place before any control measures are taken. If it is determined that there is a significant threat to the crop then the least toxic and least broad spectrum measures available to organic growers are used to control a pest.
U. C. Davis has an informative website to help you make the decisions about these least toxic pest control options. Provide safe, undisturbed habitat for these insects. Many bees and bumble bees build their nests in the ground. Leave bare patches of soil, in areas that drain well, for them to nest in. Some bees lay their eggs and provide a nest for the developing larvae in the hollow stems of plants. Leave these plants standing over the winter and cut them back later, during the following year. This will give the developing larvae time to mature and emerge as adult bees. Provide a year-round source of drinking water. Place stones in a shallow basin so the insects can safely drink without falling in and keep their water fresh and clean. Learn which species you have in your area and focus on providing habitat and food sources for them. There are many excellent websites to help you learn about plants and pollinators native to your area.
The California Native Plant Society has information on plants and their respective communities and the wildlife that they support.
The Xerces Society has a wealth of information on gardening practices that support butterflies and pollinators.
Butterflies and Moths of North America is a data base that has photos to help you identify moths and butterflies in your area as well as helpful information on host plants you can plant for each species.
We look forward to having you visit when we are once again open to the public. Until then, happy bee and butterfly gardening!
Lead Gardener, Frey Vineyards Ltd.
Carolyn Brown, Lead Gardener, Frey Vineyards
Plants in the nursery next to the BioFiltro water purification plant.
California native plants in the Frey Vineyards nursery.
Carolyn Brown on the berm.
Young native oak tree, one year after acorn!
This dish was inspired by a trip to Baja California where I had a wonderful plate of tequila jalapeno cream sauce with shrimp and scallops. I’ve created a vegetarian version using leeks instead of seafood and Frey wine in place of tequila. It turned out very tasty!
2 cups leeks, cleaned and sliced in 2 inch strips
2 cups sliced red pepper, remove seeds
2 portabella mushrooms, slice in strips.
1/2 cup sliced jalapeno. Cut in half, de seed, wash, and cut into strips.
1 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
1 pound penne pasta. Cook, drain, keep warm and set aside.
1 1/3 cups cream
1 1/2 cups grated sharp white cheddar cheese
1 cup Frey Chardonnay
3 tablespoons sweet butter
2 tablespoons lime juice from fresh lime
salt and pepper to taste
Heat a large sauté pan with the butter on med high to high heat. Add the leeks, red peppers, mushrooms and jalapenos. Sauté a few minutes until almost done. Deglaze with the wine and add the lime juice. Cook down for a minute or so and add the cream. Reduce until the cream sauce thickens. Add half the grated cheese and half the cilantro. Stir and add salt and pepper to taste. Mix the sauce into the pasta and put in large serving bowl. Garnish with the rest of the grated cheese and cilantro. It you like it spicier, garnish with fresh chopped jalapeno.
The vineyard team collect azolla from the pond.
Late last fall after the grape harvest, Derek Dahlen, Dave Moore and Johnny Arrington, members of our vineyard crew, spent a week harvesting azolla from one of our ranch ponds. Azolla began proliferating on this pond about five years ago. At first we were quite concerned about the rapidly spreading carpet of reddish plants – until we learned that it was very beneficial.
Azolla is a tiny aquatic fern that floats on top of still bodies of waters and occurs throughout most of the temperate to tropical regions of the world. Our native California species, Azolla filculoides, has coevolved with a nitrogen-fixing cyanobactrium called Anabeana azollae for millions of years. Together they merge into a superorganism that holds much promise for mitigating greenhouse gases caused by human activities because of its ability to sequester enormous amounts of atmospheric CO2. Only legumes which are widely used as organic cover crops share this capacity.
Beyond being a wonderful nitrogen fixing biofertilizer, azolla is also a protein rich food for cattle, poultry, fish and pigs. Already commonly used in China, Vietnam and the Philippines, this miraculous plant offers a great solution to many parts of the world such as regions of Africa suffering from soil depletion. The beauty of azolla is that it can easily be grown right on the site where it is needed.
Here at Frey Vineyards we are experimenting with mixing it into our compost piles as a high nitrogen addition to our mounds of grape pomace. I’ve also been using it as a mulch around my perennial flowers, shrubs and fruit trees. It’s helping with water retention and I’m noticing beautiful vibrant new green growth. I am next going to start harvesting azolla as a nutrient rich food for the ranch chickens.
For more information on this amazing plant check out theazollafoundation.org
Yoki Frey and Carolyn Brown trimming olive trees in the vineyard.
Over the years we’ve shared lots of details on the ins and outs of growing grapes and the seasonal flow of work in the vineyards. This drought year is moving things ahead in the vineyard in full force. Pruning is wrapping up this week and cultivation and frost protection are ongoing. But this time around I’d like to share about more than just grapes.
Long before Frey Vineyards was the busy enterprise that it is today, many dwellers of the Frey Ranch were deeply involved in gardens and farming of their own. When my grandparents Paul and Beba bought the ranch in 1962 they were following an impulse to be more self-sufficient and have plenty of fresh air for their large and growing gang of kids. The home ranch used to be a sheep farm, as was much of Mendocino County.
The grapes sort of arrived by default. In the late 1960s local agencies were searching for a site for a large reservoir and there was speculation that it might be built in the little valley here at the bottom of Tomki Road, at the headwaters of the Russian River. That never came to pass but the grapes were planted to increase property value in the event that the land would be acquired by imminent domain. The project did move forward a little southeast, and today Lake Mendocino (low as ever!) covers what used to be several homesteads in Coyote Valley.
Here on the ranch the first vines were planted in the early 70s. At the same time there was a lot of work towards getting gardens and orchards going. Paul, Beba and the kids raised hogs and chickens, peacocks and many fruit trees were planted. Starting in the 1970s the Frey siblings and their partners grew many amazing gardens. My earliest memories revolve around the stone foundation of the greenhouse my dad built, just a stone’s throw from the winery; the garden was rich and fertile with mulberries, filberts, pears and apples. My mom’s garden is still there, although only the foundation of the greenhouse remains. I was given my very own garden bed to plant what I chose: peas, cockscomb amaranth, cucumber and daisies. My mom Katrina and her best friend had a small perennial nursery, following in the footsteps of my great grandfather Johnny who ran a nursery in Vermont.
Jonathan Frei, my uncle, started some of the earliest plantings of crops besides grapes, establishing Peach Tree Lane, the first olive orchard, and has experimented with medicinal herbs, blueberries and a plethora of native and drought tolerant shrubs and trees. My younger brother Johnny Frey Jr latter added even more olive trees along the vineyards. My other Uncle Luke Frey and his family also have cultivated beautiful biodynamic gardens and fruit trees.
Over the years as the family has branched and grown, several beautiful gardens and orchards have arisen, and the ranch is a great place to share produce. Now, with the wine business and vineyards humming along and relatively stable, the enterprise is working with a little diversity to break up the monotony and monoculture of grape growing.
The help of Carolyn Brown, deeply experienced garden teacher, beekeeper and plant lover has been wonderful. Carolyn has installed an orchard in the riparian zone of a seasonal stream at the Road I ranch where figs, plums, peaches and nuts are thriving at 4 years old; olives line the fence and entry road. She’s also designed and will install beautiful native and edible landscaping around the new winery.
And while we continue vineyard care and development, each new planting is accompanied by an area for other crops, native and habitat plantings. Winemaker Paul has mastered the art of using baby vine irrigation for summer crops of winter squash, melons and veggies and we’re excited about the prospect of future plantings of cork oak, hazelnut, walnut and prune plum, hedge rows and sunflowers.
Grapes are wonderful after all, but humankind cannot survive on wine and raisins alone. Happy Spring Everyone!
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