Pinnacle of adorability
Recently our Oberhasli goat, named Peanut, had her first birth to triplets! Two baby does and a buckling arrived on Tuesday to much jubilation from the farm crew. While twins are most common for goats who have two nipples to nurse two babies, triplets are not unheard of. In my many years of goat tending, I have had a few sets of triplets and a few singletons too.
Throughout the birthing day we came to check on mama Peanut to make sure she was progressing well. There's a ligament where the tail attaches that becomes like jelly when the mama is ready to give birth. Her udder "bagged up" with colostrum in preparation to nourish her young offspring. Additionally, Peanut began breathing more heavily than usual and sequestered herself off to one side of the pen; goats are typically very social animals and prefer each other's company to solitude. Just after dark we started a small fire to help us stay warm throughout the evening. In between checks on mama we made tea and enjoyed the night sky. Warm brews in hand, Peanut began to push around 8pm. She made steady progress and the first baby Grogu arrived (so named for the Star Wars Mandalorian series character that is the same alien species as Yoda, replete with ears jutting out at adorable angles).
Peanut had been very pregnant and very wide, so I was not the least bit surprised when baby Mitzvah arrived. Her name means good deed, which she accomplished by being born a baby girl goat. The babies’ father, Little Jimmy Dickens, had only thrown boy goats so far this season. After some celebration and reveling in the miracle of birth, we started to move Peanut and her babies to a new pen where they could relax for the evening. In transit, it became obvious that Peanut had not completed her initiation into motherhood, for a third baby arrived. The girls were all but identical in their beige coats, and so we named the final baby Matzah, of Jewish flatbread fame – mostly because the girls could be referred to as Mitzy and Matzy and that playful name pairing well reflected their adorable personalities. The birthing team made sure the babies were properly licked all over by their mother Peanut to stimulate their tiny bodies to awaken to this world, take to their feet, and attempt their first nursing. Around 11pm we assisted some first feedings so that the babies could thrive through their first cold night in the world. There were a few more late-night check-ups to make sure everybody was adjusting to life outside the womb. A few weeks later now, everyone is enjoying mother's milk and prancing about.
Peanut's mother Apricot had also spent a session with Little Jimmy Dickens in the summer, but didn't take that time. So she is having a romantic interlude at our neighbor's place where she’ll hopefully come into heat and be able to enjoy motherhood by next Spring.
This smaller and shorter herd of goats will be mowers on the fire protection team, strategically eating the undergrowth on the Frey ranch. Meanwhile, our herd of larger goats born last Spring began their first browsing of grass between the vineyard rows. For the past several weeks Aspen, Cally, and Chispa were munching acorns in the South vineyards and nibbling everything else they find on their daily walks around the ranch.
Mama Peaches and her newborn triplits!
Future member of fire protection team.
Bleating for mama's milk.
Bluebird hatchlings at a Frey organic vineyard, Redwood Valley, California.
In the spring of 2020 we placed 33 birdhouses in our vineyards to help bluebirds and other species that are in need of good nesting sites. A total of 102 chicks were raised and fully fledged! The birdhouses were made mostly with recycled wood from the construction of our new winery. The organic vineyards in the spring and early summer provide lots of open space for the breeding pairs to hunt for insects. The reduced number of insects is also good for the grapevines.
The depletion of woodlands in the U.S. has made life difficult for many bird species, especially for birds that nest only in tree holes. Native birds also have to compete with larger and more aggressive invasive species for prime nesting sites. For example, the larger non-native European starling will kick out birds from a site to take it over for their own brood. The entrance hole for the birdhouses we made are just wide enough for native species to squeeze through, but too tight for starlings.
We put up the birdhouses in trees next to the vineyards and on metal stakes at the end of vineyard rows. Each birdhouse was inspected weekly. It’s important to monitor the nests and to clean out the straw and detritus after chicks have fully fledged so another breeding pair can move in, even within the same breeding season. We observed 4 birdhouses that were used twice. The birds prefer the boxes to be totally empty, no leftover nesting material inside when scouting for a site. Also, parents often abandon a nest before finishing it, and on occasion even a finished nest with eggs might be abandoned. Each birdhouse had a number written on it and a spreadsheet app was used to help keep track of so many nests!
Ten of the 33 birdhouses we set up were not used at all by any birds. Maybe these nests didn’t have enough sunlight in the morning, or they were too close to other nests. Several online sources say it’s best to separate birdhouses by 300 or 400 feet, as members of the same species are territorial. But it’s possible two different species will get along fine when nesting next to each other as each might exploit different ecological niches over the same plot of land.
For the remaining 23 birdhouses, 102 chicks fully fledged! Four species took advantage of the boxes, mostly bluebirds and tree swallows. In total there were 51 western bluebird chicks, 31 tree swallows, 11 titmice, and 9 ash-throated flycatchers. We hope to add even more birdhouses for next spring!
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.
Birdhouses made from wood recycled from Frey Vineyards' new winery construction.
The birdhouses hung at the ends of vineyard rows were very popular with Bluebirds and Tree Swallows. The wobbly but secure high metal stakes are good protection against racoons, snakes and other predators.
Each birdhouse has a door for easy monitoring. Bluebird and Tree Swallows will not abandon the nest following a quick inspection. They will divebomb the intruder instead!
A bluebird enters a birdhouse next to organic vineyards.
A pair of tree swallows surveys the vineyard.
A bluebird dad delivers an insect to its ever-hungry brood.
Beautiful ash-throated flycatcher eggs.
Bluebird younglings ready to fly the nest!
Snack delivery by an ash-throated flycatcher.
Some years August offers a lull in vineyard work, some down time for the vineyard crew before harvest. This year the late summer planting segued right into harvest. We worked through the heat of summer on vineyard layout, staking and installing new irrigation systems to welcome the plants in august 2020. The vines are thriving in the late summer heat.
Harvest began earlier than usual due to the dry winter and hotter than average summer. We began harvest with Chardonnay grapes which came in lighter than the last few years, but not for lack of quality. We then moved on to the remaining white varietals including Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Muscat.
At this point we have finished white grapes and the early reds and are moving forward into the later season red varietals. The 2020 Pinot Noir vintage is now fermenting in tanks and is showing great potential for a stand-out vintage. We look forward to sharing these wines with you in the coming year.
An old apple tree and newly planted Frey organic Pinot Noir vineyard, Redwood Valley, California.
After three years of planning and preparation, the vineyard crew was busy this summer rehabilitating a historic Redwood Valley vineyard, Colony Ranch. This land had been farmed previously by the Lolonis and Graziano families and was part of the Finnish Colony established by early immigrants to Redwood Valley in the 1800s.
After many conversations and much thinking, we decided to plant 20 acres of Pinot Noir on this prime vineyard land. We chose a blend of 4 clones of Pinot Noir for their variety of flavor profiles and fruit quality.Three of the clones were classic European Pinot clones: Pommard, Mariafeld and Wadenswil. These have been planted in California since the 1970’s. The remaining quarter of the vineyard is planted to the 828 clone, an up and coming Pinot clone gaining popularity in California over the past two decades. The blend of these four clones will yield a well balanced, nuanced field blend to make great wine
Pinot Noir is one of the longest cultivated Vitis Vinifera European winegrape varietals and has more clonal variation than any other wine grape variety, coming from selections chosen by farmers over time. It is a versatile red wine grape that is grown in many regions in the world. It is one of the few red grape varietals that will ripen in cool regions such as Germany and Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley. In the Redwood Valley and Potter Valley appellations where we grow and source our Pinot Noir we get a fuller bodied, fruit forward wine with notes of blueberry, dark blue plum and spice.
Our hot summer climate allows Pinot Noir to ripen to sugar levels that cooler climates can’t attain most years. At the same time our cool nights and large day and night temperature swings maintain good acidity and intense ripe fruit flavors to make wonderful, balanced wines.
Milk cartons protect the young vine from hungry rabbits for the first year. The uppermost leaves have been eaten on this one.
As we look ahead longing for cool rains here in California my mind turns to the cozy season ahead and fresh, homemade sourdough bread.
Simply stated, sourdough starter is a stable culture of yeast and lactic acid bacteria in a flour and water mixture. Yeast strains present in sourdough starters are usually species in the genus Saccharomyces or Candida. The bacterial component is most often a strain of Lactobacillus, and there are many different strains. The beauty of making your own starter is that the specific strains of yeast and bacteria in your kitchen and their proportion to each other will be unique and yield one of a kind flavor.
You can use any kind of flour you like. I started with all-purpose wheat flour but have slowly transitioned my starter over to a gluten-free baking mix flour. The possibilities of which flour you use are limited only by your tastes and imagination.
Starting and maintaining a starter can seem daunting, but it is really quite simple. All you need to get going is a handful of grapes, and a cup each of flour and non-chlorinated water. While grapes aren’t necessary for getting a sourdough starter established, the yeast naturally present on grape skins will help kickstart the fermentation and get you off in the right direction.
Here are the steps:
1) Mix 1 cup flour and 1 cup water together in a glass jar. A quart canning jar works well. I prefer wide mouth for ease of feeding.
2) Rinse the grapes but do not scrub them, we want the yeast on their skins to enter the mixture. Roughly chop the grapes and mix into the water and flour slurry.
3) The next day, pour off and discard a cup of the mixture, (discard as few grapes as possible) and replace with ½ cup fresh flour and ½ cup water. This is called “feeding.”
4) Repeat step 3 daily. If liquid pools on top of your starter, simply mix it in.
5) After about a week your starter should smell tart, sour or tangy and have visible air bubbles.
6) Once established it will not require daily feeding and can be kept in the fridge resting for a few weeks. It’s a good idea to feed it every week or so for the first 6 months and after a long period of rest it may require a few feedings to become lively again. Your starter will grow stronger over time and can last a lifetime.
With all raw home fermentations I like to go by the old adage, “the nose knows.” Trust your own sensory analysis; does it smell, taste and look good? If it has a smell that is just downright yucky, or if you see active mold growing, discard and begin again. I’ve never had this experience with sourdough and if you do not neglect your starter, you should not have any problems.
Once you are ready to attempt a loaf look online for one of hundreds of recipes. When I first experimented with sourdough bread many years ago I read several recipes that dictated how long I should let the dough sit, how many hours to the let the bread rise and so forth. I followed the directions faithfully and got a few nice loaves, but then things fell flat. What was missing was my own observation. Now, instead of using prescribed time periods for the various steps, I use my eyes, nose and hands to guide me. It has become a much more intuitive process. I hope you have fun and enjoy the process.
Try your bread with your favorite cheese and favorite Frey wine. It should pair just fine with any of our wines!
I never set out to be a goat herder. When I first moved to the Frey Ranch over a dozen years ago there was a herd of goats that needed caring as their owner was about to go out into the world. I even shared the same due date with the pregnant goat mamas; the day after I delivered my son at home I walked out to the barn and saw a goat in labor. “I recognize that look,” I remember distinctly stating as I cradled my newborn in my arms to watch Rosemary, the Nubian goat mother, deliver twins. In a special way that first goat herd and I were linked by our shared journey into motherhood.
Fast forward many years to early 2020 when I was finally able to return to living on the Frey Ranch. After several years contending with displacement by fire, I made my way back to this land that I love. Before I had even moved my stuff out here, a friend asked if I knew anybody that might want to take care of her Alpine dairy goats while she travelled. My son enthusiastically replied that we wanted to take on the goats. By and by, I returned to my pre-fire rhythm of walking through the vineyards with a herd of goats in my wake. For the past several months the goats have been on the fire break team, helping to munch down pathways in the woods. As soon as the grapes are harvested this fall, we’ll be back in the vineyards, grazing between the rows with this new herd. In addition to the goat crew, there’s a mixed flock of a dozen sheep. They’re a blend of Merinos, Navajo Churros, and Cheviots. Additionally, we have a Jersey cow named Nutmeg and her daughter, a Scottish Highlander and Angus mix.
A few months after I had landed another friend offered a few dwarf goats that she had been looking to rehome. Apricot and her grown daughter Peanut came to live with us, too. Then, out of some caprine serendipity, my neighbor happened to acquire a dwarf buck named “Little Jimmy Dickens” around the same time I came into the two dwarf goat mamas. Little Jimmy got dropped off for a play date and romanced the dwarf ladies for several weeks. I’ve never met such a polite and well mannered buck before, and appreciated both Jimmy’s calm demeanor and gentle way of attending to the small dwarf herd during his visit. The mamas are due this November and I’m sure that we could all use some extra sweetness in the form of baby goats next month. Sometimes you seek out your vocation, and sometimes goats come scampering into your life, time and time again.
Ginger Peach Cobbler
Peach season is upon us! A family member dropped off a box of them last week, fresh from our vineyard peach trees. This led me to think of how the aromas of peaches are often detected in wines. So I set out to include a wine reduction in this recipe, a Pinot Grigio syrup, to bring out even more complex and wonderful flavors in wine and bring them into this peach dish. If you make this, we’d love to hear about it!
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup Frey Pinot Grigio dry white wine
1.5 cup coconut sugar
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
1 quart fresh sliced peaches, unpeeled
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 dash of salt
Zest from 1 lemon
1/2 cup milk
Preheat oven to 350°
Pinot Grigio Syrup
Mix together in a sauce pan the Frey Organic Pinot Grigio (or another dry white wine), 1/2 cup coconut sugar, and the grated ginger. Mix and bring to a boil. Simmer until it thickens and reduced by half, more or less. Set aside to cool.
Prepare the Peaches
I do not peel them. Instead I remove the peach fuzz by rubbing them on a clean dish towel. Slice thinly and set aside. (I prefer to leave on the skins to preserve the nutritional value in skins.)
Prepare the Batter
In a separate bowl mix together the flour, 1 cup coconut sugar, baking powder, dash of salt, milk, cooled Pinot Grigio syrup, lemon zest. I like making my own fresh lemon zest with a peeler, then chopping it fine.
Slice up the butter and scatter across the baking dish (DO NOT rub it in), then place in the preheated oven until the butter melts. Take out of oven and pour in the batter, distributing it as evenly as possible as you pour. But DO NOT STIR the batter. Distribute the sliced peaches over the batter. DO NOT STIR the peaches either!
Bake for approximately 45 minutes to an hour, or until browned and bubbly around the edges, and the center is quite firm.
Frey Vineyards is well known as the first organic winery in the country. However, we’re also the first biodynamic winery in the country. In addition to turning organic grapes into wine, biodynamic practices foster a holistic approach to farming that cares for the land. Over the years we have maintained healthy herds of cows, sheep, and goats on the home winery property. These animals graze in the vineyards, providing essential nutrients for the soil while dining on the cover crops we plant between the rows of grapes. Animal manures create vital compost which we then use to nourish our home gardens.
In 2017, wildfires changed so much for the community of Redwood Valley where our winery is located. We lost most of our homes on the ranch, and it has taken a few years and a lot of resilience to see us through to where we are now. This year several families have moved back to the land in new homes that have been built. As we are returning to our new/old places, we’re beginning to set down roots once more. Earlier this Spring I had the extreme pleasure of taking in a herd of goats. I walked the goats through the vineyards for the last few months before the grapes began to bud out. For almost dozen years before the fire, I tended to goats here at Frey vineyards. And, now I’m revisiting my former life full circle. The goats have given birth and we have three kids leaping about! Eventually the mamas will head back to their home, but the babies mark a beginning for a new herd of goat husbandry and midwifery at Frey Vineyards. They go on walks in the wildlands, helping maintain trails during the summer months. As soon as crush begins in the Fall, we’ll be back in the vineyards to clean up the grapes left behind.
Additionally, I had a friend from the coast reach out about taking in a few goats as her herd has expanded rapidly. Her goats have been dedicated “mowers” and we’re excited to put them to good use helping to repair the ecosystem. They come from a firefighting family and are ready to be part of the fire prevention crew, munching their way through areas needing clearing. In general goats tend to be very happy eating a diverse forage. They like to eat a little of this and a little of that. However, some goats can be trained to graze down an area, and these goats have previous experience taking down a fenced area. Using goats to assist in the maintenance of fire breaks is a strategy that is currently being implemented across the globe!
All in all, we have eight goats on the farm right now. They’re a mix of different dairy breeds, and they have very particular personalities. I’m learning the ropes with a new group of individuals. And they’re getting to meet our local flora and fauna. They’re quite fond of eating the invasive blackberries. I’m in the process of trying to remove broom from the home ranch, which has taken a strong hold since the fires. I’m hoping that the goats will be able to assist with my project of rehabilitating the wild by forging paths so that I can remove the broom. The hope is that the native species will be able to move back in once this invasive plant has been subdued.
This sweet and spicy noodle dish is Thai inspired. It’s light and fresh and pairs nicely with Frey Organic Pinot Grigio.
o 16oz wide rice noodles or regular linguini pasta
o 4 chicken thighs, diced (optional)
o 3 tablespoons soy sauce
o 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
o 4 tablespoons honey
o 2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce
o 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes to taste
o ¼ cup sesame oil
o 2 cups shredded carrots, about 2 large carrots
o ¼ cup sliced green onion
o 1 cup roasted, salted peanuts
o ½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1. In a large sauté pan heat about 1 tablespoon oil and cook chicken thighs until golden, then set aside. (To make vegetarian you can omit from recipe.)
2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook noodles until al dente, approximately 6 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, shred carrots, chop green onions and cilantro
4. In a small bowl mix soy sauce, hoisin, honey, chili garlic paste, garlic, and red pepper flakes.
5. A couple of minutes before the noodles are done, in the large sauté pan, heat sesame oil over medium heat and add sauce and stir, and cook the garlic.
6. When noodles are done, drain, then add immediately to pan with sauce, add chicken, and stir until the noodles are well coated.
7. Top with carrots, peanuts, cilantro, green onion. Mix and serve with a chilled glass of our organic Pinot Grigio. Enjoy!
We always try to use organic ingredients when possible.
After a busy spring of working the soil and tending to our 300 acres of established grapes, 16 acres of Chardonnay were planted at the Road D Ranch. This was a large project that began years ago with the removal of a neglected vineyard from the previous owners. The vines were removed, the field was ripped and smoothed, compost applied, cover crop seeded. This spring the spacing for the vines was laid out, stakes, wires and irrigation were installed to support the baby grapes and finally the young vines were planted. They put on good growth after planting. It bodes well for a healthy vibrant vineyard.
Harvest started off in early September and a touch of rain freshened the air and gave the plants some ripening energy. It looked like a great year for “hang time,” when the grapes get to linger on the vine and develop more flavor and complexity even after they are sweet enough to pick. We anticipated a slow and steady harvest.
A frost on October 10th changed the plans. The unexpected cold snap brought temperatures of 27 degrees, a month before our usual first freeze. The leaves of the vineyards perished over-night, leaving little new energy to ripen fruit further. Luckily the hanging fruit held up well until it was harvested. The harvest crew worked several long days and compressed what would have been a month of picking into less than two weeks.
Following the early cold snap, unusually warm and dry weather has kept vineyard activities bustling even after the last grapes have been picked. Cover crops have been sown. A mixture of bell beans, winter peas and winter grasses are awaiting rain to germinate and grow. Indeed, everyone in northern California is awaiting rain.
Grapevines will have a fall flush of root growth after they lose their leaves and enter dormancy, so the vineyard crew has been irrigating in some vineyards to give the vines a chance to take advantage of the warm weather while it lasts. Again, we look to the skies for rain, to green up the landscape, freshen the air, and let winter groundcover get established before it gets too cold.
The dry weather has allowed for several acres of old vines to be removed at our Colony Ranch in order to make way for new plantings of various red varietals next year. The vines were removed with an excavator and piled up in order to be burned. Old stakes and wires were removed by hand. Later, the field will be ripped and disked, compost spread, and cover crop sown. Next year the vineyard layout and planting will take place in early summer.
There is an abundance of bird life in the neighborhood, with great blue herons, kite hawks, snowy egrets and songbirds keeping the vineyard workers company.
We hope this season finds you all in good health and spirits. Best wishes from all of us at Frey Vineyards.
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