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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