This past month, as I was walking in the vineyards, I stopped to enjoy the fruits from the blackberries in the hedgerow. Each month I want to share about a different plant that is an integral part of our home biodynamic ranch ecology at Frey Vineyards. While we cultivate grapes, we also have a vast biodiversity reserve spanning over hundreds of acres. Between the wild lands and the cultivated grape vines, we have transitional hedgerow zones bordering all the vineyards. And while we didn't plant them there, we have a tremendous amount of blackberries in the hedgerow zones in between the different vineyards.
These hedgerows are a crucial part of the Biodynamic Certification because honoring wild spaces is a large part of what ensures sustainable futures for our farmlands. We will be choosing plants that are found all over Frey Vineyards, to help give a sense of the diversity in the ecosystem that we tend to on the Frey home ranch. When you uncork a bottle of biodynamic Frey wine, you are also partaking in the diverse ecological network of all the wild lands surrounding our vineyards. We grow grapes, but we also foster the growth of countless other species with our biodynamic farming methods.
Looking at the hedgerow plants gives an unique perspective into the natural wealth we have in our regenerative farming. While the blackberries in the hedgerow usually peak in August, the cooler temperatures meant that I was still able to harvest blackberries on my birthday, September 1st! So, to start off our biodynamic featured plant series, September's herbal highlight from the hedgerow is the wildly advantageous blackberry.
A member of the rose family, the genus Rubus actually contains many hybrid species that have adapted to all kinds of ecosystems. In Mendocino County, we even have a native black cap raspberry, “Rubus Occidentalis” which thrives deep in the wild woods of the land. While non-native blackberries are generally considered an invasive species, they may just be our favorite rebel hedgerow plant. Because blackberries provide food for humans and all the other animals, and because they are hard to remove once established, there are an abundance of blackberries in most so-called wild spaces throughout Northern California.
Their tangled brambles provide excellent habitat for birds, bunnies, and other small animals in the vineyards. Their leaves offer a nutritious meal for visiting deer and our own herd of grazing goats. The roots of blackberries can be harvested and used in medicinal herbal preparations as well. And of course, there are few other volunteer plants with such consistent, delicious, and abundant low-hanging fruit for all to enjoy. Just as the blackberries reach their peak in the home vineyards at the end of the summer, the grapes begin to come into their fullest sweetness as the cool of fall sets in.
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.
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
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.
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.
Eva-Marie Lind is an expert in the field of aromatic raw materials and sensory perception. A recognized leader in the art of perfumery, she has designed the aromas, scents and flavors of many perfumes, health and beauty products. Frey Vineyards invited Eva-Marie to come to the winery as a sensory sommelier and merge the foundations of the art of perfumery with the art of winemaking.By Eva-Marie Lind
For a moment, let us explore our sense of smell and taste. We each have our own genetic encoded odor print. None of us, outside of identical twins, experience the sense of smell and taste in the same manner. Scents and flavors elicit psychosomatic (mind and spirit) as well as physiologic (body) responses, which, beyond our awareness, imprint themselves onto our memory. In addition, our perceptions are influenced biologically, by age, sex chemistry and environment.
We each respond to scent through a variety of circumstances unique to our individuality. This theory, called ‘learned-odor response,” is why the same aroma (scent and flavor) can affect each of us quite differently. An aroma that triggers good memories for one person, may revisit painful memories for another. Our individual histories, locked within the recesses of our mind, govern our responses and our feelings.
Of all our senses, smell may be our most acute; enabled and facilitated by the mysterious process of our olfactory nerves that, unlike most others in our physical make-up, have the capacity to renew themselves. Each olfactory neuron survives a mere sixty days and is then replaced by a new cell. When these cells renew themselves, the axons of neurons that express the same receptor always go to the exact same place. This is why our memories are able to survive all this turnover of neurons.
We have the capacity to smell and identify over one trillion odors in one square inch of the brain. Smelling is rapid in response, taking merely 0.5 seconds to register as compared to 0.9 seconds to react to pain.
Our nose and its epithelium are an ‘organ’- one that digests, assimilates and transfers odor molecules to the brain to be further processed. Registering odors is generally independent of our left hemisphere brain, which is the care-center of our mind and is responsible for our impartiality, examination and intellect. Our left brain is also responsible for governing language and speech which suggest why it is so difficult for many to adequately describe aromas with language. Odor recognition is predominately a right hemisphere brain activity. This is the area responsible for our passion, emotion, creativity, and instinctive behavior.
The senses of smell and taste are tightly joined, however tasting requires tens of thousands more molecules to register, than does smell.
Taste buds are as fascinating as our olfactory neurons. In the 17th century, Marcello Maphigi identified the papillae of our tongue, each composed of taste buds, as “organs of taste.” Taste buds also reside on the soft palate, tonsils and the upper third of the esophagus. We have nearly 10,000 buds. Sixty -five taste buds fit into the space of one typewritten period. Each papillae contain about two hundred and fifty buds. Just like our olfactory neurons, taste buds are in a constant state of flux and regeneration, shedding and renewing every ten days.
Taste buds distinguish the four qualities of sweet, salty, bitter and sour. In Japan they add a fifth quality of ‘karai, for spicy, hot and richness. In India, within the Ayurvedic tradition, there are six “rasas,’ removing spicy and adding astringent and pungent. All other tastes and flavors are detected by the olfactory receptors that reside within our nasal passages. We smell odors and flavors through our nose, as well as the passageway in the back of the mouth.
Wine tasting can be enhanced with the unique vocabulary and experiential inferences of scent. My goal is to alter your perception, encourage your imagination and facilitate a (r)evolution between the world of perfume and wine.
I arrived at Frey Vineyards after three years in Italy researching the heritage perfume of the trees of Fiori d’Arancia amara. This bitter orange produces the valued blossoms known to the perfume industry as Neroli.
So, it was with great enthusiasm that I discovered that the fields that welcomed me into the winery were planted with the classic Italian grape, Sangiovese.
Each morning with dense coffee in hand and then at dusk with my thermos of essence spiked sparkling water, I observed her (Sangiovese.) Rudolf Steiner, the father of Biodynamic agriculture, advised visual and sensory observation of the farm and the crops. Sunrise to sunset, I noticed the pollinators of the in between vine flora, the tilling and smell of the soil, as well as the fauna. Bushy skunk, momma fox, deer and most recently, baby bear, all made appearances.
I had missed budburst and full flower, arriving as the flower caps were ever so slightly fading. I watched as the caps fell away becoming joyful sets of berries. I noticed the unique visual communities each cluster formed.
Sangiovese 2016- A visual delight in the glass of dense garnet with a thin pinkish- purple roof. Opening aroma of sweet earth holding hints of air cooled by summer evening breezes. Violet leaf and blueberry with a touch of pink lotus absolute and a tinge of herb and pimento berry. The mouth feel is both light and full offering lively ripe raspberry, cherry, tea rose, pink pepper and young wild forest notes.
Opens robustly with black silky elegance, black currant and mulberry, a hint of tobacco and a feathering of licorice, clove and sweet saddle-leather.
We love when customers contact us with questions about our wines. If we don’t know the answers off-hand, it prompts us to geek-out on research, which is truly one of our favorite pastimes!
We’ve received several questions from customers lately asking if our wines are Keto-friendly. While we’re familiar with the Keto diet as a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet that lowers blood sugar and insulin levels, and boosts the body’s metabolism, we wanted to learn more about why Frey wines qualify as Keto-friendly.
Practitioners of the Keto diet aim to keep the body in the blissful metabolic state called ketosis, where the body is actually burning up stored fat. Due to their carb content, many alcoholic beverages can throw you out of ketosis. Wine and light varieties of beer are relatively low in carbs, usually 3-4 grams per serving, but when you’re trying to clock under 30 carbs per day on the Keto diet, even a glass of wine could launch you out of ketosis.
So where do the carbs in wine come from in the first place? Carbs in alcohol come from residual sugar, or sugars left over after the fermentation process. Before grapes ferment into wine, they are sugary. During fermentation in the cellar, tiny yeasts feast on grape sugar and produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. As the alcohol level rises it kills off the yeast, and any remaining sugar becomes known as residual sugar. In some cases, a winemaker might desire more residual sugar in order to manipulate a wine’s acidity and will stop the process to prevent the yeast from consuming all the sugar. In other cases, a winemaker might add sugar to ultimately increase the alcohol level in a process called chaptalization, although this technique is prohibited in California.
Because of the presence of sugar, whether residual or added, even wines that are classified as “dry” can still bring on the carbs. Varieties with higher alcohol levels, typically Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Zinfandel, will naturally harbor more carbs. Although wine labels don’t list nutritional information like calories and carbs, if you know the residual sugar in grams per liter, you can do the sum on your own. To calculate carbs per 5 oz. serving of wine, multiply the residual sugar by 0.15. Dry wines are classified as wines with 30 grams/liter or less of residual sugar, so one glass of dry wine can contain between 0-4 carbs.
At Frey Vineyards, we allow the yeast to go through the full maturation process in the cellar and we produce our wines with very little manipulation. ALL of our wines test for less than 1% residual sugar, which means they all contain less than 0.15 carbohydrates per 5 oz. glass. So Keto friends can rest assured that our wines are low-carb and can be enjoyed while enjoying your fitness plan!
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