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!
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!
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.
A quick video update on the progress of our new winery.
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