In the vineyard, Harvest 2023 has come! Here's our vineyard/harvest report from the vineyards. September 12th was our first day crushing grapes and we celebrated with a brief blessing and sips of sweet Sauvignon Blanc juice from our Road I Vineyard. We like to take a moment to appreciate the bounty of nature which is the backbone of all we humans create, ferment, and enjoy. Harvest represents the culmination of a year’s work, from pruning through bud break and frost season, flowering and fruit set, veraison, and ripening.
We are excited to bring fruit into the cellar and transform it into wine, a process that is straightforward scientifically but evokes alchemy and magic when the finished product is released. The winter months brought dozens of inches of desperately needed rainfall to inland Mendocino County, totaling 70+ for the season. Dormant grapevines love lots of water and cold temperatures. Early 2023 also brought much more snow than average. The cold temperatures delayed bud break and we sailed through frost season (when tender buds and shoots are susceptible to frost damage) with mild temperatures. Our overhead sprinkler frost protection systems didn’t get used much. Wet soils also delayed tractor work such as mowing, under-vine tillage, and cultivation, making early spring a slower season than normal for vineyard crew members.
Summer has been clear and warm, with relatively mild temperatures except for a few heat waves in the triple digits. Growers were expecting harvest to be greatly delayed due to the cold spring, but the grapes caught up. Usually, grape ripening in California progresses from southern AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) and moves slowly and steadily north. This year Mendocino is ripening before or alongside southern AVAs like Sonoma, Napa, and even Lodi.
Grapes aren’t the only fruit crop that loved all the winter water. We are jamming, basking, and baking in the glory of peaches, plums, pears, and apples. The olive crop is looking robust as well. This last month has been spent catching up on the maintenance of machinery to be used for harvest, irrigating vines as needed, and having a little downtime before the hustle and bustle of harvest. We thank you for taking the time to learn a little more about what we are up to and wish you all a healthy and prosperous Autumn. Cheers from the vineyard!
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.
On September 12th, we started the crush for the 2023 Harvest! We harvested the first fruits from our Sauvignon Blanc vineyards here in Redwood Valley, California. Our family and staff gathered as the truck, loaded with grape bins, rolled up to the winery. Katrina Frey also celebrated her birthday today, so we had lots of reasons to celebrate. The festive energy brought smiles to everyone's faces as the first grapes went into the winery cellar for juicing. Over the course of the many moons to come, these grapes will turn from organic juices into the organic WINES that you love.
Daphne, who works in the Frey Vineyards office, brought handouts of a blessing of the grapes for each of us to recite together as the first fruits arrived.
"Spirits of Sun, Earth, Water, and Air
Ye have made this world so fair
Singing bird and flowering tree
Ye have blessed all things that be.
For this place be blessing, too,
In all we think and speak and do.
Beauty here with courage keep,
Banish fear. For falling, weep.
Spirits loving, good and wise,
Love and joy bring to our lives.
Thanks to our mother, the earth, which sustains us;
Thanks to the rivers and streams and their water;
Thanks to the grapes and the grain fields that feed us;
Thanks to the herbs which protect us from illness;
Thanks to the wind and the rain for their cleansing;
Thanks to the bushes and trees and their fruiting;
Thanks to the moon and the stars in the darkness;
Thanks to the sun who looks ever earthward.
We thank the Great Spirit for all Goodness."
We each partook of a glass of freshly pressed juice to seal the blessing and taste the first sweetness of the harvest season. Crush 2023 is particularly exciting because we've been waiting longer than usual for the sugars to develop. Now, the grapes will be streaming in steadily for the next several months, giving us our 2023 vintages for you to enjoy in the near future!
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