I recently sat down with Carissa Chiniaeff from Frey’s gardening crew, over a cup of warm elixirs, to discuss "The Perennial Mother Garden" on the Frey Ranch. The Perennial Mother Garden on Tomki Road was established after the fires of 2017 to act as a fresh, renewed concept space in the aftermath of the tragedy.
The vision started in 2019, as part of the rebuilding efforts, with the planting of many heirloom roses. These roses were purposefully chosen for their aromatherapeutic smell, excellent distillation properties, and other choice benefits. Many of these roses are ancient varieties, all renowned for different wonderful benefits. This initial “Sensory Garden” was the brainchild of the gardening team, our Sensory Evaluator Eva Marie Lind, and our CEO Katrina Frey (an avid, lifelong gardener). Eva Marie has been making rose syrups, flower essences, tinctures, and teas, and also drying the flowers for culinary adventures!
In the rose garden, there are nearly fifty plantings. At first, the roses established the foundation of the Sensory Garden efforts. Among the chosen roses are: 3 Reine Victoria Bourbon type, 6 Papa Meilard Fragrant (they’re long stemmed and a red hybrid tea rose), 12 Rosa de Rescht (a Portland rose which is a Damask Perpetual), 1 Gallica officinalis (the apothecary rose: the traditional rose used for medicine and perfumery), 10 Hansa rugosa (rugosa types are very fragrant, drought tolerant prolific, and produce large rosehips), 1 Louise Odier Bourbon type, 6 Glorie de Guilan Damascena/Damask roses, 6 Kazanlik damask, and 4 Madame Isaac Pierre Bourdon types!
Then, in 2022, a fence was installed around the garden area so that the team could expand and protect the garden and their vision for it. The site of the garden was formerly planted with grape vines. However, the groundwater was so immense in the area that the vines didn’t thrive there and were eventually removed. After the vines were finally pulled out, the site remained dormant (except for some weeds) while the Frey family dealt with the incredible task of starting over after losing all but a few buildings on the home ranch. However, with the fence in place, the gardening team was able to start envisioning bigger possibilities for the space.
Carolyn Brown, our head gardener, and her crew have been busy implementing full garden plans for both the new West Road Winery location and the Tomki spot over the last several years. You can read about the pollinator garden installations here. They still maintain the home ranch garden areas next to the old winery tasting room, but they have also added on some big projects since 2017! The fenced area at Tomki is a kind of mother garden, where plants can be propagated and divided for all the winery garden sites. They have been busy at work propagating seed plants to create a new foundation at West road. In this way, the sensory garden has grown to become the Perennial Mother Garden, providing a space for many different plants to be propagated for planting at the Frey home ranch, and the new West Road Winery.
Being the first organic and first biodynamic winery in the country, Frey has always been a huge supporter of organic and biodynamic agriculture. But what some folks might not know is that most of the Frey family is also full of avid home gardeners, who maintain their own personal gardens. Katrina Frey maintained an amazing garden and nursery project for many years. Luke Frey has been internationally renowned for his biodynamic preparations, handmade on the Frey ranch. Our winemaker Paul grew a surplus food garden for many years, donating fresh, local, organic produce to the local food bank and food security organizations. One of the 12 Frey siblings, Benjamin, married Kate Frey, who won gold at the Chelsea Garden show twice! The Frey family takes gardening seriously!
With the construction of a new, state-of-the-art green facility on West Road, the gardening crew took on the phenomenal task of simultaneously greening a new space and reviving the old home ranch garden space. Carolyn Brown, Carissa Chiniaeff, and Andy Hill are working hard as the Frey Vineyards gardening team to make amazing gardens at both locations. Their aim has been to especially focus on native plantings to support the indigenous eco-system. Carolyn has a background in beekeeping, and has been able to provide a wealth of information about how to create pollinator habitats, to support the insect population that we depend on!
In 2023, the crew set about to deeply mulch the area for weed suppression. Convolvulus and Bermuda grass are weeds with tenacity. To organically mitigate their abundant presence, Carolyn mulched the areas in question with thick sheets of cardboard, several layers thick, and then applied wood chips as a thick top dressing. This sustainable weed control has made an otherwise overrun space become plantable again. And so, this past Spring, the Sensory Rose garden was joined by rows and rows of cover crops featuring buckwheat, grape pumice (partially composted organic stems and seeds left over after crushing the grape juice), and also several gorgeous flowers. Dahlias, snapdragons, strawflowers, and other beauties were resplendent this Fall. The team has started to create new plantings in earnest as they reclaim the space as the Perennial Mother Garden.
Carissa also shared about her personal journey as “Grandiflora,” wanting to grow flowers. “The story of Grandiflora goes back many, many years to the moment when the tiny seed was planted in my heart in Santa Cruz, California. I was an apprentice at the Center for Agro-Ecology and Sustainable Food Systems in 2003. My internal field was tilled and ready to accept the variety of seeds being dispersed during this Farm experience. I came to find out I had planted an internal perennial garden rather than the annual type and stayed on at the farm to deepen and cultivate my desire to learn about food and Flowers alongside Christof Bernau. Like many before me and many after me, I left Santa Cruz in search of my forever field to carry out the directives of the magic. Like a seed being carried on the wind I landed and planted in many a field before a final descent in Willits, California, where I fell deep into the soil and my roots grew and grew. Alongside my dear friend and fellow apprentice, I grew vegetables, moved along to growing food for the Local Hospital, and was finally sparked by a greater interest in cut flowers. As I chased my pot of gold I was fortunate to find many a friendly farmer willing to let me grow flowers on their plot. A few years later on this path, I joined up with a beautiful friend and we grew stunning cut flowers together. After several years of cultivating together, we parted ways and I happily returned to my original living space where I now reside AND grow flowers. It has been a beautiful journey of learning and loving and of course, experimenting with seeds and soil and magic. I am so thrilled to be living and growing Flowers in the same place.”
Carissa still grows flowers outside of Frey Vineyards too. We are grateful to have her and her knowledge of cut flowers, on our gardening team. Carissa beamed as she discussed the potential for the future. The short-term garden planting implementation plan includes getting the space decked out and “glowing” for our matriarch, Beba Frey’s 100th birthday celebration in the summer of 2024. The Perennial Mother Garden and the matriarch are next-door neighbors: Beba's front door leads out to the garden across from her driveway.
The five-year plan includes creating structures like a gardening shed and a flower processing workstation so that workshops can be held in the garden to teach folks gardening, flower arranging, and sensory skills in situ. While a redwood tree and lavender hedgerow are already well established on the Northern border of the garden, Carissa mentioned plans to create another hedgerow for some shade on the Southern border. From rose beginnings, the garden is blooming with possibilities! Next Spring Carissa hopes to plant a three sisters patch, a melon patch, and a pumpkin patch in the mother garden as more areas are reclaimed from the weeds. Stay tuned in the months (and years) to come; we’ll keep posting updates as the garden continues to evolve, expand, and grow!
Here are the November Wine of the Month Recipes! For November 2023, our wine of the month has been the Frey Organic Cabernet Sauvignon. At the beginning of the month, we sent out some pairing suggestions to compliment this wine’s flavor profile. Then, mid-month, I (Molly Frey, Frey’s social media coordinator) threw a dinner party to celebrate our Cab at my home!
At the dinner, I created a main dish of wild mushroom risotto to be paired with our Frey Cab. I used the Frey Sun and Rain Chardonnay in that recipe. I read up on risotto for the dinner, because I hadn’t prepared it before. I used our graphic designer Nicole’s recipe, which she learned from an Italian restaurant. I read that Italians like to have a side of chicken cooked with white wine and lemon for their risotto, so I prepared chicken breasts with our Chateau Frey Pinot Gris!
The balance the richness of the risotto, I prepared a salad from Mendo Grass’s organic farmer’s market booth. They grow great sprouts! I picked up pea shoots, sunflower sprouts, micro greens, and a jar of their Peasto (pea shoot pesto!) too. Each month at our dinner party, we want to showcase a local organic farmer/producer that’s making something delicious. We incorporated a fresh greens salad into the menu, and the MENDO GRASS greens provided a fresh, delightful palette cleanser after the spoonfuls of creamy, rich, risotto.
As you can see on our table, we have several wines pictured at the dinner, including a picture of the Frey Biodynamic Field Blend. That wine was used in a recipe to create a red wine brownie dessert! However, you’ll simply have to wait for another blog post for the recipe reveal on that delectable dish.
Without further ado, here are the recipes for the Frey November Wine of the Month, Cabernet Sauvignon! We tested out each of these November Wine of the Month recipes at a recent dinner party, and the results were delicious!
First, and foremost, I decided to start playing with creating a cheese/appetizer board. I’ve never made one before, so this was a creative experiment for our wine of the month dinner! We suggest pairing our Cabernet with cheeses, and so I set to making an appetizer that we could nosh on while the other dishes came together. I started with placing the peashoot “Peasto” from Mendo Grass at the center of the board.
We recommend pairing the Cab with Cheddar, Gouda, Gruyere, Goat cheese, Feta, and Parmesan if you’re creating a cheese board to showcase the Cabernet Sauvignon. However, since our dinner presented a very rich risotto (which included a Gouda Parmesan (something I picked up at our local Ukiah Costco location, which also carries Frey Wines), we scaled back the cheese offerings to a few truffle brie rounds (in keeping with the mushroom dinner theme). Instead, we showcased seasonal fruits such as sliced persimmon, whole mandarins, pomegranate seeds, and dried jujubes (from Full Belly Farm!). Green olives in a small bowl added a lovely contrasting color. And I rounded out the board offerings with nuts and crackers.
The sky is really the limit on cheese boards. Although we created an optional chicken side dish, the heart of the menu is vegetarian, so I wanted to create a cheese board (instead of a charcuterie board) for this menu that showcased vegetarian options to pair with the November Wine of the Month.
Here's the Main Course: the Wild Mushroom Risotto & Side Dishes
6 cups stock (chicken or vegetable), preferably homemade. If you need to make more broth because your risotto is soaking it all up, (organic) bouillon works in a pinch to make a flavorful substitute
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (or butter or ghee)
1 large onion, finely chopped
Salt to add as needed
Freshly ground black pepper to add as needed
2 cups arborio rice
1 bottle Frey Sun and Rain Chardonnay (for a larger recipe scaled to 5 cups of rice, I used an entire bottle!)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound mixed wild mushrooms (I used chanterelles), thinly sliced (really, as many wild mushrooms as you can find would be excellent!)
1/2 cup-1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano (I actually used a Gouda Parmesan because both those cheese flavors pair well with our Cabernet)
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley for the garnish
In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer. You’ll want to keep the stock warm-to-hot so that it can be added to the risotto without slowing down the cooking.
In another saucepan, with ample room for your risotto, heat the olive oil (or your favorite cooking oil). Add the chopped onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the onion begins to be translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, for 1 minute until the rice is glistening from the oil coating. Add the wine (to cover the rice) and cook, stirring until the alcohol is cooked off and the liquid has been absorbed (about 5 minutes). Add 1 cup of the warm stock and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until nearly absorbed. Continue adding the stock a cup at a time, continuing to stir pretty constantly. As the risotto absorbs the broth, you can add another cup. The risotto is done when the rice is al dente and suspended in a thick, creamy sauce, about 20-30 minutes total. Season with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt the butter. I added my cleaned and chopped mushrooms to sauté over moderately high heat. Add salt, remove from heat, and add to the risotto pot.
Add the cheese to the risotto, stirring until the mushrooms and cheese are evenly distributed and the cheese has melted into the risotto. Serve!
If you eat meat, you may enjoy a side of chicken to accompany your risotto. In the same pan that I had prepared the wild mushrooms in (with lingering bits of flavorful butter and mushroom yum) I added the chicken breasts on medium heat. I covered the chicken breasts in our Biodynamic Chateau Frey Pinot Gris, added some salt, and let the flavors combine. I flipped the breasts once during the cooking (about 10 minutes on each side). Then, when you slice into the chicken, make sure it has cooked all the way through. Different breast sizes will cook at different rates. Before you remove the chicken from heat, add the juice of one lemon, and let that flavor absorb too.
I hosted the Wine of the Month Dinner Party on a Sunday evening. The Saturday before I went to the Ukiah Farmer’s Market to pick up fresh greens from Mendo Grass. Adam Goldberg and Amanda Tuttle are the purveyors of an organic greens business called Mendo Grass! I usually get their greens every week for my own home, so when I started crafting this dinner, I knew that they would have just the thing for the counterpoint side dish to the risotto.
I picked up a large container of pea shoots, sunflower sprouts, micro greens, and a pint of their pea shoot “Peasto”. I placed the peasto at the center of my first-ever cheese board! For the salad, Daphne (who works in the office) assembled the mixture of the greens. I also have a lot of baby kale growing in my garden right now, so we added a handful of those to the mix as well. The key to this salad was its mild, fresh flavor. All the young greens are tender and balance the risotto richness perfectly. We garnished the salad with some cucumbers (truly the last of the season) and pomegranate seeds. The salad dressing was a simple olive oil and balsamic vinegar blend with a splash of maple syrup and a dash of salt.
All of the dishes from our November Wine of the Month were absolutely delicious, and if you want to try your hand at any of them, our Frey Organic Cabernet Sauvignon is the Wine of the Month for the rest of November. That means that you can purchase 4 or more bottles of the 2021 Cab in our online wine shop (link to Freywine.com wine shop) with the promo code "WOTM20" until the end of November to get 20% off your order. We look forward to sharing more Wine of the Month dinner posts, as these events have been really lovely ways for us to bring together Frey wine and fine dining! Look out for our Field Blend Brownies too, coming up soon in their very own blog post. Our next Wine of the Month dinner soirée happens in December, when we’ll be meeting on the Mendocino Coast; check out our monthly Wine of the Month recipe blog where we'll share in-season favorite dishes, feature a local farmer/producer, and pair the menu with our Frey Wine of the Month!
Each month we profile a different plant that is an integral part of our home Biodynamic ranch ecology at Frey Vineyards. Grapes are at the heart of our farm, but we also have a surrounding biodiversity reserve. Between the wildlands and the grape vines, we have transitional hedgerow zones.
November’s Herbal Highlight from the hedgerows is the beloved olive. So far we've featured two different wild plants in this series. First, we looked at blackberries in September. Then we took some time with poison oak in October. But this month we are showcasing something we've planted: a well-established orchard hedge of olive trees between our Zinfandel and Cabernet vineyards. Olea europaea hails from the Mediterranean and several varieties grow well here, adapting nicely to our Northern California climate.
The hedgerow is a mix of nearly 90 trees of classic olive varieties including Pendolino, Arbequina, Frantoio, Picholine, and Leccino. The trees were planted in the early 2000s and run parallel along the vineyard from our well-known tower to the south and stretch to a riparian creek hedgerow to the north.
We protect the hedgerows to increase the biodiversity of our vineyards. The more diverse an ecosystem, the more likely the system is to stay healthy. Demeter biodynamic certification requires that 10% of a farm be preserved or cultivated as a biodiversity reserve. Different farms accomplish this in different ways. Here at Frey, our vineyards all have native areas that satisfy the requirement, but we have also planted many areas at different properties to enhance the abundance of pollinator habitat, various fruit and nut crops, and local native species. Olives and grapes are old friends, and we decided to create a special place in our vineyards to honor this timeless coupling.
Each year at the end of the summer we begin to crush a bounty of grapes, and the olive harvest is perfectly timed to follow up the grapes. As the Fall sets in, when the colors of the olives are split between greens, purples, and darker blacks, we harvest these fruits too. We cure some olives for eating, but the bulk of the harvest is brought to the olive mill to be pressed into oil. It’s a modest pressing that gets consumed by family and friends, but the fresh, healthy, local oils make it worth the effort.
Here are the October Wine of the Month Recipes! For October 2023, our wine of the month has been the Frey Organic Sangiovese. At the beginning of the month, we sent out some pairing suggestions to compliment this wine’s flavor profile. Then, mid-month, our graphic designer Nicole and our social media coordinator Molly (me) got together to throw a dinner party to celebrate Sangiovese on the Mendocino Coast at Nicole’s home.
At the dinner, we played with two October Wine of the Month recipes, celebrating the pairing with the Sangiovese. We decided to feature a cheese fondue, made with Frey’s Sauvignon Blanc, served in a Kabocha squash that Nicole picked up from the Fort Bragg Farmer’s Market. Nicole also made an amazing spread of organic vegetables for dipping from Big Mesa Farms! She also got some really delicious gluten-free breads to go with the meal from the Mendocino Baking Company! I made a caramelized summer squash dish featuring the Sangiovese too. All of the dishes were absolutely delicious, and we look forward to seeing more dinner posts as this soirée becomes a regular wine of the month fête!
Here are the recipes for the Fondue and Caramelized Summer Squash!
A mixture of several cups of your favorite melty cheeses (we used a mixture of Gruyere and Fontina)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup dry white wine such as the Frey Organic Sauvignon Blanc, Frey Plenty Sauvignon Blanc, or the Frey Biodynamic Sauvignon Blanc
1 clove garlic minced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Courvoisier Cognac
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
A large kabocha (or acorn) squash baked until semi-firm
Assorted fondue dippers:
Fresh chopped cucumbers and radishes from Big Mesa Farms
Lightly steamed carrots, cauliflower florets, and broccolini from Big Mesa Farms
Pickled Chanterelle mushrooms, wild foraged from our guest, Billy Sprague
Sliced firm apples and grapes for the table from the garden
Cubed gluten-free sourdough bread from the Mendocino Baking Company
Prepare your squash for serving the fondue next. We recommend baking the squash whole for around 12-15 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. You want your squash to be soft enough to eat, but not too soft, because it will be serving the fondue cheeses. When you have achieved your desired tenderness, remove the squash from the oven, and let it cool for a few minutes so that you can handle it easily. Cut out the top of the squash and scoop out all the seeds. You can put it back in your warmed oven while you finish preparing the rest of the meal.
Then, prepare your dippers next, chopping and steaming as needed to get everything ready. We got all of our organic fondue dipper ingredients from Big Mesa Farms here in Mendocino County.
Cube your bread of choice. For this dinner, we chose the delicious breads from the Mendocino Baking Company. Like Frey Wine, they are gluten-free and worked perfectly for our fondue needs!
In a pot, combine the ingredients for the fondue over low heat, slowly stirring as the mixture starts to melt for 5-10 minutes. When the mixture is to your desired meltiness, you can pour it into the squash for serving.
2 cloves of garlic finely minced
1 red onion diced
2 medium summer squash (or zucchini)
1 tsp maple syrup
Small splash of Sangiovese at the end of cooking
Optional toppings include toasted pine nuts, chopped herbs, and a squeeze of lemon
Wash the zucchini and cut it into coins a 1/4” thick.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add onions, add garlic, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring regularly until golden brown.
Add your squash slices (we used a yellow crookneck, but any summer squash would work well) and sauté 3-5 minutes, stirring regularly.
Stir in the salt and maple syrup, and continue to cook uncovered, about 10-12 minutes, flipping the zucchini slices regularly.
Once the zucchinis are golden and tender, increase the heat to high and sauté until they just start to stick to the pan. Add a splash of the Frey Organic Sangiovese and allow the wine to color the squash for the last few minutes of cooking. As you see the squashes becoming nicely caramelized on both sides, remove from heat, and serve on a platter.
We loved the October Wine of the Month recipes, and we're very much looking forward to experimenting with flavors for future wine pairing meals. Tune in next month when we create more local, seasonal, and organic meals paired with the Frey Wine of the Month for November! You can watch a short video of our meal on our YouTube channel. You can also check out Big Mesa Farms and Mendocino Baking Company if you're a Mendo local looking to recreate these recipes at home. Cheers to uncorking the organic, and sharing wonderful food with friends!
Zero-zero wines are starting to get attention as a unique subset of the organic wine market. For those of you who haven’t heard, “zero-zero” refers to the natural quality of wines with zero commercial yeasts and zero added sulfites. While some wines are made without added yeasts, and other wines are made without added sulfites, zero-zero wines blend these two worlds. Spoiler in case you’re too busy to read on: all Frey Biodynamic wines are zero-zero wines!
Zero-zero wines represent a throwback to winemaking methods of antiquity when additives and commercial yeasts were never used and unavailable because modern laboratory science hadn't invented them yet. Over the decades, all kinds of chemicals have been added to grapes and grape juice to produce wine. Yeasts are now routinely grown in labs on various substrates, freeze-dried, and sold to producers. The zero-zero niche brings welcome awareness to consumers that wines were initially made without any additions. Grape juice will, of its own accord, ferment into alcohol. So why aren’t all wines made this way?
Commercial yeasts are not necessary to create wine; however, they have become popular because they help jump-start fermentation and produce predictable flavor and aroma profiles in the finished wine. There is yeast in every breath of air we breathe and there are countless strains of yeast. All grapes have naturally occurring yeasts on the skin of the fruit itself. Grapes are one of the few fruits that have enough naturally occurring sugar to complete a fermentation to a stable end product, and grapes helped birth the art and science of fermentation thousands of years ago. People harness the life cycle of yeasts in many ways. For example, folks will add some fresh grapes to their sourdough starters to innoculate their starter with yeast and get it activated. Biologically, yeasts will start to decompose a fruit if it isn’t eaten. Nature is an excellent composter and is always recycling materials back into nutrients for the earth. If left on the vine, grapes will ferment with their own yeasts, eventually providing more humus for the vines in situ. Nature’s “clean up” program will always take over if untended. When we tend and care for this process in the cellar something miraculous happens between yeast and grape: wine!
Synthetic sulfites and other preservatives are not allowed in organic winemaking, just as they are not allowed as a preservative for organic foods. Experiences from chemically sensitive people who have shared their stories attest to discomforts ranging from low-grade headaches to more intense allergic reactions. We don’t add sulfites to any of our wines, but naturally occurring sulfites can appear in extremely small amounts, usually near 0 parts per million. Demeter certification actually allows for winemakers to add some sulfites to their wines, however, Frey is committed to zero-added sulfites across the entire brand. We pride ourselves on being the first organic winery in the country and setting the standard for organic wine. As such, we don’t use any sulfites to produce any of our wines.
Demeter Biodynamic certified wines must be produced with native yeast. USDA organic wines allow for commercial yeasts grown on organic substrates to be used. If your wine bottle has a USDA organic certification symbol on it, that means any yeasts used to make your wine were 100% organic. If your bottle has a Demeter Biodynamic certification symbol on it, then your wine meets the zero yeasts added aspect of the zero-zero wine equation. All Frey Biodynamic wines are made without any added yeast; we use the yeast from the grapes themselves to produce wine. Sommeliers and connoisseurs agree that there is a subtle but important integrity to wines made with wild yeasts. You’ve probably heard of terroir, a French term used in rhetorical circles where wine figures prominently.
In the context of a wine’s terroir, there’s a unique flavor profile of a certain grape in a certain place depending on the wild yeasts that grow. Each native yeast strain has its own effect on flavor and aroma. Each stain also thrives in a particular ratio of sugar to alcohol. A certain strain will start the fermentation, then die off when a certain alcohol threshold is reached. At that point, a second or third strain will take over, and this process continues until the sugars are consumed. This symphony of yeasts produces exciting nuance in flavor and aroma and deepens the experience of terroir. Adding commercial yeasts provides consistency and control for large batches, but we miss out on the expression of each vineyard's particular yeast profile. The wines that come from grapes grown on the Frey ranch are all Biodynamic and reflect the terroir of the Mendocino North Coast appellation, as well as the yeast profile, soil profile, and vintage where we live and make wine. Not adding yeasts creates vintages that more strongly reflect the holistic terroir of a given season. You absolutely can still have a sense of the terroir of our organic wines, but the biodynamic wines take it to the utmost level in this particular regard.
Check out our complete selection of zero-zero Frey Biodynamic wines on our website or find them in a store nearest you. Not all Biodynamic wines are zero-zero wines, but our entire Biodynamic line is zero-zero as we're committed to making no-sulfites-added wine for every bottle we produce. Our Biodynamic wines include those labeled “Biodynamic” as well as our Field Blend, Plenty, and Chateau Frey wines.
Each month, we look at 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 surrounding biodiversity reserve. Between the wild lands and the cultivated vines, we have a transitional hedgerow zone bordering the vineyards.
October’s Herbal Highlight from the hedgerow is the formidable poison oak. We’re highlighting this herb now because the fall colors are visually stunning as the oak leaves change over the course of autumn: a diverse palette of golds, oranges, and reds. If you are from the West Coast, you've likely already encountered this native plant. Many are familiar with the adage, “Leaves of three, let it be,” because touching the oily leaves, stems, or roots of the Toxicodendron plant can cause an itchy rash.
However, you might not yet know the whole story. Many people do not develop a skin condition after touching this plant. In fact, the Pomo tribe, the Native Americans in this area of Mendocino County, have a surprising history of using the extracted juice to make a dark black ink for tattoos.
There are few plants as helpful to ecosystems as this ground oak. When a forest is logged or clearcut, it's one of the first responders, sending out deep roots to hold the soil in place and helping prevent further erosion. Deep root systems also make it nearly impossible to clear poison oak out of an area. Sometimes they extend for yards underground. For these reasons, many have renamed the plant “Protector” or “Guardian” oak.
The seeds are also an important source of nutrition for birds during colder months. When food is scarce in Winter, a plethora of these plant’s seeds can still be found, a valuable benefit at an important time for both local and migrating bird species.
The next time you are hiking and come upon an impressive patch of Guardian oak, perhaps pause to appreciate that you're in the presence of a valuable ally —one that requires respect and deserves to be understood as an asset to the landscape.
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!
Across all our home vineyards, the grapes are going through something called “Veraison.” It’s the time when the development of the fruit really starts to peak, as the sugars send their sweet flows through the vines to help the grape mature. In medieval times, this experience was celebrated in France, and as modern Californians, we’re looking to share about this ecological phenomenon in the viticulture world here on our winery blog.
From an agricultural point of view, this mark of grape growth lets the winery manager, Derek Dahlen, know that crush is just around the corner. Because nature has a timing all of its own, the maturation of the grapes changes annually. This past year, we experienced a longer-than-usual winter and cold spring. As snowfall occurred well into April in the vineyards, the grapes have taken more time than usual to mature. Most years, harvest would have begun by August. Instead, we’ve enjoyed a period of relative calm. We expect the grapes to start coming in later in September, once the fruits have all developed into their fullest sweetnesses.
From an aesthetic perspective, Veraison shows us a visual narrative about the life cycle of the wine grape. The red wine grapes in particular transition from small green orbs, full of potential, to deep reds and purples, juicy and ripe. The contrast shows up as clusters of artworks, combining the promise of the new fruits with the realization of the full grapes. Veraison combines these two stages in a gorgeous juxtaposition, the becoming and the fruition together, all rolled into one cluster. Our biodynamic home vineyards are full of these visibly stunning fruits.
I've always loved living on the Frey ranch where many of us are weaving in and out of the vineyards on a daily basis. Whether we're just taking in the fresh air, or in my case, walking the goats to graze and fertilize the vines, living so close to the grapes we grow provides us with a kind of natural rhythm to our year. Just as the last flush of blackberries are being enjoyed and the weather begins to change from summer's fullness of heat to a preview of fall's cooler times, the grapes too reach their final phase of growth, preparing for the harvest season ahead.
For over forty years, my family has been tending to this land, supporting a flourishing relationship with the vines here. Just as we tend to the grapes, the grapes, in their own way, contribute to our connection with the natural world around us. I can see why Veraison historically became a cause for celebration for those inextricably intertwined with grapes, marking another successful year together. In gratitude to the grape, enjoy these beautiful images of Veraison in full glory taken by photographer Yvonne Bard of Ranchomatic.
If you'd like to see firsthand what Veraison looks like at the Frey Ranch, you can visit our YouTube channel.
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