Mustard blowing in the wind in Frey organic Cabernet vineyard, Spring 2019.
The season turns and cycles of vineyard work turn with it. With the release of the first 2018 wines, we are looking ahead to a great 2019 vintage.
We will be wrapping up pruning next week. Pruning is arguably the most crucial of all vineyard processes, as choices about which wood to remove or leave determines fruit set this year and into the future.
Pruning is also the most time-consuming, labor-intensive task of the year. The human-power needed to prune over 300 acres of grapes is vast, and the work spans December to April. This year the gift of a wet winter has slowed things down a little, with several days missed due to intense rains.
The abundance of water has been great for the growth of annual cover crops. We use a mix of rye grass, triticale, bell beans and pea shoots (check out the post on foraging greens in the vineyard). The cover crops help hold soil in place through wet winter downpours, the roots provide food and habitat for soil life, flowers provide forage for pollinating insects and the bodies of the plants will return to the soil to continue to feed the soil food web.
Each handful of healthy soil can contain billions of vertebrates, invertebrates, fungi and bacteria – the myriad life forms that support all life on earth. Grape vines cannot uptake vital nutrients and water on their own. They depend on these smaller beings to process nutrients and make them bioavailable. This robust yet delicate ecosystem is a universe beneath our feet, and as farmers we feel a duty to protect and enhance it. Our organic practices are a stand against the poisoning of soils, waters, animals and people that is the result of widespread pesticide, fungicide and herbicide use. Chemical agriculture weakens the precious web of life from the ground up.
Refusing chemicals on the farm is more labor intensive, and with lush growth after such a wet winter we anticipate needing to work hard to combat mildew and fungus in the canopy of the grape vines. Wire trellis systems throughout the vineyard allow us to pull canes up and away from the fruit to allow more air-flow around developing bunches of grapes. In particularly lush sites we will also need to thin leaves by hand to ensure mildew and mold do not have a chance to set in.
A busy season lies ahead! Along with routine vineyard tasks we will be adding 16 new acres of Chardonnay vines at the Road D Ranch. Vines have been ordered and plans for irrigation and layout are underway. As always, we appreciate your support of our endeavors and your choice of organic wine, for the planet, the waters, our children, and your enjoyment. Cheers!
Sunset at Frey Organic Vineyards, Spring 2019.
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.
By Chef Tamara Frey
Enjoy lightly braised asparagus and wine-infused Portobello mushrooms in a basket of flaky filo, blanketed with a tarragon hollandaise. The steps are simple and the medley of flavors will wow your guests. We served it with a bottle of Frey Organic Pinot Noir. So good!
1 box filo dough
5 large Portobello mushrooms (can use other mushrooms)
2 pounds fresh asparagus
2 pounds unsalted butter
1 jar roasted red peppers
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 large lemon
1 1/2 teaspoons tarragon
2 pinches cayenne
1/2 cup Frey Pinot Noir
salt and pepper for seasoning
Make the filo baskets
Filo dough comes frozen, so leave the box in the refrigerator for a day to thaw before gently unrolling the sheets. The sheets I used came in rectangular size of 13 x 18 inches, so after applying the butter and stacking, I cut each in half to 13 x 9 inch rectagles. While working with one sheet, cover the rest with a cloth to prevent from drying out.
Melt 1 and a half sticks of unsalted butter in a sauté pan. Start by gently laying out one of the filo sheets and brush on the melted butter with a pastry brush. Take another sheet and put it on top of the buttered sheet. Continue layering the filo sheets this way, with the melted butter in between each sheet until you have 8 layers. If a sheet tears, as it often does, just patch it up with a piece of filo using a dab of melted butter as glue.
With your 8 layers stacked, cut in half down the middle. Grab one of the stacks and fold the sides in at about half-inch increments until you build up the sides a bit to create a simple basket about 4 x 5 inches. Bake in oven at 375-degree for approximately 12 to 15 minutes, until top and bottom are nicely browned and the basket has puffed up. Set cooked filo baskets aside. (If making the baskets a day ahead, store in a cool place covered with plastic wrap, then flash heat in a 300 degree oven when ready to assemble.)
Prepare the mushrooms
Thinly slice the mushrooms. Melt in a sauté pan 5 tablespoons of unsalted butter. Sauté the sliced mushrooms a few minutes until done. Add 1/2 cup of Frey Organic Pinot Noir and reduce the juices until a bit thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. (May need to reheat when it is time to assemble the baskets.)
Prepare the asparagus
Rinse the asparagus. Holding one spear in both hands, gently crack it where it naturally breaks. Repeat with all the asparagus spears and discard the bottom parts. Melt 4 tablespoons unsalted butter in a sauté pan, add the juice of 1/2 a lemon, and sauté the asparagus on medium heat until al dente, which is still a bit crispy, or you can cook it to your liking. Set aside. (May need to reheat when it is time to assemble the baskets.)
Prepare the hollandaise
Hollandaise can be tricky as we all know. People are afraid to attempt it. The following is a simple hollandaise recipe using a Cuisinart that I’ve had immense success with. Years ago when I had a little cafe and labored over the classic water-bath hollandaise method, one of the other cooks gave me this fabulous recipe. I have never gone back to the classic French method I learned in culinary school. I love that the consistency of this recipe holds its own every time. It is the one-one-one method: 1 egg, 1 yolk, 1 lb. butter. Here it is:
Melt a pound of unsalted butter in a saucepan on medium to low heat. The melted butter cannot be too hot, nor too cold. Lukewarm is perfect. While the butter’s melting, put the large egg and the large egg yolk in the Cuisinart. Let it run for a minute or so until the mixture becomes light-yellow and creamy, and warmed by the Cuisinart. Then, very slowly, in a thin stream, pour the warm melted butter into the mix while Cuisinart is running. Turn off machine and test for thickness by carefully putting a spoon in the hollandaise. If the spoon comes out coated, without the hollandaise running down the spoon, then consistency is good. Turn on the Cuisinart again and add the juice of half a lemon, one and a half teaspoons of the tarragon, a pinch or two of cayenne and salt. Pulse the Cuisinart and mix, then taste for seasoning. Adjust as needed. You might enjoy more lemon juice or more of a kick with the cayenne.
Prepare the Roasted Red Peppers
Slice in thin strips and set aside.
Assemble the asparagus baskets
Best to serve the filo basket, mushrooms and asparagus piping hot, as all three cool quickly.
Place a filo basket on a plate.
Place two or three spoonfuls of mushrooms in the filo basket.
Then 4 or 5 asparagus spears.
Partially blanket the mushrooms and asparagus with the warm hollandaise.
Lay 2 roasted red pepper strips in an X pattern across it all.
Serve and enjoy!
Copyrighted 2019, Tamara Frey
A wonderful recipe from an Organic Wine Club member. Cover a 12 oz. bag of organic fresh cranberries with Frey organic red wine of your choice. Simmer a few minutes, until berries swell. Off heat. Add 1/2 cup chopped candied ginger, 1/2 cup (or less) raw sugar, zest and juice of one lemon. Cover and let sit a few minutes, and enjoy!
A quick video update on the progress of our new winery.
Perfect for a summer’s evening is this refreshing twist to the classic beverage, white wine peach sangria!
3 ripe peaches
1 handful fresh mint
1 bottle Frey Organic Viognier
2 table spoons simple syrup
¼ cup Elderflower liquor
Lots of ice
Slice 3 ripe peaches. Put peaches, mint, a bottle of Frey organic Viognier and the syrup into a large mason jar or pitcher. (Optional: a splash of St. Germain, ¼ cup or more, to taste.) Refrigerate and marinate for at least 4 hours, or preferably overnight. As the sangria marinates, the peaches may turn a little brown after a few days. This may look unappealing, but the flavor is much improved. If serving to guests we recommend straining out the browned peaches and adding fresh sliced peaches as well as a handful of fresh mint. Serve over ice and enjoy on a warm summer evening!
It takes a lot of energy to turn water into wine. In fact, it takes an average of 6 gallons of water in the cellar to produce 1 gallon of wine. At Frey Vineyards, water is used during the winemaking process for steam-cleaning and sterilizing tanks and equipment, and during harvest season it’s used for flushing out grape stems and seeds from the crusher. The most common conventional method for treating process water from wineries is an aeration pond, which requires constant electricity to pump and reintroduce oxygen. The aeration method is not only energy intensive, it’s also noisy and stinky, as the process can take days, if not weeks, to restore oxygen into the water. What if there was another way to recycle process water back to a beneficial state where it could be re-used for irrigation, without using a tremendous amount of energy and disrupting wildlife (and human life) at the winery?
Enter BioFiltro, an international wastewater treatment company with a patented filtration system that naturally regenerates process water in four hours. Frey Vineyards first met BioFiltro when our winemaker, Paul Frey, attended a Unified wine show where BioFiltro presented their innovative biological process. BioFiltro’s patented BIDA® system is a passive aerobic bioreactor that catalyzes the digestive power of earthworms to naturally filter the water after the winemaking process. This chemical-free system removes grape skins, grape seeds, sugars, and other organic compounds from the water and regenerates millions of gallons of water per year to be used for irrigation and frost protection in our vineyards. Not only is the BIDA® system extremely energy efficient in its technology (it uses up to 85% less energy than the conventional aeration method), it also generates 75-100 cubic yards of worm castings to be used onsite to enrich our soil, increasing the value of this simple and elegant closed-loop system.
How do these hard-working worms do the heavy-lifting? The BioFiltro BIDA® system starts with an open-top concrete basin that is layered up with strata of wood shavings, river cobble, and drainage basins. During start up, BioFiltro inoculates the system with worms and microbes hungry for grape sugars and solids left over from the winemaking process. Water is pumped across the system with sprinklers, and it gravity feeds down through the layers. In the top layer, earthworms munch on larger solids and produce castings rich in microbes and bacteria. By working beneficially and symbiotically together, the organisms form a biofilm, or layers of billions of microbial colonies, that capture, retain, and digest food found in the process water. This film is simultaneously aerated by the worms themselves who are busy moving throughout the system in search of food. From top to bottom, the process takes four hours.
At Frey, our BIDA® system will consist of two beds that are approximately 40’x80’ and 5’ tall. Our system has the capacity to process 10,000 gallons of winery grey water per day, which is the equivalent of 600 showers! The recovered water then gets pumped into our irrigation ponds, where it is stored for future agricultural use throughout the year.
Drawing on simple biological processes that Charles Darwin observed almost 140 years ago, BioFiltro capitalizes on the symbiotic harmony of earthworms and bacteria to deliver a biofiltration system that revitalizes water so we can conserve a precious resource. “When I first met Paul and Johnny Frey [our winemaker and assistant winemaker], they understood everything in a second,” says Mai Ann Healy, of BioFiltro. “After being at the Biodynamic conference last month, it seems like our company has a parallel challenge of showing how returning to the roots of employing natural processes is truly the home run.”
“We were impressed with the simplicity and energy efficiency of BioFiltro’s system,” says assistant winemaker Johnny Frey. “We are also happy to have the compost-enhancing worm castings as a byproduct and return nutrients to the soil.” As water scarcity is increasing everywhere, we felt it was an important time to better manage our water footprint. We’re looking forward to using our BIDA® system at our new winery, and we’re excited about including our BioFiltro tanks on our future winery tours and raising awareness about resource conservation.
Here are photos of the basins under construction at our new winery site. Stay tuned for more updates and photos!
Johnny Frey building the forms for the worm basin.
May 31st It was five AM, the night after the full moon. Still brilliant, the moon was about to set in the west, just before dawn.
I was awakened with a blast of sound, “Hoo, hoo, hoo dat” answered by a more distant “Hoo, hoo, hoo dat.” Convinced that a huge owl was just outside our trailer, I crept out into the pearly landscape. I stood in the meadow and got my bearings, then realized the owls must be at least 150 yards away in the burnt forest by the pond. The skeletal ponderosa pines still tower and the great horned owls were perched on them, calling back and forth. These owls, also called cat owls because of their perky ears, are the apex predators, able to pounce on prey as large as rabbits, possums and porcupines. I imagined that their hunting must be eased after the fire, with no needled or leafy branches to block their view.
The calling went on for another ten minutes and then I guessed they found their prey, then each other, and bedded down for the dawning day.
We had a mild spring, which makes life pleasant for farmers and grapevines. Cover crops grew thick and luscious; the cool weather allowed them to build a lot of biomass before flowering. As they are incorporated into the soil they add rich organic matter. Mild weather is also good for the flowering of the vines. Grape flowers are very delicate and extreme weather in either direction can affect the vines’ ability to set a good crop of fruit. Grape flowers are also very fragrant, an ambrosia of delight! Sweet, almost tropical scents of grape flowers have been wafting through the fields. Most varieties now have set clusters but the Cabernet is taking its time and looks to be setting a good crop.
The rains this season were late and far apart which made for good vineyard working conditions throughout the winter and early spring, with fields not too wet and muddy. Frost season was also mild this year, so workers got enough rest to work through the days. This allowed the vineyard crew to get a head start on cultivation and weed control and to stay on schedule despite extra work on fencing, irrigation and frost systems that needed repair after the fires last fall. A new frost pump was installed at the Easterbrook vineyard and as summer heats up work is underway to replace destroyed drip and filters.
Until bud break this spring it was hard to tell exactly how many vines had burned last fall. Now that leaves and shoots are out we finalized our dead-vine count at around 7 acres. Vines that didn’t die are doing fine with expected vigor and timing. We will be working on replacing dead vines as the season progresses.
Ground is being prepared for new plantings of Cabernet and Chardonnay at our Road D vineyard. There are many steps to be completed before the young vines can be put into the ground. Soil is ripped and disked, then smoothed. Next, the irrigation system is laid out for both summer watering (to help the young vines) and spring frost protection. The grid of the vineyard is laid out by hand using cables marked with spacers, then stakes are set. Wires are installed to hang the drip hose and train the young vines as they reach their established height. Finally, the watering system is completed and the vines can be planted. After they are established it will be 3 years before any grapes are harvested. During their productive life they need much less watering.
Chardonnay for this planting will be grown from cuttings made this winter. Cuttings are a form of vegetative propagation, a technique used by humankind to cultivate grapes for thousands of years. While the vines are dormant, healthy wood that grew the previous season is selected and cut to about 18”. The pieces are chosen based on girth, vigor of the parent plant and bud spacing. Two buds are left at the tip of each cutting and the rest are removed, which encourages the cutting to root at the bottom. These cuttings are bundled and buried in moist sand.
These vines will be on their “own roots” as opposed to being grafted onto a rootstock. Own-rooted vineyards are uncommon due to the risk of damage by pheloxera, a soil-borne louse that can kill grapevines when populations in the soil are out of balance. We don’t worry about this in our organic soils as we have plenty of healthy soil microbiology that will compete with phyloxera and keep it from causing damage. We will begin planting soon. The cuttings were stored in a cool dark place for the last several months and are now pushing roots and shoots, eager to get planted.
As springtime rolls into summertime, we are busy! We are looking forward to a summer of good ripening weather and a harvest without the challenges of smoky grapes and disruption form natural disasters. Keep your fingers crossed for us. Cheers from the crew!
Here are some more photos from Spring, 2018.
Bird resting on organic Chardonnay vine.
Thermometer used during late-night vineyard frost patrol.
This oak tree makes a good perch for birds that hunt insects in the vineyards.
2 large carrots, cut into dime-sized cubes
1 red onion, finely sliced
2 medium sized sweet potatoes, cut into dime-sized cubes
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 cup French lentils
2 1/2 cup vegetable broth
Feta cheese, crumbled
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Put the carrots, onion and sweet potatoes in large shallow baking tray. Drizzle with 2 tbsp olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast. Turn occasionally for 30 minutes or until tender and browning.
Put 1 cup lentils in medium-size pot and add 2½ cups vegetable broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, until tender or about 35 minutes. If water level gets low, add water and reduce the cooking temperature.
Scatter the cooked lentils over a serving platter. Top with the roasted vegetables, crumbled feta and arugula, then drizzle with the balsamic vinegar and the rest of the extra-virgin olive oil.
Enjoy with a glass of Frey Organic Chardonnay!
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