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!
Sunday, April 22nd, was a gorgeous spring day at the Frey Ranch, graced with abundant wildflowers bursting from the scorched earth. Eliza was jogging along a trail and heard the hum. She followed it to a huge swarm of bees hanging underneath a burned Douglas fir log. Little Freylings Bo, aged six, and Yeshua, aged five, and Grampa Jonathan were the guardians of the swarm for two hours while Katrina and Carolyn scurried to gather bee suits, a cardboard box with a secure lid with holes punched in for air, and a custom bee brush to softly sweep the swarm into the box. Just as we walked up with our equipment, the swarm decided to move on. We were so disappointed, but our veteran beekeeper, Carolyn Brown, hoped we would get a second chance. We followed, jogging between charred trees with craned necks, keeping the swarm in sight, and it soared higher and higher. Carolyn told the boys, "Old-time beekeepers used to bang on a pot to bring the bees to earth." And voila, a few yards away we found a little cooking pot lying in the burned dirt. Bo began to rhythmically bang on the pot and within thirty seconds the swarm tightened up and drifted down to earth! The bees settled on a low oak tree branch and five minutes later we had a healthy new colony to bring home. The boys were thrilled and we added the magical pot to our box of bee equipment.
If all is going well within a hive in the springtime, the bees find themselves bursting at the seams with overpopulation. Then the mysterious collective wisdom of the colony signals that it’s time to "give birth" to a second colony. The worker bees fashion special queen rearing cells and the reigning queen lays eggs in them. The embryo queens are carefully tended and fed a royal jelly. Just before the new queens are due to hatch, a powerful agreement between all the bees triggers half of the population to fly out into the world in a great swarm to seek a new home. The old queen goes with them and is carefully protected in the center of the swarm. They will land on a tree branch, fence post, or a gnarled Cabernet grapevine (see below), and send out scouts to find a good site. Bees have only two to three days to find a new home after they leave their mother colony.
They sometimes settle into less than desirable locations for their new hives. Statistics show that fewer than twenty-five percent of swarms survive their first year. If you are a lucky beekeeper, you will have a chance to capture a swarm and provide a secure home for it.
In the coming days we have been blessed with four more swarms of honeybees. We hope that by housing them in clean, well-made bee boxes, they will thrive. If nature provides a steady stream of flowering plants, the honey crop in the fall should be abundant enough to feed the bees through the winter, as well as provide some honey for our friends and family.
If it's a light crop, we never extract honey, but instead leave it all for the hard-working bees.
After our new bees are settled in and the queens begin laying again, we plan to move one hive to our new winery site. Honeybees will play an important role in the pollination cycle of the gardens and native plants that will surround the new winery. Please come and visit the bees when our new tasting room opens in the fall and discover more about nature's gift of the honeybee.
Several insecticides that are harmful to bees will be banned soon in Europe. You can help make it happen in the U.S. as well.
The arrival of spring has brought fresh cover crops between the rows of our organic vineyards, and is enjoyed by local wildlife on occasion. Each photo can be downloaded in higher resolution for use as your computer's desktop or wallpaper. We hope you enjoy!
This delicious, hearty soup is full of flavorful Italian sausage, kale, and potatoes. It’s sure to warm your soul and it is a quick and easy recipe to share with your family. Pair with Frey Organic Sangiovese.
Last month a bear was spotted almost daily for a few weeks as it grazed fresh grass in our organic vineyards. Normally they shun the lowlands of our valley with its dogs and people, preferring the high forests nearby. But in the aftermath of the Redwood Valley Fire last November, which wiped out whole communities near our vineyards, this old American black bear (they also come in cinnamon brown) was keen to explore newly opened territory, and perhaps driven by hunger as well. It has since moved on.
Click on a photo for a larger, screensaver image.
Following the wildfire last October, the rain and green grass quickly blanketed the lands with soothing vigor. This intrepid Great Blue Heron is lately making the rounds, hunting for frogs, insects and rodents among the new growth by our organic Syrah vines. These majestic birds, the third-largest herons on earth, usually find their meals by ponds and rivers. This one is broadening its culinary preferences by flushing out wild little edibles in the vineyards, far from the waterways.
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound baby bella (or crimini) mushrooms, minced
1 teaspoon fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup Frey Biodynamic Sauvignon Blanc wine
1/2 cup full fat Greek yogurt
1/3 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
2 sheets thawed puff pastry
We would like to share an update on Frey Vineyards. All of our family members and winery staff are safe.
Our beautifully rustic office buildings, tasting room, and bottling line have burned, but the main house and the insulated warehouse holding our case goods are unscathed. Our stainless steel wine tanks and the majority of the crush pad are also fine. Although vineyards typically don’t burn, with the intensity of this firestorm we did lose about 10% of our estate vineyards along the peripheries of the ranch. In addition to the home ranch, we have 300 acres of satellite vineyards scattered throughout Redwood Valley and Potter Valley that are in great shape.
Fortunately, we broke ground two months ago for our new winery site on West Rd in Redwood Valley, and this land is untouched. We are mourning the loss of many of our grand oak trees that provided summer shade and a diverse wildlife habitat, but at the same time we are grateful that healthy stands of oaks are thriving at our new location.
We would like to extend a huge thank you to our long-time friends at Barra, Fetzer, and Parducci wineries who have offered their certified organic facilities for temporary offsite winemaking. This is an invaluable help. We are looking forward to being able to bottle more wine soon with the help of a mobile bottling line arriving in the first part of November. You’ll be happy to know that we’ll be able to fill the Frey wine pipeline before the holidays.
The Redwood Complex Fire is 100% contained, especially with the help of a soothing rain last Thursday. We have deep gratitude for the teams of first responders who worked tirelessly to suppress the fire and keep all of us safe. Our hearts go out to our many, many friends and neighbors who lost their homes in this crisis. In the last weeks we have seen a tremendous outpouring of support from our local community and beyond for everyone affected by the fire. To help, please donate to the Disaster Fund for Mendocino County.
While the winery has been described in the media over the past week as “demolished”, we feel that this term doesn’t apply to our resilient spirit to rebuild. We are so grateful to live in a rugged back-to-the-land community that supports each other and has a collective power for renewal.
We are profoundly saddened by the loss of life that has occurred and the destructive force that fire can wield. Juxtaposed against a scorched aftermath, we also recognize the essential role of fire in the Biodynamic cycle. As one of the four elements, along with earth, air, and water, it demands our respect for its regenerative powers. We are heartened to hear the consoling words of a friend whose farm withstood a devastating wildfire two years ago. She said that the following spring was the most beautiful display of wildflowers on their property that she had ever seen. We’re looking forward to spring at Frey Vineyards.
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