Goats grazing in Frey organic vineyard.
Spring on the Frey farm has come early this year. The sun shine and rainfall has made a lush and lively winter. Baby lambs frolick in the meadows. Pregnant goat moms are heavy with kids as they take their daily walks to browse and fertilize the vineyards. Our duck and chicken friends have recovered from the cold weather with lots of deep orange egg yolks from their free-ranging escapades. The days on the farm are spent managing the farm animals, lettiing them eat the rich green grasses.
My husband and I tend the herd of goats. We milk and walk the goats each day, and bring them special treats like raspberry and blackberry leaves to prepare them herbally for the kidding season ahead. I try to notice which of the does is "bagging up" in the udder, which indicate she’s pregnant. During this month I'll make several trips to the barn to check if anybody is showing other signs of babies on the way. Fresh straw is spread out, and we partition off parts of the barn as the “delivery rooms.” This year, three goats are expecting: Sophia, Cardamom, and Lhasa. I like to be the midwife, helping along any births, and giving the mother a post-partum tonic of molasses, wheat bran, and ivy (a recipe that I got from Juliette Barclay Levi's fantastic work "The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable").
As the sun warms everything up and the days get longer, we’ve been making Biodynamic preparations. They are made at the farm with ingredients from the farm, and stored in ceramic vessels. We apply the "500" preparation in the spring to bring renewed strength and nourishment to the soil. My father-in-law, Luke Frey, has been studying these Biodynamic formulas for over a decade. The preparations foster vitality in the soil and to the farm as a whole. Biodynamics were brought forth by Rudolph Steiner in 1924, and treat the farm as one large self-sustaining organism. We add these "preps" to hand-swirled water vortices, acting as homeopathic medicinal blessings of fertility and creativity for the farmer, the farm, and the planet. Biodynamics goes beyond organic, connecting the soul to the soil. Click here for more information about Biodynamic agriculture.
Frey Vineyards likes to offer customers a wide range of organic and non-sulfited wines. Among other things, this has led us into producing both Syrah and Petite Sirah wines. The similarity in the names leads many to lump them together. In reality they are distinct varietals with unique histories, characteristics and flavors.
Syrah and Petite Sirah are both technically French Rhone varietals but Syrah enjoys a much richer and storied history. Syrah is one of the parent grapes of Petite Sirah, and one of the most widely planted French varietals, while Petite Sirah, although developed in France in the 1860’s, is almost non-existent in Europe!
Syrah is a Noble grape variety and firmly rooted in French winegrowing. Its origins are ancient and legends of its beginnings abound. Syrah may have been referenced by Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder. Some believe it was brought to France by a crusader returning from his journeys and planted in Hermitage, one of the regions famous for its Syrah wines. DNA profiling in 1999 found Syrah to be the offspring of two obscure grapes from southeastern France: Dureza and Mondeuse blanche, grown for at least 2,000 years. Syrah is a primary component of Côte du Rhone and Châteauneuf-du-Pape blends in France. In Australia it is Shiraz, the most cultivated grape Down Under. Syrah is the seventh most planted grape in California.
Flavors and styles of Syrah are greatly influenced by climate and growing conditions.
French Syrahs are known for subtle flavors of leather, tobacco and “animale,” an almost indescribable flavor hinting of animal, sweat, man or raw meat. Yum! Australian “New World” Shiraz wines are fruit-forward, spicy and full of jammy plum flavors. California Syrahs vary depending on growing region, and here at Frey Vineyards our winemaker Paul Frey always says it is his favorite to work with. Our Syrahs offer a marriage of the two styles: full-bodied, with forward plum juiciness and a subtle finish of rich earthy tobacco and chewy tannins.
While Syrah and Petite Sirah both made their way to California in the late 1800s, original plantings of Syrah were wiped out by the root-eating Phylloxera louse and weren’t reintroduced until the 1950s. Syrah has gained wide acceptance and is now a common grape, still far behind Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, but with over 7,000 acres in production. Petite Sirah plantings in California are older than most other varieties, but it is not widely planted with only an estimated 2,500 acres today.
Unlike Syrah, the origins of Petite Sirah are clear. Petite Sirah was originally named Durif for the viticulturist Francois Durif whose nursery first produced the grape in the 1860s. Durif was bred from a nursery cross-pollination of the noble Syrah grape and Peloursin, an obscure varietal that is now almost extinct in France. For the first century of its existence Durif was seen as nothing more than a useful grape for strengthening weak blends, as it has lots of tannins and color and good acidity.
Durif made its way to California in the late 1800’s where the name Petite Sirah gradually overtook Durif, due to the fact that it is generally less vigorous than Syrah and the berry size is smaller. Local Mendocino County growers commonly refer to their Petite Sirah blocks as their “Pets.” The high skin to juice ratio makes Petite Sirah an inky and full-bodied wine, relatively high in acid with characteristic spicy and peppery tones. Here as well, it was a blender, a common component in field blend plantings where vineyards are planted out to several varieties that are harvested, fermented and aged together. Petite Sirah was not yet embraced as a varietal wine in its own right. That changed in the 1970s and 1980s when California was a hotbed of winemaking innovation and experimentation. Winemakers began to prize Petite Sirah for its unique flavors and cellaring ability and it is now grown throughout the state. In the last fifty years, the grape became more established in the hotter climates of California, Australia, Israel and Mexico than its native Europe.
Frey Vineyards’ Petite Sirah is grown in a relatively cool section of our Redwood Valley Home Ranch, with afternoon shade and cool breezes blowing down the Enchanted Canyon of Mariposa Creek. Our Petite is medium-bodied, with a subtle herbal bouquet, plum and blueberry flavors, and a lingering tannic finish with a touch of spice.
Syrah or Petite Sirah are both well adapted to our hot and dry climate in Inland Mendocino. They are full-bodied rich wines with lots of flavor and color. We encourage you to explore their uniqueness and similarities and look forward to many more vintages of each of these outstanding wines!
Cheers and Happy Springtime!
Peach tree in blossom in Frey organic Syrah vineyard.
April Fools Day dawned early for those who were foolish enough to sign up for vineyard frost protection. The first of April brought our first spring frost in the early morning hours and the first night of Frost Patrol. Temperatures dipped into the low 30s and grape growers throughout Mendocino County scurried about, running overhead irrigation to protect tender new grape shoots from freezing. Looking ahead into April we are anticipating much colder temperatures than we experienced in February and March. We expect many more nights of freezing temperatures before danger of frost ends in mid May.
The current fabled California Drought has created some of the most incredible vintages in recent memory. So far, 2015 has started with the warmest winter on record in California and consequently one of the earliest bud breaks observed on the North Coast. Every variety including Cabernet Sauvignon awoke from dormancy before the first of April. We are fortunately at our average seasonal rainfall for our region now and are looking forward to April showers to bring May flowers - grape flowers, that is!
Mustard cover crop in Frey organic Cab vineyard.
With the cover crops in full bloom and the fields abuzz with insects and birds, we are starting spring field cultivation. We are in the process of spreading composted grape skins, stems and seeds from previous harvests that will be incorporated into the soil when the cover crops are mowed and disked in as a green manure. This introduction of organic matter into the soils year after year is a cornerstone of our organic soil fertility management.
Young plantings of Tempranillo, Barbera and Malbec from 2013 at our Road D Ranch are getting established right on schedule for a first vintage of 2017. This site boasts USGS classified Red Vine Clay Loam soil, renowned for growing hearty red grape varietals in Redwood Valley. We look forward to experimenting with and adding these varieties to our portfolio of organic, additive-free wines.
After three flawless vintages, we are expecting Mother Nature to dish out some heavy weather in 2015. There is an Old Farmer’s Wive’s Tale that for one in every ten years of farming the conditions are perfect, and that is considered the norm. The nine years in between always bring something to complain about. We don’t need 2015 to be an extraordinary year, we’d be perfectly happy with another “normal” vintage! Cheers and good wishes for a happy and healthful spring season!
Crows search for worms and bugs behind the plow.
The weekend begins Friday January 9th, with a lecture from Dennis Klocek of the Coros Institute on the topic Where is the Elemental World? From the course description: "The fundamental question is how can those who work with nature establish a relationship that is personal to the forces and activities that lie behind natural phenomena? Starting in the crystal heavens of the alchemists, Dennis will present the layers of forces consolidating from the cosmic etheric realm through the etheric formative realm to the elemental realm. At each stage meditations will be suggested that can help to link the consciousness of the worker to these particular kinds of phenomena and the beings who stand behind them. Topics will include: the four ethers; crystallization of gems; alchemical planetary influences through the seasons; salt and sulfur in plant growth as symbolic consciousness; and the spagyric process of the alchemist Paracelsus as a meditative tool for research."
The lecture begins at 9am and goes until 5pm. There will be a lunch break and a suggested donation of $85-100; nobody will be turned away for a lack of funds. Registration is available at the door.
Saturday the schedule is open to the public and free (for the full schedule with a timeline please go here). There will be a keynote speech by Dennis Klocek at 10am and also a Nature Walk with local author Kate Marianchild at 2pm (her book, "Secrets of the Oak Woodlands" was published by Heyday this year). Bring a potluck item to share at a delicious farmer lunch gathering midday. Biodynamic preparations are often available for purchase, and for those interested in more information about biodynamics and the BDANC, this is a fine event to attend! Sunday's meeting brings together the BDANC staff to discuss topics within the organization.
Our in-house chef Tamara Frey especially created this soup for our Organic Wine Club members. Copyrighted 2014, Tamara Frey
The pumpkins are gathered and the vines and oak trees are turning orange here at Frey Vineyards. In the nearby forests mushrooms are popping up! So I had to do a mushroom soup to welcome the new season. This soup has the earthy essence of mushrooms, potatoes, and Frey Biodynamic Syrah. It’s topped with a squirt of Roasted Red Pepper Jalapeno Purée, a Pumpkin Seed Spinach Purée (created by family-friend Julie St. Pierre), and a mini-raft of goat brie set adrift. I am heavy handed on the garlic and herbs, which is what I like. You can experiment to your taste. I love the smells that permeate the house as the Syrah reduces with the dried mushrooms! Enjoy this rich soup, the very essence of wild mushrooms and organic wine.
1 oz. dried porcini
1 oz. dried mushroom medley
1 bottle Frey Biodynamic Syrah
1/2 pound unsalted butter
3 large leeks
1 large bulb garlic
4 tablespoons fresh thyme (or 2 tablespoons dried)
2 tablespoons dried tarragon (or fresh)
1 tablespoons fresh grated nutmeg
1 pound shitake mushrooms
1 pound white mushrooms
1 pound cremini mushrooms
4 1/2 cups heavy cream
4 cups vegetable stock (or water)
1 tablespoon salt (or add to taste)
1 teaspoon black pepper
1.5 pounds red fingerling potatoes
1 pound yams (Japanese yams or sweet potatoes)
A sprinkle of fresh lemon juice
A sprinkle cayenne
In a saucepan combine the Syrah and the dried mushrooms. Bring to a boil and simmer for a half hour.
Wash and chop coarsely the leeks. Peel the garlic and chop coarsely. Meanwhile, melt the unsalted butter in a large saucepan. Add the leeks and garlic. Sweat a few minutes and add the thyme, tarragon, nutmeg and fresh mushrooms. Throw the mushrooms in whole. Sauté ten minutes, then add the wine and dried mushroom mixture. Cover and simmer until mushrooms are soft. Blend in a Cuisinart or Vita Mix along with the cream and stock. Pour the purée back into the cooking pot and add the chopped yams or sweet potatoes. Simmer until potatoes are soft. Season with salt, pepper, lemon juice and cayenne to taste.
Goat Brie, Roasted Red Pepper Jalapeno Sauce and Pumpkin Seed Spinach Sauce
Roasted Red Pepper Jalapeno Purée:
2 large red peppers
4 large jalapenos
1 large clove garlic
salt to taste
Roast the pepper and jalapenos on a flame, on stove top (or chop them and grill them with a little butter). When blackened, let cool down a little. Rinse under running water while removing seeds. Blend in Cuisinart or Vita Mix with the garlic clove.
Place in bowl, add salt to taste. Set aside.
Pumpkin Seed Spinach Purée:
1/3 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup packed spinach leaves
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup olive oil, extra virgin
1/4 cup water, or until desired consistency
Salt to taste
Blend all above ingredients in Cuisinart or Vita Mix. If it’s too thick, add water
For each bowl of soup served, pour on tablespoon each of these red and green purées with artistic flair! Don’t forget a thin slice of goat brie cheese on each bowl as well.
Copyrighted 2014, Tamara Frey
Harvesting Frey Organic & Biodynamic Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.
Due to a warm spring and hot dry summer conditions, the 2014 harvest started 2 weeks ahead of average. The first three weeks were very busy because all of the white varietals got ripe at the same time. September and early October were hot, and all berries reached optimal sugar levels ahead of other years, so clusters were allowed to hang and reach physiological ripeness, with nutty seeds, non-bitter skins and gentle tannins. We got some much-needed rain during harvest, but it wasn’t enough to alleviate drought conditions or damage fruit. Across the board, the quality was exceptional and yields were near average.
Vineyard Manager Derek Dahlen at the weigh station.
Frey Vineyards is now farming a new ranch here in Redwood Valley! The Walt Ranch is planted with Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Cabernet and Petite Sirah grapes and was managed organically by veteran grape grower Tony Milani for the past 25 years. Tony passed away in March and we look forward to carrying on his tradition of organic grape farming on this beautiful land.
Adam Frey rescues a Pileated Woodpecker.
This year we had visits from several wildlife friends: deer, fox, turkeys and woodpeckers, who live in the adjacent forests and venture out night and day to feast on grapes. We have a mama bear and 2 cubs visiting our apple and fig trees, nightly. Adam Frey rescued a wounded Pileated woodpecker at Road D Ranch and nursed it back to health. Although they eat valuable fruit, we are happy to be surrounded by forests that provide habitat for healthy populations of wild animals, no matter their occasional nibbling!
Moving into November, cover crop seeding, Biodynamic horn manure spraying and compost spreading are nearly completed for the season. We are getting some nice rains this week to enliven the soil for the horn manure and ensure good germination of the cover crops. The grape leaves are turning to fall colors and the vines are headed for dormancy for the winter. The vineyards and their keepers are looking forward to a lull until pruning begins after the winter solstice. In the meantime, we are praying for more rain. Please join us in that endeavor!
We look forward to sharing an excellent 2014 vintage with you soon. Cheers!
Harvest 2014 is over!
Éva-Marie Lind, parfumeur and CEO/founder of EM Studios Arome in Portland, Oregon, provides us with her next installment of tasting notes for Frey organic and Biodynamic wines. EM Studios Arome specializes in aromatic and olfactory artistry, with a concentration on whole earth ingredients, sensory attunement, and botanical beauty. We love how Éva-Marie’s poetic descriptions take us out of the ordinary Wine Tasting 101 textbook and into a fecund and ethereal world.
2013 Organic Sauvignon Blanc
Sheer delight met my nose as cherries, vanilla and the inference of the sweet, honeyed 2-penylethyl acetate found in freesia danced forward. In the mouth, a symphony of tropical fruit, the blush of apricot feathered with bergamot, and the fragrance of blackberry flowers where they join at the vine. She unfolds as a mountain creek tumbling over rock, opening into deeper and brighter clarity that is held fast to the zest of Sicilian lemon embellished with the slight tang of star fruit.
2013 Organic Chardonnay
Near luminescent in her aroma, she blossoms into hints of pale early spring tulip petals and the inner breath of white lotus, kissed by moon glow, just before dawn. This one jumps forward with a lovely clarity, yet she is surprisingly voluptuous in the mouth where a momentary splash of pink grapefruit announces the structured waltz of d’anjou pear with the inner blushed heart of a pink lady apple, delicately hugged by a butterscotch cape and offering a lovely crisp, well-lingering finish.
2013 Organic Pinot Noir
Meeting my nose appealingly soft with a subtle floral heart sidling to a blush of blueberries and a whisper of balsam fir and clean earth. What appears more simple and straight forward, begins to triumph in the mouth as her elegantly crisp, drier bouquet opens into a more pronounced impression of golden osmanthus blooms and a layering of fruity leather, a touch of tabac, a sheathing of black licorice, and a smooth velour finish.
2013 Biodynamic® Merlot
The delightful surprise of slight toffee malt and new bud spruce meets your nose, with an inference of tamarind, greeting a blushing orchestration of dark berries on the vine. In the mouth, plush and full-bodied, expressing a marion berry compote, teased by the outer shell notes of pink pepper playing tag at the edges, holding hands with the sheerest inference of the sweetened dry-down notes of saffron. Tannins fill the mouth, drawing all these chords together into a brilliant subtlety, as when standing at the center of an orchard at nightfall when sunset blushes upon warm fruit and exhausted air settles into a harmonious center.
I recently interviewed Julia Dakin, a local horse woman here in Mendocino County, California, about the horse powered work that’s been happening on the Frey farm. A life-long horse enthusiast, Julia got interested in draft horses a few years ago. She wondered if it would be possible for local vineyards to convert to horse power to do the work currently done by tractors. She met up with Luke and Lily Frey, who have been experimenting with draft horse work on the farm for the past several years.
Luke and Lily have been working to develop a rapport with draft horses on the Frey farm. As they built relationships with the horses, they have branched out to harnessing the horses and accomplishing farm tasks and logging with the horses on the land. Julia noted that logging with horses is one of the most environmental ways to do forestry management, as the horses are able to get into more narrow and tight spaces with far less impact than a road and heavy machinery. The horses get to exercise, and the land gets tended more gently. This last spring, Andy, Bonnie and Lola (the horses), accompanied by Luke, Lily and Julia (the humans), pulled logs out of the forest, tilled the garden beds on the ranch’s biodynamic farm, and tested various implements in the vineyard.
From experiences with the horses, Julia took her research a step farther and enrolled in online classes by Elaine Ingham in soil science. Her studies led her to the field of no-till agriculture. As she’s been delving into the world of soil, she’s been postulating that horses might be able to create a niche for vineyard management, by practicing no-till methods with a roller-crimper tool that is hitched to the horses. Instead of tilling up the soil with a disc, which disturbs the soil life (worms, bacteria, fungi), the roller-crimper moves between the vineyard rows to smash down the cover crop.
If Julia’s work with the horses is successful, they may have a more efficient system of converting cover crops into soil fertility. Also, using the roller-crimper helps sequester carbon in the land, while protecting and nourishing the layers of soil ecology already in place. Julia also hopes to find through current research on test plots, that the soil being worked with the roller-crimper both enriches the land and could prove to be a cost-effective enterprise for local grape farmers, whether or not they use horses. Julia currently has horses that she’s working with to amass some data to look at the roller-crimper horse-power at different sites. Should her efforts prove qualitatively impressive, Julia would like to expand the ways that local vineyards become carbon sinks instead of a carbon source, by transitioning to more horse-powered tasks: seeding cover crops, mowing, roller-crimper, and perhaps harvesting.
Additionally, as part of the biodynamics program on the farm, we prepare a unique blend of organic, homeopathic herbal sprays that we apply to the crops to nurture soil fertility. At present, Julia and Luke have been having some horse-powered spraying sessions to see how the horses fare as the deliver mechanism for these potent land medicines.
There are several factors to weigh in about how and if a farm would convert to a horse-powered technology. Julia is quick to note that with the prevalence of cheap oil and the speed of mechanical inventions, horses have been relegated to a technology of the past. However, with the use of more innovative techniques, like no-till, horses may well prove themselves to be able to compete with mechanized technologyfor the lesser impact they have on the carbon footprint of the land and for the potentially important contribution to increased soil fertility.
For more information on Julia’s research with the horses, follow her blog at www.rganicnotill.com.
Click here for a YouTube video clip.
There has been a lot of talk about drought this year in California, and two months ago we were in the middle of one of the driest winters on record. Thankfully, since the beginning of February we have seen nearly 30 inches of rainfall in Mendocino County. Lake Mendocino, which provides water locally and for heavier populated Sonoma County downstream is finally filling up. Now, looking around, all of our ponds are overflowing, the hillsides are radiating brilliant shades of green, and the grapevines are awakening from their winter dormancy by sprouting fresh shoots.
Organic Syrah budding out, Frey Vineyards.
While grapes can survive in extremely dry climates, water is crucial to grape growing in areas of California like ours for frost protection. While the vines are breaking bud and the tender new growth that will become the fruiting wood for the season is emerging, we often experience killing freezes that can jeopardize the fruit and decimate a vine’s ability to produce to its full potential. To avoid frost damage grape growers use overhead sprinklers. When the nighttime temperatures approach freezing we turn on sprinklers which keep the temperature at 32 degrees and prevent damage to young shoots and leaves. We are still expecting to see some spring frosts, but so far nothing of consequence. This is good for two reasons: it allows us to save our precious water for irrigation during the dry months and it allows grape farmers to get some sleep instead of prowling the vineyards checking thermometers in the wee hours of freezing nights.
The month of April is quite often rampant with the anxieties of spring fever, and this year is no exception. We are wrapping up our vine pruning and tying work. Pruning is very important because it allows a farmer to control crop load, which directly affects quality. We are also moving full speed ahead with our mowing and cultivating operations. The grape prunings are chopped with a shredder and incorporated back into the soil. Disking in between vine rows incorporates organic matter from cover crops and also locks moisture in the soils by breaking capillary action that allows evaporation through the ground.
Long-range forecasts are calling for a hot and dry summer. During hot summers with temperatures over 100 degrees, Mendocino County enjoys temperature swings of up to 50 degree between day and night. This provides the setting for excellent fruit quality because the daytime heat leads to good sugar development and the cool nights keep the acid high, yielding rich and balanced fruit. Although there are still at least five months until we begin harvest, with quite a few variables to consider, I am beginning to believe that this year is going to be a top-notch vintage!
Spring chickens (and a duck) in organic Syrah Vineyard.
We created Organic Agriculturist Blanc exclusively for Whole Foods customers nationwide, later to be available everywhere. It comprises a delicious blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling grapes. Blended as a counterpart to the original Frey Organic Agriculturist red wine, the Blanc follows suit as a food-friendly and versatile white.
Fermentation in stainless steel and minimal manipulation in the cellar keep the flavors crisp and clean. Aromas of honeysuckle lead the way to refreshing tropical fruit flavors, nuanced by starfruit and lychee. Lush Chardonnay forms the body of the blend and Sauvignon Blanc delivers a hint of sweetgrass. A whisper of 5% Riesling provides a delicate touch of citrus-honey on the finish. Like the floral wreath engraving on the label, the Organic Agriculturist Blanc is the epitome of summer’s bounty waiting to burst forth.
Pairs well with grilled fish topped with peach salsa, or Vietnamese lettuce wraps with a sweet chili dipping sauce.
The label features Lily & Rosie Frey at work in the vineyard. The "A Day in the Life..." column reminds us that we know how to intersperse the hard work with good times here at Frey Ranch. The QR code leads to our upcoming video about young organic farmers and our commitment to caring for the earth for future generations.
Look for Organic Agriculturist Blanc at your local Whole Foods market later this spring!
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