Just as the winter solstice came to the Frey Farm, our sheep gave birth in the pasture. We've had three lambs born to date to our herd of Navajo Churros, and all are doing well. Baaaa! For more information about this heritage breed, go to the Navajo Churro Sheep Association website.
Demand for organic food is ever growing, as confirmed by another poll. This is always good news as organic food production is better for everyone's health, and for the planet, in so many ways.
As summarized from ThePacker.com: "...A majority of Americans pick organically produced foods over conventionally produced when given the choice, according to a new poll... Among the reasons for choosing organic, survey participants cited supporting local growers and health concerns..."
Winemaker and vegetarian Paul Frey and his sons planting organic watermelons in vineyard.
Young organic sunflowers at Frey Vineyards.
At Frey Vineyards this year we are experimenting with growing sunflowers to press for high quality organic oils. Sunflower oil is great for cooking and as a body oil. The plants also provide excellent food for our ranch bees as the flowers mature. Sunflower oil is the most important source of food oil in the world, and we are excited to start producing it here.
We chose the Russian cultivar Peredovik sunflower (Helianthus annus). While most sunflowers have an oil content of 25-35%, the peredovic can yield up to 50% oil from its small black seeds. The Peredovic sunflower also has a very short growing season of about 12 weeks which allows plenty of time to maturity despite our wet and soggy spring this year. We will harvest in the fall and press the seeds in our cold-press seed press. This year we expect about 25 gallons and hope to expand in the future.
The sunflower project fits nicely into our ever-expanding quest for more local sources of basic food products. We can harvest them with our small combine, which is also used for harvesting wheat that is interplanted in our vineyards. The spent press cake of the sunflower is a high quality feed for livestock and the stalks will make a great addition to our compost piles.
We will keep you posted about our progress!
The glory of the summer sun shines down this time of year, illuminating the full palette of colors and flavors in the Frey Vineyards gardens. Out past one vineyard, beyond a blackberry hedgerow, Jonathan Frei works with the soil. His experiments began long ago in his childhood garden where kitchen herbs grew around his New Hampshire homestead.
Jonathan Frei in his garden.
After graduating with a B.S. in soil science from the University of Vermont, Jonathan transplanted himself in the West coast where he’s become an acclaimed master gardener, turning the earth into black gold wherever he tills. He adds that he is a “proud father to three amazing children,” two of which were in the garden when we arrived.
When entering Jonathan Frei’s garden one can see his gardening roots where culinary herbs surround his cabin in the woods. Paths lead out from his home between rows of colorful drought-tolerant bushes, many of which were in full-flower when I interviewed him. I brought my four year old son, Osiris, along to visit, and he found bliss in the several patches of Jerusalem sage, sucking sweet nectar from the abundant yellow flowers.
Little Osiris enjoying Jerusalem sage nectar.
Jonathan and I walked to his experimental garden project, where he is cultivating 20 different types of blueberries amidst native perennial trees, shrubs, and poor soils. We grazed on some of the most successful bushes that have provided a taste of fresh fruit for several years now.
Jonathan Frei's organic blueberries.
Aside from his blueberry adventures in homage to his Northeastern heritage, Jonathan has a history of making gardens come to life along the West coast. He worked at what is now the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, to lead a team of gardeners there years ago. Later, in Mexico, he started the internationally acclaimed organic garden of Rancho La Puerta in Baja, California. These days, when Jonathan isn’t working at the winery to help produce and promote Frey wines, he’s working with the land, perfecting the art of kitchen garden design, and pairing aromatics with vibrant flowers – all to create a whimsical and functional landscape.
Spring is in the air, in the barn, and in the fields! All the animals are enjoying the lush pasture from the rains, and have been steadily munching for months. Our goat herd has grown, and the goats that kidded in March now have attentive young following them on the goat walks through the vineyards. Because of the "bud break" (when the grapevines begin to sprout new shoots for this year's growth), the goats, cows, horses, and sheep are moving out of the vineyards to find forage instead in the meadows and grasslands. The chicken flock has also matured, making eggs for Easter omelets. The free-range eggs reflect the nutritious green grass of the pastures, as the chickens who graze on it have the beta-carotene needed to produce really rich and orange egg yolks. One of our hens went broody and hatched out her first nest of little chicks this week. And we have several "teens" strutting around the barnyard too, enjoying the bugs and grasses that this season brings.
Fresh farm eggs.
Six kids joined the barnyard scene this week. They came every other day, twins for each of our three mama goats. Everybody is nursing well and looking very adorable in their warm little goat coats. The baby goat below was born just this afternoon and the pictures taken during its first hour. It's being licked clean by its very caring mother while it tries out its legs for the first time on fresh hay.
Our goats are ripe and ready to give birth, all of them are full term. On our goat walks through the vineyards I see the kids moving around from inside their mother's bellies. Goat gestation is about 5 months, and last fall we bred our does to a Nubian buck, which should make them all excellent milking kids. For now, we're keeping the barn stocked with fresh hay, and checking on the mothers all day long. This is the other part of animal husbandry: animal midwifery!
January on the farm has the taste of fresh grass for all our hoofed friends. The cows, horses, and goats are pasture feeding in the vineyards again, in-between rows of cultivated wheat and oat. Our herds have the dual purpose of fertilizing the vineyards and keeping the grass populations in check, like live-powered mowers. Our daily goat walks take us through the vineyards to favorite oak trees where acorn browsing gives the goats rich, luscious coats for the winter weather. And, while they munch on the wild blackberry hedgerows, the pregnant ones get a dose of herbal medicine to help tone their reproductive tract before the Spring kidding. We're expecting several births in the next few months, which makes this time of year extra exciting.
Our chicken program has also taken to the vineyards, where egg layers are happily scratching up grubs and weeds along the edges of the cultivated vines. All these animals make the land seem more like a farm, where a walk along the rows now has the sound of moos, neighs, and clucks! For biodynamic agriculture the element of having the animals on the land is especially important because the animals impart a special quality to the land. Additionally, the farm animals help us maintain the land as a sustainable system, which feeds us while we feed it with "black gold" manures.
In the gardens our family members are ordering seeds and getting out old saved seeds from the previous year to grow cabbages, peas, kale, broccoli, and other early crops. I just pruned the raspberries in our garden last week, and the fruit trees are next.
Our biodynamic farmer friend Hugh Williams of Threshold Farm was here for the past two weeks, teaching workshops on apple orchards and pruning our trees using his unique method. We also just hosted the Winter meeting of the Biodynamic Association of Northern California here at Frey Vineyards; it was a wonderful success and inspiring to have all the farmers come together to discuss truly sustainable agriculture amidst the backdrop of the vineyards. Frey Vineyards, which has become a model for biodynamics, was the first BD certified winery in the United States. Also, Katrina Frey is now a member of the Demeter board, spreading the conscious farming movement in the hopes that more farms will join.
For now, it's time to get back out into the fields, making flat mixes to sow our seeds in for the first crops of the year!
When pairing food and wine the goal is to create a complement of flavors that enhances the taste of each. Today, many chefs are taking it further by pairing wine to the specific herbs they use in dishes. French chefs have used herb-infused wine sauces for centuries, creating flavorful classic bistro dishes like mussels steamed in wine and herbs.
Spring is one of the best times of year to harvest and eat fresh herbs, when they are putting out their tender, potent new shoots that burst with flavor. A foolproof sauce for any combination of wine and herbs is to melt butter (for vegans use a butter substitute like Earth Balance spread or olive oil) in a saucepan and add herbs and wine and salt to taste, cooking it down until it thickens slightly. Serve over meat or vegetables.
We recommend the following herb and wine combinations and encourage you to experiment with new ones!
Chardonnay – tarragon, lemon, lemon thyme, basil, lavender
Frey Natural White – tarragon, marjoram, thyme, chervil
Sauvignon Blanc – dill, lovage, mint, cilantro, ginger, lemongrass
Pinot Noir – sweet basil, oregano, mint
Frey Natural Red – basil, thyme and sage
Sangiovese – garlic, sage, basil, rosemary, oregano
Syrah – sage, basil, rosemary, chocolate mint
Petite Sirah – chives, rosemary, oregano, black pepper
Cabernet Sauvignon – rosemary, chives, black pepper, mustard, chocolate mint
Merlot – basil, oregano, white pepper
Zinfandel – chipotle peppers, cumin, coriander
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