God smiled on us and Paso Robles on Zinfandel Festival Weekend and the AmByth Spring Hike and lunch.
A perfect day greet our dozen walkers for what should be our first annual WineClub Member’s Hike and Luncheon celebrating the first day of Spring. We started off touring through PlayGround to the west fence line to view our latest attempt (and thus far, successful) of altering our portable chicken coop to keep the chickens free-range, whilst keeping them from being a “fox luncheon”. It was perfect timing, Deborah Sowerby (of Olive Ewe Ranch and grower of the best lamb in the country, contact here for whole or half lambs) was delivering 8 hens to join our remaining hen and rooster. Next to the coop and along the fence line we looked at the 50 new apple and pear trees recently planted and already pushing buds for this year’s new growth. As I type this, blossom is appearing on some of these new trees, it is going to be quite a sight in future years.
The hike led over to the top of Terrace, our steep Mourvedre vineyard. From here there is a grand view of Mark’s Vineyard and StoneCross, a viewpoint that most visitors to AmByth don’t get a chance to see, it gives a great perspective to the steepness of our vineyards (and the labor involved when operating such a hands-on farm). Phillip led the group through StoneCross, down into Mark’s Vineyard and down to the compost pile and corral.
Phillip was happy to talk about all aspects of the farm: the pushing buds, our philosophy and plans for weed allowance/control, our method of pruning, etc.–and most importantly, the Manure Pile! Probably not the height of what someone would think about when seeing Paso in all its glory with vineyards bursting forth, but our manure pile is the vital force behind the health of our farm. Mary gave a brief description of the hive, the components of the hive and the hows-and-whys of bee-keeping. A taste of the current releases in the winery and lunch followed–it was a great time of nourishment and friendship, and a great way to begin our Spring in the vineyard.
Have you ever pulled a bottle of rose or white wine from the fridge only to behold a beautiful cloudy appearance inside the bottle? Or, on a much less harmful (in fact, completely harmless) state, found titrates (colorless crystals) clinging to the cork? If so, it probably was a result of the wine not being stabilized.
Someone mentioned to me the other day that our ’08 Viognier blend was cloudy–it isn’t, and it won’t be. It does, however, throw a sediment–like a quality red wine. I know our white is not cloudy because we cold stabilize. We have jacketed tanks that would allow us to run glycol around them, thus reducing the temperature inside the tanks to below freezing–28 degrees seems to be the magic number. At AmByth, we take a simpler approach: when the weather is going to drop below freezing over night, we move the whites and rose out into the breezeway between the winery and the little house. And we have a trend this week–every night the forecast calls for lows between 23-30. So we just move the tanks, barrels and carboys outside for the night! Typically, the wind is funneled down this breezeway, bringing the temperatures down even more. And viola! cold stabilization occurs naturally. You’ll see the photo above of the wine outside–you see here about 200 cases of wine total. Before bottling, we further check by taking samples and putting them in the fridge for a week (I know, geniuses at work here!). If there is a problem, they will cloud with the cold. Red wines also need to stabilize, but they do this with extended oak barrel aging (which we do here at AmByth).
Other methods of stabilizing wines are fining and/or very fine filtering. At AmByth, we do neither. We belong to the camp that believes this is stripping the wine of some of those finer, more delicate elements. Then of course, with fining and filtering, there are large sulfite additions that are necessary–well, by now you should our stance on that!
So enjoy our stabilized yet still sedimented white and red wines. The 07′s are just now starting to throw a more solid sediment. As with all fine wines, decanting is a good idea (and fun)!
We are so very happy to have Dutchess and Fiona on the farm. They are our miniature Highland cows, delivered last week. Dutchess is 3 years old, she is the mother of Fiona (5 months) with another calf due in March. We plan on keeping them at AmByth as dairy cows. And of course we plan on composting their manure. Phillip and I specifically looked for dairy cows with horns, as we believe they are a “perfect” cow–in their complete fullness, without any body parts removed, thus making their manure more potent and unadulterated. We believe they are “unstressed” and that this will show in their manure.
We would like to wish you all a very merry and blessed Christmas. This is a special time of the year, full of celebrations and traditions, as well as a time of reflection and renewal. May peace be upon you, and may you know ultimate Love this season.
10 years ago today, this passage was read to us, by our best man, at our wedding:
“Think: What if the sky doesn’t fall? What if it’s glorious? What if the house is transformed in three years? There will be by then hand-printed labels for the house’s olive oil, thin linen curtains pulled across the shutters for siesta, jars of plum jam on the shelves, a long table for feasts under the linden trees, baskets piled by the door for picking tomatoes, arugula, wild fennel, roses and rosemary. And who are we in that strange new life?” Taken from ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ by Frances Mayes, pg.20
I must confess, 10 years ago, listening to Paul read this to us I had no clue why he would have chosen this particular passage…
Recently Phillip and I watched our wedding video, and when we watched Paul read this, we both looked at each other in amazement…as this is our life NOW! But who would have thought this 10 years ago? Truly, we had no idea that our lives would be so transformed: permanently moving from Orange County to Templeton, planting our vineyard, producing wine with our own label, making plum jam (which I have made quite a bit this year), having full baskets of produce grown outside our very doors, growing olive trees, rearing animals, having tables full of friends and family feasting and fellowshipping.
And this “strange new life” now consists of having 3 sons, Gelert (24), Morgan (22) and our 3 year old, Bede, who was and is a total surprise and joy!
Amidst our decade, we have suffered the tragic loss of Phillip’s brother, Mark. But he lives on with us, through our farming and Phillip’s memories of growing up on a farm with him in Wales.
We feel blessed, we are happy and we are together doing what we love! May God heap many, many more decades upon us…
We have been seeing veraison throughout the vineyards for over 3 weeks now–the Grenache is always the last to catch up and it is finally changing to red grapes now. Veraison marks the beginning of ripening: the small, tight green grapes begin to soften and change colors (red wine=red grapes), sugars (which convert to alcohol) and volume increase while acidity decreases. We see veraison first in the Tempranillo, Sangiovese and Viognier, then comes along Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blance, and Syrah and finally catching up to the rest of the gang are Mourvedre and Grenache. This is the time of year Phillip and Mary look at each other in wonderment, with fairly incredulous expressions such as, “Wow! It’s that time of year again? So soon? Can you believe how fast harvest comes ’round every year?, etc. etc. etc.”.
And a very unwelcome arrival veraison brings…birds!! If you happen to be in the wine country this time of year, you will observe long rows of vines covered in bright green or black netting, or hear the faint sound of “bird cannons”, or see all sorts of owl-eye balloons and silver strings waving in the wind. Vineyard owners go to great lengths to keep the birds from eating the developing sweet little morsels (photo on the left shows an example of the damage that we have in the Tempranillo). We have mylar (silver tape) tied to the fence line and vines. It waves frantically in the wind and discourages birds from landing. We also shoot off flares at sunrise (sorry neighbors!) and sunset to warn/scare the birds away. A vineyard can be decimated in a matter of minutes if a flock lands to eat. We go out at sunrise to warn away the scouts–there are 10 or so scouts that will come to the vineyard, check it out and then report back to their buddies. If we’re out in the vineyards, armed and ready when they arrive (shooting, dancing, shouting, whatever it takes!) then those scouts will give a very unfavorable report and we’ll be spared for a spell. Another very interesting tidbit: dry-farmed vines tend to ripen earlier because of the stress placed upon them to produce without summer irrigation. **Which causes a heck of alot more work!! Especially if our neighbors are slightly behind us in their ripening, then we’re the choice entre for a couple of weeks!
In the past we’ve experimented with bird cannons and predator bird calls playing in the vineyards, but after observing the birds for a couple of years, we see no advantage to using them. We have also decided not to use bird netting, it would be a logistical nightmare to install over our vines that are spaced 10 x 10 and 12 x 12–plus, is it biodegradable? Or is it just another useless item that will end up in the landfill for decades and decades? (That being said, is mylar biodegradable?…doubtful…if only we lived in a perfect world.)
Phillip is just finishing disking the vineyard for the year. It seems he’s been “missing” for a couple of weeks, as he’s been on the tractor 9 to 10 hours a day and I only briefly see him during this time. Our last rainfall was 3 weeks ago, but the soil is already drying out, so it’s been a dusty/dirty job for him. Yesterday we also completed pruning the vineyards. We were pruning only during a descending moon, on Fruit days, as the sap is being pushed down during this time and causes less weeping for the newly cut vine.
Our joint winemakers dinner with Venteux Vineyards
and Bella Luna Winery
was a great success! Chefs Rochelle Harringer & Brooke Hazell of Inn Paradiso
created a magical menu to pair with our wines. We hosted the dinner in our home and gladly welcomed 43 guests for an intimate evening with winemakers. For those of you who missed the event, take a minute to place yourself here:
Saffron & citrus marinated grilled squid, stuffed with AmByth olives, roasted peppers, scallops and chorizo
Baby brussel sprout salad with shaved manchego, dried cherries and crisp jamon
Sea shepherd’s purse: salmon baked in pastry with sauteed crimini mushrooms, shallots, garlic & greens from the AmByth garden
Warm sweetbreads salad with lentils, cabbage, pancetta and caramelized shallot served with black fennel vinaigrette
Featuring Bella Luna Wines:
2005 Estate Reserva Bellicaia & 2007 Estate Sangiovese
Roasted quail stuffed with rhubarb, venison sausage and leeks, served with wilted chard from AmByth gardens, yams roasted with herbs du Provence and fleur de sel finished with curried rhubarb and reduced AmByth wine pan sauce
Featuring AmByth Estate Wines:
2006 & 2007 Grenache/Mourvedre/Syrah Blends
Rustic rabbit terrine served on a salad of mache, arugula and miner’s lettuce with meyerlemon/tarragon vinaigrette
Chinese five spice short ribs, braised with a garlic, hoisin Venteux wine reduction, served with glazed baby bok choy, roasted acorn squash and steamed “dim sum” bun
Featuring Venteux Vineyards Wines:
2006 Estate Syrah & 2006 Estate Petite Syrah
Bella Luna 2005 Bellicaia poached Bartlett pear with stilton mousse, candied pistachios and Bella Luna Sangiovese chocolate syrup
Featuring handmade Truffles by Brooke Hazell
Just a couple of days ago I wrote on this blog that we have yet to see the cows on the upper hill of the estate. But yesterday they graced us with their presence! We first saw them actually in the garden around the front of the house, but by the time we ran to get the camera and opened the doors to photograph them, they had run into PlayGround Vineyard. So they are brave souls after all…
I took this photo late this afternoon, around 6 p.m. It is a simple shot of Gustavo out in StoneCross pruning the vines. I think it is a lovely shot of the vineyard, showing the green growth we have this time of year.
Wow, the vineyards are alive! I must confess, this is my favorite time of the year. The trees are all leafing out, displaying the most gorgeous colors of white, light pink, dark pink, and red flowers. The almonds are in bloom across the hills of Templeton and the walnuts are soon to be showing their glorious display. Our new baby fruit and nut trees are under way, little flowers and leaves are budding out, it is just gorgeous! The weeds in the vineyards are reaching 2 feet in some areas, as we look out onto Mark’s Vineyard and StoneCross, it is like a carpet of yellow and white. We are very, very thankful to see a strong presence of Ladybugs in the vineyards and home garden. Just this afternoon I saw quite a few while I was weeding and gave a quick “hi” and “thank you for being here”! All of us have noted a good quantity of earthworms while we’ve been working the soil. Honestly, they’ve been missing over the last couple of years. We’ve talked to other Biodynamic farmers about this, and they’ve noticed the same on their farms. It is a disappearing act, and it can be quite disconcerting to notice they’re not there. But it is a natural cycle of farming and we’re happy to have them back. (The presence of earthworms are important to a BD farmer, we rely upon them to aerate and bring light and warmth to the soil).
This morning we finished replanting all the new vines, thanks to the help of Lee Morwood (shown in above photo), Christian and Kathryn Morwood, Gustavo and Vicente. This leaves us free to continue pruning all of the vines. We are mostly completed, but we have a couple day’s worth remaining. The olive trees have been very heavily pruned. They say a sparrow should be able to pass through the middle of an olive tree, then you know you’ve pruned correctly.
We are reaping delicious vegetables from the gardens. Pictured are radishes grown from seed. We have a multitude of foods growing, just this afternoon I put in some strawberry plants. These next 2 weeks I’ll be very busy starting much of my summer garden from seed, plus a multitude of sunflowers to attract all the lovely bees. We’re also busy hand pulling weeds–it is an awesome thing to be a certified farm…but this means pulling everything out by hand, which takes alot of time. But little by little, it all gets done. Our friends, Larry and Swantje were here last week, and let me tell you, the 5 hours of free labor in the garden was INCREDIBLE, thank you!!! (And thank you for all the free advice from an expert gardener, Swantje!)
The steers have been let loose and are grazing daily in Mark’s Vineyard. It is fun to see them making their way up and down the hill, munching away at all the lovely grasses. They have yet to venture into StoneCross Vineyard, preferring to stay close to our neighbor’s Longhorns.
And thank you all for Penny’s well wishes. She is feeling strong and is motivated to take this new phase of her life by the horns.
Last Thursday, February 19th, Paso Robles very proudly served as Stage 5 Finish for the Amgen Tour of California! It was an incredible event, and our little town of Paso was honored to host these remarkable athletes and their teams. Phillip stayed back at the winery to bottle our 07′s (see post below), but Bede and I joined friends in town for a brief, but exciting glimpse of the riders. We positioned ourselves at the corner of Charolais and South River Road. Sure enough, after about an hour of speculation, they came whizzing by….they were here…and they were gone…that quickly! This is the only photo I managed to capture, you can see Lance Armstrong positioned third from the front with a yellow & black helmet (double-click on the photo and it will enlarge).
On a more sobering note, the very day of the race, Phillip’s older sister, Penelope, was diagnosed with Phase III cancer. She has a long battle ahead of her, and our Hart family is burdened and extremely saddened about the news. As Bede and I were waiting for the race, the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s
van painted in his colors, yellow and black, pulled aside to pass out bright yellow chalk to all the bystanders with instructions to write notes of encouragement, dedications, remembrances, etc. to those we know battling cancer. They wanted the streets covered in yellow chalk for all to see. So Bede and I dedicated the race to his Auntie Penny.
Phillip and I want to extend our most sincere wishes for everyone to have a Blessed Christmas!
We also welcome Oreo and Negrito to AmByth Estate, our 2 steers! They seem to be adapting extremely well, and it is quite fulfilling to see them and have their presence here. Every day there is a definite excuse to take a long and refreshing walk, “hey, it’s time to check on the boys!” Bede is especially getting a kick out of them…so are Zorro and Cid (literally!).
I’ve been quite remiss in reporting a few recent events…we harvested olives November 29th, with help from Christian, Kathryn and kids (Savannah Morwood shown above, age 3), and Lety, Gustavo and Joanna. We had a tiny harvest (about 100 pounds), as most of our olive flowers were blown away by high winds just before setting their fruit, but at least we have enough for a year round supply of salt-brined black olives. Delicious!
And once again, the compost pile is complete with the addition of the preps and covered with hay. Phillip inserted everything last Saturday, the 20th.
Phillip, Gustavo and our friend, Robert Derryberry, applied an egg shell tea this afternoon to the soil. If you look inside an empty egg shell, you will see a thin white coating–this is silica. (Look below for the what’s and why’s of silica.) We’ve been collecting our empty shells over the past couple of months (shells from organically fed chickens–of course!) This morning Phillip ground up a touch more than 20 ounces of shells in my KitchenAide (they were ground up in small flakes, not a powder), put them in a pot with a small amount of water, brought the tea to a boil and simmered it for 30 minutes. We then mixed the tea with about 70 gallons of water and stirred it for 20 minutes in our copper stirring machine to aerate it. The tea was applied to all the vineyards (about 3.5 gallons/acre) and the woods in large droplets in the afternoon, after the earth’s exhalation period from noon to two. Phillip says it was a very interesting spray, as we’ve had strong winds this afternoon. He was actually able to use the wind to take the drops further, as he sprayed them up in an ‘arc’ motion.
Why and What is Silica? Oxygen (O2) and Silicon (Si) make up almost 3/4 of the outer earth’s crust. Silica (SiO2) is found all over the world in every type of soil, in plants, animals and humans. At this time, we apply silica to act as a catalyst to attract the sun’s power in the soil, to stimulate root growth over the winter. We will again use silica as a major force over the entire property in the Spring, as new growth emerges. It will then be in the form of horn silica, BD prep #501.
On a completely different note, not as romantic (or complex) as the above topic, but extremely practical: our winery building! Whew! Before 9 o’clock this morning they had the beams in place! Bede had his thrills, seeing the crane pick-up and place each beam, as they were swaying in the winds. I’m hesitant about the building, as with anything, I am accustomed to it NOT being there and it seems loomingly large at the moment. But it will be nice to have to have it completed. And with time, and some big trees, it will feel like it has always belonged to AmBythEstate.