Egg Shell Tea, Winery Building Phase II

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.

Mid-Harvest, and Recovering

I’m sure, somewhere out there, is an organization called Future Winemakers of America, a play on Future Farmers of America–case in point, my son Bede. Here he is, thickly involved in crush, sampling just stomped grape juice, I see an addiction looming in his future. Seriously, this stuff is delicious. It is as sweet as you can get it, and much of the time this is how winemakers decide when to pick. Phillip walks the vineyards every day, sampling berries straight off the vines. You can taste their ripeness, take a look at the seeds (green seeds-not ready, brown seeds-perfectly ripe) and evaluate picking time. We do bring random clusters back to the winery to test all the numbers: pH levels, tartaric acid and brix, and when Phillip finds the perfect combination of results, he sends out the cry for help: a harvest e-mail.
Lorraine and Louie from Orange County and L.A.
Thanks again to all of those who faithfully show up in the mornings, ready to work! Dennis remains the #1 picker, but Paul Sowerby gets honorable mention, he is our best friend and we summoned him for help. He drives 50 minutes 1 way to get to our place, from his personal slice of heaven in the hills above Lake San Antonio. He showed up this Saturday and Sunday–THANK YOU E!!!!

Round 2: First Picks of Syrah and Sangiovese

Wednesday morning, another ‘fruit’ day according to the Biodynamic calendar, we picked about 30% of the Syrah and this morning (the 21st) we picked 70% of the Sangiovese. My brother, Christian, and his best friend, Pat, came up to pick grapes for their personal stash of wine they’re making and they stayed on to help us pick the Syrah and Sangiovese. Not all of the clusters were fully ripe so it was first pick on both varietals.
Harley, our 16 year old neighbor, lent a hand in the vineyard and foot-crushing. And even Bede wanted to get in on the action! He preferred the picking bin full of water to the bin with grapes–it takes some tough feet to crush those grapes and tolerate the stems. Of course, we had the #1 picker also, Dennis Ball. Next Wednesday is another fruit day, we’ll see what that brings us!

Viognier and Tempranillo Harvest, Aug. 17th

We had a great turn-out for our first harvest of the year, 21 people! We met in Mark’s Vineyard at first light and greeted the sun as it crested above the Creston hills. We were also graced by the light of a full moon to our west just setting as the sun was rising. It was an incredible feeling, having both the moon and sun with us. We had the traditional morning fare: Spanish Tortilla, homemade Grappa and strong espresso to fortify ourselves for the work ahead.
Harvest completely surprised us this year, arriving so early! Here we are–in the business specifically to harvest grapes to make wine and we are time and again caught unawares! We nurture each vine every year to produce it’s very best fruit for us and then we run around like chickens with our heads cut off because at the last moment the grapes are ripening. Thank goodness, all of our equipment was ready to go: picking bins cleaned, tractors in position, new & old barrels primed, the pump working perfectly, etc. etc. And a host of people to help!
The Viognier was an easier pick than Tempranillo, as we picked Temp. last and the day was rapidly beginning to warm and legs were sore from walking the steep hill. Also, Tempranillo is a crazy vine and you have to really get in there to get the clusters. But we were able to get the grapes picked and into the winery by 9:30–pretty impressive.
And our wonderful volunteers get to get their feet a bit wet! We immediately crushed the white and ferment it in a puncheon (a double oak barrel), but we allow all of our reds to ferment in open top bins until they ferment “dry” (no alcohol)–then we’ll crush them and transfer the juice into barrels (usually 7 to 10 days later).
Thank You’s: Dennis (#1 picker), Plourd’s, Sowerby’s, Glenn, Bob and Jazzy, Jason, Joan, Matt, Calem, Bryan, Ian, Mark Wallach, Robert, Lety & Gustavo, and my hubby.

Veraison, Yarrow/Nettle Tea, Powdery Mildew and a Decade Together!

We are seeing Veraison throughout the vineyards, in every red varietal with the exception of Grenache. Veraison is the intermediate stage of grape berry development which marks the beginning of ripening. At the beginning of veraison, the berries are hard and green, and about half their final size. During veraison, the berries change skin color and begin to soften, sugars and volume increase and acidity decreases. Not all the berries on a cluster go through veraison at the same time, as you will see from the photo above. We term veraison when about 50% of the clusters are showing color change. Hence…time to get the bird protection out of storage and in the vineyards! Because our vineyard shows veraison earlier than our neighboring vineyards, the birds feast their little hearts out before multiple choice of eating locations sets in. (Historically, we have reported veraison at least 2 weeks earlier than others…)

7/21–We made a Yarrow/Nettle tea, 1/2 ounce of each which we brewed and steeped overnight (on the 20th) and applied on the 21st, a flower day according to the Biodynamic calendar. We mixed the tea with 3 gallons of water per acre and applied it to all vineyards, by hand and on foot. Yarrow functions in the area of reproduction and growth, and permits the plants to attract trace elements in extremely diluted quantities for their best nutrition. Nettle functions in the area of foodstuffs, stimulates soil health, provides the plants with individual nutrition components and enlivens the earth (soil).

7/10–We are battling powdery mildew in Mark’s Vineyard, especially in the Tempranillo. Phillip believes it is from last year’s mild case of powdery mildew we saw in Grenache and then the spores were carried on the wind. Also, we didn’t heavily thin the Tempranillo when pruning in the Spring since we were concerned with cane damage from the high winds. (We left many canes on the vine just in case a considerable amount of them were broken off in the winds.) We applied Kaligreen Potassium Bicarbonate (organic) to the 1 acre of Tempranillo and 1 3/4 acres of Grenache, 5 lbs diluted in 50 gallons of water per varietal.

On the 21st, Phillip and I celebrated our 10 year FIRST DATE anniversary with Scott and Bobbi Stelzle of Venteux Vineyards. We shared our story–we of course knew each other through business (floorcovering), but it was a shared interest in wine that gave cause for Phillip to invite me to dinner. And the rest is history, we were together from that moment on. We celebrated with our favorite comfort food, Spaghetti Bolognese and eventually ended the evening with our love, Burgundy. The wines of the evening: Adelaida 2006 Version, Domaine Tempier 2007 Bandol, Venteux 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, AmByth 2006 Grenache Blend, Caparone 1995 Nebbiolo and Chambolle-Musigny 1998 Premier Crus les Amoureuses. The Burgundy was brilliant, so delicious on the tongue and so…perfect. Here’s to another and another and another decade, hopefully there are more and more to come.

And Robert Parker Says…

Yes, it’s true. We submitted our regular Grenache blend to Robert Parker as a part of our participation in Hospice du Rhone. We have all the typical sentiments about this man: we hold a great respect for him, yet our palates lead us in the dead opposite direction as his. He tends to extoll the virtues of big fruit, high alcohol wines. Phillip and I are extremely happy and satisified when we’re drinking lower/regular alcohol wines. You know, it’s the same-old-story.

He gave us a lousy score, an 85 (well, at least we got a score!). But it was his comments that really interested us, and then made us somewhat excited! Read for yourself:

The 2006 Estate Mark’s Vineyard is an intriguing blend of 61% Grenache and 39%
Mourvedre and Syrah. It displays attractive game-like, raspberry, fig, and
peppery notes, abundant spice, dark fruits, medium body, and admirable acidity
as well as freshness. Readers should think of it as a pleasant California-styled
Cotes du Rhone offered at a somewhat inflated price. Consume it over the next
1-2 years.

Now…to disect this wee-little commentary. An “intriguing blend…[with] admirable acidity as well as freshness…Readers should think of it as a pleasant Californi-styled Cotes du Rhone…” Holy Moly!!!! Isn’t that just what we’ve been aiming for in our style of wine: a comparison to a French Cotes du Rhone? Fantastic! We’ll take that as a compliment. Of course, we may be reading a bit more into it, but we’re happy. Hey, this is Phillip’s first commercial release…not too bad.

About the “somewhat inflated price”, the wines that he tastes at $100 & up a bottle aren’t just a tad inflated? We guess it’s all relative…our type of farming requires much more hands-on in the vineyard with slower processes (hand-weeding, multiple passes–ON FOOT–of applying BD preps, etc), an average smaller crop load and more attention paid to every little detail. We think this is worth it!

Summer Solstice Party–Our Memories of an Exceptional Evening

Phillip and I have had two weeks to relish in our memories of our first release party, the Summer Solstice Celebration on June 21st. It was truly an amazing evening–sharing wine and food with our wine club members, friends who have supported us from the beginning, and family who traveled to help and celebrate. We watched a glorious sunset over the Santa Lucia Mountains to the west and ushered in a nearly full moon over the Creston hills to the east.
The temperature outside was perfect, dipping into the high 70’s as the evening progressed (as you may not know, it often gets in the 50’s and 60’s in the evenings bringing on quite the chill). We had Plan B, C & D for what to do in the event of uncooperative weather, but we did not have to use them, thank goodness. The ladies sat by the pool, enjoying wine as Lee and Christian (2 of my 5 brothers) topped their glasses when necessary. Later in the evening, we even had a few brave souls have a dip. There was a vast quantity of wine served (over a bottle per person!) and Phillip’s famous Paella, in addition to Stilton and Port for dessert made us all very replete.

It was a fun evening, it was an easy evening, and we’re ready to do it again! We are very happy to have seen so many wine club members and hope they will become our good friends, as we enjoy getting to know more people over a glass of wine. We feel honored to share our home and our passion, and we are very thankful to our families, the Morwoods and Harts, for their help–it is because of all of them we felt such ease and were able to relax and celebrate!

Nettle/Horsetail Tea Application, Grape Set in Mark’s Vineyard

This is our newest addition to AmByth Estate, our golden, “El Cid”, surveying his kingdom…what a lucky dog! This is the view from the top of StoneCross Vineyard and our house, looking east towards Creston. You can see the vineyards and wheat fields surrounding us, and the gentle rolling hills. It truly is a beautiful vista. If you haven’t visited the Paso Robles area before, you are missing a stunning declaration of God’s creativity!

On the 9th, Phillip applied a tea of Nettle (#504) and Horsetail (#508) to the Mourvedre and Grenache vines in Mark’s Vineyard. He made a tea of 1-1/2 ozs of each herb simmered in water for an hour, and then diluted it in 3 gallons of water per acre. It was applied to the foliage of the plants in a fine mist. This combination brings balance and prevents or lessens the effects of fungus and mildew on the plants. Again, it was a fruit day according to the BD calendar.

The re-planting of the Grenache Blanc and Counoise blocks was completed this morning (in StoneCross Vineyard). Instead of replacing Counoise with Counoise, we opted to plant Grenache Noir in that particular block instead. So now that section has 350+ Counoise mixed with about 80 Grenache Noir vines.

Mark’s Vineyard is showing full grape set and those little grapes are beginning to swell…all varietals look great, fuller than we’ve seen in previous years. The Syrah is a bit skimpy–better than last year, but still not quite reaching it’s full potential.

Spring Fever, Counoise/Grenache Blanc Replants, Biodynamic Course @ Cal Poly, BD 501

June 9th–Replant Day! We have 150 “green” plants going in the ground today, Counoise and Grenache Blanc, to replace the dormant vines we planted in the winter that didn’t take. They are green because they are showing active growth with 3 small canes per vine and good healthy leaf development. It is imperative we get them in the ground (on a fruit day according to BD calendar) and water them for 6 to 8 weeks, depending on the heat. This is different for us, as we’re a dry-farmed vineyard and we let the rain take care of the watering. But we didn’t want to miss another growing season to replant dormants in the winter, so this was the decision we made. Don’t forget, you can double-click on the photo to see an enlarged version on your screen!

Last week, Phillip and I had the perfect husband/wife/farmer conflict. For a couple of weeks, we’ve observed leaf curling and browning in all varietals in Mark’s Vineyard. We were both dismayed, as we believe Biodynamics and the use of our compost and preps would take care of any soil deficiencies exhibited in the vines/leaves. I was all over his case, with declarations of losing the vineyard, no grape maturation due to no leaves, etc. He was very calm, concerned, but without drama…After some research, we concluded it is a symptom called “Spring Fever”, which is a common ailment in vines 3 to 5 years old (perfect! we’re 5 years now). And it is similar to a common cold contracted by humans. We continue to have new growth and the leaves on the new growth are perfect, so that alone is good news! With Spring Fever, the plant has a momentary imbalance, usually caused by extreme temperature differences (very hot to very cold)–hence, our diagnosis! Again, no need to run out to our local farm supply store to buy nitrogen, calcium or potash…we’re letting the vine take care of itself, confident we’ve enabled it to do so through Biodynamics.

On that subject, we attended a seminar given by Gena Nonini of Marion Farms in Fresno, on Biodynamics at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. It was an excellent course, Gena has been farming biodynamically since 1992 so there was much to glean from her. She made more sense of Steiner’s “Agriculture” book, chapters 1 – 3. Because of her experiences, we’re going to begin using more 508–Horsetail Herb (Equisetum arvense) in the vineyards. More on this later…

May 31st–the 2nd series of BD 501 was applied to the vineyards by Gustavo and Phillip.

Green Wine Competition–2 Medals Awarded

Wow!! But first, a caveat…we are not fully convinced of award-winning wines, as we’ve tasted gold medal wines and thought they definitely didn’t deserve the award, but this is a different case all together (no pun intended).

On May 5th, the first ever Green Wine Competition was held in Santa Rosa. “The 2008 Consumer’s Green Wine Shopping List solves the problem of ‘which green wines are ‘can’t miss’ for the organic-minded consumer,'” said Lea Pierce, founder and Director of Wine Competition Management, LLC, the organizers of the event.

AmByth Estate was awarded a Silver for the 2006 Grenache/Mourvedre/Syrah and a Bronze for the 2006 Tempranillo/Sangiovese.

For more information, see to learn more about the competition, wineries included, the judges, etc. To view the list, please see