The garden had a little bit of frost/cold damage that got to the potato plants. They are recovering now and everything else is doing great. I also lost seedlings in the cold so will have to restart my tomato plants and herbs. I harvested a leek and a few asparagus spears so far. The lettuce and swiss chard is just about big enough to make a micro green salad or two for us also.
I put in a couple of strawberry plants and I’m making a second try at artichokes. The first try I started in the clay soil and they did poorly. This time around I’m starting them in the planter boxes and will move them to the ground when they get mature enough to deal with the heavy soil. Since an artichoke is permanent I don’t want to leave it in a planter box.
I should have put these crash pictures up originally of the front yard but I think they were on my work phone and I didn’t have them to upload when I did the last blog. The front originally had a group of very mature chestnut trees and oleanders along with other trees and shrubs. There were also some pretty pitiful grape vines on a rickety old trellis. I removed the vines and trellis right away. Anyone who would have seen the condition of those vines and trellis would have thought there was no way we know what we’re doing.
This first picture shows the area that was damaged by the two crashes. The first took out most of the oleanders and damaged the chestnuts. I had just cut down the chestnuts when the second crash took out most of the rocks and the remaining plants on the south side of the strip.
This is the car in the driveway crashed into an olive that I’d cleaned up earlier. It stopped about 100 feet from it’s original impact and flip over point. One large boulder (about 150 pounds) ended up in the creek 200 feet from where it started. You can trace the impacts as it skipped across the yard.
I wanted to get these up so I can put up some after pictures after all the work we’ve done to repair things up front. There are new trees and shrubs and strategically located 6x6x6 posts, which will also form a fence and eventually gate. We put in a lot of reflectors also to provide some visual warning as the plants mature. I should be done with the first round of work this weekend and just have the fence and gate left to do.
That’s it, the new tasting room. Doesn’t look like much yet, and it won’t be much as we start out, but it’s in place and in the permit process. Our plan is to roll the doors up and have people come right in to what will be card tables at first. As we get going we’ll make improvements (like interior walls and a ceiling). We’ve applied to have the outdoor area available also so we can set up some picnic benches for people to enjoy the outside.
We’re working on the parking situation this weekend. There is room for about 20 cars right now in the drive through and up to 20 more along Madrid Road. The problem is we’ve had two crashes through the front in the last month and I’ve had to remove and cut down all the trees that created a barrier between the road and the parking area. I’m putting a new ‘Defense in Depth’ in the front with 500+ pound boulders, 6×6 posts, redwoods and a fence.
In the meantime the property is keeping us very busy. Here’s last weeks activity. This is the back of the property along Madrid where I can have overflow parking before 5 hours with the weedwhacker.
This is after I finished. I wish I had taken more before and after photos. I’ve already done a ton of clean up inside the tasting room, but didn’t take a single before picture to share. Oh well
It was another busy weekend for us. Saturday we picked the two largest vineyards that make up our Haut Tubee base wine. We did the actual picking of 600 pounds of Cabernet and Syrah at Roxie Vineyard near Crimson Clover. We just had to pick up and sort the 800 pounds of Syrah from the Harrison vineyard in Los Altos Hills. Most of the day seems like it’s driving at 60 MPH towing a trailer, and it is. We were out of our old house on Canton before the grapes were ready for wine but one of our neighbors came down and harvested about 200 pounds of grapes to make jam. No Mourvedre in the Haut Tubee blend yet, but we will have Mourvedre Jam in the new tasting room this Spring.
Sunday we were up early and did what is now a really long 55 mile drive to Chaine d’Or. Our trusted ‘A Team’ picking crew was there and had already removed the nets when we drove in at 7:30. We picked just about 3200 pounds of Chardonnay. The picture below is Jerry walking out the picking bins. In the lower section we bring the bins up on the tractor but in this upper section the three of us who can drive the tractor, Millie, Jerry and I all prefer to carry the bins out rather than mess with getting the tractor all the way up and down the long rows and around the two sharp turns.
Stefania usually avoids the camera when I’m taking pictures but I thought she was exceptionally pretty Sunday morning and got in this shot. That’s her usual place and job at harvest time. As we dump in the 30 pound picking bins she sorts through the grapes and removes, leafs, bugs, twigs, bad grapes, secondaries, water bottles, gloves, twisty tie, clippers and anything else that have found their way into the bins. We do always laugh when someone says they have hand made wine and wonder if they really touched every cluster with their own hands like Stefania does. Probably not.
Back at home we’re getting used to the new routines and sights and sounds. This little guy comes by every day. I think I’ve seen small bumps for antlers but Stef hasn’t so we’re not sure of its sex. It is really small so I think it was likely born this past Spring. I just spent some time on Google and the proper term is ‘Fawn Buck’.
We’ve been very busy since our last update. There were significant delays in getting everything closed on our new home and we ended up in a hotel for 5 days. We finally got the keys on Tuesday afternoon and are getting things set up there. Stefania and I are really glad to put the process behind us and in getting our home together.
Grapes don’t stop and wait though and we had to carry on with harvest. It’s been warm and sunny this September and the vineyards are pushing ahead early like last year. Last Saturday we harvested the Crimson Clover Vineyard’s Cabernet Sauvignon. I had my regular job of hauling out bins and Stefania sorted everything as I dumped it into the 1/2 ton bins.
We used a small crew of our regulars and a couple of family members, my Mom and cousin Matt. We had everything picked and were mobile to the winery by 11 AM.
Earlier in the week I had picked up 3000 pounds of Malbec. We’ll use some for blending but also likely have a Malbec release in the future. 3000 pounds is my preferred amount to buy. It produces about 4 barrels or 100 cases. It also is the max payload for the U-haul trailers I rent. The FJ Cruiser can actually tow much more but I’d need a trailer rated for more weight. We thought of buying one in the past but we had no where to store it. Now we will have space to store it so a purchase before next year is likely.
The first picture I took from the new house. Wild Turkeys that come visit every day. They come right up to the front and back doors. Can’t wait to see the first time that happens with the cats looking out the door.
I know everyone is waiting for part four of the news but we did have some actual winemaking to do this week. I’ll have Part 4 up soon I promise.
Harvest 2014 started like it does every year for us with getting the picking bins out of storage and cleaned up after a year of sitting outside. We do cover them but dirt creeps in. Millie is driving the tractor in the picture below with two of our bins on the back. I had the pressure washer set up and clean them as they got to the crush pad. Stefania helped out with a disinfecting scrub and I blasted away all the dirt.
While we were on site Stefania also set up the testing lab for the season. We’ll test pH, TA and Brix on all our vineyards over the next couple of months. Those are Chardonnay samples being tested. The testing is pretty redundant for us 10 years in. I walked through the vineyard before the samples were picked and said: “2 maybe three full weeks until these are ready.” Stefania walked down one row and picked about a dozen berries and said: “These are at 19.5 Brix”. The testing results were Brix 19.6 and pH 3.1 which means we are 2-3 weeks out.
With all that done we loaded up the FJ Cruiser with 3 bins to take down to the vineyard for picking the next morning. It’s a pain to have to deal with the u-haul office on the first weekend of the month but it had to be done. When we get into our new place I’ll have room to store a trailer and our rental days should be behind us.
The first grapes of the year came in on Labor Day. We got 3000 pounds of Viognier from Leal Vineyards in San Benito County. The grapes looked great and we were able to confirm with the assistant winemaker at Leal that we should be able to get Viognier from them every year.
It was a pretty easy drive to our new facility, although we did hit some holiday traffic. Here’s a little bit of a sneak preview of Part 4. It’s the Viognier being loaded into the press at our new facility. The crew there was fantastic and even with hanging around and chatting for a little we were in and out in less than an hour. Stefania was SOOOOOOOO happy to not have to clean a press or a tank and have the crew there to do those tasks. The wine is doing well. We’ll raise it half in neutral French oak and half in stainless steel. It will be bottled early and should be available to our mailing list next Spring.
The new place. Nope we’re not moving to New Orleans, that was the first guess of a few people. We found this nice ranch house just outside of Gilroy right on the Santa Clara Valley Wine Trail.
The ‘fast ball down the middle’ was being offered a property where we currently manage the vineyard. We hadn’t thought about moving, or the South Valley as a location, and we had no idea if we could come close to affording it. We dove right in though and started doing our research and putting together our list of things we needed and wanted in a house. That first vineyard house didn’t work out but we decided after viewing a dozen or so properties to make it happen somewhere.
Stefania actually found it on line and it was in contract but we asked our agent if we could go see it because it looked like it was a benchmark for what we were after. We loved it but houses in contract in Santa Clara County NEVER go to the back up offer so we didn’t get our hopes up. A few weeks later though we got another fastball when the contract fell through. The owners really wanted their next offer to come from ‘country people’ and not ‘city people’ who would understand all the complications of wells, wildlife, propane and country living. Our agent told them “Are you kidding they are farmers and own a winery”.
I’ll put the address in our Fall offer letter for people on our mailing list, but here are some of the highlights:
The hillside, were we will plant the new Haut Tubee vineyard with Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvedre. We have just over 2 acres total and will plant about one.
The new back patio where friends and visitors can finish off those bottles of wine and dip into the scotch and cigar collection. If you look closely you’ll see there’s a breezeway. On the left is the main house, on the right is the wine cellar and guest suite. The guest suite has a separate entrance and a full bath, bedroom and kitchen (as soon as we install the appliances). We finally have a place for our out of town visitors. The original owners did canning and built a full cool room that we’ll convert into a temperature controlled wine cellar.
The new kitchen. This should make it much easier to pull together those dinners for 10-20 we seem to have all the time.
My plan is to get in the pool on the first day. I’m going to wear my suit under my moving clothes 🙂
This second garage was used to sell fruits and vegetables grown on the property for many years. I’m going to revive that garden as soon as I can. This building though will become our new tasting room. There’s enough room to park 20-30 cars at a time and have an office as well as tasting room. It’s just a shell right now so we have to clean it up and put some walls in place. Depending on how harvest goes and the permitting process we may try to open as soon as Nov 1 but early next year is more likely.
We are very excited and can’t wait to have our first visitors. Our move date is Friday Sept. 5th.
Stefania and I have a lot of big news to share with everyone about changes we’re making this year and for the future of Stefania Wine. I’ve decided to break the news into four parts. I’m not trying to build suspense but there are so many moving parts that I don’t want to post anything until it’s completely confirmed and locked down.
So, part one of the news. We will be leaving the winery at Chaine d’Or this year. This will be our last year taking care of the vineyard and we will wrap up operations there before Christmas this year. We’re moving our winemaking operations into a facility that will be closer to us. All our 2014 fruit will be processed there and I’ll be moving the existing 2013 wine we have in barrel to that facility over the next few weeks. We’re very excited about the move.
I can’t say where exactly we’re moving yet, that will be part 4 of the big news. We need to get all the government and contractual clearances wrapped up before I do that. I can say that we will be operating in the facility with our own bond and sharing the space with an existing winery and winemaker that we know very well and have worked with for years. We will be able to use the larger crew there to help with a lot of the harder and time consuming work (cleaning equipment, topping barrels, things like that). It should actually make life much easier for Stefania and I and free up a significant amount of time for us.
We enjoyed our time at Chaine d’Or a great deal and we will miss the winery. We moved in in 2007 and it was a huge break for us. We’re grateful for our time there and everything we learned over the years. I know many of you have had enjoyable trips to the winery and we will miss those times up on the mountain. It wasn’t an easy decision but I’m sure as I post the rest of our news for 2014 you’ll be as excited about the changes as we are.
We definitely go through writing phases and neither one of us has been in one so far this year. We’ve been busy though with a few trips including a great 10 day adventure of hiking in Southern Utah. We’ve been keeping up on the vineyards and all the 2012 and 2013 wine in order. We had a good spring release which we never even put up here. The order page is updated though with current inventory.
If there’s something you’d like though that’s not on the inventory page send us an email. I have about a dozen different wine right now that are showing 1-3 cases in stock. Not enough to put on the web page but we could check for you if there’s something you really like.
We’re heading to Crimson Clover tomorrow to tuck the wines there. The weather so far in 2014 has been great. We thought the drought would effect yields but so far it looks like we’re on track to have about the same amount of fruit as a typical year like 2012. We’ll have a Summer Futures offer out soon and then a fall release around Sept 15th. It will be our first wave of wines from 2012.
We are also doing a new diet and fitness plan, with lots of hiking and we’re averaging 12-18 miles a week. I’ll see if the writing bug picks up again this summer. We’re expecting a little easier harvest this year than last so maybe I’ll even get some writing in at harvest.
The sun did not last long enough in the vineyard but it was a warm day and we were actually glad for the shade in the late afternoon. In the summer time we won’t get this shade in the vineyard. With the sun higher in the sky the vineyard stays sunny until just before sunset. By late afternoon it was just Jerry, Millie Stef and I doing the work. We were all slowing down some and even Jerry took a break.
As I said in the last blog you put on a lot of miles carrying out the cuttings from the vineyard. The picture below was of the pile at about 4 PM with 3 rows still to go. At this point it’s about 5 feet tall and 15 feet in diameter. The cuttings have to be carried out in small bundles. If you try to pick up too much they become hard to control and you drop them along the way. We’ve tried tying them up, using a wheelbarrow and lots of other tricks, but in the end just making small piles as you prune seems to work best for everyone. Millie likes to put her’s on a blue tarp and drag them along as she goes. She then drags the entire tarp out of the row to dump. It saves bending over, but is hard on the arms to pull along.
The extra hours on Saturday tough were worth it to take Sunday off. We were able to hang out in the back yard and enjoy a cigar and an Old Fashioned. Our hands were sore for a few days and legs and backs also, but the Old Fashioned helped.
First pruning of 2014 was at our Crimson Clover Vineyard. We didn’t head out too early. There’s no sense in trying to prune when it’s dark, but it was cold that morning. The temperature actually dropped to 34 when we arrived at the vineyard. There would be six of us pruning; Jerry, Millie, Stef, my cousin Susan and her husband Andre and me. Susan and Andre wanted to learn what it was like so we had coordinated with them to come and do a couple rows with us.
There was frost on the ground when we arrived but as soon as we got moving everyone warmed up. The sun game out over the vineyard by 9 AM and we were all warm pretty fast. Most years we count on pruning this site as a two day job. The hardest part is what I call ‘pick up sticks’. That’s picking up the cuttings and carrying them out of the vineyard. It’s bending over 100’s of times and grabbing the small sticks, then carrying the cuttings to a burn pile outside the vineyard. This year I put an App on my phone to chart how much ground I’d cover in the day. It actually drained one battery and I had to switch to my work phone to finish. The grand total was just over 9 miles walked for the day, all in a one acre space.
Below is the happy crew at work. Happy because it was still early and the sun was out. You’ll notice that everyone is on their own row. We learned this pretty early. Pulling the cuttings out of the wire can me dangerous for any bystanders. They can come out like a little whip and draw blood if they hit skin. At very least it stings. You’ll see no one is working the same row and no one is right across from anyone else. I’m the worst person to work near by unanimous vote, because I’m the strongest I’ll pull things out of the wire that everyone else would cut out. No one wants to be close by when I’m pulling on a really stuck cutting.
There where a lot of cuts to make at Crimson Clover this year because we were reestablishing spurs on many plants and that meant instead of the usual 16-25 cuts per plant we were doing 30+ on every plant. Everyone had sore hands the next day. 3 PM is usually our stopping time for vineyard days but when 3 PM came we were down to the last 6 rows and we all decided we’d rather work another couple hours rather than come back the next day for 2 hours work. I have a few other pictures on the second phone I’ll get up soon.
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