Okay, when most of you saw the title, “Condensation”, you figured I had definitely been out in the rain too long. There was a lot of rain in October and November. It will soon turn to snow. But the condensed theme stems more from my major activity this month, condensing raw apple cider into a sweeter liquid. While doing that I realized that many activities during this part of the year can be considered as “condensation”. Even writing a blog
condenses a report of activities for the month down to their essentials. I use these blogs to produce an even more condensed Christmas Newsletter. Since I need to get going on that, this blog will be especially condensed. Follow this link if you want to read more about sweetening cider without sugar.
Temperatures are predicted in the low teens this week. Anything laying outside has been “condensed” into buildings.
There is now a tarp on our Westfalia van.
The water system and hoses are drained.
The woodshed is stacked.
The leaves are condensed to the ground.
Some garden plants are holding up in the cold.
My daughter April already has snow.
We like the movie Arrival seen on Cheryl’s Birthday.
I made the last trip to the landfill before Spring.
We had a great meal on Thanksgiving that included a small (7 lb) fresh local turkey that was Sooo Good, pumpkin pie, fresh cranberry sauce and a lot of other goodies, all cooked by Cheryl on Joe’s day to cook dinner for just the two of us.
Next month we’ll seriously look at seed catalogs and greenhouse designs and think about expanding in the Spring.
For years I have been cooking down apple cider to bring it up to the sweetness, measured as brix, of the grapes I make wine from. Brix is roughly equivalent to twice the alcohol percentage that you can expect in a dry wine. Lower brix readings, 20 to 24, generally result in dry wines. Higher readings, 25 to 27 are sweeter, not necessarily so, but in most cases all of the natural sugar is not consumed by the yeast and the residual sugar makes wine sweet. I put the original brix reading on the labels of my wines. Maybe because I am a middle-of-the-road libra kind of guy, I shoot for 25 Brix in most cases. Realizing that I need to expand my variety, I am trying to make more dry wines and more sweet wines.
To get my cider from 11 brix to 25 I have started trying to freeze the water out of it. When it freezes, the water molecules in the cider join together to make ice, the resulting liquid contains the sugar, pulp and flavor. I bought a plastic container made of PET, a clear food-grade plastic that does not impart flavor to the liquid. It also does not break, like glass would, when the water expands as ice in the container. In a freezer the ice forms first on the outside of the liquid forcing the sweeter liquid higher but leaving a column of unfrozen liquid in the center. Through experiments I am finding that the most efficient method is to fill the container not quite full with 6 gallons of cider and leave it in the freezer for 24 hours. At that point you can take it out and siphon off about half the liquid at a brix of 19. To take it to the final brix of 25 I went back to boiling it down on the wood stove. Cheryl noticed that it worked faster in smaller quantities, so I have been putting the 3 gallons of post-freezing cider in a 4 gallon stainless steel pot rather than my original 10 gallon vat to cook it down.
I was surprised at how quickley it got up to 25 brix after that. Then I realized that for every quart of water that freezes or boils away, the next quart will have more sugar to leave behind. A chart of this exponential curve now helps me estimate when the next batch will be ready. My original 70 gallons from about 1000 pounds of apples is now down to about 25 gallons of apple wine. Years ago I made a variety of wines from native berries, elderberry, huckleberries, rose hips, choke cherries… by adding a syrup made with corn sugar and water. After I was making wine from my own grapes, I came to the conclusion that sugar is not good for you, for the planet or for wine. So to re-capture those country wine berry flavors of old I have wanted to use apple wine as a base since it has a realatively mild flavor and there are a lot of apples around here that would otherwise go to waste. Besides my regular “Caramel Apple” wine I now have batches with huckleberries and elderberries. In a year or two we will be able to see how that worked out.
Another way to “condense” fermented cider is to distill it. Henry Anderson at Dominion Distillery has been doing that for years and a lot of his feedstock is hard cider for his Apple Moonshine. So he built a super-duty apple press that can press out 35 gallons at a time. Henry and I used it at the beginning of the month in partial trade for a grape crusher/stemmer that I lent him to crush two pickup loads of grapes he got for free in Lincoln County south of here. I’m still waiting for him to distill the must from our 2016 harvest, but he has a huge new still with a custom opening big enough to feed in the left-over skins, seeds and juice (must) to make grappa, a 95 proof grape liquor. I’m hoping for a few more bottles of that by Christmas.
October was wet, really really wet. It rained on more days than were dry. You would think that any sane person would be doing a lot of writing and computer stuff inside. That didn’t happen much. It was still all wine, wine, wine. It was picking grapes on dry days and crushing, cleaning, bottling and consolidating on others.
So what’s “consolidating”? (Hint: It has nothing to do with finance.) If you followed the Barreca Vineyards facebook page, you saw what happens when yeast gets too excited: foam. LOTS of foam.* Working with small batches of many different grapes and now apples and berries, the most practical containers are carboys. Thank goodness I purchased more this year. There are now 75 carboys working in the winery. 40 of them are from this year’s crop and more will be working soon. We generally do not use oak barrels or any additives for that matter. Glass carboys are cleanable, can be added in various sizes to fit the crop and are relatively inexpensive. But you can’t fill them to the top at first because the foam will plug up the vapor lock and bad things can happen. (I speak from experience here.) So I cinch clean paper towels over the tops to keep bugs out until the foam has settled down. When the foam has died down I “consolidate” the wine by filling each carboy to very near the top. (This also frees up some carboys for further use.) Then a vapor lock goes on to let the carbon dioxide out but no oxygen in. At that point I can get an accurate measure of how much wine we have and feel relieved that it is relatively secure for the next couple of years while the microbes do their thing.)
(I did get away one day to explore the Germania mine. But that had nothing to do with wine, so you can read that story in our rock club newsletter on the Panorama Gem and Mineral Club website.)
October was also the last month for the Northeast Washington Farmers Market. By the end, we were very ready for it to be the end. We had avoided significant rain on Wednesdays all summer, but it let loose on us the last day. It wasn’t a bad day though. When the going gets wet, the wet keep going.
Speaking of flowing… The next crop after grapes is apples. Apple wine is still mostly a research and development project for us. Our Caramel Apple wine is popular but I want to develop wild berry wines with an apple base. Our neighbors helped out this year by giving us the apple crop from their small orchard. With about a ton of apples to work with, the apple wine research is well under way.
There is a lot to be thankful for this year and the Barreca family did it in their usual early fashion by celebrating “Thanksween”, basically an early Thanksgiving Dinner to avoid hectic traffic on Thanksgiving Day and the added possibility of snow on the passes. Jeannette Barreca and Bill Yake hosted 28 family members for the event this year and Barreca Vineyards supplied wine and some music. Thank You Jeannette and Bill!
Of course a lot more has gone on since then but in order to limit this blog to bite-sized chunks, that will wait till next month.
*(Some yeasts more than others.)
Sometimes big changes sneak up on you and have happened before you know it. September was one of those times. Actually on August 30th when I picked and bought my first load of grapes from a vineyard other than my own, a change had begun. Those grapes mark a turning point from just being backyard vintner to being the go-to winemaker for friends with more grapes than they can handle. I will be getting organically grown grapes from 3 other vineyards this year and my total crop will be nearly 2 tons, nearly twice that of last year without counting what could be another ton of apples. Our new neighbors donated the apples on their trees and Downriver Orchard – that is actually upriver from us – has promised some more so apples will be big too.
This change put into question our own ability to handle that much wine. Hopefully things will continues to fall into place for doing just that. I called up my grappa guy, Carl (Henry) Anderson, to see if he wanted to make grappa again since it was cumbersome in the still he had at his downtown Colville business, Dominion Distillery. But it turns out that he is busy building a huge still at his current shop that can turn wine waste (must) into 95 Proof
Grappa and was glad to have some to work with. When I visited his shop I discovered that he also built a monster press that can turn hundreds of pounds of apple pulp into juice in one load. He also had a pickup truck full of 1400 pounds of grapes that someone gave to him and he picked with his wife and three girls. They were crushing them by hand, a tedious job even with just 20 pounds, so I lent them my crusher/stemmer to get that going.
Henry is moving his shop to Kettle Falls and buying equipment to roll stainless steel and make containers for fermenting wine. I look forward to that since my current method, using glass carboys, is getting out of hand. I had to re-arrange the office/tasting room again to get the 2015 crop off the office floor and make room for 2016. Realizing I needed more carboys I went online and found a buyer selling a pallet of 36 five-gallon glass carboys.
But when the bidding went over $700, I dropped out. Lucky thing I did. The next day the seller put another pallet up for auction with a buy-it-now price of $220. Three days later I was in Culver, Oregon (near Madras) loading them into our VW van. And I got to visit my brother John and his wife, Marilyn on the way!
With all of this activity the critical resource soon became time more than space, hence another late blog this month. I’ve bottled nine cases of three 2014 varieties of wine and have wine for 20 more cases marked to bottle. We have harvested 8 different batches of grapes so far and have 6 more to go. Several people have come to help out and others to taste and tour. We are still selling wine at the Farmers Market in Colville until the last Wednesday of
the month. September had been pretty much all about wine, but actually our wedding anniversary was the 23rd and my birthday the 26th. We managed to celebrate those events and a few more hosted by our friends. There were some large mapbook orders – thank goodness for some extra income to balance all of the expenses.
So while the other regular Fall chores roll along, drying fruit, harvesting nuts, getting out the latest Rock Club Newsletter…things are changing in 2016. And that doesn’t even include the election.
Got, got, got… no time… Well you get the idea. This will be a relatively short blog. Harvest season is upon us and it hit early and hard. Soon after I got my bird nets up, my neighbor, Don Worley, at Downriver Orchards offered me some ripe Leon Millot grapes and I went for it. So now Barreca Vineyards is in the business of buying grapes as well as making wine from its own. Soon after that, another neighbor offered me some Lucie Kuhlmann grapes. Both crops were organically grown and now both are in carboys on the winery floor waiting for their primary fermentation to settle down. Much more is on the way.
The temperatures went from the upper 90’s to the lower 70’s in the last week or so. With that drop, many of my 2013 and 2014 vintage wines stopped working, which is a great thing since I need the containers and the space for this year’s crop. But it means washing and scalding a lot of bottles, bottling, labeling and storing them in the cellar. Most of these were excellent. Keep the 2014 Riesling, Old Vine Lucie Kuhlman 2014 and French Rocks Red 2014 in mind for future tasting. Add to that a pure Leon Millot from 2014 and the cellar is filling up with great wines.
I wanted the cellar to cool off a little and opened the door at night a few times, being careful to pull the old grill in front of it so deer would not come in to eat the pears and prunes inside. Then one night I left it closed and when I went to open it in the morning, I had to push back a pile of insulation torn out of the wall and lots of other junk spread around. Clearly something was in there and wanted out. I set up the live trap and came back a few hours later to find it sprung. You can’t really tell what is in it without opening the door and we decided to do that several miles down the road. Nothing came out. Peeking around the front I was face to face with a scared skunk. Better than face to back but still I wanted to take my trap and go home. Finally after trying to tip it out, I grabbed the whole thing and gave it the old heave ho. Out flew the skunk and away I ran. It didn’t spray and it did finally run into the bushes.
Speaking of critters. Cheryl was out with our dog Gretchen one day when Gretchen took off after a couple of deer that had taken to hanging out under our old apple tree. Before Cheryl could get Gretchen to back off, the deer bolted across the highway. There was a screech of tires and a loud thump. The doe was not hit and the yearling made it beyond the highway but we don’t know how far. Don’t worry. There are still plenty of deer nearby.
With all the new nets, birds have not been an issue. But the wasps have been hard at it and spread out so that I have given up on my usual traps and sprays. I was thinking “I would give $100 to know where all these yellow jackets are coming from”. Be careful what you wish for. Last Wednesday while getting ready for the Farmer’s Market I noticed that an old car-top carrier that had rye seed in it had been upended. Something only a bear could do. I dropped it back to the ground only to find out what the bear was really looking for, the yellow jacket nest underneath it. I immediately had the whole swarm chasing me eager for revenge. I ducked underneath the walnut tree. They kept on coming. I shut myself in the office, they came along. I ran into the house and dropped my sweat shirt on the floor. It was crawling with wasps. I had stings on the back of my head and arm. Cheryl tried to help and got one up her pant leg. We were later than usual for the market.
So I am busy drying nectarines, Himrod grapes and prunes. Cheryl is still picking some garden vegies and now also making pear butter and gathering filberts. Wine is in all stages of production. Autumn harvest is going full blast and we have got no time.
This is the time of year when I am typically at war with the birds, mostly warblers. Once they get a taste of the grapes, it is very difficult to keep them away from them. I have tried flashy objects and a plastic owl with little effect. Other vineyard owners have used scary noises like a propane cannon or recorded sounds of a robin in distress. I gave up on those things several years ago and now use bird nets. Last year, probably because of the fires, the birds were particularly damaging. Many local grape growers got none at all. Because I had most of my vines covered, I was better off although I had to export several birds a day that I caught in the nets. I would typically wet them down with a hose to slow them down enough to catch them and put them in a cat carrier that I use for safe transportation.
This year I resolved to get on it early and completely. I still have a lot of work to do but thought I would pass on some information while there is still time to act. At first I had stiff nets made with sold plastic cross-hatching. They were hard to deploy and were never the right size. Then I went to a kind of knitted plastic net with hexagonal holes. They still were not usually a handy size for rows and the holes were big enough that many birds would get stuck in them and die.
For the past few years I have replaced all of those with row netting from Plantra. Flexnet is 17 ft across and comes in 500 foot pieces. (I just bought 500 ft of it and do not need that much, so if you want less than that, I can share.) The kind I like has white lines running the length of the net that show where the top and bottom is when you drape it over a row. It tends to stetch out longer than the design length and make the width too small to reach the ground on both sides. So to get it to full width I pin it to the ground near one side of the row and pull it out to the other. When folded in half and pulled the width of the row, it is 8.5 ft wide. When I cut it after laying out the net down the whole row, I know that it will be wide enough and long enough.
Birds often get in and out of the ends of the rows. I had been pinning the net to fence staples on the end poles of each row. But that was seldom good enough to stop an excaping bird. This year I used an H-style net needle, 3/4 inch by 7 inch, to stich up the ends of each row. My son-in-law Joe Brock brought it down after fishing in Homer Alaska. It fits through the 3/4 inch holes in the net and holds over 20 feet of twine. I found some 20 lb. Beadsmith Hemp Cord that does a great job. It holds a knot well, something that plastic seine twine is not as good at. With the ends sown shut, I can pull the net over the end of the row like a hoodie and take it off again to pick.
Until this year I had been holding the net to the ground with whatever I could get my hands on, rocks, lumber, poles, firewood. This year I bought some “ground staples” from Plantra. They work well and are much easier to deploy and pick up again.
One more hint, several years ago, my wife Cheryl, came up with the idea of putting a tennis ball on the end of a bamboo pole to lift the nets over the rows, distribute them and take them down. It works incredibly well! I have a short 4 foot pole and a longer 8 foot one. The tennis balls are knappy enough to catch the net but smooth enough not to get hung up in it.
When grape vine tendrils cling to a wire, especially after they have been cut and dry there, they tend to snag the nets. Cut those off when you are pruning to avoid that problem. A pair of prunning shears works better than a knife on that job.
I don’t pretend to know everything about bird nets. Every year I find a better way. Actually this year the wasps and yellow jackets look to be the big problem. More about them later. But if you want grapes, get some nets up. You’ll be glad you did.
Don’t Make Plans. That seems to be the theme for this past July. The month seemed to be on track for the first week. I picked pie cherries and made a pie (which ended up having a LOT of cherry pits in it) for a 4th of July potluck with our new neightbors. We had planned on having the newest of them, Vern and Vicky Deknicker, who bought the house across the street from us, there. But they had some renovation issues to deal with near Yakima and couldn’t make it.
Our first Farmer’s Market of the month went pretty well and afterward I gave Jim Frye a historical tour of the area, which he wrote up on his blog, ProjectWA.org, Jim is promoting a software application that I have wanted to see for a long time, 468 Insider. The next day, July 7th was great too. Cheryl and I went hunting for giant morel
mushrooms and found them along with a nice huckleberry patch that we had not planned on finding.
Then disaster struck. I had been printing and selling a lot of map books, particularly a new one for Ferry County. . On July 8th I walked into the office and red light was flashing on my main printer. There was an error about the ink tray. I took out the ink tray and didn’t find anything wrong. When I put it back in the error changed to an inscrutible error number. No worries! I got out my reserve printer, set it up and turned it on. Another inscrutible error code! It was Friday. The nearest repair shop is 100 miles away. That could wait until Monday.
Saturday was the “Great Grape Plant Giveaway”. I did give away a lot of wine grape plants. But I still have most varieties. I figured that the ones that had been in pots for two years would have to be given away or thrown away. We also sold some wine and planned on another tasting the next day. Those folks never came, but there was a lot to do including loading up my two broken printers and another one for parts. The repair shop thought they could fix both right away. I was off to Spokane early on Monday and dropped off the printers. Too early as it turned out for my next stop, I arrived at our favorite Italian grocery in Spokane, Cassano’s. After waiting an hour until it opened and driving off for more shopping I got the call. The printers
couldn’t be fixed that day. Parts were being ordered.
Getting back home early I hedged my bets by finding another printer online and buying it. It would arrive by the end of the week. My daughter, Bina and her kids had called to say they were arriving that night. They didn’t. But they came the next day and we met her at Bradbury Beach along with a lot of friends and neighbors. We ate a spaghetti dinner using the giant morel mushrooms and it was a big hit.
On the first day of Bina, Ovid and Nala’s visit, Cheryl and I had our stint at the Farmer’s Market. Bina and the kids caught up with us and we all went to the beach again in the afternoon. That day actually worked basically as planned.
The original plan for July 14th was to revisit the huckleberry patch found on the 6th, but we decided to head straight for the McNully-Freedom Mine which was supposed to have great serpentine, copper and gold. It didn’t. But grandson Ovid Brock did find some rocks to break, and if your main concepts of rockhounding come from Minecraft, breaking rocks is the main thing. We expected to find more huckleberries just up the road from the mine, but didn’t.
Bina and crew were originally expected to leave the next day but we changed plans and revisited the Lone Star Mine along with Tony, April and my other grandson, James. It was a HUGE hit. There were lots of rocks, some of them genuinely collectable. There was an azure blue lake that stories said would coat our tin cans
(thrown in a month before) with copper. (Story in rockclub news) It didn’t. But it did cover them with a light blue powder.
I got home to learn that one of my credit cards had been hacked and that neither of my printers could be repaired. Then I checked and my plan B printer that had been ordered much earlier had never been picked up for shipping by FedEx. I made sure the seller heard about that and it did get shipped but not until the next week. So with no more books printed to sell at the Farmer’s Market and no way to print the rockclub newsletter, Cheryl and I went huckleberry picking. We did alright and so I went picking again the next day, when I missed seeing my sister Jeannette – who we had not expected to drive by – drove by. I did manage to start a batch of Huckleberry wine, which I plan on having ready in two years (what could go wrong?).
The printer did finally arrive, except that it was not the one I ordered, which would have been able to print on both sides of a piece of paper. The seller figured out that he could send some replacement computer chips to give it that capability, which he did on overnight FedEx. It did finally arrive the next day, but only after the transmission went out on the FedEx guy’s car and he had to rent another one. And yes, the chips did do the trick. So I did a lot of printing for the next few days.
More things have gone awry in August, but I plan to write about that in September, after watching the Olympics in Rio – certainly nothing will go wrong there!
We are giving away grape plants this weekend. Check it out.
Memories (<-link to song)
May be beautiful and yet
What’s too painful to remember
We simply choose to forget
So it’s the laughter
We will remember
Whenever we remember
The way we were
Not to get all nostalgia on you, but the theme that seems to tie this month’s string of days together is memories. Perhaps it’s because I think I am getting close to creating something that has been on the drawing board for 8 or 9 years, a history tour that you can take with you on your cell phone. (Notice how they aren’t really cell phones or “Smart phones” any more, they are “mobile devices”.) The trick is that in most places around here there is no cell coverage, so you can’t link to the Internet to get a story about your location. More about the technology later, the thing is there are a lot of stories associated with the places in Northeast Washington that need to be remembered by visitors and residents alike.
None is more central to where we live than the loss of the salmon fishery at Kettle Falls and thousands of years of Native culture that went with it. So it was inspiring on June 17th to be with the people, mostly Tribal, who gathered at Mission Point where St Paul’s Mission was built above the Kettle Falls on the Columbia, to watch newly-carved long dug-out canoes paddled by members of 5 tribes (more really), some of them coming more than 100 miles over 10 days to gather together for the first time in nearly 80 years both to remember the “Ceremony of Tears” when the waters of Lake Roosevelt flooded the falls in 1940 and the salmon stopped running blocked by Grand Coulee Dam, but also to recognize a new hope symbolized by the canoes, built mostly by Tribal youth, that a new International Power Treaty will recognize the need to return the salmon to their spawning beds going far into Canada and that new methods to move the returning salmon past the dams can be effective.
Not that that was the only thing that happened in June 2016, but it was powerful to be there when the drumming on the West side of the river was answered by more drumming from our side where a young man was offering a prayer in Salish in a ceremony led by Shelly Boyd, wife of Jim Boyd, the elected head of the 12 Colville Tribes and a world famous musician. We heard him play and sing at the Museum near St Paul’s Mission last winter and 5 days after this ceremony, he died of a heart attack. It was an end and a beginning.
There was also a big reunion on June 5th in Rose Valley where I lived from 1974 to 1984. It fit well into the first
stanza of the lead song “What’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget.” Too many stories for a blog…
Soon after that, June 18th, I celebrated Fathers Day on a traditional rockhounding trip with my daughter April. Unlike some of our past trips, it was fairly successful. We left tin cans in the Lonestar Mine pond hoping to return and find them coated in copper like miners did a century ago. We failed to find the City of Paris cave shown on USGS Topo maps, but we’ll be back and better equipped to check the cans and the cave. Then we explored a rocky meadow near Franson Peak in the rain finding pieces of agate among the wildflowers. Another day to remember…
One last end/beginning was the farewell dinner at Lovitt Restaurant. 7 tasty courses, a bottle of our 5-year-old Lucie Kuhlmann wine, a lot of pictures and a lot of our friends. Norman and Kristen Six and their two daughters,
Paige and Norma Jean are moving on, but we hope not too far away, to start another restaurant probably in a building that is not over 100 years old and in need of serious repair.
A lot of work was done in the garden, the vineyard and the office in June. All the vegetables are transplanted, the grape crop has gone from the size of BBs to the size of peas and it is big. A new edition of the Road Atlas of Ferry County is out and selling well after over a thousand changes to road lines and addresses. The little pie cherry tree in the front yard gave us over 4 gallons of cherries – some of which are now in a 4th of July pie. We picked 31 pounds of strawberries at Winniford Farm and they are now sliced, frozen individually and 5 gallons bagged up in the freezer. There were very hot days and very rainy ones. But most of that will
be forgotten when we look back on the way we were.