Spring finally came in a flash. The same day that I took the bird feeder down since there are plenty of bugs for the chickadees and other local birds the
At the NE Washington Farmers Market in Colville
hummingbirds came back and wanted their feeder put up. Instead of building a morning fire to warm up the house we are charging the electric mower to try and keep up with the grass that is already 3 or 4 feet high in places. Work is piling up since we are spending Wednesdays and Saturdays at the NE Washington Farmers Market. The Spring
Fresh Asparagus and Morel Mushrooms
menu is a welcome change. We have picked morel mushrooms 3 times, once right in our own Vineyard.
Asparagus is up and pretty much over in our garden but there is still some at the market. We have rhubarb pie in the refrigerator and fresh greens of all kinds . The early yellow flowers , dandelion , daffodils, balsam root and forsythia are gone as are most of the flowering trees but iris, lupine and other wild flowers are out. The vineyard has been pruned but with all the water in the ground the vines are pushing out much more growth than I want to have going. Here are a couple of pictures of a vine before and after shoot thinning. By the time I have visited all the vines once I will need to do it all over again. They are growing at several inches a day but have not flowered
Grape Vine before shoot thinning
Grape Vine after shoot thinning
yet though you can see the grape clusters ready to go. Really, managing the vineyard is pleasant work. The birds, including eagles , geese, crows, owls, Robins and lots of small birds are loudest in the morning when I am out there. Eventually trucks and traffic get loud. But by then breakfast is on or over and the office work begins. It has changed and ramped up with spring too. People want more maps especially for tourists but regular trucking and emergency services want maps too. Since we are moving wine steadily out of the cellar at the Market there is a lot more bottling to do. All of which somewhat
Grape rows early May
Grape Rows Late June
explains why I am writing a blog on this tablet while in Seattle. But more about Seattle next month.
It started out like a normal April. I was doing a lot of grape pruning and planting cuttings as I went. We had just had our first artichoke dinner the night before and temperatures were starting to stay above freezing. To verify the temperature I started comparing our analog (alcohol-filled) thermometers with our digital one. Then with each other because they were saying that the temperature was below freezing but unfrozen puddles of water outside did not confirm that. Turns out none of them agreed exactly with each other. So I ordered a highly-acclaimed thermometer from LaCrosse. Its indoor and outdoor sensors did not agree when they were together indoors! LaCrosse claims that they are within tolerances. Maybe I’m just intolerant.
Extra Water Heater
Things went from bad to worse when although not freezing, the water Cheryl ran for a bath on April 8th never got warm. I jumped into action, drained the water heater, cleaned several gallons of lime-rust sludge out through the cleanout port and went to take the elements out so I could get them replaced. They would not budge. Last year I had to take a water tank to Colville where a plumber used a socket wrench with a big cheater on it to break the element loose while I held the tank. It was a Saturday and some friends who are moving to Colville invited us to see their place. So we drove to Colville around the detour for “Lake Colville” (which is starting to look like hay fields again), got to the hardware store before it closed and bought the best heater elements they had. But they sent me across the street to the auto-parts store to get a decent socket for changing the elements. As soon as I walked in and the clerk took one look at the sorry element wrench that the hardware store sells and said “You need a 1 1/2″ socket for your water heater.” Evidently this happens all the time.
Repaired Stand Pipe
The socket worked and with the new heating elements installed I thought I was on a roll, till 2:44 AM the next morning when the heater overheated and scalding hot water came out of the popoff valve on the top and flooded the floor. Ten days and many more incidents later the water heater was fixed and I turned on the water system to the garden and vineyard. Gusher!!! Apparently dropping a large pine tree on a stand pipe does underground damage as well as above ground. Three days later that was fixed; I was finished pruning the grapes; and I was able to spray dormant spray on the grapes and trees.
So plumbing was a kind of running (or not running) theme for most of the month. On Easter we had another memorable party at Mary Selecky’s. She gave us a couple of easy chairs that she was replacing. As soon as they were installed in our house, our cat Gray-C moved in. A cat’s idea of a good home is a little different than ours. A few times this month she tried to have a late night snack on our bed. One night Cheryl alerted me that something was going on and I jumped up and grabbed a flash
Gray-C’s new spot
light only to see a dead gopher on my pillow. Another night I woke up in time to take a shrew outside before it got too bloody but woke up later with a half-eaten bird on top of me. Gray-C is really excited to have the snow gone and longer days for hunting. Me, not so much.
But at least those are natural, fixable problems. On the 19th I joined a protest at a fund raiser for our Congressional Representative, Cathy McMorris Rogers. If you want to talk to her, you need to pay $40 a plate to fund her next
campaign. She doesn’t have time for town hall meetings. Three days later Cheryl and I joined the March for Science in Spokane. Today Trump fired half the scientists in the EPA and will replace them with stooges from the chemical companies. These problems won’t be fixed this month.
But we are eating asparagus from our garden and even found morel mushrooms in there too! The temperature was over 70 degrees today. It was warmer outside than inside. We are not building fires in the stove every day (and we are almost out of firewood). We have started selling wine and map books again at the Farmers Market. The seasons have changed and we still have not taken a vacation.
In like a Lion, Out like a Lamb. That’s the standard rap for March. It was actually something like that but it took it’s time getting to the lamb part. I was done with pruning and setting off on a road trip at this time last year. This year I am just getting going on pruning because the snow just finally melted. And boy did it. So for the last two weeks highway 395 into Colville from Kettle Falls has been covered with the newly formed “Lake Colville”. Almost all of the fields in the valley west of the City of Colville are under water.
These were all fields. (Taken from the detour around flooded Highway 395)
Ironically after a trip to see the movie, Logan (Wolverine), on March 20th and having to detour around Lake Colville on the way home, there was a fire burning across the river (Lake Roosevelt) probably from a field burning
Field burning that got away.
that got out of hand. A little rain put it out the next day. The real March Madness was the Gonzaga basketball team who went all the way to the Final Four and the national Championship Game with playoff games every week of the month. It was a heart-breaker to watch them lose to the North Carolina Tar Heels on April 3rd. But at least it is over. Who would have thought that watching basketball would be so nerve wracking.
Zags win 33 of 35 games
The rock drilled with rifles on the Insider App
So think of basketball as the background to the whole series of events that was March for us. One of the first was to speak at a Colville City Council meeting recommending that they approved a grant I wrote for The Heritage Network (THN) to fund creation of historic tour points on a cell phone app, Northeast Washington Insider. The grant covers creation of 138 points of interest and is worth $12,520 to THN. I only learned later that the meeting was being broadcast on local radio and several people heard me talking about the hole in the rock drilled with rifles and other historic lore.
On the 6th the Zags won a tough battle with Santa Clara. The next day they won the West Coast playoff. Two days later we attended the Wild and Scenic Film Festival in Colville supporting the Kettle Range Conservation Group. It snowed on the way home.
On March 11th we let the fire go out at night for the first time in months. We also went to see the play Once Upon a Mattress with daughter, April and grandson, James. It was amazing to go home while it was still light out.
The next day. Cheryl cleared snow away from the outside barbeque and cooked dinner!
Beware the Ides of March. On the 15th I learned that Xerox won a lawsuit against the off brand solid ink makers who have supplied me with solid ink for my mapbooks for years. It will double the ink costs on my books. I had been printing a lot of books to prepare for the annual Panorama Gem and Mineral Show that started on St Patrick’s Day. I didn’t print enough and had almost double the sales of the previous year. At least they were printed with the less expensive ink. Cheryl texted me during the show with updates on the Zags game in San Jose.
Rock My World gem and mineral show 2017
Our neighbor Vern deKnikker vistied and told us he has a blood cancer. In less than a week we learned about other cancer cases. On a happier note the Zags had pushed through to the Elite Eight and beat West Virginia to go on to the Final Four.
But this is techically a vineyard blog and since the snow has melted much later than usual I will add a few grape related notes. Grape plant sales have boomed and almost wiped out my inventory. I invested in some greenhouse equipment to start more cuttings and am out pruning grapes come rain or shine. I now have over 200 new cuttings in propagation flats. Some friends have come or are coming to help prune. If you want to try learning to prune with
Pruned Grape Canes ready to be cloned
a little hands-on instruction, let me know.
A real wolverine
On the last night of the month we went to a talk about the real wolverines. The next day the Zags beat South Carolina in the Final Four to go to the championship game but lost to North Carolina. The month ended. We are not so sure about the madness.
Okay. It’s official. I’m tired of snow. But actually I’m hoping it stays cold for another week or so. Loggers used to like working in the snow because you can move a lot of logs on a sled and the snow protects the ground from destruction while you do it. We have had a big almost-dead tree close to the garden shed and leaning into the garden for awhile and with this dense foot-thick snow, now was the time to drop it. We had Keith Matlock, a professional arborist who used to do horse logging, do it. I tried to take a video while it was falling but blew it, so I just have a couple of still shots. I also have big heavy rounds of pine and branches to clean up before the snow melts. I’m actually kindof glad for the exercise.
The Otter Sled at work
Because most of the last month has been sitting inside in front of this computer updating my Road Atlas of Stevens County, getting outside to work is good. Generally speaking, winter is a good time to do mapping since not much is changing. The down side is that no one is buying books either. Oh well, more books to update still and lots of snow.
Keith trimming the tree
We are helping the birds survive and they are going through the suet and sunflower seeds. The juncos seem to have left. They were a big hungry group but we don’t see them much in the summer. Now 3 kinds of woodpeckers, a couple kinds of nuthatches, chickadees, flickers and morning doves are still hanging around. Cheryl saw a varied thrush near the kitchen door March 5th. I hear some wild turkeys outside right now and geese and crows fly by most days.
Every morning we hear bald eagles from the nest across the road and near the lake. Mostly they just cruise over head, which is fine with us because we have a small cat that has to watch out. One day an eagle landed on top of our biggest tree, was making a lot of noise and I caught this shot of it leaving.
The Eagle flies on Thursday
Technically the snow is leaving too. Here are before and after shots of Old Blue, our pickup truck waiting for the snow to clear. It is strange to walk out in the vineyard and be looking down on vines that are normally at eye level. Pruning in the cold weakens them and all the new canes and grapes grow from last year’s wood. So no pruning for now.
The truck on February 6th
I have also finished the 7th chapter of a biography of Joseph Barreca Sr. He will be 95 on June 10th. There are a couple more chapters to go and a lot of pictures to add. Greg Daniels, who owns a nearby tree nursery, says roots grow in winter. Maybe they do in more ways than one.
We have not escaped the undercurrent of politics that has seeped into almost all communication of late.
Old Blue on February 21st
Cheryl and I have attended a training class to be better prepared for eventual confrontations put on by the North
Columbia Human Rights Coalition. I am collecting stories for future generations. But I am now also reporting weekly on all of the activities of our not-very-forthcoming Federal Congresswoman, Cathy McMorris Rogers. The local paper has agreed to publish the reports. It is a joint effort with our local Indivisible group. So another cold war has begun, both inside and out.
In John Steinbeck’s last novel. The Winter of Our Discontent, titled from a line in Shakespeare’s play, Richard III, the protagonist, Ethan Allen Hawley, turns in the Italian owner of the grocery store where he works to immigration so he can take over the business. More greed and deceit follows. Not a direct correlation to the situation we find ourselves in, but it is winter and there is discontent.
So it has been a very white and very cold winter so far. We have the equivalent of small glaciers sliding off our roofs and vehicles. The snow has frozen on top making it easier for people and dogs to walk and harder for deer to escape. We have already had our driveway plowed many more times than all of last winter. More pictures in Deep Snow
Inside I have been working to update my Stevens County map book. That update is now complete and the 2017 edition is in stock. There have also been a lot of reports and taxes to work on. Cheryl and I both have new Moto G4 smart phones, that are actually smarter than us now. They do a lot of great stuff but it does not come easy. I finally got mine to connect to a projector using it’s own hot spot so I can demonstrate GPS maps. But there were a lot of failures along the way.
Lets face it though, on January 20th we got a new president, who immediately lied about how many people came to the inaguration and the next day millions of women protested against everything he is trying to do. We are at a historic juncture and there is a lot to think, write, talk about and work on.
So if you are reading this to find out about our winery and your eyes glaze over when I say the next part is a mixture of history, philosopy and politics, read no further. If you are still reading, click on Save the Stories to see what I have to say.
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
Stevens County Palm Trees
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.
Snow at April’s house near Curlew
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.
Arrival, the movie
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.
Joe and Henry pressing apples
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.
Brix and Evaporation
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.
The new still in Henry’s new shop.
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.
LOTS of foam
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.)
The wet keep going
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.
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.
Gatling Still by Henry Anderson
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
Henry Anderson with a huge apple juice press and a daughter and a pickup load of grapes behind him.
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.
Opal Springs water company and source of 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!
VW Van full of glass carboys
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
Cheryl and what may be the last grilling of the season – stuffed 2″ pork chops.
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.
Gray-C and a boxes of Filberts
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.