Barreca Vineyards

Barreca Vineyards

From Vine to Wine since 1986


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The To-Do List

New Plants under the Elm Tree

Usually I review diary entries from the last month to write this blog. I did that for June and it looked pretty boring. I also usually have a theme and had been thinking about “recycling” as the theme. That sounded like it could easily end up as another pedantic rant on sustainability from an old hippy. But I think people should know what it takes to run this small winery so this month I am going to recycle my to-do list from July 5th. I’m shooting for the best combination of pedantic and boring.

1: Water the Pots – I have over 400 grape starts in black plastic pots under the big elm tree. They don’t get sunburned or dry out too quickly there but still need water and it has been really dry for awhile. I should be transplanting some into bigger pots but did that on at least 10 days in June. So they are on maintenance mode until I get caught up on stuff that is in crisis mode. (The pots are all recycled.)

Young Siegerrebe

2: Fix the irrigation to the new Siegerrebe Plants – This is a minor crisis. New plants need a lot of water and I have a new line of spinning sprinklers hooked up for the Siegerrebe, (a mellow crisp white wine that I just had with an artichoke dinner). The old hose going to the new line broke and I had to fix that and get them watered.

3: Mow and water the main grape block – I had already thinned these vines but the new canes were reaching the ground and grass under them was slowing the air flow, which leads to more disease issues and an even later harvest. Cutting the ends of the canes forces them to sprout new leaves higher up and mowing lets the wind dry the

Under the old vines (those to the left were cut back and are resprouting)

inside of the vine but still allows a traveling sprinkler to keep the ground moist.

4: Finish thinning Row 19 – The first three items were just preludes to this one which takes much longer. Thinning removes small canes, weak inner leaves, low sucker canes and any cover crops like purple vetch or tall grass that are growing into the vine. Air flow and disease control are objectives but eliminating small late grape clusters that would reduce grape quality and extend our already short growing season is a goal. If sprays are needed (so far they are not) then this also opens up the vine for organic spray. Thinning all the plants at least once each season is a yearly goal and this year it clears the way for new irrigation (which is in later to-do items). As of this writing I still have 6 rows and well over 100 more vines to thin.

Both of these aisles have compost. The one on the left is growing through it.

5: Apply compost to aisle 16/17 – Physically this is the hardest To-Do item. I have written previously about my soil yard and regenerative agriculture. This is where the “rubber meets the road” or in this case the soil amendments are laid down between the rows. It means loading our biggest cart full of composting leaves from the City of Colville, rotting cow manure and straw from a neighbor, shredded grape prunnings and biochar that are run through a shredder while loading the cart. All of this material is recycled into the ground. I dump the cart between the rows and spread out the compost with a rake. It takes about 12 cart loads to fill an aisle and over 2 or three days to complete the aisle. We have enough material for 6 to 8 aisles and expect the process to continue over several years while building the soil.

6: Remove old drip system pipes from rows 18 and 19 -(I got up to this point on the 5th before lunch but was pretty sweaty and needed a shower too so it was after lunch.) Years ago I discovered that the grapes are much happier if you water the whole vineyard, not just drip water at the base of the vines. So I have been watering with traveling sprinklers including the family’s 40 year old “Nelson’s Rain Train”. They don’t travel well through a thick layer of compost, manure etc. So spreading compost means installing spinning sprinklers beneath a main line suspended about 18 inches above the ground under the

The “bone yard” where the old drip system is being dismantled.

grape canopy. And that means removing the old drip system and salvaging many of the parts so they can be recycled.

7: Tighten the wires that will hold the new sprinkler system – These wires are mostly already in place but have not been tightened since I replaced all the bamboo vine poles with iron rebar and braced the end posts on each row with metal props. Tightening includes synching the wire to each rebar pole next to every grape vine. (I didn’t get to this step or the next one on the 5th but did today, the 6th).

New main watering line on wire.

8: Install the main water line on the wire – This involves stretching out the coil of polypipe so it can warm up and straighten out in the sun, then slipping it along the wire through the vine branches. Finally cable ties synch it to the wire every 3 feet. (I’m waiting for irrigation parts from two different sources so the rest of the system is on hold.)

9: Wash bottles for Apple/Huckleberry wine – Recycling wine bottles over and over again takes a lot of work and attention to sanitation. Attempts have been made to make machines to do it, but they are not perfect and no one is doing it commercially with either machines or by hand. I have my bottle shed full of bottles sorted by style and color then stacked in cases. Getting newer cases in the right sizes is actually the hardest part because people are bringing me bottles almost every day. Since I only bottle 2 or 3 cases at a time, the two washings and 1 sterilization rinse don’t take too long and they can be done in the shade, a big bonus this time of year.

10: Check the gopher traps – This actually came first but is one of my “putting around” chores like charging the mower or trimming grass that don’t make it on the “To-Do” list.

11: Salvage drip line parts – Another in-the-shade project involves unwrapping the wires that held the old drip system parts together, cutting loose the “T”s and plugs and stacking the 1/2″ pipe in 6 foot sections. If anyone reading this can use some 1/2” irrigation parts, let me know. It’s all about recycling and these parts last a long time.

12: Cook dinner – Cheryl and I switch off every other night on this one. July 5th was my night. I made pasta and drank Lucie Kuhlmann wine.

(Cheryl was busy too but not with the vineyard.)

At the reunion with my brother Jeff and nephew Nick. Notice the family resemblance.

That’s all for the list. Life is not all work and no play. I got away for a family reunion in June and my daughter, April, came over for a visit with her and her husband’s family. We picked more mushrooms and sold them along with wine at the Farmer’s Market. But I count days when I can get through a long To-Do list as good days and switching from one chore to another as taking a break. A nice glass of wine at dinner is satisfying too.

Special Wines

One of the advantages of growing a winery out of a backyard vineyard is that you tend to have a variety of plants and wines. The disadvantage of course is that you may not have a tremendous amount of any one wine. These past few years neighbors have stepped in to add to both the variety and quantity of wines.

All of our wines are “natural” wines.  Some people include those with Sulfur Dioxide added as “natural”. We never add it or use poisonous chemicals to clean our equipment. There is also an article in WineMaker Magazine about Natural wine that emphasizes how hard it is to do. But you have to subscribe to see it so trust me it is there.

This Spring I have been bottling new 2016 wines every week. In addition to the red wines that are the mainstay of the winery, Lucie Khulmann, Marecal Foch, Baco Noir and Leon Millot, we have a selection of specialty wines. They do not show up in the product list on this website because many of them come and go so quickly posting them here is not worth the trouble. So if you want to try them, you will have to come for a tasting or stop by our booth at the Northeast Washington Farmers Market. Here is a list of current offerings:


This grape variety developed in Germany is a close relative of Madeleine Angevine. The finished wine has an intense aroma reminiscent of Muscat. This vintage is semi-sweet fresh, amber-colored and juicy. It would be very easy to drink a lot of it and we have almost 16 cases either bottled or on the way. It has become popular at the Farmers Market.


I was eager to try making another white wine from these grapes after hearing that they were the first to sell out from a neighboring vineyard. After tasting them I could see why. This wine is also an orange color and semi-sweet. The grapes are from a certified organic vineyard just north of us. 2016 was a fine year for wine with a long hot summer that produced mellow tastes and powerful wines.


Our Okanogan Riesling, unlike the white wines listed above is tart and dry. It is a crisp refreshing wine best chilled. We often serve it with artichokes or fish. It is cool-fermented to preserve the perfume of the Riesling grapes that drifts over the vineyard when they are ripe.

Apple Wine

Unlike cider, our apple wine is very clear, strong and as sweet as a fresh apple. To get those qualities without adding sugar, we concentrate the sugars by reducing the volume of juice by half, partly by freezing and partly by cooking it down in a stainless steel vat. The cooking imparts a slight caramel flavor. We use a mixture of wild and homestead apples along with organic Golden Delicious.

Huckleberry Wine

If you read the labels of commercial huckleberry wines, they are most often blended with Riesling. We introduce wild local frozen huckleberries that we picked ourselves into the primary fermentation of our Apple


wine. This process extracts the color and flavor of the berries and uses the sweetness and body of the apple to blend a refreshing taste of the high mountains.


By themselves Elderberries are tart and sour, especially if they are picked before the first frost. We ferment them with the concentrated juice of our Apples to mellow out the tart flavor and highlight their wild taste. The combination has been a favorite in Northeast Washington for decades.

Cherry Wine

This is a rare treat. Two years ago John and Janet Crandall, owners of Riverview Orchard, gave us several hundred pounds of organic cherries. We concentrated the fresh juice using the same techniques as we do for Apple wine. The result is a wine with about the same sweetness as cherries but a lot of body and a very big cherry flavor that stays with you.

Lucie Rosé

Working with a crop of Lucie Khulmann grapes that were not as sweet as most, this vintage was tapped from the fermenter as free-run juice without pressing after only two days. The result is a lighter bodied wine that is semi-sweet and full of berry flavors. It is excellent with lighter meals or as an afternoon break.

It’s great to have such a variety of tastes in our inventory. You might want them in your’s too.

Morel Season

Morels in the burn

It’s that time of year again, Morel season. Even though there is a long list of things to do around the house, garden and vineyard, the call of the wild mushrooms lures us away to the sites of last year’s fires for a “Taste of the Wild”. This year we have been picking in the Bridge Creek Fire.

Patch with link to map

It continues to be a good area for picking and mapping. I have learned several things about making maps for use away from cell towers and a few about what information you can save even with access to cell towers. Also some of these pictures have links to Google Photos. When you follow them if a photo has location information in it Google will show you where it was taken. But enough geeky stuff.

We have gone from picking every mushroom we see no matter how small, to only picking bigger ones and usually those in groups. Somewhere along the line in a typical day fun becomes work. But we have managed to store a couple gallons of dried morels, sold some at the Farmers Market and to friends, traded for cheese and a massage, and eaten them almost every day. So it is exciting.

A Taste of the Wild Morels

My favorite memory is when Cheryl cooked some up with garlic, butter and some olive oil in our VW camper van during the Farmers Market. With morels selling at near $70/pound in Seattle and at $40/pound in Spokane, we feel very lucky to find them and have some extra.

The Best Day (links to Google map)

But like fishing, hunting and gold prospecting, there are stories of bigger and better mushrooms that we have not found yet… So far it has been good fun and good exercise. But it definitely has an addictive side that affects our other activities (AKA chores).

Building a Biome

“A biome is a specific environment that’s home to living things suited for that place and climate.” (

Loading Compost from the City of Colville

Maybe I am still trying to apply my degree in philosophy, or just spend too much time alone in the vineyard, but there is a lot to think about in developing Regenerative Agriculture in a specific place. This last month the vineyard has dried out. The record-breaking rains of March and April were followed by record-breaking heat in May. That gave me a chance to have two 14 yard dump trucks full of leaf compost (actually more leaf than compost) from a fall yard-waste dump for the city of Colville brought in to my soil yard when the dump dried out enough for trucks. I am mixing it with cow manure, biochar and shredded branches and spreading it between the rows in the vineyard. This variety of carbon and living organisms is meant to build the soil and the soil in turn works with the grapes, grasses, clover and other cover crops in the vineyard to build a biome. (This term usually has a broader meaning such as Forest or Tundra.)

Link to a video of my soil yard

The main idea here is that a complete mixture of living organisms in all stages of their life cycles provides better nutrition for the grapes, better resilience against flood, drought, hot, cold, insects – whatever the climate throws at it – than any mixture of chemical fertilizer, tilling or decaying matter. I have already begun putting spent yeast from wine making back in the vineyard and will be adding shredded pruned canes as well as seeds and skins left from primary fermentation back as well. The cover crop will rebound from mowing and the symbiotic exchange of sugars from plant roots for water and minerals through mycorrhizal fungi will strengthen plant vitality. Fungi are already boosting my cutting reproduction from 50% to nearly 100%. There are lots of worms in the compost and bacteria creating nutrients as well. I’m trying to blend these ingredients to build a biome.

I expect that repeating application of these biome builders over several years will increase the fertility of the vineyard and therefore production. There are some arguments for stressing vines to improve sugar and the quality of the wine. My thinking is more like “Happy vines make happy wines.” We’ll have to see how this plays out.

A row of compost in the vineyard

One of the many books I read on regenerative agriculture this last winter noted that nature seems to be self-correcting. An organism that degrades the ecology and reduces bio diversity fouls its own nest and inevitably learns to limit its growth or dies out entirely by destroying its environment. An example might be leafhoppers. There were a lot of them in some parts of the vineyard this spring and I did spray some organic pesticide on them. But with a few good rain storms they have subsided markedly. New growth is sprouting up next to the leaves that they damaged. In the Fall, the inner leaves that they tend to weaken fade away and allow the sun to ripen the grapes sooner. As long as the plants grow rapidly, natural predators such as wasps, spiders and ladybugs will keep the leafhoppers in check.

I’m not sure I can paint an equally rosy picture for mites or powdery mildew. There is a lot of observation and learning left to do. The implicated principle however is that diversity builds resilience and that can be applied to people as well as plants and insects. History shows that immigrants tend to be hard-working adaptive people.

Scary Spring

Rhubarb coming up

It has been 41 days since we got back from Hawaii and today was warmer than any day we spent there. So Spring has Sprung. We even ate asparagus fresh out of the garden today and Cheryl is setting up feeders for hummingbirds. The local deer have gone from mangy and rangy to sleek and spunky. Eagles, owls and frogs are filling the day and night with sound. We stopped feeding suet to the birds and they have spread out to build nests in new territory. The snow has retreated to above 3000 feet. All of this is happening while we are scrambling to get ready for our first Farmers Market.

So what goes on in a vineyard this time of year? Priority one was pruning the grape vines. I usually try to do that as soon as the snow is melted. This year I pruned especially heavy leaving only one bud for this year where the best canes grew last year. Too often in the past I was leaving 2 – “just to make sure” – and that left too many weak canes. There will still be too many new shoots, but I’ll go through again to open up the interior of each vine.

The Grape Grower

This is also the time of year that I start new grape plants from cuttings. During the winter I did a lot of reading about grapes and soil. A really good guide to organic grapes is The Grape Grower, by Lon Rombough. In it he discusses mycorrhizal fungi, organisms that dissolve mineral nutrients from rocks and sand in exchange for sugars from living plant roots. By inoculating my grape cuttings with fungal spores and promoting new roots ahead of leaf growth, I doubled my percentage of rooted cuttings that are taking hold. In some cases to nearly 100%.

Rooted Cutting

Mycorrhizal fungi are a key component of the emerging practice of Regenerative Agriculture. On April 15th I gave a talk at our local Slow Food meeting on the many ways these methods are changing the world. At the same time I am putting my money and energy where my mouth is by preparing to lay down layers of compost, biochar, manure and shredded prunnings between the rows of grapes. There will doubtless be more about how that is going in subsequent blogs.

I was worried about my bottle supply since it depends on friends who recycle their corkable fifths with me. But not any more. Now my poor bottle shed has more than it can handle, which makes me all the more aware that I have not kept up with bottling wine. Some of the new additions in that realm include Siegerrebe 2016 from Downriver Orchards certified organic grapes. It is a refreshing white wine, not too tart and not too sweet with what some describe as a strawberry flavor. Along with that is an Orange Muscat (also


from Downriver Orchard) that is way too easy to drink. Our Huckleberry/Apple combination is back in stock and more Dark Cherry is on it’s way. There are plenty of reds in the works too including a Lucie Kuhlman Rose that I’m sure will sell out fast. We had a tasting today and folks drove away with a bottle of almost everything they tried.

It’s turning into a scary Spring. Almost 80 degrees today. We are only burning a little firewood in the mornings. Last year the cold and wet weather stopped suddenly. The grass grew high and dried out for another nerve-wracking fire season. I didn’t start watering the whole vineyard and garden soon enough and things died. There is some rain in the forecast but it feels like the same thing is happening. Maybe it’s weird to be worried when trees and flowers are blooming, the grass needs mowing and you can wear shorts and T-shirts outside. Yikes! Now I’m worried about being worried. Forget about it. Enjoy the weather while you can.

2018 Grape Plants

Lingering Snow

It has been a long cold winter. But the sun is out and Spring is busting out all over. When we got back from an escape to Hawaii, there was still snow in the vineyard and in fact it was still snowing some days – but not sticking. That was a good time to take cuttings and to prune the vines for this year’s crop. It was also a good time to put some plants in the ground and it still is. Before I carry on about cuttings, wine, Regenerative Agriculture etc. here are descriptions of the vines that are looking good right now:


Fredonia: This grape is a close relative of Concord, but the grapes are much bigger and it gets ripe two weeks sooner. It can be eaten fresh or made into juice or wine. It does have seeds but is very hardy and a good choice for an all-around home-grown variety in Northeast Washington.

Baco Noir: As usual, Baco Noir is the happiest grape on the place. It grows enthusiastically and produces well. It ripens early, though not as early as some other reds. The wine is a bit lighter than most reds and has plenty of fruit flavor. It has become very popular on the East Coast and word is spreading in the West. It likes moist soil – maybe a little too much. If you have good soil and sun, give it plenty of space and plan on pruning significantly.

Okanogan Riesling

Okanogan Riesling: is another rich soil loving plant. It ripens earlier than other Riesling varieties but is still one of the last to mature in this northern climate. Riesling is a classic crisp white wine the way we make it, though it is often known in other places for being too sweet.

Marechal Foch: Named by Eugene Kuhlmann after the general that saved the French Alsace-Lorraine region from German Occupation in WW I, Marechal Foch is indeed a mighty grape. Again it likes good soil and will reward you for providing it with a rich red wine. (Even the pulp is red.) The most widely grown grape in Canada, Foch is a reliable producer and a popular dinner wine.

Siegerrebe: is technically a white grape though the color is more of an orange. It has milder acids that some describe as “strawberry” flavor. It produces abundantly and is a main crop in the vineyard at Down River Orchard, a neighbor and certified organic grower. We have a good supply of Siegerrebe Wine in Stock and invite you to try some wine and buy a vine.

Syrah: This well-known and widely grown variety grows well in our climate but takes ideal conditions to ripen fully. Every year seems to be warmer than the last and Syrah responds to these new conditions. If you are serious about making a pure red viniferous wine and have a good site, this might be the grape for you.

We have a few plants from 10 other varieties, but these are at the top of the list for health and inventory numbers right now.

The Little and Big Islands

The Little Island

Alameda Rainbow

It is unusual for us to take a full two week vacation, let alone to fly thousands of miles in the process. But we got a chance and we took it this spring to see the Big Island of Hawaii. But first we stopped by the little island of Alameda to see our daughter Bina and her family. So this blog is all about our trip. The next one will get back to pruning, planting and selling grape plants. (We have lots of photos from this trip and although there may be only one or two in the stories, they have links to albums of each adventure.)They were very good to us and over a couple of days we took a ride on the Alameda Ferry to San Francisco, explored the Exploratorium with our grand-kids, Ovid (now age 9) and Nala (age 6). Then we got a tour of Kite Boat, a cutting edge research and development workshop on the old Alameda airbase. Son-in-law, Joe Brock, is a major

Half Moon Bay Sunset

designer, builder and sailor of ever bigger, faster and more sophisticated versions of these craft. They are also bringing to market electric-powered hydrofoil paddle boards, a fun place to work and to visit. We went with them to the Oracle Center in Oakland and got free seats and a meeting with Loren who played “Ariel” the Little Mermaid, a star of the show.  Then we headed out to Half Moon Bay to explore Imagination, their 62 foot ketch (a two-masted, fore-and-aft-rigged sailboat with a mizzenmast stepped forward of the rudder and smaller than the foremast.) They are making an amazing transformation of this boat into something they can all both live on and sail on. It will actually take a crew to put it under full sail, and they are growing their own.


Kilauea Caldera at Night

After an early morning liftoff from Oakland and flying over an ocean of clouds we arrived in Kona airport on the West Side of the Big Island of Hawaii under a bright Hawaiian sun. As the locals often told us, there are 13 distinct climates on the island, and we soon drove out of the noon-day sun over vast landscapes of barren lava through a pass between the snow-capped peaks of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea into the fog and Vog (Volcanic Fog) near Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Joe’s old high school classmate, Mike Klungness, and his wife Gretchen put us up for a few days in Mountain View and showed us the sights. By far the most spectacular was the active caldera of Kilauea Volcano. During the day we could see red flashes of lava in the smoke. Back at the Jagger Museum viewpoint that night it was even more spectacular in the red glow of molten lava. After hiking through trails and the Thurston lava tube during the day we ate out at the Volcano House Lodge with the volcano right out the window.

Black Sand Beach

Sun bathing sea turtle

In our first adventure in our big black rented Jeep Wagoneer we stopped at the Black Sand Beach south of Kilauea. The hot sun, coconut palms and ocean breeze were a welcome change from the clouds where we were staying in Mountain View. The biggest attraction on the beach was a large sea turtle that at first looked dead but was just resting and sunning itself, much like most of us on the beach. Someone drew a line in the sand around it to keep tourists back. Eventually as the tide came in, it swam into the ocean. There is a short movie of that in the album linked to the picture. On the way back to the highway we spotted some Nene, the endangered native geese.

Green Sand Beach

Joe and Cheryl with green Sand

One of the reasons for the 4-wheel drive car was to manage the ruts on the drive to the Green Sand Beach near the very southern tip of the island. Once we got there we abandoned that idea. The “ruts” were several feet deep, often with mud at the bottom and their routes crisscrossed over the 2.25 mile drive to the beach. The car stayed clean and we paid for a ride in “Uncle Eddie’s” beat-up pickup truck. It was a great ride, part tour wagon and part roller coaster. The green sand is made from translucent Peridot crystals. The sandstone there is full of them and they seem to float to the surface of the black lava sand. Peridot is the green gem featured in the Moana Movie  that no one is supposed to take from the island. We tried not to but inevitably we brought back some green sand that stuck in our pockets.

Hilo Parks
Mike also guided us around the city of Hilo. Liliuokalani Park, right on Hilo Bay, has spectacular Banyan trees, lush lawns, spreading monkey pod trees and an expansive view of the ocean. Nearby is Rainbow Falls rich in legends and beauty. Upstream from it is another gem that many tourists miss called Boiling Pots. It has waterfalls, a grand tropical river vista and it’s own set of legends. Everywhere we went Hawaiian native culture was being interpreted. It is not just another State. It is the Hawaian homeland. We learned more about the local food at the farmers market where we picked up supplies and sat down to eat. I had Green Papaya stir-fry.

We spend 4 days in this area, 2 in Pahoa and 2 with an old friend from Rose Valley, Eric Rosse at his spacious and substantial house in Kehena, right near another Black Sand Beach. This one is “clothing optional”, not a big attraction for old folks, but a beautiful beach with no improved access. In the morning with sun streaming in from the east and a few fishermen it is quiet and warm. If you really want warm, just up the road is Ahalanui warm pool park. The water there is geothermally heated. Colorful fish swim with you and nibble dead skin off your legs if you stand still. Another inlet just north of Ahalanui, the Champagne Ponds, is also fairly warm and it’s shallow waters are dotted with tiny islands and tide pools perfect for snorkeling, which I will learn to do if I ever get that chance again. We did do some dining and shopping in Pahoa, a somewhat rustic tourist town. It did have a great natural foods store, cute shops and a variety of restaurants. But staying with Eric was the best. We played Scrabble, ate BBQ every night, shared stories and just relaxed.

Mamalahoa Highway

Akaka Falls

From Kehena we drove north on the Mamalahoa Highway along the coast, stopping at beaches and waterfalls, the most spectacular of which is ‘Akaka Falls, a 442ft sheer drop with a fascinating fish, the o’opu alama’o, a 5 inch long species of goby. It spawns above the falls, the young are flushed to the ocean and then they climb back up using a suction disk on their chest and pectoral fins when it is time to return. We also stopped at the Laupahoehoe Point Memorial dedicated to teacher and children at a school near the beach who died in a Tsunami on April 1st, 1946. These islands are generally pleasant but once in awhile a tsunami, hurricane or lava flow will just plain wipe things out. We were pretty tired when we arrived at our last stop, an AirBnB in the hills near Kalopa State Park above Honoka’a on the north end of the island. It has a spectacular vista of the ocean when the clouds lifted enough to see it. This Part of the

island gets 200 inches of rain a year.


Honoka’a is a little spiffier tourist town than Pahoa, but not as commercial as it’s neighbor Waimea. We ate at Il Mundo,

Ancient Lava Tube

a great Italian restaurant, bought some earrings at a very nice local art and glass gallery and went exploring on the old Mamalahoa highway for a lava tunnel, just known as Cave #3 on our GPS tour app. We found it with a little help from some locals. It was very foggy and rainy outside. Cheryl elected not to explore the cave which had some structures built by early Hawaiians and a lot of branching tunnels and passages. Taking pictures inside was tricky and I basically failed. It reminded me of many local abandoned mines. Back at the AirBnB we basically vegged out along with Louie the friendly house-dog and Layla the cat, both of whom liked to snuggle up with guests. The next day we explored nearby Kalopa State Park hiking a nature trail that was wet (as well as the pieces of a guide book for it). The sun came out in the afternoon and we enjoyed it along with some geckos at the B&B.

Mahukona Beach

Acacia Tree on Mahukon nature trail

Our plane left at 10 PM on Wednesday March 14th. We spent the day sightseeing on the way from Honoka’a to the airport. That included a statue of Kamehameha in Hawi that was recovered from a shipwreck; a trip over Kohala mountain that had wide-open ranch land and prickly pear cactus and a hike along what was once a railroad line for a sugar cane mill at Mahukona Beach. We watched a school of Yellow Tang fish near the old loading dock, spotted several feral cats and (as happened every day we were there) a mongoose or two. We ate our final Hawaiian meal at the Sea Bar Restaurant in Kawaihae, turned in the jeep at the airport and waited in 80 degree heat at the outside boarding area for Alaska flight 880 to Seattle. Not our usual first two weeks of March but ones we will remember more than the rest. Aloha!

The Shape of Winter

We survived the moons of January and the moon is full again now at the end of February. Luckily we can see it at night so far but tomorrow will bring another two days of big snow. I would like to think of winter as a time to kick back a little indoors and catch up on reading, writing and arithmetic. A lot of that went on this month. But kicking back, not so much.

Here is our Christmas Tree with a new decoration.

The weather started to break at the beginning of the month with temperatures above freezing and patches of bare ground growing beneath the trees. On February 4th, Super Bowl Sunday, it was still 46 degrees at 8:55 PM. In a memorable game, the Philadelphia Eagles took down the Patriots in the highest scoring game in Super Bowl History. It included a great play at the end of the first half where Eagle’s quarterback Nick Fole received a pass in the end zone. That was the first of many sports events for the month since the winter Olympics started 4 days later and provided their share of excitement.

Cheryl took all of the ornaments off our live Christmas tree and I moved it outside. But it didn’t take long for Nature to re-decorate it with fresh snow. Winter was not finished with us and continues to build up snow depth.

My other business is Map Metrics. Winter is a good time to update maps since no new roads are being built. So far this winter I have new editions of the Road Atlases of Bonner County, Idaho and Ferry County, Washington.

Cheryl and I went to some movies leading up to the Oscars. They included “The Shape of Water”, a title that is a little hard to wrap your head around. (Also 3 Billboards…, Greatest Showman and Black Panther.) The comeback of winter was also hard to understand. Heavy snow blew in sideways on the 17th and then temperatures went down to the single digits for 5 days from February 19th to the 24th. They have rebounded somewhat since then but by the time this is posted another foot of snow is predicted in the valleys. The snowpack in the mountains is 30% above average already. We may be looking at more floods again but hopefully fewer fires and enough water to fight them.

The blowing snow is hard to see here but was definitely there. Click for video.

Meanwhile some of my two-year old wines are ready to bottle. They included the first vintages of Siegerrebe and Muscat from Downriver Orchards. These are beautiful clear and semi-sweet organic white wines. Some say the Siegerrebe tastes like strawberries. The Orange Muscat definitely has a bit of a citrus flavor. I’ll be sipping them and planning out my pruning and planting strategy while we wait for this snow to melt.

Orange Muscat 2016

Between the Super Moons

Not our picture but like what we saw of the Super Blue Blood Moon.

January obviously involved a lot of lunacy bracketed by two full supermoons as it was. We encountered our share.

Since it was the beginning of the year doing inventory and writing reports to the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Control Board and the Alcohol, Tobacco and Trade Board (TTB) was mandatory. (It’s curious that locally winemakers are grouped with pot growers and nationally they are grouped with tobacco growers.) Government always wants its share of the pie.

Cherry Pie

Speaking of pie, On the food and wine end things were cooking. I made pear pie for the 12th night celebration on the 6th, cherry pie on the 11th, apple on the 27th and a pumpkin pie last week. This cherry pie picture ended up on Facebook with a question about the 7 part divider. I highly recommend them. Sure it is easy to make a 6 piece or 8 piece pie with simple geometry, but a 7th is just the right size and the math on that results in a never-ending decimal, a lot like pi.

With winter comes snow and we got our share. I have to admit it is pretty in the morning, expecially when the pre-dawn light gives it a blue hue. Outlines of all the bare branches are also enchanting, but I usually go around and tap those on bushes that are about to break to release them from the weight. Brushing snow off all the cars and waiting for neighbor Jeremiah Jones to come over and plow the driveway and clear the mailbox pretty much takes the charm away.

Big Blue Snow (The camera sees it as more blue than we do.)

Dinner by Candlelight with Cat

The charm really went away on January 24th when the power went out for 21.5 hours. But by then we were used to breakdowns and related disasters. An early one was the death of Bill Allen, an important member of our rock club. He has organized our annual rock show for several years, cooked for our summer BBQ and run the Rock Auction in November. A word of warning, don’t smoke and don’t rake the snow off of your roof for two days by reaching over your head as you work.

Driving in snow was not fun either. On MLK Day we dug out a lady who did a 180 into the ditch hitting the brakes when she started to slide coming around the curves below our house. She was able to drive out once Cheryl and I cleared her wheels. The girl in this next picture was not so lucky though she was waiting for her boy friend to come pull her car out when I stopped.

Slick Road

Even when the road is clear, like it was on January 23rd, there is no guarantee of an easy ride. A quarter mile from a tourism meeting I was attending in Colville, my right rear tire went flat. So I walked. Meanwhile our dog Gretchen was not eating and could not poop. Cheryl drove her down to our veterinarian in Chewelah then came back to help with the tire. It was snowing after the meeting when I got back to change the tire. So much for “go to meeting” clothes. The tire couldn’t be fixed. My regular tire guy was sick. Even my barber was sick. Gretchen stayed for two nights and three days at the vet’s. New tires: $309.71. Healthy dog, $825.96. Pretty rough day. During the next week we fed Gretchen a special diet and meds.

Cheryl’s Owl Shawl

There are definitely things to be grumpy about. A hundred people marched in Chewelah on Saturday the 20th. Cheryl and I joined 6500 other people in Spokane the next day for the Women’s Persistence March. Amazingly we saw lots of old friends, some of whom we had not seen for years. Many of our neighbors also drove the 100+ miles down there to join in. Cheryl made the most of her owl shawl. I was glad that the weather was good.

Band with our old friend Bea Lackaff in front.

No blog is complete lately without something about building better soil. On the plus side for me was reading a book, Growing a Revolution by David Montgomery (suggested by my sister Anita and her husband Roger). It had good stories, each with a nugget or two of new ideas and inspiring information. Like making wine, building soil seems simple in principle but complex in practice.

Another great book on soil

On the home front I followed up on an illustration of a simple biochar cooker made with a 55 gallon barrel. I traded some bird netting to a friend for a barrel. He helped cut a set of holes in the barrel to let gases escape. At home I filled it with wood and built a fire under it. In the illustration it looked like a small fire would char the wood taking advantage of the gases wood makes when heated up with little access to oxygen. Maybe the winter weather threw off the process because the gases did not ignite when they escaped. So I tried again with a bigger fire. That worked better but still seems inefficient and the chunks of charcoal were too big to use without crushing them first. Not a rousing success but the biochar pile keeps building and Cheryl is beginning to think of me as Smokey Joe.

Biochar Barrel with the fire just started

I’ve got more taxes to work on and no more time for moonlight madness until March – when there w ill be another blue moon.

A Change of Seasons


It’s officially winter since the winter solstice has come and gone. You would think that things should slow down. Critters are hibernating or have gone south. The crops are in. It’s hard to get around. But NOOO! We have a holiday season that revolves around Christmas. (Very little mention of solstice, which basically is “the reason for the season”.) So the weather cooperated and we have snow. It seems like a long time without snow or extreme cold in December has given way to some days above freezing again in January after two plowable snowfalls and nights in late December down in the single digits.

Spruced Up Spruce

It seems fitting that January is named after the Roman god, Janus, that has two faces. We are now facing the new year which looks young and fresh after an exhausting 2017. Besides the usual push to get out a Christmas Newsletter (available here if you missed it), buy and wrap gifts, decorate and send cards, we brought in a cute – but very heavy – live spruce tree and came down with nasty but survivable 10+-day-long colds. By Christmas Day itself we were up and at it again.

Star Wars Strokes back for James and father Tony

A new twist for us were the digital connections with our daughters Bina and April and their families. So while we were unwrapping our gifts, we got texts and pictures of them unwrapping theirs. That made the distances seem smaller. April went to Nelson B.C. on Christmas Day with her family. The romance of their 100+ year old cabin wears a little thin in near zero degree weather. They were able to visit closer to New Years and we had a good time on essentially a second Christmas Day with food, gifts that were a big hit and a little sledding with James.

Christmas Sunset

Cheryl and I made it out to Mary Selecky’s Christmas Dinner with over a dozen old friends, lots of food and the usual surprise gift exchange with stealing allowed (up to three steals). A big bonus was a spectacular sunset and sparkling crystal snowflakes on the way home.

Daring Doe with her Christmas dinner

Meanwhile back at the homestead, I have been dividing outdoor time between making biochar and cooking down apple cider for some specialty wines. The local deer especially liked the apple pulp left over after pressing cider. I’m glad I could give them something for Christmas and could build up my supply of material to enrich the soil in the year to come.

Linked on Picture

An inspiration for that effort was my first e-book The Call of the Reed Warbler by Charles Massey. He describes the changes to Regenerative Agriculture in Australia with stories and histories about his family and farm plus many other farms that have turned their fertility and fortunes around by allowing nature to restore their soils to life without chemicals.

So with a fresh look to the year ahead and this last look at the year behind, I encourage you all to ask not what the earth can do for you, but what you can do for her.