Barreca Vineyards

Barreca Vineyards

From Vine to Wine since 1986

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.

Winter, Wood, Wine and Worms

I want worms! Earthworms that is. A few blogs back  I wrote about how topsoil is the key to a healthy civilization reviewing a 1975 paper, Topsoil and Civilization.  (This link will download the whole 159 page book as a pdf – or you can email me and I will send it as a 1.6 meg attachment).   In November 2017 I made more progress toward improving my soil. As it turns out, there is a lot of interest in this topic from organic growers, not just to improve their soil and production, but to actually sequester carbon. It is a BIG deal. Called “carbon farming” or “regenerative agriculture” (a term coined by Rodale ). Carbon farming not only improves soil but has the potential to bring the earth back into carbon balance by re-storing the massive amounts of carbon that originally resided in the soil before deforestation, subsequent erosion and petroleum products (fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and growth hormones) killed the living microorganisms and leached out their byproducts which constitute a healthy soil.

But I’m getting wound up a little. November was basically about getting ready for winter which meant getting in wood, securing the working wine inventory and making some apple wine (sometimes infused with huckleberries).

We have a lot of nearby critters getting ready for winter. One of them is Pete, the Piliated Woodpecker. He thinks he owns the vineyard, and when I have picked the grapes, he moves right on to apples or whatever he can find. No shy scavenger, he loudly announces when he is flying in and does not move out readily. He evidently does not know he is in danger or that I don’t let just any animal eat all of the grapes they want.

Turkeys have become frequent guests. They do their own distribution of our compost pile and are eagerly awaiting sunflower seeds falling from our feeder. I just put the feeder up since snow has come and gone several times and will stick around soon.

We recently got our last load of firewood, and before that I made the last run to the dump while our 40-year-old Chevy pickup is safe to drive on dry pavement. On the same trip I loaded it up with shredded sticks that are piled up to compost by the City of Colville. On that same day the city was dumping leaves in a nearby site. I was checking it out and realized that the leaf compost had matured much faster. There were a hundred tons of composted black soil in this dump. A few days later

The last load of firewood

I asked their street department about it and yep it’s free and I am welcome to take as much as I want when the road into the site dries out next year.

So that was pretty exciting but there were other discoveries on the soil front. Today (December 5th) is National Soils Day. Even the New York Times is starting to see that soil is our best hope to overcome climate change and to remedy the inevitable failure of chemical farming to retain soil health.

One ancient method of retaining soil nutrients, even in the jungle where they tend to leach out in the rain, is the use of “biochar” (just charcoal really). It absorbs nutrients and prevents them from washing out of the soil. Almost pure carbon itself, charcoal keeps carbon in the soil and out of the air and the oceans, which are already overloaded. I have been looking for a technology to create biochar for a couple of years. In November I discovered that the best solution seems to be almost no technology at all.

Making biochar

I have been cutting up my slash pile of branches and grape prunings into smaller pieces. I start a small fire using wood from dried pine rounds (which are not good firewood) and pile on the slash. After the smoke clears, a bed of glowing charcoal lies under the fire. I rake the unburned material to one side of the fire and rake the hot charcoal out where I can dowse it with water. Once it is cool, I rake that into a pile where it is combined with aged goat manure to add nutrients. I pile more slash on the remaining fire and in less than an hour have more biochar to cool.

The (almost) new shredder

While cutting up the slash pile my chainsaw threw off it’s chain. After replacing it with another, I took the damaged chain to Colville’s Small Engine Repair shop. Out front was what looked like a brand new Troy-bilt Shredder/Chipper. I asked about it and found out it was really several years old, built before Troy-bilt was taken over by another company that started producing lower quality machines. The owner kept it in a garage and only used it a few times. He was moving, had the gas system cleaned by the shop and was selling it for $400. It originally cost $1000. It came come with me and I am eager to grind up every fire-prone carbon source on the place and put it back in the soil.

So while our resident house-frog has retired for the winter and our always-hunting house cat is taking a lot more naps, I will be reading up on carbon farming, and fermenting another year’s worth of wine thanks to some of my favorite microorganisms, yeasts. A very good introduction to the topic is “Soil Carbon Restoration” by Jack Kittredge of the Northeast Organic Farming Association.

Happy napping!

Making wine with a little help from my friends

Joe Greco bringing in the Lucie Kuhlmann crop

I get along with a little help from my friends (and family). Making it through grape harvest is relaxing, fun, challenging, frustrating and tedious all at the same time. Luckily this year I had help at crucial times harvesting grapes and people seemed to have fun helping out. So far this year we have harvested over 3300 pounds of grapes from our vineyard and other local organic farms. We made 13 batches of wine. More wine from apples is yet to come.

October 9th was my daughter Bina’s birthday and also my brother Jeff’s birthday. For me, it was Baco Noir Day, one of my favorite grapes and wines. I started picking on the 9th and a friend and neighbor, Steve Lecture came over on the 10th to help pick what turned out to be about 500 pounds of Baco Noir. It was fairly sweet, 25.5 degrees Brix, My intent is to take advantage of the sharp character of the grape and the sweetness to make a strong and complex wine with a crisp finish. It worked on the skins for 5 days before being tapped into glass carboys where it will be for the next two years.

Kit Shultz with Marechal Foch grapes.

The next day, another neighbor and wine aficionado, Kit Schultz, helped pick 185 pounds of Okanogan Riesling after Cheryl and I got back from the Wednesday Farmer’s Market. That afternoon the grapes were warmer than they were early in the day, but I kept them in the heated wine shed so they would get up to 60 degrees F. – warm enough to ferment. Good thing we did since the temperature was down to freezing that night. I kept them fermenting on the skins for two days hoping to capture some of the perfume of ripe Riesling grapes but not make it either very sweet or very dry.

That Saturday, the 14th, our friends, Mark England and Linda Short, came over to pick Pinot Noir with Cheryl and

Roots and Selah at Downriver Orchard

Tiffany Lakatos brought her two young children, Roots and Selah, with her to help me pick Leon Millot grapes at Downriver Orchard, owned by Don Worley. These were great grapes that I had asked Don to hold for me until they were very sweet. While the kids scavenged grapes from nearby rows, Tiffany, Don and I picked what were eventually 650 pounds of this Millot. I am constantly asked at the market for my sweetest wine. I used a low alcohol yeast that will leave some sugar in the wine and did not leave these on the skins for long which will mellow the taste. I don’t usually like to make a sweet wine but hope this one turns out that way.

Cheryl helping pick Old Vine Lucie Kuhlmann

Rains moved in toward the end of the month so Cheryl and I covered the Old Vine Lucie Kuhlmann that we had not picked yet with tarps to keep it from getting wet. We had already picked 500 pounds of Lucie Kuhlmann from our “new” grapes in only 2 hours late in September with the help of the Joe Greco Family. We picked one row from vines planted in 1986 and 1990 during a break in the weather on the 20th and another on the 22nd while the Seahawks beat the Giants. These were lower sweetness grapes but they fermented ferociously. I had to divide the wine into more carboys to keep it from foaming over the tops. The wine will be more complex and should age longer than most.

The next day I picked over 100 pounds of Leon Millot grown by Don Andrew in the Colville Valley. By then, after several frosts, the leaves had fallen off the vines and Don had covered them with nets to keep the starlings off. This crop was a big improvement over Don’s harvest last year at 26 Brix. It will be another of the sweet Leon Millot for 2017.

Fall colors in our yard

The day after that I picked our Gewurtztraminer, a white wine we really prize, get very little of and don’t yet sell. I had a tarp over it too. It has a distinct fruity flavor. I have a young row growing that someday may equal the incredible production from our first two plants. The Crandalls at Riverview Orchard gave them to us years ago. That night Cheryl and I went to a reading by Washington State Poet Laureate, Todd Marshall. He had help from our local poet, Lynn Schott and Dennis Held, a poet from Spokane, whose hands were stained black. Amazingly, Cheryl correctly guessed that the stain was from walnut husks. She also read a poem from her phone by Sherman Alexie, “Hymn”, that she had sent earlier to friends and family. It was particularly appropriate for the night with a theme of how much more admirable it is to love people outside of your friends and family than just those you are already close to.

Late harvest Muscat Grapes

The Gewurtztraminer, an early harvest of Siegerrebe, a small Himrod and Giesenheim field blend and a late harvest of Muscat are my white wines for this year. Don Worley grew the Siegerrebe and Muscat. He also came over just before Cheryl and I packed up for a trip to our annual Barreca “Thanksween” reunion near MT Rainier and lent us his wine press. I have been using only free run juice from the fermented wine must without pressing. The press added volume to the harvest and will also add dregs at the bottom of the carboys. I have been avoiding dregs by sticking to free run, but I notice now that the pressed juice ferments more vigorously than the free run. I am separating the free run and pressed juices this year to see how that changes the character of the wine.

Thanksween 2017 near Greenwater, Washington

The family reunion did not go off without a hitch or two. But it worked out well with contributions from everyone toward food, entertainment and accommodations. Cheryl and I enjoyed a walk in the woods across the street where we watched elk and found some Chanterelle mushrooms.

In many ways October was hectic and exhausting, but these wines will stand for years as products not just of our winery but of our community.