My Empire of Dirt

Waking each morning on the valley floor, the world starts out embryonic and grey.  One doesn’t know if the sun will burn through the nightly fog, or if the leaden winter will stay forever.  But, the work doesn’t get done by itself. 

So, on go the muddy boots and to today’s task.  I’ve learned how to glue PVC and ABS, splice electrical wires and install faucets.  I’ve hauled more rock than Sisyphus.  Dug more earth John Henry.  I now know the difference between a spade and a shovel and a transfer shovel and a trenching shovel, oh, and a drain spade. I have three types of rakes. 

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I now know the difference between base rock and drain rock and pea gravel.  I have laid down jute and sowed rye grass, planted redwoods and buckeyes.  Most days I entertain myself with true crime podcasts on my phone; manual labor is repetitive, so if you can be somewhere else it helps the days go faster. 

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We haven’t made as much progress on our vineyard or orchard as we would like, but the sun always seems to go down with more work to do.  Luckily, just before the sun sets behind the ridge, I get to take a moment and have a beer and feel the weariness in my bones.  There’s a satisfaction in the work, in the process, even if it feels like miles to go before you can rest.

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Projects for 2018:

  • Replant our abandoned apple orchard with apples for cider, pears for perry, and stonefruit to eat
  • Landscape around the barn to increase shade and give shelter from the wind
  • Plant trees along the road to cut down on logging truck noise
  • Build a wooden tent platform to have a nice place for friends to stay with a view over the property
  • Organize all of our stuff (most forgotten after almost two years in storage!) and realize our barn is already too small
  • Plan for a tasting room in 2018/2019 here in Anderson Valley
  • Think of a cool Kickstarter campaign to help us with planting a vineyard
  • Be happier

I hope you all have the best year of your life.  What are you waiting for?

I’ve Seen Fire, and I’ve Seen Rain

The last half-year has been…interesting. 

This is what people always say when they don’t like a wine, but are trying to be polite.  I’m being polite here as well.  We have spent countless hours in the hot sun, in the ripping wind, in the pounding rain setting up our farm here in Anderson Valley.  We began in earnest in June 2017, breaking ground on our little green tractor barn.  We ran into snags almost immediately:   

1. Flood Some of the metal wall panels were damaged in transit.  Usually this is a quick replacement, but when the factory in Houston is under ten feet of water from Hurricane Harvey this takes two months.  

1. Flood
Some of the metal wall panels were damaged in transit.  Usually this is a quick replacement, but when the factory in Houston is under ten feet of water from Hurricane Harvey this takes two months.

 

2. Fire Anderson Valley is tiny, so most of the contractors come from over the hill in Ukiah or Redwood Valley.   In October a fire erupted in the early morning that threw Mendocino into chaos; shutting down the freeway for days and evacuating whole neighborhoods.  We waited to push on, fingers crossed that things wouldn’t get worse for our new neighbors.

2. Fire
Anderson Valley is tiny, so most of the contractors come from over the hill in Ukiah or Redwood Valley.   In October a fire erupted in the early morning that threw Mendocino into chaos; shutting down the freeway for days and evacuating whole neighborhoods.  We waited to push on, fingers crossed that things wouldn’t get worse for our new neighbors.

3. Mud Our construction pushed into November and December, the beginning of the wet season.  Well, when you have fine loam soil that has been  pulverized by work trucks for months, it gets really, really dusty.  Add water and you get mud like peanut butter.  Good thing I had my wellies with me!

3. Mud
Our construction pushed into November and December, the beginning of the wet season.  Well, when you have fine loam soil that has been  pulverized by work trucks for months, it gets really, really dusty.  Add water and you get mud like peanut butter.  Good thing I had my wellies with me!

So, in 2017, we learned patience.  Hoping that a dream delayed is that much sweeter when it finally comes.

Get Outta Here!

The Great Outdoors: California Edition

Feeling the need for some fresh, cool ocean breezes?  Me too.

It's been hot the last couple of weeks here, and I've been dreaming of places to chill out.  So, with that in mind, I've thrown together a map with some of my favorite places in California; most on the coast, all guaranteed to delight.  Pack up the cooler with some refreshing cider, beer or a bottle of 2014 Weatherborne Pinot!  Bring some good food and of course good friends.  Or don't and just enjoy reading a nice book.  Either way, remember to get outside and enjoy the long summer days.  Cheers!

 

Stuck in LA

  • Silver Lake Meadow- Best picnic spot on the Eastside, bring a kite.
  • Victor Heights and Radio Hill- Nice viewpoints to watch the end of the day, for city lights too.
  • LA River Bike Path- 17 miles from Maywood to Long Beach.  Start early to beat the heat and enjoy a well-deserved brew at Beachwood BBQ.
 
 
 

Central Coast

  • Point Mugu- Rest stop along the PCH, frequented by dolphins and whales.  Bring a boogie board to slide the dune just south of here.

  • Padaro Beach- Quiet, flat and sandy beach in Carpinteria.  Walk to the grill for some decent food and beers.

  • Hale Park- Nice spot for walking the dog or walking the human.

  • Via Alicia and Franceschi Park- Both have great views of Santa Barbara and the Channel Islands, on clear days.  Franceschi is a nice picnic spot, too.

  • Scorpion Camp and the Olive Grove- A quick getaway to Santa Cruz Island is the perfect respite.  Bring a big hat for the summer sun.

  • Saddle Rock- Best campsites in Big Sur.  Reserve well in advance and pack light.  It's a ten-minute walk from the car.

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The Bay

  • Tank Hill- My favorite overlook in San Francisco.  Don't let the locals know that I told you about this.

  • Lands End- Super moody spot in the fog.  Pretty in the sun too.

  • Marin Headlands and the Pelican Inn- Go for a hike with views of WWII-era gun batteries and then enjoy a beer in an atmospheric pub, as close to a true British pub as you will find stateside. 

  • Sky Camp in Pt. Reyes- Great place to camp when you're backpacking around Pt. Reyes. Explore campgrounds.

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Not a planner?

Camping not your thing? 

Need some ideas on what to eat?

2014 Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills: Tastes like summer Shop Now

Get out! And share your adventures:
#weatherborneinthewild

Organic Viticulture

Vines are pretty hardy, and here in California’s benign climate, grapes have it pretty easy.  We don’t often get summer rains or heavy hailstorms.  The humidity in the growing season is usually low and there is an abundance of sunlight.  So, grapes like it here. 

Without getting all political about it, after the petro-chemical revolution of the first half of the 20th century, chemical-dependent farming has been labeled “conventional farming.”  It has only been a convention for a blink of the eye in terms of agricultural history, but the name has stuck.  Opposed to this, or rather, on the other side of the spectrum is organic farming.

Organic farming goes further.  It is more of systems approach, treating the vineyard as a small eco-system of interconnected cycles of life- vine, grasses, bugs, critters, all connected.

IPM (Integrated Pest Management) has been an accepted, positive step in the right direction even for the most “conventional” farmers, as it is a cheaper and more effective way to understand pest and parasite balances, soil health and vigor, etc.  Organic farming goes further.  It is more of systems approach, treating the vineyard as a small eco-system of interconnected cycles of life- vine, grasses, bugs, critters, all connected.  For example, in setting up an organic vineyard smaller blocks of vineyards would be planned, leaving natural animal pathways undisturbed and riparian areas intact.  Beneficial insects and predatory species would be introduced and promoted to help keep insect populations in check.  One would plan on using owls, raptors and snakes to help control gopher and voles, rather than poisons.  A “no-till” approach would be used on a hilly vineyard site to minimize erosion, losing precious topsoil and causing river silting.  Basically, it’s big picture farming, acknowledging the role that animals, insects and farmworkers all have to play.

There are three general types of organic farming models: heritage, modern organic and biodynamic.  That hundred-year-old, head-trained block of Zinfandel and other mixed reds?  That would be a heritage, or traditional, type of organic farming.  Low input and suited perfectly to its environs.  Because these can be rather low-yielding, most people don’t plant this way any longer.  Purchasing land nowadays is just too expensive for this to be popular.  More common is the modern organic farming method, with close spacing of vines, full trellis systems and fairly intensive viticulture.  The La Encantada Vineyard where we now buy fruit from farms in this way.  Then there is the biodynamic trend which incorporates basic organic methods, but applies a spiritual, astrological philosophy to growing grapes.  This is the most intensive method, with special sprays and micro-inoculations timed to the lunar cycle.  There is no scientific evidence that any of the biodynamic methods make healthier grapes or better wines, but there is a very strong connection between grower and vineyard, which is only a positive.

Look, wine is a luxury product.  We’re not talking about growing rice to feed millions of hungry bellies, so the discussion for which type of farming to use should take this into consideration.  Organic farming is traditional and causes less harm to the environment in almost every case.  In an increasingly busy and populated world, it’s important to have nature be part of farming again.  Creating sustainable and healthy farmland will preserve these open spaces for the generations to come.  Clearly, I’m all for organic farming.

Our 2015 La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Noir is the perfect introduction to spring.  We were very excited to start working with this vineyard, and what you will find is that the wine is enchanting.  It's lightly-framed, but incredibly sapid; you just want to keep drinking it!  The red-fruited aromatics are gorgeous, but there's some serious spice there with the 50% stem inclusion.  The wine is tasting great now, but will reward you with more complexity as it ages.

The La Encantada vineyard was planted by Richard Sanford in 2000 while still at the helm of his eponymous label.  North-facing bluffs overlook the river valley and the farm's large walnut trees.  Sandier loam soils are the norm here, with some more complex rock up at the top of the vineyard.  We purchased Pommard clone fruit and really like the lighter, brighter style of the wines from this spot.

2015 La Encantada Pinot Noir

Strawberry, fresh fig and pronounced graphite notes. Leaner in style, with great acidity and clean finish. 50 cases produced.

Awards:
92 pts, Wine Enthusiast

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Explore: Santa Ynez Valley

Just over the hill from the coast, the Santa Ynez Valley is the center of Santa Barbara's wine country, its agricultural heart.  From the sun-baked one-horse town of Santa Ynez, to the foggy, windy city of Lompoc, there's a lot to discover.  Leaving Santa Barbara, the old stagecoach route, now Highway 154, climbs over San Marcos Pass.  Old California is just off the highway at Cold Spring Tavern.  Above, the picturesque span of Cold Spring Bridge used to be in nearly every car commercial.  Now, it's ugly and sad, because of the anti-suicide fence clinging to its spine like a necrophiliac caterpillar.  Further on your descent, you'll see the once empty, but now rapidly-filling Lake Cachuma; source of most of the valley's water.


The poppies carpet the hill for a brief, but glorious time every spring and the views are fantastic.

There are two main tourist towns in the valley- Solvang and Los Olivos.  I really can't recommend the semi-Danish town of Solvang for its charm, but it does have some decent places to stay and eat.  Beware of tourist buses full of octogenarians wearing ugly white sneakers and baggy jeans.  Los Olivos seems to be all tasting rooms, but it can be a convenient spot to slake your thirst.  From Los Olivos, you can head up Figueroa Mt. Road, past Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch, and up toward the peak.  The poppies carpet the hill for a brief, but glorious time every spring and the views are fantastic. I like the tiny town of Santa Ynez more; it's quaint and quiet with excellent places to eat.  Los Alamos is a throwback Western town, just add tumbleweeds.  The service towns of Buellton and Lompoc have a lot of wineries nearby and tasting rooms galore.  If you have a bike, the ride from Los Olivos to Buellton on Ballard Canyon Rd. is recommended; pretty and not heavily trafficked.  Another comely country road is Foxen Canyon which will eventually lead you all the way to Santa Maria, which looks like every other crappy, sprawling, suburbanized horror in the US.  They have great strawberries, though!  Whether a hipster or a cowpoke, you will find what you're looking for in The Valley. 

EXPLORE

Figueroa Mt.- Fields of poppies and wildflowers, views of the whole valley.

Gaviota Peak- Nice view of the Channel Islands from the top of a fire road hike.

Gaviota Wind Caves- Caves scoured into the sandstone.  Imagine banditos.

Surf Beach- You can take Amtrak to this windy outlet of the Santa Ynez River.

Jalama Beach- Windswept and isolated campsite and surf spot. People like the burger stand.

Happy Cyn. Rd.- Twisty country road passes vineyards and horse ranches.  Can loop this all the way back to Figueroa Mt. Road.

Foxen Cyn. Rd.- Nice drive with plenty of wineries to visit.  See remnants of the old oil fields and the abandoned town of Sisquoc.

Ballard Cyn. Rd.- Great bike route in the heart of the valley, leads from Los Olivos to Buellton.

Jedlicka's Saddlery- Get yourself a Stetson here when you're tired of tasting wine.

 

Stay

A weekend at Hamlet Inn was our little birthday treat last year with baby in tow.

A weekend at Hamlet Inn was our little birthday treat last year with baby in tow.

Hamlet Inn- Updated motel in Solvang; very nice design and tidy.

Alamo Inn- Another retro turned modern motel.  Municipal Winemakers has a cool tasting "cabin" on the property.

Skyview Motel- On top of a small hill, the views of the surrounding vineyards are nice at this spot. 

 

Lunch and some Demetria rosé at Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe.

Lunch and some Demetria rosé at Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe.

Thirsty

Firestone Walker Barrel House- Try the inventive barrel-aged beers of this larger brewery in Buellton.

Babi's Beer Emporium- Nice selection of bottled beers in LA (Los Alamos.)

1880 Union Hotel- Drinks and free shuffleboard in the saloon of this old hotel.

Casa Dumetz- Sonja is the nicest host and winemaker you'll meet.  Lovely Grenache.

Taste of Sta. Rita Hills- Ask Antonio if he has some Weatherborne to pour!

Transcendence- Sara and Joey will take care of you; nice Grenache and Sangiovese; new pizza place opening next door soon.

Lutum- Gavin Chanin makes great wines, crisp Chardonnay and spicy Pinots; appointment only.

Presqu'ile Winery- If you get up to Santa Maria, you won't want to miss this pretty winery with nice views and great wines; nice Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and zippy Syrah.

A delicious catered lunch by Bell Street Farms including their ever-popular rotisserie chicken.

A delicious catered lunch by Bell Street Farms including their ever-popular rotisserie chicken.

Hungry

Cold Spring Tavern- A rustic breakfast spot; they make a nice tri-tip sandwich on the weekends, too.

Trattoria Grappolo- Tasty pastas and warm atmosphere.

SY Kitchen- Delicious pizzas and inventive Italian at this tasteful spot.

Dos Carlitos- Wonderful chiles rellenos en brodo and good margaritas.

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe- Nice seasonal menu and a great local wine list, including Weatherborne.

Panino- They make nice sandwiches here; good for a quick bite.

Olsen's Danish Bakery- Best bakery in Solvang with Danish specialties.

Succulent Cafe- Nice brunch and lunch spot with outdoor seating.

Cecco Ristorante- Good pizzas.

Industrial Eats- Caterers turned brick and mortar.  Handmade salumi, good sandwiches, pizzas and fresh salads in a lively spot.  You can listen to winemakers talking shop.

Bell Street Farm- Jamie knows everyone in the valley, and their cold case and soups are fantastic.

Full of Life Flatbread- Super popular locals' spot with good pizzas. (Oh, and they catered our wedding!)

Pico- New place in Los Alamos with a creative menu.

Bob's Well Bread- Nice pastries and hearty breads in a homey setting.

Los Gorrudos- The best Mexican spot in Lompoc.

Jocko's- Legendary tri-tip done in the traditional oak-grilled Santa Maria style.  Huge portions and a good value.