Posts Tagged 'Dry Creek'

Fall in Sonoma County

This last weekend I heard someone lament that California does not have “seasons”.  Now I know that seasons are different in other parts of the country but I beg to differ that we do not have seasons.   We have winter but no snow.  That is fine with me.  I went to school in Boulder, Colorado and as seldom as it snowed in Boulder, it was too much.  We have rain but we, also, have those wonderful weeks of sun.   The most common complaint of Easterners is that we do not have Fall colors.  Well, take a look at these grapevines.  Northern California has a few trees that have leaves that turn to bright colors in the fall.  Most of them are non-native.  We have a native plant – poison oak – that turns a beautiful red this time of year.

Vineyard on West Dry Creek Road
Vineyard on West Dry Creek Road

We had a small touch of winter the last week.  It was a wet and windy couple of days that turned our golden hills green.  Of course, this week we had one day of rain and are expecting 80 degrees and sunshine for the rest of the week.  When it becomes full winter, I will talk more about what it is like. 

Just remember that Fall in the Wine Country is colorful, beautiful and easy live in.

Showing Sonoma County to a Canadian Rosarian

Last week Tom and I were visited by Shari-Lyn Safir, president of the Canadian Rose Society.  We met Shari-Lyn while in Vancouver for the World Rose Convention and became fast friends.  That probably had more to do with Shari-Lyn’s engaging personality than either Tom or me – whatever the case, we had a great time with her in Vancouver.   She expressed an interest in visiting Sonoma County and we extended the invitation to stay with us.  While Tom did his best to keep us fed – except for lunch which we took care of ourselves quite well, Shari-Lyn and I traipsed across the countryside.  Another post will discuss the eating!

The major focus of Shari-Lyn’s trip to visit us was to visit rose gardens in Northern California.  Her primary impetus in coming to California is to judge the rose trials in Whittier which occur in early October.   First on our local itinerary for Sonoma County was Russian River Rose Company outside of  Healdsburg.  Jan and Michael Tomalsoff took time from their very busy schedules to discuss their rose perfume and rose water which launched this last Saturday.  Jan then gave us an extensive tour of the gardens and nursery.  Not only were there fabulous roses but some tall, reblooming irises that are currently in bloom. 

Rose Babes in the Garden - Barbara Shula, Shari-Lyn Safir and Jan Tolmasoff

Rose Babes in the Garden - Barbara Shula, Shari-Lyn Safir and Jan Tomalsoff

Going to Russian River Rose Company is a real treat.  

Welcome to Russian River Rose Company

Welcome to Russian River Rose Company

The rose collection is extensive and the companion plantings create a unique landscape.  Over 650 varietals of roses from species to the latest introductions surround the Moorish stucco  home.  The scent garden extends the stimulation of the senses.  A rose allee with eight arches leads out to the vineyard.  Monarch butterflies and hummingbirds know a good thing and flutter around the garden as if it were only for their enjoyment.  Fortunately this display garden is for anyone’s enjoyment.  From Spring to Fall, the Tomalsoff’s open their garden wonderland to visitors.  Mother’s Day offers a tea in the garden with roses in their Spring flush and this last Sunday was the perfume launch with Rose Sparklers, a combination of rose water and non-alcoholic sparkling wine.  Most Saturdays of the spring, summer and fall months, Jan is found at the Healdsburg Farmers Market with exquisite bouquets or wreaths filled with roses, rose hips and other treasures from the garden.  You can learn more about Russian River Roses Company at www.russian-river-rose.com.  I managed to get out of there with only two roses, Julia Child, a fabulous yellow rose that maintains a petite size even though it is names after a very large woman and Teddy Bear, a miniature that actually remains miniature.  Teddy Bear is a rich terra cotta color and I love it.   A couple of reblooming iris made it into my car, also.  I can’t just have roses.

Zowie Zinnia

Zowie Zinnia at Russian River Rose Company

To complete the Healdsburg tour, we visited Ferrari-Carano Winery to see the formal gardens and then tripped across Dry Creek to the antithesis of the formal garden at Preston of Dry Creek.   Don’t get me wrong as I love the gardens at Preston.  Those of you who have read earlier posts in July will have already gotten to know my admiration of Lou Preston and his organic gardening methods.  I definitely wanted to share his garden with Shari-Lyn.

Garden Valley Ranch is a famous nursery for field grown cut roses.  The founder of the ranch, Ray Reddell, is known for his exquisite books on roses.  I knew that I was totally bitten by the rose bug when I was able to read A Year in the Life of a Rose straight through and there is not a single picture!   When we first moved to Sonoma County, I would just hang out at Garden Valley Ranch when I had a spare moment.  Between Garden Valley Ranch and Russian River Rose Company, I purchased over 100 roses in my first two years to adorn my otherwise flowerless yard.  If there was a rose that GVR was going to toss because it was in such sad shape that it could not be sold, it went into my pickup.  I have a fabulous Just Joey that only needed a bit of patience and TLC – well to tell the truth it needed a whole lot of TLC but it now is huge.   
Garden Valley Ranch in Petaluma

Garden Valley Ranch in Petaluma

The current owners of Garden Valley Ranch, Mark Grim and Ron Robertson, purchased the property in 2005.  Over the last few years, they have renovated the gardens and transitioned the whole nursery and rose fields from chemical sprays to aerated compost tea.  The nursery and gardens are open Wednesday thru Sunday.  There was a time that Wednesday was to be avoided because of all the chemicals sprayed on Tuesday.  That is no longer the case and I now feel free to stick my nose into any rose and have no fear of chemical poisoning.  Ron spent over an hour with Shari-Lyn and me strolling over the nine acres.  While I took many pictures during our visit, none compare to those on their website:  www.gardenvalley.com.  Visit the website and see the extensive bounty at Garden Valley.  You can stay in the cottage, have a spectacular wedding or simply browse the property.  Do not leave without a rose plant or a companion plant.
 
Continuing on in the Petaluma area, we had to visit Cottage Gardens of Petaluma (there is also an outlet in Bennett Valley).  Cottage Gardens is not a rose nursery, although they do have roses.  I love Cottage Gardens for their overall esthetics, interesting garden accessories and their healthy, unusual plants.  Aside tempting succulents are sculptured goats – daisy table and chairs offer a respite for weary legs – stepping stones in the shape of pillows, known as Tuffits, play with the mind.  Check out Cottage Gardens at www.cottagegardensofpet.com.  This is just a delightful stop on any day that you need a gift for a friend or just a smile in your soul.
Grazing at Cottage Gardens of Petaluma

Grazing at Cottage Gardens of Petaluma

As you can tell from these pictures, we had a terrific time.  This is only the Sonoma County portion of our garden tours and does not include those private gardens where we dropped in on friends.  Look for a second edition of our trek in Oakland and the East Bay.

The 2009 Crush Has Begun

Vitex agnus-castus or Chaste Tree -  The tree has wonderful purple spiked flower clusters and grow on new wood.  This one needs to be pruned back some more but my green bin was full and it is too woody to break down in my home compost piles.  In a few weeks, I will trim back the spent flowers and prepare it for winter and a wonderful 2010 summer bloom.

Vitex agnus-castus or Chaste Tree - The tree has wonderful purple spiked flower clusters that grow on new wood. This one needs to be pruned back some more but my green bin was full and it is too woody to break down in my home compost piles. The books state that vitex should be treated like a buddleia or crape myrtle to get maximum bloom. I think it needs a lot more cutting back than either of those species. In a few weeks, I will trim back the spent flowers and prepare it for winter and a wonderful 2010 summer bloom.

While I was chopping back an out-of-control vitex and playing with my compost pile yesterday, Tom and his Pool Ridge Winery gang were starting the 2009 crush.  It is amazing that we are already at that time of year.  Everywhere I turn, I see clusters of grapes waiting to be plucked from their vines and hauled to a winery.  People who are often traveling around the globe can be found at home in Sonoma County from late August to mid-October because they have to be here for harvest and the subsequent crush.  In fact, that was about all that was talked about at the birthday party we attended yesterday afternoon at the edge of a young chardonnay vineyard.  Well, all except the baby pictures that I had to take along.

Tom and his friends were making wine with sauvignon blanc grapes that come in earlier than most of the other varieties of the area.   The winegrowers at the party were discussing Brix of 19 to 22 with hopes that the weather remains mild and that we do not see rain or high temperatures for the next month.  What is a Brix?  Brix is a measure of the sugar in the grapes.  Sugar content translates to alcohol in the wine.  If the grape has a Brix of 20 at crush, the wine will have an 11% alcohol when ready to drink.  There has been a trend over the last decade to harvest reds at Brix of 25 to 27.5.  That means that they stay on the vine longer and are exposed to the whims of Mother Nature at this often unstable time of the year.  That puts every grower at risk which is not ever a positive prospect.

Picking at Tzabaco Rancho Vineyards in Dry Creek Valley

Picking at Tzabaco Rancho Vineyards in Dry Creek Valley

The wine grape market was another topic.  Tom is always looking for great grapes to make his wines.  Yesterday he was up at Dry Creek Valley at Tzabaco Rancho Vineyards.  In past years, he has had a difficult time finding grapes of the quality he wants because they are all sold to commercial wineries who buy large quantities.  While there are a few grape growers who hold back part of their crop to sell to the Tom Shulas of the world, most do not have the luxury to support the amateur winemaker.  This year is very different.  The economy has impacted the sale of high end wines and wineries are cutting back on grape purchases.   Some are asking to delay payment and others are just not taking grapes that they would have in the past.

Every day I read something that says this economy is turning around.  I experience the surge of activity in the real estate market.  I remain positive about the future.  All that said, until farmers can sell their crops and workers have jobs, the recession goes on.  With the abundance of grapes available for Pool Ridge Winery, I can just say “Let them drink wine!”

Pears are picked!

Pears are not a fruit to be tree ripened.   Pears are to be picked when they have reached their maximum size and then carefully set aside for the flesh to become tender and the skin a lovely yellow.  Back by the compost bins is the espalier of pears in a Belgium fence pattern.  Of the 13 original pear trees, we have four varieties.  This spring the gophers got into two of the wire baskets in which each tree was planted.  So there is a break in the espalier that needs to be filled once we have purchased replacement saplings.   The pears that I picked today are Duchess d’Angouleme, an early ripening variety.  Named after the daughter of Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI, this is a delicate French pear that is not common in commerce.  Later in the fall, I will harvest the other pears – Comice, Louise Bonne de Jersey and White Doyenne. 

Harvested Duchess d'Angouleme Pears

Harvested Duchess d'Angouleme Pears

 

Tom counted 96 pears on the table.  That should keep us stocked until the others are ready for picking.  There are no other fruits in the garden with the exception of some orange trees in pots that are really only ornamental although we have had a few wonderful oranges from them over the years we have had them.  Apples are abundant in the Sebastopol area so there is little need for growing them.  There is a fantastic peach farm north of Healdsburg with tree ripened peaches.  Forestville has a great berry patch that sells blueberries and raspberries.   Just another reason to live in Sonoma County.

Food at Preston of Dry Creek Farm Day

Entertainment was lively and local

Entertainment was lively and local

I tried to come up with a catchy title for this post but it really all boils down to the food.  It was fantastic.  The beginning was a savory peach focaccia that compelled me to eat a whole slice.  After the walk there was a great display of cheese, crackers and Preston cured olives.  Of course, the wine was being served.  Vin Gris was a real hit with the refreshing fruit flavors.  Preston of Dry Creek wines are primarily Rhone-style and fit well with the farming emphasis.

Robert is a great asset to the Preston tasting bar!

Robert is a great asset to the Preston tasting bar!

The meal was prepared by Dino Bugico, chef of Diavola Pizzeria in nearby Geyserville.  The centerpiece of the menu was the boned and rolled pork from the farm.   A lamb was, also, prepared in the wood burning oven.  The complementing side dishes were fresh vegetables prepared in a variety of ways.   Everyone had plenty to eat and drink. 

Entertainment was a bluegrass band that kept the afternoon hopping.

This is an event that is open to Wine Club members of Preston of Dry Creek.  Most wineries have wine club parties but none are as informative and relaxed as Farm Day.

Lou Preston and Chef Dino preparing the pork

Lou Preston and Chef Dino preparing the pork

What a spread!  Lunch was enjoyed by all.

What a spread! Lunch was enjoyed by all.

Farm Day at Preston of Dry Creek

For the last several years Preston of Dry Creek has hosted Farm Day for their wine club members.  We went last year with friends and had a fantastic time.  The day provided interesting activities that included a walk around the property with stops at the compost pile, the wheat field and the hedgerows designed to host beneficial insects.  The day was an inspiration for me to get composting and to modify some of my plantings to use less water and encourage the “good” insects to stick around.

Today was the 2009 Farm Day.  The day began with the most fantastic breakfast bread made with peaches and herbs.  Lou Preston, the force behind Preston of Dry Creek, is an accomplished baker who makes bread that is sold only at the winery.  At about 10:30, we gathered to hear what was on the agenda for the day – breakfast, some activities, wine, food, blue grass music and a lot of fun.  We were ready.

Lou Preston opening Farm Day 2009

Lou Preston opening Farm Day 2009

Standing in front of a compost pile about 20 times the size of mine, Lou discussed the week-long program at Rudolf Steiner College where he learned the biodynamic practices that were first introduced in 1924 in a series of lectures by Rudolf Steiner.  He shared some of the additives that they now add to their compost pile at Preston to introduce microbes into the soil.   The temperature of their pile was 175 degrees F at the time I visited last year.  I was so impressed.  I am still impressed as I have yet to get over 120 degrees.  Of course, my pile is a tiny fraction of the Preston pile. 

Wow! 144 degrees!

Wow! 144 degrees!

The compost piles from a distance

The compost piles from a distance

After the compost was supplemented with Valerian tea and chamomile, oak bark, dandelion flowers, yarrow and other things that I do not remember which were aged in parts of an animal, the guests went to pursue a variety of activities offered.  Some went to blend Zinfandel, others to plant a vegetable garden, a small group went to thrash wheat (not sure if there was anyone who knew what they were doing who would volunteer to do this) and the majority of us went on the farm walk.  There was a group who just went back to the picnic tables and started tasting wine and ate some more bread.  They missed out on a great walk.  The stragglers, transported by golf carts and an overflowing pickup,  joined up with us on the walk. 
Solar panels in the fields

Solar panels in the fields

Faithful Sheepdog and Goats

Faithful Sheepdog and Goats

The first stop of the walk was the goat pen with a ever observant Maremma Sheepdog.  The movable pen is around a couple of acres of olive trees.  Olive trees are sprinkled across the property and provide the oil for Preston of Dry Creek Olive Oil.  Again, this product is available at the winery and one of my favorites.  The goat pen can be moved from place to place through out the year to keep the weeds down.  During the winter months, the goats take care of the undergrowth in the vineyards.  They don’t eat the vines but do like to rub up against them which is one drawback of using livestock for keeping the weeds down.  We walked along the field that was once a vineyard but when the vines needed to be replaced, the land has returned to a field of clover with the help of goat droppings and irrigation.  Being along Dry Creek and over a large aquifer, water is abundant on this property.  The pump that feeds the irrigation is powered by the solar panels that are a dominate feature in the landscape.  So with all of the “old fashioned” techniques for gardening, there in the middle of it is two huge solar banks. 

Rye in the field

Rye in the field

On we went to the wheat fields.  The bread making (which is completed in a wood-fired brick oven)  gave the desire to plant a variety of wheats.  Rye is doing the best of all but for the time being there is still a lot of flour being purchased at Preston. 
A small portion of the vegetable garden

A small portion of the vegetable garden

The vegetable garden is rows of squash, peppers, cucumbers, potatoes and rows and rows of tomatoes.  Lou can’t seem to say no to the wide variety of seeds that he can order from seed exchanges.  He is talking about a “pick your own tomatoes” program as there ar so many.  Vegetables are regularly displayed on the porch of the tasting room for purchase at a modest price in comparison to the farmer’s markets.  
Apples in the Orchard

Apples in the Orchard

Heirloom apple trees shade the chickens who are enclosed by another transportable fence.  A new apple orchard is next to this established one.  Lou is predicting that these saplings will be mature apple trees in his lifetime.  That should be a pretty good bet as this is apple country.   The chickens are accompanied by two happy piglets – These are small pigs and have a long way to go before they become the main course for a wine club event. 

The rooster a'struttin'

The rooster a'struttin'

Where are the vineyards?  While vineyards are evident on the landscape, there are few vineyards near the buildings.  This is a farm but the number one product is wine.  Preston of Dry Creek has plenty of vineyards that provide the fruit for their wonderful varietal and blended wines. 
After a brisk walk through the Farm, we headed towards the picnic area.  Check out the meal in my next post.  This is a great spread.
Preston of Dry Creek

Preston of Dry Creek

Wine Tasting in Dry Creek Valley

Tasting at Sunce Winery

Tasting at Sunce Winery

Fran at Porter Creek

Fran at Porter Creek

Today was a fun day of taking friends from Hawaii, Texas and Louisiana around our favorite wineries.  We covered the Russian River and Dry Creek appellations which are only minutes from our home in Forestville.  We focused on small, local wineries that give fabulous personal attention to tasters.  The day started with a visit to Sunce Winery.  The staff is fabulous in the tasting room and once they discovered that we had serious wine groupies in our group they took us into their barrel room.  The tasting continued with full explanations until I pointed out that there were other places to go and we had spent over an hour at our first winery.  The second stop was Porter Creek Winery which gives a new definition to “small”.  The tasting room is a very small, old barn behind the vintage family home.  The next venue was Armida Winery with fabulous views and great wines.  There is a wonderful deck shaded by oak trees where we had a picnic lunch. 

After lunch we stopped in at one of the great winery experiences ever – Preston Winery.  Preston is known for their organic vegetables, bread oven and olives as well as Rhone style wines.  It is always a favorite.  From casual farmstyle to Italian elegance we traveled to Ferrari-Carano Winery.  Meticulously groomed gardens and bronze statuary lead to one of  the best wine gift shops in Dry Creek.  Our final stop was at Moshin Winery with the welcoming hummingbird.  Moshin is known for pinot noir and they have a few other great offerings.

We finished the day with dinner at Zazu on Guerneville Road and Willowside Road west of Santa Rosa.  A fabulous time was had by all.

Composting for a Sustainable Garden

One of my favorite pastimes is to garden and this last year I became totally inspired by the composting that is done at Preston Winery.  Each Spring I mulch my flowerbeds prior to the weeds getting a good start and I was always bringing more and more mulch into the yard.  It was starting to pile up and roses where looking like they were planted in holes – which is not a good thing.  Preston Winery has a FARM DAY each July and I somewhat begrudgingly attended.  My thought was “I do not need a day of sitting around eating and drinking when I am trying to live a healthy life!”  Was I in for a surprise.  The FARM DAY was terrific.  We had a tour of the new creek bed plantings that were designed to establish a healthy ecosystem.  New hedgerows were planted to provide habitat for the beneficial insects and bugs.  Various crop rotations were being tested to support the grain being raised for making the breads available at the winery.  I had a fabulous time and will not complain again about going to any event there.  The best part of it was seeing their composting operation. 

Compost Bins at Preston Winery

Compost Bins at Preston Winery

After seeing this simple (but large) compost bin, I decided to learn more.  I attended a class by a local Master Gardener, George, who lives right in Forestville and learned quite a bit about the correct materials to compost and how to build a garden compost bin.  It was wonderful to learn that I did not need to buy anything.  The material most needed were loading pallets which can be picked up along the side of the road for free.  It was only a day or two before I saw pallets at Harmony Farm Supply on my way home for work.  My neighbor was out working in his front yard and I asked if he was going to be going to Sebastopol in his pickup soon.  He was planning on leaving in a few minutes for Harmony Farm Supply so he just picked me up 5 pallets.  I immediately built myself 2 bins and began composting.

George was not sure about my rose clippings because he does not have so many roses as I do.   I was not discouraged and I began composting rose clippings and oak leaves – two things that I have in abundance.  It was only a few weeks and I had rich, dark, wormy compost.  I needed more bins.  My son and his wife came to visit and they picked up four more pallets in the back of their pickup.  I now have four bins and am busy keeping them going.  My husband, Tom, makes cheeses at our home so I have a ready supply of whey which helps the composting process.  Here is my compost operation.

Compost Bin at the Shula's
Compost Bin at the Shula’s
Two Compost Thermometers
Two Compost Thermometers

                             Friends think that I am nuts but I asked for a compost thermometer for my birthday last year.  I got two.   I have them in the same bin for purposes of demonstration.   It is hard to see in this picture but it is about 90 degrees F which is a reasonable temperature for just having turned the pile a day or two ago.

As you can probably tell, I am very excited about my compost.  It is saving me money and hauling mulch from the driveway.                                     


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