Sunday, May 30, 2010








Since we wake up before the sun comes up, it's quite hard to tell what the weather will be for the day. Thus far, the skies have been cloudy with rain on and off throughout the day. Rainy season is over here, or typically it's done by now, but this year it has been clearly reinforced that weather has been acting "unseasonably" everywhere this year. Here, that means cooler temperatures and more rain. Today was the first day that blue skies emerged for more than five minutes and it was glorious. Fingers crossed it'll stick around.

All of us WWOOFers headed for part of the garden to weed out buttercups this morning. Buttercups appear to be pretty little yellow flowers, but instead are an invasive troublemaker. For every one little flower, there is an intensely long and winding root system which spreads like wildfire everywhere. Without weeding it, it would easily take over the entire garden in less than a year. With all hands on deck, the task went pretty quickly.

Ready for more weeding, Aaron got a quick lesson and geared up for some weed whipping around the duck pond. There are three adult ducks now, one male and two females, and one young male duck with both females laying eggs. Ducks, like chickens, prefer to lay eggs in warm, dark spaces. Unlike chickens, ducks don't lay eggs in the boxes provided and as a result we go on a duck egg hunt daily. We've found one or two, but there seems to be a spot one female duck has taken on as hers, and we have yet to find it. The weed whipping around the pond seemed promising and likely to increase our chances, but we're still on the hunt.

There is a cave here where Dave stores wines, jars and canned goods, and his overabundance of summer crops. Being a creative guy, a drab, grey, dark space just will not do. Instead, he and past WWOOFers have been creating a mosaic on all walls, ceilings, and the floor of the cave using scrap tile from his previous career as a tiler. It's one of the most creative things we've had an opportunity to work on since our trip began and Jen took advantage of this activity while Aaron whipped weeds. We then worked together on this fun activity for the better part of the afternoon. An enjoyable project any day, this would be an even better job to tackle on a rainy day when the sunshine isn't enticing us out to play.







This is the time of year where female goats are giving milk, and we've volunteered to milk the goats every morning during our stay here, at 6:30 am. Unlike cows that can produce milk year round, goats only give milk during the spring after birthing. Milking the goats is not a mandatory activity, but we want to partake in this daily routine for a few reasons. First, how can we expect to master milking techniques without practice? Second, how can we gain an appreciation for animal foods unless we help create them personally? Lastly and probably most importantly, it gives us an opportunity to spend individual time with Dave and pick his brain about farming and life.

Milking goats is similar to milking cows; the techniques are the same from cleaning the teets, bribing them with grain in order to position them in a manner conducive to sitting beside them, pinching off and rolling your hands down the teets to extract milk, and struggling to get them out of the barn after milking is done. The goats impatiently walk in because they want the tasty grains and are unwilling to wait their turn. They also are eager to lighten their load of milk, which under "natural" circumstances, would have been drunk by the babies during the wee early AM mornings. After milking is over, it's tricky to get them out because they want more grain.

With fresh milk in hand, it was time to make cheese. Hooray for cheese making! Today our gallon of milk, combined with the previous two days worth of milk gave us a grand total of 3 gallons of milk, which is the amount necessary to make a batch. The process is very simple: heat the milk to 190 degrees F and then add vinegar or lemon juice (basically anything acidic). Then you lightly stir the mixture, which causes the curds and the whey to separate. This settles for several hours, then you drain off the whey first using a colander, then a cheese cloth. We added fresh rosemary from the garden, fresh basil from the greenhouse, and a dash of salt and pepper and voila, CHEESE. Our first attempt had a sort of cottage cheese meets feta cheese consistency, because we squeezed too much whey off and didn't bother trying to shape it. If we had a cheese press, our finished product would be markedly different. We are making authentic home style cheese, not fancy cheese. But hopefully we'll be able to make 3-4 more batches before we go and by our last attempt, we'll have a winning approach.

Friday, May 28, 2010








Our morning got off to an early start. At 6:30am we milked the four goats with Dave, our host. He currently has nine goats, four mamas and five babies. If you do the math correctly, you'll notice two babies are twins. They were born in February and are still milking, which means if separated at night, there is milk for us to collect each morning. About a gallon is collected each morning and after three gallons are racked up, goat cheese can be made. We're excited to take part in this fun activity this week.

Later this morning we moved three baby turkeys from their cage inside to the field. They've been living under lamplight and shelter indoors in the mud room until now. As they are getting bigger and tougher, they will be able to handle the elements and switch to an outside lifestyle. Dave has named them accordingly: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's. Apparently he usually only raises two turkeys annually, but this year there were only three left so he decided New Year's this year will be a feast. Picking them up wasn't too bad, since we conquered our fear of picking up chickens in Alabama. However, these young little turkeys are quite strong and struggled against our hold to escape. They were much more determined to break free compared to chickens who are more relaxed in your hands. After a bit of adjusting time, they were quite content in their new outside digs.

We spent a good part of the day weeding the ornamental gardens that encompass the perimeter of Dave's house. The landscaping is beautiful but the weeds have recently taken they always do. Our biggest enemy was buttercup, a nice little yellow flower, which sits atop a viney, heavily leafed root system which overtakes the plants it surrounds. We managed to get most of the buttercup out without too much damage to its neighbors. With the sun and clouds battling for reign of the sky, the momentary splashes of sunshine lit the gardens and shone.







The pitter patter of rain rapping on our tent woke us up early today. Sometimes, a light drizzle can sound like a deluge inside a tent, so we hoped it was nothing serious. But no, our ears didn't deceive; it was raining heavily, and breaking down the tent in rain was challenging to say the least.

Annelle and Thurston recommended we stop at Mattie's Pancake House in Brookings Oregon after camping if we didn't want to eat breakfast in the campground. With the poor weather, we thought we'd try out their suggestion and made our way north across the state border to the restaurant. We ordered and shared two buckwheat pancakes, an egg white cheese omelet with spinach and mushrooms, a side of crispy hash browns, rye toast, a bowl of fruit, and two coffees. The pancakes were fluffy, the omelet wasn't oily, and the potatoes were actually crispy. Overall, it was a very good meal.

Seeing how we are now officially in the great northwest, home to constant rains, we decided we ought to step up our rain gear apparel. Even though we could easily afford new rain clothes, on some moral grounds we wanted to buy them second hand. Supporting the foreign textile companies that spew out incredible pollutants and treat their workers like slaves is not something we're into when avoidable. We therefore visited more than 5 thrift stores in more than 3 towns (on our direct route mind you) before finding satisfactory rain coats, and Aaron also found some boots. The raincoats were each $4 and the shoes were $3. Can't beat those prices, even at Walmart.

Our bellies full and our car even more tightly packed, we hit the road again and at long last arrived at Myrtle Glen Farm, our 14th WWOOF host. Our initial reaction is that this place is awesome and we'll hopefully enjoy our stay and learn a great deal.







We left this morning and headed north with our eyes set on Patrick's Point State Park, and made it to our destination, but not without several stops along the way. As a parting gift from LeVin, Eric gave us several bottles of wine. This was a lovely gift that we plan to enjoy, however there wasn't room in the car for the box with the bottles he gave us so we decided to ship them home. We thought we could outsmart the system by purchasing wine packaging materials from a winery and mailing them in a box via UPS. We purchased the proper materials from a winery we passed en route and arrived at a UPS store only to find out they won't ship alcohol. To add to salt to the wound, they sold significantly better and safer packaging at half the price. Nightmare! We managed to sort things out and the good news is the wine, ahem ahem, bottles of "oil" we mean, will make it back to the East Coast.

The wine fiasco took a while, but our longest stop was in Arcata at the Co-op. We scanned the store and were too overwhelmed to figure out a plan for dinner so instead focused on satiating our stomachs with lunch. There was plenty of hot food, a large salad bar, and prepared food to choose from and somehow still, it was nearly too many choices and too much to handle. It took us 25 minutes to decide on lunch. We finally did, and enjoyed our picks. We then spent an additional half hour walking around in circles trying to figure out what to do for dinner. We were going to camp, but didn't want to make a big production of dinner since we'd be arriving a little late. We ate a late lunch so wouldn't be starving, but would need something before the night was over. Supermarket shopping gives us severe anxiety, especially in health food stores where options are nearly endless for us. In the end, we decided s'mores was the most appropriate dinner since we located grahams, vegan marshmallows (no gelatin), and local gourmet chocolate. We tend to err on the side of gourmet for everything...why not s'mores?

Patrick's Point is a 640 acre park in the heart of California's coastal redwood country and campsite 120 was perfect. We set up shop and got a fire going after a nice walk to the beach during a light rain. It was too cloudy for a nice sunset but it was peaceful and serene to sit on a large piece of driftwood and listen to the waves lap the shoreline. Dinner was outstanding. Jen hasn't had s'mores in what seems like a million years and found the novelty of eating a marshmellow crisped on a stick over a fire, atop a graham and chocolate was gooey and thrilling.





Our time at LeVin has come and gone, and a few valuable lessons were learned. The most important takeaway from our stay however, was something we already knew. This was reinforced during our stay: truly valuable things in life cannot be measured in dollars. So many Americans are far too concerned with money. Without money, you can't be happy and safe, they argue. Without money, you can't be comfortable and raise a family. But what good is being "safe," having a family, or owning a big house, if all you do is bicker, argue, complain, worry, and work so many hours that you can't even enjoy all your possessions? What is the point of having so many possessions that your life becomes cluttered, and then you don't even know what you have? We appreciate what we have, and will no doubt acquire more stuff throughout our lives, but material goods ultimately are just things. The truly valuable riches in life aren't achieved through consumerism, but rather through love, knowledge, respect, and conversation. So we wonder, who's really rich?

On another note, it seems we backtracked slightly en route to our next wwoofing destination in Oregon by returning to Upper Lake to visit Annelle and Thurston at Clover Creek Family Farm. It is sort of on our way, but really we just wanted to come back for some last words of wisdom before continuing on our sojourn. Their values and ideals may be drastically different from many Americans, but they seem to echo our own. They have been, hands down, our favorite, most gracious, and exceedingly thought provoking hosts.

This afternoon we went to a Farmer to Farmer potluck with Thurston and listened to six organic local farmers discuss policies that affect their livelihood. Our nation is an extremely competitive one, and citizens are sometimes driven by greed to succeed. But this small group of farmers discussed methods of collaboration, whereby working together, local consumers would have access to a wide variety of healthy produce. For example, if every local farmer grew the same type of lettuce, the consumer would probably be motivated by the lowest price alone. But if everyone grew different types of lettuce, all the growers and all the consumers would benefit from diversity and quality. It's inspiring to see cooperation and selflessness. Working together, instead of against one another, is how societies have advanced over thousands of years, and also how we have can continue advancing in the future.

5-21-10 **VIDEO INCLUDED**






Before we go any further, we MUST mention this: Holly's stepfather invented Gumby. Yes, you read right...Gumby! In fact, Holly was the voice of Gumby's sister on two episodes of the show. It's great, there is Gumby memorabilia everywhere: Gumby on the mantle over the fireplace, Gumby t-shirts, and even Gumby & Pokey salt and pepper shakers.

Today was the best day at Le Vin, as it was bottling day. The past few days it's been nice to learn more about the winery functions and learn to top and such, but bottling is the ultimate payoff. Pruning, suckering, and topping are all critical elements to successful winemaking, but day after day those jobs become somewhat repetitive. The payoff is so far down the line that those acts can almost seem trivial...but they are far from it. With bottling, there is instant gratification.

**Andy, unfortunately you won't find Le Vin wine kicking around the NY is sold mostly locally. Even locally, most of this wine isn't sold anywhere beside the Le Vin tasting room. If we find out they sell near you, we'll let you know.
**Sadly blogger doesn't have the capacity to upload songs (we're working on a way to get around this)...AND, no recordings were done of the garage band. Sorry!
**As for purple asparagus, they are good...but at Clover Creek they were all green. Quite tasty nonetheless.

Saturday, May 22, 2010





With the weather clearing up and two new WWOOFers on board, we headed back to the vineyards this morning. One new WWOOFer is here for a few weeks while the other, Courtney, was just visiting. She is living in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn (our old neighbor) and is thinking about WWOOFing here in August for the crush.

After breakfast we went straight to the Cabernet Franc grapes instead of the Merlot vines we were pruning and suckering last week. We didn't make it too far though, because we "had" to do a tasting. There were paying guests staying at the Inn above the tasting room for two nights celebrating their fourth wedding anniversary. Eric opened many bottles for them to taste and, not wanting them to go to waste, they gladly shared the tasting room with us. Each night we've been drinking a bottle of Le Vin wine to accompany our dinner, but it was nice to taste them all to do side by side comparisons.

It's incredible how much the taste can vary between grapes grown in the same place, using the same techniques, from year to year. We tasted a 2000, 2001, and 2002 Le Vin Merlot and they were all quite different. The 2000 won a gold medal at the San Francisco Wine Competition and is rated over 90 points on Wine Spectator. The wine was incredibly smooth whereas the 2001 had more of a bite to it. Some wine drinkers have preconceived notions of wines they typically like or dislike. After tasting several vintages of one varietal we think it's foolish to make a sweeping generalization that you dislike all Merlots, for example. Sure, some aren't up to snuff and maybe Merlot tends to be too "fruit forward" but some of them are excellent. Just the same, you may tend to love Pinot Noirs but it's possible that one year there was a bad crop of grapes and the wine is negatively impacted. All the wines were quite tasty and the guests bought several bottles, including a prized bottle of 2003 Syrah which they promptly opened and generously shared with us again.

After lunch it was back to the fields before we headed into the barrel room here to top more barrels to prevent it from oxidizing.

**Frank: Although we haven't seriously been looking into Real Estate here, it seems to us that costs of living in and around cities are quite high. If rural life is what you'd like, there are probably some deals to be found. Sorry that isn't more helpful. Hope all is well.






Yesterday and today, the rains continue to fall. It is unusual for the winter rains to continue this late into the spring in Northern California. Rumor has it, weather tends to be dry for the middle part of the year, starting in mid April and staying that way into November. Unfortunately that is not the case this year, as weather continues to plague us on our trip.

With poor weather conditions, working in the vineyard proves impossible. If we were to prune or sucker during this wet spell, susceptibility for disease would surely rise, specifically Eutypa Dieback, commonly known as Dead-Arm. This happens when pruning creates open wounds, and then water and cold leech into the vine. If your vines get Eutypa, you must prune off most of the cordon, if not all of it, thereby significantly diminishing your harvest potential in the fall. It would be a devastating mistake to prune in the rain. This is a common problem in Northern California and other foggy costal regions.

When making wine, you either work in the vineyard, or in the barrel room. So with less than ideal conditions outside, we headed into the barrel room. Sometimes vintners store wine in caves, but Le Vin stores wine in a warehouse kept at cool temperatures. We tasted some wine in four barrels to see how they were aging. They were all from 2005, three of which were cabernet sauvignon, and one was cabernet franc. We were suspecting it is highly unusual to keep wine in a barrel so many years, but we may be wrong in this assumption. We also took out 24 cases of empty bottles back to the ranch for we intend to bottle here Friday.

5-18-10 **VIDEO INCLUDED**










Today we headed back to the warehouse to do more work, what with the lingering rains tapering off and the vineyard still moist. While Le Vin has always used organic grapes in their wines, only recently did they start bottling and aging wines using no added sulphites. However, there are several barrels in their storage facility that were made before the big switch, (starting in 2007) so today, we added some sulphites before topping off. Sulphites again, are a preservative and act as an antiseptic. First we concocted a mixture using 200 grams of sodium metabisulphite with 2 liters of water. Then we poured 110 ml into each barrel and thoroughly stirred it up. This mixture will assure the wine keeps.

Topping wine is something we didn't know much about until today. Over time, a small percentage of wine in a barrel escapes or evaporates, and it needs to be added back. Oxygen is harmful to aging wine, so it's critical the barrel remains as close to 100% full as possible. We had carboys of merlot that we siphoned into small plastic jugs. We then used the small jugs to transfer the merlot into the barrels that needed topping off. After topping off, we used chalk to write on the barrels today's date. This is so you can look at the barrels and easily see when they were each topped off. If it has been a few months, time to top off again.

It was fun work siphoning and climbing, but most importantly, tasting. If you add wine that has oxidized or gone bad as your topping wine, you can potentially ruin an entire barrel. And like Aaron's wine making days in the past, the last step in wine making is always, always, mopping up the mess you've made.

Before we go, check this out: