Pruning: I suppose it gets easier. I suppose they like it. But man, at first it’s hard to snip off those hard-earned branches. You choose carefully, and for different outcomes: beauty, building hardwood, producing fruit, long-term, short-term. You get lost in the story of a singe vine. Then you look up and see 649 others. “Do me!” “Do ME!” “No, me!”
In November, we drank the first glass of the raw field blend and it was delicious—light, with a hint of citrus. The color in mid November was orange, a blush, surprised to find itself here in our midst. The wine grows tawnier by the week as we enter deep winter. The fruit fades into something older and wiser. At first, I thought I heard the Brianna leading the five-figured quadrille. She nodded and moved back, allowing the Frontenac to come to the center. Always, like a drumbeat in the background, the steady breath of the LaCrescent (the grapes were pressed on LaCrescent must). I cannot see the Marquette just yet, but I am new to the dance, and they are testing me to see what I might know. In the light of the lamps, hands chilled, the wine is a reminder of summer.
Last Christmas, 2017, we were in Italy visiting my son, Sam, who was studying in Bologna. We rented a house big enough for all of us, in a little town called Zocca, just 45 minutes outside Bologna. Most houses in the area have small vineyards in a side yard. Many small restaurants served wine made just minutes away. We ate and drank (my peasant palate loved the Lambruscos); Mac and Alis collected clay on the property and made us all beautiful beads and small bowls glazed with grape juice for Christmas.
And there were outings—to Venice; to Florence. One day, we piled in the car and went to La Stoppa, an organic vineyard growing local grapes—Barbera, Bonarda and Malvasia—on an historic estate in the province of Piacenza in the Emilia region of Italy. There are 32 hectares of vines, along with almost as much forest, plus the ruins of a medieval tower. The vineyard is owned by Elena Pantaleoni, super-cool, understated, vigneronne and winemaker with a vision that extends beyond her own land. She told us that she wants to elevate the profile of the region, (beyond Lambrusco, gulp) to serious, biodynamic wines that express the terroir of the region.
I thought of Vermont. How we are known mostly for sweet wines, beloved by many, but not the true expression of the soil, the climate, the culture of the region.
Everyone is talking about ciders and wines made in Barnard, my friend from New York tells me. I know that the ciders and wines made by my dear friends and neighbors, Fable Farm and la garagista (and by Krista Scruggs at Zafa, who moved north to Burlington but keeps a strong connection to this valley, using some of our grapes and apples to make her wines and ciders), are coveted in Paris, Montreal, New York, San Francisco, and Woodstock.
What do they taste?
Natural wines, the spirit of the place and the people. The druids and the artisans, the grown ups and the kids, the teachers and artists and writers and bankers and engineers who live here and dream of this place when they cannot be here.
Our vineyards are located in the foothills of the Green Mountains in Barnard, Vermont, situated at 1700 feet, atop the Broad Brook watershed. It is a place of amazing beauty and diversity—fields, farms, and gardens. Our neighbors are farmers who grow apples, vegetables, cows, pigs, chickens, grapes, pears, ducks, turkeys and hay.
There are 650 vines in Little Hillside La Collina), cold- hardy red and white alpine varieties, bred to survive down to 35 degrees below zero. At Big Hillside, a spectacular five-acre field I lease from our neighbors, Bill and Judy Martin, we have planted 1200 vines and will plant another 1200 this coming June, 2019. Little Hillside is close to the house (I can see the vines from our bedroom). Big Hillside is across the road, past an old apple tree, up the side of a cinematic field, through the woods and shazam, you come upon Big Hillside like a magic garden, protected by maples, facing the fields of Kiss the Cow and Fable Farms, somehow always warm and welcoming.
Temperatures wobble and drop. Mud season brings fresh surprises every year. September and October are predictably resplendent. We farm in what geologists call the Woodstock Quadrangle, probable age Cambrian to Devonian. Garnets, white quartz, and deposits of glacial origin, schists and strands of dolomite, and a belt of volcanic Barnard gneiss are commonly found.
Little Hillside is the first vineyard we planted, in 2016, on one acre right next to our house. I can look out our bedroom window in the spring and see the vines. In the winter, snow piles up against the windows of this room. You can see through tunnels of blue ice to the vineyard. In the summer and fall, blueberries and blackberries and dogwood obscure the view.
We cleared the field, planted a cover crop of daikon radish and clover (still eating those pickled daikons), dug 650 holes, purchased the vines from Andy at Northeastern Vine supply, placed them carefully in their new homes, began a program of biodynamic preparations, bugged neighbors for cow horns to stuff with manure, watched and waited. A big toad (Totoro) watched with some skepticism.
Emily and Connor and Sam, Ellie, Mia, and Ellie Martin and Amelia and Tom and many others helped to prune and tie and compost and spray preparations along the way.
In September 2018 we had our first harvest—500 pounds.
As I write this, I taste a deeply colored orange field blend from this falls harvest. Doug is making couscous.