Journey: Thoughts and Reflections along the path.
Farming is generally considered hard work, at least by those who have done it. Even in the 21st century there is a need for some physical strength to do the regular parts of the job. And then there is the more extreme requirements, such as when you have a tractor sunk out in a field.
Such has been our misfortune twice so far in the last weeks, as first the Kubota BX2660 tractor was dug in while using the hilling disc.
And then the RTV Utility Vehicle was stuck up to the axles while Joan was taking a census of missing vines.
At least we're getting better at extracting them, investing in a "farm jack" and a 4000 pound pull come along as Joan is using here, to pull the 1500 lb RTV out of the hole it had dug.
One would think that after the first time we would have learned, after all it was the same vineyard, albeit at opposite sides, and with different operators. However this vineyard has a variable clay strata that traps water and the gound does not necessarily show the saturation until you are sinking in. Once we get a bit drier, we'll take our new Ripping shanks and try to break through the clay, or if that's not deep enough, the hydraulic Auger to drill "drains" where we had pooling.
In between the two events, we actually had some time to be "Lighthearted" and restored a pre-World War II disc that may have been animal powered to working shape, and painted it our Logo Pink, just because we could.
If we manage to stick the disc, at least it will look prettier when we have to dig it out.
Its been quite a ride so far, from just about 3 yrs ago deciding to start a winery, after making a few gallons of estate Chardonnay, to crushing 23 tons from 7 vineyards this season. As we have tried, erred and learned we have made better wines, better decisions and had improved results, though some lessons had to be learned twice.
Since this is the season when it is traditional to reflect upon your blessings, and to express thanks, in keeping with that, I'll give it a shot.
I am thankful first, continually and ultimately for my partner Jane. Her warmth and serenity coupled with dogged determination have been critical factors in our decision to initiate, and continue Lightheart Cellars. She embodies the brand, her approach to life and people is what we have tried to capture in our wine, simply put by our tag line: "good wine, good times".
After Jane, comes the family support, from Noah and Joan with the meadmaking and assistance during crush and tasting hours, to our granddaughter Casandra who has manned the corker and helped shovel tons of grapes while a petite "slip of a girl". Their help has been key to making our wines and presenting them.
Our east coast family has been supportive and as they have been able, physically helpful, our two younger sons Matt and Carl and Amy have all lent their help as they could.
We have had the benefit of good work from our field crew Alex and Derek, who are learning the value of reliable labor the hard way, most of the time cheerfully, and our pickers, Miguel, Antonio, Lasaro, Angel, Hugo, and the others who brought in the crop, sometimes in >100F weather and were smiling at the end of the 9 hr days.
Our competitors have been more collegial then competitive, offering help, tools and advice as needed and supporting us by referring people to our wines when they might be a better fit. We appreciate their support as that of our trade customers, Rocca's Market, Rosy's at the Beach, the Ladera and Westside Grills.
Most recently we have reason to appreciate our new representative Darlene, of ClassicArtisanWines, whom we are hoping will take our sales upwards on our path of growth.
Our many vendors who have patiently worked to educate and serve us deserve recognition as well, Nancy of Bryan Equipment, Mike of C & N Tractors and the glass, cork and label suppliers who have helped us get our product to you.
And finally our customers, who started with us in a 10x10ft tent, and have stayed as we have grown, supporting us with their purchases and positive appreciation for our wines. We wouldn't and won't make it without you, and we appreciate your choice to share your table with us.
Yesterday Jane and I attended the "Grape and Gourmet" event at the California Expo Fairgrounds. (State fair by any other name). We picked up our first two awards; a Gold for the Carneros Pinot and a Bronze for the Cienega Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and then poured for the attendees.
An interesting event, mix of 200 wineries and Sacramento restaurants in a large concrete floored exhibition hall. We learned a lot about what to bring to the next event of this type, and had good reception of our wines, though being 150 miles away, its unlikely we'll see much business.
Its been nearly a year since Lightheart Cellars opened quietly on June 18th, 2011 with 160 cases of inventory. We simply put out signs on Monterey Highway and waited for the crowds. The steady business since has been gratifying, some weekends more than others as weather and calendar progressed. Participating in the Gilroy Garlic Festival, Morgan Hill Wine Stroll and getting more requests for donations, we are feeling like we have arrived.
PHysically we have gone from tasting in a 10x12 canopy, to a 10x20 fabric enclosure over the winter and now have a 50x25' stamped concrete patio, where we are building a 16x20 hard shade structure over the bar this week to get ready for the anniversary and Pinot Release party. This year we've bottled 380 cases, added Alderin's Mead to our offerings and have expanded our vineyard management from 1 1/2 to 13 1/2 acres. Thats a lot of growth to manage and we've been working hard to keep up with it.
Jane and I took three weeks off in May to visit vineyards and wineries in Europe, partly as a long overdue vacation, and partly to see how the "old world" vineyards are run with the same varietals we have. It was very interesting, and we've some ideas of what we want to do in our practice. Coming home to the winery running smoothly by Jane's son Noah and his friend Joan was gratifying.
We are looking forward to releasing more wines this year, harvesting a lot more grapes, and to building our brand and business, further serving our community.
Jane and I are on a 3 week trip to Europe, and we are doing due diligence, inspecting vineyards, and sampling local wines through Austria, Tuscany and the Cote de Provence, with plans to add the Rhone, Burgundy,Champagne and Belgium next week. Its arduous to navigate narrow, twisty 14th century lanes in the rain in a 21st century vehicle, but somebody's got to do it, and as this is a business trip according to the IRS, we are cheerfully decyphering the addresses and entering them into the GPS. Using the voice entry on a German System with Italian or French placenames with a North American accent has not proven to be trivial.
What we are learning:
Local wines tend to be served young and in re-usable bulk containers of 5 liter volume. Jugs to be exact, at price points that are quite reasonable, and there are many more Rose wines that typically found in the US.
Bottling is reserved for older "Serious" wines and the price points reflect that.
Most of the vineyards we have seen so far are head pruned, all but one are dry farmed, and they are planted on 1m vine spacing, and perhaps 2 m row spacing.
Most of the wines are blends, in Tuscany, Sangiovese dominated, in Provence it's Grenache and Syrah.
The first day of passport we had dire forecasts, initially for the night before and all day of rain. While rain is welcome and much needed, it would be preferable to not have it during the celebration. Our bands were worried, as we have outside tasting, and we assured them we would leave cancellation to their discretion.
We did our best buying addtional canopies, and Saturday dawned dry, but overcast. We put up the canopies, tied them together and then the band cancelled while I was out mowing vineyards and moving the tractor between. It seemed a bit odd, because at that moment I had removed jacket and was standing in bright sun.
Returning home, the preparations were underway, and there were actually people waiting in their cars for 1100 opening. Chef Eichelberger was working his magic in the kitchen, Joan Funk of Sweetzbydesign was making chocolates with our Cabernet and all went well.
We did a brisk business, and then received word that the band was un-cancelling, followed shortly by their arrival and two great sets, between 1 and 4, when it finally did start to sprinkle.
Many compliments on the wines, the food, music and people were having a great time.
We closed the day out with the 4:30 pm arrival of a 20 passenger excursion limo, full of NASA folks who were gracious, erudite and had an appreciation for the Mead sample that Noah had brought out. Who knew that "Rocket Scientists" were the market for that ?
A great day. We had dinner at Rosy's to celebrate and got a bonus of 1/2 in of rain between dinner and dawn Sunday.
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2). Perhaps Shakespeare's famous quote is true, and yet there's power and value in a name. Nothing is more intrinsically defining than a name, which is why parents invest a lot of energy in selecting names for children.
Our winery is the result of both planning and serendipity, and the choice of a name was a bit of both. We needed a name to file the business license and applications for county, state and federal alcohol permits, and as that would be on the label, it was important to have it right, to convey our values, aspirations, and dreams.
We wanted to imbue Lightheart Cellars with the attributes of abundance, joy, and spirit, and also to have a unique and memorable name that was mellifluous. We agreed on Light and Heart as aspects of those attributes, and concatenating them was obvious. Cellars is a classic expression of a winery, the place where grapes are converted to poetry.
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