Journey: Thoughts and Reflections along the path.
This week has been a rare vacation for us, a get away after crush to recover and rest. Of course, anyone who knows Jane and I would understand that to be a relative statement. We are taking time to sleep in, read, do puzzles and walk on the beach, while mostly unplugging from the electronic connections.
We are staying in Kaanapali on the West side of Maui, and in three days have already circumnavigated both volcanoes, driven the whole road to Hana & back, been to the Haleakala Crater for sunrise, started inquiries on real estate, and finishing yesterday at the Old Lahaina Luau.
Today we will start off with a hike down the beach, and then strap on the trusty Dodge rental car and go visit the Tedeschi Winery on the South Western slope. This winery has been here 30 yrs, and we are of course curious as to what a Hawaiian winery and vineyard would look like. The possibility of a future Lightheart Maui has been broached and while it would be years away, we will do due diligence and explore to satisfy both ourselves and the IRS's possible scrutiny.
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.
Lightheart Cellars is a federally bonded estate winery with a winegrower 02 license. That means that we have vineyard and vintning operations on premises. There are other categories of winemaking, including alternating premises, where you share production areas, or only buying your fruit from growers, or even to sub contract it all out to a custom crush facility where all you supply is money and label artwork.
Doing it all, is perhaps the hardest way, to have responsibility for the whole process, what we call "soil to foil". While it does require a lot of time and energy, its the only way that we believe we can offer the best wine at the best price.
By farming ourselves, we are able to control the vineyard, to use viticultural practices that we prefer to make the crop what we want. We can prune, shoot thin and manage the canopy to achieve a balance of quantity/quality and cost, while using low impact & sustainable methods that we can feel good about at the end of the day. There is no great romance to being on a frozen tractor seat before dawn tilling up somebody else's back yard, but its a means of securing winegrapes that meet our needs and allow us to grow while ensuring that the fruit is grown to our specifications.
We could have just sent our fruit off to another facility, and hired out the winemaking. There are varietals such as sparking wines where that makes sense due to specialized equipment requirements. We chose instead to make our own, starting with hobby sized tools, and slowly upgrading as we could afford better, from one barrel in 2009 to ten in 2010, sixteen in 2011 and 40 in 2012.
Our production process is very labor intensive, Jane and I have both gone to bed tired, stained and weary from working more than 12 hours in a weekend day many times this crush season. For a pair of grandparents with graduate degrees, we are working pretty hard at physical labor, along with family and some part time hired help. Its a good feeling, to "get my back into your living" to quote The Who, but we are a long way from "Teenage Wasteland", though some of the casual help is right there.
We made some strategic investments, including a must pump and a rented forklift that vastly reduced the heavy lifting, but there were still 50 barrels to clean and place on racks, and 23 tons of fruit to shovel through the destemmer and then bucket into the presses.
And that is just the farming and winemaking.
Earlier this week, we attended the Annual meeting of the Wineries of Santa Clara Valley, a slightly raucous event where the budget was passed, the dues increase defeated and officers elected. And your author was not nimble enough to dodge faster, and was tagged as President for 2013. A little subsequent drama and I'm also acting President for the remainder of 2012, just because we don't have enough to keep us occupied, without chivvying a bunch of strong willed rugged individulists who own wineries.
Today we are re-arranging the furntiture inside & outside and cleaning up after a two day re-build of the patio cover roof by the same teen age field hands, using impact drivers on ladders instead of tractors in the field. Its been an interesting education for all, but the work is done, it looks good and the rain does not get through. We've roofed over the site of our future commercial kitchen, and are planning the pergolas for the grove adjacent to the patio, where we had the band for last Passport weekend.
This is the stuff they don't teach at Davis, or in any of the how to be a winemaker books.
Part of being a very small business is that you have to be be able to do anything. From Farming, to winemakeing to editing videos. Today was update the website morning, where instead of driving a tractor as last night, I was driving the mouse, updating photos, content and adding some video content to make the site more interesting.
We'll try to keep it up to date and fresh, as time permits now that crush is past.
Agriculture is cyclical, the seasons require different activities in their turn. We are now post harvest and it's time to put the vineyards to rest for the winter, to build up the soil fertility for next year's harvest.
Now that we have had a few light rains to soften the soil, we're tilling and seeding cover crops, this year a mixture of mustard and two clovers; Berseem and Crimson, selected to match seed sizes and give a good nitrogen fix and organic mass when we till them in come May.
So today starts after the clock reset a bit earlierby clock, though similar by sun, and will involve a bit of Dawn's early welding to repair a pin harrow, home made last year that will stir the seed after seeding.
We are working in the Soli Deo Gloria Vineyard and will finish it with a border of low profile habitat flower mix, to provide for lady beetles and other aphid/mite predators and also give a nice aesthetic.
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