By Farm Chef Derek Uhlemann
Winter is a quiet and reflective time at the farm, full of planning and predictions of the season to come. We spend most of our time pouring over organic seed catalogues and placing orders while we plan out the crop rotation and layout of next year’s fields. This contemplative time is full of anticipation following long conversations with the chefs and customers who advise us on what they want us to grow for the coming season. Chefs are telling us vegetable cookery will be the big trend in 2014 with many requests for the obscure and rare heirloom varietals that will make their dishes and home tables unique. I doubt that celtuce, albino beets, or paw paw will overtake kale as the vegetable of choice for 2014 but watch out for Swiss chard as the new “in” green. Another exciting trend for this coming year is fermentation and at the farm we have been honing our crock skills with sauerkraut, Kombucha, lactic fermented cucumbers and my personal favorite sambal chili sauce we fermented with our 2012 Pinot Blanc and Espelette peppers. We are planning on providing classes on fermentation and raw food production with our farm partners in the coming season.
Temperature is a close concern in the winter, whether it’s for our air-dried hams, sparkling wine, compost piles, livestock survival, or vineyards we are always checking the thermometer. In order to make our fields organically productive we build up our compost piles all year long adding biomass from our fields, manure pile, and wine grape must left over from winemaking. These compost piles are monitored all winter long to achieve a natural internal temperature of 60° C which is heated by the decomposition of organic matter. These piles actively compost for 3 months and then age an additional 9 months next to our windbreak of deciduous trees which also allow beneficial fungus to populate the compost. This end product of decomposition is then spread into our vineyards and fruit and vegetable fields, providing the slow release of nutrients into our soils. The foundation of organic farming is soil healthiness and adding compost helps improve soil structure, create disease resistance, attract beneficial insects, and aid microbial activity, which contributes to delicious flavours in food and wine. For our pruning and vineyard health we closely watch the Washington State University Grape Cold Hardiness real time monitoring. This invaluable information is collected and analyzed from buds and canes grown in mature vineyards at WSU near Prusser Washington. These graphs let us know the lowest temperatures the vines can handle and what the potential damages may be in the coming year. On February 5th this winter we saw temperatures drop to a low of -22° C. This just crosses the danger zone for varietals such as Pinot Noir and may spell lower yields in 2014’s harvest. However for the sophisticated Pinot Noir lover this might be a great time to stock up on our rosé! For our Highland Cattle and Barbados Black Belly Sheep, Teff and oat hay that we baled this fall is being liberally dispensed in order to keep our friends warm and fed. Even in the coldest of temperatures one of our ewes gave birth to a duo of lambs bringing the first hints of spring into the fields.
Our Wine Lounge area has also become a temperature concern now that it is storing our sparkling wines and air-dried hams. Our tasting area is now home to racks of sparkling wine, which we turn each bottle a fraction everyday allowing the sediment to collect in the neck of the bottle. When the riddling is finished we will open the bottles and disgorge the sediment. This finishes our méthode traditionnelle sparkling wine Odie just in time for warmer weather.
Our hams came from Berkshire sows raised on the farm which have been salt cured and are hanging at a constant 15° C beside the sparkling wine. These will move outside when the weather warms into the pine trees at the edge of McIntyre Bluff to finish curing in preparation for our summer Farm Field Table Dinners. As with every season we do the chores at hand and prepare for the changing months ahead with excitement and dreams of warmer weather.