A personal perpsective of life in our Virginia vineyard... Christine Wells Vrooman



Autumn at Ankida

Autumn Notes

This morning I stand on the deck, the movement of damp, cold air tingling across my face. The fog slides like a giant white snake through the valley bottoms and makes its way up and over the vineyard. I am in awe. The calendar reads autumn still, but the forces of nature are literally pushing the fall of 2008 into history. Our first autumn in the vineyard nears its end. The fall colors were spectacular from our perch above the vineyard. Here we can witness the seasons advance and retreat and observe the vineyard's response. Up close, as we walk through the vineyard rows, we watch the vines "shut down", settling into their dormancy, slipping slowly into the sweet slumber of winter.

In the early weeks of autumn, we noticed a bit of mildew hitting some of the vines, starting in the upper Chardonnay block. We learned it was the ornery villain, powdery mildew. This fungus can become a real issue if not treated in time. We sprayed with sulfur, keeping within our organic/biodynamic guidelines. We will watch for it next summer, and hopefully catch it before it catches us. Early intervention is the key. Quite advantageous it is that the fruit is removed in the first year, as it gives the vineyardist a bit more time to observe, to learn, to act upon those little attacks of nature without compromising the crop.

A Tiny Treasure Found
Autumn had peaked and the leaves of the vines had begun to fall. I'd walked the vineyard rows many times over the summer and often longed deeply for just one little taste of our grapes. With all the fruit clusters snipped off in early spring, we were left only to wonder and imagine what might have been. While strolling the rows on a glorious fall afternoon, my eye caught a flash of gold at my feet. I bent down and looked a little closer. On one of the vines at the end of a row, I discovered a tiny cluster of chardonnay grapes, golden and ripe hanging on the vine. Now for those vineyardists who have harvested crop after crop, one might think "So?..." But for us, as parents of a baby vineyard whose entire crop was gone from the start, we suddenly were gifted with a treasure of taste... It was as if something had risen from the dead. I was ecstatic. I snipped off the cluster, popped off one grape, held it up to the light... Ah.. such a zen moment! And then I very ceremoniously tasted the succulent little fruit, rolling it around in my mouth. A sweetness hit my tongue, then a bit of tartness.. intensely flavored.... how could it be sweet yet tart at the same time... a very complex little morsel. I smiled and kissed the rest of the bundle. I was pleased, excited for this glimpse into our future. It was delectable. I packed it safely into a jar and brought it home for Dennis to taste. We each held a grape in our finger tips, raised our hands, and touched grapes. Cheers!

Sheep (and Owen) in the Vineyard

After most of the leaves fell off the vines, we introduced our little flock of sheep to the vineyard to graze down the overgrowth. Dennis and our daughter, Marisa, led them up the winding, wooded mountain drive of over half a mile, coaxing them with apples, hoping nothing would spook them and send them scattering into the woods. They cautiously guided them into the vineyard, then quickly slammed the gate shut before any of them escaped. Success! A new field to forage.. perfect, as most of the grasses down in "the lower forty" have been devoured or have dried up for the season. They seemed content and spent a couple of days in the vineyard before we moved them back down. They were much more willing to "head back home" down the mountain. In the spring they will return, after being trained to not eat the vine leaves. How do we train them? You will learn in the spring update.

Soon, as winter settles in and the vines are deep in their winter sleep, we will march on down to the vineyard, pruning shears in hand, and start snipping, pre-pruning the vines, taking each one of them down to two little shoots.... More about that in our winter update.

Proud parents of a baby vineyard


Summer, 2008... A Vineyard is Born

Vines, Lambs and One Sweet Puppy
The vineyard planted, spring lambs abound and a puppy named Bella ... all now a part of our reality… products of our dreams. Sometimes I find myself blinking with disbelief, sighing, and inhaling deep breaths of joy as I marvel at the power we all have to create that which we dream.

The Vines

The family gathering on Mother’s Day weekend began with the arrival of our children and our two baby grandsons, then great-grandpa arriving in a deluge with our nephew. Grandpa maneuvered with his walker into the house and we sat him in his wheelchair by the fireplace. He was amused by it all. What a trooper. My sister Cindy, my nieces and nephews arrived in the torrent, running into the house, stomping their feet, tossing raindrops off their hair. Welcome!! Ah, the humor of Mother Nature. Then came the fog, and from our mountain-top view we sat above the clouds, masses of fog rolling through the valleys below us, at times the distant mountain tops peeking through. It was all magnificent. We woke up the next day to brilliant sunshine and our ceremonial planting began. The first vine went in on May 10, the final vine planted May 27. Two and a half weeks of non-stop planting… the vines are in! All 3,429 of them. We maneuvered around downpours that delayed completion. Several “gully-washers” complicated the planned “family planting” but everyone was able to get at least a couple vines into the ground, those plantings serving primarily as an opportunity for each family member to remember the experience of feeling a vine’s union with the earth and sending it on its way to produce one day a grand fruit, and then an even grander wine.

Each hole was hand-dug, the first holes by the family, then the majority by a small crew of helpers, guided by the hands and heart of our Napa biodynamic vineyard consult, Billy. A handful of biodynamic compost was tossed into each hole, mixed in with the loose soil and then the roots of each vine were spread on top of the welcoming mixture. A small bucket of water was poured gently into each site, the earth tapped down once more with a wish for good plant health and then onto the next plant... and the next, and the next.

What surprised me was how quickly the bare "sticks" we stuck into the ground began bursting forth life, pinkish-green buds that seemingly overnight became flourishing green leaves. Even more surprising was the ability for that little stick of wood to sprout fruit. Little clusters of baby grapes popping out everywhere. Oh, I thought to myself, these little vines love it here. They are happy, healthy and eager to create. We hated to have to snip off the fruit. The energy that the leaves and roots draw on must go into the structure of the plant, not the production of fruit these first couple of years. The plants adjusted to the loss of fruit and grew strong as we had hoped. We tried to feed them the right balance of water to keep them barely thriving, to make them strong, but keeping them dry so the roots would dig deep into the ground rather than stay near the surface, digging into our clay, loamy, granite soil that will impart the flavors to our grapes that will represent this particular site, free of salty chemicals, free of herbicides and pesticides.. where all life is allowed to live, relying on the unique system of checks and balances, so each element can add to the natural complexity of the soil at this unique site . If it comes to the point we have to intervene, when plant, molds and insects get out of whack and threaten the life of our vines, we will resort to taking whatever actions we need to keep the vines alive. But for now, life in the vineyard appears to be in balance.

By mid-July our growing vines took on the look of a real vineyard. I love to walk through the rows, glance at each plant, check on their health, connect with them. I lift my eyes to the vistas of mountain ranges and glorious valleys. It's no wonder the vines are thriving in this beautiful natural landscape. I thrive along with them. I look forward with great anticipation to tasting her fruit and sipping her wine. She has taken on a female identity in my mind, perhaps because of her ability to produce new life.

Lambs, Lambs, Lambs

Once the sun came out, the ewes seemed inspired and two began the birthing process. Our children and their cousins kept their distance from the ewes, not wanting to interfere with the deliveries. They all stood in the background, video cameras in tow, waiting for the passing from the womb a newborn lamb, and as the first was born I heard the “eews” whispering from the mouths of the Chicago girl cousins. The first ewe gave us twins, then the next day another set of twins. After everyone left we had yet another set of twins. Only two were left to lamb, Rosie and Flo. I marvel at the excitement and the absolute display of emotion by these creatures when a lamb is born. Sometimes the surrounding ewes bounce on all fours at the event of a birth. And I was to see a rare expression of "compassion" between the ewes when a sadness would fall upon Flo.

The image of young lambs frolicking is a sight to behold, their bright white wool and pink ears against the chartreuse green of young spring grasses. So fleeting is the spectacle, so brief is the time.


Each of our ewes has their own unique personality, but Rosie seems a bit more connected to us humans. She always comes over to visit the grandbabies when we bring them into the pasture. She seems to carry her mothering instincts over to the human side of life.

We had hoped we could keep Rosie from getting pregnant again, but that intention was futile. Once pregnant we decided we would not let her give birth naturally, with her predispostion to prolapsing. She nearly died in her previous lambing when she prolapsed her uterus. I remember calling Dennis frantically that chilly spring evening when I found Rosie lying in the orchard section of the pasture, this barnacled looking, glistening red mass protruding from her. His instructions to me: “Well, lift up her hind quarters and push it back in.”

“You’ve got to be kidding.”

“No, you can do it. Just wrestle her to the fence and wedge her between you and the fence, and get her hind legs in the air. And just push it back in with some warm water.”

Before blurting out a resounding “NO!”, I studied the situation and with great thought examined in my mind the possibility of doing it. I looked at the weight of her, lying far from a fence, no one there with me, the air getting cold, the nighttime darkness rolling in, that huge, strange purple mass..... Nope! No way!

“Dennis, No! I can’t do this, not by myself.”

“Well then, we’ll have to call a vet.” And so we did, for only the second time in my life, the first when another lamb needed immediate attention. But that’s another story.

The country vet arrived about two hours later. In the interim I kept a warm, wet towel on top of the uterus
covered with grasses and dirt lying next to her. Even with my "expert" help, it took the vet three hours to get it back in place. Three attempts in the pasture… thought we were successful… walked her into the barn… watched her a bit as we shared vet stories. It was 11pm. He was about to leave when we both watched Rosie strain and out it came again! This time, he went back to his truck and came back with a bucket and what looked like a bicycle pump. I did as told and got some warm water. He then pumped her womb with water as he pushed it all back in, and then he dug into his bag and pulled out some suture material and sewed the thing shut! There! Done!

I thanked him profusely and watched his car lights as they receded down the gravel drive. It was odd for me to be at this end of the large animal veterinary call. During the years Dennis practiced large animal medicine back in upstate New York, I was at the other end, answering the phone and waking him up to send him out into the cold night to tend to someone’s emergency, just like I had that evening. Times like this always touch me and make me further appreciate what my husband has done for these animals and their owners over the years.

I stood in the barn next to Rosie. It was dark and cold. Only one light hung above us in the stall. I could see our breaths. It was so quiet. I sat down in the wet straw next to her and told her to be still, that she could NOT push again. I got up and brought her lamb in to her. The lamb was calm, perhaps a bit weak. I named her Grace. She found her way to suckle while Rosie stood still. Rosie has always been an adoring mother to her babies. And her babies seem to pass it on as they too become mothers.

And now, Rosie was due to deliver again. With a history of prolapsing, this time Dennis would take her back to our animal hospital in Virginia Beach and they would deliver this little lamb by Caesarian, and dear Rosie would have her tubes tied!! No more for Rosie. Of all the ewes, she reigns supreme. Sad, she will have no more lambs, but I am thankful she has passed on her mothering abilities to her daughters, Gracie and Lily. And hopefully it will be a daughter once again when we bring this newest lamb into the world.

And Then There Was Bella


The Stage is Set!

Sunday, May 4, 2008, 5:30am
I have been awake since 4:15, too excited to go back to sleep. This week will be like no other for us, the culmination of years of dreaming, planning and enduring more than one sleepless night in anticipation of what this week will bring.

Today we leave Virginia Beach for a month at Ankida. During the next seven days we will partake of a plethora of great events.... We settle into our mountain home that has been under construction for over three years... we pick up a fresh, young puppy who will grow up under the brilliant guidance of The Great Dan, our Maremma guard dog that protects our flock of sheep, whom this week will start delivering multitudes of lambs! By the looks of a couple of them, I wonder if we will get a set of triplets or two! At the end of the week, a family reunion, a gathering of four generations who are converging on Ankida from all points of the country so they can partake in the much anticipated "planting of the vines". Babies (toddlers now!) Kaegan and Owen have their little fingers ready to spread wildly the crumbly soil and pat gently into the earth their own vines that will be marked with their names on a stake next to their vines. And we will find a way for Dennis' ninety-year old father, our dear Truman, to get his worn, weathered fingers into the soil. I must capture an image of those babies' and their great-grandpa's fingers in the soil together. Thirty-five hundred vines will be going in.. neatly arranged in perfectly punctuated rows running northeast to southwest.

We are ready. Let's go get that puppy, deliver those lambs and plant some vines!


Follow Our Journey

We Invite You to come along with us as we embark on a journey… our dream to establish a vineyard… our “Little Burgundy” in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We’ve ordered our vines, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, varieties that hail from the Burgundy region of France, the land of my ancestors. Fitting that my sister, Cindy, would want to join Dennis and me in this endeavor, perhaps returning to our historical roots via the roots of the vines we’ll be planting a continent away.

Terroir, Bugs and “Wooly Weeders” We’ve hired a world-renowned vineyard consultant, Lucie Morton Garrett, who feels our vineyard site “has the right stuff” to produce outstanding wines … our elevation, soil components, aspect to the sun… in short, our “terroir”. We will apply “biodynamic” farming practices, a step beyond organic. I like to think of it as connecting with the earth, spirit to spirit. In our meager three acres, we will also grow an assortment of wildflowers, fruit trees, vegetables, and thick ground-covers to attract the multitude of beneficial insects that will feed upon the nectars and pollinate our gardens. And most importantly, these insects feed on the bad bugs we don’t want in the vineyard/garden. Our small flock of sheep will be our “wooly weeders”, grazing on the grasses and weeds. And our Italian Maremma guard-dog, Dan, has his job, to protect our little flock.

Come Along With Us
On this blog
you will be able to read about our life as city transplants in the country, of the vineyard, the sheep and our dear Dan, of starlit nights where fireflies and the stars above create one giant glittering palette, of country neighbors, of birth and death. As the country vet said to me one cold winter’s night after the death of our three-legged lamb, “If you are going to have livestock, you are going to have deadstock”. I’ve had to remind myself of that too many times.

We are excited as we enter this next phase of our life, when the retirement years will grace us with days rich with time. We smile at the thought of our grandchildren and their children gathering for the holidays in year
s to come, and pulling from their wine cellar a cob-webbed, dusty bottle of a vintage 2010 Ankida Ridge Pinot Noir…and glasses are raised and a toast is offered to the year their ancestors first harvested the fruit of their dreams. We invite you to share in this journey so that one special evening you too can sit around your table with friends and family and sip the wines from the vines whose journey you followed…. From “Ankida”, (An Kee' Da) our little piece of heaven on earth.

Christine Wells Vrooman

* * * * * *

Coming This Spring!
The months of April and May will
be filled with new life! We expect many deliveries... the births of our spring lambs, the arrival of our new Maremma female puppy who is expected to be born in northern New York around Feb. 23rd, and of course, the delivery of the vines themselves which we will begin planting on Sunday, May 11th with the help of all the family... Cindy's three grown children, our four children and our two baby grandsons. Even the two Great-Grandfathers will be there planting a vine or two... Four generations... a Mother's Day gift like no other! It warms our hearts... and brings a smile to my face.

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Cheers to one and all!

Christine & Dennis Vrooman
Ankida Ridge Farm & Vineyard
Amherst, VA

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