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



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

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