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



Harvest or Bust!

A year ago spring, one of our ewes, Flo, gave birth to a stillborn lamb.  Flo seemed listless for some time afterwards, and we noticed she stayed close to the other young lambs.  I imagined she was longing for what should have been.  She had birthed several times, usually twins, so her mind and body was inclined, if not programmed, to continue on with the process of life and living, birthing, and nurturing that over which she had labored.

And so, on a much lighter level, but real none the less, Dennis and I found ourselves longing for what should come naturally after spending a year in a vineyard.   Transforming grapes into wine... that convoluted process that should be simple but in actuality is a very fragile process, that is, if one is desiring a wine of high quality and refined taste.  We decided to try our hand at it and learn what we could about the process itself.

Friends of ours had some extra Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in their vineyard, so on a Friday morning I went over and picked 150 lbs of grapes.

We hauled them back to our barn and Arnold, Berto and I set the two large tubs of grapes into a Jacuzzi tub filled with ice (I knew there was a reason I hadn't yet sold that wrong-sized tub I had bought while building the house!).

We covered them carefully, keeping them cold until we were able to de-stem and crush them the following day when the staff from our animal hospital arrived for our annual campout (Pretty convenient, eh?)

Our dear, wonderful staff jumped to the cause and pitched in with great gusto (love them so!).  We all stood around a long table at the end of the barn  under the natural light, turned up the music and made our way through 150 lbs of grapes, sorting and then de-stemming them in our little make-shift "de-stemmer".


We divided the grapes into four 5-gal food-grade tubs and added the assorted "additives" and yeast to get the grapes to begin the fermenting process.  We then loaded them into the back of my "Pathmaker" and moved them all up to the house and ceremoniously set them in the little basement room we had set aside for hobbies, extra sleeping space, etc.  We turned on a little space heater, covered the tubs and waited for the magic to begin!   In the meantime, the staff and we went off to the Annual Garlic/Wine Festival here in Amherst Co... an event we would not miss, garlic burgers, garlic kettle corn, wine, live bands... great fun to say the least!

And a Little Sheep Wrastlin' Thrown in for Good Measure! 
Even though our vet practice is small animal, we are fortunate to have a couple gals on staff that love to work with sheep, Melissa in particular!  We will be using our sheep to "weed" the vineyard, so we want to keep them good and healthy, and thus we gave them their annual vaccinations and worming meds while the staff was here.    Melissa "took 'em down" with great enthusiasm, with a little help from Arnold and Berto. With pictures being worth a thousand words, I need say no more!


What a gal!!!

And Our "Fire-ring" 
Later that evening, we gathered around the stone firepit Arnold had lovingly built for us the previous day.  There is an artist in this dear man who has never lived away from the generational family farm down the road in the hollow.  He was excited to surprise me with another of his creations, hauling a bucket-load of rock he had scoured from the woods.  He knelt himself down on the grass on our overlook between the house and the vineyard.  He busily picked out which rock he would place where, Berto helping him as he made his way around this "Fire-ring", as he calls it.  Upon completion, he knelt back on his heels, studying his masterpiece.  His eyes lit up and he clapped his hands together, "There, Now you've got yourself a good fire-ring that'll be there for a long time!"  Another creation from dear Arnold, who creates simple, mini-masterpieces all over this mountain using what nature offers up... wood, rock and his imagination and crafty hands.

Thank you, Dear Arnold!

It is hard to explain the sense of family we and our staff enjoy.  They truly are the best staff any business could ask for... really so much more than "staff".    Together with our dear Berto and Arnold here at the mountain, we have managed to surround ourselves with the most beautiful, loving, dedicated people one could hope for in their lives.  We are blessed, so very blessed indeed.

A Winery's Humble Beginnings

A little gray basement room, one window, one futon, a floor space heater, a folding table and chair... Our first Winery!!  Cute little thing, anyway!  Simple, basic, tiny... a perfect match for our understanding of enology!

Something in the Air
The smell of fermenting grapes... the warm, moist fragrance of earthly elements combined and working together to create something new.  Magical.   There is something about the whole process, especially that yeasty aroma that entrances me.  I first smelled it on Day 2 of fermentation and when I did, I closed my eyes and felt like I was wanting to remember something I could not.  It brought me to a place that I could only feel, not see, nor touch or explain.  Perhaps the connection was somewhere deep in my cellular memory.  It feels almost mystical, this nostalgic, nebulous emotion it stirs within me.  I  am ever so thankful we found our way here.

Like Watching Our Babies Sleep
Three times a day we punch down the "cap", the crushed grapes and skins that float to the top during fermentation.  This is done to prevent harmful bacteria from growing on them and destroying the batch.  We watch the clock, hoping it is time to "punch" (sort of like watching the clock in the evening after a hard day in the vineyard, hoping it is time to go to bed!).  We measure the Brix (sugar level) daily and have watched it drop amazingly fast.  Once it gets to zero, tonight or tomorrow I think, we will run the musts through a little press we bought off Craig's List  (It is in the back of Dennis' truck In VA Beach as I write this), and begin the secondary fermentation process in glass carboys..  I have been tasting the juice with each punch.  At first sweet tasting, it now tastes like wine.. a very, very bad wine.  I don't know what it is supposed to taste like at this point.  But it does at least taste like some very bad wines we have bought, so it is at least "good enough".  But this is only our little experiment anyway, like a college lab course... to learn.   So unless something happens over the next couple of weeks, (and believe me there is much that can still go wrong) we might have created something worth drinking! 

I chuckle at how we sit on the futon after each punch and just gaze at the tubs and watch the bubbles rise, fixating our eyes on them as if they were our newborn babies sleeping.  Pathetic saps we are!


And this image shows you why we named our heavenly place
"Ankida"... that place where heaven and earth join.


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