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



The Secret World of Animals

Oh, we humans sometimes think we are the only sentient beings.  I have discovered that the more time I spend with the animal kingdom the dumber I feel.  They have a sense that we do not.  I don't know what to call that sense, but my moments with Dan as he died have confirmed in my mind that animals can perceive things without the use of language that we humans cannot.

Yesterday afternoon, in the sheep barn stall, under a cloudy sky, our Dan was "put to sleep"... such a tender term for such a difficult event.  He had stopped eating and drinking, nature's way of helping a life to end and to help us humans accept that our animal has chosen its time. I held his head in my lap for about an hour before, cradling him with my love which soothed him and helped him to rest.  I could see from my position Bella, our female Maremma, pacing back and forth outside the barn, looking in our direction, slowing down to look our way, but not coming in. Dan went in and out of  his restful place.  Dennis came in and gave him a sedative.  He relaxed more and I held him so close.  Just before Dennis gave him the euthanasia medicine, one my favorite ewes, Gracie, walked into the stall and blaated.  She stood over Dan, sniffed him and continued to stand next to him.  We moved her and she faced the outside of the stall and began blaating.  I wondered if she was trying to get the rest of the flock to acknowlege what was happening and for them to come say their goodbyes, a goodbye to their protector who had guarded them so steadfastly for the last eight years.

Dan died quietly and peacefully.  We called Bella to come in.  We had to coax her into the stall.  She glanced quickly at Dan and turned away.  She just would not look at him.  Gracie stood guard for some time.  Arnold, Dennis and I stayed there for several minutes in silence while the sheep blaated to one another.  We wrapped Dan up in a blanket and drove him to our pet burial ground on a mossy knoll in a beautiful thicket of blossoming mountain laurel overlooking the pond.  And here is where BoomBoom sensed something was not right.  After resting Dan in the ground and partially burying him, BoomBoom came over and sniffed the grave and sat in it.  He did this when we buried Flippy as well.  They are tuned in to so much more than we think , or maybe want, to know.

And so we say goodbye to a legend in his own time.  He rests now above the others buried before him, at the top of the burial ground where his spirit can overlook the peaceable kingdom he created in our world.  Rest in peace, our Dear Dan.  The tender animal communications surrounding your death was your last and one of your most precious gifts left behind for us. Thank you, thank you, my Danny Boy.


Noble in spirit
Wise beyond mere mortal grasp
Tell us what you know


Oh Danny Boy...

For those of you that have been to our farm or who have been following my blog these last few years, you know what a special dog our ol' guy Dan is.  We needed a guard dog for our little flock of sheep and via the grapevine heard of a good Maremma for sale in southwest Virginia.  We got him in 2003 when he was four years old, a massive dog sporting a majestic coat of white fur and whose black-rimmed almond eyes connected so easily with ours.  His quiet strength exudes his inner knowledge that he is king of our  peaceable kingdom and he was happiest knowing he was working hard to protect his flock.

Over the years he did not need to throw his weight around to prove his power.  He just carried it with him all over this mountainside, and all the other dogs who came to visit over the years knew it as soon as they sniffed one another.  He was king, but a benevolent one and was happy to share his empire with those who appreciated it.  But just don't forget who is king, all you other dogs.  Dan is the man!

In previous entries I have shared stories of how Dan guarded me when I injured my knee and lay helpless on the ground.  And of the time when we first got him and he escaped from the enclosed pasture and was ready to run down the creek to open pastures whose wild sweet scents called him to be free.  I screamed for him to come back.  He stopped, sniffed again the breeze of freedom, looked back at me, looked the other way one more time, the wind blowing his beautiful mane.  He took one more step away from me, out of my reach across the creek.  I screamed his name one last time.  He must have felt the pleading desperation of my call.  He stopped, looked at me and slowly turned towards me, lumbering across the waters until he stood next to me.  From that day on, we had this special connection in a quiet, etheric way.  My Danny Boy, my Danny Boy.

Tonight, as I write this, my Danny Boy is resting under the weeping cherry tree in his favorite spot overlooking his domain.  He is nearly paralyzed, a gradual worsening condition that is also painful when we try to move him.  We have to slip a blanket underneath him to move him and he cries in pain everytime we do.  He was panting so hard this evening.  I layed myself down on the ground next to him as the sun was setting.  I rested my head against his and put my arm underneath his head.  His panting stopped and he began breathing slow, deep breaths and fell asleep on my arm.  I rested with him on the damp, evening ground.  Bluebirds, wood thrushes and other birds were singing in this warm late spring evening.  Baby lambs were blaating in the background and behind them the sound of rushing water rolling over the creekbed... all sounds of the familiar world that Dan loved.  I got up off the ground as he slept peacefully. Tonight will be Dan's last sleep under his weeping cherry tree.  We can't let him suffer any longer, although his eyes still seem  bright and connected and his white coat so soft.  He is a dog of nobility beyond description.  I love you, my Danny Boy.

I had to leave my writing above about an hour ago and have just returned from making a hurried trip down to Dan to bring him in from a horrible thunderstorm that has popped up.  The lights are still flickering and the sky is lit up with constant flashes of light.  A clap of thunder just shook the house and BoomBoom is panting at my feet under the table.  The storm came out of no where.  We had to go down and move Dan inside,the barn, carry him to a safe, dry place.  It was 10:30, too late to call Arnold who lives in our cabin below to ask if he can help us.  Dennis and I donned some rain gear and rushed down the mountainside.  The forest was lit up and the rain pounding down.  Halfway down the mountain Arnold calls my cell to tell me he has gotten Dan inside the barn, dragged him on the blanket we left under him this evening.  We met him at the barn.  Dan looked at us, wagged his tail and he drank some water.  The flock had rushed into the barn around us and Dan was surrounded by all that he loved and all he had protected all his life.  I grabbed a few shots with my cell phone to capture this moment when all us creatures huddled together under one roof.  Bella has stayed close to Dan.  We sadly never got a  breeding of the two of them and it saddens me we have none of Dan's offspring.

I told Arnold that I had been writing about Dan when the storm hit.  He answered that he also had written about Dan this evening.  He wanted to go back into the cabin to retrieve his writings so I could read it.  He walked through the downpour and came back with his piece of notepaper wrapped up in a ziploc bag. With his beautiful penmanship for which he is so proud, he wrote the most thoughtful, tender piece.  Arnold's ancestors have lived in this rural hollow for generations and we feel blessed to have them in our lives.  In silence, under the dim barn light and pouring rain all around us, I read Arnold's tribute to Dan .  His tribute moved me to tears. Thank you dear Arnold.  You have cared for Dan as he has cared for all of us.   We hugged and cried as Dan lay at our feet taking in what will be his last night.  What a difficult job for Dennis tomorrow.  We will all be there.  Oh how we all will miss our dear, beautiful dog.  My Danny Boy.

Arnold's Tribute:
Down in the valley of Franklin Creek lies a beautiful view of the mountains, and a lovely old cabin.  Beneath the evening sunset there's a lovely flowering tree and on the lawn of beautiful green grass lays a lovely old dog named Dan as he spends his last moments of his life.  He will be missed as the years go by.  The wonderful care guarding the sheep throughout the days and guarding by night.  His lonely barks will be missed.  Bless the Vroomans for the care that they have done for that favorite dog named Dan.  He will be remembered in memories of friends, family and others as the days go by.
Written by Arnold Martin.


Bottled Wine!

It seemed the day would never come, the day we actually put into bottles the wine from the grapes we so lovingly raised.  But that day did come and it arrived full of sun.  May 5, 2011.  Perfectly perfect!

Here is how a bottling day at a winery goes!  The long tractor-trailer housing the bottling assembly line arrived at the Stinson's winery early in the morning and it took them a couple of hours before everything was lined up and ready to roll.  We were bottlling not only our wines, our Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but some of the Stinson's wines as well.  We will label our bottles ourselves later this summer, but we had the corks ready to go!

The wines inside the tanks in the winery are pumped through a long hose into the bottling truck as the bottles move through a multitude of stages and stops, all the glass clinging and clanking in a rhythical dance, right side-up, upside down, rubbing shoulders, movin' on down the line.  What a show. After moving down one line, they circle at the front of the truck and march on out to be quickly dropped into boxes, rolled down the conveyor, stamped, box labeled, sealed and ready to head into your homes!

Rolling out the hose

Rachel Stinson clamping together sections of hose; the guys teasing her about handcuffs:)

Command Central 

Setting it all up

Bottles getting filled with our Chardonnay 

After completing the circuit, out the other end they march!

And down the conveyor the cases will slide

to be stamped, sealed and crated away!

Nathan hauling the filled cases

And when the bottling is complete, time to clean out the tanks!  Rachel Stinson and Nathan climb into the tanks and begin scrubbing them down with disinfectants and cleaners.  Cleanliness is one of the most important factors in a winery to prevent a variety of off-flavors that can develop due to contaminants.

It is recommended to wait several weeks before drinking wine after it's been bottled, as it has to recover from "bottle shock", a reaction to the wine from the act of bottling, leaving the wine with muted or disjointed fruit flavors. Well, we just could not wait several weeks to taste at least one of our wines. So we figured the Chardonnay would be affected least by the bottling. That evening we chilled it, pulled out the cork, studied the color, aroma, held it up to the light, swirled it, sniffed once more... and took our very first sip. Siiipppp. siippppp. We were silent. Our eyes lit up. Someone mumbled, Wow.. or something like that. It all seems a blur. Our Chardonnay is delicious. The flavors lingered and lingered, the fruity minerality was soft, elegant. Haunting. Beautiful.

Thank you, thank you, little grapes. You are making us proud, so very proud indeed!  I remember how beautiful you looked dangling from your vine and you have transformed that beauty into something equally beautiful in a glass.

For the Pinot, we will wait a few weeks for the bottle shock to dissipate.  We will taste it near the end of May with our winemaker consultant, Matthieu Finot and our viticulture consultant, Lucie Morton, two amazing individuals with whom we feel honored to be working. 
I cannot wait!... But I will!

Our very first bottle of wine from our very first vintage
Ankida Ridge Chardonnay 2010
Harvested Sept 1, 2010
Bottled May 5, 2011


Cinco de Mayo Damorrow! Another reason to Celebrate!

May 5, 2011... An historic day for Ankida Ridge.  Tomorrow... after five plus years in the making... tomorrow... we bottle our very first vintage, our 2010 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay!  There will never be another absolutely first bottling day for Ankida Ridge... ever! A cause for celebration! Tune in Friday for pix!
And Happy Cindo de Mayo to our Mexican friends!


Uplifting Experiences... Roof Trusses and a Newborn Calf

To see how a building goes up amazes me.  I marveled at our excavator, Marvin; then at our retaining wall guys, Keith and gang who were equally impressive.  Watching concrete trucks back uphill, up a mountain driveway, maneuvering around ditches and steep banks, made me want to close my eyes at times.  Now Eric and Corey are framing it up in no time, and with prescision and enough pride in their work one could assume this building was their own.  The huge crane operator guided the roof trusses into position today.  Amazing.  They are all heroes in my book! 


Yesterday we were hard at work in the vineyard, thinning shoots and finishing up our additional Pinot vine plantings when Arnold was called down to the family farm.  A cow was having difficulty giving birth.  They needed more people to help with the calving.  Of course, I grabbbed my Nikon and hopped into my car and followed Arnold rushing down the mountain to their family farm down the road in the valley below.   It took five people to get the job done.  The calf was much too big for this first time heifer to give birth on her own.  This would take a nose harness to secure the cow in position, some rope to attach to the calf's front feet and three people to pull the calf out.  That's right!  Three! 
Now the images below might be considered graphic by those not familiar with farming or the birthing process.  I will make the images very small so you can just glance over them without looking too closely.  For those of you who want a closer look, you can click on the images and marvel at the miracle of birth! 
Mama and baby are doing fine

Harvey grasps the calf's front feet to tie to the rope

Found them and he loops the rope around them      

Making sure he's got a good grip 

Pull, pull! Here it comes!     

A huge calf ! 

One last tug and... swish!  Onto the floor he drops

And with him, everyone who was pulling!

Rub, rub, rub that calf to get him to take his first breath

And instinct takes over    

And Mama cleans her calf 

And is so proud of her new baby    

I love you    


And see how my vine named Anna has grown in just one week!