Tuesday, September 23, 2008

In the Vineyard

Forgot my camera and thought it no big deal. The fields have been harvested, even the stubble is getting cut as neighbors are making hay and collecting bales. It's barren and, I thought, not as pretty as usual. Then, this morning, the sun came up shining on a beautiful red hawk sitting atop one of the vineyard posts. Below the very still hawk, there were pheasants all over the place. So many of them! No camera. Bummer.

I have never before tested for brix levels and ph levels ahead of harvest. So, today I ran samples in to the lab and took out the instruments to do brix and TA myself. The syrah seems close to ready, but my tests show 20.5 brix and 10 TA...still a couple weeks away. The cab is still at least weeks away and maybe more...worrisome that weather may not support the late harvest season this year.

Everything about making this wine is intimidating to me more than I can express. So much love has gone into the process...I had better not foul things up!

Hours later, the results are in. My brix measurements were not too bad. I came in .3 lower than the lab. With brix at 20.8 and ph at 3.1, we are still a couple weeks out from harvest and we need a bit of Indian summer to help things along.

The stars are wonderful tonight. After seeing the crystal clear sky, I turned out all interior lights to star gaze in darkness. (It is perfectly amazing to recognize how even one electric light will wipe out half the stars that come into view. Wouldn't it be amazing if we could put together "dark nights" where the city lights are shut off to let in the starlight.) From Grape Hill, the effects of so-called "light pollution" are shocking...each urban area glows in the distance and the stars are washed out all around the lighted areas.

When I was going around collecting berries from all the grape vines for the test samples I came across a pile of pheasant feathers in between the vineyard rows. Looks like the hawk had a big meal.

This stay has been a tough one. News that the son of one of my oldest friends is gravely ill has overshadowed everything. I'm so upset. The open distances and the silences are helping some, at least. Looking out on the vistas might be my way of praying right now.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Being American

I helped install my first furnace today. Never expected to install a furnace, but we got it done and it is up and running right now. I spent $1300 total to get in something that was quoted to cost $3700 if I simply wrote out the check. More even than the money, I'm so happy to have stretched beyond my comfort zone to do this for my family. Last week, I replaced a pool pump myself and saved $700. Both jobs were scary...gas and water and pressure and electrical work...lions and tigers and bears OH MY!

Being American is, to me, all about optimism and self-sufficiency. There are plenty of frontiers to conquer out there every day, even if the task is only changing the oil in my car. It scares me when the notion of success we have is all about making more money so other people will do all these things for us. Anyone who has ever gardened knows that directing landscapers is nowhere near as rewarding as getting in there and getting dirty. There is so much joy in "getting it", in understanding common experiences through common labors. We're colonials, we're provincials...that is the best thing about us! Football in the mud is great! We can always shower and come clean.

How about this for a change...let's all get some dirt beneath our fingernails...let's get back to having a healthy distrust for everyone who is always looking a little too clean...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Naming "Grape Hill"

Grape Hill was the Edward Bates family home outside St. Louis. Judge Bates was a western pioneer who helped St. Louis grow from its roots as a frontier outpost to America's Gateway to the West. During the Civil War, Bates served the country as Attorney General in the Lincoln administration. When Bates moved to Washington, he did so out of his sense of duty to hs country but he hated every minute of being away from Grape Hill. He served well, ably and admirably, but never joined the Washington elite. His heart was with his family at Grape Hill.

Bates and his one wife had seventeen children together, eight of whom survived and lived to have many more children of their own. He loved nothing in life more than being at Grape Hill with his family. Even after marrying and having children of their own, the entire growing Bates family always considered Grape Hill as their primary home. I love that. I want that. I love this land. Hence, we happily adopted the name. It is an honest name for a western wheat farm with the lovely vineyard on the hill.

Our good friend, the architect Steve Cox, commented how it seems odd to him that so many places in wine settings the world over are designed like villas in Tuscany and have names like places in French romance novels. We really like Tuscan architecture and French romances, but Steve's comment hits home...we're good with our clean and straight-forward "agricultural architecture" and "Grape Hill".

What's funny is that "Grape Hill" always comes out of the mouth sounding like "Grape Pill" (it's that powerful "P"). Good medicine, I say.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Reviewing the Rental Reviews

We're very glad, so far, to occasionally be renting Grape Hill. Spreading the love is good, right! I'm always wishing I were there, but Sue and I are getting vicarious pleasure from others, too.

Seems like the recurrent themes are shock and release. It's not like we are hiding anything, but the whole idea of Grape Hill has been to keep the human impact honest to the farmland and minimal. The house is supposed to look like an ag building...we're glad we didn't go with the yurt. Anyhow, we always are hearing how people can't believe how "out there" it feels and how relaxing it is to just gaze. The simplicity brings out good feelings and unclogs pressure points for us, too.

Not certain just how many places there are in this world where we can feel so far away and be so close-by. Thank the Palouse...without these gorgeous hills we would be right in town.

One of these days I will figure out how to do more with technology and maybe do a videolog to send out to everyone who has stayed at Grape Hill. It will be fun to record the harvest and, eventually, show the next phases of construction. The "old barn" will be a great addition!

I was reading a lovely story in Smithsonian about Charles Johnson, our acclaimed local writer and teacher. Makes me think to search him out. It could be time to begin our "artists in residence" program. Since before the house was built, we have been wanting to invite over artists to stay for a bit, trading the joy of time on this land for some token of original art from which we can build our Grape Hill collection. Yep, I'm saying goodbye now to contact Professor Johnson and see about getting this next chapter underway...