Tuesday, December 29, 2009


The 2009s are shaping up nicely and so are the labels! A very fine graphics professional is working on this as a trade. Seems like we are doing more trading than before, trading houses for vacations, trading skills, trading ideas.  I like it a lot. Still, this has me wondering whether this is good or bad? Is the US turning rapidly into a society that will soon look much more like a developing nation? I have always loved turning garages and barns into housing. I love mopeds, home gardens & pea patches, and fixing things myself or learning to fix them with the help of my friend, Bob. But will our self-image adapt so that, as materialism declines, we retain the American optimism that I so much love? I digress.

Labels. From the start, "Boginvilla" was suggested umpteen times for the name of our winery...long ago crossing the line between clever and banal.  I was thinking to keep things simple and classy, with just minimal writing on the BOGIN label.  But I was rightly trumped as everone loves the draft labels that are celebrating the land with some views to the horizon.  So, now it looks like BOGIN wine will also display a sense of Grape Hill.

Four wines are aging now, ahead of blending in a year.  We have "Liliana", a complex cabernet build from multiple yeast fermentations out from the single block from Little Vineyard.  The Twins, Shane, a Cab-dominant blend with syrah and Connor, a Syrah-dominant blend with cab. The Walla Walla Bing Bang, the unoaked fruit bomb 100% Syrah.

At some time in the future I can see that we might make a right-bank blend of cab franc and merlot.  Thinking that these kids of ours will need to bring some of their own energy into the mix if the vineyard is to expand.  Let's see how their palates and inclinations unfold...I may also put in some petit verdot and malbec, but we'll let the future evolve on its own.  It takes four vigilant years after planting to pick worthwhile fruit.  So, that leaves us likely a decade out from these new objectives. I'll be 51 in 2010. Since it is going to take a good four more years before the right bank blend (55), and since I really like my merlots at least ten years old (65+), our 21 year olds will be 35 and Liliana will 32 before we are cracking those bottles...

Friday, December 25, 2009


With temperatures warmer than expected, as high as 55 during the days and only just below freezing at night, it has been very comfortable at Grape Hill this week.  The winter wheat is showing green across the north fields.  The vineyard fence was covered with more tumbleweed than I have seen ever before...spent lots of time on Tuesday pushing out maybe 800 cubic feet of these, leaving them to head for Waitsburg with the next strong wind blowing through.  Quiet and uneventful, with no jobs or chores on my plate. Sue and I had nice meals at jimgermanbar and at Brasserie Four, with some great pastrami sandwiches from the new Graze restaurant on Colville Street.  High recommendation!  Stopped at a field with more pheasants than I have ever before seen congregating all in one spot...plenty of roosters along with a couple dozen hens and lots of quail, too.  So many people in town!  Full restaurants, no parking spots, good business in the tasting rooms that were open.  Very nice to see that business is looking healthy.  On the way over we stopped at Airfield Winery in Prosser after driving past it for the past couple years.  A very impressive run of about 15 or more different wines and not a stinker in the bunch...everything was pleasant at the very least and many were quite good.  Turns out that all around Airfield is a fairly new winemaking center with about a dozen new facilities and tasting rooms.  We checked out Bunnell Family Winery and will definitely be back there for lunch stops on our way to and from Grape Hill.  The foods looked attractive and carefully constructed, the setting was warm and pleasing, and the wines are serious.  They are focusing on Rhone blends and seem to be hitting their stride...deep concentrations, powerful flavor profiles with nice consistency across the entire palate and good harmony.  Perhaps they could bring the acids up a tad, but the oaking is under control and the grapes are top flight.  It is such a joy to see more and more grenache, cinsault, mouvedre...Washington is producing impressive varietals across the board, it seems.  As we were leaving Grape Hill I went and cleaned out the recycling.  Another hoard of empty bottles from prior Guests.  Maybe I will make note of the empties next year.  Impressive!  We must have had at least eighty bottles this year...nearly every top NW vintner was represented, plus some nice Italian and French wines, too.  Lots of fun being had, no doubt!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sleepy Time

Stars are scattered, twinking across the black dome up there.  My breath makes the only clouds tonight.  Just a single light shines from up the valley.  Even the coyotes have gone to sleep.  I have to linger, 'til the chill makes me shudder.  The snapshot is saved inside me and I can go to sleep.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Walla Walla Winter

How can the sun be shining brightly and it still be so cold? Sunny winter days must be meant for riding bikes and hot chocolate. The Blues are white, the wine is red, the nights are long. Board games. Puttering and being pleased not to get too much accomplished. Bringing out stationary and writing an actual letter or two. Phoning old friends. My cheeks get instantly chilled from going outside, then so deliciously warm coming in again. It is nesting time. Soon enough, nature will be inviting again.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Barrel tasting the '09s

Yipee! It's far too early to be sure, with the syrah especially, but my oh my. Right now, the two-yeast cab is my favorite, with so many elements and power to spare. Surprising that it is not overwhelming, just BIG on flavor. Hope the mouth feel will be matching up...no glyceral piece yet, but still mid-malolactic so that may come around soon. As much as I am enjoying these youngsters, it does seem wrong somehow to be doing this as an amateur. This deserves professional focus under the tutelage of a master. I have so much to learn. There really are no short-cuts; the vines need to grow, the wine needs to age, the wine maker has to learn how to listen to the grapes and the wine. Endless possible combinations, constant response to each growing season, experiments that succeed and more that fail. I will not be surprised to get dazzling wines, but I will not deserve much praise should we be so fortunate. Unknowns have won the World Series of Poker plenty of times, but they don't win twice.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tasting Walla Walla syrahs-

Dinner with Stephen and Ann & friends on Sunday night. Three syrahs. K Vintners 2003 Lucky 7, 2002 Morrison Lane, and 2001 Cayuse Coccinelle. Lucky 7 was dark and brooding, still tight and young. Morrison Lane was brighter with more fruit...much more ready, although Lucky 7 was the better wine. And then there was the Coccinelle. Talk about a lesson in barnyard funk! Smelled like silage and pickle vinegar. Flavor across the map, from dark liquor to sour cherries and pencil lead. This was wine for the daring-do, not for the faint of heart.

I keep reading about the new trend away from the huge Parker wines toward higher acids and lower alcohol; more subtle and sophisticated flavors that are less fruit-driven and more nuanced. Wine has fashion trends, too.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Learning Curves

Will anyone enjoy reading about the vicissitudes of starting a vineyard and making wine? (I promise not to use that word again.)

Nothing that I read prepared me for this journey of picking clones and fighting gophers and birds and deer, let alone understanding scale issues and the realities of handling gallons upon gallons of fermenting wine. I do not concede that this is only for rich people using consultants! But wow, this is not for the faint of heart. I did my first full-on malolactic testing yesterday on the syrah. Started at 10AM and saw the results at 7AM today. Still in malolactic "secondary" fermentation with a good two weeks or more to go. It is so tempting to think about planting a much bigger vineyard so that we can have commercial scale in five years. But that is so much work! Does the world really need more wine?

I tasted four carboys with what should be the same syrah in three and an un-oaked sample in the fourth. One tasted unpleasant, one was asleep at the wheel and inaccessible, the un-oaked one was fruity and frivolous, and one was purely magnificent. Last year I learned to expect variation across weeks. I had not expected variation across carboys!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Racking is nerve wracking!

Must get some help with racking. Man...too tough. I thought the new pump would be the saving grace, but I cannot seem to get it to work right. Racked 21 gallons in two fermentations of cab, with a nice head of malolactic fermentation already bubbling away. Will test to see if malolactic is complete on the syrah and then rack off these carboys before setting up for one more racking in 5 weeks and then the long push for aging. If the cab follows in a three week malo cycle, I should have everything pretty well settled ahead of Thanksgiving. Looks like a shy 20 cases ahead. I'll sneak some tastes of the syrah during the testing tomorrow.

The Little Vineyard will run at 40 cases when it is in full crush mode. Hopefully, I will have the cab and syrah pretty well understood ahead of the merlot and cab franc coming on. On Bank at a time...

Uriah, coming out of our neighbor, Spring Valley, has had some wonderful Right Bank results. A baby Cheval Blanc. But the rap that I hear is that these are not aging worth a damn. I'm opening some '99 and '00 this weekend to assess. Tough job, but somebody has to do it.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


It is so easy to see how amateur winemakers go pro. So tempting! Our scale is all wrong, selling the wine goes right back to the main hustler elements that I loathe in my current industry, 80% of which I truly enjoy day after day. But nurturing the vines and taking the fruit and turning it into something fine and pleasing to the senses...how compelling that has become! I just want to dance little jigs! We pressed the 09 cab today. My goodness, but this is wonderful. The boys came home, Liliana was here, too, and Sue and I were working the press together. My fingers are purple again and I am a happy man.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Pretty pretty syrah.

What is it in me that makes me see wines along masculine and feminine lines? Drank a couple glasses of the new syrah last night...so girlish and bright! Just put it onto oak for the first time, so things will change, that is for certain. Right now, red currants and earth are the predominate notes.

The cab is probably down to zero brix about now. I am leaving it to off-gas until tomorrow, then pressing. This is such a different grape from the syrah...all boy, and tough! "Dare me", it says. "I'll do anything!" This is Steve McQueen trying to jump his stolen motorbike across the fence into Switzerland. The flavors hit so hard...it takes concentration to get past the punch.

Man...I had better not screw these up. There is some serious wine coming on.

Had a bottle of the new cab 08 bottling. Very hard at first. More approachable after some air, but still dark and intense. Sue liked it better than I did. I ignored the remainder in a glass for three hours. That last drink was astonishing. Totally distinct from the prior tries, this one was all bright cherries and glycerine with something added in the mid-palate (cloves?). Must give this some time and another try...special prospects that I had not anticipated after such high acids and a difficult growing season. It takes a real wine afficianado to imagine that these can be grapes from the same vines year to year, what with the 09s so huge and completely different from these 08s.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Strawberries and Black Currants

Fermentation is underway. Using two yeasts on different fermenters; the "Brunello" tastes of black currants, the "rockpile" is pure bright strawberries. I'm feeling a lot better after a wretched bout of flu, but at least I was fit for the harvest and crush before it hit me hard. Johnnie and Val were great company, such fine friends to enjoy! They brought over beautiful shots from the weekend. Posting several right now.

Basic Training

We march down rows, cut and drop, push and lift, dump and run. Friday night, lit by headlights from a 4 X 4 long- the blood-orange sun had dropped behind distant hills. Coyotes were howling as we crushed the purple berries. Tearing them down and rebuilding them into something bold, firm. Melding, leaning away their sweetness, uncovering their backbone. This is masculine stuff, this cabernet.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

What to bring...besides smiles and good attitude.

Jeans, comfortable walking shoes, sunglasses, a nice shirt, I-Pod. Forget about fancy pants and heaps of clothes.
Bring a nice bathrobe. Bath enhancers are good.
Wonderful tidbits of luscious foods (many are readily available at Salumia, local farms, & Super 8 Grocery plus other spots in town). Wine, well duh.
Lovely books. Binoculars. Drawing pad. Camera. Great biking, so bring 'em if you have 'em.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Extremely cool people.

We haven't done much to promote rental stays at Grape Hill. Just posted on the one website, VRBO.com #155659. After about a year and a half, word of mouth has spread and sometimes we need to reserve and plan in advance to stay here ourselves. But it feels really good, all the same. We have had passionate wine afficionados, writers, artists, super nice people with family members who live in Walla Walla, and, more and more, visitors from across the US and other countries, too. I don't get to hear from every person, but those who do write us a note or comment on VRBO have loved the time at Grape Hill. Rainy days and baking summer sun hasn't seemed to matter a whole lot. (Watching storms across the fields really is magical.) We did have one couple who got exhuberant with their baby oil, but we didn't want an explanation as to how it got on the walls and on one ceiling. Seemed to clean up pretty easily. So far, the outside shower has been a joy, proving that I am not the only one who likes sudsing up with a view of the world.
Sue came up with the idea of only having original art in the house. We are looking forward to our first artistic entry from a local artist with a wide eye for beauty who is quite smitten by Grape Hill...simpatico with us!
More and more, it seems, Big Table is the venue for wonderful, conscious long meals and conversation. Funny how many folks do like we do and prefer to cook together and not go in for meals as much. Must say, it is really great to enjoy the setting and not have to think about drinking and driving at all. The attrition for our good stemware has been brutal, but c'est-la-vie. I sure hope that the farmers market is well attended and appreciated by Grape Hill alums!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

More restaurant reviews-

Brasserie Four, right on Main Street just east of 2nd, is a great semi-casual spot. Pick your wine by the bottle with minimal mark-up and enjoy it at your table. A simple menu of very well executed bistro mainstays with a few local twists. Steak frites and moules frites are outstanding. I avoid fries because these usually seem like a mass-produced excuse for grease-loading. Not here. The frites are made daily; total celebration of a pedestrian food rarely made in noble fashion. Seats are not the greatest, but the local art displays and cheerful service more than make up for that. Joyful atmosphere and staff that really seeks to please.

TMaccarone's. On Colville Street just off Main Street. There is some hit and miss here, with lots of flavor mixing and juxtaposed textures on the plate. Some of the dishes seem a bit over-wrought and confused, but one dish alone is good enough to go back for more again and again. The duck offered as a main course is a flat out marvel. Perfectly cooked, with sizzling hot slices of breast meat served over leg confit, gnocchi, divine peaches, and peppery arugula, this dish rocks!

For a really casual, easy spot to enjoy, the Green Lantern tavern on Isaac St. just east of Whitman College has great pizza, good eats all-around, good beers on tap, pool tables, and games on the TVs. Locals and students here.

Unfortunately, one of the favorites seems to be losing steam. The Whoopemup Cafe in Waitsburg still has a great ambiance, outside dining especially so, yet the food has slipped. Precise flavors taste routine and perhaps even pre-made? The menu and the cooking staff need to shake things up and refresh. Call this tough love, as I truly want to enjoy the food as much as the staff and the ambiance, but it is time for some changes...

If you are reading this and planning your weekend or holiday trip to Walla Walla, think about calling ahead to make arrangements for tastings at some of the wineries that are not generally open to the public. Longshadows, Garrison Creek, and Abeja come to mind and there are plenty more...

Thursday, October 1, 2009


I'm 3/4 recovered from the brutal day on Tuesday, taking down the nets, harvesting, driving 4.5 hours, then crushing. Way too much for one person. So it goes. I would not trade it for anything, of course, but better planning means bringing along more friends to help out.
The 2008 cab has got to be bottled to make some room for the 2009 juice on its way. Bright and delicious notes with good fruit flavors. Nothing complex...low oak and an iffy harvest season left the berries a lot more approachable than 2009's serious fruit. We'll get only about 4 cases from the '08s. The '09s look to be bigger, bolder, and potential for 20 cases. So, the dishwasher is filled with cooling new bottles, the corker is set in place, and let the games begin!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pondering "Perfection"

Is there a work of art that is perfect? The Taj Mahal? The Parthenon? Is perfection a singular, quantifiable, 100% test grade? Where do we ever come across, in real life, situations where perfection is an objective, determinate, finite reality? Do we strive for perfection to be closer to God or man? Is one of Monet's haystacks more perfect than another?

My cousin, Albie, left his surfboard behind the garage at my parent's house. Albie is older than I am by seven or eight years, and when I was a kid I pretty much worshipped him, this awesome surfing cousin. When I turned sixteen and got my driver's license, I measured that eight-foot longboard and measured my mom's Volvo stationwagon. With the back seat down and the front passenger seat reclined, I could fit the surfboard inside.

I took that surfboard out from behind the garage and washed off caked dirt. The whole board was covered with some other nasty, irregular gunk. For two days, I scraped and rubbed until all that other junk was removed. Finally, I got out my mom's Pledge and sprayed and polished until that entire board gleamed with perfection. The inlaid wooden highlights sparkled. We were ready, me and that surfboard, and I was going to teach myself how to surf.

Going down to the beach with that surfboard, I could not have been more happy or more proud. I got it out from the back of the Volvo in the parking lot with great care, stood it up, and admired it. The board was heavy under my arm, but I kept cool and didn't show how hard it was to lug that huge board across the sand. I could not wait to get it into the water!

Once it was in the water, the board looked beautiful, but I could not even hold onto it, much less get on it and paddle out into the waves. My sad conclusion, after two hours of struggling to even lie down on the board and failing at that, was that surfing is really REALLY HARD! It took me a lot more years to learn about waxing surfboards and to realize that "perfection" is incredibly slippery.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Process of the Attainable

No much about getting to have Grape Hill has been easy. All the exhausted drives from Seattle. Fighting winds and rain to build. Getting stuck in ankle deep mud. Decisions decisions. We built a house from industrial materials and made our kitchen island and all of our moldings from cherry-faced plywood.

Nobody can get this, THIS, by writing a check. Oh, you can get something spectacular, no doubt, but not Grape Hill. This is a process, a not terribly expensive achievement that requires time and dedication, passion and the capacity to roll with frustrations and limitations. Producing something that conveys the impression that this is unattainable, with an alienating under-current that says "You can visit, but this is beyond you";that under-current is commonplace. What we wanted to convey is an invitation to other that says "enjoy yourselves and may you do in your life the things that really turn you on".

We didn't seek perfection and we certainly did not achieve perfection. Perfection is never going to be had in any human endeavor; just thinking that we know what constitutes perfection means we are either mimicking fools or egoistic fools, and neither of these types of fools laughs nearly enough.

So if being here feels comfortable and special without feeling especially elite, I'd like to invite everyone to rethink what constitutes "elite"? In Bhutan they have a government ministry of happiness, the mandate of which is to support and enhance the joy within the population. Places that invite deep breathing and wandering skipping childlike richness...these are places built upon impressions and not upon impressing. I reckon that is about it.

Took me a lot of journeying to get back to being able to thoroughly love watching the clouds pass by. Maybe I am finally getting to the point where we can open those bottles of wine that we have never dared to drink. I don't ever want a painting so valuable that I cannot feel comfortable to hang it up where I can see it and I don't ever again want to buy a bottle of wine that I take so damned seriously that I cannot justify drinking it up.

None of that stuff will ever be as good as what those glorious wind-surfing dudes are enjoying every single day they get out on the river. That sort of richness can't be had by writing a check.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Fall and Winter Ahead

Harvest begins on Sunday. The process is: removing the netting, snipping the bunches into small crates, running the small crates to the truck for transfer into the huge crates. After harvesting, all the equipment gets thoroughly cleaned and then we Crush. Crushing is a process to break the skins and remove the stems ahead of flushing the fruit to clear bacteria and then promoting fermentation through the introduction of yeast. Fermentation is a daily baby-sitting process wherein the grapes rise to the top of the fermentation container and need to be "punched down" multiple times daily until the sugars have turned to alcohol and the new wine is "dry". Lots of work, fulfilling work, and a couple weeks of purple hands.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Big Whine

The syrah is destined for the drainpipe and not my gullet, I'm afraid. Did a big blending session on Wednesday night and nothing tasted right. Great mouth feel, beautiful concentration, but an overall off flavor. Bob Betz was very gracious to help me out on Thursday. The verdict is that I mangled the syrah...left enough air space for some negative processes to occur that ran amok during the hot spell this summer. Sad news. These grapes deserved better. I am now convinced that the wine experts are correct...Grape Hill has the "it factor" for terroir. These grapes deserve better than me. So sad that Stan Clarke is not around. On my own, I had better get much better fast to do these justice. The cabernet survives, which is some comfort, but the 2008 cab was not anything to what the syrah should have been. I will do better in 2009, but so much to learn... My goodness, these are truly spectacular grapes. What the hell am I doing to be in charge of this effort? Just plain wrong.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Getting ready for harvest.

First the syrah, then the cabernet, about three weeks apart. This will be my second year of making wine. Last year's wine will be going into bottles after blending, with blending tests starting now. This has had eleven months "in barrel". I don't expect to wait as long next year, with the plan being to really try to go "oak free" and save just 20% for oaking. I am also going to be needing to find a real cellar for aging. Connor's bedroom isn't too bad, but those 100 degree days had even his room over 80 and that was a scary time for me. No sign that it effected the wine, thank goodness.
Tonight I am drawing out a 1/2 liter each of the syrah and cab to do various blending weights, the goal being to find two complimentary blends with one dominated by each varietal. We shall see. The final arbiter is the wine itself, after all. Ultimately, the wine maker's main job is to let the grapes do the talking and just not screw things up.

Much better growing season this year, so we should have wonderful grapes, far better cab, especially, than last year. Interestingly, I ran through a long malolactic fermentation cycle with the '08 cab and the acids are pretty and bright rather than overpowering. OK, no more writing about it. Let's get out the wine and see what we have!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Can a tradition be brand new?

So. I say everyone who stays at Grape Hill should get a picture of themselves in the outdoor shower and post it on this blog. Is this possible? (Other than in winter, of course...we males would come off badly...)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Winemaking 101

From varmint control to how much juice goes into each barrel, wine making is about a lot more than grapes and crush, fermentation and press, aging and bottling. Our vineyard is producing now and the grapes are exceptionally good, but we aren't getting enough from each varietal to fill a barrel. We don't have that scale, and that lack of scale is a mixed blessing. The easiest way to age wines is the tried and true method of using oak barrels. But getting a barrel of good juice takes about eighty vines in full production. Then, once you have the barrels, which are very expensive belongings, you need to transport them somehow and store them in a temperature-controlled environment...hot enough during malolactic fermentation to keep the bacteria happy and then cool enough to keep the wine stable for a year afterward. The logistics are daunting; unless you are selling wine, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to produce several varietals even at just one barrel each. Putting all your wines in one barrel is a lot like putting all your eggs in one basket, plus each barrel will yield twenty five cases of finished wine. That's a lot of wine for somebody who has no intention of selling wine.
So, we are getting about fifteen gallons each of both syrah and cabernet. That translates to six "carboys" of wine or around 140 bottles. Too much to move and store easily, too little to economically produce on scale. What to do, what to do???
Stan Clarke thought our vineyard site would produce some great grapes. Six years later, his convictions are proven out. One of these days, I need to decide to go big or to go home. The vineyard should be made to be at least six times its current size to eventually yield enough syrah, cabernet, merlot, cab franc, malbec, and petit verdot to carry its weight in the community. The land deserves it and I would be proud to have this, but so much work, it would take a full time vineyardist and that makes no sense without going 20X the current size...then without starting a wine label it doesn't make any profit, and then with a label the work grows exponentially...licensing, handling, shipping, marketing, distribution...
Goodness, reasoning things through out loud, or in a blog, sure helps to avert headaches. I'm sticking to the six carboys.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Landscaping Questions

Sue wants to landscape. I don't get it. We're on 100 acres with thousands of acres all around. That's the landscape, not lawns and lavender and ornamental grasses. Sometimes it feels strange even to mow the natural grasses or spray the weeds coming up the driveway.

There are thin lines between natural and aggrandized notions, between basic and junkyard blues. Why should everything be completed, mastered, man made? I like a great Belgian beer in its very own special glass, but a long neck is damned near perfect all by itself. The best thing would be to have everyone who wants to modify and finish the surroundings to go ahead and draw it up just as they would want it. Then keep the drawing!

Completion creates observers. Critics, too. Raw is just about raw. Begging participation. Makes me smile. Makes me want to get laid. To each his own.

The outdoor shower makes me feel the temperature and think about what temperature I want to feel at that moment. Not the same temperature that is my regular comfortable automatic go-to feeling. Cold COLD water from 305 feet down our well. Hot water like the sun throbbing, baking into the soil.

Fell asleep the other night while watching shooting stars. Why did I move inside at all?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Coyote Convention

What was going on last night? There may have been 20 coyotes within easy earshot...singing from the road to Dry Creek. The pheasants seemed to gather near to the house...they wanted no part of those festivities.

Dave and Amy came over to talk wheat and sip drinks at the fire pit just after sunset. Purple skies and chatting about being out here and not in town. Their house is our fourth closest neighbor, about 1 1/2 miles away. We were laughing about the critters; gophers and coyotes, pheasants and the little red fox that we spotted and that Dave has not seen in years.

Being out here really isn't like being in town.
When you're in town, you don't see the Horizon Air 8:45 PM flight from Seattle coming in from sixty miles out. Yesterday morning at 6 AM I was up on a twenty foot ladder with my mask and goggles on, spraying wasp nests along the roof line and knocking them down with an eight foot stick. It has to be done. Just at this time of the year, in the heat of the day, there are too many of them. Oddly enough, they are entirely docile. I've been in the middle of dozens of them, going after the nests, and they have never attacked. Goodness...wish the wasps in Bellevue were so accommodating. Could not be more different. The Bellevue wasps are just plain scary, not live and let live like these. These are "paper wasps" that seem to have no interest whatsoever in stinging. I have had dozens land on me, buzz my face, and not a single issue. Takes some discipline to get over the fear factor, tough.

Amy has great vision. She spotted deer down by Dry Creek that Sue could hardly see when the deer were pointed out. Amy and Dave just had three bucks and three does in their yard.

People are so nice! Yesterday, I got a kite lesson from a great fellow who loves to kite and wanted to pass on his enthusiasm. I also got a tutorial in astronomy from the head of that department at Whitman College. Both were so excited by what they love! I sure hope that I can learn the basics. Cannot wait both to fly the new kite and to start following the cosmos!

The week ends tomorrow and then back to the city and work. Such a lovely vacation, but I do wish that it had been two weeks and not just one. Pretty cool to come to our own place and have one of the most enjoyable vacations ever...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Summer nights-

Dinner in the fields at Big Table, red and umber sunsets filling the western sky, flashes of green and dense purples. Shooting stars aplenty and warm breezes. No wind in the daytime, so my starting adventures in stunt kite flying still await, but the outdoor shower will be complete today and I plan to be singing in it!

Looking down the valley last night...three lights in the distance. One nice aspect to the bad economy is that the cluster development of six homes 2.5 miles out is on hold, plus the palatial homes that were planned four miles out are not being built. That means just the three lights for the near future. Ten coyotes yapping is better than more giant houses...

Saw that gorgeous red fox hopping through the tall grass. Like the shooting stars, the best glimpses are fast and too often missed...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Long Road

Waking up early, we drove from Seattle to Troutdale (3 hours) then began a slow meander through the Columbia River Gorge. Lovely waterfalls, sturgeon viewing (they are HUGE), lunch at Skamania Lodge. Very pretty sights and a rally of classic Chevrolet cars that we were seeing across several hours. 50's Bel Airs, 40's woodies, sixties Novas, seventies 'Vettes, even some much older twenties trucks and sedans. My favorite part was the windsurfers and kite surfers. If we do this again, we're staying put for a night in Hood River and I'm going to watch these guys for hours then find a tavern and watch them enjoying themselves afterward. What fantastic sport! So elemental...wind and water!

Been thinking on relating to elemental experiences, this farm (land), my firepit (duh!), starting to kite (wind), my boat (water). As I get older, these connections are becoming as important as relationships with people. Wow...those guys on the river!!!

We checked out Maryhill Winery. Cool spot (we could do the same natural amphitheater right to the east of the house...all I need is a bulldozer and a reason). Did not think well of the wine. All safe, lightweight, commercial stuff. Inoffensive is the word best I can say.

Beyond Maryhill, the drive through Hermiston and Pendleton and Milton Freewater just went on and on. Been there, done that.

I think I'll go and try to assemble the new kite. That wind is calling.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Having time for others...

It keeps coming back to that fourth dimension- Time. Somebody should take a stop-watch and secretly time the amount of time that we can get in impromptu conversations with strangers on the street. Would it correlate that more time equals happier people?

This past week, I got online and searched out people in Walla Walla who might know something about telescopes. Sue and the kids bought me such a nice birthday present and I don't know the first thing about setting up and using the telescope. So, I called around in Walla Walla to see if anyone might be willing to instruct me if I paid them? I figured to find a student with some extra time in the summer. Instead, one of the leading astronomers in the region happily suggested that I bring over the telescope so she could teach me! What lovely kindness to a total stranger.

My kite is meant to arrive any day now...an "advanced beginner" model rated up to 24 mph windspeed. With no idea of how to fly it, I tried again on the web to locate somebody who might want to help me out. Turns out that Walla Walla is the headquarters for the nation kite-flyers association. Perfect!

Kites, telescope, and the outdoor shower. My goodness...cannot wait to be back to Grape Hill!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bliss and more bliss.

Shooting stars, satellites, a living night sky. All those wonderments that have made men and women ponder for millenia. I don't get to see these enough and nothing is better than gazing up from the chaise lounge viewing away from Walla Walla lights to see that living night sky. Any light from the house at all, even the little tiny bulb inside the doorbell, any light measurably diminishes the visibility. Caught the very best shooting star ever on Sunday night, sitting out chatting with Marianne Reed. Steve Reed and I watched and counted satellites Monday night.
Such a nice stay! Great company, dinner at Big Table, another dinner at jimgermanbar, searching out orchards for ripeness, peaches and 'cots, mostly. Steve knows so much about the fruits and about the growers, too, from growing up on his family's farm just up the road.
On the way home today, we drove another new route: north to Prescott, then west and north again to Lower Monumental Dam. Lots of fairly ordinary farming landscape and then we came to the dam. The map made it look like we could drive across and continue north, but the way was barred by high security fencing and it looked like we would be turning around to run a 1/2 hour south, forced to return to just where we had
left Hwy 124.
A moment later, a security guard buzzed up in his cart and asked for my ID. He then became very cordial and explained that he would open the gates and escort us across the dam! That was so cool, winding our way on top with the high lake to our right and the drop off to our left with the water pounding through the gates.
Just on the north side of the river is one of the more amazing volcanic rock structures that we have ever seen anywhere. As cooling lava was forced upward by new hot flows from below, the molten rock folded and slumped into remarkable weaves and steps...really something worthy of hours.
We missed Palouse Falls, too bad, and went through the dying little town of Kahlotus, a motley disarray of tired old wood buildings and even more tired mobile homes. Even the fields looked tired. Not a lot of hope for Kahlotus. A little girl standing at the fence of the public swimming pool gave me the sweetest little fingertips wave...
From Kahlotus we moved west through Connell, where things appear to be brighter and better-off. Nothing worth noting from there through Othello and Royal City on to Vantage, except that my favorite restaurant in the area has fallen to pieces since the eponymous "Judy" sold and moved on. Steer clear! One lesson that we are learning is to bring along food. When we are taking these meanders, decent food stops can be few and far between.
We are back in Bellevue now, taking care of days of piled up business matters, and still no outdoor shower. I brought all the materials and Noel worked all day yesterday, but there is still another day of work ahead. It is a simple shelter, straight out of pioneering days, except for lots more clean, clear, hot water!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Taking the slow road to China.

There are three routes that offer the "fast ways" to get from Seattle to WallaWalla. The freeway from Seattle across Snoqualmie Pass is always stage one of the fast path. At Ellensburg, we have either to head south through Yakima, Prosser, and in to Richland, Pasco, then on to Walla Walla, the single choice being to take the Hwy 124 cutoff and run north toward Prescott or south through Walla Walla. That choice usually comes down to whether or not we need groceries on the way in.
Another choice is to go past Ellensburg and follow I-90 across the river at Vantage and then turn south on the other side. A quick choice must then be made, to turn left toward Royal City and Othello, then continue south toward Pasco or stay on the river all the way until heading across and south to Richland.
Each route will run about four hours. Three and a half when really pressing, five with bad winter weather.
Then there are the "slow boats". With an extra day or two, meandering adds so much richness and actually makes the traveling feel shorter. Take a quick segue and run up Yakima Canyon from Ellensburg to Yakima. An extra twenty minutes that is lovely...time well spent.
On a lazy summer day, drive over across Chinook Pass rather than Snoqualmie Pass and "waste" a perfectly spectacular 90 minutes of startling beauty from Mt Rainier and the Cascades. Perfect rag-top drive!
We drove yesterday along a drunken sailor's meandering pathway, taking route 97 south from Union Gap across the Yakima Nation Reservation with stark scrub hills on which we saw wild horses...many of them. Good conversations on ecology, on how to manage these beautiful horses, on the role of horses in our heritage.
Further south, the landscape turned into pine forests that we had not expected. Lovely canyons and more water flowing toward the Columbia River. Very much like the Sierra Nevadas and not at all like any terrain we have experienced in 21 years of living in Washington State.
Just before Goldendale, our stomachs were shouting "Feed me!" and we passed a sign reading "Greek Bakery". I did a u-turn and there we were, at St. John's Monastery for tyropita, spanokopita, and pastitsio. A very happening place, too, with about thirty lovely young teenage girls wearing headscarves and long dresses, accompanied by mothers in like garb and a few dads looking quietly out of place. There was a very Amish feeling about us and we felt very much the odd ones, there in our shorts and tee shirts and flip flops. But everyone was extremely nice and not at all officious.
We had a chat with one of the nuns, American, not Greek. So explained that the monastery had been started by three Greek nuns from Volos, a town I know in Greece. She spoke no Greek, so I did not even try to recall the language. It turns out that the monastery is filling a unifying need amongst Romanians, Russians, and several Orthodox communities. The girls do not dress or live in this manner all the time, but they were there to attend a religious summer camp session. All seemed so enthusiastic and happy, while exchanging cell phone numbers and comparing their phones. Not Amish at all, but sweet as can be.
After driving through Goldendale we continued up the north bank of the Columbia, stopping at the Stonehenge Monument and then following the river to Umatilla, crossing over, and following the south bank east to Wallula, passing vineyards along the way and watching huge barges heading downriver toward Portland. Beautiful geology and another entirely different face of the Northwest.
I'm looking into whether we can drive across Stampede Pass next time. This could be a whole 'nother kettle of fish...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

winning and losing

twas a tricky one, this trip sue was going through some tough times with her first bout of ms...her left leg didn't want to work at all she is so amazing, making the best of things rather than dwell on the negative, she spent an entire day in the window seat cataloging recipes and sent me off to play texas hold 'em at the blue came home with a nice pocketful of othr people's money so off we went to jimgermanbar to spend it i still have not got 'round to finishing the outdoor shower, but all the parts are in the shop and i'm ready for next time
fourth of july was spent at the next place over with jay and debbie and their family nice people all the kids were all telling jokes and the raspberry rhubarb crumble was a knockout afterward sue and i sat out on the patio and watched fireworks displays in the distance the wind was blowing south so not a sound only the flashes
sounds came on sunday with an amazing thunderstorm sending zips of lightning down all round us and pelting down raindrops the size of peanuts pretty thrilling really...all that power and glory great clouds all weekend
we drove through selah and out yakima canyon on the way home got lost on the outskirts of selah and waived down a car going the opposite direction I asked the fellow which way is the yakima canyon road and he said follow me as we drove for a few miles i thought what a coincidence it was that he was going in the same direction when we got to the mouth of the canyon he waived and turned around to drive back to town man...how nice is that such a good guy yes, they are out there and i might just be one of them hope so

Thursday, July 2, 2009

It's all about time.

The fourth dimension. Do we control time, does time control us? What is the ultimate request...more time. One of the cool things about vinyl records, beyond the fidelity, was seeing the wheel turning and having the switches to make a singer sound like I expected or sound like Bela Lugosi or like Alvin and the Chipmunks. Time and pace mattered. I still enjoy the spatial reinforcement of seeing hands moving around a clock face, too.
The pace at Grape Hill works for me. Maybe the thumping intensity of a rage party works for others...don't know and don't presume to know?
Sue just upped and suggested that we run over to the farm for an unplanned four day jaunt. How cool that is! Taking advantage of a bit of open time...adding layers to the time. Putting our fingers onto that fourth dimension.
My mother and father are with us on a short visit. They have suggested that all of us go on a cruise in August. Sue is inclined to wait and put it off until next year. I'm thinking about that pesky fourth dimension- it's a tricky one. I'd rather the time we have and fill it up to the brim...no counting on time.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Lovely stay!

Such a nice several days sharing Grape Hill with David and Barbara, who flew directly into WW from LA. In the mornings, I managed to get in the plumbing for the outside shower (to be completed within another month). We also brought out a new flat screen TV which I have mounted in the upstairs bedroom. Fun and challenging to get everything working and hide the wiring. I also got in the sun shade that goes with the new window upstairs.

What a nice treat it was to stay upstairs for the very first time. Warm nights lead to us figuring out to open the bathroom windows to create a cross current that cooled everything down to a lovely temperature. There is always the air conditioning, of course, but it is nice to "teach an old dog new tricks" and figure out ways to work with nature rather than against it.

The vines are looking better and better every year. We seem to have the gophers under better control, but I won't ever let down our guard against those little buggers! The cab and syrah should be very productive again, with more cab franc and merlot coming in now.

We spent Monday evening in Waitsburg, where we had scrumptious little plates at jimgermanbar and I revisited a Diablito...really good, but not quite as sublime as the last time when Jim has the special peppers. Olives were just not the same. Then I had a Fernet-Luxardo, which triggered all sorts of creative juices. I decided then and there that I would be cooking dinner Tuesday.

Melissa joined us for dinner with an amazing salad out of her garden...lots of lovely greens and Thai basel...bitter and sharp and cool green flavors all coming together. I put together a tamale pie with braised chicken and chiles, poblano and jalapeno and chipotle, plus nopales and queso fresca. First time with using masa and I could not face adding the lard so I went with a couple spoons of grape seed oil. It came out very well! With some of our 2007 blend out of the little vineyard, there were smiles all around! I almost forgot...there were fresh local asparagus in the store that I blanched quickly and served crisp. So good! We ate at Big Table and watched the sunset then moved over to the fire pit to sit around and chat in the twilight. One of the highlights was hearing hte howl of a coyote down by Dry Creek, followed by a cacophany of dogs and coyotes answering from out in the hills.

After everyone went to bed, I stayed up to lie on the chaise lounge and watch the stars. Some very nice occasional shooting stars. In August, when the stars really shine, I'll have learned how to use the cool telescope that Sue and the kids bought me for my birthday. Can't wait!

Barbara made these amazing hot cereals with exotic grains and fruits and melted cheese...holy cow were they great! How does she know how to do these things??? David and Barbara bought us a blender for Grape Hill. Frankly, beyond milkshakes and margaritas, I haven't a clue about using a blender, but her natural cooking is an inspiration!

Really pleased that they seemed comfortable with everything and seemed to take pleasure in the simplicity that we have come to love. We keep debating putting in a hot tub, which could be very nice, and then thinking about the hassles of taking care of it and about the cliches of needing that to let down our hair. Really don't need it! I'll get the shower done and we'll see...

Oh. On the way back to Seattle we decided to take a longer way and try driving over Chinook Pass beside Mt Rainier. Beautiful scenery and not at all a grueling ride...the extra 1 1/2 hours was well worth it. Later this summer, Sue wants to show me the south route up the Columbia Gorge.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Humm...do I write this to myself?

So. I haven't fully figured out this blogging activity. Is this my private diary? Does anyone else ever read this? I've never had a comment. Are comments enabled? OK...so I'm keeping a diary!

David and Barbara are coming up next week to spend time with us at Grape Hill. I cannot wait to see them! I will still have the plumber out to put in the lines for the new outside shower, but the shower itself will have to wait. The plan is to get the post in place and set up the shower head, and I will build the stall next time out.

David and Barbara will be staying downstairs, so this will be the first time that Sue and I have stayed upstairs in the huge bed. Looking forward to that, too. Just picked up the new LCD TV for the upstairs, along with the mounting bracket, so I will get that set up and also install the real blinds for the new upstairs window (if they ever arrive!).

These last visits to Grape Hill have been theraputic, which was welcome considering the stresses that we have been under. But this trip, this is all for joy. Joy in being alive, joy in sharing Grape Hill with great pals, joy in getting level again after a long tough patch. Too many people are hurting right now, more than ever it seems so.

I'm going to fly a kite.

Sunday, May 31, 2009


I used to love flying kites! We sometimes made them from scratch when I was a kid. Over above Lumpini Park they would fight them. Elaborately decorated and fringed with sharp points, with bits of glass glued onto the strings, they would swoop and dodge until there was a victor. Loved that!
So, with 100 acres, great breezes, and not a tree around to get stuck in, I'm getting myself a cool kite...maybe one of those two-stringed jobs that swoop and accelerate and move so brilliantly. Imagine that...getting to fly kites and old enough to drink beer, too.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Hectic & Fun

The red font is a homage to the diablito I had at jimgermanbar on Saturday night. Man...that was good! Sue flew over to meet me on Friday night, her first trip on Horizon Air. She loved it...one two three and here she was in Walla Walla.
Beautiful sights all week and no photos worth putting up. A lone coyote loping across the fallow fields. 31 hot air balloons all at once showing to our south...tying the old record. A bright orange full harvest moon over the ridgeline just before dawn.
On Wednesday, I set the drain line for the future outside shower. What with the winds and winter freezes, I'll be building it stout, but I want it to be funky and minimal at the one time. Thinking to hide knee-braces as shelf-supports and cross braces as a low bench. It has to be revealing enough to be a little teasing for excitement, just in a "Petticoat Junction" innocent way. (Jeez...I AM dating myself...that was in reruns when I was little...)
Sue is thrilled that we completed the new windows in the living room and in the upstairs. I still need to order the real blinds for the upstairs and fast get rid of the temporary mini-blind. The light is amazing...you can lie in bed upstairs and just take it all in. Of course, that light will get mighty hot come August, so good shading is a must-have item.
My cave is gone...lair of the bear giving way to a more up-market openness in the living room. The view is beautiful...I'll need to get over it.
We had nice meals at Whitehouse-Crawford and Brasserie Four. Sue didn't want to cook and I can't blame her...too much has been going on and coming to Grape Hill was about peace. Between just loving the morning light and working hard to get the windows in, get the siding back in place, get the taper out to finish the sheetrock, priming and painting and getting up the curtains, I was up at dawn every day for the week.
Sue chatted up a couple eating with us at the bar at jimgermanbar and they joined us for coffee and balloons on Sunday morning. I lit my first-ever fake firelog in the firepit. Man, was that quick, clean, and easy. I love burning real wood, but this fake thing was perfect for an easy fire. From now on, no more real wood except on special occasions. That fake log is so much more safe for burning out there in the fields...no more worrying about flying embers or burning starter paper lifting off ringed with red and floating away...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Busy busy fun.

I choose this color for Spring is in the air. Carlos and Ricardo and their families have just finished pruning the vines and David is going to weed the roadway up to the house. I'm sure hoping that Sue's Girls' Weekend coming up is great fun for her and her buddies. How could it be otherwise?
This is going to be her first time ever without me. Between construction and the vines and tending the fields, I may have spent as much as two months on my own, but this is a first. We decided not to have our "Farmhouse Weekend" this year, but we will both be faithfully back together for Balloon Weekend. By then, I'm hoping that we will have in the new windows, too! The outside shower and other advances will follow during the summer.
Big Table will see lots of sunsets, wood fires, and light of every shape and color reflected off cheerful wineglasses.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Whitman College

Liliana flew over with her friends Mel and Kelsey to visit Whitman during the open house for prospective freshmen. Both her brothers got in to Whitman and neither wanted to attend. Liliana is also lukewarm. Of the three girls, only Mel seems to want to apply.

I don't get it. The quality of the programs, the close-knit campus life, the passionate educators...Whitman is wonderful! From all the universities we visited with the boys and all the conversations that we have had with other students, only two other colleges have rivaled the abounding joy we keep hearing about from the students. They love Whitman. Very similar responses to Middlebury and to Wesleyan, but rare! Maybe Liliana knows that I want to make her the official gopher-getter if she attends...

Thursday, April 2, 2009


Rainy, windy, cold...brrrrr...and wonderful all the while. Must never again get caught up in anything that keeps me off Grape Hill. Here now and feeling right about the world. Snow on the Blues. We're into April yet hardly anything has started to bud. The vines remain dormant, so I got lucky in being able to prune this late without concerns.

Grape Hill has not changed, except that we put up "Ramon" (the working name until somebody comes up with another). I tried last night to mount the Bordeaux boxes high up on the center pillar and then realized that this was not worthy of a life or death commitment...balancing on one foot with level and hammer, nails in teeth, twelve feet about the concrete floor and leaning around to measure, level, hammer while hooking my other foot around the pillar. Nope. So, our memories of Bouliac are much closer to ground-level. Still, it is such a pleasure to look at these wineboxes! Each time I glance at these makes me think of collecting soil from Ch Margaux, Ch Mouton, Ch Latour, Ch Laffitte, Ch Haut Brion, Ch Petrus, Ch Cheval Blanc, and Ausone (maybe?). Midnight, in the rain, no signs to go by, and barking dogs getting too close for comfort...maybe Ausone, maybe not...

Soil from each of these vineyards went into the loess soil here in the Little Vineyard. I tried the cabernet this week, the '08 that just came off malolactic fermentation. It is rounding out and far less of the tartness. Not a huge wine and certainly not something noteable, but this could blend really nicely with the syrah. The syrah, on the other hand, gets me on my tippy toes...blueberry and violets, bacon fat and cassis...pretty pretty girl!

I hardly ever go to wineries anymore, tasting more often just with friends or visiting winemakers with friends from elsewhere when we are here together. I really like wine tasting, it's just that Grape Hill is three-dimensional and not a wine thing per se. Walla Walla Brewery is doing some terrific beers. I had my first martini, my first hard liquor drink ever at Grape Hill, the other night. Didn't feel odd in the least. More than anything, I don't drink a whole lot anywhere, so the wine thing is really about the land and farming and connections and celebration rather than about consuming.

There are times when I feel that "king of the world" thing, knowing that having this land is the product of my vision, my effort, and it is REAL. But much more often, I feel privileged to have this Grape Hill in our lives. I feel the responsibility of stewardship and I feel immensely protective, yet the Native American's have it right...nobody can own the land or the sky or the water's flow.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Craving the land.

My life went beserk...crisis upon crisis, all material and stupid. How sincerely I need Grape Hill! Four and a half months since I have been on the farm. I hope this never happens again!!!! I dived into a project that kept expanding and getting more involved, to te point where I worked seven days each week and ten to fourteen hours each of those days. I was not curing cancer, not finding the breakthrough that ends climate change...I was just trying to work through the economy to make my family safe. My goodness. I wish that I had super glue today because something has broken...too much work and stress with not enough help. I am a hard working SOB, and that is a mixed blessing. Time to get back to Grape Hill and nurish in the land.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Le Ballet Russes

Between snow and holiday activities, work and way too much flat out BS, I haven't been to Walla Walla in two months. Looking like no chance to get my Grape Hill fix for another six weeks. This hurts!!! The only blessing I can name is that I tasted our 2008 syrah from the barrel this morning. Le Ballet Russes dancing in the mouth. Oh my!!! I expect to pull it off the oak early and let the fruit stay light on its feet. What pretty, silky wine...so soft and lush, yet still powerful...a beautiful woman, firm with her strength.