Readying the soil

by Lorin Michel Friday, March 18, 2016 4:39 PM

There is a DirecTV commercial currently running that makes me smile every time. It’s called "The Settlers." The premise is simple enough: a family lives in a house right in the middle of a tract development. On either side of their house is another almost exactly the same. One neighbor comes home in his BMW SUV and stops to say hi. The family’s father is on his wagon in the front yard. It’s being pulled by an ox. They’re tilling and fertilizing the soil. His son has already asked why they can’t have DirecTV like the McGregor’s next door. The father has informed him that they’re settlers. They settle for things. Like cable.

Cue Mr. McGregor, calling over the fence. “Hey Jebediah. How’s it going?” 

Jebediah, waving back: “Working the land. Hoping for a fertile spring.”

The absurdity of it is what gets me, similar to the Geico camel and hump day commercial from a year or so. They’re just laugh-out-loud funny. 

We have DirecTV so we’re not necessarily settlers. We are however about to be working the land, readying the soil and hoping for a fertile fall in about three years. Actually, we’re not quite readying the soil yet because we have to have some delivered. About 6 cubic yards of it. But we are working the land because we’re getting ready to plant grape vines. 

Several years ago, Kevin and I bought grapes and made our own wine. We got about a hundred pounds of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from Paso Robles, and an equal amount of Syrah grapes from Santa Barbara County. Over the course of several months, we fermented, crushed, aged, and bottled about 72 bottles total, 36 of each. There was more to it, of course, but that was the gist. It sounds so easy. It was nerve racking, what with temperature fluctuation and the time Kevin was sure that the cab had developed bacteria. In the end, it all came out well, and we had our first true Michel Cellars wines. That was about three years ago. We haven’t had time to do it again since due to other life things like moving.

But for Christmas this past year, I bought him six grafted Barbera grape vines. We have to be very careful what we try to grow because of the climate, but Barbera is supposed to grow very well here. So I found a place online. I ordered them before Christmas and gave Kevin a print out in his stocking. The vines ship on Monday; they’ll arrive around mid-next week.

Once we decided on the best place to put them, we got to work. He’s been building walls because we want to plant on a hillside on the west side of the house. The issue, other than our fairly dry soil, is that we’re mostly rock. The soil we have simply isn’t that deep. So he’s positioning his walls on a flatter part of the hill and we’re going to have dirt delivered to create an area where we can plant, and nurture, and grow. We also have to figure out the best way to keep the critters away and to protect the vines from the winds and the monsoon rains. This is why I only bought six. Better to start small, figure it out and add to the vineyard than to start with a bunch and have them all get eaten, blow away or drown. 

Providing the grafts take in the soil we’ll have delivered next week, we’ll spend the next three years tending our six little vines, training them, pruning them, weeding, and watching. Any berries that grow we’ll put back into the soil for the first couple of years. In three years, we should have grapes that we can pick, de-stem, ferment, crush, age and make into our first estate-grown wine. Michel Cellars Barbera 2019.

Jebediah would be proud.

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live out loud

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