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Springing forward

After what felt like a never ending winter, with a record breaking snowfall, an ice storm, and then a very cold and wet spring, we finally made it to May and now, at long last, summer is approaching. Due to our unusually wet and cold spring, we, along with all our fellow local farmers, experienced a rather delayed start to the season. Bud break on our vines was almost three weeks later than it was last year. Thankfully we are specializing in sparkling wine and don’t have to worry about our grapes reaching high brix (sugar) levels. This shorter season will likely have an impact on that!

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On the positive side, the delayed spring left us ample time get all the pruning done. As this is our ‘experimental’ plot, we decided last year to spur prune to see if there was any differences in the vines’ production. What we found was last year, we had exceptionally lower yields. While this may have been attributed to a number of reasons (for example, the fertility in the soil; the heavy rains during flowering, etc.), we decided to go back to cane pruning this year to see if this will help our situation.

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We found that in our climate and with these vines, cane pruning seems to work quite well. After the pruning was done, we then tied all the cordons along the fruiting wire so they would be ready to go once the weather finally warmed up.

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Once that was done, and the weather did begin to warm up, we began working the land for out new 2.5 acre plot. In this plot, we have decided to plant more Acadie Blanc (as we have fallen in love with this vine and wine) as well as a few rows of Dornfelder. Dornfelder is a German red variety, which we think may grow well in our climate. We intend to use this for our rosé wines, or perhaps a sparkling red (!).

After a couple rounds of tilling, the transit came out and we began measuring and staking each of our future rows.

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Then, it was ‘all hands on deck’! We had basically one month to get everything done before the vines arrived.

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Once all the stakes were accurately placed, we had a collective sigh of relief, and could then move on and begin to pound the posts in.

But… problems with the post pounding machine began (of course). We were delayed even more. After some time it was finally working and we were able to get the posts into the ground.

After all of this, we basically had one week left to dig approximately 3000 holes before the vines would arrive and need to be planted. While we attempted at first to dig the holes ourselves, we learned rather quickly that we would never get it done in time. So, we hired the machine to do it for us. But… this led to more problems and even more delays. The vines had arrived and needed to go into the ground, but we only have half of the holes dug.

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Planting day came and thankfully the machine began to work again and we were able to get all the remaining holes dug and everything planted in that one day! Amazingly, we actually did it!!

And within a few weeks, they have already begun to spring to life. This marks the next phase of this crazy adventure for us….We have just doubled our vineyard (and workload) to 5 acres!

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Snow, snow and then… more snow

What a winter we have had this year! Living in the pacific northwest, white Christmas’s are a rarity. So when the ground was blanketed in white on Christmas day, everyone was thrilled with the novelty and we cheered “let it snow, let it snow, let it snow”.

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We expected the snow to last only few days, before it would melt and we would once again be graced by our more usual winter precipitation: rain, and lots of it. However, the temperatures remained cold and so the snow stuck around. And then by New Years Eve, we received even more snow.

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Finally the weather warmed up early January, the snow melted, and we thought that was the end of that. How wrong we were. Winter came back with a vengeance a couple weeks ago and we were hit with two severe storms, back to back.

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The snow blew sideways for two days straight. Then on the morning of the third day, we awoke to 70cm of snow! But, that was not the end. Winter has something even better in store for us. For the grand finale (drum roll please…): An ice storm.

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On top of all that snow, was now a thick coating of ice. The entire city shut down. We sat inside for an entire day, without power, listening to the loud shattering cracks as huge branches from our trees fell to the ground.

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Finally, the weather has warmed and most of the snow is now gone. While the weather has pushed back our winter task of pruning, we can at least continue working in the winery. We have completed the cold stabilization and will do our fining this week; both techniques are used to clarify and stabilize the wine. Of course, we are monitoring and tasting just to be sure everything is clean and on track.

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From what I’ve tasted so far, I must say that this summer we will be able to share our best wine yet!


Preparing for plot #2

We had an absolutely beautiful fall this year – filled with days of sunshine and colored by our vineyard turning from green to gold.

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Now, with the harvest behind us and our wine aging in our stainless steel tanks, we have the time to start planning ahead. Our long-term goal is to be a 17 acre vineyard, which means we have a stretch to go from our current 2.5 acre test plot. So, this winter we ordered over 3000 more vines to plant this spring! Most of these vines will be L’Acadie, as our test plot has proven that these vines grow really well, are resistant to disease and mildew, and produce an amazing wine. We have also ordered some Dornfelder, which is actually a German variety used to produce red wine! We will likely use our Dornfelder to produce a rosé, but in good years, we may actually be able to produce an elegant and light bodied red (something similar to a Beaujolais).

To prepare for the planting, we had to measure and stake out 3 more acres.

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Barry (my Dad) and Luca pounding in the first stake

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Measuring out plot #2

Once it was staked out, we plowed. This field has never been anything but cow pasture, so the beautiful organic soil will be perfect for our baby vines come spring. 20161118_124356

While staking out our next vineyard plot, we decided to also stake out our future tasting room. We intend to have the tasting room overlooking this vineyard, so everyone can come to enjoy a glass of wine while looking at the very field where the grapes were grown. We have also left a small garden area between the tasting room and our vineyard, which has the potential to host wedding ceremonies or wine club member events, like long table dinners.

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Barry and Laurent standing in our future tasting room

On the other side of the tasting room will be our picnic area, under the beautiful old purple maples that my Grandpa planted years ago. Although we are excited and eager to move ahead with the tasting room, we have chosen to take a much slower path in order to keep things manageable for the time being (as we all still have our day jobs). Our intention, however, is to start building sometime in 2019 and to be open to the public by summer of 2020! In the meantime, we keep moving ahead…one step at a time.


First (real!) Harvest

Last month we received our Manufacturing License, which means that this year is our first REAL harvest where we are able to keep all of our grapes for us and us alone, in order to create a beautiful wine to bottle and begin selling next summer. It has been a huge learning curve, especially for Laurent, figuring out how to use all our new equipment, but we (HE) did it!

So, on August 27th, we had our very first harvest. With the help of family, some of whom traveled quite the distance to be here with us (like Laurent’s parents who came from Belgium and my Aunt Wendy from California) and friends, we harvested two varieties to make our sparkling wines. With the Epicure, we intend to make an off-dry sparkling and then with the L’Acadie, we will blend with some of our Seyval to make a brut sparkling.

Duane Storey, a local friend and mutual travel-lover, brought his photographic talents to capture this day for us. Here is a selection of his pictures for your viewing pleasure!

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We celebrated with a lunch and some wine out on our outdoor crush pad, where my grandpa (John Giesbrecht) joined in on the festivities.

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and then after some more work…

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we ended with champagne, a BBQ, and more wine once all was done.

We are so grateful for all the work everyone put in to this harvest! And especially, Laurent’s parents (Lina & Jean-Marc), who deserve a special thank you for traveling all the way from Belgium to be here for us to help. A big heartfelt merci/thank you to all!!


Constructing the Winery

Since we first broke ground in early spring, we have come a long way with the building of the winery. My Dad (Barry) has worked endlessly these months, doing all the contracting, as well as installing the winery drainage, installing the ceiling, working with Laurent to install the tank glycol cooling systems, and the list goes on and on.  Although we have all been helping out in our own ways, my Dad has certainly carried the entire responsibility of our winery construction on his shoulders (including all the stress that comes with ensuring it is done on time and that we are ready to go for harvest!).

Since the initial framing was done, we poured a concrete floor over the old riding arena. We took that opportunity to imprint the wee little hand of Luca (a potential future third generation wine maker!).

Then doors and windows were installed and we gave everything a nice coat of paint…

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and along with all the other equipment like a pump, filters, a crusher/de-stemmer, press, and a bottling system, our tanks arrived! Our good friends, Katie and Francesco (visiting us from Piemonte, Italy) helped us move the tanks in place… and just in time for our final Manufacturing License winery inspection that same afternoon! I’m happy to announce that we passed inspection and are now entitled, as a land-based winery, to produce and sell our wine.

With everything in it’s place, and all the equipment scrubbed, washed, cleaned and hooked up, we are FINALLY ready for harvest!!


Bottling the 2015!

While we did sell most of our grapes last year, we kept a little for us to do a few more ‘test’ batches before the big official harvest this fall. We tried different yeasts and fermentation techniques and while some of our trials were misses, some turned out to be real hits!

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Hand corking our Pinot Gris 2015

For example, our L’Acadie turned out even better than last year!  With a little older vines, the wine is more balanced, offering notes of green grass, honeysuckle, green apple, and citrus with an elegant minerality. The best, however, is our L’Acadie that underwent a malolactic fermentation. Malolactic fermentation is when the tart-tasting malic acid, naturally present in grape must, is converted to softer-tasting lactic acid. The end result is a more full, rounded, and creamy textured wine, adding another dimension to enhance its complexity. Here,  notes of stone fruit emerged, along with honeysuckle, dried grass, and citrus. This one is definitely a winner and will be repeated again next year for sure!

As we intend to begin selling our wine next year, development of our marketing strategies have begun. One major marketing tool will be our wine label. We are in love with our logo and find it represents perfectly the clean, crisp elegance of our wines. We also decided that the aromatics of our wines lend well to the Alsacian bottle shape and so have chosen this bottle for our future still wines.  Everything else, however, is still a work in progress.

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While I am sure there will be many ‘mock-up’ labels to be made in the coming months, this is the first one that we’ve grown to really like. Although not seen in the picture, all the wine information runs along the side. While we still need to work on dispersing the leaves more elegantly… this is our first solid draft. It’s so exciting to see everything slowly, but surely, come together!


Stepping back in time: Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty visit J-Bar ranch

The unthinkable recently happened to us… Over the years, my Grandpa has shared so many stories and incredible memories about J-Bar ranch (the land that is now home to our winery). One special memory is about the time, back in the 1970’s, when Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty visited J-Bar.

It all started on an airplane back in 1973. My Grandpa, John Giesbrecht, was sitting next to a young man named John Rowlands. They began talking and my Grandpa shared his passion for horses, particularly quarter horses, and described the story about J-Bar ranch. John Rowlands, who also loved horses, shared that he was actually a professional music photographer and explained how he had been hired to photograph the tour of Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty (country music royalty!), and their next stop was Vancouver. As he was going to be in Vancouver for a few days, my Grandma and Grandpa invited him to come out one day for lunch and he would give him a tour of the ranch. So, John Rowlands accepted their invitation… and brought with him Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty! John captured this memorable day on camera, but unfortunately, contact was lost and my Grandpa never saw the photos.

Then over 40 years later, I received an email from John Rowlands, who I learned was a famous rock music photographer capturing the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and David Bowie! He explained how he had been going through old folders and found some long lost photographs of Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty visiting J-Bar ranch. He searched J-Bar online with the hope to finally connect and share these photos with my Grandma and Grandpa. Amazingly, he came across our winery blog and was able to share the photos with us.

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From left to right: Grandpa (John Giesbrecht), Loretta Lynn, my Auntie Wendy (Wendy Murphy), Conway Twitty, and Grandma (Bea Giesbrecht)

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With my Grandpa’s memory and health beginning to decline, these photos and the memory of this special day brought a sparkle to his eyes. For this, we are so grateful. Thank you John!