Bottled Poetry And Other Thoughts

Monday, July 14, 2003

It's been a while. A lot has happened in our vineyard! As the heat of the summer days accelerates, the vines have really started to grow. Out of our 46 vines, the profile of what's currently happening in terms of growth is:

- About 10% are about three feet tall
- About 50% are about two feet tall
- About 30% are something over a foot tall
- About 10% are still less than a foot tall -- and one is dead

I think that this is pretty good as most of these were started straight from cuttings. Why have we had this luck? Well, one large factor is that we did some soil work up front to improve the quality. Another factor is that we have drip irrigation which means that we can bring water directly to the developing root systems of the vines rather than spray it all over. Finally, we reduced competition for the vines by laying landscape fabric around the planting area -- this has kept the weeds down.

1997 Aldo Conterno Dolcetto
Very nice wine - fruit and acidity were at good levels and the wine was in good balance. We really enjoyed this bottle!
posted by TheRagens 00:26

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

I've been travelling a bit on business for the last three weeks and it's been hard to find the time time to stay caught up. The grapevines continue to grow in our little vineyard. After what is now six or seven weeks since we planted, ten of the fifteen one-year old vines (the Dijon 667 clones) are thriving and are now over two feet tall; four are growing a bit more slowly and are about a foot tall and just one has passed away. Of the thirty-one cuttings, all appear to be growing at different rates. I don't expect as much out of them in the first year as the primary goal is for them to get solid roots into the ground. Nonetheless, a number of them are getting close to a foot tall which is really super. Although the recommendation is to take them down to a couple of buds next year and let them start over, I may just let them go if they continue to thrive -- not much reason to lose a year of growth if they're doing well.

Castello Banfi, 1997 Tavernelle Cabernet Sauvignon
Well-balanced, dry cabernet frum Montalcino which really complimented the roasted beef and lamb tenderloin we had for dinner.
posted by TheRagens 09:44

Friday, June 13, 2003

Interesting - I don't know what happened to the last post but in checking it, I noticed that it got cutoff. So, here is the whole thing again:

About two weeks ago, once I'd planted the grapevines, I realized that the books I had in my winery and vineyard bookshelf were somewhat limited in practical, day-to-day advice on how to manage and care for the vines. I had heard good things about The Grape Grower: A Guide to Organic Viticulture by Lon Rombough who is a frequent participant on the Puget Sound Wine Grower's listserve. Anyway, I plunked down the $$$ and got the book. I can say that it's a pretty good value if you're interested in growing grapes -- either wine grapes or table grapes. It gets very detailed, but stays practical, on grape growing issues with a very detailed focus on many issues around how to keep your vines healthy once they're in the ground. I'd recommend it.
posted by TheRagens 11:31

Friday, June 06, 2003

About two weeks ago, once I'd planted the grapevines, I realized that the books I had in my winery and vineyard bookshelf were somewhat limited in practical, day-to-day advice on how to manage and care for the vines. I had heard good things about posted by TheRagens 11:38

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Sunbreak Wine Cellars - Vineyard Next Door. I've been talking about this vineyard for the last few weeks -- now I've finally taken the wraps off by publishing, on our family website, the much more detailed description of what I've actually done in order to establish Sunbreak Cellars. There are also a bunch of pictures of the vineyard and the grapevines themselves. This picture shows the majority of our vines; they're still growing in the tubes but, by the end of summer, they ought to be a few feet tall, I hope.

posted by TheRagens 16:29

Very cool! Last weekend, I snagged some pictures of some of the wild red foxes on our island retreat. I've been waiting for years to actually see some of these beautiful animals. Unexpectedly, while sitting down, one of the foxes walked by no more than four feet in front of me. I don't know who was more startled -- the fox or me -- but I was quick enough to get a few pictures. I then stalked the fox for a bit and added some more photos which I have now posted on our website. Check out the Red Fox Photos page.
posted by TheRagens 11:44

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Well, our little distressed vine continues to hang on. We'll continue to watch it but I'm not that optimistic.

Over dinner, we decided to rename our vineyard project to Sunbreak Cellars. My wife wasn't that wild about Sunstroke Cellars -- something about the combination of delirium and winegrapes just didn't click with her. She did like a small variation on the name -- Sunbreak Cellars. The name still has the reference to the sun (which I wanted) and it gave her a connection to a phrase that she never heard while growing up. In the Northwest, a 'sunbreak' happens when there is a small break in the clouds and the sun is allowed to shine through. While we get plenty of sun in the summer, sometimes all we get over long periods of times in the winter is sunbreaks. At least, it's a good tongue-in-cheek name that we can use for our vineyard.
posted by TheRagens 22:40

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Following up (again) on the distressed vine, I noticed a ton of bugs crawling around its base and am wondering if they are eating the roots or girdling the new growth or something. It looked a little happier yesterday but the remaining leaves were still sort of limp. I'll continue to check on it periodically; it'll probably need to be replaced though. Anyway, we added a rose bush to part of the vineyard -- this makes it more traditional, like French vineyards. Besides the decoration, there is a reason for this traditional practice: roses apparently share some of the same diseases but are even more susceptible to them which makes them a good leading indicator of health. Summer is heating up which should continue to stimulate growth in the vines; I may soon have to take some of the growtubes off the vines.

McCrea Cellars, 1996 Chardonnay Collector's Edition
This wine has gotten smoother over the years; still tasted nice citrus accents (almost lemony?). It had enough acidity to stand up quite well to the barbecued Copper River salmon that we had for dinner on Memorial Day.
posted by TheRagens 09:30

Sunday, May 25, 2003

I checked the vines again today - a little more closely than yesterday. There was one that looked dead -- this one had never really seemed to have got started. I also found a second vine that looked distressed - I can't yet tell if it was just suffering from water shortage or something more serious. Anyway, I poured a gallon of water over them and added just a little bit of fertilizer to see if I can pull them out of its doldrums. I need to go to the garden store tomorrow and maybe I'll try to pick some brains. Anyway, I expected some vine mortality and I do have some extras that I can drop into these spots. Fortunately, all of the other vines seem to be doing great -- I've got two or three that are now over a foot tall - it's time to tie them (loosely) to the stake to continue training their growth upwards.
posted by TheRagens 20:31

Saturday, May 24, 2003

Checked on the vineyard today; it looks as though most of the 1-year old vines are starting to grow quite effectively. One looks a bit sickly -- the one that struggled from the very beginning. The vines from the cuttings are, unsurprisingly, not quite as robust and have only grown a couple of inches or maybe three at the most. With the one exception, we do seem to have at least some growth on just about everything we've put in the ground which is encouraging. Now, we just need to start to get warm, sunny weather. Given the Seattle climate, we'll have to wait until July 5th for things to really get going.

Cristom Winery, 1998 Pinot Noir, Marjorie's Vineyard
Williams and Selyem, 2001 Pinot Noir, Russian River
We invited a few friends over last night; they brought the W&S and we pulled out our last bottle of this Cristom. The differences between the two were interesting; the W&S was a little more silky and smooth while the Cristom was big and unrestrained. We enjoyed both...
posted by TheRagens 23:02

Sunday, May 18, 2003

The grapevines are growing! It's hard to believe that just two weeks ago, we planted the vines when they were nothing more than a bud or two on a stick of wood and now almost all of them have several leaves -- some have even grown 4-6 inches in height. Sometime this week, I'll start tying the more vigorous vines to the training sticks in order to make sure that they start growing in the right direction. It's pretty cool watching them start to grow; it gives me some confidence that they're going to make it! Nevertheless, it's worth noting that, as of today, two of the forty-six vines that I planted are struggling a bit. I guess a small mortality rate is expected. Fortunately, I have enough backup vines in the planters that I should be able to replace them, if necessary.

McCrea Winery, 1999 Viognier
Nice tangy wine. Lots of acidity and body in this wine without being overly fruity.

Duckhorn Vineyards, 1989 Napa Valley Merlot
Over dinner with friends, we uncorked this fourteen year-old wine. It was wonderful -- the tannins were subdued as we expected. Although there was a bit of sediment, we chose not to decant; a good decision as it meant that the fruit didn't disappear with the aeration -- and there was a ton of fruit left. This was a really nice bottle of wine. One of our favorites comes through again.
posted by TheRagens 21:52

Sunday, May 11, 2003

It was a busy week last week - didn't have time to get to the computer until Sunday is almost Monday. After work on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, I focused on getting all of the loose ends in the vineyard wrapped up. Some of the tasks included: replacing some of the black weed fabric along each of the rows so that the vines won't have to compete with the weeds; finishing testing the drip irrigation system to make sure that each of the drippers was working; poking the bamboo stakes into the ground to to start training the vines as they grow; placing 'grow tubes' around each of the new vines to give them a head start; replacing a couple of the cuttings that didn't look like they were starting life happily; and creating a small 'nursery' for the few extra replcement vines that I have. And, not least, taking a few pictures to show the start of this little venture.

Cameron Winery, 2001 Cameroni Giuliani Pinot Gris
Work on a vineyard just wouldn't be right without having a nice wine. This is one of our favorites from Oregon - a nice, light pinot gris. Crisp, high in acidity, we think that it goes great with crab.
posted by TheRagens 23:55

Sunday, May 04, 2003

I feel virtuous today -- hard work and all that. I picked up cuttings today from Maury Island Vineyards. I have a combination of three different pinot noir clones so that I have some diversity in the vines: Pommard, 115 and 667 clones. I planted forty-six pinot noir vines in our backyard vineyard. Ok - they're not really vines yet. Just cuttings with one or two buds on them. But they still have roots and I needed to be careful with every hole. It's tough going, really tough going when I found rocks that had to be moved; at times, I wish that I had a post hole digger because it would have made most ot the holes easier to get to the right depth. Getting the cuttings planted was just the first part, I also had to finish the drip irrigation. I also got a few spare cuttings and got most of them safely ensconced until I have time to put in a couple of nursery rows.

Westrey Winery, 1999 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley Reserve
I celebrated this milestone in our vineyard with a bottle from my cousin's winery in Oregon. Nice earthy flavor. 1999 was an excellent year for David's winery and this wine showed it.
posted by TheRagens 22:44

Friday, May 02, 2003

I needed to get the fruiting wires up so I went with a height 18 inches minimum and 20 inches maximum. Our site is anything but level so there is a little natural variation in the height. Unfortunately, I also found that I have a bit of hard work to finish before we plant. I have to move one of the paths by about 8 inches to give a little natural separation between the path and one of our grape rows. Tomorrow...

Zind Humbrecht, 1998 Pinot d'Alsace
We experimented tonight with this wine -- a wonderfully rich white wine that is very different than our usual tastes. Honey, pear, apricot dominated the nose and our tonges when we uncorked this wine.
posted by TheRagens 22:09

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Email is down at work today (ITG is running dogfood on their servers) so I have time to get caught up. Checked our status with today and discovered that even with one day still to go, this has been our best month for sales referrals ever -- over thirty items purchased. The big surprise was two (!!) copies of Principles and Practices of Winemaking. This book is spendy so, thank you very much, whoever you are!

Two big decisions to make on the vineyard this weekend -- how high should I set the fruiting wire and how far apart should I space the vines? I'm looking at probably 18-20 inches and probably just under four feet based on feedback from local vineyards. Still, this is a pretty big decision that will greatly influence the probability of getting good fruit in a few years and I'm still a bit indecided.

Denis Mortet, 1997 Gevrey Chambertin, 1er Cru
Although I don't recall exactly the specific cuvee, I know that this was a wonderful wine. Our next door neighbors invited the boys over to play and, before we knew it, they were making dinner and pouring wine. Silky, smooth with a hint of earthiness. This was beautiful in large part because it was so completely unexpected.
posted by TheRagens 16:39

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

I get the vines and cuttings this weekend. This means that I'll be busy on Saturday getting the first wire (the fruiting wire) up on the trellis and then even busier on Sunday planting the vines. I imagine that there's something I haven't anticipated so we'll see what happens.

Decoy, 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon
In the tradition of the French chateaux in Bordeaux, Decoy is really the 'second wine' for Duckhorn Vineyards. Although they don't buy lower quality grapes, this wine is made from some of their own grapes that don't quite make the cut of their first wines. Still, it's made with the same care and the same philosophy so it's sort of like getting the best wine on a budget and it's often a bit more approachable when young. We've been fans of Duckhorn for years and this gives us a more casual choice when we don't feel like pulling the cork on a $40+ bottle.
posted by TheRagens 14:25

Sunday, April 27, 2003

Took some time yesterday to work on the backyard gardening project. This year, I've been working on planting a small vineyard. Our friends generally think I'm nuts to even consider this but I figure that it's the journey that's important with this experiment. Up to now and for the next couple of weeks, I've only been working on the site -- building some rock walls for terraces on the hill in our backyard, rebuilding some of the topsoil, building the trellis, and so on. Yesterday, I finished working on the drip irrigation -- the lines are all laid in place and all that's left is to put in the drips which will wait until just after I plant the cuttings. I should be getting the vine cuttings in the next 2-3 weeks.

Evesham Wood, 1999 'J' Cuvee
Last night, we uncorked a half bottle of this wine. Very smooth; not as fruity perhaps as other Oregon pinot noirs, this was refined. It went really well with the miso-glazed king salmon I had.

posted by TheRagens 13:36

Monday, April 21, 2003

I just found yet another site ( that is poaching graphics (and bandwidth) from my web pages in a way that is counter to my usage policy. It's not just my pictures as there are at least another ten photos included from other sites. I'm guessing that most users don't realize that they're doing this. In this case, it's highly ironic that this is an evangelical Christian site yet they're allowing their users to effectively steal. What is the world coming to...
posted by TheRagens 13:16

A busy weekend. One theatre premier (of The Shakespeare Stealer at the Seattle Children's Theatre), the season opener of the Seattle pony baseball league and arrangements for three different play dates. In addition, I had a tough weekend's work in the backyard with great progress made on the playhouse construction and gardening. We finally got to relax last night at a friend's house over a cheese plate and several wines and commiserate over the WASL anxiety our children are feeling.

Justin, 1999 Isosceles
This is a huge wine, full of ripe grapes and tannins, build around a classic structure of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. We may be a few years too early for this wine but it was luscious and was delicious with the cheeses last night.

Brick House, 2000 Cuvee de Tonnelier
A lovely pinot noir with just a touch of earthiness underlying the fruit. A beautiful, smooth complement to the cheese plate.
posted by TheRagens 13:15

Thursday, April 17, 2003

We just hosted a chaotic, kid-busy Passover party. When you think about it, it's really cool that this story has been passed on in a family setting (versus in a place of worship) for thousands and thousands of years. It really places the family at the center of the occasion and gives everyone a chance to celebrate and reflect in a way that befits their own interpretation of the holiday. Given recent world events, there is a lot to think over, too.

Golan Heights, 1995
This was a simple wine -- not a lot of tannins and depth of fruit that would have given this wine complexity and length. Nonetheless, this was several steps up from those old, sticky kosher wines.

Hagafen, 2000 Chardonnay
Nice, crisp with significant oak. A nice choice.
posted by TheRagens 23:46

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Came across Hip Chicks Do Wine while looking into the 2003 Taste of Oregon winetasting events. This appears to be a winery that seems to be built around a marketing concept, rather than the wines themselves. Haven't tasted this (and probably won't) but this would be a nice icebreaker to bring to a party. I can just imagine: "What did you bring?" "Oh, Hip Chicks Do Wine..."
posted by TheRagens 09:40

Monday, April 14, 2003

Just returned from the San Juan Islands. It was rainier than we expected it to be which unfortunately limited our ability to take new pictures for our online 'gallery.' I may have taken one good picture that will be worth posting. However, rain didn't prevent the bald eagles from cavorting -- at one time, on Sunday morning, there were eight eagles riding the winds right out in front of the house. I don't recall ever seeing that many eagles at one time before. But the rain was horizontal and we could only watch from inside the house.

Delille Cellars, 1998 D2
This wine is predominantly merlot and the varietal characteristics were apparent. Mellow and smooth, fruity, with subdued tannins. We enjoyed this during dinner preparation with a nice cheese plate.

Woodward Canyon, 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon Artist Series
Characteristically, versus the D2, this wine was bigger and more wide open. Heavier tannins (versus the D2) gave it a more savage mouth feel. At first, the fruit was more subdued -- our wives thought it was missing while the guys thought it was always there -- but, as the wine opened up, consensus grew that there was actually plenty of fruit. In short, a very nice wine; classic cabernet.

Westrey Wine Company, 1999 Pinot Noir, Temperance Hill Vineyard
Very smooth, a little earthy. Not as powerfully berry-driven as some Oregon pinots but gentle on the palate.
posted by TheRagens 07:06

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

La Sirena, 1997 Sangiovese from Juliana's Vineyard.

"Nice. Very nice." from my wife. I opened a bottle tonight after driving home from Portland. I found it a little thin and acidic at first although I did feel that the fruit became more apparent after the bottle had been open for 20-30 minutes. Or, it may have been the pizza that I was eating that helped it improve.
posted by TheRagens 21:59

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Yippee! Someone stopped by our wine website and found our reviews on winemaking books interesting and so they ordered them from -- and they, or somebody else, also ordered two used video games. This is always fun because it helps pay for our hosting bills. Let me explain why, briefly.

Originally, I set up our family website in 2000 as a way to share parts of our family history; a semi-public repository for items like Oregon Trail diaries from my family ancestors or my grandfather's autobiography. One thing led to another and I started to use the website to post some of the wildlife photos that I had taken and to pass on results of some wine tasting events that a group of friends hold. I also figured that it might be a good medium to catalog some of our favorite books such as a fairly comprehensive set of books on mountain climbing. I figured that I'd sign up as an Amazon affiliate just in case my extended family wanted to order some of these and I just sort of thought that it might help us pay for part of the website. Well, along the way, our little family website got picked up by Google, MSN and other search engines from some external links and we started to get non-family visitors -- first a few hundred a month -- then a few thousand -- and now somewhere north of 10,000 per month. This increase in traffic has meant that we are now starting to get enough orders through and other affiliate programs that are related to our website that we can actually pay for our hosting fees. It doesn't pay for much beyond that but, hey, this whole website is more fun than anything else.

So, I encourage you to visit our family website and check out the affiliate links we offer. You're simply helping the independent web stay vital.
posted by TheRagens 20:34

This will be, at least to start, an experiment in extending our family website with content that is more ephemeral and, perhaps, more random than the content that we have already published. It's my hope to jot my thoughts and or experiences down periodically, perhaps during those few moments of down time that we all have during the day. So, check back here in the next few days as I hope to get rolling soon. Cheers!
posted by TheRagens 09:01

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This blog is our place for occasional thoughts on wine tastings, photography, history and current events, books, and more. "Bottled Poetry" is a concept borrowed from Robert Louis Stevenson.

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