Monday, August 22, 2016

Grapes, Grapes, and More Grapes

No journey, no travel, no hike, no vacation.  We are at Panoche picking and moving, then cleaning, destemming, crushing, stomping, fermenting, and pressing grapes in Santa Cruz.  Our guardian angel, Steve, was back to help us complete this year's grape harvest.

Working together on a row, it took us 13 hours EACH to pick all the grapes.  Individually we had our own method of picking...sitting, standing, find each and every little, itty bitty grape; well, most of us, most of the time.  No fingers were cut off, but there was one serious snip to a left pointer finger.  We were really glad to see the last of 18 rows...233 malbec grape plants.  In one of my sections, I found a beautiful bird's nest tucked in among the leaves and grapes.

The pickup was loaded.  You can only see the top layer.  The bigger containers are deep, and the cartons are two deep.  We harvested about 600 pounds, but it seemed like much more.  Indeed we had a bountiful yield due to plentiful water in the winter and accommodating winds and weather during budding and pollination.

Recently we broke down and purchased an Italian destemmer/crusher and a grape press with the realization that we were going to harvest a lot more grapes than in the past three years.  Jim had to figure out how to use the destemmer/crusher.  Time to read the manual.

Inadvertently while picking the grapes, we collected a lot of leaves in the containers, too.  We decided to remove most of them before putting the grapes into the hand-cranked destemmer.  Next time we will try not to pick leaves.  Steve was quite cheerful about it.

The boys took on the job of feeding the destemmer and cranking it to remove the stems.  Cranking can be challenging.  Jim and Steve took turns cranking and lifting the containers of grapes to slowly feed them into the hopper.  Hmm, well, it is not the be all, end all of destemming and crushing.  The machine really removes a lot of the stems, but they do not always fall out where you want them to fall out.  Many stems wind themselves around the paddle arm and, consequently, periodically need to be pulled off before pouring in more grapes.  You have to stop, remove the cover, reach in to pull out the errant stems, and replace the cover.  But I have to say, it is timelier to do this than to destem the grapes by hand.

Adjusting the crusher part of the machine to the desired result is a tiny bit problematic and imprecise.  We solved that problem by giving me the job of stomping the grapes with my feet.  In past years I did only one round of stomping.  This year I stomped the grapes in our cooler at least eight different times.  Our setup is not ideal, so each time I stomped, we had to move the destemmer and the cooler then replace them to continue destemming. It was not quite so romantic this year.

Finally, the grapes were put into two food grade blue barrels to ferment.  We fill the barrels 2/3 full.  After adding the 7 1/2 packets of wine yeast, the contents swell up to near the top.  Twice a day we must push the "must" down into the fermenting juice.

It is an upper body workout to push the must down into the juice.  We use a hoe to push it down.

This year we have doubled our harvest because all of the plants are at least four years old, and all of them produced grapes.  We should bottle more than ever.  One of our "malbec" plants is white.  Three years ago, we had enough grapes on that plant to produce two bottles of extraordinary wine.  This year we have enough for maybe one bottle.

Having a half full cooler of crushed grapes left over after filling the two blue barrels, we decided to make malbec grape juice.  Our new press does an incredible job of pressing grapes.  I will admit I was a bit skeptical after having rented a bladder press the last three years, but this press does its job remarkably well.  And it is good practice for when we press the fermenting grapes next week.  We pressed well over five gallons of juice.

Today we pressed the fermented grapes.  It took us about four hours not counting clean up.  The crank is actually a ratchet and not a wheel.

Since we had so many grapes to press, we had to stop to take the press apart to remove the grape skins and seeds at least five times.  The remains are like a brick and about as heavy.  It took both of us to carry the filled tub to the compost.

The grand total of new young wine poured into carboys with airlocks was 44 gallons.  In about a month, we will rerack the wine, which means we will siphon it off the sediment that builds up at the bottom into clean carboys.  If we did not do this, the sediment would rot and eventually spoil the aging wine.  Come the new year, we will rerack the wine again.  Finally in June we will bottle and cork the wine.  We expect to have well over 200 bottles from our 2016 malbec grape harvest.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Pinnacles National Park...Our Newest National Park

On our most recent hiking trip, we explored our newest national park, The Pinnacles, which are east of Soledad and south of Paicines, California.  There are two distinct entrances which do not connect. We entered from the East side where there is a spacious campground.  The West entrance is parking only for day hikes.  Leaving the parking area, we followed a mostly dry creek through a pretty canyon.

We took a combination of trails including Bear Gulch Trail, Moses Spring Trail, Bear Gulch Caves, Rim Trail, High Peaks Trail, and Condor Gulch Trail to walk a little over six miles.  The following photos are some of what we saw along the way. 

 This is just before we entered Bear Gulch Caves.  It really does get dark inside, so have a flashlight or app on your phone.  The Bear Gulch Cave is home to roosting bats part of the year.  Fortunately, the cave had recently been reopened for visitors.

Yes, we saw a condor.  A volunteer at the top of  High Reaches Trail monitored condor flight trails. We viewed this female several times before she disappeared.

At a backward glance, the Pinnacles do not seem too imposing, but we climbed up and down and up and down.  This loop was listed as strenuous.  The elevation gain is just over 1400 feet. The rock formations, talus caves, trails, trees, and condor were amazing.

 "In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks."  -John Muir  

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

10 Days in The Eastern Sierras

It has been a long, beautiful summer in Santa Cruz and Panoche, but it was time for a driving trip with a little hiking, a little camping, a little slipping into some hot springs before the cool weather really arrives.  Our first stop was a quick side trip further into Yosemite Valley to see if there were any climbers on El Capitan.  There were at least two groups working their way up.

As we passed through the eastern side of Tuolumne (too-AH-lum-ee) Meadows in Yosemite, it started to snow!  Not the best time to take a short day hike here.

We slipped into Travertine Hot Springs near Bridgeport the next morning.  It is a beautiful spot with three different pools.

In the afternoon we hiked from the Rush Creek Trail Head at Silver Lake up to Agnew Lake, a little over four miles round trip.  It is in the mountains off 158, the alternative route to June Lake.  Lots of quaking aspen were beginning to turn bright yellow.

Thinking that the weather was warming back up, we decided to camp out.  Hmm...big mistake.  When we woke the next morning, everything was covered in frost.  It was cold, and as the sun neared us, the frost began to melt and create a very chilly, damp camp.  We drove out without breakfast to Shepherd's Hot Springs east of Mammoth to warm up and dry out.

That afternoon we found our way to Devil's Postpile National Monument.  Jim had never driven in, but he had seen it when he had hiked the John Muir Trail some years ago.

I went on to Rainbow Falls while Jim hiked a bit of the JMT.

Our next big day hike was up to Crystal Lake/Crystal Crag then to the Mammoth Crest.  We saw amazing views of the Mammoth Lakes.

The following morning we went back to Shepherd's Hot Springs and then to the Hot Pot.  I liked the Hot Pot as it was a bit cooler.

In the afternoon we found Rock Creek Trail Head.  There is limited parking, but we were lucky to find a man who had finished his hike and was on his way out.  What a gorgeous trail...flat, a bit up, a bit down...flat, up, down...nice...varied...easy...moderate.  We hiked along the creek and past several lakes up to the last one, Lake Morgan, where there was access to the Pacific Crest Trail.  We met lots of people, families, and dogs out for the day.  Some fished, some were going to camp out.

For years we have talked about going to Saline Valley Hot Springs.  Many friends have managed to find their way in and out.  Finally we did it.  We drove in 55 miles from the north entrance down, down, down to the valley floor through steep sided rock canyons, pleasant forested canyons, treeless grassy expanses, over washed out creek bottoms.  Basically, it is a twisty, rocky, mostly dirt track that took us two long hours.  It was another hour before we came to the hot springs...the oasis.

It was cool on the lawn in the shade of the palm trees.

There are two main sections approximately 3/4 of a mile apart.  It is a nice walk in the morning before the sun comes over the mountain.  The source pools are located in the upper area.

The lower area has three pools, a shower, a library, and a dish-washing station.  There are three well-maintained toilet areas.  Nothing is for sale, but you might make a donation to Lizard Lee in the form of actively doing maintenance chores, bringing supplies as requested on the Saline Preservation web page, or giving money.  Lizard Lee is the fix it, jack of all trades, go to man of the last twenty years.  He is not paid for his services, even though Saline Valley is now a part of Death Valley National Park.  He found his place in the world and just loves it.

Everything is meticulously clean and maintained.  The many fences keep out the burros that will eat anything and everything.  All you have to do is keep any food tightly contained, bring in what you need, and pack out all your trash.  Bring a good book, a scrabble game, and a deck of cards.  It is a most relaxing spot to find yourself if you have 10 days in the Eastern Sierras.