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News from Harvest 2019

News from Harvest 2019 4032 3024 eliza

This year’s Summer at the Vidacycle farm has been so exciting – it’s brought us our first grape harvest since the devastating fire we had in 2017. We’re completely in awe of the resilience of our amazing País vines, which have mostly recovered from their burns. Some of the old trunks were too damaged to continue their growth, but their strong tap roots have created new life – shoots can be seen emerging from the ground. Many of the old trunks are still growing though, and we ended up harvesting just as many grapes as in previous years!

Resilience is really important to us on our farm – we see it as essential for creating a sustainable system that can survive droughts and fire, as these are all part of nature’s pattern in Chile. This year’s harvest was a real gift from the land, and we’re excited to learn more from our vines in the coming years. The País grape that grows from our vineyards in Chile is pretty special, and has a long and fruitful history. Check out our recent blog all about País here to learn all about it.

We thinned out some of the green grapes on the vine in Spring time (January), which we use to make our Agraz. This thinning process is also important because it allows the sun to reach the grapes on the vine, and the sun’s rays are essential in the ripening process, and in creating sugars in the grapes. We began our Tinte harvest in March – which was a little later than usual because it had been a fairly cool and dry start to the year. We also trialled something different this year, and left some grapes for a later harvest in April. These late grapes were noticeably darker red in colour, and sweeter and less tangy than those collected in March – we were reminded of the grapes we collected for our 2014 Tinte. We can’t wait to taste the final product of our learnings!

Another thing we noticed during the later harvest in April was the real abundance of wildlife also keen to taste the sweetening grapes. There were lots of birds and wasps enjoying the harvest alongside us, so it felt like a balancing act to make sure we could get our share of the grapes before they all disappeared! We love seeing the benefits of our ecological approach to farming – with no chemicals or irrigation, the landscape can support all kinds of life, and this is so important to us.

Our 2019 grapes are bubbling away as you read this – we are always astonished by just how quickly the fermentation process begins, especially as we don’t add any yeast. Our grapes are teeming with their own natural life!

Our harvest is all about bringing our community together, and celebrating the grapes that have grown. We’re really excited to announce that we’ll be launching ‘Friend of the Farm’ in June, where you’ll be able to subscribe to our wine community, and receive all kinds of special benefits – including an invitation to come out and visit our vineyard! Stay tuned for more info about Friend of the Farm… 

History of the País grape

History of the País grape 559 364 eliza

País is a red wine grape grown in Chile, sometimes known as Negra Peruana. Ampelographers (grapevine identifiers) think that along with Argentina’s Criolla Grande grape, and California’s Mission grape, País is descended from the Spanish ‘common black grape’ brought to Mexico by Hernán Cortés, the famous Spanish conquistador, in 1520. This grape was then probably grown by Spanish Jesuit missionaries and became diversified throughout the Americas.

País grapes have a long and fruitful history – they’re in fact the oldest variety grown in Chile! Our País vines are over a century old, which is a real marker of the rigour of this variety. País was the most widely planted grape in Chile until the turn of the 21st Century, when it was overtaken by French varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenère. It was forgotten for decades, considered a minor grape only suitable for bulk wines, but today, a small group of winemakers are engaging with País to produce fascinating and enchanting wines. The grape is again becoming more valued by winemakers and growers, enjoyed for its abundant berry aromatics and its tendency to bring an exciting zingy quality to its wine.

The País grape has distinctively thin skin, and has been likened by some sommeliers to the French ‘Beaujolais’; perfect for making light, easy-drinking reds. It is naturally vigorous, and can produce high yields without irrigation. Our vines are a real testament to this resilience – 90% bounced back from the devastating fire in 2017, and this year we’ve picked a great harvest!

Our ‘Tinte’ wines made from our very own País vineyards are a result of low intervention farming. They are dry farmed (only ever receive rain water) and never sprayed. We use a creative winemaking approach by taking the traditional País grape and doing a direct press in a basket press – so instead of the typical dark red wine you’d expect from a País grape you get a pinky orange colour, because the red skins are not re-added into the juice after the pressing. The beautiful juice from the press goes into barrels for an 18 month fermentation. The natural yeasts from the skins of the grape enable the fermentation process – we don’t add in any yeasts or sulphites to influence the fermentation. We also make Agraz from the sour green grapes we collect as we thin out the vines in the late Spring. Thinning out the vines allows the grapes left on the vine to ripen in the sun. The sour green grapes get pressed in the basket press and bottled – Agraz is perfect as an acidifier to replace lemon juice or vinegar in a dressing or sauce!

What is natural wine?

What is natural wine? 559 397 Abby

Whether you are a wine-lover, or not, natural wine is a whole new experience. Most of us only ever go through life tasting chemical wine: mass-produced red, white or sparkling wines that taste the same year after year, bottle to bottle and give you a nice hangover to boot.

Real wine is radically different, this is vibrant wine that is filled with exhilarating flavours and that’s better for you and the planet!

Our small farm was setup with the purpose of building and sharing ecology, beauty and abundance: we live in a coastal hill valley which is very dry, so we work with what is there already, we do not use irrigation and only grow crops that will be resilient in the face of changing climatic conditions. Our 100 year old vines have survived multiple fires, frosts and earthquakes. The vines are dry-farmed, amidst a wealth of biodiversity so they stay healthy. We never add any chemicals or fertilisers, constantly listening, learning and working with nature. We call it “beyond organic”.

So it seemed totally ludicrous to take the carefully crafted grapes and doctor them with sulphates to ensure they tasted very similar to every other bottle of wine you’ve ever drunk!

Hence the hours of research began and we came across the world of natural wine-making pioneered by some phenomenal winemakers and farmers in France and spread by the brilliant Isabelle Legeron.

Natural wines are diverse in flavour and colour: bright yellows, burnt orange, cherry red, blossom pink, golden, each year a slightly new flavour or hue depending on the sun and rain. And what’s more, no one can tell you how they are meant to taste.

Natural wine is a craft, not a science, where you work with the gifts of the land:  organically-farmed grapes, fermented with local yeasts (already plentiful on the grape skins) and the microbiome of the fermentation process, fully alive from start to finish. And you get a much more exciting and unpredictable collection of wines as a result.

We invite you to taste with an open mind and heart and experience the journey of flavours as they swirl into your mouth.

Sustainable Summer Drinks at Ducksoup Soho, London: The Dry Ginger Cocktail

Sustainable Summer Drinks at Ducksoup Soho, London: The Dry Ginger Cocktail 559 397 Abby

by Natalie Valenzuela woman of the world, natural wine lover, currently residing in Pucon, Chile.

Sometimes the most unpredictable ingredients when mixed together make mouth-watering flavours, like sea salt, peanuts, rosemary & chocolate (for me this is a mind-blowing experience, every time). Ducksoup a restaurant and wine bar on London’s Dean St is a place that does this – they mix unique ingredients & serve dishes with amazing aromas & flavours.

Ducksoup is a special place, when you enter & retreat into the space you feel like you’ve teleported to an underground bar from the 50s, possibly Californian or Greek, the record player forever spinning sweet tunes to up the ante on the already mid-century modern vibes.

 

 

 

Back to the food & wine, they’re known for their use of fresh sustainably-sourced ingredients, aromatic flavours, instagramable beauty-filled food & of course their selection of natural wine (more on this in a future post). When in London we definitely recommend heading there…some of the best food and drinks around, no faff, just top quality offerings.

(Image via @Ducksoupsoho instagram.)

 

 

 

 

Rory McCoy (co-owner & all round legend) has invented a cocktail using a most unusual ingredient, our very own Agraz – enter The Dry Ginger cocktail: Mezcal, fresh ginger & Agraz. Mmmm, got you thinking. Rory has described our Agraz as “Its own thing. It goes so far to the extreme that you can’t actually drink it neat but you can recognise it’s going to bring equilibrium to whatever it’s used in”.

 

Co-founder Rory McCoy & Clare Lattin, Tom Hill executive chef. Images via @Ducksoupsoho instagram.

 

Agraz or verjus, French for green juice, is used as a healthy and delicious alternative to vinegar or lemon. Ours is made from unripened Pais grapes handpicked in early Spring at our farm Fundo Meza, as Rory mentioned it’s got the right kind of acidity & minimal sweetness. It’s grape-based, but not fermented & alcoholic, & therefore the flavors complement whatever it’s being served with. In this case, Mezcal & ginger.

Mezcal is native to Oaxaca, Mexico, made from 100% Agave, it is one of the oldest distilled spirits in the Americas. Artisanally distilled it has a smokey, sweet & floral flavor. Like wine, the soil & growing conditions are important not only for quality but for its naturality, meaning it’s one of the cleanest spirits on the market.

Fresh ginger as we all know is a healing spice, an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory properties, a natural gem.

 

Rory mixed these 3 together and The Dry Ginger cocktail was born. A peachy coloured drink, tarty & smokey, he describes it as “a total new dimension in your mouth, you have to adjust your palette. Tart and sharp to that extreme are not normally eaten, nor drank — almost an inversion of how you normally approach drinks”.

The Dry Ginger cocktail is available at Ducksoup, try it there and get the whole experience. Or try it at home with friends, Ducksoup said we can share the secret with you all 🙂 – recipe below. Shop Vidacycle Agraz on our online store.

Happy mixing.

 

 

 

THE DRY GINGER

25 ml Mezcal

50 ml Agraz

few grams of fresh ginger

In a cocktail shaker, smash or muddle the ginger, release the fire and liquid from within it, quickly chuck in the mezcal and agraz, then fast shake it with lots of ice. Double strain into the glass ‘ you don’t want bits of ice it in nor do you want it to water down.

Serve in a stemmed fancy cocktail fine glass.

Voila.  

 

 

 

Making TINTE: photo story

Making TINTE: photo story 559 397 Abby

Step 1: Our 2 hectares of vines in early Summer, ripening in the warm sun. We farm listening, learning and working with nature. That means that we never water our grapes, they thrive on their own with super deep tap roots. And we never spray anything(in organic farming you can spray both Copper and Sulphate to prevent disease). We are beyond organic in our methods observing the plants, soils, insects and animals all around to ensure we have a flourishing ecosystem so our vines will be healthy enough to resist disease pressures.

Step 2: The grapes turn purpley-red. They are ripe and ready to be picked in Autumn.

Step 3: A team of 5-6 of us head into the vines early morning, before it gets hot and harvest all the grapes by hand over 1-2 days. They are loaded into the car in batches and taken to the Bodega.

Step 4: Lots of delicious grapes ready to go in the press at the Bodega.

Step 5: We use a traditional basket press and squeeze out the juice from these delicious grapes, straight into barrels or tanks. (2014: 25% tanks, 75% barrels. 2015: 50% tanks, 50% barrels). We take natural wine to the extreme as we don’t have any chemicals at all on our farm, including sulphites. That means that our wines are completely sulphite free. A beautifully raw process which is much easier on your head.

Step 6: We continue to taste the grape juice as it evolves into wine over the year and when it tastes just right we bottle it, label it and mark down the year it was harvested. It’s put into boxes ready to ship.

Step 7: And of course we keep a few bottles for ourselves to enjoy at the end of a hard day’s work!

We are proud to share TINTE with you, it truly is just grapes and sunshine, nothing added along the way. Get a bottle or two here!

 

The full story

The full story 559 397 Abby

About ten years ago, we heard about a opportunity to become part of the farming community in the Loncomilla Valley, Chile. Friends of ours informed us that their neighbours, the owners of a small farm tucked away in the coastal hills near San Javier, were moving away. Our family had fallen in love with Chile on a recent trip. It seemed as if the stars had aligned and that small farm, Fundo Meza, became our home. At first, our dad (and to-be farm manager) Tom spent some time camping out on the land to get a feel for the fields, before the entire family joined and the hard work began.

And so began our journey into regenerative farming.

We planted our first baby trees in 2008. Since then, we’ve worked with the land to slowly and steadily grow over 8,000 olive trees, from which we produce our delicious extra virgin olive oil. Each olive is harvested by hand on our farm as part of our simple philosophy: we do not add anything synthetic and work with the life of each tree. It takes time, but we learn more from each tree year upon year. Sadly the farm suffered a devastating fire earlier this year, destroying almost all of our olive trees and making our produce minimal. However, our energies are focused on healing the land and subsequent regrowth. You can read more about the effects of the fire here .

Olive trees are only part of the story. We began making natural wine and agraz from the old pais vines that remained on the land. We also work with the bees to produce a small amount of honey and care for our vegetable gardens. Today, we distribute our raw, homegrown products in the UK and Chile.

As we learn more about the web of life and organisms everyday, we also learn more about the vital elements of creating a flourishing farm. We aim to work with all parts of the ecosystem to increase biodiversity on the land. While we initially drew influence from ‘conventional’ organic farming, we have expanded our thinking toward permaculture practices, natural agriculture, solar energy and more.

Without access to irrigation canals, our nearby natural springs and two shallow wells are our only source of water. We’ve embraced this by nourishing our olive trees with little water to eventually become dry-farmed. Over the last decade, we’ve experienced earthquakes and forest fires that have dramatically changed the landscape. Still, we do what we can to work with the land in its natural state, which helps us stay aware and have respect for the lifecycles around us. In doing so, we’ve gone far beyond our farm’s organic origin.

We’re committed to building a holistic ecosystem.

Inspired by certain challenges we met along the way, as well as the observation of the archaic ways in which many farmers record vital information about their farms – we set out to create more modern solutions. Abby, the coder and physicist of the family, developed mobile apps designed as smart and simple farming solutions: Sectormentor, to help us keep track of our fields, and Workmentor, to help us keep track of everyone working in the fields. Through building these tools, Vidacycle Tech emerged as a way for us to empower other smaller scale farmers around the world to be more resilient in the digital age.

Along with these apps, we’ve also built a combination of solar pumps and windmills on the farm that keep our water running. From our windmill pump and our solar hot water, to our organic vegetable and fruit gardens that feed us year around, there are many exciting and forward-thinking things happening here.

We’re keen to nurture our growing community, both locally and globally, as we share our journey. Whether visiting us on the farm or following us on social media – instagram, twitter, facebook – we want to share with you as we carry on learning by doing. Together, we can inspire a better future for people and earth.

The devastating inferno: thoughts from the farm after the fire.

The devastating inferno: thoughts from the farm after the fire. 559 397 Abby

I (Abby) wrote this post in January 2017 straight after the massive forest fires passed through the Loncomilla Valley where we live, I was feeling pretty disturbed by the fact that all of our good efforts to work with the land had come back to bite and actually made the fire damage worse for the crops we are meant to be nurturing (and generating a business from)…

At the time we had to go straight into recovery mode as all infrastructure except the main buildings was destroyed (water, electricity etc) so I didn’t get round to sharing about this until now.

Walking back from the spring with drinking water, all the water pipes and tanks melted in the fire.

Everyday we are still recovering from the fire and will be for a while yet, things like the 4km of fence that needs replacing so the neighbours cows don’t come and eat the olives seems an overwhelming task…but there is hope as the rains have come and the land is covered in green once again. The barren trees may still have life in them yet, we will see in the Spring.

And so, back to January this year:

What was left after the fire: a farmer’s nightmare

Just days ago, the fire ripped through our farm from the pine forests, leaving nothing to spare. The entire valley is black. The spines of pines stand like statues. Years and years of life lost in a matter of hours.

Eight years of care, planting, replanting, nurturing, picking off bugs by hand, watering, observing… all singed in a matter of minutes.

Our farm’s vines are burnt to a crisp, their one hundred year old trunks still smoking as bits of ash fleck onto the ground. Their leaves are burnt golden and ready to fall. Where once the olive groves were golden and green, now they are black and brown. Even the water tanks melted completely, leaving behind damp circular graves where water once was. It’s a sad, sad sight.

The grapes, almost ready to be harvest shrivelled on the blackened vines.

We are forever indebted to the volunteer firefighters and our neighbours for working courageously and with perseverance through the night to save the buildings.

The true extent of the damage will become clear next spring, when the olives and vines sprout new shoots of green — or they don’t. The vines that aren’t dead certainly won’t yield many grapes next year, as the plant remembers the stress of January 2017… but what about the year after? Will they ever return to full production? So many unknowns.

Working with nature takes time

Now we must wait — years. It’s so clear: you can’t just ‘pivot’ or take an ‘agile’ approach to farming. Things take time and can’t be sped up. This is even more true with our Vidacycle approach to regenerative farming, which goes beyond organic. We endeavour to listen, learn and work with nature in a way that allows natural lifecycles to flourish. Over the past ten years, we as a family have learned a lot through doing it ourselves, so many things that are specific to this little valley, this particular spot on earth that no one could tell us beforehand. We’ve also learnt a lot from the many amazing fellow smaller-scale farmers around the world and so have developed the farm using ideas of permaculture, natural agriculture and lots of solar energy. We’ve embraced the dryness of the land and the natural water sources, and from that learned to craft beautiful natural products such as our natural TINTE wine, agraz and olive oil.

Fires are natural

The fire of course is part of nature (although many people were arrested for starting the fires) but no one had foreseen how ruthless it would be — the thousands of acres of pine monoculture meant the fire travelled insanely rapidly and burst onto our farm with an extreme heat. An inferno.

A little house used to be right here. This is where the fire entered our farm from the pines and burnt most violently.

Interestingly the fire didn’t really progress much further than our farm. It was amazing how our many acres of native woodlands stopped the fire from reaching our neighbours, it just gradually trickled out, the regularity of the pine tinderbox was not around to carry the fire forward. So yes fires are natural, but monocultures are not, and it seems humans create an uncontrolled hell when we combine the two.

A way forward

At times, farming can feel like a lot of hard work. Looking out over the blackened landscape for months to come will be a constant reminder of what we are working with. And right now things feel kinda bleak.

I can only think our society need new ways of relating to our food and farming systems. We need to share this risk more widely if sustainable farming businesses are to survive. All of our lives depend on food. All our food comes from farms. Let’s celebrate the work of farmers and their commitment to live through the highs and the lows, live with the unknowns and to feed us all.

You can follow our story here and hear live dispatches as the fire happened on episode 18 and 19 of Farmerama, a podcast we help make, sharing the voices of the smaller-scale farming community.

And you can read more about the damage the fire caused and some of the conundrums we found ourselves in here.

learning from our weeds

learning from our weeds 559 397 Abby

We have learnt that a great way to learn more about the land is to understand what grows naturally on it. Weeds are an important part of this – so we did a little survey of all the weeds growing out in the olive groves to try and get a further glimpse into the plentiful world of the soils below. We have tried to identify as many of them as possible but there are still quite a few we haven’t identified yet. If you know any of them then please let us know!

Haplopappus illinitus

Haplopappus illinitus

Cirsium vulgare (Cardo negro) Spear thistle/Bull thistle?

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Convolvulus demissus () or Ipomoea purpurea (Gloria de la mañana)

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Plantago lanceolata (Llantén / Llantén menor) Buckthorn plantain (also here)

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Taraxacum officinale (Diente de león / Lechuguilla) Dandelion

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potentially Lupinus polyphyllus

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Dipsacus sativus (L.) Honck.   Carda , Cardilla

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Madia chilensis (Nutt.) Reiche

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Oenothera mollissima L

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and the rest we haven’t figured out yet…

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agraz harvest 2016

agraz harvest 2016 559 397 Abby

It’s El Niño year and so weather has been quite unusual. All the flowers and fruits are about two weeks later so the grapes really didn’t have much juice in them until end of January. El Nino antics also meant that we only had half as many grapes as last year – there was a late frost in October just after the vines flowered and many of the potential fruits were killed.

It took all of us one morning to thin all the low-lying and ‘extra’ grapes whilst they were still very green. Of course we don’t just leave the grapes, we use the green grapes for our Agraz. It took us 2 long days in total to get all the agraz made form this point…the process goes like this:

grapes to the bodega

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buckets into the crusher and then the basket press…once it’s full we start pressing….

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we had enough grapes to press 3 times, so in between we clean the press…

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juice is poured through gauze into the tank and bottles filled from the tank

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lightly heated using hot water from the solar panel (to prevent any fermentation if there are small amounts of sugar)

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cooled and corked

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cleaned and then labelled and dated

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and then boxed – definitely the worst job because of that troublesome tape!

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finally the cleaning of all the equipment begins…

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Vidacycle Taster Dinner part 2

Vidacycle Taster Dinner part 2 559 397 Abby

This follows on from part 1.

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Jeremy and Joy were the chefs, first up was Joy’s blanched chard and rhubarb toast, with olive oil and agraz dressing, along with the tarragon and radicchio salad with the most amazing olive oil, agraz and shallots dressing.

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The beauty of the agraz in dressings is that unlike lemon juice and vinegar it brings a very refreshing balance without overpowering the flavours of the food itself, it seems to highlight and accentuate just how fresh and tasty the olive oil, lettuce, chard and rhubarb are. The TINTE wine also goes perfectly with this, which makes sense because it’s made from exactly the same vines, just the grapes are now fully ripe and full of sugar – the two flavours are in sync with each other.

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For our main course Jeremy made a mushroom porridge, with chanterelles and black trumpets hidden under a charred red cabbage leaf. Plus little purple carrots with a milky white herb dip.
For the porridge, the spelt was toasted for a few minutes in olive oil and then cooked in water and the short grain brown rice soaked over night in water to soften it up. Both the wine and agraz were added to the rice and spelt as they were cooked to highlight and deepen the flavours.
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The agraz was also used in the beurre blanc which made the porridge ‘creamy’ – unbelievably delicious! We served another Chilean natural wine with this course because we prefer TINTE 2014 before or after dinner.

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Finally for dessert we has almond cake with almond milk jelly, TINTE jelly and a cashew butterscotch sauce. Thanks to The Pressery girls for giving us 1L of their raw almond milk which Jeremy jellyfied with gelatine . The TINTE jelly was a real hit, the rich flavours worked perfectly in a more solid format.

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