bunch of grapesOkay, I’m speaking metaphorically. But we are getting terribly organic, sustainable and agriculturally ranch-y around here suddenly. That’s because the heat is shooting up…well…some of the time. And we’re thinking the harvest may not be too far away. The result is a flurry of activity as we get workflow and workspace coordinated and ready from crushpad to canning station.

But I lead off with compost tea to remind myself to tell you about one of my favorite new stores here in Sonoma. You may remember when I took the cliffhanging ride down the coast to Santa Cruz and the wind-y mountain road back just to visit the only place I could find in the San Francisco area that sold compost tea. While they did have some great tomato starts and the aforementioned tea, most of their stock and products were aimed at, shall we say, another type of crop. But my new source of compost tea is completely vegetable-centric. And comparing their compost tea to anyone else’s? Well, it’s like going directly at the Jack Daniel’s distillery versus pulling some past-its-expiration-date Papst’s Blue Ribbon off the dusty shelf of a failing corner store.

By which, I mean to say, at Valley Hydro & Organics they brew their own. And they will serve no compost tea past its time. Seriously. I went in to buy one gallon thinking I’d be directed to a shelf of prepackaged commercial compost teas. They do have those, but they also have a huge barrel of their own home brew which is a thousand times better. The nice co-owner, Justin, told me so, and I believe him. Their home-brewed compost is made from 100% vegetable compost (no manure), worm castings and also features dry Alaska humus which is apparently soil from ancient peat bogs. Loaded with vitimins, or the plant equivalent, I’m told. Also added are molasses, humic acid and seaweed for all those important trace minerals. But what’s really cool about their home brew is that all the critters or whatever in it are alive. Something none of the prepackaged brands can boast. As I said, I went in to buy a gallon, but Justin gave me a great deal on five gallons since this batch was ready to be thrown out. They brew twice a week, so it might be worth calling to find out when they have just made a fresh batch. The thing is, once the tea comes out of the barrel and hits oxygen as it’s pumped into your container (bring one or buy one), some of the good little compost soldiers start to die. And you want as many alive as possible. Because Justin told me you can spray this tea undiluted directly on your veggies and the little microbes or whatever will take care of all the molds, fungus and other bad stuff that is getting between you and perfect produce.

Justin at Valley Hydro & Organics, Sonoma

Justin at Valley Hydro & Organics was a little hesitant to be featured on a blog with a large Albanian readership, but he gamely posed as he siphoned out my compost tea direct from the barrel.

Then again, I may have all my facts muddled. Just swing by Valley Hydro & Organics on Sonoma Highway and he’ll set you straight. Ask for the good stuff right from the barrel.

Since we’re on the subject of sustainable organic things, there’s a fabulous event coming up at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds next Tuesday through Wednesday. It’s America’s largest heirloom produce event: The National Heirloom Exposition. It’s partially sponsored by the excellent Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds — which may be available in your gardening store. I’ll be pressing my nose to the gates before they open on Tuesday. And I’ll have a full report.

Meanwhile, back at the Ranch…

The jury is still out on the tomato harvest. Harvest, heck, we haven’t even had a ripe one! Not a ripe tomato and it’s September? That’s a testament to the weird cool and rainy spring and summer we’ve had around here. Of course, Andy and John the Baptist were also blaming the fact that I went to Oaxaca for three weeks and let my tomato plants turn into Tomato Cambodia — a veritable jungle of tomato foliage. I finally got around to thinning out the masses of vegetation only to find that I had hundreds of tomatoes, not in the sunny outside of the thatch, but deep in the damp, dark, jungly recesses. When they were finally liberated, they insisted in crawling along the ground like squash vines instead of standing up tall like tomato plants.

creeping tomato vine

Which leads me to believe I've developed an entirely new tomato species -- the Creeping Cambodian Jungle Tomato.

Meanwhile, we’re gearing up for the harvest. First step was picking greenish grapes at the point of veraison for Verjus, which we’ve now crushed, pressed and bottled. Since grapes for Verjus are picked green and processed like wine only without fermentation, its usually a good dry run for us before harvest. Lets us know where our system and workflow are failing and gives us a heads-up to get ourselves in gear.

Andy in Charlie Daniels hat

How "in gear" are we? So in gear that Andy put on his Charlie Daniels hat for the weekend.

We took our first grape readings and, despite the predictions that the cold and wet season would delay harvest, we seem to be somewhat on schedule.

mourvedre grapes, sonoma

BRIX and pH readings are all over the map, but the Mourvedre grapes seem to be right on schedule.

However, we’re up on this ridge and tend to get warmer weather than just a mile away. Just look how the fog comes in from the Golden Gate and up San Pablo Bay into the Carneros district.

fog creeps into sonoma valley

That's why down there, they are growing Pinot Noir and white grapes while up where I'm standing at Two Terrier Vineyards, it's all hot weather grapes like Cabernet, Mourvedre and Grenache.

Well, in short, we think we’re ready. Harvest, bring it on! We’re scrubbed, cleaned, organized and terriers have been let loose on stored winemaking equipment to clear out the varmints. We’re bracing for whatever the weather can hand us. And we’ve heard from the experts that after a cool spring and summer, a few weeks of heat can send the grapes shooting toward ripeness at twice the speed.

As Bette Davis would have said, had she been a vintner, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy crush.”