So. Last we talked it was July, 2016.
Now it is January 2017.
In meantime we've been to Armenia to collect old world varieties, brought them back, planted and watched them thrive, sold the best to you all, and planted several winter crops.
I say 'several' cuz we have been on a learning curve lately. The joys of watching critters eat the seedlings, seeds just refusing to pop, tinkering with soil recipe for seeds (one from a dear friend who just forgot a couple of crucial amendments....still friends though, they have saved us more than once in our new vegetable career), comparing seeding in our seed house vs. directly to the soil in the green tunnels (so far its 8-2 in favor of the green tunnels), and braving the two (so far) deep freezes Texas is so fond of in the Hill Country.
Results? Gorgeous crops of greens and lettuce, tomatoes that just will not quit, and upcoming crops of peppers, eggplants, cukes, radicchio, kale, swiss chard, kohlrabi, spinach, Broccoli, cauliflower, onions, radish, beans, peas, eggplants, squash, asparagus, artichokes, ginger, jerusalem artichoke, squash, melons, so much more.
It's a blessing to have this job, winter blasts and all, and we remain grateful. Hopefully we'll have lots more to share online, right now ti's time to go outline, outside, nature's treasure chest.
IN MEMORIUM our dearly dep arted lettuce mix...
This is the last week for our salad mixes, we take a break from the heat and start up the fall crop. "Hot is hot and the greens do love it not."
But we've got GORGEOUS Tomatoes, Peppers, Cucumbers--ARMENIAN CUCUMBERS---Fennel, Eggplants and Basil, and the crunchy nutty flavored purple, yellow and green beans.
June 16: Fredericksburg Marktplatz
June 17: Mason Sandstone Cellars
June 18: Austin Downtown $th & Guadalupe
Article from Smithsonian about the oldest grape stock found, in Armenia, and still grown in Alik's village! We have started seedlings at the farm, and with luck and good nature, will have a vineyard in a few years. Never before grown in the Hill Country, or Texas and maybe even California for that matter! Areni Noir: some of the finest dry wines come from this varietal.
From the Smithsonian Article:
Armenia holds a remarkable depth and diversity of cultural and natural landscapes, all within an area approximately the size of the state of Maryland. This diversity and richness is evident in music, cuisine, art, and—increasingly—Armenia’s burgeoning wine industry.
What makes a wine Armenian? I posed this question to Irina Ghaplanyan and Vahe Keushguerian, two wine professionals passionate about the country’s current wine renaissance. Ghaplanyan represents Vineyards of Armenia, a group of almost a dozen winemakers from across the country, including both boutique and large-scale wineries. Keushguerian is a winemaker and the owner of Semina Consulting, a winery consultancy based in Yerevan. He has been involved in the wine industry for over twenty-five years, first in the San Francisco Bay Area as a wine importer, then Tuscany, Puglia, and now Armenia.
Ghaplanyan and Keushguerian emphasized the unique grape varietals indigenous to Armenia and the country’s exceptional terroir, the characteristics that soil, weather, climate, and other environmental factors impart to the grapevines. Armenian wine is also connected across time with a more than six thousand-year-old history of viniculture.
In 2011, researchers from UCLA and the Armenian Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography discovered the oldest wine-making facility in the world, dating from approximately 4100 BCE. This Areni-1 cave complex sits at the mouth of a gorge leading to the medieval Noravank monastery, at the outskirts of Areni village.
Underground in the Areni-1 Cave Complex (Photo by Sossi Madzounian, Smithsonian)
The discoveries at Areni-1 place Armenia at the fore of an emerging “Historic World” of wine, including Georgia, Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and Syria. Working with Historic World colleagues, Armenian wine geneticists, archaeologists, and producers are rediscovering ancient varietals that are the ancestors of today’s wine varietals. In a region fraught with conflict, this is a kind of “wine diplomacy,” bridging contemporary geopolitical borders.
Ghaplanyan and Keushguerian recently traveled to northwestern Iran, near the Hajji Firuz site where the oldest winemaking related evidence has been discovered, to search for grape varietals in abandoned vineyards.
“Genetic analysis found that four of these varietals had unique genotypes, which is fascinating, and another clue to understand the period of grapevine domestication, and also the way it began migrating to Europe,” Ghaplanyan remarks. These discoveries may “explain how they migrated and the links between the current European varietals and the varietals we have here.”
Armenian grape varietals, like Areni, Kakhet, Voskehat, Khatun Kharji, Movuz, Sireni and Chilar, are still relatively unknown outside of the region. Indigenous to the area and distinct from both the European Old World and New World varietals, these are the grapes that, as Keushguerian puts, “would perplex a wine professional.” He continues, “Their flavor profile is different than what you’re used to—not too different, but distinct. The sensation is different.”
A hand-painted map shows the grape varietals in the Semina winery. (SLMotley, Smithsonian)
Ghaplanyan and Keushguerian are propagating many of these vitis vinifera varietals in nurseries. They grow rediscovered varietals and produce wine in a process called “microvinification,” creating wines from very small batches of grapes to learn more about the different flavor profiles possible from these ancient grape types. One of their discoveries is the sheer number of flavor profiles possible from only one varietal.
“If you compare different grapes, there’s usually a set amount of flavor profiles that a grape can produce,” she explains. “With the Voskehat grape, the aroma profiles and complexity are much higher than average. It is also a very terroir-driven grape. In 2013, a colder year, it acquired a very stone fruit flavor, very peachy, apricot. 2014 was a lot warmer, so we had tropical notes from banana to pineapple to passion fruit.”
Situated at the intersection of the European and Arabian tectonic plates, Armenia has frequent seismic activity. The resulting volcanic soil is ideal for grape cultivation, enriching terroir. Georgian wines also benefit from this soil type, but Armenia’s higher elevation and extreme continental climate distinguishes its grapes. Ghaplanyan says very hot summers and very cold winters give the grapes boldness and “a certain maturity.”
The Keush vineyards with iconic Mt. Ararat in the distance (Vineyards of Armenia)
Armenia’s extreme climate is surprising when you consider its latitude—roughly the same as Sicily and Mt. Etna. The Armenian highlands produce a range of microclimates, and diverse grapes grow from the lowest elevations of 2,000 feet above sea level to the highest at 5,700, where Keushguerian grows the grapes for his Keush sparkling wine.
“What we’re doing is something like ‘extreme winemaking,’” he says. “We are pushing the limits of the frontier. Armenian vineyards are some of the highest in the northern hemisphere, apart from one small patch of vineyard in Colorado.”
This elevation also breeds a high concentration of polyphenols. These chemicals, which may be linked to prevention of degenerative diseases, lend Armenian wine “a higher structure, a certain je ne sais quoi … a certain elegance similar to northern Italian wines,” as Keushguerian describes.
The extreme climate also breeds grapes with high acidity, so there is no need to add tartaric acid during the winemaking process, which is common with wines of the New World. High acidity without additives made early winemaking possible, when early inhabitants of the South Caucasus may have used wines for ritual purposes.
Labels for the Keush sparkling wine are printed at the winery. (SLMotley, Smithsonian)
Winemaking in Armenia dates from at least 4100 BCE to the present day, but Armenian viniculture has been disrupted throughout history by imperial conquests, political revolutions, and shifts in society. During Soviet times, and especially when Stalin came to power in the 1930s, the government asked Armenian winemakers to shift production toward cognac and European-style fortified wines (i.e. sherry, madeira) instead of table wines. This system rewarded quantity rather than quality.
“We can give one credit to the Soviets,” Ghaplanyan reminds. “They created collective nurseries, where they would preserve the historic varietals. They didn’t industrially use them because they weren’t as weather resistant, but they didn’t ignore them. They had a collection which we lost during the collapse of the Soviet Union.”
Instability, privatization, and conflict characterized this collapse in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the wine industry lay dormant for years. The vineyards, which need steady and constant care, fell into neglect until the late 1990s.
Since 1998, they and their fellow winemakers have been rebuilding and expanding the Armenian wine industry, and today there is a renaissance. The 2010 vintage was a watershed year, and Yerevan now boasts almost a dozen wine bars, while Armenian wines are appearing on global top ten lists.
Irina Ghaplanyan, My Armenia project specialist Hamazasp Danielyan, and Vahe Keushguerian walk through the Semina winery. (SLMotley, Smithsonian)
Ghaplanyan and Keushguerian see this evolving industry as a boon to local communities. As wine quality improves, so does the value of the final product and the grapes themselves. Within a more profitable economy, many farmers who have been steadily leaving for work in Russia might be able to afford to stay on their land. In marginal plots of land, on hillsides dotting the Armenian highlands, winemakers, communities, and families are cultivating the future of Armenia—by revisiting and reinterpreting its historic grapevines.
Vahe Keushguerian and Irina Ghaplanyan will present a selection of Armenian wines with the Smithsonian Associates on May 18, including a tasting of Voskehat.
This article originally appeared on the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage's "Talk Story: Culture in Motion" blog. For further reading on Armenia, check out the "My Armenia" project.
1) Sullivan, M. “Chemical analysis confirms discovery of oldest wine-making equipment ever found,” UCLA Newsroom, January 11, 2011.
2) Brouillard, R., George, F. and Fougerousse, A. “Polyphenols produced during red wine ageing,” BioFactors, 6: 403–410, 1997.
The rain almost did us in, but we are a stubborn kind of growers, Ain't Armenian and texan for nothing! Give us a pump and a little sunshine and we can raise most anything! And this week we STILL got Mixed Salad greens, a it of Romaine and even some Arugula!
And also, the Tomatoes are coming in,. as are Cucumbers, Peppers, Eggplants and Squash!
And the Basil is luscious, as are the Kale and the Chard.
So despite nature's best efforts to postpone harvest, we FINALLY have some maters, peppers and eggplants for you all! Though the quantities are limited, and we still may not have much for Saturday's Austin market, but if the sun peeks out these three days, who knows?
So we're about to enter the Triple Crown of Hill Country Farmers Markets, at least for us))
This week we officially begin our three market schedule, Thursdays thru Saturdays:
Fredericksburg Farmers Market, Thursdays, 4-7 pm, At the Main Square, Fredericksburg, TX
Mason County Farmers Market, Fridays, 5-7 pm, behind Sandstone Cellars, Mason, TX
Austin SFC downtown market, Saturdays, 9 am-1 pm, Republic Square (4th & Guadalupe), Austin, TX
And we got lots coming this week, the lettuces are still going fine (thank you hill country cool nights!) and we're bringing in our gorgeous cabbage, tomatoes, and snow peas!
If you're in the area ,come see us this weekend! We'd be pleased to see you!
This week was International Women and Beauty Day. Sexism aside, I love beauty in all its forms, but especially in the Japanese form, which creates balance in opposing places and looks for inner beauty through all of nature. The imperfections create the desire, as my Kabuki teacher and Mentor Shozo Santo always said.
I wish we had Japanese produce this week, rather, we have the first crop of Armenian Basil, from seeds brought in form the old country. It's a stunning shade of dark red and has a distinct anise flavor.
And we've still got our Enchanted Mix Salad, Incredibly fresh and crunchy Romaine, Spring Spinach is really coming along now, as is the Italian Pesto Basil and red and white icicle radishes. Come by Sandstone Cellars in Mason, Texas for our last Saturday Sale before we start up at the Mason Farmer's Market on Friday April 15, 5pm
Happy Valentines Day from the food ranch! Where we spent a romantic day battening down the side walls of the hoop house against gusts of south Texas wind followed by plating onion sets, potatoes and garlic, topped with a few hours of setting up our irrigation system. Woo EE we feel randy after all that farming foreplay! Meaning, we're about to conk out to catch a few zzz's before rise and shine! tomorrow morning.
Seriously now, well, no, nothing serious here--we are having a ball setting up the farm, though keenly aware we are already a couple of weeks behind on the season--while all you northern folks got Son of Polar Vortex, we skipped over winter and are dead on Spring.
But seeing ti come together is a blast and I feel like what I am doing is worth it. Honest work? Don;t know about that, but it is real, something I see each day take shape, a physical thing that we are making.