Moving Beyond Waste Diversion

I took a master composter class this weekend in Penticton in the hopes of gaining  a better insight into the basics of composing.  Our winery generates around 100 tonnes of grape waste per year ending up on our property’s compost area.   My main focus was to learn about improving our large-scale system.

For years we dealt with composting our pomace (grape waste) this way:  stockpile the skin, seed and stem waste on a corner of our property.  Do nothing. Repeat every year.  After about 4 years spread it out on weak corners of our vineyard to “add organics” to the soil.  In hindsight we had good intentions but what we were doing was not really composting, it was called waste diversion.  We believed we were doing something real–at least all those tonnes and tonnes of organic matter was not going to landfill (as it does with some wineries).

Static Compost Pile

Static Compost Pile

The problem was, the waste (as I will call it now, not compost) was not really adding anything back to our vineyard.  The nitrogen had leached out, the organics were non-existent, there was some biomass going onto the vineyard rows, a bit of a build up of the soil, but in no way replenishing any of the nutrients that we had taken out during the previous  growing season.  I now know that the technical term for our pomace mounds was static compost piles.  If you drive around the Okanagan Valley and wine areas all over the world you’ll see them (or smell them, depending on the time of year).  If you wait a year and do nothing the volume of the pile will decrease by about 40%, so not a bad thing–but not a great thing either.

2009 (left) & 2010 (right) Windrow Compost Piles

Every year that we take grapes off our estate property we are removing nutrients from our land as well.  Our goal lately with our pomace was to be able to add back compost of value to our land.  We now have a slightly more active system with our organic waste called turned windrow composting.  The piles are shaped into longer and narrower piles that are turned more frequently to add aeration.  To these piles of grape waste or “green” waste (a term in composting denoting organics high in nitrogen content) we now mix in “brown” waste (organic material with a high amount of carbon).  In our case we have a huge amount of landscaping waste, vines that have been chipped, leaves and prunings–a ready available amount of brown waste.  The mixture of the two Carbon:Nitrogen, the periodic aeration and also watering of the piles to keep moisture higher (around 55-65%) now gives us something that has nutrients when it goes back to the weaker areas of the vineyard.

Something more than just waste diversion.

In the next few weeks I am working on a much more intensive and faster system of compost that will handle the organic waste from Miradoro Restaurant.  My end goal is to design a system of composting for the new restaurant that dovetails nicely into our winery compost system and can benefit the nutrition of our gardens and vineyard even more.  The initial design includes pickling the food waste with a system called Bokashi (more in future posts) and then either adding it to our windrow system already in place or burying it directly in our vineyard or landscaping.

There are many factors to take into account: time for handling, capital equipment required, ease of use, bear and other pest attractants, odours and the eventual composition of what is going back into our land–not to mention the tiny problem that none of this was on my to-do list this Spring!  I will post again once we have started the implementation phase and look forward to any and all comments from you in the meantime.

Worms Move Into Our Compost

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Vineyard Manager Andrew Moon extolling the virtues of Cabernet Franc.  For all you Tinhorn Creek Cabernet Franc fans out there, you “get it” already.

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Moving Day

I am moving to a new office building.  I have been living in “the hole” (lab/shared office/cellar command centre) since 1996.  15 years of no windows (unless you count the Bill Gates kind), a door you have to close to read the white boards, lab equipment, Einstein posters, reference books, binders, tasting glasses, CDs, coffee paraphernalia and people.  Always people.

I packed up my office on Thursday morning last week.  As I dug into the desk which is not allowed to move with me, (something about matching decor–don’t ask–it is a sad subject) I uncovered so much of my life.  As is always the case, I threw out a lot.    A purge.  Old tax forms, thesis research material from my stressful days writing about tannin maturation, plastic trinkets, 30+ pictures of a sunset in Hawaii that all looked like the same picture, old business cards, pieces of crayons and chalk, Spice Girls trading cards (whaaa?), bolts, cards from people I don’t remember…

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From the farthest recesses of my drawers I dug out some treasures too. Pictures of my life starting a winery in a new country with a new family.  Building new vineyards.  Designing and constructing a winery.  Our first public wine tasting.  Old buildings where we made our first vintage.  Old friends who have moved on and old friends who are still my dearest friends.

When the desk was cleaned out, right down to the pencil lead and bits of fluff caught in the corners, I looked at what I had amassed.  Two boxes and one bag, all fitting easily on a rolling pushcart with room to spare.  15 years on a rolly cart.  I felt a bit demoralized as I pushed it out of the lab… across the cellar floor I had watched being poured years ago…out the big wooden doors that were built by two guys in the winter of 1996 in a hoarded up corner of the cellar… to the crush pad with my name carved in the concrete… past the amphitheater which had always been my dream to have if I ever owned a winery… and into the new building.  Into my new office.

A housewarming gift from the cellar workers sat on the new, empty desk…an ice bucket complete with all the fixings for making martinis and a beautiful card signed with heartfelt wishes for my move into the new digs.

I tucked the card into the back recesses of my new desk.  Time to start making new memories.

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Persnickety Me

I don’t consider myself a high maintenance person.  I’m not someone who, for example, needs to modify every menu item before I place an order.  That being said, I do have my peculiarities…

1. Martinis Just ask me three questions: 1) vodka or gin?  2) straight up or on the rocks? 3) olive or twist?  All other drinks should get their own names–and be original about it–stop putting the suffix “ini” after everything.

Might as well stick to beverages, now that I’ve alienated half the cocktail drinking population…

2. Cab Franc Speaking only as a winemaker, I have found that I’ve become snooty about our Cabernet Franc being 100% varietal.  It’s weird.  I love the grape so much that I want it to be expressed “purely”.  It’s a badge of honour if people say they enjoy our Cab Franc when I know it is indeed the Cab Franc grape they like.

3. Pinot Noir While we’re on the subject of wine…a varietal Pinot noir wine should be all Pinot Noir.  It’s an interesting beast/grape genetically with respect to color and tannin and it doesn’t always get dark and tannic.  Its strength is its finesse.   Don’t dress it up to be something it is not by blending in Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah or whatever else you’ve got kicking around in your winery cellar.

Genuine Okanagan Squash

4. Roadside Produce Stands Let’s say you’re selling fruit and vegetables by the side of the road.  Wonderful, local, bundles of goodness.  Why are you filling your shelves with corn from California if it will be two weeks before your corn is harvested?  Our tasting room doesn’t sell Pinot Gris from Oregon if the Tinhorn Creek Pinot Gris is sold out (of course that would be illegal anyway in BC, but what isn’t?) Roadside stands should sell local produce or else it’s cheating.

5. Movies No remakes.

…and sticking with movies…

6. 3D movies  Stop it.  Just stop it.

Da Stang

7. Vintage Cars For my cars there is only one way–go original or go home.  I feel that by bringing a car back to the way it was when it rolled off the assembly line it will feel whole again (I know, I’m personifying cars.  Live with it.)  When restoring my ’66 Mustang I hunted for original parts or very close restoration parts.  I searched eBay for a year looking for an original radio to go into the dash.  Three layers of paint were stripped off and the original factory color (sauterne gold) was restored.  Perhaps someday I’ll buy a car and hack it up or soup it up…but I don’t think so.

8. Pets Pet shops are for pet supplies.  Want a pet?  Get one from the local SPCA or from a friend.

9. Vintage objects I like vintage, not retro (see #7 above).  For example, our kitchen has glass spice apothecaries that are 100+ years old from Scandinavia.  Two woodworkers in the past year have told me they could have made me the same shelves for a fraction of the cost.  I don’t care.  I like old.  There’s an aura of history that’s almost tactile (personification again) that you can not get from a reproduction.

10.  Lists Don’t end a list with 9 things.

Note: The opinions expressed here are solely those of Sandra Oldfield and are no reflection of those who work at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards.  In fact, employees often deny even knowing me.

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Do You Want an Audit with that Merlot?

Nothing says sexy like the word “audit”.  Really?  No?  You don’t get all goose pimply when someone says “I’m coming to audit you “?  In the past month I have conducted two audits in one of my roles (Operations Manager) at Tinhorn Creek and I can tell you, years ago when I went to school at UC Davis to study enology, I never dreamed I would spend an entire month of my life (actually more) conducting audits.

I’ve completed a Health and Safety Audit in February and then this week I’m finishing up a green house gas (GHG) inventory.  Both tres sexy …

Vineyard Manager Andrew Moon modeling the newest Fall fashion--high vis vests

First the Health and Safety audit.  Way too much to summarize here as it included a 24 page report  with 127 file attachments(!) Suffice it to say that I became an official small business auditor for BC in September and finally went through a very detailed look at the systems we have in place in our vineyard, winery and hospitality areas.  Worker orientation, hazard identification and control, safe work procedures, emergency drills…wait I’m losing you, I know.  Not too sexy. But I can tell you that in all I have done at Tinhorn Creek in 16 years, nothing has given me a greater sense of personal achievement or a bigger sense of pride in our employees. Really.  I kid you not.

Counting worms in our compost for our green house gas audit (not really!)

Then there’s green house gas inventory.  It’s got the word GREEN in it so it MUST be sexy.  This is the third audit I have done in 2 1/2 years on our carbon footprint.  I’m pouring over a box full of files looking at  multi-year comparisons of trucking records, mileage logs, diesel purchases for the tractors, power bills, paper usage, airline flights and (wait for it) dumpster pick ups categorized by landfill waste and recycled waste.  Just doesn’t get sexier than that…

…until next month.  That’s when I certify new employees on the fork lift.  I’m also an official fork lift trainer for BC.

If you just can’t believe how sexy this blog post was..stay tuned for future postings when I show you how we actually did on our audits.  Good times.  Good times.

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#ChardyTuesday in the Rear View Mirror

In April 2010 I started a twitter account and fell in love with the immediacy of it and the way it engages people.  I wanted to show people what I see every day living on our estate vineyard property, perhaps a glimpse into what I think about during the growing season, and I wanted it to be educational. (Ay! Not educational on twitter!)  I came up with the idea of sending out a picture once every Tuesday of one vine…

One vine to show what vintage means.

The vine-turned-star was Chardonnay Row 1, Vine 3 (renamed #ChardyTuesday) of our Tinhorn Creek Vineyard.  Sitting right in front of my home, it was ideal for those gotta-get-the-five-year-old-on-the-bus-and-tweet-a-vine-in-only-ten-minutes kind of mornings.

I started sending out a weekly look at the VINE and one of its CLUSTERS. I wrote short explanations of what had happened during the week with respect to operations or weather events and sometimes a bit of an insight into my thoughts on how the vintage was shaping up.  Note: just click on an individual picture in the links above and my comments will appear.

I never missed a week of posting in five months–from bud burst in early May to harvest day on October 7.  (Ahem, there was one day where I got home to find a host of followers asking “What happened to the #ChardyTuesday update yesterday?”… D’oh!).

It became a chronicle of the 2010 season, and I find myself referring back to it even now, months after it has ended.  I think it connected people to what we do on this land in a very personal way.   Hopefully it also gave the people following the hash tag a sense of that illusive thing called “vintage”.  It allowed me to explore a new way of interacting with our customers–which always excites me.  Lastly,  it gave me a zillion ideas for how to bring people closer to the place that, 16 years ago, lured me up from California.

…look for #SyrahTuesday in 2011, with a twist…or three.  I can’t do anything the same way twice.

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My Avatar

My father was not a winemaker.  He was an auto mechanic who opened his own small shop south of Market in San Francisco in the 1950’s.  He specialized in the only “real” cars that existed in California back then, American cars and trucks.

He was young, with a young family, and he struggled for some time until a bit of money started coming in.  It was time to get my Mom a real car.  Not just a family car but also a new car.  In July 1958 he walked into the James F. Waters Building, what is now Ellis Brooks on 19th Avenue, and bought a 1957 Dodge De Soto Fireflite.  He paid cash of course; exactly $3,100.00 ($2,945.19 base price, $117.81 state and city sales taxes and $37.00 in license and registration).

Bill of Sale, Cash Receipt

Long and low.  Red and white.  Not fire engine red, but a more muted, happy and sophisticated red.  White door panel cut outs with a distinct art deco feel and accented by a thick line of chrome stripping.  Matching white roof with beautiful curved corners that continue right down to the curved windshields.  Three inch thick white wall tires.  A massive chrome front grill with a slightly mischievous look on it.  And punctuating the end of the car two impressive fins, rising from its sleek lines,  housing three stacked tail lights in each.

Inside, two long bench seats covered in grey cloth material and accented by gold thread woven into a space-age design. No seat belts.  A large white steering wheel, AM radio, push button transmission, and two ashtrays (one on the back side of the front bench seat–presumably for the children in the back?)

My oldest sister still remembers vividly the day he first drove it home down the driveway.  She thought someone was visiting until she saw it was Dad behind the wheel.

A new car…Unbelieveable.

For the next 4 or so years my mother drove the car to the bank, to schools, to stores and to church on Sundays. The seats were always covered in plastic. No eating, drinking or smoking allowed anywhere near it.

She had a tiny fender bender one day and that was it.  She had always been a bit stressed to drive such a nice, new car and with that, the De Soto was moved around but rarely driven again.  It was finally put into storage around 1966–the year I was born–with just 25,856 original miles on it.

To my Dad, a car was and still is, just a car.  It is not art, or something to be revered, or collected.  It’s just a car.

I feel the same way about wine.  First and last, a wine is just a wine, not art.  Let poetry be written about love, family bonds, lasting friendships and deaths.  Not wine. Not cars.

Still, this car must have had some special meaning to my Dad because he never got rid of it. Perhaps it symbolized his being able to provide firmly for his family, or maybe he really did secretly love its lines and didn’t want to part with it.  Nonetheless, year after year my Mother faithfully re-registered the ’57 De Soto even though it remained up on blocks.  It was moved one last time in 1982 to a small shed on a property my parents owned and sealed with a bike lock.

Each year that passed my Father assumed he had stored it incorrectly.  Perhaps mice had gotten in, or mold and rust had taken over.  Why think anything else?

The shed was rickety and was bombarded by Northern California elements of wind, constant rain, summer heat and even a flood or two.  He told me a few years back, when I was pining for the car, begging him to sell it to me, that he imagined it destroyed.  Beyond repair.  He could not bear to see what he had done to it.  So he never looked. In 27 years he never looked.

In Spring 2009, while on a visit down to California, he drove me to the property with the shed.  He took out a small key, pried open the door and while barely lifting up a corner of the tarp over it, offered me his 1957 De Soto if I wanted it. (Yes, I did!)

He had made certain before I arrived that he had finally looked at the car.  He was pleasantly surprised that it was, for lack of a better word, pristine. Time itself hadn’t even touched it all those years.

It came up to Oliver on a flat deck, and spent its first winter in the Okanagan being worked on here and there.  Really, there was not much wrong with it.  My husband saw its value, its importance in my life and he gave it the care it needed.

It seemed to me the car really just wanted to feel the road beneath its wheels and I wanted my Dad to see it running again.  So on July 30, 2010 we drove the family De Soto back to California and down my Dad’s driveway, as he had done for his children 52 years earlier.

I’m proud to be my father’s daughter. I’m proud that it’s not wine but motor oil that runs through my veins.

Dad in his De Soto Again

Posted in Cars, Personal Sandra | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments