Sonoma Farm Life (in the time of Corona Virus)

Sonoma Farm Life (in the time of Corona Virus)

Sonoma farm life is explored, scroll through to be entertained, learn, and laugh…or just waste 10 minutes before your next ‘bored & working from home’ Corona virus zoom video conference.

Vineyard pruning in March

Vineyard unpruned vine

Here is an example of a grapevine waiting to be pruned. As a deciduous plant, it drops all of it’s leaves in winter and translocates carbs and nutrients from the woody shoots back into the roots. In spring, those nutrients push back into the new shoots supporting growth.

Vineyard pruner at work

Our beloved Emma, a world class grapevine pruner at work.

Vineyard canes and spurs tied to training wire

The pruned and tied vine. Note all the previous year’s wood has been removed (on the ground waiting for mowing into in-place compost), and only the ‘new wood’ has been tied horizontally to the training wire (the wire above the black drip hose). Picture this being done thousands of times per acre and you have some sense of the labor and expense of vineyard farming. Sonoma farm life


beets onions

One of our raised beds – Beets in the foreground, red onion sets in the background, about 4 weeks from harvest, around April 10th.

little bunny foo foo

The bunnies have been reproducing especially rapidly this year. This baby here has possibly lost its mother and is temporarily hiding in this empty plant container till dark. Always interesting to follow which animal populations expand or shrink depending upon conditions. We’ve always had the usual gophers, deer, rabbit, and fox, and recently a family of weasels under the rock pile. Sonoma farm life

Rescuing a downed Red Tail Hawksadly this story doesn’t end well…

Red Tail at night

I was on a walk at dusk down by the Arroyo Seco creek and came upon an injured and very confused Red Tail Hawk. Called my friend Chris Melanćon, a trained falconer, and later that evening we captured and boxed the bird to keep it safe and warm overnight.

Red Tail weighing

The following morning we brought it to the Bird Rescue Center in Santa Rose were it was checked into the system, assigned a number, and weighed.

Red Tail closeup head

Skilled nurses carefully checked the health and condition.

Red Tail wing span

And checked all it’s vitals, including wings of course.

Red Tail talons

You can see these raptors have quite the extended reach and very sharp claws to grab their prey while in flight.

Red tail Bird Rescue Sign

Sadly, our bird survived only a few days at the Rescue Center. Apparently it had suffered a neurologic injury and just could not pull through. We did our best. Nature at work. Sonoma farm life

Willow tree cuttings

willow cuttings

Found myself in Healdsburg on a bike ride and met up with a fellow winemaker who has a rare yellow-barked willow. Genus Salix. Could not pass up the chance to fill my backpack with cuttings which in the case of all willows are quite easily transplanted.


These willow cuttings are soaking before going into the ground. Willows will sprout roots from almost any woody cutting. They are fast growers too. The roots are very invasive so it’s a bad idea to plant them near pipes and sidewalks. But they are an excellent plant almost anywhere else for instant shade. And other plants and trees will naturally fill in under them as the willows age-out and die-off later.

Mowing the native grasses

Before mowing

Before: This is a good time of year to give the grasses and forbs (pasture) a quick haircut.

after mowing

After: The first cut-pass with my old 1950’s Mott flail mower mounted onto the PTO of our Kubota tractor. The smell of the cut grass is intoxicating. I do this to create a dry and comfortable walking path out in the pastures, leaving the remainder to grow high in the spring.

fence line

This is view of our north fence line getting ready to mow.

The old Mott flail mower occasionally enters a complaint!

old bearing

The flail mower takes a real beating. After some heavy use, on occasion a bearing will burn out. You can see here that the bearings are completely gone. Had to learn how to replace these. I’ve heard many stories of grass fires starting when the bearing fails and the red-hot ball-bearings fly out on to dry grass. It’s best to be safe and mow while the grass is still green.

new bearing

About to install this new bearing mount on the cutting shaft. $250 and 2 hours later.

Distilling wine into ethanol to make grape-based Brandy and Grappa

Still 1

This is a view of the copper column still I’ve been using to craft Brandy and Grappa from our clients grape pomace.

Still 2

Start off with a half-ton of what’s left in the wine press after pressing, called pomace, and end up after distilling with several gallons of 186 proof pure distilled ethanol. Then that is diluted back with pure water to reach the targeted brandy/grappa alcohol level 35% to 60% by volume (ABV). Then it’s aged in oak or whisky barrels or flavored with fruit as desired. And then bottled and labeled. The story of grappa.

Chickens and Auto Solar Chicken Door

chicken incubator

Last month I added eleven new chicks seen here in the incubator. Just add chicks, water, and food, and presto…in about 21 weeks all those hens will be laying 2 eggs every 3 days!

Auto chicken door

This is an automatic chicken door. How does it work? A solar panel (on the coop roof, not in view) charges a 12v battery (top left of the white door), the battery operates the motor (top right of door), and a light sensor (not in view) opens the door at first light and closes it a dark. There is also a ‘last chance’ feature where the door re-opens for one minute 5 minutes after dark. The chickens quickly adjust to the routine and religiously get themselves inside before the door closes for the second time at dusk. You can find this excellent equipment at Chicken Doors. Sonoma farm life


wood chips

Local tree trimming companies are more than happy to have a free place to drop off chipped tree mulch. This pile represents about 20 truckloads. This material is very useful around the farm; especially with roses and plants that require moist soil and little weed competition.

Mustard blooms


In one of our client vineyards, a tree fell in the recent strong winds, so we got out the chainsaws and went at it. In the background you can see a new Cabernet vineyard block we planted last Fall, and the mustard coming up nicely.

Hot air ballooning

hot air balloon

In Sonoma, you can look up pretty much any early morning and see the tourists enjoying their hot air ballon rides. The air is very still and it’s pretty cold out too. That’s why they keep the coffee hot! This one, the well-recognized ‘red tulips’, is from Napa Valley Balloons.

The end of the day on the farm

winter full moon

The sun begins to set on another day on the farm, as the low clouds glow and the full moon rises.

end of day

It’s a real treat to have friends over for an authentic wood fire, only possible on cold damp winter nights, and no matter what, we use the spark arrester. Why? Everyone in Sonoma is rightfully fearful of loose sparks starting a wild fire.

Just for fun: The biggest grape and wine convention in the United States, the Unified Grape and Wine Symposium

Symposium entrance

The Unified Symposium attracts wine industry professionals from around the world.

Wine Business Monthly

One of the most popular trade magazines in our industry, Wine Business Monthly always has an informative booth. Assistant Editor Stacy Briscoe welcomes me to the show. This is also the ‘go-to’ website for all things grapes and wine – buy/sell grapes or bulk wine, learn about the latest trends, etc.

Symposium floor

The convention covers every imaginable aspect – from vineyard farming tools to heavy equipment, to the latest in drone-applied sprays. And in wine, everything from bottles, corks, and capsules, to pumps and valves, and laboratory testing.

Mechanical Harvester

One of my favorite activities each year is to visit the ‘large equipment’ yard. I’ll never have a use for this million-dollar computer-controlled self-propelled mechanical harvester/sorter…but it’s really interesting to stand next to it and walk around (and inside). This behemoth can harvest upwards of 25 tons an hour, with one operator! Equal to many dozens of laborers and people-hours.