may 2020 newsletter

An image of green grape flower clusters just prior to blossoming.

inflorescence

Dear Friends,

This photo may look like it depicts bunches of miniature grapes, but it’s more like a sketch outlining the possibilities for this year’s harvest. Each green pellet is actually a compacted flower, encased in a sheath of fused petals.

Any day now, these tiny orbs will burst open to reveal clusters, or inflorescences, of white blossoms, each fragrant flower representing a potential berry. Over the ensuing week, the hermaphroditic blossoms pollinate themselves, saving bees a lot of trouble.

That’s the idea, anyway. Grenache, our main crop, is a bit lackluster about self-pollination. That’s fine by us, because the fewer the number of berries on each vine, the more concentrated the flavor will be in each grape.

As long as the vineyard doesn’t experience catastrophic weather, such as hail, frost, or high wind, the pollinated flowers will become healthy fruit and the growing season will be underway.

It’s an exciting time of year, full of hope and possibility.

Signed "Best wishes, Michael and Loretta"


what’s on loretta’s sonoma table:
ramp & pistachio pesto spaghetti

A pan of spaghetti with pesto next to a bunch of ramps (vegetables) and a bottle of Mila Block II Syrah wine.

Like wine grapes, ramps bloom in the form of inflorescences, or clusters of many tiny blossoms. They are members of the allium family, so you might mistake a blooming ramp for an onion or garlic flower.

In shady forested areas in the eastern United States, green ramp leaves sprout out of the ground to signal the end of winter and the thawing of the soil. By May, they’re ripe for cooking and eating. They’re plentiful at gourmet grocery stores near our home in Ohio, and they also show up in farmers markets around Sonoma this time of year.

The season is short, so grab them if you see them—they’ll be gone by early June. Then, the aromatic edible leaves die back, to be replaced over the summer by bursts of tiny white bell-shaped blossoms at the ends of sturdy stalks.

Ramps may look like scallions and smell a bit like garlic, but their flavor is sweeter and more delicate. My nonna remembers a similar wild leek back in Italy, but she tells me that its aroma and flavor was pungent—Native American ramps are much preferable.

For the six weeks or so when ramps are in season, I sauté them, grill them, toss them in with scrambled eggs… Whatever I’m cooking, they’re going into.

I decided to extend the season this year by making a big batch of ramp pesto, which freezes well. This way, we can return to the subtle pleasure of ramps all summer long. Our boys, who are always in the mood for spaghetti, helped me to perfect the recipe.

For a print-friendly version of the following recipe, click here:  RECIPE

ingredients

3 bunches ramps (approximately 20-30 ramps total)
2 tablespoons plus 2/3 cup olive oil (I recommend McEvoy Ranch)
2 cups fresh spinach leaves
Sea Salt, to taste (I recommend Maldon Flakes)
Fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
Red pepper flakes, to taste (approximately ¾ teaspoons)
2/3 cup finely chopped salted, roasted pistachios
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese and more for serving
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
12 ounces or more spaghetti (I recommend Il Pastaio Di Gragnano)

directions

Place a large pot of salted water over high heat.

Rinse ramps well. Remove roots and discard. Slice greens off bulbs and set greens aside. Thinly slice the bulbs. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium to high heat and add the ramp bulbs. Season with salt and red pepper flakes, stirring occasionally until translucent and tender, about 4 minutes. Set bulbs aside and reserve oiled skillet for sauce.

 

When water comes to a boil, blanch ramp greens until wilted, approximately 10 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, transfer ramp greens to a bowl of ice water, reserving hot water in pot. Drain greens, squeeze out excess liquid, and coarsely chop.

Purée ramp greens, ramp bulbs, spinach, pistachios, Parmesan, and lemon zest in a food processor. Drizzle in the remaining olive oil and pulse. Add a little more oil if needed to achieve pesto consistency. Season with salt and pepper.

Return reserved pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Lift out spaghetti and drain, reserving hot pasta water for sauce.

Add pesto and pasta water to skillet, at a proportion of 2-4 heaping tablespoons of pesto for every ¼ cup of pasta water, and warm on low heat. Add spaghetti and toss vigorously with tongs, adding liquid as need until pasta is glossy and well coated with sauce.

Top with additional parmesan cheese, as desired, and serve.

Note: Makes approximately 4 servings. Any leftover pesto can be frozen for later use, or kept refrigerated 2-5 days.


notes from the cellar

A cowhorn, a hunk of quartz crystals, and a vial of ground quartz.

We don’t utilize the chemicals of conventional agriculture on our wine farm. Instead, we practice Biodynamics, which is essentially organic farming with an additional healing element that’s similar to naturopathic or homeopathic medicine.

This style of agriculture, long practiced by traditional cultures, requires a great deal of old-fashioned hands-on labor as well as a bit of blind faith. Stirring the Preparations epitomizes this.

The winery is quiet right now, so we’re getting ready to apply Preparation 501 in the vineyard. 501, also known as the “horn silica prep,” consists of—bear with us here—finely ground quartz crystals that have been packed into a cow horn and buried for six months.

Quartz is largely composed of silicon, the same material that is used in fabricating solar panels. This substance is believed to act like a magnifying glass, focusing light and heat on plants and thus enhancing photosynthesis.

We purchase it as a powder, from the Josephine Porter Institute in Virginia, and add a tiny amount of it to a basin of water. Then we stir it vigorously with a wooden paddle before spraying it on the vines.

Does this work? All we can say is that many of the world’s most coveted wines come from vineyards that have been treated with Biodynamic preparations like 501. We have practiced Biodynamic viticulture since the beginning, and our vines have always been remarkably healthy and well-balanced, our fruit extraordinarily flavorful.


A photo of the vineyard on a sunny day.

learn our language

We learned the term inflorescence at the top of this newsletter. A few other words you’ll hear from viticulturists this time of year are shatter, coulure, and fruit set.

Although hundreds of flowers may blossom on every grapevine, a mere 30 to 50 percent of these will be pollinated and grow into fruit. The remaining blossoms shatter, or drop to the ground; Grenache is particularly prone to this so-called inflorescence necrosis—or, as the French so elegantly call it, coulure.

Within a few weeks, once the shatter phase is complete, we’ll see how many tiny berries are growing on each cluster and know what the fruit set will be for this vintage.

And now, onto some Biodynamic farming terminology. As any good barista will tell you, the secret to making the best foam for a latte or cappuccino is achieving a perfect vortex—a whirlpool of milk that’s so strong you can almost see the bottom of the pitcher.

We stir our Preparations just as vigorously. With a wooden paddle, we stir in a clockwise direction until we have created a powerful vortex, then switch directions and create another vortex, imbuing a tremendous amount of energy and oxygen into the liquid.

After an hour, the water is said to be dynamized. That is, it’s milky with millions of minuscule air bubbles. It seems to pulsate with that light-attracting silica, and somehow hold the memory of all that stirring.


in the news

Michael, Paco, and Loretta smiling at the vineyard, with a horse.

join the club!

Want to join our wine farm community? We’re preparing to announce our new wine club.

Members will receive regular shipments of wines at special rates, invitations to tastings, and more. Watch this space.


events

Starting in June, in Ohio: Intimate Back Porch Parties! (Contact us at info@milafamilyvineyards.com to learn more.)
Summer: Book a private tasting at our Sonoma winery. (Contact Shelley at 440-915-5748 to arrange your appointment.)
August 21: Winemaker Dinner, Firestone Country Club, Akron, OH
October 23: Gran Fondo Hincapie Celebrity Chef Dinner, Hotel Domestique, Travelers Rest, SC