We're really sad to say it,  but we are cancelling Strawberry Fest.  The fields are already quite soggy and the forecast is for more rain this weekend:(

Weather permitting, we will open for U Pick next weekend, May 28-29.  Please check our Facebook page for updates.

 

Not unlike a major motion picture, our wine has been three years in the making -- from planting our vines to harvesting the first fruit to fermenting, aging and filtering the wine and, finally, bottling our first wines!  Last week, with the help of friends, we bottled 930 cases of Meritage, Merlot, Cycle 76 (aka Pinot Gris), Rivanna Red, Rose, and Viognier wine.

I want to start at the end and say thanks to our friends, Gary, Pam, Rick, and Stephanie for showing up early in the morning and learning the process with us through the day.  Thanks also to Matthieu and Jason at King Family Vineyards and the guys from Hunter Bottling Company for being our guides.

Cunningham Creek first bottling

Hunter Bottling Co. truck

 

The Hunter Bottling Company truck is amazing.  It is a self-contained mini-factory that cleans, fills, corks or caps, and labels bottles at an amazing rate and then expels the filled cases down a conveyor belt.

 

Placing bottles on conveyor CCW bottling

As you probably guessed this doesn't happen without human assistance.  Pam, Stephanie, Bruce, and I were the ground crew while Gary, Rick P. and Rick H. manned stations on the truck.  The process begins and ends with cases on a pallet.

Job #1 is lifting each case of empty bottles off the pallet and setting it down upside down on the conveyor belt to begin the bottles journey. First thing, it's cleaned with a jet of nitrogen and then it goes to the filler.

 

The clean bottles are then filled with wine and either capped or corked, depending on whether or not the wine was fermented in oak.  The Rose and Cycle 76 (aka Pinot Gris) were fermented and aged in stainless and capped.  The Merlot, Rivanna Red, Meritage, and Viognier were fermented and aged in oak and corked.

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After filling and corking/capping, comes labeling.

IMG_1740 Cycle 76 Pinot Gris

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

wine on its way to the box

Once labeled, the bottles travel down the belt to humans again.  Two sets of nimble and careful hands place each bottle back in the case and the last machine tapes it closed.  As you can see in this video, Gary, Rick and Rick worked hard and as this picture shows, they also had fun.

Cunningham Creek wine freshly bottled

 

labeling the boxes

 

After being taped, the box travels down the conveyor belt to more sets of quick and nimble hands.  This time the task is to label the box and place it carefully back on the pallet.

 

 

wrapping the loaded pallets

 

Finally, its wrapped in plastic and ready for transport.  It turned out that this job required special expertise and became the sole responsibility of Pam.

 

 

We sampled the Rose and Cycle 76 and gave it a thumbs up.  The reds go through a "bottle shock" period and need to "rest" for about a month before we taste them, so we are trying to be patient.   But, they will be ready for tasting along with our Strawberry Wine at our Strawberry Fest on May 21.  Hope to see you there!

Cunningham Creek corks

 

 

 

Cunningham Creek Winery at Middle Fork Farm is under construction! (Can you hear the excitement in my voice)? The walls are up and, as I write this, the roof trusses are being set. With a lot of hard work and an equal amount of luck we’ll be open in June.

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We were hoping to complete construction before strawberry season but that’s looking a bit iffy—especially since spring seems to have already arrived and strawberries may be here earlier this year. It’s farming in Virginia (Translation: plan for the best and adapt as we go)!

So, we’ve adapted and adopted Plan B: Set up a tasting bar in the Pick Your Own Berries picnic Middle Fork Farm strawberriesarea. What could be better—fresh picked strawberries, a picnic by the creek, and your first taste of Cunningham Creek Wines? We’ll post on Facebook as soon as we have an opening day for Pick Your Own. In the meantime, mark your calendar for our inaugural Strawberry Fest on June 4.

Cunningham Creek Winery will have 4 sections: a tasting room, a community meeting room, a farm store, and of course, the winery operations.   The Tasting Room is Cunningham Creek Winery Merlotdesigned to provide plenty of room for sampling our wines, and once you’ve selected your favorites, there’s an open area with comfortable seating to linger, sip, and chat.   On a nice day, you can move outdoors to the patio or the lawn. In winter you can warm by the farmhouse-style fireplace.

The Community Room will be available for meetings and private parties. It’s a versatile room with a separate entrance that can be completely closed off from the Tasting Room.   We’ll do our tastings in here on Friday nights when we have live music in the Tasting Room!

 

Our Farm Store will sell our strawberries and strawberry spreads, and so much more: locally Middle Fork Farm Spreadsproduced and grown vegetables, meats, cheeses, eggs, honey, chocolates, breads, and other specialty items. From pasture-raised fresheggslocal chicken to creamy artisanal Virginia cheeses--we’ll have something for everyone!

 

The Winery barrel room will be visible from the tasting room and if you want to learn about the wine making process, you can sign up for a tour!  Throughout the year, we plan to host special events in the winery.

We’ll also be having regular events, including bringing live music to Fluvanna on Friday nights! LocalVocalsWe’re still working on our regular event calendar but for now we’re planning to have Yoga (outside when possible, inside when not), Lady’s Night, BYOBBQ, and a fall pumpkin festival with Middle Fork PumpkinFarm pumpkins.

As our opening gets closer, we’ll post dates and times. For now, please “like” our new Cunningham Creek Winery Facebook page.   Watch for updates and photos there as well as on our Middle Fork Farm Facebook page!

 

I’ve often said that one of the biggest adjustments to farm life is the inability to have a plan for the day and actually see it through. Events on the farm have a way of just unfolding in their own unpredictable and sometimes urgent manner. As farmers, we try to effectively respond.

Today began with rain as expected, which meant it would be a good time to catch up on indoor work and errands. Personally, I had a really long (and unrealistic) list that I hoped to tackle and Bruce and Rick went to do off-farm tasks.

Sara’s mom, Katie, is visiting and around midday went to check on the does and their kids -- this is (finally) the exciting part I’ve been leading up to.

Apple and her kids

The goats had chosen today while it was pouring to ESCAPE! Katie thinks that a (mischievous) goat kid led the way through a small hole in the fence. Eight other goats (large and small) followed and were happily grazing by the tractor barn when she discovered their mischief.  (We didn't get pictures of this so we'll substitute generic cute goats).

kids climbing mom

Sara, our goat whisperer, dashed down and in no time had those errant goats back where they were supposed to be. Armed with a bucket of feed and their favorite call, “hey ladies” they would follow Sara anywhere!

Doe with kids

 

I got back to the farm before Rick and Bruce and (very proudly) fixed the fence. Snickers and Doodles supervised and protected me from all kinds of imagined beasts.

So, I’m a bit late writing this blog.  I had originally planned to write about our adorable kids rather than than our mischievous kids. But, this change might be ok because we’ve actually had a couple people tell us to turn down the “cute factor.”

Did the breakout succeed in lessening the cute factor?   I don’t know—they really are cute!

2105 buckling

Right now, their favorite game seems to be bumper cars. They zoom here and there and occasionally crash into each other. There’s a few who are climbers and will get in the feeders or stand atop the salt block and a couple who are ballet dancers and gracefully leap through the air—yep, they’re pretty cute!

kids at play

They have all been tagged, given a vitamin booster, weighed, and photographed. Now, they need names and that’s the job of Laura (age 10) and Maya (age 7). Every year we pick a theme for naming our female goats --I’ll let you figure out why we don’t name the bucklings. Of our 31 kids, 16 are doe-lings and need names.

Laura & Maya with new kids

Last year. Laura was learning about and fascinated by Greek goddesses so that was our theme. This year is a little tricky for the girls. We chose wine grapes so we’re making a list of white grapes and red grapes and then the girls can assign names. So far, they’ve named the first and last born.

Champagne, 2015 doe-ling

 

This is Champagne,  first-born white doe-ling born.

Petit Verdot, 2015 doe-ling

 

 

 

 

 

 

And, this is her petite brown sister named Petit Verdot.

 

 

 

 

This cutie is Sherry, the last doe-ling born.  I wonder if Laura and Maya will name one Port?Sherry, 2015 doe-ling

We’ll try to keep the “cute factor” under control in future posts but it's a challenge!  Stay tuned for some videos of goat kids at play.

kid at rest

Kids are never predictable—whether they’re human or goats. We were caught with our fences down on Saturday afternoon when our first pair of goat kids arrived.   Sara and I were at the Charlottesville Waldorf Holiday Bazaar when Rick, Laura, and Maya found two new arrivals in D field -- where the fence is intact.       They expertly guided all 22 goats (15 pregnant does and 7 yearlings) back to the goat barn through fields C and B, where the fence is currently being repaired.

Cocoa kid #1Our first pair are the offspring of Cocoa, a maiden doe.  We are very proud of her for successfully initiating the 2015 season. She proudly presented us with two lovely doe-lings and put us on heightened alert Cocoa kid #2for more kids—in other words, frequent trips to the barn. Last year once the first kids arrived, we had a domino effect for the next five days so we figured we should be prepared for a similar sequence.

But alas, no kids on Sunday.

Faith kid #2

 

Monday brought three new sets of adorable healthy kids.

 

 

 

 

 

Sleepy kid

And then came Tuesday.

Between 5 am and 11 pm, we had seven does give birth! Two single births, one triple birth, and 4 twins—yep, we had 13 kids yesterday. It was a bit crazy at times with multiple does in labor.  We had a couple worrisome moments--like when one of our big experienced does was in horrible pain (not normal delivery pain). Our guess is that either there was a breech presentation or some other internal obstruction or twist. Nature is amazing. She worked through the pain, getting up and down, stretching and contracting, finally came out of it and presented three healthy kids.

kid playing

We also had a maiden doe that didn’t seem to immediately have the maternal instinct. She needed help cleaning her kids and helping one of them to nurse. It's critical that the kids get mom’s colostrum as it provides antibodies and helps get the digestive, immune and respiratory systems started.  We were glad we were there to assist!

Happily all the kids are now doing great.

Goat pile

And what about today? Five new kids! One doe went out in the field and popped out three Super Momstrapping babies in less than 20 minutes. Another doe labored all morning before finally delivering two very cute kids around lunchtime. Sara and I were hoping that the last two does would also deliver today but not yet.

 

Who knows, maybe by the time I post this there will be more kids in the barn…stay tuned.

happy kid

It’s taken awhile but now those of you who don't live in the Charlottesville area can buy our gourmet spreads on-line at Etsy.  A big thanks  to our friend, Jimmy, for encouraging us and to our daughter, Lindy, for starting the process.

So, as you’re starting to plan holiday gift giving, think about all the people who might like something homemade and sweet like strawberry spread – maybe teachers, neighbors, holiday hostess’s, UPS-FedEx-USPS drivers, co-workers, babysitters and everyone else.

DisplayOur Etsy store name is Middle Fork Farm Store and you can find it at: https://www.etsy.com/shop/MiddleForkFarmStore. You can purchase  9 oz jars of Strawberry Balsamic, Strawberry Lavender, Strawberry Merlot, and Spicy Strawberry as Farmers Market Boardwell as our Classic Sampler (Strawberry Balsamic, Strawberry Merlot, Strawberry Vanilla) and C-ville Sampler (Strawberry Balsamic, Strawberry Lavender, Spicy Strawberry).  Shipping is reasonable and we can ship up to 6 - 9 oz jars in one box for the same rate as one jar.  Please check us out!

Besides setting up the Etsy store (and finishing the harvest), we’ve been busy with jam events. We finished the Farmers in the Park market on September 31 and as the holiday season approaches we'll be at local holiday boutiques and fairs. Stay tuned to FaceBook for information.

Beth at Williams-Sonoma

In late September, Sara, Beth, and I had another great day at Williams-Sonoma. As part of our quest for tasty "non-toast" ways to use our fruit spreads, we focused on savory dishes. Customers were surprised and pleased to sample chicken, salmon, and quesadilla made with our fruit spreads.

Spicy BBQ Chicken

 

 

We made  Spicy BBQ Chicken,

Ginger Peach Salmon

 

Ginger Peach Salmon (the recipe is at the very bottom of this blog0 and Quesadilla with Strawberry Merlot Spread, smoked Gouda and arugula.

 

Once again, we extend our gratitude to Erica and the entire staff at Williams-Sonoma for inviting us to their wonderful kitchen!

Sara at State Fair

Sara, Beth, and I also had the excitement (in multiple ways) of having a booth sponsored by Virginia’s Finest at the State Fair.  I say excitement because we were there on October 1, the day the rains and threat of Hurricane Joaquin came to town. Normally, the fair would have closed at 9 pm that night and then continued through until Sunday. But, not this year. For what may have been a first ever, the Fair closed early for the season at 7 pm Thursday night. Happily, the hurricane turned away and conditions improved over the weekend.

State Fair 2015State Fair 2015A

 

 

 

 

We were in the Ag (as in Agriculture) Building right across from an amazing sand sculpture—worthy of multiple photos. Inside there were lots of interesting displays like  a pile of corn kernels for kids to jump in, a fake cow to fake milk, bees (and honey), and raw tobacco. Outside there were giant colorful pumpkins, fried food and, of course, rides.

State Fair Pumpkins

Salmon with Ginger Lover’s Peach Glaze

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup Ginger Lover’s Peach Spread
  • ¼ tsp. ground Chipotle pepper
  • 4 T bourbon
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 Atlantic salmon fillets
  • 1 T canola oil
  • Black sesame seeds

Procedure:

  1. Combine Ginger Lover’s Peach, chipotle pepper, bourbon in a small saucepan
  2. Simmer over low heat for 5 minutes
  3. Lightly oil a broiling pan
  4. Lightly salt and pepper each salmon filet and top with spread mixture
  5. Cook for approximately 5 minutes under high heat broiler until it spread mixture starts to brown. (Test salmon for doneness according to personal taste).
  6. Sprinkle black sesame seeds on each filet before serving

We finished our first harvest—hooray!

Before I tell/show you more about the harvest, I want to thank my “happiness engineer” (this is the title they use) at WordPress.com for telling me about an app called EXIFPurge that removes orientation metadata from photos. It’s now an added step to run my blog photos through EXIFPurge before loading them, but no more upside down/inside out photos!

About the harvest...

We harvested seven varieties which totaled 23 ½ tons of grapes from our vineyard and two vineyards we lease. Depending on the variety its now in barrels or tanks at King Family Vineyard transitioning from grapes to wine.

Harvesting is a truly tactile process—drawing heavily on sight, taste, and odor.  I can’t capture the taste or smell but I’ve got some great photos that will give you a sense of the whole Cab Francprocess.  We harvested four of the five red grapes that are used to make a Bordeaux blend.

Cabernet Franc (left)

Cab Sauv CabSav

 

 

 

Cabernet Sauvignon (right)

Merlot (left)

 

 

MFF Petit VerdotPetit Verdot

We also harvested three whites.

Young ChardonnayThis is young Chardonnay several weeks before harvesting.

Pinot Gris is the gray white winePinot Gris

 

 

 

 

 

Viognier

 

 

Viognier is the considered the white wine of Virginia.

 

In addition to great grapes, we discovered you need the help of fabulous friends and family to get the harvest in.

harvesting Cab Franc LHV

harvesting at LHV

 

 

 

 

 

We had some beautiful weather for harvesting and also some very wet days.  Can you identify the people under the rain gear?

Harvesting in the Rain LHV

 

Beth harvesting in the rain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After harvest, the grapes were transported to King Family Vineyards and stored in the cold Weighing the grapesroom overnight.  Loading the trailer

 

 

 

 

 

The next day each pallet was weighed and then sorted.

 

sorting

Happily, we were fortunate to also have fabulous friends and family to help process the grapes at the sorting and vibrating tables.

sorting Cab Franc

 

 

 

So, what's next? First, Matthieu and Bruce will turn all those wonderful grapes into incredible wine.   Then, we'll share them with you at Cunningham Creek Winery (at Middle Fork Farm).  We plan to break this month -- stay tuned!

 

 

My technical skills are really limited so I can't explain why the photos from my last post, Time for Rose, are rotated in various directions on Smartphones. It's all good on the computer.  I'm in touch with my "happiness engineer" and will hopefully be able to correct this problem soon!  In the meantime, if anyone is a Word Press Pro, I'd love your help.

IMG_9579As of Sunday, the whites (Chardonnay, Viognier, and Pinot Gris) were sorted, pressed and safely tucked into barrels and tanks (and available for a first taste). So, we moved on to making Rose using the young Cab Franc grapes harvested on Saturday.

Rose is usually made with red grapes that are lightly crushed and allowed to sit for a short time before being pressed. This makes the lovely pinkish color, which reflects the time on skins and grape variety.

As with the white grapes, after harvesting we refrigerated the grapes overnight.  This helped them retain their juice and assured that they Cab Franc in the bindidn't prematurely start to ferment.  On Sunday, they started their trek through various pieces of equipment to transition from fruit to wine. First,  we sorted to eliminate bad fruit and then the grapes moved from sorting table to conveyor to de-stemmer to bin.

They stayed in covered bins until Tuesday, when they moved again.  This time from bin to conveyor to press.

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After the press, the juice (collected in the trough below) went to stainless steel tanks. In the late spring,  It will be bottled and we hope you’ll come by next summer to enjoy some with us.

 

Rose is best served chilled and (based on my research) pairs well with almost anything—spicy foods, cheeses, flatbread, salads, seafood, and more. Check out Food and Wine for some tasty sounding recipes.

So far, I've been telling you about the "fun" part of making wine but I've failed to mention that there's a whole lot of equipment and winery cleaning that takes place constantly.  You could say that 75% of wine making is actually spent cleaning.  Fortunately, we had lots of help!

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Gary (the newest member of the Lucy and Ethyl Club) received kudos for getting the conveyor the cleanest ever.

 

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Sometimes its not just cleaning but taking apart and then cleaning. Here's Rick cleaning the de-stemmer after he disassembled it.

 

 

Stay tuned for news of our red grape harvest -- Merlot, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, Cab Sav, and Malbec.  Depending on the weather, we'll start next week.

 

 

We've been really busy harvesting, sorting, and pressing for the past week.  As of Saturday night, we've progressed to the wine making process for Pinot Gris, Viognier, and Chardonnay.

Pinot Gris was the first to be harvested--approximately 4 1/2 tons, which will make about 300 cases of wine!  As you can imagine, harvesting goes much faster with many hands.  So, we were fortunate that along with Bruce, Rick, our regular farm crew, and me, our friend, Brandon, stopped by and helped.

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Like every job, there's a certain amount of prep before you get to the main event.  Before harvesting, there are two main tasks. The order doesn't really matter. The bird netting needs to be unclipped at the bottom and raised up.  For me, this is the worst part -- lots of bending and sometimes contorting to get the clip undone.  Also lugs to hold the clusters have to be distributed every few plants along the rows that are going to be harvested. Each lug holds 25-30 lbs and at the end of the harvest we drive down the rows and load the full lugs on the truck or trailer.

 

The actual harvesting was really fun, as harvesting anything you've grown always is!   Each cluster of grapes is inspected before we clip it and drop it into a lug. We check for sour rot (smells like vinegar) and bird, bug, or critter damage and remove the bad grapes.  This makes sorting at the winery go much faster.

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In addition to our 2-legged harvesters, we had Snickers and Doodle.  Their job descriptions were at first unclear but Doodle quickly appointed herself "official protector of filled lugs" and took this job very seriously.  Snickers did what herd dogs do--she herded me and made sure I didn't get lost in the vineyard.

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IMG_9426Once the grapes are loaded up, it goes to King Family Winery for processing.  First, it's refrigerated overnight and then the next day it gets sorted--once again looking for bad grapes--and pressed.  The sorting table  always reminds me of  Lucy and Ethyl hiding chocolates in their hats (and elsewhere).   For that reason, I've initiated the Lucy and Ethyl Club for all our friends who graciously volunteer to help with this task.  Pam is the most recent member of this very exclusive club.

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From the sorting table, it travels up the conveyor belt to the press, where the grapes are pressed and juice is extracted.  The juice goes into a fermenter for 1-3 weeks depending on the style of wine being made.  From there it goes into either stainless steel tanks or oak barrel to await bottling. The winemakers, Matthieu and Bruce, monitor it along the way for flavor and body so that's it tastes just right when it gets to your glass!

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