Our experiment with eliminating weed spray in the vineyard is in its 6th year now and I love what I see from the tractor. Instead of barren, burnt soil under the vines we have this lush, vibrant live earth. The primary reason herbicides were developed was to eliminate competition for moisture so that all of the water is available to the trees or vines or whatever you are focused on growing. No more hoe, just a trip down the rows with a tractor spraying down various versions of weed poison. One of our advantages in Michigan is that we have a surplus of moisture. That has never been more true than this year. Why not use that to our advantage? By learning to manage the sod underneath instead of eliminating it we can have a healthier ecosystem for the vines. Soil is more than just dirt. It contains all the nutrients the vines need to thrive and make great wine. Those nutrients are things we can measure. We test the soil each year to look for things like magnesium, calcium, sulfur, potassium, phosphorus, to name a few. It also helps to use your eyes. You can see when there is a balance. Happy vines, happy wines. It requires a lot more work to manage the vineyards this way. We will use those gas powered weed whackers around and under the vines at least twice a season. It's a big job. For the most part the grass will reach a certain height and stop growing. It also chokes out all the other nasty weeds we used to get when we tried to keep a bare strip. Nature abhors a vacuum, and that bare strip is a vacuum that sucks in all the gnarly, thorny, stalky weeds from miles around. Our vineyard looks a little different than most. The grass might get a little tall under the vines before we get to it. That's O.K. I have learned as I get older how important it is to change your definition of "good looking." Now I just have to convince my wife!
Spring is here, or so I'm told. Mid April and it's still spitting snow outside. Our vines and fruit trees are yet to break bud. Normally, we are worried about an early warm spell that causes the plants to take off and push green tissue. Then we lose sleep over every frosty night that comes along. Not this year. This year we can expect a panic when the vines wake up and realize they must have hit the snooze button and overslept! Lots of catching up to do! Fortunately, we have plenty to do in the cellar. Keith is getting the 2017 whites ready to bottle. Riesling will be the first one on the list. Then, the 2016 reds are pulled out of the barrel and the 2017 reds go back in those same barrels. We took home a gold medal at the San Francisco Chronicle competition in January for our '14 Syrah and the '15 received a bronze. We have been taste testing the '16 Pinot Noir and Syrah and they are both nothing less than spectacular! The 2016 Syrah was picked on the day our first grandson was born to make it even more memorable. We are working on a new label for that one. Look for its release sometime in 2019. As you can see, he has his hands full.
And just like that, another year is over. The tasting room at Karma Vista Vineyards is closed until the first Friday in March. March 2nd, 2018. Sue, Keith and I will be going into our dormant mode in order to better become one with our vines. Farming teaches you to have a reverence for nature and all the seasons. You need to take the time to relax, reflect and celebrate. I'm pretty sure that's what the vines are doing too! Thanks to all of you who visited this year and left with a little more Karma than when you arrived. Thanks also to our great staff of wine loving friends who make our busiest weekends a treat. You are the best in the business! We have great things in store for the coming year. Wonderful wines in the tanks and barrels. How great to have a job where you can pour yourself into your work, and at the end of the day, pour your work into yourself! 2018 is going to be the best year yet in the history of years! How could it be anything less? Happy Holidays!
As I look back upon the year
I see my life is incomplete.
I’m really quite ashamed to say
I don’t flickr, tumble or tweet.
I don’t know how to snapchat.
Don’t do Amazon.
I hear all this jargon,
I’ve no clue what’s going on.
I laughed and told my dentist
To check my gigabyte.
She smiled and pulled my bluetooth.
Now I can’t chew right.
If I get on social media
Will a virus make me sneeze?
Should I get my you tube tied
To prevent a social disease?
No clue what is a BFF
Or even LOL.
I think I’m going viral
Cause I really don’t feel well.
Don’t want Siri or Echo
At my beck and call.
Someone really needs to tell them
No one likes a know it all.
I’m afraid the world outside
Has become a hipster nation.
But I look weird with a little beard,
Tight jeans kill my circulation.
Comes from a valley made of silicone
Outside of San Francisco.
I think it’s just a passing phase,
Perhaps a lot like disco.
So my New Year’s resolution
Is to leave the world wide web alone.
Live happily and pretend to be
Smarter than my phone!
It was a Dickens of a fall. A tale of two harvests. It was the driest of times, it was the wettest of times. The early varieties basked in the heat and sunshine. The Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were as ripe and clean as we have ever picked. This was going to be easy! A harvest for the ages! Then all the people praying for rain got their wish. We had the wettest October on record. Over 11 inches of rain with only one four-day stretch without rain. Still, the grapes stayed surprisingly nice. All that worrying for nothing! Excellent flavors in the Merlot, Riesling and Cabernet. Just not the record ripeness of the earlier varieties. Now it's up to Keith to work his magic in the cellar. Like I often say, "We are paid professionals. Don't you at home try this!" In the meantime, we are putting the finishing touches on a fabulous new wine just in time for the holidays! From the 2014 harvest many people are trying to forget we crafted a doozy of a port style wine. Mostly composed of stressed, shriveled Pinot Noir grapes, it spent two years in French oak just waiting for the tannins to calm down and mesh with the incredible cherry notes of the pinot. It comes in a 375 ml bottle and makes the cutest little stocking stuffer you could ask for. You might even want to leave one out for Santa with a few cookies...or a cigar! Coming in December!
Just started pouring our latest vintage of Fume' Blanc, an oak aged Sauvignon Blanc from 2016. Wonderful, mellow citrus. Beautifully balanced. Great wine for in front of the fireplace. Harvested our first crop of Malbec this fall from a spectacular neighboring vineyard. It will see a year in oak before we are ready to release that one, so now I'm just teasing you! Last day open at the tasting room is Friday, December 22nd. If you're making your list and checking it twice please try to get here before then and stock up. Otherwise it could be a Dickens of a Christmas!
First day of fall and it's 92 degrees outside. Does mother nature not have a calendar? It's the equinox. Day and night are in balance. This is when the vineyards are nothing short of gorgeous. We will start to gradually pick some early varieties next week. This is like a bonus gift from nature. You don't get weather like this every year so it is best to take advantage of each warm day we get before harvesting. These extra days are the ones you will taste in the bottle. While the national news is dominated by one weather disaster after another, we are reminded why the Great Lakes are a great place to be. Most of the harvest will take place in October, not ending until the first week of November with the Cabernet Sauvignon. It's a beautiful time at the tasting room. We have introduced a new vintage of Stone Temple Pinot, 2015. It was the only gold medal Pinot Noir at the Michigan Wine Competition in July, just a few short weeks after we put it in the bottle. We also received a gold medal for our 2012 Reserve Merlot. We love our dry reds. Keith is putting the finishing touches on an incredible Port wine that has been three years in the making. Look for that around Thanksgiving. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. We've worked so hard to get to this point we forget to take the time to appreciate the beauty all around us. The Zen of Karma Vista tells us to forget all the worries about the future and focus on the moment. Easier said than done. I could meditate, but I find it more important to have a glass or two of wine!
July is here and cherry harvest is upon us. Well, mostly upon me. If you've been on our deck lately you have no doubt noticed the owls. Sue put them there to scare away the birds that are eating the cherries and relaxing on the deck afterwards. They seem to work, but sometimes scare our guests as they enjoy a glass of wine and the view. Owl apologies! This is the time of year I often survey all the beautiful vineyards and orchards that surround us and ask, "Who is the idiot that planted all this?" I have decided that stress is merely a form of exercise for the mind. Like any other exercise, probably healthy in the long run, but uncomfortable in the short run. Cherry harvest will dominate every waking moment for the next two weeks. It looks to be the nicest crop we have had in more than a decade and it is gorgeous to see on the tree. The vines have enjoyed some much appreciated rainfall (two inches in the last week!) and are looking quite content. We pull leaves away from the grapes to expose them to more sunlight. We don't use herbicide on our vines so every vine has been trimmed neatly with a weed whacker. When the rains do come the grass is there to absorb and retain the moisture for the soil rather than letting it run off. The grass will grow slowly the rest of the summer and really not be much of a problem. In fact, grass is the best weed control there is. Keith has caught up with almost everything in the cellar and we have released a new 2015 Pinot Noir/Syrah blend called NOIRVANA. Fantastic wine and a very cool label, if I do say so myself. The 2016 SoCo Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc we just bottled are great summer wines and may be the best yet. The Razz M'Tazz was the latest wine to get released just in time for the Fourth of July. Keith won a gold medal at the Tasters Guild competition last month for the Cha Cha Chardonnay along with six silver medals and three bronze. Considering he has his hands full at home with Gwen and Jackson, I'd say that's not too shabby! Enjoyed a gorgeous sunset at the beach last night. How often does this happen? Time to loosen up a little and remind ourselves of the beauty all around us. Take a deep breath and enjoy the moment. You're only young once!
Won 3 bronze medals for our 3 entries into the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition in January! Our Reserve Syrah, Cha Cha Chardonnay and Stone Temple Pinot. Not too shabby!
Tasting room is now open so I guess it's time to get back to work. Had a great two months of rest and relaxation and exploring other parts of the wine world. More on that later. We are celebrating our 15th year as a winery and 170 years as a fruit farm in this corner of the wine world. Granddaughter Gwen is now 3 and her little brother Jackson is about 4 months. They represent the 8th generation of the Herman Family and are off to a nice start. Karma is about the great things that happen from the little things you do. It's all good!
And just like that, the year is done. We are closing Thursday, December 22nd for our long winter's nap. Karma Vista will reopen Friday, March 3rd, 2017 when Sue and I will be rested and ready to go. We would like to thank all of you who have made this another great year on the farm and at the winery. We cannot thank you enough for joining us on this journey of discovering what is and what should never be. Oh wait, that's Led Zeppelin! Never mind. Oh wait, that's Nirvana! Anyway, 2017 marks our 15th year as a winery and our 170th year as a farm. I predict it's going to be the best year in the history of years. How can it be anything less?
Drink Wine, Live Forever!
On Wednesday, November 9th we harvested the syrah vineyard just outside the tasting room. The weather had been unbelievable for early November. Sunny, warm, no freezing temps in sight. We could have picked almost any day, but Keith wanted to hold off in order to make this vintage something extra special. We had originally planned to pick on November 1st, the due date for baby Jackson. We let nature take its course. Jackson showed up Wednesday morning, eight days later than expected but on the memorable day he chose for his birthday and our syrah harvest. Jackson represents the 8th generation of our farming family and we wanted him to have a say in this vintage. It's going to be incredible. How can it be anything less? To everything there is a season and harvest season is over. Time for the celebration season. Looking at Jackson reminds us that it's the big things that make the news but it's the small things that make the difference. Wine is life. Life is magic. It's all amazing.
Summer is ending; the grapes are looking great; harvest is near but not quite here. It's enough to drive you crazy! The first half of August was very hot and very dry, so I prayed for rain. Then the rains came and wouldn't quit. Overkill. Next time, I'm just going to pray for money. Skip that whole part of the equation involving work. The pinot noir outside the tasting room will be one of the first grapes we harvest. They have turned a beautiful, almost black color on the vine and show all the signs of being a fantastic vintage. All in all, we are looking at the nicest crop we have seen in several years. We know what to do. Right now it's a waiting game. Patience. All we need are cool nights, warm days, and no more rain. In other words, I would like it to be perfect. Not too much to ask for. This is all part of the process. There is a certain amount of anxiety and paranoia in winemaking that most people never see. That's how it should be. We are trained professionals. Don't you at home try this. For the next few weeks I need to focus on all that has been great about this year and try no to lose sleep over all that could go wrong. Not too much. It's just overkill.
Yes, that's right. Karma Vista did pretty good at the Michigan wine competition this summer. Two Golds, five silver, and a bronze for all the dry reds we entered. Not too shabby. Our Syrah has always been our gold standard ever since we received a gold medal at the San Francisco Chronicle wine competition for our 2012 vintage. To win a gold for our pinot noir has always been on my bucket list. Keith is doing such a fabulous job as winemaker, he keeps crossing things off my bucket list at a much more rapid pace than I had anticipated. Kind of making me a little nervous. Not to worry. Time for a bigger bucket.
It's one hot motor scooter here in the heart of the fruit belt. Middle of peach season and temps are hitting 90 more often than is comfortable. Size is definitely affected by the lack of rain, but the flavor is spectacular! A good omen for what is in store for the wine grapes. Smaller fruit packs more flavor. They say in a dry year you lose sleep, in a wet year you lose money. The moral is, either way you're gonna need a drink! See you soon at the tasting room.
Wow! Summertime is already here and things on the farm are spinning in a state of controlled chaos. Cherry harvest starts just after the 4th of July. There go two weeks with no sleep! Then after a short break, peach harvest for the next six weeks and we are into September. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The long awaited latest vintage of the Devil's Head Red is in the bottle, tasting and selling nicely. So are the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Muscat. More Syrah and Peach Train to bottle sometime before fall to make room for this year's harvest, which by the way is shaping up to be spectacular! This is the first year I can recall where winter never got below zero degrees and there were zero spring frosts. Unheard of! We have no bad weather to blame, so the pressure is really on us this year! We've had a couple nice showers in the past week, gorgeous sunny days, and all the vines and trees are a beautiful deep green. Yes, it's such an embarrassment of riches I am practically blushing. Or perhaps that's the wine?
Ah! Springtime in Michigan. Sun one day, snow the next. Supposed to get pretty frigid overnight and again this weekend. But are we worried? No. We've had a great winter. One of the mildest in a long time. We're starting off with a lot more buds to spare than in recent years. The tasting room is back open and Sue and I are using muscles we haven't used in a couple of months, so that's a good thing. Wine still to bottle, grapes to trim, so much to do....once it warms up. 2016 is going to be a spectacular year. You can just feel it in the air. You just can't feel your lips!
Just like that, the year is over. Our last day at the tasting room is next Monday, December 21st. The shortest day of what has been a very long year. We have had a wonderful, mild fall that looks like it will spill over into a wonderful, mild winter. We deserve it. We've earned it! After two of the toughest winters on record we are looking forward to temps that stay above zero. We have removed about six acres of vines that were either killed or crippled by the last two winters. I'm actually excited to see the open ground and by the anticipation of the great new wines that will come from the varieties we are replanting there. To quote the prophets (Red Hot Chili Peppers), "Destruction leads to a very rough road, but it also breeds creation." We have learned a lot about what to plant and where to plant it, and as Dad always said, "You can't put a price on an education!" (However, your banker will make you come up with an educated guess.) The vineyards on our best sites have done great. Our pinot noir is just coming out of its final fermentation and is a fabulous bright cherry color and flavor. The chardonnay is still going through malolactic fermentation before we put it into oak for six months or more. The fruit for both was beautiful and the wines will show it. The riesling and sauvignon blanc just continue to get better every year. Our syrah vineyard took a beating, but the best corner of it is still producing some spectacular stuff. Keith says that wine just makes itself, but he is being modest. He has produced some of the finest wine in Michigan and he is just over 30 years old. All the more reason to dwell on the future and not the past. Some of these wines won't be available at the tasting room until 2017, but we have to keep sampling them ourselves to measure the progress. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it!
We are looking forward to our long winter's nap, reopening on Friday, March 4th when the cycle starts all over again. Sue and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have become such good friends and "vistanistas" over the last 14 years. We couldn't have drunk it all without you!
Wine is life, wine is family.
Wine is best served with conversation. Improve the wine, improve the conversation. Cheers!
The results are in from the 2015 Michigan Wine Competition and, once again, the Devil's Head Red was selected as the Best of Class in the semi-dry red category. Just the piece of good news we needed to get us through a long, crazy summer. The Devil's Head Red won the same trophy two years ago, so we entered it again this year just to keep the judges honest. Sure enough, they picked it a second time. Keith has done a spectacular job of converting all of the 2014 harvest into wonderful wines. That has not been easy considering that 2014 was our most challenging year both weather and grape wise. Karma Vista also took home a double gold medal at the same competition for our Peach Train, a fantastic peach wine made from our own fresh peaches. Granddaughter Gwen is in charge of quality control for the peach crop and is currently inspecting the fruit for the upcoming vintage. "Now that I'm in charge, I think we can get a triple gold next year," Gwen has been overheard thinking. Summer is almost gone and the grapes are turning color. The 2015 crop looks incredible at this point. We've had more rain than we need and are envisioning a warm, dry fall. The tasting room is busy and only going to get more so as we head into September and October. We have to remind ourselves to take the time to really appreciate the beauty of the vineyards and the sky around us. Don't rush it. Let the moment come to you. It's a great time of year. The beauty of nature is its own reward, but the trophy is nice too!
One of the more exciting things we are doing at Karma Vista is experimenting with the conventional wisdom of what vineyards should look like. We have eliminated herbicide, or weed spray use on the vineyards completely. Instead of a bare strip of ground underneath the vines, we have grass all the way up to the trunks. If you look at the vineyards with fresh eyes, the beginner's mind, you begin to realize the folly of spraying poison in the root zone. What could possibly go wrong with that? Right? Weed sprays became all the rage sometime around the 50's when we decided that hoeing and mowing was too much work. Better living through chemistry and all that. Those strips of bare ground underneath the vines and trees became the definition of what good horticulture looks like. The grower would decide what would live and what would die on his land. You are the master and the soil is your servant. Bare ground meant there was no competition for moisture for the trees, vines and fruit and everything would be bigger and healthier. Unfortunately, there is nothing natural about bare ground. A bare strip of ground should be cause for alarm. There is something causing the ground to be barren. There is no life in the soil. Nature abhors a vacuum. Even nastier, more pernicious weeds pop up in the bare soil, so you spray again, often with even nastier more pernicious chemicals. What could possibly be wrong with that? Right? So just for the heck of it (and to drive all the university experts crazy...an added bonus), we've decided to just deal with the grass rather than the weeds. After all, we are caretakers of the whole thing, not just the vines. It's about the soil, the space between the vines, the whole vineyard ecosystem we are called to take care of. It is a lot more work than blissfully driving around spraying poison in the root zone, but the vines look happy and the wines taste great. Unlike our vineyard buddies on the West Coast, we have the embarrassing problem of having way more water than what we need. The grass underneath will help wick away much of that moisture and leave our hillsides intact. When the fall comes and we hit the real rainy season, less of the moisture will be drawn up into the grapes which will make them stay smaller and sweeter. We like to think that at Karma Vista we are on the cutting edge of doing nothing. Can you dig it?!
Our 2014 Riesling won a silver medal this week at the Tasters Guild International competition held annually in Grand Rapids. So that’s kinda cool. Just bottled a few weeks ago, it is easily the tastiest riesling we have ever made. Bright apple; crisp; just the right amount of cowbell. So we've got that going for us. Temps have warmed up and spring may actually hang around this time without the usual nasty frosts as in prior years. So that’s kinda nice. Next up is bottling the Muscat, Marquette, Peach Train and Devil’s Head, all of which are tasting great in the cellar next door. I've got a fever, and only more wine can quench it! So that’s kinda groovy.
This past winter was cruel once again, but let's try not to dwell on that. Some of the vines that were dead last year, are still dead this year. So that's kinda lame. It is not a crop for the faint of heart. I keep reminding people that this is a dangerous business. I am a trained professional, don’t you at home try this. Occasionally, I have to remind myself of that fact. I have been at this a long time now and I still think it is safe to say that 2015 will be an odd year. So we’ve got that to look forward to. See you soon!
Since we won a silver medal (2012 Reserve Syrah) at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition in January, we thought we should travel from the west coast of Michigan to the west coast of California for the medal winning tasting on Valentine's Day in San Francisco. Amazing wines, amazing weather. Daughter Kelly went with us and we joined up with Patrick, a St. Joe ex-Pat who now works in the techie tech world of northern California. It was a few hundred wines, a few thousand of our closest friends, and a beautiful day at Fort Mason, on the bay between Fisherman's Wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge. Stayed in Healdsburg for three days, traveled the Russian River to the ocean and back, and experienced some wonderful wineries along the way, returning on the red eye to O'Hare the morning after a nasty snow storm. We've had another brutal winter here in God's country (southwest Michigan in case you're interested, God). Fortunately, we always know that we begin our journey blessed with more fruit buds and brain cells than are necessary for a happy life. If winter lasted any longer, we might run the risk of running out of both. As it is, no one is quite sure what the right amount of buds and brain cells are to begin with, or to end up with. It's all quite relative (and you know which relatives I'm talking about!). The tasting room is now open again (six days a week until about Christmas) and we are thrilled to be back at it, and seeing so many people who are just as thrilled to be back tasting wine. How groovy to have a job where you can pour yourself into your work, and at the end of the day, pour your work into yourself! Karma is a wonderful thing.
What a nice way to start off the year. Our 2012 Reserve Syrah just won a silver medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. This now completes the trifecta for our Coloma syrah vineyard. It's the vineyard you see on your right entering Karma Vista. The vines have such pretty color in the fall that people are always stopping to take their pictures among them. We now have won bronze, silver and gold medals in San Francisco for three separate vintages of our Reserve Syrah. This is the largest competition in the country with over 6,000 wines entered this year. Ours was the only medal winning Syrah in its category not from the West Coast. So that obnoxious honking you hear is us tooting our own horn! The public tasting for the event is in a few weeks on Fisherman's Wharf and you just might see us there soaking up some of the competition. So you see, even though the winery is closed, it's still work, work, work, for me and Sue. Keith is busy crafting the 2014 vintage, the smallest harvest we've ever had at Karma Vista. What we lack in quantity looks like will be more than made up for in quality.
At the same time we are holding our breath as the nighttime low temps hit their winter worst. A freak wind out of the East is robbing us of our lake effect cushion and last night we were colder than the Chicago side of the lake. That doesn't happen very often. The recorders in the area showed about -8 degrees this morning, and it could get much colder tonight. Still nowhere near as bad as last year, but enough to make you nervous. Ok, maybe not you, but it makes me nervous. If that's the worst that we get we should still be in good shape. Any time the vines have as much time to relax as they did last year they are usually super hardy and loaded with buds. Time will tell.
Meanwhile, it's a good time to celebrate with a glass or two of Syrah and a few thousand of our friends in California. Like I said, work, work, work.
It's middle of November; snow is blowing; 21 degrees outside; I'm guessing summer is over. What can we say about 2014? It was the worst of times, it was the best of times. It was a dickens of a year. On the farming end we could complain about the vagaries of Mother Nature, or perhaps the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, but that's been done before. For the entire long year we have poured ourselves into our work. Now it is time to pour our work into ourselves. Might as well remember the year fondly. We have had a great season at the winery. Won some pretty fantastic awards for our efforts and added an eighth generation to the family along the way. Introduced a few awesome wines and incredible new labels (like Noirvana) to our portfolio. Like all great wines, we are aging nicely! Our last day open at the tasting room is Monday, December 22nd. Then we will go dormant for two months opening back up the first Friday in March. I use the time to meditate, chant, and contemplate the meaning of life, the universe, and the time-space continuum. And I nap a lot. I feel sorry for people who don't have winter. They don't understand the zen of a dormant season. Those boring days of endless sunshine and heat. Who would want that? No time to think about spring and rebirth, mistakes of the past, opportunities of the future, the importance of snow tires and why isn't the furnace working? Of course I wouldn't want to live any further north. That's just crazy! What are my predictions for 2015? It will be an odd year. I'm pretty sure of that.