Daily Dose of Cute

Baby pigs guys!  I had lots of ’em.  They have all left my care and gone to their “forever” homes, but here is a little idea of just how cute they are.

The whole process begins when one of my pregnant sows starts building a nest.  I supply her with clean straw for nesting material, and she begins gathering mouthfuls and building a nest in her house.  This is the first stage of labor.  When her nest is sufficiently fluffy and comfortable, she lies down and stays put until the babies are born.  In my experience, the girls have always begun building their nests in the morning and starting giving birth at dusk.

My pigs are pampered, so I am there with them through the whole process.  I believe that the outcome is better if I’m there to assist.

It’s walking away after they have all been born that is the hardest part.  You see, my sows are huge and the babies are tiny!  Nothing is more heartbreaking than finding a little baby that didn’t get out of the way in time and has suffocated.  But Gloucestershire Old Spot sows are known for being good mothers.  In their last two litters, both of my girls raised all of their babies without any casualties.

I sell the babies as meat pigs or breeders, which ever I have a market for.  My pigs are usually sold before they are born.  Right now I do have a couple of young boars available for purchase, and two gilts (a female that has not had a litter yet) that I purchased as breeders for me but am considering selling to save some pasture space.

If you ever want to visit my pigs I’d be happy to introduce you!  For more information about this fascinating heritage breed hog, visit GOSPBU.org.

Marion is nest building

Marion is nest building

Nerve Wracking!  Tiny babies.

Nerve Wracking! Tiny babies.

Marion in labor in her house

Marion in labor in her house

Two heads snuggled down

Two heads snuggled down

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Cute baby human holding cute baby pig

Cute baby human holding cute baby pig

The midwives catching baby pigs

The midwives catching baby pigs

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Thank You Hoot n Annie!

Marion and Margaret

Marion and Margaret

My friends Annie and Matt Browne over at Hoot n Annie interviewed me for their blog.  It was published today.  Here is a link to it: “Interview: Hilary Graves of Mighty Nimble“.

This is a blog to follow my friends!  They do a great job of promoting Paso Robles as a whole, but also of educating visitors about this special place that we call home.

Thank you Matt and Annie for interviewing me for your blog!

Green With Farm Envy

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I went to a party yesterday at the jaw-droppingly beautiful home of a friend of mine.  She and her husband were showing support for the local food movement here on the Central Coast.   They invited a couple of local breweries to serve beer and hard cider, someone made a few really great salads, and their wood burning pizza oven was churning out delicious pizzas at a fast clip.

At one point I was standing watching the band and a goldfinch landed on my hat!  I stayed super still and enjoyed the moment while everyone around me was jumping around saying “There’s a bird on your hat!”.  Because I didn’t shoo it away they thought I didn’t know it was there.

At the party I found myself surrounded by people who support small farmers, and even look at them with stars in their eyes.  Since I am a small farmer, it was a bit of a celebrity moment.  I didn’t want to ruin it by telling my new-found admirers how hard it is to do what I do.

What a coincidence when I woke up this morning and saw this opinion piece by Bren Smith titled “Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers”  in the New York Times.   All of the things that I wanted to say to the party guests who felt Farm Envy are very well stated by Bren here.  Although she failed to point out the copious amounts of laundry this line of work creates.

I spoke to a young guy at the party who was excited to try farming and felt that he had a realistic plan to purchase a $3 million dollar ranch (300 acres) and pay for it by farming some crops, raising grass-fed beef (although he didn’t know what a steer was), and renting a barn on the property for $5k per weekend.  He thought he would make the purchase with a conventional 30 yr fixed rate mortgage loan from the bank.   Ok, I couldn’t let that one pass so I said something about the loan situation, but as for the rest of it?  It wasn’t the right time or place to point out the holes in the plan that this young man had been dreaming about.  And you have to respect that kind of enthusiasm, ambition, take-charge attitude, desire for hard work.  But Bren did a great job of pointing out the challenges for me.  Hopefully he sees her article.

Would I change what I do?  Never.  But don’t go getting all starry-eyed over it.

Late Harvest Roussanne at La Rosine

During my visit to Cote Rotie I had the opportunity to participate in picking late harvest Roussanne at La Rosine vineyard, one of the estate properties of Domaine Michel & Stephane Ogier.  The first thing that struck me about the site was how green the vineyard floor was.  The reality for us after three dry seasons in California is that everything around us is completely brown, including the oak trees.  My eyes were so soothed by the beautiful green grasses.

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A lot of the ground cover is familiar (see the fillaree in the photo below?).  And I was surprised to see that there are mushrooms everywhere too!  We don’t see those much on the vineyard floor in California.

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The first thing I learned is where the definition of  “back-breaking” work comes from.  At home the cordon height is about waist height on me, or 46″ from the ground.  In Cote Rotie, most of the vines have fruit zones only 8″ from the ground.

Notice how low I have to crouch down to reach the fruit.

Notice how low I have to crouch down to reach the fruit.

I was literally on my hands and knees picking grapes in this vineyard.  Imagine doing squats all day long.  My quads were experiencing muscle exhaustion relatively quickly, and I’m in pretty good shape.  I was thinking as I was picking that I could give them some insight on how to make this job infinitely easier…simply raise the height of the fruit zone.  But I didn’t take into consideration that they use the heat that radiates off the soil to help ripen the fruit on the vines in this cooler than Paso Robles climate.

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La Rosine is just outside of the Cote Rotie appellation, and it is relatively flat in comparison to most of the vineyards that I visited.  Still, there were some moments while picking grapes when I found myself using the stakes to hold myself in place.  At some other vineyards, I used them like ski poles to climb uphill.

Something that I saw in Cote Rotie that I would like to bring home to the vineyards in Paso Robles is the straw that they use to tie shoots to stakes.  It’s economical, biodegradable, renewable, and it doesn’t girdle grapevines.

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We picked the botrytis covered grapes into buckets, and then transferred them into bigger boxes for transport to the winery.

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Liquid gold!

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Côte Rôtie , How Do I Love Thee, Let Me Count the Ways…

I returned home on Tuesday from a little over a week in France where I spent some time learning about the vineyards and wines of Cote Rotie.  It is a truly beautiful part of the world, and I learned a lot by visiting.

I stayed in the tiny village of Ampuis, at Domaine Michel & Stephane Ogier.  My hosts were generous beyond words, and they made me feel immediately at home.

The village of Ampuis

The village of Ampuis with the iconic vineyards of Cote Rotie in the background.

This is a phone booth at the railroad tracks!

This is a phone booth at the railroad tracks!

I spent some time “working” in the cellar, but VERY carefully.  I found it to be nerve-wracking working in someone else’s cellar.  Although the work is generally the same, we all do things differently in the winery and our cellars are private places, really.  I didn’t want to overstep or make any mistakes, but I had to get into the daily work routine in order to learn about the differences in the local processes.  The staff at the Domaine was great!  So capable and fun to work with.  It helped immensely that everyone spoke English, but I made the decision to spend some time learning French for future visits.  As is the case when you travel to new locations, if you allow yourself to have an open mind about things, there really is so much to be learned.

Wall of barrels

Wall of barrels

I think it was most impressive for me to see the vineyards there.  Slopes that we would never consider planting in Paso Robles were covered with grapevines in Cote Rotie and Condrieu.

A vineyard in Condrieu

A vineyard in Condrieu

In those very steep spots, almost all of the work is done by hand.  The row spacing is too tight for equipment (in many places the spacing is 1.1m between rows and .8m between vines), and the slope is so steep that equipment cannot safely be used there anyway.

A photo of the schist "soil" that is found on the Cote Brune slopes.

A photo of the schist “soil” that is found on the Cote Brune slopes.

Spraying is done by hand with backpack sprayers.  Horses can be used in a few spots for tilling, but other than that they rely on good old-fashioned hard manual labor to manage the vineyards and bring in the crop.

Classic training of vines in Cote Rotie

Classic training of vines in Cote Rotie

I was so impressed with the vineyards that I am determined to try a small block “Cote Rotie Style”, here in Paso Robles.  I plan to plant a block at my own vineyard, but I’m licking my chops looking for another willing participant who is open to experimentation and wants to give it a shot.  (Yes John, I’m talking about you.)

A vineyard in Condrieu

A vineyard in Condrieu

I found the wines of this appellation to be classic and exemplary, consistently showing remarkable finesse, chic style, and lasting sophistication that is the marker of the region.

A beautiful view

A beautiful view

Since I’ve been home my colleagues are asking, will I change my winemaking style now that I’ve seen how they do it in Cote Rotie?  I don’t think so.  If I learned anything there it is that terroir is king.  I have to make wines that showcase the terroir of Paso Robles with a little bit of my personal flair somehow shining through, and those wines will be a lot different from wines made anywhere else.  That’s the point of it all, don’t you think?

The Falconer’s Apprentice

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Hi Everyone!  I’ve been absent, I know…but writing here is on my mind often.  It is difficult to put into words exactly how busy this time of year can be for us.  The days are jam packed with picking and processing, driving to pick up and deliver fruit, monitoring ferments and managing people, feeding animals, loading cattle, and taking care of the land we have been trusted with.  Somewhere in there I have to handle paper work (most of the time, I skip that!), sell the wine I’ve made in past vintages, take care of my kids and my husband, cook, eat, sleep, and keep my teeth brushed.  In the middle of all of this activity I often think, “Oh, I’ll take a picture of that to document this craziness on my blog!”, but my phone tells me that I have no memory left with which to take pictures.  Bummer, dude.

But a fun thing happened yesterday when we hosted the lower elementary students at Children’s House Montessori School in Atascadero for a lesson about falcons and how we use them to control pests in the vineyard.  The kids are always fascinated by these amazing birds.  I am equally fascinated.  Each and every time I see them it is as exciting as the first time I saw them fly.  Marina announced today that she is going to apprentice in falconry next summer.  She made her debut today with Holly, pictured above.

In the winery things are humming right along.  I have a bunch of ferments that are ready to press so I’ll be doing that over the next few days.  Have a great weekend everyone, and I will try to post again soon!

Fall 2013 Ranch Package

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Hello Friends!  After a busy few days I’m finally sitting down to do some “desk work”.

My next Ranch Package will be distributed to Ranch Club Members at our pick-up party on Saturday, November 2nd from 1-4pm.  The Ranch Package for Fall 2013 will be a 25lb box of All-Natural Grass Fed Beef and 6 bottles of Mighty Nimble wine (3 bottles 2011 Rock Candy, 2 bottles 2011 Fruit Tramp, 1 bottle 2011 Small Black).

To become a Ranch Club Member, all you have to do is purchase a Ranch Package…Simple!  Ranch Club Members receive complimentary tours and tasting at the winery, 20% discount on wine purchases of 6 bottles or more, and advance notice of special events.

Non-members can purchase beef or wine individually.  A 25lb box of Grass Fed Beef costs $275, and the wines are priced as follows: 2011 Rock Candy $32/bottle, 2011 Fruit Tramp $36/bottle, 2011 Small Black $65/bottle.

If you would like to place an order you can do so now by emailing me at Hilary@mightynimble.com.  I will take orders until September 28th, 2013.  I only harvest the number of steers needed to fill orders, so I usually don’t have any leftover beef to sell.

The pick-up party is a lot of fun, with great food by Chef Jed Lachance and plenty of Mighty Nimble wine.  And no promises, but I might be able to encourage an appearance by renowned western artist Bob Coronato, creator of the buckin’ bronco that appears on the Mighty Nimble label, and his lovely wife, Lisa.

Attendance at the pick-up party is complimentary for Ranch Club Members, and $30 per person for guests.

I am so appreciative of all the encouragement and excitement from all of you.  Thank you for supporting our family farming operation!