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After a long cherry crushing day, Megan, Kate and Skipper enjoy
Lucy and Albert's vaudeville practice.

Isabella says, "Waiter, a fresh vino please."

Flowers & Grapes photo: Anthony Cesare
News & Tips - Winter 2005

We are pleased to have been chosen to provide the proprietary wine for Montana Governor-Elect Brian Schweitzer's inaugural reception in February, 2005. It's a promising new day for Montana and we love being part of it.

This summer’s rain—3 inches above normal--has kept the forests from burning and nourished our grapes and tomatoes.  The vines set fruit in spite of a cold May and high moisture June but a late frost nip was hard on the Foch shoots.  They were first to bud out and the 28 degree frost damaged 40 percent of the vines.  Nevertheless, the secondary fruits set well.

The vines grew so fast that an active program of shoot selection and canopy management became the top priority to maximize direct sunlight.  The vines are incredibly lush and bushy despite two prunings. About the time Martha Stewart went to trial we started training grapes planted last year on wires. 

This is the first year we’ve had enough compost—provided by Ted and Peggy in Evaro in the form of bedding pen straw from their championship sheep herd--to enrich our soil.  We also planted buckwheat and alfalfa between rows to maintain a permanent cover crop in the aisles to feed nitrogen to the vines’ roots. Alfalfa fixes nitrogen from the air. Buckwheat draws up phosphorus deep in the soil and makes it available to the vines’ roots—important in our rocky ground.  We will till it in to concentrate phosphorous and organic matter to foster a diverse microbial community. This is essential in our unusual vineyard setting:  a mountain valley with glacial outrun soil so rocky we installed an all-steel trellis system. Here, crown gall, an ever-present soil bacteria, has been a problem in our Leon Millot and to a lesser degree in our Foch vines. St. Pepin and Frontenac are so far immune and robust. Green manure crops and compost create a more balanced soil structure, increasing friability and humus, and should keep the crown gall in check. 

Veraison, the start of color change in the grapes, began August 17th. We harvested our grapes during the second week of October. More than 60 people--neighbors, friends and University of Montana students from the Program of Ecology, Agriculture and Society--picked and crushed grapes. Plenty of food and drink kept everyone unaware of how hard they worked. They picked 4.5 tons in two days. One young fellow sitting against the fence was overheard talking on his cell phone, "I'm in the middle of a vineyard in the sun, it's 65 degrees I have a great view of the mountains. Why would I want to be anywhere else?"

Cherry Crop.

Andy conducts the unloading of two new 2,200 gallon stainless steel
wine tanks delivered from Spokane in August, 2004

Vineyard in Winter, photo: Beth Ferris

Flathead Lake’s Cherry Crop
It was a stunning season for the cherry crop at the organic Finley Point orchard now owned by Elise Rousseau and Al Silva. Valiant Al delivered a total of 10,000 pounds of cherries daily in the heat of Boston’s Democratic Convention in late July. While unloading cherry bins in the evening sun, we reported the highlights to Al. We crushed, fermented and pressed juicy Lambert cherries into tanks while Albert, our new rascally puppy, ate so many pits we thought a family of bears had been through, leaving their calling cards. 

Connie’s Organic Tomato Chips
In a green meadow, Jane Kile planted our tomato seedlings at her impeccable organic farm in Dixon, Montana.  Rich soil and plenty of sunlight, plus Jane’s guiding hand, brought forth a bountiful, tasty harvest.

New Horizons
On a quiet, overcast and chilly Sunday in August Connie took the dogs for a walk, a total of five—two extra here for summer dog camp.  Along a muddy stretch of Rattlesnake Creek our neighbor’s golden retriever and our daily companion, Chula, saw Shiloh, an old yellow lab visiting for the weekend, fall into the water from the slippery trail’s cutbank.  Chula pounced and held Shiloh under water—she couldn’t pass up an opportunity to drown the newest guest.  Connie jumped in after her and immediately slid in the mud up to her neck.  She did get Shiloh’s head above water and all survived, wet as mops, in less than buoyant moods.

They drove home and emerged from the van dripping mud and water to find a young woman from California waiting at the winery for a tour and tasting.  It was a droll moment and the beginning of a new adventure.  Maile Field grew up in the Rattlesnake Valley, just up the road from the winery.  She and her husband Lars now own an organic vineyard and pear orchard in Kelseyville, Lake County, Calif. The upshot of that drenched and dirty meeting is that we are now making Sauvignon Blanc from Maile and Lars' luscious organic grapes. Andy and pal Bryan DiSalvatore drove two 24'-long Budget Rent-A-Trucks to Kelseyville--getting stopped along the way as suspected terrorists in the Nevada desert. They crushed grapes, played marbles with the kids, revelled in Maile and Lars' gracious hospitality, and enjoyed an older, rural California bypassed by the asphalt tsunami paving so much of that world. This venture makes a satisfying Rattlesnake loop for both families. Sometimes you can go home again.

Driving home over mountain passes loaded with 2,700 gallons of juice starting to ferment had its white-knuckle moments. That, and a Friday night hoedown in the Ritzville bar brought the new wine's name to Andy with the pale fire of dawn: Blind Curve. Expect it in the spring.   

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