Our Opening is Here!

It’s hard to believe that our opening is here! Join us as we turn our dream into a reality.

We’re having a soft opening starting on Friday, March 7th through Sunday, March 9th as a way of showing our appreciation to all those who followed our progress over these past several months. Please come check out our tasting room and be one of the first to sample our wines. On March 8th, we’ll also be at the Schulenburg Wine and Music Festival from 4-8pm in the wine garden.

Our Grand Opening will be on Saturday, March 15th. To celebrate the occasion, we’ll have live music by Austin recording artist, April Hall. We’ll offer $5 bar-be-que tasting plates by Mikeska Bar-be-que from Columbus, TX. And Hallettsville artistic painters, Paula Patterson-Walker and Jay Walker will be here to host a showing of their works in the Tasting Room. Their art will be shown and available for sale, through June.

We invite you to spend an afternoon visiting with friends in our old barn or outside with a view of the vineyard. Get away from the city and enjoy the big Texas sky, the constant southerly breeze, the beauty of the cardinals in the cedar trees, and a delicious glass (or bottle) of our wine.

We look forward to seeing you soon!  L

It’s about the Vina

I have mostly written about my personal feelings about this experience, particularly the loca parts….but this is really about the vina.  I haven’t really described how I spent my summer and some of the key learnings of setting up a vineyard:

  • Once planted in March, I mistakenly thought I was just supposed to let the vines grow all year, in order to make strong roots.  I put 30 inch grow tubes around the plants, to protect against the rabbits, and off they went.
    • This was half true.  I was supposed to also prune the vines, 700 of them, in bonsai-like fashion, to establish the cordons.  Thirty-inch grow tubes were too high for the heat in my area.  The leaves inside the tubes died and I ended up with tufts of leaves gasping for air at the top of the tube.Grow Tube Debacle
  • I also misunderstood about the fertilizing.  I thought I didn’t need to fertilize for several years, based on my soil sample.
    • I realized, later, that the soil sample for Block A was very good, but the soil sample for Block B was not so good.  These blocks are just feet apart and needed to be treated very differently.
  • I did have good irrigation and didn’t waste water.  However, I did have silt in one filter, which limited water to 4 rows in Block A.
  • It is a correct statement that you have to really be in the vineyard to know what is going on.

By June, I had figured out that I was already behind in my vineyard work….basically right as the heat of summer hit.  I pruned all the plants down to the best one vine to form the trunk and taped it to the stake.  At this time, I also cut the grow tube down to 18 inches, which I should have done on Day One.    These two tasks literally took weeks and weeks to complete.  As you know, I have a full-time job and only work the vineyard at nights and on the weekends.

Even with these escapades, there were many very fortuitous parts of this experience, beyond the obvious “won’t make these mistakes again” parts.

My perfect uniform

  • Somehow, I managed to plant the vineyard so the sun is at my back in the afternoon…accidently very smart.
  • I also learned to sit so that the finished vines were in front of me… which really helped with my enthusiasm.
  • I landed on a combination of shirts, hat, shorts, and shoes that served me well.
  • Most importantly, I really learned from other outdoor workers around town, what they wear and the cadence of their work.  I had to leave the chaos of my normal work world behind and work at the cadence that nature allowed.  I learned that you can’t be in a huge hurry, timing how long it takes to do a row, how many cuts per vine, etc….how against nature, and actually dangerous, that could be.  How sharp objects, heat, and fatigue don’t mix.  It was about sitting in front of each plant, briefly studying the best way to trim it to guide it towards the proper shape, taping that to the stake, and moving to the next plant.  Like the REK song, Mariano, it was like working like a piston, steadily, constantly, doing the best I could, not too tired to work the next day.

This summer, I worked many evenings until dark.  The heat was just terrible this summer and during the week, I had to wait until almost 7 to get out and get in a couple of hours of pruning.  But you can’t imagine what an amazing experience that was….the warm gentle breeze, the complete silence except for the crickets chirping,  the beautiful sky and vines.  I tried to take pictures of the moon rising over me, but my old iPhone didn’t capture it very well.  Once, as I moved down the row to the next plant, a little rabbit was sitting right next to me.  She was hidden in the grass, her ears lying flat against her back in camouflage.  I talked to her and she didn’t move….and after I was finished with that plant, I moved on to the next one and let her be.

And so, this summer was a time of learning.  It has been good to learn something new.  I had my book-learning from the Viticulture Program.  In practice with my vines and on my property, and with my interpretation, I didn’t have completely perfect results, but the vines aren’t all dead!

  • I estimate I have about 90% survival rate, which I will take and build on.
    • Some of the vines are trophiesTrophy vine
    • Some are persevering despite my ignorance

sick vine

    • And some didn’t make itDead Vine - RIP
  • This I equate to golf…it’s a beautiful, but exasperating sport.  Golfers normally hit enough good shots to keep them coming back for more…. it’s the same with a vineyard.My faithful buckets

 

  • My faithful tools didn’t let me down

One for sitting,

One for pruning waste,

One for other accouterments, i.e., wasp spray, Seven dust, Gatorade, tape gun.

 

I am now almost caught up now and we will be ready for Fall.  There were no heat strokes, amputations or divorces.   All summer, I just couldn’t wait to see how the vines were growing and improving….and our family had the time of our lives.   I couldn’t ask for more.   L

Summer Chicken Project — Update (Sept 9th)

As if we didn’t have enough going on, we added chickens to the farm this summer, as a summer project.  Liv wanted chickens, and they seemed like pets that produce food, so what would be the harm!

In June, we went online to mypetchicken.com to check out the choices.  That website has listed every chicken known to man.  The choices can be sorted and filtered every which way to find the chickens of your dreams.  We chose chickens that were egg-layers and heat tolerant… and none of those with the fluffy feet.  We wanted classic farm-looking chickens.  We decided to get 8 different ones, basically because they were about three dollars each.  Seemed like a bargain….cue scary music.  The chicks were scheduled to arrive in mid-July.

Next we needed a chicken coop.   In typical fashion, we ordered it from Amazon.  Amazon has literally everything.  The coop arrived a few days later, Liv and I put it together over a couple of nights, and we were ready for chick arrival.

Promptly on July 17, we went to the post office to pick up the chicks.  We could literally hear them peeping from outside the building….the poor post office ladies had gotten an earful.  We picked up the brown cardboard box with breathing holes and made our way back to the farm.  We could barely wait to open it!

Note precise temperature

When we did open the box, inside were seven adorable little three-day old chicks…and one that had perished on the way.  We had been warned by MyPetChicken.com that there was a possibility that all chicks might not make the long trip.   I’m surprised that any of them made it, honestly, in the summer heat.  The chicken people at MPC (MyPetChicken acronym) are really good at what they do! We put the chicks in a wading pool on the back porch, complete with pine shavings, a heat lamp and a thermometer to ensure that we maintained the constant 95 degrees that they needed.

Note escape attempt and added wire.

 I also had to perform a little poop cleaning, with a booty blow dry, on a little one that had an upset stomach.  I followed the instructions on the website, precisely, and it recovered.  I won’t attach a picture of that….although I did take one b/c it was really funny to think that I would do that.  We had to continually reinforce the containment structure, as they became escape artists.

Chicken 3 - Week 5 outside

By the end of the third week, the chicks had to go outside because of the stench.  I tried to follow the instructions and keep the area clean, but there was only so much I could do.  Despite the high heat outside, we put them in the coop…albeit in the shade.  Randy assured me that chickens must be hardy…there are so many of them in the world.

Chickens -- doing fine

Now the chickens are seven weeks old and they are quite large.  In fact, so large that they have already outgrown the coop.  The coop was supposed to be big enough for 6-8 chickens, but these girls aren’t even half grown and they are standing sideways in the coop.  Not exactly free range. So we went to Tractor Supply and bought a 10 x 10 dog kennel.  To save $100, we bought the DIY version and put it together in the heat of the day, rather than spend the extra money and enjoy our weekend.  We added a tarp on the top, for shade and to provide hawk-resistance.  Anyway, the chickens are in a spa now.  They are chillaxing on the roof of the coop, so grateful to be part of the Majek family.

I noticed, later, that the new kennel/coop development gives the chickens the best view of the vineyard…..and is unfortunately situated between the house and the vineyard…ruining my view.  I haven’t broken the news to Randy, yet, that we have to move it….

Hope we get eggs soon.  L

******************************

Update:  September 8, 2013

Yesterday morning, Liv checked on the chickens and Olivia Jr. (her favorite) was dead in the newly renovated spa/coop.  There were no signs of forced entry or fowl play…just a dead chicken.  We looked online (our only source of chicken info) and apparently chickens just die sometimes.

After some tears and a burial, we have moved on.  Randy spent most of today reinforcing the spa against intruders.  Personally,  I think it was an inside job.

Down to 6 chickens, no eggs yet.   L

Musings from Majek 2013 Black Spanish Roadtrip

MapBackground:  It’s harvest season in S Texas.  This weekend, we planned to take Black Spanish grapes from Patrick Gibson’s vineyard to Brownfield, where Mike Sipowicz of Texas Custom Wine Works will craft our 2015 reds.  Patrick’s vineyard is in Weimar (75 miles W of Houston).  Brownfield is 30 miles west of Lubbock.  For the uninitiated, that means a road trip diagonally across Texas.  Why do this?  Our grapes won’t be ready until next year…and our wine-making facility after that.  Patrick has the best grapes in the area and Mike makes some of the best wine around anywhere.  We want to create the best product for our future guests…so that meant a trans-Texas roadtrip!

Friday, August 9, 2013.

We need a 26-foot refrigerated truck (known as a reefer).  Why:  The grapes must be kept very cold from the field to the winemaking facility to slow premature fermentation.  The grapes would be ruined by the stifling August heat in the back of a normal truck.  I efficiently made the rental arrangements in San Antonio weeks ago, receiving a final confirmation just this past Thursday…yet, there is a problem.  Cue the scary music….

3:00 p.m.  Long story short, the truck rental guy says our truck has been “commandeered by the US government (aliens?)  for exercises in West Texas”…really.  There are no available trucks in all of south Texas…really.  Our grapes have no truck.  Our project is thwarted before it even begins.  A screeching phone conversation with the jefa (me) doesn’t help at all (although I later award style points for the truck guy’s novel excuse for renting my truck to someone else).  Fortunately, after an hour or so of significant sleuthing and the power of prayer, Randy is able to locate another truck, ironically across the street.

4:30 p.m.  So, finally, Laurel (our friend/neighbor, web chief, and historian), Olivia and Randy begin the trip from San Antonio to Moravia.  First time driving a big, refrigerated truck for Mr. Majek…..and he’s up to the challenge. Some strange noises (alarms) from the truck, but it looks like the first crisis is averted……did I mention that the truck has a governor limiting speed to 60 mph?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Harvesting grapes

6:30 a.m.  We are traveling from Moravia 10 miles to Patrick’s beautiful operation at his Vineyard at Grohmann Farms.  A crowd of helpful volunteers has assembled to harvest Patrick’s gorgeous Black Spanish clusters to the radio tunes of Polka Party.  Patrick has done a great job of managing his fruit through the Spring frost, July rains and 100+ August temps to achieve maximum hang time and very high quality fruit.  I couldn’t ask for more.

Grapes ready to load

10:30 a.m.  Sue Gibson (owner with Patrick of the Vineyard at Grohmann Farms and the Weimary) served all the volunteers a delicious brunch, we settled up on the grapes, and after the team loaded 7 bulging bins of fruit, we were on the road….Randy and Liv in the truck, Laurel and I following in the Jeep.

As I write this entry at 3:00 p.m. Aug 10, 2013, our little caravan has crept at 60 mph, shaken but undeterred, through 80 mph traffic on I-10W for almost 5 hours.  We have not been rear-ended yet.  Laurel and I have been bored since 10:45 a.m.  Randy and Liv are being bumped and bounced in the rickety old truck.  We are way west of SA but still in the Hill Country heading northwest.  I believe we will touch all of Texas’ geographical regions before the day is done.  Listening to Reckless Kelly radio on Pandora… “Amarillo by Morning”…

5:12 p.m.  Still 2+ hours from Brownfield.  Several hundred miles since Google map lady last spoke turn instructions, no more cloud formations to study…limited cell access…many windmills…   60 mph pace creates a zen-like chance to just be.  Big Spring coming up…”Til another day comes, you gotta live through today.”On the road

6:35 p.m.   Olivia calls from the grape truck to the lead vehicle, “Where are you, Mommy?”….  Where are we??????….   We are leading the wrong white truck!!!   Somehow, I accelerated to 62 mph (probably to the REK tune, “Corpus Christi Bay”) and lost the family/grapes!….  Family/grapes located, trip resumes, second crisis averted.

8:30 p.m.  Arrived in Brownfield, 10 hours since departure, just in time…all digital devices in both vehicles at 5% power or less.  After all the drama of the last couple of days, hopefully the evening will go more smoothly.  Dusty Timmons’ crew at Texas Custom Wine Works expertly unloads our bins and places them in a chilled staging area.  While they prepare for the de-stemming, we search for food.

9:00 p.m. In small town America.  Consulted all available resources:  Google maps, Urban Spoon, all with options with limited cell reception.  Stumbled upon a nice Mexican restaurant called Savannah’s.  Despite arriving at closing time, we are served a delicious meal.

Working late into the night.

10:00 p.m.  We’re back at Texas Custom Wine Works to watch Dusty’s crew crush our grapes.  It seems like only a few minutes before our 7 bins of grapes are hoisted high for sorting, de-stemming, and then pumped into “our” tank.  What an impressive operation!  As we watch the flow of grapes go by, I realize how much this evening was the culmination of many people’s dreams, talents, and hard work and the start of the ancient process by which art and nature combine into our wine.  I am very grateful.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

11:00 a.m.  Mike was working at the facility until 5:30 a.m. this morning.  We arrive somewhat later to discuss wine plans.  Mike’s a very great winemaker and we have many options to bring to our future guests.  As you can imagine, he has ideas that we didn’t even know existed.  I won’t divulge our plans until later!CWW discussing wine

“It’s been a long 25 years, hanging on to all those fears — Shine on me, Shine on me”.

1:20 p.m.  We are departing Brownfield, exhilarated and happy… exhilarated that the dream continues and happy to have met so many amazing, talented people through this process.

“It’s all, it’s all just a matter of time.”

The return trip to Moravia was much the same as the trip to Brownfield…Lather, rinse, repeat.  Red fields, hours, wind mills, hours, Hill Country, hours, San Antonio, hour, Moravia home.

Here are a few key learnings from our trip:

  • At 60 mph in Texas, you will never be the passor, only the passee
  • We were passed by oversized loads, oil tankers, and little old campers
  • I’m pretty sure that all passers thought I was elderly or having car trouble
  • We determined that “Tom Green’s county” was neatest.  He has a very nice road surface.
  • I didn’t realize that Kimball county and Kimble county were 2 different counties.
  • Weather Underground precisely predicted a predictably dramatic Texas storm at the intersection of Hwy 83 and I-10 at 7:05 p.m.   I would recommend their weather app.
  • Nearly every gas pump we used had a previous sale of $5.00.  I am very fortunate.
  • It’s best to avoid outside port-a-potties, at gas stations undergoing remodel, in August….probably always.
  • Highly recommend the Reckless Kelly section on Pandora.  In areas where cell access fails, we vote for REK West Textures….because you know…”the road goes on forever, and the party never ends”J
  • There are many nice little towns between Weimar and Brownfield, including Weimar and Brownfield.
  • It’s amazing how much richer experiences and life get, when the circle is expanded to include new friends

More to come, watch us grow!  L

Roadtrip Survivors:

Laurel Smyth:  Friend, Web Chief, Historian, Photographer, Musicologist, Co-Driver of the Lead Vehicle, Very Good Person

Lynne Majek:  Jefa, Blog Writer, Co-Driver of the Lead Vehicle, TX Tech Certified Viticulturist

Olivia Majek:  Bi-Vehicle Communications Chief, Assistant Navigator of the Grape Truck, Grape Truck Entertainment.

Randy Majek:  Grape Truck Wrangler, Fearless Driver of the slowest vehicle in Texas, Future Winemaker of Majek Vineyard and Winery.

Roadtrip Home Movies

 

http://vimeo.com/74004747

 

http://vimeo.com/73969898

If I think too much about it

Porch sittingIf I think too much about it, I scare myself with the prospect of opening any business, much less a vertical operation of harvesting a crop, manufacturing a perishable product, and creating a retail experience…all at the same time.  I had had a garden, and had really enjoyed picking the right heirloom seeds, watching them grow with Olivia, and canning the produce.  But, that was the full extent of my agricultural experience.

Randy and I fell in love with our neighbor’s vineyard, Moravia Vineyard and Winery.  For me, it really began with a fascination for growing such a beautiful crop – the symmetry of the cordons, the lush green leaves, the bountiful fruit.  It’s a peaceful setting, like a sanctuary.  Also, I couldn’t believe how plentiful even a small vineyard could be.  I signed up for the Viticulture Certificate Program at Tech, even before Randy had bought into the idea of a vineyard.  I enjoyed every single minute of the 4-6 a.m. online study times before work and the field work sessions at Round Mountain Vineyard.

Olivia and Randy

When our neighbor decided to open a tasting room, we were first in line to volunteer to help.  Randy and I had both worked in Retail in past lives…..opening a tasting room was a cinch!  We set up his tasting room and worked it with him every Saturday that summer.  We loved that part, too!  Moravia Vineyard and Winery has a beautiful tasting room facility.  It was really fun meeting the customers and sharing that discovery experience with them.

Once we decided to plant our own vineyard, our original plan had been to grow grapes for sale to other wineries.  We began to realize that we wanted our own wine and tasting room.  As much as we loved our neighbor’s place, it was his dream and vision….and we had a different vision of our own.

So, we decided to open a casual, mostly outdoor wine venue where the agriculture will play as much of a role as the winery.  Where people can congregate for music, to watch a game, and to enjoy wine!  And, just as in Italy and Napa, and on Hwy 290 in the Hill Country, side by side wineries make each other even more successful.  So, that’s what we are going to do and we will all be the better for it.

 

Majek Vineyard & Winery

Opening March 15, 2014

The Saga

In the interest of brevity, I will postpone the first 8 or so years of The Saga, until another day.

In the beginning, Randy and I were corporate-people, working 5 or more days a week, in office-type jobs.  We had a nice home, but wanted to have “a place to go”.

Grandpa Sassin’s land had been laying fallow for many years, after his retirement to Corpus and his eventual passing.  After working with relatives, we inherited part of our property from Randy’s mom and purchased part from two of his aunts.

The land had been cleared at one time and planted with cotton, corn, and other fruits/vegetables to sustain Grandpa’s family.  After years of laying fallow, however, the property was completely overgrown with cedar.  The lane from 957 was not even detectable.  Many comfort-zone expanding experiences were to follow as we tackled the tasks to retake the property.

Fast-forward to about 3 years ago.  Vast amounts of capital outlay, heavy lifting, help, and prayer yielded:

  • Road Improved (this is debatable)
  • Land Cleared
  • Little Barn Built
  • Small Farmhouse Built
  • It’s all good!

Through our neighbor’s love of vineyards and wine, we “caught the bug” to have our own vineyard and winery, as unbelievable as that sounds.  We helped him a little bit at his place and I was accepted to the Texas Tech Viticulture Certificate Program.

Randy and I started to plan our own business.  We began making wine in our office to get a high level understanding.  We lost our original “name” to the trademark police (Rocky Creek Vineyard).  We are now in the middle of many varied permitting and licensing processes.

I plan that my vines will eventually look like this.  Today, after planting during Spring Break 2013, they look like this.  We are beginning to see the crazy challenges of Agriculture and we anticipate many other unplanned-for outcomes.

The reason for The Saga is really two-fold.

  1. When owning property, there is sense that something needs to be done with it.   Our “farm” has been such a blessing to us…the beautiful property and the rich heritage that comes with it.  We want to share both the product and the experiences from our blessings….as Grandpa did.
  2. Randy and I felt that if we could put a portion of our creative energies that we put into our day jobs, into a business of our own, we would be successful.

Our business will be fun, innovative, diverse, hopefully profitable, and rich in experiences for our patrons, our employees, and ourselves.

Welcome!

Property entranceThe purpose of our blog, La Vina Loca, is to share moments and insights from our family journey to start a vineyard and winery.  I’m Southern by birth, so I share a lot.

Welcome to our story, we hope to see you soon at our Tasting Room!

Lynne Majek (L)