La Vina Loca
Welcome to La Vina Loca, the Majek Winery blog. Here you will find a mixed bag of information, including tales from the winery and vineyard, recipes, and other news.
The blog started in 2013ish, as we planned and planted the vineyard. There are huge gaps in time because I underestimated how hard it would be to keep up with all of it! With new software, I hope to post more regularly...we'll see.
Welcome to my slice of Texas.
Actual New Year's blessings
In Jan of 2021, it was announced that wineries had to close again due to high COVID rates. I completely understand the reasons why, but business-wise, it was a very disappointing start after 6 months of closures in 2020. The closures seemed endless and out of my control. We were given the option to reopen immediately, if we turned from a Tasting Room into a restaurant (which was better than being closed). So, we opened as a restaurant in mid-Jan last year and I vowed that I would never close again during normal hours, if I had a choice.
So, I happily opened for 2022 New Year's weekend, when many businesses were closed. Business was slow, but steady and our guests left smiling.
In retail and hospitality, nothing really stops, the business keeps rolling on with season changes, new years...but the start of a new year does create new energy and enthusiasm, planning and dreaming of what we will do better than before. I love this energy. I have laid out a mighty plan for each channel to grow and improve the experience, whether loyal Wine Club member, Tasting Room guest, Wholesale partner, or eCommerce patron. We are blessed that our Winemaker, Tim Drake, ensures that our wines are outstanding and that is the foundation of everything we do. We will continue to be thrown many challenges....we do operate in agriculture, manufacturing, and retail/wholesale, but I feel so good about this year. A new beginning...
BTW, the restaurant was profitable and + revenue, so change is good!
Happy New Year to you and best wishes for health and happiness to your family from Majek.
Happy New Year!
Well, I admitted in my last blog (in August...) that blogging is not my strong point. However, in 2022, I will endeavor to share a bit more about life here at La Vina Loca. My husband took early retirement from Banking in December and is joining the business full-time. So, 1. There will be more to share and more time to share it, as he takes over entire parts of the business, i.e., Wholesale. And, 2. I'm going to try for more work/life balance to enjoy time with him, which has been the same problem I had when working in Corporate...my creative outlet is my work. I own a vineyard and winery, yet I need to "smell the roses" more and enjoy the spreadsheets less.
A couple of weeks ago, I started a few new lifestyle habits, since I plan to live forever. Might as well start now! First new habit is to walk regularly. This is not hard to do during the growing season, but I'm too desk-bound otherwise.
This morning, I was joined on my walk by Thor the cat and Ripley the dog (so cute and unexpected to be followed by the cat!). I wore my rubber-soled boots, so I didn't twist my ankle on a rock and have to send Ripley for help, i.e, Lassie. The vines are dormant, but the temps are in the 80s, so the grass and some wildflowers are doing well. Eventually, I got into a rhythm of inhale for 4 steps, exhale for 4 steps, which is pretty relaxing.
I hope you take the time to plan something new for 2022. I love the planning part, execution (like blogging) is harder for me.
Happy New Year.
It's all 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.
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.
My Perfect Uniform
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 trophies
Some are persevering despite my ignorance
And some didn’t make it
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 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
Black Spanish Road Trip
Background: 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
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.
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.”
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.
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!
“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
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.