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Field Notes Issue 21

by Joey Wolosz | Published September 29, 2022

September 2022

This is our busy time and my favorite time of the year with light sweaters, falling leaves, the slant of the autumn sun, and the shadows it casts. Jeff and I are hosting outdoors with small bonfires, homemade marshmallows, and good friends, bringing out the throw blankets when the sun goes down. 

Both the hustle and bustle of our harvest season are coming to a close. Our Muir-Hanna Chardonnay came in late August and Pinot Noir in early September. Merlot came in the second week of September. It was all hands on deck, sorting the fruit as it made its way to the tank. The Cabernet Sauvignon is taking its sweet time. It looks like it will come in next week. We have considerably increased our production, and Gentleman Farmer’s growth is super exciting for me.

Yountville Days drops (as the kids say) this Saturday. Like the Oscars, it is a day when Yountville celebrates its own. Last year our contingent was represented by over 50 wine club members. We picked up some strays along the parade route for the after-party at the house. This year we are pulling out all the stops.

I take you behind the scenes of harvest with an interview with a sixth-generation grape farmer, Michael Hanna. Michael has an engaging story, lineage, and connection to this valley.

You’ll also find a recipe for your late harvest ripe and ready tomatoes, a savory tomato tart that takes cues from a classic French sweet dessert with a few twists and turns.

Welcome to sweater weather. The change of season always pairs well with a good glass of wine. 

Vintner, Cook, Gone With The Fallen Leaves

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Ease On Down

This coming Saturday is Yountville Days. It has a bit of a harvest festival vibe, rightly so because of the time of year; however, I’m told it is really around the anniversary of George Yount’s death. Odd, but I’ll take it. We invite Gentleman Farmer Wine Club Collective members to walk alongside our float each year. At this point, we have about 40 members on our confirmed list. If you’re planning on joining us, fasten your seatbelts, we are pulling out all the stops.

This year’s theme is “No Place Like Home.” Now, I’m sure the organizers’ intent is that there is no place like Yountville. However, we are taking the literal interpretation and going full Wizard of Oz.

Gentleman Farmer will host the band Phat Ankle on our float. Our talented wine team member, Jen Murphy, is a welder and is creating a full-blown tornado, complete with lightning effects. The float is wrapped in Dorthy-blue gingham with a balloon rainbow arc at one end, and we are working on an Emerald City at the other. 

Wine club members have been texting me pics of their costumes, and we have the full movie cast represented, including a few Totos. Jeff and I ordered ruby red rhinestone sneakers with a blue gingham shirt and shorts set. Wine Club Collective member Allison Sands created a 45-second choreographed number, and about 20 club members are already studying the moves to perform in front of the judge’s stand. As we ease down Washington Street, the Gentleman Farmer house band, Phat Ankle, will play Ease On Down The Road from The Wiz.

This is going to be a hoot!

After the parade, we will park the float in front of the house, set up the band in the back garden, and have some afternoon fun with snacks.

If you’re not attending this year, please mark your calendar for next year, October 7, 2023. Seriously, club members fly in for this!  It’s not every day you get to be in a parade. If you’d like to become a Gentleman Farmer Wine Club Collective member, click here.

Roots Run Deep

Michael Hanna is a vineyard owner and a get-your-hands-dirty farmer. We have been sourcing our Chardonnay from his Muir-Hanna vineyard for years, starting with just three rows. I think we are now up to 18 and growing. He is the great-great-grandson of our Father of the National Parks, John Muir. Michael is a conservationist like his great-grat-grandfather and farms with this in mind. You can be sure there are birds, butterflies, and flowers in this vineyard. We caught up about this year’s harvest.

Joey Wolosz: How is the 2022 harvest going?

Michael Hanna: This year’s harvest started on August 10 and finished way earlier than normal for me on September 14. The season started early with several scary nights of frost in the spring, but nearly perfect growing conditions in late spring and early summer led to incredibly healthy vines. From a growing perspective, this 2022 harvest was one of our best. I still need to spread compost and plant the cover crop before the next rain, but I am happy to breathe a sigh of relief and turn over the reigns to the winemaking and cellar team!

JW: Tell me how you got into grape farming.

MH: My family has been growing wine grapes in California for six generations starting in 1853 when Dr. Strenzel and his wife established a vineyard and orchard in Martinez. Their daughter married the conservationist and naturalist John Muir, my grandfather’s grandfather, hence our name, “Muir-Hanna Vineyard.” After nine years of military service, I returned home to fulfill a long-held dream of farming and grape growing with my family. I continue to find the connection to the cycles of nature rewarding and the long-term partnerships with people who make great wines both fun and fulfilling. There is a practicality, resourcefulness, and optimism among farmers I find refreshing, and the contribution that sustainable farming provides, however small, keeps me thinking and trying to improve.

JW: Do you have a memory of a first real connection with wine and food?

MH: I was introduced to the idea of food and wine by my parents, who enjoyed a glass every night with dinner from the time I can remember. From a young age, I helped my father make home wine with his good friend, whose daughter eventually introduced me to the exceptional woman who would become my wife. I am amazed by life’s quirks and how the circles of our lives weave together.

JW: What are some of your creative outlets when not in the vineyard?

MH: I try to be a husband and father first, and nothing gives me greater joy than the relationship and experiences we share as a family. Partly due to the flexible nature of the work schedule of a farmer, I coached whatever sport my children were interested in trying. With all three now at St. Helena High, I find myself assisting with the volleyball, soccer, and wrestling teams. Tim Minchin said, “Be a teacher. Even if you’re not a teacher, be a teacher.” I think coaching is a shortcut to being a teacher, and I do my best to provide a positive example for the kids I coach. From taping wrists and ankles to being an adult the kids can talk to plainly, it is an incredibly gratifying endeavor, and I am thankful for the opportunity.

JW: Friends and family excluded, who are two people you’d like to share a long and lingering meal with?

MH: I would love to observe how a big, bright, intellectual man like Stephen Fry would interact with the Dalai Lama at a family dinner. I can picture the laughter and the deep discussions that might evolve over an evening.

JW: What would you serve?

MH: Having married into the most hospitable and gracious family I have ever met, I would hope my dinner guests would join me for a big Italian meal at my mother-in-law’s. Appetizers of a dish of anchovies, garlic, and parsley in olive oil next to a cheese plate; pasta with fresh tomato sauce; sausage, rabbit, and chicken all roasted with potatoes; zucchini and onions fresh from the garden; and a big salad with tomatoes, blue cheese, olive oil, home-made vinegar, salt, and pepper. As I’m pretty sure the Dalai Lama eats meat now, I would hope he would enjoy this, my favorite meal too.

JW: What is your spirit animal?

MH: The closest person I have to a mystical shaman in my life is my sister, who tells me my spirit animal is a bear: slow, strong, confident, and aggressive only when provoked (emphasis on the ‘slow’!). The bear leads, takes action, and promotes healing; all admirable pursuits in my mind.

JW: What is your motto?

MH: I’m not sure I can settle on a motto, but my mantra is, “Let it go.” It is helpful in sports as it is in life!

Upside Down Tomato Tart

The inspiration for this end-of-tomato season recipe comes from two great sources: Melissa Clark and Rebekah Peppler, both with the New York Times.

Savory and a little sweet with oven-roasted tomatoes in olive oil and dry vermouth, sweet melted onions, Kalamata olives, Sherry vinegar, thyme, and puff pastry, this comes together in a French upside-down dessert style, Tarte Tatin.

I often pair this with our 2019 Gentleman Farmer Napa Valley Red Wine.