Andean Farming- terraces, Incan techniques, and an abundance of produce

From our trek to Machu Picchu to observing various farms along our trip through Peru we have asked lots of questions regarding farming techniques adopted by the modern-day Peruvians.

Ancient terraces, `looks like Hossfeld Coliseum block`-according to Steve Ventrello , proprietor of Parador Cellars

Lots of them are tried and true methods from the 1500`s from the Incans. Terraces are the most popular way to cultivate vegetables. Peru is such a diverse area containing well over 28 microclimates. The fruit markets are loaded with impressive amounts of fruits and veggies, from tropical and arid climates. The potato , chile, and maiz (corn) have lots of varieties , textures, and colors. Fascinating compared to our U.S. supermarkets just carrying the standard allotment of Yukon Gold, Red, and Russet potatoes.

An assortment of Potatoes in the mercado central , Cusco

The chocolate and coffee aren´t to shabby as well. The Choco Museo  in Cusco, Peru, is outstanding and we highly recommend it.

Cusco Coffee - Peruvian version of Starbucks

Since transportation is limited in Peru, it is difficult for the farmers to get their produce to markets or to export it. It is a shame lots of produce goes unused and ends up decomposing or farmers just grow their crops for themselves and neighbors.

I didn`t see many tractors, however, we did see a lot of traditional plowing with oxen. A family would work together which is important because it is crucial for not only the Andean farmers but all the farmers to be self sustainable. As the father controlled the oxen and the plow tore at the earth revealing that seasons potatoes, the children would take a blanket and basket and collect the bounty. It really gave you a sense of the importance of family and tilling the land.

The Incas had an impressive repertoire regarding hybridization of plants, where one plant might grow well in the jungle , they hybridized and experimented with it until they could grow it in higher elevation or near a river  most likely the Urubamba River, which to them was a powerful entity that resembled the Milky Way.

Urubamba River

Quinoa, of course a huge mega food and originated in the highest elevations in Peru. It has now gained popularity all over the world especially in California as a gluten-free power food.

Most of the produce is organic in Peru because the farmers for one can¨t afford petroleum-based fungicides, fertilizers, etc. and because they follow ancient rituals taking advantage of native plants growing in their respective area. One example is an insecticide that they create from a hallucinogenic flower called Brugmansia, also known as  the Angel Trumpet flower.  Also there is a native tobacco plant that when the leaves are steeped in water it can be used as an insecticide as well. We practice this similar method in organic gardening in California.

As one plot of land lays fallow from the previous crop , the cows, alpacas, sheep, and horses are allowed to graze their , thus adding organic matter and compost to that plot for the next season`s planting. Thus , the Incas and modern-day Peruvians believe in the importance of crop rotation have been using this method for centuries.

Before the weather channel, weather apps, and the internet, farmers would have to watch the stars and the Milky Way to predict when to irrigate, plant, and harvest. Very knowledgeable and independent .

Peru has showed us lots of prowess in the farming sector regarding self sustainability. We did enjoy catching a glimpse of their farming techniques and abundance of delectable produce.

We now move along to Brazil another powerhouse of produce and resources. Looking forward to the jungle, beaches, and regional cuisines.


Harvest 2011: Friend or Foe?

The whirlwind effect that took over Harvest 2011 will be difficult to forget. It was just shy of 2 months and shredded everyone’s nerves to the raw. Relationships were strained as some vines shut down and stopped ripening and Botrytis slowly engulfed the vineyards.

In addition to the usual stresses that embody the frenzy of harvest,  a fire erupted the day after we finished harvesting on November 1, 2011 , Soda Canyon fire. The ranch is safe and sound and will continue to produce beautiful hillside Bordeauxs.

Aftermath of Soda Canyon Fire, Hossfeld Vineyards in the backdrop


The threat of Botrytis started early among the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir harvest leaving late ripening Bordeauxs and other varietals vulnerable. Thin skinned varietals such as the Burgundies and Rhones more specifically Petit Syrah literally rotted off of the vine in a three-day period.Our Merlot was gorgeous into October and then three dense foggy morning caused Botrytis to”bloom” as they say .

Merlot with Botrytis Bloom

Luckily, we assembled our crew and pulled it all off in a matter of 2 days before complete meltdown. Regarding the Cabernet Sauvignon , Cab Franc, and Petit Verdot, virtually unscathed from Botrytis bloom.

Pea-soup foggy morning during Merlot Pick

After the pea soupy foggy mornings the weather pattern shifted to a breezy, sunny, warm spell for roughly 10 days which dried out the Botrytis . The tainted berries fell off and the beautiful fruit carried on. It was a very resource intense vintage, commanding a long hang time, late Botrytis fungicide spray applications and selective or “clean”  picking throughout the harvest. Those growers that managed to deliver a decent tonnage fared well compared to others that had to make split second decisions before the crop rotted and quality was being compromised.

All in all, we only battled Botrytis , Aspergillus wasn’t an issue this year as in the previous 2009 and 2010 vintages. The late spray application of  fungicide to combat and prevent Botrytis  really did prolong the hang time for the other varietals . Although an extra expense to an already maxed out budget it was money well spent.

Getting the forklift involved for the Cabernet Franc Pick

Overall we survived magnificently, all grape varietals ripened to 25 -28 degrees bricks. The harvest was quick, in total we harvested over a 10 day period. It takes a lot of pre-planing and strategy to harvest this extreme hillside vineyard. As well as a lot of Gatorade, Coca-Cola, and Bud Light. Heineken is a popular beer for celebrating the end of that day’s pick. All grapes were handpicked and personally delivered looking as clean as clean could be in this type of year.

Hossfeld Lady harvesting those steep terraces


Weathering two storms, and a gorgeous two weeks of late sun for ripening. All the components that create high quality grapes came through at the end, leading to a better vintage than the previous two vintages, namely, 2009/2010. We are excited to see how the wines progress from this vintage. The color and flavor definitely arrived through the late hang,   as well as great PH and TA. Superb quality compared to other players this year.

A Grower’s Bliss

Rumor has it that some wineries are still taking in fruit as we speak, in hopes of recouping costs through selling it on the bulk market. Always a popular strategy and fruitful as well. In addition, to bulk wine futures other wineries are picking second crop in hopes of sweetening up the wine made from the primary crop. This is an interesting winemaking decision  and is most likely  probable due to the mild Autumn weather and the lack of rain .

Winterization has commenced at the ranch. Erosion control, addressing sick/dead vines, and cover crop projects are the last loose ends to wrap up before the winter.

Gator Full of Desiccated Vines

Cheers to everyone involved in the 2011 harvest , looks like we will actually have a 2011 vintage after all.