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Sunday, December 16 , 2018, 4:52 am | Fair 43º


Vintner Relocates Mud from His Montecito Home to Santa Ynez Valley Vineyard

Winemaker Fred Brander utilizing displaced soil on his Los Olivos grape vines

Fred Brander built a simple but highly efficient sifter to separate the rocks from the
soil for use on his vineyard. Click to view larger
Fred Brander built a simple but highly efficient sifter to separate the rocks from the soil for use on his vineyard. (Laurie Jervis / Noozhawk photo)

Following the old “lemons into lemonade” adage, longtime vintner Fred Brander hired trucks to move mud and rocks from the backyard of his Montecito home to a block of cabernet sauvignon vines in his vineyard on North Refugio Road.

Brander said his home, located on Brook Tree Road, survived the Jan. 9 debris flow with no damage, mostly because it is situated 20 feet above Oak Creek, which dissects his property.

“There was good drainage, and the house was fine,” he said.

Still, the muddy water thundered down the creek bed and plowed into the culvert, blocking it up. The mud continued over Mountain Drive and down into the neighborhoods below.

About one month after the debris flow, during which time the culvert was cleared and mud removed, Brander was able to hire trucks to move mud and rocks from Montecito to his vineyard in Los Olivos. Crews needed 60 trucks to carry what turned out to be 900 tons of debris, he noted.

Lab soil tests confirmed that the mud was high in potassium, calcium and magnesium — nutrients that are ideal for vineyards, he said.

Once it was heaped in piles around his 42-acre vineyard, Brander allowed the mud to completely dry before he, his son, Nik Hodosy-Brander, and vineyard workers dumped loads into a low-tech but very useful “sifter” to separate the rocks from the dirt.

While “we have enough material for several years,” Brander said, to date he has utilized about 20 tons of the soil, and only in a block of 10 year-old grapevines that are used in the Brander reserve cabernet sauvignon.

Before grapes from this “anointed” block are harvested this fall, Brander said they’d be tested for levels of acid, sugar and pH to determine how the soil additions benefited the vines.

“I’m trying to make the best of a bad situation,” he said. “This should yield interesting results.”

A Brander Vineyard employee shovels soil from the Montecito debris flow onto cabernet
sauvignon grape vines last week. Click to view larger
A Brander Vineyard employee shovels soil from the Montecito debris flow onto cabernet sauvignon grape vines last week. (Laurie Jervis / Noozhawk photo)

Brander said he’s not aware of another regional vintner having placed soils from the fire and subsequent flood, and nor has anyone approached him to purchase some of “his” soil.

However, the proprietors of an olive orchard in the Santa Ynez Valley expressed interest in using some Montecito soils, he noted.

The first vintage of the reserve wine crafted from those cabernet sauvignon grapes will be released in late 2019, he said.

“We’ll make a special bottling with a special label, and donate a percentage of bottle sales to relief efforts in Montecito,” he explained.

Brander, who frequently visits Oaxaca, Mexico, to collect folk art, is already in touch with artisans there about designing a label for the special wine.

Meanwhile, the rocks sorted from the dirt will be used for landscaping and for additional rock walls around the vineyard.

— Laurie Jervis blogs about wine at www.centralcoastwinepress.com, tweets at @lauriejervis and can be reached via [email protected]

Fred Brander utilizes mud from Montecito debris flow in Los Olivos vineyard from Noozhawk on Vimeo.

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