Going Haywire Organically

Okanagan Crush Pad sign

By Leeann Froese

I recently made a vineyard visit to one of our clients, Okanagan Crush Pad, in Summerland British Columbia, and share some of the updates.

For full disclosure: this is a special place to me personally, in that I have been a part of this company’s team since the vineyard was planted, and I even have a row named after me: Row 38! (If you visit – take a #selfie with ‘my’ row and send it to me!)

The vineyard, called Switchback Vineyard, provides Pinot Gris grapes for Haywire wines. In 2007 winery owners Christine Coletta and Steve Lornie planted the 10 acre vineyard to one clone, all Pinot Gris, with the idea that they were going to value add to their land and sell all of their grapes to one buyer. They were not planning to be winery owners or get into the business of making wine.

Leeann #selfie at Row 38

Leeann #selfie at Row 38

What actually happened over the next few years is that they did create their own wine: Haywire. First, virtually, then eventually under their own brick-and-mortar winery Okanagan Crush Pad, which has been constructed adjacent to the Switchback Vineyard.

In the time since becoming grape growers the couple has learned a lot more about how they want to farm their property, and now Switchback Vineyard is on its way to becoming certified organic; yet it did not always start out that way. Under consulting Italian winemaker Alberto Antonini’s guidance, the winery team changed the way they farm and stepped up its game to make better wine. After conventionally farming the vineyard for its first few years, the team switched to organic growing practices, and applied for certification in spring of 2014.

They’ve said goodbye to herbicides. Instead, they’re controlling weeds with tilling, beneficial cover crops and the addition of baby doll sheep to graze in between rows. Also, they have stopped mowing the grass between rows. While this makes the vineyards look “weedy”, it lets ground cover grow and it reduces vigour on the vines.

Chickens in a dust bath

Chickens in a dust bath

Ducks & chickens have been added, and they live in the “Okanagan Chicken Pad”, which has got to be the nicest chicken coop one has ever seen. Made by winery owner Steve Lornie, the chicken, sheep and ducks happily coexist in a beautiful wooden coop that has incorporated repurposed wine barrels.

 

 

 

 

peek a boo sheep

Peek-a-boo sheep

These critters are charming, but they have jobs. Chickens provide beautiful and delicious eggs, provide manure to fertilize and they eat insects.  The ducks do the same. Baby doll sheep graze ground cover and also provide manure – all animals contributing to a whole farm approach.

The winery is also practicing integrated pest management, inviting beneficial insects to take up residence so they can eat any insects that eat grapevines. Recently a swarm of bees was discovered on one of the grapevines, so they were harnessed and put into a hive. Now the vineyard has built-in pollination (and perhaps honey one day soon?) and in addition to the bees, ‘insect hotels’ have been erected: a few cute small ones, and one large one, created as a DIY project involving children.

Indian Runner Ducks

Indian Runner Ducks

The overarching idea is to have minimal intervention between the growing and winemaking, to keep things as natural as possible to make the wines without any chemical intervention. This practice requires a lot of attention and despite all the focus, the vineyard rows look rather wild and unkempt. It’s interesting and cute to see the animals running around between the vines, but these animals, insects as well as the many birds in the area all show that there’s a very alive ecosystem in play and that the grapes are being tended for lovingly.

 

It has been a three-year process to get to the point of being able to seek certification, but the result is amazing wine that is gentler on their land.

 

 

 

Baby Pinot Gris grapes at Switchback Vineyard in Summerland, BC

Baby Pinot Gris grapes at Switchback Vineyard in Summerland, BC

 

I raise a glass to that.

 

Fishing For BC Spot Prawns with Organic Ocean

 

By Leeann Froese

Sometimes in my work I get to do some pretty cool things.

Spot Prawn #selfie

Spot Prawn #selfie

I feel truly lucky that I get to go to lots of different wine tastings, meet some very interesting personalities, eat some incredible food, and get exposed to a lot of things that some other people might not unless they were in our industry. I would say that my experience last week would be no exception, when I got to go on a ride along on a spot prawn fishing boat.

We do media relations for the Chefs’ Table Society of British Columbia, and as a result of this, for the past month we have been working very closely with spot prawn fisherman (the Spot Prawn Festival is a Chefs’ Table Society initiative).

Michelle da Silva, a staff reporter for the Georgia Strait, was writing a story about Spot Prawns because she felt that her readers would like to know a little bit more about these little delicacies, how they are harvested and where they come from. So I, and Amber Sessions from Tourism Vancouver, joined in for a ride along.

Frank, Peter and Steve

Frank, Peter and Steve

What a great learning opportunity it was to see the fisherman at work. We were on the Organic Ocean, which is run by Steve Johanson and Frank Keitsch (and co-owned by Dane Chauvel, who was not with us).

Peter Chauvel, Dane’s son, was with them. Peter is a university student who has been on fishing trips since he was a toddler. Today, Peter spends his summers working on the boats in between his semesters at university.

The location of the traps is a well-kept secret, in order to keep things commercially sensitive.

 

 

 

A picture-perfect day to fish the West Coast of BC

A picture-perfect day to fish the West Coast of BC

What I can share is that they have different fishing grounds up and down the west coast, and we were lucky enough to see them pull out a few strings of traps and then reset them.

I was mentally prepared to be put to work, but in the end, I just got to watch and enjoy what had to be one of the most beautiful mornings on the water all season.

The three fishermen have a very well orchestrated system. One person uses a winch and hoists in the traps, the second person empties them on a custom-built table, and passes the net to the third person, who resets the bait and gets the traps ready to drop back into the water, once all the catch has been brought up.

On person brings up the traps while the second empties

One person brings up the traps while the second empties

Traps with Spot Prawns and other by-catch are emptied onto a custom-built table

Traps with Spot Prawns and other by-catch are emptied onto a custom-built table

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What was interesting to learn is that before any of the spot prawns are caught, a section of the boat hull is filled with very cold ocean water which is then further cooled on board. This on-board tank utilizes a computerized chilling system to circulate sea water drawn from the ocean floor. When the spot prawns are caught they are put into this icy cold water to stay alive up until the time that they are sold at False Creek Fisherman’s Wharf or transported to restaurants. It does not get any fresher than this.

I did not for one minute think that Spot Prawn fishing would fall into the category of an easy job, but I think you, dear readers will appreciate these delicious little critters that much more after hearing how hard the fishermen work to get them to you.

The work was physically demanding, as the traps after coming up on a hoist are heavy: filled with catch, and wet. Also this is a wet job – waterproof wear is required as there is a lot of water splashing off the line and traps, and there is plenty of fast, physical action as the nets get emptied.

Spot Prawns and by-catch are sorted

Spot Prawns and by-catch are sorted

By-catch is thrown back inot the ocean - but not until after we get a look

By-catch is thrown back into the ocean – but not until after we get a look

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As each trap is emptied a very low tech tool is employed – a plastic dust pan. This flat scoop is perfect for picking up the spot prawns after they are dumped out of the traps, but first the prawns must be sorted.

Michelle is given her first taste of a freshly-caught, raw Spot Prawn

Michelle is given her first taste of a freshly-caught, raw Spot Prawn

Amber is "the crab whisperer" calmly throwing back the by-catch

Amber is “the crab whisperer” calmly throwing back the by-catch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At this time the unwelcome are also removed. In the traps sometimes there are other sea creatures, noted as by-catch, which can include other shrimp, crabs, jellyfish and other miscellany of fish of varying sizes. I got to check out and then throw back a Squat Lobster – which I had never heard of or seen before!

Leeann and squat lobster

I was hoping to be a prawn star, but did get to throw back a Squat Lobster – which I had never heard of or seen before!

I was hoping for an octopus but none were accidentally caught that day. All by-catch is thrown back into the ocean so they can live another day. And the spot prawns have to be the right size. Any that are too small or if there are any with eggs, they are thrown back as well “for next year’s catch”.

 

 

 

 

 

A real treat: from the first trap emptied, Steve gave us each a spot prawn “breakfast” he says. I had never eaten a raw spot prawn before, and Michelle was a little unnerved as hers was “still twitching”. Nevertheless, we peeled and ate these fresh-from the sea prawns. They were somewhat sweet with nice firm flesh and absolutely delicious.

A Spot Prawn!

A Spot Prawn!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once the nets were hoisted by Frank and emptied by Steve, Pete would take the nets make sure that no jellyfish or anything else is stuck inside and then he re-sets the bait, which is a special smelly fishy mixture. Then the nets are stacked up and prepared to be dropped back into the water for the next day’s catch.

Pete is re-filling the bait and getting the traps ready to re-set

Pete is re-filling the bait and getting the traps ready to re-set

The traps being dropped back onto the water

The traps being dropped back onto the water

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The spot prawn season lasts six to eight weeks, and every day it is this same set of physically demanding tasks, seven days a week, rain or shine.

Baskets are filled with live prawns to go into the ice bath and off to market

Baskets are filled with live prawns to go into the ice bath and off to market

Want to see Michelle’s story of our experience?

About Spot Prawns

Wild BC spot prawns are a delicacy known around the world for their sweet, delicate flavour and firm texture. They are most recognizable for their reddish brown colour, which turns bright pink when cooked, defining white spots on their tail and white horizontal bars on the carapace.

BC spot prawns are the largest of the seven commercial species of shrimp found on the west coast of Canada. They vary greatly in size, with some larger females exceeding 23 cm in total length. Prawns are hermaphrodites: for the first two years of their lives they are males, and then they change to females. Typically, spot prawns live a total of four years.
In BC, approximately 2,450 metric tonnes are harvested annually, with about 65% of the harvest coming from the waters between Vancouver Island and the mainland.

BC spot prawns are available live during the harvest season, which usually starts in May and lasts anywhere from six to eight weeks. Prawn fishermen spread baited traps along the rocky ocean floor at depths ranging from 40 to 100 metres. This method has minimal impact on ocean habitat and very low levels of by-catch of other species.

BC spot prawns are very popular in Japan and the rest of Asia, with over 90% of BC’s commercial catch consumed there. Most of the prawns are frozen at sea by fishermen, and then packed and exported across the Pacific. The remaining few, however, like what was harvest by Organic Ocean on our ride along, are available to be enjoyed fresh in local BC restaurants and kitchens during the fishing season!

Spot prawn stocks are carefully and sustainably managed to ensure that they remain available to enjoy for many years to come, including:

  • Limiting the number of vessels that can commercially harvest spot prawns
  • Limiting the number of traps that can be used
  • Returning females with eggs live to the ocean
  • Monitoring the spot prawn population and closing the fishery when prawn stocks approach a pre-determined level

Learn more about the Spot Prawn Festival and link to more information on Spot Prawns here.