2018, Overcoming Challenges 😖

 We know.  We are very bad on posting updates on our blog, but updates and recipes are posted on our Facebook page daily (https://www.facebook.com/ranchoazulyoro/), and by daily, we mean daily, as well as Instagram and Twitter.

So the question remains, what have we been doing?  We started the year attempting to expand to deal with our largest olive harvest ever.  It takes time to get our oils in for EVOO certification, formulation time for the flavored oils, working on approved labels to meet the new Food Management Act, as well as creating our other products, marketing, bottling, as well as all the exterior farm work, pruning of the grapevines, pruning a couple hundred olive trees, racking all of our wines, getting all the olive oil in for competition -- the list is endless.  With two people working on the farm, something usually suffers in attempting to check off all of those items on the To Do List.   Despite resolutions to get out of the barn, take time off and have fun, that was a rare occurrence.

And just as everything began to bloom and blossom and we'd hoped to embark on a 25th anniversary celebration to Italy, this author joined the ranks of many on this canyon and in the Paso area that was diagnosed with Valley Fever.  The trip needed to be cancelled, as was everything else.  I continued to think it was maybe just a bad case of the flu, so still did errands, exercise, and everything I could until I could no longer.  In fact, it was not until a doctor called on a Saturday night at 9:30 with test results and told me to go the hospital immediately that I had any idea how ill I actually was.

However, after a battery of tests that took weeks to determine the damage, the diagnosis was made and once on the medicine, there was fast improvement.  So fast that I was better?  No.  Valley Fever lingers.  The danger to the liver began reducing in April, exercise resumed immediately, and by May, I was able to have my first glass of white wine again (angels singing).  The fatigue began to disappear in June-July.

As we began to enjoy our first blackberries, saw what an incredible grape crop we would have, and began to see what was developing on the olive trees, my goal began to develop, as well.  I intended to be better for harvest and a very special family wedding in October, as well as for olive harvest in November.  In order to overcome the weakness the VF left, I increased my exercise schedule to six days a week and continued to attempt to compensate for the MIA status for the six weeks I could not function.  As my chest x-rays began to improve, as well as my blood tests and other tests, I realized that I was no longer tired at 4:30 or 5:00 at night.

 The other half of the team needs to be recognized for not only continuing to do all the farm work, but to help out on household tasks, cooking, laundry, and assisted with bottling, but most of all, being understanding and taking good care of the patient, despite his disappointment in having the trip of a lifetime cancelled.

In this year of overcoming challenges, though, there were bright moments.  We overhauled the website.  It should be a quicker and more user-friendly experience now.  We changed our marketing plan, including some great recipe creation and blog posts by the gentlemen at How to Feed a Loon.  You learn quickly that they have a joy in food rarely experienced.

And after years of work -- years -- in attempting to reformulate our lemon olive oil, and just as my recovery began, I received word that we not only received a gold medal from the Napa Valley Olive Oil Competition for our lemon olive oil, but we received Best of Class and then Best of Show.  Our orange olive oil also received gold from Napa, and won Best of Class for its division.  It only lost Best of Show because it was competing with our lemon olive oil.  Our Mission olive oil also won a gold from Napa, and our Smoked won a gold from the Yolo County Competition.  All in all, we won 15 medals for our oils, although most wins to us are not about the medals, it's about doing the absolute best we possibly can in the pursuit of excellence.

The Cab did well in the wine competitions, bringing home three golds, and the wines combined won seven medals.  Is it where I'd like it to be?  No, but the challenge of growing it and making it into wine is what is the journey, not really the medals.

We tried more of the shade cloth we've used for the last couple of years and decided it made such a difference, it would become a regular fixture on our grapes.  However, we may play with when to place it and take it off, place it on a portion of one section and not on another.  The sun here is always one of our challenges, but we're making progress.  Have we overcome it?  No, but it has not overcome us this year.

The other member of our team became fairly ill in late July, but fortunately, the eldest of Gen 3 was here, and not only did he take charge of getting the patient to ER, but he assisted with blending, wine bottle washing, and bottling of the 2016 Petite Sirah, The Renegade. The largest challenge was a bottling machine that is fussy, at best.  Did we overcome that challenge?  Yes.

How's the wine?  Well, we were surprised.  We expected nothing of this wine, and it is better than nothing.  It had to be picked earlier than usual due to yellow jackets that had consumed nearly a fourth of it, so the winemaker was not as happy with the numbers, but with some patience, time, and my growing confidence in my ability to overcome issues that may crop up, I held back and did not modify the wine, and it rewarded me.  It is 100% Petite Sirah.  The wine and I had disagreements, battles, pep talks, and even at bottling, it was snarky, so it earned its name, along with The Desperado and The Tyrant.

Pests continue to be our number one challenge that has not been overcome.  We were infiltrated by squirrels, yellow jackets, tarantula hawk wasps that decimated our entire fig crop, the list is endless.  While this challenge left us irritated and nearly ready to wave the white flag, the pest year is dwindling, so we are regaining energy to attempt to overcome this challenge next year.  

The 2018 wines were both harvested in September, they're in the barrel, and we now look back to great memories of picking with our friends and the lunch celebration parties.  And now, we look to olive harvest in two days.  The same friends will help to sort and we will again celebrate, this time, the end of the harvest year, the bounty bestowed upon us, and overcoming the challenges 2018 presented.  

We look forward to doing everything better in 2019.  Cheers!

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