San Diego Magazine Feature

Shelley Metcalf's Photo of our Home and Vineyard Last fall at harvest time, our gifted architect, Bill Bocken  brought his partner, Paul Adams, a talented San Diego landscape designer, and his amazing photographer, Shelley Metcalf to photograph our home for the first time since the completion of our home remodel.

San Diego Magazine took notice and features Metcalf's photos, article written by Kimberly Cunningham in their January 2014 San Diego Magazine feature "Design: Living" article Accidental Winemakers.

This article features many indoor and outdoor photos depicting our home, property, and lifestyle. Cunningham cleverly added the feature "Get The Look" for resources and details that brought our design and style together.

Shelley Metcalf in Action

I wrote extensively on our remodel progress as it was literally unfolding in a quick ten months. For more reading on our remodel, please go to Remodel Project.

What a great way to start 2014!

Composting with Grape Pomace

DSC_0971 I'm a firm believer in backyard composting. I love the idea of recycling what you have from your own garden, property, and kitchen scrapes into your own personal compost recipe. It is especially important to compost when you have backyard chickens. In fact, I really delve into this subject of backyard composting and backyard chickens in my book, Gardening with Free-Range Chickens for Dummies. See also my previous post, How To Compost In Your Backyard.

I call backyard composting a personal compost recipe of your life, because it is the layering of greens and browns, essentially by-products of your cooking, gardening, and property which create this custom compost mixture. My husband, John, and I have a small backyard vineyard. We use the grape pomace in our compost each fall. Grape pomace is the skins, seeds, and stems of the vineyard grapes after the wine making process. Grapes are a form of green or the fire that heats up the compost mixture, where the browns such as our chicken bedding, or rice hulls is considered the browns and fuel for the compost. Grape pomace heats up our compost to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, an incredible temperature for a backyard compost mixture. Composting with our grape pomace creates a rich organic material called humus, which will go back into our garden soil, and flowerbeds.

This past summer, I had the opportunity to visit Annie's Annuals and Perennials with my fellow garden bloggers attending the three day San Francisco Fling. One of the highlights of this three day adventure was Richmond east bay nursery, Annie's Annuals and Perennials. If you are ever in the Bay Area, make a visit to Annie's Annuals. A truly incredible nursery. Plants can be purchased online and shipped, too. While visiting Annie's Annuals, I noticed a sign and display, that grape pomace is one of her favorite compost materials.


This was the middle of summer, and not Halloween, as this sassy and colorful mannequin greeted you at the nursery entrance. I can only imagine how she is costumed this week, two days before Halloween!


Annie and I know a good thing, composted grape pomace. Try contacting your local vineyards in the fall, for possible sources of grape pomace. It is a great way to enjoy the colorful autumn season, maybe have a quick wine tasting, and purchase wonderful grape pomace for your backyard composting.

DDM Harvest & Bottling 2013

DSC_0691 Here at Domaine de Manion we are especially grateful for the family and friends who help us harvest the grapes from the vines, sort the grapes before crushing, and share a delightful dish. This year, we had a bit of a heat wave right before our intended harvest, and so had to scramble and bring the grapes in a week earlier. We had a record yield of 860 pounds of beautiful fruit clusters which reached a desired 25.5 brix, or sugar percentage.


The fruit looked beautiful, dark, and inky as syrah should be. We quickly look at the luscious grape clusters on a sorting table before they are scooped up, destined for our grape auger which gently squeezes and destems them before putting them on dry ice for about two days to extract their skin color. The grapes are then brought back to room temperature, a pre-determined yeast is carefully added, and the fermentation process begins.


A week later, we invited everyone for bottling and more celebration. Situated under our huge Torrey Pine tree providing shade, we had a huge assembly line of able and willing helpers, filling the bottles, corking, labeling, and boxing all of last year's vintage which had been carefully aged in kegs the entire previous year. We had a total of 37 cases, when we finished and broke for a huge "Bottling Potluck" and a little Domaine de Manion wine.


Thanks again everyone, for all of your help and enthusiasm!

"N" is for Necessary Netting

DSC_0431 It is the special time of year in our Syrah vineyard when the grapes begin to show their color and start their verasion process. Grapes turn from green and hard to the touch, to their first blush of color and softer to the touch. Verasion in our vineyard tells us we are about 8 weeks away from our harvest, give or take the ensuing weather leading up to the harvest.

With grape clusters turning color, it is necessary to net every grapevine row to protect our harvest crop from attentive wildlife and even our free-range chickens. See my previous post on this for more information, Vineyard Ready for Netting.

For our backyard vineyard, netting takes about an hour and a half, with enthusiastic friends who lend a helping hand.


Nets have been carefully rolled up and stored since last year's harvest. Nets will stay in good shape, and can be used year after year for the vineyard. The netting is rolled out, and taking the leading net edge hoisted over the top of each row so the netting covers equally both sides of the grapevines, and essentially the entire vineyard row. Next we take simple wooden clip clothes pins and clip together the netting. The entire vineyard row with netting is clipped underneath the vines and around the end posts.

Many thanks to our friends who helped this weekend! This year our friend, Karen Contreras, owner of Urban Plantations, joined us for the netting process. Urban Plantations specializes in the design and maintenance of edible landscaping around San Diego County.

Please share if you have problems with wildlife eating your ripening fruit or grapevines? Simple netting is a simple way to protect your harvest.

Quiet on the Vineyard Front

Vineyard Going Dormant in Winter Please welcome my husband, John Manion, who is the wine maker and VP of Liquid Assets at Domaine de Manion. We have been on this journey together from the first idea of a vineyard, and what a ride it has been. John shares his thoughts with you, from time to time on our vineyard and wine making. 

Hello, I'm the Vintage Vigneron, (aka the husband John) to provide an update on the wines and vines.

I’m just finishing up barreling the 2012 vintage and putting it to bed for the winter. Overall, it was a good vintage in both quality and quantity with our vines providing us with our second largest harvest at 600 pounds of fruit or for those that support the "farm to table" movement, that would be 17 cases of our estate Syrah wine. The Vintage Garden Gal and I typically purchase additional bulk grapes from local sources so we can make some interesting blends that include our Syrah. The annual output of Domaine de Manion has been steady at 35 cases for the last number of years.

The vines are now turning autumn colors and shutting down for the season. Syrah vines tend to hold their leaves the longest of most varietals so we won’t see naked vines until late December–early January.

We’re heading into our rainy season here in Southern California and the vines will be really happy to get a big dose of water as they ready themselves for the next growing season. I get concerned calls from friends (I think they worry that production will be down) when a frost hits.

Barreling Vintage 2012

Here is Southern California frost is not really a big concern because of our typically mild winters. Remember, grape vines are deciduous plants that evolved in climates that have hot summers and cold winters. The frost actually helps shut the root systems of the vines down and inhibits needless growth if it warms up during the winter season. We want our vines rested and ready to grow once we prune them in the early February time frame. The one time we don’t want the frost is after we prune the vines – that effects the budding process and does effect the production of grape clusters. That’s why we hold off pruning until we think we’re done with the cooler winter temperatures.

It’s nice to be finishing up the 2012 crush, reviewing the lessons learned from the growing and wine making season, and taking a little breather.

I’ll check in again when we start the pruning process.

Domaine de Manion Harvest 2012

Harvest at Domaine de Manion was September 8, 2012. We had a generous bounty of 600 pounds of estate syrah grapes, an army of enthusiastic friends and family, and a harvest lunch to rival any three-star country chef. The weather was warm, but not the record-breaking heat experienced the follow Saturday close to 100 degrees. Grapes were picked at 26 brix (sugar percentage) and should yield about 35 gallons of wine which equates to about 15 cases of bottled wine.

We had our ritual "blessing of the harvest" and continued gratitude to all who were able to participate and share with us this day. All of our "fruits of labor" from this past year culminating on this special day. This was our fifth harvest. Our harvest is always an event, with cherished family and friends. It transcends generations, and always brings a universal smile to all. Our families who live out of town, migrate annually to join us, and make this an extra special occasion.

Vineyard nets were removed from the rows of vines and rolled up for next year. Eager harvesters started down the vineyard rows in teams, filling orange lugs with ripe grape clusters. Filled lugs yield 40 pounds of grapes each, giving us our poundage count. Lugs were carried to a sorting table, to sort any grapes that might not make the cut.

Dad Manion Enjoying Harvest 2012

Grapes destined for wine, were sent through an augured crusher/de-stemmer machine. Next step in the process, food-grade plastic barrels were filled with slightly crushed grapes and dry ice. Dry ice allows the grapes to sit on their skins and cold soak. A day later, yeast will be added and fermentation is kicked off. Another vintage is underway, with many more steps in the process, and time to age in the oak barrels.

Paella in the Making

Two hours later, and with everyone's help our harvest is in. Everyone is hungry for a well-deserved harvest lunch, served with award-winning Domaine de Manion vintages. It is now time to relax and reflect on the day. We had smoke ribs--brined for two days, paella cooked on the grill, assorted cheeses, fresh fig appetizer, tomato tart, garden salads, fresh chocolate-dipped strawberries and many more sinful desserts.

Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries at Harvest

One has to reflect on all the fun, happiness, and joy surrounding this day. It reminds me of the quote, "Uncork the wine, enjoy the dance, and let the Gods decide the rest.!" --Horace

Our Army of Enthusiastic Helpers

Please share if you have ever experienced a grape harvest. Please share if you visit wine country at harvest time.

Vineyard Ready For Netting

It is that time of year. The vineyard is abundant with grape clusters, and the veraison process is just beginning. Veraison is the stage or process when the green grapes begin transitioning from hard to soft to the touch, and their color changes from green to eventually their particular harvest color, depending on the grape varietal. In our case, mature syrah grapes are almost black in color at harvest.

We net the vineyard for protection reasons. It is the same concept, if you net or protect fruit trees with sun-ripened ready fruit. Birds of all kinds (even domestic chickens), and wildlife such as raccoons, coyotes, can feast on a vineyard and in some cases quickly eat your entire crop for the year. We have heard of vineyard owners who had their unprotected vineyard  crop eaten in a weekend. Please note, netting is a good practice and economical for backyard vineyards. Commercial wine regions that have acres and acres of vineyards are not usually netted.

Netting is a simple way to protect your harvest. The optimum net size is the entire length of a grapevine row plus two feet extra per end post to cover end posts. Nets are rolled out along side the grapevine row. Thrown over the row of grapevines, and clipped at both end posts and and at each grapevine above the drip irrigation with wooden clothespins. A netting source in California is Jim's Supply .

Right before harvest, we have our enthusiastic friends and family remove the clothes pins, and roll up the netting for the next year. Please share if you use netting to protect a crop from wildlife.

Urban Wine Trail in Santa Barbara

Municipal Winemakers on Urban Wine Trail I want to share with you some of the exceptional places that I come across from time to time. These places are gems and not to be missed if you are in the area, or they could even be a destination. Most have a “garden thread” to them. “Places To Know” can be retail, restaurants, nurseries, and other. Whatever the place, expect the unusual.

On a recent getaway to the always picturesque Rivera-like town of Santa Barbara, California, my husband, John, and I explored the Urban Wine Trail in Santa Barbara. What a concept.

Located in an older, nearly forgotten industrial part of Santa Barbara, a mecca of small, creative and innovative urban wineries are springing up in what is called the "Funk Zone."  In former industrial warehouses, gutted tiny bungalows, and buildings that have had past lives, you will find a group of urban winemakers and wineries offering wine lovers a new tasting experience with artfully crafted wines from nearby Santa Barbara County vineyards.

We stopped in at a few, and were quite surprised at the range and quality of the wines. There are at least 15 wineries now on this Urban Wine Trail in Santa Barbara. Each an experience, as you set foot in the door. Municipal Winemakers, pictured above, is totally decorated in "industrial discard style" re-purposing file cabinets as behind the wine bar glassware storage.

Pouring at Kunin Wines

Municipal Winemakers, 28 Anacapa Street, Municipal Winemakers. (tel) (805) 598-1896. Located in an old industrial building, and only open on weekends.

Kunin Wines, 28 Anacapa Street, Kunin Wines, (tel) (805) 963-9696. Located in a former World War II army barrack, now tastefully decorated in gray and yellow accent colors. Open daily 11am-6pm.

Oreana Winery, 205 Anacapa Street, Oreana Winery (tel) (805) 962-5857. Located in what once was an old tire shop, now transformed into a collage of winery, tasting room, and art gallery. Open daily 11am-5pm.

These are just a few of the urban wineries in Santa Barbara. Visit Urban Wine Trial, Santa Barbara and plot your next wine tasting trip.

Please share if you have been to the Urban Wine Trail in Santa Barbara. Please comment if you enjoy the wines of Santa Barbara County.

Fall Sunset Over the Vineyard

Fall is such a busy time here at Domaine de Manion with the harvest. It is a time when many related activities surrounding the vineyard and making wine seem to converge. When we have a sunset like this one, it is nice to pause, relax, and reflect over over the fall vineyard and it's beauty. Another year of grape-growing has been completed, and the new wine is in process. No, this is not Santa Barbara or Provence, it is San Diego North County.

A vineyard has four-season interest, and in the fall, the vineyard's leaves turn autumn colors of red, brown, and amber. The vines have borne their fruit. The temperature is cooling. The vines are in the process of going dormant for the winter. Soon they will drop their leaves entirely and shut down until next year's early spring . A good, long, watering of 4-6 hours through our drip irrigation will benefit the vines for the coming year.

Please share if you associate vineyards in the fall timeframe. Please comment if you have experienced a fall vineyard, and winemaking.


VintageGardenGal Tidbit Thyme....

Arlene Charest, a VintageGardenGal reader, needs someone within 100 miles of Northwest Connecticut who will "babysit" her free range family of Bantams.  She will pay for their feed -- plus a sum, plus the 4 eggs that her hens lay every day.  She has 7 chickens which includes one dear gentle rooster and two very well behaved teenagers. She needs to leave CT mid-November and will be back to pick the "chicken people" up in March.  If anyone can help Arlene out, please call 860-601-4193

And don't forget, VintageGardenGal, a garden lifestyle blog, is celebrating it's third anniversary.  Fab Sponsor, ORGIN DAY SPA (tel) (760) 635-1300, in the San Diego, California area, is offering 20% off of services for a limited time, when you mention "VintageGardenGal" at time of scheduling. It's a treat, no trick! Thank you everyone for your interest and support. See you in the garden!

Purposeful Pruning of a Vineyard

VintageGardenGal Pruning The Vineyard My husband, John, and I like to have our backyard syrah vineyard here in Southern California pruned by early February or Super Bowl time frame. It is a necessary and important annual task for the vineyard. At this point in the year, the vines are dormant and barren with no leaves to be seen. The vineyard has its own structural beauty showing the trunks and cordons of each vine.

The pruning task at hand is trimming last years shoots, that have matured into canes back down to the fruiting zone of the vines cordons or arms. If you look carefully you can see and count the buds along last year's canes, close to the cordons. There is usually one bud underneath, and more buds follow on the top side. Count one, two buds on top side of mature cane, close to your cordon. Trim at a 45 degree angle an inch away from the second bud. Mature canes trimmed to the two top-sided buds become your new fruit spurs on your cordons. It is ideal to have fruit spurs straight and perpendicular to your cordon arm, and towards the front or the cordon for better sun exposure.

Pruning is a technique that kicks off the entire grape growing season once again, for the year ahead. It is also time to review each vine. It takes some time, because each vine needs to be assessed. Do you have your 4-5 fruit spurs on each cordon. Are your fruit spurs about a "closed fist" length apart. Are there any dead wood parts of the cordon which should be trimmed off. Do you need to pull a mature cane over and create a new cordon, replacing a cordon that is not doing well. Are your fruit spurs out of the central "v" area of your vine. I call it "purposeful pruning".

Your time invested now in meticulous pruning yields all kinds of benefits this coming year such as greater fruit yield, better quality fruit clusters, good canopy management, and allowance for sun exposure and air circulation. Please note there are various pruning techniques for grapevines, not all grapevines are pruned in the technique we use here at Domaine de Manion.

VintageGardenGal Tidbit Thyme...

The word is out. The 6th Annual Encinitas Garden Festival & Tour is Saturday, April 30, 2011. Save the date! Please go to Encinitas Garden Festival for more detailed information.

Surprise at Orange County Fair

Domaine de Manion Wine Label My husband, John and I had been encouraged to enter our wines in this year's 34th Orange County Fair 2010 Home Winemaker Competition. The Orange County Home Winemaker Competition is larger in number of participants and California geographical representation than the San Diego County Fair Home Winemaker Competition.

Last year's Orange County Fair Home Winemaker Competition had approximately 663 entries from all parts of California. California home winemakers represented in this year's competition were from such places as Healdsburg, Los Gatos, Sonoma, Paso Robles, Temecula, Templeton, Jamul, Olivenhain, San Jose, Walnut Creek, Napa, and many more.

At the Orange County Fair, awards are slightly different from that of San Diego County Fair's Home Winemaker Competition. Double-Gold, Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Honorable Mention awards are offered in each category of wine. One coveted "Best of Show" is given in each wine category.

We entered three of our home-made wines, our syrah (our first vintage from our backyard vineyard), a merlot (a wine we made from grapes we purchased from Dry Creek, Sonoma), and a "merrah" (a wine blend we made up of our own syrah and the merlot). We also entered our two new wine labels in the "wine label" contest. The wine labels were created by our friend and graphic artist Robin Dujanovic.

Our wines placed well and with similar results at the Orange County Fair, as in the  recent 2010  San Diego County Fair Home Winemaker Competition. The  surprising Orange County Fair 2010 results are as follows:

Bronze.....Merlot Syrah........Silver (Our First Vintage From Our Backyard Vineyard) Merrah.....Gold

Wine Glass & Chicken Label, 1st Place Garage Label, 3rd Place

"Le Vin de Garage" Forever Remembered

Our friend and graphic artist, Robin Dujanovic,, at last year's harvest asked if she could design a few wine labels for us. We whole-heartedly thank her again for such unique and appealing wine labels which capture the essence and character of Domaine de Manion, "Which came first, the chickens or the vines?"  We know.

Once again, we wish to thank all of our family and friends for helping us throughout the year, and their enthusiasm in our backyard vineyard and wine making efforts. Salut!

Please share what you enjoy the most about your local summer fair?  The food? The rides? The animals? Entering your hobby? The art? The music?

Trifecta at the Fair

 Wine Competition Awards, San Diego County Fair 2010 This past year we have been so busy with our home remodel, I haven't written much about our backyard vineyard, now in its fifth year. With one's own vineyard, life does go on. The grapes need to be tended to, the grapevines do grow, the grapevines flower and tiny grape clusters begin to emerge. The vineyard has its own timetable throughout the year.

We did however, have time to enter three of our wines (and two wine labels) in the "Home-Made Wine Competition" at the San Diego County Fair 2010. This year it was held at the posh "Turf Club" at the Del Mar Race Track within the San Diego County Fair Grounds.

There were approximately 100 participants who entered around 300 wines to be judged in various divisions. It is always a great occasion as we see many wine-making friends, teachers, fellow students from our wine and vineyard classes, and really the who's who of San Diego County amateur and professional wine makers.

Domaine de Manion Bronze, Silver, and Gold Winners

My husband, John, and I entered three of our home-made wines, our syrah (our first vintage from our backyard vineyard), a merlot (a wine we made from grapes we purchased from Dry Creek, Sonoma), and a "merrah" (a wine blend we made up of our own syrah and the merlot). We also entered our two new wine labels in the "wine label" contest. The wine labels were created by our friend and graphic artist Robin Dujanovic.

I was a little anxious, especially with our syrah wine, with all of the years of diligent effort that passed to create this bottle of wine. It now comes down to this pinnacle moment. Not to worry, unbelievably we got a silver for our own syrah. It didn't stop there, we had an incredible afternoon with a clean sweep of awards, and much more. It was a "trifecta" of bronze, silver, gold at the fair.

Merlot....Bronze Syrah.....Silver Merrah...Gold (Best of Class), and coveted Best of Division (includes all Red Blend Wines)

Chicken & Wine Glass Label, 1st Place Whimsical Label Garage Label, 2nd Place, Best Story In a Picture Label

Our friends, Steve and Amy joined us for the afternoon, and to cheer us on as the competition unfolded. We wish to thank all of our family and friends for helping us throughout the year, and their enthusiasm in our backyard vineyard and wine making efforts. Salut!

Please comment on your local summer fair? Please share if you enter your hobby at your local fair.

Sun Sets On "Le Vin de Garage"

Sun Sets On "Le Vin de Garage" Sometimes the hardest part of a home remodel, is letting go of the old. Soon, it will be out with the old, and in with the new. It really is not that cut and dry. We have carefully thought this through, and tipped the scale in favor of our new barn.

In the above photo, is our revered garage named  "Le Vin de Garage," where until recently we made and stored our Domaine de Manion vintages. My husband, John, cleverly tweaked a photo of our "Le Vin de Garage" for our first label. It placed "Fourth Place" in "wine label category" at the San Diego County Fair a few years ago.

John got the "garage idea," one night, when we were watching the movie, A Good Year (Full-Screen Edition), based in Provence, directed by Ridley Scott, and starring Russell Crowe in one of his only comedy roles. Based on the book, A Good Year, one of the many books written by Peter Mayle, the endearing plot revolves around a tasty mysterious boutique cult wine. These tasty cult wines called "garage wines" as mentioned in the movie, were from small vineyards, small productions, and often commanding super premium prices.

Our home was originally built in 1930, and we believe this stand alone garage was built a little later in the 1960's. It has to be close to 50 years old. A previous unknown owner took the time to enhance its character, with whales, waves, and crossed oars. If only our "Le Vin de Garage" could tell us some of its colorful stories of the past.

Alas, our garage has served us well over the last ten years, and it is sad to see it go. It does have termite damage from past neglect. When we have a heavy rain it does leak a bit. Now with our remodel plans, it is not in the best location.

Actually our "Le Vin de Garage," is not totally going away. We've decided to re-purpose its best materials in the form of a shed, close to our vineyard. In a way, it will live on, and continue to help us with our vineyard maintenance and vintages.

Our new barn is nearly finished. It has our new wine-making room on its ground floor, with a work counter for testing the wines, storage area for our equipment, and a harvest table. We really have come a long way, from the day we got the idea to plant a vineyard.

Please share if you make home-made wine? Please share how you got started making wine. Please comment on what kind of area or space you devote to making wine.

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Pat Welsh Paints Our Vineyard

Pat Welsh Delivering Our Painting Most of you know Pat Welsh for her incredibly well-written garden books, and the fact that she is a writer, speaker, and garden guru. Did you know, however, she is also a very gifted and talented painter. Her painting is a passion. My husband and I absolutely adore Pat, and adore her painting style.

A few years back we approached Pat about painting "our little hamlet" here at Domaine de Manion, our home and backyard vineyard. Fortunately, she was very interested in our proposed subject, and soon Pat's painting of our home and vineyard took on a life of its own. Pat did on site visits, sketches, and borrowed photos we had taken to begin her vision of the painting. Despite her very busy schedule, she persevered and enjoyed time for painting.

Her proposed composition was exactly what we were hoping for, a beautiful, yet simple depiction of our first grape harvest in 2008. Pat focused her painting of our vineyard from our lower south west corner of our property. Her painting sweeps upward over our beautiful syrah vineyard to our home on top of the hill.  She was able to capture our enthusiastic friends helping in the harvest, J.Lo our beloved chicken and chicken coop, and the whole essence and excitement of our first harvest. My husband, John, and I, are depicted center-front, holding on to this moment.

We wanted something very special to remember and commemorate our first harvest, and all of our hard work which brought us to this point in time. We feel so fortunate and honored to have Pat Welsh's beautiful painting to capture our memories. Many thanks Pat, your painting is incredible.

Please comment on little celebrations in your life that have big meaning. Please share  if you have had a chance to delve into Pat Welsh's new book.

Thank You for Visiting VGG Sponsors!

San Diego Horticultural Society announces its Spring Garden Tour, Saturday March 13, 2010. Tickets are $15/members, $20/non-members. To purchase tickets and more detailed information, please go to