Debbie's Blog

Van Till Family Farm Winery

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Summer in the middle of winter…

That’s what I feel like when I can take the last produce from the garden in October and keep it in the house and make salsa in January!

Take the Roma and yellow grape tomatoes harvested in mid October that finished ripening indoors, along with our garlic harvested in July and jalapeno peppers that I froze and one lonely little red onion and add…

cilantro and more onion that I purchased from the store, to make…

a lovely salsa to eat in January! Make some guacamole with avocados in season and this combination pairs great with our Citrus Sangria Wine.

These tomatoes were grown in soil rich with humus and microbes, thus they are high in nutrients. The theory behind nutrient dense produce is, that as the fruit ripens and holds, the fruit or vegetables will dry up rather than rot.

So, even though the tomatoes were ripe and ready to eat a month ago, sitting on the counter they simple dehydrated a little, but that just makes the flavor intensify. Bring out the chips!


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Reminded me of the fictional antagonist in the movie The Wizard of Oz, the Wicked Witch of the West…

Tackling the thorny trees that were growing in a neglected fence line along the pasture at the winery, made me think of the Wicked Witch of the West from the movie, “The Wizard of Oz.” We have had some warm days for winter, in the 50’s these last few weeks, so I spent some time enjoying the outdoors with my battery powered chainsaw and I cut them down.

As you can see in this picture, they are most wicked with 2-3″ thorns that cut through even insulated pants, but not

through the welding gloves I wear!

The fence row is clean now, but the thorny trees lay in the pasture waiting for me

to send them through the chipper on the tractor, which is in the first picture, and it does a fine job of turning these wicked branches into harmless wood!

So, as I chipped and the pile spread out on the ground and the pile of branches got smaller, it was then that I imagined the similarity between the small wet pile of clothes that was left of the Wicked Witch of the West after Dorothy threw the water on her, and my

sprawling pile of chipped thorny branches near the fence. Such a great sense of satisfaction! Unlike Dorothy, I didn’t regret turning the stack of branches into a harmless pile. I intentionally aimed to make the pile near the fence, because I don’t use these for making compost

for the garden and vineyard. Let them turn into organic matter for the pasture.

Here is a pile of good woody chips made from a diverse collection of trees and saplings that we have been collecting from the farm this fall and winter.

These will be left here to age over the winter and early spring and when we start

making compost, we will add green material and nitrogen so the piles will go through a

thermophilic process and produce a lot of heat and become BioComplete Compost with lots of microbes!

Here is some compost made last summer. It has a nice deep chocolate brown color and is full of microbes.

This will be used to make compost extract for the vineyard and gardens.

Harvesting the grapes, the fruit of the vine!

The wine, from the fruit of the vine, and the active microbes! Cheers!

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Testing A New Wine For Our Guests.

When it is snowing outside…

In October!
Snow Everywhere!
Peaceful, though!

This is what we are doing inside where it is warm and dry…

Pressing our latest experiment: Persimmon Wine. This will age alongside our Blackberry Port and another new wine, Boysenberry Wine in the Tank Room.

Last step in pressing…

Persimmon pulp out of the press, no wine left in it. This is ready for the compost pile. The microbes love it! Party food!

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The Pawpaws are ready to pick!

Though we are really busy in the middle of grape harvest and have tanks of wine, at different stages of production, that have to be monitored and grapes ripening in the vineyard, we make time to keep an eye on the fruit trees in our gardens.

The pears are ripening and will soon be turned into Pear Dessert Wine (port).  But, there is one kind of fruit tree that I think I will use for cooking and not for wine.

There are two Pawpaw trees in our Wine Barn Garden and the fruit is ready to pick!

Pawpaw Tree in Wine Barn Garden

Pawpaw Tree in the Wine Barn Garden. This tree is 10 years old and about 12 feet tall.


The race is on to get the fruit when it just ripens, but,  before the raccoons or the opossum.

More Pawpaw Fruit Ready to Pick

Pawpaws ready to Pick.


Pawpaw trees (Asimina triloba) are native to North America, growing wild in much of the eastern and Midwest portions of the United States.

The fruit tastes similar to a banana, and can be used in recipes similar to how one would

use a banana.

This month Chef Matthew is making a special dessert with the ripe pawpaws.  He’s

made a wonderful Pawpaw Cake and Pawpaw pudding topping to accompany the cake.

This will be on the menu and served in the Wine Garden this weekend. Should be very tasty.

Now, which wine will we pair with that?



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Beauty and the Beast in the pasture.

With a very wet spring and pleasant temperatures, everything has been growing wonderfully, even the weeds.

Thistles in pasutre

Thistles in the pasture

As I was trying to eradicate the thistles from the farm, I came across this patch of

Austrian Peas blooming.

Austrian Peas in Pasture

Austrian Peas in pasture at winery.

We had planted them last fall in a cover crop.  The seeds germinated in

the cool weather then waited until the warmer weather of spring to grow.

Planting Covers in Pasture 2018

Cliff planting cover crops in our pasture at winery.

They have such delicate and pretty flowers, that

provide good nutrition for the livestock, but also have deep roots that allow lots of

water to penetrate and enrich the soil.

We will let the blooms turn into seeds so they fall onto the soil and they will

be ready to germinate in the fall.

Though there is plenty to see in the walking trails at the Wine Garden, looking over

the wall and past the trees gives our guests the peaceful scenery of the pasture and

hay field.


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Bringing a Tractor to “Touch-A-Truck”

When the Excelsior Springs Park and Recreation Department invited us to bring one of our farm tractors to the Touch A Truck event at the Excelsior Springs High School parking lot on a Saturday morning in September, Jason, our

son and Director of Operations quickly and gladly said, “Yes!” We are very interested in

education and this seemed a great opportunity.

The great adventure began at early dawn with moving the tractor and putting the brush

forks on the front and the sprayer on the back.

Touch a truck getting ready 3

Early morning bringing the Tractor to the trailer.

After getting the tractor, truck and trailer sprayed clean with the pressure washer, since no one really wants to see a dirty tractor, though, that is a part of farm life, Jason took the tractor to town.

Loading up

Cliff had to stay at the farm so he could finish planting with the “no-till” drill

in some poor sections of our pasture.  We are planting a diverse seed mix of radishes, turnips and also some grass.  Yes, cattle will eat these and the plants do wonders for

Planting Covers in Pasture 2018

Cliff planting cover crops in our pasture at winery.

helping poor soil.

Along with the tractor, we brought a hand sprayer and some potted plants to show the children how a tractor and sprayer work together.

The child would pump the sprayer, pretending he or she was a tractor, and then

take the spray hose and squirt water on the plants.

Teaching children about sprayers

Jason letting children spray the plants just like a tractor!

The children had great fun

and we could explain to the parents where the spray nozzles were on the

sprayer so they could get the idea of what we were showing.  It was a very hot day, close to 90 degrees and many times I wished the children had sprayed me instead of the plants!

Granddaughter Norah enjoyed showing the children how to pretend they were tractors

and pump and spray!  At the end of their turn, we pretended that we took them to the barn and turned off their engines.  It’s fun pretending!

After sitting on the tractor the children wanted to spray the plants!

Norah helping. Lots of water on the ground!

The Excelsior Springs Chamber of Commerce had their trolley there also,

as you can see in this picture.  The trolley has a Wine Tour approximately

twice a month and brings guests who are looking for a unique way to

enjoy themselves.

There were many different kinds of trucks and service vehicles.

There were sirens and horns and bells going off throughout the


Fire Engine at Touch a truck

Fire Engine at Touch A Truck

Overall it was a lot of fun.  Every once in a while, we need to

do things that are just fun and support the community.




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Gardening Through the Eyes of a Child.


How many of you got your start with gardening

by following your garden mentor around during a garden tour.

I did.

And, if you were a young child, you were

allowed to be amongst the adults if you were quiet.

One had to be very quiet and that meant not saying anything

but listening to their conversation.

I don’t think it was just being around the vegetable plants

in the family garden that made me want to follow my mom around as she

showed her older sister, my Aunt Katie, the garden.

aunt katie and uncle al

Aunt Katie

I think it was seeing the garden through my mom and my aunt’s eyes.

They would ooh and ahh over the rhubarb and the tomatoes. And of

course admire the compost pile too! That is gold to many gardeners!

Now, granted, my mom had 7 children to make sure the weeds were

pulled, and plenty of boys to turn the compost pile and do lots of

the hard digging and pulling, but here were two grown ladies, with a

young girl in tow getting such delight out of looking at all the plants.

Fast forward a few years, and  in the same way,  I love showing visitors the

gardens that we have here at the winery.

I think a connection was established for me between people and plants

as I followed my aunt and mom around that inspires me even today.

There is a lot of pleasure in showing  guests how they too can grow the

same plants that we have, develop some of the same gardening skills

that we use and bring a little joy to their friends and family like we do

here at the winery through a garden at their homes.

Touring the garden

Touring the garden.

I would definitely attribute some of

my understanding of the joy plants can bring people was through watching the relationship my mom and aunt had during their garden tours.

So, come and enjoy our gardens and bring a friend and build that fun relationship

around your walk through the garden.

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Yes, Fresh Figs in Missouri



If you have lived in the south or have been to California,

you may have fond memories of tasting fresh figs at the farmers market or

picking them from a tree.


Moving to the Midwest, where the weather doesn’t just dip below freezing

for a few hours but stays there for days on end, which isn’t good growing conditions for figs, doesn’t mean that one needs to give up eating fresh figs.


Figs do grow in Missouri.  The first time I saw them growing outdoors was at Powell Gardens.

There was a row of plants next to a building and they were more like shrubs

than the large tree in our yard as a youth in Southern California.   But, to my amazement,

these shrubs did produce figs.  And if they could grow them, I figured, I could too.

After planting a rooted cutting, in our Courtyard here at the winery, I anxiously

waited for the plant to get big enough to produce figs.

I can laugh about it now, but I was a little discouraged during the first summer, since the plant got cut to the ground twice

by the well meaning gardeners whose weed eaters didn’t recognize an edible plant!

These young men hadn’t ever seen a fig tree or bush.

It would have helped if I had put a wire fence around it the first time, but

nonetheless, I planted another rooted cutting and this time I did protect it!  This year was the 3nd summer and it was loaded with figs!

Figs Fall 2017use also

See the brown figs just ripening this September. They were sweet and so good!

Figs ripen from the bottom to the top of the branch, so I would regularly check the bush throughout the fall for ripe figs.  They continued to ripen up to the first frost.

Figs Fall 2017 use

Here’s another shot.

Chef Marc featured a pizza special this fall topped with figs and paired it with our Missouri Chambourcin Wine.  He also included figs in a topping for his Pumpkin Soup that he was serving as an appetizer in the Wine Garden.  He and Wine Club Manager, Stephen, had paired this with Missouri Chardonel Wine.  To use figs in a savory dish was new for me, since our figs were always eaten up fresh.  That just gives me a reason to plant more next year.

In the years to come, guests can be on the lookout for the figs growing in our farmscape.  Maybe, some will be inspired to grow their own. Or, maybe seeing the fig leaves or fruit will just bring back memories of a time when figs were  enjoyed fresh.

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Amazing Amaryllis

Dutch amaryllis, Hippeastrum create a welcome show of beauty during the winter as many are given as gifts during the Christmas season.  But if you haven’t seen amaryllis bloom outdoors in the summer, you are invited to come out to the winery and see the display of amaryllis in full bloom in our gardens.

Amaryllis 2017

Here’s how we did it.

Last year the Amaryllis bulbs were kept in the wine cellar

where it was cool and dry until mid-March when they were planted in pots and brought out into a warm 65 degree environment and full sun.


They were grown outdoors in full sun as soon as the weather was above freezing.

Amaryllis 2017 6

The spent blooms were cut off, which is also known as dead-heading, and the  bulbs were watered all summer where they kept growing large and beautiful green leaves when kept in full sun.

Amaryllis on Porch

September 1st, we stopped watering, but kept the plants

outdoors in the full sun as the bulb begins to wind down and the leaves begin to dry up.

Amaryllis 2017 10

the pots were moved indoors where it would be above freezing and dry.  It can be in the dark during this time.

Do not remove the bulb from the pot as amaryllis don’t like to be disturbed.

Now, your amaryllis are ready to be brought out again in the spring and

your amaryllis have been trained to be summer flowers.

Amaryllis 2017 5

In California, my Grandfather Wagner loved amaryllis and propagated them.

IMG_0927 (002)

He and my grandmother lived at Newport Beach and then moved to the dessert in Hemet, CA and his amaryllis came with him.  his amaryllis would bloom during the summer and to see my amaryllis blooming in the summer reminds me of his influence in my life.

Amaryllis Wine Garden

Looking forward to sharing our love of wine and plants

with our guests!

In the garden or vineyard these days,


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Farm to Thanksgiving Table

All went well with the wine pairing this weekend.  The favorite, hands down, went to the Medium Body Gravy

with roasted turkey paired with our  2013 Chambourcin wine.  It was a wonderful taste treat! The wine really enhanced the gravy and

vica versa.  Bits of Cliff’s handmade chicken/apple sausage really added depth to the gravy which

brought out the character of the wine.  In this case, the turkey was there for the gravy!

Here’s the recipe:


Pair with Van Till Family Farm Winery 2013  Chambourcin Wine

4 ounces butter
6 ounces flour
6 each chicken/apple sausage links
2 tbsp olive oil
5 each shallots, sliced
1 tbsp mustard seed
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp fennel seed
2 qts. turkey stock

In a saucepan over low heat, make a roux by melting the butter and stirring in the flour.
Cook the sausages according to package directions and dice into small pieces.  Reserve.
Add olive oil to a medium sized sauce pot over medium-high heat and caramelize the shallots
with mustard seeds, black peppercorns, coriander and fennel seed.  Add turkey stock and reduce
by one half, approximately 20 minutes.
Once reduced, strain mixture.  Place liquid back in pot and stir in roux.  Continue stirring over
medium heat until gravy becomes thick.  Add diced sausage.
Keep warm for use right away or refrigerate.

The  favorite gravy for our “under 21 staff”, who couldn’t taste the wine part of the pairing,

was the Red Wine Gravy made with our 2013 Norton Wine, chicken livers from local free range birds and fresh sage from the garden.

They couldn’t pair with any wine, but they felt this one could stand alone.

Here’s that recipe:


Red Wine Gravy

4 Ounces chicken livers, or giblets

2 tbsp butter

1 1/4 cups diced onions

2 cloves garlic, diced

3 tbsp butter

2 tbsp flour

6 cups chick or turkey stock

1 cup Van Till Family Farm Winery 2013 Norton  Wine

1 sprig fresh sage


Saute livers, onion and garlic in sauce pot in butter until done.

Once brown, add the butter and flour  and mix well.  After 2 minutes,

deglaze with the red wine, stock and sage. Cook the gravy for at least 25 minutes

uncovered.  When it has reached the desired thickness, remove the sage and transfer

the mixture to a hand blender.  Blend until smooth.  Serve warm or refrigerate.



Cutting celery, onions and fresh sage from the farm garden.

Cutting celery, onions and fresh sage from the farm garden.

The cornbread dressing paired beautifully with the 2011 Chardonel Vintner’s Choice wine, which was finished

on oak.  The fresh sage, celery and onions harvested from the farm garden really made this pairing