Debbie's Blog

Van Till Family Farm Winery

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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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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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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









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In spite of the freeze last week, the farmscape still had enough life left to harvest …

….for the up coming wine pairings for our Open House this Friday and Saturday.

Look at this sage!  The freeze didn’t bother it.

Sage with willows

It is beautiful and the succulent leaves will give great flavor for
the cornbread dressing.  You can see the willow hedge behind this sage.

This willow turns bright orange during the winter, which gives

a lot of color.

Cutting Celery is a great plant to have in the garden. It is easy to start from
seed and very hard to kill. I tend to be very successful with neglect, and this
one endures and survives.

cutting celery ready

The first time I had experienced growing celery was in California, when my oldest
sister, Kathy, spent  a summer working in a celery packing shed near Nipomo while she and I

attended California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo,

The fog would roll into the coastal hills
in the evening and roll out late morning and the weather was mild and gentle. Great
for celery. Well, Missouri weather has no such gentleness, but this celery does well
here. And, in spite of the freeze, it looks great!

Even the  grasshoppers are  hiding in here hoping to stay warm.

cutting celery ready

Onions are another plant that survived the freeze.

onions in veg bed

These are green onions that propagate themselves in the garden. They emerge first thing in the spring, slow down and just
sit there during the heat of the summer, and then start growing again during the cool
of the fall.  We use these to garnish salads that are served in The Wine Garden.


Now, I need to take the harvest and cook and sample.  Friday is our Open House

when we will be offering guests, who are tasting wines in the Wine Shop,

the opportunity to pair wines with samples of dishes that we serve for Thanksgiving

and during the holiday season.  We will be showing how red

wine can be paired with turkey.   The harvest from the farm will be an integral part of that

experience.  Stay tuned!

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The Team Goes to Show Me Zip Lines!

Last month, the team here at the winery had an opportunity to go to Show Me Zip Lines located at our neighbor’s farm 2 miles north on the highway.  We had the grandest time!

Gary Marmoy, Linda Haskell and I really did do the Zip Line.  We were the "older ones"!

Gary Marmoy, Linda Haskell and I really did do the Zip Line. We were the “older ones”!

Cliff and I wanted our team to be able to speak from experience when guests ask about the Zip Line which was opened this spring on the Swafford Family Ranch.  From my experience, it was awesome.  Not only was riding, hooked to a cable 10 to 200 feet up in the air a blast, but the tour guides shared their story as well as the story of the farm, which always makes the experience more meaningful.

Unique view of the trip up the hill through the farm with Torie Gillam and Brodie Daly.  Both of these are hard working high school students that are on our team!

Unique view of the trip up the hill through the farm with Torie Gillam and Brody Daly. Both of these are hard working high school students that are on our team!

As we rode to the top of the hill and our tour guide explained some of the history of the farm as well as what we were seeing, I could imagine what it must have been like to have lived there on the farm years ago.  That just added a dimension to the tour that was cool!

Rylie White, one of our new servers, coming in for a landing.

Rylie White, one of our new servers, coming in for a landing.

To also see the rocks in the canyon, up close, was an experience you just don’t get from driving around in the country.

Brody Daly on the beginner run.

Brody Daly on the beginner run.

After our tour, we hosted the Zip Line Staff for a pizza dinner and tour of our property.


Show Me zip Line Staff and families relaxing after enjoying a pizza dinner at our winery.  Look how relaxed they look!  They did a great job on our tour!

Show Me Zip Line Staff and families relaxing after enjoying a pizza dinner at our winery. Look how relaxed they look! They did a great job on our tour!

We enjoyed showing them around and explaining the Farm to Table aspect of our grounds and we sampled the alpine strawberries growing in The Courtyard.  It was very rewarding to hear the “wow” when the guests sampled those little strawberries that have such a robust flavor.  This helped me to realize that what I sometimes take for granted, can be really interesting to other farmers.


Now our staff can speak from experience when guests ask us about the Zip Line or if they ask if there is anything else to do nearby since we are a destination winery in a very rural setting.  Each of our staff can speak for themselves, but as for me, I had a grand time and enjoyed getting to know our neighbors.  Thanks for a great time!

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January on the Patio

Early in January  we had  some seriously cold weather, where the night temperature was nearly -6 degree with a wind chill factor of -17.  That’s cold!

Some of the plants in the patio didn’t survive.  We had moved the citrus and avocado to be under the big heater, so, they and many other plants did quite nicely.

Blooming geraniums during the winter.

Blooming geraniums during the winter.

This geranium is still blooming, 2 weeks later.

dead geraniums

This geranium, which stayed near the wall where there were large air leaks,  is toast.

Cuttings, taken from the plants on the patio, ready for the heat mat. This will give them the warmth they need to root and grow.

Cuttings, taken from the plants on the patio, ready for the heat mat.
This will give them the warmth they need to root and grow.

But, at least I was able to get some cuttings, and now they are sitting in a plastic tent indoors near a window, on a heat mat,  and in a few weeks these cuttings will root and I will be on my way to getting replacement plants for the ones that died.

The rose bush survived, being right next to the wall, but the blooms didn’t.

Roses that wilted during the freezing weather this month.

Roses that wilted during the freezing weather this month.

Here you can see the wilted blooms and  the little buds pushing new growth.

Regrowth where blooms had died due to freezing weather.

Regrowth where blooms had died
due to freezing weather.

When I cut off the wilted part, underneath is really healthy plant material, which has been recharging for the last 2 weeks.  In another week or so, we should have blooms.  In fact, here are a few that are ready to open.

Roses ready to bloom weeks after hard freeze.

Roses ready to bloom weeks after hard freeze.

It amazes me how quickly these plants can recover from a freeze or sometimes, when we forget to water, a drought!  Here on the patio, winter is a season where the roses don’t go dormant, they do slow down, and the geraniums bloom profusely.  But this year, I have a lot of plants that are in recovery because of the extreme cold.


This is what I do when it is 12 degrees outside!  This is good "inside" work!

This is what I do when it is 12 degrees outside! This is
good “inside” work!

Today, I have been having a grand time, working here in the patio.  Outside, the sun is shining and it is 12 degrees.  Inside, it is  55 degrees and no heater.   The Thompson Seedless grapevine and petunias  needed pruning and the ivy needs to be trained.

We have been busy in the winery this month and it is time to take care of the plants.  But, we always take time to test wine!

Here I am, testing the not yet released Sangria with the Southwest Gourmet Pizza.  It’s a great match!

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The grapes are in and the wine is in the tank,

…and it’s 78 degrees and it sure  feels like California weather!  And with the cucumbers that I planted at the end of August looking so green and loaded with blooms,

the strawberry towers loaded with big berries, the carrots looking good and the raspberries loaded with ripe fruit, I am having too much fun walking around the farm, harvesting and enjoying the fruit of our summer labor. It is quite rewarding to have a long mild fall, because the farm really does seem to have one last burst of energy

as the plants produce in abundance before the really cold weather sets in.

Strawberry Towers in the Fall

Strawberry Towers in the Fall with big berries

Fall cucmbers growing in the hoophouse.

Fall cucmbers growing in the hoophouse.

Short round carrots, grown in the hoophouse

Short round carrots, grown in the hoophouse

  1. Ready to be cleaned and served in an appetizer tray
    for a wedding reception today.
    These are fun to eat!

Starting cucumbers in late summer works really well if they begin growing in the heat of summer and produce in the cooling weather of fall.

Here is a picture of a variety of cucumbers that we grow here that are fabulous!  They don’t get bitter, even when grown during the heat

of summer, the skin is smooth and thin, which means we don’t have to peel, and they taste great!  We use them in our garden salads that we serve in the wine garden.

Next post, I will explain how we  get them ready to produce even when the weather gets cold.

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Farm to Table or is it: Tower to Table!

The mild weather of the fall season  creates ideal conditions for the lettuce, arugula, mizuna and other

greens that are growing in the “Towers” in the greenhouse for the Garden Salad that we serve here at the winery.

Here are a few pictures to show you how this humble, but very necessary and nutritious part of our diet

has a very cool place here on the farm.

Pots ready to be filled with great compost made right on the farm.
See the mizuna growing on the edge of the grass. It is a volunteer,but we could pick it and eat it too!

Here , we start filling the pots that make up the grow towers, with potting mix that is decomposed strawberry roots, leaves and stems that were taken out of the towers in August.  Here, in the compost pile, the warm air, sunshine and the rains have created an idea condition for decomposition of this plant material, and now, in just a few short months,

it is ready to be recycled back into the pots to grow the greens.

After these pots are filled, we stack them in the greenhouse.

These lettuce plants are about 3 weeks old and are ready to be transplanted into the


Here is a tower, with just planted lettuce. In a few weeks these will be ready to start harvesting. They love this cool weather.

  Here the towers are filled with new seedlings that will be happy in the greenhouse, away from the

wind and enjoying the sun.

Lettuce, arugula, mizuna are ready to harvest for the farmstead salad served on The Patio Pavilion.

Here are the two towers with plants ready to harvest.  These greens are very young and just the outer leaves

are picked off, thus leaving the small leaves to get a little larger for the next pick.  In fact, these towers

were just picked 4 days ago and they have so much growth that they are ready to harvest again.

And here we are on a very comfortable  Patio Pavilion, in October, with our  farmstead salad, ready to eat, with

a glass of award winning Strawberry Festival Wine.

Farm to Table, or was that, Tower to Table!

Those chairs are empty, come join us!