Montecito Mud

By James Buckley   |   April 19, 2018
The boulders, rocks, and mud lined up along a service road at Brander Vineyard in Santa Ynez, came from Fred Brander's Montecito property above East Mountain Drive

When he awoke the morning of January 9, wine maker (2018 “Vintner of the Year”) and longtime Montecito resident Fred Brander found himself sharing space with nearly 900 tons of mud, rocks, and boulders that hadn’t been on his property the night before. His home is north of East Mountain Drive and none of the few homes above him had been affected, so the stuff that spilled over a clogged culvert in the San Ysidro Creek onto his parcel contained no household debris, no fertilizers, spilled gas, pesticides, or other contaminants. 

And, once the reality of what happened that dreadful morning was clarified, he wondered if there may be a way for him to help the County remove the soil and boulders quickly. As a savvy wine maker, he considered what the potential use of the potassium-rich soil and rocks piled up near the blocked culvert on his property might be. To that end, he contacted the trucking company that had begun to transport much of the stuff to Los Alamos and beyond. 

When all was said and done, some 80 truckloads were delivered to Fred’s Santa Ynez vineyard, saving money and time, and presenting an opportunity to enhance Brander’s vines.

We met at the Brander “Pink Chateau” tasting room on his property, and Fred brought me down to where the rocks and mud had been delivered and dropped. “This is from my property,” he says, pointing out rows of dirt that had yet to be sorted and sifted. “It amounts to a sixty-foot-by-sixty-foot square of earth and rock. “If I were to take all the dirty from the debris flow just on my property,” he says, “it would probably be about two thousand tons.”

A specially fabricated “separator” was crafted and welded together by Flynt Cody, Brander’s friend. “It’s low-tech but effective,” Fred says.
Potassium-rich soil easily falls through the separator’s screen as larger rocks drop to the bottom

As far as possible contamination, Fred is optimistic. “There is no evidence of fuel tanks, heavy metals, or anything that would give us concern,” he suggests, but he has taken some soil samples for analysis and expects to get those results soon. He’s confident, however, that it’s “very clean.” The fire came within 100 yards of his house, and much of the debris that ended up on his property is made of boulders and ashes. 

“People have always used ash to supplement soils in vegetable gardens,” he notes, and he’s confident that what he has taken from Montecito will make his vines grow better than ever.

He’s been separating what is 60-percent rock and 40-percent soil, and says he’ll use the rocks for building walls and other decorative purposes, and that the soil will be spread next to the vines, laying the wood-ash-rich mixture next to the vines.

Visit Brander Vineyard seven days a week, open from 11 am to 5 pm.


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