A Cottage Farm, run by Larry and Linda Remmers, is the perfect stop along a scenic drive through the Black River valley. A sign at the driveway along Gate Road in southwest Thurston County is all that marks their shop. The sign advertises antiques, wine and garlic, and is easy to miss along the twists and turns of this scenic stretch of road between Littlerock and the old town of Gate. But it’s worth turning around and going back to check out Larry and Linda Remmers’ labor of love.
Their seasonal shop features 10 varieties of non-certified organic garlic, hard apple cider, and several wines made right there from the fruits and berries they grow, pick, and process themselves. An assortment of antique furniture, baskets, and decorative items fills the shop. The couple gathers these pieces throughout the year by going to estate sales and auctions. You might also find a few pieces of Linda’s pottery. This is how the couple spends their retirement. It’s a busy life, but from all the laughter and stories it is evident they enjoy the rural farm life they have created.
“Except when you’re trying to plant garlic in the mud,” Larry laughs, explaining that garlic is planted in October and grows through the winter and in our climate more often than not, that means planting in the mud.
The couple moved to the Gate area from Bonney Lake after searching for farm property for 12 years. They bought an old farmhouse with a few acres and an orchard. “We wanted to try out the rural life, see if we liked it.” Not long after, they expanded their property by purchasing the farm next door. That is where they grow the garlic and have their shop and wine-making operation.
Larry first dabbled in making cider out of the Gravenstein and King apple varieties that grow in their orchard. “We had this big old orchard with 100-year-old trees, and ended up with all this fruit,” Linda says. “Larry got the bright idea to make cider.”
The first taste of that first batch of cider was less than great, but they learned it improved after a few weeks of aging. Larry has perfected his recipe since and now produces a cider with sharp crisp flavor. Linda describes it as an English-style cider.
“The wines are more mellow,” says Larry. He makes six varieties of fruit and berry wines all sourced from their own property except the cranberries, which come from a farm near Westport.
Larry and Linda consider their business a “nano-winery.” Larry’s goal is to produce 15 gallons of each flavor. “Where most wineries register in the thousands of cases, we measure in the number of bottles,” he shares.
The wines are not sweet nor dessert wines like one might think of a fruit or berry wine. They are light, crisp, and flavorful. “The cranberry pairs nicely with pork and turkey,” says Larry. He doesn’t filter the wines either, resulting in rich flavors and vibrant colors.
“I make it the way we like it,” Larry explains with a laugh, “because if we don’t sell them, they are not going to waste.”
“When you have over 200 pounds of plums all ripening at once, you have to do something with them fast,” says Linda. “It causes creativity to abound.”
That creativity extends to the garlic. At the end of the season, they turn any unsold fresh garlic into garlic cooking wine, an idea they got after searching online. The garlic wine is for cooking not sipping, though. In fact some of their customers prefer to use the garlic wine in place of fresh cloves.
They plant more than 2,000 bulbs of garlic each fall. After harvesting, they cure it for three weeks. “That gives it a really nice shelf life,” says Larry. “Keep garlic in a nice dry airy place, never in a plastic bag or refrigerator,” he adds. Stored properly, the hard neck garlic can last 6-8 months, the soft neck even longer. Soft neck garlic is pliable and can be made into pretty braids. Hard neck produces garlic scapes that can be sautéed into sauces or other dishes.
Farming life has its challenges, most of them dealt by Mother Nature. “You are at Mother Nature’s whim,” says Larry. They never know which crop will flourish and which will be ravaged by weather or dined on by the abundant wildlife that pass through their property. One year, cedar wax wings ate most of the red currants, the key ingredient to their most popular wine. The next year, they harvested a bumper crop of the berries.
“It’s a nice metaphor for life,” adds Linda, “because every year it’s different. Something is going to fail, and something will be a grand success.”
A Cottage Farm is located at 9640 Gate Road SW. It is open on weekends from June to October, 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.