Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hand Bottling Project

hand-bottled Sonoma Coast Pinot & Chardonnay
Most wine you or I drink is bottled by an impressive machine wherein the wine, cork and label are all placed in or on the bottle mechanically on the bottling line. Hand bottling is reserved for large format bottles such as magnums or jeroboams.
Chardonnay keg
To ensure pristine condition during hand bottling, the wine is set into a full keg thereby eliminating 'headspace', or the room at the top of the tank, barrel or bottle where air can cause oxydization.
hand-bottling components: bottles, corker and keg
Upon completing a hand bottling project of large formats for his winery, DH realized there were a few extra liters of both Sonoma Coast Chardonnay and Pinot. He proposed we hand bottle the excess ourselves for wine to have at home or give away as gifts. Before he could finish his sentence, I was already in the winery, sterilizing bottles! ;-)
Sonoma Coast Pinot Nior
For legal reasons we cannot mention the vineyards of either wine but rest assured, the quality is incredible. In wine labeling there 'Sonoma Coast', a massive area sprawling from Napa up to Fort Ross and then there is 'true Sonoma Coast', (where these wines are from) which is known for its floral and red-berry flavors in the wine. Because of its proximity to the Pacific, this vineyard never gets too hot, which means the fruit never gets overripe, which means the wine itself has more acid and structure. 
The Chard is rich and mineral-ly with some subtle tropical fruit flavors, everything you'd want in a white.
The Pinot is full bodied without being syrupy and has an incredible nose of roasted marshmallows, a flavor/scent that appeals deeply to my inner 12-year old.
I digress. 
Sterilizing bottles with Argon gas
We began by sterilizing all the bottles with argon gas. Argon is an inert gas and when inserted into a bottle, pushes out any and all debris as well as any air, thereby eliminating oxygen between the wine and cork. 
filling the bottle from the keg
Next DH would fill each bottle up to the proper fill level then I would hand cork the bottle using the corker.
place the bottle, then the cork...

...then crank the lever!
In all, the project took about an hour and a half and was a very pleasant and bountiful way of learning how to hand bottle wine.

For the finishing touch, DH brought home the waxing kit. 
No, no, no...not that kind of waxing kit! The waxing kit with which to seal really fancy bottles of wine and some whiskies (i.e. maker's mark). This is a completely unnecessary albeit beautiful step and will be particularly nice if we are actually able to save any as gifts.
bottle waxing at home
The wax heats up at 350 degrees for 2+ hours so we set it up outside (hot wax can get messy) and caught game 4 of the NBA finals. GO Dirk!
a quick slab of primary sealant to prevent air-bubbles
turning the bottle to even out the wax
Waxing bottle tops is as fun as you would imagine. Wait, what do you imagine? 
(I must realize not everyone finds the mindless tasks in life as fun as I do.) But I for one loved waxing the bottles. It reminded me of something we might have done in Girl Scouts way back when, sans alcohol of course.

DH is also a wonderful teacher, though he might beg to differ. Here's a little video of him explaining the waxing process. You be the judge!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A (3 Gallon) Bowlful of Granola

Homemade Granola
Good granola is all about the right proportion. I call it the oats:guts ratio, the 'guts' typically being the combo of nuts and dried fruits but can really include anything from chia seeds to chocolate chips. The fun of granola is it's kitchen sink quality where just about anything goes, to varying success.
the 'guts': roasted almonds, pepitas, sunflower and sesame seeds & coconut 
I prefer a nuttier, seedier granola; not so much savory just not overly sweet. 
Homemade granola is close to our hearts because we have been making it together for Christmas gifts since we've been together. The very smell of roasting nuts and toasted oats is nostalgic and pleasant. 
Our favorite is a honey-sweetened granola with roast pepitas, almonds, black and white sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and coconut flakes. This nut/seed-heavy granola is then lightly studded with a few dried sour cherries and chunks of aromatic crystalized ginger to give it a little kick.
raw and ready to roast!
lightly toasted coconut flakes
Roasting your own nuts and seeds (and coconut) is the only way to go; its cheaper and it tastes better, a real no-brainer.
coating the oats on the stovetop
I pre-toast the oats as well and then mix them with browned butter and local honey on the stove top. In the past I've used oil in lieu of butter to make it vegan and maple syrup instead of honey but the butter-honey-stovetop method seems to be the best way to ensure a good granola 'clump', highly important to DH!
13 quart bowl full of homemade granola
There few things in life as gratifying as holding a 13 quart bowl full of granola!