Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A New Tradition...

DH loves Christmas Trees. Who doesn't, right? I mean, I love them and all too but more in theory than in practice. They smell great, look great and are surely festive but man, are they messy. Plus, there's the whole fire hazard element but we won't go there. That's exactly enough of the Bah Humbug spirit!
Since we decided to stay local this year, I insisted we take advantage of the local trade and chop down our own from one of the many Christmas tree farms in Sonoma County. 
There's more Christmas tree farms than you'd know what to do with out in West County. How DH landed on Frosty Mountain Farms was beyond me. All the same, we arrived an hour before sunset and were directed to grab a saw and dolly and be on our way.
With over 12 acres of trees, most of which are Douglas Firs, there was a lot of ground to cover before the sun dropped completely. While walking up and down the field of trees, DH declared, "Wherever we are, let's make this a yearly tradition". I concurred.
There were loads of winning trees but we set our hearts on a smaller tree with several pine cones near the top because really, who can resist a Christmas tree with its own pine cones in it!? 
(No one is the answer)
DH set to sawing it down, a task we both reconciled would be extremely difficult but in reality was surprisingly effortless. At $7.50 a foot, our hand-sawed Douglas Fir was just under $40. 
To the first of many family traditions to come!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Humble Beginnings

Talk is cheap but action is priceless.
For some time now, DH and I have talked about 'starting a winery' together. This prospect has been met with equal parts enthusiasm & evasion. "So you're buying a vineyard?", inquisitive loved ones inquired. The reality of starting a winery is far smaller scale than that.
In fact it amounted to two half T-bins of tiny-berried, Clone 76 Chardonnay from the Manchester Ridge Vineyard in the Mendocino Ridge A.V.A. in Mendocino, Ca.
The sum of the pick amounted to not even a full ton but .93 ton; a whisper of a start by any man's measure.
Since this is entirely our own project, we quickly realized we would need all our own equipment (i.e. racks, bungs, topping keg, ect.) so we made a quick trip to Napa Valley Fermention Supply. NVFS has been in business just shy of 30 years and is an institution to professionals and amateurs alike. We purchased the needed supplies and what ensued was one of our great follies.
Barrel racks are a relatively easy thing to transport, unless of course your transportation is a Toyota Corolla. Ever the MacGyver and never one to take 'NO' for an answer, DH rigged a bungee cord under the roof of the trunk and around the barrel rack and like that, we were off...verrry sloooowly, back to the winery and back to a fair amount of ridicule. These are our humble beginnings.
After the great jura-chablis debate, we agreed to foot-tread half the lot in order to impart some of that Jura-like, tannic complexity without overdoing it. This ancient process allows the grape skins to have contact with the grape juice before going through the press.
An hour or so later, the lot drops into the press and goes thru a 90 minute, washing machine-like cycle to ensure all the juice is extracted from the grapes. The first part to pass thru is called 'free run', or the juice produced from the foot-tread experiment.

 Next comes the light run, typically the sweetest juice of the lot as it is from the berries with the thinnest skin.
The longer the press runs, the more intense the juice becomes, due to longer contact with the seeds, skin & stems. Some winemakers opt to keep each of these press cycles separate but we are opting to keep the lot together for the entire life cycle of the wine.

Once the cycle finishes, the pressed wine is transported to neutral French Oak barrels to begin fermentation. We opted to use neutral oak because it does not impart the flavors of new oak but it does allow the wine to breathe (unlike stainless steal fermentation tanks).
And that, in a nutshell, is how you start a winery! 
Stay tuned for more!...

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Great Debate; jura vs. chablis

When you ask most people with careers in the wine industry how they got there, there is usually a specific wine that got them there. By that I mean it is usually from drinking one exceptional glass/bottle of wine that makes a person say, "I want to make wine like this" or "I want to sell wine like this", ect. This proverbial bottle can often change over the years but there's always a first.
For DH it was an '06 Auteur Manchester Ridge Pinot Noir.
For me, it was the 2010 Domaine Alain Labet, Cotes du Jura Chardonnay, Fleurs, just a few months ago. (Well, technically it was a bottle of '06 Stemmler Pino Noir drank almost 5 years ago but that has more to do with first understanding why DH had chosen the path to winemaking.)   
VIN JAUNE; oxidizing white wine
I was skeptical at first to drink a Jura wine, assuming all Jura's were 'Vin Jaune', sherry-like wine aged up to 6 years in Burgundian oak and allowed to oxidize over time. The result is an intense flavor not for the faint of heart (moi!).
But while this is the most famous wine from the region, there are some extraordinary Chardonnay producers from Jura as well.
The 'Flueurs' Cotes du Jura Chardonnay is the polar opposite of a Vin Jaune; utterly bright and crisp while still posessing a dynamic tannic profile and complexity.
We bought a cold bottle to accompany our fish sandwiches from Oakland's gem, Market Hall for an impromptu picnic a few months back. It was a nothing day which made the wine shine all the more.
One sip in and I was hooked. I declared to DH, "I want to make wine just like this." He sweetly concurred, "yes, let's." and with that we carried on with our picnic.
*     *      *
As our first foray (together) into the winemaking process is fast upon us, we revisited the Jura Chardonnay conversation more in depth yesterday.
Labet's Jura Chardonnay is made with some skin:juice contact (meaning the grape skins are in with the pressed wine grape juice during fermentation), producing the tannic complexity so distinct in the wine. 
Do note, this skin:juice contact is brief as prolonged contact during fermentation would lead to an orange wine. Most red wines go through the entire fermentation process with skin:juice contact.
While DH loved the Jura wine equally, he felt it imperative to taste it against a Chardonnay produced in a similar process (i.e. neutral oak, low alcohol, native fermentation) without skin:juice contact. 
We purchased the same 2010 Domaine Alain Labet, Cotes du Jura Chardonnay, Fleurs along with a 2011 Vendanges Chablis by Patrick Piuze. 
I whipped up a Thai mussel soup and an heirloom tomato salad to pair with these two crisp whites while we watched the first of the Presidential Debates. Two debates in one night, imagine that.
The tannic structure of the Jura definitely stood out from the Chablis but it was arguably impossible to say which one we preferred. Both wines were high acid, low alcohol so while great on their own, they both paired exceptionally well with food. We'd be happy making both wine styles!
So while we are still unsure of just what Chardonnay we will make this harvest, the debate on the table was far more interesting than the one on the screen! zing!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

1982 Mumm Champagne; An experience 30 years in the making

At my 21st birthday, I received a bottle of G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge Champagne, 1982 vintage from the Reims region. Having (some) presence of mind, I knew to save this bottle on its side in my parent's fridge, but that was my extent of wine knowledge at the time. The bottle lived there for 5 years until DH and I were at my parent's house one random day day in '08 when he discovered this rare gem. He immediately researched the bottle and insisted we drink it right away for fear it might be passing its prime.
I hesitated. I had already saved it this long, I wanted to wait and have the Champagne for a special occasion. That said though, no one wanted to see it go bad in bottle. Have you ever been faced with this conundrum with a wine? 
To my knowledge, it is a uniquely wine related problem wherein you age, or cellar something but don't always know if you'll get it right.
Anyhow, I digress.
We opted not to drink it upon discovery but DH transported it to his wine fridge for more proper storage. The bottle made the move up north with us and remained safe and sound thru our engagement and wedding, just waiting for the right 'special occasion', DH ever anxious to open it and taste the results. 
On a whim we packed it for the Mendocino weekend. 30 years seemed like long enough. 

DH&I brought the chilled bottle out to the gazebo at the Boonville Hotel and awaited our fate. I did the honors, naturally. The wire cage was brittle and tough. The cork was a bit desicated and unyielding. I coaxed it out and poured the first sip.
The results?!...
Pure gold! Wow! The tiniest bubbles, a goldenrod hue and the slightest bit of fruit on the nose, this Champagne was unlike anything DH or I had ever tasted. For being a 30 year old wine, it still had a remarkable balance of acid and fruit while showing its maturity in its rich color, small bubbles and honeyed taste.
As it turned out this bottle could have probably stood to be aged even a wee bit longer. That said, sitting with my new husband in a gorgeous garden away from any worries or cares, watching the sun go down as I braced a new decade happily, I can imagine no better way I/we could have enjoyed that bottle more.
                      *            *            *
A bottle of wine is best experienced between two people. Certainly it is a wonderful thing to share wine with a group but to truly experience a bottle, two is the magic number. In this way you are able change with the bottle, get to know it at its opening and as it opens up to the world outside. 
...too much? Share a truly great bottle of wine with one other person you love and you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Mendocino Weekend

For whatever reason, in the 1.5+ years we've lived here, we've always travelled south when we've gone out of town. An armchair psychologist could chalk this up to our Southern California roots and a constant call back to where we know. My vote is on the fact we both fell hard and fast for Santa Cruz and its surrounding environs. Either way, it's left the land(s) north of us all but undiscovered.
My past birthdays were no different. For the last couple years we have spent my birthday camping with friends in the Santa Ynez Valley, mere miles from where we wed last month. Because of said wedding however, the annual birthday camping weekend experienced a bye this year.
So when DH mentioned he needed to walk the vineyards up in Sonoma and Mendocino, I jumped at the chance to trek north and discover Mendocino for my birthday weekend.
Despite only driving through it once years ago, Mendocino has always held a bit of nostalgia and allure to me. Perhaps that has to do with the fact that my closest relatives grew up on a street by the same name...but there I go again with the armchair psychologist bit!
We headed north early Friday morning, straight to Lanzelle Creek Vineyard, then to Lucky Well and onto my old favorite, Silver Eagle Vineyard. The grapes have already begun to experience verasion; or color change of the skins, but they still have close to another month (from 8/10) before they are ready to be picked and crushed for harvest.
After a quick lunch at our old standby, Jimtown and and even quicker wine tasting at the exquisitely designed (and branded), Medlock Ames, we were off to Mendocino...County that is. We spent our first night in Boonvilleone of those darling, one-road towns wherein "if you're talking to the driver, you'll miss it completely", as a local summed it up perfectly.
We stayed at the Boonville Hotel, a 'modern roadhouse' and arguably one of the most adorable places I've seen or stayed in. There's nothing fancy or highfalutin about it but the tiny 10-room inn, downstairs restaurant/check in area, outdoor dining patio and sprawling backyard (edible) gardens are enough to make your heart swell.
Unfortunately we weren't able to eat dinner in the restaurant as they were closed for a private party but we did enjoy the early evening in the gardens with a very special bottle...a 1982 vintage Reims,Champagne by G.H. Mumm. That bottle warrants its own post!
As if the hotel weren't wonderful enough, included in your stay is the best breakfast you could ask for...but better. Homemade scones, preserves and granola, thick Greek yogurt, local honey,fresh local apple juice, strong french press coffee - the spread was nothing short of humbling. 
Staying at the Boonville Hotel is like staying at your overly-talented-in-every-facet friend's house, but without ever feeling inferior. I cannot speak more highly about our experience there, maybe if I'd tried their legendary dinner but all the same.
After breakfast we packed up and headed to the town of Mendocino, but not before stopping at a few wineries along the way. Wine tasting in Mendocino County is how I imagine it used to be to wine taste in Sonoma 20 years ago (and Napa 30 years ago). Mary Elke, Toulouse and Roderer Sparkling rounded out our palette.
We took a quick dip in the Navarro River to cool off - Anderson Valley is HOT in August! But just as soon as you merge onto the 1 from the 128, the Mendocino fog makes itself known.
We stayed at Glendeven Inn, a delightful B&B with acres of edible gardens, hiking trails, roaming llamas (yes, llamas) and dozens of chickens to deliver farm fresh eggs every morning.
Upon arriving we toured the gorgeous gardens, walked with the llamas and fed the chickens. 
Glendeven hosts a nightly wine happy hour so we enjoyed a local white and veggie snack before heading out for the evening.
We opted to eat dinner in the town of Medocino at the highly recommended Cafe Beaujolais. On our way to the restaurant DH noticed the sign for 'Sweetwater Hot Tubs' and knew we had to inquire. Sure enough, private redwood hot tubs available to rent by the half hour. The one thing Glendeven was missing was a hot tub but nothing worth commenting on, so the discovery of Sweetwater was a real treat.
A quick half hour soak set us right and off we went to a fabulous dinner at Beaujolais. We shared the two daily soups (tomato soup with fresh crab & corn bisque), the two fish specials (sturgeon & king salmon) and a bottle of '09 Brouilly Beaujolais. It was one of those perfect, simple meals where conversation was king.
Breakfast in bed the next day along with a bottle of Gonet rose Champagne was the icing on the birthday cake and a perfect way to ring in a new decade!