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Category Archives: The Wine Controversy

Explores the question of the safety of wine aged in oak barrels.

A July Day in the Life of a GF Wine Maker

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As I mentioned in my last post, I will be doing a bit of back-tracking through the year, trying to catch up with what life was like during the growing season in the vineyard and as a fledgling wine maker.  Below is July’s post…

As I gather a tomato and cucumber for a Greek salad from the kitchen veggie garden, I don’t know where the time went.  How did it get to be three o’clock?

-Didn’t I just put on farm clothes, grab the pruning shears and drop bunches of grapes to allow the remaining clusters to deepen their flavor?

-Didn’t I just spend a couple of “minutes” with Ted Medeiros, my mentor, trying to absorb his assessment…making mental notes of his laundry list of chores to keep last Fall’s vintage, now aging, on tract and hopefully, tasty?

-Didn’t I spend a mere half hour making the adjustments to the wine and topping off the barrels, which meant shifting one of the three gallon containers into two one gallons and three screw top wine bottles (all of which had to be cleaned and sanitized first?)

I guess a few more hours passed than I thought!  Moments of “I absolutely can’t believe how much hard work this grape growing and wine making process is” warred with “I can’t believe how lucky I am to have the opportunity to learn these skills from an industry pro.”

It dawns on me that my body is screaming for some quality food.  Around the corner I go, into the vegetable garden to rummage any ripe produce I can get.  Thus, the Greek salad fixings for a very late lunch.

My Greek Salad Recipe
1 garden ripe tomato, fresh from your garden is best, of course
1 two-inch section of cucumber, again…garden fresh if possible
A bit of red onion, thinly sliced
6-8 GF kalamata olives (I have good luck with Trader Joe’s brand olives for being truly gluten-free)
A few chunks of Feta cheese blog pictures 049if you have not tried Pastures of Eden feta, do anything to get your hands on it.  My husband is not usually a fan of feta, but loves this one.  He will even eat it plain as an hors d’oeuvre spread on crackers or French bread.  I have never served this particular brand to any guest who has not loved it! I get it at my local Trader Joe’s.)

Dressing:
Huge dollop of Greek yogurt
Juice of 1/2 a lime or lemon
Two pinches of salt
Couple of turns of fresh ground pepper

Directions:
Chop everything not in the dressing into bite size pieces.  Mix dressing in a small bowl.  Pour over chopped ingredients.  Gently mix, just to coat all the chunky bits.

Enjoy the rich blending of these garden fresh ingredients that shriek…it is summer!

The good news!!!  I have zero gluten reaction to our back yard wine aged in completely wheat free oak barrels, which come from Hungary. I can be tipsy with no stomach cramps, no brain fog, no sick exhaustion.  After two years of abstinence from all wine aged in oak, I can at least drink this.  The trick is learning how to make something I would want to drink.  Hmmm.

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Surviving The Crush

I am sitting among the turning leaves between a row of Cabernet and Merlot grapevines, thankful all the 2013 wine has been safely janeiphone pictures 055picked, fermented, pressed, and tucked away in gluten-free Vadai , Hungarian oak barrels .  I had no concept of the intense fun and camaraderie, of the immense quantity of hard work, and of the huge expense this “little” hobby would bring to my life and my husband’s life.

Although I have posted virtually nothing for months, because the vineyard chores hoarded all my free hours this summer, I did bang out a few words along the way to try to capture some of the stages of vineyard management and wine making.  If you don’t mind a bit of back-tracking, I will post some of them over the next few weeks dating the month of the activity.  

A bit of background

Seven years ago, we planted tiny pencil-thin grapevine sticks in our backyard with the hope of beautifying a bare patch of dirt.  85 bare root Cabernet and Merlot sticks filled ¼ acre…two rows of Merlot and four rows of Cab.  From the first day we moved here, my husband longed to look down rows of grapevines when sitting on the deck.  And…make an attempt at wine making one day.

How hard could it be?”

Other people made homemade wine out of a few grapevines on their property.  If you have read any of my previous posts, you already know that question can be dangerous for us.  I guess we epitomize Einstein’s definition of insanity, because it is still our fall back question.   Conversely, that question has caused us to stretch and grow in ways we never thought possible, and for which we are now immensely grateful.

So…on a chilly April morning seven years ago, 30 friends and family members sliced a box cutter through the packing tape of an overnight-ed box.  Bright multicolored sweatshirts dotted the rows my husband had marked. In a couple of hours, non-farm raised people from suburbia planted a vineyard.  What a sense of accomplishment we felt when it was done,  while munching on grilled meats, polenta, and sipping wine from the deck.  Some Italian friends even made homemade ricotta for the best cannoli anyone had ever eaten.   We all marveled,  “That wasn’t so hard, and this after-party is fun!”

Every vine “took” in the ensuing summer. “Yee Ha!  We are on our way!”  Summers two and three, my husband carefully trained the vines to grow on the trellis system.  We watched the vines get big enough to consider harvesting the grapes for a little wine making. 

Year four, we got out the trusty wine manual, called From Vines to Wine, that our neighbor who had been making wine for a few years told us was all we would need to get started.   “Could one book be all we would need? Really?”  That attempt went into the compost pile.  However, we did have the best smelling yard on the street.

Year five, I got a bit of advice from the local wine makers at Mann Vineyard, Sycamore Creek Vineyard, and any other local vineyard, whose wine maker would spend a bit of tasting room time answering my questions.  That batch got bottled, labeled, and given to friends.  Yet…most of it went down our friends’ drains or in Sangria or spaghetti sauce. 

Year six just got bottled.  My husband and I opened our first bottle after we thought bottle shock would be over and gave it a swirl and taste.  “Hmm!  I am actually not going run to the sink and chuck it.”  We took another sip; then ended up drinking the whole bottle one Sunday night two weeks ago.  “Yeah!  It is drinkable.  Not the best Merlot we’ve ever had, but passable.  We are actually making some progress!” We have not yet tried the Cab that was just bottled, because it will still be in bottle shock.  (I will keep you posted when we brave a taste.)

janeiphone pictures 059That brings us to this year.  Year seven.  About April of this year, I was lucky enough to be able to start mentoring with Ted Medeiros, a Double Gold Medal winner in the San Francisco Wine Competition.  You need to know that this is HUGE.  The San Francisco Wine Competition is the biggest US competition and the biggest world wide…outside of France.  

Since April, Ted has helped me learn how to maximize the flavor in the grapes through vineyard management and has helped me save last year’s aging wine from turning into another grotesque tasting vintage through aging-wine care and maintenance.  All aspects from vines to wines have been addressed.  He is an exacting task master, keeping me working…HARD…too tired and sore each day to contemplate anything but a hot shower.  He is also a positive feedback teacher, which kept me going when I wanted to give up.  Amid the long hours and relentless amount of work, I feel lucky to be learning from a genuine pro. 

Like anything worth learning, my husband and I are finding out that the more we learn the more we need to learn.  We are the type that like to do everything ourselves with a little (okay, a lot) of help from friends and family.  After all….

“How hard could it be?”

Ferrito’s Cannoli Recipe (this is well worth the effort!)

Cannoli Filling

This is a homemade sweetened ricotta cheese stuffed into or put on to just about anything!!!!

Ricotta Cheese

1 gallon whole milk
1 quart cultured buttermilk

Heat to 175 to 180 (no more or it will scald.)
Stir constantly.

When desired heat is attained, TAKE OFF THE HEAT.

Scoop the forming curds into a cheesecloth covered funnel and place in refrigerator overnight to drain.

Makes about 1 quart of ricotta cheese.

MAKING FILLING:

Take sugar and process in food processor for 1-2 minutes until superfine – remove.

2 cups of processed sugar
2 cups of fresh ricotta cheese ( drained overnight at least)
1 tsp of cream
4 tsp of vanilla

Process all of above ingredients until very fine but not over processed, as it will get grainy.

REFRIGERATE OVERNIGHT – this will allow all of the components to meld together.

Then stuff filling in cannoli shells.

Traditional sprinklings on Cannoli are chopped pistachios, chocolate chips(mini), or citron.
A chocolate ganache over the top could be the ticket as well.

2013 Wine Tasting Trip

Once a year I decide that I am going to take a bunch of gluten enzyme tablets and taste any wine I want during our annual wine tasting trip…this year to the St Lucia appellation of Monterey County, CA.

My husband had recently had a very good Pinot Noir from Sheid Winery (Monterey County) in a restaurant in Carmel on one of our Friday night dates.

With half a roasted chicken, sweet potato chips, a couple of apples and lots of napkins packed in the trunk,  we were off to check out Scheid Winery.   After a year of careful eating and very good health, I was feeling a bit cocky… quite sure that a bit of wine tasting would not bother my new, healthy self.  After all, a Celiac wine lover can get tired of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, and champagne.  “What were the real chances of getting the random wheat molecule from the wheat paste used in the barrel making process?” my self confidence reasoned.

Wow!  Did I have fun!  I had the two different vintages of  estate Pinot Noir; one of which my husband had had in Carmel.  I happily worked my way down the six wines in the Reserve Flight.   ” Why not go first cabin when splurging?” Aah, the joy of opening the taste buds as the wine slides over the tongue, instead of my usual “Celiac good girl” swirl, smell, and dump.  To be able to actually discuss, debate, and laugh over wine words at the first hint of fruit and the complex licorice depths at the end taste of a rich, red wine are a wine lover’s paradise.

I  still felt wonderful after the lengthy tasting and after a picnic on the Scheid Winery patio in the February, 67 degree blue-sky weather.  Lovely!

On the way home, I felt wonderfully relaxed and drowsy.  About 45 minutes into the drive home, I frowned with the thought , “I am REALLY tired, the kind where if I don’t get to lie down soon, I will want to murder anyone who stands between me and a bed.”  After fifteen more minutes my stomach started the loud gurgle syndrome.  “Uh oh!” It finally dawned on me that I was having a gluten reaction.  “Yes, I know,  I might be a slow learner or simply unrealistically hopeful.”  By the time we pulled into the garage, I grabbed the keys from my husband, ran for the door, and made a mad dash for the bathroom before falling into bed for a long immune-system-compromised nap.

The bottom line to myself and to everyone else out there with true Celiac disease is that this oak-aged wine “thing” is real.

Next year, my husband will definitely have a built-in designated driver!  It was just not worth feeling like that, and the enzymes are simply a teaser.  Do yourself a favor and heed the wheat contamination validity of oak barrels.  

Scheid Winery Review for Gluten Intolerants/Celiacs          Scheid
2010 Sauvignon Blanc  ****
Aged only in stainless steel.  Crisp, dry, well balanced…tastes the most similar to a Marlborough Sound, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc of any California Sauvignon Blanc that I have tasted to date.  (Believe me, in the last two years of discovering just how treacherous anything but stainless-steel-aged wines are for Celiacs, I have tasted as many Sauvignon Blancs as I can, especially since I don’t really love the other traditionally stainless-steel-aged wines, like Pinot Gris, etc. I find most of the California Sauvignon Blancs a bit too grassy for my taste.)

2009 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve
Some aging in oak.  Not okay for Celiacs.  I thought the 2010 had a better balance of acid and fruit.

2008 “Isabelle” Sparkling Wine**
An interesting take on sparkling wine, being made from a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, which gave it a hint of blush and a more deeply varietal taste than traditional types.    I liked it. Stainless steel aged only.

Review of the Oak-Aged Wines (Safety of these oak-aged wines questionable for Celiacs)

 I tasted these wines using the Gluten-zyme tablets (which did not work for preventing a gluten reaction.)

2007 Pinot Noir Reserve ***
Very good Pinot, which my husband loved.

2008 Pinot Noir Clone 667 Reserve ****
My favorite of the two Pinots tasted, because I thought it had a more complex pallette with that luscious undertone of licorice that I love.

2007 Claret Reserve
Not my cup of tea, but am unable to verbalize why.

2007 Petit Verdot Reserve, Napa Valley
Also not my cup of tea.

The tasting room was a charming little house with a lovely patio filled with tables for picnickers.  A bit to the side of the belly-up-to-the-bar tasting area was a wine gifts and accessories area that was not the usual  kitchy, cheap souvenir shop. I found gift items I’d really give to my wine loving friends.

The tasting room staff was friendly and open to discussing the gluten issues of the wheat paste used in the barrel making process.  They wrote down the name of my gluten enzyme product, because each of them knew someone suffering from Celiac Disease.   I hope they read this blog entry, so they find out how the enzymes did NOT work this time.  I would hate for anyone else to suffer needlessly in their experimentation, like I just did.

I recommend visiting this lovely Monterey County Winery.
Thumbs way up for Scheid’s 2010 Sauvignon Blanc for those with gluten issues!!!

Scheid Vineyards
1972 Hobson Ave.
Greenfield, CA 93927
831-386-0316
http://www.scheidvineyards.com
Tasting room open daily from 11-6.

Hit or Miss

Two days ago, my chiropractor friend, Diana, who recently started the Paleo diet, said, “I think wine is sometimes bothering me with a gluten reaction.  But it is only sometimes.”  Of course that started the whole wheat paste in oak barrel production discussion from my first wine blog entry.  What I didn’t discuss in that entry was the “hit or miss” syndrome in wine drinking or tasting, which furthers the confusion and controversy on the topic.

After MUCH original research, i.e. wine tasting, hours on the phone with coopers in Napa Valley, and talking to the actual wine makers in many, many boutique wineries throughout California, I discovered several things from the wine makers and coopers:

  1. Huge bulk wineries usually cannot afford to age their wines in oak barrels.  They use the more economical stainless steel tanks to age wine.  Thus, wineries like Gallo can claim that their wines are gluten free, which they are if aged in stainless steel.
  2. Some quirky boutique wineries reuse their barrels over and over, thoroughly cleaning all residue out of the barrels each time.  Chances are these wines are gluten free.  The wine maker at Kirigin Winery told me that he had not bought a new barrel in 17 years.  He could pretty much guarantee that there would not be one molecule of gluten in any of his wines after 17 years of cleaning and recleaning, and I believe that is probably true
  3. Some wineries filter their wines to such a degree before bottling that the gluten molecule, which is rather large, gets filtered out, usually making these wines safe for gluten intolerants.   Sycamore Creek Winery in Gilroy sterile filters all of the wine under their new Flagship Reserve label.  I have never had a reaction to sterile filtered wines.  Yeah!   Plus, I will be talking about the filtration process in length in my next wine blog entry.
  4. Some of the coopers, who merely use the wheat paste to glue the ends to the staves, would like to claim the wines made in these barrels are gluten free because they thoroughly rinse the insides of the barrels before sending them to the wineries.  Theoretically, the chance of getting a random wheat molecule that did not get eliminated during the rinsing process would be nil.  Yes, I have had reactions to wine made in these barrels, so this is a less than perfect method for removing the wheat molecules.
  5. Coopers from other countries may not use this wheat paste practice, maybe making foreign wines okay.  I talked to a friend yesterday, who just got back from a two week trip to the Mendoza wine region in Argentina.  After talking to an extremely well informed sommelier at one of the wineries, she thought the Malbec and all the the wines from that winery might be safe.  The sommelier assured her that she had watched the wine barrel making process, and there was no wheat paste or powder used.  As soon as I get the name of this winery,  I am going to Bev Mo to find it.  I like to test a potentially iffy wine on a Saturday night when I have nothing important planned on Sunday, in case a hidden gluten takes me out on Sunday.  My daughter, another Celiac impaired, has had some good luck with red wines from Bordeau and Italy.

YES, with all these variables in any given oak-aged wine, drinking wine and having a reaction is a Hit or Miss proposition.  That explains why the reactions or non reactions to oak-aged wines are exactly that…Hit or Miss.  It’s a confusing proposition at best.

How I have dealt with it is to not drink oak-aged wine, unless I have talked to the wine maker about filtration and the source and use of their barrels.  Short of being able to talk to the wine maker, not the wine pourer at a tasting room (who may or may not know anything substantial about the actual wine making operation at the winery), I forego.  It is sad, but safe.

My go-to varietals:

                Unoaked Chardonay

                Sauvignon Blanc  –  a few are aged in oak barrels, so you need to talk to the wine maker if possible or take your chances

                Pinot Grigio

                Riesling – preferably dry

                Champagne and Sparkling Wines

 

Reds…

                Sycamore Creek Vineyard’s Flagship Label

                Kirigin Winerytheoretically ok, but have not tested them yet on my own digestive tract

                Gallo

                A Sniff and Two Sips – our backyard grown and made Merlot and Cab.

Diana update… she stuck to Sauvignon Blanc last weekend and had no cramping. Today’s entry is dedicated to you, Diana.

As an aside, 98% of these busy winemakers and coopers in Napa and the less famous wine regions all over California (Anderson Valley, San Luis Obispo, South Bay Area Counties like Santa Cruz and Santa Clara, Hollister, and the Folsom, Sierra Nevada Foothill areas, etc.) were unbelievably generous with their time and genuine interest in helping me explore this issue with them.  I found it remarkable how open and patient they were with my inquiries, because who am I, a random person asking in depth and detailed questions for my own interest and personal health. I was especially stunned that the actual coopers in Napa Valley, supplying some of the most famous wineries in the world would not only get on the phone, but willingly detail the barrel making process with me.  I can only assume that the gluten issue has become so well publicized in the last five years that they were interested in talking and thinking through the issues with a wine lover trying to weave her way through the landmine of a GF lifestyle.

Thank you to each and every one of you in the industry, who have helped me learn so much!

 

Safety of oaked wine

Wine too?

These last fourteen GF years, I reveled in the knowledge that I still had the joy of wine and chocolate in my diet. Then, the whole controversy about the safety of oak aged wine surfaced and made me howl to the moon, “Noooooooo!”

And yet when I think back, every time my husband and I grilled some grass fed steak and opened a bottle of red wine to go with it, I had wondered why I got a gluten reaction about two am the following morning. I thought maybe the particular grass the beef grazed on was the culprit. Could it have been the wine? Either way, I can tell you it was frustrating to get a gluten reaction from my own meal preparation!

After some research calling actual coopers in the Napa area, I found out they do use wheat paste to seal the barrel lids to the staves and have been doing so for over 100 years. They all assured me that after the wheat paste dried, they thoroughly washed the inside of the barrels. However, none of the coopers using this practice would guarantee that the wine made in these barrels would be completely gluten free. Theoretically, there should be no wheat molecules left in the barrels after the cleaning. “Cool!” I thought. That next Saturday night I retested the theory by having the grass fed steak dinner with a great red wine. Again, the two am reaction woke me from a sound sleep. “Oh, no! Please don’t let this be true! Red wine is one of the joys left to me on this crazy diet!”

More research ensued. Some coopers admitted to spraying the whole inside of the barrel with wheat dust to help seal the staves. This allows the wine maker to use the barrels immediately without having to worry about leakage. The vintners, in this case, save time, because they don’t have to soak the barrels, which swells the wood and prevents leakage. “Okay, that would definitely be a problem for all gluten intolerants.”

When I talked to other gluten intolerants about their reaction to oak aged wine, some had reactions and some didn’t. For those not experiencing adverse reactions, I wondered if there was, in fact, some damage happening to their systems on such a minute level that their sensitivity was simply not picking it up. No answers to that one, yet.

Because I live in the SF Bay Area where wine tasting and wine drinking is nearly an art form and have grown up surrounded by the viticulture industry, the possibility of having to eliminate oak aged wine from my diet seemed particularly unbearable. Of course, I made it my mission to test and retest the steak dinner/red wine theory. Eventually, I had to concede defeat. My ultra sensitive body had a wild gluten reaction every single time I drank any oak aged wine. When I had the same dinner with no oaked wine…Voila, no two am misery!

This is my reward for being as faithful as possible to a GF diet for fourteen years. Over time, my body has gotten cleaner and purer. The result has been that I have become more and more sensitive to hidden glutens. Any molecule that accidentally enters my system gives me a reaction. “Great!”

Mystery solved? According to my research and my body’s reaction, oak aged wine is definitely and sadly a new forbidden item for me.

The good news…I am having fun exploring champagnes, unoaked chardonays, dry rieslings, and sauvignon blancs!