I am sitting among the turning leaves between a row of Cabernet and Merlot grapevines, thankful all the 2013 wine has been safely picked, 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.)
That 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!)
This is a homemade sweetened ricotta cheese stuffed into or put on to just about anything!!!!
1 gallon whole milk
1 quart cultured buttermilk
Heat to 175 to 180 (no more or it will scald.)
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.
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.