RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Country Living

2016 January Vineyard Update

I am determined in 2016 to track, month by month, a whole year in the vineyard and the winery. For those of you who have lost sight of our operation, because I haven’t posted or kept up this blog for about 2 years. I just want to share what it is like to live in a California wine region (the south, south Bay Area) and to learn to manage a small vineyard and wine making operation on our plot of land. We have about a third of an acre of Cabernet and Merlot grapes. With a group of very committed friends and relatives, we installed a lyre system of trellising and stuck the twigs we purchased from UC Davis in the ground, 10 years ago this coming April.

After two disastrous attempts to make wine from our grapes by simply following directions from an instruction manual, I was lucky enough to start mentoring with a professional wine maker, Ted Medeiros from Medeiros Family Wines (formerly from Sycamore Creek Vineyards.) We live within three miles of most of the south Santa Clara County vineyards. While these wineries do not have rock star status like Napa, Anderson Valley, Sonoma, and Paso Robles, there are some very good vintners. Ted happens to be our favorite. His style of wine making honors the terroir and the integrity of the grape as it speaks of the weather and soil’s influence in any given year. Apparently, we are not alone in our appreciation of his detailed attention to vineyard management, to wine making and to the quality of wine he produces, as evidenced by several of his wines receiving the coveted Best of Show, Gold and Double Gold medals in the prestigious San Francisco wine competition a couple of years ago while he was winemaker at Sycamore Creek. Long story, longer, he has generously given his knowledge and his time over the last few years to help me learn to make a decent wine. (And I have to tell you, the process is much more complicated, than I ever could have imagined when beginning this journey.)

First, we had to re-balance the vineyard, which took a couple of years. Then I had to hone and to learn all kinds of subtleties in the wine making process that are not mentioned in the home wine making books. Go figure. I know I could have taken that correspondence course from UC Davis in wine making, but, frankly, I have been going to school or teaching my whole life, and I am just done with the academic scene.

The one-on-one tutoring has been wonderful. Many an afternoon, I have put out an SOS for help after tasting the aging wine in the barrel and been horrified by where the taste was headed. Over Ted would come in his mud caked boots from his own vineyard work, probably dog-tired, to help me out. My husband would come home from a long commute from his Silicon Valley day job to find Ted and I in the barn with our noses in a glass or in the bung hole of a barrel trying to figure out how to salvage a year’s work that probably should have been scrapped because of mistakes I made early on in that year’s production. Ted’s wife, a super taster, would bring us back to reality, and pretty much tell us the wine was crap by the way she wrinkled her nose. (Ah well, not every year is salvageable.) She has also given me the wonderful gift of interpreting Ted’s techno speak into a simpler version that even my math/science averse mind could understand.

Of course, we have loved it all: the wine-filled compost pile in the first years; the brutal advice; the out and out lies of our devoted friends, who swore the wine was “not that bad;” the wild and raucous annual harvest work-parties; the assembly-line efficiency my husband created to bottle and to label the wines; the new looks of shock and wonder on our friends’ faces the last couple of years as they tasted the wine and enthusiastically went in for a second sip. We are doing it. We are finally making a good solid Wednesday night wine. Yee ha!

We love this hobby. We love living in a state obsessed with growing grapes and making wine, where sniffing, swirling, sipping, pairing never gets old.

Ps. The vineyard was quiet in January. The vines are dormant.

6-2015 772

Advertisements

Winery Update-2013 Cab Bottling

288 bottles of Cab have been bottled
288 bottles are done
We took one down
And  passed it around…
287 bottles of Cab have been bottled.
287 bottles of Cab have been bottled
Wondrous looks abound
We want second sips
To hit our lips
Looking forward to 24 cases of Cab being bottled! The joke has always been that I will know when my wine-making is becoming successful when my husband wants a whole glass. Turned out that happened last Saturday when we bottled our 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon.  He had three.

Saturday’s bottling was also a pivotal day, because it was the first time we had any group vineyard/wine work party without my “much-loved” father-in-law, who passed away in March.  Normally, we would have bottled somewhere between March and June, but stalled because of the difficulty of facing it without him.  However, with the grapes veraising on the vine and the harvest tick-tocking quickly towards us, we had to get the bottling done to free barrel and storage capacity for the 2015 grapes.

To keep the mood light, we over-filled a bottle for each of our bottling crew and sipped the wine down to the correct level for corking, in memory of Jack, my husband’s father.

To give you the background…the very first time we attempted to bottle wine, Jack, my husband, and I used the siphon-through-a-hose method of filling each bottle.  For any of you who have tried this, you know it is a primitive process rarely resulting in the wine arriving at the correct level in the bottle in prep for the corking which follows.  Of course, “the only way” to correct the situation is to sip the wine down to the desired level.

The then 81-year-old, Jack, after double checking that was “the only way” to do it, enthusiastically swigged, sipped dribbled wine down his T-shirt until he staggered into a plastic chair behind him chuckling, “I just can’t do any more!”  That was about 40 or 50 bottles into the process.  Now, you have a picture of why this fun-loving man is missed.

Jack would have loved tasting this batch of wine.  After nine years of helping us with our vineyard and vintner endeavors, we have finally come up with a drinkable Cab.  There is hope for producing a stellar, rich, balanced, full-bodied Cab and /or Merlot…someday.  Until that day comes, we will keep enjoying friends and family at work parties, sharing lots of laughter-filled meals, and raising a glass to the fruits of our labor.  Cheers!

 

          The 2013 A Sniff and Two Sips’ Cab is dedicated to you, Jack!

Vineyard Update – A Photo Journey

The first six months of 2015 in the vineyard – a photographic journey:

No rain this winter.

No rain this winter.


February's tangle of canes.

February’s tangle of ca

6-2015 7726-2015 197Pruning the canes.

Bud break. And so it begins...
Bud break. And so it begins…

Explosive growth.

Explosive growth.


Teeny, tiny grapes.

Teeny, tiny grapes.


Thinning.

Thinning.


Look at that pile. All this just to give the grapes some breathing room.

Look at that pile. All this just to give the grapes some breathing room.


That's more like it.

That’s more like it.

 

Beautiful, full crop this year.

Beautiful, full crop this year.  Aah, fruits of the land and nectar of the gods.

The fruit is continuing to develop. To see an actual crop of grapes emerge, fill out, and ripen on the vines is exciting.  Our friends, whom I make walk up and down the rows, every time they come over, may not agree, but they put up with my “want-to-be-a-farmer” quirks. (Thankfully.)  They do draw the line at viewing the bat house on the back of the barn beside the last row of Merlot.  Funny, they don’t seem to care a bit how great a fertilizer bat guano is. Redemption comes at the end of the tour with pulling a cork and sipping a glass of wine on the deck. Gotta love summer!

I’m Back!

After a nearly two year hiatus from blogging, I’ve decided to give it another go.

However, I am revamping the format just a bit based on the example of one of my favorite bloggers, The Drunken Cyclist, who divides his posts into different subject matter segments.

Mine will be loosely based on the three huge passions/interests in my life:

  1. Vineyard Update – tidbits of what the California Bay Area seasons mean when growing and managing a small home vineyard of Cabernet and Merlot grapes. Example, in 2013 we harvested one ton of grapes, but only half a ton this last October in 2014. The three year drought is taking its toll.
  2. Jedi Wine Making –experiences of my husband’s, friends’ and family’s, and mine learning to craft a decent wine in our little backyard barn (definitely a community endeavor)…with the guidance of Ted Medeiros, our local award-winning professional winemaker and Yoda mentor, who nicknamed me his Jedi student.
  3. Cook To Eat — continuing discoveries from my mind-blowing eating/cooking adventures and journey through Celiac Disease, (the disease where the body has damaged or is missing the genes to digest and process gluten.) After 17 years on the normal gluten free diet where grains like rice and quinoa are allowed, I had a massive relapse in symptoms and immune system damage in 2014. “Wait! What?” Thankfully, brand new research has proven that all grains and even legumes are dangerous for Celiac people. “Who knew? No more humus for me, sadly.” After a year of relearning to eat, cook, and travel safely on the new true gluten free diet, I am on the road to recovery, for the second time in my life, and eager to resume the blogging. “Whew! Glad the worst is behind me.”

I invite you to pick and choose to read and explore any or all topics. Hopefully, this new organization will make that easier for you and save you the time of slogging through things of no interest.

Welcome to Foodie meets Wine Maker meets Vineyard Manager.

Happy 2015!

Tomatoes Talk

When the nights cool enough to thicken and to dark-spot the skins of the tomatoes, it is time to pull up the summer garden.

Nov 2013 021Today was the day the tomatoes spoke. With a bit of regret, I pulled out the withered remains of the most abundant, lush vegetable garden I have ever had.  This Fall has been so mild I  wondered if the garden might keep producing into December.  The middle of November is not bad for a long growing season, though. I’ll take it!

Right before dismantling the tomato cages, I remembered I had planted potatoes (a first time try) in between each string bean plant. (They are companion plants.)  The potato greenery died and blew away a few weeks ago.  Wondering if there might actually be potatoes in the dirt, I got on my knees and started digging. Random sized potatoes popped up.  Delighted with each find, I kept at it, finally ending up with enough for a whole baking pan of roasted potatoes…or Roasties, as my husband calls them.  Thrilling!

Nov 2013 017

Then it was on to the pomegranate tree.  Since my husband’s google search, we now know not to harvest the pomegranates until the skins break open into a gaping jaw.DSCN0270   By the way, did you know that pomegranates are one of nature’s highest nutrient foods?  “Eat and get healthy!”

Nov 2013 020

When I got to the  kale/parsley patch,  I just couldn’t  pull it up. Each has  made  a remarkable comeback  in the cooler weather of the last couple of months.  I will wait for the frost to flatten them.

Crazy…how much produce came from this last picking of the season! Bounty everywhere!

Nov 2013 018

As excited as I get by food coming from backyard dirt, not all was rosy when plopping the bowls of veggies on the counter top.  As I was making dinner last night (a delicious meal baked in a sugar-baby pumpkin), I noticed  three or four slow-moving, little black spots on the white cupboard doors.  Hands messy with pumpkin goop, I couldn’t kill them at that moment.  When my hands were finally clean, they were gone.  “Eww!” I decided not to think about where they had gone. You cannot be squeamish living this intimately with the land.

About the pumpkin goop, my niece gave me the most unusual, fun, Fall recipe using a small sugar -baby pumpkin, Nov 2013 030stuffed with a Gruyère/bread mixture. The worst part of the prep is cleaning out the pumpkin. However, since it bakes for two hours, it would be a great dish for do-ahead company meals. The dish reminded me of Swiss food, lots of cheese and bread.  I used the gluten-free Against the Grain Baguette

 (http://www.againstthegraingourmet.com)  for the bread.  I recommend toasting the bread before using, so it holds its structure during the baking.

Here is the link to the recipe:
http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Pumpkin-Stuffed-with-Everything-Good-361169

As I prepared the pumpkin dish, the gift for the day of garden labor was this beautiful sunset.

Nov 2013 026

Enjoy Fall, Everyone!

A July Day in the Life of a GF Wine Maker

DSCN1675

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.

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.