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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.

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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!

Monthly Wine Writing Challenge Entry/ Subject-Fear

http://thedrunkencyclist.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/wine-stain1-3.jpg

 

Madman on the Loose, I Could Die Today

On a sunny bucolic vacation day, The Bam, bam bambambam of an automatic weapon splintered the birdsong and rustle of the breeze through the treetops.  “Wait! Were those real gunshots?  Was it someone target practicing? Should I be worried?” we sat on the deck in the sunshine, pondering.  “It is a bit countryish with huge lots in this little seaside enclave of vacation and retiree homes. People could target practice here, I guess. And yet…”

In the twenty years we had been coming to that cabin for a women’s retreat week, we had never heard anything like this.  After all, it is Cleone, a tiny community where the grocery store, post office, and gas pump are rolled into one, where the one restaurant (with consistently awesome Mexican food) opens whenever the owners feel inclined to cook or do business, where the community’s one claim to fame is MacKerricher State Park, a CA north coast refuge for sea otters, birds, tide pool creatures, plus a great place for whale watching on the spectacular headlands.  Cleone is a bedroom community of Mendocino and Fort Bragg.  We have always loved its reclusive air, a great place to get away, kick back, from the intensity of the Bay Area, where the population consists mostly of dog walkers, birders, cliffs-meet-the-sea nature-lovers.

“So what were those gunshots?”  Not hearing more, two of us decided to go for a walk out on the headlands.  However, when we got about 25 feet down the road, we saw two sheriffs with guns out, peering into the huge row of brambles and pine trees that separated our street from the one behind.  “Um, maybe we’ll head back to the cabin. That doesn’t look good.”

As soon as we got back and ushered our other friend off the back deck that faced the bramble patch, we heard Bam, bam, bambambam, again.  Next came the shouts, “Clear! Look to the north.”

“Oh s__t! We are directly north of the gunshot sounds!”  A  911 call to find out what was going on, had us sheltering in place with the knowledge that the sheriffs were trying to locate two suspects on the loose.  Just “knowing the suspects were in the brambles and could come out shooting at any time” was a surreal NCIS moment.

One of my friends said, “I know it is bad when they send up choppers to look for people, so we are probably okay, because none are in the air.”  Two seconds later, whomp, whomp whomps shook the windows of the cabin…for the next five hours, many times hovering directly over the cabin’s backyard. “Good times!”

We were at the point of fear where something inside the body changes.  Each of us tried to think strategically and find items in the room to protect ourselves, should we live through gunfire and actually encounter gunmen: cans of tuna to throw at the perps, fireplace poker to brandish in their direction, wine bottles to crack over their heads. Yes, we were gee-whizzes in a crisis!

A quick text from my husband admonished us to stay away from the windows.  Hard to do in a cabin filled with bay windows.  When the numbness of too much adrenaline set in,  one of my friends pulled out a deck a cards, said to sit down at the dinette table (in front of a bay window, of course)…she was going to teach us a really fun game.  I pulled out a bottle of wine from the previous day’s wine tasting in the Anderson Valley and three glasses, and said, “If I’m going down, I am going down happy.”  The other friend found the salty snacks, then the chocolate, and said, “Well, we need something to go with the wine.”  By the end of the five hours, three bottles of excellent wine had been drunk and every piece of junk food we could lay our hands on had been eaten. I can’t tell you the name of the card game we played at least 20 or 30 times, but it was fun in a crazy, I-am-going-to-enjoy-my-potential-last-moments haze.

True story.

Epilogue, there was only one gunman. During one of the volleys of gunfire, he killed a well respected sheriff in the community.  During another volley, the actual gunman was shot, but able to crawl away, into the brambles, where he died.  All of this took place one street over from our cabin. Part of me is still not “over” this senseless, horrifying event. The fact that two people were killed less than 250 yards from us is unfathomable.

On a brighter note- My recommendations when visiting the Mendocino Coast Area
Do stop and visit the wineries of the Anderson Valley.  Their terroir and weather is allowing them to produce some amazing Pinot Noirs.  This trip we discovered Drew Winery and their phenomenal 2010 Pinot. Hard to find now, because it sold out so quickly.
The Little River Inn is a great place to stay (just south of Mendocino) with vast panoramic ocean views and a good restaurant.
Try Wild Fish Restaurant near the Little River Inn for scrumptious fresh fish and a staff knowledgeable on adapting their menu for gluten intolerant Celiacs, like me.  Make reservations, because there are only eight tables.  Go just before sunset and catch the color splash over the ocean as the sun sets.

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

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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.