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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!

Jedi Wine Making – Chemistry can be fun?

OMG! Who knew?

Apparently … Lab tests on wine are fun. The test subject (wine aging in our barrels in the barn) matters. I have been a chemistry hater from way back, even changed my college major to avoid chem classes.

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But … When you know the tests you are about to learn can keep your wine on track, you will do just about anything to chase the dream of making that elusive, perfect, full-bodied, balanced glass of vino, especially if you’ve slaved all season tending the vines.

So … Ted of Medeiros Family Winery, my Yoda mentor, hosted this morning’s foray into his lab to determine how much free SO2 was suspended in each barrel’s wine. SO2 is the substance that can protect the wine from oxidation, basically keeping the “bitter” under control.

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During … There were test tubes hanging from a science-looking contraption, pipettes, rubber tubing, things bubbling, substances dripping one drop at a time into a wine-colored solution that suddenly turned green. Very cool!

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All the precise measuring and scary looking equipment my free spirit hated in high school, became a welcome, fun endeavor getting me ever so slightly closer to that sigh of delight I want to feel and to see on family and friends’ faces when they take a sip of our wine. Someday, hopefully. Currently, we have progressed from an out and out frown and searching look for a spittoon to a neutral look of wonder and a “hey, this is not bad.”

All in all … Not a bad way to spend the morning.

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!

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.

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.

Third Time’s a Charm?

Wine Country Living

Name Change

Well, here I am again, wanting to write, wanting to change the focus of this blog, wanting to change the name to reflect that change.  As gluten-free awareness has exploded the last three years, there is less and less need for a gluten-free sleuth.   Expanded, detailed information and research have obsoleted my hard-earned and, many times, painful original research to discover the landmines of hidden gluten.

With the new government regulations of 20 ppm of allowable gluten in foods labeled GF, those of us that are super sensitive or have an extreme case of Celiac disease already know we still have to read ingredient lists even when the food is labeled GF.  For example, teff flour has some gluten in it, but falls under the 20 ppm of gluten allowed by the FDA.  One day of eating something with teff flour does not affect  me; whereas, consecutive days rip my stomach apart.

While I am not thrilled that the FDA arbitrarily decided on our behalf that any ppm of gluten is ok for Celiac disease and gluten intolerance, the new labeling guidelines at least point me in the right label-reading direction, saving me time in the grocery store.  For that, I am thankful.

So…my daily focus has swerved to GF Wine Making and GF Wine Country Living.  The blog name needs to reflect this new direction.  After this entry, I will be changing my name to GF Wine Country Living. Again, I hope I do not lose any of you, but in case I do, the new name will be the following:

GF Wine Country Living.

www.gfwinecountryliving.wordpress.com

Last time I changed names, you did not have to do a thing.  WordPress automatically carried you along.  Hopefully, this third name change will be “the one.”  Thanks for your loyalty, and stay tuned for a new, fun focus.