Saturday, May 30, 2020

Two more examples why you should be VERY cautious before paying, say, $25 or more for a bottle of wine:

Jane made a fabulous veggie lasagna, with Beyond Meat crumble that is a very good faux ground beef. The sauce (both red and Bechemel) was great, and there were Ricotta, Cottage, and Parmesan cheeses to provide more mouthfeel. It was really spectacular, and makes me wonder how I can be the one with 10% Italian genes, but not her.

Anyway, I pulled first one expensive wine, and then another, and both came up short and it was embarrassing to sort of fail her wonderful dish with subpar wines. The first was Maryhill 2016 Barbera (Proprietor's Reserve)-my note says I liked it at the winery last summer and paid $33. I held it only 10 months in perfect storage, but tonight it was bad: no fruit on the palate, and maybe a bitter coffee note at the beginning of the finish. Not good.  A Barbera should be lively. Maybe the wine at 3.6 years since harvest is simply tired out (likely), but in that case I'm sorry they sold it, or maybe they should've sold it with a label "drink by Sept 2019" or whatever. (I used to add "drink by" labels on all my wines, and I'm sorry I don't still do it--it's difficult as a winemaker to know when your wine will finally head downhill. One of my customers forgot about one of my Cayuga white wines, I think from 2017, and recently found it and opened it and told me it was great. Whew. I would've said drink it within about 1.5 years.)

So, when Jane said she really didn't like that wine, I said let me grab a different one, and I came back with a Walla Walla Vintners 2016 Sangiovese, which I bought at wholesale from one of my distys. WWV has a great track record, but sometime in the past few years Gordy and Miles sold out (finally retired) and somewhere in there the winemaker changed. Not sure if that's involved here, but this wine is also disappointing: No fruit on the palate, and there's a tiny tiny bit of Brett on the palate, and when that's the only note you can discern in a wine, something is very, very wrong. This one's about $20 at retail (and I paid a bit less), but DUDES! You can find much better Sangios at the grocery store, for almost half that price.

I say again, it's easy to overpay for wine. Anyone can do it; it takes no skill at all. What is difficult is finding great wines at lower prices, and there are many to be found. And, worse, there is VERY LITTLE correlation between a wine's price and its quality. If you pay more than about $25 for a bottle of wine, the excess is just about all "excess profit" (meaning, extra profit on top of what is already a reasonable profit). Why would you buy into a system where you pay $80 for a wine that isn't better than another wine costing $20? How smart is it to buy the $80 bottle? If I were trying to impress somebody, I'd serve them a great $20 bottle, and they'd be amazed, and then I'd say, "Hey! Now I have $60 in my pocket, so what should we do with it?"

Finally, please let me say that these are both very good wineries. I am not meaning to impugne all their wines-that would be foolish. I am saying that almost no winery in the world, which charges high prices, is consistently worth those higher prices. Some are--I would never shirk an offered Latour, Lafite, DRC, Petrus, Pichon-Lalande, Margaux, Eschezaux. But if your label isn't on that list, be cautious about paying more than $25 for it.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Dogged: 2018 Epona Cider: It's all about learning, learning, learning - Look at this possibly-stupid level of effort:

"Dogged." I don't know if dogs are persistent, but I am.

My 2018 apple cider has an issue: It hardly fermented in the bottle at all (I use the French country style, where you "charge" each bottle with sugar and yeast, as you bottle it).  While "still cider" is a thing in Europe (and it's a legitimate cider style), in the US most cider lovers want those bubbles.

At first I just discounted the cider in price, sold a quarter of it, and jumped into trying to figure out what happened. Then, I got creative about how to rescue the remaining cider:

What happened originally:
a. The cider itself (disregarding the bubbles is the best I've made. It's my first using crabapples and bittersweet apples, all from Epona Farm, in addition to the wonderful array of "sweet-sharp" heritage cider apples that were already here. It's the first to have some lactose added to it (dairy allergy alert), which is "milk sugar" and is unfermentable; I added it to provide just a bit of residual sugar which I thought the acidic juice needed, and it also provides a creaminess in the mouthfeel--more body. So far, so good. The cider tastes really great.
b. I put the clear, aged cider into a tank and added yeast and priming sugar calculated at 2 volumes of CO2. That is for the low-end of "sparkling" which is called "petaillant" by the French.  So far, so good.
c. I tested the free sulfite and added just a touch, to get up to 45ppm, which was perfect for the cider's pH. This is what winemakers do, and for cider it is controversial: A few cidermakers sulfite their ciders, as it gives them more shelf-life (more microbial stability); in my defense, commercial yeasts can handle up to 50ppm sulfite, so I thought it would be OK. But most cidermakers do not sulfite before bottling. Here's why:
d. Steve Bader (owns wine/beer shop of that name; great guy and a great scholarly resource, and he runs an expertly-staffed and equipped shop) told me that the sulfite will scavenge all the O2 that's in the headspace. That was new to me and is an issue, because (as every winemaker and cidermaker should know) the yeast goes through two phases: first (the lag phase), the yeast multiply until they reach a density that satisfies them; and then (the fermentation phase) they start to convert sugar to ethyl alcohol, CO2, heat, and other byproducts (including sulfite, which is a natural component of any fermentation). If the free sulfite in the cider uses up the O2 in the headspace (under the crown cap), then the yeast can't multiply, and I'm not sure if they will then give up trying to multiply and start fermenting in tiny numbers? I think that is what happened, because when you open one of these ciders, it makes a faint hiss, and that is the CO2 escaping, and there are very faint and few bubbles rising in the liquid in your glass. I added enough priming sugar that there should be more hiss and more bubbles in the cider.
e. I waited 6 months before trying and selling the cider. Maybe if I wait longer, the few yeast in each bottle will finally make more CO2 and raise the carbonation level. BUT, apple cider has a shelf life and if it takes ?2? ?5? more years to finally get carbonated, the fruit flavor might be faded.
f. Another thing I think I did wrong is that I filled each bottle pretty full, leaving about 0.5" headspace (as we winemakers are supposed to do). I now know that some cidermakers leave 1.5" headspace, which gives more O2 to the yeast. As Steve noted, the O2 in the headspace doesn't raise spoilage issue because the yeast will use it up (during their lag phase) and then the headspace will be only CO2 after the in-bottle fermentation, which is a good preservative.

Dogged. So, for a month I've been reading about this, and thinking about what to do. Now, I'm working an experiment on my cider. This is what I just did to a 4-case test batch; I'll open a test bottle in about late July, to see if I have more carbonation  then:

1. Open the bottles up and pour into carboys, leaving 20% of the inside carboy volume empty for lots of O2 space; cover with towel to allow more O2 to enter. Then I didn't want to rinse, wash, sulfite each bottle, so I stuck the empty bottles in the winery refrigerator, at 33F, thinking that would keep them "bugless."
2. Add more charging sugar in the carboys, calculated to raise the desired CO2 volume from 2 to 3.8 (4 volumes of CO2 is about the upper limit for in-bottle carbonation in a beer bottle). I was too cautious at 2 volumes.
3. Add K1V-1116 - the "killer yeast" (I used the workhorse EC-1118 yeast last time. I also added yeast nutrient; the yeast can't function well (or at all) if they don't have enough food. Well-cleared cider doesn't provide much nutrient to yeast.
4. Stir vigorously; lots of splashing.
5. Wait 24 hours with towel over carboy neck to allow O2 entry; then put on a ferm lock and test for evidence of renewed ferm.
6. This morning, each carboy was showing slight ferm, after about 16 hours (bubbling about every 40 seconds LOL). That was progress! I think it was so slight because that's not much sugar--not like the original ferm, and also because the yeast's lag phase is slower when I use a carboy, compared to using an open primary fermentation tank. I could've used a tank but that's more work and with lots of headspace in the carboy I thought I had this issue covered.
7. Re-bottle (with 1.5" headspace) and cap. I've learned to be very cautious and slow while capping, so that I can gently press down hard and get a tight seal, but without snapping off the bottle's neck. 

If this re-done batch gives me good carb in-bottle, then I'll be pretty excited and will probably enter it in some competitions, because the taste is so good. We will know by late July maybe.  If this works, I have about 12 more cases I can do the same to. THAT is the crazy part--opening a bottled cider and doing all this to it. It's more about learning, and maybe pride, than anything. It is not common at all to do this once you've closed a bottle. But, dogged.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Taste-testing is a great benefit of winemaking: Epona 2018 Syrah-Malbec notes

...because you get to observe how a wine changes over time, even before it's released to the market.

The Syrah in this wine came from the Graves Vineyard, which is the southern-most in the state of Washington (Dallesport WA), near the Columbia River, and it's also one of the oldest. Planted by Mr. Graves, a BPA employee, a very long time ago (1970s?) and now tended by his son. The Malbec came from Noble Wolf Vineyard east of Lyle WA. Both grapes were fully ripe and in excellent shape; I picked them up in early morning and by noon was processing them on the Epona crush pad. Super-fresh treatment with high-touch winemaking all the way.

1. Youth: I'm learning why Syrahs (and Malbecs, too) need years of aging before they show their best. Some Syrahs don't come to market until they are 6-7 years old! This wine, upon opening is mostly shut down. The nose is faint and the palate is clunky, showing some nice red/blue fruits but with a sense of disjointedness and a bitter finish note.  An hour later, the nose is showing now--complex but too subtle: Red/blue fruits, and herbs, and medicinals, in that order. On the palate, the wine is thick (good body) and acidic (good for food), with purple fruits and a coffee note.
2. Then I put the leftover half-bottle of the wine into the fridge for four days. Sounds too long, right? But I suspected the wine was very, very early in its development, and 4 days on air provided a good test for what it might become.
3. Then, the wine was really good: The nose predicts ripe purple fruits with bolstering acidity and matching fairly high alcohol, and you can even smell the thick body too. In the mouth, it's very nice: rich, thick, but acidic too, with wonderful complex fruit and herb notes, and a nice finish.

I will definitely submit this one in competition, but not for another couple of years. Big hopes for this one! But patience is required.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

A really great French (Provencal) Rose: Jean-Luc Colombo 2018 "La Dame du Rouet" (Aix-en-Provence, Southern Rhone, France)

This was exceptional! A group of us circled our cars, in a lately-very-empty parking lot, and sat on quilts to eat take out from Rallys Pizza tonight, on a sunny sunsetting day in May. How to socialize in the Era of Corona. What good friends!

What a pleasure this wine was! Strawberries and watermelon, but the fruit was restrained. Minerals, but also restrained. What was more prominent was the acidity, yet it was pleasant, and it provided the frame on which to hang the various other enjoyments. Many American winemakers (like me) try to make Statement Wines, and the French sometimes do, but what they're really skilled at is making wines that know how to accompany food without getting in the way. This wine is a perfect example.

4 and a half stars on Vivino, with this comment: "Best Rosé I've ever tasted. Dry and fruity."

OK. Works for me.

Friday, April 17, 2020

There are many pretty grape(s leaves), but this one is surely high up on the list:

This is Monastery Muscat budding out. It's a white grape but you can see from the pink tinges that there is some red grape in its heritage, too.

This grape is my "beast of the vineyard--" as it has the thickest trunk, the highest yield, the best disease resistance. It is a champion and a survivor. Great Muscat bouquet in the juice.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Sort of in love with walnut slabs

I just finished sanding and staining Slab 4. See photo.

The sanding takes forever. I fill cracks and pits with epoxy, then let it dry hard and sand it down. Sometimes that must be done two or three times. Just the sanding was tough, as I bought these slabs from a guy who uses a chainsaw to make them, in the field, and thus the slabs are super-rough when I bought them. The top is as smooth as glass now.

Next is a tung oil finish, and then legs to make this a bench seat that will be at a to-be-built dining table that will reside in our to-be-remodeled barn, where we will hold wine-related events!

Friday, April 10, 2020

Oh, My! 2016 Wines of Substance 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon - Review

Oh holy smokes! Opened this with slow-smoked BBQ Pork that I made 2 days ago, and WOW! So glad I did!

It is very rich and luscious, with the expected black currant, but also blackberry, olives, and earth. Seamless.  Teriffic fruit notes. I would expect this to cost about $40-$70, not $20! So sad this is my only bottle (got it while I was a member of the wine club).

So I looked up the pro reviews on this one, and they agree. I love the line: "Just buy it and pretend you paid three times the price!"

Jeb Dunnuck 93
"The largest production cuvée, the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon was vinified in tank before being pressed to barrel where it went through malo. Aged 13 months in barrels, its vibrant purple color is followed by a terrific bouquet of blueberries, cassis, scorched earth, and spice. Deep, rich, full-bodied, and beautifully balanced, this is the real deal, ladies and gentlemen, and it's a no-brainer purchase. Just pretend you paid three times the price."

Wine Advocate 90
"Amazingly, there are 125,000 cases of the value-priced 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine offers up classic aromas of crushed cassis, loamy soil and pencil lead. On the palate, it's medium-bodied, layered and flavorful, with chewy but ripe tannins and succulent balancing acids, concluding with good length. Considering the scale of this cuvée and the pittance it commands, it's a remarkable achievement."

James Suckling 92
"The is a firm and linear red with currants, blackberries and hints of chocolate. Medium to full body, firm and velvety, chewy tannins and a juicy finish. Real cabernet at a real price. Drink or enjoy."

Wine Spectator 90
"Dark and spirited, with appealing blackberry, black olive and smoked anise flavors that build toward big but polished tannins. Drink now through 2024."

Wine Enthusiast 90
"The aromas are compelling, with notes of fresh herb, black currant, black raspberry and black cherry, showing a pleasing sense of purity. The flavors are soft and pure, with sleek black-fruit notes lingering on the finish. Firm tannins back it up. It’s a fruitful expression of the variety and a superb value. "

Charles Smith sold his winery for an amount so huge you wouldn't believe it. What a wine! He deserves everything he achieved.

Two more examples why you should be VERY cautious before paying, say, $25 or more for a bottle of wine:

Jane made a fabulous veggie lasagna, with Beyond Meat crumble that is a very good faux ground beef. The sauce (both red and Bechemel) was gr...