Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Search Tool for wine

[Credit given to Amazon.com, from which this art (on the right) was taken.]

Today my eyes were opened to a fascinating tool which allows you to see how many online searches were made for a particular term or phrase, and when, and from where.

With such information, you can create products and place them into the market at the right times and places. For example, by knowing that almost 500,000 people Googled "strawberry wine" in June throughout the US, mostly on the East Coast, you could introduce your strawberry wine to East Coast consumers, online, in that month. Companies exist which can even sell you the email addresses of the people who posted those online searches. A person I met today noticed the volume of requests for high-quality swimwear, and he started up a swimwear sales site (check out swimrags.com). He has a Chinese factory that makes to order, and the entire process (order collection, manufacture, and shipping) is hands-free to him. Wow! My wine business is very likely too hands-on. I wonder what I would lose, by reducing the extensive person-to-person facetime that I exert now. I know what I could gain . . .

This is not too different from the premise of The Matrix (the 1999 movie which for many intelligent folks is a Top Twenty Lifetime movie, and whose famous "streaming codes" are shown above), though if you press me I might not be able to fully explain just how. ;)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mon Dieu! Chinese wines beat out French wines

Everything will change if we just wait long enough:

In a recent blind tasting judged by five Chinese and five French wine experts, where five Chinese wines and five French wines (all within the $25-$45 price range) were compared:

The top four wines were all made in China!

Read the story here.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Brasserie Montmarte

This bistro is located in downtown Portland (on Park Ave). We recently attended a great community Sunday dinner there, and look what we got for just $39 each:

1. French (Normandy) hard cider during socializing
2. Camembert and Livarot cheese tray with French prunes and baguette
3. Housemade Andouille and rabbit sausages with pickled vegetables and dijon mustard
4. Mixed green salad, with poached pears, hazlenuts, and pear vinaigrette
5. Marmite Dieppoise: salmon, shrimp, mussels, with leeks, celery, onions, carrots, curry, and paprika cream
6. Cider braised rabbit hindquarters, with pearl onions and heirloom carrots, on a bed of braised red wine cabbage with bacon and apples
7. 2008 JP Chenet Chardonnay/Colombard and JP Chenet Cab/Syrah (both vin de pays--table wines--from N. France)
8. Petit Suisse Rice Pudding with fresh fruit.
9. Calvados (eau du vie)
10. Good company next to us, including a gentleman who grew up in southern France and is living in Portland, doing, among other things, bicycle racing.

A great time!

Friday, December 9, 2011

King Estate goes solar in a huge way

Read the article here.

Cry for me Argentina

Oh, this is AWFUL news:

Argentine grass-fed beef is already a thing of the past. What? How did this happen? Almost all Argentine beef is now raised in feedlots, grain-fed and crowded, just like in the U.S.

Cows did not evolve while eating grain. In fact, it sickens them. They evolved eating grass.

Why do we care (aside from concern for cow welfare)? Because grass-fed beef is lower in overall fat, lower in heart-killing saturated fats, and higher in healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. Corn-fed beef is killing us by clogging our arteries. And feedlots, besides being nuisances, create monumental amounts of pollution, besides creating a food that is notably unhealthy to eat.

Argentine ranchers, enticed by the high prices of world grain markets, and driven by short-sighted government policies which discourage beef production by keeping beef prices artificially low, have switched to grain production (raising corn, wheat, soybeans).

Remember that line from Oklahoma!: "Oh, the farmer and the cowboy can be friends . . ." Well, the cowboy has BECOME the farmer.

Millions of persons will die earlier because of this, and a cherished ranching tradition of the Gauchos, a tradition that practically defined a culture, is dead.

My spouse even said that now we should drop our plans to someday visit Argentina, and enjoy the famed grass-fed beef with an Argentine Malbec.

But all is not lost: Little Uruguay sees an opportunity here, and is continuing its production of grass-fed cattle while opening up new high-end markets for its beef. But the wines in Uruguay (Tannat, and others) are nothing like Argentina's. So the ideal vacation down there would involve visiting Argentina first, enjoying the sights and buying some Malbecs, but eating only poultry, fish, and vegetarian, then skipping over to Uruguay for the beef, which you would enjoy with the Argie wines you brought with you. You might engender some impolite looks (from bringing in a rival's wines), but hey! Life is complicated for everybody now.

We caused this, you know, with our tremendously stupid corn-to-ethanol program. It has driven up corn prices to the point that the poor are getting poorer and even-more-poorly fed, and it has the most-horrific economics (in terms of energy in - energy out) of perhaps any government program in history. It is a truly idiotic money-loser. But the farm lobby is all-powerful, so there you go. We caused this, by allowing it to happen, by allowing Big Food to sell us unpalatable products.

When will governments quit screwing things up?

You can read the article here.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


For many reasons, I do NOT recommend using a saber to slice off the neck of your sparkling wine.

However, if you must persist, then you should read this:

Pix Patisserie's Bubbly Spectacular month continues with a class on sabering—that's slicing off the top of a bottle of sparkling with a knife or sword. This skill is guaranteed to increase your chances of getting laid by 300%. 5 pm, Saturday December 10. Pix Patisserie-North | 3901 N Williams Ave. | 503-282-6539 | www.pixpatisserie.com

Bankrupt Ballys

The final failure of Ballys Fitness Centers, after three bankruptcies,
is a metaphor for the problems facing the United States:

Ballys incurred too much debt and became unable to properly maintain the clubs and to meet its debt payments. I suspect that management may have skimmed far too much compensation off the top, but that is only my speculation. The practical result has been years of our suffering inadequate maintenance, in subpar facilities.

Now, LA Fitness has bought all the Oregon Ballys gyms, and is closing down four of them, including the two that we used. Wonderful.

When the Nimbus Ballys closes forever at 2pm today, the final bell will ring on more than 20 years of friends' working out together, catching up on each other's lives, making a community. All sundered because of lousy management.

The comparison to the problems which the USA faces now is pretty obvious.

Good-bye, friends.

China's Lafite Bubble Finally Pops

All financial bubbles must pop, right? Earlier this year the Chinese (businesspeople, mostly) were buying Chateau Lafite like crazy, and prices skyrocketed. Seems Lafite was drunk by very popular actors on a Chinese television show, and before long newly-wealthy Chinese were buying all they could.

Unlike us and the Brits, the Chinese typically open and drink the wines within days or weeks of receiving it. A way to impress your lunch companions, I suppose. The thought of all that Lafite, the numero uno amidst the rarified air of the five First Growths in Bordeaux, just vanishing in a day, kind of makes me shudder. By comparison, I opened one bottle of it on my fiftieth birthday.

I think prices for Lafite, as sold into China, reached about $2000 per bottle, in the middle of 2011. Wow. But now it's closer to $1000 (little higher for great years; little lower for not-so-great years), and prices are still dropping.

Just one province in eastern China was consuming 300,000 bottles of Lafite per year. See article here.

The good question is: Will the bubble re-form, once some of the present global economic uncertainties are resolved?

And: Just think about how much wealth has been created in China, to allow such lavish spending on a lunch drink.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The many types of sugar

Who knew there are so many kinds of sugar? In researching whether fruits preserved in corn syrup will ferment properly, I found this sugar list (credit to Jack Keller's website):

Types of Sugar

Bar Sugar: This sugar's crystal size is the finest of all the types of granulated sugar. It is ideal for sweetening finished wine because it dissolves easily. It is also called "superfine" or "ultrafine" sugar. In England, a sugar very similar to bar sugar is known as caster or castor, named after the type of shaker in which it is often packaged. Commercially, it can be purchased as "Baker's Sugar."

Barbados Sugar: A British specialty brown sugar, very dark brown, with a particularly strong molasses flavor. The crystals are slightly coarser and stickier in texture than "regular" brown sugar. Also know as Muscovado Sugar.

Brown Sugar: Sugar crystals coated in a molasses syrup with natural flavor and color. Many sugar refiners produce borwn sugar by boiling a special molasses syrup until brown sugar crystals form. A centrifuge spins the crystals dry. Some of the syrup remains, giving the sugar its brown color and molasses flavor. Other manufacturers produce brown sugar by blending a special molasses syrup with white sugar crystals. Dark brown sugar has more color and a stronger molasses flavor than light brown sugar. Lighter brown sugars are more commonly used in winemaking than darker ones, as the richer molasses flavors in the darker sugar tend to mask the bases flavors of the wine, but both have their place.

Corn Syrup: This is basically glucose and water, but may contain some maltose or other sugars. Common, grocery store products may have vanilla added, and/or preservatives that could affect fermentation. Read the label.

Demerara Sugar: A light brown sugar with large golden crystals which are slightly sticky. While this sugar is often expensive, it has a unique, unmatched flavor.

Dextrose: An isomer form (the invert) of glucose, actually called dextroglucose (D-glucose) with a right- axis polarization (a.k.a. "right-handed glucose") and found naturally in sweet fruits and honey.

Fructose: One of two simple (reducing) fermentable sugars in grapes and other fruit, the other being glucose. Isolated, fructose is approximately twice as sweet as glucose. In wine, a higher fructose concentration will result in a heightened sweetness threshold.

Galactose: An optical isomer form of glucose. Sometimes called lactose, although it is not lactose proper. Not desired as a residual sugar in wine as it oxidizes to form mucic acid.

Glucose: One of two simple fermentable sugars in grapes and other fruit, the other being fructose. Glucose is approximately half as sweet as fructose. An isomer form of glucose, dextrose, is considered to be glucose

Honey: Honeys vary widely, but generally are a complex mixture of right-axis glucose (dextrose -- about 30%), left-axis fructose (levulose -- about 38 to 40%), maltose (about 7%) and a surprising number of other sugars (3 to 5% -- see section below, Sugars and Honey) in water with proteins, minerals, pollens, bee parts, and other solids interspersed. Honey purity and quality also varies widely, as do the "varieties" of honey. "Variety" is attributed to the predominate flower the bees visited while making the honey (such as clover, orange, wildflower, raspberry, sage, heather, etc.).

Invert Sugar: The product of the hydrolysis of sucrose, which is glucose and fructose. Dextrose (an isomer of glucose) and levulose (an isomer of fructose) are obtained by the inversion of sucrose, and hence called invert sugar. Yeast convert invert sugar more rapidly than sucrose, such as simple cane sugar, because they do not have to break the sucrose down into glucose and fructose themselves. Invert sugar can be made by dissolving two parts sugar into one part water, adding two teaspoons lemon juice per pound of sugar, bringing this almost to a boil, and holding it there for 30 minutes (NOT allowing it to boil). If not to be used immediately upon cooling, this can be poured into a sealable jar, sealed and cooled in the refrigerator. Invert sugar should NOT be used to sweeten finished wine as it will encourage refermentation.

Jaggery: Raw or semi-refined palm sugar, made in the East Indies by evaporating the fresh juice of several kinds of palm trees, but specifically that of the palmyra.

Lactose: A sugar comprising one glucose molecule linked to a galactose molecule and found only in milk. It has a slightly sweet taste and is much less soluble in water than most other sugars. The human body breaks it down into galactose and glucose. Because it is not ordinarily fermentable until separated into its component sugars, it can be used to boost residual sweetness.

Levulose: An isomer form (the invert) of fructose, with a left-axis polarization (a.k.a. "left-handed fructose") and found naturally in sweet fruits and honey.

Maltose: A crystalline sugar formed from starch (specifically malt) and the amylolytic ferment of saliva and pancreatic juice. It consists of two linked glucose molecules and is completely fermentable. It resembles dextrose, but rotates the plane of polarized light further to the right and possesses a lower cupric oxide reducing power.

Molasses: The filtered residue of sugar refinement after the cyrstalized portion has been removed. "Light molasses" is roughly 90% sugar, while "blackstrap molasses" is only 50% sugar and 50% refinement residue. It may have sulfur compounds added to sterilize and stabilize it. This makes it generally undesirable as a sugar for wine, as it could encourage the formation of hydrogen sulfide. It is similar to treacle.

Muscovado Sugar: A British specialty brown sugar, very dark brown, with a particularly strong molasses flavor. The crystals are slightly coarser and stickier in texture than "regular" brown sugar. Also know as Barbados Sugar.

Piloncillo: Mexican brown sugar, which is semi-refined and granulated. It is sometimes sold in solid cone-shaped cakes, where the sugar is scraped off the cake as needed. The taste is quite different than American brown sugar, which is actually refined sugar to which molasses has been added.

Raffinose: A complex sugar (trisaccharide) found primarily in grains, legumes and some vegetables. It has little value in winemaking and is only slightly sweet.

Raw Sugar: Crystalline sugar obtained from the evaporation of cane, beet, maple, or some other syrup. Raw cane sugar is sold as "Sucanat." Raw beet sugar is said to be unsavory. Raw sugar should not be equated with the product "Sugar in the Raw."

Residual Sugar: The amount of sugar, both fermentable and unfermentable, left in a wine after fermentation is complete or permanently halted by stabilization. Fermentation is complete when either all the fermentable sugar has been converted by the yeast into alcohol and carbon dioxide as byproducts or when the concentration of alcohol produced reaches a level that is toxic to the yeast and they die. Fermentation is permanently halted by stabilization through several means involving intervention by man.

Rock Candy: Large sucrose crystals, usually clear but may be tinted with flavorings, Some people drop a piece of rock candy in the wine bottle before filling it, where it slowly dissolves and sweetens the wine.

Stachyose: A complex sugar (tertasaccharide) found in a few grains, most legumes and some vegetables. It has little value in winemaking and is less sweet than raffinose.

Sucrose: A natural, crystalline disaccharide found in grapes, most fruit and many plants. This is the type of refined sugar obtained from sugar cane, sugar beets and other sources which, when added to a must or juice to make up for deficiencies in natural sugar, must be hydrolyzed (inverted) into Fructose and Glucose by acids and enzymes in the yeast before it can be used as fuel for fermentation.

Superfine Sugar: This sugar's crystal size is the finest of all the types of granulated sugar. It is ideal for sweetening finished wine because it dissolves easily. It is also called "bar" or "ultrafine" sugar. In England, a sugar very similar to superfine sugar is known as caster or castor, named after the type of shaker in which it is often packaged. Commercially, it can be purchased as "Baker's Sugar."

Treacle: The inverted sugar made from the residue of refinement and very similar in taste to molasses, although treacle is generally darker. There is even a "black treacle" with roughly the same taste as "blackstrap molasses." If you like the taste, it is more useful in winemaking than molasses.

Turbinado Sugar: A raw sugar which has been partially processed, removing some of the surface molasses. It is a blond color with a mild brown sugar flavor that enhances some wine bases as no other sugar can.

Ultrafine Sugar: This sugar's crystal size is the finest of all the types of granulated sugar. It is ideal for sweetening finished wine because it dissolves easily. It is also called "bar" or "superfine" sugar. In England, a sugar very similar to ultrafine sugar is known as caster or castor, named after the type of shaker in which it is often packaged. Commercially, it can be purchased as "Baker's Sugar."

Monday, November 21, 2011

Wine Spectator's Top 100 wines of the year

The list is here.

I've offered (or tried to offer, but could not buy at wholesale) wines fairly recently from eleven of the wineries on this Top 100 List.

Kudos to Don, who spotted and owns #6 and #15; he has a great eye for quality (those wines, BTW, were not available to me at wholesale).

Please note the '09 Owen Roe ex Umbris Syrah, which placed #25 on this list of the best wines of the world (where quality and price are both considered). I sold a lot of this one in the past month; hope you got some.

And please don't ask me to find these--they are all already probably sold out this morning, due to the issuance of this list. You might be able to scrounge around at the grocery stores and be the first to find some of these, before they are identified and snatched up by other sleuths.

Here are the wines I have offered, or at least tried to buy, or I offered other wines by the same winery:

#1. Kosta Browne Pinot Noir
6. Baer Ursa
15. Efeste Julie Bouche
20. Mondavi Cab
21. Georges Debouef
25. '09 Owen Roe ex Umbris
38. '09 Rex Hill Pinot Noir
39. '07 Tamarack Cab
55. '03 Roederer L'Ermitage Brut
85. '08 Domaine Serene Grace Vineyard
94. '08 Chateau Brown (Bordeaux)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Cruise In Diner

Here's a plug for a great little burger diner. It's Cruise In.

What's special about it, besides the vintage car motif and oldies music?

They serve local grass-fed beef burgers, local buffalo burgers, local Dave's Killer Bread buns, local beers (12 microbrews on tap), homemade desserts, and local wine (Cooper Mtn and Oak Knoll, though they also serve 14 Hands wines, in order to capture the warm-weather red grapes).

The burger patties are THICK; kind of interesting. Grass-fed beef, and buffalo, have no unhealthy saturated fat (grain-finished beef--feedlot beef--is full of artery-clogging saturated fat). Yes, a vegetarian diet would be better for us (and they do have three different veggie burgers), but if you want a beef burger it can't be healthier than this. You can get just about any kind of burger toppings there that you can name.

The fries are fried in rice bran oil, which is free of trans fats and has a high smoking point. Check out the rice bran oil's maker here.

The fries are bottomless (all you want to eat). They are CHEAP.

The desserts are divinely good, homemade, and CHEAP.

The burgers are pretty good; they're kind of lean so I have to add stuff like cheese and mayo. Prices for them are I think very fair, given the high-quality ingredients.

The staff is friendly and they tell groaner jokes (what did the daddy buffalo say to his male child, as the dad headed off to work? "Bye, son." )

The only drawback is the remoteness: Go out Highway 10 from Beaverton, through Aloha and go a few more miles through the countryside, and you'll find Cruise In at the intersection with River Road. But the drive is worth it!

Here is the diner's website.

I know of NO other place in Portland Metro that is so committed to healthy and local food, while still serving good burgers and fries. They deserve our support. (Burgerville and McMenamins are noteworthy for serving Oregon Natural Beef, but those cows are finished on grain and thereby they develop lots of unhealthy saturated fat. All the other mass market burger places use grain-fed beef from cows that spent too little time in the fields and received antibiotics and hormones. If you do nothing else in your life, at least avoid the mass market burgers, as they will kill you.)

How to almost overload your vehicle with wine

We went up to Kent WA to place a large order from a business that was selling off the wines of bankrupt Whitman Cellars. Our combined wine order (thanks to our wonderful customers) was large enough that I had to figure out whether our Toyota Highlander (a mid-size SUV) could carry it all. That depends on two things:

1. The physical space inside the SUV: I knew that 18 cases would fill the rear cargo area, one layer deep, with the rear seats laid down, and there was room for a second layer of cases on top. So, purely on a space available basis, the SUV can carry 36 cases of wine and two adults up front.

2. The weight-carrying capability of the SUV:
The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating is 5800 pounds.
The Curb Weight of the SUV (including gas and oil, but not people or cargo) is 4045 pounds.
That leaves 1755 lbs for people and cargo. My spouse and I weigh about 340 dressed. Our overnight bag was about 20.
That leaves 1395 for wine.
It's tricky: cases of wine vary from about 35 to as much as 48 lbs. I assumed 40 lbs, which means: 1395 / 40 = 34.8 cases.

We brought back 35 cases and had enough room in the second layer to preserve a narrow "vision tunnel" through center of the SUV to the back.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Paper Wine Bottles

Thanks to Jen for sharing this article. An inventor in England brings out wine bottles made of recycled paper. They have a plastic liner to keep the wine from leaking out. Paper wine bottles will hit the market next year. Apparently it takes less energy to recycle paper than glass, and if these replace plastic bottles as well (for water? soda?), that will be a real "green" achievement.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Wines of Clark County

Yes, there are wineries a-plenty in Clark County, Washington--eleven and counting.

I visited two in Battle Ground yesterday:

1. Olequa Farms: You can get some organic, free-range eggs there for $4 a dozen (and by "free range," I mean the chickens have two fenced acres to themselves, where they can eat bugs and grass and organic grain). You can also find some pretty interesting wines. Most of his fruit is from Columbia Valley WA. Brian the owner/winemaker is a chemist in his day job, which is good training for winemaking. Of all his wines, there were two I liked best: a Cab Franc rose (very full body; nice red fruits; slight RS; would be a great T'giving wine), and a Cab Sauv/Syrah blend (his most-expensive red). It's a small operation; a nice tasting room and I got a great quick winery tour.

I like Brian, and he offers very fair wholesale prices. He's growing some M.Foch onsite, which is also cool. I would encourage him to keep pushing on learning grapegrowing, because that will help him become the best winemaker he can be. It might seem like two separate specialties and in many ways they are, but I firmly believe that knowing the vineyard helps in the winery.

The bar is always being raised. Worldwide competition for higher and higher quality is brutal. There is always more that needs to be learned. This means that the winemaker should be his or her worst critic. However, the tasting room person needs to be an enthusiastic seller; perhaps one person can serve in both roles but that must be emotionally difficult.

2. Heisen House: A pretty and historic barn and farmhouse. Michele the winemaker is a former enology student of a winemaking friend of mine. She has sure learned a lot in just six years; it was great speaking with her. I thought the prices were high, but the red wines have nice structure and clean crisp fruit, and would pair well with foods, given their acid backbone. My favorite is their Cab Franc, though the Sangiovese is also up there; they're just too expensive for a remote new winery in a place not known (yet) for wineries. (Oddly, the fill level on the Cab Franc I paid $27 for is substantially too low; they need to pay more attention to quality control.)

Both these wineries are serving some wines that I viewed as on the lower end of commerciality; making good wine is HARD and this is not unusual. You just need to sort through them and find your favorites. Also, with just a few exceptions, the wines I tasted did not have aromatics to match their flavors. I am more bouquet-driven than many wine lovers are, and bouquet in wine can be difficult to capture (and it can be driven mostly by vineyard practices, foremost among those being crop yield and physiological ripeness), but since many makers do capture it, I hold it up as one indicator of whether a winemaker has reached a global competitive level.

In sharp contrast, there are other wineries in Clark County that are below the above level in terms of quality. One, East Fork, lies in a neato former cold storage building which it shares with a GREAT seafood shop--maybe one of the two or three best in the entire Portland metro and I kid you not -- but their wines were flawed, at least when I visited. Confluence has better wines than that, but at least the ones I sampled did not quite ring the bell.

But it would be fun for you to make a day trip and sample the wines of Clark County.

Amazing fact: Studies indicate that, due to Oregon's restrictive growth practices and Washington's more-freewheeling capitalism, in another 20-25 years Vancouver and points north will have more population than all of Portland metro that is located in Oregon! That seems amazing, but it makes sense. We love Oregon, but every year I notice that the roads are more and more congested, in more and more non-rush hour periods. Oregon refuses to build enough road lanes for its current traffic levels. Unless the city will put in 100mph trains that serve every neighborhood, with changeover stops never longer than five minutes, then over the long haul, the inadequate roads will crimp the city's growth. Of course, the highest state income taxes in the country don't help, either. And Portland needs to figure out how to attract more industry; its current tax structure seems to be driving industry away.

Note: WA charges sales tax on wine, but if you flash your OR drivers license, you should be able to avoid sales tax.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Oak wine barrels

Storing wine in barrels has at least two advantages:
1. It allows a slow transfer of oxygen into the wine, which enables maturational processes; and
2. It imparts flavors such as vanilla, "toasty notes," and tobacco into the wine.

However, barrels are expensive. They're not so very "green," as they require old oaks to be chopped down. They get leaky and they can become infected. They only last a few seasons, then they're trash.

Long ago, I decided to put the oak into the wine, instead. I have oak staves from an old wine barrel (a good one, from France--mine was used at Argyle), and I plane those off and toast the wood curls, then put them into my wine, which I age in glass carboys. What's not to like about that? It uses a lot less oak and is greener, and it's also more sanitary and can't leak.

However, I've noticed that my oak staves, after a few years, have dried out and no longer impart much oak flavor or aroma. Hmmm--so I checked with some winemaker friends and learned that over time, oak tannins break down. Mystery solved (partly); now I'm trying to learn if there is a way to preserve the oak tannins, or must I buy white oak every few years? (I could use American; white oakgrows here in Oregon--never use red oak or else your wine will taste and smell like cat pee. Fun facts to know and tell.)

Here are some extracts (pardon the pun) from this article:

The chemistry of the oak barrel can impart differing amounts and qualities of flavor and
texture depending upon the barrel manufacturing techniques and type of oak used.
American oak (Quercus alba) versus French oak (Quercus robur), sawn versus hand-split,
air-drying vs. kiln drying of the staves, and the use of boiling water, steam, natural gas, or
wood fire to bend the staves are among the most important variables in the manufacturing
process. As you can imagine, the barrel makers and wine makers all over the world hold
widely differing opinions on the best way to make a barrel! One thing we can all agree on is
that barrel making is an extremely complicated craft - there are no amateur barrel makers!

The Cooper’s craft
The word “cooper” originates from the barrel makers of Illyria and Cisalpine in Gaul,
where wine was stored in wooden vessels called “cupals,” and the maker was a “cuparius.”
If your surname is “Cooper” or “Hooper” you can bet that some of your ancestors were
employed in the time-honored craft of cooperage.

Organized coopers’ guilds originated in Rome well before the Christian Era. They grew and
flourished throughout medieval Europe and reached the apex of their membership in the
late 19th century, before dwindling rapidly in the years following World War I, as other
materials, first metals and then synthetics, replaced the wooden vessels formerly used
throughout the household for washing, churning, eating, cooking, and storage.
To understand why this profession is so highly skilled and specialized -- with an
apprenticeship even today of seven years’ duration -- let’s go through the steps required to
make a wine barrel. Keep in mind that both the procedure and the tools have remained
relatively unchanged for the past three thousand years.

(and the article goes on to describe barrel making)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Effect of bottle size on wine maturity

Some friends of mine recently held a tasting experiment: They opened three bottles of fairly-high quality Oregon 1999 Pinot Noir. The bottle sizes were 375ml, 750ml, and 1.5L (magnum).

They confirmed that the smaller bottles aged the wine quicker, as a result of the greater ratio of: (a) surface area exposed to air (which is actually quite a large surface area, when the bottle lies down) to (b) liquid volume. The magnum has the lowest ratio of the three, so it ages the slowest.

Also, in the case of this excellent vintage, none of the wines showed as well as they did in past years, further proving that most Oregon Pinots cannot age, on average, more than maybe 8 years or so. If you have only the vintage date to go by, I advise that you should drink the wines by 8 years old, and preferably from 3-7 years old. (Factors varying that advice include the winery, the vintage characteristics, and the temperature of the wines' storage.)

I personally elicited a comment, in 2001, by a Burgundy maker near Dijon, who said that Oregon Pinots might be excellent wines, "but they do not age as well as ours do." Speaking generally, I cannot dispute that statement.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Days of Wonder

And we get YET MORE days of late October sun. The leaves on the vines are turning yellow now, and starting to fall, and STILL some of the Oregon Pinot Noir has not been picked. It is a long season to beat all long seasons. I now look for late-harvested PN to be CAPABLE OF (not necessarily to have, in all cases) surprising richness and variety/depth of flavors. Sugars at harvest might be low, but who cares? It is mature flavors we want, and I think we will get them in 2011, from growers who dropped a lot of fruit and waited until record-late dates, to pick.

A minor miracle, right here in 2011.

2008 Harford Zinfandel Jolene's Vineyard

This is a WONDERFUL Zinfandel. After it opens up, it yields the most incredible wealth of aromas and flavors. It will any Zin lover cry or laugh. I believe the vineyard is placed very high, at the headwaters of the Russian River, which (I think) is just over the ridge from Chateau Montelena (which itself is near the upper end of Napa Valley).

90 points from Spectator: Rich and dense, with aromas of plum and boysenberry that lead to complex flavors of blueberry, dried brown spices and fresh herbs. The tannins big but ripe and well-balanced. Best from 2011 through 2016. 275 cases made.

This is worth the $55 retail price, but I can get it cheaper at wholesale, of course.

Friday, October 28, 2011

On Companies

It's little said now, but in the beginning corporations were created at the state's discretion, granted privileges by the state, and they owed duties to the state (i.e., you and me). Now, in many ways, corporations control the state. What a sea change in our society. Consider:

1. The financial industry wrote its own deregulation, over the past two decades, and we have now all seen the results. It is hard to argue today that the large U.S. financial institutions will operate conservatively and carefully, if left to make up their own rules. In contrast, look at the (heavily regulated) banks in Canada. Not one of them expanded into mortgage derivatives; instead they just continued to do what they do well: take deposits and make loans. Today the Canadian banks are healthy--they never even got sick!--while many of our larger banks such as Citi and B of A are still struggling in the quagmire they helped to create. WaMu and Wachovia and Lehman and Merrill Lynch--huge names--are gone. Really? Gone? (Note: several of our banks, including Wells Fargo and US Bank and most of our credit unions, managed to resist the siren call of overleverage and greed, and they deserve our business.)

2. A recent US Supreme Court decision grants unlimited election spending to corporations (because they are "people"), but the larger companies can easily outspend 99.9% of the individuals who may want to support a candidate. There is a clear correlation between election winners and money spent on campaigns, and of course an elected official cannot forget her or his largest donors! Little wonder, then, that we have thoughtful people believing that this has become a country for the corporations' benefit, not for the citizens' benefit. Little wonder that we have farm subsidies for giant corporate farms that are making nice profits already, or that we build even more nuclear missiles without any clear idea of exactly whom we might shoot the missiles at, or that we subsidize corn ethanol despite the fact that it is a financial disaster, hiking the prices of grains and costing more than the benefits obtained from the resulting fuels. If you dissect most of the recent laws you will find they result in significant benefits to some group of large businesses. Meanwhile, the protests against the decline of America's Middle Class, against the overinfluence of corporate lobbyists, are frail. I have worried about the growing risk of class conflict for some years now, yet I think most people will just grow poorer in silence; this country has more than enough armed police to kill and imprison all those who would complain too strenuously about the ruination of America.

3. Look at Fast Food. The major chains do not even sell, anymore, the kinds of things that we used to call "food." It is alleged that Taco Bell's "beef" contains only 15% cow meat. Flavor-enhancing additives are everywhere, and some have been linked to nervous system disorders. Trans fats (fats not known to nature) are everywhere in fast food, even though we know they clog our arteries. Soda contains phosphoric acid that leaches calcium out of our bones, and so much sugar that it may someday be linked to the diabetes epidemic. Preservatives in meat are known to be harmful to us. A diet of nothing but McDonalds would probably kill a person within a year. An entree salad at a fast food place might contain 1200 calories; there are Starbucks drinks containing more than 800. But fast food is convenient and incredibly profitable, especially as the companies continue to find ways to use cheaper ingredients while making the flavors more irrestistible. Is there a lump of paper pulp in our future, that tastes great? Our palates are being dumbed down because we are all too busy to cook and too unable to resist mass marketing. There are islands in the stream: Burgerville, Chipotle, New Seasons cafe, the turkey sandwich at Subway . . . but you have to really hunt for them.

4. Too much regulation is also not the answer. I haven't seen an American electric utility yet that can approach, even remotely, the efficiency of a smartly-managed Chinese company. But calls for "removing regulation, to allow more jobs" are shortsighted. See #1, above.

5. Corporations have many of the features of people: They can be born (chartered), marry (merge), get divorced (disposition), and die (dissolution). They can own property. They can have personalities (cultures) as distinct as those of individual humans (think Intel, or Nike). They can commit crimes. They are guaranteed the equal protection of the laws. However, they cannot vote (they cannot vote per se, though they can buy all the influence they desire). And they are perpetual; they can live forever (I believe the reigning champ is Sumitomo, at over 300 years old). I could write a book on the amazing dilemma of our giving companies the best minds, unlimited access to opportunity in a free market, low taxes, and STILL more than two-thirds of the S&P 500, as it existed 20 years ago, are no longer in business? Really? It would seem that something is very wrong in corporate America. I submit it is, generally speaking and excluding my own company, a failure in the quality of management. That is pretty ironic, given that many U.S. CEOs earn 50x-100x what their lowest-paid employees earn. What do you think the Netflix CEO is earning this year, while his or her stupid decisions have eliminated about 65% of that company's value? If we are overpaying for failure, there must be a better way.

6. We can argue that our nation's dependence upon consumerism (buying things we may not need) is a direct result of modern marketing practices, honed by companies to drive sales. An extension of that is for us to admit that large companies own our brains--they can make us do almost whatever they want. Is that the world we want to live in?

7. An interesting argument can be made that many corporate employees put themselves into a modern form of slavery, by incurring debt for cars, furniture, homes, second homes, and then they have to work forever to make the payments. A more-rational approach might be to save the cash needed, before buying the item, be it an old car, a used sofa, etc. and to save as much as 25% of your take-home pay. And invest it away from those companies who would "help" you by taking eggregious fees for mismanaging your money. This country would become very different if we all converted from spenders to savers. That might allow many more people to retire earlier, thereby freeing up good jobs for younger people and raising general happiness. It would send most companies scrambling to find overseas markets, but they would probably adjust. Google requires its engineers to spend 20% of their worktime on anything, anything at all that seems interesting to them; the company backs that effort by funding such diverse projects as high-voltage transmission lines to offshore wind farms, and high-speed rail. That is either extreme folly, or brilliance.

8. Gone are the days when employees were viewed as a company's greatest asset, when employees would remain at one company for a lifetime. Now if a company has one bad quarter, the most intelligent decision of which it is capable is to axe 10% of the workers. That is lame; any layoff is proof of poor management; why should the rank and file suffer when the management reveals its inadequacy, yet does not suffer itself? We need better processes for identifying and empowering talent throughout an organization. Few managers know how to motivate people.

Please don't take this piece as criticism, from me, about all companies. I have worked (so far) for eight of them, and for that I am very grateful (they were Gates Hardware, Chevron, Hall Estill, Williams Cos, Destec Energy, Enron, FEI Corp, and VTech). I do think, however, that modern business has not yet found the structure and processes that can maximize the happiness and contributions of its employees. How many of us who are lucky enough to work at a good job, would keep working there if we won $20M in the lottery tonight? Why should we not all strive to create a better form of business, which would make most employees want to stay, no matter what? There is a vision worth fighting for.

There has been too little time passed since most of us were serfs working in the fields. A better way is coming, but it will take a long time to arrive.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Latest harvest ever for NW Oregon winegrapes?

I learned this week that Owen Roe won't harvest their FIRST grape in Oregon until possibly Monday, October 24, 2011. That is amazing. In some years, harvest is going on a month earlier.

These past few weeks, though not without rain, have been warm enough, with enough scattered sunshine and a couple of marvelous full-sun days, that the grapes have benefited greatly. I think we can call it a small miracle.

I expect Pinot noir from lower vineyards, if it's picked late (which requires nerves of steel when big money is on the line), will make very good Pinots this year. In contrast, the early word from Walla Walla is that they had a very cool, wet summer, and those grapes just don't like it. There was high disease pressure there, resulting in major crop loss and small yields.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

"Lesser-known winegrape varieties to try before you die"

A bucket list for wines? Why not? Here are 18 wines from varieties that may mostly be new to you. Both vinifera and hybrids are on the list. The author horribly botched the descriptions of some of the grapes (making my grapebreeder friends cringe), but you could chase down some wines from these grapes, from better wineries, and be very happy and better-educated at the same time.

The fun part is that I am growing many of the hybrids mentioned in this article.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

More on Northern Oregon 2011 harvest

OPB had a great radio panel, with call-ins, last night. The primary speakers included Sam Tannahill (of A to Z Wines, Oregon's largest (and most virtual) winery and also of Rex hill) and a pair of academics. Everyone involved is VERY knowledgeable and experienced on the subject of Oregon grapes and wines; in fact, they are impressive as hell and I am proud to live in a state which has so many experts involved with grapes and wine. We should all be proud.

Our pride, however, cannot make the summer warmer.

Against a year with a long, cool, overly wet winter, and a late Spring, with mostly below-average summer temps, and more cold rains in late Sept and early October than we usually see, and a Growing Degree Days total that is well below our average, one might expect this could be one of the worst years ever for the Willamette Valley, as is being widely reported.

And, when industry leading lights argue persuasively that they have figured out how to make good Oregon Pinots from years such as this, we want to believe them, we want them to succeed, we want them to be right. But we also know that their jobs (or at least their bonuses) depend upon customers' believing that the wines from 2010 and 2011 are good, so how much credence should we give their words? We will see what the critics say, although "score creep" is a disease that has overtaken every independent critic, and the sale of their newsletters depends on their depicting large wine markets and vintages as good wines to buy; I think the pro critics' ability to cry "awful" at large numbers of wines and years is limited by their own economic needs.

So, where can each of us turn for a true assessment of the 2010 and 2011 wines? The answer lies inside each of us: we look to our own olfactory nerves and tastebuds. They should tell true, if we approach them in a neutral, curious manner. To thine own self be true . . .

See the interview/article here.

Monday, October 10, 2011

2011 Willamette Valley Grape Harvest the Worst Ever?

This article from Oregon Public Broadcasting suggests that 2011 could be the worst grape harvest in northern Oregon since the commercial winegrape industry began here.

We had a very late Spring, a very cool summer, and, unfortunately, apparently an early and wet and cool Fall. Those are three daggers that spell failure, at least in all non-ideal vineyards (meaning if a vineyard is too high, or too shaded, or doesn't slope down to the South, that vineyard might be a failure this year).

1. I picked several hybrid varieties, for winemaking, near Aurora OR, and while they had low sugars, some of them did have mature flavors, mature seeds, good impartable skin color, and lignified stems. We had a decently warm September, to which I give credit for those pluses.

2. In my own little vineyard, I harvested Regent grapes yesterday. I used very tight netting, more netting on the ground, hung lots of compact discs (rotating reflecting light), and put up scads of fake snakes, and as a result I was able to let the grapes hang much longer than in previous years, with only 15-20% loss to birds. The sugar level of the must was ridiculously low (14.2 Brix) but the seeds were uniformly dark brown, the skin color is good and readily rubs off dark red, and the juice flavor seems excellent. As the (ever-optimistic) winemakers say, "You can add sugar, but you can't add flavor."

The hybrids I'm targeting all ripen earlier than vinifera, and in a year like this that makes a HUGE difference.

Final thought: If the commercial harvest is mostly toast, then some of the indebted newer wineries might have to close, after all (there has been much speculation about that, but they seem to hang on).

Final final thought: Rains are forecast for today (Monday), and Tues, Wed, Fri, and Sat this week. Ouch.

Friday, October 7, 2011


Drove through Dundee, Oregon today. The (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) grapes are all still hanging, despite the days of rain and fog . . .

All leaves have been stripped away (far away--the forlorn clusters sit totally exposed to whatever sunshine may fall that way), and it looks like a lot of crop has been dropped. What else can they do?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sweeter and sweeter

I've been telling you that more Americans want a sweet wine than those who prefer a dry wine.

Well, it's getting more that way.

Sales of (sweet, and red or white) Moscato are up 91% this year, and the linked article (S.F. Chronicle) describes how major wineries are making more and more sweet red wines, to satisfy the average wine drinker. These new reds are not trash wines; they are balanced and well-made from quality fruit.

I say bravo! Why exclude the greater part of your potential market? A wine is not bad because it has some sweetness in it. But labeling needs to be very clear; nothing worse that buying a wine expecting dry, but when you open it, it's sweet!

Here is the article.

Cool Wine Map of France!

Thanks to Conor for this fun wine map of France. It takes the various wine regions and treats them like subway lines.

The link is here.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Allure Moscato

Found a fun sparkling wine: Allure Moscato. it is off-dry (you can taste the sweetness), a rich pretty pink color, and it has a fascinating creaminess to it in the mouth. I think of "champagne ice cream." It's only about $9 (through me). It's well made and perfect for a party, especially if many at that party are not "serious" wine drinkers.

Why do I say that? Because it's been shown many times that far more than half of the wine drinkers in the U.S. prefer a wine with noticeable sweetness.


Growing Degree Days update: Harvest 2011

Through Sept 30, 2011, we've had 1670 GDD's at our place. That compares to 1638 through that day in 2010, and 2063 in 2009 through that day.

(GDD's measure average heat, so they're a proxy measure for sunshine; they are a tool to learn just how far your grapes are from being fully ripe ;)

So, this past September was warmer than last year's, but way, way off of 2009 (a slightly-above average year).

With plenty of rain forecasted over the next few days, all those who want to wait 2-3 more weeks before they to pick will be sorely tested.

I harvested some great hybrid grapes in Aurora this past weekend. Thank you to Lon the grower, and to my wonderful "grape widow" who patiently put up with it, as it takes hours to process grapes and run chemical tests, etc.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Computer-controlled cars

How about picking up your wines this way:

In about ten years, fully-automated cars will be available at dealers near you, but it may be thirty years until the average consumer can afford it. Free University in Berlin, and Google here, as well as other companies, have already developed cars which use GPS and other locating and imaging technology to drive themselves without any driver assistance whatsoever. They react quicker than we can and should cut down on accidents and will even reduce traffic congestion. I say it's about time.

And if no driver is needed, just think how handy it will be to send your under-sixteen kid (or the house robot) down to the store, to pick up some milk. The car will drive itself.

Read the article:


Thursday, September 15, 2011

"Witch Grapes" for your Halloween:

Univ of Arkansas has done some great grapegreeding work (witness the Jupiter grape--a wonderful seedless, oval, Muscat-flavored grape that laughs at disease pressure and cold summers).

Now they're out with a long, pointed grape that is exciting chefs.

Wine drinkers unite!

a WONDERFUL piece in Slate:

It concerns the rudeness of waiters who rush the table and, without asking, seize up the wine bottle, and make pours all around.

I have long railed against this practice. It is stupid, driven by the wrong motives, and rude. Please take control of your dinner table (after all, it is yours--you are paying for it) and inform the waiter that your table will handle the wine pours, thank you. If you receive any backtalk in return, then enforce your request, vigorously if need be, and take the tip to zero.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fortune Cookie Wisdom

I bet all of us have read at least one fortune cookie whose message made us stop and think. Granted, many of the "fortunes" are ridiculous and it is unlikely that some machine in China understands enough about our individual lives to create a fortune useful to us, as single human individuals, and certainly the cookie delivery process is not able to predict when YOU will be dining in the right place and at a time to receive just the cookie meant for you. And if it's random, then it's an utter joke as a "fortune," right?

Come to think of it, isn't a little insulting that ANYBODY would try to foist some fortune upon each of us, with such helter-skelter circumstances? What if I get a cookie saying I'll inherit money from an aunt, but I don't have an aunt? Not to mention that I reject the idea of anyone's successfully foretelling the future, as that ability would deprive me of my freedom of choice, right? (Granted, there is one very noble kind of fortunetelling, and that is the projection of observable trends; that is a(n almost) scientific process, and is a powerful planning tool, when properly utilized.) But we don't often see fortune cookie messages stating something like, "Given the U.S. unemployment rate holding at 9.1%, and a Consumer Worry Index rating of 13.3, we can speculate that a possible impact upon the closing of new car loans is . . ."

I digress. The point I wanted to make is this: The best "fortunes" in cookies are not fortunes at all. They should be called "wisdom cookies."

The piece of wisdom I received once, my best fortune cookie ever, sits taped on my desk at work. It says simply:

"There are no ordinary moments."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Update on pre-harvest weather in Washington State

Growing Degree Days, as measured near Walla Walla on Sept. 5, 2011:
2011: 1,917
2010: 2,090
2009: 2,505
1999: 2,011

To make this more meaningful:
-- 2010 was a cool vintage, not unlike 2011.
-- 2009 was a warm, typical Washington vintage (until the Oct. 10 frost, that is).
-- 1999 was a benchmark cool vintage, one considered a bit of a miracle because of the warm September and October that helped the grapes ripen to near perfection.
Sauer said about 22 heat units can be accumulated per day in near-perfect conditions. He also said there were other circumstances that can make heat units an unreliable measurement, such as temperatures over about 95 degrees, when vines will shut down and go into survival mode.
He said he will begin picking around Sept. 26, about the same as last year's start. In a typical year, he begins harvest Sept. 12 or so.

So, perhaps Eastern WA is about 2 weeks late, at this point.

(all info quoted from WinePressNorthwest newsletter)

Monday, September 12, 2011


Those low vineyard walls are in the Cote Rotie (in the Rhone Valley, I think?), and are made in the style which the Romans used there 2000 years ago. Not sure why the walls are there, unless it's for terracing. Terracing, whether for rice in Asia or for grapes in Europe, is a lot of work. Think of the terraces cut from sheer slate in Germany, for Riesling . . .

I'm offering four Guigal wines: 2007 Cotes du Rhone Rouge (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre) for $13; 2007 Gigondas (92-94 Parker; $24; also a GSM blend); 2005 Chateauneuf du Pape ($39); and '07 Hermitage Ex Voto ($383 and 98 points from Parker).

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Area Grapeweather, through August 2011

Growing Degree Days, year to date through August, are 1242, versus 1320 this time last year (a cool, wet year) and 1724 in 2009 through this date. That means we're 6% less than last year and 28% less than 2009.

I bet we'll surpass 2010's GDD's, because last September was lousy with heavy rain and cool days. We're expecting some more sunny days in the high-80s now.

I had my first veraison on Aug 30, in the Regent grapes. That is only 4 days slower than last year. My Jupiter and Interlaken still haven't turned. Once veraison begins, Pinot Noir needs about 35 - 40 more days for full ripeness (that's highly variable based on weather and site); I'm not sure how the hybrids compare to that but I'm hoping they'll ripen faster than vinifera.

Pinot Noir around here is just now hitting veraison, so growers need good weather until approximately October 5-15. We often get rains before then. Fingers crossed! (I keep saying that, as if it will make a difference.)

Monday, August 29, 2011

"You'll never find more flavor in a tater"

At a lunch buffet presented by Timberline Lodge yesterday, there was a table at which two smiling pickle purveyors plied their wares: Potatoes!

Pickled potatoes, in two spice varieties of your basic dill-pickled potato.

If this seems fantastic to you, check out TaterPiks.com of the Klamath River Basin. Be the first to amaze your friends.

I can't help thinking that this idea came to somebody in a dream ;) Perhaps a bad dream?

The connection to wine: What wine goes best with pickles? I would say a white wine, with some residual sugar, and it's best if the pickles are with some non-pickled veggies (such as on a salad). Or, if we're talking cornichons with pate and some heavy bread, that's fine with a medium-bodied dry red (Pinot noir, gamay) or even a Cab or Merlot.

Coyote Moon Brianna

I'm excited about growing some Brianna in the PacNW. First leaf for my vines (from Red Dog Vineyards). This is a white hybrid winegrape; supposed to have a pineapple character.

I researched Brianna wines and bought one from Coyote Moon in NY. It won a Double Gold in NYS competition, and was Best in Class in the 2011 LA Wine Competition.

We opened it last night. Overall, it was really teriffic; seriously I would score it 92 points, even against all the viniferas of the world. The bouquet was unctuous/oily, with citrus and hint of pineapple; the palate is surprisingly full-bodied; really rich, smooth, balanced, with a long pineapple finish which I loved. A big wine. No discernible flaws whatsoever. It's a very exciting wine. It has enough RS that Jane didn't like it, but only the super-dry wines will satisfy her. I appreciate a bit of RS, especially when it's needed to balance the acids.

Great praise is due to the grapebreeders who made this grape, and to the winemaker at Coyote Moon in New York State. If that grape can be grown with a little lower TA (and thus a little lower RS), then it could make a great splash in the vinifera-driven WineWorld. If not, it is still certain to have a high place in the wine-drinking community at large. I say bravo!

I think certain hybrid whites are THERE. Not just knocking on the door, but THERE.

Friday, August 26, 2011


French word for the first color in grapes, meaning the beginning of the phase where the grapes turn from hard and green, to either purple or yellow and juicy-sweet.

I believe it's pronounced something like "vuh-ray-ZOhn" (nasal o), and the inclusion of a sound similar to "raisin" is not coincidental: "raisin" is French for "grape" and "venir" beans "to become," so "veraison" might derive from "to become a grape." In the US many folks just pronounce it like the phone company:

You know that grapes are VERY late this year, after a long, cool Spring. Ken Wright's Guadalupe Vineyard just reported its first veraison (first out of all their grapes), on Aug 26. I don't see any veraison in my vineyard yet.

In 2009 (a reasonably normal year), Willakenzie had veraison first on Aug 4. So from that standpoint we are at least 3 weeks behind, and likely more like 4 or 5 weeks behind (because most Oregon PN grapes won't reach veraison for another ten days or so).

Harvest for Pinot noir, one of the earliest-ripening vinifera, is usually about 38 days after veraison, so perhaps this year a fully-ripe harvest would be on about October 15 (that allows ten more days for most of the grapes here to reach veraison). Unfortunately, it almost always rains earlier than that, here. So the ripeness levels here in 2011 will almost entirely depend on the date of the rains' return, and to a lesser extent on the amount of heat and light we get.

I expect area growers will be dropping a lot of crop now, in order to maximize the prospects of getting ripe fruit. The eternal quality-quantity struggle.

Cross your fingers!

All above data taken from this Southern Oregon Univ. article, and from the Ken Wright blog:

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Crazy and Wonderful Wine Ideas with Smoky Foods

Smoked oysters, topped with rhubarb chutney, and paired with a sparkling Cab Franc? Sounds fantastic!

Or: sturgeon smoked over pistachio and hazlenut shells, paired with Glora Ferrer Carneros Cuvee? Wow!

Smoked foods of all stripes pair nicely with bubbly wines. Why? Because of their palate-cleansing effervescence, their bracing acidity that cuts through the smoky flavors, and their moderate alcohol.

Smoked Oysters with Rhubarb Chutney
From Chef Michelle Bernstein, Michy’s
2 dozen oysters
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 pound rhubarb, peeled, trimmed and cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1/4 cup peeled and diced red onion
1 tablespoon peeled and diced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Kosher salt to taste
If you have the option, seek the advice of a reputable fishmonger for guidance in choosing the oysters. I prefer to use mollusks, such as Island Creek Oysters, that offer a delicious, briny finish.

Next consider your fuel: Apple, cherry, alder or olive wood are ideal for smoking oysters.

There are two ways to smoke oysters for this recipe:

For a more cooked style, shuck the oysters and place them in a smoker that has already been primed with smoke. Heat for about 1 hour until oysters turn golden. Place them on a dish and brush with a little olive oil, chill and serve with the chutney.

For a more raw texture, yet still with a smoky aroma and flavor, place the unshucked oysters on ice in a smoker and smoke for about 45 minutes. Shuck and serve chilled with the rhubarb chutney.

For the rhubarb chutney: In a small saucepan, combine vinegar and sugar over medium heat. When sugar dissolves, add rhubarb. Reduce heat to low, cook for 5 to 8 minutes or until rhubarb begins to soften. Add red onion. Remove from heat and pour contents into a small bowl placed over a larger bowl of ice water. Allow the mixture to cool completely. Fold in ginger, tarragon, pepper and salt to taste.

Serve chutney over smoked oysters.

Makes 1 1/2 cups (enough for 2 dozen oysters, with plenty left over to refrigerate for next time).


Dying to Eat at McDonalds

With all their food scientists and their renewed marketing about eating healthily, one might think that McDonalds was serving some wholesome foods.

Not so fast. I ate a chicken sandwich there today, which tasted too good. Meaning, I suspected flavor enhancers. So I went online to look at McD's ingredients list. Look at this:

1. You want that 100% Angus beef patty? First, it's been proven it's not what you and I would consider beef meat--it's got a high percentage of other slimy cow-related stuff in it that high-class slaughterhouses do not put in their meat, but McD's does. And it also has yeast extract, which is a glutamate-based flavor enhancer that some suspect is linked to seizures. Hint to McD's: yeast extract does NOT come from beef muscle. The patty also has "dried beef extract," whatever that is. Calling it 100% Angus beef is misleading--maybe the beef is from 100% Angus cows, but there is other (non-Angus) crap in that patty.

2. So, instead, what if you head over to the chicken side of the menu, to eat a bit healthier? Well, the grilled chicken patty includes yeast extract and sodium phosphate, and it's cooked in hydrogenated oil with sodium benzoate and "artificial flavor," whatever that is. The breaded chicken filet has sodium phosphate, autolyzed yeast extract, and artificial flavors, also cooked in trans-fat with Dimethylpolysiloxane as an anti-foaming agent. Yum!

3. The bun has corn syrup in it, and eleven different "dough conditioners," whose chemical names read like a Bill of Materials for manufacturing nerve gas.

4. If you're vegetarian, be aware that even the McD mayonnaise includes "natural flavor (animal source)."

5. Last of all, suppose you take refuge in a salad. Fine so far, but the Newman's Own Creamy SW Dressing includes corn syrup solids and "natural flavors (animal source)."

When did that formerly-impressive company quit selling food that was, well, FOOD?

It is EASY to buy beef that is all beef, chicken that is all chicken, buns that are only flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and butter. Mayo is available that is only eggs and sugar and canola oil. So why is McDonalds poisoning its customers? I think it's a repeat of what Coca-Cola did in the 1920's--Coke included real Cocaine in its drink, to addict its consumers to the product. McDonalds is doing the same thing--addicting consumers with unhealthy flavor enhancers, while scrimping with low-quality ingredients. The managers for those food scientists in the McD labs need to be either fired, or re-directed. And: Where are the lawsuits alleging that McD's is purposefully hurting people for profit? It's kind of a national tragedy that THIS COMPANY is what people think of, when they imagine America. Please, don't let your kids and your grandkids eat there, and for gosh sakes, don't put that crap in your own stomach. Let's force them to change or fail.

And: how this relates to wine: Wine requires good food to accompany it. Bad food hurts the people who love wine, who make wine, who buy wine.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bird repellant device so scary that birds built a nest in it ;)

This device looks like a stooping (diving) owl; its wings flutter in the breeze, to make it even more lifelike.

But, it received only 1.0 out of 5 stars in a user review:

"Horrible Product. Complete Waste of Money!, July 2, 2010
By Adam Wallenta

This review is for: Bird-X OWL Prowler Owl with Moving Wings.
I wish I could give it an even lower rating than one but it's not possible. I made my purchase based on some good reviews but now I am convinced those were all written by the company that produces the item.

I purchased this hoping to scare off the birds, squirrels and other critters that think I planted my garden for them. It may have worked for a day or so but they quickly caught on. I mounted the owl on a good sized pole hovering over the garden and when there is a nice breeze it sort of resembles an owl flying but the fact that half of it is basically a paper bag is pretty weak and I am guessing the other animals are too smart for that.

Just to show you how bad this product is- there is now a birds nest with babies, LIVING inside of the owl. A bird found its way into the owl and built a nest and has laid eggs and is now starting a family. What a terrifying owl.

What a terrifying owl, indeed! Thank goodness for user reviews.

Another user said, "Birds aren't discouraged to come near it, at all. Besides, the owl is so ugly looking, my neighbor asked me if I could turn it around so that it doesn't face her house. Worst $40.00 I've spent."

Birds are very, very difficult to keep away. And why not? They are the descendants of dinosaurs, who lorded over the planet for tens of millions of years . . .

How this relates to wine: Birds decimate vineyards. That raises the cost of wine.

Monday, August 1, 2011

2011 weather: Still Playing Catchup

Wow. 2010 was a cool summer, and yet this year we are still 14% behind 2010, through July 31, for heat. We are fully 40% behind 2009:

2011 Growing Degree Days (base 50), Jan 1 - Jul 31: 743

2010 (a very cool year): 860 , and 2009: 1234

We have a long way to go, to make up the needed heat/sun units. Whether we have a good year or an awful year (I don't see how we could have a great year) will depend on (1) how hot it gets from here on; and (2) how long the summer extends until the Fall rains arrive.

It is not looking good, at all, for the grapes this year. NW Oregon is definitely in a cooling cycle. Some climatologists think that the Northwest is heading into a TWENTY YEAR cooling cycle. While Dallas and Oklahoma City see their 36th straight 100 degree day!


Saturday, July 30, 2011

What fer Doug Fir?

In our 13th year in Portland, we finally went to the Doug Fir lounge on East Burnside. Had $50 dinner certificate and two tix to the concerts afterwards.

Wow; this is a different place. I love it. For the schick of the restaurant, imagine that Stanley Kubrick combined a 1960's Elvis diner, and the set from the cartoon The Jetsons, and a teen rave, and you're pretty close. There is a devious hall of mirrors that masquerades as the way to the restroom. There are young and "pretty" people; lots of skin and tatoos. The waitstaff is cool beyond cool. This is a city place.

The food was very good. Farotto with veggies (a risotto-like dish made from farro) was excellent. So was polenta with sausages and grilled onions and peppers. So were the fried oysters. The food's also fairly priced--the entrees we had were $12 and $14. The bar is talented; we had an excellent blackberry cosmo.

The wine list is well-chosen for those on a tight budget. Makes little sense to take your own wine to the Doug Fir: We bought a Bogle Old Vines Zin (thank you, Kelly, for noting that wine to us many moons ago) for $22; it's probably about $10-12 at retail, so the corkage wouldn't save you much.

Downstairs are the new bands with ridiculous names and musicians that almost make up in effort what they don't have in talent. It was fun. We liked aspects of the music by Radiation City.

What an interesting place! If you go and you're over forty, try not to dress like it. For example, my feeble attempt to fit in was to wear a polo shirt with skulls and crossbones all over it. The maitre'd-ette nodded approvingly at my shirt, as we went in. Yes! Life is good ;)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Chambers Street Wines

Slate.com just published a good article about a boutique wine store in Manhattan. Located just five blocks from the old World Trade Center tower site, the shop almost didn't survive 9-11. But now it's thriving.

Its secrets:

1. The owners don't display critics' scores. Their reasons are (a) scores have crept up over the years, thereby having diminished importance; (b) the owners' palates differ from the tastes of most professional critics'; and (c) for some reason, younger wine drinkers are paying less attention to critic scores.

2. The owners choose only wines which they, the owners, like. This results (in their case) in a huge selection of wines from the Loire Valley, and a puny selection from Napa and Bordeaux.

I say Bravo! to this effort to chart an honest, personal course through Wine World. Chambers Street Wines sounds a lot like the old Square Deal wine shop here in Portland. Square Deal focused on littler, unknown wineries that the shop owners loved; my only issue with Square Deal (and I really liked the owners and their business model and their passion) was that my palate was so different from theirs that I really had difficulty liking many of the wines on their floor.

Apparently, that is not an issue for the steady stream of customers at Chambers Street.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Georges Deboeuf Beaujolais Gamay

A great wine for summer! Lighter body. Full fruit. Good balance. And it's only $7.99 (from me) for its 87 points from Robert Parker.

We've drunk this one for years.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

2010 Bordeaux Futures - in the Twilight Zone

Oh, my. That is Chateaux Margaux on your right. I have stood at that gate and taken the same picture that you see here.

The 2010 Ch. Margaux futures offering came out today. Each bottle of this 100 point wine (rated by James Suckling of W.Spectator) costs $1000.

That's a grand. A thousand clams. For one bottle of really, really excellent wine. And the price will go up from here. The second tranche may be 20% more expensive. Eventual retail price will be higher still, most likely.

I once bought a couple of 100-point Margaux from a retailer in London, for $70 each. Those were 1990 vintage.

My, my. I suppose a few Americans will buy some of these, but it seems more likely that the buyers will mostly be the newly wealthy in other countries, such as China, India, and Brazil. That is what happens when your own country (just like the UK has done) has become a second-rate economic power.

Margaux is a First Growth. La Mission Haut Brion is not, and yet it's priced at $1000 per bottle as well. Palmer is $350; Cos d'Estournel is $319. Montrose is $216. Lynch-Bages a real bargain, stands at $170. It was not so long ago that these wines (2nd-4th Growths) could be had for about $40.

Sure, it's a fantastic vintage, but the industry is really sticking it to the consumers with these prices. It's difficult to spend more than $20 or so to make a bottle of wine, so they can sell it for A THOUSAND? A grand experiment; we'll see how it goes. I will be surprised if these wines increase 12x in value over the next twenty years, as they have in the past two decades. But if the USD falls as precipitously as some predict, that could happen. Capital gains are good, right? Not so fast--you would have a cap gain (on paper) from the sale of the wine, and you'd have to pay tax on that, but in reality inflation might have wiped out your entire gain. In other words, you'd lose money (after inflation) AND you'd have to pay tax on non-existent gain.

We should all pay our respects to the folks in our government who are driving this country into the ground, by debasing its currency with massive debt. (And we're not upset just because it's become difficult to buy fine wine ;) The nation's fiscal mismanagement reaches much further down than that. It reaches all the way past twilight.

Finally Summer in the Northwest

Our growing degree days, year to date, are now 327 (my closest station, Hillsboro), which is more than quadruple what they were a month ago (72 on May 31). In recent years the GDD's have barely more than doubled in that same time.

So we are catching up. But from a very deep hole. Our total is still the lowest of the past four years (15-31% lower than each of those years).

GDD's are a measure of heat, which is used as a proxy for sunshine.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Barnard Griffin Rose of Sangiovese

I've been drumming the praises of this wine for a long time; I've probably offered it three times or so. What's not to like? It's a signature rose for the Northwest: Crisp (enough acidity to match beautifully with food), fully-fruited (watermelon, cherries); dry. And it's only $9 or so (from me). Best of all, it is a Double Platinum winner by Wine Press Northwest (against only the major Gold winners). That is pretty rarefied air.

Now, it is heartwarming to see the New Seasons' wine buyer praising this wine. Here's the article:


Drink up! Let me know if you want some of this great summer wine.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Farmer's Life

The farmer lives under siege. He/she is beset by all the following traumas, and can do little to avert any of them:

1. Predators destroy the crops: Today and yesterday, deer came into my back yard and munched my grapes, my fig fruit forming on the fig tree, my black currants, and some other stuff. This is despite my putting up deer fencing all around the back yard, at considerable cost and effort. So how did this (young adult female) deer enter, you ask? Hmm. You won't believe me. I chased it out with a stick, and it ran towards our East Gate (an arched portal across which I wove a rope lattice. Through one of the holes in that rope lattice it jumped. I measured the hole at 12" square. The deer passed its entire body through that. Go figure. So part of today was spent replacing the rope lattice with plastic mesh. It has 1" openings, so let's see the deer pass through that!

2. Birds eat the grapes' fruit. So growers put up nets, but starving birds can worm their way inside, or else peck out the grapes through the openings.

3. Insects eat the grape leaves.

4. Moles eat the grape roots. I have become proficient at trapping them, but it takes about a month of continuous trap relocation, to finally catch one of the wily buggers.

5. Germs kill the vine or retard its healthy growth.

6. Weather is variable and sometimes inimicable to ripening (such as 2011 and 2010).

7. The market for the product might go south.

There is no bet available in Vegas, which has more ways to lose than does farming. I wonder how any grower puts up with it. Is it masochism on a grand scale?

How Climate Change's Extreme Weather Events Affect Grapes and Wine:

  We (Epona) joined the Porto Protocol a year or two ago; it's a collaboration of grapegrowers and winemakers, worldwide, who are focusi...