Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Diam corks: A great step forward

Most of us have experienced a "corked" wine, meaning a wine that smells and tastes like a wet dirty dog, or moldy newspaper. That flaw is caused by TCA: 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, which can be transferred from a flawed cork to the wine. TCA can be faint, or it can be so pronounced that it ruins the wine. Although corks are of course traditional for wine bottle closures, screwcaps have gained in popularity because the incidence of TCA in screw-capped bottles is near-zero. 

But along comes Mr. Diam, who invented a process for eradicating cork taint from natural corks. In the Diam process, "supercritical carbon dioxide is used to leach out all objectionable compounds within the cork, including TCA. Then, a polyurethane is introduced into the cork, which fills some of the pores and reduces the permeability of the cork. Because all these steps couldn't be done to a natural cork, the Diam corks (as are many others) are made from "agglomerated" cork--cork that is made from small pieces of cork that have been fused together via heavy pressure.

I have used Diam corks, and I'm a fan. Small producers cannot afford to purchase screwcap machines, which cost upwards of $25k (!). So I am happy that a "safe" cork alternative exists. I predict that many commercial users of cork closures will switch to Diam corks, once they learn of the benefits. The last thing a winemaker needs is for his or her wine to suffer from TCA taint.

Incidentally, the process of taking cork from special oak trees in Spain and Portugal looks ghastly, but it is renewable--it does not kill the tree. The tree regrows more cork bark, and can be sustainably harvested on a recurring basis. 

Photo is from Decanter magazine, whose excellent article can be found here.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Some great wines I've sold recently:

These are so great that many of my customers are clamoring for more, so we've done reorders on these:

1. 2014 Campoggiovani Rosso di Montalcino $17: This is a "baby Brunello"--same grapes as a Brunello, but it has a year or two less time in barrel and bottle. It is a fantastic wine: dark cherry smoothness with a hint of cedar. Made from Sangiovese Grosso grapes, which are a clone (a variety) of Sangio and I believe the best Sangio clone in the world. Moreover, Brunello grapes grow in the warmest section of Tuscany, which helps them attain more of a New World style (fresher, more forward fruit; smoother, less lean and more body). Hurrah!

2. 2012 Joseph Jewell Pinot Noir (Russian River CA): $26.50: 95 points from Wine & Spirits: "There’s not an ounce of undue fat on this wine, just a lively concentration of red fruit and firm berry-skin tannins. The wine’s complex, delicate aromas suggest the bay laurel and redwood bark scents you might encounter on a hike in the forests above the Russian River."

3. 2015 Barnard Griffin Rose of Sangiovese (WA): $9: A perennial favorite among my customers, this has more body and grip than most roses, yet is in great balance. Delightful! It wins Double Platinum just about every year from Wine Press Northwest, no small feat for such a lower-priced wine!

Apple Cider!

I ground up and pressed 55 lbs of Fameuse (Snow Apple), 3 lbs Gravenstein, and 10 lbs of Fiesta apples today. Took a long time to make just 3.5 gallons of juice, but it seems to be very nice juice (11.5 Brix; pH 3.33). It's settling now and fermentation starts tomorrow. One thing very different with cider, compared to wine, is the low alcohol level: With cider, it's usually less than 7% alcohol, versus 10-15% for unfortified wine. So hyper-attentiveness to sanitation is even more important with cider than with wine. We'll see how it turns out!

Friday, August 12, 2016


In Northern Spain a favorite tapas treat is Padrone peppers, hot-seared in olive oil and dusted with large-grain salt. If picked at 1 to 1.5 inches long, about 19 of every 20 peppers is mild and pleasant-tasting. But the 20th is hot! It's like culinary Russian Roulette. If you let the peppers get longer, then a rising percentage of them will be hot. Bueno!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Identifying apples on our farm

At Epona Farm, it's not only about the grapes. I'm the first to plant grapes here, but for decades (almost 100 years), apples were planted here, and some of the trees survive still. But it's been difficult to identify them all. You need to know what they are, if you're going to sell the fruit or make cider.

Somebody, decades ago, thought enough of these apples to plant them and take care of them until they were established. But for the recent decades, they've been ignored. Now, these were my last three trees that the expert and I couldn't identify. But there is a great apple ID software program online by Univ of Washington, and now that I have the fruit, it becomes much easier. I have identified these apples!:

1. SE of Barn: (a tree with yellow apples that have pink blush) Calville Blanc d'Hiver, a French culinary apple, prized for baking (keeps its shape well, and tastes great). Kind of exotic for the kind of folk who lived here.

2. SW corner (S end of our Westernmost boundary): Fiesta. A member of the Cox family. VERY aromatic. I want to keep smelling it all day long. Pretty little thing--yellow with heavy red stripes. No doubt what this is.1950 variety. For fresh eating and cooking. Juicy. It is a tangle now; this winter (if I have time) I will try to take out all the blackberry and other tangles and also prune the tree and fertilize it and give it a bark mulch. I see now what the settlers did with their apples: They planted many of them in low spots where they would get water during the dry hot summer months. This one is by our smaller creek in that corner. I'm building a stair down to it, through STEEP heavy clay and blackberries.

3. Just E of SW corner (just E of the S end of our furthest-W boundary): Unknown apple that ripens early, doesn't keep well, and is nondescript. This one's a messy tangle. Not worth keeping. I'll remove it and make more room for the Fiesta.

Recovering something special, that once upon a time somebody else worked hard on, is fulfilling. Fixing decades of negect is fulfilling. And eating great apples makes it all worthwhile!

The photo is of Fiesta apples, courtesy of Wikipedia.

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