Thursday, October 11, 2012

Guardian Angels In The Vineyard

Mark McGinn  - "I wouldn't mind if
you brought me one of your avocados."
I look back at yesterday and wonder how was it possible to get through it without incident or accident?  An epiphany: there's a guardian angel looking out for us. Don't believe me? I have proof. Keep reading.

It's Dawn in the Vineyard of Good and Evil and the vineyardista,  out watering her baby vines, places her foot beside a rattlesnake, lets out a scream, and I rush to her side with a shovel.

"Do you want me to kill it?"
"No, don't kill it."
"It could kill Bluey." Our wine dog.
"I've had enough bad things happen to me this year. Don't kill it. It's God's creature. It's a sign from God."

At dawn in the Vineyard of Good and
Evil a serpent makes an entrance. Is
the vineyardista a 1,000 year old
cultivated snake?
I try to hook it with a long stick (which doesn't work well) then decide to take a picture.
"Be careful!" she warns, "It will jump up and bite you!"
"Hakuna matata.  Don't worry. Snakes don't jump."

So in our version of "catch & release"  I scoop the serpent into a 5-gallon bucket.

"Be careful, it'll jump out," she warns. "Snakes can jump."
"It can't get out of there, don't worry. Besides, it just ate a mouse, it's stomach is bulging and he's moving a little slow." I empty the bucket of snake and sand into a grape bin, and the snake reaches for the top and it looks like he can get out. I put a lid on it and move the container off to the side, thinking I'll bring him to a better place after the harvest. Sometimes I wonder if I'm married to a 1,00 year old cultivated snake, the kind that star in Peeking Operas.

Purple rain - grape crush.
On cue, the crew arrives with a ton of Carignan grapes, split between two pick up trucks. Without blinking, or taking a moment to get out of the truck to survey our driveway with the 60 degree slope, he backs right into the entrance to the winery. His companion, who was stung by a bee yesterday and rushed to Palomar Hospital so he could breath freely again, is doing well. I hung a yellow jacket trap outside earlier as a precaution.  Two thousand pounds of grapes are unloaded and dumped right into the crusher were we deftly pick out leaves, our fingers dodging a sharp auger that moves the grapes though a tumbler gently breaking their skins releasing juice and spitting out stems the other end. All fingers are accounted for, five on each hand. We finish like clockwork, give the helpers a bottle of wine and a $900 check and send them on their way with snacks & water.

Next, we draw off 40 gallons of pink grape juice to make Bluey's Blush, a dry rose wine. The original plan was to draw off 50 gallons, but we were concerned that we were taking away too much juice. (We will have to deal with that odd volume later and find a suitable aging tank for it -- perhaps a 50 gallon flex tank with a variable lid?) What's left in the macro bin is a concentration of skins, which will make for a bolder wine, with more concentrated juice. Plus, we have further plans - to blend into the Carignan during its fermentation some of our high alcohol Zinfandel, which is currently stuck. The resulting wine could be amazing.
40 gallons of grape juice pulled
immediately after crush while still pink
to make Bluey's Blush Wine.

As the vineyardista cleans up the equipment and becomes a mopista, I run the chemistry. The numbers look good. Brix 22 on the blush wine, and 23 and rising on the remaining batch in the macro bin, which has raisins so the brix will continue to increase with cold soak, and more fruit flavors will be extracted. TA = .60, enough acid there so no addition required - besides, the Zin is a little high in acid, another reason for the blend.  pH is 3.7, a little on the high side, but definitely much better than last year's 4.0 pH for the same grapes (the higher the pH, the harder it is to preserve a wine -- the easier it is to oxidize and spoil). All in all, good numbers.

Next, a sulfite addition to the grapes.  Done.

Next, start fermentation on the blush wine. While the yeast grow faster than the blob, prepare the batch of Grenache grapes for pressing. Take a glass of fresh grape nectar to the growing yeast slurry. Add, stir. Feed the yeast. Nurture the yeast. Yeast are sensitive. Be kind to yeast. Take yeast to winery, to acclimate to cooler temperature. Five minutes later, add yeast to the pink grape juice without skins, the blush wine to be.

Next, press our estate Grenache grapes. We needed to do this a little early, but the grapes spent 4 days cold soaking and 7 days fermenting slowly. They'll finish their final fermentation in the tank. Done.

Next, open up a container of new Tempranillo wine. Skim scummy stuff off of the top. Taste the wine. Good. A little sprtizy from malolatic fermentation. Good.

Next, fill half a glass with Grenache, freshly pressed. Fill the rest of the glass with Tempranillo. Taste. Ooodle oodle drool over the fantastic creation and dream about how good this will be 2 years from now. (The joys of making your own wine. Remember, good wine is made in the vineyard. Great wine is made by blending.)

Next, stir up all the lees on the bottom of the Tempranillo container to increase flavors (this technique is called "battonage.") Take bucket after bucket and keep adding to fill container holding the Grenache to the top. Keep filling container. Do not overfill. Put top on. Spill. Wipe up. Take some wine out. Put top on. Spill. Repeat. Repeat. Finally, the top is on, without leakage. Without fighting.

Next, there's wine left. Dump that into a 5 gallon container. More wine left. Repeat. Do not spill. Just a little wine left. Fill a one gallon bottle.

Next, there's a little bit of wine left from the Grenache press. Take that, fill the 1 gallon container to the top, take the remaining 32 oz and pour it into the newly fermenting blush wine.

You're done, except for clean up, which means you're only 50% done. Ask the vineyardista if she would mind cleaning up while you take the snake to his new home. She agrees.  Check lid on container. Put container in car. While driving car, look behind shoulder periodically to make sure snake is still in container. Drive to canyon. Release snake. Take picture. Future movie: Born Free.

Drive back home. Thank vineyardista for cleaning. Pack bags for Bootleggers' Express trip to North Carolina to see if you can swing the election for Joe The Wino. I go to pick some avocados and remember the last time I picked avocados for Mark in North Carolina - he asked for an avocado from our grove since he was doing his best to stay away from wine and everyone else received a bottle of wine as a gift - I remember I was confronted by a rattlesnake under the tree that time too. Is this a sign?

Next, pack a case of wine. Next shower. Next pack clothes. Next, thank the vineyardista for a day of miracles. Next, get in the car. Drive to airport. Don't run over snake you released that might now be on the road trying to find his way back home to the Vineyard of Good and Evil. Take the red eye flight to the East Coast. Wake up without a backache, and while emerging from a deep slumber, ask yourself, how in the hell did you get through yesterday?

There must be a guardian angel.

And an epiphany: guardian angels exist.

How do you know this?

You remember 11 years ago attending a church retreat called Cursillo and during that weekend there was a team member praying for you the whole time which you didn't know until this was revealed near the end. When you saw who that person was you recalled all the kindness this person, who was assigned to secretly look after you, showed you during the weekend, and it is a humbling moment, because you ignored this person as a stranger, yet this stranger was lifting you up with strong, solid prayers that carried you away that weekend and give you goosebumps today as you recall it.

A Cursillo weekend is a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, and that person praying for you is like your guardian angel on earth. And if there is an earthly guardian angel, which you have discovered during the Cursillo retreat, then surely there are heavenly guardian angels looking after us if we only ask, and I ask this every morning in prayer, for the Lord to send guardian angels to protect Bluey, the Aussie winedog, from snakes.

And now I wonder if my angel is named Mark, and if it's he who's looking out for us, because we couldn't have made it through yesterday without divine intervention.  Thank you Mark. I've arrived safely in North Carolina. I picked the best avocado I could find from our tree to give to your daughter. I've brought the best wine from our cellar to share with your family and friends after your wake and at your memorial dinner. Thank you for looking after us. We're grateful for you life.

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Feast Fit for Winemakers & Best Friends: The Winemakers' Dinner

Fresh basil, the base of good pesto.
Ten wines. Ten winemakers. Ten small, delightful tapas dishes. Each dish made by each winemaker, prepared especially to pair with the winemaker's favorite wine. Now that sounds like my kind of event!

What do you like best about winemakers' dinners? What's your most memorable moment from a dinner with the winemakers? What recommendations do you have for the winemakers to make it an unforgettable evening?

Hawaii Kai Palm Island Premium all natural
 sea salt,sprinkled on the pasta  before serving,
provides a burst of flavor to the Penne Pesto
 that enhances the fruit characteristics of
 Blue-Merle's Mourvedre wine.
Our inaugural Winemaker's Dinner at the Hidden Valley Enoteca on Escondido's Wine & Culinary Campus is October 6th, and we've selected our 2009 Mourvedre, the light red wine with the huge strawberry nose. The making of the 2009 Mourvedre has a unique history. We purchased the grapes from Paso Robles Bill at the end of October 2009, who trucked them down to San Diego packed in dry ice. After crushing them, we were able to "cold soak" them for one whole week, because the fall the weather had arrived and the winery was cool, that's 3 days longer than our normal cold soak. During that cold soak period all of the fruit and soft skin tannin were absorbed into the "must" (grape juice), and again, because of the cool weather, a slow, cool fermentation took place over the next seven days. The result, to my surprise, was a surprisingly light color wine (typically with our other grapes cold soaking produces dark, purple wines, but not so with this Rhone varietal often used in blends with Grenache and Syrah) chock full of flavor. My first reaction when opening a bottle and pouring a sip was "Strawberries!" The wine is that fruitful, and yet, the alcohol is 13% and it has structure. This is the wine that we serve to guests in our house as a welcoming aperitif. I have never met a woman who has not loved this wine, and it has become one of favorites, especially with appetizers.

Is it possible for a wine made from grapes to have a strawberry nose? We asked New York's Scent Sommelier Kelly Jones to review the wine in April 2014  and this is what she wrote.  "Yes I had strawberry. But it was a white strawberry. These rare berries yield a tartness that is at once creamy and smooth,  with juicy flavor that spills across the tongue in luscious delight. There is a slight accord of the green leaf from the white strawberry fields, and a hint even of the precious seeds as they burst with inspiration from your vineyard. The essence of white strawberry is Blue Merle Mourvedre. The stuff of magic!"

And why pair it with penne pesto? The strong garlic, fragrant basil and salt frame the fruit of the Mourvedre. It is a lovely combination, especially with the pesto enhanced with the Hawaii Kai Palm Island Premium all-natural sea salt, which provides a burst of flavor and electrolytes that accent the fruit of the wine.

We held a dress rehearsal of the winemakers' dinner last Sunday, and sampled each other's dishes and wines. It was fabulous, as judged by the slow productivity Monday morning. I can think of no better way to spend a Sunday evening than with fellow winemakers, their favorite dishes and their favorite wines.

(Editor's Note: The Hidden Valley Enoteca closed in February 2014 but you can still purchase the Mourvedre wine direct from Blue-Merle Winery.  Here's the recipe for the pesto pasta.) 

Blue-Merle Winery Pesto Penne Recipe

Ingredients to serve six (very hungry winemakers):

8 oz fresh basil leaves
6 cloves garlic (or more to taste)
6 Table spoons olive oil (or a little more to taste)
6 teaspoons Parmesan cheese (or Romano to taste)
3 oz pine nuts (other nuts, such as almonds or walnuts may be added to taste)
2 lbs. penne pasta
Hawaii Kai all-natural red sea salt (add to taste just before serving).

Dress rehearsal.
Boil water for pasta. As water heats, in a CuisineArt, food processor or blender mince the garlic. Next, add olive oil, pine nuts then blend. (You may add other nuts to the mix such as almonds, macadamias, or walnuts to vary the flavor to taste.) Next, add the basil leaves (washed and dried) to the mix and blend. Finally, add Parmesan cheese to taste and blend.

Cook pasta and strain.  Add the pesto mix to the pasta and stir. Just before serving, sprinkle the Hawaii Kai Palm Island Premium nautral sea salt to taste to set the stage for contrasting flavors of the wine's "fruit" vs. the savory, salty pesto (Note: add the salt carefully -- do not over salt.)

Open the bottle of Blue-Merle wine and pour a glass. Inhale the aromas. Do you notice the strawberry? What fruit do you detect? Next, swirl the glass and smell again. Take a sip -- do you notice the strong fruit flavor? Next, have a healthy bite of the pesto pasta. Do you notice the garlic, the crunch of the salt? Then, take another sip of the wine. How has the wine changed with the food? How does the pairing taste to you?  The winemaker (and Bluey the Aussie wine dog) love the combination.

Bon Appetit!