Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Will Work for Wine...Two Shepherds Vineyards

Literally.  Yesterday I worked for wine.  It was my first experience on a bottling line.  Though I was the one “working” (and it was pretty hard work), I felt incredibly lucky to be working on bottling some great wines, Two Shepherds from William Allen.  (I recently shared last summer’s post about his winemaking; read it here.)  Ultimately, this was a great day learning even more about wine!

As many of you have noticed, I am on an extended wine vacation to northern California, enjoying all that both Napa and Sonoma Counties have to offer.  My goal for this time here is to learn something more about wine every day.  Yesterday it was the bottling process.

I have written before about how un-romantic wine making actually is, even though the beverage seems so romantic and mysterious when it is in our glasses.  However, making wine is incredibly hard work.  And when I experience this hard work, it is only for a brief time doing the easiest of jobs in the entire process, so I don’t truly understand the hours of grueling effort it takes to go from bud on the vine to wine in the bottle.  But I have tried.

The entire bottling starts earlier, when the wine maker must put the wines from their barrels or storage vessels into large plastic tanks so they can be attached to the bottling machine via the machine’s hoses.  Then the wine is siphoned through the tubes into the bottling line—a machine that does most of the work, though several human hands must be involved.

At the beginning of the line, someone must empty the glass bottles from their boxes so they can be fed onto the conveyer.  This was retired teacher Bob’s job.  And he was good.  He has helped William on every bottling of Two Shepherds wine.  (Plus he has been in education for forty years, so he is kind of my new hero.) 
Bob feeding the bottles to the conveyer to start the official bottling process.
Next, Matt—owner of the mobile bottling line—stood watch over the machine as it pumped gas, then wine, then gas, then cork into the bottles.  (After this, the foil capsule would be added, but William uses great glass bottles instead of a capsule, creating a very modern overall look.)  Then the Two Shepherds labels are rolled on the bottles as they slide by, and the bottles round a curve on the conveyer belt, pushing them to the end of the line.  This all happens quite quickly. 
Matt overseeing the wine filling the bottles.
 At the end of the line, someone has to catch the bottles, check them, and put them back in the case boxes; this was my job.  Though this job was not hard, it was an arm workout as I repeated the same pick up-twist-inspect-lower motion hundreds…and hundreds…and hundreds of times over the course of five different wines and five different hours.  My final part of the job was to push the case full of wine off the conveyer line. 

Pick up.  Inspect front label.  Twist.  Inspect back label.

Put in the box. 
After my job was complete, new winemaker Mark took the cases of now-full wine bottles, taped them shut, made sure they were properly labeled, and stacked the boxes on a pallet.  Then William moved the pallets of wine to his temporary storage; eventually they will be moved to long-term storage until ready for tasting and sale.

At the beginning of the first bottling, twelve full bottles of wine are dumped, in case any water may have been in the bottling machine’s lines.  When switching between different varietals of wine, the first six bottles of each wine are also dumped to ensure that none of the first wine taints the second.  Proper cleanliness is of the utmost importance throughout the entire process.  All of these steps help to guarantee quality wine. 

The final product.
Now, I am obviously not the expert in this endeavor, as it was my first time, but by the end of the day, I did feel like a bit of an expert on what a properly-adhered label would look like.  Seeing hundreds of them made me great at that job!

Working for wine—and Two Shepherds—was a fun and educational day of my summer vacation.  I can officially say I have harvested grapes twice (read about that here or here) and now bottled wine.  What’s next for my wine education?  Who knows?!  But I truly thank those who have helped me learn so far.  I also truly look forward to what I will study next. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

It's a Beautiful Day--Sonoma County Day Trip

The bright yellow sun glared overhead.  Rolling hills flowed, one to the next.  As far as the eye could see, green vines snaked up and down these slopes.  Long and neat rows created a vibrant canvas that met the crystal-blue sky. 
This was California wine country.  Sonoma.  Dry Creek Valley to be exact. 

Whether a wine lover or not, this is a special region.  This natural beauty entices even novice wine lovers to drink from its fountain of plenty. 
Beautiful view of the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County.
On this beautiful June day, my sister did just that.  The wine stars aligned, and she was able to experience a myriad of wine adventures most won’t enjoy even over an extended period of time. 

Wine experience one—Bottling line:  The two of us pulled into Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves after a glorious ride into northern Sonoma County.  In the outside production area sat a mobile bottling unit.  The owner of the company was kind enough to invite us inside the large trailer, where we saw the gas pumped into the bottle before the glorious red liquid flowed inside.  Then the cork was popped in, the foil was pushed on, and the bottle was moved down the line.  This was so awesome for Mariah to witness how the wine makes it to the bottle…literally.

Bella's production area and the mobile bottling line.
Wine experience two—Wine caves:  Our choice of Bella as our first destination of the day was a purposeful one; I wanted Mariah to see a wine cave.  We tasted in Bella’s cave and heard how it was drilled into the ground under eighty year old zinfandel vines.  Though we couldn’t tour the back area of the caves at the time, the overall concept was quite evident.  The idea of a natural way to keep wines at the perfect temperature and protected from the elements of the environment became clear while in the darkness of the cave, sipping the wines aged near us.
Inside Bella's wine cave.
Wine experience three—Barrel tasting:  As we continued our journey through the dusty back roads of Dry Creek Valley, we saw a sign that said “Barrel Tasting” and turned in to the parking lot of Zichichi Wines.  Zichichi only tastes out of barrel because they sell their wines as futures, meaning that a buyer signs up for the wines that are in the barrel right now, as the wines gently age until they are ready for release.  At the magical moment the winemaker thinks the vino is perfect, it is shipped to the buyers.  The tasting room attendant happily dipped her wine thief in to the barrels of wines, filling our glasses.  Any extra we didn’t want to consume went straight to the drain on the barrel room floor.  This level of involvement in the wine is not an everyday occasion for the average consumer.  Mariah will especially enjoy her Old Vine Zin when it arrives in 2016, pleasantly remembering our tasting day.

Production area and barrel tasting at Zichichi.
Wine experience four—Understanding terroir:  Many wine consumers have heard the word terroir, and maybe even use it now and again, but they don’t have a true understanding of what it means.  My sister got the down and dirty—pun intended—of what makes up the soil component of this illusive wine term.  At Papapietro Perry, as part of the wonderful patio tasting (with amazing Sonoma vineyard views), we saw jars of soil from three different pinot noir growing areas.  All three pinots were produced in the same exact way:  same yeast inoculation, same barrels for aging, same time in barrel, same production facility.  However, Mariah understood the difference area, region, and soil can make in a wine by sipping the pinots grown in different places.
Experiencing the "dirt" behind good wine at Papapietro Perry.
Wine experience five—A special vineyard:  Already with her head—and palate—full of new wine knowledge, we made our way to Healdsburg to visit a favorite producer of mine, Cartograph Wines.  I knew the wines here were great, and I knew Serena and Alan were amazing.  However, I knew one more thing.  I had one wine trick up my sleeve.  I knew Cartograph had an amazing pinot noir from the Mariah Vineyard, spelled just like my sister’s name, as well as having the same namesake—the song “They Call the Wind Mariah” which our mother loved.
Mariah with the Mariah Vineyard Pinot Noir by Cartograph.
The green vineyards seemed to streak up and down the hills in uniform waves, leading to the blue sky above, as we meandered through the back country roads to our Sonoma County rental at the end of the day.
I truly was amazed at what my new-to-wine-loving sister was able to experience, all on her first time in a truly beautiful area.  This special region rolled out the red carpet for Mariah on this trip.  It taught her lessons most wait years to discover.  It wanted to impress her with its beauty. 
And it did. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Summer Sippin'--Summer Drink Recipes

Ahhh…summer time! 
When you live in a climate where the first snow of the season often comes in October and the last sometimes comes in May, choosing summer drinks is an extra-special treat.  These drinks signal it is finally time for barbequing outdoors and sitting on the patio; this requires sipping lighter beverages.  I love red wines, but once June hits, I want something else.  Something more refreshing.  Something cold.  Something fun.  I have friends who turn to beer at this time of the year.  However, my wine roots run too deep. Instead of turning my back on my friend wine because the temps are heating up, I am more likely to drink a rose or a sparkling.  (Look for a blog on some of my favorite roses…coming soon!)  But there are times when even a rose or sparkling isn’t summery enough for me.  Here are three of my favorite summer, summer, summertime drinks:  sangria, Moscow mules, and margarita popsicles.
Summer Sangria

1 bottle red wine (your choice; I would not use my best, most expensive)
1/4 cup Triple Sec
1 can pineapple tidbits; drain juice
1 can light peaches or pears; drain juice
1 cup strawberries; diced
1 lemon; juiced
1/2 cup sugar or honey

Mix wine, Triple Sec, pineapple juice, peach/pear juice, lemon juice, and sugar/honey.  Mix until sugar is dissolved.  (You can adjust the amount of sugar/honey if you want the sangria less sweet.) Set aside and chill for 24 hours.  At the same time, chill the pineapple, peaches/pears, and strawberries in a separate container. One hour before serving, put fruit and wine mixture together in a decorative pitcher.  Serve chilled. 
Summer Sangria

Moscow Mule

2 shots vodka (I used Wyoming’s Backwards Distilling Ringleader Vodka)
1 lime; juiced
1 can ginger beer (the better quality beer, the better the mule)

Fill a copper mug almost full with ice cubes.  Add two shots of vodka (one if this seems too much for you) and the juice of one entire lime.  Fill the mug with ginger beer.  Garnish with lime slice.
Moscow Mule

Margarita Popsicles

1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cup fresh squeezed lime juice (8-12 limes)
1/4 cup tequila
1/4 cup Triple Sec
12 disposable paper cups--3 ounce size (I used Dixie)
12 wooden popsicle sticks or small wooden ice cream spoons

Heat water and sugar in a small pan until sugar is completely dissolved and water is just about boiling.  Let cool; you have just made simple syrup!
In a pitcher, combine lime juice, tequila, and Triple Sec.
Add cooled simple syrup (water/sugar mixture) to the juice/tequila mixture.  Stir.

(Drink now by pouring into salt-rimmed glasses with ice if you are just not a patient person.  If you are a patient person, keep reading.  This recipe happens to make a wonderful regular margarita!)

Pour about 2 1/2 ounces into each paper cup--about 3/4 of the way full.
Place cups in deep baking dish and put all into freezer.
After about two hours of freezing, put the popsicle sticks in the cups; they should be frozen enough for sticks to stand up now. 
Let freeze overnight until completely frozen; will not freeze extremely hard due to alcohol but will freeze solid.
To serve, peel the paper cup away.

Margarita Popsicles
No matter how long your winter lasts, it is now June—it is time to drink like it’s summer!  It’s okay to keep your wine roots, but break free every once in a while with a different beverage.  These drinks are fun and refreshing; they taste like summer feels!  Enjoy your extra special treat of summer…I know I will.