Thursday, December 29, 2016

Platinum Awards from Winepress Northwest

Browsing these awards gives you a good stufy of Pac Northwest wines.

Here is the list.

And notice the "best of the best" is a $9 Riesling from Chat. St. Michelle. Amazing, and I don't doubt it a bit. Also notice the continued excellence of the whites and roses at Barnard Griffin...


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Traegar Lil Tex pellet cooker vs Big Green Egg

I have both of these cooking devices. The Egg has been with me for about 8 years now, and the Traeger is in its first year.

1. The Big Green Egg:
a. Smoker: Very good. Can maintain low temps (200F-ish) for long periods. Moisture retention is very good, so the meat's drying out is not usually a problem. It's easy to throw a water-soaked (or some say dry) piece of fruit or nut wood onto the burning coals, to create smoke for your meat.
b. Grill: Very good. When the Egg's air inlet holes are cleaned (they tend to fill with ash), the Egg can achieve 500F or higher, and the cooking grill is right over the charcoal, so you can sear to your heart's content.
c. Oven: Good. The Egg can be run hot for baking pizzas, bread, veggie casseroles, etc.
d. Miscellaneous Notes: Super energy-efficient due to its heavy insulation. A 20 lb bag of real charcoal (you can't, and shouldn't, use briquettes), will last for a whole lot of cooks. You do have to adjust the upper and lower air inlet/exhaust slides, but there is a good analog temp gauge on mine, and it works great. Because there is burning coal beneath, you need to pay attention to meat placement--sometimes you want to be over the coals, and sometimes you want your meat to the side, where the heat is indirect. The unit is very heavy, so it's not very portable. Also, if you managed to tip it over, I suppose you could break it. Ours is in a rolling "nest" which makes it easy to move it from storage location to cooking location. And because it's ceramic, it's mostly weatherproof. Due to its thick insulating ceramic walls, it operates well in cold weather. And it will run fine if the power is out.

2. The Traeger Lil Tex:
a. Smoker: Good. Can maintain low temps (200F-ish) for long periods, same as the Egg. It seems to dry out the meat, however--many Traeger users include a pan of apple juice or some other moisturizer, to somewhat counteract this. Also, the pellets themselves can be fruit wood or nut tree wood, so you don't have to add those to get flavoring smoke.
b. Grill: Poor. "Grill" means a metal grate over burning coals (or gas). The Traeger has a heat shield between the firebox and the cooking grate, so from the outset it is set up as a smoker, not a grill. Consequently, while you can get the Traeger to run hot (450F-ish), and while a grill grate that hot will put mild grill marks on the meat, you are really baking your meat, not grilling it, so you can't achieve the carmelization on the meat's surface that you get over a fire, and some of us like that open fire flavor. However, some Traegerites make various modifications (which I am just now starting to research), to allow a portion of the grill to be exposed over the firebox, and this might enable the Traeger to serve as both a good smoker (on one side of the grill) and a good grill (on the other side). Why Traeger hasn't already given us that capability is way beyond my understanding.
c. Oven: Good. The Traeger can be run hot for smoke-baking anything.
d. Miscellaneous Notes: Not very energy-efficient due to its thin metal wall construction. But a 20-lb bag of pellets will last for a lot of cooks. The digital temp settings and blower fan do make cooking easier, though you can't run the Traeger if the power is out. The metal construction means it's not as weatherproof, but a cover is available. It can't operate as hot in cold weather. It's advantageous to not have to add fruit or nut tree wood--the pellets already have you covered there. Some Traegerites say that the original Traegers were heavy-metal construction, but with outsourcing to China, the metal is now thin and won't last as long. The Traeger is a good choice if you don't personally like to grill--some cooks prefer to cook steaks and pork chops in a hot skillet, though others (e.g., me) like the flavorings that direct cooking over coals provides.

Cost of each grill is about the same. And both of them are far superior to gas grills and to grills that use charcoal briquettes.

Here is a good article which explains direct grilling and indirect cooking (note the author makes an error by using the phrase "indirect grilling"--there is no such thing).

So far, my opinion is: The Egg wins by a (large) nose as a smoker, and while the Egg is a great grill, the Traeger should not even be called a "grill," for it is unable to grill.  If you need one device that does everything well, get the Egg (if you're willing to keep the ash out of the vent holes), or learn how to modify your Traeger.






Saturday, December 17, 2016

Sake it to me!

Tonight we had a great Asian-themed dinner:
1. homemade fresh crab cakes (Ruth Reichl's recipe--delish!), topped with Asian aoili;
2. vegetable potstickers and Secret Aardvark Drunken Garlic Black Bean Sauce (yay!);
3. sauteeed broccolini with soy and Hoison sauces;
4. homemade Asian slaw (with rice vinegar/Mirin/Peanut oil dressing).

We tried two sakes both by SakeOne in Forest Grove OR:

1. Moonstone Asian Pear Sake: Nice balanced pear flavor; 12% alcohol; the rice flavor is noticeable. I liked it OK but probably wouldn't buy it again. $7 or so wholesale for a 375ml bottle. Grade: B-/C+

2. Moonstone Lemongrass Coconute Sake: 16.5% alcohol (typical sake alcohol range is 15-020%, but I say that 12% is far better--it doesn't get you drunk as fast and it allows the flavors to shine through) Oh, no! The coconut flavor is so strong that it comes off like the smell of a person slathered with cocoa butter at the beach on a hot day. It is so strong that it seems fake. How about some subtlety please? It might make a great Asian-influenced Pina Colada, but by itself it's a bit of a mess. Grade: D-

I am open-minded to sake, but usually don't like it. So you can understand my grades are biased in that way...




Friday, December 16, 2016

What does "velvet" mean, in the bouquet of a wine, anyway?

I have long described my favorite Bordeaux blend bouquet as containing "velvet," meaning velvet as a fabric, not as a vague reference to a wine's "smoothness." To me, "velvet" in that aromatic sense has a meaning that I cannot put into words. There is no reason to think that velvet fabric has a particular smell, unless perhaps it's the dye in the fabric, or the dust in it, and maybe that is it. But I doubt the wonderful thing I smell in good Bordeaux blends is due to a dye.

But read this, copied from K Vintner's description of its 2014 Royal City Syrah (a $140 wine):
"Wrapped in a regal robe. Aromas of black olive, morels, velvet theatre drapes waft up from the glass. Giving way to a deep long palate, black plum skin, cured meat, leather and forest floor. Compelling and complete. From a wine there is nothing more to ask. Another great vintage in the story that is Royal City."  - Charles Smith

First, notice there is no fruit mentioned in the bouquet. Just olives (OK, maybe olives are a fruit), mushrooms, and velvet. Then, notice the reference to "velvet," as if that is a smell we all recognize. So there is something here, but what?

Homework, everyone! Find a theater with a velvet curtain, and go inhale deeply of it, and report back...and look for that smell in good wines!


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Fine Coffee: Burr Grinder versus Blade Grinder test:



​I. On Using a Burr Grinder for Coffee, and Why: ​
Thanks to Bob H who first told me why burr grinders are better than blade grinders, for making quality coffee. I researched this extensively, and carefully chose a burr grinder, and have just completed a taste/smell test ​comparing blade grinder to burr grinder ​(thanks to Jane for suggesting I do that before investing in a second burr grinder for our farmhouse).

Here's what you need to know, for any coffeemaking method which requires you to grind coffee beans (that includes, at least espresso and French Press (press pot) and drip-through-filter methods).

1. First, keep your coffee beans whole (​unground​)​, in a sealed container. I bought a glass jar with a glass lid that has a rubber seal and clamp lock, cheap at Target. If you leave your beans lying in an opened sack, they will lose their volatile oils and you will lose flavor and aromatics. I believe there is no need to freeze them, though--just seal them somehow and keep them in the dark​.


2. Second, don't grind your beans until you are ready (I mean, really ready) ​to make coffee (I use French press, so this means I boil the water first and only then grind the coffee). The goal is to minimize the time between grinding and drinking. The reason for this step is the same as in point 1: To keep your coffee fresh and to maximize the aromatics and taste. Grind size for espresso machines is finer, and grind size for French Press is coarser. Every palate is different, but I use 2 tablespoons of whole beans per 12 oz cup of coffee, and I steep for 2.5 minutes only (I'm a Supertaster, and bitter flavors absolutely kill me--I can't eat dark chocolate, Stevia and artificial sugars all taste bitter to me, and if you really want to make me angry, tie me a chair and pour tonic water into my mouth).​


3. About grinders
a. A blade grinder (which we used until recently) is cheap (about $15) ​and it does grind up the beans, but it makes every size particle from "dust to boulders." This prevents consistent flavor extraction: The dust over-extracts and you get bitter flavors, and the boulders don't divulge as much flavor, so you get a strange concoction of too-bitter and inadequately-extracted coffee.Also, the rapid action of the spinning blade can heat up the coffee grounds, robbing them of their aromatics and flavor too soon.​


b. A conical burr grinder has two counter-rotating cone-shaped grinding wheels (made of either ceramic or steel), which grind the beans into more-consistent size pieces. A good burr grinder operates quickly (only takes a few seconds to grind beans for a cup of coffee) and, paradoxically at the same time, slowly (the grinding action happens slowly--the gears turn rather slowly--and this prevent the beans from heating up, which can release aromatics and flavors prematurely). A good burr grinder also lets you select the grind size you want. (I think the grinder controls the grind size by changing the distance between the two burr grinder wheels.) Beware! Some so-called "burr grinders" are nothing of the sort when you take them apart--you need to thoroughly research the grinder you want, and read carefully what coffee experts say about each grinder. I chose the Capresso Infinity # 560.01 (about $75 on Amazon now); the new model is the 560.04 and it's about $100. Most sub-$100 burr grinders have very negative reviews, so if you go this way, don't skimp or you will be wasting money. I chose the model I did because it is classed with the other good $100+ grinders, but due to its being end-of-life (in terms of a product's natural life cycle), it's cheaper now.

My grinder has stainless steel grinding wheels, and an easy setting from coarse-to-fine (you merely rotate the upper coffee bean holding chamber, to select grind size), and a timer switch for grinding on-off (once you hear that all the beans have been ground, you advance the timer to "zero" and it shuts off). 

And you will need a brush to keep the burr grinder wheels clean. Here's the grinder on Amazon (the price has gone back up, it appears--it's $93 for Amazon Prime now):

https://www.amazon.com/Capresso-560-01-Infinity-Grinder-Black/dp/B0000AR7SY

4. The Test: So I made 6 oz of coffee, using the same beans, same quantity of beans, and same water and press time, with both our blade grinder and the above burr grinder (using two identical French Presses). I used, and like, Luckman Coffee's "Chiapas Altura" Mexican coffee (they're in Woodland). It's a lighter roast (so it's less bitter), and has a hint of chocolate and great coffee flavor.


It was no contest at all: The burr-ground coffee was much darker. It had much more aromatics. In the mouth, it was much richer than the blade-ground coffee; it had more body and made the blade-ground coffee taste thin by comparison. Wow-what a difference! I'm a believer. If you need a holiday gift idea for a friend who loves coffee but is using a blade grinder, the Capresso burr grinder might be a great idea.



Friday, December 9, 2016

Mama Stamberg's Cranberry Relish

So, it sounded interesting, on NPR. Susan Stamberg's mother makes a cranberry relish for Thanksgiving, and while many people retreat in horror at the sight of it (it looks like a cross between Pepto Bismol and something that a sick person might regurgitate), most were purported to, upon tasting it, proclaim it excellent. I like cranberries, and I like horseradish, so we gave it a go this year.

The final word:

Just.
Don't.
Make.
It.

Just don't.

Raw cranberries, onion, sour cream, sugar and horseradish, after being food-processed, frozen, and thawed, just don't compute.

Just. Don't. Do. It. ;)  And don't believe everything you read.

Pairing wine and cheese, the techie way

I have no words. Except maybe this one: Wow!

Read this!




Saturday, December 3, 2016

2010 Reynvaan Family Vineyards The Rocks Syrah!!!

Wow! Spectator gave this 95 points, and the wine deserves it fully. $150 at Ox in Portland, with a friend from Chicago tonight (though retail is close to $55).

The wine opens with a quick punch of plums, boysenberry, and minerals, and after the first sip the finish is amazing--it just goes and goes. The bouquet's a delight. The wine's finish wasn't as compelling later, but through the entire bottle, over a space of two hours, it was a complete delight to drink.

This is one more data point re the wonderful soil (or, really, lack thereof) in The Rocks (south of Walla Walla), for my money one of the US' most-compelling and trending AVAs now. Bravo!

Here is K&L's blurb on the wine.



Sunday, November 20, 2016

2007 Cayuse En Chamberlin Syrah: tasting notes

We had this wine for my birthday yesterday. First, let me show you a rating and review, from 2011:

100 points Wine Enthusiast
  In a stunning lineup of Cayuse Syrahs, the En Chamberlin wins by a nose. It’s smooth and silky, with a tongue-bending blend of flavors that include blood and iron, umami and salt, at first overtaking the pure fruit, but adding tremendous depth and power. The endless finish unfolds into a wine with exotic spices and complex layering.   (2/2011)
Parker gave it 98 and Spectator gave it 94, saying it would peak through 2020.

When our bottle was opened and poured, there was a brief bouquet of nice fruits, and then a smell of some kind of chemical showed through; it was a wine flaw and mildly negative. On the palate the wine was OK but very plain, not showing much of anything. There was a long finish but it was of alcohol only. Both of us agreed this was not a 100 point wine. We swirled it in our glasses a lot, hoping to wake it up, but it didn't change, all through the dinner. This bottle was a poor pairing for a great dinner; it fell very far short of expectations. Later on, the wine was throwing out the smell of celery, which was an improvement. And at the very end--the last couple of milliliters of wine in my glass, after an hour and a half and the dinner long over and when we were getting ready to leave--the wine had finally blown off the chemical smell and I smelled and tasted cherries. Who knows whether this experience would be repeated in another bottle, and it is dangerous to overdraw conclusions from just one bottle, but I am leaning towards drinking my Cayuse within five years, and not letting it get nine years old, no matter what the reviews say. I know that Cayuse wines have characteristically very high pH, and protective sulfites in a wine don't work as well when pH is high, which suggests perhaps the wines will be better when relatively younger and worse when older.

FYI: I paid about $85 for this bottle, from the winery.


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The bucolic farm

Some of you think life on a farm is bucolic and peaceful and wonderful. About 2% of the time, it is that, if you are very lucky. Today, I found myself with my back to an absolutely demolished raspberry bed--chewed down to nubs--and my front to a deer fence crushed by a fallen tree, only two days since I last walked the fence, which was perfect at that time. So you get fence repair tools and materials, and a saw. You cut the fallen tree at the spot where the heavy end can fall outside your fence, and you horse around the lighter end, to get it off your fence. Then, as you stand in 4" deep muddy muck, the rains start up again. The sharp ends of barbed wire cut you as you make patch after patch, on a five-wire barbed wire fence over crushed Davis field fence. An hour later, you have patched the deer fence, but it looks so crappy compared to itself when it was new that you are embarrassed. You realize that trees are not these majestic, permanent, botanical silent sentinels displaying Nature's majesty--no, they are instead diabolical time bombs waiting to go off by crashing, in numbers you cannot believe, onto whatever is important to you. You realize that the "experts" who know the country well--the ones who said, "Oh, if you have a dog, you will never be bothered by deer" are idiots. Ah, yes, the glory of the farm.


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Sugar Cane corks!

Yes, oak corks are a renewable resource, but they can't be recycled. And what it requires doing to the trees is awful-looking. Enter the sugar cane cork--a cork that is made from sugar cane fiber that remains after the juice is extracted to make brown sugar. The cork is too perfect-looking for consumers, so the manufacturer stamps a "cork pattern" of little lines and dots on the sugar cane cork, to make it look right. This is a novel closure, and worth following.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

It's so important to avoid herbicide drift

Usually, the negative effects of herbicide drift (the wafting-in of a killing spray applied by a neighbor, which damages or kills your own crops) are limited to loss of your own crop, but in the bootheel of Missouri it can lead to human death. Two farmers got into an argument about drift and how it killed the neighbor's crops, and it led to one's being shot to death. The story is here.

I can understand how this could lead to a heated argument, after you put in so many hours planting and caring for a crop. The murder of a neighbor over it is a result of our gone-mad gun culture. But neighbors need to be MUCH more careful with their spray drift. Even better, NOBODY should be growing crops that require a killing spray, just to keep the crops alive--there are always alternatives. Just as we are far too quick to ask for a drug to address our own personal health symptoms, we are far too quick to spray inorganic poisons onto the earth, which have major unintended consequences. My own modern varieties of grapes (and my apples) never need spray of any kind.

But the overall takeaway is this: If you are planting grapes, which BTW are VERY sensitive to herbicides, it's best if you chose a site that is not farmland being treated with inorganic sprays. In the case of my Epona Farm, we're surrounded by native Doug fir forest, so spray is not an issue.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Fun tasting at Reverend Nat's Hard Cider (1813 NE 2nd, Portland OR)

We tried a sampler of six hard ciders ($15) and they threw in a seventh as well. This is a very good cidery (for the drafts; I'm not recommending the bottled versions). Specifically:

#1 Revival hard apple cider (their flagship cider): Clean. Well-made. Traditional. Off-dry. Bit of a honey nose. A pleasure to drink. B+ This is the one I took home. A winner.

#4 Tent Show. Burgundy barrel-aged pomegranate wine, with Jonathan apple eau di vie, prune juice, and spices (this was the freebie they wanted me to taste): Smells a bit sour; is just too strange for me. C-

#5 Cascadia Ciderworkers United Granny Smith: Great flavor. Nice balance. So well made. B

#6 Rev Nat's Winter Abbey Spice: Smells sour, with cinnamon. Nice in the mouth. B-

#8 Rev Nat's Overlook Organic Heirloom: Really fun. Flower bouquet, tart palate, grapefruity finish. B

#10 Rev Nat's Deliiverance Ginger Tonic: Too much ginger for me, but B+ if you love ginger.

#11 Cascadia Ciderworkers United Winter Cider: with "warming spices." Ugh. The only cider I tried that was not well-made. A hot plastic smell ruined it for me. D

He makes a few bitter (hoppy) ciders, but most of his ciders are not, for which I am grateful.

A container of warm (non-alcoholic) cider was available free, which was nice, as were artisan donuts from a nearby shop. You can take good-looking pizza and salad in from a nearby pizzeria (not sure which one, but certainly the Rev Nat's staff could tell you. If you drink on-site, it's by the tap, but they sell by the bottle and by the growler also.  Reverend Nat is a real reverend, and was very kind to me in a brief email change earlier this year, about my growing and selling cider apples (his operation is too large to be interested in my small production).


Fun tasting at Reverend Nat's Hard Cider (1813 NE 2nd, Portland OR)

We tried a sampler of six hard ciders ($15) and they threw in a seventh as well. This is a very good cidery; highly recommend (for the drafts; not recommending it for their bottled stuff). Specifically:

#1 Revival hard apple cider (their flagship cider): Clean. Well-made. Traditional. Off-dry. Bit of a honey nose. A pleasure to drink. B+ This is the one I took home. A winner.

#4 Tent Show. Burgundy barrel-aged pomegranate wine, with Jonathan apple eau di vie, prune juice, and spices (this was the freebie they wanted me to taste): Smells a bit sour; is just too strange for me. C-

#5 Cascadia Ciderworkers United Granny Smith: Great flavor. Nice balance. So well made. B

#6 Rev Nat's Winter Abbey Spice: Smells sour, with cinnamon. Nice in the mouth. B-

#8 Rev Nat's Overlook Organic Heirloom: Really fun. Flower bouquet, tart palate, grapefruity finish. B+

#10 Rev Nat's Deliiverance Ginger Tonic: Too much ginger for me, but B+ if you love ginger.

#11 Cascadia Ciderworkers United Winter Cider: with "warming spices." Ugh. The only cider I tried that was not well-made. A hot plastic smell in it ruined the experience for me. D

He makes a few bitter (hoppy) ciders, but most of his ciders are not, for which I am grateful. However, the ciders that don't have any tannin could use a wee bit of that--it would give them more crispness and make sure they don't fall close to the realm of insipidness. Just not too much!

A container of warm (non-alcoholic) cider was available free, which was nice, as were artisan donuts from a nearby shop. You can take good-looking pizza and salad in from a nearby pizzeria (not sure which one, but certainly the Rev Nat's staff could tell you. If you drink on-site, it's by the tap, but they sell by the bottle and by the growler also.  Reverend Nat is a real reverend, and was very kind to me in a brief email change earlier this year, about my growing and selling cider apples (his operation is too large to be interested in my small production).


Friday, October 28, 2016

Great article on hybrid (modern variety) grapes

This writer, who's a professor at Cornell, really nailed it in this article. We should all be drinking more wines made from modern grape varieties, which give us broader diversity, better disease resistance, and more-interesting flavors. To continue to focus only on evolutionarily-restrained Vitis vinifera (European winegrapes) is to head heedlessly towards extinction, just as is happening with the Cavendish banana.



Monday, October 24, 2016

Charles Smith, a king of Washington wine

I love Charles Smith's wines. I like his "differentness." I admire how he started with almost nothing, and yet has built up a large winemaker's portfolio of several different labels, with each representing unique and wonderful wines. This article portrays him as the Mark Cuban of wine, a polarizing figure. In my experience, that's as not so very correct. Maybe I run in only enlightened crowds, but I see no one except admirers of his wines, and of him. You would castigate a winemaker for his hair? For his love of old farms and old cars? For his Bunny Yeager photos by the restrooms? If you would, then you don't deserve to enjoy his wines. C'mon! This is ART we're talking about. Artists deserve a wide range to run in. And Charles makes magic.

Monday, September 19, 2016

New Winemaker

I was contacted by a person interested in making wine, and asking how do they start. Here's what I wrote back:

Making wine:
1. How are you at chemistry? If chemistry (and math) are really difficult and not fun, then you won't like winemaking.
2. Are you able to spend over half of your "winemaking" time cleaning and sterilizing things? 
3. Are you OK being alone for long periods?
4. To start, I'd suggest you get a good winemaking book (try several and pick the one that speaks best to you) and treat it as your bible. Mine is "Home Winemaking Step by Step," by Jon Iverson. Read everything you can about the process, online--blogs, articles. And volunteer at a working winery. When you start your own batch, do a small one. Maybe do a kit first, though I never did a kit.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Delicious apples; what a cluster!

This is why some of us farm. Check out this cluster! Not grapes--apples!

Delicious is a great apple, and can be forgiven for its child, Red Delicious, which is an absolute abomination and should be rendered extinct as soon as possible. This cluster is on an 80-year old Delicious apple tree.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

First cider!

Here's a photo of my first batch of cider. I'm making three batches (each from a different set of apple varieties, based on ripening dates), and will blend them together later. This batch is Fameuse (Snow Apple, from Quebec--a "sharp-sweet"), Gravenstein (sweet), and Fiesta (sharp-sweet with wonderful aromatics).

It's dry now, so fermentation is finished. Just racked it. It's tart and tannic now, but lots of aging will even it out. And it has a really nice honey smell.


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Epona Vineyard harvest report

Cayuga: My next-to-latest grape (Regent being the latest to ripen); a favorite; hanging at 19.0 Brix and 3.12pH. Flavor is apple-moving to citrus now; a string of warm sunny days coming; I could make a good Riesling style wine with it now, if weather was turning bad, but by waiting I'm hoping for citrus-moving to peaches in the final flavor, when it tastes more like a Viognier. This one has EXCELLENT vinifera flavor emulation. No bird damage yet at all (unnetted, but scarecrows).
Leon Millot (pictured) : Picked 14 lbs per vine this week; sample berries were 24 Brix but the must is 21.5. pH is 3.56; that's not so high that I'm worried--I added 11% white grapes to fix color (same as adding Viognier to Syrah for same reason; it works), and let the ferm reach 88F as you taught me George. In my location, I prefer the big red style (actually tastes a lot like a good Pinot here) to Paul's rose style that is so delicious up on Salt Spring Island. I get nice purple fruits with a hint of woodsiness (not herbaceousness) here. 
Delicatessen: Picked at 21 Brix; pretty high for this variety. Nice fruit. Young plants, so low yield.
Jupiter, NY Muscat, Venus, Monastery Muscat: I make a rose from a blend of these. Jupiter had scraggly clusters (rained during bloom) and I got only 4 lbs per vine. Worse, the clusters shattered (right term?) during picking, so about a quarter of the berries fell to the ground. It reached 23 Brix, though. But if you want a good seedless grape here, why not grow Monastery Muscat? 23Brix and many large pretty clusters of large yellow grapes (13 lbs/vine) with superb flavor, compared to Jupiter's "fairly weak" flavor and Venus' "almost not there at all" flavor. NY Muscat (about 21 Brix) has superb flavor but has one seed per berry here. I should ditch the Venus and Jupiter (sorry, Arkansas) and just use NY Muscat and Monastery Muscat.
Mindon- what I call MIN(nesota 1095) x DON(skoi, which I read is probably the grape called Norway Muscat) is a winner here. David Roy Johnson's grape. 20 lbs from one vine, at 24 Brix. Nice flavor. No bird damage. I blended it into my Leon.
Regent- Sure like its fruit, but it's late here and the birds hit it hard. Only 18 Brix now and I have 33% bird loss already. I should really just give up on it. Makes a nice, full-bodied, Syrah-style wine, though.

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

Padrones!

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.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A wine made without electricity!

This is cool. The fruit is hauled by horses, and the wine is pumped by bicycle, and carried to market on canoes. Just like the Middle Ages! I wonder if the workers are underpaid and sickly, just like in that time. Sorry; I shouldn't make fun; the concept is brilliant. Doesn't make the wine any better, however--just more Green, and for that we should all applaud.


Monday, June 27, 2016

v.3 of WA winery rankings

First Growths (2 wineries): Cayuse, and K Vintners. And I can't think of any other winery that is making wines at this level, unless perhaps it's Buty. 
Super-Second Growths (4 wineries): Buty (the best of the Super-Seconds), Quilceda Creek (tempted to drop them to a 2nd, as it seems only Parker raves about their wines, whose flavors are just too black, too over-extracted, for me, and I've heard they perform poorly on the resale market so they can't be a cult winery, but they are skilled winemakers; if they only changed their flavor profile they could be great), Barnard Griffin (for whites and roses only, and this is NOT a mistaken ranking), Pepper Bridge, 
Second Growths (12 wineries):  L'Ecole No. 41, Cougar Crest, Seven Hills, Tamarack, Five Star (might deserve Super Second), Zerba, Saviah, Abeja, Charles Smith Wines. Owen Roe, Tyrus Evan, Fidelitas
Third Growths (14 wineries): Leonetti (used to be a cult winery, but it belongs here now),  Woodward Canyon, Kiona, Terra Blanca, Maryhill (Proprietor Reserve wines), Walla Walla Vintners, Gramercy, Ch. St Michelle, Columbia Crest, Gouger, Novelty Hill, Syzygy, Reininger, Dunham
Fourth Growth (13 wineries): Maryhill (regular label wines), Adamant, Beresan, Canoe Ridge, Northstar, Col Solare, Hogue, Syncline,  Barnard Griffin (for reds only), Jacob Williams, Three Rivers, Cascade Cliffs, Spring Valley, Olequah.
Fifth Growths (4 wineries): Basel (they have fallen in wine quality-I suspect they are focusing on making money by renting out their many gorgeous rooms for weddings, and then selling wines primarily to their guests who probably don't know much about wine--and they have become unfriendly to the wine trade, but they are in one of the coolest winery buildings in the state), Sleight of Hand, 14 Hands, Cor, 

Table wines (some of their wines would be fine with dinner, even though not remarkable, but some of the wines from some of these wineries were bad when I tasted them: Isenhower, Forgeron, Glen Fiona, Blackwood Canyon. Tefft, Waving Tree, 

Notes:
1. Notice that the distribution is funky; there should be more wineries in each lower ranking, and yet most are in the top three. This may be because the average quality around Walla Walla is so high. 
2. This list is based on my perception of winery quality; others' lists would of course be different. 
3. As in Bordeaux, even a Fifth Growth winery can make a fantastic wine, if fruit and winery decisions come together happily. 
4. It is very difficult to make a great wine. It is no disgrace not to make them.
5. My ranking is based on my perception of a winery's average quality across its entire lineup--so if they make two great wines and twenty below-par wines, they don't rank very high. (This describes a number of wineries, like Three Rivers.)
6. No one I know has visited every winery, and thus if a winery is not named here, it might well deserve to be ranked, However, it seems likely to me that many of the wineries not ranked above would probably be listed as table wines. And there is nothing wrong with table wines. The rest could be ranked, probably, in the 3rd-5th ranks.
7. Even if you think this ranking is ridiculous, I nevertheless think it is helpful to give consumers, who want to choose a wine from Washington, or to pick some wineries to visit, an idea about general winery quality, because if they rely only upon advertising, or a pretty building, or a charismatic pourer, or favorable yelp reviews, they are unlikely to find most of the best places. My purpose in attempting a ranking is to help people see past the million-dollar buildings, past the artful guile of the marketing campaigns, and straight through to the wines themselves.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Ranking the wineries of Washington state, as if they were Bordeaux

Just returned from tasting in Columbia Valley AVA, Red Mountain AVA, and Walla Walla. First, I want to lay out some thoughts, and second, I'll attempt a first rough draft of a ranking of wineries, ala the "Growth" system in Bordeaux:

1. General thoughts:
a. Walla Walla is moving away from a big, jammy wine style, towards a leaner, more-acidic "European" style. Speaking personally, this saddens me, as the fruit character of W.W. wines was, and can be, truly marvelous.
b. Walla Walla is still RELATIVELY undiscovered by the rest of US WineWorld. But that anonymity is fast disappearing. As a result, prices continue to climb in Walla Walla, to obscene levels in some cases. But overall, Walla Walla wine quality is still superior to Napa's wines, and is far less expensive.
c. I am reluctantly retracting my earlier deep and enthusiastic love for Red Mountain wines. Red Mtn is still probably the hottest AVA in the country, but almost all the wines I tasted there are not as good as what the older, established good wineries are making in Walla Walla. Perhaps with more time, Red Mtn wines will become world-class, but they are not yet.
d. One example in Red Mtn is Frichette, a new winery where Shae (co-owner, who poured for us) is maybe the most-charismatic wine pourer in the country. Their operation is good despite their being so new to it. I think her charisma has something to do with the fact that she can sell her wines (some of which are quite good) at such high prices. There are always too many people who are too willing to overpay for wines, and this causes wineries to overprice their wines, in a vicious cycle.
e. This may be a rather cool summer, despite a rare early super-hot stretch a month ago.

2. My rough draft of a winery ranking (and no one can taste everyplace in WA, even after, say, 10 trips, so there are many wineries missing from my list, and their absence doesn't mean anything about whether they are great, or poor. As you know, 1st-5th Growth wineries are all Grand Crus--the best of all the wineries out there. Also, I am thinking only of wine quality, not of price, so the QPR for some of these may be terrible:

First Growths (2 wineries): Cayuse, and K Vintners. And I can't think of any other winery that is making wines at their level, unless perhaps it's Buty.
Super-Second Growths (4 wineries): Buty (the best of the Super-Seconds), Quilceda Creek (tempted to drop them to a 2nd, as only Parker raves about their wines, which are just too black for me, and I've heard they perform poorly on the resale market, but they are skilled winemakers; if they only changed their flavor profile they could be like Screaming Eagle), Barnard Griffin (for whites and roses only, and this is NOT a mistaken ranking), Pepper Bridge,
Second Growths (11 wineries):  L'Ecole No. 41, Cougar Crest, Seven Hills, Tamarack, Five Star, Zerba, Saviah, Abeja, Charles Smith Wines. Owen Roe, Tyrus Evan
Third Growths (13 wineries): Leonetti (no way they deserve to be higher; they coast on fame; you spend a lot on their wines and years later when you open them they are a bit disappointing), Three Rivers, Woodward Canyon, Jacob Williams, Kiona, Terra Blanca, Maryhill (Proprietor Reserve wines), Walla Walla Vintners, Gramercy, Ch. St Michelle, Columbia Crest, Gouger, Novelty Hill,
Fourth Growth (10 wineries): Maryhill (primary wines), Adamant, Beresan, Dunham, Canoe Ridge, Northstar, Col Solare, Hogue, Syncline,  Barnard Griffin (for reds only),
Fifth Growths (4 wineries): Basel (they have fallen very far in wine quality-I suspect they are focusing on making money by renting out their many gorgeous rooms in the mansion, and then selling wines primarily to their guests who probably don't know much about wine--and they have become unfriendly to the wine trade, but they are in one of the coolest winery buildings in the state), Sleight of Hand, 14 Hands, Cor,

Do not deserve to be ranked as Grand Crus; let's call them table wines (some of their wines would be fine with dinner, even though not remarkable, but some of their wines were undrinkable when I visited, though of course their wine quality may be much higher now): Isenhower, Forgeron, Glen Fiona, Blackwood Canyon. Tefft, Waving Tree,

Notes:
1. Notice that the distribution is funky; there should be more wineries in each lower ranking. This may be because the average quality around Walla Walla is so high.
2. This list is based on my perception of winery quality; others' lists would of course be different.
3. As in Bordeaux, even a Fifth Growth winery can make a fantastic wine, if fruit and winery decisions come together happily.
4. It is very, very difficult to make a great wine. It is no disgrace not to make them.
5. My ranking is based on my perception of a winery's average quality across its entire lineup--so if they make two great wines and twenty below-par wines, they don't rank very high. (This describes a number of wineries.)
6. No one has visited every winery, and thus if a winery is not named here, it might deserve to be ranked, However, it seems likely to me that about 80% of the wineries not ranked above would probably be listed as table wines. And there is nothing wrong with table wines.
7. Even if you think this ranking is ridiculous, I nevertheless think it is helpful to give consumers, who want to choose a wine from Washington, an idea about general winery quality, because if they rely only upon advertising, or a pretty building, or a charismatic pourer, or favorable yelp reviews, they are unlikely to find most of the best places.


Saturday, June 18, 2016

One thing you can do with red currants

I saved a red currant bush, by moving it, when we burned down the derelict cabin at our farm (that was a training exercise for the local fire department; pretty cool). The bush rewards us by giving a small crop of very tart red currants every year. So, what to do with them? This year, this was my solution:

What you see there, sauteeing in olive oil, is the currants with minced onion, garlic and yellow mild peppers, with fresh oregano from our garden, and some vinegar and sugar. It cooked down into a wonderful topping for tilapia over brown rice. Enjoyed with one of the great rose wines I've sold this Spring.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Justin Vineyards assailed for clearcutting oak grove in Paso Robles

If you look at the before and after photos in this article, you can see a dramatic loss of forest, clear-cut so that the winery can build a huge retention/irrigation pond and build more vineyards. Angry neighbors say the use of so much water is pretentious and wasteful in a time of drought, and the loss of the oaks is ecologically devastating.

I have mixed feelings here. Almonds are the extreme water users in California, and their prodigious thirst for water (and the state's refusal to further reduce water use for almonds) is a prime cause of the current water shortage. Arguments that there is already enough cleared land for new vineyards, are persuasive. The oaks there, as in the Sierra Foothills AVA, are gorgeous and important, so a massive loss of them is bad news; it is possible to leave little stands of trees here and there, and plant vineyards around those, so I wish it had been done here.

Wineries like Justin need to be careful, to take care of the land they own and to avoid upsetting their target customers. If there is continuing outcry, and perhaps movement away from the Justin brand(s), that could discourage others from clearcutting these wonderful oak groves.


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Favas

Fava beans, which contain protein and are thus a meat substitute, are not really beans (they're a vetch), but they are delicious! Pictured is a fava bean pod, our crop of shelled fava beans, and an ear of corn: To the favas and corn kernels, add some onion, garlic, mild peppers, and cook briefly in hot olive oil, salt and pepper. A variation of Succotash!

And a white wine to go with it.

Maybe a wine I made.


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Reached a milestone with the stone grape arbor today

Stan the mason and I put the capstones on my rustic stone walls today. It's (almost) done! Earlier, Russell and I built the wooden framework, and before that, I built the stone walls and, earlier still, the foundations they sit upon. Finally (almost) done. Once the grapes cover it, it will be darling.

Next is to build a one-step stair up into the "room" inside the arbor, and to install flagstones and pea gravel in there, and then have a double-person "loveseat" Adirondack chair to go inside.

I highly recommend Mastercraft Masonry (Stan) and Quickbuild Homes (Russell). As to my own masonry skills, I might just have to drop my earlier plans to build a Scottish keep on our farm--it's not so much the lack of skill--I think I know how to do it, after spending 1.5 years doing the stone walls on this arbor--but it's the lack of time. I'd need an army of 50 masons, and a lot of mortar and scaffolding.These little stone walls used an AMAZING amount of rock.




A City of Wine - Why Not?

Sure would be fun to visit this place, opening near Bordeaux.

The architecture alone is fantastic.

And while you're at it, why not go to Ch. Lynch Bages' little village--the winery has added restaurants and shops, all as part of a little destination locale in Pauillac (Haut Medoc, north of Bordeaux). And why not go to Georges DuBoeuf's little destination locale in Gamay (between Burgundy and the Rhone), where he took over a train station and has a wonderful wine museum, to go along with the winery.

France has the right idea! OK, so does Carlton, Oregon ;)


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Terroir is a myth!

We call other people's religions "myths." And now the concept of terroir (i.e., the identity of a spot's climate and soil is expressed through grapes grown there) is a myth.

A University of California-Davis professor exposes myths in winemaking, beginning with the biggest one. An article about his book is here.

Wineries use all sorts of mispresentations and outright falsehoods, to market their wines. This is one more. There is no molecule in the soil that can be found in a ripe grape. The soil might nurture a healthier plant (or not), but the soil isn't expressed in the fruit. A sunnier spot, however, might lead to riper grapes, and to that extent a location does make a difference in the finished fruit.





Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Plastic Wine Bottles?

This article announces a new plastic wine bottle.

Almost all wineries conduct primary fermentations in plastic (I use food-grade HDPE plastic), but most winemakers conduct long-term wine storage in glass, stainless steel, oak, or concrete.

But the lower weight of a plastic bottle, compared to glass bottles, is so striking that over the next few decades many millions (perhaps billions?) of dollars could be saved by moving beer, wine, and liquor into plastic containers. I predict it will happen. The right plastic SUPPOSEDLY is able to store wine (and the acids in wine) for a long time, with no leaching from the plastic into the wine, and without too much oxygen transfer into the wine.

Probably some wineries will try it first, within the next few years, and wineries like Ch. Lafite will take a hundred years to change over.

Thanks to Audrey for mentioning this article!


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Spring!

The Jupiter seedless grape is budding in the vineyard. From a dead-looking stick unfurls a gorgeous pink-tinged leaf, reminding us of so many good things: The opportunity for growth, not just in grapes, but in us. A reminder that we are still alive. The promise of renewed life. Advice that there will (nearly) always be a brighter day after a troubling one. The humble grape can tell us all this, if we only take a moment to pause, look, and see.


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

On the other hand, this Walla Walla Cab aged beautifully:

2008 Seven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, Seven Hills Vineyard (Walla Walla): This was outstanding with a grass-fed NY strip. The bouquet wasn't as strong as I like, but on the palate the wine is bursting with fresh blackcurrant notes. A vivid and fresh wine. I love it when a wine ages this well. Only $21 (my price) when I bought it, and what pleasure now!

This is why you should lay down certain reds, if you can in good storage conditions. This is why I love SE Washington wines.

Note: Mine was 2008, not the 2007 as pictured.

Note: Yes, cabs can be expected to age better than Chards. But still, this was GREAT and youthul, versus the Chard which was probably over the hill many years ago. And, to be clear, I love love love Amalie Robert wines. I only learned that their Chards don't age for 8 years, at least in some vintages (see previous post).


How one Oregon Chardonnay didn't age well

We opened a 2007 Amalie Robert Dijon Clones Chardonnay. At 8 years old with impeccable (very cool) cellaring, I expected it to be great. I loved it when it was young.

But the first indication of issues came with the too-golden color. And the wine had some oxidation evident--some sherry-like notes. Most of the Chardonnay varietal character was gone. Rats!

The remains of it sat recorked in the fridge for a couple of days, and upon retasting it, it was, at that point, awful. (For younger wines, this kind of short-term storage for a partially-empty bottle usually works great.)

Most wines are made to be drunk in a few years. However, great Chardonnays (and Rieslings) can age for a decade or more. Maybe 2007 was too poor of a vintage for this length of storage.




Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Spain passes France

This article lets us know that, while Spain's wine volume sold is now #1 in the world, just passing France, wines are more profitable in France because in Spain much of the production is sold in bulk.

Spanish wines carry some of the best values in the world, too. There is not much difference in quality between some $25 Spanish wines and some $75 Oregon wines, And many Spanish wines score in the low 90s and cost only $12-$15 or so, which is hard to find elsewhere.

Friday, January 15, 2016

High-flying grapes?

Kendall-Jackson, a HUGE wine business in California, is buying the complex of buildings near McMinnville OR formerly owned by bankrupt Evergreen Aviation. Here is the story.

K-J has bought 1300 acres of wine land in that area in the past few years. That is quite a commitment to Willamette Valley wines. I think that with the expensive (some would say, vastly-overpriced) Pinots there, the gross margins in the wine business there, especially in the hands of a skilled large operator, would be quite high. Good luck to them!