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With the room that is to contain my future winemaking
station undergoing a home makeover, it was time to shift back to the vines
outside. The leaves having
abandoned their vines, and the harsh Southern California winter in full force,
I braved the elements and snipped away for their winter pruning in the
forbidding 78 degree (F) winter sun.
When complete, the trellis had transformed from a tangled, intertwined
mess to a sleek, minimalist trio of T’s.
It’s very satisfying to finally see the full frame, from which all
future grapes will be grown, before me.
As I stepped back from the last vine to admire my work, I stumbled, one
foot in the hole where my fourth vine had been, a reminder of how much I have
yet to learn.
The search for a Mourvèdre replacement has been ongoing
without much success. Previously,
a reader of WineMaker Magazine online had been kind enough to offer me an extra
vine he had on hand. At the
time, I had concerns for the
vine. It looked meager compared to
the Zinfandel and Mourvèdre I had planted. After Christmas, I finally got around to scraping to get
past the bark, checking the health of the vine, and sadly confirmed it was
dead. There was no green, neither
above nor below the graft. This
meant I was back on the search for a replacement.
Previously I had purchased my vines from Rockin-L-Ranch on
eBay and that experience was so easy and positive, that it covered up how difficult
it is to find an online resource for a small urban home vineyard like
mine. Most reputable sources
online usually have a minimum purchase of 25 or more, quantities far too large
for the spatially challenged. I
discovered that the owner of Rockin-L-Ranch, Richard, an incredibly helpful and
informative resource, apparently passed away this past year. When I bought my vines a couple years
ago one of the vines was dead on arrival, he not only shipped a replacement but
thoroughly answered all my emails and offered me additional resources and
useful links for maximizing my chances for success. Based on posts from others in various wine forums, I am not
alone in my appreciation of Richard and Rockin-L-Ranch.
As I am trying to locate a source for a Syrah to replace my
Mourvèdre, buying individual dormant rootstock comes to the forefront as one of
the biggest challenges of starting an urban home vineyard like mine. At the moment my options are: to pay
about 5 times more by purchasing a bundle of 25 from a reputable source
online; to take a chance and buy
single vines at quite a premium from a disreputable online source (“F” rating
with BBB) here in California; to drive out to the nearest wineries (1 hour
trip) to see if I can sweet talk someone into selling me individual vines. Given I don’t want to waste money or
perfectly good vines, nor reward a
poor business model and potentially throw my money away, I am going to attempt
a few visits to local wineries (besides it’s the only options with wine tasting
“I love everything that's old: old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wines.” - Oliver Goldsmith, She Stoops to Conquer
“All things must pass.” - George Harrison
Conventional wisdom suggests that older things tend to be better: the wisdom of age, the usefulness of long tradition, the lasting legacy of well-written books, and of course, well-aged wine. But have you noticed that even conventional wisdom is getting a bit long in the tooth? And are you sitting quietly in a corner, reluctant to rock the boat by mentioning that you don't find really aged wine to be that much better than its younger counterparts? Speak up! Because when it comes to the quality of old versus younger wines, conventional wisdom may be getting a tad absent-minded.
If you've been regretting that you don't have a cellar full of wines that have been ageing and improving for many years, relax. Because here's a little secret: even taking personal taste into account, most wine experts think that very few wines taste “better” if they are aged more than five years past their vintage date. In many cases, what makes a wine valuable is not that it tastes more and more divinely perfect with each passing year, but that it becomes more and more rare as most bottles of that vintage get used. That's right – the fetish about old wines may have more to do with economics than with taste, apart from a few classic exceptions.
I first wrote about my ideas on developing one’s senses and
improving wine tasting skill in March of 2011 in a post entitled Approaching
Wine that was guest authored for the Seacoast Beverage Lab, a beer blog
based in Portsmouth, NH. In that post I recommended tasters closely study
freshly cut grass and lemon to develop a sensory memory for better recognition
in wines. I suggested that Sauvignon Blanc might express both the grass and
lemon, and that other wines like Chenin Blanc might express the lemon quite well
too. Pretty straightforward and pretty basic.
I further fermented (pun intended) some of these ideas as
they relate to making better wine in the Dry
Finish column of the Oct/Nov 2011 issue of WineMaker Magazine. My
experience tells me that sensory development and building a memory of aromas, flavors
and textures is a considerable asset for winemakers, and I wake up each morning
with anticipation of what experiences I might have that day to expand my own
Over the course of 2011 I developed these ideas into
something I thought could be executed as a workshop or a hands-on exercise, but
I didn’t immediately execute the concept. During a breakout session at the 2011
Wine Bloggers Conference I experienced something much like what I had conceived
of. The session was sponsored by Winebow and presented by Sheri Morano, MW. Based on that
experience I knew that my ideas would work, but I got distracted by other priorities
and only recently got back to considering how I might implement them.
I settled on an exercise that would focus taster’s attention
on one style of wine, Pinot Noir was chosen, with a panel of items that express
aromatic and flavor components that may be found in Pinot Noir.
The biggest challenge for me in my Urban Vining endeavor has
been a lack of space. I am finding that same challenge persists as I move
toward the winemaking side of things.
On the viticulture side, space was the most limiting factor, as our .23
of an acre speck of land (much of which is taken up by the house) did not
provide much of a canvas to work with.
Factors such as maximizing sun exposure, the orientation of the house
(north-south), and personal aesthetic ultimately, conspired to reduce the
suitable space for planting, so much that there was only one place I could
plant. These determined that the
most I could accommodate was four vines.
I have read that I could expect about 4-6 bottles of wine per vine. I assume then it is realistic to expect
to get at least the equivalent of 10 bottles of wine from 4 vines (a bit more
than 2 from each vine). This would
yield at minimum 2 gallons of must, or at maximum, if the best case 6
bottles/vine were achieved, 4+ gallons.
I expect closer to 2-3 bottles/vine as I will try to focus on quality
over quantity. Perhaps some would
be dissuaded by such a small yield but for me, due to being spatially
challenged, this works out quite nicely.
In my last post I had suggested that I would start
documenting my attempt to make wine from the kit I had received for Christmas;
however this will now be delayed due my space (lack of) issues. Our house was built in the 1930’s and
the garage is actually a carriage shed more akin to an tools/junk/spider home
shed. As such, this eliminates the
obvious location for a winemaking station until we can expand our “junk shed”
into a proper walled garage, which financially may be beyond my lifetime. That leaves finding a location in the
house to set things up. This poses
challenges like avoiding large amounts of must from spilling/splashing onto our
hardwood floors and surrounding furniture, let along determining where it can
all fit. The two bedrooms, living
room, and dining room were all out.
Obviously the bathroom was a no go and after a brief discussion with the
wife, the kitchen was out definitely not an option. The only room left was the office/guestroom, which will
become the wine production/guest room.
While the biggest drawback of a small house and lot is
having no space, the biggest advantage for efficiency is also having no
space. It ensures you pare
yourself down to the absolute essentials.
It challenges you to be efficiently creative with the most valuable
items being those that can multitask.
From the picture you can see that I have begun to collect some
equipment. Rather than sorting
things out as I go, I am taking a few weeks to determine; what I can do to
reduce my spatial needs, how I can reduce the mess that could accompany
racking/ bottling, then buy the appropriate equipment, set up, and take the
plunge, finally trying my hand at making some wine.
“Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities.” (1 Timothy 5:23)
Note: I'm not a doctor--I don't even pretend to be one to pick up girls--so this is not medical advice or a recommendation to use alcohol in anything other than a reasonable and moderate way, conducive to a healthy lifestyle embracing a good diet, exercise and a circle of friends to share it with.
If even the Bible backs up the health benefits of wine, is it really true that wine isn't just harmless, but might actually do your health some good? That's a common suggestion among wine-lovers, and there appear to be some studies that back up the idea. And for a while at least, wine was suspected as a primary cause of the French Paradox.
Those lucky French people, despite a diet that features a high amount of saturated fats, are known to have a lower prevalence of coronary disease than people in other places. When scientists first realized that, one of the most popular suggested explanations for this health benefit was all the red wine the French drink. You can imagine how sales of red wine increased in North America after that theory came out. But despite the known good effects of certain ingredients in the wine, there just didn't seem to be enough of those ingredients to create such a drastic health effect. And when you realize that on average, a French person drinks only a couple of bottles more per year than a North American, well, there goes that theory. Darnit anyway.
But don't throw the health effects out with the wine bottle! All is not yet lost. Because despite the crash and burn of red wine as a theoretical cause of the French Paradox, there is still some evidence suggesting health benefits to moderate alcohol intake. And yes, those benefits relate to cardiovascular health. So red wine may be back on the menu after all.
In the studies done so far, even taking into account the possibility of moderate drinkers having a better income and healthier lifestyle, and factoring out non-drinkers who had quit because they had already ruined their health with alcoholism, there seems to be a correlation. Moderate drinkers are less prone to heart disease. There doesn't seem to be a distinction between wine, beer, or distilled spirits when it comes to this benefit, but it's certainly good news for wine drinkers.
Pay attention to that word, “moderate,” though, and don't rush out and buy or make an excess of wine or other alcohol “for your health.” Too much of a good thing can reverse all those good effects. And we all know that excessive drinking leads to liver disease, heart failure, and even certain cancers, not to mention accidents and injuries caused by drunkenness. When the biblical writer says “a little wine” rather than “jugs and jugs of the stuff,” he knows what he's talking about. It's fine to have a large, well-stocked cellar; you just don't have to drink the whole thing by next Wednesday.
The effects of moderate amounts of alcohol on the body are many: it helps reduce blood pressure and reduces insulin levels. It increases the levels of good cholesterol (HDL) while reducing the levels of the bad kind (LDL). It contains antioxidants that fight cancer, and it helps prevent blood clotting. But what about that reference to the stomach in the Bible verse? Does wine help the digestive system too?
Studies seem to support that idea also. Wine apparently combats certain food-borne pathogens quite well, either because of the acidity or because of the alcohol itself going to work directly on the bacteria. It even works against the bugs that cause ulcers. But the funny thing is, this doesn't apply to white wine at all, but only to the reds. It seems the French may really be onto something, after all.
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