Monday, February 27, 2006

Olympics in BC: will wine be able to profit?

Jamie Maw leads off an interesting subject over at EGullet about the food and beverage scene in BC come 2010. Use the topic header above to link and maybe even join EGullet.

There's also a link to a Slate article about Piedmont's failure to get wine in the media spotlight during the Olympic coverage.

Interesting prediction: U.S. chains will buy lots of properties to cash in over the lead-up and actual games period and then (as I predict) vanish - leaving huge holes physcally and economically in the dining landscape.

How will this effect BC wineries? Any Salt Lake or Lake Placid readers to contribute?

To Barrel Your Wine or NOT To Barrel Your Wine

These days a lot of wine makers and winery owners automatically assume their winery will be well-stocked with stacks of hand-crafted oak barrels.

But it's not a winery requirement. It should be a carefully considered decision based on the winery philosophy for making great wine.

The oak barrel route is an expensive one. When a wine maker decides to use barrels then they are taking a fork in the wine making road that involves the budget and the style of the house. It also creates an inventory timing issue. Instead of making and bottling everything within a year, a winery now must hold inventory until the wine has received the desired effect from the barrels. Sometimes this means years after the vintage.

Barrel prices range from around $250 to well over $1,000 per unit (US$) so it's a major investment. After about 4 or 5 years the influence on flavour and aroma is minimal so what you have left is a 225 liter storage tank with some challenging sanitation issues.

Generally speaking, a red wine made in the traditional style of most major red wine-producing areas will spend some time in barrel. But if your objective is to make the best $5.00/glass bar pour merlot then maybe a tank, some micro-oxygenation and a few pillow cases of oak chips is the way to go. You'd be surprised how many of the very popular red brands go this route. Or maybe you wouldn't.

Obviously, if you're making all aromatic whites, your requirement for oak will be minimal if not non-existent. Maybe all you'll need is enough to decorate the tasting room.

Some of the factors involved in choosing oak:
  • American or French or Hungarian or something else or blended?
  • Oak or one of the exotics (chestnut, acacia)?
  • Tight grain?
  • Toasting level?
  • Fire or water bent?
  • Shape? Bordeaux or Burgundy?
  • Thin stave or regular?
  • 2 yr. seasoned or more?
  • Which forest?
  • Which cooper?
  • Who's got the best t-shirts?
  • Used (careful!) or new?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Jessica Simpson Fixed My Corker!

Okay, that is not 100% true but . . .

She appeared in my dreams and suggested that today everything was going to be alright.

Well, things are progressing and when I get back from the machine shop on Monday morning I hope to have a functioning corker. I'll have to send her a note and thank her for the support.

Also, I'm seeing if putting famous people in my title/link area drives more traffic sort of like Ben Barren does with his non-stop eyecandy. You should read the guy - I do and I understand slightly more than 50% and I generally feel like I'm walking the edge of Geek Canyon and peering into the abyss. What a rush.

By the way, I think this is my 100th POST!

2004 Finca Los Primos Malbec & Antonio Banderas

It's been awhile since I reviewed a wine.
Sticking to my malbec and syrah from South America theme -
I'm going to be working with malbec soon so I've been running through a few.

I like to say the title of this wine. It makes me sound like Antonio Banderas in Zorro or some other flick.

This one shows the youth with lots of fruit expression. The tannins are still somewhat assertive and it really is best, at this point, with robust, meaty dishes and rich cheeses. I'd stop short of going too spicy with the meal selection. I really appreciated the coffee and tobacco box that is beginning to emerge. Some of the flavours (oak influences notably) are not yet fully harmonized but I'm sure it will all fall into place. I bought a case of the stuff because:
1) the price is right. About $10 (CDN) a bottle.
2) I'm 95% sure it's going to cellar like a dream.

16.5/20 BUY $9.95 / bottle

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Your Wine, Your Money - Vote Today!

What's the most you will pay for a bottle of wine today? (CDN $$)
Free polls from

Monday, February 20, 2006

Sharpen Your Elbows . . .It's Wine Tasting Time

I've been away from it from a few years but this year I'm ready for the big one. The schedule is clear.
Time for The 28th Annual Vancouver International Wine Festival

In a nutshell,
1320 wines
186 wineries
15 countries
52 events
21,000 people
7 days.

Too much detail to go into here but you owe it to yourself to at least visit the website and take a gander at all the goings on.

Every year they have a "theme". Usually that means they pick a country and honour its contribution to the world of wine.

This year its France.

I wonder if they'll have some traditional French wine growers activities? See below.

Most of the French at the wine tasting will be wearing suits and ties and very thin socks that look much like pantyhose.

If you're going to the festival tasting could you help me out with this one thing? Go to a table, get your sample and then get the FUCK AWAY from the front of the tasting area so the rest of us can get a taste! Don't stand there snorting, wheezing and muttering and trying to look down the rep's cleavage. Get out of the way! I've only got three or four hours. I don't need to hear your small talk and audible pondering while I stand behind you admiring the drift of dandruff on the nape of your Armani. Get yourself over to the sausage stand and pass a bit of gas there and not in front of me, chum.
Rant over.

SEXY photos of my Corker!

Here's some pix.
I just entered the 21st century and got a digital camera (HPR717). This the Gai filler and corker. Once all those fill rods are pointing down on the left you can load up empty bottles and they fill. When you take a bottle off and place it on the corker pedestal it automatically advances the carousel. The problem I have is with the jaws that compress the cork before it's loaded into the bottle. They don't jive. The other photo is the jaws pulled from the machine. They are supposed to slide along precise machined surfaces and compress a cork that falls in the middle. Jaws i and ii are misbehaving. Jaw ii jams against i when the springs are compressed and it won't release. There's a little cork sheer and, worse, some metal is getting filed off (those little streaks of grey top left).

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Gai 600 Corker

Anybody know how I can adjust the jaws on a Gai 600 corker? The rear jaw jams in the compressed position and causes some cork sheer. Techs are all enjoying a President's Day holiday of course.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Cold Weather Hits California Wine Country

This spate of frosty temps is far reaching. Check these great photos of frost protection activity in California.
Jerry Hall (used to be married to Mick Jagger) runs a great wine review page called Winewaves.
Reviews "value" wines. Great photos of labels and such. Has a category in each review where he notes the kind of closure the bottle has.
Looking around for Pinot stories today led me to the Bottle Room in Central Florida where there's considerable yack about plastic and natural corks. He has a little picture of his cork collection all lined up. I'm sorry, but I had a little laugh.
A site called Fine Wine Press had quite an extensive review of a flight of international Pinots that is worth a read. Nice site too. Great quote by my pal E. Hemingway in the top right corner - "Wine is one of the most civilised things in the world". They also have a weather bar on the lower right sidebar that shows what's happening at various wine places all over the world. So where's Penticton, BC? Feeling a little like Rodney Dangerfield here.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Pinot Noir - Don't Pump It Up Too Much!

A friend of mine who makes wine in the valley once remarked that people try to get too much jammed into Pinot Noir. He maintained that it should be soft, subtle and complex. Too much barrel time, too much extraction for colour creates something not quite Pinot. He dubbed wines
like this "female bodybuilders". They have their appeal but not across the board.
Good advice I think. I try to use seasoned barrels, tight grained French by preference and look to build the wine from clones and yeast selections. I press early. From my experience Pinot Noir is one of the wines that resists rescue attempts in the cellar and is one of the grapes that accurately reflects what happens in the vineyard.

Wish I had shoulders like that!

The Return of Wine Winter

I suppose if some poor winery has still got grapes on the vine for ice wine then they just might get their temps as winter has returned to the valley. Check out my weather thingy at the bottom of the page for the current temp.

We've had weeks of balmy weather with people out in shorts and working in shirtsleeves for a few of the sunny, warm hours in the afternoons.

Small Winery Challenge #1: Space

Materials are beginning to flow in for packaging as we approach the first of our 2005 and 2004 bottlings.

It doesn't take many skids of glass, boxes of capsules or bags of corks to start to use up the limited amount of space in a small winery. Some of our custom crush that should have been transported has been held up by paperwork so that's taking up space as well.

It doesn't help that we're clearing out some our old storage facility and haven't moved into our new one yet.

Fining Wine - No, not finding. . . Fining

Some people are unclear on the reasons for fining a wine. They get it confused with filtering.

As discussed in an earlier post, filtering helps get the bugs out and improves the clarity. It may even alter the texture of the wine a little.

Fining works in conjunction with filtering. Fining involves mixing or blending in a substance that is intended to act on an aspect of the wine and change it's overall sensory perception.

Fining agents don't generally remain in the wine. They fall to the bottom of the tank and the clear wine is 'racked' off or they are left behind after the next filtering session.

The practice of fining is very old. Early on it was discovered that things like blood and egg helped smooth out a wine and made it easier to drink at an earlier age. These days there are a myriad of sanitary agents (some still based on those old originals) that a wine maker can trial to achieve just the right effect.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Lost Weekend in Rockies

Took three days last week and joined some friends for some stunning snow riding (ski, snowboard, other body parts) at Kicking Horse near Golden in the Canadian Rockies.
Those freaking mountains are wicked good and their images haunt me for months after a visit.
Had some wine but more importantly, had some great food and hospitality.

Thursday night we rolled into town and went to The Kicking Horse Grill, a place I'd been a few years back. It was just as good as I recall. I had Buffalo Ribs heaped on a square of bewitching scalloped potatoes and draped with their famous sauce. That alone was reason enough to return but add in the attention of Carl and Martijn that night and you have a great experience. If either of you read this, add a comment to the post and tell me what made those potatoes so unique. To tell the truth, I had my head down concentrating on my own meal so much I can't recall what my compatriots had but I did hear their noises of satisfaction.

Friday lunch was "big day on-mountain" and we took the opportunity to dine in the Eagle's Eye, the highest altitude dining room in Canada at 7,700 feet. F&B manager Thom McCann's crew are doing a masterful job with a 'just right' combination of elegance and casual. Being too pretentious would drive the jock crowd away but it would also be just as wrong to not honour the magnificent scenery and inspired design of the Eagle's Eye. This is all accomplished with a thoughtful attention to detail. The kitchen is the domain of award-winning chef David Knoop. His creations are worthy of the heaven-like surroundings.

On the advice of our server, Sue, I selected the featured Venison on Risotto. The venison was seared and served sliced on the bias, heaped on a savoury bed of risotto. The rice was perfect and had the piquant touch of small pieces of gherkin lurking throughout. We were skiing and it was lunch with a bunch of dudes so to wash it all down required beer. Enjoyed a couple servings of First Tracks brown ale from Fernie, just down the highway.

Saturday night was a bit loose but I can attest to some great pasta and too much Bushmills at The Taps under the watchful and tolerant gaze of Michelle, bartender, server and floor manager extraordinare. Later the denizens of Packer's provided some enthusiastic and energetic local entertainment from which I staggered back to my room at an appropriate hour.

Can't wait to return.

Why we FILTER the Wine

I'm heavy into a filtering right now, popping a trio of whites through a fairly tight diatomateous earth medium in anticipation of bottling all next week.

A lot of people ask me why we filter the wine, especially if they get a chance to see wine at some stage where it looks brilliant already.

There's a couple reasons that come to mind, I'm sure there are more if I thought about it a little longer.

My number one reason is: to the reduce the risk of microbial development in the packaged product that would seriously alter or ruin the character of the wine. Wine comes into contact with lots of bugs, many of which are microscopic. While the wine's acidity, alcohol and other factors make the environment inhospitable to many life forms, other species adapt quite well and flourish in wine conditions.

It would be rare to find a wine that would make you physically ill (except in cases of over-consumption, something I know very little about) but there are lots of situations where the wine becomes unfit for drinking due to microbial growth. Sulphur compounds are the dominant preservative used to make wine clean, but there are a host of other precautions used (like filtering) in concert to create a sound product.

Correctly managed, many wines can be bottled unfiltered. What the winery or the winemaker is saying by doing that is that the chemical composition of the wine is such that the possibility of the wine becoming flawed is highly unlikely. It's a testament to good wine making practices and meticulous cellar protocols.

Another reason for filtering: the public expects a brilliant product. Anything less than excellent clarity is considered a flaw even though the wine is sound from an organoleptic point of view.

White wines are almost all filtered. Many whites have residual sugars which provides fuel for many bugs. Sort of like an ammunition dump for terrorists.

On the other hand, reds are often unfiltered as they naturally suppress the chance of deterioration due to creature invasion.

Hope these brief notes help next time you lift a glass or peruse a label.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Wine Bloggers and Wine Blog Readers - No FEED, No READ!

If you're all ready hip to news aggregators and feed subscribing you can skip this stuff.

But for you other cats - read on.

If you don't have a news aggregator you probably read this blog by some kind of accident or search result or something random like that. If you're a repeat visitor, maybe you've got me bookmarked. Well thanks for that!

Let me save you some time. Get yourself a news reader and subscribe to all your favourite blogs. Anybody who has an RSS symbol or ATOM or whatever they call it can be subscribed. The news reader acts like a little browser that is always looking for new stuff in your selected items. When you open the news reader it shows you (mine uses boldface on the blog title) who's been posting since your last visit. You can ignore the non-posters and scan the titles of those that have.

I've got so many blogs I read it would take me a whole whack of time just to check and see if there was anything new . . . never mind the time to read what I wanted!

I use SharpReader. I think it's great. It's free. Do a search for news aggregators. Pick your own. Install it and streamline your online time!

And if you don't have a feed for your blog, Mr./Ms. Last Century, why not head over to FeedBurner and do a little brain time.

And don't forget to use that big orange button to subscribe to my blog.

Good Glasses = More Wine Enjoyment.

I'm the last one to get all mental over the "proper" glasses to use when drinking wine. You won't see me turning down a drop just because somebody has the wrong glasses. If all you have is some rinsed out paper cups from your last visit to Tim Hortons then that's what it's going to be. Having said that . . .

There are a few things to consider if you want to get more enjoyment out of the daily tipple.

Use glass. Use clear glass that's free of colour or busy cut designs. Glass allows you to examine the brilliance of the wine. You pay for all that fining and filtration; you might as well enjoy it!

A stem on the glass will provide a place to put your mitts and cool wine will stay that way longer.
Also the bowl won't get all mucked up with bits of crab cake and dip. To every rule there is an exception or... if you're going to break a rule, break it good. Riedel makes these great tumblers specifically for big reds like Merlot and Cabernets. A little palm heat won't hurt them.

A glass with a generous bowl and a slightly narrowed opening will allow aroma to be concentrated where your nose can appreciate it. And get glasses that will hold at least 14 ounces to the brim. Of course, only put 6 or 7 ounces in the things. Exception: smaller glasses for bits of ice wine and the like.

The word on crystal: the deal here is that wine just might be better in crystal. Apparently the surface of crystal is far more serrated than regular glass. This creates more ripping and tearing and oxygen introducing type action as the wine moves about the glass which creates a more dominant aroma. I sat through a seminar and demonstration by a crystal salesman on this subject and he was better than Reveen. We were all pretty convinced and planned to drink all our daily beverages out of crystal. Do a side-by-side for yourself and see what works for you.

When you go for your crystal remember that all luxury goods have that "name" thing going on so you may want Riedel (Mercedes) but why not try the Spiegelau (Audi) ? Ninety-nine percent of your drinking friends won't be able to tell the difference.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Wine Books You Must Have

When you're stuck in your cellar on a rainy winter day trying to figure out an analysis method or a cellar technique there's three things you can do:
  1. call up a knowlegable winemaker and ask her. That's only going to work a few times before you get invoiced for consultant's time.
  2. try looking up something on the Web - hit and miss there.
  3. consult one of your valuable text.

Number three is the one you'll most often do and that's going to require some purchasing.
I've started to display some books (with Amazon's help) I think are essential. If you're looking to expand your reference section at the winery take a moment to check out these tomes.

Here's a tip: The Winery Design book by Christian Datz isn't even out yet. You can order it and it will ship on release (June 06) It's supposed to quite good.

Different Pieces Of Wine 'Lego' ....

Today I began to try and build a rose.
My client created a nice one last year. And they'd like to have the same profile again this year.
It's full of fruit, very simple and, for all intents and purposes, not a rose but a blush-type wine.
Well-chilled, it flies out the door of the tasting room all summer.
Only problem is: I don't have the same components as were used last year.
Nailing the colour was easy. The Merlot-Chard base was a sort of pale peach and I introduced about 15% Syrah/Merlot hardpress that hadn't seen any barrel time. But there was a floral element missing from the nose. Checking the records from last year revealed about a 5% dose of Optima; something we didn't get this year. So I substituted a bit of Gewurtz. That lifted the nose nicely but also introduced a slight bitterness. The whole thing wasn't sweet enough so a little white magic was mixed in and voila! - close enough!
This all happened on the lab bench, as all blending brainstorms first should.
I'll bottle up a few samples and run it past the palates that be later in the month.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Putting The Marketing Cart Before The Winery Horse

I sometimes take things for granted. Like I'm sure we all do from time to time in our jobs. I kind of expect people who are jumping into the wine business to have at least some sense of timing when it comes to the yearly cycle of wine.

Beyond that, it's nice when they've done a little reading and know what sequential events should be followed from crush pad to bottling line.

After a couple meetings I've had lately with prospective clients over the past week, I realized that maybe it's not always obvious to surmise "what comes next?".

That's where I come in.

I'm hired to put together a concise and logical plan for cellar operations that will produce the best wine possible from the grapes on hand. Along the way, I hope to show my clients the kind of timing in the cellar that will produce positive results on the balance sheet.

A small deviation early in the game has a way of creating some nasty ripples in the pond.
It's best to have everything covered in a timely fashion and avoid big problems (and big bills)
in the future.

We Grow More Than Grapes

When you get immersed in the wine business around here, you sometimes forget that it's been a fruit and vegetable basket for over a hundred years. The area seems to be perfect for growing things once you get the water supply issue addressed.

One of the other "new kids on the block" is Seabuckthorn. It's quite an interesting plant. I can't even begin to address all its uses in this space. Best to go straight to the source - Sandi and Brian can answer all your questions. If not, their site can point you to the right place.

Okanagan Seabuckthorn