Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Our Wine Labels!

Ron and I are home winemakers; we call our winery SHAG. We've made several vintages since 2008 using red wine grapes. A big part of the process and fun for me is to design labels to adhere to the filled, corked bottles of goodness.

Right from the get-go, I decided to use labels from They were the only company I could find that sells full-sheet labels -- I wanted to be able to print on my nice Epson printer and cut them with square corners. They offered free samples, and later even credited me for labels I had ordered that just didn't work with my printer.

The first year, we made a blend from seven red grapes and called it Lucky 7: Rebel Red. The "rebel" part is because we un-accidentally picked a few clusters of grapes that weren't on the "okay to pick" list from the grower... Oops!

We didn't harvest grapes in 2009 because we were traveling. But the following year, we made "Purple Haze" from Tempranillo grapes. It's a Spanish varietal that grows well here in the Central Coast of California.

The fall of 2011 brought us grape booty! We made another Tempranillo, this time with 25% of a Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah blend. We called it "Bastard Spaniard" because the Spanish varietal was compromised by both a Bordeaux and a Rhone!

The grower/winemaker offered us Pinot Noir grapes as well. Even though we were pretty concerned about dealing with this delicate, high-maintenance fruit, our fabulous enologist, Sherrie, and winemaker Shannon both walked us through the arduous process. The wine turned out delicious!

I design and print labels for our friends who got us into home winemaking, and will post those at another time.

All of these labels look fantastic on the Waterproof Glossy labels from Check them out... oh, and their customer service is excellent, too.

Final Note: The harvest of 2012 yielded significantly lower Brix, but our newest red blend tastes fruity and not a bit light in body. When we name it and label it, probably late spring, I'll post here on my blog!



(All label designs by Sharine Borslien of BlipsWerx Productions, copyright 2008-2012)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Gourmet Again! Episode Features Bogdan's Borscht

Our most recent episode of our YouTube cooking show, "Gourmet Again!," features Bogdan teaching us how to make his family's favorite traditional Ukrainian dish, Red Borscht. Ron and I had fun with Bogdan in the kitchen, then our friend Bob came over to officially taste-test the Borscht. Delicious!

Here is Bogdan's family recipe:


For the soup:
1 gallon pure water, plus more
1 lb. pork loin
5 large potatoes
2 red beet roots
1/2 head green cabbage
1 tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion
3 medium carrots
Handful of Italian flat leaf parsley
Pinch of dried basil
3 bay leaves
3 tbsp tomato sauce
1/3 cup Borscht broth, from the stock pot
Freshly ground pepper
Red or black salt

Sour cream
Boiled eggs, sliced in half
Ukrainian baked dough
Fried lard

Fill a medium stock pot with 1 gallon of water and heat to boil. Place pork loin in boiling water, return to a boil, reduce heat to medium-high and cook 30 minutes.

Peel beets and shred with a standard-size shredder. Add to stock pot and stir. Cook until beets lose release their color to the water and become translucent.

As you cook Borscht, resist the urge to force the pork loin to break down or shred. Bogdan says adamantly, "Don't cut the meat!" (We will however, slice the pork loin prior to serving).

Meanwhile, peel potatoes and cut each into six large chunks. Add to cooked pork.

Chop cabbage into very small pieces, avoiding use of the core. Add to Borscht pot and stir.

Chop onion. Heat olive oil in a pan and sauté onion until translucent.

Peel and shred carrots using a micro-planer. Add to cooked carrots -- always after the onions, because Bogdan says the carrots will absorb the oil. Sauté until carrots begin to brown.

Meanwhile, chop parsley; add it with dried basil and bay leaves to Borscht pot.

When carrots are browned a bit, add tomato sauce and Borscht broth to steam the onion/carrot mixture for a few minutes. Then add sauté mixture to Borscht pot.

Add more boiling water to Borscht pot to bring within "two fingers width" of the top of the pot and give it a good stir.

Bring back to a boil and heat thoroughly for about 10 minutes. Turn off heat and allow Borscht to rest before serving. The pot will stay hot for a very long time!

Add salt and pepper to taste. Bogdan likes to do this at each step of the process (although we think folks with health issues may want to eschew the salt altogether).

Remove the pork loin from the Borscht and place on a plate or cutting board. Cut or shred into small strips.

Ladle Borscht into big bowls. Top with 1/2 cup of pork and place a heaping tablespoon of sour cream off to one side. Traditionally, Ukrainians complete their Borscht experience with half of a boiled egg per bowl, adding a baked dough, much like a biscuit, and finally, small dollops of fried lard.

Another option is using wild duck in place of the pork -- the duck meat can withstand a long cooking period without falling apart and also provides a pleasant gamey quality to the Borscht.

Bogdan says Ukrainians do not drink wine much and are not wine aficionados, but his grandfather takes a shot of ice-cold Vodka prior to eating Borscht. Sorry, Bogdan: as a minor living in the U.S.A., you will NOT be drinking Vodka in my kitchen!

Our friend Bob came over just in time for dinner, and we elected him our official "Gourmet Again! Borscht Taste Tester." You can see in the video how much he enjoyed our Borscht! He also brought a fantastic bottle of Niner red wine to share between the three of us who are of legal drinking age yet decided to skip the Vodka step. Bogdan enjoyed some tasty blackberry/pomegranate juice.

We gathered around our dining table and served our Borscht with flatbread and award winning olive oil from San Miguel Olive Farm... Bogdan approved!

As with all soups and savory dishes, Borscht tastes even more delicious the next day.

Sincere thanks again to Bogdan -- who is quite an eloquent presenter and historically rather astute for a high school student. Great appreciation to Bob for essentially making all this happen, to Ron for thoughtful camera work and keen or sometimes quirky humor, and of course, to YOU, our viewers.

Maybe next episode, I'll have time to add photographs. Ack! For now, check out the video. Go ahead and tell me it's not enough to edit 54 minutes of footage down to 20 minutes...!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Bottling 2011 at SRV!

This post is dedicated to our dear departed friend/family member Dave. We will miss you....

Here is my favorite photo of Dave and I think it's a "Classic Dave Photo!"

Dave, kicking back with a beer at Kevin & Maryella's
after wine harvest & crush, October 2009.

Notice that he is NOT drinking wine after all his hard work. Well, we always say, "It takes a lot of beer to make wine!"

Now, follow me as I take you on another winemaking journey: Bottling SRV's "Chateau Migraine" and "Resurrection!"

Here is Mace, now in the garage/bottling facility of our friends Maryella and Kevin.

What's he doing? Why, bottling wine, of course!

The gold canister you see to the left is Argon, a gas sprayed on top of the bottled wine to keep oxygen away from the wine as it ages.

As the wine moves down the line, Mary towel-dries each bottle and hands it to Michelle.

Michelle is operating the corking machine.

Katie looks on as Brie (her back to the photo) places a label on each bottle which goes into a wine box.

When the boxes are full, 12 bottles, they get labeled with the name and vintage of the wine, along with other pertinent information.

Ron peruses the labeling process while Michelle
sets the corks.

What's this, Mary?!

All kinds of shenanigans go on while bottling
wine, and I think it has something to do with drinking wine on the job ; )

But, Mary is quickly berated by the boss (not really) and gets back to the bottling line!

We used composite cork (don't judge us!) on the majority of the bottles, and some premium cork on a few.

Here, Michelle has traded in her job as cork setter and Ron takes over.

Yes, the arm and shoulder get sore after working a while on the corking machine!

Mary is still taking good care of the filled bottles.

Here, Brie rests on the concrete floor, labeling the filled bottles and then placing them into wine boxes.

She labels each box and someone moves the box to the "finished" area.

We bottled 25 cases of Chateau Migraine and 4 cases of Resurrection.

Some of the folks tried to have more fun than the rest of us....

Here, Maryella laughs heartily as Kevin and
Mary reenact the famous Saturday Night Live
"Cork Soakers" episode.

Ron and I had just watched SNL's Best of Jimmy Fallon and recounted the episode which featured Janet Jackson on a winery tour.

Then the goofing-off stopped abruptly as we suspected a problem with the pump.

Here, Dave and Art look at each other in a scene we home winemakers dread:

Lees (sediment from the bottom of the barrel) is getting into the gravity flow container.

Which means it is going into the bottles, aaaaaaaaah!

You can see Maryella and her grave look as she overhears their conversation.

She joins Kevin at the bottling machine as he shuts down the process.

Here, Kevin inspects a bottle and prepares to pour it into a glass to find out if the gross lees was indeed making its way into the bottles.

Confirmed. The hose on the pump was set too deeply into the main container of wine and dredging up the lees.

When gross lees lays down with the wine, it usually turns foul.

They reset the hose and our process continued! Major crisis averted.

Meanwhile, Judy and I were cutting labels on the tailgate of Kevin's truck.

We were completely oblivious to the critical situation behind us!

More obliviousness on the shiny, happy faces of me and Lisa.

But, hey, we were working!

Here, Lisa displays the label she has partially peeled for Brie to apply to a bottle.

I'm just hanging out, trying to keep cool with some white wine. In a low-key Axel Rose sort of way. I didn't kick anything or throw my precious glass of wine on anyone.

This is probably my favorite photo of the day:

Maryella and Katie smile joyously as we all start cleaning up at the end of a successful day of bottling! A lot of work but way more fun!

All photos by our dear friend Elde Stewart ( except "Dave Kicking Back With a Beer," taken by moi.

Bottling 2011 at SHAG!

Okay, I am seriously late on this, but I have been busy, dear readers! So let's get on with it.

Here are photos (by Elde Stewart) from our wine bottling experiences.

We bottled our 2010 "Purple Haze" Tempranillo early to get the wine out of the heat of our garage!

Here, you see Kevin and Mace finalizing the setup in our garage/bottling facility.

It worked nearly flawlessly. We only lost one empty bottle to the recycle bin, and it turned out that we wouldn't have had enough wine to fill it anyway. How perfect is that?!

The wine was pumped into a food grade container.

From that container, the wine got pumped into the gravity flow container.

The wine flowed into the bottling machine.

Here, Mace demonstrates how quickly one can become an expert at hand bottling wine!

Mace places the filled bottles on the table to his right, where Ron prepares them for corking.

Here, our friend and neighbor Bob works with Ron on the fancy (not really) corking machine.

Place the cork in the top bin, set the bottle on the platform below, and crank down on the lever. HARD!

It takes some muscle! Which is why corking is not my duty!

Instead, I do stuff like cut labels.

Here, Judy and I pose with label sheets and cutting tools in hand.

The work surface was our dryer.

We meticulously cut each label and placed them in a temporary storage bin (otherwise known as a cardboard box).

When wine bottles were filled, corked and dried with a towel, we would slap a label on them.

No! We placed them carefully on the bottles!

Then back to cutting!

Our friend from French class, Barbara, stopped by to check out the scene, but we didn't get a photo of her.

Instead, here is a classic pose.

Elde makes me look good for the camera while I prepare to fill these glasses with some of the great wine flowing through our garage!

After we cleaned all the equipment, we headed over to Salinas River Valley winery at the home of Kevin and Maryella.

Check out the next post about our fun with that process!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Independence Day at Sculpterra

Ron and I met friends Maria and Alex and Sherrie at Sculpterra Winery for a unique and sumptuous celebration of USA independence!

Winemaker Paul Frankel's 2010 Chardonnay and Viognier were palatable and refreshing at the tasting bar, and a few of us took advantage of the free hotdogs outside (the folks at Sculpterra think of everything that my Inner Archivist would love).

Then Paul invited us into his barrel room to marvel at the collection of wood barrels from all over the world of varying sizes, housing multiple single varietals and blends of his amazingly delicious, as-yet unbottled wines.

Paul navigated the racks of barrels with his stainless steel thief and a glass, all to treat us to his first Rhone blend, the prized Bentley Cabernet Sauvignon, perfect Primativo, and precious Petite Syrah -- all absolutely delectable, with beautiful deep color to turn even the whitest of teeth temporarily purple!

Sherrie is also the enologist at Castoro Cellars so it was fun to share in her "shop talk" with Paul, as these two industry professionals are enthusiastic and extremely knowledgeable yet pleasantly unpretentious. (Read about Sherrie and Paul in my book "Cravings, Ravings & Misbehavings!")

But no matter how many discussions we engage with experts like Paul and Sherrie, we always have questions about every stage of the winemaking process, and they graciously increase our knowledge bases.

After the tasting, we purchased a few bottles of wine and two boxes of custom wine-filled chocolates. We found a lovely table in the shade and sated ourselves on a late afternoon picnic in the sculpture garden.

The weather was perfectly warm with a healthy breeze, beautiful blue, blue sky, and plenty of incomparable California sunshine. Summer has arrived!

Just above is a picture in the barrel room (L to R): Alex, Maria, Sherrie, moi, Ron, Paul.

Finally, I got in a photo!

Great thanks to Paul and everyone at Sculpterra, to Sherrie and Maria and Alex and Ron for putting up with my big crush on Paul and Sculpterra wines, and to Mother Nature for a memorable day that we all secretly wished would never come to an end!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Private Barrel Tasting with James Hendon, Winemaker at Pear Valley

Ron and I met James Hendon, winemaker extraordinaire for Pear Valley Winery (photo credit Pear Valley 2009), a few weeks ago at my official central coast book launch party at Kevin Rankin's awesome Paso Wine Centre in Paso Robles.

James and his friends bought a dozen of my book/CD packages and invited us to come out for a winery tour and barrel tasting so, uh, naturally, we hooked that up ASAP!

James is brilliant, friendly and funny. Plus I also think he is pretty cute. (It's okay, Ron understands). The three of us had a wonderful time touring the winery, sampling his wines and tapping his vast knowledge of farming, fruit, fermentation and fun. It was like a wine lovers' play date on James' playground!

When we arrived at the winery, a helicopter was spraying the vines. I assumed it was sulfur, but James took us to look at the vines and explained that it was a copper ion solution. Copper? Sounds bizarre.

But because of the impending freezing temperatures, the newly popped buds must be protected from frost or the winery could lose an entire vintage. Ouch. Some of the tiny buds and leaves were already black or brown from the previous cold snap.

James said there are three ways to prevent this: 1) by using large fans to keep warm air circulating around the vines, 2) by continuously spraying water on the vines, or 3) by spraying copper to form a protective barrier, which was the Pear Valley choice.

Then we toured the "crush pad," where the ripe grape clusters are processed.

Check out this custom basket press that James had made by experts at Diemme in Italy.

The basket, lower part on the right, holds three tons of fermented grapes and each press takes several hours.

The compressor, separate apparatus on the left, is meticulously calculated to gently apply pressure to the macerated grapes with the upper form-fitting lid, and then release after it "senses" that the right amount of grape juice has been pressed off.

All of this happens very, very slowly. According to James, winemakers need to be patient and use time to their advantage. Rushing any part of the process can lead to mistakes or lower-quality wine.

About this time, James introduced us to his assistant winemaker, Jared Lee, as he was finishing a tour of his own and wrapping up the day.

Here are the two masters in front of the custom crusher and de-stemmer.

It was really sweet of James to introduce Ron and me to Jared by talking about my book!

As we left the crush pad, I noticed a wood-fire grill next to the processing equipment, and asked James if BBQ was part of the daily regimen.

He said, "Definitely. BBQ and beer. I always say, 'it takes a lot of beer to make wine!'" Indeed.

We got to talking about craft beer, and specifically Anderson Valley Brewing Company (age required to enter website), then all agreeing that Arrogant Bastard Ale was a fave. We shared our love for Xingu beer with James (he will L-O-V-E this beverage!) as he opened the fermentation room doors.

Wow! Fermentation barrels of many sizes!

The stainless barrels pictured here are the ones James uses most frequently.

They hold approximately five tons.

There are also 40-ton barrels that look like small apartment buildings!

Pear Valley grows 100 acres of grapes which yield 30,000 cases of wine each year.

This is evident when entering the barrel storage room which, James says, houses some 1,600 barrels of numerous vintages.

With clean wine glasses in hand, we followed James into the depths of his creations as they rested in multifarious oak barrels from Minnesota to Pennsylvania to Hungary to France.

James keeps the barrel room at a consistent temperature of 60˚F and a matching humidity of 74%.

The stainless kegs pictured in the lower left of the photo are filled with top-up wines of each varietal.

James led us down Aglianico Alley to sample the '09 first.

This is precisely when we started discussing the title for my next book, the sequel to "Cravings, Ravings & Misbehavings," because I said the fruit in the wine tasted like a craisin on my palate.

James suggested I title the next book "Craisins, Ravin's & Misbehavin's," and we all had a hearty laugh. Clever man.

Here is James with his glass thief, retrieving sumptuous samples of his 2009 Pear Valley Aglianico.

We continued on to the '09 Grenache which was delightfully fruity. James says that, due to the light color, he will add 2-5% of Syrah to the wine prior to bottling to give it a deeper, more attractive hue.

Next we sampled the 2009 Syrah. The tannins were a little "grippy," according to James. He will bottle this wine in July and then, to allow the tannins time to soften, lay it down for one year prior to releasing the wine in the tasting room.

As we tasted the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, James discussed some interesting legal issues with regard to winemaking. In California, grapes have a longer growing season with more sun and so they can produce very high sugar levels, or brix. In France, the opposite is true: the growing season is shorter with less heat and the fruit is typically much lower in natural sugar.

So, it is illegal in France to add water to the wine before bottling, but in California, it is illegal to add sugar!

James dipped into the 2009 port made with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. We found it to be silky smooth with flavors of caramel, nutmeg, ginger and toasted bread. I said, "Hey, this is like my Fluffy Pumpkin Pie with Gingersnap Crust recipe in my book!" James agreed, with a wink.

We moved on to the 2010 port-style concoction made from Tempranillo grapes, and all three of us concurred that it was like drinking buttered toast with triple berry jam.

James ended our delicious tour and tasting with his 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. "It's a big cherry," he said. Definitely. Great tannins, smooth on the palate but chewy as well. He will bottle this in July or August of 2012.

Here's a photo of Ron and James in front of massive wine barrels.

When Ron went to take a picture of James and me, the batteries in our eight-year-old camera died.

Oh, the life of a budget-conscious blogger.

Anyway, we had a fantastic time with this amazing winemaker.

James, a UC-Davis graduate, is so gracious, charming and warm, and his wines match his energy exactly.

He is also a musician and a surfer, and I'm sure that the metaphors to these aspects of his life will apply mellifluously to his magical winemaking mastery!

Ron and I, with friends, will be heading to the Pear Valley tasting room soon.

Thank you to James and to adorable Pear Valley owners Tom and Kathleen!

All other photo credits BlipsWerx Productions 2011.

Monday, March 21, 2011

New Gourmet Again! Episode

Ron and I produced another episode of our YouTube cooking show, "Gourmet Again!" earlier this month. Since all previous elements were on the external hard drive of mine that crashed last year, I had to recreate the background for the header and footer in LiveType.

I also produced a new music theme using GarageBand loops!

So it's like a whole new show! I even added voice overs and way more text throughout the video.

Oh yeah, and I really plug the heck out of my book, "Cravings, Ravings & Misbehavings." Partially because the recipe (or yet another bastardized version) is featured in the book, and partially because I like plugging my book!

So enjoy "Whole Lotta Lasagna" and pass it along to friends and family.

Now I gotta get back in the kitchen!