Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Full Service Tasting Room Manager!

We knew the day would come, he warned us many times, but our friend Rich is leaving wine country for Hermosa Beach and time with his wife and many creative/business opportunities!

With little time to prepare, Ron and I packed some of the Black Magic Chocolate Cake (look for the recipe in the coming weeks) I had made the night before and headed out to the Maloy O'Neill tasting room to see Rich on Monday.

As always, we were greeted with this winning smile!

After Rich poured us our first wine, a couple of guys came in for a tasting. They were Canadian.

When they left, Rich invited us out to the barrel room to "thief" wine! 

There he is, thief in hand, looking a bit impish (and maybe even excited about our unexpected visit?)!

We missed the last formal cellar club members barrel tasting in February, so this was a real treat.

From the first barrel, we tasted a 2007 "Primativo" which was delicioso

We have one bottle of Shannon's 2005 Primativo that we purchased just before the price went from $36 to $75!

The next barrel contained a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc with a tiny percentage of Petite Syrah and Mourvedre.

Rich says this 2006 vintage will be the next Maloy O'Neill "Fremere," or it should be if he has his way!

I'm a big fan of huge red blends that blow your mind, knock your socks off and send you zinging into rainbows and star streams in a very non-cliche way!

This 2006 is just the stuff to make that happen in a warm fuzzy way.

Here's a photo of Ron and Rich. After we tasted these heavenly concoctions, we stepped out into the sunlight of a beautiful March day and snapped a few photos on the patio.

Rich and I toasted, too!

He has a bright future, and we're happy to have found this gem of a friend.

Rich, best wishes to you and your wife in SoCal. 

We'll be visiting you if we're allowed, and of course, you are welcome in our home!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Racking Our Wine!

Last weekend, our friends Kevin and Maryella, with whom we're making wine, came over to show us how to "rack" our West Side Lucky 7: Rebel Red.

What is racking? It's the process of removing wine from the barrel (or keg, in our case) into another container while leaving the junk to be dumped out. Then the keg is washed and the wine pumped back into it. 
Here's what happened in our garage last Saturday!

First, we had to "thief" a bit of wine for each of us to test! We all determined: it's fantastic. Now on with the process.

A food grade plastic hose is attached with zip ties to a stainless steel rod, leaving about an inch of the steel longer than the hose. 

This is a work-around to purchasing an expensive pumping apparatus. 

The rod/hose is inserted into the barrel.

Next, the other end of that portion of the hose is hooked up to a small pump. 

Another section of the same type 
of hose is attached to the output of the pump. 

The end of this hose is placed into a food grade plastic container (or another barrel).

This will be the temporary receptacle for the "racked" wine.

Starting in pill form, Campden is crushed with a mortar and pestle. 

Campden is a sulfur-based product used in making wine, beer and cider. It kills certain bacteria and inhibits the growth of most wild yeast.

The Campden is then mixed in a beaker with just enough purified water to dilute it.

Then the mixture is added to the wine prior to pumping it back into its barrel.

Another method of racking the wine utilizes a gravity pump.

This approach is slower and requires that a very, very heavy barrel or keg filled with wine be hoisted onto a high ledge, shelf or other surface.

But the upside of gravity pumping is not purchasing an electric pump, saving winemakers a few precious dollars! 

Fortunately for us, our friends have a pump, as this is their third year as winemakers.

We're contributing other things to the process, such as wine labels, laughter, and of course, the chronicling of our adventure via this blog!

Meanwhile, the sediment at the bottom of the barrel needs to be dumped, otherwise it will ruin the fantastic nature of our wine, turning it into something like red wine vinegar. Yuck!

So the keg is overturned and the "gross lees" is returned to the ground!

It looks like flat wall paint.

The barrel gets washed with hot water, making it a clean receptacle for our "racked" wine!

The wine is pumped back in to the keg, then a piece of oak wood is tied to a nylon string and lowered into the receptacle.

Here's a photo of our wine being pumped back in its keg where it will continue to do its chemical magic. 

We will randomly do barrel tastings to make sure everything is on track.

During these tastings, we will determine whether or not to keep the wine "oaked," and also if it's time to test for residual sugars.

Shannon at Maloy O'Neill asked us to have a lab do this analysis so that we don't bottle our precious creation too soon!

Sunday, March 1, 2009


First, the back story: Our friends Kevin and Maryella got us involved in the winemaking process! In October of 2007, we helped them pick, crush & de-stem, and then press their blend of three grapes: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel.

They decided to call the vintage "Love Triangle."

I designed their "vineyard" label, and also the vintage label!

Groovy, baby, indeed!

Get it? Love Triangle, a blend of THREE grapes.

That day in 2007, they asked Ron and I if we would like to do the entire winemaking process the following year, and we said yes.

Fast forward to September 2008. Kevin told us he was concerned about the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes he was planning to get from a friend who also has a micro-vineyard. Apparently, the area experienced something called "grape shatter" and the crop was almost entirely decimated.

Skip to:

Ron and I had joined Maloy O'Neill Winery's membership club the previous month (although we'd been visiting the winery for over two years). One day in the tasting room, we talked with winemaker Shannon O'Neill about our upcoming wine making adventure, and he expressed enthusiasm: "Do it! You gotta do it!" He also offered advice and equipment in support.

That's when Ron (he has expert timing!) mentioned about the loss of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Shannon graciously offered his grapes to us after the main picking, and even gave us the gate code!

Fast forward to October 17, 2008. Ron, Kevin and I went to the vineyard and picked grapes until we were overheated, exhausted and in need of cold beer! With the grapes from Kevin's friends and the grapes from Shannon, we ended up with seven red varietals in these approximate percentages:

Syrah (30%), Petite Syrah (25%), Cabernet Sauvignon (15%), Merlot (10%), Cabernet Franc (10%), Malbec (5%) and Tempranillo (5%).

We're calling it "Lucky 7: Rebel Red." The rebel part is that we accidentally picked some grapes that were previously not authorized by Shannon!

However, we brought a sample of the wine to Shannon after it had been in the barrel (technically in steel kegs) for seven weeks. He was blown away! And of course, since he is a Supertaster (for real), he detected the Malbec. Ack!

But all is forgiven due to the fact that Shannon loves the wine and wishes he had made it himself. He made us promise to get an accurate alcohol testing, and to check for residual sugars before bottling. If we do everything right, we will end up with "Lucky 7: Rebel Red" being worthy of a $36 per bottle price tag in Shannon's tasting room (even though we're not selling it).

We'll be bottling this fabulous melange in 8-12 months. Label coming soon!

Mushroom Wild Rice Soup

This is a rich, flavorful and unique soup! And it's fairly easy to make but will require about an hour of preparation time, and another hour (minimum) to simmer. Soups are ALWAYS better the second day, so make it in advance whenever possible! Let's get our ingredients in order. 

Oh, and since the Wild Rice will take 50-70 minutes to cook, get it going first, then use the cooking time to chop, slice, dice and otherwise prepare the remaining ingredients!



2 cups Wild Rice
1 stalk Celery, finely chopped
1/2 Tbsp Butter
Salt and Pepper

2 cloves Garlic, minced
1 medium Onion, chopped
2 small stalks Celery, no leaves, sliced diagonally
3 medium Carrots, diced
1/2 cup Red Wine, to deglaze pan

12 oz. Mushrooms, sliced thickly (I prefer a mix of Crimini and White Button)
5-6 cups Beef, Vegetable or Chicken Stock
1 Tbsp Butter
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 tsp Thyme (fresh is best)
Salt and Pepper


Before chopping mushrooms and ingredients for the mirepoix, start by cooking the Wild Rice with a finely chopped Celery, a pat of Butter, and Salt and Pepper. Don't substitute other oils; better to leave out the Butter if you're watching fat content. 

While the Wild Rice is cooking, peel and mince the Garlic, peel and chop the Onion, slice the Celery, and peel and dice the Carrots. Place Butter and Olive Oil in a large stock pot and melt over medium high heat. Add Garlic, Onion, Celery and Carrots, saute for 10 minutes or until all ingredients are fairly soft.

Bring flame to medium, deglaze the pan with Red Wine. Add Thyme and Mushrooms, and a bit of Salt and freshly ground Pepper. 

Cook for 10 minutes or until Mushrooms are soft. Add Wild Rice and enough Chicken, Vegetable or Beef Stock to more than cover mixture. Simmer for at least one hour, several even better, stirring occasionally and checking liquid level. Add more stock if necessary.

If making  a day ahead, allow soup to cool completely, then refrigerate. Reheat over medium flame, checking stock level so that the Wild Rice doesn't burn on pan bottom.

Serve hot with fresh bread or croutons. Serves 6-8 large portions.

Chef's Notes: Top each bowl with grated Gruyere or Emmental for more flavor and texture.