Monday, October 19, 2009

Bottling Lucky 7: Rebel Red, West Side!

After approximately 11 months in a 15.5 gallon stainless steel keg, our seven-grape red wine blend was ready to bottle. Actually, it was ready in August, but we did it on October 17th because we had money to buy bottles and equipment!

We invited our good friend Brie to help with the process: hand bottling six and a half cases.

Here's our bottling apparatus:

The keg of Lucky 7: Rebel Red!

Two saw horses and a wood plank from winemaker and good friend Kevin.

Two sets of firm tubes that go inside the keg.

Two sets of connected soft tubes to extend outside the keg.

And two sets of connected firm tubes with valve tips for starting and stopping the flow of wine into the bottle.

You can see in the photo what a classy operation we had going!

Ron was able to get a successful siphon going on each of the tubes after a couple of attempts.

Generally speaking, everything went really well.

We had a good rhythm going between two of us bottling and the other corking.

Here's another angle on the operation. If you look closely, you can see the valve tube extending into the bottle I'm filling.

Oops! Is that a wine glass in the photo?

A neighbor must have left that!

Actually, we all sampled the wine throughout the extensive bottling time:
1 hour, 10 minutes!

We realized we had made a good decision to go with hand bottling.

Not only was the process cheaper than renting bottling machines and pumps, clean-up was a breeze!

We ended up with 65 bottles of wine!

Here's a shot of the first case, bottled and corked.

I printed a few labels that I had designed over the last few months using Adobe PhotoShop.

Ron came up with the idea of black die with white dots, and the single shade in background.

I like how it looks slick and glossy with a hint of 1950s casino style!

At the last minute, I tweaked the story to include the concept that we ended up with two kegs of Lucky 7: Rebel Red.

Kevin and Maryella have one keg stored at a friend's vineyard in a temperature controlled barrel room. That's the East Side barrel.

Ours was stored in our garage and in the corner of our living room, wrapped in a sleeping bag. That's the West Side barrel.

I wanted to distinguish the East Side from West Side lots, since the wines have been subject to radically different treatment, almost since entering the individual kegs.

They "topped up" their wine with everything from Two Buck Chuck to some very expensive and delicious Syrah from their friend's vineyard, Red Soles.

We used a three-grape red blend that I actually enjoy, from Trader Joe's, $4.99 a bottle.

Also, the amount of time their wine was "on the oak" differed greatly, as well as the use of the "respirator."

Additionally, aside from the first "racking" of each keg, we added the necessary sulfites (Potassium Meta-Bisulfate) at widely varying times.

It will be exciting to taste the two, side by side, once they're ready!

Look for that post in 6 - 12 months, ahhhhhhh! I can hardly wait.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Punching Down the Must!

"What kind of weird title is that, Sharine?," you say.

"That doesn't make any sense."

Well, as David Lee Roth, former lead singer of Van Halen, once said in an interview,

"Flatter not thyself, my son. It makes no sense to you!"

My title makes perfect sense to someone who speaks "vinology!"

First, this post is about the grapes we harvested and crushed at SRV on October 10, 2009, which you see here in the photo.

The grapes have been in three food grade barrels since that fateful afternoon.

As the grapes rest, the skins plus bits of stems and leaves and other debris, come to the top of the barrel, forming what is called "must."

Essentially, it's a thick cake-y crust.

The crust or "must" must be stirred back into the juice several times each day to create a consistent mixture.

The process is called punching down the must.

Here's a picture of Ron doing the punching.

Kevin made a special wood tool for the job.

Punching down the wine multiple times each day is also important for keeping the fermentation process going.

Now, here I am trying (yes, I know there is no try, there is only do), but for real, people, I could NOT punch down the must!

Look, they even put me on a step stool so I could get some serious leverage.

But no go.

The must is approximately 8-12 inches thick, and it is really dense.

I consider myself pretty strong for all of my 105 lbs., but apparently the must doesn't agree.

Okay, so I'm no heavy weight!

Anyway, Maryella and Kevin, and their friend Dave, share punching down duties.

This process lasts for 7-10 days until the wine is ready to press.

We'll handle that process in an upcoming post, so check back, or just become a follower! We do some cool stuff.

This is what the grapes look like just after the must in punched down.

Frothing grapes and juice that smell so good and look so pretty!

This vintage has not yet been named, but we all hope it's going to be fantastic!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

2009 Harvest and Crush at SRV!

The air was crisp, the sky was blue, and it was a perfect day for harvesting and crushing grapes at Salinas River Valley in Atascadero, a micro-vineyard owned by our friends Kevin and Maryella.

Here's Maryella among the vines! Several friends joined them in pursuit of the best grapes on the lot.

And there were a "lot" of grapes!

Don and Diane picked from the vines along the driveway.

They had to contend with the ground beneath their feet consisting of random sizes of stones.

Also, they were generally reaching up in order to
get to the bunches.

But they picked the row clean, nonetheless, adding numerous buckets of grapes to the larger bins.

Harvesting wine grapes is dirty work!

You get slapped in the face with aggressive vines, cajoled by fellow pickers, and also sticky.

But if you have a sharp secateur (pruning scissor), it takes the edge off simple laboring!

Here is a photo of Maryella and Kevin's neighbor and friend Dave (R) next to their daughter Katie (L).

They're surrounded by buckets and bins full of Cabernet Franc grapes from the main part of the vineyard.

It's on a slightly terraced steep hill.

Some of the rows are on a wider flat patch of ground, and
are fairly easy to maneuver.

Other rows... not so much!

Getting down a sharp incline on sandy soil takes patience and skill while holding a cutting utensil and a huge pail filled with precious cargo.

Then there are those rocks.

Here is Marsha, a good friend of Kevin and Maryella.

They met while living in the same neighborhood in part of California's central valley.

Now, they all live here.

During this snapshot, Marsha's husband, Bob, was busy on another row.

You'll see a photo of him later in this post, during the "crush" part of the day!

Meanwhile, back amongst the vines, we were all picking beautiful bunches and occasionally
talking smack.

In the next photo, Kevin (R) is schooling me on the finer points of vineyard management.

Ron said I had the "grunge" look for that day's harvest.

But honestly, Sandra (my friend of many years), I was wearing the Wine

Therapy t-shirt that you gave me under my Kurt Cobain plaid!

Once we moved to this side of the vines, the sun became very intense.

I don't mind hot weather, I actually prefer it to cooler climes.

I did, after all, move from Wisconsin to California!

Okay, here is an example of a "perfect bunch" of Cabernet Franc grapes.

They're perfectly ripe, perfectly sweet, and

perfect for...

fermenting into WINE!

Why else would we labor under slave-like conditions, while tolerating the drastic temperature changes of California's central coast?

Why else would we risk life and limb carrying heavy pails of grapes up and down steep hills with scissors in our hands?


And here's the next step in making it.

Individual buckets of grapes get dumped into these big red bins.

The bins are hauled in Kevin's big truck up the steep hill to the garage area.

It's been functionally transformed into a mobile winery, complete with barrel room!

The crushing apparatus is a stainless steel piece of equipment.

Inside the bin of the crusher is a crankshaft-like rod containing relatively sharp paddles.

When engaged, the shaft turns, the paddles pull the grapes down, breaking the skins.

It also pulls the fruit off the stems and shoots the debris out a side chute.

Here, Ron and Bob are dumping grapes into the bin...

and they come out on the other end!

You can clearly see some brownish stuff among the purple grapes.

This is a combination of small leaves, parts of stems, spider webs, spiders, bees, bird talons, boll weevils and...

That's why winemakers use sulfites.

To make the wine safe to drink.

You know, as in standards for health.

So before you blame us for using chemicals, think about how much you love wine and how awful it would be to contract salmonella or E. coli from drinking your favorite wine because the winemaker refused to sanitize it!

And this is where we'll leave for today: the photo here is a white food grade bin filled with the "must" or grape pulp and juice.

Yes, some of those stems and leaves are still present.

(Again, see previous comment about sulfites).

The must smells delicious and heady, and the juice is so sweet, you can't believe it doesn't have added corn syrup, fructose or sugar!

Later, Kevin added sulfites, followed by "pitching the yeast," which of course accelerates the fermentation process.

In the next post, we will "punch down" the crust of the must! (Well, I will make a serious attempt at doing so, in any case).

Stay tuned, friends and wine lovers everywhere!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Pain Complet (Whole Wheat French Bread)

Since we switched to a mostly vegetable and whole grain diet, I've been making whole wheat pita bread instead of my favorite, Pain Complet. But then I realized yesterday that the two breads contain exactly the same ingredients. Duh!

The French bread recipe I use simply calls for a sustained rising period, as with most yeast breads.

In contrast, pitas are ready to bake after only 30 minutes of rising time (don't forget to flip 'em).

And of course pitas bake more quickly because they're thin and small! Plus the oven temperature is 500°F. HOT!

So, here is a photo of my Pain Complet; the dough has been kneaded and is resting in a lightly oiled glass bowl, covered with plastic wrap (a damp towel will work as well).



2 cups Whole Wheat Flour

3 cups All Purpose White Flour

1/2 tsp. Salt

1 tbsp. Dry Active Yeast

2 cups Water, approximately 110°F

1 tsp. Sugar

Olive Oil

Additional Flour as needed


In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Move the ingredients to the sides of the bowl, creating a large well in the middle.

Pour yeast and sugar into the well. Pour 2 cups of warm water over the yeast. Sprinkle a bit of flour over top. Wait for bubbles to appear in the yeast, approximately 10 minutes.

With a wooden spoon or your hands, gradually incorporate the flour into liquid. This pre-kneading should result in a relatively firm ball of dough. If it's too sticky, add a little more flour.

Remove dough from the bowl and place on a lightly floured surface. Knead it by pushing your palms into and then turning it one quarter. Continue kneading for 7-10 minutes, or until the bread is supple and tacky but not sticking to the surface.

Place the bread in a lightly floured bowl and cover with a damp dishcloth. Let it rise for about 2 hours (depends on the room temperature, you want it to be fairly warm). It should double in size.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Sprinkle a counter top or other surface with flour.

Prepare a baking pan by lightly oiling and flouring it, or bake on top of oiled parchment paper. I like to use a cookie sheet, brushed with olive oil and dusted with corn meal.

Remove dough and place on floured surface. Press it down once with your palms.

Reshape dough into a ball or braid, whatever shape suits your mood. Place dough on baking pan. Using a sharp knife, cut diagonal lines across the top of the bread.

Brush top of dough with olive oil. Place in oven and bake for 30 minutes (more or less, depending on how much you like it browned).

This one is perfectly toasty!

VoilĂ !

(It's a half recipe, by the way, and I shaped it into an artisan style loaf).

Yes, I still love my pita bread. But nothing -- NOTHING -- compares to the scent of a loaf of bread baking for half an hour, filling the whole house with homemade whole wheat bliss. I can still smell it today!

This recipe is based on my experimentation with ingredients and methods as outlined on the tres fantastique site,