Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Now that the wine has been pressed off into the keg, it will be allowed to sit for many months and the expended yeasts and any solids settle out to the bottom. This layer of sediment is known as the lees, and will not be disturbed when the wine is siphoned out of the keg and into bottles. The wine will now undergo secondary fermentation in the keg. Also known as malolactic fermentation, this process was jumpstarted by a second innoculation of a special bacteria which insure a quick start to the process. Malolactic fermentation is another biologcial/chemical process where malic acid is converted to lactic acid, which happens to be much easier on the palatte. Cheap wine is normally allowed so sit in large stainless steel tanks while it undergoes secondary fermentation, and often chips of oak wood are added to impart oak flavors to the wine. More expensive wine spends this part of its life in large oak barrels. Since out batch is so small, we've dispensed with the barrel and used some of Brent and Sarah's excess and experimental oak balls which should add a bit of the normal oak flavor. So now its time to wait and let the wine slowly mature and soften and become not just drinkable but enjoyable.
We started out with 150 lbs of grapes. Which made a must of approx 14 gallons. Now the wine is down to j. That comes out to about 25 bottles of wine. Which is roughly 3 grape vines per bottle of wine. At each step in the proces the wine becomes more of a mysterious and precious commodity. I'm now beginning to understand how a truly remarkable bottle of wine is the final step in a long laborious process that started years ago in the vineyard and could have met with disaster at almost any step of the way.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Sarah and Sarah watch the yeast come alive before innoculation.
The yeasts are set free into their playground.
Brent and Sarah Goedhart are my invaluable mentors, and have a well oiled operation producing a few hundred cases of their own Red Mountain Syrah. They have generously taken a few minutes from their busy crush schedules to assist our small science project. Day two in the life of a wine seems an important one. B+S measured the sugar content of our must on the morning of the second day and found that the Brix (sugar) was 26.3, which could result in a very high alcohol wine, and so we added 1.2gallons of water to aim for a final alcohol content somewhere around 14.1. The must is now up to 13.9 gallons. The SO2 that was added yesterday has mostly reacted with other compounds in the must and free SO2 levels (sulfur) are low. Fermentation is then restarted with a known yeast. The yeast comes in a powder and is mixed with warm water and grape juice to 'wake them up' and its amazing to see the yeast start to react and grow within about 10 minutes of hydration and the addition of sugar. The enlivened yeast mixture immediately takes on that pungent and distinctive sourdough smell and is dumped right on top of the must. Innoculation has occured and the must is off and running, as the colony of yeast grow and mulitply and hungrily feast on the bounty of sugars in the fermenter. Alcohol is their product. Amazing little buggers! I imagine that they also break down the structures of the grape skin and seeds a bit, hopefully those spiders as well, and shape the must into a new group of compounds that will one day be called wine. The only job now is to keep fruit flies off the must and three times a day "punchdown" the cap of skins that float to the surface. Primary Fermentation takes a few days and will run until the yeast have consumed most of the available sugar. We will then hand squeeze the must in cheezecloth bags and funnel the liquid into glass carboys where fermentation will continue more slowly as solids settle to the bottom of the carboy. Stay tuned for exciting details/disasters.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
It has been a long time since my last post. Lots of life has happened, but nothing that seemed worthy of subjecting other people to. This summer been an unbelieveably fun episode of mostly hanging out, some traveling, a quick 35 day voyage around the Pacific, and a bit of tending to a small vineyard in the Red Mountain AVA in eastern WA. As far as vineyards go, its been a bad year. We decided we were in over our heads and ripped out a large portion of it. Now we have only a small fraction left, and its scenic and fun and definately not as back-breaking. Maybe someday a billionaire will buy it from us and put in a McMansion winery. If you know of anyone who might be interested, let them know. Yesterday, the weeds and bulldozers were put aside and Christophe and I hauled our buckets down each row to harvest what grapes we could. It was in the mid 80s and a perfect day to pick. Only a few of our plants are bearing fruit this year and we had about 150 lbs of total crop. Harvest is my favorite job during the year of a vineyard's life. Some of the clusters of grapes were dried up raisins, hard as pebbles for some reason, and others had been picked over by the birds. The majority of the clusters however were tight, and full and beautiful. Even with all the mistakes we had made piled on top of each other somehow mother nature prevailed in the end and produced a few thousand perfect berries. There is something about finding a perfect cluster of plump grapes hidden in the lush green vine that feels like finding a bunch of jewels after a long dramatic adventure. Romantic poems come to mind, and the work is pleasing. Classical music trills in your head, even amongst the reports of nearby propane bird guns, and there is an excitement to see what the next plant will yield.
Christophe and I hauled our 25 gallons of grapes to his sister's small winery in the basement where I painstakingly pulled each berry off the stem for a while before losing patience with that process and deciding to stomp them while in the bucket and then pull the loose stems out. We ended up with 12.7 gallons of deeply red must. With Brent's help we added a sulfite mixture that prevents oxidation and retards the growth of the natural yeasts found on the grape skins and in the air. We mixed the sulfur in well and left the must in the fermenter overnight. Our batch of must is about 30% whole berries and 70% crushed. This ratio affects the "fullness" of the wine. 100% whole berry fermentation is common in Beaujolais, and results in a lighter, fruiter wine, whereas crushed berry fermentation results in more of the compounds found in the grape skin entering the wine, tannins, the mythical Reversatrol, and who knows what else. While involved in detail oriented hand destemming I had the sense that I was capturing an entire ecosystem, not just one fruit. When crushing the grapes, everything that lives IN the cluster of grapes goes into the must as well. This idea was a little unpallatable at first, the idea that a nice bottle of wine might acuatlly contain 0.2% crushed spider and spider nests, but after digesting this revelation it merely adds to the mystery of how a bottle of wine, somehow becomes more than just a bottle of wine. Maybe it is those unmentionables and the entirety of a small world that gets captured which helps to produce something more than the sum of its parts.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Seattle is calm. A weak sun emerges a few times a day, but its barely strong enough be felt at all. I have gone totally terrestrial. I bought a junky off road motorcycle, a new bicycle, and I've gone on two internet dates. The carburator of the junky dirt bike is what keeps me up at night now. In a few days I'll be packing up all my tools and heading east for a few weeks of farming. The vines need to be pruned and trained soon before they start growing too much. My dream is to try not to drink too much wine and explore the back roads of eastern WA.
Sula is in San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico, which is on eastern coast of the Sea of Cortez. I'm definately not here for the nightlife! Man, its quiet. I'm here because there is a storage yard with good prices out of the normal path of the NE Pacific hurricanes. Unfortunately we made it to San Carlos a little too early and we missed cruising to some interesting islands and anchorages on the western side of the sea. Going upwind in the Sea is not very easy when a norther is blowing and so we made the break across when we had the chance. San Carlos is a great anchorage with lots of scenic hills around, including the iconic Tetas de Cabra. Jamie and I have seen every sight the town has to offer, and there's nothing left to do but listen to Jimmy Buffet in the Captain's Club and plot our escape from town. The town reminds me mostly of a quiet retirement community with a great view. We have made a few good friends here. Emilie and Sam were on a yachting voyage of their own, albeit in a 1988 Chevy Van, and were the only people our age we met in town. We also met a fun group of Gringos in their 60s who seem to be hanging out at all the same places we are. My new best friend is 79 and my neighbor in the anchorage. He's trying to prove that people in their 80s can still sail singlehanded. He's doing pretty well but I've been able to help him out with a few things. I've had a great time listening to his stories and drinking wine with him in his boat's large shaded cockpit. His stories are for the most part, almost too good to be true. I'm really not sure how much they are embellished, but if he's to be believed he is a former US government agent who sailed around the world with his supermodel wife while spying on the russians and exploring lost corners of the globe. I have a feeling the stories are half true, with some gloss added over the years.
The day after we left Gatos, we did some night motoring to make time and I witnessed the best bioluminescent display I've ever seen. Whole strips of sea were lit up without being disturbed, and when the bow wave would cross these plankton stips it would create a green light so bright it would light up the jib with an eerie green glow. Of course the dolphins came to play, right when things were brightest, after the moon had set and the water still glassy. Their forms beneath the water were perfectly lit and when the boat would scare off a school of small fish they would scatter and cause their own lighted trails. The dolphins would tear off after them and you could almost feel it when the dolphin would stirke and hit the fish. It was a memorable night.
Sula will be up on the dirt in storage here in San Carlos and I'll be headed up to Seattle to have a few land adventures and make some more money for the next leg. I'm already excited for the downwind sailing to start again, and to find a few more perfect spots and have a few more perfect days. That may start again in October. I may have a few terrestrial blog entries in the meantime. Thanks everyone who followed along. I've had nothing but support from so many and I appreciate it fully.
Jamie, it was a great trip. The smoothest voyage ever, not a single hitch. I can't think of a better co-captain to have along. Your taquitos will live in infamy. I can't wait for the next mango in the next far off isle. Cheers mate.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
When Jamie and I left La Paz the weather forecast called for diminishing winds and eventually calms, which was good news, as I would rather motor north in calm seas than bashing always into the prevailing wind. We anchored in two beautiful coves on Isla Espiritu Santo with associated hikes, and made short hops north each day. On the forth day out we found Puerto Los Gatos. The weather was perfect, and the water here was the clearest of the trip and we had the pristine cove to ourselves. There was a reef just off of the point with schools for fish, sting-rays, and corals, tunnels and deep caverns to snorkel through. We should have stayed in this perfect anchorage for a week. But our schedlue and Jamie's flight kept us moving. I'll remember this cove though, and hopefully find more like it on the way back south, a trip which may not come until next October.
Friday, February 1, 2008
There is a bug at blogger/google so I can't edit photos very well. when it clears I'll post/explain some more. the first photo above is our 5 man posse after returning to the trailhead. the second is one of the kids from Catarino's house hamming it up for me and jumping into the cage with the "cochis". These pigs were taken very young from their wild mother after Tigresa killed her during a hunt. They are the decendants of domesticaed pigs released into the wild by the spanish.
This is my favorite dog, Chirrin. She is spirtied, loving and loyal. She was always very friendly to me, but she would often challenge and fight full pit bulls who outweighed her by 30 lbs. Video isnt' working either. standby
ATTENTION! Again. CAUTION. I've added graphic pictures of the slaughter of the bull to the post from last week. If you mind lots of bloody meat, you may want to just have someone read it to you.
I spent a week in Cabo Pulmo recovering from my trip the mountains. It was windy but there is something about this town that is hard to explain and easy to love. I spent quite a few days writing and thinking about my backpacking trip, writing the last blog entry and watching countless episodes of The Office with Bella. I can actually concieve of working in a office! Such is the power of the passion between Jim and Pam. It was hard to leave Cabo Pulmo, I kept meeting more and more great people. Its actually fun when there's only one restaurant open for dinner because you know where the action is. I met another great travelling partner, another great... guy! His name is Alfredo I had a great time hiking around with him and hearing his crazy philosophies. Alfredo's beautiful sister and niece also let me tag along with them for a while and I began to actually imagine that I could stay in the quietest village of all time for more than just a few days. But now I'm back at the boat, getting ready to shove off in a week when Jamie arrives. As we sail north I have a strategy in mind to trick the vicious north wind and allow us to island hop our way to Guaymas. Once again the "dock captains" say I'm crazy. "Go South!" they cry, and I understand, but the romance of the storage yard in San Carlos calls. Summer will arrive shortly and with it the hurricanes.
Guess which one of those two dogs above is the father of the other.
A Warning. I'm adding pitures to the previous post. They show the dead body of the bull and the remnants of its carcass after being slaughtered. To me they are beautiful and important pictures but they may be disturbing to some.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
That night as I went to sleep near the river with the cacophony of frogs all around and the palm framed clouds sliding by, I can remember feeling different. I was captivated by this trip back in time to a place where life is the connection to plants and animals and earth. I understood now why each man seemed to always be sharpening his knife. It was amazing to feel a part of it, to bathe and drink from the same cold, life-giving stream, and cook only over the hot fire. The modern world seemed far away. The world within sight was everything, provided everything, and there was not a need for anything more. It was a feeling of contentedness and timelessness that seemed strong and clear. In the end, we came back to the city anyway, the other gringo Nicolas and I, after a few more days with Catarino and his family. Nicolas returned to his organic farm in La Ribera where he’s working for a while, and I’m now back in Cabo Pulmo, but I still feel the sore spot in my arm where the palm plant went so deep into me, and I still feel that awe of watching a man and a people so in tune with their land.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
I've just returned to La Paz, from an almost month long trip to the US. I remember joking several times that I was on a much needed vacation from my vacation, but that's exactly what it was. Sailing on the ocean, in my experience, requires so much mental vigilence and physical work that as a form of relaxation, it in fact tends toward the opposite. Flying north on a plane for two thousand miles was insanely easy. Sailing those same two thousand miles was insanely difficult, slow, and uncomfortable. But sailing does make for better stories.
My sister picked me up from the airport and I was in the middle of downtown seattle very quickly. Everything is easy in America. The cold air was penetrating, but it felt, real, comforting and clean. In the middle of downtown Seattle during rush hour, the air is much more clean than it ever is in a Mexican town. From that first night in Seattle life charged out of the gates. The miracle of the cell phone began to do its work, plans were made, chatting was done over glasses of wine, and life blurred by. On the first night I chatted with Gen and Avi at a small tapas/wine bar in Belltown for a while, then made my way down the hill to Pier 70 to find Christophe, drunk, screaming at a billionaire trucking magnate's entourage, with Channel 4 Anchor's Dan Lewis, and Kathy Goertsen, silently looking on. I told sea stories to vintners and trophy wine writers and trophy chicks, all riding the coattails to some insanely good and ridiculously expensive wine. (those two do sometimes go together) Some untouchable southern rhone miracle nearly bowled me over, and Christophe only urged us on, "its all subjective!" A plan was stolen to find a few cows and start an organic herbally infused creamery. Luxury Butter! Women were wooed, and women were lost. More nights passed in the city like this one, jumping from place to place, socializing at full bore, seeing as many people old and new as could be seen. Respite was had in the country, in Preston, Cle Elum, and Red Mountain. The snow was deeper in Cle Elum than I can remember seeing it, and it made for fun skiing, snowshoeing and... football? We tried anyway. A tromp through the snow was the perfect antidote for tropical brain rot. Maybe too perfect, for it became hard to be excited about returning to lonely La Paz, when I had this winter wonderland full of friends and activities. News Flash: I may be a dreamer. That's one conclusion I reached during this trip home. I may be the proverbial shark that can't sleep, always needing new water running past my gills. A circumnavigation is only 5% completed, and yet, my mind has already started moving on to the next, dryer challenge. My passion for the next leg of the trip may come, but it may fade even more, who knows. One difference is to be sure, there are not many people down here my age, or whom I can connect with, whereas Seattle is fuller every day. So,...maybe a sailing companion could be found to reignite my interest in going to the ends of the earth, or maybe I should just keep my boat here on the Mexican coast, for short trips when the Seattle rain drags on too long.Back in Seattle I had an epiphany of sorts after waking up on Max and Sarah's couch. I thought back to when I was 20ish, and a newly minted 3rd Officer, travelling the world on merchant ships or in my turbocharged car. I had the best job in the world, and not one string kept me from going wherever I wanted. A thousand couches and beds across the globe I've laid my head on since then, and I can't imagine having more fun or another era in which I'd rather live. And when one is 20, it seems the thing to do, to roam, to ponder and to indulge all the delights of this green earth. Now that I'm 30, that's still happening. Most of my friends however, are finally settling down. Even Max has his first job, designing military/medical lazers. Christophe and Maggie are builing a dream house. My oldest friend Hailey in SF has been out of law school for four years! and is flourishing at a big crusty firm downtown. She'll be partner in a few more years, and my perpetual couch crashing chugs ever forward. Just think how out of sync it is to be a 40 year old... vagabond. Worse than a virgin.
This picture below is the view out of Hailey's window. I could stare for an hour at my bridge and not be bored at all.
My instant plan? Sail the boat to the South Pacific next winter hitting the Marquesas and Tahiti and those far off islands, then North along the chains toward Hawaii, and then into the North Pacific, curving in toward Seattle. In Seattle, sell the boat to the next dreamer and buy a run down house in an up and coming neighborhood. A place to put my backpack down and fix up into something real. A place to mention when on a date and someone asks "where do you live?" I think now I could only say, "Oh right now I still live with my parents,...... but they're really cool."
Well. Despite the horror of reality and getting "old", my month home was an amzing time. It was filled with what Alan Greenspan might call "irrational exuberance." I'm just glad the bubble hasn't burst yet. Thanks everyone for another amazing time. Tweet, Avi, Christophe, Billionaire, Sarah Munson, Kathy Goertsen, Dan Lewis, Jamie, Jamie's Mansion, Max, Sarah, Marika, Jennifer, Ashley, Ryan and Feasters, Cliff, Carrie, Caitlin, Margaret, Kevin, Ray, Bubba, Heather, Gertrude's Hearse, Mandy, Murray, David, Maggie, Julian, Mom, Dad, the entire Crosetto Clan, Laurence, Annkia, Meaghan, Hailey, Bob, and that woman at the ariport who nicely reschedulded my flight for free when I wasn't early enough.
To really see Irrational Exuberance there is only one way to do it, with these videos of Dave Murray playing air violin to tapes we discovered of 80s electronic music. Dave, you are my best friend, and the time we spend together each christmas carries me forward for the entire next year.
So for now, I'm in La Paz with a beautiful boat, perfect weather, my backpack, and three weeks to wait until my next crewmember joins for the trip north to the yard. I'm sure I'll find something to do. In the meantime..... email me! love, nic