In this final post concerning the revolutionary innovation of ultrasound for use in barrel cleaning, we may read below Andrew Yap’s breakdown of the step-by-step processes the beta prototype performs. And of the surprisingly low labor requirements. I must say I was impressed by his program. Should you read all three posts, imagine the water savings alone by using the Cavitus system. And imagine the extended life of oak barrels, increasingly expensive if French. Fewer trees might be felled, no small matter. Indeed, energy and resources are saved at every turn with the employ of high power ultrasonics. Whether it is ‘green’, I’ve yet to crunch the numbers. But I am encouraged.
Admin What size winery is the unit designed for?
Andrew Yap For the first unit it is for wineries that have at least 5000 to 7000 barrels to get a return on investment within 24 months. This is the average. Many wineries think this is pretty good. To get a return on investment on capital equipment is usually around three years. To get it back within two years we think is a pretty good deal. But of course, that is for this equipment, Wineries may decide they want to use selective components to retrofit into their systems.
Now, this is only a one-head system, so you clean one barrel at a time. Although you’re cleaning one barrel at a time the maximum time is only governed by the time you take to sonicate that one barrel. When the barrels come along the conveyer one is being filled, one is being sonicated, and one is being emptied. There are wineries that want to have a four-heads at a time. They can do more barrels in the five minutes required for sonication.
If I’ve read your paper correctly one of the advantages of ultrasonics is the uniformity of brett destruction/inactivation as opposed to high pressure hot water treatments.
AY Yes. That’s because the spray system does not target every spot within the barrel. There are various systems in operation, the main one, the static one, has a rose-like appearance which chucks water into the air and you hope that it will hit every part of the barrel. But it doesn’t. With the rotating head type they are a bit better than the static spray. I must point out that in Australia when we talk of ‘high pressure’ we are talking about 1000 psi to 3000 psi. Here in the states it is more common for wineries to use 100 psi. Our trials are at 1000 psi. If brett cannot be killed and tartrates cannot be removed at 1000 psi at 60 degrees centigrade then you can imagine what 100 psi does. Unless you clean your barrels several times a year, which some wineries do to maintain cleanliness. That’s fine but one of the concerns with winemakers is if they apply 1000 psi or 3000 psi you can remove off-flavor compounds. Now, we’ve already shown that at 1000 psi that doesn’t happen. At 3000 psi, some wineries in Australia do that, the smooth surface actually becomes furry after such a treatment.
Essentially destroying your barrel. And multiplying the surface area for spoilage bacteria, yeasts…
AY Yes, yes. Their argument is that they get an absolutely clean barrel (laughs) at the expense of ruining the barrel!
And all toasting must also be gone.
AY Yes. And in terms of hot water, I forgot to mention to you that we heat the water to 60 degrees centigrade (140 fahrenheit). We’ve found that 60c combines well for cleaning and killing the brett. In fact, both can be achieved at 50c, there’s data that shows that, but if you only wanted to clean and not kill brett then 40c is quite adequate with high powered sonics. So the high powered ultrasound works quite well at 40 to 60c. But if you want to kill the organisms at the same time as cleaning then what you want to do to ensure that the temperature is adequate for both processes.
About the power output?
AY In our previous lab trials we were using small units, about 10 to to 50 watts, but our unit here is 4 kw. Here we are talking about 225L, so the larger the volume, the power per ml, that is what is important. The larger the vessel, 225L versus puncheons, which are 400L, you need either to have the barrel sonicated a longer time or have a more powerful unit in place. The reason we’ve chosen a 4 kw unit is that the larger the unit the thicker the sonotrode, the rod you insert into the barrel bunghole. If it becomes too large it won’t go through the bunghole. An 8 kw unit would shorten the cleaning time to two minutes but the sonotrode would not pass through the hole. There is no manufacturer who can do that.
Will you be at the Unified Wine and Grape Symposium this year?
AY Yes. For people interested in looking at the technology we will be at the Unified, a booth there, and we will have a warehouse in Sacramento, we’re not sure where, we’re looking for one. If you know of one let us know. We will put this unit there so people can come along and have a look at it on the exhibition days. They may see it in operation. We’ll take barrels, open them up so people can see what they are like before cleaning, and after cleaning we’ll open them up again. If people want advance information they can email me and I will provide them with the date and time, the place where the demonstration will take place.
Will you be in attendance?
AY Oh, yes.
So, may we walk through the unit in all its stages.
AY This is the full unit. It is designed to have all the components for the system to work independently of what the winery may have. It has all the bells and whistles. It contains the hot water heater, the filtration system so the water can be recycled 40 times. Indeed, there’s a lot of energy savings because you only have to heat the water once, to 60c, and then it is maintained at that temperature.
Now we see the conveyer system, where the barrels are introduced, from the right hand side. The movement of the barrels is all automated. As they go through the door they go through filling and then sonication. This is the prototype. Four sonicating heads may be added, as well as other modifications, for puncheons, for example. The customer will be free to determine what size barrels they would want to clean. The proper equipment would be provided.
Here you can see the sonotrode going into the bunghole, and on the right you see the barrel being filled. The red hose introduces the 60 c water into the barrel. We set up this system whereby the water level is predetermined, it will stop filling automatically when the proper level is reached. The sonitrode is introduced through the bunghole and into the water. Any water lost will be topped off using the blue hose which you can see on the left side. Water must be all the way to the top where the opening is because this is an area where brett infection is usually very pronounced. Because the barrel is completely full you would get cavitation bubbles right throughout the volume of the water, in every nook and corner. The barrel would be fully cavitated. There would be no escape for any micro-organism present in any part of the barrel, either on the surface, subsurface or in the pores.
The water is then drained from the barrel into a trough from which it is the sucked into a recycling tank and goes through a membrane filter and the filtered water goes back into the water tank and reheated back to 60c. Normally the temperature of the water after sonication is probably a degree or so below 60c. Very little energy is required to bring it back to 60c.
The last hose dangling is for water to remove any debris sticking onto the walls of the barrel. The remaining debris would be just tartrates. Any yeast cells would be dead. We recommend giving it a quick spray.
The unit may be run single-handedly, the whole system. During the sonication time, about five minutes, he can load more barrels and take off the clean barrels. The filling time is only about two minutes, and emptying takes about one and a half minutes.
This model is not the most refined for any particular winery but it is a ’stand alone’ model. It can be bought by a winery which is without reverse osmosis water, or a filtration unit, or a hot water heating system. Larger wineries may want to retrofit ultrasonic units into their system. And with four ultrasound heads, for example, you could clean four barrels in five minutes.
Can a Tom Beard system be retrofitted?
AY Yes. As you know Tom Beard systems already have four spikes that will clean four barrels at the same time. They come from underneath. So to replace this all you need to do is standby for a processing unit with four sonitrodes. Four barrels can be then be sonicated at one time.
Thank you, Andrew, for your time. Have a safe flight home.
AY Thank you, Ken.
In part 2 Andrew Yap, Director of Oenology and Industry Marketing at Cavitus, passes through a modest series of more technical and commercial matters. Especially interesting is Mr. Yap’s discussion of the potential use of ultrasonics to purge TCA from corks and to increase the extraction of color and flavor from certain grape varieties grown in challenging warm-climates.
Part 3 will focus on the nuts and bolts of the HPU unit itself. Mr. Yap will walk us through each step of the sonication process.
Admin Could you say a few words about Darren Bates?
Andrew Yap Sometime after 2002 I came upon Darren Bates who is our Director of Technology and CTO [Chief Technical Officer]. He is the world-wide expert on ultrasonics. In fact, if your winemaker friend wants to know more about ultrasonics he should contact him, as may any winemaker. He is knowledgeable about all aspects of ultrasonics, whereas I am an oenologist applying the technology to barrel cleaning, to color and flavor extraction, defoaming, fermentation management, and a range of applications in the wine industry.
Your experimental trials used 225L barrels. Can you tell us something of the water use required, and is this technology scalable, can it be used to clean larger barrels?
AY It is scalable. The Beta Prototype that we have designed is contained within an eight foot by ten foot container for a very good reason: we have to move it from winery to winery and from country to country. So, all the components of the system are within this [container]. Now, if you already have got a system in place and you don’t really want this container, you want some of the components because you already have your hot water system, you’ve got your filtration system, you can utilize all these and retrofit the ultrasonic equipment into your system. And this is what many of the big wineries plan to do.
But if you don’t have a cleaning system, or have one of those mobile, hand-held high pressure hot water cleaning systems, then our system might be the one you want to employ. The other advantage of this system is that you can drag it around from winery to winery and provide a mobile service to small wineries.
Do you plan a rental service?
AY We’re looking to appoint service providers here. We haven’t come to any arrangements yet. The service provider may not be the distributor but some organization which is already doing this sort of mobile service, like bottling, dealcing, whoever they are. We plan to have such services in the different states. In fact, during the Unified Symposium in February this year there were people from Washington state, from New York state and other places interested in using this facility but yet too small to justify buying big equipment like this. So, one way to use this application is to get a mobile provider to come around to your winery on a Sunday and clean x number of barrels for a fee, just like what is now being charged for cleaning services provided by other people.
Now, coming back to the barrels, the barrel size for this unit is for 225L and 228L, those are barriques in the Burgundy style and Bordeaux style. One is longer and slightly larger than the other. So this unit will accommodate those two. Once you take away these outer parts [pointing to the front face of the unit] then you can use it for any barrel size up to hogsheads and puncheons.
Is the toasting level of the barrel an issue when you apply high power ultrasonics?
AY No, no, that shouldn’t affect it. Now, if your barrel is very heavily tartrated, of course you’ll remove the tartrates and expose the sub-surface layers to the ultrasound, the ultrasound to the brett to remove any residues in the pores and from the grain.
Has there been any analysis of the effect of HPU on the oak flavor?
AY We exacted the wash water after sonication and we couldn’t detect that any oak flavor compounds had been removed. That is a very positive thing. Now, having said that, we presently have a trial at a winery in the Barrosa Valley where they’ve cleaned barrels of different ages with high powered sound and at the same time cleaned them with high pressure hot water. As a base line we used clean and new barrels, so we have a big range. Then we put wine into these barrels and we’re looking at the extraction of the oak flavor compounds over twelve months. So, it’s very early yet, we started in August, I think, so only about three months worth of data. Whereas with the new barrels we could see a very rapid extraction of oak flavor compounds, with the barrels cleaned by high pressure hot water and high powered sound, there is extraction though not at the rate of a new barrel, of course. But what we are mainly interested in is whether with HPU, the sonicated barrels, we get more oak flavor extraction, faster extraction.
Now, if it’s faster extraction then instead of putting your wine in a barrel for 8 months or 12 months, as winemakers do, within 6 months you might be able to get the flavor compounds that you need for the wine. Now you’ve saved time. You can get your wines earlier to the market if you like. Even with two, three, or four year barrels you put your wines in you’ve got the style that you want earlier, so that’s a savings to the winery.
Of course, it’s important to point out that apart from brett/dekkera, HPU is effective on all spoilage bacteria and yeasts, at least according to your research.
AY Yes, that’s right. I should mention that all out trials have been on yeasts, although we’ve looked at the wine yeasts, Saccharomyces cerevisiae and one other yeast, so HPU has been effective against these three yeasts. But now the University of Adelaide people are looking at the efficacy of ultrasonics on all the other types of spoilage and wild yeasts, lactic acid bacteria, acetic acid bacteria, all the spoilage ones you find in barrels.
Have you taken an interest in TCA?
AY We came up with this idea when we first started. We told ourselves, “How can we make lots of money very quickly!” (laughs) TCA contamination is a huge problem with corks, now maybe we can suck all the TCA compounds out of the cork and then release the sonicated corks to the market. That’s still at the back of our mind. We haven’t gone down that track yet. But it’s a possibility.
The way in which ultrasound works, wherever there are pores, like you would find in corks, if you can get the water in there and with the acoustic streaming, the mass transfer, it’s possible that whatever is in the pores will be sucked out as well. That’s the theory, right? But you need to prove it. I mean, we’ve proved it in barrels, HPU does go through the pores, up to 14mm, which is way beyond what wine travels. If you can do that anything that’s in there gets sucked out, anything embedded in it, the barrel, will get killed.
Now, about water usage, hot water cleaning treatments require a constant stream of hot water. Does your system simply require that the barrel be filled? And is that water then recycled?
AY Firstly, in terms of water, what is required is reverse osmosis water, it’s easy to produce; most wineries have an RO system. In fact, when we take this around we actually take a RO system with us. Because water quality differs so much from region to region, winery to winery, and water quality affects the effectivity of ultrasound, so, if you use RO water that is degassed we can easily clean a one year-old barrel, that has just been used once, within five minutes. It will be back to its normal surface.
If you use water that hasn’t been degassed and has high solids, it may take six or seven minutes. That’s a difference.
[A more complete answer to this question will be given in part 3.]
You earlier mentioned using this technology also for the extraction of color and flavor.
AY Let me first say that the wine industry side is a small side for our company. Our big business is in food processing. We have arrangements with a dozen of the big food companies, Fortune 500 companies, using ultrasound for a range of processes. So the wine side is pretty small when you compare it to the food industry. For example, in the food industry we can treat food products at 100,000 gallons per minute. We have been doing trial here in California looking at extracting more color from the must at around 50 gallons per minute. Now, some wineries, most wineries, run their pumps at 100,000 to 200,000 gallons per minute. That’s already been done in the food industry. We’d have to up-scale if we want to use this process in the wine industry.
But what you apply in the food industry for a particular product, whether to change the viscosity, to pasteurize it, does not necessarily apply to the wine industry for affecting color and flavor. In extracting color and flavor we’re trying to break down the cell walls and release the flavor and color compounds. We’ve been very successful at it. That’s our new big thing!
As you probably know alot of wineries in the Central Valley and in the warmer regions have difficulty getting sufficiently color and flavor from certain grape varieties or even from the good grape varieties like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. But also, say, in the North Coast, take Cabernet, for example, if you can extract color and flavor by skipping the cold maceration step, which takes two or three days, alot of energy cooling it down and then heating the must up later on, applying enzymes and all these sorts of things, you can skip all those processes by simply passing the must through a flow cell that sonicates the must to give you the color and flavor you want. You’d be saving mega bucks. Tank space, as well.
End of Pt. 2
For what follows I strongly recommend reading a piece I wrote in June entitled Cleaning Wine Barrels With Ultrasound. It chronicled that important innovation in barrels cleaning technology, ultrasonics, developed by Cavitus,
“the leading proprietary systems developer and solutions provider of high-power ultrasonics applications for liquid-phase food and beverage processing.”
As I have written in the June post, ultrasound as a cleaning technology for wine barrels had come to my attention in a November/December, ‘07 article of Practical Winery and Vineyard. Days before I was to leave for the Wine Blogger’s Conference in Santa Rosa I received an email from one of the principle authors of the article, Andrew Yap, Cavitus’ Director of Oenology and Industry Marketing. He was to be in Napa visiting wineries interested in participating in barrel cleaning trials with Cavitus’ HPU Beta Prototype.
Among the reasons for winery interest, let’s call it excitement, was a 2008 paper he co-authored, Inactivation of Brettanomyces/Dekkera in wine barrels by high power ultrasound published in The Australian and New Zealand Wine Industry Journal, available for download from the Cavitus site or to read below.
In this wide-ranging, three-part interview Andrew Yap discusses both the published paper and the HPU Beta Prototype.
I interviewed him Sunday, October 26th, at his hotel in Napa.
Admin Perhaps we might begin with an overview of your recent paper. And a few details of your methodology.
Andrew Yap Yes. Essentially, what we wanted to show is that Brettanomyces can be killed in wine, or in liquid, or in media. But, of course, in a 225L barrel brett is not only on the surface of the wood but also in the sub-layers, in the pores. And we looked at killing brett that already existed in barrels. So we got lots of infected barrels from wineries and looked at the effect of high power ultrasound (HPU). But it was really difficult to find brett in the barrels, it’s like finding a needle in a haystack. We did locate brett cells in various parts of the barrels, but the thing is, once you’ve sonicated the barrel and you want to go back and see whether the brett has been killed and you obtain a plaque next to where you originally drilled, where you found live cells, that plaque may not contain any cells. What does that tell you? Does that mean the ultrasound killed those cells? Or that they weren’t there in the first instance?
So what we had to do was then actually inoculate pieces of wood, six centimeters by six centimeters, normal size staves cut into those dimensions, and suspend them into a broth culture of brettanomyces cells for five to seven days until we could detect the cells throughout the staves. What we did then with the staves, in one of the trials, we put the staves in a holder and then put the holder into the barrel so that it is midway between top and bottom. In another trial we nailed these staves opposite the bung hole.
In these two different trials, the first using high pressure hot water (HPHW), and the second using HPU, to see and compare the effects. Now, I must tell you that with these blocks of wood when using the HPHW or HPU we have to insure that the effects don’t come from the sides but that the effect come only from the front, through the wood. We had to seal the sides with parafilm and a thick rubber band around the sides so that you don’t get any of the effects of HPU or heat. And when we then drilled pieces of the stave blocks we drilled into the center so as to stay away from the sides. Any brett cells killed would be only from the energy coming through the block. I want to emphasize that.
One of the great advantages of your technique, high powered ultrasonics, over high pressure hot water is the depth at which the brett may be killed in wood. Now, the HPHW is effective to a depth of approx. 2 millimeters, if I’ve read your paper correctly, while HPU reaches to a depth of four millimeters.
AY Now, having said that, it could kill cells below 4mm, from 4mm to 12-14mm. You are probably aware that wine travels about 8mm through the barrel wood. That’s average. With the ultrasound we actually see water going as far as 14mm. And wherever there is water, cavitation bubbles are formed. Where they are formed and when they implode, energy is released. Any cells up to 14mm deep, wherever there’s liquid, the micro-organisms are likely to be killed.
Why did we do it up to 4mm only? Because this is an initial, very early trial. But the University of Adelaide is continuing to look at isolating cells at 8mm to 12mm, or deeper.
Have you heard from various wineries just how wide spread brett is? I know that in the secondary market it is very common. Alot of wineries will sell brett infected or at least questionable barrels to unsuspecting customers.
AY That is a problem. We’ve done alot of surveys of the cleanliness of barrels sold second-hand by large wineries to the smaller wineries. The barrels that are sold to the smaller wineries of boutique wineries are chockablock full of tartrates and, as you can imagine, obviously brett as well if they have been infected. In fact, most of the larger wineries sell their barrels after they are three to four years old. In a sense they get rid of their brett problem, really, by passing them on to the secondary market.
In terms of how wide-spread? You really need to be in the industry and know the people to get the message. If you are a winemaker and I came along and asked you, “Do you have a brett problem?” “Nah. I don’t have a brett problem.” (laughter) They don’t want to reveal it.
And I’ve been in the wine industry long enough, I’ve been in the wine industry for about 30 years, I am still involved in teaching at the University of Aukland, teaching wine science students doing a post-graduate course. And I know alot of people in the Australian wine industry, in the New Zealand wine industry, here in the US, and once you know them well enough they will discuss the problem with you. In fact, the reason they would want to tell you about a brett problem is in order to possibly get an angle as to how you can assist them. As a result of that, brett is very wide-spread. It’s extremely wide-spread.
In fact, in a previous paper I already stated that Pascal Chatonnet who is this French researcher, probably the best known brett researcher in the world, he stated more than 10 or 15 years ago the model for a brett infected wines you’d find on the supermarket shelves, were you to go collect them and assess them, was only around 28%. Two years ago when he did the same survey for a big conference at which he was invited to speak, he revealed that about 70% of wine on the supermarket shelves have got 4-ep taint, brett taint.
Was this in France or world-wide?
AY World-wide, world-wide. A random sample. Now it is possible of that 70% alot of them will be below the detectable threshold. But when you put it through a machine you’ll find the taint compound. But many people without a sensitivity to it will not be able to pick up the brett taint, even above the threshold.
Of course, in France brett is often used to produce a particular style. Provence, for example.
AY It’s absolutely crazy! I think one of your most famous winemakers here suggested that adding a bit of brett taint will give a wine a funkiness, a particular style, I think that was a big mistake. Now the American wine companies recognize that. They try to avoid brett at any cost.
I know you’re running a series of pilot tests in Australia, and of course, here. That’s the reason you’re in Napa, California.
AY Yes. We’ve done three trials already with our Beta Prototype system. We did it with a very large wine company in Australia, in the Barossa Valley and a medium size family company. [All but one of the wineries have not authorized the release of their names-Admin] Now why did we choose those two companies? Because they’re always in the forefront of technology and they like to look at new innovations. They’re trialing new things all the time, very much like many of the companies I’m working with here.
So we finished that in September. Our machine next went to New Zealand and just finished a trial with a very big company. The machine now being flown here, it is on the way to California. With regard to the trials they were all very successful. The winemakers liked what they saw with respect to what the ultrasound could do to clean the barrels.
Our first trial here in California will be in one of the big wineries in the Monterey wine region.
Oh! That’s near where I work.
AY Yes, it’s one of your biggest. In fact, if you want to come and look at the trial you are welcome to attend. The winemaker has said he would allow outside people to visit.
This would be Constellation’s Gonzales Winery?
AY Yes. I don’t know whether you know the general manager, Hugh Reimers?
Yes, I know of him. I wrote a recent piece about the new solar installation being assembled at the Gonzales Winery.
Is Hugh Reimers a colleague of yours?
AY He was my student! (laughs) That tells my age, doesn’t it? I taught him at Roseworthy Agricultural College. It is very well known for the oenology degree that it taught.
Hugh was one of the top students. In fact, there are quite a number of Roseworthy graduates in the industry here. Yesterday when I went to a winery I met one of the winemakers there, she’s from Australia, from Western Australia. I’m not sure where she studied.
What happened to the Roseworthy program was it got absorbed into the University of Adelaide’s when the two institutions merged. That was in 1990. I taught at the university up until 2002.
End of Pt 1.
Of the many fine activities offered at the recent Wine Blogger’s Conference was an assortment of Sonoma Vineyard Walks organized by Zephyr Wine Adventures. Among the listed Vineyard Walks was Alexander Valley North,
“Alexander Valley North: This walk starts at the Geyserville Inn, heads across the Russian River and through vineyards and farmland to the hillside property of Rodney Strong’s Rockaway Vineyard. Participants will be accompanied by long-time grape grower Jim Murphy. This is the longest walk option and is perhaps four miles.”
This was the best choice for me and a dozen other souls including, of course, Russ Beebe, of Winehiker. To walk a vineyard from the Alexander Valley floor, at an elevation of approx. 200 feet, up to the Rockaway hillside Vineyard, topping at 750 feet, would offer insights into important contrasts in growing and harvesting techniques, irrigation, yields, and terroir, especially when led by Rodney Strong’s brilliant viticulturist, Doug McIlroy.
Alas, it was perhaps a bit too much to ask for. An equally important contrast is the pace of the group on what quickly became a vigorous, though modest hike. And some preferred networking or quiet reflection in such a peaceful place. In any event, what follows are some of the lucid comments by Doug McIlroy made on our way to lunch and a taste of Rodney Strong’s new Rockaway wine.
It is important to add that Mr. McIlroy answered every question exhaustively. Indeed, I am greatly encouraged by Zephyr’s vineyard tours if this gentleman is the measure of the intellectual competence and rigor to be had in a guide.
Doug McIlroy on the Geology of the locale
“Near here you have the lateral faulting of the San Andreas Fault. There are pieces of granite actually on Bodega Head here in Inverness at Point Reyes that have come all the way from the Tehachapis and that’s how they figured out how long it took, how fast that fault is moving. As that fault is moving there are lots of stresses on sub faults off of the San Andreas, and what happens as the faults are running up against and moving passed each other they pull valleys apart. The Alexander Valley is actually a place where the valley has been pulled apart by the faulting on either side. And the hills are starting to rise. We have one of the larger faults in Sonoma County, the Maacama Fault, and we’ll be able to see that when we get up the other side.”
On the Soils
“What we have here on this ranch are pretty much ocean bottom sandstones, so they’re very well drained, rocky sandstones, greywacke, and those kind of things. They are really poor, low in fertility, and tend to be highly acidic, too, and you’ll see some of our red grapes with alot of red color in them, that’s because they have a phosphorous deficiency from the low pHs.
As the valleys get pulled apart, eroded down, the river is undercutting them, and it’s taking all the sediments from the area and depositing them in the valleys. The soils you saw today down on the Murphy Ranch, where you were walking along the flood plain of the river, are newer alluvial deposits in very recent geological history, whereas these hillside soils were deposited and formed under the ocean millions of years ago.”
“And in the valley below, where you started your walk, that’s another upper terrace of the river from where it’s eroded down. So you have river terraces, these benches which are really great vineyard sites throughout the Alexander Valley, all the way from the southern Alexander Valley into Cloverdale. We have a combination of these new alluviums, older alluviums, and these Franciscan soils, and a little volcanic debris, lots of different parent material in the soils. We like what we have here, very well drained and low in fertility.”
On Low Yields and Great Wines
“A lot of people think low yields give you great wines, that you can make a vineyard better by cutting back the yield. That’s counterintuitive. What’s really going on is that low-yielding sites have a tendency to give a higher wine quality, there is that correlation. There’s a little more stress, but you don’t want too much stress where the vines are really struggling. You want them to be somewhere in between, like the Three Bears where it’s just right, not too hot, not too cold! And you find that little sweet spot right here, that’s what we’ve got here.
And as you go up the Alexander Valley it gets warmer. The focus has been on Jimtown. We believe what makes this place more special for Cabernet is that it’s a little bit warmer. Jim might have even said, in the old days, that Cloverdale was too hot for Cabernet. Why did we even make that border at the Alexander Valley? At another of our ranches, eight miles up the valley, there you get more Napa-like wines because Napa County is a little bit warmer than Sonoma County. We’re finding that among the wines we’re making we like those from the warmer sites.”
“We have the Crown where we’ve made wines all along, down in Jimtown, and seven miles, five miles up the valley we’re here at Rockaway, and then another seven miles up the valley is the Brother’s Ridge, they progressively get warmer, and they produce distinctly different wines. You get a terroir-effect from the climate as well as the soil, each a little different.”
“On the top of this hill there’s a Bald Eagle that nests here every year. Were you here in March you’d probable see it more than likely, sometimes coming with fish from the river and taking to the nest up there. And you can see Golden Eagles on this ranch, their habitat is mostly in the back country of Sonoma County. You do see alot of wildlife around here. It’s kinda cool. It’s one of the nice thing about doing what I do, to come out to these ranches. You never know what you’re going to see.”
On Grape Ripeness and Rockaway Wine
“I don’t really look at seeds. I’m looking more at the skins. A lot of people talk about hard, crunchy seeds but I’m really looking at what is happening in the skin. So, to begin with, I’ll chew them up a little bit in my mouth, just the skin, and I’ll rub it in my fingers to see its color extraction. With Cabernet, it tends to release quite a bit of color just rubbing the skins; Petit Verdot will release quite a lot of color.
But what we’re looking for is that silky tannin, that mature, soft tannin, that’s when I talk about phenolic ripeness. But one of the consequences of doing that is that the grapes become elevated in sugar. Well, as you know, when you have a lot of sugar you’re going to get a lot of alcohol. You know, people talk about should we have wines that are 13% alcohol or 15% alcohol, I say if you want phenolic ripeness and you want that soft, supple tannin, alcohol is a consequence of that. And alcohol, actually, can be your friend. It can give you mouthfeel in itself and it causes more extraction in the fermentation process.
And another thing that happens when you pick these wines they’re higher in pH, so your perception of tannin… they don’t seem as coarse, because of the higher pH. So a lot of the controversy about these highly extracted wines is how do you get there and make these kinds of wines without doing all these other things. We try to minimize those impacts of how much sugar they might end up with and those kind of things. If you like wines that taste like this they’re gonna be over 15% alcohol.
They’re going to be just as age-worthy because they have a lot more tannin, but it’s softer tannin. The alcohol will actually help them age. The other thing they’ll have is fruit, natural fruit. David Ramey is our consultant, I don’t know if you know that, and he talks about wines that aren’t made this way, that are made at a lower brix, lower pH, the more coarse wines, and he always said that what the French called an age-worthy wine, well, that’s a way of selling a wine from a poor vintage. The best vintages in France are where you get higher alcohol, where you get the softer tannin. If you have these softer tannins, if you have fruit, you’ll always have fruit. If you don’t have fruit you’re not going to have fruit.
Sure, if you have a fairly tight wine that’s acidic, that is age-worthy, it will get better with time, definitely, it will evolve. You’ll see more of an evolution in that wine. That’s kinda our philosophy. We’ve moved toward the more extractable, softer wines.”
Question from the group, “What was the pH when the grapes came in?”
“Somewhere in the 3.8 range. Potential alcohol somewhere between 15 and 15 and three-quarters. Somewhere around there.”
Great thanks to Doug McIlroy for his time. For those interested in this kind of immediacy and openness, this specialized knowledge of a vineyard and a given winemaking philosophy, for those bored out of their minds with the Hallmark Card limitations of the tasting room experience, I strongly encourage those folks to put on their boots, and like our mothers used to say, go outside and play. Go tour a vineyard.
A final note: though I’m loath to write tasting notes I will weigh in on the Rockaway. Having learned the pH and brix of the wine I have to say it tasted unusually stable by which I mean finished. There was no mystery. I am sure both a dealc and an aggressive acidification was necessary. One must understand that this wine was sent out for a quick promotional review, the success of which hinged on accessibility. My feeling is that Rodney Strong found a way to promote an underperforming, troublesome vineyard. I would not be surprised to learn they might quietly search for a buyer somewhere down the road.
Galionen Steak & Lobster restaurant, Nyhavn 23, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Although it was just over a month since I was last in the Danish capital the nights were already drawing in and it was dark as we walked from our hotel in the centre of the city past the famous Tivoli Gardens, the entrance lit up and sporting a Halloween look in the October evening. Nyhavn was our destination once again, my last visit meant we were familiar with the area and knew that there was a large choice of restaurants available.
There were 4 in our group this time and the cool evening meant eating outside was vetoed, although fewer of the restaurants were giving the choice as the summer season wound down. Initially we tried to get into a quaint looking restaurant with an Octopus sign hanging over the door, but they were full so we moved onto Galionen a couple of doors up the street (in between Barock and Porto Bello, where I’d been in September).
We settled into a corner table by the front window and menus were passed around. The wine list was very appealing and, as seafood was the popular choice, it was left to me to choose a bottle of white. I had a hankering for Riesling and there was a choice between Alsace and Australia, either of which I would have been happy with, but as a dry wine had been requested by my colleagues I went for the New World offering, knowing it was more likely to be drier than the Alsace.
The Annie’s Lane 2004 Clare Valley Riesling was a vibrant golden yellow and had a heady petrol and lemongrass nose. As expected it was bone dry with a refreshing citrus mid-palate and finish. 3+/5.
Of course the wine needed food to match and a creamy fish soup was the perfect starter, rich saffron-yellow with a solid seafood-flavour base and thick pieces of salmon, prawn & crayfish to add texture, finished with a sprig of dill – wonderful!
While everyone else chose sea-bass I decided on the Surf n’ Turf kebab, large prawns and veal cubes skewered and grilled served on a bed of roasted fennel, peppers & aubergine (egg-plant) with two potato rostis and a drizzle of delicate lobster sauce. A single scarlet crayfish on the side added visual enjoyment to the plate (and its tail was tasty bite-sized morsel). The food was excellent, I enjoyed my kebabs and my colleagues agreed that the sea-bass was delicious.
Galionen was a relaxing, enjoyable restaurant with a good food and wine selection and friendly, quick and efficient service, joining Porto Bello on my list of Nyhavn favourites.
In recent weeks we’ve read a blizzard of bad news. A representative pair:
Greenhouse gas emissions shock scientists.
The world pumped up emissions of the chief human-produced global warming gas last year, setting a course that could push beyond leading scientists’ projected worst-case scenario, international researchers said Thursday.
The new numbers, which some scientists called “scary,” were a surprise because experts thought an economic downturn would slow energy use. Instead, carbon dioxide output rose 3% from 2006 to 2007.
Climate change is ‘faster and more extreme’ than feared.
‘Extreme weather events’ such as the hot summer of 2003, which caused an extra 35,000 deaths across southern Europe from heat stress and poor air quality, will happen more frequently.
Britain and the North Sea area will be hit more often by violent cyclones and the predicted rise in sea level will double to more than a metre, putting vast coastal areas at risk from flooding.
The bleak report from WWF – formerly the World Wildlife Fund – also predicts crops failures and the collapse of eco systems on both land and sea.
WWF’s full report may be read here
Time for a bit of good news. In an oddly underreported development, Constellation Brands subsidiary, Constellation Wines US, announced that Gonzales Winery, (formerly known as Blackstone), in Gonzales, Monterey County here in California, has begun the installation of a 1 megawatt solar array, the biggest solar project in the state and of any winery in the world.
The 185 watt solar panels (poly-crystalline modules, not thin film) have been purchased from Mitsubishi Electric. Retail price is $900 per panel but I imagine Constellation will get a discount for the 6,358 panels! Indeed, as the Monterey Herald reports,
According to Kelly McMahon, Director of Sales for Pacific Power Management, it’s a project that would cost a typical consumer about $8 million. But because Gonzales Winery has an agreement to buy electricity from Pacific Power, Pacific Power is footing the bill for the installation.
The panels will be arrayed on the winery’s 170,000 square foot roof, an area the size of three football fields. More than 1.7 kilowatts will be generated over the course of the year. (Although another report puts the total at 1,176,230 watts of DC power, delivering 1,000,040 AC watts to the grid). The solar power generated translates into the equivalent pollution offset of 1.6 million pounds of CO2, 1,636 pounds of SO2, and 2,909 pounds of Nitrogen compounds. For fuller detail click any of the links highlighted above.
Let me add a link to a Gonzales Tribune story that aptly sums up Constellation’s Gonzales Winery effort: The September Blessing of the Grapes by Father Efrain Medina of St. Theodore’s at Blackstone, what is now the Gonzales Winery. I recommend you give it a read.
Here is given the second and final part of my interview with Bryan Babcock. In the post below you will read his opinions on a wide variety of subjects. From his take on environmentalism, climate change, and an extensive meditation irrigation, he never fails to be interesting and a challenge to the status quo. While one may not agree with him on some specifics, there is no doubting a lively intellect is at work. He is curious about the world, no small thing in a increasingly commodified culture where the ‘life of the mind’ struggles for breathing room.
Admin I recently had a conversation with Bob Mullen of Woodside Vineyards and I asked him whether it might be helpful to push for sub-AVAs within the Santa Cruz Mtns AVA, what, with our abundance of micro-climates. He counciled strongly against it arguing that it would dilute the ‘brand’, confuse the public. But we also know that in Paso Robles they are currently in the throws of a big to-do over sub-AVAs that, I for one hope, may come on-line in the next few years, sub-AVAs that will actually advance the ‘brand’. What ought to be the bottom line for the division of an AVA into subs?
BB Freedom. Freedom should be the bottom line.
That’s a great answer!
BB That’s the short answer to that question. Now, after that, I think that AVAs ought to be organized based on what they are, what exists, what’s different, and then what the causality is, the micro-climate, wind, the topography, the geology, the geography, all these different things that make the specific area what it is; and if it is unique and isolated, something that can be captured conceptually and designated, whether that designation is in the form of a law, by the ATF, for example, and then an American Viticultural Area or AVA, or whether it’s just a kind of a loosely held notion driven by the media and the producers. I think that, though I know Santa Cruz, maybe they’re just not one on them. I for one look at Paso Robles and I think the west side is so dramatically different from the east that there probably should be at least two different appellations.
I’ve got a good buddy that’s growing some of what’s arguably region 1 Pinot Noir out by the Coast, around York Valley, but because he’s from Paso Robles he gets associated with 50,000 acres of region 4 Cabernet. Maybe there’s a good opportunity for a different appellations there. And I think York Mountain is an appellation, it seems to me.
I’m not opposed to these things especially if they help to delineate and clarify information for the consumer I think they can be good.
But I don’t like the idea that the government is in control of these things. I guess if you want to have a territorial label that the government would uphold and protect, I guess that’s fine. But the last thing I’m interested in is the government telling us what varieties we can and cannot grow, how much we can plant, how we gotta farm, etcetera, etcetera.
I’m leery of anything that has to do with associating government which has the monopoly on the initiation of force when it should otherwise be free enterprise and free market play. So as long as the government can stand aside as much as possible then I think it should be ‘anything goes’. I’m all for laissez-faire.
As far as ‘green practices’ are concerned, do you think winegrowers are unfairly singled out to be especially pure of heart? It seems that hardly a day goes by when yet another green initiative is heaped upon the wine industry. When was the last time a cucumber grower was so put upon?
BB Well, I don’t know, maybe because we’re in the industry we feel it more… I mean, have you talked to a cucumber grower lately?
More and more are organic, that’s for sure.
BB Well, there you go. So before you hold that premise I’d talk to the cucumber growers. My guess is that they’re being attacked just like anyone else. I mean, the automobile manufacturers are being attacked and clothing manufacturers, you name it. We’re about to have a carbon cap; it’s ubiquitous now in our culture. I don’t think it’s just winegrowers. I think, if anything, winegrowers, because we farm a species, vinifera, which has the capability of living 50 to 100 years, growers are more interested in a healthy vineyard. It’s much more of a long term proposition and a long term outlook.
I do think alot of it is overblown. I think alot of it has kinda been forced upon us by environmentalism which I hold as an irrational philosophy. If you look at environmentalism for what it is philosophically then it’s not very rational. Nobody wants dirty water and dirty air. I mean, come on! And there are alot of people on the earth, we have to figure out ways to live with one another. And there are finite resources. But of [environmental] mysticism, when you try to derive politics and policy from that alot of times it gets very bizarre.
I for one have been interested in farming in a way I feel is wholesome. Any business, any responsible business owner, regardless of what they do, whether they’re a farmer or not, they should be accountable for and responsible to being wholesome and having a relative degree of safety. I don’t think your products should hurt people or kill people. I don’t think anybody out there is his right mind as a consumer wants to be hurt or killed because of your product.
The whole emphasis on sustainability, on the one hand it’s good, it makes sense, but on the other it’s a little awkward because I’ve yet to meet a winegrower who just went out and killed his vineyard. I’ve never met such a winegrower. I’ve met people who farm different ways, some of them are not as responsible, some of them use way more chemicals than they need to. But for the most part the farming community in general, viticulture or anything else, it’s a very hard working, very responsible community.
Have you noticed any elements of climate change in your vineyards?
BB I do think the most recent vintages have been warmer than when I first started in the business. And it seems like through the growing season it’s been warmer and through part of the harvest season in the Fall, it felt a little cooler. Now, is it because of global warming? I don’t know. Is it because of Man? I really don’t know. I can’t tell you that. Some scientists will tell you “yes”, some will tell you “no”. We know the Earth has gone through temperature fluctuations for thousands of years… ice ages. Am I feeling the results of global warming? It’s hard for me to say. But the vintages do feel a little warmer. The last ten years have felt warmer than I remember them being the first ten years.
This year was interesting. There just wasn’t as much June gloom, there wasn’t as much of a strong inversion layer that we usually see starting in April and extending alot of times through July and into August. This year there was an inversion layer that would burn off a little earlier, by nine o’clock the sun would be out. It just does feel a little warmer.
Have you taken an interest in international markets?
BB A little. We’ve done a little in the UK, we’ve been looking at the Pacific Rim.
On your blog or website it is mentioned that one of your labels is a painting of yours. Do you paint?
BB No! (laughs) The label I think you’re talking about was from my days in college. I got a liberal arts education, and part of that is you gotta take an art class, and so I call that ‘paint or flunk’.
(laughs) I see.
BB So rather than flunk I painted this stuff, and, you know, it hangs on the wall until sooner or later you end up doing something with it. And it did well because it’s abstract, which I’m certainly not a devoteé of, but because I didn’t know how to paint that’s what I did. I had no talent whatsoever so what else do you do but paint a blur or smear? Then, low and behold, ten years after school you find that the culture likes that kind of stuff! And you put it on a wine label.
I’ve had a similar experience!
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
BB Just a conclusion of the irrigation discussion. After the bore-hole irrigation, that’s during verasion, we put on two to three inches, hopefully within 48 hours after we pick. Those two irrigations seem to unite with one another to set a perfect sequence for the planting of the legumes. You get the legumes planted right now, or the end of October, then they come into full flower before a very important point which is the frost season, because you want to have your cover crop mowed out before the frost season. The reason for that is after bud break, on really cold nights, you want the cold air to be able to drain out of the vineyard, off of the vineyard floor. If you have a full stand of legumes in March, legumes chest high, across the entire field that has a tendency to push the cold up off of the ground, up into the canopy area of the vine where the tender shoots are. And the tender shoots can get burned, frozen, and then they die. With the cover crop mowed, it’s out of the way. Then the cold air can stay on the floor of the vineyard and drain out. Cold air is like water. It’s heavy because it’s cold, more dense, so it tends to want to fall to the lowest point, just like water. With a full stand of cover, even on a hillside, it makes it much more difficult for that air to drain off.
The important connection is that while you have to mow your cover, while you’re compelled to mow your cover, if it’s a legume crop, you don’t want to mow it before full flower. When legumes are in full flower that’s when they’ve come to full biomass, that’s when they’ve fixed the maximum amount of nitrogen in their roots. That’s why you plant legumes, for nitrogen fixing. If you can mow in full flower before the frost then you’re in business. Plus you get a nice thatch when you mow, which is good for keeping the dust down, it helps minimize erosion damage. The frost season may have started but you may not have ended the rainy season. A nice thatch on the ground is good. So you get the full effect of the legumes as far as them being a fertilizer source, a green manure. Mowing before full flower will not get the full effect. To avoid mowing before full flower in frost season you gotta get you legumes planted early enough. The only way to make legumes grow early enough is to have enough water in the field right at harvest.
What we’ve found is that if we do a bore hole irrigation at verasion that down under the soil, between the vines and in the middle of the rows, there is still a relative amount of moisture, as opposed to a completely drip-irrigated system where the only moisture is under the dripper, the hydration sphere under the dripper. And then if you put on two or three more inches right after you pick then the two waterings, the first put on 60, 70, 80 days prior, the two waterings unite and the legumes grow. The legumes take off! And they take off better than if we’d only watered at harvest. That may just be wishful thinking. I haven’t done the science or read scientific studies on the matter, but it makes sense.
We have run into situations, especially with Pinot, where we might put on two inches the night we pick thinking, “Ok, let’s get ready to drill in our cover, plant our legumes”, and we plant the legumes, but because it’s the Fall and it’s still hot, you got Santa Ana conditions, 10 days later it’s dry again. The surface dries out. So what I’m finding is that bore hole irrigation at verasion and at harvest really makes the ground in the middle perfect for farming legumes.
What was just kind of a crazy idea ten years ago has turned out to be a pretty interesting approach overall.
Well, thank you very, very much.
BB Thanks, Ken. Nice working with you.
Bryan Babcock, winegrower for Babcock Winery and Vineyards, is in the prime of his life. What I mean by that, apart from his youth and vigor, is the coming into focus of hard-won knowledge achieved through disciplined experimentation in the vineyard. He is a student of the vine and vineyard, a conscientious, responsible visionary. As you will read in this two-part interview, Bryan Babcock is perpetually exploring the nuance and elusive character of terroir. A true believer in the concept, he amply explains why terroir matters, how to coax its expression, and he demonstrates the attentive care necessary to ask the right questions of the land.
I spoke to Bryan Babcock over the phone on two separate occasions this past week.
Part 2 will post Sunday.
Admin I was reading on your website blog about the difficulties you had with the Syrah this year. What happened?
Bryan Babcock What happened, I don’t know. But it looks to be some kind of an inversion because we had a nice set, at least by my standards, on everything else. Usually it’s the other way around. Usually our Pinot Noir is very light, our Chardonnay is very light, the Sauvignon Blanc usually has half about as much fruit on it as it does now. But the one variety that always seems to set a crop is the Syrah. I usually attributed that to a) it’s a different variety so it just could be a little bit more hardy in general in its pollinating capacity. Syrah is typically known to be a pretty productive variety. And b), because it’s a later season variety, compared to my other varieties, bud break on the Syrah is last, and then bloom is last. So I always attributed a little bit of set on the Syrah to a little nicer weather because the longer we wait for Spring for pollination usually depends on how nice the weather is. Of course that’s just theory. But one way or another we usually have clusters on the Syrah but this year it was pretty shot.
Can you tell me what Pinot clones you grow?
BB We grow 667, 777, 115, 114, 113, Pommard, 2A, 459, and there’s a new clone, I think it’s, if I’m not mistaken, it’s a 900 number from Dijon. And then I have my own ‘in-house’ clone, two of them actually, one’s called Psi [see pic] and the other one is called ‘Mama #2′.
BB Yes. In other words, the other mother vine. Psi came from the first mother vine, at least what looked like at the time the strongest mother vine. When you look at one vine you have absolutely no idea of what the future holds or what’s in store for you, but the strongest vine I named Psi.
Do you have preferred yeasts for the different clones?
BB No. I just use different varieties.
Have you ever tried to let a wild fermentation run to finish? Will wines ever go to dry out there?
BB To the first question, yes, I have tried natural fermentation. The second answer is probably yes, too, if there’s not too much sugar in the lot it would probably go dry. But I’ve never liked the characteristics of a natural fermentation so I tend to stay away from it.
With a wild fermentation what happens exactly?
BB They tend to smell a little more like hay, like fresh cut, wet hay. I don’t know what the compounds are but it tends to smell a bit more like creosote, some of these other sort of guaiacolish-like compounds; it’s just not a real clean fermentation.
I have heard you’ve undertaken innovations with vineyard orientation…
BB Well, I don’t know if I have any innovations at this point. I think I’m just starting to understand some of the factors involved. I’m experimenting with some different row directions and vine spacing, in other words, the overall geometry of the vineyard. I wouldn’t call them innovations until I have the answers which will take another five to ten years, and then if I actually get the factors installed, get results, and my logic is good then I might call it an innovation. But at the end of it all how innovative can it be when you figure somebody in Europe already’s done it this way for 100 years?
I just don’t know how comfortable I am with the word ‘innovation’. I would say what I am doing is innovative in kind of a microcosmic way in my own little part of the world. I would not want it to seem I’ve discovered any real or new knowledge. What I really do think is that I’m starting to understand here is what a number of Europeans understood for years and years, that the way you lay the vineyard out really makes an impact.
You have to go into each environment and study it at that point. Somebody might tell me something involving the geometry of their Sauvignon Blanc in Pouilly-Fumé but when I go home the because of the way the wind blows or the temperature through the day it may not apply. You have to figure out where the sweet spots are in the layout of the vineyard. If the shade has an effect versus non-shade, or if the way the row runs whether the wind has an effect versus the way the wind is broken up, or if radiant heat off the ground has an effect insofar as how high or low the canopy is off the ground, those are all things that you have to find out based on your particular place. So if I discover the causality, the causes and the effects, and what works and what doesn’t, let’s say for Pinot Noir in the Santa Rita Hills and Babcock Vineyards, then I think that would be answering questions; it would be innovative in kind of a microcosmic way. But it’s not like nobody has ever known the overall effect of vineyard geometry because, like I’ve said, Europeans and probably smart domestic winegrowers have known that for years. I’m not the first.
I am probably one of the few people in my area to be as radical about it as I am. If you want a word that kinda pigeonholes me, rather than ‘innovation’ I like the word integration. Vineyard geometry is just one thing, that then has to be integrated with watering… irrigation.
Speaking of irrigation, at Babcock Vineyards you have different terroirs, your Terroir Exclusives line, for example, must have different water requirements. Could you say something of how you irrigate?
BB I think the basic difference between the way I irrigate and most of my colleagues is that I have gone back to using a significant amount of overhead irrigation with sprinklers. And for me there are two preferred targets, one is at verasion or slightly before verasion, depends on the block and variety. Pre-verasion with Pinot Noir I think is attractive; slightly before verasion or the early onset of verasion with Chardonnay, if you can catch it, right before bunch closure, I think that’s an attractive point. These are times where we will put down three to four inches, and I’m thinking next year it might be, if we can keep it all in the field without having it run off, five inches of overhead. And we try to apply the significant aspect of it, also, we try to get this all on in one night…. If the rig can deliver this much water.
And where does it come from, the water?
BB The well. We call it bore-hole irrigation. And the reason for that is the first time we did it I had all these ideas in my mind and I wanted to get out three inches in one night. We turned on the sprinkler, took it up to as much pressure as we could, we ran for probably twelve hours and we only got an inch and a quarter. We realized we were not going to be able to find, from the sprinkler head we had at the time, that it was going to be difficult to find a conventional nozzle of a big enough orifice, a big enough diameter to distribute that much water. So we had to unscrew the nozzles and take them to the shop to bore out the hole. So we call it bore-hole irrigation.
Bore-hole irrigation. Like a whale’s blow-hole.
BB (laughts) Yeah. You gotta bore out the hole in your sprinkler to get that much water out. (We finally found sprinklers that will accommodate it.) Another way to put it: three to five inches in one night at verasion.
Again, it’s all about integration. Bore-hole irrigation is integrated with the vineyard geometry and the farming of the cover crop. All of these things have to be put together. If you make one discovery, say with regard to lay out, and you discover that you want the rows here to go north and south, well, if you’re on a steep, west-facing hillside that means you have to cut terraces. And if the terraces are so crazy that they’re just not safe, that’s a problem, or if they’re constantly eroding out because of rain, that’s a problem, or if you can’t get your cover crop planted, or mowed because it’s too close to rain and the terraces are too mushy and easily damaged, well, what do you do? You may have to rethink the whole thing. So, it’s how it’s all put together. I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody who is as radical as I am with regard to integration, and that includes every European I’ve ever met.
On the other hand, there have been times when I thought I was right, I thought I was certain, when I’ve gone out and installed something and five years later I realize I wasn’t [right]. The exciting thing about farming is when you get it right it is very fulfilling because once you put it in it’s really hard to make an adjustment. Ripping things out and starting over again is not easy.
Can you tell me something of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA insect complex you guys deal with?
BB We don’t have a whole lot of insects, certainly not a lot of insect problems. What the beneficial insect profile is I really don’t know. I’m not that up on my entomology. We have a few problems, we’ve got these little bugs that bore holes in the trunks of young vineyards typically when they’re two to three years old. We get a little bit of that. Of course, mildew, not an insect but certainly a pest. Bees, we have a bee problem in some places, if you’re next to enough of a bee population. We have not had a serious problem with mealy bugs yet. We don’t have a really high population of sharpshooters because it is so windy and cold.
BB Yeah, typically yellow jackets. And honeybees, too. Honeybees will attack a grape crop. They typically like to attack white grapes. They especially love Chardonnay when it’s ripe for some reason. Though they will get into Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. They tend to get into varieties that have a little rot on them. They think it’s damaged fruit. That opens the door. Once they discover there are carbohydrates then the whole hive is activated. Depending on the habitat, so if you’ve got a vineyard with alot of habitat, say maybe on three sides of it, like up in the end of a canyon, and there’s chaparral, places for bees close by then it can be a problem, not everywhere, just certain areas.
Even more problematic, you can you bait them or poison them, but if you put out certain baits to kill the yellow jackets and if you’re [also] killing a beekeeper’s honeybees that’s not good either. I guess the point of it is if I got a Chardonnay vineyard that the bees are going to eat every year then maybe it’s time for a different variety.
How do you ferlilize?
BB I plant legumes in the middle, between rows, and I will put down compost, as needed, from time to time.
Have you had TCA problems with corks? Do you ever have sourcing issues?
BB I used to. I’m getting to the point where my less expensive products now have synthetic cork. And my more expensive products have more expensive cork. So, for me I think the problem was at the lower end of the cork ‘food chain’. We were trying to spend ten cents for cork when the materials were not as good. And that’s when you always run into trouble. If you’re spending forty-five, thirty-five cents for a cork you ought to be able to demand from the supplier that there not be, you know, cork taint in this product. Sure, a few bottles here and there, one percent I suppose would be acceptable; but I would just tell my cork suppliers that if I’m paying thirty-five, forty cents a cork and you’re gonna deliver ten to fifteen percent TCA then I’m going to find another supplier.
That’s basically what I did for the better part of twenty years. I’ll tell you right now I buy from one or two suppliers, and as long as their product on the upper end is stable I’ll be back.
End of Pt. 1
I received a delightful, if breathless, email promoting The Houston Cellar Classic beginning October 13th and running until October 19th. I nearly passed on mentioning it here until I began reading about the participating restaurants. I had no idea of how sophisticated the dining scene has become in Houston. (Perhaps we on the West Coast might be forgiven our provincialism!) The founders of the event are Jerry and Laura Lasco, proprietors of The Tasting Room. Their business partner, Jonathan Horowitz, explains it this way,
“Over the years, we recognized that within Houston proper, there was no multiple-day event solely dedicated to the appreciation of fine wine and food. Last year, we decided to fill that void and we introduced to Houston the Houston Cellar Classic: A Celebration of Wine and Food. Last year’s event was a smashing success, and we plan on making this year’s event even better. This celebration will span an entire week and feature multiple events occurring at all of our Houston locations. Our goal is to create the City of Houston’s first nationally-recognized wine and food event, drawing participants from the Houston area, as well as Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and beyond.”
A full list of the participating restaurants may be found here. I would single out for special mention 17, Max’s Wine Dive and Kiran’s.
I am not able to determine the quality or extent of the wine offered for The Houston Cellar Classic. Wine lists are posted on only a couple of the restaurant’s web sites. Mark’s, for example, is still building their virtual wine list. Be that as it may, should you find yourself in the Houston area this week check out the schedule of events and go see what all the fuss is about!
Reign of Terroir is pleased to introduce a new series, Young Winemakers. The effort will be to interview up and coming winemakers, our next generation of creative producers.
First up is Denis Hoey, 25, owner and winemaker at Dragonfly Cellars located among the Surf City Vintners group here in Santa Cruz, California. Denis graduated from UC Santa Cruz with degrees in Economics and Business Management. During his last year at the university he met Jeff Emory, the highly regarded owner and winemaker of Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard who graciously took him under his wing.
The rest is history.
I caught up with Denis at Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard’s winery where Dragonfly shares space.
Admin Tell us how you began making wine?
Denis Hoey I began at Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard. I was introduced by one of my teachers at UCSC to Jeff Emory, and he gave me the opportunity to come in and learn, the old apprenticeship style. And I continue to work at Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard to this day. From there is was exploring the UC Davis library, reading year in and year out until I felt like I was ready I started Dragonfly Cellars.
I studied very, very hard about an individual grape variety, Durif, found about its origins, how it’s been treated in the past, what has worked, what hasn’t worked. I pieced together a bunch of different winemaker’s methods so as to create my own. That’s the origin of my winemaking.
Are there other grapes besides Durif that interest you?
DH Durif is one of my main focuses. I’m trying to do mostly Santa Cruz Durif. I think it is a wonderful grape that can grow well here. It has a tremendous expression of smoke, spice, and beautiful flavors that is brought out here in the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. So I’m working very closely with some growers who are just getting some vineyards online. And that’s going to be my main focus. However, I also like to play with Cabernet vineyards. The last few years have been fun. I don’t ever have a contract, it’s just through my friends I get a great vineyard source and I make great Cabernet from them. One vineyard source one year and one vineyard source another year, and that’s been a fun thing. So I’m kind of getting back into the traditional bit with the Cabernet. I also have the opportunity to work with alot of Santa Cruz Mountains [AVA] Pinot seeing that I work for Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, so I’m also making a Santa Cruz Mountains [AVA] Pinot blend. I working with Pinot, Cabernet and Malbec.
Speaking of smoke I’ve heard reports of smoke from this year’s summer fires affecting some vineyards in Northern Napa and Mendocino. Have you detected it in the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA where we too had a number of fires?
DH I have not noticed anything as of yet from my vineyards. I could very rarely, if ever, smell the fires from my vineyards or seen any ash in my vineyards. So, therefore, I haven’t seen any problems for myself. I know of alot of vineyards that were very close to the fires where that could be an issue.
And the sources of your fruit, are they from all over Cali?
DH Yes, but as of 2007 I will be about 75% Santa Cruz Mountains AVA.
Your case production?
DH Case production as of this year will be 600 cases, so very, very small. We started with 65 cases, went up to 100, went up to 350 (laughter), and now were up to 600! So were growing about 100 per cent every year. There’s been a wonderful response and make me feel, like, “Ok, I should be making more wine!”
You hear various reports about the quality of this year’s crop, that there is a reduction overall and some quality issues. How would you estimate the quality of the grapes you’ve seen pass through your doors?
DH The grapes that first appeared, I was highly skeptical because they were coming in so fast and so early. But the flavors that I’m getting from the finished wines that are now in barrel are wonderful. I didn’t feel as though I had as much control this year due to the heat because you can only pick one or two vineyards a day. And when they’re all coming in in a three or four day period, you know, some of them get away from you, from optimal. But on the whole I’m enjoying the flavors. The yields have been very, very low. Alot of our vineyards are coming in 50 to 60 percent low. That’s a big hit to a winery. I know I would have produced alot more wine this year had some of the vineyards I was working with hadn’t come in so shy.
But as far as the quality of the fruit, I think the quality has been quite good from the vineyards we’re getting from. From year to year I’ve been noticing that guys right next door can have a bad year just due to the microclimate not only in Santa Cruz but in other appellations. I’ve worked with two different vineyards and have enjoyed the fruit out of one but not the other. They shared the same growing techniques but it was just the different microclimate.
That is one of the strenghts of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA.
DH I think so.
Here in the winery would you tell us a little about your barrel regimen?
DH I had the privilege of working in a brewery for about a year and a half. My brother is a brewer. And when I was commuting back and forth, my fiancé at the time, now my wife, was going to school up in San Rafael, I needed to get a job where I could work part time for Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard and also work up there. So I got a job at Bison Brewing. I learned breweries have to be alot cleaner than wineries have to be. Wineries produce more of a stable product. But in breweries you’re constantly fighting microbiological warfare due to the nature of beer. Beer is prone to infection. No pathogens can live in alcohol. By infection I mean producing off-flavors, you know, basically ruining what you’re trying to create. I translated that experience to the winery. So I work under brewery’s regime of cleanliness. I sanitize everything; no water rinses. It is always organically sanitized and neutralized. Nothing touches the wine that hasn’t been cleaned.
There’s a saying in the industry that brewers are neat and tidy, wineries are a little messier, and distilleries are disgusting! Because nothing can live in high proof alcohol. Distillers don’t have to worry about infection or things like that. That’s the pecking order of who’s more stable.
But to get back to the point, the wines I work tirelessly to have clean…, clean, perfect wines going into the bottle. So I can’t look back and look at myself and say, “God, I messed that one up”.
We have about 300 barrels in the winery. My regime is to top routinely, clean each bung because that is a major source of infection, and to taste every barrel at least every one to two months. Otherwise your barrel can start to have its own micro issue that you can nip in the bud. If you’re tasting often and you know you might have a problem, you can fix it before it becomes a problem.
How did you come up with your beautiful label illustrations?
DH I bumped into a nice lady by the name of Gilli Wolf, she is my graphic designer. She just came up to the table and said she wanted to design a wine label and I said, “You’re in luck. I need a wine label designed”. So I sent her a scrap that I knew I wanted the feel of the label to be. I told her it’s Dragonfly Cellars, I’d like Celtic knots in the wings, make it look a little nouveau. She took it from there and knocked it out of the park in the first two or three tries.
That’s for sure! I love the label.
DH I am really happy and blessed with the label. It really all came together.
The origin of the name of the winery is my wife and I were sitting in a field at a brew festival with my brother. We were wondering what we were going to call the winery. There were thousands of dragonflies flying all around us in this field. I said, “Dragonfly Cellars!” But then I said, no, somebody will have that name. I went researching and found nobody really had that name. So I threw it through the TTB, it got approved, got my bond, started the winery. Now it’s all trademarked. Its been a wonderful growth and we’re blessed even to have the name.
Plans for the future?
DH I plan to hopefully stay at an 800 case level. I’ve got a preview program that’s slowly growing. I’ve got a whoppin’ 35 members! We’re still in our infancy stage. What I’m working on is working with organic growers for the vineyards I work on personally and farm myself, on sustainability, towards doing the majority of my winemaking from grapes of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, just trying to work local and as green as possible. In the wine industry we have to use certain things like sulphur just because that is a tried and true method to produce quality wine. At least from my research thus far. I’m always open to having my mind changed!
But for the future, I want to create very balanced wines. My wines are all about balance, all about accessibility; they’re wines that I design where people can come to the winery, buy a bottle of wine, and go home and drink it. But you can also age it for 5 or 6 years, which is good for people who have cellars. That’s what I do! So I’m trying to play on both ends instead of having these hard lines where people come in and taste it and go, “Umm, I don’t like it right now.” I want them to come in and say, “Wow, this is balanced; this has everything I want now. I can only imagine what it’s going to be in 5 years.”
That’s the ultimate goal.
It’s just my wife Claire and myself. We do everything, everything there is to do at Dragonfly. We have no employees. It is just us.
Absolutely delightful. Thank you very much, Denis.
DH Thank you.
Regular readers will know I had the amazing good fortune recently to spend a week at Château Pesquié in the Côtes du Ventoux. As well as learning some of the art of winemaking by spending time in the vineyards and the winery I also had the opportunity to drink a range of the Pesquié wines during meals with the Chaudière family over the course of the week. This was capped by a special tasting on the last day where I had a chance to compare some of the wines in a standardised environment – and was my first experience of a something approximating to a “professional” tasting.
Here is the combined list of Pesquié wines experienced during the week, with tasting notes and references to whether the wines were tried with food or on their own. For those readers who don’t read the words and only look for scores I’ve based them on a 5 star scale similar to Decanter or Michael Broadbent –3 is good, 4 is very good while 5 is usually unobtainable on my budget.
For those not familiar with Pesquié wines their Chardonnay (not tasted during the week) and Viognier are classified Vin de Pays as these single varietals don’t meet AOC Ventoux regulations. Le Paradou is a “Custom Cuvee” for Jon-David Headrick and is classified AOC Côtes du Luberon. All other wines are AOC Côtes du Ventoux, although the Perle de Rosé is only available in France. Les Terrasses and the flagship Quintessence have been the main Pesquié brands over the years, with Artemia the new Cuvee (2004 was the first vintage) and I get the feeling its style is aimed at the U.S. consumer.
Les Terrasses 2007 Rosé. Grenache, Syrah & Cinsault. 3+/5.
(with food) A wonderfully fruity nose, deliciously dry in the mouth and an amazingly long finish – one of the better Rosés I’ve had all year.
Perle de Rosé 2007. Grenache, Cinsault & Syrah. 3+/5.
(with food) A refreshing dry Rosé with a large amount of fruit up-front, more so than Les Terrasses Rosé, however the finish seems quicker.
2007 Viognier. 100% unoaked Viognier, Vin de Pays. 3+/5.
(with food) Served very chilled and showing a restrained nose but a fresh taste. Later in the week was served again slightly warmer and was much more aromatic and flavourful.
(tasting) Exceptionally floral nose with good front acidity. Dry & fresh, going into a short mid-palate then a long and rich finish. Drink young.
2006 Quintessence Blanc. Rousanne & Clairette. 3/5.
(tasting) Floral, perfumed nose, buttery & aromatic which moves into an almost chemical smell with a hint of Epoxy. Full bodied, dry and slightly spicy. Long and buttery finish.
2007 Quintessence Blanc. Rousanne & Clairette. 4/5.
(with food) Creamy and well structured and no overt signs of oak from the barrel fermented Rousanne.
(tasting) More elegant than the ’06, creamy and fresh.
2007 Le Paradou. Grenache & Syrah. 3/5.
(tasting) Vibrant (young) purple colour with a massive nose of blackcurrant. A nice fruity drink with firm front tannins, but a short finish.
(with food) An easy drinking wine with a fruity nose, tannic up front with a short finish.
2006 Les Terrasses. 70% Grenache, 30% Syrah. 3+/5.
(tasting) More ruby brick edging compared to the Paradou. A lighter, less fruity nose, spicy with ash & some wood – a touch of cigar box? Dry yet fruity up front, nicely oaked with a long mid-palate & finish.
(with food) Initially quite tight and tannic, but you could tell there was plenty of fruit trying to get out. A few hours of standing time worked wonders and later it was much smoother with far more fruit apparent.
2007 Les Terrasses. Grenache & Syrah, Brut de Cave – as yet unbottled. Unscored.
(tasting) Fruit juice aspects to the nose, a little green with lighter tannins –much too young and unstructured to judge its potential.
1997 Quintessence. Syrah & Grenache. 4/5.
(with food) As soon as it was poured its dark and oaky nose made itself know – a touch of leather, some fine ash and a whole load of the local Garrigue and Provencal herbs. The colour was a dark red, with only a little sign of ageing around the edges. On first taste the wine had forward acidity with smooth tannins, slightly bitter and lots of dark berry fruit with a long finish – smooth and fresh with a hint of cherry.
1999 Quintessence. Syrah & Grenache. 4/5.
(with food) similar to the ’97, maybe a little spicier, a touch smokier on the nose and more dark fruit. In the mouth this one had more tannin, still notes of ash and cherry/oak throughout. Although seriously good I preferred the elegance and smoothness of the ’97 a little more.
2000 Quintessence. Syrah & Grenache. 4+/5.
(with food) In Magnum (decanted and rebottled). This was an amazing wine with a nose of Garrigue, Tar and Liquorice and the promise of fruit. On first sip the promise was fulfilled – seamless elegance and integration with fine (very fine) tannins, smooth and refined, delicate and an everlasting finish which slowly faded into memory.
2003 Quintessence. Syrah & Grenache. 3+/5.
(with food) Fruity and warm this was drinking well and went perfectly with duck.
2005 Quintessence. 80% Syrah, 20% Grenache. 3+/5.
(with food) Strong aroma of Garrigue on the nose. Good tannins and complexity.
2006 Quintessence. 80% Syrah, 20% Grenache. 4/5.
(tasting) A complex nose, with some spicy ash. The tannins are harsh but this young wine is already showing its strength, it just needs time to smooth the rough edges. Drink 2011-2021.
(with food) Decanted. This had a herbal, spicy nose with some menthol, heading towards eucalyptus and some pepper, but subtle. There was definite complexity in the nose; fellow diners got liquorice and some black olive. In the mouth it was smooth and well structured, tannins under the tongue and down the sides – “dark fruit and spice box” was mentioned. A short mid-palate led into a long finish with a fruity elegance.
2005 Artemia. 50% Syrah, 50% Grenache, barrel-fermented. 4/5.
(tasting) Less tannic but more unbalanced than the equivalent Quintessence, this hasn’t integrated nearly as much. A lot of fruit with a really long finish, when it comes together this will be big. Drink 2012-2018.
(with food) Decanted for approx 2 hours, this was so much milder than at the tasting just a few hours before, helped by a cheese accompaniment.
2006 Artemia. 50% Syrah, 50% Grenache, barrel-fermented. 4+/5.
(tasting) Much greener than the ’05 with more menthol/mint. This has a fantastic structure but the tannins are too aggressive and need even more time to integrate. In 5-8 years this will send you into ecstasy and continue to do so for many more years to come. Drink 2013-2025.
(with food) Decanted, this has a highly concentrated nose, dark and enticing with some spicy tar/creosote. There is wood in this, not quite an oak monster but making its presence felt, however plenty of fruit as well. Fresh tannins led into a long finish – a supremely balanced and elegant texture which worked perfectly with lamb.
(with food) Decanted for approx 2 hours, this benefitted from the accompanying cheese, had a strong mint/menthol element and serious dark berry undertones.
I felt privileged to be on the receiving end of such generous hospitality from the Chaudière family at Château Pesquié; from Alexandre at the winery, Frédéric throughout the week and most especially their parents, Paul and Edith, who opened their house to us over 5 days for lunch and dinner.
On talking to Paul during the main tasting he confirmed that there have been several vintages (1992, 1994, 1996 and 2002) where Quintessence Rouge was not made, as the quality of the grapes was deemed too low. For me this reinforced my thoughts on their high level of integrity and desire to strive for quality, something that is evident when you taste a selection of their range and vintages as I was fortunate to do in that glorious September week in the Ventoux.
Following upon the posting of Pt 1 of my interview with Jack Keller the out-pouring of interest and, it must be said, of affection for the man has been nothing short of astonishing. For his legion of readers and admirers, myself included, he occupies a very rare place: an accomplished winemaker, to be sure, an exhaustive reference for the beginner and experienced alike, but also that of an American folk hero. His ongoing contribution to the preservation and advancement of ‘local wine knowledge’, a uniquely American knowledge, of how generations past and present made and continue to make wines out of anything at hand, wines made in barns, cellars, kitchens and bathtubs, with both rudimentary and polished equipment, instructed by recipes he’s received and dutifully recorded from humble folks, their parents and grandparents, indeed, recipes compiled from our earliest days as a republic, such a contribution deserves our greatest respect and thanks.
Little did we know, neither could Jack himself, that his patient blog additions would gather, over time, into a resource to be treasured.
Back to wines. Your first ‘Texas’ wine, you write, was made of mission fig and raisin. I am amazed at the bewildering number of fruits that may be made into wine. Do you find the wine market’s preoccupation with Vitis vinifera to be unfair or misguided when it comes to all the other kinds of wines out there?
JK No, but I understand it. It’s a combination of marketing, culture and bias.
The wine industry is built around the grape, and Vitis vinifera is the best all-around grape for wine. But neither V. vinifera nor the grape itself is the best wine solution everywhere. They grow best in the temperate zones and that is where probably 98% of all commercial wines are made. But outside the temperate bands grapes are scarce to non-existent and don’t do well if they grow at all. There are hundreds of non-grape wines made on small scales in the non-temperate regions for local consumption from local fruits and berries and saps. Generally, these don’t have nearly the shelf life as the average grape wine, so shipping them to the States, for example, where they would mainly be sold as novelty wines, doesn’t work well commercially – they would probably go bad on the shelf before they were purchased. That’s a very practical marketing limitation to some very nice exotic wines.
But then there is the cultural side, which has two aspects. One mainly pertains to non-grape wines. Many, many people will simply not assimilate that which doesn’t fit their cultural framework. They might try a pineapple wine in Mexico, a cashew wine in Belize, a mangosteen wine in Thailand, a cloudberry wine in Newfoundland, or a lingonberry wine in Sweden, but they wouldn’t think of serving these wines at a dinner party or even at their own table.
The second cultural aspect has to do with laws and regulations. France has carried this to the extreme in mandating that only these three grapes can be grown here, those four can be grown there, and these other four can be grown over yonder. There are traditional reasons for this and they are not all that persuasive, but it is the way it is. When you regulate what you can grow, you tend to exclude everything else.
Last weekend I was head judge at a competition at the Czech Heritage Festival in Victoria, Texas. Six of us selected a dandelion wine as Best of Show. I seriously doubt this would happen in France – or in Napa, for that matter. I could spend an hour on this topic so I’ll just leave it at that.
Next comes the bias against all grape wine not V. vinifera, and for this there is widespread blame, if blame is the appropriate word. You have the Robert Parkers and Hugh Johnsons and all the other trend-setters in wine who think hybrid is a most vulgar word. Of course, of the many thousand varieties of V. vinifera, to be perfectly honest, all are single-specie hybrids, but they are not vulgar hybrids – they are V. vinifera. Then there are the countless other wine-writers, sommeliers, bloggers, and a huge V. vinifera-oriented marketing industry. That’s a huge tide of bias to swim against.
There are some absolutely marvelous French-American and other non-vinifera hybrids. I doubt you will see them rated in Wine Spectator or Wine Advocate, and that is unfortunate. The truth is that V. vinifera is a fairly fragile species in America and susceptible to a host of diseases, vectors and pests not native to Europe. Conversely, American native vines are highly tolerant, if not outright resistant, to many of these same vulnerabilities. Breeding tolerance or resistance into a vine makes good sense, and yet the wine snobs resist the very thought.
The most overworked and inappropriate term applied to American vines is “foxy.” “Foxy” applies to only one of the 24-30 species (depending on who’s counting) of native American species of Vitis, and that is V. labrusca. It can also be applied to the proto-species V. X novae-angliae, which is a natural hybrid of V. labrusca and V. riparia. Admittedly, there are many cultivars with V. labrusca genes in them, but there are many, many times more without. It pains me to no end to hear some ignorant twit taste an excellent Norton and say, “I simply cannot stomach that foxy taste.” He has no idea what he is talking about – Norton is V. aestivalis, not labrusca – and if he were served the wine blind he might not taste anything “different” about it at all. One of the best red table wines I have ever enjoyed (I bought a case) was Post Familie Vineyards Ives Noir. It is a V. labrusca hybrid but has very little foxiness in it…and it is excellent.
Obviously, this particular subject hits a nerve with me, so I’ll just let it go with one parting comment. If people allowed their senses to taste the wines without engaging their biased brains, many non-vinifera wines would be best sellers.
During Prohibition and after, my Grandmother used to make dandelion, watermelon, gooseberry and blackberry wines. Many more Americans can relate to home winemaking in ways more intimate than to the industrial product flooding our supermarkets, just as the home gardener knows the basics of growing healthy vegetables. How can the average urban vinifera wine drinker be made more aware of the gustatory spectrum of flavors offered by fruit wines?
JK That’s an excellent question, Ken. There are basically two methods I recommend.
The first is to take a Saturday day trip and visit any wineries in your area that make country wines – the generic term used for non-grape wines. If your state has a wine industry, it will have a presence on the web and you can locate it through Google; just type in the name of the state and the word “wineries.” Go to the websites of the wineries and see what wines they make. In some areas of the country, especially the northern tier, you can’t avoid running into country wines at nearly every winery. You won’t find them in California’s wineries, but if you’re taking a trip outside the Golden State, do a Google search and try something different.
The second way is to determine if there is a winemaking club in your area and go to a couple of their functions. This is not that difficult. One way is to go to WineMaker magazine’s website and scroll down the right column until you see the search field for FIND CLUBS. Enter your ZIP code and it will tell you if there are any near you and give you contact or website information. You can also go to my site and search the clubs listed in the first section. These all have websites. After locating one, contact the club and ask about tastings, competitions or other venues they might have where you might be allowed to participate. The San Antonio Regional Wine Guild, as an example club, welcomes guests and usually has 15-25 wines at any monthly meeting. Unless we are doing a theme tasting, such as “the wines of Italy,” 65-75% of the wines will be homemade non-grape or non-vinifera grape wines. Our only requirement, even of guests, is that they bring a wine to share (commercial or homemade) and their own wine glass.
What is your take on Organic and Biodynamic winemaking?
JK The word “organic” is much overworked these days. Under Title 7 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Part 205, organic foods, both agricultural and livestock sourced, are defined with enough loopholes that I doubt the public really knows what the word means.
I think the idea of organic foods is good, but the regulations add quite a costly record keeping and certification burden on the producer that does not contribute to the actual value of the foods involved. I understand the need for both, but the burden discourages use of the products by those with low or fixed incomes.
As for organic wines, again the idea is good. I’m just not sure I have ever made an organic wine. I have never really checked the national list of synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production to see.
As for biodynamic winemaking, I have read of some pretty far-out practices I can’t subscribe to. On the other hand, other practices seemed innocent enough but I have no knowledge of the bases upon which they are prescribed. It’s a bit too metaphysical for me. I’d like to see some scientific evidence supporting it before I bite.
Global warming is shaking up the wine world. One may read academic reports to this effect but it is really the winegrowers themselves who provide the most compelling evidence for most of the public, I would argue. Bordeaux as we know it may be seriously compromised. One report estimates Australia will cease to produce wine by 2050. What is the outlook for Texas?
JK Ken, all through the 1960s and ‘70s the scientists were telling us we here heading for a new ice age. It was a thousand years away, but there was no doubt it was coming. All the data pointed to it. I attended a seminar in Colorado Springs in 1974 on the subject and all these meteorologists and climatologists were saying the same thing, except this one guy from a four-year old outfit called the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He alone said we had been experiencing a normal solar cycle in which the sun put out less energy and so it was slightly colder, but in a few years it would end and old Sol would start putting out more energy and we would go through a period of warming.
I didn’t know whom to believe, but this one guy impressed me because he had these view-graphs with charts that showed the cycles, and he flat predicted that in 20-25 years they would conclude that the earth was going to burn up. He pointed his finger up and said, “Remember then, it’s the sun. It has cycles. It will cool off again.”
My point is that 34 years ago this guy from the NOAA predicted what we are seeing now. I’ve read a lot on the subject and am not sold that man is causing global warming. I think it’s the sun. Everything else can be explained as normal statistical variances within any climate model you care to use. What I am not at all sure about is the increase in atmospheric CO2. It’s a nagging little problem I can’t resolve with other really easy data to digest. But then we’ve only really been studying it for a short time. It might be quite explainable when our understanding matures.
I do know that if you look at the record high temperatures in each of the 50 United States, 3 are in 1888-98, 31 are in 1911-37 (with all but 7 in the 1930s – can you spell “dust bowl?”), 10 in 1954-83, and 6 in 1994-95. Only 16 of 50 highs occurred in the last 54 years. There hasn’t been one record high in the entire country in 13 years, and yet this is the very period people are pointing to as catastrophic and record-breaking. And yet not one record has been broken. Call me stupid, Ken, but I don’t see a trend in there that justifies a Nobel Prize for anything, let alone spending hundreds of billions of dollars on “carbon emission credits” (expected to reach $1.5 trillion within a decade).
With that kind of money at stake, research funding will overwhelmingly favor predicting more of the same. I have been reading the scientific literature on the subject for about ten years and will simply say it is not the quality of the research in other scientific fields I follow. I’m not going so far as to say it is “junk science,” but clearly some of it is suspect and a lot of respectable scientists use that term.
The truth is that I simply don’t know whether the climate changes we are seeing now are long term or are like the coming ice age hysteria I witnessed years ago. Prudence would dictate we try to wean ourselves from fossil fuels as quickly as we can, but I am still suspicious of all the money being made off of this “crisis.” There is something very insincere about crying “the sky is falling” and then demanding we pay a “sky is falling tax.”
But to answer your question, I’m not ready to start predicting the end of the wine business as we know it just yet. V. vinifera might burn up in Texas in a hundred years, but I suspect Texans will still be making excellent homemade wine from those nasty old mustang grapes for generations to come.
A lot of ink is spilled over the use of wine additives. When I’ve clicked through home winemaking web sites I see dozens of additives, supplements, and enhancements. Mega Purple, liquid oak… the list is bewildering. What is your take on these offerings? How common is a homemade wine without these additions?
JK There are, as you say, a bewildering assortment of additives. Some manufacturers have sent me things to “try.” I usually attempt a judicious appraisal, but there are some that I simply never developed a use for. There are an awful lot of specialty tannins and designer pectic enzymes that are expensive and I doubt have much attraction for the home winemaker.
But there are still several additives most winemakers would prefer not to do without. Obviously, potassium metabisulfite is the aseptic solution for almost any molds or bacteria that would like to attack your wines, and it postpones the inevitable end-of-wine-life due to oxidation. A basic pectic enzyme aids juice extraction and neutralizes pectin haze. Yeast nutrients are essential for most non-vinifera wines, and some yeast simply need nitrogen energizers. Some grape tannin powder is often needed to give some fruit and many non-traditional wines (dandelion, lilac, rose petal, wheat, corn, etc.) that “bite” that separates wine from other beverages. And many non-grape wines need organic acid supplementation or they taste “flat.” Among the scores of other additives available, two or three fining agents usually find their way into the winemaker’s pantry. These are the basic additives, and each winemaker tailors this list to his or her favored winemaking methods.
Having said that, I have dozens of additives most winemakers don’t have. But I usually buy these with a single use in mind just to see if they do what their developer claims. They reach their shelf life and I toss them, most having been used only once or maybe twice. If I am going to write about them, I have to use them first.
And then there are yeasts. I am down to 37 varieties of yeast on hand. I have had as many as 56. I’ve spent a lot of time studying the many strains and conducting trials. This usually occurs when I am given a lot of an ingredient – figs, blackberries, blueberries, pears, or whatever – and I make a large batch and then break it into several smaller batches and pitch each with a different yeast. It’s the only way I know of to say with authority that this specific strain preserves the fruitiness of Navajo Blackberries better than any other while building a complex bouquet, and that one gives Hachiya Persimmons a rich, creamy mouthfeel.
Most home winemakers gravitate to a core group of from three to six yeast strains. Yeast are tools. They help you maximize the potential of the base ingredients. The more expansive your toolkit, provided you know when and how to use them, the better for you and your wine. There are a dozen to fifteen yeast strains I use 60 to 70% of the time. The remainder of the time I’m experimenting. Sometimes I learn something.
Tell us something about the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild, if you will. How many members? What kinds of wine does the Guild make?
JK The San Antonio Regional Wine Guild (SARWG) was founded at the Old Standby Saloon in Castroville. We’re planning on returning there in May 2009 for our 33rd anniversary.
Our membership fluctuates between 50-80 members. A few years ago, we had members in seven states. It runs in cycles (probably has something to do with the sun), but this is a “down” year so far, with 54 members. We had 24 more members than this last year, but we’ll get a jump later in October when we have our Fall Competition. We always do.
Some clubs buy a ton of grapes and make a club wine. SARWG hasn’t ever done that to my knowledge. The members pretty much do their own thing. We have one member who only makes Concord grape wine, another who only makes berry and fruit wines, several who only make kit wines, and some – like myself – who will ferment just about anything that isn’t toxic.
By far the wine most members are most passionate about is made from the lowly V. mustangensis – the mustang grape. This is by far the most unpalatable grape I’ve ever bitten into. The acid is off the charts and can blister your skin and the tannin is nearly as strong. But the thing is, this truly awful tasting grape can be coaxed into some of the best wine you can imagine. Admittedly, it has a distinctive, non-foxy flavor some will not like, but so does Gewürztraminer. I’ve won more Grand Champions, Best of Shows, Best of Class, and Gold Medals with mustang wine than any other, and many of our other members can make the same claim.
I think our love affair with mustang grapes is based on the belief that if you can make award-winning wines with mustang, you can certainly make award-winning wines with mere V. vinifera. But where’s the challenge in that? No matter where you’re from, once you’ve bought into that mentality you’re a Texan and there’s no going back.
Like most winemaking clubs, we see fewer young people making wine. It seems like the youth of today – I’m talking about 30-something on down – are generally not interested in making wine. Maybe wine takes too much time to make and they want it now. I don’t know, but it’s really sad that they aren’t interested in learning the arts and crafts of their fathers.
And your wine-making specialties?
JK I guess that would be making wine from the unusual. It didn’t start off that way, but it happened. Oak leaf wine, chickweed wine, sand burr wine, hibiscus flower wine, mesquite bean wine, jalapeno wine, praline wine, cactus flower wine – why not? They have all won awards. I guess it’s like the mustang grape – embrace the challenge. If you can turn Bermuda grass clippings into an award-winning wine, blueberry and blackberry are a snap.
But I also make conventional wines – certainly more of them than the unusuals. Most of my awards come from fruit, berry and grape wines. I grow some grapes, but mostly just to experience growing them. I think it would be rather pretentious of me to write about the viticultural side of winemaking without experiencing powdery mildew, grape berry moth infestations and anthracnose myself, even if only on 30 vines. And of course, I live in the famous Pierce’s Disease belt of the South, so I have planted and replanted and replanted, and now have a fairly stable PD-tolerant plot, with a few vines that just might be PD-resistant. Time and the grapes will tell.
I often leave the last question for the person being interviewed.
This is an opportunity for any particularly bald omission of my line of questioning to be corrected. Feel free to ask any question and answer it.
JK The question would be, “Where do you think you need improvement as a winemaker, as a writer in general and as a blogger in particular?”
To that I would answer that as a winemaker – and I think this is true of many if not most winemakers – I need to better tune my taste buds to tell me what any given must needs to ferment into a balanced wine. I still rely on hydrometers, acid titration, pH meters, and other measures to aid me in analyzing the must. There is, of course, nothing wrong with doing it this way, but I would like to rely completely on my taste buds. I do this quite often to see if I can, but if the resulting wine is not balanced I have to fall back on the lab tests. I’m in the ballpark more often than not, but I’d like to improve that to staying within the in-field.
As a writer, I have two distinct styles. My preference is to write informally, like I talk, but at work and in journals I adopt a more academic style. What I need to improve on is to not mix the two styles in the same article, essay or monograph. And I do. I am especially liable to do this when I take a break in writing and read something in the opposing style before returning to the keyboard. It’s something I need to be aware of, and often I’m not until I proofread what I wrote.
I strive for accuracy in all things I write or say, but once in a while I blow it.. Such episodes have a way of causing embarrassment, and I’d REALLY like to avoid that. But I will say this about the public. They seem to be quite forgiving. Some just come right out and write, “You stepped on it. Morus rubra, not Morus alba, is the American mulberry.” You can’t get mad at honesty. Others are cute, and might say something like, “Those V. berlandieri grapes on your web site did a really good imitation of V. cordifolia just as you snapped their picture. If you didn’t eat ‘em or turn ‘em into wine, you should sign ‘em up with a talent agent.” I love my readers. But I want them to be able to take what I write to the bank.
I’m working on it.
Thank you, Mr Keller.
It is difficult to over-estimate the importance of Jack Keller. Veteran, historian, web and wine writing pioneer, he began posting his lucid vinous insights well before the net’s potential was clear to wine writers. Jack has been providing constructive advice and instruction to home winemakers for years. I myself have used his website for hard-to-find info on the crowberry. Wonder what crowberry offers? Wonder what the deal is with fruit wines? Need info on vitus vinifera? Well, visit Jack Keller’s Winemaking home page.
In this two part interview he offers his considered opinion on a wide range of subjects.
Read and enjoy.
Admin You have been writing a wine blog continuously since April of 2003, all posts are well archived. But on your home page, next to the ‘visitor number’, is the date April 4th, 1997. To what does this date refer? When did you begin posting about wine? And is it fair to say Jack’s Wine Blog was the first blog on the net?
Jack Keller I started posting things on 400 kilobytes of server space my ISP gave me back in 1995 or 1996. The first page I built was the “Glossary of Winemaking Terms” and the second was a hydrometer table using forced spacing rather than table coding. These were really learning exercises for me – to learn HTML. It occurred to me early on to consolidate the material into a web site, but I didn’t have the space to do it until I discovered GeoCities. I slowly built a very fundamental site and uploaded it on April 3rd, 1997 and registered it with a couple of search engines. The next day I put a counter on the site and use that as the day I “went public.”
Last year I was reading a number of wine blogs and noticed that some were congratulating others for being around for two years or three years and I thought that wasn’t really all that long. Then I noticed that a group of bloggers all had links to each other and some had links to scores of wine blogs, but only a handful had links to my blog. So I wrote to a few and simply asked that they consider linking to my blog.
I was quite surprised to get an email response from Alder Yarrow of the blog Vinography. He said that based on the date of my first WineBlog entry, he had determined that mine was the first wine blog on the internet, ever. I don’t know if this is true because I’ve never researched it, but when I was asked to write the blog I went looking for examples and couldn’t find one on wines or winemaking.
Your first post on Jack’s Wine Blog, April 7th of 2003, mentions being asked by Brian Smyth of the excellent resource, Homebrew Adventures, to write about wine. Why were you contacted?
JK You would really have to ask Brian, but I would think his answer would reference my website and other writings. Had I started the WineBlog when he first asked, the date of first entry would have been in May of 2002.
How long did it take for you to build up a following of readers?
JK That is really difficult to say. I’ve had several counters on both The Winemaking Home Page and Jack’s WineBlog, and the darned things have crashed, hosting companies have gone out of business, and once I had a counter that was adding about 22 million hits a day – not possible. I do know that years ago I got 1 or 2 emails a day and now I sometimes get 40, even though I have a clear warning on my site that emails may never be answered. In 2003 I went to the top 14 search engines and typed in “winemaking” as the only search term and my Home Page came up as the first unpaid listing on 13 of them. The WineBlog is less well-traveled.
Today we have an assortment ’stat counters’, services that reveal to a website modest particulars about those who visit their sites.
When, if ever, did you begin to use one? And, if yes, what about the make-up of your readership has surprised you? And does such a ‘tracking’ technology raise internet security issues?
JK I looked at traffic stats since the end of 1997. My original interest was which browsers were being used. Back then Netscape had something like 95-96% of the browser market, and it was free. Internet Explorer, which you had to buy, probably had less than 2%. Microsoft’s decision to make it a freebie probably saved IE from being a memory. On the other hand, Netscape’s foot-dragging in implementing HTML 2.0 standards probably doomed it.
As far as readership, I logged stats daily for a long time – until a system crash wiped them out – and recall when I verified that readers from 150 countries had opened the Home Page. That impressed me, but what really amazed me was how many hits I got from countries where drinking alcohol is either not permitted or is discouraged on religious grounds.
As for the tracking issue, I’ve thought about it quite a bit in the past. I only think about it now when someone asks me to register to access a free site; you know that comes at a price called “spam.”
It is hard to over-estimate the quality and abundance of the wine-making info your website offers. From your early blogging days did you ever imagine your writings would prove to be so encyclopedic?
JK You make me blush. The answer to your question is “no.” I simply set out to explain how to make wine and then explain certain processes that contribute to the whole. Along the way people asked questions or brought certain problems to my door and more often than not I could simply point them to a page on the site where the topic was already covered. But occasionally it became evident that something wasn’t explained clearly enough or covered in sufficient depth. And so I worked on it some more. The cumulative result is a rather huge body of work.
With the WineBlog, I originally tried to cover two or three mini-topics per entry, but somewhere along the way it started getting a bit lengthy. I have no problem with that but don’t want to set a length standard I then have to meet. Sometimes time is simply at a premium.
A few years ago someone wrote a program that stripped all the superfluous stuff out of the pages (headers, navigation bars, repetitive copyright notices, ads, etc.) and put my entire website and blog into a huge Word document. It was over 450 pages back then, so I imagine it’s around 600 now. I really don’t know.
Your academic training in history and historiography well-prepared you for the discipline required to be a reputable, dependable source of accurate information. Do you have a wine-blogging ethic? Do you have any advice for the current crop of young wine bloggers?
JK Ken, I like to think that college and university equipped me with the research and validation skills required to sift through enormous amounts of information and pull out the most accurate and relevant. Certainly they helped hone the writing skills that have served me well. But I also have decades of experience in a professional discipline where I was required to read scientific and technical literature, study various data collected by technical means, and apply what I learned to the study of laymen’s accounts of events that seldom were straightforward or strictly accurate. Divining the reality behind the latter required a very disciplined analysis based on an understanding of the fore-mentioned literature and data studies.
If this sounds cryptic, I apologize, but the work was in an intelligence field and I really can’t be more specific. But the point is that I have used the skills developed in college and university on a daily basis, so applying them to writing about winemaking and wine science is habitual.
Simply doing the research to accurately write was challenging enough when we were only dealing with books, articles, research notes, scientific studies, personal anecdotes and direct experience as references, but it became much more difficult with the exponential growth of the internet. Not only are there thousands of websites out there that at least discuss winemaking and wine science – I Googled “winemaking” last night and got over a quarter of a million hits – there are many very popular discussion boards, use groups, e-groups, participatory blogs, and chat venues that do the same.
Unfortunately, when anyone can state an idea or opinion as fact and no one corrects it, these popular forums become risky places to gain your knowledge and unreliable as references. I try to point out inaccuracies where they reside when I can and I encourage others to do so as well, but we have become so politically correct that no one wants to tell the emperor he is naked.
Beyond that, I think the responsible blogger has an obligation to expose his or her readers to an expanding body of knowledge and resist the temptation to espouse opinion based solely on bias.
Take the cork versus screw cap debate. Joe Snobgrass might snidely remark that screw caps are best used to adorn bottles of Thunderbird, but this only tells the reader that Joe is a close-minded ass. If Joe were at all serious, he might read the Australian Journal of Grape and Wine Research once in a while and discover that the Australians have been conducting the longest trials anywhere on the efficacy of the cork versus the screw cap and the screw cap clearly is a superior bottle closure for fine wines.
Stepping away from wine blogging for a moment, could you tell us a bit about your youth in Southern California? Your parents?
JK My father is Cajun and my mother a Southern Belle. Truly. We migrated from Louisiana to Texas and then to San Bernardino, California in 1956. It was a good time and place to grow up, and we lived in a rural neighborhood. The X-15 rocket plane from Edwards Air Force Base frequently rattled our windows going back and forth through the sound barrier. There was Sputnik, so you knew it was serious business. I was an Eagle Scout, played football and ran track but wasn’t good at either, got decent grades, was in student government, wrote a column in the high school newspaper, and graduated with a scholarship in journalism.
I went to a local dance called “the Canteen” every Friday night, and it was there, at the age of 15, that I met my future wife, Donna. She was my first true love and still is. She grew up on a ranch about a half-mile from a nudist colony. I swear it’s true. You couldn’t see any nudists from the ranch or the road, but I still looked in that direction whenever I went past it. Before I had a driver’s license the only way I could get up to see her was to hop the freight trains struggling up Cajon Pass and then jump off near the ranch. She was then and still is the finest, most decent person I know and I am blessed every day by her presence. She is an incredibly beautiful person.
But it was during those years in San Bernardino that I developed an early love of history from exploring the surrounding area. I might have done this wherever we lived, but Southern California is where the spark caught. We would go camping in the mountains or on the high desert and there would be these ghost towns, or boarded up mines, or the remains of old stamp or lumber mills, or a walled-in hot spring, or abandoned railroad cars in the middle of nowhere. I just had to know what had happened there, who made it happen and when and why they threw in the towel and left. I was just curious and some very kind librarians steered me in the right directions. I got to look in several collections of private papers at various libraries and in the local histories that students and local historians had compiled over the decades. But sometimes there were blanks and I let my imagination fill them in. It was a fun way to spend idle hours, and I had a few of those.
Had we lived 45 minutes closer to the beach (it was an hour and a half away) and 45 minutes farther from the mountains (they began about 8 miles from our door), it might have all turned out differently for me. The beach has a lure to it. I knew kids who spent their weekends there, and 30 years later they were still beachies. They weren’t interested in ghost towns and probably didn’t know any history. I could have ended up like that, but the beach was just a tad too far away for me. So I did my thing and really did enjoy my teens.
You retired in 1994 as a Lieutenant Colonel, USAR. Your military career is humbling. I thank you for your years of service. Many of my Montana relatives served. My father was in the Navy, served on an old diesel submarine, a deathtrap by all accounts. Would you say a little (or a lot) of your years in uniform?
JK I served a total of eight years on active duty in the Army Infantry, with one long tour and two short tours in Vietnam. In all honesty, I really didn’t grow up until I experienced a few terrifying episodes in the Central Highlands north of Pleiku and Dak To – with some of the finest men I have ever known. Strange thing about Vietnam; I have never been so alive as when I was engaged in combat, but this does not mean that I liked it or want to relive it. It’s simply an observation; I have no desire to explain it.
After Vietnam I gravitated bit by bit into the world of military intelligence, first on active duty and then in the Reserves. I know, I know – military intelligence is an oxymoron. But when the laughter fades, there are people out there doing things for you in the name of military intelligence that you cannot dream of. Not the stuff of movies or novels, but still stuff that would surprise you, and I’m quite sure of that. Intelligence was just a natural channel for my never-ending curiosity, and it provided me a career.
And of your civil service position with the US Army, the Medical Research Detachment?
JK The MRD is a surviving fragment of a very fine organization known as the Letterman Army Institute of Research (LAIR). The latter was located at the Presidio of San Francisco and did far more for the medical welfare of this country than it cost. One of the travesties of that periodic process called Base Realignment and Closure is that they closed the LAIR to save a few bucks and lost a research momentum that has never really been regained. To close it, they broke it up into groups that were scattered around the country. One group was the MRD, which is a detachment of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. Walter Reed is near Washington, DC. The MRD is “detached” and located in San Antonio, TX. Go figure.
In San Francisco, I supported the LAIR with scientific, technical and medical intelligence. You’ll have to use your imagination to figure out what that means, but I did travel abroad frequently. The most sensitive support I provided went to a division that later became the MRD, so I went to Texas with them. My job has changed considerably since the move but that’s okay. It was a good move for me, personally. I like my job, I like Texas and I like the people.
Whenever I want to get straight with duty, honor and country, I go downtown San Antonio and visit the Alamo. Nothing blows my mind quite like the choice those men made when they chose to stay and die on the walls of that indefensible mission. They could have slipped away. There is no doubt about that. Every runner Colonel Travis sent out made it, but 189 men chose to stay and make a statement. How can you not love a place that was paid for with men like that?
Anyway, I’ll be drawing retirement in a year to a year-and-a-half. I’m looking forward to it. We’re going through another Base Realignment and Closure action and the MRD will move across town and be absorbed into a new Center of Excellence for Battlefield Health and Trauma. I’ve been assigned to plan the closure, movement and absorption of the MRD, but I’m personally not moving. And that’s okay. It’s time to work for myself and for my wife. I really want to sift through the boxes of notes and references I have on winemaking and organize the essence of it all into a book. I’ve wanted to do that for quite some time.
You don’t seem to do anything without going ‘all in’. I am reminded of a phrase kids use these days, “Go big or go home!” Any new interests you’ve taken up?
JK I’m sort of focused on health right now. I’ve had two heart attacks in the past 11 years and they were both very sobering events. I’d like to hang around to enjoy retirement for a while.
My parents are both still with us, and for that I am blessed and ever so grateful to God. They are both in their eighties and I’d like to get close to that age some day. With my record the odds are against it, but one can hope. I’m not a health nut, but I’m far more focused on health than I used to be.
END OF PT. 1
Continuing with a Viking theme my next trip after Oslo had me staying 2 nights in the Danish Capital. My hotel was close to the central railway station so a walk past the famous Tivoli Gardens, then down the chic and pedestrianised Strøget, the main route from the City Centre, was required to reach Nyhavn (New Port), the location for the 17th Century canal linking Copenhagen to the sea and recommended for dining.
One side of the canal is non-stop restaurants, all with outside seating as an option which I took advantage of seeing as this was the first week for a while where it hadn’t been raining non-stop. On the other side brightly painted houses stretched away into the distance and one, a bright red front, was pointed out as Number 20, an old residence of famous storyteller Hans Christian Andersen.
On the first night we ate at Barock, number 1 right at the beginning of the street. Apart from saving our feet another reason for stopping here was a basket of wine bottles next to the “check it out” menu at the front of the restaurant – I’m a sucker for obvious marketing ploys!
A simple but enticing menu saw me looking for wine matches and to begin with I was toying with the idea of a lobster bisque with an Alsace Gewürztraminer, but finally I went for the Carpaccio paired with a 2006 Sancerre, Le Grand Fricambault by André Neveu, 160 Danish Krone, about $30, for a half bottle. The wine arrived first and I was pleasantly surprised to find it barely chilled, as this allowed the rich flavours of this full bodied white to express themselves. Moderately dry this was refreshing on its own and delicious in combination with the Carpaccio on salad leaves with generous shavings of Parmesan which I’d selected as a starter. Unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for my colleague Birgitte, who had ordered the mussels in white wine – the shellfish had a basic, sea-water flavour, little succulence or sweetness and were approaching (or past) their “best before” date. Compared to the mussels I’d had at Vollen Flordkro near Oslo less than 2 weeks before they were very poor.
Onto the mains and we both ordered the pan-fried salmon steak served with tagliattelle pasta, roasted mushroom and carrot with a sharp tomato sauce. To go with this I selected the Chateau La Croix de St. Georges 2002 St. Georges St. Emilion, again in half-bottle and 10 Krone less than the Sancerre. At a restrained 12.5% abv this elegant wine went well with the full flavoured salmon, its black fruit nose still vibrant and with smooth integrated tannins. The mid-palate moved into a short finish with good acidity (cutting the tomato sauce perfectly); it was a lovely drinking wine which went very well with the fish, much to the surprise of the waiter! Apparently half bottles of wine are not that common in Copenhagen but they were exactly what we needed, since the house wine by the glass didn’t appeal and a bottle of either colour would have been too much for us across both courses. All in all a tasty meal for me, but very slow service and the mussels detracted from the experience.
24 hours later and a cool but dry Thursday evening had us taking a different route past the Parliament buildings and financial area of Copenhagen to reach Nyhavn from the other end. We walked up the street (towards Barock) looking at each of the menus as we passed, then turning round and walking back again. Italian was in the back of my mind en-route and so Porto Bello at number 31 seemed an appropriate choice. This is easy to spot as the orange building it is part of has “Sunny Side” in enormous letters on the front!
Once again we sat outside and enjoyed the air, although it was a little chillier than before. Tonight a half bottle of white seemed too much so we each had a glass of a lovely Soave, the Tommasi 2007, at approx. 50 Krone per glass (just under $10) while we waited for our starters to arrive – unfortunately while we thought the service in Barock was slow the previous evening we hadn’t seen anything! First the waitress popped by after about 25 minutes to apologise for the wait, explaining that there was a big function inside the main restaurant and then 15 minutes later she came back and said there’d been some mix up and our starters hadn’t been prepared yet. She offered us something complementary and, as we’d finished off the white another glass seemed appropriate to go with my Crostini Misto once it finally arrived. This was 3 baguette pieces with a delicious topping on each – smoked salmon and caviar, Parma ham wrapped around soft, warm pieces of creamy mature buffalo Mozzarella and a delicious tomato topping on the third. Along with the extra wine this was a delicious appetiser and almost made up for the wait!
Main courses took another 30 minutes but meantime a half bottle of Nero d’Avola, Feudo Arancio 2007 from Sicilia (150 Krone) provided something fruity and easy drinking while we waited. Both of us chose pasta with a seafood theme; Birgitte had a beautiful looking lobster tagliatelle with a half lobster on the plate served with whole grain mustard stuffed in the carapace. I chose the linguine alla Marinara and was well rewarded with a creamy tomato-based plate of pasta mixed with squid, salmon, prawns and whole langoustines. We both agreed on the superior quality of the food and the delicious wine, completely outshining Barock from the night before. Although the service was slower at Porto Bello (remember Barock wasn’t fast) the waitress not only acknowledged and apologised for that, but provided a welcome free glass of wine and the quality of the food was definitely compensation enough. We left sated and satisfied.
Denmark doesn’t have as strict wine laws as its Northern neighbour and, even though taxes are still higher than its southern neighbours, wine prices were not as bad as I’d expected – definitely less that Norway and enough to order wine with a meal and not worry about breaking the bank. Nyhavn itself has a host of restaurants on its main street, some looked equally inviting and I’d recommend visiting if you’re ever in the Danish capital. Barock was pleasant enough, but Porto Bello was far superior and if this is full try out some of the other ones nearby.