Today on Tala

New Beginnings

As some of you might know, I am working on starting a business.

My initial objective is to start small and provide an online retail storefront where friends can buy wines curated by yours truly. This all started when people began asking if they could buy wines directly from me at the wine tastings we host. Unfortunately the alcohol industry is heavily regulated and it simply not easy or legal to re-sell wines. However, the state of California and the federal government are working on making it easier for people like me to own businesses in this field.

The process is long, complicated and expensive. I am trying to do this as cheaply as possible and do as much of it on my own as I can so that I can start lean and make money from the get-go. So far I have registered my domain, applied for an LLC, started building social media presence, and put together all of the other pieces that need to go into place once my LLC is approved.

The LLC approval is expected to take 3-7 weeks. Once that’s approved, I can register my business with the City of Brisbane (I’ll be working out of my home office), fill out my TTB application, get my seller’s permit from the Board of Equalization and then finally file all of my ABC license  applications. I am doing ABC type 9, 17 & 20 licenses which will allow me to buy wine at wholesale, store it in a bonded & licensed warehouse, and finally sell it through an online retail storefront.

I think an important aspect of online retail is having a large following who believes in your ability to provide a product or service that they want. After all, there are a ton of places to buy wine on the internet, so why would you come to me? I hope that I can capitalize on my passion for excellent quality, reasonably priced, sustainably produced wines. I find that the sweet spot for these wines is around $25 and I think that will be my focal point.

Since the licenses I need to function legally will probably take about a year to finalize, I decided to start off by blogging to grow my customer base. My focus is going to be all California grown & made wines, food & wine pairing, recipes, wine-maker interviews and other related nuggets. I hope that you can take the time to follow my new business on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram so you can watch it evolve and grow. Maybe once it’s all legal, you will find yourself buying wines from me. I certainly hope you will.

http://blog.winelandia.com/
Winelandia on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Winelandia/383921005039425/
Winelandia on Twitter: http://twitter.com/winelandia
Winelandia on Instagram: http://instagram.com/winelandia

Secret Wine Club #6: French Chardonnay

This last weekend Alex and I hosted another wine tasting at our house. The theme was French Chardonnay. We always select the topic by popular vote and French Chard narrowly beat out Domestic Pinot Noir.

We tried a new seating arrangement in our living room since it was so cramped last time. I got an 8’ buffet table for free on Freecycle! This comfortably seated 10 people.

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I like to use these events an an opportunity to learn more about wines. I know pretty much diddly-squat about French wine, other than “I enjoy it”. I love how it can taste like dirt and rocks. Domestic wines are mostly fruit-dominated and it’s a refreshing change to drink wines that taste like the land they are grown in.

I decided to select a 100% Chardonnay wine from each of the major regions known for Chardonnay in France. Here was our list of wines with their respective food pairing:

De Sousa Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Champagne, France NV paired with organic aged Parmesean cheese

Puffeney Chardonnay Arbois Jura, France 2010 paired with serrano ham, Comte Ete and Raclette Popovers

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Duplessis Chablis Burgundy, France 2010 paired with Manila clams sauteed in white wine, butter, shallots, garlic & parsley

Mouscaillou Chardonnay Limoux, Languedoc 2008 paired with Abbaye de Belloc cheese

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Blain-Gagnard Chassagne Montrachet, Burgundy 2007 paired with thinly sliced smoked duck breast

Domaine des Nembrets Saint-Veran, Maconnais 2011 paired with truffled ricotta & asiago ravioli tossed with Manzanillo olive oil & arugula

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(all photos by Alex Bain)

Things I learned from this event:

  • Jura wines are extremely food-friendly and can pair with a ton of really delicious things.
  • Everyone likes Chardonnay!
  • Chassagne-Montrachet tastes like rocks and not everyone likes that.
  • Cheap Chardonnay can taste good (the $15 St-Veran was a crowd favorite).
  • Most French Chardonnay is prohibitively expensive.
  • Burgundy is the center of the Universe.

Bottling day!

Yesterday I bottled my 2011 Dry Creek Syrah. I was lucky enough to have the help of six friends which made the whole process a breeze. We created an assembly line with roles assigned to each person; We had a bottle sanitizer, carboy emptier, bottle filler, corker, packer and a gopher. I ran through the whole process before anyone got there; I set the fill level for the bottles, set up the sanitizing station, weighed out all my sulphites, and put out all the bottles.

(photo credit: Jenn McKay)

Due to the flawless efficiency of this set-up, we managed to bottle all 30 gallons of wine in about an hour and a half. It was an absolute breeze and we had a TON of fun… especially my corker who was simply ecstatic to be corking (I bought a blue Italian floor corker, which is an absolute joy to use). 

We ended up with about 12 cases of bottled wine and three magnums. The corks are setting right now and once the pressure in the bottles equalize I can lay them on their sides and put them into cold storage. I hired a professional designer to create a label for me, I figured I put so much blood/sweat/tears into this project that the least I can do for myself is put a pretty label on the package.

(photo credit: Kameron Kitajima)

I am really a lucky gal to have so many supportive, hard working and amazing friends. Wine-making is a lot easier when you have someone there to support you, cheer you on and help you with the manual labor. Thanks everyone who helped!

Secret Wine Club #4 - Final List

This is the finalized list of wines that will be poured this Saturday. I am really excited as I have only ever tried two of them.

2009 Pheasant’s Tears Rkatsiteli - Republic of Georgia
2009 Zidarich Vitovska - Carso, Italy
2010 Cowan Cellars Sauvignon Blanc - Lake County, CA
2010 Wind Gap Pinot Gris - Chalk Hill, CA
2011 Donkey & Goat Roussanne - El Dorado, CA
2011 Dirty & Rowdy Semillon - Napa Valley, CA
NV Maison PUR Marsanne - Cotes du Rhone, France

The next challenge will be finding food to pair with these wackadoo wines… I will have to rely on the tasting notes I find on the interwebs to get an idea of what they are like! I think I may stick with something simple like a big selection of cheeses, charcuterie, vegetables & breads.

SWC #4 - Skin Fermented White Wines (preview)

Yesterday I ventured out in the great city of San Francisco to procure wines for Secret Wine Club #4 - Skin fermented white wines. This is a wine tasting club comprised of many of my friends which allows us to try unusual or expensive wines from all over the world that we normally wouldn’t buy. I conduct a poll with the group’s members to determine what the topic will be and this time the crowd chose skin-fermented white wines.

I found some examples from the Republic of Georgia, Italy, Napa Valley, Lake County and Alexander Valley (not shown). I hope to get a couple more without breaking the bank (the Italian and CA orange/amber wines are particularly spendy). I am trying to find a variety of varietals and so far I’ve found Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Rkatsiteli, Vitovska & Semillon.

This should be a very interesting and informative tasting which I am very excited to curate wines for. I need another 2 bottles or so to round out the list, so if you have a recommendation please let me know.

Making Rose

One of the greatest by-products of making red wine (other than the huge muscles I develop from schlepping 6 gallon buckets around for a month) is the rosé wine I get to make. Rosé is fresh, fruity & delicious. The best part is that you can drink it the following year instead of having to wait for it to age like you do with red wine made from fresh grapes.

Above: White Zinfandel in the carboy, still fermenting but almost dry & starting to clear.

This year I am making a red Zinfandel so I thought it would be hilarious and awesome to also make a white Zinfandel. Anyone who drinks wine on the regular knows that white zinfandel is not something you see very often outside of an isle of jug wine at Safeway. It has a terrible reputation because it’s often made in a style that is candied (think skittles, not candied fruit), sweet and cheap.

Above: White Zin almost dry & still full of CO2 & Lees

The white zin that I made is bone dry and made from premium Russian River Valley wine grapes. I have seen white zin pop up in the Food & Wine section of the Chronicle, being produced by high end winemakers and sold as fine wine. Do we detect a trend for $30 bottles of white zinfandel on the commercial market?

Above: White Zin clearing in the bottle - Notice the layer of lees at the bottom.

I got a total of just over 3 gallons of wine from the saignee. Side note: Saignee is a method of making rosé where you strain some of the juice off of crushed red grapes and add the leftover skins back to the main batch. This increases the skin-to-juice ratio in the red wine which makes a more extracted & robust red. You then pitch yeast into the pink juice and the resulting wine comes out pink.

My White Zin is only 1.5 months old and it’s already falling clear. It smells like hawaiian punch and wasn’t watered back prior to fermentation (that means adding water to the juice to dilute the sugar which turns into alcohol). Because of that it will probably be REALLY boozy, like regular-red-zinfandel boozy. Zinfandel ripens at a higher sugar level than most wine grapes which results in wines that are often pretty high in alcohol, usually between 14.5% and 16%. This white zin will be up there too. Pure class & elegance, ladies and gentlemen.

Today at the Farmer’s Market

I am a big fan of the farmer’s market. I go every Saturday morning because it’s cheaper than the grocery store, the food is much higher quality and it’s always fresher. You can also find things that you can’t get at the store. Here is my haul from today:

  • Fresh ginger with stalks & greens attached
  • Delicata squash
  • Red Kuri squash
  • Flowering Broccolini
  • Pea Shoots
  • Red bell pepper
  • Organic Shiitake mushrooms
  • Baby cippolini onions
  • Pancetta
  • Andoullie sausage
  • Heirloom apples
  • Spaghetti squash
  • Fresh eggs
  • Fiscalini cheddar
  • Organic aged parmesean
  • Lemon-black pepper linguine
  • Manzanillo olive oil
  • Shallots

Yeah… that’s a LOT. I am cooking for three most nights (Alex, his Dad, myself).

Apparently I have a winter squash “problem”. I can’t get enough delicata squash; I bought three of them. It makes a great stand-alone roasted veggie when sliced into half moons, or even a gratin type dish with cream, rosemary & parmesean cheese. Red kuri is another one of my favorites; I halve and roast it with olive oil. I then scoop out the flesh, make a puree with heavy cream and serve it along-side a pork chop with sauteed greens.

I think I will also make a stir fry with some fresh shrimp, red pepper, shiitake mushrooms, fresh ginger & pea shoots to serve over rice.

I could see the pancetta, eggs, cippolini onions, parmesean & lemon-pepper pasta ending up together to make a fun carbonara. Maybe I could serve it with a side of broccolini.

My stomach is growling…

2012 Zinfandel - First Taste

Fermentation is winding down; the must is cooling, the cap isn’t rising as much and the yeasts are slowing down. I tested the Brix this afternoon and we are at about 1 Brix. The wine is nearly dry, and by the time it’s completely dry it should read closer to -1 or -1.5 Brix.

I decided it’d be a good idea to drink my hydrometer sample because it’s now officially wine. I would guess the alcohol content is up somewhere around 14%. Clearly this means it’s ready for it’s first journey to the pit of my belly.

Above: New wine, thick with lees, yeast & CO2. Not quite dry but still surprisingly delicious.

This year’s ferment was relatively uneventful and the wine has no off odors or other issues. I am very excited to get MLF started on this and get it into the barrel to begin the aging process. Hopefully this will be a fresh, fruity, spicy, food-friendly zin. Let’s see what mother nature gave me!

2012 Harvest

I have decided to make wine again this year. Last year was incredibly harrowing; my inexperience compounded with my vision of perfection led me to be a complete mess for the latter part of the year. Why I have decided to do it again? Mostly because I want to give it a good shot before I decide whether or not it’s for me. I owe that to myself. It’s expensive, time consuming, stressful, messy… but unbelievably rewarding.

I found the fruit for this year’s winemaking attempt on Craigslist of all places. I got very lucky; I bought the grapes from a retired accountant who moved to Santa Rosa to be closer to his grandkids & to start his own vineyard with his wife.

He planted a couple of acres of vines for his own use and to sell to home winemakers. This worked out in my favor because a) I am a home winemaker and b) Finding premium fruit for home winemakers was next to impossible this year due to supply & demand. I was getting high quality Russian River Valley Zinfandel for a dollar per lb. from a guy I found on Craigslist. High potential for failure? Yes. Too good to pass up even with the risk? Also yes.

Above: Joe Tembrock’s beautiful Zinfandel vines

One of the benefits of working directly with the grower (vs. buying the fruit from a broker or a brew shop) is that you can spend time in the vineyard to actually decide when your fruit is ready to pick. This can have a huge influence on the style of the wine you want to make. I took it as an opportunity to learn and I learned quite a bit… such as how to use a refractometer (the monocular-looking thing below-center):

…and how to use my fancy Vinmetrica SC-300 SO2, TA & pH analyzer (on right).

I have to be able to do these tests on my own since lab-work on such a small scale is not economical. These tools allow me to decide if the grapes need to be adjusted in any way prior to fermentation and how to know how much sulfite to add to protect the wine.

Being able to experience this has made me much more comfortable with the science behind winemaking, which at first can be very intimidating with it’s complicated arithmetic and scary chemicals that you shouldn’t touch or breathe.

Anyhow, usually it’s not the winemaker or vineyard manager that decide when the grapes come in; it’s Mother Nature. We had a very mild, sunny summer with very few heat spikes up until the tail end of the varietal’s growing season. We had one heat spike that launched the numbers into the ripe zone and that just so happened to coincide with a weekend. I was lucky enough to have four of my lovely, wonderful friends help me on the day of harvest (below).

We had to pick all 750 lbs. of grapes by hand which is a pretty big undertaking if I’d done it by myself. This was actually the most fun out of all the things we did that day. It’s not often you get to go outside and pick wine grapes from the vines to make wine with… the weather was gorgeous and foggy, the grapes were nice and cold and us city folk were having the time of our lives.

Colleen (above), one of the few people crazy enough to get up at 5 in the morning to pick grapes.

A beautiful, ripe bunch of Zinfandel grapes from 23 Oaks Vineyard

Thoughtful Colleen, pondering grapes & fog.

The owner of the vineyard was so nice he was even helping another buyer pick his fruit. This guy was really living the dream. He was loving every minute of it and helped us all crush our fruit with his crusher-stemmer, helping us schlep giant buckets full of crushed grapes, laughing at our stupid jokes and generally just being awesome.

We loaded up our crushed grapes & supplies into the back of my trusty pickup truck and started the long drive back to San Francisco. We didn’t hit a single bit of traffic, the weather was nice and cool and we even got to see a stealth bomber fly over the Golden Gate Bridge on the way back home.

Once we got home, our awesome friends were kind enough to stick around and help me with the rest of the process. Good thing because I was T-I-R-E-D, and if it weren’t for their rallying cry I wouldn’t have made the saignee that I wanted to. They did all the work for me… when they asked “how do we make rose?” we collectively googled the question and bled off about 5 gallons of fresh, pink Zinfandel juice into a separate carboy to ferment into pink wine.

Airlock bubbling, above.

Crushed Zinfandel grapes getting ready for a cold soak.

Three and a half days after I started the cold soak (keeping the wine below 50 degrees with dry ice in order to prevent native yeast fermentation with the intent of trying to extract as much color from the skin as possible before starting fermentation) the grape goo was warm enough to pitch the yeast into so I could start the primary fermentation.

Yeast starter - waking up the little beasties.

So far, I have added the yeast to both of my big fermenters and as of this evening the fermentation is warming up and bubbling like crazy. This is called “primary fermentation” and it should last 5 days to a week, depending on how warm it gets.

The aromas produced by fermenting grapes are something that can’t be compared to and any person who loves wine should experience this aroma at least once in their life. It’s like all of the complex aromas that will eventually show up with a little rest & age are punching you in the face all at once.

Should anyone be interested in seeing/smelling this first hand or even doing a punchdown (I know, thrilling!), you are welcome to come to my house and see it. Act quickly because this wonder of nature only lasts a short week and it’ll be over before you know it.

More updates to follow!

Food & Wine Pairing - Late Summer Edition

It’s been a while since my last blog. I’ve been busy! Alex & I went to Paris, got engaged, got married and now we are gearing up to receive another 750 lbs. of wine grapes in just a few weeks. I will be blogging more often going forward!

Paris at dusk, from a ferris wheel

The best pain au chocolat in all of Europe

Alex: In Paris, drinking French wine.

Over the last year or so, Alex and I have hosted a few wine tastings that got very good turnout & praise. One thing I try to focus on when hosting a wine tasting is the food that I pair with the wine. I have been doing a lot of research and I’ve found that foods that are thoughtfully paired with the right wines can elevate a meal from just good to ethereal.

Secret Wine Club #1 - Syrah

A lot of trial and error is involved with this, as I drink a lot of atypical wines and eat a lot of atypical food. There aren’t a whole lot of resources out there that spell it out in granular detail, so you have to experiment. Every now and then I will find a food and wine pairing that is good enough to be blogged about.

Secret Wine Club #3 - Sparklers for Wedding Time with food pairings of charcuterie, aged hard & soft cheeses (parmesean, comte, California goat crottin), fresh grapes, raw oysters & palmiers.

When reading about food & wine pairing, you will often hear the age-old phrase “what grows together goes together”. This is a common food & wine pairing mantra that basically means you should pair regional wines with regional foods. Aged goat cheese & cabernet franc from the Loire are one example. I find that the same is true for some California cuisine & Californian wine.

My most recent food & wine pairing revelation was just a week ago when we had some vegetarian friends over for a BBQ. It’s surprisingly easy to BBQ for vegetarians. Just throw a bunch of vegetables on the grill and serve it alongside some bread & cheese! I grilled just what I had purchased the day before at the farmer’s market… all of which is sourced from nearby farms. I believe in buying whatever is at the peak of it’s season. I don’t go to the market with a list, I just buy what looks good.

We grilled fresh carrots, spring onions, corn on the cob with chili/lime/butter, sweet peppers, padron peppers… tossed in good olive oil & sprinkled with coarse grey sea salt. Along-side it we enjoyed some of my friend’s home-made sweet & spicy tomato jam with goat cheese & a day old baguette.

Alex and I had just returned from our honeymoon which we spent tooling around in Sonoma County & Napa Valley. Naturally, I bought a ton of wine. One of the wines I picked up was an orange wine (a style being popularized by natural winemakers) made of Pinot Gris from a winery called Wind Gap. This style of wine is unusual but incredibly pleasant and easy to drink. To make it, they simply ferment traditional white wine grapes on the skins like you would with a red wine. The resulting product is an “orange” wine with a surprising amount of body, texture, color & often times tannin from the skin contact. These are generally served cool or cold and in my experience, really transform while warming up in the glass.

2010 Wind Gap Pinot Gris - Windsor Oaks Vineyard, Chalk Hill

6 barrels produced - $32

I just so happened to have a bottle of this great wine chilled and ready to open when it was time to eat. I had put absolutely no thought into the food & wine as a team. The moment I went from my wine glass to my fork and back again, I knew I had an unintentional winner… kinda like when you find $20 in a jacket you haven’t worn in months.

So my advice to you, my friends, and to my future-self is to drink as much orange wine as possible while gorging myself on seasonal grilled vegetables. Rosé, eat your heart out. Orangé is the new cool kid.