Have you ever wondered what it’s like to plant grapevines? I have, and I’m embarrassed to say that it took me 15 years in the wine industry to find out! Luckily, my friend Jessica Youngblood, with whom I serve on the board of the Michigan Wine Collaborative, has planted a vineyard nearby in Ray Township, Michigan. When she advertised the opportunity for volunteers to assist on one of their planting days, I jumped at the chance. The kids and I hopped in the car to go help dig in the dirt at Youngblood Vineyard.
When I asked how they ended up in the grape biz, Jess gave me some family history: She grew up in Washington state, met her husband Dave while they were in college, and they later moved to the Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C. There they fell in love with the wine industry after visiting many Northern Virginia wineries. When the opportunity arose to return to Metro Detroit, where they had a family farm, they jumped at the chance to plant wine grapes. In less than two years, they have planted over 20,000 grapevines on nearly 23 acres of the farm, establishing Youngblood Vineyard as the largest vineyard in Eastern Michigan. Jess’ primary job is to take care of the vines full time: tying, pruning, thinning leaves, checking clusters, and maintaining overall vineyard health. Dave primarily does the planning and construction side of things, such as land clearing, vineyard layout, and trellis construction, though they both do some of everything. Their kids get in on the action, too, pruning, planting, mowing, and fighting for their turn to drive the tractor.
The Youngbloods are growing several cold-hardy hybrid grape cultivars that can survive extreme winter weather fluctuations (which metro Detroit certainly had during the 2014 and 2015 Polar Vortex seasons), including three reds and three whites: Marquette, Frontenac, Petite Pearl, Frontenac Blanc, Prairie Star, and Traminette. (If these grape names don’t sound familiar, just wait—hybrid grape wines are gaining traction and can rival dry, semi-dry, sweet, or dessert wines made with the Vitis vinifera grapes most people are familiar with.) The Youngbloods may sell some of their grapes, but they strategically planted varieties with complementary flavors and structure for when they decide to produce their own label. In conjunction with Michigan State University’s Institute of Agricultural Technology, they also host occasional VESTA (Viticulture & Enology Science & Technology Alliance) workshops, so students looking to gain valuable hands-on vineyard experience should definitely contact them!
Best of all, in addition to being a founding member of the Great Lakes Sustainable Wine Alliance, the vineyard is verified by the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program, which “shows peers and neighbors the high level of commitment to agricultural stewardship and protecting the environment.” Find out more about the MAEAP verification program here: http://www.maeap.org/get_verified.
When my kids and I arrived on a chilly May day to help plant, the Youngbloods provided a quick training session for all of the volunteers, teaching us the correct orientation in which to plant the vines, how to wrestle with the long root system (they kept the roots long instead of trimming them since they had augered holes that were a couple feet rather than just a few inches deep–Jess told me that this would shorten the period until the vines will be ready to produce viable fruit for wine), and how to install the grow tubes that would protect the young vines until they can be trellised. We jumped in with gusto and were able to plant a few rows of vines before my crew had to leave for karate and guitar lessons. We all left dirty and happy, wishing that we could have contributed more. I hope the Youngbloods will let us come back when it’s time for harvest so we can check on the vines we planted and help pick the fruit from the vines Jess and Dave planted in 2016. Most of all, I hope I can “help” them when it comes time for taste-testing their first wines!
We can’t wait to see what’s next for Youngblood Vineyard! While Detroit has a rich history as a beer-producing town, the founders of Motown and the Big Three auto makers probably never would’ve fathomed that there would be a working vineyard only about 30 miles from the heart of this gritty manufacturing city. Follow Youngblood Vineyard on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/youngbloodvineyard/.
We’ll be spending some time in France over the next few years, and with a kid who has a tree nut allergy, I figured I’d better perfect my bread-baking skills instead of trying to search out a nut-free boulangerie in Paris. Luckily, people in the wine trade are just as obsessed with food as they are with wine, so I reached out to to the interwebs for help. I received several great recipes, and after trying them all, I incorporated the best practices, ingredients, and bake temp/time from each to derive what I think is the best flavor, height, airiness of the crumb/texture, and, of course, über-crisp crust. Thanks, crowdsourcing!
Homemade Dutch Oven No-Knead Bread from the kitchen of Chez Shay
Start 6-7 hours ahead of when you want to eat the bread (total baking & prep time) + 10-20 minutes for cooling.
Makes 1 loaf white bread
4 cups King Arthur Bread Flour*, lightly packed and leveled off
1 ¾ cups lukewarm water (between 90-110°F)
1 Tbsp salt
2 Tbsp lager beer (not any other kind of beer; lager is milder and imparts a yeasty but not hoppy taste; I used Yuengling)
1 Tbsp white vinegar
1 envelope active dry yeast
6-8 qt. enameled Dutch oven or cast iron/aluminum pot with oven-safe lid
*For whole wheat bread, use 3 c. bread flour, 1 c. whole wheat flour, 1 ¾ c. lukewarm water, 1 ¼ Tbsp salt, 1 Tbsp lager, ½ Tbsp white vinegar, 2 Tbsp honey, and 1 envelope active dry yeast. Follow instructions below the same way, adding honey with other wet ingredients.
We hope Spring 2017 finds you, your family, and your team happy and healthy! We’ve added some new and exciting things to help your oak aging program meet at the intersection of your consumers’ palates and their purchasing habits, and we’ve included a more diverse array of flavors to suit your custom demands.
As always, as a boutique oak solutions company, we appreciate every customer and thrive on referrals! Please share this newsletter with friends in the craft beverage community seeking a customized oak program.
Accelerated aging programs
How do you get your beverages out of the cellar and into your customers’ hands faster? If you don’t have 12-24 months to age your wine, cider, beer, or spirits but are still looking for oak character, we can help!
Is it an oak barrel? Is it a steel drum? Yes! (It’s both!)
What’s easy to care for, offers oak versatility with every vintage and true angels’ share evaporation while saving you exponentially on your barrel overhead costs?
Meet the new Titan Barrel: a hybrid stainless steel body with wooden heads and stave inserts (your choice of French, European, American, Acacia, or any combination). Change the heads and staves every year depending on the crop or as your beverages change, or let them go neutral and replace them as you want to add more new oak impact into your program.
New WineStix® toasts/wood types
We’ve added Burgundy Medium+ Long Toast to our WineStix® offering, which brings you a deeper, more complex flavor from our two-step patented toasting process. Available in French, American, or Applewood Tank Staves, Tank Segments, and Barrel Tethers. It’s as close as you can get to a barrel…without the barrel.
New CharStix™ Whiskey-Infused products for tanks or barrels. You asked and we listened!
Applewood, anyone? Offering low-tannin, intense baking spice in Medium Toast and baking spice plus added caramelized sweetness in Medium+ and Medium+ Long Toast, applewood is a unique complement to cider, beer, and aromatic white wines. Available in WineStix® Tank Staves, Tank Segments, and Barrel Tethers.
Tonnellerie Cadus PUR® toasting
Tonnellerie Cadus has developed a new, 100% natural protocol for barrel toasting which is noticeable after just a few months of barrel aging.
The Pur® Protocol for our Sensoriel series barrels contributes by:
• Breaking down the undesirable agents naturally present in the organoleptic expressions of oak
• Controlling the aromas and macromolecules produced during the toasting process
• Only retaining the most stable molecules
• Breaking down the most expressive molecules to ensure the finesse and quality of the “new barrel” impact
• Systematically reducing the density of extractable components, which leads to the reduction in expression of undesirable aromas
Taste for yourself how well these barrels work with cool climate wines (and they’re also amazing with cider…think apple pie brioche). Cheers!
To find out more about any of the above, please contact Petraea Plus at www.petraeaplus.com or +1 585-705-7500.
Every once in a while, I deviate from drinking my customers’ wines in eastern North America and get to participate in #winestudio, a social media wine education program produced by Tina Morey. Its message is “interactive wine education, thus a better understanding of our world through wine and our part in that world.” You, too, can participate by following at hashtag #winestudio on Twitter on Tuesdays 9-10pm Eastern Standard Time.
January 2017 #winestudio kicks off strong with beautiful Rieslings from the Mosel appellation in Germany, which stretches the farthest west of all of Germany’s wine-producing regions. Planted on the steep slopes surrounding the Mosel River, the climate is cool with slate soils, and ripening the grapes is tricky. The result is low-alcohol wine with acidity so racy that it renders the wines’ ample residual sugar barely noticeable. (Contrary to what many wine drinkers might think, there is no added sugar in any of these wines; residual sugar is what’s left in the wine after fermentation stops.) These same qualities make Riesling one of the most versatile and food-friendly wines in the world! During this #winestudio, I mixed and matched these Rieslings with cassoulet (laden with white beans, pork, duck confit and garlic sausage), takeout fried rice, and that notoriously tricky crucifer, cauliflower.
My interest in this program was especially piqued because Riesling is king in many of the cool climate wine regions I serve in eastern North America, most notably in the Finger Lakes of New York, the Niagara region in Ontario, and the Old Mission Peninsula and Leelanau Peninsula in Northern Michigan. I’ve included a few Rieslings from a couple of those regions for comparison.
Karthäuserhof 2009 Mosel Riesling Trocken Deutscher Qualitatswein. 12.5% ABV. Dry (“trocken” means “dry” in German). Tiniest hint of petrol, lemon, wet stone, beautiful tart acid backbone, straw color. Pretty antique green hock bottle; cork finished; moldy cork.
Karthäuserhof 2015 Mosel Riesling. 10% ABV.
Very pale straw color. White flowers, honey, and peach, (tropical fruit?) on the nose. Tangerine, peach, and orange blossoms on the palate. Fruity and sweet on the front and mid-palate; finish is cleaner and drier than expected with acid that swoops in at the end.
Pretty champagne green hock bottle plus screw cap.
Winegut Max Ferd. Richter Mulheim/Mosel Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett 2015. Prädikatswein – Mosel. 7.5% ABV. Clear, day bright, straw color. Lemon chiffon, tiniest hint of petrol. Lemon-lime, [unripe] green pear, minerality, petrichor, petrol hints, zingy acidity, slightly earthy character. Bright fruit, some sugar, crisp & balanced. Lightweight; slightly oily finish. Bit o’spritz—characteristic of Mosel Riesling. Mouth-watering acid perfectly balances residual sugar (the reason Riesling is the ultimate in food-friendly wine)!
Winegut Max Ferd. Richeter Mulheim/Mosel Brauneberger Juffer Reisling Kabinett 2015. Prädikatswein – Mosel. 8% ABV. Clear, day bright, pale straw color. Slightly softer than the previous Richter wine (acid not as aggressive as Richter Graacher Himmelreich Riesling). Lemon-lime, orange blossom, white peach; simple, not quite as complex as Graacher Himmelreich; mineral; lightweight. Slight spritz. Seems sweeter due to softer acid.
Left Foot Charley Riesling 2012, Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan (originally reviewed November 2015). 11.4% ABV.
Another great Riesling from Left Foot Charley. Petrol, grapefruit pith, lime, face-puckering acid, balanced and weighted by the RS at 17.7 g/L, which doesn’t sweeten this bad boy but elongates the lovely finish. Paired with pan-seared chicken and second-grade homework.
Anthony Road Art Series Riesling 2009, Finger Lakes, New York (originally reviewed September 2013). One of the first “wild-ferment” Rieslings I remember having, this wine is made without adding commercial yeast strains. Bursting with juicy citrus fruit, apricots, and tart acid, it is complex, crisp, and delicious. I love this wine and can’t wait to open the 2012 I’ve been saving in my cellar. (Still haven’t opened the 2012 as of this 2017 writing…maybe it’s time!)
Kemmeter Wines Red Tail Ridge Estate Vineyard Riesling 2013, Finger Lakes, New York (originally reviewed August 2015). Medium dry and delicate, the ’13 is softer, rounder, and with an oilier mouthfeel than the ’12, but the orange blossom and stone fruit linger for a long, lovely finish.
Disclosure: All opinions are my own. Mosel Riesling wines were provided courtesy of Massanois Imports for the purpose of the #winestudio interactive social media program.
Dueling Pistols is the latest in The Federalist series from the Terlato Wine Group. According to their website, “The Federalist Wines were created to pay homage to our Founding Fathers. Bold men of principle, whose pioneering spirit helped make the United States the great country it is today.” This wine is certainly not shy, coming in at 15.1% alcohol. Made from 50% Zinfandel and 50% Syrah from the Dry Creek Valley AVA in Sonoma County, California, Dueling Pistols’ concept is a nod to the famous political and personal feud between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, ultimately concluding in a duel which ends with Burr’s death. (I envision two bunches of Zinfandel and Syrah grapes facing off in the vineyard in a battle to the bitter end.) While there’s no bitterness to be had—I suspect due to a healthy dose of residual sugar—the characteristics of the grape duo complement each other: The Zinfandel’s big jammy blackberry and black cherry flavors meld well with the earth and spice of the Syrah. However, both varieties seem to be grappling with the 15 months in 20% new oak barrels used in this wine, the characteristics of which are extremely prevalent. The right pairing helped calm the fruit/oak duel, though; this wine went swimmingly with spicy weeknight beef chili. The residual sugar and jammy fruit calmed the heat of the chili, and the ample chili spice made the wine seem drier. The peppery acidity in the chili defeated the overly assertive oak, too. The suggested retail price for The Federalist Dueling Pistols is $29, putting it at least $10-15 higher than similar big, easy-drinking, slightly sweet California red wines. Other wines in The Federalist series include Chardonnay, Visionary Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Bourbon Barrel-Aged Zinfandel, Honest Red Blend.
Disclosure: Wine samples were provided courtesy of Terlato Wines for review. All opinions are my own.
My taste buds and I spend most of our time hanging out with the wines of the eastern
United States and Canada: our passion, our wheelhouse. However, every now and then we remember that the rest of the wine world exists and we venture out to explore; it’s very important not to become too accustomed to a “house flavor,” so to speak. Understanding a wine in the context of its region and place in the wide, wide world of wine is both palate-calibrating and fun. So, when the opportunity to learn more about Two Hands Wines of South Australia through #winestudio’s interactive social media tasting program came along, my interest was piqued.
Two Hands Wines was founded in 1999 by friends Michael Twelftree and Richard Mintz with the intent to stand out from the sea of large producers who managed to stay afloat during the decade-long Australian grape glut by driving down their retail prices and decreasing quality. According to winemaker Ben Perkins, “It was a hard time for sure, but we were positioned well with good brand equity; [the] industry is still recovering.” As stated on Two Hands’ website, “With so much Australian wine being sold around the globe under multi-region labels in a formulaic style, the intention was to break the mould and showcase the diversity of Australian Shiraz by highlighting regional and vineyard characteristics by allowing the fruit to be the primary feature of the wines.”
#Winestudio participants evaluated wines from the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, both famous for high-quality shiraz production. Barossa is a continental climate and experiences weather extremes like cold winters and long hot summer days. McLaren Vale is situated on St. Vincent Gulf and experiences a more moderate Mediterranean climate, with warmer, wetter winters, hot dry summers, and cooling winds because of its proximity to the coast and the Mt. Lofty Ranges. Given the differences in their climates, Barossa typically produces wines that are big, juicy and fruit-driven, and McLaren Vale produces wines that are more balanced, herbal, and spicy in character. Two Hands showcases the regional differences in their growers’ vineyard sites with well-made wines at several price points.
The Pictures Series (closed with screw cap, for any other “cork dorks” who may be interested)
2014 Angels’ Share Shiraz (McLaren Vale): Aged in a combination of 15% new French oak and the remainder in older French and American oak. Dark ruby color with thick, red-tinted tears at 14.8% ABV. On the nose: Garrigue, crushed herbs (rosemary, mint), violets, blackberries, black plums, anise/black licorice and bell pepper. The alcohol level is very apparent at first whiff. Jam, anise/licorice, green bell pepper, near-neutral but slightly toasty oak, juicy black cherry, black raspberry on the palate. Fleshy and complete. Low tannin, medium-acid. Nice weight, long tarry finish. Day 2, noticed more cocoa on the nose. Surely the angels, who theoretically took their eponymous “share” of this wine during barrel maturation, took pity and left us the very best part. $36 retail
2014 Gnarly Dudes Shiraz (Barossa Valley): Aged in all French oak with 15% new barrels. Slightly lower alcohol at 13.8% ABV. Smells like rose petals, blackberry/black cherry, cassis, slight powdered sweet cocoa, and high-tone vanilla. Much lighter on the palate; the body is less complex than Angels’ Share. More linear, with medium tannin. More prevalent oak markers: vanilla, toast, caramel. Day 2 added smoked meat, more vanilla and pencil lead to the nose. Named for the gnarly old vines from which these grapes were harvested, or for “The Dude” character from the film The Big Lebowski, or both—you decide. $36 retail
2015 Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon (McLaren Vale): Named as an homage to Ben Kingsley’s character, “a real badass,” in the 2000 British crime film, Sexy Beast. At 14.5% ABV, it’s nicely balanced and the alcohol is not overwhelming to my cool-climate palate. The tears running down the side of the glass were thick and prettily purple-tinted. The color denotes a very young wine: ruby red with a purple rim. This wine’s aromas include cassis, blueberry/violets, green bell pepper, black pepper, mint and black fruits. The palate evokes much of the same with blackberry, ripe black cherry, medium tannin, and a cedar finish. Very perceptible toasty oak, with this wine being aged in 15% new 300L French oak barrels from a cooperage in Cognac (characteristically bold toasting) and the remainder still picking up aromas from one- to five-year 300L French barrels. $36 retail
The Garden Series (closed with Diam agglomerated closures)
Bella’s Garden 2014 (Barossa Valley): Blood red. Nose is hot, boozy, very ripe with notes of violets, spice, black olive, cola, black/blue fruits, pomegranate. I loved this wine for its combination of complexity and balance. Ripe and rich but not overextracted. Big and mouth filling, but balanced. Not as boozy as the nose initially led me to believe. Subtle mushroom, black/blue fruits, dusty tannins, vanilla/chocolate/caramel/toffee/coffee from the 16% new French oak, long cedar-y finish on the palate. My favorite of the bunch! $69 retail
Lily’s Garden 2014 (McLaren Vale): Named for owner Michael Twelftree’s daughter, Lily, this wine is a deep, concentrated, purple/ruby red. Vanilla, blue fruits, black fruits, the nose is less aromatic than Bella’s Garden. Palate: Black fruits, firm tannin, coconut/vanilla, cedar/sweet pipe tobacco mid-palate drifting to slight tar on the finish. Herbal, tomato-leaf notes throughout. Delicate and pretty. Aged in 6% new, 94% older French 300-liter barrels. More linear than Bella’s Garden. Nice balance of acid, fruit, oak. $69 retail
The Flagship Series (closed with natural cork)
2012 Ares Shiraz (Barossa Valley): Always 100% Barossa Valley fruit and aged in 25% new oak for 23 months, Ares is one of Two Hands’ big, bold flagship wines. If you like huge, ripe, high-alcohol wines, you will be thrilled at what awaits you with Ares. At 15.5% alcohol, it seems almost like an appassimento-style or fortified wine, with immediately noticeable viscosity and thick colored tears running down the side of the glass. The nose presents raisin-y, very ripe blackberry/black plum, and violet notes; the oak markers include lots of baking spice, musk, and a touch of smoke. Extremely aromatic. At first sip, I wrote, “Jam! Spice! A little boozy vanilla. Juicy sweet black cherry. Spice! Spice! Spice! Same as nose. Cedar on finish.” These flavors are not for the faint of heart. Because of the extra care, extreme barrel sampling by the winemakers (about 100 barrels per day until all 2,000 barrels are tasted!) and “best of the best” selection that goes into this blend, the price tag is not for the faint of heart, either. $185 retail
Disclosure: Wine samples were provided by the producer for the purpose of the #winestudio social media program. All opinions are my own.
So, you want to offer a bourbon barrel-aged beer at your brewery because it’s different from the rest of your portfolio; plus, anything with the word bourbon on it is sexy, and this trend is NOW! If you’re lucky, your beer will turn out tasting like a great brew with a sweet kiss of complementary caramel-vanilla bourbon and your story and signature beer style will come shining through. Orrrrrr…it will taste like a tall, cold glass of 80-proof bourbon with a wee drop of beer. Those whiskey-saturated barrels from the big bourbon players take a few fills before they settle down and stop completely overwhelming the beer.
“But,” you say, “used bourbon barrels are cheap and plentiful, and who doesn’t want their brand to be associated with smokin’ hot names like Bulleit and Whistlepig, or classics like Woodford Reserve and Four Roses?” I’m all for upcycling, but when everyone is shooting for uniqueness in exactly the same way, they end up being, well, the same.
The only rule in craft brewing is that there are very few rules and small batches are easy, so why not tell a fresh story from everyone else? To celebrate the opening of the Festival of Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beers (#FoBAB) in Chicago last week, I attended a tasting at Revolution Brewing Company hosted by my Tonnellerie Cadus colleague from the west coast, a winemaker himself who has been working with breweries and cideries for the last few years on finding out how new French oak barrels impact various beer styles. The results were cool and unusual…and different!! While there were two brews from bourbon barrels for comparison, they were well made but tasted similar to the hundreds of bourbon-barrel aged beers and barleywines offered at the festival the next day.
Russian Imperial Stout, Crux Fermentation (Bend, Oregon). 11.5% ABV.
Aged 6 months in Cadus Origine series Mid-Tight Grain barrel (Medium+ toast). Bacon fat, nuts, some DMS. Sweet on the palate, Kahlua-like, bitter-chocolate hop finish, round, viscous, weighty.
Peach Saison, Temperance Brewing Company (Chicago, Illinois). 8.2% ABV.
Aged for 6 months in a Tonnellerie Cadus Sensoriel series Volume barrel (standard Medium+ toast). Cobbler in a glass. Fresh peaches, vanilla, Gerber baby food apricots. Toast and yeasty, fresh baked bread. Simple, fresh, fruity, and light, with a clean, bitter-hoppy finish.
Cadus Hard Apple Cider, Tin City Cider (Paso Robles, CA)
The unoaked control cider was über-clean, zippy with a lot of tart green apple, and very dry and refreshing (reminiscent of one of my favorite dry-hopped ciders from Citizen Cider in Vermont). Extremely gulpable.
The eponymous Cadus oaked version was fermented and then aged 4 months in Tonnellerie Cadus Sensoriel series Access (custom Medium+ toast) and Volume (standard Medium+ toast). Sweet-presenting classic French oak, round and broad in the mid-palate, subtle spice. Apple pie: Brioche pastry, cream.
”Real Wild Child” Eugene Porter, Revolution Brewing Company (Chicago, Illinois). 6.8% ABV.
Aged in Tonnellerie Cadus Sensoriel series Volume (standard Medium+ toast) and Intense (standard Medium++ toast). Sticky toffee pudding-molasses meets sour orange peel. One barrel in this batch went rogue and soured; the spontaneous second fermentation in that one led to the sour orange peel notes.
StraiGht Jacket Barleywine, Revolution Brewing Company (Chicago, Illinois). 13% ABV.
Traditionally aged in used bourbon barrels. Stewed fruits, roasted nuts, molasses, Hershey’s chocolate syrup. Maderized. Heavy. Sweet, sweet. Sweet.
“Mean Gene” Eugene Porter, Revolution Brewing Company (Chicago, Illinois). 8.5% ABV.
Aged for 36 weeks in used Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels. Lighter, coffee notes. Lighter weight than the rest. Slightly tart. Malty. Part of Revolution’s Deep Wood Series, which also includes Deth’s Tar, Ryeway To Heaven, Blue Gene, and Bean Gene.
Thank you to Revolution Brewing Company for hosting the tasting and Revolution Brewing Company, Temperance Brewing Company, Crux Fermentation, Tin City Cider for taking the time to age their beverages in something besides bourbon barrels and sharing the results. If you want to find out more about ways to age beer besides using bourbon barrels, click here to contact us. Cheers!
When we started working with Tonnellerie Cadus French oak barrels and puncheons earlier this year, we had an idea of how many we wanted to sell for the 2016 season, but, as with all new partnerships, we forecasted conservatively to ensure that we’d meet Cadus’ expectations as well as balance our efforts with our other valued suppliers.
Well, we’ve exceeded our initial goal by about 100 barrels, a testimony as to how well these elegant barrels mesh with the cool climate wine styles (and beer styles–Midwest breweries LOVE Cadus!) of eastern and central North America. Thank you, thank you, thank you to our customers who have given them a try. We’re now down to only about 15* barrels left in our east coast warehouse. Hooray!
So while we can always tap into our reserves in California and Oregon warehouses, I love being able to keep the number of miles these little guys spend on the road as low as possible to ensure the gentlest ride available to their forever homes. They get along well with barrels from other cooperages; they’re not aggressive and they play nicely with Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Marquette, Chardonnay, Albarino and Sauvignon Blanc (to name just a few of my faves), supporting and lifting the fruit with unconditional love; and they’re very loyal–they’ll cuddle with your wines for 12 or even 24 months straight! Pedigrees available upon request. Won’t you take one home to join your cellar family? (We try to keep barrels from the same litter together, though, so–better yet–how about two?) 🙂
*Update as of 10/6: Only 5 cute little puppies, er, barrels left on the east coast!
There’s been some controversy recently about non-restaurant people usurping the title of “sommelier.” After all, the very definition of the word, per the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “a waiter in a restaurant who has charge of wines and their service: a wine steward.” So, by that definition, am I a sommelier? Not in the least. My last restaurant experience was in the Dairy Queen drive-thru several years (okay, decades) ago, upselling high-margin extras: “Would you like nuts and whipped cream on that sundae?” Is it to impress my winemaker customers? Not really. From the perspective of the production side of the business, winemakers and somms seem to be more like “frenemies” than true allies. Is it part of the continuous academic growth and challenge that some crave? A little.
So why the sommelier route? While I’ve sold oak products to wineries for over a decade, the industry supplier where I spent 13 years is more widely known for its closure and packaging side of the business, and I definitely have a healthy dose of geek-level cork-capsule-and-screw-cap expertise. But with closures, one always hopes for neutrality; the goal is to leave the wine the way the winemaker intended, without contributing ANY flavors (TCA, oxidation, reduction, etc.). Diving from the top of the bottle into the bottle requires some different skills because barrels or alternatives do significantly (for better or for worse!) impart aromas, flavors, weight, and texture to the finished wine. Third party palate validation through a quantifiable system of tasting and describing wine using The Court of Master Sommeliers’ Deductive Tasting Method is a great way to ensure that what I am tasting when I’m in the barrel room with my customers has some basis in objectivity. There are a few other excellent certification programs, but the one I completed previously didn’t have a tasting component, and the ones that did didn’t work logistically for a mom who runs a full-time business from home but still travels a lot.
But at its crux, the reason is less rational and more emotional. For those of us who develop a passion for wine but don’t actually make any wine or work in a vineyard, there is a deep need to be somehow connected to the grapes, the growers, and the makers; to feel like a part of the process, even if only through our shared enthusiasm, camaraderie, and nerdy love of the minutest details intrinsic to the world wine community. It’s why so many shout about wine into the social media abyss, wax poetic about it on blogs, publish wine reviews that may or may not ever be read by another human, and study its history and service tradition even if there’s never any professional opportunity or intention of pouring it for others. Education and certification through competitive programs can help validate a fierce and somewhat crazy obsession with what is, at the end of the day, just grape juice. When you make wine, you end up with a bottle, something deliciously tangible. When you merely adore, study, and stalk wine and its people, it is reassuring to finally have something real, albeit a piece of paper and a pin, to show for the hours (days, months, years!) spent with noses buried in books, flash cards, wine cellars, and wine glasses in the quixotic pursuit of this elusive wine world, that says, “You belong here.”