Growing up, harvest was a season. An entire season devoted to potatoes, beets and grain. They even pulled us out of school (seriously, they shut school DOWN) so that we could go help out the farmers. Sometimes I enjoyed this if I got to drive truck. Many times I despised it since it meant standing on your feet for 12+ hours picking clods off the conveyor line. At the end of each day you were guaranteed a sweet paycheck and an album’s worth of unique and really stupid songs about potatoes.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d experience another harvest first-hand after leaving for college. But it seems the joke’s on me – not only am I experiencing another harvest but I’m kind of LIKING it. Clearly, I’ve been sipping some juice.
I don’t love the physical toll it takes on my husband but I do love the look of accomplishment on his face from time to time, even though nothing ever feels completely accomplished in the world of a winemaker. I love the grapes. They’re pretty and messy and smell like super earthy and undrinkable wine just a day after being picked and sitting in mounds in their bins. I hate the bees, those cocky jerks. I love the sound of the grape juice rushing out of the crusher/de-stemmer and into containers for fermentation. The clean-up is tedious and never-ending. The fruit flies are unrelenting. But the reward is amazing and the end result is a bit hard to wrap your mind around if you’ve never witnessed the winemaking process from start to finish. I mean we all understand that in the end there is WINE and that is exciting! But if you knew every little detail about how it became wine you’d find a generous amount of fascination to it, as simple as it might be.
With that said, here are a few photos from our Syrah crush last week as well as a few I snapped just yesterday from the fermentation bins, which we have to stir up every 4 to 6 hours right now. I meant to take some photos of the Riesling as it was actively fermenting but it has already been laid to rest in shiny stainless steel barrels. If you missed the Riesling crush photos from my last post you can check that out here.
So now that harvest is over for us we have just entered the next phase in the winemaking process of our Riesling and Syrah – The Wait. You likely won’t taste the end result until late 2015 for the Riesling and at the very least it’ll be late 2016 for the Syrah. Don’t worry, I’ll keep you updated on their journeys here.
As I type this post we are anticipating the arrival of our Syrah grapes in a few hours. Life has not been short on things to do around here since our Riesling grapes arrived! As glamorous as having a winery might sound I can assure you there are many unglamorous moments – like bee stings that make your hand unrecognizable, back spasms that mirror Michael Jackson dance moves, leg cramps in the middle of the night that make your wife think you’re having a heart attack and grape juice that has started fermenting in your ear.
With those mental images painted, I’m much more excited to bring you the beautiful side of winemaking. These pictures capture a bit of the charm that keeps us engaged in this whole journey. I hope you enjoy and stay tuned for Part Two next week when I show you the Syrah crush and how to run from bees without twisting your ankle.
Woohoo! Take a congratulatory lap, you’ve survived another Monday! Since it’s too early to drink wine to celebrate (says who?), instead I’m posting some random thoughts. So much randomness in this world, why not highlight a few bullet points?
That crazy earthquake in Napa
If you haven’t yet heard about it, Sunday morning a 6.0 magnitude quake hit Northern California and shook Napa Valley hard – so hard that unofficial reports say the valley could be looking at a $100 million economic loss. That’s a LOT of wine.
There was reportedly a barrel containing $16,000 of pinot noir that crashed to the floor. I’m a bit of a fair-weather pinot noir fan, but re-reading that last sentence makes my stomach hurt.
Check out this Washington Post article for more on the crazy quake that hit at a VERY unfortunate time, as wineries were gearing up for harvest (not that quakes ever hit on an appropriate occasion).
2. Bulu Box, anyone?
I’ve just discovered a little mail service over at Bulubox.com, which mails custom fitness and health goodies to you for $10/month. For those of you familiar with Birchbox or Nature Box, this is the same idea. I’m seriously contemplating signing up because #1 – I love trying new healthy goodies, and #2 – I crave variety in my fitness routine. My only reservation about this? Finding out after committing to a 3-month subscription that it’s loaded with supplements, which I’m not a fan of. I don’t even take a multi-vitamin anymore, let alone rely on any weight loss or fitness enhancing-pills. Has anyone out there tried this yet? Or should I just dive in completely and utterly unwarned?
3. Meal planning – questions and answers
I get a lot of questions from clients about meal planning and how to go about it. Here’s what I know: Sitting down for 10 minutes to plan out the majority of the week’s dinners will seriously save you time every day. I spend about 20 minutes on Sundays making a list of what to have for dinner all week and then writing a grocery list. Then off to the store we go.
I don’t plan every breakfast unless I have some mornings where I don’t have to rush (ha!). Breakfast is usually a green smoothie, oatmeal (overnight oats recipes are HUGE timesavers and scrumptious, more on that soon), or a Greek yogurt and fruit parfait.
Lunches are always leftovers from the night before because we purposefully cook twice as much as we need, unless we didn’t have enough (aka: the Luke monster ate it all) or had the occasional evening out, then it’s something thrown together if I’m at home (cherry tomato and cucumber salad with cottage cheese and avocado toast = happy woman), or a sandwich from Subway or Jimmy John’s if I’m at the studio or running errands. I really try not to spend money on lunch if I don’t have to.
Back to meal planning. I try to use whatever we already have on-hand so that what we buy at the store ends up being mostly fresh veggies. We’re lucky to have some freezer space so we always have lean beef, lamb (yes, this trainer mama eats lean red meat and LIKES it), chicken, some fish (it doesn’t freeze well as long as other proteins), and shrimp. Occasionally we’ll buy tofu to do a stir-fry or lean sausage to mix into pasta.
Here’s my takeaway tip: If you can think about having one protein, one green vegetable (even if only its leaves are green), and one healthy carbohydrate, you can get the job done. I typically give us one or two nights to play with depending on our schedules and I try to be flexible because there are often times where chaos gets more chaotic and dinner becomes totally impromptu.
For example, here’s what our dinners look like this week:
Sunday: Lamb chops, roasted carrots from the farmer’s market, 5-ingredient corn bread (If you’re going to indulge in corn bread make sure to read the ingredients list, many corn breads on the market have hydrogenated oils in them, which is trans fat.)
Monday: Grilled chicken breasts, kale salad (a family favorite – see this post for the recipe!), and quinoa made with chicken broth and garlic
Tuesday: Shrimp sautéed in jalapeno wine (so good!), soba noodles (Love these! Very quick and healthy!), sautéed spinach and roasted bell peppers
Wednesday: Grilled steak salad (with a boat load of chopped veggies) and grilled sweet potatoes
Thursday: Ground beef-stuffed acorn squash with wild rice
Saturday: Family in town, it could be anything, or it could be whatever we pick up from our fellow vendors at the Boise Farmer’s Market earlier that day.
As you can see, there’s nothing special here. Make it simple and as affordable as you need. Frozen veggies are great in a pinch. Some nights just clean out your fridge and have whatever leftovers you need to eat up. If your work week starts on Sunday, meal prep on Saturday or whichever day you have off. It saves a lot of time, headache, and money this way. Trust me!
Over the weekend Von needed to bottle wine and luckily we live just a few blocks from the winery so I laced up my running shoes, the kids hopped in the jogging stroller, and we hit the greenbelt to pay our winemaker a visit. There’s a playground on this route so it’s inevitable my kids beg to stop there on our way home. Thanks to teaching boot camp years ago and trying to help my mom clients find a way to fit in fitness while entertaining their kids, I have a few playground obstacle courses stored away in my noggin’ that make my kids happy and give me my fitness fix. Granted, it can be challenging to duck your way through playground equipment intended for miniature versions of you, but I find it’s a great way to get exercise and make your kids think you’re the coolest mom ever. Plus, it’s kind of the point for it to be challenging.
A couple ideas: Use the stairs for, well, running up and down the stairs. Use a high step for step-ups. Create a course for you and your kids to run through and it may or may not include the slide. Use any elevated surface for pushups, monkey bars for hanging and bringing your knees up toward your chest (core strength!), another step for tricep dips, lay on your back on the ground and place your feet on the bottom of a slide to do bridge-ups, do jumping jacks between exercises/obstacle course rounds, jump rope (you don’t actually need a rope), perform box jumps on and off a step or bottom of the slide…you get it? Check out the above video for some visuals. And in case you’re wondering, I no longer teach boot camp in the mornings. Now that I’m a mom I reserve that hour for arguing with small people and exercising my non-morning-person patience.
I recommend you save this one for a time when the playground isn’t swamped and you can play freely with your kids on the equipment without some judge-y Debbie Downer parent tsk-tsk’ing you for not paying attention to the sign that clearly points out adults are not permitted.
5. Being a winemaker’s wife
I’m sure many wives or husbands of winemakers are much more glamorous than I am. Honestly, I don’t do glamour well anyway. I’m too sweaty half the time and the other half I’m laughing too hard, talking too loud or cleaning the mashed-up banana off my shirt. But I find it suits our business well since much of our time is spent at the farmer’s market talking to people, laughing about the un-believability of jalapeno wine, and sometimes doing all that with our sweet holy terrors in tow.
Last Saturday I headed down to the market to our booth like every other Saturday, where Von was pouring our wines and chatting with everyone and I was so excited to see one of my most favorite friends on this Earth. She spotted me first and immediately cracked up at my ridiculousness – pushing two kids in TWO umbrella strollers (for every good idea I have, there are two bad ones) and trying to look as though I have my wits together. It’s moments like those that I truly appreciate good friends to laugh with me about how un-glamorous our lives can be amidst a bunch of hype about people doing glamorous things.
Sunday after Von bottled what will be our next super fun wine release, he brought home a bottle so I could taste it (and make a margarita out of it, of course). I love being able to taste wines straight from the barrel or just freshly bottled. It’s probably the opposite of glamorous, but in reality I think the most glamorous things happen when they are just left to be what they are.
Honestly, being a winemaker’s wife looks a whole lot like making business decisions after 9 pm, writing proof for labels during naptime, holding a kid in one arm while pouring wine samples with the other and holding the fort down at home while the winemaker does the heavy lifting.
Really it looks a lot like what every other parent on the planet is doing in some aspect or another. It’s completely unglamorous, a whole lot of work, and surprisingly rewarding.
I’m going to let you in on a little something you may not know and may be appalled to learn: Winemakers don’t wash their grapes.
Does that freak you out? You might want to get over it, or start favoring a different libation.
Last week there was a big to-do made in the media about how Trader Joe’s infamous wine, Two Buck Chuck, allegedly contains rodent blood and other miscellaneous nasties because the grapes they use to make the wine are harvested by huge machines that grab anything and everything, throw it all in a receptacle without sorting and make vino, essentially. In case you missed it, here’s the article that explains how the mess got started and what the owners had to say about it after this accusation was made:
I’m not saying I think Two Buck Chuck is as exceptional for the price as others believe it is. But certainly, if you like it and enjoy it, then drink it. I myself think you get what you pay for and sometimes that’s A-OK with me if I’m in a bind and need some vino, ANY vino, STAT. And furthermore, if you simply don’t like how wine tastes or a winery/winemaker’s ethics then those are good reasons not to drink the wine. But it’s not rodents that should keep you away (or even the stomping bare feet of strangers). The idea of wine having animal blood in it is ridiculous. But I realize that many people probably don’t know why it’s so ridiculous, especially if the fermentation process has never been explained to them. I certainly didn’t understand until Von started making wine years ago and I saw the process myself.
So I’m going to give you my version of how this all works. If you’d like a more scientific one, feel free to contact my husband or go Google crazy.
Grapes are harvested, sometimes by machines if it’s a major production winery and often by the hands of vineyard workers who can pick an insane amount of grapes in a couple hours. I know this because two years ago we chose to pick our own grapes from one of the vineyards we purchase from out in Sunnyslope and it took four of us adults and one toddler HOURS to get 1,000 pounds of grapes. The people out in the fields? They can knock that out in about an hour, I’m sure.
The grapes get to the winery, where we put them in the crusher/destemmer to sort through the stems and leaves and weed out all the junk (this would apply to rodents too, if you’re still hung up on those). We do NOT wash our grapes. I know that causes shock to some since we live in a world obsessed with sanitation yet we want our food fresh. We do see spiders, ear wigs, occasional wasps and other insects. Typically vineyards don’t use a lot of pesticides because pesticides can change the natural fermentation process. This is good news for you, the wine drinker, as well as the wine itself. The thing is, all that grapey bacteria – the must and flora and natural yeast – is stuff we want in the wine. Washing it off would be…dumb. Have you ever thought you’d like to see a winery who advertises that they have the cleanest wine? Me, I want my wine DIRTY.
After all that stuff is sorted out, we start making the good stuff. Depending on the varietal, some grapes will get pressed (or stomped) and tossed in with the skins, others will get pressed and the skins will be thrown out. No matter which way it goes, all will start the first phase of fermentation, which is a very active process because the yeast (both added and natural) works like wild fire. It’s so active that it needs open air to do its thing. It never gets old to see the thick cap of skins on wine when it’s fermenting the first few days. We “punch down” the cap of skins often so they can continue to mix with the yeast. This is fun for me, because I’m punching things with the knowledge that my punching will be rewarded later on with lots of glasses of liquid happiness.
The second phase is when the yeast calms down and does its hard work quietly, so it’s time to cover it. There’s more appropriate and more wine-sophisticated ways to say that but I don’t have those words for you.
Now here’s the important part, so pay attention: This 2-phase fermentation process, the one I just walked you through so eloquently? It is responsible for killing any crazy bacteria or virus that could possibly infect a human being.Wine is not a place for human diseases and, subsequently, it is not a place for animal blood. The yeast bacteria destroys any and all harmful pathogens during fermentation. While an occasional rodent may have been spotted at some point between the field and the destemmer (although we have yet to witness that ourselves), I assure you there’s not even a micro-trace of it anywhere in that bottle of wine you’re thinking about buying. There is only good, productive, and essential bacteria.
So now you know. And you’re feeling good about it, aren’t you? So drink up!