Monday, October 26, 2009

A Touch of Glass

I received a sample of the Eisch Breathable glass and conducted the following experiment to see if it had any noticeable effect on the wine. I was not paid to write this and I probably won’t be offered to sample anything else after this, but a girl can hope.

The premise behind the Eisch glass is that it is designed to be “ breathable” and aerate the wine faster than decanting. I tested the Eisch glass along with a glass of similar size, shape and quality.

I am a big fan of good glass. I really believe a fine crystal does make a difference in the wine. I don’t know if it has to do with the molecular viscosity aspect ratio of the permeable membrane dynamics or if its due to fairies with pixie dust…but I can tell a difference. (BTW I just made that membrane dynamics stuff up– but sounded good no?)

There are two questions that are usually posed regarding glasses and wine.
1. Can a great glass make a good wine better? {I say yes.}
2. Can a great glass make a mediocre wine great? {No}. There is only so much the fairies can do. Bad wine is bad wine end of story.

But let’s get back to the Eisch test.


I have a set of very nice Waterford glasses from the Robert Mondavi collection, which are pricey but beautiful and really show off a nice wine. I don't use them everyday, and I’m probably not going to serve you wine in them when you visit, but I do drink out of them when I have a nice wine I want to savor.

The Eisch glass instructions said that within two to four minutes the glass would work its magic and aerate the wine as if it were decanted for an hour.

I poured wine into both glasses and waited three minutes. Then to create a double blind scenario, I blind folded a friend and had her smell and taste the wine without letting on which glass was the Eisch and which glass was the Waterford.

Well right off the bat the whole blindfold thing was a disaster because on the first sip she misjudged where her mouth was and spilled wine all over herself. Oh what a mess. But after she got cleaned up we decided it would be best if I just held the glass up to her lips to sip and avoid any more accidents.

So that worked pretty well. She sat blindfolded with her arms to the side and I held the wine up to her like some high priest giving communion. Then right in the middle of the experiment my husband walked in on us and you would of thought we were conducting some sort of satanic ritual the way he looked at me. And I have to admit it did feel kinda of cult like, but not kinky in an Eyes Wide Shut sort of way, just a bit odd is all I’m saying. But I guess he was not expecting to see our neighbor in the living room blindfolded and in her bra*. (*it was a sports bra so not pervey as you might think) Anyway I thought it was hilarious. He did not and mumbled he had to go to the hardware store. But I insisted he stay and try the experiment as well.

Results:
Friend: She found the bouquet more pronounced in the Eisch and felt the wine was more open and fuller and preferred the Eisch to the Waterford glass.
Husband: His impressions were the reverse, he found the wine in the Waterford glass to be more open, fuller bodied, and flavorful.
Me: I found the Eisch glass gave the wine a rounder fuller mouth feel and bigger flavor at first but after about 15 minutes I could not tell a difference between either glass.

So all I can conclude from the experiment is that we did indeed notice differences but could not agree on what the differences were.


Then just for fun we drank the same wine out of coffee cups (Illy heavy white porcelain cups) and that was a shocker. The wine really did not taste as good as it did in the glasses. I’m guessing that it’s because of the way the thick fat lip of the cup makes you purse your lips more and possibly interferes with the palate, while the super fine thin edge of the crystal glass allows you to sip the wine right in between your lips with no awkward mouth maneuvers. I don’t know the reasons for sure, but there really was a noticeable difference in the wine sipped from coffee cups vs. the wine glasses.

Conclusion:
I think there was a difference with the Eisch. But I also think it’s because the Eisch is a nice glass and nice glasses make a difference.

Final summary:
Eisch Glass: $40-45 (SRP)
Cellarrat Pinot Noir: $42
Look on husbands face upon seeing neighbor blindfolded and in her bra: Priceless!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Plotting Pinot



Last Sunday I was invited to a tasting featuring wines made by Alan Baker of Cellarrat and also the wines of Mark McWilliams of Arista Winery in Healdsburg.

The group in attendance were mostly experienced wine bloggers and professionals (@winebratsf, @thesnarkhunter, @oenophilus, @dmhoro, @thebeerwench, @sharayray, @dirtysouthwine and @DanicaSattui) Even though I blog about wine I don’t really think of myself as a wine blogger, but more as a writer that happens to like wine. I tend to think in terms of story telling and relating an experience rather than writing about wine with just facts and figures. And honestly at this point I really don’t know my malolactic fermentation from my elbow, so I’m approaching learning all this wine lingo in much the same way I learned Italian. I studied here and there, but most of all I had lots of exposure to people who spoke the language and then one day poof--- I just suddenly understood what people were saying. I’m hoping this will happen with wine speak too.

The one thing I absolutely love about winemakers, the thing I can most relate to, is that they are deeply devoted to crafting something wonderful that will connect with an audience, you, the consumer. And that’s exactly what it is to write. You toil away and hope to produce something that your readers can connect to, relate to, find resonance in-- be it a serious piece or humorous--and in the process reveal a deeper part of yourself just by putting it out there. So winemakers are like writers too. Instead of adjectives and nouns and paragraphs, etc. they craft their story (the wine) with the elements of land, climate, and grapes.

Alan has the spirit of a writer in my opinion, and through his wine I believe I got a better understanding of who he is. His story/wine is not a quick beach read by any means, it’s a deeper more nuanced tale, much like a well crafted thriller that grips you right away and keeps you interested till the last page or drop as the case may be. Pinot Noir with a ‘film noir’ sensibility.

As we tasted the samples, I began to get a sense of the journey the wine makes on it’s way from vine to barrel to bottle to your table and I could almost see the gears working in Alan’s head as he thought about what each wine needed and where it might be going.  


Alan Baker (left) Cellarrat winemaker 
Alan poured a sample of the The 09 Perli Valley and said it was “after fermentation but before malo” whatever the heck that means—but to me it tasted shaky and a bit like a Geritol iron supplement. {Note: I’ve never had Geritol, I’m just guessing.} Alan explained how the wine would evolve from a high acid profile after it went through the actual ‘malo’ stage of the process and smooth out the edges. I noticed the bottle had what looked like MILF written on it and I know what that stands for, but could not for the life of me figure why you’d put that on wine and I sure as heck was not going to raise my hand and ask what it meant at that point. Then later I saw it was MLF not MILF and realized it stood for the aforementioned 'malolactic fermentation'.

For me, tasting barrel samples is similar to reading a first draft of a book. The basics are there but it needs tweaking, polishing, greater development to be a full manuscript. I could detect particular elements in the samples that were like characters in a novel just introduced, but not yet figured into the plot.

We also tasted the first ever Cellarrat bottle of 2006 Pinot Noir Wentzel Vineyard from Anderson Valley and it had all the makings of a best cellar. But be it a bestseller or best cellar, my palate believes that Alan Baker has a long career ahead of him as a top winemaker.

***
Next we met with Mark McWilliams of Arista and tasted Pinot Noirs from vineyards of varying elevations. I was surprised by how clearly I could detect the differences in the wines as reflected by their growing conditions. I favored the 2007 La Cruz Vineyard Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, which I found very balanced with mellow tannin action. And I also liked The Toboni Vineyard Pinot Noir, RRV-- This was a wine I’d like to spend more time with and get to know all it’s complex ways on a rainy day with something savory like duck or a rabbit ragout over polenta. And that was the thing about the wines of Arista I enjoyed most--with each one I tasted I immediately thought of what I’d like to eat along with it.


 Mark McWilliams of Arista

I was impressed that Mark seemed as excited about the wines as we were, as if  he was tasting each wine for the first time as well. He also seemed truly grateful and humbled by the incredible land and surroundings in which he lived. It was almost like he was still in awe of the great life that he was living and thrilled to be able to share it and tell the history of it all. Maybe Mark will be all jaded and spoiled in about twenty years, but I sincerely doubt it. He appears quite genuine and his wines echo that sentiment as well.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Roaming the ARTrails

A couple of times a year in the Spring and Fall a wonderful thing called the ARTrails happens in Sonoma County. It’s an event in which participating artists open up their homes and studios to the public to view their work. It’s a great way to meet artists in your immediate neighborhood and to see work that may not be scalable to a gallery viewing, especially those who work in very large formats or incorporate the land on which they live to showcase their work. I visited two artists that go beyond the confines of an indoor studio. Peter Crompton in Santa Rosa is a sculptor painter and set designer. The property around his home is filled with his work both large and small. Peter and his wife have created a magical landscape with their art nestled in the tress and plants and pathways.


You can view more of Peter Cromptons work at his Web site www.cromptondesign.com


I also visited Karen Wyse in Orinda for the East Bay ARTrails. Karen is a sculpture and collagist and a believer in using everything (and I mean everything) in her artwork, nothing is wasted. Like Peter her property is full of trails leading to works nestled around trees roots as well as hanging high from tree limbs. Photos and videos can’t really show the multiple layers upon layers of stuff that permeate Karen’s art and the entire property. It’s all best viewed in person where you can stroll around the grounds and be shocked and amused all at once.

Over the years I have given Karen boxes of items that she recycles into her sculptures and shrines. Last year after my mother passed away I was overwhelmed with stuff from the past, so instead of throwing it out I gave it all to Karen. In the video below I take a close look at one of her large outdoor “installations” that she calls the Voodoo House Shrine and I discover a multitude of things from my past.



Here are a few of the other artists I visited:

Tony Speirs in Graton www.tonyspaintings.blogspot.com
Maylette Welch www.mylettewelch.com
Jewel Kishmiran www.jewlkishmirian.com

ARTrails is one of the best free events in the county and great way to support and discover the artist in our midst’s. Visit www.ARTrails.org to learn more.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Harvest Epiphany












Here’s some advice: If you ever get a late night tweet from Dr. David Horowitz, Marketing Professor at Sonoma State University, inviting you to participate in a “fun, fun, fun” grape harvest be very careful before you reply in the affirmative. I did say "Yes" and the next thing I know, Dr. Dave was at my door at 5:00am to whisk me off to an undisclosed vineyard to pick Pinot Noir grapes. As instructed, I brought water, gloves, clippers, hat, sunscreen, and my own 5-gallon bucket.


The vineyard was shrouded in fog when we arrived and I could hear the soft muffled “flump” of the grapes being tossed into buckets between the vines. The cool damp air smelled like cotton candy. We got a quick tutorial on what to look for in the grapes. Clean full clusters--good. Moldy, mostly raisins, or bird pecked clusters-- not so good. Then we were set loose to start harvesting. Oh the thrill of it all. For the first two hours I found it rather meditative and relaxing. (Probably due to the fact I was not yet awake.)

By the third hour the thrill of it all began to wear off and I was in serious need of more than water. But being around all those grapes was not calling me to have wine. Beer was the siren song in my head. Strange thing that.

By the fourth hour I was starting to wonder if Dr. Dave even knew what the word fun meant since he used it so liberally to entice me to the harvest. But he is Marketing Professor after all, so it’s all part of the con job. If something is called fun more than once, it probably means you are in for some hard labor. To maintain my focus and waning energy I tried to imagine I was in Spain or Chile or Italy paying for the experience. This is just the type of activity people with more money than sense would pay dearly for. Would I pay $5000 for the chance to pick grapes in France and stay in a Relais & Chateau property like this? I just might. Of course we gringos are not very good at sustained labor. Our pasty white skin burns quickly and our pudgy hands callous fast and we never shut-up or stop complaining. We like the idea of hard work way more than the doing of it. But we jump at the chance to participate in something authentic and briefly don the mask of one who is no stranger to manual labor. Then afterward we like to bask in the afterglow of a job well done while we get pampered at the Spa.

By the fifth hour, the fog was long gone, the sun directly overhead, and any illusions I had that harvest work was fun had been burned to a crisp. My hands were cramping from squeezing the clippers, and my fingertips were pruned from my grape juice soaked gloves. My arms ached from lifting the buckets and my feet numb from tripping over the mounds of plowed dirt. I began plotting revenge schemes in my head to get back at Dr. Dave for getting me into this chain gang.

Then right about the time I was about to lose all my will to carry on I had an epiphany of sorts or perhaps it was a minor sun stroke, but I realized that I am very much like the Pinot Grape itself— fair, thin-skinned and weather sensitive. And with the sun directly overhead, I too was close to being crushed. Yet despite my whining, I have to admit I did manage to have some fun. Plus I learned a few very important things along the way:

1. I am the perfect height for picking grapes. 5’1” is the magic metric if you want to avoid breaking your back bending over to reach the grapes.

2. The joy of harvest decreases exponentially with the declination of the sun. It’s all fun and games till the fog burns off.

3. The professional grape harvesters are amazing to watch, poetry in motion with speed and efficiency. {The four professional Mexican laborers picked more in two hours than all the rest of us did in six hours.}

4. No matter when you ask the grape boss or harvest master (or whatever you call the person in charge) how much longer to go, they will always reply—“Just one more bin to go. Keep picking!”

5. Cutting off the finger of a person on the opposite side of the vine from you is considered to be very bad form.

I think my eight hours of grape harvest experience may just last me a lifetime. And here's one more bit of advice in case you get invited to a harvest--Just say "Oh I'd love to, but I can't make it that day." And then run in the other direction.

Harvest Epiphany

Or A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (with apologies to David Foster Wallace for the title) Note: Just posting this now since my hands finally have feeling in them again.













Here’s some advice: If you ever get a late night tweet from Dr. David Horowitz, Marketing Professor at Sonoma State, inviting you to participate in a “fun, fun, fun” grape harvest be very careful before you reply in the affirmative. I did say "Yes" and the next thing I know, Dr. Dave was at my door at 5:00am to whisk me off to Ketcham winery to pick Pinot Noir grapes. I brought water, gloves, clippers, hat, sunscreen, and my own 5-gallon bucket—a brand new super sturdy high grade PVC bucket that I have a feeling I will never see again.



When we arrived the vineyard was shrouded in fog and I could hear the soft muffled “flump” of the grapes being tossed into buckets between the vines. We got a quick tutorial on what to look for in the grapes-- clean full clusters-- good. Moldy, mostly raisins, or bird pecked clusters-- not so good. Then we were set loose to start harvesting. Oh the thrill of it all. For the first hour or so it was rather meditative and relaxing. (Probably due to the fact I was not yet awake)

I said very little and focused on my cutting skills While the others chatted away. Most of the people at the harvest had gone to high school or college together so they had a very familiar sensibility and manner with each other that involved calling one another douche bags and other such terms of endearment at the crack of dawn.

I was hazy on the details on who and what this harvest was for, but the gist of it as follows: The guys in charge of the harvest were all members of something called the "20-30 Club", which I think, judging by the conversations I overheard, is a club for guys in their 30’s with at least 20 moving violations or something like that. I’m guessing the wine was going to be made and then sold as part of their “get out jail” bail bond charity. But I'm just sayin'.


The solitude of the harvest

The main problem of the day seemed to be lack of bodies to cut the grapes. An all points bulletin had been put out to get people to work that morning but not many took up the offer. One of the guys claimed two Canadian girls he met at a bar the night before would be arriving any minute. What a pick up line must have been!—“Hey! Wanna come back to my place and pick grapes? It’ll be hot! Really!”— Heck, a Canadian may just fall for that line. But the girls never showed.

By the third hour the thrill of it all began to wear off and I was in serious need of more than water. But being around all those grapes was not calling me to have wine. No. Beer was the siren song in my head. Strange thing how that works.

By the fourth hour I was starting to wonder if Dr. Dave even knows what the word fun means since he used it so liberally to entice me to the harvest. But then again he is Marketing Professor so it’s all part of the con job. If something is called fun more than once, it means you are in for some hard labor. To maintain my focus and waning energy I tried to imagine I was in Spain or Chile or France or Italy paying for this experience. This is just the type of activity people with more money than sense would pay dearly for. Would I pay $5000 for the chance to pick grapes in France and stay in a Relais & Chateau property like this? I just might. Of course we gringos are not very good at sustained labor. Our pasty white skin burns quickly and our pudgy hands callous fast and we never shut-up or stop complaining. We like the idea of hard work way more than the doing of it. So we need to pampered all along the way to get us to think we are doing something authentic, meaningful, and fun.

By the fifth hour, the fog was long gone, the sun directly overhead, and any illusions I had that the work was fun had been burned to a crisp. I began plotting revenge schemes in my head to get back at Dr. Dave for getting me into this chain gang.

Right about the time I was about to lose all my will to carry on, the ubiquitous Sparkel Farkel aka Shana Ray aka @sharayray showed up to make me laugh. She managed to pick some grapes, tweet about it, and answer her email all at the same time without so much as mussing her hair. You can read her take on the whole thing here.

It's a big logistical undertaking to harvest grapes and get everything where it needs to be in a timely manner. The grapes we picked were going Cahill winery for the sorting and crushing. And although all the "20-30" guys in charge of the harvest were very nice, I’d hate to be out to sea with them, as I’m afraid the boat might run aground or capsize while they argued about the best way to sail the ship. Just kidding, sort of.

Despite my whining, I have to admit there is something about intense shared labor that is very bonding and I did manage to have some fun. Plus I learned a few very important things along the way:

1. I am the perfect height for picking grapes. 5’1” is the magic metric if you want to avoid breaking your back bending over to reach the grapes.

2. The fun of harvest decreases exponentially with the declination of the sun. Fog = Good. Direct Overhead Sun = Not So Good. It’s all fun and games till the fog burns off.

3. The professional grape harvesters (the Mexicans) are amazing to watch, poetry in motion with speed and efficiency. {The four professional laborers picked more in 2 hours than all the rest of us did in 6 hours. Talk about skilled!}

4. No matter when you ask the grape boss or harvest master (or whatever you call the person in charge) how much longer to go, they will always reply—“Just one more bin to go. Keep picking!”

5. Cutting off the finger of a person on the opposite side of the vine from you is considered to be very bad form. Not to mention life altering for the other person.

6. I am very much like the Pinot Grape itself: fair, thin-skinned and weather sensitive. With the sun directly overhead, I was close to slipping into a grape induced coma and ready to be crushed.

I think my six hours of grape harvest experience may just last me a lifetime.
Thank you to the "20-30" boys and Dr. Dave for all the fun. Really, Thank you.



This is Domonic. He seemed to be the one everyone loved to rag on and generally disparage the most. But hey, that’s what friends are for.


The cutest little wine baby ever made an appearance.


Dr. Dave and his laundry basket bustin' a move on the vines.

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