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Wine with Natasha – The Choice

Wine juice delivery. Four men stand on or near a trailer loaded down with 55 gallon drums of wine grape juice and lug boxes containing wine grapes. The foreground is buckets and scales and things to divide the juice among a number of people.

I’m really feeling the maxim, “if you snooze, you lose” right now. I had been a little hesitant to launch this project, and when I finally decided to just commit…

The grapes I wanted were sold out.

I had to scramble to decide what to go with, as I didn’t really have a second choice lined up. I had been thinking an easy, fruity red for the project and Tom had suggested Lemberger for such a wine. Unfortunately, the Lemberger sold out while I was debating myself. None of the other grapes we had available seemed quite so approachable for a near-total beginner.

So, I went a totally different direction. I looked at our grape juices, and contemplated the possible white wines I could make. I have seriously enjoyed Gewürztraminer since I was introduced to it last year, and there’s nothing more delightful than a rosé* on the patio on a hot summer day. But Riesling can be delicious and is one of the latest grapes to ripen, which would give me more time to dive in and learn tons before I ever have to get sticky.

The Choice

In the end the crisp fruity notes of Sauvignon Blanc won out. It’s absolutely one of my favorite white wines; I’ve loved it from just about every region it’s grown. So why NOT try my hand at it?

I have to admit, I am a bit nervous. I don’t want to totally screw up something I like. But, unlike the Lemberger, I have had Sauvignon Blanc before, so the upside is that I’ll have a much better sense of how well I managed to make my wine.

Thus, it’s decided. I’m making Sauvignon Blanc and I’ll post about it here. Chip, who commented on the last post, is joining me.

Now, given agriculture (and my lack of wine grape knowledge), the Sauvignon Blanc grapes ripened and the juice arrived far before I expected. And due to a variety of other factors, I’m just now getting to share this announcement.

So, two things. First, within the next week, I’ll write up what is up with my Sauvignon Blanc and what yeast Chip and I used, and such like.

Second, since part of the goal here was to invite folks to ferment along with me, I thought I’d ask if anyone else would like to join in with different juice or grapes? I am considering making some of that Riesling, since I do enjoy it and it IS a late ripener. I’m *also* considering making Barbera, which I have never had before but will likely hit the same notes I was looking for when considering the Lemberger.

Both grapes should ripen in early October, so we have a little bit of time to decide. If you are interested in joining me, comment on this post, or on one of our social media channels, by October 1st 2020. But, since this is agriculture and the grapes dictate everything, please know that sooner is better for such a commitment. I could get unlucky again and have the grapes ripen faster than expected.

If someone does wish to make Riesling and/or Barbera with me, I’ll absolutely do some of the wine they are interested in fermenting. If not, I may or may not make more wine, but I won’t write up anything beyond the Sauvignon Blanc if I do decide to make something else.

No matter what, it’s bound to be interesting.

 

*Ok, technically not a white wine, but we’re selling it as juice, so that’s where it’s categorized.

 

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Wine with Natasha – Prologue

A bright & sunny vineyard with ripe red wine grapes. Under the grapes there is text saying "Learning Wine Season 2020."

Introduction

It’s wine time and I work in one of the world’s most amazing wine supply shops in one of the world’s most amazing wine regions. I enjoy wine. So, reasonably, people think I have extensive knowledge of making wine. They assume I make great wine. And they are, sadly, not totally correct. I’ve only attempted to make wine once so far, and I am not confident that wine will be good, much less great. 

I don’t really know how to make wine. Yet.

Last Year

My only experience making wine came last year, when I lucked into enough grapes to make about three gallons of a Malbec and Cabernet Franc blend. I carefully punched down the skins twice a day for ten days, then racked it into a three-gallon glass carboy, and then sat back to wait for the next step. I was pretty sure the next step was malolactic fermentation (“MLF”), but I didn’t know for sure and I didn’t know when to start it if that was the next step.

Then my life got rather topsy-turvy, and in all honesty I didn’t think about that wine again until about January of this year. And our expert, Tom, told me to rack it into a new carboy, sulfite it  and not expect too much. I followed his directions, and (as one always should) I sampled the wine as I moved it.

It isn’t vinegar*. I think that’s the best thing I can say about what I made. I currently have not quite three gallons of flabby, insipid, alcoholic grape juice. Some of this, undoubtedly, is that Cabernet blends require a substantial amount of aging**. But no doubt some is the result of my forgetting the wine for months. (I still haven’t managed the MLF.) Finally, I also think some of that is that I didn’t so much choose a yeast basically because the person who gave me a few grapes shrugged and said, “Use this one,” handed it to me, and wandered off. (I used Red Star Premier Classique.)

Three wine glasses on a stark white backround. The middle is on its side and has red wine gently lying in the bowl of the glass. It is not spilled. The image says "Goals!" in handwriting.

This Year

This year, I’m going to do it differently. This year, I’m going to do it intentionally. This year, I’m doing some research (mostly picking Tom’s brain and reading the things he writes and our copies, new and old, of Wine Maker Magazine) before I buy grapes or juice. Then more research as I work and things ferment. (Tom will be fielding questions from me for months, and I’ll be reading Wine Maker Magazine or the various books we carry) And this year, I’ll document the technique(s) here on the F.H.S. blog. Hopefully this year will be a great deal better.

But I’ll be learning publicly, and so any successes or trip-ups will be documented here.

Socially Distant Together?

I’ll announce the grapes I’m buying next week. I’ll post If anyone wants to do a ferment-a-long, comment here. Anyone who wants to do so is welcome, newbies and experts alike. And it’d be fun, I think, to hear how others’ fermenting is going. Maybe we can build a little wine community and stay safely socially distant. (Thanks 2020.)

Join or not, I hope you’ll follow along. If you have comments, feel free to share them. Or let us know your thoughts on FacebookInstagram, or Twitter.

*This is of extra concern for me because my favorite thing to make is actually vinegar.

**I did not know this when I started this project.

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Why Does Cork Stain?

Three used wine corks side by side. The right cork is clean, the middle cork is highly stained with red wine, and the third cork has no staining and has markings from a commerical winery.

Welcome to a new series, “Tom Talks Wine.” Last month we introduced Tom, who has been making wine for 50 years! Figuring all that time has to lead to some useful knowledge, we have wrangled him into a once a month column on wine. He starts with a question about cork stains and corking.

Dear Tom,

Over my life I’ve been lucky enough to befriend many home winemakers. This has resulted, of course, in my receiving numerous bottles at various points. I have begun to wonder about the process from grape to glass. Enough that I’ve started my first batch of red wine myself.

As it’s getting on to bottling time, I have been noticing that some corks in homemade wine look soaked through and some do not. Since I never see it in commercial wine, I’m assuming this is one of those things that homemakers do “wrong” somehow. I’ve attached a photo to show what I mean.

What’s going on to cause these stains, and how can I avoid them when I bottle?

Thanks!

Wondering about Winemaking in Washington

Hi Wondering,

You are correct. Something the winemaker did at home caused this. I have a few ideas of what probably happened, but first a little cork history.

Cork is the spongy bark of certain oak trees (typically Quercus suber) that are twenty-five years old or more. Q. suber does not take well to cultivation so the plains of Portugal, the largest producer of cork, are not covered with tidy rows of cork trees like a palm oil plantation. They are haphazard and therefore production is limited. Demand for cork is not. Almost everyone making wine wants cork. The screw cap is gaining in popularity and may help reduce demand in the future. The best corks come from old trees whose bark is the densest and thickest with few flaws (gaps, holes, etc). These are the most sought after and expensive.

Home wine makers rarely get the best corks simply because we don’t want to pay for the best corks. So we use corks with a lot of flaws. We can also be sloppy about how we fill and treat our wines at bottling. Overfilling (less than an inch of wine below the cork) can result in barometric pressure pushing the wine out. Not letting the bottle rest upright for at least 24 (but 48 hours is better) after bottling is also important, as it lets the air pressure within the bottle equalize with the air outside. This rest period also allows the surface of the cork to dry, which prevents wicking of the wine through a wet cork.

Thus, the answer to your question is three-fold. The bottle of wine was overfilled and the compressed air inside was not allowed to equalize, pushing the wine through the cork. Further, the freshly inserted cork did not get sufficient time to dry out before being laid on its side and wine began to wick out. Finally, the winemaker used too narrow of a cork. The less expensive hand corkers do not handle the larger corks very well.  The wider the cork and the less flaws the less wicking and tighter the fit.

Notice how many gaps, slits and holes are in the stained cork. The other two do not show these faults. All too often bottling a wine is the last thing home winemakers do and it’s where they decide to be tight with their money. Quality corks cost.  Even commercial wineries spend as much as $1.00 – $1.50 for a single cork.  If this cost is too high for the home winemaker there will always be some risk of leaking or even wine loss.

Tom

Have a wine question for Tom? Send an email to info@fhsteinbart.com and we’ll work on wrangling him into answering it.

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From Antarctica to Portland, Rob Porton-Jones Gets It Done

What Do You Do at FH Steinbart?
I work in the Draft Department, so I work with our commercial customers as well as our general retail customers that are looking for parts, knowledge, or assistance with dispensing. I also help out in the warehouse with receiving and shipping and with general assistance around the store.

What Do You Like To Make?
I love to brew dark, malty beers. I’m a year-round-stout kind of guy. I like brewing and drinking browns, porters, stouts, dubbels, quads, as well as imperial & barrel aged beers. I brew and drink IPAs and other styles here and there, but malty and dark are definitely my go-to beers. I also enjoy drinking wine, and I started fermenting my first batch this wine season. I’ve also made kombucha, kefir, yogurt, and vinegar over the years, and in my last career as a chef, I made all sorts of pickles and fermented hot sauces.

What Do You Like Most About Your Job at FH Steinbart?
I love learning new things, and interacting with customers and my coworkers provides all sorts of opportunities to find out how different people brew and do different things, including some areas where my experience is limited, like making wine instead of just purchasing and drinking it. I also like the aspect of solving various puzzles as customers bring in items to troubleshoot or for help on figuring out how to get from X to Y in the simplest manner. It’s very satisfying when you’ve got a build that is unusual and you manage to piece together exactly what they are looking for. I also love having access to the brewing ingredients and equipment, even if I can’t brew as often as I would like these days.

How Do You Like To Spend Your Free Time?
These days, I don’t really have much free time, since I have an almost eight-month old son. Most of my free time is spent playing with and taking care of him, doing laundry, or trying to keep up on the house. But when I do have free time, I enjoy reading, listening to music, gardening, cycling, trail running, cooking, brewing, home improvement projects, playing games, hiking, and a few other things that have gone by the wayside over the years that wax and wane depending on the season and how much time I have. Come spring, I spend a lot of time getting the yard in shape, as we’ve got almost 80 different varieties of dahlias growing with an irrigated drip system I put in place, plus some vegetables and roses in the back yard.

What’s the Life Arc That Brought You To Portland/FH Steinbart?
My wife and I are part of that increasingly rare-subset of people that were both actually born and raised here in Portland. My side of the family goes back a few generations here. My first career was as a chef, and I spent 20 years working in various types of kitchens, including a couple of years cooking down at McMurdo Station, the largest science base in Antarctica. After getting married, I considered moving away from the night and weekend schedule of cooking to better match my wife’s daytime bookstore schedule, and getting tendinitis in my knife hand’s wrist was the final straw. I wanted to transition my homebrew hobby into a career, as brewing has a lot of similarities to cooking, and I get stir crazy at office-type jobs after a few months. 

I was well aware that professional brewing is a lot of hard work and not very glamorous, but that is just like the difference between working a professional kitchen hot line as opposed to the relaxation of cooking at home. And I wanted to make the transition while I was still young enough to handle the grunt work of starting at the bottom again. I finally landed an entry level position at a brewery after spending a year looking and dropping off resumes. 

That job eventually ended, as the brewery had to downsize their staffing due to costs, and I immediately applied with the Draft Department at Steinbarts. I was very familiar with the store from years of visiting as a customer for my hobby and from being one of the Draft Department’s commercial customers. I was fortunate enough to get the position, and I’ve been very happy here as one of the newer members of the Steinbart team.

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Meet Our Staff: Natasha Godard

What Do You Like To Make?
While I enjoy brewing beer and I’m looking forward to learning to make wine, my current fermentation obsession is vinegar. I had already decided to attempt beer vinegar long before I started at FHS, but this job definitely accelerated my experiments, since we sell vinegar mothers. It wasn’t too long before I’d started red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, and apple cider vinegar. Since then, I’ve been given other beverages to vinegar-ize, and those are definitely going strong too. I am most looking forward to my marionberry wine vinegar finishing up. For those who are interested and can make it into the shop, I leave samples of my red wine vinegar and my beer vinegar behind the counter.

What Do You Like Most About Your Job @ FH Steinbart?
It’s a tie between helping customers with their problem-solving, which is incredibly satisfying, or all the new knowledge that’s being crammed into my cranium just by virtue of being here. This is pretty convenient since one leads to being more effective at the other.

How Do You Like To Spend Your Free Time?
I have a number of pastimes. Some are rather seasonal. I love being outside in nice weather, for example, but the grey and rainy Portland winters drive me indoors almost completely. Luckily, things like reading can be done in both locations. I also enjoy board games, cooking, and engaging in new hobbies to see what sticks. As you can read above, vinegar stuck. I’m now eyeballing our cheese-making kits to see about that…

What’s the Life Arc That Brought You To Portland?
I grew up in New Mexico and find myself in Portland by way of D.C., Baltimore, and Chicago. I got myself a M.Sc. in Biology while I was living in D.C. and Baltimore, and landed in Chicago to continue that path. Somehow, though, I ended up a Certified Cicerone® rather than a biologist. Though, to be honest, that biology education comes in handy on a regular basis. I landed at FHS because Mark mentioned a job opening. I had brewed a little bit of beer back in Chicago, but I got out of the habit. I figured a good way to get back in the habit and learn more about brewing as I consider studying for Advanced Cicerone® was landing the job here. I had nooooo idea how correct that was, and I’m extremely glad I’m here now.