July 28, 2010

Vincent futures offer is out

It's been great to see several élevage readers let me know over time that they wanted to get on my now official winery mailing list. This morning I sent out the first offering of our 2009 Vincent wines to the list. This is a futures offering for wines to be released this fall.

If you're interested but not already on our list, sign up here.

If not, no worries. This site is connected to our Vincent Wine Company winery but distinct. I'm still a wine geek who wants to write about wine. I'll periodically let you know about official stuff, but mostly this is here for geeking out.

July 20, 2010

Nocino Sunday

This past Sunday I took the opportunity to make two gallon jugs of nocino. What's that? Nocino (no-CHEE-no) is a green walnut liqueur common to Italy and southern France. It's traditionally made at the end of June, when walnuts are still immature and easy to quarter. It's a late year here in the northern Willamette Valley, so the walnuts weren't ready at the usual time.

My friend and wine conspirator Anne Hubatch of Helioterra Wines and her husband Robert host a terrific nocino party at the end of each June. Last year, the event was written up in Portland's Mix Magazine complete with pictures of the whole affair, a basic recipe for nocino that I followed and notes about various attendees who do different things to produce their own unique liqueur. Even if you don't read the rest of this point, check out that article.

Nocino is simple and fun to make. I walked down the block and asked a neighbor who has a terrific old walnut in his front yard if I could harvest some nuts. He said sure, so I got my ladder and tree trimmer/lopper and went to work selecting the best ones I could find. No squirrel bites, minimal spots, like that. For two batches I needed sixty and it didn't take long to get those.

Then I came home and washed the walnuts in a colander. They should look like small limes, and you cut them husk and all into quarters to put into a gallon jug. I tested one out before harvest all the nuts and I noticed the cut edges browned quickly. I made a point to put the liquids into the jug before the cut up nuts so that they wouldn't oxidize before being part of the mixture. I'd read that the walnuts will stain your hands fiercely, so I wore gloves while cutting.

So what all goes into nocino? As you can see, white wine, everclear, lemon zest, cloves, cinnamon sticks and sugar. And walnuts, of course. However, on Anne's advice I substituted half of the everclear with vodka. We had some old Russian vodka in the freezer. Apparently quality of alcohol isn't a big deal, so I took the opportunity to buy the cheapest plastic bottle of vodka to supplement what I had.

Ok, into the gallon jugs went all the liquids and I began cutting up the walnuts, shoving them through the bottle neck and into the liquid. That took a bit of time because I was making two batches, the only difference being the amount of sugar I added. Some people say that nocino recipes often suggest too much sugar. What can I say? I have a sweet tooth and I'm not at all opposed to sweeter dessert wines like Aussie muscats and sweet Malmsey, provided of course there's balance. In this case, the tannin from the walnuts and the spices add some balancing bitterness, but who knows how this will turn out? So I made one batch with quite a bit of sugar, 1 kilo, and another batch with just 500g. Some people sweeten their nocino to taste at bottling, but I'm guessing it's better to do it all up front. We'll see what we get.

You see, the key with nocino, like Banyuls or Madeira, is that you intentionally oxidize the crap out of everything by leaving the not quite full jugs out in the sunlight and heat of summer for months. That process essentially caramelizes things, turning what might now seem like a bitter, green beverage into a deep brown, gingerbread and wonderful Christmas cake in a glass elixer. Come the fall, I'll strain the liquid into small bottles that will be ready to drink come the holidays but improve for a few years or more, if you can keep your hands off it. That's also what I made two batches, so I have some to give away, some to enjoy soon, and some to enjoy further on down the road. Based on the various vintages of nocino I've tasted from what Anne and Robert call their "cabinet of joy," I'm more than a little excited about how all this turns out.

July 14, 2010

Reflecting on Evesham Wood

I was shocked but not necessarily surprised to read the news today of the sale Evesham Wood in Salem, OR. Russ and Mary Raney are headed to an early retirement, and Erin Nuccio and his wife Jordan of the Haden Fig label, made at Evesham Wood, are buying the property, including the house and winery and inventory. Russ will apparently stay on in a consulting role but the Raney's focus seems on changing the pace of life, including spending a few months each year in France. Man does that sound sweet. Russ and Mary have worked hard for years. They deserve this.

For me, this change marks a sweet passage of my own journey in wine and life. I've probably written about this before, but Evesham Wood was where I got my lucky start in Oregon winemaking. I had long enjoyed Evesham Wood Pinot noir, their fragrance, their subtlty and finesse. After a serious come-to-Jesus moment in my life late in 2004, I knew I had to get serious about my own interest in winemaking. I had to work harvest. I had to find somewhere that would ground me in the right way to make Oregon Pinot. I had to somehow convince Russ Raney that a lightly experienced stranger should help him out with the 2005 harvest.

Along came an ice-storm in the winter of '05. I was trapped at home. From the televised shots of empty freeways all over the northern Willamette Valley, I figured maybe Russ Raney was trapped at home too. So I called, and sure enough he picked up. I gently plead my case, he said I might be in luck because some Germans who were lined up to work harvest might have to back out. Sure enough, I got the nod.

That fall my term was fairly brief, only about four weeks, but I learned a ton, about what to do but especially what not to do. Russ didn't fuss too much with things. He was remarkably calm even as the weather turned from beautiful to torrential rain. Our methods in the small cellar were simple, if labor intensive. Grapes in small yellow tubs (FYBs) tossed by hand onto the sorting line, or pitchforked by hand from larger picking bins. The old Willmes press hand loaded with buckets. Meals were upstairs in the dining room of the family home. The fridge covered in their child's art or the lector schedule for church. Out in the shed were bins of unlabeled bottles, France style, labeled as necessary when orders came in. Perhaps the only fancy thing I saw was a European tractor that I figured would get laughs at a grain farmers' meeting, like an Alfa next to rows of king cab pick ups trucks.

My first day was in August, weeks before harvest, essentially a try out to see if I was going to work out. We were racking barrels for the 2004 Willamette Valley Pinot and at the end of the day Russ went out to the shed and got a bottle of 1999 Evesham Wood Pinot Noir Seven Springs Vineyard, perhaps my favorite site in all of Oregon Pinot and from that moment a special bottle for me, something I'd drink at some special time to be determined.

So what does that picture up top have to do with any of this? That's me and my late father, two words that still hurt to write and probably always will. My dad loved wine and though he always said he never had that great a palate for the "good stuff," he liked my interest in wine and winemaking and always remarked how he drank well whenever he and mom would come to town. I think of dinners here at home with Evesham Wood wine, and one particuarly nice evening at Castagna with a couple of bottles of '02 Evesham Wood Pinot Noir Le Puits Sec, the estate vineyard bottling.

And the evening of this picture from 2008, my 39th birthday and the 39th anniversay of my dad's 39th birthday. We are the Once de Mayo gang, both born on Mother's Day, May 11, he in 1930, me in 1969. Dad always joked that he gave me his birthday, a la Steve Allen, so that he always turned "39 again this year" all those years of my life. As the calendar would have it, Mother's Day again fell on May 11 in 2008, my 39th, the day I'd finally catch up to him. Sadly, we'd received the awful news about cancer a month prior, but he and mom made the trip to Portland as planned. My eldest brother even flew up just for this evening, to celebrate birthdays and Mother's Day with us all. We went to Nostrana and out came that bottle of 1999 Evesham Wood Pinot Noir Seven Springs Vineyard. What a better and more appropriate time to drink it, and damn it was good, so good like that whole weekend and all those memories.

Those smiles we share in the photo suggest many things, but one of them was certainly satisfaction with Russ and Mary Raney's work, in the year of 1999 and all the years they've grown grapes and made wine here in Oregon. Thanks to them both. My life and memories wouldn't be nearly as rich without them and Evesham Wood.

July 09, 2010

Continuing adventures...

My head's spinning from everything that's going on in my wine world these days. I have a page long to do list for Vincent Wine Company tasks that's a little intimidating in scope but kind of cool because this is exactly what I want to be spending time on. Pardon me as I process out loud, so to speak.

First and least fun, I got through all the licensing paperwork for the city of Portland, the state of Oregon and the feds. Now I'm renewing my LLC, filing quarterly payroll reports even though I have no payroll, and dealing with something that came in the mail about monthly tax of some kind or another. I'll figure that one out soon enough. Don't get into making and selling wine if you think it's all fun. In some weird way, I'm still enjoying anything that's contributing to moving forward in this project. That will fade I'm sure, but for now it's all good.

Really, my issues start with bottling the 2009 wines later this summer. We're designing labels, which are done but I'm still waiting for web ready jpegs to share with you all. Then there are the printer bids for the labels, the bottle suppliers, cork suppliers, capsule suppliers, the data for the labels themselves, and plans to do final blends for the two bottlings I'm planning. Most of the 2009 wine will be an Eola-Amity Hills AVA blend of Pinot Noir, with a single barrel of Zenith Vineyard Pinot Noir serving as the "reserve" level wine. I'll do a blending trial with friends next week to taste through all the barrels critically and really see what we have. I don't expect any surprises, but it's still a good exercise to go through. Then we'll blend, run the final alcohols and pH for the wines and see how the sulfur dioxide levels are. By the end of August everything will be in barrel.

People always say it's a lot easier to make wine than sell it. So I also have a ton of things to do to get the word out about these wines. We're working on a banner graphic for a new website for Vincent Wine Company, which I'll announce as soon as I can. That banner will also go into an email template, which we'll use to send out a futures offering on the 2009s later this month. Get on the email list to get in on the special pricing with that offer. Email me at vincentwines[at]gmail[dot]com. I'll also be setting up a Facebook page with that banner graphic, so once we have the banner (soon, right?), lots will be happening. For email, we'll use MailChimp, which seems pretty low key and downright cheap.

But enough about 2009, that's so last year. What about 2010? There's weather to worry about, winemaking supplies to get and harvest plans to make. Oh my gosh, the weather's been crazy this year. We had a very early start to the growing season with mild winter weather and budbreak at the end of March into early April. That's a couple weeks early or more. Then spring, one of the coldest and wettest on record. From two weeks early, we're now maybe three weeks behind on flowering. That usually happens in mid-June. The pinot vines locally are still finishing up flowering here on July 9. With 100 days or more from flowering until harvest, we'll need nice October weather to have everything go well. No need to clear the schedule much in September. We won't be picking too early. Of course, later harvests like 2008 and 1999 can make for excellent quality. We'll need to get lucky and have the usual October rains hold off, for the most part anyway.

Still, I'm in high gear getting ready for harvest. There are barrels to buy, barrel racks to buy, fermenting bins if I can find a good deal, and whatever else I'll need for harvest. There's also the good advice to make a fermentation plan. Even if you don't plan to do to much when making your wine, it's good to map out what you think or hope will happen, so at least you know when you're totally winging it. Things can get crazy at harvest, and minds can wander. With that in mind, I find I need to get mentally ready, whatever that really means. Basically, I try to go into harvest with a clear mind and normal heart rate. There's so much you can't control and my goal is to not control things so much. So I focus more on controlling myself and seeing if the grapes can do their thing. Call that marketing bullshit if you want. It's really how I approach all this.

That's not everything, but I'll spare you the rest. Indeed, this is all great. I'm so excited about this project. It's just a little crazy, just a little bit crazy. That's the way I like it.

July 05, 2010

PDXploration on Seven of Hearts|Luminous Hills & Honest Chocolates

Just a quick post to say how much I enjoyed PDXploration's write up of Seven of Hearts|Luminous Hills as well as Honest Chocolates. Both get detailed reviews. Both get gorgeous photo collages. I've written it before, but you really need to seek out Byron and Dana at their place in Carlton. Great wines, great chocolate. Great job PDXploration as well. While you're there, check out the Olympic Provisions piece, among others. Love this blog.