Thursday, May 3, 2007

Volunteering at Lost Canyon

I have a couple of friends who have volunteered to help out at wineries, and I always thought it would be a good way to learn something. When I was last at Lost Canyon, they asked if I would be interested in volunteering, so I said yes. They have since emailed me twice, asking for help. The first time was to help pour in the tasting room. That did not strike me as a learning experience, so I declined. The second time was to help rack the wine.
When you rack a fermenting beverage, you are simply taking the must/wine/wort/beer/cider from one container and putting it in another. You do this for a variety of reasons, the most common one being to remove it from the lees (sludge). This is a fancy way of saying that you don't want all of the dead yeast and other solids that are rotting at the bottom of your container to flavour your end product.
Other reasons could be that you want to blend the beverage, or introduce oxygen to help a stalled fermentation.
The reason that Lost Canyon was racking was for none of the above. This was the 2006 harvest, and the Pinot Noir was not the best quality in fruit that year, and the wine maker felt that the Pinot would benefit from some additional colour. The way that he decided to add colour was to swap casks with the much darker Syrah. This caused a pre-mature blending of the Syrah, but he was ok with that.
My job was to help siphon the casks into the stainless steel tanks, and then back again into the opposite casks. SG got the glamorous job of washing the casks.
There were 46 casks in total that we were working with that day, and the winemaker wanted to make sure that there were no "bad" casks getting blended with the rest, so he handed me a turkey baster and a wine glass and told me to taste them all. Good work if you can get it :-)
I was amazed that the same wine could taste so different out of different casks. Not only the toasting, but the age of the cask and the type of wood all made a difference. It's one thing to read about it, but quite another to taste two wines that are identical but for one of these variables, and have it stand out so sharply.
All in all I learned a lot. I had some fun too. It would have been nice for the Lost Canyon folks to offer a bottle to take home in appreciation for 16 hours of work (8 by me and 8 by SG) but they didn't.

The Verdict:

I would volunteer there again only if the task was different, as it would give me a chance to learn some more.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Changing habits

It's been a whole week since my last post. This is because there's been some changes in our wine habits at home.
My wife is on a diet, and I am very proud of her for sticking with it. The side effect of her diet is that we are drinking less wine. Sure, I'm not on a diet; but I don't drink alone (generally) so this translates into "Since SG is on a diet; Michael isn't drinking unless there are guests over" which translates into less wine to review here.
Our cellar is full. Now that we have moved to Alameda, we no longer have the 1000 sq foot passive cellar that we had in San Francisco that could hold a virtually unlimited amount of wine. Summer is coming. This means that we need to drink our current holdings down to the point where they will fit in our new Viking wine cellar before we make any new purchases. This means that when I do have guests over (see earlier point) and therefore get to drink some wine, that is always something we already hold, and therefore likely to be something I already talked about here, and as much as I loved the 2005 Rosenblum Heritage clones Pettite Sirah from the San Francisco Bay AVA, I do not see the need to write about it 3 times in as many months.
So this dear reader is my apologies for the week long drought of wine stuff. I'll fix that as yesterday I volunteered at Lost Canyon and helped them rack some wine and learned quite a bit in the process. I'll talk about that tomorow.