My roommate Ian has been working in the winemaking biz for a few years now. I just helped bottle up some pretty awesome pinot gris, and then got him to go on video and talk about the wine and the process of making it.
Yesterday, I and several of my fellow Portland-area wine bloggers had the opportunity to sit down for lunch with Tom Mackey, the Director of Winemaking at St Fancis Winery & Vineyards in Sonoma. We met up at Urban Farmer in downtown Portland, and the blogging crew consisted of me, Tamara at Sip With Me!, Bernard & Eva at PortlandOregonWine.com, and Mary of Vindulge (who took the photo of Tom and me that you see here).
Throughout lunch, we sampled many delicious and nicely priced wines from St. Francis — more on that in a second — and chatted with Tom about winemaking and the wines of St. Francis. Now, there’s no doubt that Tom is incredibly knowledgeable about wines and making them; you don’t stay in the business as long as he has without becoming quite the expert. Tom’s been making wines at St. Francis for about as long as I’ve been alive (and wines at other locations before that). It’s hard for me to wrap my head around that at times.
One of the more interesting things that I learned was that sugar to alcohol conversion rates are a bit higher than I thought. It used to be that you get a conversion rate of about 55%. That means that if your grape must (also known as unfermented wine) starts out at 26% sugar (or 26 Brix), it would ferment to be about 14.3% alcohol. I thought the conversion rate was still 55%. Apparently, with the cultured yeasts in use these days, the conversion rate is closer to 62-65%. So that same 26% sugar must would ferment into a 16.5% wine. This is all assuming that you’re fermenting the wine to complete dryness, but that’s another conversation. Perhaps this is part of the reason we’re seeing so many high alcohol wines these days.
Another discussion that fascinated me was his review of the process he uses to determine when the grapes are ready to harvest. It used to be that you just measured the sugar content, and when that was high enough, the grapes were ready to go. Now, there are several factors that are examined in determining the harvest schedule (taste, of course, but not just of the grape, taste of the skin, taste of the seed, etc. and also various levels of other chemicals in the grape). All these taste factors need to be lined-up with various practical factors as well (e.g., the weather, ability of the winery to process grapes at a certain rate). It’s ever more complicated as time goes on and the art advances.
While I was in Arizona in November, I picked up about 17.5 pounds of mesquite honey. On it’s own, it’s delicious. Fermented into an alcoholic beverage, however, I’m told it’s fantastic. I set two batches a-brewin’ as you see in the picture. A larger five gallon batch (12.5# of honey) started off with a Lalvin EC-1118 yeast strain (vigourous ferment, should have no trouble completing) is on the left. A two gallon batch (5# of honey) using a Lalvin D47 yeast strain (more fruit and aroma development, and with any luck, the yeast will kick out when there’s just a touch of residual sugar left) is on the right.
My plan is as follows: once fermentation is done, I will rack the five gallon batch into two separate 2.5-gallon carboys. I’ll add some oak to one of those carboys and leave the other alone. The two gallon batch will be racked into two 1-gallon carboys. I’ll add some chili peppers to one and leave the other as is. When it’s all said and done, I may try to blend some of these back together, or just bottle them all separately. We shall see…
The close of 2009 brings also to an end my travels far and wide, and though I still have some recapping to do and pictures to post, that will all come in good time. Before we end the first month of this new year, I wanted to tell you all where I am and what I’ll be getting myself up to in the year ahead.
It’s official. I’m now a resident of the great state of Oregon and the fine city of Portland therein. With a Honda Accord full of as much stuff as I could haul, I drove across the northern states, following to a certain extent my bicycling route of the summer, but this time in the dead of winter, to my new home in the Pacific Northwest. And though most of my stuff is still in fairly disorganized piles on the floor, I couldn’t be happier about my new home.
What does being a Portlander now entail for me? Well, at the moment, it means tolerating annoyingly short days, being just over a month past the winter solstice and a hair north of the 45th parallel. I have retrieved my bicycle from it’s super secret stashing place here in Portland, a spot I left her in back at the end of August, and she is in fine riding shape, but alas the days are too short. But I do not let that get my spirits down! There may not be any riding of great distance in my immediate future, but I have many new neighborhoods to check out that are within a few miles ride. And this is good, as there is much I want to explore locally before I expand out to the rest of the region.
With the spring will come nicer weather, more hours of sunlight, and doubtless the exploration of many a Pacific Northwest wine region by bicycle. The Willamette Valley, naturally, offers many great weekend destinations for me at a fairly reasonable cycling distance. And when the opportunities arise, I hope to also spend some time in the southern parts of Oregon and in the various AVAs of Washington. Perhaps the summer will even bring some trips down into California and the myriad of wineries there.
In the meantime, having a base of operations will be nice again, as it means I get to spend some time working on musical projects, something I’ve sorely missed during 2009. It’s hard to say what shape those projects will take just yet; things are still ramping back up in that department. In the past I’ve gotten very involved in house and techno. More recently, I’ve been rediscovering my passion for jazz. The future likely lies somewhere in between. Should be an interesting year…
I like maps. I’m even a bit of a map geek. And I’m of the opinion that maps are the best way to sum up all the insanity that was 2009. So I give you, the maps of 2009:
I didn’t check these for overwhelming accuracy. It is, after all, New Year’s Eve, and I’ve got some very important drinking to do tonight. I hope your 2009 went well. I wish you all the best for 2010.
A photographic recap of the first month of my recent travels in the southwest.
Great Sand Dunes
San Juan Mountains
I think I’ve found a new tradition. One that is all manner of fun. Thanksgiving in the woods.
Failing to find a spot indoors for our Thanksgiving feast this year, we opted to put together our own little feast — one cooked up over the campfire. I really can’t take too much credit here, as my traveling companion did most of the food prep and cooking work, but hey, I payed for the food, so I get some appreciation, yeah?
It was Wednesday night we had our feast, instead of the usual Thursday, as we wanted to spend that whole day soaking in some hot springs near where we were camped out in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico. We grabbed some turkey legs from a little food co-op in Dixon the night before, but they weren’t quite thawed out by midday. So, we popped them on the manifold of my car’s engine to defrost over the remainder of the drive (some 100 miles or so).
Nicely thawed, and even slightly roasted on the manifold, the turkey legs were ready for cooking just as soon as we got a campfire going. With some sourdough bread, there was to be a most delicious stuffing (not that we could really stuff it in the turkey legs, but that matters not). And we had an assortment of other sides: mashed potatoes, asparagus and applesauce. All (excepting the applesauce) cooked over the campfire you see here.
I popped open a Dolcetto from Black Mesa Winery (Velarde, NM) to go with the feast and a feast it was. Just look at that spread. We even had the requisite leftovers for munching over the next couple of days. Actually, we only had turkey left over. The stuffing was just too delicious to leave any of it behind, and we were modest enough in cooking the portions of potatoes and asparagus that there were none left over. Of course, killing off a single bottle of wine between two people is hardly ever a challenge.
This was so much fun, that I think this is going to be my Thanksgiving tradition from now on. In the future, I will find a good spot in the forests of Oregon or Washington or somesuchwhere, invite a whole crew of people, and have a big camp-out Thanksgiving feast. More than just turkey legs, I intend to learn how to roast a whole bird in the campfire. Who’s in?
In other traveling news, we have departed the Land of Enchantment for the great state of Texas. First order of business: hike up the highest point in Texas. Here’s some video from the top of Guadalupe Peak. Enjoy…
I know, I know. I’m a lazy bum. I’ve been back from Olympic National Park for over a week now and I’m just getting around to writing the blog post. No excuses. Honestly, it’s hard to fully describe the experience. ONP has some of the most incredible scenery I’ve seen to date. So, I’m not sure what to write. I guess I’ll just spend a few paragraphs telling you what I got up to, and perhaps waxing philosophical, and then I think I’ll just throw a bunch of pictures at you (the one to the left there Mt Olympus). How does that sound?
I went in to the park the first time along the Boulder Creek Trail (near the Elwha River) on the day of the autumnal equinox. It was a fairly leisurely hike by my standards, so I spent some time that afternoon lounging about in the Boulder Creek hot springs. I do love me some hot springs. After that, I hiked my way up an incredibly scenic trail to Appleton Pass, my campsite for that first evening. From there it was back down to the Sol Duc River, up to Deer Lake for another night of camping and then up over Bogachiel Peak on day three.
Along the Hoh River making my way up to Elk Lake (my third campsite), I ran into Brian and Dev (pronounced Dave), who were hiking about the same area as I the next couple of days. It’s always good to have some company, especially for some of the crazy trails that make their way up to Blue Glacier (pictured to the right) and Mt Olympus. We spent a day checking out all of that, and the next day was a long hike out through the Hoh Rain Forest. Excellent times indeed hanging out with Brian and Dev. they even gave me a ride back into Port Angeles.
From PA, I schemed out my next adventure on the Olympic Peninsula, and two days after leaving the main area of the park, I was out along the coastal wilderness of Olympic near Lake Ozette. I spent two days doing some surprisingly difficult hiking south along the coast. There were many rock outcroppings that I needed to scramble over, and of course the rocks were wet, seaweed-covered and otherwise slippery, which makes for an interesting challenge.
Now, I’m back in the civilized world for a bit, but I guarantee it shall not last. In less than a week, I’m making my way for the southwest to explore many of the national parks, monuments, and other wonders of that incredible area. The adventure continues!
As promised, pictures of Olympic National Park…
I must say, it was an excellent evening and a perfect way to wrap up my stay here in Seattle. Tonight I moseyed with some friends over to Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley for a delicious dinner and a jazz-filled evening. On the stage tonight was the McCoy Tyner Trio.
I had a hard time finding a video of just the trio by itself, but this video of the McCoy Tyner Trio appearing with Bill Frisell on guitar and Gary Bartz on alto saxophone is pretty good. At about the 2:50 mark you get almost two minutes of only the trio, so you can get a nice feel as to how well McCoy Tyner plays with Gerald Cannon on bass and Eric Kamau Gravatt on drums without anything else going on (not that I mean to dismiss the excellent performances of Bill Frisell and Gary Bartz in this piece).
McCoy Tyner is an incredible jazz pianist with an amazing career spanning over fifty years. He performed for several years around his home town of Philadelphia until John Coltrane broke away from Miles Davis’ group to form his own quartet in 1960, asking Tyner to join the new group. Since his time with the Coltrane quartet, Tyner has blazed an impressive career of performing with many of the top names in jazz, and his own name has duly earned its place at the top of the list as well.
The trio was in fine form tonight. So impressed were we that we stuck around for the second performance. It was well worth it. The dinner was excellent. The atmosphere was just right. The music was outstanding. There were incredible solos all around including stretches of lighting-fast percussion from drummer Eric Kamau Gravatt and funky rhythms from bassist Gerald Cannon. Truly amazing solos were interspersed between a mix of classics (Duke Ellington’s “In A Mellow Tone”) and newer works (Tyner’s “Suddenly”) to come together in an awe inspiring show. The only disappointment was that I could hear them whispering about the possibility of playing Mr PC, one of my favorite Coltrane tunes, but sadly, they decided not to. It’s but a minor disappointment, however. Aside from that, I’ve no other complaints.
The evening started off with some lovely appetizers, and the following for dinner (try not to drool on your keyboard):
Pan Seared Alaskan Halibut topped with cilantro pesto and served with Penn Cove Mussels, chorizo, leeks and potatoes in a white wine coriander broth.
It was everything it sounds like it was. A nice bottle of Bishop Creek Cellars pinot noir (Yamhill-Carlton District, OR) rounded out the meal and set the mood for the music to begin. And from that point on I was tapping my toes the rest of the evening.
As I said, I could not have asked for a better way to end my stay in Seattle. Tomorrow I head out, making my way to the Olympic Peninsula so that I can get back to some backpacking and enjoy some more wild terrain. I plan to make my way down the coast of Washington and Oregon over the next few weeks and possibly spend some time in the Willamette Valley as well before heading back into Portland. The updates may be sparse until I make it into Portland, but I’ll keep you all updated when I can.
Yeah, yeah… I’m a lazy bum. I’ve been hanging out in Seattle for a week and I haven’t gotten around to posting something until now. Sometimes I get distracted from such things, you know? A week was spent in the woods. It was fun. Oh, you want more detail than that, I suppose.
August 29th, I caught a ride from friends of mine in Portland out to the town of Cascade Locks, OR. That weekend there was a Pacific Crest Trail festival, with a few dozen thru-hikers and an assortment of other PCT-affiliated people. There was also beer. Tasty beer. By the keg. I met many people that evening, some of whom I even remember meeting (also known as the people I met before the kegs were tapped). The next day, after a ginormous breakfast in Cascade Locks, I crossed the Bridge of the Gods into Washington and began my walk north along the Pacific Crest Trail.
Despite being in good shape from all the cycling, it took me a while to get used to the whole backpacking thing. One uses many different muscles backpacking than you do cycling. The body as a whole also takes much greater impact. My feet, especially, were very sore from the plod-plod-plodding along, and my hips as well, from carrying the load of my pack. I worked many muscles while cycling, but since I was only really responsible for forward momentum and are not actually bearing the weight of the travel load myself, my legs didn’t take quite as much impact damage. Ibuprofen is a much closer friend to me, now.
So the first few days were relatively short (at least compared to the PCT thru-hikers, who have 4-5 months of backpacking under their belts at this point). I put in a couple 18 mile days, and a long, hard 23 mile day (that hurt), before getting used to things and settling nicely into a 20-25 mile per day habit.
The only reason I got off trail when I did was that things got very cold and rainy Labor Day Weekend, and I was camping at altitudes over 5,000 feet. I had rain gear, and some cold weather base layers, but I really wasn’t geared up for the extent of the temperature drop. I figured it was time to head coastward. So near Mt. Rainier, I moseyed my way to a road crossing and hitched my way into Seattle.
Enough talking. Here are some pictures for you…
Thank you all for the wonderful congratulatory comments on my last post. As much as I want to leave that picture up on the top page for a while, I figured I’d drop you all another post to tell you what I’ve been up to since and what I’m up to next.
I’ve been crashing with some friends of mine in Portland for about a week. For those of you who have never been, Portland is a very nice city, and I’ve only just scratched the surface with my brief time here. And yet, being back in civilization is strange. Fortunately, it’s not going to last. Tomorrow, I’m back out on the grand adventure bit. Only I’m not taking the bicycle…
The lovely red Trek FX that has served me well for 3,000 miles is taking a well-deserved break. Instead, I’ve picked myself up a backpack — a Gregory Baltoro 70 to be precise. I’ve loaded it up, and tomorrow I’m off into the woods! I’m headed over to Cascade Locks, OR for PCT Day. From there I’m walking north on the Pacific Crest Trail for a while, probably up to US 2. I know I’m encroaching on Russ Beebe‘s territory now, but I’ll try not to steal his thunder. In fact, I probably won’t be online much over the next few weeks to post updates and such, but I’ll tell you all about it… uh… you know… whenever I get back to civilization.
Hey sports fans, this is getting exciting, no? I’m almost to the coast…
Wednesday was spent in downtown Walla Walla. It’s a cool little downtown, pleasant if a bit touristy, but that’s ok. The downtown area is filled mostly with restaurants and, of course, wine tasting rooms for many of the 130 wineries in the Walla Walla area. I hit many places, but I’m just going to tell you about a few of my favorites, to keep things somewhat brief.
My first stop ended up being one of my favorites — Sapolil Cellars. Only a few of the wines were still in stock: a couple of syrahs and a chardonnay. But while the selection was limited, at least it was quite tasty. The chard was my kind of chard. It was crisp, minerally, with a nice hint of peach. Most importantly, there was no oak and no buttery flavors to it. The two syrahs were a 2006 and a 2007 from the same vineyard (Patina Vineyard). The ’06 was big, bold and rich, while the ’07 was a little softer. Both were quite tasty and had a nice balance of earth and fruit.
Hanging out in the Sapolil tasting room, I had a chance to chat for a while with Bill, the owner and winemaker. First off, he was really awesome in helping me to find a place to crash in Walla Walla that evening. But the conversation covered many different subjects including his philosophy on winemaking, and the joys he’s had bringing live music into his tasting room (a jazz trio goes really well with wine). He’s got a good laidback philosophy on winemaking — definitely of the “just let the grapes do their own thing” bent. We also spent some time discussing the massive amount of change a wine can go through while bottle-aging, even moreso than in barrel-aging in his view.
Another excellent stop in downtown Walla Walla was Sleight of Hand Cellars, just around the corner from Sapolil (the intersection of 2nd and Main is a wonderful area of winetasting, so much is located right there). Trey, the winemaker is a big music fan, so we spent as much time talking about music as we did about wine, but he certainly is making some tasty wines. The Magician, his gewurztraminer is nicely dry with a good crisp acidity and excellent fruit and floral notes. I was really impressed by the dry cab franc rose (The Magician’s Assistant). Bone dry. Very nice. Hard to find that in a rose. A hint of spiciness and some nice fruit really round out this wine.
My last stop in the downtown area was Walla Walla Village Winery. It was another very laid back tasting room with a selection of four wines. Both the riesling and the merlot were nice examples of their varietals, but my favorites were definitely the last two. The cabernet franc had an excellent balance of spicy pepper and rich fruit. The Bordello Red Bordeaux-style blend (guess what the building they’re in used to be) was very hearty and full and also nicely balanced. Definitely a great food wine.