The Wine Cyclist

Wine

Ian’s Pinot Gris

by on Mar.07, 2010, under Wine

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.

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The Master of Merlot

by on Feb.19, 2010, under Wine

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.

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Mead on a Monday

by on Feb.15, 2010, under Wine

You can tell I’m really getting settled in Portland as I’ve started fermenting things again.

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…

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Windy Wine Country

by on Aug.14, 2009, under Wine

Downtown Walla Walla

Downtown Walla Walla

It’s been many miles of riding. I’m sure you’re all sick of reading about cycling and ready for me to talk about some wine. Well, you’re in luck, as I spent the last two days in the town of Walla Walla and its surrounding wine country.

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.

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Misty Mountain Tops

by on Aug.11, 2009, under Cycling, Wine

IMG_0746Wow. OK. So I know I have a lot of catching up to do. My last two posts were far from complete. I’ll see how much ground I can cover tonight before it gets too late. (This picture here is one of many I took on the side trip up to Glacier National Park, but more on that later).

As you may have gathered from the last post, I successfully survived my trip over the Continental Divide at Lemhi Pass, despite some rather insane gravel roads. The gravel actually spoiled what would have otherwise been a really nice downhill, but alas, I had to ride the brakes hard not to lose it on the dirt road there. Silly skinny road tires. This would be an awesome pass for mountain biking I think. No worries, though. I came across many other wonderful downhills.

The Bitterroots
IMG_0656The next day even, when I went over Lost Trail Pass and came down a marvelous mountain into the Bitterroot Valley, making my way up US 93. Just in case you thought Montana might be running out of beauty with all that I’ve seen on this trip, the Bitterroots do not disappoint in supplying more. Fantastic, no?

I ended up crashing for several nights with a friend of mine near Lolo, MT. In that time, I was able to go on a couple of very nice hikes in the Bitterroot Mountains (among other things, but again, more on that later), including this hike up to Bass Lake on a very treacherous and stormy Friday.

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The Beer Cyclist?

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Ithaca to Canandaigua, NY

by on May.25, 2009, under Cycling, Wine

Day 5: Zero Day in Ithaca

So my last update was during my rest day of the trip hanging out in Ithaca. Fun little town to hang out in. It was the week before graduation so there was much activity and craziness about.

The evening before (so, still Day 4, really), we had stopped in to the Alehouse for dinner. Quite the selection of burgers. I ended up trying something called the “Big Sexy” Burger; the burger is rubbed in garlic and onion, then dipped in crushed red pepper. It comes with American and cheddar cheese, mayonnaise and barbecue sauce. It was quite sizeable and quite delicious.

On Thursday (back to Day 5 now), after poking about most of the morning, I went over to The Commons to meet up with JP and his buddy George (JP is my friend in Rochester — I was crashing with him at the beginning of the trip), who were motorcycling around the region for a couple of days. We chilled and enjoyed the sunshine for a while before heading on over to the Moosewood for dinner (tasty chipotle catfish). As the evening got on, we headed up the hill to check out a few pubs there. Most notable was a stop in Stella’s for some delicious bourbon and beer.

With that, I wrapped up a lazy day in Ithaca. It was nice to get some rest, especially as I knew I had a long, hard day ahead of me.

Day 6: Ithaca to Dundee

The View of Seneca Lake while Climbing out of Watkins GlenThis day was by far the hardest day of the trip, as I was covering quite a distance (over 45 miles), and the terrain was quite hilly. No climbs as impressive as the climb up to the national forest, but many long hills that still wear quite a bit. I wanted to stop in at Watkins Glen State Park, so I spent the morning crossing the very hilly stretch from the south end of Cayuga Lake to the south end of Seneca Lake. The downhill into Watkins Glen was pretty impressive, but I knew I would have to pay for it later with the climb out of Watkins Glen on the other side.

The gorge at Watkins Glen was phenomenally beautiful. So naturally, I took many pictures.

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Geneva to Ithaca, NY

by on May.21, 2009, under Cycling, Wine

It’s been a few days, and we have some catching up to do.

Day 2: Geneva to the Finger Lakes National Forest

Vines on Seneca LakeBefore departing Geneva on bike, JH, my wonderful host in Geneva, drove me around to a couple of the wineries in his area. We stopped in for a late morning tasting at Fox Run Vineyards and Anthony Road Vineyards. This is the part of the trip where I regret not having the hauling capacity for some bottles of wine (can you imagine how shaken up and sun-scorched they’d get strapped to the back of my bike for a week?), but at least I’m able to try these tasty beverages.

Fox Run had some delicious rieslings and gewurztraminers of both the dry and off-dry varieties. Their whites were nicely balanced on the whole. The complexity of their cabernet franc really wowed me, but the winner of the tasting in my opinion was the reserve cabernet franc. The reserve CF had a pleasant spice both on the nose and on the palate. It’s smokey, finely structured finish with just the right amount of oak and tannin is what sold me the most on it. Definitely one to remember.

We also sampled the Fox Run tawny port, which I’m told is made primarily in an Australian port style as opposed to a traditional one (but the host at the winery was unable to elaborate on the meaning of that, so I’m still at a bit of a loss myself). It had the right amount of sweetness and a pleasant nutty note to it, but for whatever reason, there was a fairly intense alcohol/medicinal burn to it that kind of put me off.

Moseying on a bit further down route 14, we stopped in at Anthony Road. There we were able to sample the 2005 Tierce dry riesling (a joint effort between Fox Run, Anthony Road, and one other winery that eludes my memory at the moment). I enjoyed this quite a bit. It had a strong mineral/flinty component to it that was balanced out with some good passion fruit notes and a crisp acidity. The Anthony Road Devonian Red (blend of cab franc, pinot noir, and lemberger) also quite surprised me with it’s almost bourbon-esque vanilla nose and clove spice flavor, especially given it’s $10 price point.

So, with the first two wineries of the tour under my belt, I set off on my bike from Geneva around to the east side of Seneca Lake and on down I went. I passed a few wineries along the way that I thought about stopping in at (the picture above is near Ventosa Vineyards, I believe), but with my late start on the day and the many miles I had yet to go, I limited myself to one stop in at Lamoreaux Landing.

Lake view at Lamoreaux LandingAt Lamoreaux I mostly sampled their whites, pairing the reserve riesling against the red oak riesling and the dry gewurztraminer against the semi-dry. The reserve riesling had a nice pomaceous crispness and a pleasant minerality. It seemed much more dignified than the red oak riesling, which comes from younger vines. The red oak riesling had a more intense floral nose, and more of a tropical fruit thing going on. Both of the gewurztraminers had a good nose of lychee and rose petal, as well as some good baking spice on the finish. The semi-dry had a fuller body to it, owing to the extra sugar, while the dry felt a little more balanced with its fruit notes on the palate.

I also sampled the reserve cabernet franc, which was a beefy, full, rich, red wine that I could see going really well with game meats and barbecue. Dark chocolate and dark fruit on the nose paved the way for some nice dark cherry and baking spice notes on the palate. It finished off with subtle oak and tannins that rounded the whole thing out nicely.

Camping in the Finger Lakes National ForestThe afternoon was getting on, so it was time to figure out where to sleep. I figured I’d head up to the national forest and set up a tent for the night (I love national forests). It was a beast of a climb getting up there, though. I rode up Ball Diamond Rd from route 414 into the forest and it was an intense climb. It was a three mile long stretch that gained probably 1,500 feet of elevation from the lake’s shore to the forest. I was ready for some rest after that haul. I walked the bike about a mile down the trail and found a nice patch of land for the tent. I was out by nightfall.

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Towpath on a Tuesday

by on May.05, 2009, under Cycling, Wine

Towpath Trail SignOne of the nice things about being unemployed is the ability to do things like bike along the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail on a Tuesday, when it is much less crowded than it is on a Saturday or a Sunday. It’s about three miles from the house to the Harvard Ave trail crossing, making it extremely accessible by bike. From there it’s a mere 19 miles to Peninsula, OH. Some good distance was put in today, totaling about 44 miles in all.

Looking down the trailThe Towpath Trail is really a wonderful stretch of cycling in northeast Ohio, running from Cleveland all the way down to Akron and a little further still, in fact. The stretch from Brecksville to Peninsula and through the rest of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park is fantastic, with some nice riverfront views and no shortage of gorgeous foliage, especially now that it’s properly spring around here and everything has started blooming.

Peggy and I set out shortly after 10am, having finished a nicely sized breakfast of bacon and eggs. Early on in a ride I like to push hard to really get the blood going and see how quickly I can get to the “endorphin-rush” stage of things. After that I tend to mellow out. So, I took a significantly lead early on the ride, but around Rockside Rd, I relaxed a bit and let Peggy set a leisurely pace on down to Peninsula. We stopped for a quick snack of granola bars and apples while I picked up a couple things for my bike at Century Cycles in Peninsula. Rested and restocked we turned around and headed back towards Cleveland.

Papillon Pinot NoirIt was a bit of a struggle towards the end; it’s been several months since I’ve done this many miles in a day, and there’s a decent-sized hill at the end just before we get home. We arrived to a nice potful of lentil and beef chili that was cooked up the night before. Two bowlfuls of that barely sated my voracious hunger, but it was delicious, and followed by a hot shower, we were ready to get on with the evening.

We moseyed on over to Visible Voice Books to enjoy a bottle of wine on their patio (it’s a bookstore with a wine bar — how cool is that?) and poke around a few books. The nice thing about the bottle of Papillon pinot noir we had (from Cherry Hill Vineyards), is that while it goes very well with food, it is at it’s best enjoyed outside on a warm evening. It’s not two-thirds as expensive as Cherry Hill’s main label pinot, but is almost as good, making it a much better deal. What better way to celebrate a nice, long ride than with a bottle of delicious wine on a beautiful May evening?

I’ve got some more pictures of the ride today if you just click on through.
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On Bicycling and Wine: An Introduction

by on May.01, 2009, under Cycling, Philosophy, Wine

It’s a rainy first of May here in Cleveland, but that does not dissuade me from putting in the miles. 9 miles to work and 9 miles back. It’s not exactly distance, but thanks to the many traffic lights on the route, there is no shortage of starting and stopping. Nothing gets your calves in shape like accelerating from a stop to full speed every 1000 feet or so. Waiting for me when I get home are a delicious dinner and a nice bottle of wine to accompany it. Through all the struggles and the hassles, being able to ride my two wheels home to appreciate the pleasures of some succulent vino makes it all worthwhile.

If you’re curious about the details of what’s going on here, I’d encourage you to look at the “About” page, which breaks down the plan for this here website. I’m here right now instead to just give you a warm welcome and introduce myself. I am the Wine Cyclist, but I’ve been known to answer to “Jim” at times as well. I’m here to bike a lot, enjoy wine a lot, and tell you all about it (along the way, I may very well wax philosophical and discuss my musical inclinations as well).

This is more than merely a presentation, however; this is a dialogue. Participation in the conversation is strongly encouraged.

Over the next several days, I will be continuing the introduction and taking lots of pictures of the process of equipping both myself and my bike for the coming tours. The action really gets rolling in about two weeks when I take off for the Finger Lakes to roll on some hills and visit some wineries.

Woo! I’m excited! Are you excited? Let’s get this ride a’rollin’…

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