Sep 212014
 
Read Part 4 of our Starting a Family Winery Series

Much to my naive surprise, learning to be a winemaker and seeking winemaking advice has turned out to be much like my first days of fatherhood and  seeking child rearing advice. Even the most artful winemakers hold deeply seeded conflicting opinions. As my friend Kurt Beitler of Bohème Wines told me, “Roger…What do you get when two winemakers are in a room together?…Four opinions.”

Learning to be a Winemaker I recall from my early days as a father asking different parents I respected about child rearing philosophies and techniques. As I found with winemaking, there was an inconsistency of heartfelt answers. Let the child bond by sleeping in bed with you. The child should learn independence by sleeping in another room. Let the child set their own schedule. If your child sets their own schedule, you’ll have an undisciplined child and you’ll get no rest…It’s all enough to leave your head spinning like the child, Regan, in the 1973 film The Exorcist.

Even though I had spent quite a bit of time reading about the art of winemaking, when the time came for decision making, I relied on a core group of respected winemaker friends who were happy to offer solid advice. I had assumed incorrectly, that since they produced wines in a similar style, their techniques would be nearly the same and I would have a simple plan to follow. I could not have been more wrong. Not only are many of their opinions deeply held, I was told that if I followed another’s advice…it could end badly. Like Regan…my head was and is still, though to a much lesser extent, spinning.

Each decision made by a winemaker ultimately affects the character and flavor of the wine to some extent. The biggest decision is when to pick your fruit because once its picked, there is no turning back. Different levels of ripeness produce different flavors and levels of alcohol. A later pick with higher sugars may provide greater richness of flavor but those same sugars are converted to an alcohol level so high that the wine can taste hot or out of balance. There are ways to manipulate the juice (adding water) or wine (using technology) to reduce alcohol, but that was not the direction we wanted to go.

Learning to be a Winemaker

Conch adding yeast to Pinot

Other decisions include what yeast to use or to just let the grapes start fermentation with the native yeasts living on the berry skin. Native yeasts can produce nuanced flavors but are risky because you never know if there is enough yeast to complete the fermentation. A stuck fermentation, as I have been told, can be a big problem. On a side note, many years ago a stuck fermentation with a Zinfandel rosé resulted in Sutter Home White Zinfandel and a new wine craze began. But since I am not looking to start a craze or cope with a stuck fermentation, we choose commercial yeasts. Commercial wine yeasts add to the wine’s flavors and mouth-feel in different ways, like spice in a pie. There are a lot to chose from and different winemakers swear by different yeast strains for the same wine variety.

Then there are also fermentation techniques to choose between. How cool a fermentation for white wines and how hot to let a red wine fermentation go. Red wines are allowed to ferment at higher temperatures to extract color and flavor from the skins. Red wines normally go through a secondary fermentation called malolactic fermentation. This converts the tart, green apple like, malic acid to the creamier lactic acid you find in cheese and milk. With white wine, the winemaker may or may not choose to introduce malolactic fermentation. Strong opinions on this abound, too. Ultimately I chose no secondary fermentation on the Sauvignon Blanc but we will put part of our Viognier through malo to soften the mouth-feel.

Learning to be a Winemaker

Roger doing Pinot Punch-Downs

So many decisions for this fledgling winemaker and there are even more I won’t bore you with, such as how many times each day to punch-down the skins of our Pinot Noir into the fermenting juice to add oxygen for fermenting yeast, improve color and flavor.

At first the decisions and choices were overwhelming like long ago with our new baby who cried for no apparent reason while I tried helplessly to offer comfort and happiness. But like any new dad, I have found my stride and learned to evaluate the helpful advice from those winemakers who have far greater experience than me. I’ve learned that with winemaking, like child rearing, there are many right answers and only a few absolutes.

In the end, I’ve begun to trust my instincts and all, with the wines, is going well. The days of my spinning winemaker exorcist head seem to have come to an end, at least for now.

Please read my other posts in this Starting a Family Winery Series

Fatherhood – The First Grapes Arrive
Awaiting Our First Harvest – When Will Her Water Break?
Starting A Family Winery – Living the Wine Stained Dream
Sep 012014
 
Read Part 3 of our Starting a Family Winery Series
“I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ babies.” (Prissy from Gone With the Wind)

And that’s how it felt when we arrived at 5:15 AM to bring in our first grapes. All that I had learned in preparation for that moment seemed to evaporate in the excitement. Much like how all the hours spent in birthing classes twenty-five years earlier were reduced in the heat of the moment to “Breathe, Honey…You can do this.”

The early morning of August 27th was crisp and clear. The sun had not yet risen and the fog was yet to flow from the coast when we arrived. Dry Creek Valley was very dark. Above the vineyard, the star-filled sky twinkled in anticipation. On the hillside across the road, crews were hand-picking grapes though all I could see was their tiny headlamps sparking amongst the trees like fireflies on a summer’s eve. A tractor droned in a distant part of the vineyard bringing in fruit for another winery who was picking ahead of us. Donna and I waited patiently until I received a text from Janice, the vineyard owner that read, “walk towards the tractor sounds” and so we did.

The First Grapes ArriveAmongst the vines we found Janice and Brian Schmidt of Tzabaco Rancho Vineyards along with Kay, Brian’s sister. Brian was perched on the blue tractor pulling a trailer with three ½ ton bins for the handpicked grapes. On the trailer’s running boards stood Janice and Kay, pulling out leaves and bad clusters, tossing them to the side. The crew of Mexican vineyard workers moved quietly and efficiently slicing clusters of Sauvignon Blanc grapes off the vines, placing them in smaller bins called lugs until the bin weighed about 40 lbs. Then they would scurry to the trailer; dump the lug and run back to pick more. Each worker is paid by the lug, so they move very quickly.

The First Grapes ArriveThe crew picked our 2300 pounds of grapes in just 30 minutes. The rows that I had been babysitting and checking religiously were soon bare. While my days are now busy in the winery, I miss the vineyard. We had selected two rows for our Sauvignon Blanc and will make about 50 cases of wine. I chose this vineyard for a couple of reasons. First, I know and respect the Schmidts as both growers and people. The family has owned and farmed the property since 1856. Check out their wonderful red wines at Estate 1856. Second, I could take a mix of the common Clone 1 and the less common Musque clone that will give the finished wine a more plush mouth-feel. Continue reading »

Aug 202014
 
Read Part 2 of our Starting a Family Winery Series

It has been a very long time since I was an expectant father…23 years to be exact. But I feel like one again as I wait for our first grapes to hit the level of ripeness we are waiting patiently to see. The weather in Sonoma this week has been almost fall-like with even a bit of rain this morning. Cool days and cooler nights may be good for slow ripening grapes; but to me it feels more like Donna’s Braxton-Hicks contractions during her last few weeks of pregnancy…is he/she coming?!…is he/she coming?!…No honey, not yet.

Awaiting Our First Harvest

Checking Pinot Noir Sugars

Winemakers often say, their most nerve racking decision is the time to pick, especially the first time they have the responsibility for that decision. An emotion I now fully grasp. Once the crews have moved through the vineyard with their lightning fast shears, the vintage is set and the wine will be what it will be. Should I have picked sooner…or later?…too late now, to second guess. Our premise of hand-made, terroir-driven wines will mean minimal manipulation allowing the vineyard and vintage to speak for themselves. Every decision, for good or bad, will make it into the bottle. We hope you will enjoy and appreciate the bottled art we will create. The last week has been a busy one as we prepare for our first harvest and much like a first-time father I am, no doubt, overly zealous. During the week, I have visited all three of our vineyards, looking at grape clusters and testing sugars with my new refractometer. Looking through the eyepiece is something akin to looking into the future. For those who may read this and are experienced in the vineyard, I know it sounds silly..aah it’s all new to me. I spoke to a few winemaker friends, getting more advice. We discussed picking sugars, seed ripeness, grape acidity, fermentation temperatures, yeast strains and more. Once again, I have to comment on how open and helpful everyone has been. The most common response I’ve gotten from winemakers when I ask my first question is a laugh, followed by “I wondered when the winemaking bug would bite you.” Continue reading »

Aug 132014
 
Have you ever dreamed of starting a family winery? Follow us as we embark on our wine-stained adventure.

When dreaming big dreams, have you wondered if the reality of living the dream would live up to the expectations of the dreamer. I am about to find out and it is a little scary. My father loved small WWII vintage aircraft. Much as he wanted to pilot, he remained always a passenger, until the day he passed in a mid-air collision of two of his beloved planes.

After the funeral I wondered aloud why my dad had never taken flying lessons so he could experience flight from the pilot’s seat. My mother responded by saying she thought it was because he was afraid the reality of being a pilot could never live up to his dream of being a pilot. He didn’t want to face that possible disappointment after a lifetime of anticipation. I don’t think my father was alone in that fear.

I’ve had a dream for much of my life that took a passenger seat to running a business, raising a family and other less engaging hobbies. My dream started in 1983 on a rainy November afternoon when my wife, Donna, I and two friends pulled into the parking lot of the then fledgling Caymus Vineyards in Napa Valley.

Roger & Charlie Wagner - circa 1983

Roger & Charlie Wagner – circa 1983

We were met by the senior co-founder, Charlie Wagner. It was apparent on that wet chilly day that Mr. Wagner really didn’t want to do a tasting for us. But instead of just sending us on our way, he challenged my group of aspiring wine enthusiasts to tour his post-harvest leafless vineyard in the cold mud and muck. We gladly took him up on the challenge even though I knew my loafers would never recover from the assault by vineyard mud.

What was supposed to be a quick tour and tasting turned into a four-hour lesson on the art, science and agriculture of winemaking. I was hooked. Still today in my office hangs a photo of a smiling Charlie Wagner in his paid shirt and me in my tweed jacket and soiled loafers, after enjoying Caymus Cabernet around the Wagner family dining room in their small farm-house that now serves as winery offices. Continue reading »

Aug 122014
 

A few weeks ago a fellow blogger suggested we stop by and meet 5th generation winemaker, Ryan Kunde of DRNK Wines at his little winery, hidden off a dirt road in the Pinot Noir centric Russian River Valley. The wines were fantastic and the one on one tasting with Ryan in his winery cave is not to be missed. Read More Here. This is a young man with a famous wine surname who is about to make a big name for himself. Meet Ryan Kunde…

DRNK Wine

Ryan Kunde

Continue reading »

Jul 282014
 

Denver and Colorado Wineauxs…. Here’s a great chance to drink some great boutique California Wines while supporting two great causes…Don’t miss it!

Blanchard Family Wines and Distant Cellars Wine Release PartyBlanchard Family Wines and Distant Cellars, two of my favorite California wineries with Colorado ties, are hosting their first ever joint wine release party here in Denver. These two family-owned wineries, both located in Northern California, have owners that live and serve here in Colorado.

James Blanchard, from Blanchard Family Wines, serves as an Air Force helicopter pilot while running half of his family winery, while Drew Gaiser from Distant Cellars serves as a local Colorado Firefighter while running the Colorado arm of his family winery.

Blanchard Family Wines and Distant Cellars Wine Release PartyJames and Drew will be hosting a wine release event at the University of Denver’s Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality on August 21st from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm. Both wineries have significant charitable arms and in addition to pouring several of their top selections, will be pouring wines that support great causes and new release wines never before shared..

Blanchard Family Wines will be pouring Jessi’s Red to benefit the Jessica Redfield Scholarship Foundation, in memory of Jessica Redfield, who was killed in the Aurora theater shootings. Distant Cellars will be pouring their Tribute Red Blend, a wine dedicated to raising funds for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.

The wine tasting will be accompanied with amazing small bites from Executive Chef Michel Wahaltere of Dorchester Social Eatery and delectable tastes from Izzybelle Chocolates. Grab a glass of wine and visit exhibits from local artists Christopher Owen Nelson and Todd Perkins.

Tickets are only $15 and include a commemorative logo glass. Registration can be completed at the following link: https://boutiquewinetasting.eventbrite.com/. Wine Club members from either winery can get two free tickets by contacting their respective winery for a discount code.

Jun 302014
 

Are you searching for a personal winery experience? The old days when you met in a casual setting with the owner and/or winemaker can still be found. You just have to get off the beaten path, but not all that far. There are plenty of small boutique producers who more than willing to share their passion and wine in a small and sometimes very personal setting. This is also an opportunity to add some interesting hand-crafted wines to your collection since most are only available online or locally in Sonoma County. Here’s a few off the beaten path wineries in Sonoma we love for both the wine and personalities. Stay tuned to this list as we will add to it when we discover more fantastic and novel experiences.

Russian River Valley – Near Healdsburg, CA
Best Boutique Winery Experiences - Sonoma County

John and Diane Bucher

Bucher Vineyards John and Diane Bucher have a 38 acre sustainable vineyard of premium Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The vineyard sits next to their 360 acre organic dairy farm. While most of their grapes are sold to outstanding wineries like C. Donatiello and Willams Selyem, they hold back some of their favorite blocks of grapes to make Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and a Pinot Rose’ under the Bucher label. Expect to meet the Buchers at their home with expansive views of the Russian River Valley. You will sit with John and Diane on their patio as you sample their wines; learn about the vineyards and dairy farm. John and Diane enjoy taking their guests on a tour of the vineyards and explain their meticulous planting and clone selection concepts. This experience is like stepping back to those early hands-on days of the Sonoma wine pioneers. Appointment Required Continue reading »

Jun 132014
 

Father’s Day Wine Pairing – This article originally appeared on the award winning site; Tasty Chomps from Orlando, FL. I was honored to contribute my personal suggestions for wine pairings.

Tasty Chomps' Orlando

Father’s Day is soon approaching. If you haven’t picked out something special for good ol’ dad, don’t sweat it – we have a few recommendations to make this Father’s Day extra special. For those of you who were triumphant in braving the busy shops and malls to find that perfect gift, we’d like to remind you that no gift is perfect without wine. If you got him chocolate – get him wine! If you’re taking him out to dinner – get him wine! Is he receiving a beautiful white dress shirt? Again, get that man some wine, STAT.

After surveying a total of 81 dads across the nation and figuring out what they really want for Father’s Day, Roger Beery of Bacchus & Beery and I discussed which wines pair exquisitely with these suggestions. Continue reading »

Apr 022014
 

Last October we attended a wonderful event, Pinot on the River, on the town square in Healdsburg. It is a Pinot Noir lover’s dream, featuring over 100 of Sonoma’s best Pinot producers. As you’d expect, we tasted some amazing wine and met some outstanding winemakers.

Bucher Vineyard

John and Diane Bucher

As the afternoon crowd dwindles towards the end of the event, the buzz begins from those in the know. Some of the loudest buzz was around Bucher Vineyard, a 38 acre vineyard in the Russian River Valley, not far from Healdsburg. Single vineyard designated Bucher Vineyard Pinot Noirs have been created by some of the most renown Sonoma vintners, including Williams Selyem, Siduri Wines, Papapietro Perry, Arista, HoldredgeC. Donatiello Winery, and Thralls Family Cellars.

While I was familiar with the vineyard name and the wines made by other producers, the buzz was actually about the wines under the new Bucher Vineyard label. So we had to check them out. I must say they were indeed buzz-worthy. Just a day later we spent a few relaxing hours with John and Diane Bucher at their home on their 360 acre ranch which includes the vineyard and a 700 head organic dairy farm. Continue reading »

Mar 262014
 

“…Good company, good wine, good welcome, can make good people.” William Shakespeare, Henry VIII – 1613

“All good things must come to an end.” Geoffrey Chaucer – 1374

My emotions are today ranging from melancholy to near sadness. The Buddhist in me is reminded that attachment only causes pain. But for all my human failings, I find myself attached to what was and feeling some modicum of pain.

Tonight we will be attending a celebration of sorts, or maybe more like a wake. For tonight marks the closing of the place we thought of as our second living room, our other home and extended family, CRU Wine Bar in Park Meadows. Our Cheers Bar, if you will. Before you roll your eyes and judge, I encourage you to read on about this wonderful little wine bar that lost its lease because the mall property owner preferred to move in a high volume chain steak house. What once was interesting is now becoming another cookie-cutter experience. CRU is not the first victim as leases have come up for renewal. No doubt the little wine bar could never generate the rental revenue of the newer high volume tenants…but not all food and wine options need to cater to manic disengaged crowds when there is space for the large and intimate alike. Continue reading »