Thursday, October 28, 2010

2010 Winery Crush

photo by Kristina Dunn
In the northeastern Napa Valley hills, the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes were ready to begin harvest.  These grapes are hand-picked by intense human labor.

Lately the weather has gone from beautiful sunny, warm days to cold, dreary, rainy days.  It challenged winemakers in this region.  The grapes pictured below were picked around the 14-15th of October.
photo by Kristina Dunn
Some of the most beautiful grapes the world has to offer.
photo by Kristina Dunn
The grapes in bins are emptied into the top of the de-stemmer.  The stems come out the end, and the grape berries are fed through a tube into large stainless-steel tanks.
After a couple of days, when the grapes have hit their proper sugar level (brix), the juice created by gravity weight is pumped over (~four times per day), so that the juice comes into the most possible contact with the grape skins.  This pump-over occurs for about a week, until the grapes are ready for crush.
This is a small press used for the small-lot Petit Syrah grapes, for a small batch of home-use wine.  Also, (mostly unfermented) grape juice for the family's use is pressed this way.
A photo of grapes about to get pressed for the rest of their rich juice.
Alternately, bins of grapes from the holding tanks go into the electric press.  Juice goes into a tube heading for a clean tank, like the one pictured below.
Fermentation finishes in these tanks.
Fermented grape juice from the stainless tanks, also known as wine, is eventually placed into new French oak barrels to age for two to three years in an underground cave (naturally controls temperature and humidity).

Hubby learned quite a bit about winemaking on his working vacation.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Crush Week

Headed up to Napa Valley to drop off my husband who would volunteer to work the week at a friend's winery.  We met first in the rain at Mondavi Winery to see our former neighbor (who's since moved to Texas).  Her son makes appetizers for the winery so we tasted some wine, duck spoons, and cheese with Marcona almonds.  I felt we'd come full circle, as Mondavi was the first winery we visited in Napa twelve years ago.  (above, Nickel & Nickel across Highway 29 from Mondavi)

We brought vegetable scraps, etc. for the Summit Lake chickens and ducks.  Just in time for pump-over of their 2010 Zinfandel.  It smelled so good.
My husband helped them punch down a bin of Zinfandel.  Punch-down and pump-over are ways to give the resting, fermenting wine more contact with the flavorful grape skins.
We tasted the wonderful juice, like a sweet, slightly sparkling, slightly alcoholic grape juice spritzer.  
The dreary Fall weather made for some spectacular mood lighting and a misty atmosphere.  Like our former neighbor says, "It doesn't matter the weather in Napa, it's always beautiful!"

Sunday, October 10, 2010

SCMGDC Stoutstanding in the Field

A dinner we had a year ago was the inspiration for a grand event tonight.  Outstanding in the Field is a roving dinner party held in nature with natural foods.  The dinners tend to be costly, as the price has increased dramatically over the past five years (~$200+ per person).  Several years ago, we attended two of the dinners (~$80 per person).  This year, it was cost prohibitive.  Our local gourmet dinner club decided to hold our own event featuring great food and an amazing beer pairing.  The idea was to pair many local, earth-friendly ingredients with beer.

Having done this sort of meal a year ago (see Monday, August 17, 2009 posting "Friday's Beer and Food Pairing"), the host knew it was possible.
We were greeted with four different beers to go with our bratwurst sausages, breadsticks and mustards.  SCMB Olallieberry Ale, Schneider Weiss Wheat Beer, SCMB Black IPA (one of my favorites of the evening . . . learned I prefer dark beer), and North Coast Brewing Pranqster.
Literally, we stood in a field between fruit tree orchards with young goats and a chicken coop with three-dozen egg-laying chickens.  During the main course we sat at a beautiful table inspired by the long Outstanding in the Field tables (usually in a farm field).  Naturally richly colored salmon, line-caught in Alaska (Santa Cruz's local salmon fishing wasn't possible this year); carefully prepared vegetable packets; a homegrown salad and Gruyere au gratin potatoes with leeks were served with Westmalle Trappist Tripel Ale.
Dessert was an over-the-top three courses long.  We began with the most delicious homemade apple strudel (three ladies got together to make them) featuring Dogfish Head's Midas Touch.  The second dessert was Ommegang Chocolate indulgence cupcakes with cream cheese frosting paired with Maui Brewing CoCoNut Porter.  Our final bit of sweet was a beer float:  vanilla bean ice cream with Lindeman's Framboise Lambic.  That float was divine.  I've decided to serve it as an "easy" dessert when friends come over.
The night concluded with two electrical engineers telling me about the light rigging.  Sixteen-gage zip cord was split in two, thirty light fixtures were screwed down and eleven-watt bulbs were placed every thirty inches.  This made for great market lights (which I'm told are too bright, and placed with twelve-inch spacing) around the dining area.  White Christmas lights lined the hill for our walk back to the car.
It was a magical, well-planned evening.  Two dozen of us are fortunate to have been included.  

Clinic Ole

Ad Hoc hosted a block party to benefit Napa's Clinic Ole on Saturday, October 9th.  Clinic Ole serves underserved individuals with no to low-cost healthcare and dental care.  Ad Hoc raised in excess of $10,000 for this worthy cause.

After Nathan filled our glass with a starter wine, we stood in the wood-fired pizza line (which we believed had mini lobster rolls).  The chefs made various types of pizza; the one we received was prosciutto, fig, arugula, Parmesan, ricotta and olive oil.  Fresh out of the outdoor oven, it was delicious.

As we stood in line for the main course, Chef Cruz came around with wygu beef corndogs, mini lobster rolls and fried chicken wing-ettes.  It was the first time I'd seen Chef Cruz in the person.  Rachel the bartender told my husband that the wing-ettes are made by taking chicken wings, removing the smaller of the two bones, and scraping the skin and meat to one side.  The protruding bone makes it very easy to hold onto for an appetizer.
The beef rib had a great flavor and texture.

Chef Cruz worked hard the whole event.  Later, we found him scooping caramel corn for dessert.  Chocolate crinkle and Mexican wedding cake cookies, fig tartlets with caramel sauce, and creamsicle ice cream (orange sorbet with vanilla ice cream) completed dessert.

As the night wore on, more than three bands played, including the members of the restaurant forming the group "Ad Rock."  People danced, and Nick raffled off magnums of wine.  My husband won a gift certificate for dinner for two at Bouchon (Thomas Keller's Parisian bistro down the street).
At 8:30 p.m. we took a break to walk down the street to wait for a new friend who has the French Laundry bat phone.  She's an attorney who loves to eat at the French Laundry, so the restaurant knows her well.  Luckily, she's able to obtain reservations almost any time she would like them (unlike the rest of us who have to hit redial two months to the day ahead).  The three of us walked back to the benefit party.  Chefs brought out large platters of cheese.  Nathan gave my husband enough cheese for three.

We felt fortunate to take part in the festivities for Clinic Ole.  I hope that the people who work so hard for our delicious wine continue to obtain the healthcare they need [through Clinic Ole].