Sunday, October 12, 2008

Harvest update

At last the 2008 harvest is winding down. We await something between 1 and 13 tons of grapes, all of which will probably come in this week. The fermenting wines will continue to command our attention for some time, but life should return to some semblance of normalcy by the end of October. Faithful readers can expect more regular posting at that point.

We are very pleased to have received comments from TWO distinct readers. So nice to make a connection. We strongly encourage further comments, questions and suggestions, and we shall make every effort to respond, answer and accommodate.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, September 15, 2008

DIY--Wine by the people, of the people, and for the people

We now spend all day every day making wine, so naturally when we are home all we think about is... making wine.

We hereby encourage each of you to make some wine while you can. Don't live nearby suitable grapes? Ask your local brewery supply store if they have any to sell. Many stores by a ton or two of good grapes to divvy up amongst their customers.

It's also not too late to make a fruit wine. That's right, fruit wine. Don't be scared. It will only be sickly sweet if you make it that way. And you'll only make it that way if you want it that way.

Grapes are the perfect fruit for winemaking--their balance of acid and sugar just can't be beat. But it can be reproduced. Compared to grapes, most fruits have far more acid and far less sugar. You can compensate by adding water to dilute the acid, and sugar to boost the finished alcohol. Remember, sugar in fruit, whether winegrapes or figs, blackberries or pears, will become alcohol in the wine. It will remain as sugar in the wine only if you stop the fermentation.

It takes 12-15 pounds of grapes to make a gallon of wine. I recommend using about 4 pounds per gallon of any other fruit, bringing up the volume with water containing sufficient sugar to reach the alcohol level you desire. 22 Brix (22 grams of sugar per 100 grams of solution) will yield a wine of about 12% alcohol. Want a little more? Shoot for 24 Brix. A little less, 20 Brix. You can measure Brix directly with a hydrometer from that brewing supply store, or you can do math. I recommend ignoring the sugar content in the fruit--it won't make much difference in the final alcohol.

A gallon is 3.786 liters, which, conveniently, weighs 3,786 grams. 22 Brix is 22 grams sugar/100 grams solution, so a gallon of 22 Brix water contains 22/100 * 3786 g sugar = 833 grams of sugar. That works out to about 29 ounces. The key is that the total volume of the solution is one gallon. You are not dissolving 29 ounces of sugar in one gallon--the resulting volume would be greater than one gallon and your final Brix would be less than 22. So you weigh out the sugar and pour boiling water over it to dissolve the sugar, slowly adding water until you reach the gallon mark.

Throw in your fruit (as mashed up as possible), add some yeast if you want (you probably won't need to), and let 'er rip. In a day or two you'll notice the fermentation starting. After a week or so you'll notice that it's about done. When it really slows down, you'll want to transfer it to a container that fits it well (minimal airspace). That container should be sealed with an airlock to let CO2 out while excluding the ingress of air. A stopper and airlock will set you back less than $1 at your brewing store.

When all airlock-bubbling is done, you've got wine. Transfer the clear wine off the lees (sediment) to a airlock container (wise to continue with the airlock, just in case). At this point you can let the wine age or consume it.

Any questions? Ask away. And don't forget to tell us about your home winemaking projects!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Harvest is upon us, folks. The time of year of 12-hour days and weekend-less weeks. Don't worry, we're still drinking wine. We just have less time to share our discoveries with you.

We'll post as we can. In the meantime, poke around the site here and please let us know what you think, and what you would like to see once the harvest madness is over.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bloggergate, and what are reviews for, anyway?

We just learned of a minor hullabaloo regarding publicity for Rodney Strong's new high-end wine, Rockaway. It appears that Rodney Strong sent samples of the wine to bloggers--no, we were not among them--many of whom went on to trumpet the wine's praises in their blogs. A further, irrelevant dimension of the "scandal" is that many in the blogosphere wrote very similar reviews of the wine, probably parroting the promotional material accompanying the bottle.

Rockaway is expected to retail for about $75. As far as we can tell, Rodney Strong is attempting to create a "cult" or at least "cultish" wine through the not exactly proven techniques of generating buzz and implying scarcity.

We here at WftP do not concern ourselves with such wines. (NB: WE ARE VERY HAPPY TO RECEIVE SAMPLES.) (NB2: we have yet to receive any samples.) But why does anyone? We know full well that many very expensive wines that are not worth the glass they are bottled in. Let alone the price of the blemish-free, 2-inch cork they are invariably stoppered with. And some of course are heavenly. But really, if some vaguely anonymous souls on the web advised that the $150 bottle of Chateau X was a great wine, would you care? Wouldn't you assume that the wine would be special to someone, even if you did not know whether you shared their taste? And unless you know your blogger very well, how do you know you share their taste?

Description, we imagine. And we suppose that descriptions that impart information beyond "gobs of fruit, TNT-levels of glycerin, and soft, supple tannins with a finish that lasts into the 23rd century" are why faithful readers are such. But still.

How often do you, our faithful readers, spend that kind of money on wine? And whose advice, if anyone's do you seek out before you shell out?

We stand by our opinion that helping you find the pearl in a sea of low-priced plonk is a more valuable service, but we ask these questions in earnest. If you advise that you would like our opinions on more high-falutin' bottles, we will do our best to provide them. Of course, it will help if the samples start coming our way.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Shane Wine Cellars and a Spell preview

Shane Finley convened a great group of people Saturday at Sebastopol's West County Grill. We had not been to the Grill before, but the food was terrific, and wonderfully paired with Shane's wines. In addition to pouring the current line-up of three Syrahs and his Shane Rose (of Syrah), Shane brought 6 Rhone whites from 2001, most of which were given to him when he worked in the Northern Rhone in 2002-2003.

We started by passing around some bottles of the Shane 2007 Ma Fille Rose (of Syrah, sold out but under $20 on release) while we waited for everyone to arrive and got to know each other. We then turned to the Rhones. Our first flight consisted of two Yves Cuilleron St-Joseph Blancs, one, "Le Lombard," 100% Marsanne, and the other, "Lyseras," a 50/50 Rousanne/Marsanne blend. The third wine of the flight was a Pierre Gaillard 100% Rousanne, also from St-Joseph. The wines were beautiful. For me the pure Rousanne had the most interesting nose, but the 50/50 blend was best on the palate due to its higher acidity.

As we wound down the first flight, the first course arrived: fried squid paired with salt cod croquettes, with a great aioli. We nibbled on that as we finished the first flight, and kept nibbling through the second flight. That flight consisted of two more St-J's and a Crozes-Hermitage, all still 2001 and all Rousanne/Marsanne blends. The Crozes was Domaine Tardy. One St-J was Guigal "Lieu-Dit," and the other was Louis Cheze "Cuvee Ro-Ree." It was remarkable how different these wines were from one another, and how different the set was from the first. All were pleasant, but I found the Guigal a little harsh. The Cheze was rather oxidized but still quite tasty, while the Domaine Tardy was just amazing with the food, again because of higher acid. Ah, memory.

Plates and glasses were cleared and replaced, and Shane personally poured each of his three 2006 Syrahs: Jemrose, The Unknown and Valenti (Jemrose and Valenti sold out; all under $40 on release). We had the tough choice of pairing these with a roast leg of lamb or a Liberty duck breast. Owing to our plural existence, we were able to enjoy both choices.

We were particularly excited to try these wines because we have not tasted them since before they were bottled, and we wondered when we should open our own bottles. The verdict: not for a while. All three wines were extremely delicious now, but they are so tightly wound, dense and layered, that they promise even more down the road.

It was great going back and forth among the wines, back and forth among the lamb and duck, and then back to the wines. It makes no sense to talk of preference at this point, as all the wines are wonderful, different and still very much evolving. While all three were ripe and powerful, the varietal character was true. The Valenti was a bit of a surprise because it was at least as dark and intense as the other two, and Valenti is an Anderson Valley site. The clonal composition of the three wines is different. The Valenti is Shiraz 1, and, perhaps because that's why we detected some flavors associated more with Australia than Anderson Valley. Still, this is very much Syrah rather than Shiraz. The Valenti is also the closest to ready to drink, although we would recommend a vigorous decant to anyone opening one now.

This time when plates were cleared we got to keep our glasses. Out came some Humboldt Fog smothered in chestnut honey, and Shane brought out a treat: a not-yet-released Jemrose Vyd Viognier "Egret Pond" that he Michael are making under the Jemrose label. Dead-on, classic, textbook Viognier (no price available). Delicious and perfect with the cheese.

A plum tart completed the meal, and after wrapping up at the Grill we headed over to the new Shane digs just north of Sebastopol. There we got to taste through the 4 2007 Shane Syrahs and the 2 2007 Spell Pinots, all about a month away from bottling. Spell is Shane's new Pinot project (no pricing as yet). We first tasted the Barton Vineyard (Russian River Valley), which is a blend of Pommard and 115 clones. A 25% whole cluster fermentation, 1 new barrel out of only 2 total. The second Spell Pinot was from the Weir Vineyard in the Yorkville Highlands. Clones DRC, 2a, and Rochioli. 20% whole cluster and 2 new barrels out of 5 total.

The Spells were delicious. Although they are made a bit differently from the Kosta-Browne wines, they were similar to me in their combination of ripeness, power and restraint. These wines are layered, complex, and tasty, but are not overextracted or blowsy.

The 2007 Shane wines for their part are at least the equal of the 2006s. They will similarly need a great deal of time. The new wine in the lineup is the Villain Syrah, blended from Alder Springs and Broken Leg Vineyards, with a touch of Valenti press wine thrown in for good measure. The clones are 383, 470, 170, 99, Shiraz 1 and a splash of 877. The Villain fit very well into the lineup.

Shane's up to great stuff with his Syrahs and Pinots, not to mention the Rose. We wish him the best for the 2008 harvest, and look forward to the release of the 2007s.

Note: What a way to start the blog. These wines are delicious, and more expensive than most we'll be recommending. Nevertheless, we believe they represent great value. There's no pricing info yet on the Spells, but recall that Kosta-Browne is not outrageously priced if you can buy it at suggested retail (good luck!).

Welcome to Wines for the People

Thanks for visiting our new blog, Wines for the People. We believe that great wine should be available to everyone, so our goal here is to help you find good wines at great prices.

Expect anything from a one- or two-line review of a particular wine to an in-depth virtual visit to a winery, with notes on everything produced there. We are very open to suggestions, questions, comments, and encouragement.

Because we are in the wine industry, we are hiding behind a thin veil of anonymity so that we can freely discuss wines someone we know may have had a hand in producing. For you puzzle solvers out there, it will not be too difficult to unmask us, but please keep your triumph to yourself.

Direct queries to PWR at att dot net
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