Getting the Genie Into the Bottle

Baja wine

Uhh, my wine’s not talking to me. Is it pissed?

 

Wines in the barrel are uncannily similar to women the way they behave. One day a wine will whisper lovely suggestions under her breath. Another day she will seem brusque and irritable. Or silently withdrawn and simply won’t speak at all.

 

Guadalupe Valley wine

Coaxing a wine to express itself is similar to coaxing a shy woman to speak up!

 

My little Cinsault, ripened on a southeast facing slope is a gentle, almost tender wine aged in a neutral barrel because I suspected that heavy oak would completely overwhelm her delicate perfume. On occasion she has displayed a frisky bit of spice, but as often as not I detect soft floral notes, subdued ripe plum, pleasant acidity, and a bit of windblown vineyard. Nevertheless when I sampled from the barrel a few weeks ago my girl would not talk to me! Maybe she had a bad dream … it’s a mystery to me. But my stubborn flower had shut herself in and made her mom quite unhappy. Today is bottling day and I sampled with a little trepidation …. Voila! She speaks! She curtsied, danced a pretty little adagio and sang a charming melody. This 100% Cinsault will be my new “Soul Sister.” A dry rosé styled wine, best chilled and served on hot afternoons with summery salads or mild cheeses.

 

winemaking, mexican wine

She’s a soulful, pretty little wine!

 

I only have two cases left of my 2012 “50 Shades of Red” blend. She’s come a long way and I’m so pleased at how well integrated and balanced this wine is a year after bottling. She still has a vibrancy that I adore in young wine but is less edgy, mellower and with a luscious finish that seems to have improved with a bit of age. When blending my new vintage of 50 Shades I wanted to stay true to the original flavor profile. So she is still 50% Grenache harvested from a mature vineyard in the valley of San Vicente south of Ensenada and blended with four other varietals. This year I concocted a mélange of Syrah, Mourvédre, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo. If my 2013 “Soul Sister” is a petite ballerina, my 2013 “50 Shades of Red” is a leggy burlesque dancer with a zippy floor show … a bit on the campy side and with a few surprises! Typical of Grenache you’ll encounter fresh strawberries and hibiscus on the nose, the Syrah adds delectable spice, the Mourvédre a touch of gaminess, the Cab lends backbone and structure, the Tempranillo gives a touch of darker ripe fruit and a pleasing suppleness to the blend.

 

vino, valle de guadalupe

50 Shades of Red may hold a surprise or two for you.

 

The last wine I prepared for bottling today is my new “Tattooed Lady” a 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon which I purchased from a small winery in my neighborhood and put in a gorgeous second-use Alain Fouquet French oak barrel in the St. Emilion style. And now I’m going to tell you about a former boyfriend, lol. Back a hundred years ago or so I dated a guitar player. Guitar was his first love and his pupils would dilate with undisguised desire whenever he beheld (read: coveted) a beautiful guitar. The reason I bring this up is because I have a similar reaction whenever I get my hands on a sensational barrel. My heart palpitates and my mouth waters. So though my second-use Alain Fouquet French oak barrel in the St. Emilion style may not mean much to you, in geeky winemaker vernacular it’s just: WOW (read: Oh yeah, Baby, come to mama!) Now this wine we’re discussing is a kind of a stepdaughter because I didn’t crush the grapes myself. They were crushed about a quarter of a mile from me by friends from whom I also buy grapes. I adopted her as a baby and have “raised” her as my own (what they call elevage in fancy French wine lingo). Secretly I’ve fretted more over this stepdaughter than I have of any of my own. I didn’t have any control over her first moments as a live wine so could not easily predict how she would turn out. We’ve had our ups and downs. Mostly I’ve found her overly tannic and terse but I hoped with patience and TLC she’d relax a little and chill out. A week ago I was just not getting what I wanted from her so I decided a fining was in order. I don’t know how that sounds to you but it wasn’t a whipping, I promise. I did whip up a couple of egg whites with a pinch of salt and wine though. Fining red wine with egg whites is a traditional method of removing undesirable tannins among other things. I figured it was worth a shot. If that didn’t work I’d maybe have to sit on the bottled wine for a year or so before releasing it. A solution I can ill afford at this early stage in my winemaking career when revenue flow is critical!

 

pharrell williams happy

I’m HAPPY!

 

So if you can imagine me dancing to Pharrell William’s “Happy” song then you fully understand my elation when I sampled the wine today. My curt stepdaughter has finally stepped up to being a rather spirited debutante. Sticking with my dancing metaphors, let’s just say this smart Cabernet is a Ginger Rogers sporting some kickass ink.

 

ginger rogers, tatooed lady

Imagine a tattooed Ginger …. yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.

 

I’m quite attached to my baby girls so I get stressed at the thought of these wines being out of my hands. Nevertheless I decided this round to filter and bottle offsite. This decision is driving me a little crazy. You see, filtering wines is the norm. It’s kind of like pasteurizing milk. Proponents agree that it helps stabilize the wine, gives it a longer shelf life, and polishes the wine for aesthetic appeal. Filtered wine travels better because there’s no sediment to shake up and go turbid. Perhaps filtering lessens the chance of bottle shock, that awful malady that occurs when the molecular chains are broken and causes the wine to taste “off” for awhile. Opponents, on the other hand, argue that filtering can strip a wine of color, aroma, and other characteristics and may produce a sterile, “dead” wine. This is freaking me out. I’m fond of my quirky girls and don’t want to create cookie-cutter McBarbie doll wines, so this filtering and bottling offsite is an experiment, folks. I prefer my milk raw but it’s too early to state that I prefer my wines unfiltered. Wish me and my girls luck.

 

no barbie

I want my wines to have personality and verve!!!!

 

Thanks for tuning in. There’ll be more to come!!!!

 

Racking My Brain Over the Grape

springtime vineyard

Springtime in the wine valley is gorgeous!

 

People occasionally joke with me and ask, “How is it that you don’t drink all of your wine? How can you keep your hands off it? I couldn’t sit on that much inventory.” We have a chuckle over that but the truth is it’s my livelihood, folks. This is a sink-or-swim life choice and I prefer to learn the front crawl than to drown in my own creation. Wine Work = Hard Work. It’s not all lovely strolls in the vineyard admiring the morning dew on the fruit and leisurely afternoons sipping reserved vintages on a perfectly elegant yet rustic terraza gazing peacefully at the mountains that enclose the wine valley. I LIKE that picture a lot! But the reality for a newbie winemaker like myself is a little bit different …..

Guadalupe Valley wine

A lot of hard work went into this glass of wine

For example …. I’ve been trying to arrange to rack my barrels for months. Racking involves pumping the clear wine off the lees (sediment) which settles in the bottom of the barrel and is composed of dead yeast, dust from the vineyard, and maybe bits of bugs that were on the fruit at harvest, and who knows what else. Sounds yummy, no? Regular racking of the barrels aids in clarifying the wine, softening tannins, and may help enhance aromas, stabilize the wine and avoid off-flavors. So it’s one of those chores that simply needs to be scheduled in.

racking wine

These super cool barrel runners that Chente made were a big help during racking

My first year making wine I had six barrels that were all on the floor. Racking them was a daunting process for my newbie winemaking creds but not impossible to wrap my head around. I just needed help lifting those heavy suckers through the window of my wine room until I was able to widen the door! My second year making wine however I more than doubled production and my barrels are stacked two high. So? Well if I was only working with one or two varietals it wouldn’t pose such a problem. Or if I planned to bottle all of my wines at the same time. But nooooooo. I have both single varietal wines and blends. And I want to bottle some wines young and leave others in the barrel to age longer. If my young wine is on the bottom tier that poses a problem at bottling time.

winemaking in Mexico

Me with my first four barrels of wine in 2012

Then there’s the spectacular conundrum of blending wine! If I need half a barrel for one of my wines, what do I do with the other half? Barrels have to be kept full or the wine turns to vinegar so perhaps you are getting a glimpse of my dilemma. Both Lady in Red and 50 Shades of Red are blends. Since I plan to bottle 50 Shades as a young wine some time towards the end of April I needed to re-create and finalize that blend …  well, yesterday.

Without boring you to tears, let’s just say that both my spatial and mathematical thinking were stretched to the limits. And the absolute truth is, that if I hadn’t had my brilliant friend Chente to help me problem solve as well as do the heavy lifting …. The wines would still be on their mother-loving lees!

racking wine

I think a new pump may be in my future …..

Oh. And here’s the other fun part. My little 12 volt SureFlo pump that has two wires sticking out of it instead of a plug and has to be connected to a car battery to run, only pumps 2 gallons a minute. HAHAHAHHHAAA! I had more than 800 gallons of wine to move. Do the math, kiddos. It took us 16 + hours. Yep. And we worked solid. Our hands are black (wine has a wonderful way of staining), our backs are sore, but the babies are put to bed and let me tell you, they are some VERY good babies.

I am REALLY excited about my new dry rosé made from 100% Cinsault. It is deeply colored, with irresistible floral notes and spice. This will be my 2013 Soul Sister. Lady in Red will be a more mature and structured wine this year. The harvest was outstanding, the fruit perfect, the fermentation problem-free, and the wines are stable. I made three barrels of this Mourvédre based blend this year and hope it will eventually be my flagship wine. This year I fiddled a bit with 50 Shades of Red and added Tempranillo (which I LOVE) to this Grenache based blend, along with bits of Syrah, Mourvédre and Cabernet. I think it’s going to be a winner. Perhaps Lust, my premium Syrah, is the wine that will be the most noticeably different. The fruit I worked with this last harvest is superior in every way to 2012.  I am quite pleased with its development so far. It is loaded with juicy fruit, well-integrated tannins and spice and I believe will take on some good qualities from the barrel.

racking wine

The babies have been put back to bed!

Okay … and now we get to my unintentional blending blunder. It was around 3 am in the morning and Chente and I were working steadily, determined to get the wines racked, the barrels cleaned, the blends and barrels organized, etc. But by this time of the wee hours I was getting rummy. I had taken half a barrel of Tempranillo earlier for my 50 Shades blend and intended to top off the newly racked barrel with un-oaked Tempranillo in carboys. Oops. I was tired and didn’t read the careful label I’d attached to the tambo. So I ended up topping the barrel with Cinsault! Crap! Tempranillo is my monovarietal Bold Sister label. So apparently it’s not going to be a monovarietal this year. Oops. I thought Chente would strangle me because it meant lifting more carboys to fill the Cinsault barrel and we were dead tired. I was contrite but am curious how it will turn out. Hopefully it will be one of those happy accidents. I have a hunch I’m not the first winemaker to make a similar goof. More on that as the wines develop!

Baja wine

I’ve got wine!

I don’t have a storage facility so live with cases of finished wine in nearly every room of my house. Someday I’ll have furniture, but for now let’s just say I’m determined to learn the front crawl. Woot Woot!

mexican wine

Still life with wine ….

Thanks so much for all of your support and for taking an interest in my winemaking journey.

Big Shout-out to Robin for swinging by and helping rack our Killer Cab!

With a Little Help From my Friends

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve written about life in my wine-drenched world. The 2013 harvest and crush was stressful, exhilarating, satisfying and altogether exhausting but sweetened by the help of two amazing friends, Diana and Chente. Post-harvest had a few moments of rest and recuperation, but only a few …

#winemaking#guadalupe valley#

Diana and I refreshing ourselves during the grueling month of harvest

Last year at this time I had no wine for sale. My new beauties were all resting in their barrels and there wasn’t much for me to do but play with the dogs and explore the valley, chatting with other winemakers and developing my palette for Guadalupe Valley wines. This year, however, I have INVENTORY! I bottled what was in last year’s barrels to make room for this year’s wine and now have finished bottled wine everywhere in my house. The living room has cases stacked four high, five wide. A whole wall in my bedroom is dedicated to cases of finished wine. My hallway is lined with cases of labeled and capsuled wine that is ready to sell. Not being one to sit on my heels for long, I knew I had to get back into marketing and sales or drown in my own creation.

Thankfully I have a brilliant marketing guy on my side. Yep, you know him. He lifted heavy crates of grapes during harvest, built my front porch tasting bar with his son, Jack, and has created a style guide for Valley Girl Baja Wine that has lent polish, sophistication and a touch of glamour to my branding. London born, Chente has elevated my marketing efforts with his eye-popping graphics, attention to detail and phenomenal sense for design.

#la troika#guadalupe valley#mexico wine#

Jack and his dad, Chente, at La Troika, our favorite roach coach

Having top shelf labels and a vision of what VGBW could be is not enough in itself however. I’ve got the drive and the dedication to take my developing wine business to the next level but do I have the experience? I’m a Liberal Arts major, kids! Business? Boring! I’m pretty sloppy when it comes to accounting to be honest with you. Money comes in, money goes out. That’s my Zen approach to bookkeeping in lieu of keeping a ledger. Fortunately, without consciously intending to I managed to make friends with a retired accountant who has tons of experience with start-up companies. My buddy, Tom’s got the background to speak with authority on what makes a business strong, and a firm grasp on what keeps a business moving forward and thriving. Plus he likes wine, and though I drive him crazy with my multi-focused experiments and shotgun approach to making money, he manages to keep me on track. I fondly refer to Tom as my Business Manager, and he … well, he puts up with me!

#mule 61# rosarito mexico#

Tom and I hosting a tasting of VGBW at Mule 61, near Rosarito

However when thinking about marketing in this highly competitive economy it’s possible to be completely overwhelmed. There is so much to learn in this day and age regarding marketing via the internet for instance. I recognize how essential a cyber-presence is to nearly every aspect of my burgeoning business, from building anticipation to direct sales, from developing the mystique of VGBW to simply reaching out and keeping my friends and acquaintances in touch with new releases, new products, new events and new information! Thank goodness for my tech gal, Donna. She astonishes me with the breadth and depth of her knowledge. I try to keep up and really “get it,” and she is a terrific and very patient mentor. Other times I’m more inclined to gratefully hand over the tekkie tasks to her and let her work her magic. Though Donna is not in the foreground of the business, she is a critical genius in the background, revamping, streamlining and working out the kinks on my website as well as coaching me in search engine optimization and other goodies I need to know. I love having such a smart, savvy woman on my team!

#corazon de tierra#baja cuisine#

Donna and I had a lovely girl’s outing, including lunch at Corazon de Tierra

Speaking of smart, savvy women, I’ve got a new associate on the VGBW squad! My friend, Paula, has joined me on the winetasting tour circuit and is taking groups around Valle de Guadalupe. She’s lived in the valley for over six years so is familiar with the back roads and is completely fluent in Spanish. Her long career as a flight attendant has groomed her perfectly for working with people from all walks of life. She is well-informed, fun to be around, an immaculate professional and appreciates the passion that winemakers share, and the pleasure of introducing people to Mexican wine. The reviews and feedback I’m receiving are off the charts and I’m thrilled to have Paula on board.

#guadalupe valley# winetasting tours#

Paula is the hostess with the mostest at Valley Girl Wine Tours

Now that I’ve been getting steady inquiries off the cruise ships for winetasting tours, I’ve contracted with a wonderful Ensenada taxista. He is very serious about his work and very reliable. I’m tickled pink to be working with him. Bienvenidos, Ruben!

#winetasting tours# guadalupe valley wine tours#

Ruben with one of Valley Girl’s Winetasting Tour groups

My education as a winemaker is ongoing. I would love to study oenology at the local university, UABC, someday. In the meantime when I have a winemaking question, I turn to my more experienced winemaking friends. The Magnussen’s at La Lechuza winery have demonstrated unflagging support. And I often turn to my friend and neighbor, Renato, of Legado Sais. I know from both Renato and the Magnussesn’s I’ll get straight talk, and maybe a lecture or two. They always make time for me and I’m grateful for their guidance.

#la lechuza# mexican wine#

My friends, the Magnussen’s at La Lechuza winery are always there when I need them!

But all of the above would be a moot point if I didn’t have the support to keep a new business afloat till it gets on its feet, so to speak. Dear Friends and Devoted Fans of Bacchus, as you know, my previous gypsy lifestyle did not line my coffer with coins. Last year I begged, borrowed and …. well, you get the idea. I scraped the money together for my first batch of wines. Happily a dear friend of 20 + years paid attention to my absolute determination and took an interest in my new endeavor. Two years ago I’d told him I was going to move to Mexico and that I wanted to plant a vineyard. I still haven’t planted those grapevines, but with Jim’s unflagging belief in me I’ve got a head start on building a credible wine business.

#wine business# mexican wine#

My dear friend, “Little Jimmy”

Don’t for a moment think I’m going to get all mushy on you, but seriously … looking back on the events that have unfolded in my life since moving here to the wine valley in May 2012 takes my breath away. When I give my soul a good searching I discover that it all gets down to love. Love of life, love among friends, love of the vine, of the wine, of the creativity within us, of the hope that we can create the life we want, of the fellowship we share, of belief in each other, love of the trust we endow one another with, of the inspiration to begin each day on our own terms. My team developed around me organically and in its own time and I am fully in love with my burgeoning VGBW family and the budding thing we are creating together.

#mexican wine# guadalupe valley wine#

Thank goodness for friends and wine lovers like Susan!

I thought this post would be difficult to write (it wasn’t) … but I knew I wanted it to be about my friends, old and new, who have become a part of Valley Girl Baja Wine.

Woooo Hoooooo! And here we go …

When it Comes to Soaking up Local Color, We Don’t Mess Around

Diana & Sitara’s Italian Movie, with Special Guest: Chente!

 

Lucy's Italian Movie

One of those Lucy & Ethel moments of levity!

When folks follow my winemaking photo albums on Facebook they inevitably comment that it looks like “so much fun.” Truly there are many moments of levity. For some reason, winemaking lends itself to double entendres and libidinous allusions. Jokes abound when we’re in the groove, accompanied by weary chuckles and belly laughs. It’s tremendously satisfying to work alongside friends who understand what needs to be done and never waver when it comes to pitching in. Ninety-five percent of winemaking is simply hard, physical labor. The average crate of grapes weighs 15-20 kilos (33-44 pounds). A ton of grapes is around 48-50 crates, más o menos. Multiply that by six tons. That’s a lot of crates of grapes my friends. After the grapes are pressed off the skins the wine itself has to be moved around. I’ve lost count of how many 5 gallon glass carboys and cases of finished wine and barrels and tanks we’ve moved in the last 42 days. It’s a blur! Long days (and sometimes nights), sore muscles, stained hands and clothes, sticky skin, achy feet and good old fatigue rule the day during harvest. Read more »

Raising the Bar

It’s that time of year again and winemakers all over the valley are getting ramped up for winemaking mania. Harvest has begun!

wine grapes in the vineyard

Just look at these gorgeous grapes!

Read more »