Dear Readers and Friends of Bacchus, one thing we know: there is a wine for every occasion. Even during the heat of the summer we all sought and found respite with our many friends in the Guadalupe Valley. Vendimia was the hottest on record and after several years of drought, production was at an all-time low for grapes. Nevertheless, Valley Girl Wines managed to hit the target, once again more than doubling production.
Michael and I selling Valley Girl Wine’s wares at a Día de Los Muertos event in Viñas de La Erre. Saludos!
So lucky to have my beautiful daughter and Michael here
Here’s the beginning of a blog I began to write (rather optimistically) in September at the peak of this year’s winemaking mania:
“My house is filthy. My eyes are bleary. My back is achy and my hands are black. Is this a pathetic attempt at a limerick? Noooooo! It’s winemaking season again and this year’s harvest came in fast and furious.
I’ve spent the better part of 2014 getting my wine business legit here in Mexico. I haven’t been blogging much about this process because honestly there’s nothing sexy or fun about multiple trips to SAT (the Mexican IRS), forming a corporation, learning tax laws, working on trademarks, getting my tax stamp and Mexican wine labels, courting distributors, etc, etc. My accountant (also a winemaker) is a rock star and has made the whole process a walk in the park …”
Big shout-out to Mario who has been a key player this year in moving my wine business from fantasy to the real deal.
It’s the end of November now and I am finally ready to catch up. It’s been a tumultuous and exciting year. I’d set a lot of goals for myself and the business and have been checking them off my list, one by one. Aside from all the legal shmeagal stuff I’ve been working on I was able to bump up this year’s production from 6 to 9 tons, crushing all with a hand-cranked destemmer and a lot of muscle, sweat, laughter and esprit de corps with family and friends. I’ve got 22 full barrels of wine in my spare room and believe I have reached capacity for what I can do on my back porch. My 2103 harvest went at a leisurely pace in retrospect. There were 21 days between my first and my last harvest. 2014 however was sheer insanity. I had 9 tons delivered to me within 10 days. What do they say? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?
Fitting all of the fermentation tanks on my back porch was a bit like playing Tetris. Only heavier. Note: pallet jack is on my wish list for next year’s harvest. Truly, the logistics of winemaking is an intellectual challenge that requires forethought, planning, decision-making-on-the-fly, and a dash of kismet, instinct, and artistry. Every year has its challenges (I sound like an old-hand now, don’t I?)
This year more than ever I felt humbled and recognized more than ever how important my ongoing education is. I had problems with stuck fermentations this season. That means that the yeast stops gobbling up the sugar and turning it into alcohol so if you can’t jump start your yeast again you end up with a low alcohol, sweet wine. That wasn’t what I had in mind for my wine but despite my best efforts and good counsel from experienced winemaker friends I did end up with one sweet wine. Crushing? Well, when life gives you sweet wine, make: 1) a fortified port styled wine, 2) distill it and make Brandy. So that’s what I did. Half I fortified and the other half I distilled. The fortified wine already has chocolate notes that are REALLY yummy. I’m going to age this with wood and see where it goes. The Brandy I’m on the fence with at the moment. It’s my first experience with distillation and I know it needs rest, aging, some contact with wood, etc. Will keep you posted.
Chente and Brian C. helped me develop a “minimal processing” method for filtering and bottling my wines at home primarily using gravity rather than pumping through traditional wine filters after which it takes 4 months to a year for the wine to recover and begin to taste good again. Wine is alive, y’all, and she doesn’t much like getting beat up. So the gentle approach is what we all strive for. I’ve been so happy with this new method that I could practically do backflips except that I would hurt myself. So only “virtual” backflips allowed. The new wines have a richness and a velvety, full mouthfeel that I am thrilled with. And they never went into shock. Astonishing. They will continue to improve in the bottle and are ready to drink NOW. Another success.
It’s been a very family oriented year. In May of this year my daughter, Ava and her best friend, Michael, and another friend, Brian C. moved to Mexico and started making craft beer and other products, launching their own business, Brújula Brews (Compass Brews). My mother and her boyfriend visited and my son, Si, came down to help with the wine work for awhile. Free time? What? Never heard of it.
MORE NOTEWORTHY NEWS:
My Mexican trademark was approved last week! I officially own Valley Girl Wines in Mexico! Wooooo hooooo!
It took me a week of trial and error but I finally figured out how to issue an electronic sales invoice and sent my first shipment of wine to a sommelier on the Mexican mainland. This was one of my goals for 2014. Success!
Thanks to my friend, Mexican sommelier Oscar, one of my wines recently made it to a tasting with a group of Colombian sommeliers in Bogota, Colombia and was very well-received. An article about my wines was published in Wine Heart magazine this year (http://www.wineheart.com.mx/perfiles/) and I was invited to be included in the next volume of Bebiendo Nuestra Tierra, an annual book about the wines of Mexico (http://www.bebiendonuestratierra.com/). All of these little baby steps are helping to move my business forward.
This is me with my last “cake” of the season. The cake is what we call the pressed skins of the grapes after we squeeze the heck out of them to get the most good-tasting wine we can. Three candles for three harvests. I love my wine-soaked life.
Thanks for your support and camaraderie. May the upcoming holidays bring you joy!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Thanks for tuning in. There’ll be more to come!!!!
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 …..
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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 …
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.