Sunday, December 26, 2010

Doing with less

The first thing one usually does when confronted with news like cancer is to spiral into a confusing array of emotions. Soon enough, however, the sane individual slows down the pace and begins to recognize that this is the verdict that comes for all of us at various times in our lives. With that, a kind of peace comes—except when it comes to my daily wine!

Weeks before I found out about my prostate cancer, I had grown tired of my puffy paunch. I know it’s a sign of aging, but I also know that it doesn’t have to be.  I decided to shed some extra weight. The decision was confirmed as a good one on the day in late October that I went to see my GP for a PSA blood test. I weighed in that day at 180 pounds. Even after I subtracted the five pounds my shoes, clothing and pocket change must have registered (for some reason, the medical profession seems to have done away with stripped down weigh-ins) 175 pounds was an all time record for me, and for my frame, it is 20 pounds more than I should be carrying.

In November, I embarked on a weight loss campaign, which was quite simple: I calculated the calories I took in each day from wine and decided to cut them in half. At an average bottle a day, that meant about 450 calories daily out of my diet—more than 3000 calories fewer each week. I figured that I had to lose weight.

I was right: in eight weeks, I shed nine pounds. Last week at the oncologist’s office, I weighed in at 171 (with boots and clothes, etc. that’s about 166). As a bonus, I’m saving a little money, too, what with buying fewer cases of wine (I always buy by the case; it’s stupid not to, as it is the least expensive way to buy wine).

The paunch is retracting and just in time, too. I’m told that along with potential hot flashes, the testosterone-reducing shot I am about to get might cause my muscles to turn to fat and so I must be extra diligent about maintaining weight and tone.

My problem now is this: having cut back to a minuscule half bottle of wine a day, that avenue of cutting back is closed to me. I’ll have to come up with one or two new directions—maybe have to cut some foods out or increase exercise.

For many years, I’ve walked no fewer than two miles each day—often more. It looks like I shall have to get the bicycle re-conditioned and get back on it and add some miles that way. Of course, I can’t do that right now, as we yet again are in the grip of a global climate change nasty cold winter in the Northeast.

Come to think of it, I have more than one problem. The expense of co-pay insurance is already eating into my wine budget. That has meant a dumbing down of my wine selections. But I am lucky in one way. I am more focused on perusing the wine shelves and have been truly surprised by the volume of solid, decent wines from Europe at reasonable prices.

I find that wines produced on this side of the pond at low prices often do not measure up to the wines of Europe at comparable prices. I wonder why that is the case.

It’s been hard, I admit it, but each evening I savor the no more than three glasses of wine that I allow myself. It makes each sip taste even better!

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
December 2010. All rights reserved.

Lifting a blog entry without the author's permission (and without recompense) is a copyright infringement--period.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Absence makes the heart grow fonder--we hope.

Not one for lengthy explanations, I find that this explanation concerning why it’s been two weeks or more since my last blog entry will in fact be lengthy, but I’ll start the long version with the short version.

Ten days ago, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

At this point, I’m told my condition is treatable. I’ll know more about that treatment regimen on Wednesday this week after a visit with a radiology oncologist.

It is a terrible cliché, but such important information has a way of focusing one’s mind. For the past ten days, while my emotions ran the roller coaster from anger to self-pity to depression to hope to positive thinking to rejecting the news to accepting the news to, to, to, my mind began to create what I call importance departments, where I began to separate what is important and should take up space in there and what is less important to get less space and what should be removed completely for lack of importance. Here’s what I came up with as it relates to wine.

The least important thing is to argue a wine point just to prove a point. While I’ve always railed against the massive egos that infiltrate wine conversations, I must admit that the fact that I engage in conversations at all proves evidence of a strong enough ego on my part as well. But here’s the interesting thing about my latest condition: prostate cancer is related to testosterone levels.

In two weeks, I will be given a shot to turn off my brain’s ability to produce testosterone. I’ve been imagining that after the shot I’ll become a conciliatory individual with big tits!

Seriously, if conciliation or better yet, avoidance becomes the norm for me in the future, I am certain it will be good for my blood pressure to avoid or laugh at the often low-level discussion that ego-based arguments create. In the future, I will not argue with anyone about wine. I will allow everyone to hold whatever opinion he or she has, I will make a stab at telling what I think I know, and then I will gracefully remove myself from the fallout.

As to the role wine and food will play in my future, I issue a great big Hmmmmmm.

Here’s what I was told to do about my diet: eat omega 3 foods like fish and oils; eat cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, collards, etc.); in other words, pile on the anti-oxidants. It’s that free radical stuff we’ve read about for decades now.

This news pisses me off because the above describes what has been much of my diet for years—with the exception that I likely eat too much animal fat for my own good, and I have remedied that situation. Notwithstanding my relatively healthy diet, cancer cells managed to grow inside this otherwise healthy body. Genetics strikes.

Wine is allowed in my diet, but not in the volume that I have been used to: I must limit myself to ten or so ounces each day, certainly no more than twelve ounces. In fact, I’ve been limiting myself for about six weeks, when this process began and when I already assumed what the diagnosis was going to be (I knew the genetics issue). The limiting has made me lose six pounds—one pound per week!

When you receive information about your mortality, you have only two choices: heed or ignore. The former hands you a promise while the latter hands you almost devastating certainty. But neither choice hands you your life back, not as you’ve known it before. On the day that you are faced with your mortality, you learn (or should learn) to ease off, to find the moments that matter, to let go, and, most of all, to embrace—life.

You also learn who your loved ones really are, and that has been a lesson more overwhelming to my emotions than anything I’ve felt in the past ten days. Real friends have poured love my way; the others, well, I now know who they are, but that’s okay. It is not important. The importance is holding close to the ones that matter, and that most potently includes family.

It’s also important to hold close to the things that matter. Wine and food will always matter to me.

Of course, the cost of what we call in this country a health care insurance system but what seems to me to be a near criminal enterprise may demand that I cut my wine budget considerably. The irony of the situation will be that I’ll probably be forced to consume all those “Vinted by” and “Cellared by” wines that are made somewhere and labeled somewhere else and that I have railed against for years. If only I were the type to ask for free wine to review on a regular basis--hey, any producers reading, I’ll accept them now with joy…

When the news of prostate cancer came, I had a conversation with my wife of course, and also with a brother-in-law who is a writer. Each encouraged me to start and maintain a blog to track my journey; it’s not an unusual thing; people do it every day; the wine industry has been graced with the cancer journey blog of an East Coast importer for a couple of years now. But that sort of thing is too self-indulgent for me.

Still, as a writer, I cannot resist and so I am keeping a personal account of my journey. That’s because we writers believe that our every thought can in some way be transposed into an article or book for pay, as if what we have to say has value. What was that I said about self-indulgence?

My promise to the handful of readers of this blog is that I will try to come up with ideas to make blog entries about wine and/or food. But I’m unsure how well I can keep that promise and at what consistency level. It would help if a few readers were willing to think of subjects they’d like to know my take on and let me know what they are.  

For now, it is lunchtime here. I have an omega 3 sandwich waiting for me…

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
December 2010. All rights reserved.

Lifting a blog entry without the author's permission (and without recompense) is a copyright infringement--period.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Wine review--of a sort

Recently, Clark Smith had an article published in Wines and Vines Magazine concerning--are you ready--minerality in wine.

Before I waded into the muddy terrain of that piece, I had already resigned myself to the position expressed by many who study viticulture, to wit: that minerals themselves are not taken up into the vine and then deposited in the fruit.

The consensus that seems to have built is that the so-called minerality of wine is either an illusion or a simulation, put there by the interaction of acids with other components; and generally, the mineral sensation is more forward in white wines.

In his article, Mr. Smith starts with the premise that minerals are indeed among the components found in the fruit and then he goes on not to report on how he came to know this fact, but on how he came to speculate its existence. From there, it was all down hill, not so much that his arguments weren’t sound, and they may or may not be, but because I understood almost nothing of what he was talking about.

On wine forum sites, a few chemists echoed my sentiment, and some went further to call Smith’s speculations completely wrong.

Unknown to me at the time, I was heading for a direct collision with the premise of Smith’s article.

Because there are today so many “reviewers” of wine, and because I truly don’t believe that what I like should have any bearing on what someone else should buy, I rarely write wine reviews anymore. At times, however, I am moved by a wine or by a wine and food pairing and I break my rule. At other times, something else happens that makes me break my rule. This is one of those times.

At the same time that I came across Smith’s article, I was preparing to sample some Cabernet Franc wines; some that had been sent to me to review, and some that I used my own money to obtain. My aim was to see how cool climate versions of the variety compare with warm climate versions—in the U.S. It was all for my own edification with the possibility that the comparison might give me something about which to write in the future.

Two of the wines that came to me were from Diamond Ridge Vineyards. One of them was named “2007 Aspects.”

I had no experience with Diamond Ridge wines, and I had no idea who owned the label. I don’t know if an actual winery exists under that name, because the two wines that came to me were not Produced and Bottled by Diamond Ridge; they had been Vinted and Bottled by Diamond Ridge, which means they were produced somewhere in California from grapes grown in the Lake Country Appellation, but no one was saying where. The vineyards, however, appear to belong to Diamond Ridge.

Anyway, here was my impression of Aspects: subdued and no identifiable varietal nose, although a hint of pepper underneath; kind of earthy but not in a vinous way, more like the dry dust of a second base steal and slide at the Brooklyn Park Circle baseball diamond of my youth; wish there were some fruit here, although glad that the oak is tame; pH seems rather dangerous territory for a chance at longevity. To me, a $12 retail value masking itself at a $28 retail price.

My wife, who often tastes with me, and who has a fine palate, agreed with my assessment of Aspects, except for the part about pH, which she never even considers

After making my notes, I read the “winemaker’s” notes that came with the samples. I discovered that the wine included 18% Cabernet Franc, that only 89 cases had been produced, and that the 30 months in oak was spent in neutral barrels. The pH was 3.73 (to me, that borders on the high side, but I am not an authority and those stats are not unusual these days).

My notes mention nothing about minerality. The closest is that dry dirt comment. That’s because, if there is minerality in the taste or finish of that wine, neither my wife nor I were savvy enough to pick it up.

As I ventured into the mud of Smith’s speculations in that article about minerality, he made mention of his winery and of a certain wine of his that he said offers up minerals. The winery and wine he mentioned was Diamond Ridge Aspects.

Now, I am completely baffled not only by Mr. Smith’s discussion of minerality but also by my talent (or lack of talent) for assessing wine.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
December 2010. All rights reserved.

Lifting a blog entry without the author's permission (and without recompense) is a copyright infringement--period.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Duck breast with black raspberry sauce

My blogging associate, Vinogirl, likes duck. After a comment about duck that she made on her blog, I promised a duck recipe.

This one is duck breast with black raspberry sauce, for two.


Two duck breasts
1 Shallot chopped
2 Cloves Garlic minced
Cup of Black Raspberries
Cup of Ruby Port
Crushed black pepper
Olive Oil
Two large potatoes cut into small cubes
1 Onion sliced
½ cup Chicken Stock

Pound the duck breast, sprinkle one side with pepper and then flour; do the same for the other side.

I keep some black raspberries from my garden frozen whole through the winter. When I want some, I remove as much as I want, let them warm up and then run them through a sieve to remove as much of the little seeds as possible.

In a skillet with a little olive oil, brown the duck at high heat on both sides and remove.

Deglaze the skillet with ½ cup Port until it cooks down to half; then, bring heat to low, add the shallot, half of the garlic, raspberries, and the rest of the port and let simmer, but don’t let it dry out. If that is about to happen, add wine.

In a pan, add tablespoon oil, onion and cook on medium for a minute; then, the rest of the garlic and cook for another minute; then, add the potatoes, sprinkle as much paprika as you want on them, add stock, mix things up, cover and simmer on low flame until the potatoes are soft—it should take about twenty or so minutes.
Gauge your stovetop and calculate how much time you need to allow the potatoes to cook so that the potatoes and the duck are ready at the same time, based on how rare—or not—you like your duck.
In another pan add a teaspoon olive oil over low heat; then, add the duck breast and let cook for about three minutes, turn over and let cook for three minutes; then, cover for two minutes. Check the duck breast to see if it is as rare as you like it, or not too rare. If you need to cook more, keep watch over the breast so that it doesn’t overcook (I like mine pink to juicy). Always remember that meat cooks a little more after you turn off the flame.
When done, the potatoes should be soft and moist. If they are done slightly before the duck, just turn off the flame and let them sit covered.
When it is done, plate the duck, either pour the sauce over it or beside it, whether you like to cut and dip or sauce and cut.

Before serving the potatoes, sprinkle some pepper over them (salt too if you use it, I never do).

Add your greens of choice or salad.

Which wine would you pair with this meal?

Vinogirl Blog

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
November 2010. All rights reserved.

Lifting a blog entry without the author's permission (and without recompense) is a copyright infringement--period.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Which wine with pork chop?

Wine writers, reviewers, critics, and bloggers are in the business of telling readers what to drink. Let me try something new and have readers tell me what to drink.

I’ll write out a meal, with recipes, and you pair it with wine. Tell me which wine you’d have with the meal and most of all, tell me why that wine.

First meal: thick cut pork chop in Madeira sauce, with roasted potatoes and sweetly infused Brussels sprouts.

The potatoes:

If you can find small new potatoes use them; if not, use the larger ones. The difference will be in how you cut them for the roasting. I like to thinly slice off the top and bottom of a small potato so that it stands flat and it has a plateau surface on which to add the ingredients. If the potatoes are large, I cut each in half and then slice the rounded edges to create the same flattened bottom and plateau on top, but to make the large potatoes small enough for quicker roasting.

While a small toaster oven (or similar unit) heats to 350 degrees F, dribble olive oil over each cut potato then sprinkle winter sage leaves and crushed white pepper over the potatoes so that they stick to the oil. Place in the oven and set for 50 minutes.

After 20 minutes into the potatoes roasting, turn main oven to 350 (I use a convection) and then drop a tablespoon olive oil into a cast iron pan and turn heat to high.

Place pork chop(s) on a meat-cutting surface, sprinkle crushed black pepper on one side and then lightly flour it; turn the chop over and do the same. Then, roll the chop in the rest of the flour that has fallen to the surface.

In the hot iron pan, brown the chop on each side and around its edges and then remove from heat. Immediately deglaze the pan with a ½ cup sweet Madeira and then reduce flame to low.

Place chops into the oven and turn timer to 20 minutes.

Add chopped shallot and garlic clove to the Madeira, plus ½ cup more Madeira and a few dashes of soy sauce. Separately, mix an ounce of Madeira with two teaspoons of flour until it is a thick gooey substance and add to the pan, turn flame to simmer and stir constantly.

Rinse and then cut a cross hatch into each Brussels sprout. Slice a garlic clove and thin carrots. In a sauté pan, over very low heat, add a teaspoon of olive oil, the sprouts, garlic and carrots, plus ¼ cup Madeira and cover to steam.

When the potatoes and chops are done, turn flame up under the Madeira/shallot sauce and stir vigorously until it is less liquid-like and more solid-like.

Check to see that the sprouts and carrots are firm but cooked.

Plate everything and pour the sauce over the chops—garnish with parsley.

Eat with the wine you prefer, but do tell me which one you have chosen.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
November 2010. All rights reserved.

Lifting a blog entry without the author's permission (and without recompense) is a copyright infringement--period.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ten Best--no, not again!

Each year, columnists, bloggers and sundry writers complain about the commercial aspect tied to Christmas and how much they hate it that earlier and earlier store windows are decorated, we are subjected to insipid “holiday” music loops, and magazines (and now Web sites) bombard us with “sales.”

Another of the holiday traditions is the end-of-year best of this and that lists, something I railed about here last year. When it comes to what to say as another year bites the dust, bloggers prove as uncreative as regular old print writers—instead of saying anything, they make a list!

The only good thing about those lists is that the assault is held off until late December or early January, after the insipid music stops—until this year.

In what appears like an attempt to get the jump on the annual listing crowd, two of my favorite wine bloggers have hit us with lists in early November.

Luckily, neither Tom Wark nor Jeff Lefevere chose to attach to their lists the undercurrent of some insipid music (the number of times that I mention the music indicates how much I despise having to be subjected to holiday music wherever I go).

Tom did a simple list of ten.

On the other hand, Jeff is not the kind of guy who will say something in five words when he knows that he has at least 50 words sitting around somewhere—his list came in four parts, in four separate blog entries.

Me, I don’t do end of year lists. But I’m also a realist. I know that the list crowd isn’t going to stop on my request. So, in the spirit of the early season, and since I am not as much of a curmudgeon as I want everyone to believe, I will join the fray, the early list fray.

Here are the Best Ten Excuses of 2010 to which this writer has been subjected:

1. I get so much email I must have missed yours.

All fifteen of them?

2. I didn’t see that invoice.

It was copied in all fifteen of those emails.

3. I was traveling.

By now, doesn't everyone know what a laptop and wireless are.

4. We are a start up online magazine so we can’t pay you for your work, but we can offer you exposure.

Exposure can cause cancer.

5. We aren’t publishing any books this year.

…and why do you call yourself a publisher?

6. I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner, but…

No, I can’t stop everything to write 500 words in fifteen minutes.

7. I’m too busy right now to meet with you.

Yet, each time I call to try for a meeting you spend 50 minutes on the telephone with me complaining about the publishing business.

8. He’s at a meeting.

How come he takes phone calls when he's meeting with me?

9. That wasn’t my fault.

It never is.

10. Oh, I forgot.

Your honesty will come back to haunt you.

Tom Wark

Jeff LeFevere

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
November 2010. All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Book Review

When I operated my winery tasting room one of my wines provided me with a valuable lesson about pricing.

The wine was named Proprietor’s Blend. Essentially, it was concocted from the leftover lots of Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Seyval, and Vignoles that I produced as single variety wines.

This was the late 1980s and so wine prices were quite different than today—I sold Riesling for $10 a bottle and Gewurztraminer for $12. The price of the Proprietor’s Blend was $5.

After a number of weeks, I noticed that many tasters who said that they liked the Proprietor’s Blend didn’t buy it. They bought other wines, everyone of which cost more per bottle than the blend. As I wondered over this situation, thinking maybe I should put the wine on sale, get rid of it and never produce it again, my wife made a suggestion.

She had been watching the tasting room people too. Her sense was that they didn’t buy the wine because it was too cheap. Instead of running a sale, my wife said that I should raise the price of the wine to $8.

I did what she suggested. The wine sold out every year thereafter, even when the price rose to $9.

This is why I agree almost completely with the thesis behind the Fearless Critic Media (FCM) concept that fuels that organization's book The Wine Trials 2011.

This is not FCM’s first book—last year the organization published The Wine Trials 2010, an event that saw me dining with Robin Goldstein and Alexis Herschkowitsch, the two major forces behind FCM. I wasn’t dining with them exclusively, that would be against their agenda. I was just one member of a group of invites in the wine industry to taste some of the wines that had come out on top in their first Wine Trials blind tasting—wines that they claim prove that most people prefer wines at lower prices than the wines that generally receive high critic ratings.

I agree with most of the reasoning that FCM uses to support the claim. I fully support the quality of many of the 175 wines under $15 that made the top preference list in the latest “Trials.”

The fact that FCM uses Champagne to prove that price does not automatically signal either better quality or equal acceptance is critical; next to Bordeaux futures, Champagne is the most ludicrous end of the wine market. The big names that FCM exposes don’t even produce Champagne in the true method. How could they? Moet alone produces about 25% of the whole region’s wines; the company can’t engage in the painstaking, labor-intensive step-by-step method that used to be the excuse for high prices.

There’s no doubt in my mind, and never has been, that the general wine consuming public has bought into a variety of hucksterisms, not the least of which is that the ratings of critics have meaning. As FCM points out by citing many studies, consumers are receiving messages that lead them to buy wines that they probably don’t even prefer. That’s because marketers know all about aspiration.

FCM rails against the rating and award system as if it was designed to sell wine. It wasn’t—not at first.

Awarding wines once was akin to the big and beautiful pig contest at the county fair. The awards that were handed out to wineries at agricultural fairs were to recognize their achievement, not to recommend their wines to us. It wasn’t until the 100-point rating system gained traction in the 1980s when the focus of awards and ratings was turned away from the winemakers and toward us.

Mr. Robert Parker named his newsletter The Wine Advocate because he viewed himself as a Ralph Nader-like crusader to protect the consumer from bad wine. It was a self-anointment as the arbiter of taste, and those who followed him followed his system both of self-anointment and of rating wines.

The result these many years later is that ratings not only inflate the value of wine, they inflate the value of the critics. Even the best wine palates have a tendency toward inconsistency. If critics were to taste wines blind, and as FCM points out, most do not, many would have a hard time picking out a duplicate sample of one wine among a flight of six wines tasted; most of us would have a hard time doing it and that means that critics would be just like most of us; to protect themselves, they don't taste wines blind.

On the subject of blind tasting, I register one small disagreement with FCM.

The FCM claim that a blind tasting is the only way to remove bias and to discover your real wine preferences is spot on, but there’s blind and then there’s blind. In my opinion, bottles should never be in the same room as the tasting; wrapped in brown bags or not, the astute could find ways to gain clues from the bottles. A truly blind tasting includes glasses filled with wine in another room and then delivered to the tasters to make their evaluations. The only information available is the color of the wine (even that could be masked with black glasses, but that would be overkill). The wines should be selected so that they don't jar the tasters palates; in other words, similar wines within each flight.

This is a small disagreement, but I do have a bigger concern with The Wine Trials.

FCM waxes well regarding its thesis, sometimes so well that it betrays a bias against a certain style of wine referred to as New World or international. Not that I disagree with the assessment—I am not a fan of bombastic wines that some critics believe to be Nirvana—but isn’t that a preference matter?

Gratuitous shots at oak chips or extended aging or other so-called interventions are neither graceful nor necessary. Present the science, present the results of your experiments, and let others make up their own minds, which is what FCM claims that it wants consumers to do.

Also, except a vague reference to wine that is “created by nature,” the book offers no scientific proof that there’s anything qualitatively wrong with “interventions” of the sort that are excoriated.  Since its discovery, wine has not  been created by nature but by humans. To follow FCM’s seemingly intended logic would mean that wine should be allowed to ferment in a hole in the ground and it should be stored in the earth as well plus, it should receive pounds of additives like salt and sugar to try to preserve it but it should be consumed right away anyway, because most early non-interventionist wine turned to vinegar quickly. But, admittedly, this is a nit pick.

Finally, even though the title The Wine Trials at first led me to think of a Mr. Koch and the wines he bought at auction that turned out to be fraudulent, I really do agree with the thesis behind FCM.

In fact, I rate the book 98 out of 100.

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
October 2010. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 11, 2010

One Romance (30)

“Wake up,” Nick told himself, “you are going to meet the queen.”

Even back then, in the late 80s, everyone in the Finger Lakes wine business knew who the queen was. Too bad it took so long for the rest of the world to catch up; if it had found out sooner, Nick might have been able to hold out a little longer and make a great success of his little winery.

Of course, on that first morning of his first juice run for his first Riesling, Nick was still full of hope and optimism. There was no other description for what he felt. He had serpentined the alcohol rules and regulations, he had been schooled in the conservative ways of banking that proved only the stingy stay wealthy, he had been awakened to the cruelty of large wineries and the cruelty of the weather, he had been subjected to the interrogations of clueless tourists, he had been tried by financial deprivation, and he had been made to change plans through no fault of his own. This morning he was going to meet the reason for it all.

The grapes came in at approximate total acidity of .9 %, pH at 3.1-3.2, and sugar between 21-22 Brix (generally the % by volume). The juice he picked up was the most tasty of all the juices thus far—the only one that had less of a grape juice quality to it and more of the profile of what the wine might be like: austere, yet giving; aromatic, yet subtle; full, yet delicate; and filled with the promise of a future.

Waiting in the winery was a batch of Steinberger yeast (DGI 228). Known for its ability to ferment under cool conditions, slowly, to draw out the aromatics and fruit, as well as for its ability to tolerate at least 13% alcohol, sulfur dioxide, plus low pH. He used the yeast on Gewurztraminer for similar reasons, but the yeast seems to have been developed specifically for all that Riesling has to offer.

Nick picked up the juice without incident: no lost tank, no state policeman on the road to look unfavorably at his low tire pressure, no spills, no mistaken ripening stats, no dead pump in the winery, no problems with the yeast, no problems with getting fermentation started, a perfectly cool yet clear autumn weather pattern so that he didn’t have to cool the fermentation by watering the tank, and a perfectly quiet few weekdays in the tasting room, giving him time to do the necessary fermentation work on the Riesling and racking work on other wines in the cellar.

Riesling was the promise and now that promise was in Nick’s hands to mold, certainly not to mess up.

When Theresa called that night she could hear in his “hello” that something good happened that day, and she became so excited that she could feel the promise, too, even though she was beginning to wonder whether or not Nick had what he needed to get this winery off the ground. She believed in him—no problem there—but she also saw how much of an uphill trek he had before him. She wanted to be there to help, but financially could not drop the commute and the income that it provided, the income that Nick quickly made to evaporate into the promise of a future.

The future was Riesling, for the region and for Nick. For now, the future was slowly bubbling away, almost foamless, which is another benefit of DGI 228.

His ideal was to craft a finished Riesling between 11-12% alcohol, a 3.2-3.3 pH and .75-.80 total acidity, and no more than .75 residual sugar. He could then decide if it needed some of that Gewurztraminer to give it a push or if it could stand on its own. He rambled on about all the stats while Theresa listened, happy to hear in his voice, well, happiness for a change.

NOTE: there may be longer lag time between posts of Nick’s story. I have a project on which a great deal of time must be spent. Hope all four of my readers will bear with me.

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
October 2010. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

One Romance (29)

The Vignoles was truly interesting. The juice was so acidic it almost tasted as if there was no sugar, but the hydrometer reading showed about 23 Brix (23% sugar by weight).

Each morning, Nick drank a large glass of grapefruit juice. The smell of Vignoles reminded him of his breakfast drink.

Vignoles is an extremely fruity variety with aromatics that take your nose in many directions, from funk to fruit salad. He was advised to use a slow-fermenting yeast, one that could be stopped easily enough before completion. This was because Vignoles is not a candidate for dry table wine—it’s ok as a sparkling wine, but even then, a dry sparkler can mask as much as 2% residual sugar.

Nick selected the Epernay II yeast. His only worry was that daytime temperatures might not cooperate, and for a few days after he got fermentation started, they didn’t. He spent a great deal of time cooling the tanks with water—a great deal of time. Every evening for about four straight days, he ended the day almost entirely soaked with water, despite the protective high rubber boots and rain jacket that he wore.

It took a few weeks for the fermentation to get the Vignoles down to 2% residual sugar, which was where he wanted to stop it. That gave the wine about 11.5% alcohol, and with all that fruit, plus acidity in the finished wine well above .8% by volume, with a finished pH of 3.2, this was indeed like grapefruit, or pineapple juice with a kick!

To stop the fermentation Nick opened the doors and let the cold air in which luckily by mid October had settled into the region. Then, he racked the wine and dosed it with sulfur dioxide. The cold air didn’t hurt the other wines, as they had long ago finished fermenting and were resting.

He was pleased with himself that night at home, sitting with a glass of wine, a chunk of cheese and some bread for a late dinner after work, and then the phone rang at about 9:30—Riesling tomorrow!

This is what he was waiting for. The locals knew as far back as the 1980s that Riesling was the future for the Finger Lakes wine industry. Nick certainly knew it. He couldn’t wait to get into his first production of Riesling. He had decided to produce a version that would be drier than most in the region. In fact, he had decided to do a few trial blends with small amounts of Gewurztraminer in Riesling to add a touch of the Old World Alsatian taste to the Finger Lakes product.

Nick slept restlessly that night.

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
September 2010. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

One Romance (28)

Seyve-Villard hybrid number 5276 is known as Seyval Blanc or Seyval, for short. The grape’s development is attributed to the Villard family of grape hybridizers.

Suitable in cool climates, Seyval is grown widely in New York and in England as well. In the past, it had been grown in France, but these days European Union rules forbid inter-specific species hybrids for wine, which makes British wine industry people bristle.

Nick hadn’t heard of the grape until his first visit to the Finger Lakes. He liked the Seyval wines that he had tasted, as everyday quaffers. They were medium-bodied whites with clean, citric-like qualities to them, except when they weren’t. A few Finger Lakes winemakers got the notion that Seyval would make a fine replacement for Chardonnay, so they began to give it oak treatment and allow it to undergo the secondary malolactic fermentation that softens mouth feel by converting malic in the wine to lactic acid. The result was spotty, but when it worked, it seemed to work well enough.

Nick had no intention of producing Seyval wine. He wanted mainly to keep the line of wines short: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, Vignoles, and possibly a house blend. Yet, even though things worked out and he got a replacement for his Chardonnay juice, he decided to try his hand at Seyval, opting for the clean, citric-like style. It turned out to be a good decision.

Seyval juice was quick to ferment, easy to work with, and half the price of Chardonnay. It gave him a wine to offer to customers at $8 a bottle, exactly where he wanted to price his house blend. The wine he produced was nearly bone dry, aromatic and almost overly citric. It reminded him of a few whites he had consumed in the past that had been produced in France’s Loire Valley.

At the same time that he produced Seyval, Nick was wrapped up with Chardonnay. The latter would be produced in a clean style, too, with no malolactic fermentation but with just a touch of oak, for which he bought a few Yugoslavian barrels for the cellar.

When not subjected to malolactic fermentation, Finger Lakes Chardonnay can remind of Maconnais wines, with hints of crisp apple on the palate. The aroma of clean local Chardonnay often reminds Nick of malt in a beer-like situation, but not many people agree with him.

Not having a means to control temperature within the fermenting tanks, Nick relied on outside temperature and luck. But because of his lack of control he also decided on yeasts that worked well at cool temperatures, which in the Finger Lakes arrive almost without fail the day after Labor Day, as if someone flipped a switch. As he carefully watched his fermentations, he saw how they slowed after a cool night and then as they warmed during the beautiful early autumn days a tendency to speed up—that’s when he cooled the tanks down with sprays of cold water.

It was lucky for him that he used well water, and that his wells did not run dry. But he was forced by the Ag and Markets inspector to chlorinate his water, especially for use in the tasting room, and that caused both money and aggravation as the chlorinator was not exactly a perfect machine. Also luckily, Nick’s winemaking facility was low on porous wood products, a fact that helped him avoid TCA taint with all that chlorine around. It took a few years into his winemaking before the nasty taint got to one of his wines, but that was no worry just yet.

When the fermentations each ended, Nick had a total of three new wines with two more to go—Riesling and Vignoles. The Vignoles came right on the heels of the Seyval, so within a couple of days he was back in the truck and on his way to pick up juice. On the way, he couldn’t help think that his friend Fred would likely escape having to get his hands dirty, as there was just one more juice run to go and Fred still hadn’t said exactly which weekend he would visit. But then, after taking in the Vignoles he would have three wines fermenting simultaneously with a fourth in the offing. He was bound to find some dirty work for Fred--and then that evening...

“Hello Nick.”

It was Fred calling.

“Hey Fred. You comin’ up this weekend?”

“Oh man, I’m sorry to have to tell you this but I have an emergency at work. I’ll be tied up with a project for another two or three weeks…”

Nick cut him off.

“You lazy bastard. You are making this up.”

“Yeah, sure, Nick. Like I don’t want to get away from here. Anyway, are you trying to see me work hard? Is that all you care about?”

The two friends could slip easily into chiding and kidding without hurting because they know each other so long and so well. But this time, there was a tinge of disappointment in Nick’s chide. He didn’t think deeply about it, but when confronted with this situation it became clear to him that he missed his friends greatly. It wasn’t that he was sorry to be where he is. It was that he wasn’t too crazy about what it cost to follow his dream.

In his large Federal style home that was built in 1827, Nick was comfortable and content. In his small winery and tasting room, he was proud. In his relationships with the people he deals with daily he was competent. But he had no close friends nearby and that made him feel lonely at times, especially since Theresa was there only on weekends. Perhaps, if he hadn’t been working almost every waking minute, he might have chucked the idea by this time. But he has been busy and he hadn’t been brooding or dwelling on the loneliness—until Fred hit him with the news.

 “Ah, Fred. It’s not that. Don’t worry about it. I understand.”

“Nick. We miss you, too.”

Special message for vinofictions readers.
I am guest blogging on a new site named Take a look at my first entry winecrush.
It will be like the old vinofictions, but with a much softer feeling…after all, I’m working for someone else!

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
September 2010. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

One Romance (27)

October is quite a month in the Finger Lakes.

The weather is spectacularly crisp and dry, and the clarity of the atmosphere puts a spotlight on the blue sky, transparent lakes, oranges, reds, and yellows of deciduous trees, plus the air smells like grapes.

Tourists also love the region in October--it is the busiest time of the year, and of course while the swarms of tourists attack tasting rooms, the proprietors of wineries work almost all day to take in their crops, ferment their wines, and deal with the tourists trade. It’s enough to make a rather curmudgeonly fellow into someone who plans murders.

Nick was not a curmudgeon when he started, but he certainly was growing into one as he sank his soul deeper and deeper into selling wine at his tasting room. He was overwhelmed to find that many tourists are rather boorish. Besides that, many people in general seemed to revel in their ignorance, and no matter how many winery tasting rooms they visited, they asked the same tired questions, never seeming able to learn a thing concerning a subject about which they claim to express love. Finally, the strain of anti-intellectualism that runs through the American culture was, well, it was getting on his nerves.

One busy day at the tasting room, after he had answered a few questions over and over, after he had endured the “dump bucket joke” at least a dozen times, after he had to deal with cheap, drunken visitors, he began to hate the fact that some cretins got to enjoy October while he got to serve them.

Nick wanted a day off, but it would have to wait until the following week, when Theresa could work in the tasting room. She was on a big project in San Francisco and would be away for about a week.

He got through the harrowing day, made himself some soup, and prepared to settle into an evening of wine and bookkeeping when the phone rang.

“Tomorrow morning? Oh boy. See you then.”

Chardonnay was ready to pick.

Nick phoned Fred.

“So Fred, you’ve missed another grape harvest. I have to pick up the Chardonnay tomorrow. When are you coming up?”

“It looks like I can make it next weekend. Is that ok?”

Fred’s schedule was perfect. Theresa would be back and she could handle the tasting room while Nick entertained Fred. The thought of it made Nick relax. He slept well that night.

The alarm went off at 5:30. Nick ate some oatmeal, drank some coffee, and hustled out the door to the truck—the one that had a flat tire!

He ran back into the house to call Jim and tell him he was going to be late. Jim assured him that he would press and hold the juice for him.

It took him more than an hour to jack the truck and replace the tire with the spare. Most of the time was spent unloading and reloading the tanks from the truck bed to lighten the load and to prevent them from sliding down the bed and possibly breaking something.

In those days, spare tires that came with vehicles were real tires, not those toy tires that automakers shamefully provide theses days with a new vehicle. If he had been stuck with one of those things, Nick would have had no choice but to drive to the shop, unload the truck, have the flat tire fixed and replace it for the spare, and reload the truck. But he did not have to do that. He did, however, have to get the spare from under the truck where it was housed, and the fixtures were of course rusted.

Watching the clock, he raced to Jim’s place. He already would be in a bind to get the tasting room opened on time. This coming beautiful October day that started with a good night's sleep was promising to be stressful, a fact that was underlined when he got to Jim’s place.

“Oh shit!” Jim screamed.

“What’s the matter, Jim?”

“Nick, I gave your Chardonnay juice to the guy who was here a few minutes ago.”

Nick’s stomach sank, his head hurt, and he began to have those thoughts of murder that he thought were reserved only for tourists.

“How could you do that? That was 300 gallons of juice. How many of your home winemaker customers buy 300 gallons of juice?”

“Well, I do have two other small winery customers. Frank, over at Keuka Pass Winery was here to pick up Seyval juice. I gave him yours by mistake. Do you want the Seyval?”

That’s how Nick made his first wine--unhappily--from French American hybrid grapes, and he decided he would do with the Seyval everything that he had planned for the Chardonnay.

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
September 2010. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

One Romance (26)

The Gewürztraminer had finished fermenting, but something wasn’t right.

Where did the rose petal aroma go?

What happened to the hint of ginger?

Why did the new wine smell like the hard-boiled eggs that sat in jars that Nick remembered in the neighborhood bar back in Brooklyn?

He called Doug.

“So, Doug, I’ve got a case of H2S in my newly fermented Gewurztraminer. What’s the best way to handle this?”

Doug snickered a little, “Welcome to your first winemaking experience. You know that pump you took home with you when you left here? Use it to rack the wine into a fresh tank, but don’t blanket the wine with CO2; in fact, let it aerate nicely. If that doesn’t do the trick, well, let’s take it one step at a time. Oh, check the SO2. This is not the time to overdo that stuff either.”

Doug’s remedy worked. Now it was time for Nick to do some research. He called Doug again.

“Well,” Doug said, “your juice probably lacked the proper nutrition for the Steinberger yeast. Have you ever heard of DAP? You might want to look into using it.”

Nick had known about DAP (diammonium phosphate, a source of inorganic nitrogen) but he didn’t know enough so he did some research and wasn’t sure that he liked what he was reading. He understood the nitrogen deficiency in must that DAP is intended to fix, but he questioned the seeming prevailing belief that a dose of DAP before fermentation for every must was prudent—he felt in his gut that a dose of anything without testing first can’t possibly be a smart way to make wine.

Sure enough, there were people warning against indiscriminate DAP use, and the need for testing the must first, but the tests available had to be done at a lab and Nick was not set up for that.

For now, he decided to forgo indiscriminate DAP additions, but he made sure to keep tabs on the progress of the fermentations to follow.

Fred was scheduled to arrive for a visit in a few days. Nick hoped that his close friend would be there when the phone call for the next juice run arrived. He wanted so much to see Fred get his clothes and hands dirty—he’s the kind of fellow who thinks that gardening his Long Island property means paying someone else to come and do the job.

During their last phone conversation, Fred said that he had deadlines to meet at work so he couldn’t yet come up with a date for the visit but it was just a matter of days.

“By the way,” Fred asked, “have you looked over the label designs I sent? What do you think?”

“Let’s talk about them when you get here, Fred.”

“OK. As soon as I clean up some of the workload, I’ll let you know and we can set the date. When does harvest begin up there? I want to see that.”

“Harvest has begun and it will continue until mid October, so you will surely get to see it. In fact, I suggest you bring some work clothes with you.”

“Uh, work clothes. D’you have something in mind for me?”

“Fred, when I get a call to run over to pick up juice I can’t do anything other than get over to pick up the juice right away. The harvest doesn’t wait for us. So if I get a harvest call while you are here, I can’t think of a better way for you to see the harvest than to join me in picking up the juice. Can you?”

“Well, I suppose…”

“Don’t worry, Fred. The work isn’t that hard, and I’ll protect you from unforeseen dangers.”

Nick laughed aloud after he hung up the phone. Fred spends large sums on designer jeans and snappy boots--the image of his old friend slipping and sliding in grape juice was too rich.  

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
September 2010. All rights reserved.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

One Romance (25)

With Gewurztraminer happily in the tank, and with the quiet at the tasting room between Labor Day and Columbus Day, when all hell breaks loose in the Finger Lakes, Nick figured it was a good time for that trip to Northeast, Pennsylvania, on the shore of Lake Erie. Based on past sales records, he chose the best day of the week to close the tasting room and make that drive.

Soon, harvest would be in frantic swing, and he would need a second transfer pump. His new Zambelli reversible pump served him well on his first juice run, but he was aware that equipment like that needs to be backed up, as they seem to come with an internal mechanism timed to breakdown at the most inopportune moments. He also decided that it was time to get himself a filter pump and some filters to have for the coming months—wouldn’t hurt either to bundle up on a few other wine-making items.

Nick liked Doug, who operated a winery supply business specifically set up for home winemakers and for tiny wineries—he also had his own tiny winery to tend to, plus many acres of grapevines along the shores of Erie.

The other reason Nick liked going to Northeast was the necessary three-hour drive along Route 17, once voted the most scenic road in New York (or was it in the whole country?). It’s a string of rolling hills, pastures, small lakes and streams, large silos, fields of grain, and at the close of the trip, grapevines. The trip takes you past some of the oldest settled land in the country, and some of the most active during the American Revolutionary War; you drive by the famed Chautauqua Institute, where intellectual pursuit joins artistic display; and you witness some of the most scenic waterways and secondary roads on the other side of a highway railing.

On his first trip to Northeast, to buy tanks, barrels, and sundry items, Nick stopped in Salamanca to grab something to eat and to fill his tank with gas. It was the first time in his life that he had ventured onto a Native American reservation, and it wasn’t until he saw the price of goods and gasoline when he realized where he was, as excise taxes are not levied on reservations, which remain separate nations of a sort.

The city of Salamanca is on the Alleghany Indian Reservation, which the Seneca Nation leases to New York State—until 2030 (who knows?). The same rules that keep excise taxes at bay also allow reservations to host gambling casinos: Salamanca would ultimately have its revenge on the white man when it, too, would profit from the weaknesses of gambling. For the time being, however, the area looked relatively viable but not overwhelmingly prosperous, and while many people looked Native American, with their colorful faces, vaguely Asian cheek and jaw structure, and jet-black hair, he saw many other non-native faces. There seemed to be more drinking establishments per square yard than in his neighborhood at Keuka Lake, but then, that might be true for any place on earth when compared to Keuka Lake. The price of wine at retail was also much less in Salamanca than anywhere other than his industry member discount.

On this second trip to Northeast, Nick left home at 6 a.m. so that he could arrive at his destination early enough to get business done and get back home before sunset. He filled his gas tank and chose not to stop along the way, but he drove relatively breezily so that he could take in the striking New York scenery.

When he arrived in Lucille Ball’s hometown, Jamestown, he was under an hour away from his destination, and it wasn’t 9 a.m yet.

Entering Northeast reminded him of childhood summers. He knew that Lake Erie is not an ocean, but its massive shoreline and wet horizon certainly gave it that appearance, especially when humidity was high and from a distance you could see the wet air hovering over the water’s waves, calling up a particular childhood memory as he and friends descended upon the Bay 14 beachfront at Coney Island in Brooklyn.

As he came closer to the shoreline, he could smell the breakfast grill at a certain diner on the corner of town just before the east/west shore road along the lake begins. They produced a fine breakfast of eggs to order and home fries, and they offered decent coffee, too, which is no guarantee on the road. He was to meet Doug at the winery at 10:30, so there was plenty of time for a leisurely breakfast.

Not known to Nick, that morning Doug had been called away by his vineyard manager to take care of one of the daily emergencies that take place during harvest season. When Nick arrived at Doug’s place, on time, he was made to wait, which he could do either outside or in the tasting room.

Doug’s tasting room and retail space was small. Nick perused it for ideas that he might use to make his space more efficient. At the tasting bar, cheese accompanied the wines to taste. After watching a couple of transactions, Nick saw how serving the right cheese with each wine boosted how much consumers liked the wine; it was a lesson he was sure to take home with him.

When Doug finally arrived, time had been running out and so the two made a fast walk through the warehouse to look at inventory and through the winery to see how Doug put to use some of the equipment that he thought Nick might want to consider. But for this trip, only the backup transfer pump, a filter pump system and filters and other supplies were all that Nick was prepared to buy, although he did have his eye on the bottling system that Doug assured him would be there in the spring when he would need it and also the Yugoslavian oak barrels that Doug used instead of the more expensive French barrels, but that would also have to wait for another time.

He settled on a transfer pump that was cheaper than the Zambelli he already had; this one was not reversible, but it was for backup and for certain racking jobs so he was comfortable getting it. For the filter system, he wasn’t going to produce enough wine in the first year or two to invest in a plate filtering system, so he bought a small cartridge system. Doug had assured him that the new technology of the time provided cartridge filtration to a nominal .2 micron, which was pretty tight.

The system was simply a small pump with a truly slow rate, and a stainless steel cartridge holder. Plastic tubing connected to the tank being emptied of wine to be filtered into the cartridge holder on one side and then a plastic tube coming out of the cartridge holder on the other side and into the tank that would receive the filtered wine. He bought a number of rough filter cartridges, 1 micron, a few .45 micron  cartridges, and a smaller number of .2 nominal cartridges for the final filtration before bottling.

He packed a large box with various wine-making chemicals and supplies plus some cheese and bread that he bought from Doug to eat on the drive home, and a few bottles of wine that Doug gave to him to sample.

He was home by 5 pm, enough time to unwind for the following day, which would prove to be an active one.

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.
Copyright Thomas Pellechia
August 2010. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

One Romance (24)

Jim’s phone call was expected. In fact, Nick was praying for it. He wanted so much to get his first commercial fermentation started.

“Nick, we are picking Gewurztraminer today. You can get it late this afternoon.”

“I’ll be there at about 5. Ok?”

Jim gave the green light for a 5 pm pick, provided of course that everything went well and no massive non-forecasted rainfall swept in.

Of the Vitis vinifera varieties, Gewurztraminer is among the extra sensitive to a Finger Lakes volatile winter; it is also among the early maturing varieties in the region. The variety is not known in the region for low pH and high acidity, and if you wait only briefly after the crop matures, the pH can shoot up and the acidity plummet, a case for flabby wine.

In the good old days, when the large wineries ran the vineyards, they trained local growers to pick grapes at what the winery considered optimum Brix (sugar) levels for each variety. This mindset is fine for producing wines with no particular depth of character and no particular reason to be anything more than quaffers, but it is not a useful way to deal with the desire to produce premium wines that make a singular, personal statement about the variety’s characteristics. For that, you need to develop the experience to analyze all the numerical stats for sugar, acid and alkalinity plus, you need to develop a palate for analyzing the future wine possibilities of a few clusters of grapes pulled off the vine and crushed into juice—the samples that provide you with a taste of maturity.

Not only is the aroma of fermenting Gewurztraminer among the most pleasantly heady of grape fermentations, the taste of mature Gewurztraminer grapes is a delightful simulation of sweet ginger. Being among the most educated and dedicated of grape growers in the region, Jim spent many years as vineyard manager for one of the local large wineries and he also operated with his wife his own vineyards that they used in their business to supply home winemakers with products.

When Nick realized his financial straits prevented him from making an initial investment in a good bladder press, he made a deal with Jim to contract grapes from him and then to pay a pressing fee; Jim had the latest in bladder press technology for his business. It was a fine arrangement, as Nick had no plans to produce red wine, which, unlike white wine, was pressed after fermentation.

That afternoon, Nick closed the tasting room a little early and drove his 2-ton pick up to Jim’s place, which was almost directly across the lake from him, but of course he could not get to it in a straight line. With the truck bed empty, he made the trip in about 25 minutes; with the bed full, the trip back took a little over an hour, as Nick usually maxed out the truck’s capacity on the juice runs, and that made for one of the rare times when he drove both carefully and slowly. On this trip, he would pick up 500 gallons of juice, which is about 2 tons in weight, so he emptied the truck of anything that was unnecessary, checked tire pressure, threw in a few small plastic receptacles to augment the two 250-gallon tanks, in case there was excess juice and made off at 4:30 for what would be his first commercial wine.

When he arrived at Jim’s place, he was told he’d have to wait in line. He hadn’t gotten to Nick’s Gewurztraminer yet, but was just ready to get it going after it had been crushed and sat on the skins for a little while to absorb its spicy characteristics.

Jim shot the juice with 30 parts per million of sulfur dioxide and then pumped it into Nick’s 250 gallon tanks as well as one of the plastic receptacles that accepted the excess and handed Nick the final stats for the juice plus a bill for $2500 to cover the cost of grapes and a fee for pressing. The juice was at 21 Brix (21% sugar by weight), .75% total acidity (by weight), and measured 3.4 on the pH scale (approaching the high side, but within the acceptable range of relative alkalinity for wine and its long-term stability).

The juice tasted exactly like Nick expected—ginger ale without the fizz. He knew that the pH might rise and the acid might fall some during the winemaking process, but only slightly. He also knew that he would have to add sugar to the fermenting juice, so that he could increase the potential alcohol to offset the relative softness of the higher pH then, say, regional Riesling, which usually hovered in the 3.2 range. He kept a bag of Dominoes on call for these times. His plan was to increase the Brix to 24 and shoot for 13% alcohol in the finished wine. To do that, and to retain the wine’s spicy fruit character, he would need to select the proper cultured yeast. He decided on Steinberg yeast for its ability to draw out aromas by fermenting slowly and to dryness. The yeast does well at cool fermenting temperatures, which led Nick to open the winery doors in the evening to let more cool air brush the sides of the stainless tanks. Having no coil refrigeration for his small tanks, he cooled them during the day with frequent applications of cold water from a hose.

One afternoon, while waiting for customers to find his tasting room, Nick sniffed a most delicate, pleasing aroma that emanated from his small winery. He walked over to the winery where the Gewurztraminer was still fermenting, taking in the wonderful aroma as he came closer and it became stronger. He grabbed one of the many step-ladders he kept around the place, climbed to the top of the fermentation tank, opened the top door and stuck his head into the fermentation tank. Initially, he was greeted with a marvelous intense aroma of rose petals that was quickly followed by a blast of carbon dioxide that nearly knocked him off the ladder. He made a note to never do that again…

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
August 2010. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 2, 2010

One Romance (23)

Nick’s close friend, Fred, owned a printing company. He volunteered to provide Nick with printing his promotional material and labels for free, but Nick would have none of that. They agreed on a price, which included a few cases of wine. Fred phoned to talk about the label design and to arrange for a trip to the Finger Lakes.

Talking with Fred always made Nick feel good. They met in the fourth grade, shared a birthday—only 15 minutes apart—and spent the better part of their youth in and out of trouble together. Fred had the silver tongue and Nick had the good looks; they were a great duo for picking up girls on the beach, in the park, at the Italian feasts that came through the neighborhood, and in school, on the days that they didn’t play hooky together. Each was best man at the other’s wedding—more than once!

“So, Nick, now that you are going into harvest and getting ready to make your first vintage wines, are you also ready to talk about the label design? I’ve got a few ideas for you.”

“It’s still a little early for that, Fred, but to let you know what I’m thinking, our logo has to be prominently featured at the top of the label, and I was hoping to get a drawing or picture of our property in, too.”

“I see, old friend. I was thinking modern graphics but you are thinking Old World symbolism. Right?”

“Right, Fred, for now.”

The name of the winery was Noah’s Slope. It was a biblical reference to Noah’s first activity after the rain subsided and he was able to leave the ark to explore Mount Ararat: he planted a vineyard.

Nick envisioned the slope of his vineyard that surrounded his home as the right image for Noah’s vineyard and he figured that his house nicely represented the ark, as it was both a home and an old wood frame structure circa 1827.

Fred envisioned a modern graphic treatment of the concept of the ark and the land. Fred saw everything in graphic treatment.

“Listen Nick. I’d like to come up for a visit in two weeks or so. Why don’t I Fedex you the drawings I made so that you can look them over. When I get there, we can discuss it. Fedex goes to your region, right?”

“Geez, Fred. Where do you think I’m living—in the Amazon forest? Of course, we have Fedex delivery service.”

“What I meant is that since you have a rural box address they may not come to your door.”

“Oh. Good point. Maybe I’ll have to pick it up at the nearest Fedex office, which is about 40 miles away.”

“Forty miles away! Manhattan takes up less than forty square miles. You ARE rural. Never thought I’d find you living that way.”

“I never thought so either, Fred, and sometimes it does wear me down to have to drive forever just to shop for groceries or go to the movies. But you can’t operate a vineyard without land—lots of it—and you can’t be too far away from the vineyard when you make wine.”

It certainly was a lift to talk to Fred and to know that he will pay a visit soon. Nick felt so good after hanging up the phone he almost forgot about Sassy.

Sassy was Nick’s vineyard dog. She came with the property. The previous owners were retired and moving into a small retirement community. Sassy had been with them for many years but they could not take her with them, and they didn’t think she wanted to go either. She loved the vineyard land. When they suggested that Nick and Theresa take Sassy, the couple agreed without hesitation.

She was a mutt, a mix of Labrador and some small Spaniel type. Her body was husky and round but it rested atop four extremely short legs. When she walked, she dragged her feet and wobbled wildly; with jet-black fur, the walking dog looked like a land seal.

Sassy knew that Nick was going out to the vineyard when he put on his winter overalls and high boots and then grabbed the pruners and the Walkman. As he made his way to the rows, Sassy wobbled close behind. When he stopped, she plopped down at the head of that row and waited patiently for him to move to the next row where she established herself all over again.

Although Nick and Theresa had two dogs of their own when they moved in, he had taken to Sassy. He knew she was old and near the end of her time, but he didn’t think about that until that morning when he could not find her. Normally, she was right there whenever something was going on in the vineyard. He figured she’d be there for the Catawba harvest just as she was there each day during the Aurora harvest a few weeks earlier. But when he made his way to the vineyard to meet the harvester, Sassy was nowhere around.

After the harvesting was complete, Nick looked around for Sassy in the many usual spots that she liked to lie down or explore. He called out her name a number of times, something he usually had to do only once to get her to come wobbling to him, but she did not come.

After talking with Fred, and still in a heightened mood, Nick decided to look once more for Sassy. This time, he took the two other dogs with him. Sheba and Elf were also mutts and as far as he could tell, they had no hunting talent in them, but they had noses and they had ample time to familiarize themselves with Sassy’s personal smell. He hoped that they might help find their stepsister.

After the better part of an hour stalking the property and beyond, there was no sign of Sassy.

When the previous owners handed over the deed and Sassy to Nick and Theresa, they told a story of an earlier vineyard dog that they once had. As the dog grew older and closer to its end, it seemed to stalk the property more and more, vanishing for hours and even for days at a time, until one day it walked away and never returned. Could Sassy have taken the same route? After three days, Nick figured that she had.

A few days later, while walking the vineyard to assess how best to start pulling up the Catawba vines, as he turned the corner of one row to make his way to the next he instinctively looked toward the end of the row as he had done every time he worked in the vineyard to signal to Sassy that it was time to get up and follow him. This time, he saw only an empty row through blurry tears.

It would be only a few months before Sheba and then Elf were gone. A few days after that, Nick and Theresa had a new vineyard dog; his name was Henry and he was just in time for the spring season. But before that day, there was the winery’s first fermentation to attend to.

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
August 2010. All rights reserved.

Monday, July 19, 2010

One Romance (22)

“It’s Catawba, Nick. You aren’t going to get rich on it.”

This was the advice Nick was given by his neighbor after he balked at the price per ton that the large winery in Canandaigua offered: $300.

“I know, Danny, but how do you guys make a living on that kind of price?”

Danny laughed so hard it scared Nick. He thought maybe the man was touched!

“Nick, you should make wine and stop growing grapes. You don’t have the heart for it. Grape growing is the one business where you buy all your supplies and equipment at retail, and you sell your produce at wholesale. It’s been like that for some time now. In the old days, when Taylor was a big national winery we made money. But as you can see, I’m still driving my 1960s Mercedes.

Anyway, do you want me to tell the grape buyer over there that you are in with three acres at about, what, 18 tons?”

“Yeah, I’m in. Gotta get rid of them somehow. Take a look at them. Do you think I’ve got about 6 tons an acre there?”

“Without a doubt.”

Nick had that conversation in mid September. By late September, he had received a phone call that picking was scheduled three days from then. He was incredulous.

“Danny, they are like peas out there.”

“C’mon, Nick. I’ve seen ‘em. They have some color.”

“Well, yeah, but I’m talking about their firmness. They simply aren’t mature.”

“They doan need no mature grapes. They need grapes for acid and so that they can use the word “grape” on the label. They make up for no juice with water and sugar. You know, this stuff doesn’t go into the kind of wine you drink every day. It goes into someone’s back pocket…”

There was that laugh again, that fell between a howl and a growl. It wasn’t the last time Nick would hear that laugh from a local grower. Over the past few years, they had fine-tuned sarcasm and black humor concerning their fate. Some of them have pulled up stakes; some have started their own little wineries; the rest of them laugh sardonically and keep the bill collectors at bay.

The crew showed up just before dawn. Nick heard them coming in the distance, the quiet, steady groan of a few tractors, one that was connected to the mechanical harvester and two others trailed by wagons with one-ton bins in them. He looked out the window in their direction and saw what appeared like a large insect with bright beams for eyes bouncing its way into the vineyard road. He put on his boots and gloves and went out to start his tractor.

“Now, here’s how we do this,” Danny told him.

“I’ll set the harvester at the end of the row. My guys here will drive a tractor on either side with the bins in them. You will ride on one of the tractor wagons and my son over there will ride on the other. Your job is to clear the bins of debris—you know, dead birds, pieces of wire, whatever ain’t grapes. Don’t worry about the way the grapes look—they suck anyway.”

After about an hour or so into it, Nick was enjoying the work and especially the camaraderie. He had been working for so long all by himself that he missed talking to co-workers. Talking to tourists was not the same, and not nearly as pleasurable.

Unfortunately, for Nick, three acres of mechanical harvesting goes rather quickly, especially when nothing goes wrong—and nothing went wrong. The grapes were picked, the bins were loaded onto a truck, and everyone was gone well before noon. Danny would get back to Nick in a day or so with the full tonnage and a check for $300 each ton, less the picking fee.

Nick’s phone rang early the next morning.

“Hey, Nick, it’s Danny.”

“That was fast. I expected to hear from you tomorrow or the day after.”

“Yeah, well, the news ain’t good. When I got the grapes to Canandaigua I was told that they over purchased and didn’t need all that I was able to bring them…”

Nick cut in.

“Huh? I have no market for those grapes and I have no way to take them back…”

“Relax, relax. They took the grapes, but they gave me less money for them.”

“Is this some kind of scam, Danny?”

“Oh, I know how it looks and I wondered how the hell I was going to break this news to you. But we all were forced to take $250 a ton instead of the promised $300. This is the way these big guys deal with us now. In the old days, Taylor would never have dreamed up such a scheme. Tell you the truth, this may be my last year at this.”

“Well, it certainly is my last year growing Catawba. Have you got the check? How many tons did I come in at?”

“Yours was as I expected, just over 18 tons. The check will be issued today and I will go get it. They are paying me for the whole lot because they have no contract with you. I’ll pay you out of my bank.”

“OK, Danny. Thanks for the call.”

“Hey, Nick. Don’t take it too hard. Chalk it up as a lesson: the money is not in the vineyard; it’s in the bottle.”

Nick sat down to eat breakfast and for the first time that he could remember, he didn’t feel like eating anything. He felt like strangling the grape buyer at the winery, Danny, and himself, as all were complicit in how terrible he felt just then—and just then, the phone rang.

“Nick, it’s Fred.”

Fred was Nick’s longest standing friend—they met in the fourth grade. He was coming up from “the city” for a visit.

Nick couldn’t have gotten better news.

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
July 2010. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

One Romance (21)

In his usual nightly telephone conversation with Theresa, who was in New York City for most of each week, Nick mentioned Gordon’s proposal.

Theresa was not impressed. She knew two things about Nick that he seemed to forget every fifteen minutes: he hated working with other people, and his passion for wine went well beyond becoming rich at it, something that he knew was unlikely to happen. She also knew the terrible strain that finances put on Nick, so she had to tell him to throw Gordon out on his ass as gingerly as she could.

“Oh, Nick, I know how hard you are working and I know how easier your life would be if only you had a few million to throw at the winery. But this guy sounds to me like just another slick money manager who will finagle you into a position either of failure and then indebtedness to him or success and indebtedness to him. I’m against it.”

“Against what? I haven’t said anything about going into business with him, just told you what he told me.”

“I’m against you having dinner with him; against you ever talking to him again. If you really need to establish a line of credit, we’ll have to work harder to find a bank willing to give you one. But don’t give your blood and sweat to a slickster.”

“Theresa, have you no faith? I told you about this because I tell you everything. I have made no decisions one way or the other about this guy and his offer.”

“Nick, you ain’t listening to me. Don’t even have dinner with the guy. He’s a pro: he’ll make you think he’s your savior. Do me a favor. After we hang up, think about why you wanted to start the winery and then think about what it is you want from the life you have chosen. Then, weigh carefully what this guy said to you about profit and cashing out and all that stuff. If after that exercise you still think it’s worth hearing this guy out, then fine, have dinner with him. But don’t have dinner with him if you find that what he said is counterintuitive to what you want, which is exactly what I think it is.”

Nick always knew when Theresa had a point—she had a way of making sure that he did know. She had a point and so he took her advice—well, almost.

That evening, he did something that he had heard about before but never tried. He sat himself down and, with discipline, made a list of the pros and cons of what Gordon offered. As he made his way through the list, he could see plainly that Gordon’s concept was not his. Nick was not in the wine business to cash out—he was in it like a taproot. Yes, he needed to earn a living, but he didn’t want to become a Gordon-like figure that placed money and conquest over everything. Besides, Gordon was at Nick’s wine tasting room and showed no interest in tasting wine. What does that say about him?

At the end of about an hour of pros and cons, it was clear to Nick that he would have to tell Gordon to take a hike. That is what he decided he would do; but only after one shot at trying to persuade Gordon otherwise. He called Gordon’s hotel. They arranged to meet the following day at 8 p.m. in Hammondsport at Nick’s friend’s restaurant, the Pleasant Valley Inn, which he considered the best around Keuka Lake.

Nick went to bed that night counting up the many reasons he would give to Gordon for not going into his type of partnership. He hoped that after giving Gordon his reasons, the man would see the light and come around to Nick’s vision, invest his money based on that, and then let Nick’s vision have wings.

Nick waited at the restaurant bar until about 9, sipping and jawboning with Harold, the owner. Gordon never showed. That was that.

A few weeks later, Nick found out from a local news item that Gordon had invested in another winery in the region. He felt a little bad about it, but if he could see into the future, he would not have felt bad at all: within two years, the local news about the venture wasn’t so good. In true money-management fashion, Gordon put not one dime of his own into the winery. He built a scheme to lure investors and then proceeded to milk the winery’s assets in various ways. When the investors grew restless, Gordon the winery angel spread his wings and vanished.

Nick went back to reality. With three weeks to go before the Catawba harvest, his crop remained homeless. He had to get moving on it.

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
July 2010. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

One Romance (20)

After Labor Day traffic slows at the tasting rooms until October. On one slow day, while Nick was in the back room poring over plans for his first pick up of grapes for his first commercial winemaking, the little bell over the door to the tasting room tinkled to alert him that someone had come in.

It was still rather hot outside. The man held his suit jacket slung over his left shoulder. He wore a blue and white striped shirt that was accented by red suspenders about as thick as letterhead. The man’s head supported a full mane of jet-black hair that was so slick and shiny it gave the appearance of a size Triple E patent leather shoe.

Certain the guy was there to sell him something, Nick murmured to himself, “Oh boy.”

“Hi there. I’m lookin’ for Nick, the owner. My name is Gordon.”

“What is it you need, Gordon?”

“Are you Nick?”


“On what?”

“On what you need—yes, I’m Nick.”

“Well, Nicky…”

“I hate Nicky, so please.”

“Oh, sorry ole man. Nick it is. Well anyway, I’m lookin’ to get into the wine business and two people today suggested that I talk with you.”

Nick immediately figured that his winemaker friend Joel had to be one of those two people, as a joke on him.

“Really, Gordon. Why do you suppose they thought I could be of help? Is there something specific?”

“Well, there is something specific. You see, I don’t want to run a winery—don’t even want to own one—just want to invest in one. Hell, I’m a beer drinker!”

Nick was about to strong arm Gordon out the door when the phone rang. It was Joel.

“Nick, is that guy Gordon there?”


“Hear him out. He says he has money and wants to invest. I thought of you right away because he seems like someone who could help you raise the cash you need to stay afloat and he knows so little about the industry, he’d probably stay out of your way.”

“You think? I don’t. But I’ll give it a try.”

Nick looked Gordon straight in the face and noticed that Gordon’s head dropped a little plus his gaze shifted downward.

“Look Gordon. I’m unsure why someone who doesn’t even drink wine wants to invest in a winery, but I’m willing to hear you out.”

“Good. You know, people own stock in companies that produce things that they may never use as long as they believe the company is a good investment. It’s about the money, Nick. Now I know you guys who make wine have passion, but the question is, do you have the money? I have the money. I want to back someone with passion so that my money—and his—will grow. It’s as simple as that.”

“No it isn’t so simple. Have you done homework? Do you know the margins in this business? Do you…”

“Nick, if I didn’t do my homework I wouldn’t be here. I can see that the wine industry is headed for major growth; the population numbers show it; the increased wine consumption numbers show it; the culture is going to catch up to wine.”

“What you say is true, Gordon, but this is not California. As old as the New York wine industry is, and it is as old as California’s, this state isn’t even close to the success of the West Coast wine business.”

“That’s right, Nick. But California didn’t start out that way—everything starts out as something less before it grows into something more.”

Gordon was both wrong and right. As they spoke, the large Gold Seal Winery was closing shop and the even larger Taylor/Pleasant Valley Wine Company was canceling grape grower contracts and had been sold to Seagram, which was the parent company of Gold Seal. Coca Cola bought Taylor in 1976, couldn’t make it work out, and so it sold to Seagram. Now it appeared that Seagram would soon try to get out from under that weight. On the other hand, a shift from large winery cheap stuff to consumption of so-called boutique wines was taking place, and small wineries were popping up across the country, just like Nick’s winery. For a minute, Nick’s interest perked up; then, Gordon went on.

“Look, Nick. We could map it out. Over a few meetings, we’ll determine if we should go ahead. If we go ahead, we’ll lay out a complete plan, a roadmap. I’ll put up the funds we determine we’ll need, you’ll work the operation the way that we determine it will need to be run, we’ll keep tabs on everything and when the time comes to cash out—bang.”

“Cash out?”

“Yessir. We build it, we sell it, we move on with our money to our next interest. That’s how it’s done, Nick. Hell, by then, I might lose interest in the wine business anyway.”

“Uh. Mmmm. Gee Gordon. Can we get together over a bite to eat later on?”

“Sure. I’m in the area two more days. How ‘bout tomorrow night?”

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
July 2010. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 21, 2010

One Romance (19)

The fourth day of Nick’s first harvest was given over to Spumante.

Spumante had been given that nickname when he was a child for his seeming effervescent personality—and it stuck all the way into his forties. His real name was Frank Guzzi, and his business was selling Finger Lakes grape juice at the New York City Farmer’s market.

The Mennonites went back to work for John’s winery, as he had a harvest coming due, so Nick got himself some family and friends to pick the fourth and final day of the Aurora harvest. He had to train everyone of course, and that made his day long and hard; but the picking got done, and the grapes were in good shape. All that was needed was Spumante to show up with his truck, which he ultimately did and only a few hours later than he promised.

Nick had heard stories of Spumante not showing up at all, so he considered himself lucky when the bubbling personality pulled his truck up by the side of the road. When he climbed down from the cab of the truck to get the lay of the land for backing into the area where the grapes were stacked, Spumante was too ebullient for a man his age. Nick expected that he was drunk. He wasn’t drunk. He was, in fact, a disarming fellow, one of those people who draws you in by the force of his personailty. Nick could plainly understand the nickname.

Behind the effervescence was a liberal man with a 1960s sense of revolution. He opened the conversation not about why he was late, not about what he was there to do, but about the economic mess that Reagan had perpetrated on the country with his “trickle down” theory that managed to trickle down the highest interest rates and inflation in quite some time. Apparently, Spumante was having business financial trouble.

After a few minutes of bubbling over, Spumante told Nick that he would not be able to give him the money that he was supposed to have brought with him for the grapes. Nick briefly thought about telling him to move on but then he figured that the work was done, there was no way he could sell the grapes to anyone else that evening and there was no guarantee that he could sell to anyone else at all. He had no choice but to give Spumante credit.

They agreed that Nick would be paid as soon as Spumante returned from New York City, where he claimed he would sell out the juice. To make Nick feel better, he also claimed that the fellow who would press the grapes for him also agreed to wait for the money.

“OK, Spumante, I’ll expect that you’ll be here with the check the day after you return home—right?”

“You got it Nick. No problem,” then, as is often the case with people who don’t know when to stop, he went on, “Art told me that you were a stand up guy, the kind of street smart fellow who could read a person, and I’m glad you can see that I’m not out to screw you…”

Nick cut him off, mainly because he knew that the rest would only make him uncomfortable and possibly annoyed, as he realized that he was being schmoozed by someone with no immediate ability to pay for the grapes that he was buying.

Spumante jumped back into the truck and proceeded to jockey it into position to back onto the property without having to set his two front wheels on the property across the road, which belonged to someone else. Unfortunately, the truck was too large for the number of “k” turns it took plus, Spumante didn’t seem to have a handle on gauging where his rear tires were at any given moment; soon enough, one of them wound up in the roadside ditch, a catastrophe that was made worse by Spumante’s reaction, which was to laugh uncontrollably.

“What the fuck is wrong with you, Spumante? Have you got bubbles for brains?”

“Aw, lighten up Nick. I’ll get outta the ditch.”

After two attempts, Spumante was deeper into the ditch, with the truck looking precariously like it might roll over.

Nick started up his vineyard tractor and went to find the chain that was hooked on each end for towing and that he remembered seeing somewhere in the barn when he bought the place. Nick’s friends and family nibbled on fried chicken on the front porch and enjoyed the show.

Towing the truck out proved rather easy and as soon as he got the truck onto the road Nick told Spumante to stand aside while he would maneuver the rig onto his property and in front of the stack of grape boxes. Spumante made his way over to the front porch to eat some chicken and to enjoy the show himself.

Ultimately, it all turned out fine: the crew loaded the truck, Spumante sped off to his friend’s press deck, and Nick got to eat the last of the fried chicken before it was time to call it a day.

Two weeks later, Nick was on the phone with Spumante trying to be calm.

“Nick. I will send you the check soon. Things aren’t going right.”

“Spumante, I gave you credit when you needed it under the assumption that you would be here weeks ago with payment. This is no way to start a business relationship. You’re a fun guy, but you are not going to win me over with that stuff, not if you plan to screw me. I don’t take kindly to being screwed, and right now, things aren’t going right for my business either. So please, don’t hit me with your problems; find a way to send me a check.”

The check arrived two days later—post dated. When Nick deposited it, he expected it to bounce, but it did not.

It was a couple of years before he ran into Spumante again, at a wine tasting.

“Hey, Spumante. It’s Nick. Remember?”

“Yes, I remember you. Do I owe you money?”

“No. You took care of that.”

“In that case, how the hell are you Nick?”

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
June 2010. All rights reserved.