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Bob’s Your Uncle

We are currently in the thick of the vintage, familiar territory for us after 3 previous harvests. We have become accustomed to the winemaking techniques that set Australia apart from other wine regions and have even picked up some new Aussie phrases such as, “Bob’s your Uncle” which we are still trying to decipher the meaning of. As far as we can tell it’s something equivalent to, “oh well, that’s the way it goes”, but even after asking, we’re still not 100% positive.

We are excited to be working with some different varietals this time around, including some white wines and fortified wines. For those new to wine, one of the big differences between white and red wines is that white wines are pressed immediately, prior to fermentation, and red wines are left to ferment on their skins in order to exptract color and tannin. Our first few weeks of crushing consisted purely of white varietals including Chardonnay, Semillon and Reisling. When these wines started fermenting, the tank farm was transformed into an olfactory play land , filled with the amazing aromas of tropical fruit and blossoming flowers.

We now have the addition of some red varietals including Shiraz (Barossa’s signature grape), Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. This harvest is expected to be one of the earliest and shortest on account of the hot, dry conditions. Grape counts are down throughout the Barossa but the quality remains high. When the Grenache comes in, it usually signifies the end of the harvest. We’re hoping not to see those grapes for a while longer!

Here is a mash up of pictures from our last few weeks. Cheers!

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If you are in the area, here is a line up of wineries we’ve recently enjoyed tasting at:

Yalumba: Oldest family owned winery in the Barossa. They do everything onsite, even make some of their own barrels! Beautiful grounds and some really nice bottles! Probably our all around favorite tasting in the area. We even walked in on the filming of the next season of Master Chef Professionals Australia!

TeAro Estate: Small family owned operation. Gorgeous little tasting room. We enjoyed their Grenaches and their hospitality.

Two Hands: They enjoy a loyal following in the States and it’s easy to see why. Not a bad bottle in the line up. If you are itching to see what the big, kick-you-in-the-teeth Australian Shiraz’s are all about, you can find those here as well as a mix of milder versions. Your tasting fee is donated to charity.

Torbreck: Really nice wines. Some of our favorite wines next to Yalumba. In the affordable price range we liked The Steading, a GSM or Grenache, Shiraz, Mataro blend. We would know it in the States as Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre.

Shaw & Smith: The tasting here comes with a $15 fee (most in the area are free or applied to a purchase) and a pairing of local cheeses. We enjoyed both the cheeses and the wines. We went home with a bottle of the Sauvignon Blanc.

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Santa’s Workshop for Wine Lovers

It was an exciting week for us in Bordeaux, which included a tour of the Sylvain Tonnellerie (barrel-making factory). Sylvain is one of the world’s premier tonnelleries and their barrels can be found in wineries around the world. In their warehouse, we saw barrels tagged for delivery to Chateau Angelus (France), Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (Napa Valley, California), and other wineries in Australia, Italy, and around the world. Sylvain produces approximately 120 barrels per day, or 33,000 per year, which represents about 10% of the total French Oak barrel production.

Our Chilean born, trilingual tour guide explained how the entire wood buying and barrel making process works. Each year France’s national forest service selects and releases a catalogue of mature oak trees (of two varieties) to be sold from their forests. The trees are in the neighborhood of 250-350 years old. The barrel makers are given time so that their inspectors can visit the different forests and then the trees go up for sale. These trees are not planted but grow naturally. As the older, taller trees are cleared each year, the younger trees gain access to more sunlight, which aids in their growth. Several months after the sale, when the weather cools and the sap runs into the roots of the tree, the winning buyers go back the forests to collect their wood.

Sylvain purchases trees exclusively from three forests in eastern, central, and western France. When they arrive at the Sylvain factory, the trees are split, shaped into staves, seasoned (air dried for 24-36 months), then bent and formed into barrels. Sylvain takes extreme care in every step of the process. On average, only 20% of the wood from each tree is suitable for barrel making and the rest is used for furniture and other items. Each piece of wood is inspected for knots, worm/insect damage, and splits, and the wood is sorted according the width of each ring. The trees with the tightest/smallest rings are the most prized and are used in the premium barrels.

One of the highlights of the tour was seeing the toasting of the barrels. While many of the workers in the tonnellerie switch positions from day to day, the “toast masters” are specialists and practice the same craft each day. Technology has certainly made certain parts of the barrel making process easier, but the toasting is still done by hand, the old fashioned way.

It was a great tour and a really interesting process to see. France produces the lion’s share of the world’s wine barrels so it is great to see that they have found a way to do it sustainably. Of course, ending the tour at Sylvain’s winery with a tasting and lunch didn’t hurt our opinion of them either.

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Goodbye Italy, Hello France!

Meghan and I were both more than a little sad to say goodbye to Iuli winery; our new friends, Summer & Fabrizio; and Italy in general but we were also very excited to work a harvest in Bordeaux, France. Though other regions may claim comparable quality, no other wine region has the same worldwide name recognition as Bordeaux. The region is famously divided into the Left Bank and the Right Bank. Our positions with the Rolland Collection, brought us to the merlot-heavy, Left Bank – specifically to Pomerol’s Le Bon Pasteur and Fronsac’s Fontenil wineries. And despite the studying that we did before we left for Europe, we seemed to have forgotten all of our French. Over the last couple weeks, we’ve re-learned a lot of the basics and we are making slow, but steady progress. Sometimes our Spanish and limited Italian come in handy, other times it all gets mixed up and makes us revert to sign language. Progess at the winery is proceeding more quickly than our language skills; over the last two weeks all the grapes came in from the fields and are now resting comfortably in stainless steel tanks, oak tanks, and barrels. The rest of our season will be spent managing the vinification at Fontenil. Conveniently, we’re also living in a charming guest house on the Fontenil property, just steps from our work.

We’ve befriended other young winemakers from around the world (Argentina, Spain, United States, India, and of course – France) who are working the season with the Rolland Collection. If/when the schedule lightens up, we hope to visit some other chateaux. Like the wines from Piedmont and Bordeaux, our experiences in each country will be different – but we couldn’t have asked for two better opportunities to learn!

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Our first real bottling

Bottling was relatively simple in our home winemaking days. Our friends saved their old bottles for us, we soaked them, scraped off the labels, cleaned, sanitized, filled, corked, and then slapped a computer-printed label them. It took a couple hours and we ended up with 10-12 cases of our very own moonshine wine.

When it comes to bottling on a commercial scale, even at a smaller production winery such as Iuli, it’s a whole ‘nuther ball game. The mobile bottling truck is scheduled, then boxes of tape, shrink-wrap, labels, foil, and corks are pre-ordered. Pallets and pallets of bottles stacked 7 high arrive, thousands of boxes are pre-made & marked according to expected production, and game faces are readied. After some test bottles, tweaking the machine, and roles are assigned, the madness begins with bottles flying through the truck as fast as (or faster than) we can keep up with them. At Iuli, this craziness lasted for three glorious days.

The machine itself is just plain fun to see in action with all its gears and belts and other thing-a-ma-jigs, but more than that, it was great to be a part of the process of taking the wines from their large tanks and put them into the bottles that will be opened at homes, restaurants, and gatherings around the world.

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Newest Addition to the Team

Meet Jim, the newest addition to the Iuli/Indie Wineries team. He’s a Lab, Setter mix and pushing the record for most photographed puppy on the face of the planet. His palate is limited to shoes, a toy pig and grass but he’s working hard to expand it. We all agree he’s a keeper.

The Art of…

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting our dear friend Artur Podniesinski, well – we sincerely hope you do someday. He’s a one-of-a-kind, unforgettable character who has been both a huge inspiration and a great help as we’ve transitioned into the wine industry. Starting out by working at his parents’ wine shop in Long Island, Art has since launched his own line of incredible wines called “The Intern.” And when we began this crazy adventure, he was one of only a handful of “wine insiders” that we knew. More than just sharing ideas and providing advice, Art actually put us in touch with Summer and Fabrizio of Iuli Winery where we’re currently working, so THANK YOU ART!

And what an experience it’s shaping up to be! With the relatively small production, we’re really able to participate in every stage of the winemaking process. In just two short weeks, we’ve helped with the actual harvest, crushing/de-stemming, and have even bottled some previous vintages. On top of getting all this production experience, we’ve also had the opportunity to taste a number of extraordinary wines from Summer and Fabrizio’s personal cellar. Cheers to you Art, we wouldn’t be here without you!

Hittin’ the road!

It’s been about two months since our last post. During our time away we caught up with friends and family, attended a wedding in Canada, went to Washington for our anniversary to do some wine tasting, I got a new camera, we climbed two 14er’s in Colorado, traveled to Copenhagen to visit really good friends, visited post-apocolympic London, and hung out with another set of good friends in Ireland’s countryside. Now we are in Italy for the harvest in Piedmont and really excited to be back in action. We have a soft spot for Italy as we spent our honeymoon here and, let’s be honest, what’s not to like? The people are friendly, the food is out of this world and the wine is divine. Not to mention the beautiful countryside and rich history.

We are working at a small organic winery called Iuli in Montaldo di Cerrina, Italy. I am in love with this winery already and we’ve only been here for 5 days. When Matt and I open a winery, Iuli is what I want to model it after. The winemaker Fabrizio Iuli and his fiancé Summer Wolff, founder of Indie Wineries, are so passionate about what they are doing. They are supporting the small farmer and farming organically not because it’s en vogue, but because it’s what they truly believe in.

Working at this winery will be a much different experience than our time spent in Chile at Lapostolle. Because it’s a smaller scale production, we will have the opportunity to be involved with everything from picking the grapes, to cellar work, to bottling wine from past vintages. Here Fabrizio doesn’t use a laboratory to test when the wine has completed a specific stage of fermentation, he judges based on the taste. We will also be working directly with the winemaker, which is fortunate for us at this stage of our “wine education”.

If you are looking to try a new wine, check out Indie Wineries. Summer and her crew have a great philosophy and support unique, small production wine makers in the States and Europe. You are sure to get a bottle that someone poured their heart into, although I will say that they sell out quickly based on high quality and smaller quantity. Iuli is on the Indie Wineries list and we found it in Colorado at a great price. Look on the list of National Distributors on the Indie Wineries web page to see if your state carries these wines. Then call up your local wine shop and ask if they carry the distributor’s wines from your state (for example, in Colorado Indie Wines are distributed by Natural Wine Company) and if they don’t, ask them why not?

We are only going to be here for about 3 weeks before we head to Bordeaux for a harvest at a different winery. Even though our time here is short I have a feeling we will be leaving with a wealth of knowledge. We feel very fortunate to be doing what we love and to be learning by doing.

In future posts we will try to introduce you to some other winemakers in this region, tell you about our connection to Iuli and Indie Wineries and touch on organic farming. I’m also going to try to throw in a short tutorial with tips on packing light. I can’t say we’ve mastered this concept, but we’ve come a long way since our last trip. Salute!!

Mendoza

Three days of wine tasting in Mendoza was a pleasant way to relax after wrapping up our first harvest. Of course, over the last decade Mendoza has exploded onto the international wine scene with it’s first class Malbecs. Originally used as a blending grape in Bordeaux, Malbec has found it’s home in Mendoza. This grape can produce excellent bottles by itself or when used as the principal varietal in blends that typically incorporate small percentages of other grapes such as Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot, and/or Cabernet Franc. Overall, we were very pleased with the quality of the wine, the variety of the styles, and the hospitality of the many people we met.

Before we left for Mendoza, we booked a hotel (which did NOT look like the picture online once you got past the lobby), rental car and set up appointments with 3 wineries per day. Most of Mendoza’s wineries are located within 30-45 minutes of the city in sub regions known as Maipu, Lujan de Cuyo, and Vistalba. To get our bearings straight we setup our first two days worth of appointments in these areas including Alta Vista, Nieto Senetiner, Catena Zapata, Weinert, Tapiz, and VistAlba. On the third day we decided to venture out a little further to the Uco Valley, in which more and more of Mendoza’s premium wines are being produced each year. In the Uco Valley we toured and tasted at Andeluna, Bodega La Azul, Salentein, and Clos de los Siete.

Our absolute favorite tours and tastings were at Catena Zapata, Vistalba, and Clos de los Siete. The premium wines from Catena Zapata are very impressive, along with some of the wines that they only sell in South America. Vistalba, though a relatively young winery, proved able to stand up to Mendoza’s best. And Clos de los Siete, a project between multiple wineries, with Michel Rolland as both part owner and winemaker, delivers an incredible blend at a great price – about $20 US dollars.

Combining a great wine list and delicious Argentinean cuisine, Ocho Cepas was our favorite restaurant of the weekend. Although the restaurant at Bodega La Azul was a close second with it’s amazing view of the Andes, relaxed atmosphere and classic rock music.  An unexpected find right across the street from Salentein, the chef there performed a small miracle by turning instant coffee into a culinary masterpiece.  We’re still not sure if he was lying to us when he said he was out of espresso.

One thing to remember is that if you rent a car in Mendoza, you have to leave your headlights on all day. The police will stop you if you don’t, we know from experience. Despite our brief run in with the fuzz, we still agree that a trip to Mendoza should be on any wine adventurer’s short list.

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The Vines!

On Friday, the Enology staff at Lapostolle had the opportunity to take a guided tour of some of our vineyards. Led by resident viticulturalist Jorge Castillo, we started off listening to a presentation on Lapostolle’s biodynamic practices. I won’t get too much into the details of biodynamics, but it is an organically focused agricultural system that views the entire farm as a connected, living system. On a side note – on the day of our tour – Lapostolle received word that they are the largest biodynamic winery in the world!

Taking the tour out of the classroom and into the vineyards, Jorge piled us into his truck and we headed off for San Jose a couple of kilometers down the paved road and then another several kilometers into the foothills on some really fun dirt roads. San Jose is the site from which we get the grapes for the Cuvee Alexandre, San Jose de Apalta Syrah. The vines were planted in 2006 and some of the “roads” leading to the top of the vineyards would be adventurous on foot, Jorge navigated these trails with ease in his truck. Roberto, Rodrigo and I enjoyed the views and the fresh air from the back of the pickup. Most of the leaves were already off the vines, but those that remained were a beautiful red.

After San Jose, we made our way through the Clos Apalta vineyards encountering many of the vineyards non-human residents along the way. We saw ducks, peacocks, sheep, goats, alpacas, and the occasional cow. We also stopped to check out the property’s vegetable garden. Then we wrapped up the tour with a stop at Casa Barrone, complete with its 100 year old vine trellis. We heard that the winery’s owners stayed in this house while the winery was under construction. Now the house is used for special events and the occasional guest. The views are incredible and I can imagine that it makes for a great outdoor party. The house sits at the base of a slope that produces some of Clos Apalta’s most reliable Carmenere.

While I may not have understood every technical spanish word regarding the winery’s biodynamic practices, from seeing the vineyards up close and personal, I do feel like I have a better understanding of and appreciation for Lapostolle’s sustainability efforts. Jorge and the viticultural team put a lot of work into making sure that the agricultural practices do not damage the earth. It is a more difficult way to approach agriculture, but it is also very environmentally-conscious. The most important ingredient in making great wine is to produce great grapes; with Jorge at the helm, I think Lapostolle’s vineyards are in good hands for years to come.

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Harvest Part Deux

It’s hard to believe the harvest is nearly over. Slowly but surely all the tanks (or cubas) are being drained of their juice, the grape skins are being pressed, and the wine is being moved into barrels for aging. The winery will soon be transformed from the controlled chaos that accompanies the fermentation process to a sleepy retirement community where wine goes to rest until bottling.

With one harvest under our belts we are now shifting our focus onto the northern hemisphere’s 2012 harvest. Following the harvest from North to South around the world isn’t a new idea. In fact, all six of our assistant winemaker roommates at the winery have worked harvests in at least one other country if not multiple. For Matt and I, coming into the game a bit later in our professional careers and without a formal wine education, gaining worldly knowledge of the wine industry becomes that much more important. As our good friend and winemaker/brand representative at Lapostolle, Diego Urra wisely said, “The world will be your classroom.”

We are focusing on wineries in France and Italy first and then considering Spain, Germany, Slovenia, Portugal, and a few other interesting wine areas close by. We are looking forward to the harvest wherever it might be! The possibilities are endless and very exciting to consider. It certainly feels as though the world is our oyster!

I’ve attached a video of Matt emptying a tank of grape skins for the press, a process called descubar. There is the lovely sound of a barrel being fitting in the background and a fan running over the tank so feel free to turn the sound off. You won’t miss much. Enjoy!

Descubar (finally, after a brief lesson in video conversion, here it is)