Strey Cellars

Archives: September 2019

Nerd Alert

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There are two types of wine lovers: (A) the type that loves to drink wine, go wine tasting, talk about wine, and eat food with wine. Basically the type that just enjoys the fun, delicious nuances of wine. (B) the type of wine lover that probably does all of the above, and then gets geeky. These are the type of people who apprentice with winemakers, and maybe even try their hand at wine making themselves. They are the ones who are not put off by the mind boggling amount of science involved in wine making. I proudly fit into the first category. In the first few years of my love affair with wine, I absolutely fantasized about making wine, and devoured books about wine, but ultimately, I am not a science person… or a physical labor person for that matter. In 2014 I started volunteering in Ventura County and eventually working at Strey Cellars, which solidified that I am very happy being a wine lover, not a winemaker. However, osmosis must be a real thing, while I may not be super sciency, here I am writing blogs about wine. Which means, as I get geeky in the paragraphs to come, you’ll probably follow along easily if you are simply a wine lover. If you happen to be a wine geek, let’s get our nerd on.

There are four characteristics that make up the fundamental structure of wine: tannins, alcohol, sugars (or absence of sugars), and acidity. Having this foundation is imperative to even the possibility of making good wine. I’ve heard it described as a square picture frame, each side needs to be solid, or you won’t be able to stretch the canvas over it properly. The canvas, being that particular winemaker’s style. The style isn’t going to translate if there is an imbalance of tannins, alcohol, sugar, or acidity.

While all of the above are extremely important, I want to focus on acidity. I know that the word can be a bit off-putting. Personally, when I hear the word I envision the horrific cartoon acid called “The Dip” from Roger Rabbit. Acid just seems so violent. But in wine, it’s actually super important and really makes or breaks the taste of the wine. You know that feeling when your mouth starts to water when you so much as think of something tart, like a lemon for example? That’s acid. Any time wine is described as crisp, bright, racy, or nervy, that’s the acidic influence. Acid is what makes wine mouth-wateringly delicious… when properly balanced, of course. Scott, our winemaker says that “acid is what keeps you coming back, it’s what makes you want another sip.” Wine does that every time you drink it, or think about it, no matter which varietal you are drinking. It’s happening to me right now just thinking about popping a bottle! Now, contrary to popular assumption, particularly if you, like me have been struck by the “Dip” reference, or even have suffered from things like acid reflux, higher levels of acidity aren’t a bad thing. You absolutely can have high acidity and a balanced wine at the same time. Too much acidity will kill the fruitiness of a wine, but not enough acid leaves you with a weak tasting wine that will probably start to turn brown over time. Crisp clear whites, and bright reds, and purples are a sign that the wine has high acidity.

There are many different types of acids that make up “Total Acidity”, or TA. The main acid is Tartaric Acid. Grapes are basically the only fruit with high levels of Tartaric Acid, which could be why it makes such a superior fruit for wine making. It’s extremely important for taste and color. You have definitely heard me talking about Malic Acid before. Almost all red wine goes through a malolactic fermentation (which is what is happening with Slanted right now. Usually this happens in the barrel, but if it doesn’t, then it can happen in the bottle.) Malic Acid helps the wine to have a rounder, fuller mouthfeel, while Lactic Acid brings more of a buttery taste.

I’m sure you have been waiting for me to mention pH. We hear about pH everywhere we go! “Drink alkaline water to balance your pH!” I’ll be honest, I had no idea what that even meant until recently. Water has a pH of seven which is neutral, on a scale from zero to fourteen. Zero is actually high, and fourteen is very very low or nonexistent acid. (I don’t know why it’s backwards, this is why science is not my thing.) In wine, we are hoping for lower numbers, generally because without acidity, spoilage bacteria is able to grow in the wine, which destroys it.

Depending on the winemaker and the region, you will find conflicting views on adding acid. This is mainly because grapes grown in cooler climates that have a longer, slower growing season naturally maintain acid. Grapes grown in warmer climates, like California, Argentina, Chile, and Australia, metabolize the acids, leaving very little, if any, by the time you pick the grapes. It is not only totally legal to add acids, but quite often necessary. I mention that it’s “legal” to add acid, because laws regarding wine making are very particular. I should also mention that added acids are natural ones that already occur in grapes; it’s not foreign or random additions. The timing of acid additions is extremely important, too. You don’t want to add acid too late in the wine making process, this will create a chemical taste. In any event “Acidification” is important for the the taste of the wine, it’s imperative for preserving the wine, and will help wine age.

Acids don’t only preserve wine, either, it occurs to me that my skin care serums and creams have different acids added to preserve and repair my youthful looking derma. Interesting how acids promote graceful aging for both wine and humans. If you’re going to take anything away from this blog, just remember next time you’re wine tasting, that acids are what adds the mouthfeel. That clean, tart feeling that makes your mouth water is all thanks to acids. Wine is extremely complex, and the making process exhausts my brain. But all of that science-y stuff doesn’t have to make an impact on you. All that should really matter to you is whether you like the taste of the wine. You can leave the Erlenmeyer flask, litmus papers and hydrometer to your winemaker.

Author’s note: My name is Justine and I have been working in the tasting room at Strey Cellars for over four years. We are a small family owned local boutique winery. If this is your first visit to my blog, you’ll notice that I write as if we are old friends, because this is the energy of our winery. Come visit sometime, and see for yourself. If you enjoyed this blog, please share it with a friend. Cheers!

Moon Farming

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Our world is filled with cycles and seasons, ruled by what exactly? Ancient mythology tells stories of gods who’s jealousy, love lives, and personal drama have affected the Earth. Giving power to goddesses like Demeter, the goddess of  harvest, crops, grains, and fertility. Before her heart was broken when Hades kidnapped her daughter, Persephone, everything was always fertile, luscious and hearty. In Demeter’s grief, she allowed all of the crops and plant life to die. This upset the balance of the Earth. Thanks to contributions from several other gods and goddesses, Persephone was rescued from Hades and reunited with her mother. While Persephone had been in the Underworld, she had fallen in love with her captor, and felt conflicted. Then there was this pomegranate situation and Zeus ruled that Persephone would spend six months in the Underworld and six months on Earth with her mother; but not because he cared about Persephone, Demeter, or Hades OR despite the fact that he was Persephone’s father. He needed Demeter and Persephone’s gifts to keep the Earth alive. So, half of the year, Fall and Winter, Demeter grieves, causing the crops and flowers to die. The other half of the year, Spring and Summer, are filled with new abundant plant life. Thus, we have seasons.

Why am I giving you a mythology lesson? Because, these stories and archetypes are based on astrology, which I’m sure seems to have absolutely nothing to do with wine, but bear with me. In Astrology it is believed that the the cycles of the moon rule certain aspects of us as humans, but also nature. Scientifically speaking, there are theories that connect certain moon phases with behavioral changes in animals, humans and water. The moon’s gravitational pull changes the tides, and the theories say that because we are made of about 60% water, we are affected by the moon. My grandpa is a surgeon and he is always on-call during full moons because there are always more accidents. I also have a friend who is a dispatch officer for Ventura County, and she says that full moons are always filled with the weirdest calls. In the event that the moon does in fact affect the Earth in these ways, it is entirely possible that plants are affected as well.

In the 1920’s Rudolf Steiner, a scientist and philosopher, wrote books about agriculture, and coined the term Biodynamic Farming, which is a holistic, ecological, and ethical approach to farming, gardening, food, and nutrition. Today we might compare it to organic farming, but Biodynamics leans heavily on astrology. Biodynamic vineyards essentially create an ecosystem out of their farm/vineyard. It is a comprehensive organic system of farming, and a complete entity. Instead of using pesticides, these vineyards grow specific plants and flowers that attract “good” insects and birds with the purpose of eating the “bad” insects. They have bird boxes and owl boxes overlooking the vineyards to managed pests that might destroy the vines or eat the fruit. Sheep and goats are used to eat the vegetation and weeds growing along the bottom of the vines, so that they don’t have to compete with weeds for water, or healthy soil. Legumes are often planted at the base of the vines as a cover crop. Chicken droppings are used as fertilizer, and maintaining healthy soil is at the forefront of Biodynamic farming. These farms grow their own herbs which they use to create tinctures for the plants. Farming in this way enables vines to last up to 50 years longer than farming methods we see today.

I’m sure all of that sounds perfectly sustainable and understandable, but that is only a part of Biodynamics. As a Biodynamic farmer or viticulturist, it is imperative that you follow astrology. I am not saying that the farmers check their horoscopes in Cosmo before going to work. They do, however, keep track of which sign the moon is in. I’m sure you’ve heard this line before, “As above, so below”, these words are found in some of the most ancient texts, specifically The Emerald Tablet, (which is said to hold the secrets of the universe), Kabbalah, (which is Ancient Jewish Mysticism) and even The Bible, (which is one of the most popular books to date). “As above, so below” refers to the belief that everything that happens on Earth is related to the astral plane. I know it’s getting weird, wait for it. Yes you still have freewill and no the planets don’t have control over you. The idea is that each of the planets plus the sun, moon, and several asteroids are connected to a specific part of our own natal chart (where the planets where on the day you were born); it’s like your space fingerprint. In Astrology, there is what looks like a pie chart. This chart has 12 slices. Each slice represents an astrological sign. Each astrological sign represents an element. There are four elements, Earth, Air, Fire and Water, and three astrological signs fit into each category. On the chart, you’ll see that the signs that are alike, are not next to each other. The order is: Fire, Earth, Air, Water…. Aries (fire), Taurus (earth), Gemini (air), Cancer (water), and then it repeats, Leo (fire), Virgo (earth), Libra (air), Scorpio (water) and repeats once more, Sagittarius (fire), Capricorn (earth), Aquarius (air) and finally Pisces (water). This is important because as the moon orbits, it changes signs just about every two and a half days.

In Biodynamics specific signs correlate to the type of farming you do that day. This is because it is believed that the moon brings energy in and out of the plant at certain times of the month. When the plant is taking in energy, you fertilize. And then the plant is giving energy, you harvest. For instance, when the moon is in a fire sign, it is giving energy, so fire signs are considered fruit days. When the moon is in a water sign, it’s a leaf day, which is a time to prune. The theory goes as far as to assume which days certain wines will taste the best, like when the moon is in an air sign, it’s a flower day, which, rumor has it, means that white wine taste better.

As if that’s not strange enough for some people, there is a tradition, which is the cornerstone for Biodynamic farming called “horn manure.” It’s held on the Autumn Equinox beginning the 6 months where the earth is “taking energy.” This is when the farmers fill 40-50 cow horns with manure, and bury them; then they dig the horns back up in Spring. Now, it’s not just any horns that are used, it’s specifically supposed to be female horns. The belief is that cows are (Taurus) Earth animals, and the horns reach up to the sky, balancing “above and below” and female energy is nourishing and fertile. The manure is supposed to be from a lactating cow. It’s mixed with finely ground quartz crystals (Yes, you read that right!) and a mixture of various herbs. Throughout the 6 months that these horns are buried, the combination of the earth itself, the horns and the manure become rich a compost. The contents of the horns smells sweet and almost chocolaty. It is then stirred in a barrel with rain water. The stirring part is spiritual, the farmers stir in a specific direction and create a crater in the liquid, then they reverse causing a whirl pool effect. (Some farms invite everyone who works on the farm to participate in this ritual stirring.) They repeat this for one hour. Then the contents are sprayed all over the property. It’s like the circle of life. Planting decay, and allowing the Earth to essentially alchemize it, changing it from … regular cow shit to vitamins for the soil. Or scientifically speaking, it stimulates microbial activity in the soil, regulates the pH, dissolves minerals and stimulates seed germination.

Even though it sounds pretty “woo-woo”, Biodynamics is practiced far and wide, and has been proven to be an incredibly sustainable solution for vineyards and farms alike. A huge part of this type of farming is respecting  Mama Nature and working with her, as opposed to shutting down her cycles. This is a lesson we all can learn. If you are intrigued, I recommend following the moon yourself. I do this in the back of my journals, I write the date, the moon phase and which sign the moon is in, then my mood/energy. (If you are a woman, you can go as far as to chart your cycle along with the moon. You might be surprised to see how in tune you really are.) If Biodynamic Farming is a small representation of the Earth itself, designed to follow natural cycles, then we are much smaller representations of the Earth, just flowing along as nature intended. Consider the benefits of paying closer attention to our own bodies, and finding your own fruit, root, flower and leaf days.

Author’s note: My name is Justine and I have been working in the tasting room at Strey Cellars for over four years. We are a small family owned local boutique winery. If this is your first visit to my blog, you’ll notice that I write as if we are old friends, because this is the energy of our winery. Come visit sometime, and see for yourself. If you enjoyed this blog, please share it with a friend. Cheers!