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A Day in the Life of a Winemaker: Racking

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I used to imagine a winemakers life was so glamorous. Sauntering through the neatly kept isles of vines, plucking sun-kissed grapes, as shadows stretch across the soil. Pulling samples of wine from barrels, tasting the fruits of their labor, breathing in the rich aromas. Waling into the winery during harvest to be greeted with that scent of yeasts and fruit… How exciting it must be to walk through the doors of the tasting room, being congratulated on a lovely vintage by wine club members and customers, basking in their creations.

And then I worked my first harvest. Four years ago I was so giddy with the thought of helping to make wine, I am not sure what I expected, maybe a combination of Lucy stomping grapes, and an assembly line of endless bottles that couldn’t be corked fast enough so I would just have to drink them? First of all, to my great disappointment, there was no stomping. Turns out I am grateful for the lack of stomping, because you have to do A LOT of stomping. It actually would not be so bad if you’re trying to get your “steps” in, I guess. Also, harvest isn’t when you bottle, so the overflowing wine I had imagined was more like lots of sticky juice. It was still magical in it’s own way. Just more, sciency, and physical.

What I also was not prepared for is all of the work throughout the year. Now, you all know that my job is primarily pouring tastings and selling wine, not being a cellar rat; however, a few weeks ago, during our staff meeting, I volunteered to help Scott for the day (I may or may not have been a couple glasses of bubbles in at the time). After all these years I had a basic idea of what we would be doing, but this was like a hands on interview. I shadowed Scott, and I literally mean I followed him everywhere the entire day. I was worried I would slow him down, but he claims I was helpful. In fact, I am shocked that he is able to do these things without help.

It was a racking day. Racking is when you remove all of the wine from a barrel, using a pump to suck the wine out while leaving behind only the sediment. Sediment, also known as called “Lees”, which are deposits of dead or residual yeast and tartrates that are left over after fermentation. Racking allows us to clean out the sediment and sludge that sinks to the bottom of the barrels. Sometimes you will still find some sediment (which looks like wine crystals) in your bottle, that’s not a bad thing, but it’s not aesthetically pleasing. Racking helps to filter and avoid having too much sediment left behind.

Racking is also very helpful when you have several barrels of the same vintage and varietal, ideally you want this wine to taste the same. Each barrel has a mind of it’s own, it may breathe differently, or you may be using barrels what are made of different types of oak, which will bring different flavor profiles. If a barrel isn’t new, it still carries some imprints of the wine before it, not that it will taste like the previous wine, but it may give a slight uniqueness, or begin malolactic fermentation on it’s own time. Often, winemakers will combine the barrels, for a more balanced wine. Even if you did the exact same thing with each barrel, the wine is not guaranteed to taste exactly the same. We use big totes that can hold enough wine for a few barrels, letting it merge, which serves two purposes. We now have the opportunity to clean out the barrels, and all the wine tastes the same when we refill them.

But I am ahead of myself, before we could even begin racking, we had to prepare the space by pulling down giant hoses, attach them to a pump, and clean them with a three step system. First we run a mild cleaning agent called proxy through the hoses, then citric acid, which sanitizes (citric acid is naturally occurring in grapes, so in the event that there is any left in the tubes, it’s not a problem), and finally water to make sure everything is rinsed out. Then, we cleaned out the empty steel tanks that we were going to be filling, which are heavy and awkward. Scott taught me how to use a pallet jack: I ran over my toe, made a 12 point turn, and felt like that contraption goes against my natural driving impulses! I’m pretty sure Scott held himself back from laughing at my frustration. I am not a fan, but I plan to become the master of the pallet jack by the time I write my last entry in “A Day in the Life of a Winemaker series” (yes, I plan to write a few of these, to give you an idea of what goes into wine making, and for my personal experience.)

The next part was a bit tricky. We didn’t want to disturb the wine, because that might cause the sediment to unsettle and it would defeat the purpose of racking. The reason this was tricky, in this case, was because we had a cold storage container outside which is where the whites had been cold settling. So we needed to move the pump outside in order for one end of the hose to reach all the way to the back of the cold storage container, and the other end had to reach inside the barrel room. Normally we would perform these tasks inside the production and barrel room. Once we had the the hoses arranged, we began pumping the wine.

Another perk in racking is being given the opportunity to taste the wine. We can call it quality control. Scott and I were racking all of our whites. It gave me a somewhat rare opportunity to have a private tasting with a winemaker. While I was too short to see into most of the steel barrels, I was able to see how the wine looked in the glass, some of the wines had a cloudiness, which will clear up during the fining process in few weeks. As the wine was being pumped we were able to lean the barrels over so I could see the differences in sediment, which was interesting to me. I imagined sediment was all the same, but it’s not; depending on the grapes, and the yeasts, they do their own thing. So, while one barrel had more of a milky, smooth sediment, another barrel had actual pieces and flakes at the bottom. Even though they looked a little funny, they all tasted delicious in their own ways. It was evident that there were different varietals, Gewurtztraminer was deliciously sweet and fruity, I don’t tend to like sweet wines, but the nose is already so lovely, I can imagine sipping on this alongside a spicy curry. We tasted two different Chardonnay’s because Scott is going a more traditional route with oak on 2 barrels, and the rest are in steel barrels. It’s very early in the process, so the ones that are in oak are not showing it yet, however they taste fruity and chardonnay-y. The steel barrel of Chardonnay doesn’t strike me as Chardonnay, so I am curious to see how it grows into itself. I have always felt like Chardonnay is so distinct, while this tastes like a yummy white wine that I could not quite place. In it’s defense, it’s only a few weeks old. The Viognier is delightful, just give me more, already! It’s floral and fruity, and oh-so drinkable! Sauvignon Blanc to me tasted exactly perfect, it had a hint of grassiness, but it wasn’t overpowering, just enough to say, “Hey, I’m a Sauv Blanc”, the nose makes you want to dive into the glass, it has a sweetness to the nose, but finishes dry and refreshing. The last white we racked was Torrontes, I had never tasted one before, so I did not have anything to compare it to. It was aromatic and floral, I look forward to pouring it in the tasting room! Those wines were not the only thing I tasted, I also had a sip of Viognier sediment, which didn’t taste bad, and goes to prove that it’s totally safe to have sediment in your wine. It may not look appealing, it might even be crunchy, and you certainly don’t have to drink it, but it’s just a natural part of wine. Nothing to be afraid of.

Luckily, all those tastes of wine kept us energized in between cleaning out steel barrels, and reorganizing our indoor cold storage room. (Which will make racking easier next time around, and also, I’m a pro now.) There is a lot of prep time and clean up on racking days, call me Cinderella. Just kidding, Katie called me into the tasting room to help out because it was so busy, so I got out of half the cleaning. But really, it’s a very physical job, and timing is everything. If Scott looks exhausted when you see him, it’s because his job IS exhausting. And it’s not just physically draining, it’s mentally challenging. There is so much to remember, Scott keeps binders filled with notes on each wine. He is meticulous about dates, and even notes when he racked. The benefit of this is to have a log to look back on in the future, if a wine is remarkable, he will want to recreate it as closely as possible. This also avoids accidents, like overfeeding a wine during the fermentation process. It may also help Scott to free up some head-space.

I am looking forward to my next hands-on experience with wine making. It is such a different type of exposure to be able to ask specific questions, and be a part of answering those questions. I was able to see, touch and taste to find answers, as well as have a very patient teacher. I felt like parts of the world of wine were being opened up to me, connecting pieces of the winemaker’s story. I hope I was able to give you all a glimpse of the magical world of wine, and some fun insight into our behind the scenes adventures.

Nice Package

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When you take your first steps into the wine world, it can be extremely overwhelming. Especially if you have not had much experience with wine in your life. There is this daunting energy that can be put off based on movies where wealthy people order obscenely expensive bottles of wine that are 200 years old, from an ancient winery in the South of France. I see a lot of wine misrepresentation in movies, and it frustrates me a little bit, because it’s sends this message that good wine has to be expensive and old. I don’t want to burst your bubble, but I am going to do you a favor, stop pining over ancient wines… and stop “laying down” your bottles of California wine. That $1,100 bottle of wine is not even drinkable, while yes, there was a time that wine was made to be laid down for years and years, that is no longer the popular style, and 98% of wine is intended to be consumed within 5 years. In that 5 five years will your wine age (or change in flavor profile)? Yes, there most likely will be a difference, this largely depends on it’s closure. Corks transfer oxygen, and I know we always say how we avoid oxygenating the wine, but corks are just breathable enough to create an appropriate OTR (oxygen transmission rate), which aids in graceful aging of the wine. This being said, a lot of wineries are experimenting, or have completely switched over to screw caps. I felt some of you cringe just now. Upon doing some research (meaning I tasted a bunch of wine, while reading a plethora of wine articles), I found that screw caps are surprisingly useful, and you can get different liners because the cap itself doesn’t act as a cork, it’s the liner at the top that delivers oxygen at certain rates. You can choose specific liners based on how much aging you want. Most white wines don’t need to age, so these wines will use a cap that has a liner that is not very breathable, while many red wines thrive with some aging, in which case you would choose a liner that breathes more. As I mentioned, wine today is meant to be drank, so, if you absolutely love the way a wine tastes and you don’t want it to age, then using a tighter liner would maintain the integrity of the wine as it tastes the day you bottle it. A lot of bigger wine manufacturers and distributers want their wine to always taste the same year after year. This makes it easier to sell to stores and wine bars, because there is a consistency, and the buyers remember the taste. I notice that wines with screw caps seem to be fresher, and brighter. It may not be traditional, but it’s useful.

Speaking of tradition, a lot of wine “rules” aren’t actually rules. That’s one of the funny things with about the wine world, you’ll see a lot of winemakers are very comfortable with tradition. For instance, wine bottle shapes. There is no real reason for a Bordeaux wine, like Cabernet Sauvignon to be in a Bordeaux style bottle, other than, that’s what most winemakers choose, and it makes it easier to locate a wine when you’re familiar with the bottle. The shape of bottles doesn’t effect the taste or whatsoever. There are 12 major shapes of wine bottles,

Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon), Burgundy (Pinot and Chardonnay), Rhône (Syrah), Champagne (Bubbly), Côtes de Provence (Rosé), Mosel & Alsace (Riesling), Rhine (Gewurztraminer), Chianti (Chianti, obviously, and fun fact about these bottles, they have a basket because they are completely round on the bottom, and need the basket to stay upright.), Bocksbeutel (18th century German and Portuguese style that isn’t round, so it cannot roll away.) Jura (Pinot and Chardonnay), Vin Jaune (named for the wine, itself and which matures for 6 years under a film of yeast before it’s bottled.), Fortified Wine (Port). The shape of wine bottles never had anything to do with taste, it’s just the lung capacity of the glass blowers! And a lot of people think the punt (the dip at the bottom of the bottle) is important for how the wine is stored, but it is also simply traditional. The early wine bottles had punts because it was impossible to make a flat bottom at the time so there was a scar at the bottom of each bottle. The scar would scratch up your table if you tried to set it down, so they made an indentation. The punt also gave the bottles extra stability, which again, is unnecessary now, because we can make flat bottoms, alas, winemakers are attached to the punt, and some believe it helps trap sediment.

Hold on, if you’re thinking that if the shape of bottles don’t matter, than the shape of your glass doesn’t matter, you’re wrong. That is one tradition that actually has scientific proof. Ethanol vapors carry aromatic compounds to your nose, certain glasses actually help specific wines to smell, and in turn taste their best based on the size of the opening. Not all wine has the same characteristics, so different glasses are used to bring out the unique qualities. It’s a lot like body types, Not all of us are going to look bangin’ in high waisted jeans and a crop top, just like some of us look like potatoes in flowy dresses. Dressing for your body type accentuates the different parts of you, making you look and feel your best. Your wine deserves to smell and taste her best. If you were to drink your wine out of a mug, the ethanol vapors would disperse unevenly, meaning the authenticity of the aroma is diluted. The combination of the slope from the bowl to the cone shape at the top of the glass actually helps those vapors to stay in that shape longer. Thanks to this discovery, many people are switching from champagne flutes to white wine glasses when drinking champagne, because the flutes showcase the beautiful bubbles, but don’t allow an optimal aromatic nose, which is a disgrace to the wine. We all know how important the nose is. There are even more wine glass options than wine bottle options, but these have been designed specifically for an optimal tasting and drinking experience. The first thing you need to know if you want to up your wine glass game is that the best glasses are feather light (yes, I know they break all the time, that’s just a natural part of the wine lover’s life. Accept it.), and have a very thin lip. The idea is to almost have no glass and to become fully immersed in the aromas and taste of your wine. Can your glass be stemless? Sure, however, I would recommend using glasses with a stem because holding the bowl of your glass warms up your wine, (and leaves finger prints, not very chic!), and if you wash your hands regularly, (which I know you do, flu season is upon us!) then you’re going to smell the soap much stronger than the wine.

Which shapes should you be looking for? It depends on the wine you like to drink. Red wine glasses are large, with a full round bowl. The large bowl allows air contact for oxidation which brings out complex aromas and flavors. White wine glasses have a U shaped bowl and are slightly smaller than red wine glasses. The U shape helps maintain the cool temperature of your white wine. You can absolutely get geekier and buy a set of Burgundy wine glasses, Bordeaux glasses, Pinot Noir glasses, Cabernet Sauvignon glasses, and have an option for whichever red wine your’e drinking that night. The same can be done for white wine glasses, you can invest in a set of Sauvignon Blanc, Montrachet, Chardonnay and Riesling glasses. If you’re going that far, you may as well add in dessert glasses and champagne flutes, or tulips. You may also need a kitchen remodel to house all of your fancy glasses. My recommendation is to simply find a red wine glass that you love, and a white wine glass that you love (at Strey we love anything Stölzle) but this will give you the best of both worlds.

Falling into the rabbit hole of the wine world can be extremely overwhelming, but equally fascinating. Wine is for everyone (if you’re 21 or older, in the US.) and not knowing how to do a tasting, or what the legs are, or which glass to use is an opportunity. I LOVE it when people walk through our Ventura County doors and have never done a tasting before! This experience can be a life changer for that person. I know because our winemaker, Scott went wine tasting once, and he dove head first down that rabbit hole, about 10 years later he opened Strey Cellars, and is actively living his dream.

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!

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!

Wine Trends

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So, I was thinking about wine… I’m almost always thinking about wine, obviously. In this case, I was thinking about some trends I have noticed, and even a few I predicted. You’re welcome for all the delicious Rosé at Strey Cellars. 5 years ago Rosé wasn’t nearly as popular as it is now, but I used my spidey senses (AKA Housewife Life) and really supported the Rosé idea… every year… While “Rosé Season” has been a thing for a while, Rosé totally outgrew it’s summer only status. We are allowed to drink it all day every day, now. I personally think we can thank moms for breaking that particular stigma. Our 5 o’clock comes much earlier than yours, and Rosé pairs nicely with goldfish crackers. Dads started jumping on our Rosé all day bandwagon, too, particularly as they became drier. There is absolutely no shame in drinking pink, especially if it means you can pop a bottle at noon! 

It’s thrilling that these trends can unfold and reshape over time, I remember when White Zin was the only pink wine I had heard of, and I’m not saying it was “trashy”, but it wasn’t good quality. It was totally drinkable, like an alcoholic juice, just not award winning. Then we started seeing more and more winemakers creating Rosés from other grapes than Zinfandel. Beautiful colors ranging from the prettiest pinks, to the calmest sunset. Which brings me to another trend I was not expecting, but totally approve of, orange wine. No, the wine is not made from oranges, it’s the color of the wine thanks to a certain amount of skin contact. We are used to striving for very specific colors in winemaking, this trend is changing up the game.

 I also remember the horror I felt when I discovered wine in a can. As a Jewish woman, tradition is extremely important to me, and within a few years, screw caps and canned wine not only made an appearance, but hit the ground running. I was reeling from all of this newness! I LOOOVE the sound of popping a bottle, how boring to unscrew the cap! Oh, the horror of cracking open a can of wine! Blasphemy! Well, my dismay was short lived, thanks to that time I forgot a corkscrew, and sighed in relief when I realized the bottle of wine had a screw cap. My apprehension over canned wine came to a quick halt when I realized I could easily smuggle wine to the pool and the beach without the risk of potential broken glass. Not to mention the constant irritation that I can’t take my bottles to the recycling center… but I can take my cans! (Where else do I get allowance money for my kids?) I was sold, guys. The purest in me has been slowly infiltrated by the practicality of these ideas. In fact, it’s not just me who’s buying it. In January, when Scott proposed the idea to add a tap for wine, I immediately suggested canning our whites and Rosés. The canning part has not come to fruition yet, but our fancy tap is pouring our beautiful 2018 Barbera Rosé. We will be switching different wines onto the tap here and there for a fun twist. Scott has been working on different limited addition blends that will be sold by the glass, out of the tap. (If you are not already following us on social media, I’d get on that. You’ll find out when we change the wine on tap, release new wines, upcoming events, and a little birdie may have mentioned an imminent 1K giveaway on Instagram that you should definitely keep your eyes peeled for.)

Alright, here is a trend that is actually a serious pet peeve of mine. The “I don’t like Merlot.” line. I feel like Paul Giamatti’s character in Sideways when he yells, “I am NOT drinking any f***ing Merlot!” Not because I don’t want to drink Merlot, but because too many people have come into our tasting room claiming that they don’t like Merlot, and it’s not because that don’t like Merlot. So imagine me throwing a fit and yelling, “You probably DO f***ing like Merlot, you’re just brainwashed by a mis-perception based on a movie!” Let’s think about this for a second, why on Earth would anyone be that upset over a wine varietal? It’s not about the wine. Miles’ heart is broken, and his ex wife loved Merlot. It’s not about not liking Merlot, it’s about not tasting his heartbreak, not drinking the memories of a woman he loved. In the end of the movie, you’ll notice that he does open that bottle of Merlot and thoroughly enjoys it. Because Merlot is delicious. Thanks to that unfortunate scene (that actually is a beautiful representation of the hoops we jump through to avoid feeling our feelings), Merlot sales plummeted. Winemakers call it “The Sideways Effect”. It’s such a shame because all grapes have such beautiful potential, and every winemaker is going to have their own style. Please don’t skip Merlot when you’re out tasting wine. You just may miss your favorite bottle of wine.

I guess the lesson of the day is that some trends are innovative, creative and even life-changing. Others, not so much. In a world that is ever changing, what do we hold sacred? I think the answer is enjoying the moment, and not getting hung up on who put ice cubes in their wine glass. Of course there are traditions that may be lost, but isn’t that what France is for? Let the Old World hold up the rules, and scoff at our modernization. In America we are victims of the daily grind, and the “work to live” mentality. I say, pop, unscrew, or crack open a bottle, can or… dare I say box of wine, and enjoy this moment.

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!