Strey Cellars

Archives: February 2020

Move Over White Claw!

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I have found wine fascinating from the beginning of my wine journey. I could not have told you then that ten years later I would be embarking on my second year writing a wine blog. I could not have told you then that ten years later, I would be a few months shy of celebrating my fifth year of working at a tasting room in Ventura County. Not only that, but that I would consider a winery my home away from home. I could not have told you then, that one day I would like red wine, in fact, I would prefer red over white. And I definitely could not have told you then, that I would love sparkling wines. I never really liked bubbly drinks, even as a kid. I didn’t like sparkling apple cider, or soda. In fact, I remember being 18 years old, I was friends with these guys in a band, and they snuck me and my friend into The Roxy, LA CA. Long story short, someone bought us beers. Well, my friend and I tried to drink them, but we hated the taste, so we poured them out in the bathroom. That’s how much I did not like carbonation! After all that, I dumped out my illegal beer!

Things have changed quite a bit since then (I like beer now, for one). If you follow me on social media, you know that my favorite drink is champagne. In the morning, I pour myself a flute of bubbly alongside my coffee, open my laptop, and get to work. I have grown to love sparkling wines so much, that I have this dream of one day making my own. (It helps that I know a winemaker who can help.) But full disclosure, I have no immediate plans to do so, because unlike Scott, I am not ready for my life to revolve around grapes. Not to mention, making sparkling wine is quite the process! Besides doing everything you normally do for wine making, plus temperature control, then you work on the carbonation process, which is equally delicate, time consuming, and requires a lot of equipment. I don’t know if it’s obvious, but a lot of wineries that offer bubbly, don’t actually make their own. Even if their label is on the bottle. Sorry to “pop YOUR bubble” but more often then not, that sparking wine you’re drinking was purchased as a “shiner” (label-less bulk bottled beverage) and then sticker-ed with the pruchaser’s logo. You may have even drank the same bubbles at two different wineries and didn’t even know it.

At Strey, it means alot to us to actually make the things we sell. While making champagne style wine is not in the cards for Strey right now, Scott has been playing around with a fun concept that you may have never heard of before. This last harvest a winery in Paso was selling Cabernet Sauvignon grapes for a ridiculously low price because they were on the vine too long. The deal was too great to pass up, especially since he had been considering trying his hand at Piquette. Piquette is a style of wine traditionally made from the leftover grape skins. Historically, Piquette was the wine used for slaves, and field workers. It has a low alcohol content, and it’s effervescent. Piquette has been made all over the world for centuries because it served a few purposes: There was less waste, your workers weren’t drinking your best wines, and with it’s low alcohol, the workers weren’t drunk or sluggish after taking breaks. While it may seem to be “the poor man’s champagne” it actually is still made to this day, and is extremely popular in France and Europe.

Scott knew that this was just an experiment, and has no intention of selling his Piquette, but mind you, we will have no problem drinking it! The grapes we bought were older, they were a super dense Cabernet Sauvignon, so we did whole cluster fermentation and re-hydrated them. After pressing, we used the grape skins, that would normally be thrown out, added water, and fermented them again for two days, then pressed again. Right now our Piquette is in a steel barrel, and we plan to bottle within the next month or two. We will bottle it champagne-style, using thick glass bottles. When we bottle, we will  add a sugar solution, called liqueur de triage to each bottle, seal them, and allow them to go through a secondary fermentation that will cause that refreshing fizz. I am soooo excited to taste the finished product. I have never had a Piquette before, but I am told that it is reminiscent of a sour beer. 

So, it’s not Champagne, but it’s a really fun experiment, and just might become a new favorite. The hippy in me absolutely loves the concept of Piquette because it’s basically up-cycling! Rather than throwing out the grape skins, and wasting them, we are able to create an entirely new product! IF you know me, you know that reducing waste and honoring Mama Nature lights me up. I have been a vegetarian for over a decade because I have a problem with factory farming, so, seeing these realistic, and potentially lucrative ways to use byproducts is makes this entire situation a no-brainer to me. And, even more compelling, this is an extremely old practice. This takes us back to the days when we nurtured what we created, when we respected all parts of the process, and used every last bit of goodness. This is something that is missing in this day and age, and a big reason Strey chooses sustainable vineyards to source our grapes. Also, did you know our wine is vegan? A fun fact that we don’t talk about often, but I believe is an important part of being the change. There actually is a bit of a “pretentious” energy that people assume when we use words like “vegan”, or “sustainable”, while Strey Cellars is FAR from pretentious, I’ll be honest, I don’t think Scott intended to make vegan wine. That’s okay, because the fact is, we make vegan wine, which does make a difference in the grand scheme of things AND it helps me and my conscience.

On a personal note, I wanted to thank each and every one of you who reads this blog. You have no idea how much I love to write, and you have no idea what it means to me when you tell me that you loved my blog. I hope I am able to open a window into Strey that makes you feel connected. If anything, the Strey Cellars family wants you to know that you are a huge part of our winery, and we do what we do because we want to bring you joy. Making you happy, makes us happy.

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!

To Judge OR Not To Judge

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They say, “don’t choose a book by it’s cover” but how many of us are guilty of choosing a wine by it’s label? Not gonna lie, I am a sucker for a cool label. Particularly the more artsy ones, is there a scantily clad goddess with wind tousled hair and a crescent moon? I’m sold. Humor? I’m in! If the label has managed a fantastic pun, or clever tagline, I want it. I also tend to be disappointed. While eye-catching labels are super fun, they can definitely lead to an anticlimactic wine drinking experience. I am not saying all wine with a fun label isn’t good, it’s just not the best way to shop for wine.

I thought I would give you a few tips on choosing the perfect wine, by navigating the label, and not being bamboozled by advertising. The label IS very important, but legally, you don’t need any of the bells and whistles. The absolute basic information that is required to appear on a wine label is all you need, IF you are familiar with specific regions. Otherwise, it’s safer to choose a wine that has a more comprehensive label. Like one that includes tasting notes, although that’s not actually a requirement. However, a wine label is federally required to disclose a few facts:

  1. The producer (the brand)
  2. The region the grapes were grown in
  3. The vintage (the year the grapes were harvested)
  4. The varietal (the type of grape)
  5. The ABV (alcohol percentage)
  6. Contains sulfates
  7. Net contents (how much liquid)
  8. Name and location of bottler
  9. And the good ol’ government warning

Why are these specific things important? Well, mainly because of liability. It is important for everyone nationwide, not just our local Ventura County consumers to be fully aware of what they’re purchasing. Knowing things like the ABV for example, can make an impact on how much you choose to drink. If you have a sensitivity to sulfites, (although, you probably won’t be reading this if you do, because you probably don’t drink wine) there is a line specifically meant for you! Sulfites, not to be confused with sulfates, are a preservative that isn’t harmful, however, 1% of the population is sulfite sensitive. It’s not an allergy, though, so no, it’s not the sulfites that give you a headache. If you get headaches when you drink wine, it’s more than likely the histamines that cause the headache… or, you didn’t drink enough water and you’re dehydrated… I’ll let you be the judge.

I never paid attention to labels on anything until I was in a relationship with a guy who had PKU (Phenylketonuria, which is a genetic disorder that effects a person’s ability to process phenyylalanine, an amino acid that appears in a lot of foods) and he had to read labels religiously to be sure he wasn’t ingesting anything that his body was unable to process. One of the wild things that I learned to pay attention to was gum labels. If you have a package of gum, you’ll notice a rectangle that says “Phenylketonurics: contains phenylalanine.” Learning this habit changed the way I shopped, and I began noticing things like warnings on labels. Just because there is a warning, or simple a fact stated, does not mean it’s dangerous. Labels are here to inform the consumer. So, be not afraid of labels, for they are our friends! This being said, submitting labels to the TTB, can be super tricky.

Recently, Strey has had a label revoked several times because the wine, Torrontes, is not “recognized” by the TTB. Yes, these grapes are real, yes Torrontes exists, however, there are thousands of grapes in existence, and evidently, not all of them are recognized. This is quite conundrum for us because legally, there is information, such as the varietal that must be stated, but it would be like me writing “Unicorn” on the label… the TTB says there is no such thing. I will update you on how we manage to figure this one out. I am done pulling my hair out over the ridiculousness.

Another time wine labeling has been a pain for Strey was in our early days. Our 2010, 2011 and 2012 wines were made (meaning fermented; juice to alcohol) at another winery, because Scott started making wine long before opening Strey Cellars. Federally you need to disclose where wine was produced and bottled. This is important for consumers to know. It seems unrelated, but what if there was an issue with one of the wines? What if there was a problem with the facility these wines were stored and produced in? While this has not been an issue, it’s imperative to know what the products you have been consuming are exposed to. Well, opening your own business comes with learning curves and that detail was missed, unbeknownst to us we had the option and should have put “Cellared And Bottled By” hence the short lived label exemption stickers we had to use limiting our sales of those vintages to CA. We wised up in 2013…by 2014 we had our first harvest at 951 N Rice Ave and opened the winery. As frustrating as it all was, it’s somewhat comforting to know that these regulations are in place for our safety.

With wine, there are specific percentages that must be present in order to claim where the grapes came from. If you see a label that says, “California” but doesn’t specify where in California the grapes are from, it’s because percentages of the wine came from multiple AVAs. (In the last blog I talked about blending, and “legal requirements” for the name on the label.) Now, seeing “California” on the label, may or may not be helpful depending on your tastes, which is why most wineries strive to be more specific. If you love Lodi Zins, then you’ll be looking for a label that says Lodi, or Temecula, or Napa. Knowing the region helps you to make an educated guess on whether a specific wine is going to be appealing to your palate. I know this is not the most popular opinion, but personally, I LOVE a Sauvingnon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand. In my early wine drinking days I would buy the same varietal from three different regions, just to taste the differences, and learn my preferences. If you are a wine, lover, I recommend doing this yourself. You will open your taste-buds to a beautiful and fascinating world.

You may also have a preference towards a certain winemaker’s style. We hear this a lot at Strey, our members LOVE Scott’s style. His wines are California big, fruit forward and oh so juicy. This is where knowing the winery, or winemaker’s name is important. Usually, but not always, the winery has a style that is somewhat consistent. The winemaker makes wine that he or she likes. If you have been wine tasting, you can usually sense a bit of a uniformity in the flight. Each wine will taste different, of course, but there is something familiar. 

Vintages are important because you can use them as a reference when you’re shopping for wine. I have liked just about every 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon I have ever tried. 2012 was a great year for California wines. If you are holding onto any 2012 California wines, I’d say that now is a good time to pop those bottles! I have noticed my affinity to 2015 wines as well. while they are younger, they have a beautiful fruit pop on the nose that makes me want to dive face first into my glass. (2015 Cab Sauv, 2015 Tempranillo, I’m looking at you!)

Looking at wine labels should not be overwhelming, the important information is there. You probably have a phone in your hand, meaning you can google the winemaker, and your questions can be answered easily. Even faster, get the app Vivino. You take a picture of the label, and then reviews of the wine will appear, like magic! If you happen to be drinking a wine that isn’t on the app, or doesn’t have reviews, you can review the wine yourself, and make it easier for others to choose a wine. Remember that the wine world is like a community. We help each other out. When you share your experience, you can help other people find their favorite wine. I don’t love naked Chardonnays, but when I come across one, I take note because I know people who do. I think this is one of my most cherished parts of working in a winery is that we don’t have to prefer have the same wine. We can all find something we love. And based on your preferences, I can direct you to your next favorite bottle of wine. But if you don’t have me to hold your hand, at least know the regions you love, the years you prefer, and the style you like.  

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!