Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Wedding Bliss and Wine

On Dec 1, 2012 my personal and wine life coincided for several extraordinarily happy hours as my darling fiance Shawna and I said our wedding vows in front of friends and family and then celebrated with some of Aaronap Cellars' finest vintages.  I thought the day was especially poignant given that wine brought Shawna & I together in the first place when a mutual friend invited Shawna along to help me bottle some wine.  Seems Shawna's grandfather used to make dandelion wine and she was curious if I could actually make decent wine in my basement. soon as I opened the door to find Shawna on the front porch, the rest was history and approximately 18 months later we tied the knot.

I do have to give credit where it is due and say that Shawna did an amazing job of planning the wedding.  It was a perfect December night with a cold crispness in the air and a light layer of snow on the ground that provided a perfect backdrop for the ceremony at Glen Magna Farms in Danvers, MA.  The former country retreat of the Peabody & Endicott families, the 1892 colonial farmhouse was beautifully decorated for the Christmas holidays.  Of course, there was dashingly handsome groom, and an absolutely beautiful bride..some vows...romantic readings...blessings...etc, etc.  In all honesty, the ceremony was a bit of a blur since all I could think about was this beautiful woman in front of me.

My biggest contribution to the evening was providing the wine for dinner.  Fortunately for me, the Glen Magna catering permit requires the wedding party to provide all of the beverages, which means we could easily serve my wines instead of purchasing some nondescript table wine.  We did proudly purchase some "made-in-MA" sparkling wine since I didn't have any on hand.  Fireside Catering did a fantastic job with the food and service.  Shawna & I highly recommend them to anyone.

Shawna and Noel's Wedding Menu

Hors D'oeuvres
Long Island Duck Confit Tartlet
Pastrami Spice Tuna
Hubbardston Capri
Fried Bried with Cranberry-Orange Compote
Pumpkin Bisque Shooter

Champagne Toast

First Course
Fall Greens Salad
Dried cherries, wedge of Jasper Hill Farm Bayley Hazen Blue Cheese & Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette
Cornbread, Potato Rolls, & Crystallized Ginger Zucchini Bread

2006 Aaronap Cellars Columbia Gorge Chardonnay
2010 Aaronap Cellars Viognier Curico Valley, Chile

duBreton Quebec Pork Tenderloin
Apples, Sage, & Calvados with Roasted Wasabi dusted Brussels Sprouts & Buttermilk Whipped Potatoes
Cherry Ginger Quail
 Tournees of Potato, Roasted Wasabi dusted Brussels Sprouts & Baby Daikon Sprouts garnish
Quinoa Stuffed Seasonal Squash
Spinach, Red Bell Pepper, Onion, Basil, Westfield Farms Capri Goat Cheese
Fire-roasted Red Bell Pepper Coulis & Califlower Puree 
2010 Aaronap Cellars Yakima Valley Claret
70% Merlot / 30 % Cabernet Franc

Menu just makes you drool, doesn't it?  One of the funniest thing about the meal was that since the caterer provided Reidel stemware, some of the servers thought that a glass that holds half a bottle of wine should be filled with half a bottle of wine!  That was soon corrected by other servers but several of our guests initially received some very large pours!

The wines were very well received that evening.  Even though I'm admittedly biased, I agreed with the guests that these were some of the best that I've made to date.  The Claret was a medium body red wine with dark cherry, blueberry, cocoa, & vanilla aromas.  Medium tannins that left a silky finish on the tongue.  Very nice!

In fact, I'm so pleased with how this wine turned out that I'm thinking of adding it to the future Aaronap Cellars commercial wine line-up.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A chat with Oregon winemakers

Earlier this month I hopped on a plane to Portland, OR to attend the 2012 American Wine Society National Conference.  Even though the median age of AWS membership that attends exceeds retirement age, I do enjoy these conferences.  2 Days and 3 nights of wine, wine, and more wine.  Where else can you start the morning at 7:30 AM with an "educational" sparkling wine breakfast, drink until midnight, and then repeat the next morning?  For those concerned about my liver, this was an excellent opportunity to hone the "sip-n-spit" technique (lest I still be found in a gutter along the shores of the Columbia River).

One of the highlights of the conference was the Willamette Valley Wine Experience on Thursday night.  The entire group of ~450 people loaded up into buses and trekked south to Willamette Valley Vineyards where winery owner Jim Bernau greeted us with a Reidel glass of pinot noit fresh from the barrel as we exited the bus.  A brief tour through the wine cellar and then we had the rest of the evening to sample wines from ~20 local wineries  and sample a delicious buffet.  But the highlight was being handed a glass by Jim Bernau himself!

After the conference, a group of us stayed and headed south for some more in depth wine tasting--because we hadn't had enough wine yet.  The group size necessitated private appointments which ended up providing a couple of unique experiences that I'd like to share.  OK...brag about...either way they were just darn cool.

The first was our tasting with Rob Stuart, founder & winemaker at R. Stuart & Co. Winery in McMinnville.  The winery is located in a converted granary on the outskirts of downtown McMinnville.  Rob proceeded to give us a very unique tasting of wines in progress.  A pinot gris nearing the end of fermentation...freshly barrelled pinot noirs from the 2012 vintage...2011 pinot noirs after a year in barrel...a tempranillo experiment to hedge against global warming...and lastly, a unique cabernet sauvignon-based tawny dessert wine (port by any other name).  In the midst of all that wine, Rob spoke about his winemaking, best practices, beliefs, & theories of what makes great pinot noir.  For 2 solid hours, I was entranced.  Rob probably got a little tired of answering my questions, but hey, what's an aspiring winemaker to do?  We overstayed our welcome a bit so we had to mosey along to another tasting.  But we did return to the R Stuart wine bar (located a few blocks from the winery) later in the evening to purchase some bottles and had another wonderful chat with the tasting room manager.

The second extraordinary experience was our visit to Willakenzie Estate.  This visit turned into a treat thanks to some of the members in the group who had worked at Digital Equipment Corporation, a trait they shared with Willakenzie owner Bernard Lacroute.  That shared history was mentioned when the appointment was made and who showed up shortly after our arrival, but Bernard himself (along with 2 gorgeous dogs).  Bernard escorted us into a private tasting room and proceeded to pour his wines for us along with regaling us with the history of Willakenzie (what a view!) and tales of the wines we were drinking.

There were many other excellent tastings--Penner-Ash, Soter, The Four Graces, Ponzi wine bar, Argyle, and Anne Amie just to name a few.  And amazing food--The Painted Lady, Jory at the Allison Spa, The Horseradish.  Sadly, all good things must come to an end and I had to return to Boston.  I have returned enlightened, enthused, and empowered to build my own dream, just as these folks have done.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Medal Roll Call Continues!

I haven't been submitting wines to as many amateur competitions this year as I have in the past.  The entry fees and the cost of shipping keep going up every year, plus I've been growing disillusioned with amateur wine competitions in general.  Some competitions seem to be held simply as a fund raiser or advertising venue for the sponsors.  Also, the variability in judging results between competitions is sometimes downright laughable.  However, there are a couple of competitions that I do continue to respect:  the American Wine Society Amateur and the M&M Family of Wine Amateur Classic competitions.

I'm pleased to report that my wines fared well in the 2012 competitions.  I was present at the AWS Conference in Portland, OR this past week when the results were announced (more info later) and while I was away, the results of the M&M Classic arrived in my mail box.

2012 AWS Amateur Wine Competition:
Gold medal:    2010 Amador County Zinfandel
Silver medal:   2009 Suisun Valley Petite Sirah
Silver medal:   2010 Maple-Cider "Ice Wine"
Bronze medal: 2010 Yakima Valley Lemberger

2012 M&M Amateur Classic:
Silver medal:   2010 Yakima Valley Claret (70% Merlot/30% Cabernet Franc)
Silver medal:   2009 Suisun Valley Petite Sirah
Silver medal:   2009 Carm-ah (45% Carmenere/55% Syrah)
Bronze medal: 2010 Yakima Valley Merlot
Bronze medal: 2010 Yakima Valley Lemberger
Bronze medal: 2006 Columiba Gorge Chardonnay

Pretty good haul, which makes me a pleased winemaker.  I didn't submit the same wines to both competitions primarily because the AWS competition wanted 2 bottles of each wine and I wasn't about to ship 2 cases of wine.  However, I do find some of the comparisons interesting because both competitions use AWS certified judges and the same AWS 20-pt rating system.  Given those similarities, one should reasonably expect some similarity in results.  There was some concordance (2009 Petite Sirah continues to be consistently well received), but some notable differences:

1) AWS gave the 2010 Amador County Zinfandel a Gold medal while it was deemed weak and over-oaked by the M&M judges.  I'll agree that it's not your typical high alcohol over-jammy fruit bomb of a zinfandel, but more restrained.  M&M judges were apparently looking for fruit bombs!
2) Conversely, M&M gave a silver medal to the 2010 Yakima Valley Claret, while AWS pooh-poohed it.  Granted, I am a little over-invested in that wine since I crafted it specifically for my upcoming wedding.
3) AWS loved the 2010 Maple-Cider "Ice Wine" & awarded a silver medal, while the M&M judges really didn't like it one bit.  I do have to agree with that one--you either love it or hate it.

I didn't submit any of the other wines that won medals in the M&M Classic to the AWS Competition for lack of space in the shipping box.  Perhaps next year after they've aged a little longer.

So what's the lesson in all of this?  If your wine doesn't fare as well as you'd like in a competition--submit it somewhere else!  Sooner or later, you'll find a judge that loves it.


p.s.  An updated note--these wines were made prior to Aaronap Cellars transitioning to a licensed commercial winery in 2012 and thus still qualify for amateur status.  This will probably be the last amateur competitions that I enter.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wine Faults--a fascinating seminar

I've been silent for a while, so apologies for that.  Been busy getting architects & contractors lined up to build the winery this winter.  Still not done (waiting on the architect's final plan), but I've managed to fit in a few "continuing education" experiences.  A very interesting seminar was a "wine faults" class held by the MA Farm Winery & Growers Association.  Certainly we all hope that our wine smells wonderful, but on occasion, nature throws a curve ball and we have to be able to detect off-flavors that reduce the wine value or indicate even bigger future headaches.

"Know Your Faults: A Sensory Evaluation of Wine Flaws"
Presented by Chris Gerling & Anna Katharine Mansfield from the Cornell Univeristy Enology Department.

I had actually attended a short version of this class at the Winemaker Magazine Conference earlier this year and really enjoyed it.  I went with high hopes that the full day class would be even more educational--and I was rewarded.

Now usually, I enjoy going to wine education events because you get to taste wine in the name of education, but this was the first time that I got up at 6 AM to drive 1.5 hours and spend the day evaluating bad wine!  We had 8 flights of wine that had been doctored with the chemical components responsible for the bad or unpleasant aromas in wine.

Flight 1:  Sorbate-Related Flaws in White Wine
     Sorbic acid is used to prevent re-fermentation activity in sweet wines, but ~50% of people can detect the presence of the potassium sorbate used to introduce sorbic acid to the wine.  In addition, sorbic acid eventually gets esterified by the ethanol in the wine to form ethyl sorbate, which gives a bubble-gum fruitiness to the wine.  Tolerable in fruity white wines, but not a good thing in sweet red wines.

     I learned that I'm one of the minority that can not detect ethyl sorbate.  Smells like wine to me!

Flight 2:  Oxidation in White Wine
     We had a glass of oxidized wine and 2 glasses of with low and high levels of added acetaldehyde

Flight 3:  Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) in White Wine
     Three glasses of low, medium, and high levels of free SO2.  The levels they gave us may have been over-calculated because the low level stung my nose, the medium made me gasp for air, and I couldn't even get close to the high level glass!

Flight 4:  Volatile Acidity in White Wine
     Volatile acidity is detected as a mixture of acetic acid (AcOH) and ethyl acetate (EtOAc from esterification of acetic acid and ethanol).  The low level glass was a mixture of 800 ppm AcOH/100 ppm EtOAc.  The medium glass was a mix of 1000 ppm AcOH/250 ppm EtOAc, while the high glass was 1200 ppm AcOH/500 ppm EtOAc.

     Interestingly the low level glass was immediately identifiable as vinegar (AcOH), while the medium glass was more pronounced EtOAc.  But the high level glass was pure vinegar to my nose.

Flight 5:  Trichloroanisol (TCA) in White Wine
     Low, medium, & high levels of TCA, which is the cause of "cork taint".  When fungi in the cork or other wood products in the winery come in contact with sources of chlorine (bleach or other sanitizers), they produce 2,4,6-trichloroanisol (TCA) that smells like musty cardboard at extremely low levels (3 ppt).

    This was immediately identifiable even at the low level.

Flight 6:  Sulfur Compounds in White Wine
     One glass of a high level of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) that was gagging and overpowering.
     A low & high level of dimethyl sulfide (Me2S or DMS).

     The H2S glass was simply over-doped with an overpowering smell of sewer gas.
     DMS at low levels can add earthiness or flavors like creamed corn or truffle to a wine.  At high levels, it's just rank!  These 2 glasses were simply rank to my nose.

Flight 7:  Volatile Acidity in Red Wine
     A repeat of Flight 4, but in a red wine.  Interestingly the low and medium level glasses in this flight smelled more like fingernail polish instead of vinegar, but the high level was unmistakenly vinegar.

Flight 8:  Brettanomyces in Red Wine
     This was an interesting flight.  Brett is a yeast that is usually always present in a winery.  If low levels of SO2 allow brett to flourish, then it can produce off-flavors.  At low levels, these aromas can add complexity to a wine (mushroom, forest floor, earthiness--this French wine!), but high levels result in reduced fruit flavors or added descriptors like "band-aid, burnt match, horse blanket, manure, or rubber"--not the most pleasant of smells.  :)

     Since there is no one compound solely responsible for brett-related off-aromas, the folks at Cornell have come up with a cocktail of 4 compounds that most closely replicate brett aromas:  4-ethylphenol, 4-ethylguaiacol, isovaleric acid, and guaiacol.  In this case, the low level glass smelled like a smokey campfire & mulberries.  The medium level glass tended towards band-aid, but with an interesting clove aroma.  The high level glass just smelled like strong band-aid with a sweet vinegar note. 

All in all, a very interesting class.  I thought the glass examples were a little outside of the normal levels encountered in commercial wines, but they did provide a strong signpost for future reference.  I'm pretty happy to say that these are not aromas that I have encountered in my wines, which means I'm doing something right!

The 3 best ways to avoid all of the flaws above:
1) Sanitation
2) Keep tanks/carboys/barrels topped off
3) Maintain SO2 levels


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Special Home Occupation Permit Approved!

I've been waiting to post this news so that the required appeal period could lapse--didn't want to jinx myself until the deed was done (pun fully intended).  Since today was the last day, I'm very pleased to report that my Special Permit of Home Occupation to operate a winery in the basement of my home has been approved by the Westford Zoning Board!

The question rattling around my head the past few weeks has been "was the whole process easier that I thought it would be, or did my grunt work & planning pay off?"  I honestly anticipated that the local approval would be the most difficult part of getting Aaronap Cellars off the ground.  It has been time consuming with the amount of paperwork and documentation involved, but I've also gone through this with a great sense of support and encouragement from my town leaders.

My fiance will tell you that as the meeting of the Zoning Board approached, I was a bit of a nervous wreck.  I wasn't really all that nervous about the reaction from the Board, since I had designed the business to clearly fit within the Zoning By-laws for a home occupation.  A rather unique home occupation, but a business that fit the letter of the law none the less.  I was nervous about my neighbors' reaction.  See, my neighborhood has had a long standing history of strong resistance to any change that might appear to encourage the growth of non-residential property use.  And I completely understand (and support) this issue--I live here too!  Even though I was pretty sure that my little operation wasn't going to negatively impact anyone, I was still just a little concerned about their reaction to my proposed endeavor.

After the permit application announcement had landed in my neighbors' mailboxes, I half expected a crowd with pitchforks descending upon me.  To try to head that off, I sat down & wrote an open letter to my neighbors explaining exactly what I was wanting to do and how they probably would never even know it was going on.  Then my fiancee and I headed out one evening to deliver the letters in person.  There was a wide spread of reactions--from apathy to encouragement to concern.  We spent a good bit of time with the concerned reactions showing the floorplan and describing the winemaking process.  At the end of the evening, I hoped we had allayed the major concerns, but still expected there to be some folks who would express their concerns to the Zoning Board.

Come the night of the Zoning Board one came to stand in opposition.  The Zoning Board asked some pointed questions, but fortunately I had anticipated just about every one and it ended up being a fairly congenial discussion.  At the end of the evening, the permit was approved by a vote of 5-0.  After the required 20 day appeal period lapsed today, I dropped off the approved permit at the Middlesex County Registry of Deeds, and this just got a little more serious.

Lessons learned in this?  Talk to your neighbors.  Show them how your plans won't negatively impact anyone.  And promise to invite everyone for the ribbon cutting ceremony!


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Special Permit for Home Occupation Submitted

My faithful readers have probably noticed that I've been kind of quiet on the ol' blog this summer.  Lots of reasons--marriage plans, change in jobs, and just plain "it's summer, dang it!"  However, the biggest reason is that I've been marshaling forces for the next steps in opening the doors of Aaronap Cellars.  With the Fed & state permits under my belt, the next goal is getting permission from the town of Westford.

Actually, I have to give a lot of credit to the folks at town hall here in Westford.  They've actually been very pleasant & helpful to deal with.  They actually considered my proposal and didn't say "NO" immediately.  Instead, we've worked together to lay out a permit plan and they seem quite encouraging of my endeavor.  Cross my fingers that this relationship continues!

First step has been to submit a Special Permit for Home Occupation.  Since my home is in a residential zoning, a winery isn't exactly on the list of approved uses.  However, I'm not asking to open a full-blown winery with public tasting room, and have designed the winery to fit within the by-laws for an incidental home occupation.

No, we're not starting an Occupy Westford movement.  Basically this means that the winery will only take up 1/3 of the footprint of the basement and that no significant increase in traffic will occur.  Since a 500 gallon winery can't support a full-time tasting room and my sales will be through off-premise venues like farmer's markets, ag events, and retail outlets, I see no reason why I can't comply with those requirements.

I completed & submitted the special permit application this past week and am on the agenda for the Sept Zoning Board meeting.  Certified letters of announcement will be going out to my neighbors next week.  I'm intending to make the rounds of my neighbor in the next couple of days to introduce myself and the winery plan.  Hopefully, I'll be able to head off any strident objections, but we shall see what happens at the public meeting!


Wine Prices

I attended a special wine tasting last week that got me thinking about wine prices.  Several members of my AWS chapter trucked down to the Spirited Gourmet in Belmont, MA for a tasting of very high end wines from Gaja, a winery in the Piedmont region of Italy.

For those that haven't heard of Gaja, please do go to the link above for more information, as the Gaja family (particularly Angelo Gaja) has been an important force in promoting the Barbaresco wines of the Piedmont region to become world renowned for high quality.  If nothing else, the tasting was a fascinating historical lesson of the Piedmont region & the impact of one family on the region's growth in the wine industry.  Although Angelo got his start in Piedmont, he has since spread to other regions of Italy to produce an larger line-up of wines.

Gaja makes wine that has received numerous accolades from various wine reviews, including James Suckling formerly of Wine Spectator, who is known for his love of Gaja wines.  I would have to agree with James--the wines that I tasted were spectacular examples of Barbaresco wines.  As you would expect from very excellent wines that have received excellent reviews, these were not cheap wines.

The line-up of the evening:
2010 Gaja Rossj-Bass Chardonnay, Langhe region of Piedmont    $100
2006 Gaja Sori Tilden Nebbiolo, Langhe region of Piedmont         $500
2006 Gaja Costa Russi Nebbiolo, Langhe region of Piedmont       $500
2006 Restitua Brunello di Montalcino "Sugarille", Tuscany             $200
2009 Ca Marcanda "Magari" Bolgheri, Tuscany                            $85

I'll pause a moment and let you pull your jaw back up of the floor.  You read that right...I got to taste 4 wines priced >$100 and 2 that were priced at $500 a bottle.  All while standing around a small table in the back of a small wine store in Belmont, MA.

Folks, the Nebbiolos were probably the best nebbiolo wines from Piedmont that I've ever tasted.  Still very young, they could age for an additional 30-50 years.  Extremely well crafted--I was in awe.

However, $500 a bottle?????  Obviously, these wines are not aimed at the average wine consumer, but intended for the oenophiles who could truly appreciate these wines (and be a member of the 1% that could afford to purchase them).  Still, at what point does a wine truly deserve & command a price tag of $500?

Historical reputation definitely plays a part, as does supply & demand.  But I still doubt that I would ever be able to rationalize spending $500 on a bottle of wine.  What lofty event or meal would ever entice me to open it?  Would I actually ever consider sitting down on a Friday night in the year 2042 and opening that bottle--assuming I still senile enough to enjoy wine at age 71?

I leave it to my readers--what's your price points for wine?  Price for an everyday drinker vs that special occasion?  Do you have a bottle of wine planned for that 50th or 60th birthday, retirement day, grandchild's birth, or divorce/marriage?


p.s.  The main question I have is how to I manage to sell my wine for $500/bottle?  Heck, I'd settle for >$75! 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Aaronap Cellars is MA latest Farm Winery!

I was planning on sitting down at the computer this afternoon and muse about the cork choices that I've made since I began making wine.  Even had a killer title picked out:  "Corks......"

But life threw a little curve at me so we'll put that post off until later....


Yep, you read that correctly!  Aaronap Cellars is now officially licensed to produce and sell wine by the Federal and State licensing authorities!

I chuckle because it was a rather anticlimatic ending.  I had had an inspection visit from the MA ABCC (that's Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission for you non-MA natives) scheduled for this past Monday afternoon.  I stressed out all weekend and spent Sunday afternoon rearranging the basement in attempt to clearly delineate that the winery space would be since I haven't started construction yet.  Then the inspector spent 5 minutes in the basement to verify that I had 2 exits/entrances and gave the same answers to some questions on the application, and boom, done.  After signing the inspection report, he said he'd clear the application off his desk as soon as he ran the background report and I'd be hearing from the licensing folks in 1-2 weeks.  Given that timeframe, I wasn't expecting any word for awhile and didn't bother to check the Aaronap Cellars email account until Saturday when I had a few moments....

Turns out I had received an email from the ABCC on Wednesday and they would be mailing the signed license to my business address.  After staring at the screen for a few minutes, I went running out of the office in search of Shawna to share the news.  A quick series of hugs & joint exclamations of joy, and then I dashed to the mailbox where, low and behold, was the signed license!

Lesson learned--check the work email account more frequently after inspection visits!

I do believe we are going to celebrate with a bottle of sparkling wine tonight while cooking dinner.  Perhaps a local sparkler from Westport Rivers to go with the local haddock from Cape Ann Fresh Catch??  Seems appropriate, don't ya think?


Monday, July 16, 2012

10,000+ Page Views

Just noticed on the blog stats that we've crossed the 10,000 page view metric in the past day or so!  Many thanks to all my viewers.  Keep on comin' back--I'll keep on posting!


p.s.  Might just open something nice to celebrate this evening.  Pop open something yourself and join me!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A new friend joins the Aaronap Cellars ranks

In the midst of architect designs, regulatory filings, bottling, and basement clearing, I decided that I needed a new barrel.  Wasn't originally planning on purchasing a new barrel before starting to make commercial wine, but I ran into reality when I became aware that all of my current barrels were going to be full for at least 9 months and I still had wine in the tanks in acute need of removal.  So, I purchased a 26-gallon Hungarian oak barrel from Vadai Wine Barrels primarily to store the 2011 Syrah.

The barrel arrived in excellent condition on Thursday this week.  This afternoon, I ventured into the heat of the garage to build a wheeled barrel dolly.  I've built similar dollies for all of my barrels so that I can move them around the basement freely.  Sure beats having them stuck in one position and wrangling hoses across the floor between the barrel & pump/filter/bottler/etc.  I used some old cedar wedges as barrel holders and to make the carrier easier to build.

After completing the carrier, I started to hydrate the barrel with boiling water.  So far, the heads don't seem to be leaking and the staves seem to be soaking up the hot water for swelling.  Later this evening, I'll fill it completely and allow it to swell for a couple of days.  Barring any leaks, I should be able to fill it with wine on Tuesday evening.

I do have to say that the barrel looks quite happy and at home on it's dolly.  For some reason, it's speaking to me that it's name should be "Millie".  No idea why, but that's the feeling I'm getting.  So say hello to Millie--the latest member of the Aaronap Cellars team.


That very first "from grapes" wine

Do all of you fellow winemakers remember the very first batch of wine that you made from grapes?  Still have a bottle?  Is it any good?

All very interesting questions to reflect on how far you've come on your winemaking journey.  I had a chance for some personal reflection this weekend while I was continuing to clear out the basement so that the architect can start making his plans and construction can begin this fall.  I came across 2 cases of 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon that was the first wine that I made from grapes still sitting on the shelves.  This wine was made back in Michigan when Aaronap Cellars was known as Hidden Lake Cellars.  I honestly don't know where the grapes were picked, but I purchased them from Home Winery Supply Company in Dundee, MI.  2006 was the first year that they supplied fresh grapes from CA so I'm guessing that these were pretty cheap grapes from the Central Valley region of CA.

I have no desire to disparage Home Winery Supply, but I wasn't all that thrilled with the grapes when I got them.  They were grapes--about the best that could be said for them.  Didn't taste all that great but that was the nearest place I could buy fresh grapes.  So I crushed them, fermented, and cleared, etc (my back still aches from the memory of hand destemming 100 lbs of crushed grapes).  I thought the wine was not that great 5 years ago and the resulting time has not improved it.

Blech!  In fact, I tried to offer a sip to Shawna but she refused to come within 20 ft of the glass because she thought the smell was horrid.

Light color (almost róse-like), no tannins, rancid flavor--just plain yuck.  Ironically, the wine was still sound.  No hint of vinegar or other spoilage odors, it just plain did not taste good.  Of course, I blame the grapes!  :)

I think I've bared my soul to the world now that, yes, I have made really bad wine.  What have we all learned?  YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR!  Buy the best grapes you can, folks.  Just like you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, you can't make good wine without getting good grapes.  Doesn't have to be Beckstoffer Vineyard, but buy the best grapes that you can within your budget.


p.s.  The 2 cases of wine went down the drain to feed the bacteria in the septic tank while the bottles ended up on the curb.  Took about 2 days but someone finally took them away.  I simply couldn't trust putting anything else in those tainted bottles.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Officially on the TTB list of US Wineries

Had a conversation today with another MA winemaker and he mentioned that he had seen Aaronap Cellars listed as an officially approved winery on the TTB list of US Wineries.  So...had to google myself!  And by golly, he was correct!

Just for fun, click on the link below and then do a page search for Aaronap Cellars.  You'll quickly find us in the official list of US Wineries.  Guess this means I should get my rear in gear to complete the MA Farm Winery Application!


Sunday, April 29, 2012

Odd blends

Spent some time in the cellar yesterday moving wine around.  The 2010 Lemberger (also known as Blaufrankish) had spent the better part of 10 months in a 4 year old 11 gallon American Oak barrel.  It was starting to take on some dark dried fruit flavor, which to me means that it's time to come out of the barrel in order to retain as much of the fruity varietal character as possible.  Given the age of the barrel, not a lot of oak flavors had been extracted, but frankly for this wine, I didn't really care.  Enjoying the fruit forwardness with just a hint of vanilla instead of being over-powered by the oak flavors.

Of course, when a barrel is emptied, you've got to fill it back up to prevent any acetification of the barrel as it sits empty.  I had an assortment of left-over wines from previous barrel fillings so I decided to do an "Estate Cuvee" blend.  Into the barrel went 5 gallons of 2010 Cabernet Franc & 3 gallons of 2010 Merlot (both from Two Mountains Vineyard in WA).  The rest of the space was taken up by about 2.8 gallons of 2010 Carmenere from the Curico Valley in Chile.

That tertiary blend may sound a little odd at first glance, but it's actually a time-honored Right Bank Bourdeaux blend.  The Bourdeaux region of France is split by the Gironde estuary  and it's two primary tributaries, the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers.  Wineries along the "Left Bank" along the Garonne River typically produce wines that are more commonly blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot due to the western side of the river typically being a little warmer due to the closer proximity to the ocean breezes.  This allows for a longer growing cycle to allow the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes to more fully mature.  The "Right Bank" wineries along the Dordogne River are known for blends more typically based on Merlot with some Cabernet Franc.  However, pre-Phylloxera Bourdeaux vineyards also grew a number of other grape varietals like Carmenere & Malbec.  After the vineyards were essentially wiped out and rescued by replanting on American rootstock (the dirty little secret of French wine), the vineyards were replanted in more economically desirable varietals like cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and merlot.  Carmenere and Malbec were used more as blending grapes & didn't command high price points, so their plantings in France were essentially extinguished.  However, these grapes found a new home in South America due to the Spanish missions (and some fortunate mistaken identities where the vineyards thought they were actually planting merlot).

And that's where we re-enter the Aaronap Cellars story....after filling the barrel with a historically typical Right Bank Bourdeaux blend and making sure the carboys of Lemberger were topped off, I had a half-bottle of Lemberger and a little Carmenere left in the carboy.  Can't let a little wine go to waste, so I filled the half-bottle of Lemberger with the Carmenere from the carboy, stopper it up, and let it sit overnight.  This afternoon, after working on cleaning out the garage, I sat down to sample this interesting blend.

Frankly,  my eyebrows went up a notch.  Really, really tasty!  Dark purple color.  Heavy fruit forward nose with black cherries and raspberries predominating.  High tannins in the mouth and a spicy after finish.  Both of these wines were unoaked, so the varietal characters were on display.  I like this interesting blend!

Don't believe that I've every heard of a Lemberger/Carmenere blend before.  What's your wildest grape varietal blend?  Ever come across something completely unheard of, but really quite tasty?  Share people share!


Sunday, April 15, 2012

2011 Paso Robles Grenache Update

I haven't posted too much info on the 2011 wines after getting everything fermented, pressed, and into the basement for the winter since getting the winery applications submitted have been a priority.  But since I'm a little in between things at the moment, and spending a quiet Sunday afternoon around the house while recovering from a long run this morning, I thought I'd reflect a little on the results.  In particular, the grenache is not turning out as I was hoping.

Recall, dear readers, that all of the 2011 vintage grapes arrived as crushed & frozen must (due to an unholy combination of cool & wet weather in CA, a record early snowstorm in New England, & my work/vacation schedule).  Usually that means that you don't have to work very hard to extract color from the grapeskins because the freezing process does the hard work for you.  Even with that going for me, I opted to apply the usual combination of pre-ferment tannin addition (30 g/hL FT Rouge dosage) and a 1 g/gal dose of Opti-Red to really go for a dark, bold color in the resulting wine.  This combination strategy has worked incredibly well on previous vintages.

Since the grapes arrived in crushed form, I don't have the supplier information.  During fermentation, the color was definitely not as dark as my other varietals.  After fermentation, well the pictures speak for themselves.  After all the snow & turmoil before the grapes arrived, it turned out to be a gorgeous day for the pressing.  You'll notice my pre-filter technique to catch wayward skins, seeds, or large gunk before it got into the buckets.  That worked well, just the sieve caught a lot of material and had to be switched with a clean filter about every 10 minutes.  You can see that the pressed pomace is a very light color, which would indicate that I sucked as much color as possible out of the grapes.  However, the pressed wine in the carboys is a pretty light color.  Not much I could do at that point, and I thought that it might be reflective of the solids still present in the wine, so I let everything settle before racking off the gross lees.  After malolactic fermentation in my warm spare bathroom, the carboys were transferred to the basement where they've sat until about 3 weeks ago when I freed up some barrel space so I could get this into a French Oak barrel.

That racking really reinforced the color issue.  Big tannin punch to the wine, but the color is slightly darker than a very dark rose.  Aroma is wonderful--strawberries and plums.  It's just that light color.

Now--grenache is known to be a thin-skinned, light color variety, which is why it's the work horse grape for róse production in the Rhone region of France.  And why's it's usually used as a blender in regions like the Rhone, or Priorat in Spain to make full-bodied reds.  My ultimate goal for this wine is to blend it with syrah to make a Rhone-inspired blend.  Also have some carignan so I can even try to emulate a Priorat blend.  But the color of those blends is going to come mostly from the syrah or carignan.  In the end, we'll see how it turns out--I was just hoping for a little more color in the grenache base wine.  Perhaps if I have enough left over from blending, I'll even try to treat the single varietal like a Italian nebbiolo where is packed with tannins, but light in color.

That is the beauty of wine--blend it to achieve what you are truly aiming for!


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

TTB Basic Permit Received!

Yesterday was a rollercoaster ride for the Aaronap Cellars household.  Work was the usual pell mell dash so I was a tad exhausted when I came home.  Neither Shawna nor I felt like making dinner or eating left overs so we headed out for dinner.  I took her to one of my favorite restaurants in Chelmsford and we had a lovely dinner of Spanish tapas at Cafe Madrid (the spinach & cheese empanadas & pork loin were awesome).  After enjoying a lovely glass of granacha (her) and monastrell (me), we wandered home and I opened my Aaronap Cellars email account...

To find an email from the TTB announcing that the Basic Permit for Aaronap Cellars had been approved!!!

After gaping at the screen with an open mouth for a few moments, I yelped like a fool, which brought Shawna running.  A couple of big hugs later, I was finally calm enough to think.

"Oh my God, I own a federally licensed winery!"

The absolutely amazing part was how quickly this happened.  I submitted the application on March 11 and less than 17 business days later, it was approved.  I definitely have to credit my TTB agent Heather with an excellent customer-service approach.  We had a few back-n-forths about some details that needed amended and she fixed them for me on the application!  After my recent brush with the faceless bureaucracy that is the IRS, this dealing with the Federal government was eye-openingly refreshing.

Of course, this means that I need to get my rear in gear and get moving on the state and local permits.  I honestly wasn't expecting to get the TTB permit for at least another month or two, so had turned my focus to other things for a little bit.  Time to refocus!

The wine to celebrate this momentous occasion?  Alto Moncayo Campo de Borja Garnacha 2007, a lovely full of chocolate & black fruit aromas, silky tannins, and a bold fruity aftertaste.  Yum!


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Federal TTB New Winery Application Submitted

Ever had one of those anti-climatic moments when something you've been working hard towards is finally done and you're left with a feeling of "that's it?"  Well, I'm having one of those moments right now...immediately after officially submitting the new winery application for Aaronap Cellars to the Federal TTB.

This has been a goal for the past several months that has caused me a bit of aggravation due to the length of time it was taking.  As you can imagine, there's a lot of paperwork involved starting an alcohol-related business in this country so this has required a bit of work and a lot of documentation.  But I really do have to give the TTB credit.  Bureaucracy or not, these folks are trying to make the process as simple as possible.  I've had the very good fortune to submit my application after the unveiling of their Permits-ON-Line (PONL) system that allows you to submit the application electronically.  I recently attended an information session on the PONL system at the Eastern Winery Expo and was amused to hear one of the TTB managers state that "Our job is to help you with your business, not just catch the bad guys."  So far, I have to agree with them.  The PONL system is a HUGE step forward over the complicated paper forms that required repeatedly entering the same information on form after form.  In the PONL system, you enter the repetitive data once, and the system self-enters it wherever it is needed.  How often do you hear praise for the government's customer service???

So today, after finally accumulating all of the supporting documentation required, I was able to hit that final submit button and send my new winery application off for review.  Just need to mail in the paper copies of my surety bond on Monday and then sit back and wait.  Review process usually takes between 60-90 days.

After all that...the moment is very anti-climatic.  Feels like there should be a brass band playing and confetti flying.  Instead, I'm sitting here a little stunned and remembering that I have a final exam to complete for my UC Davis winemaking class, and the MA application needs to be started, and I need to move forward with the town of Westford to get zoning special use and building permits, fiance is coming over tonight and I think I'll open a bottle of Sparkling Concord to celebrate.

Embrace the moment, the other stuff can wait until tomorrow.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Fidelitas...A Perfect Wine to Celebrate an Engagement

Greetings fellow winos!  I thought I would take a moment to share a celebration this evening and the wine that is accompanying the festivities.  Previous posts have mentioned a special someone in my life who has been an inspiration and great source of support every since she came into my life.  Well, we were enjoying a lazy President's Day afternoon together and were in the middle of a period of discussion & banter when I felt completely at peace with a decision that I've been mulling around in my head for a while.  I took this wonderful woman in my arms, told her that I wanted to make her a permanent part of my life, and asked her to marry me...

She said yes!

Needless to say, after the obligatory phone calls to family, we had to celebrate.  To go with a dinner of chipotle pork loin and pasta with red chilies, lemon, & arugula, I selected Fidelitas Boushey Vineyard 2006 from Fidelitas Wines in the Yakima Valley, WA.  I had picked up this wine at the winery during a trip to WA back in 2010 and had been waiting for a special occasion to pop it open (I think this qualifies).

Appearance:  Rust-garnet color, clear, gleaming sheen
Aroma:  Restrained nose with light aromas of cherry, coffee, some earthy floral notes, and a tiny amount of cocoa.
Taste: Invigorating with light jammy red fruit.  Well structure & balanced with nicely integrated tannins and a smooth finish.  Rich, round mouthfeel.  A 14.8% abv wine that you can keep drinking until the bottle is gone.

Overall, an incredible wine to go with an incredible event.  Not overly tannic & astringent, not puckering, not overly fruity--just an excellently crafted blend of 64% cabernet sauvignon, 29% merlot, 7% cabernet franc.  And I thought the winery motto was especially appropriate for the occasion:

 Faithful, loyal, true

This is the kind of wine that I seek to make, and those three words sum up everything that Shawna & I feel about our life together.  Thank you Charlie Hoppes for creating a wine to perfectly match this special occasion.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Going commercial--am I crazy?

Well, readers, Aaronap Cellars is taking a big step.  A few posts have eluded to the process, but just thought I formally announce that I've been taking the first steps in obtaining the required licenses and permits to turn Aaronap Cellars into a commercial winery.  As you can imagine, this has required a lot of soul searching, planning, and dreaming over the past 2-3 years.  At a number of points, I've come close to concluding that I'm absolutely nuts to consider this and should just be content to remain small and make wine for myself.  But every time I've paused to rethink, I fall back on the realization that wine-making is my passion and the career I want to pursue in the future.  That being said, I'm not a rich person, so will have to start small and keep my day job for financial support for a good long while.

I also have to give credit to a special someone who's recently come into my life.  Facing the long road through the approval process is daunting (to say the least) when you're alone.  Having someone standing beside you who firmly supports your dream and wants you to succeed is a big help & a source of comfort when you get a little discouraged.  This special someone has been an inspiration and one of the reasons that I've made more progress in the past 6 months than in the past 2-3 years.  All I can say to her is 'Thank you hon."

So, what have I accomplished so far?

1)  Completed a business plan
2)  Completed an initial financial planning spreadsheet
3) Filed for incorporation as Aaronap Cellars LLC with the Commonwealth of MA
4) Established business bank accounts
5) Became a member of the MA Farm Winery & Growers Association
6) Completed the Federal New Winery application.  OK, I still have 2 little items left to do before I can submit it, but one is to make a photocopy of the winery premise diagram and the other is purchase a surety bond (and I know who to call for that).  Those will both be done in the next 1-2 days so I consider the application complete.
7) Contacted the town of Westford to initiate the local approval process and got good initial feedback that the winery would be an allowable activity in my zoning.  Long road to go through the local approval, but a good first step.  Hey--at least they didn't say "NO"!

What's next?
1) Complete the MA Farm Winery license application
2) Obtain building permit to finish the basement
3) Clean out the basement and start construction!

There's a lot more after that, but that's the immediate next steps.  For those wanting to keep abreast of the up-to-the-minute news, please find Aaronap Cellars on Facebook.  I often find it much easier to write short snippets of info instead of an entire blog entry, but will continue to document the big steps here as well.  Winemaking activities will wind down during construction & licensing, but stay tuned!


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Help a future winemaker, get some wine

I recently had an opportunity to donate to the American Wine Society Education Foundation to help fund a scholarship for a student in the oenology field.  What sparked this occasion was that the AWS had a little wine left over that had been donated for the AWS 2011 Annual Conference that was held in Rochester, NY in early November.  Enough wine for 35 cases--just a wee bit of left-over wine.  We really must do a better job of drinking the place dry at the 2012 conference in Portland, OR!  So they decided to offer a case of wine to whomever would donate $100 to build a $3500 scholarship.

Well, I'm a sucker for helping young students, so I dashed off a check.  Couple of weeks later, the wine arrived today!  And I'm tickled pink about the contents

Dessert Wines
Ochoa Moscatel 2010 (DO, Spain)

White Table Wines
Firehouse Cellars Riesling Lake Erie (Geneva-on-the-Lake, OH)
Sheldrake Point Dry Riesling 2010 (Finger Lakes, NY)
Chateau Ste Michelle Dry Reisling 2010 (Columbia Valley, WA)
Concannon Conservancy Chardonnay 2009 (Livermore Valley, CA)
Leonard Oakes Estate Winery Chardonnay 2009 (Lake Ontario, NY)
Rooster Hill Traminette 2008 (Finger Lakes, NY)
Isidoro Polencic Collio Friulano 2010 (DOC, Italy)
Hera Vinho Verde 2010 (Portugal)

Red Table Wines
Swedish Hill Optimus 2007 (Finger Lakes, NY) 
Piera Martellozzo Tab Bor Rosso Friuli (DOC, Friuli Grave, Italy)
Crasto Douro 2009 (DOC, Portugal)

I think it's pretty clear that the conference attendees really went for the red wines and left the whites alone!  These will really add to the tasting spreadsheet that I've been keeping of wines that I've recently tasting.  Sweetest donation I've ever made.


It's Mitt Romney Beer!

This is only tangentially related to wine, but it was hilarious so I have to share!

A couple of weeks ago, I invited some old friends from my Ann Arbor, MI days over to watch the Detroit Lions vs New Orleans Saints play-off wildcard game.  Even though I admittedly have a goodly stock of booze in the basement, I decided that wine just doesn't cut it for football watching so I stopped into a local package store to grab some beer.  The place I went was next door to the grocery store so I wasn't expecting a big selection of craft beer but figured they'd at least have Sam Adams.  To my surprise, the craft beer selection was actually pretty good and, low and behold, there on a shelf in the fridge aisle was a 6-pack of Stone Brewing Co.'s Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale shining like a beacon.  My mouth started to water and I decided that I just had to buy it, especially (or ironically) as I was wearing my Arrogant Bastard Ale t-shirt that I had gotten while visiting Stone in 2010.  I ignored the price tag (a gasp-inducing $18) and grabbed it along with a couple of other beers (a Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA & a Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale for those keeping track of my beer tastes), since there was no way I was sharing the Stone with anyone.  I may be a nice guy, but I'm not that nice, darn it!

Making my way to the cash register, I handed the beer over to the clerk who scanned the barcodes of my selections.  "Oh my god," he exclaimed.  "Didn't know we had a 6-pack so expensive.  Hell, this is Mitt Romney beer!"


P.S.  Ironically, my friends wanted to sample my wine during the game, so we actually didn't touch the beer.  And believe me, the Romney-ish Oaked Arrogant Bastard ale tastes extraordinarily good!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Football vs Wine Bottling---the bottling won!

For those not following the news, or simply living on the planet Neptune, Tim Tebow (I believe some other members of the Denver Broncos also came) was in town yesterday for a play-off game with the New England Patriots.  I think most of the northeastern US came to a grinding halt while everyone hunkered in front of their TVs for the evening to watch the battle of Tom Brady vs God.

But not at Aaronap Cellars!  I had some wine to bottle and a lovely assistant to help, so to heck with the game.  If you scroll down the blog, you'll notice that I mentioned some experiments with sparkling cranberry wine in my last post.  The primary fermentation for the base wines were all completed, so it's time to filter, bottle, add the liqueur de tirage, and get the secondary fermentation underway.

Sounds simple, huh?  Well, friends & acquaintances know that nothing is done simply at Aaronap Cellars and this was no different.  I didn't have just one cranberry wine, but THREE! 

1) Cranberry base made from cranberries and water (2 lbs cranberries/gallon)
2) Cranberry Cider made from cranberries and Carlson Orchards Premium Cider Blend (1 lb/gallon)
3) Cranberry-Niagra made from cranberries and Welch's White Grape Juice (1 lb/gallon)

All the wines were filtered in sequence through coarse, medium, and fine filters until they were polished & crystal clear.  And then the fun began...

I had read about an innovative secondary fermentation method that avoids the laborious process of riddling & disgorging during sparkling wine production.  To give proper credit, Zac Brown had posted this method on WinePress.US and I really wanted to give it a try.  Essentially, I placed 1g of a QA-23 yeast that has been encapsulated in alginate beads (sold as Pro-Restart) in the hollow portion of a plastic champagne cork.  A 3/4-inch disk of stainless steel screen (sold as faucet aerator or smoke pipe screens) was then wedged in the top of the cork to hold the yeast beads in place.  This was actually harder than it sounds as the screens are pretty stiff, but after some flexing and slow pressure, it was actually possible to push the screens in.

For the liqueur de tirage, I used Coopers carbonation drops (made of ~3 g invert sugar) that are normally used to carbonate beer.  I further complicated matters by splitting each batch of wine into half and adding 2 Coopers drops to one half and 4 drops to the other to give a frizzante-style lightly carbonated sparkler and a full-blown carbonated sparkling wine.  After the drops were added, each bottle was capped with a yeast-filled cork and covered with wire hood, and then inverted to dissolve the sugar drops and place the wine in contact with the yeast.  At the moment, the bottles are sitting in my guest bedroom closet hopefully beginning to undergo the secondary fermentation that produces those lovely "bubbles"


p.s.  And in case you're completely out of media touch:  Tom Brady won.  Actually, not so much as won, but crushed, obliterated, demolished, stunned, bowled over, etc.   He even punted for pete's sakes!