Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Mid-Harvest Report

Wow...this year started with anticipation of an early harvest due to a hot August month on the West Coast.  However, September arrived with an abrupt cool down and grape ripening of many varietals & regions slowed to a crawl.  I was literally gnashing my teeth as I was waiting for grapes to arrive.  Well, be careful of what you ask for! 

The surprise of the season was that the first juice to arrive was actually pinot noir from Westport Rivers Vineyard here in Westport, MA.  Yes, certain varietals grow well in MA along the southern shores of Cape Cod.  This pinot noir is destined for a light rose style that will be released in May of 2014 just in time to enjoy for summer.

A full 10 days later, I finally had the first of my West Coast grapes arrive...and then the deluge descended!  Within 4 days, over 2 tons of grapes had been crushed and were fermenting away.  Petite sirah and cabernet sauvignon from the Suisin Valley just to the southeast of Napa Valley in CA.  Merlot & viognier from Knights Hill Vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA of the Yakima Valley in southeast WA.  The red grapes were destemmed & fermented in open vats while the viognier ended up being barrel fermented in a new French oak barrel.  I'm only planning on completing the alcohol fermentation & MLF in the barrel & then move to a SS tank to provide just a touch of oak for creaminess & palate roundness.

So far, I'm very impressed with the fruit this year.  The winery is full of big fruity aromas--blackberry from the petite sirah, raspberry from the cab sauv, & blueberry/mulberry from the merlot.  The viognier smells like honeyed peaches & floral blossems as it bubbles away.  As you can imagine, the winery is a little busy at the moment! 

But we're not done yet!  Chardonnay juice from Westport Rivers has just arrived and will also undergo barrel fermentation.  Tomorrow, the Durell Syrah from Sonoma County arrives as frozen must (to capture the flavors & aromas straight off the vine).  This weekend I go down to RI to pick merlot & cabernet franc for the limited production of "Merrimac Left Bank".  I'm told the WA cabernet franc & Paso Robles petite verdot will arrive towards the end of next week.  And last but not least, the Shenandoah Valley Zinfandel will be custom crushed & frozen for me so I can wait to deal with that in a month or so.

Lots of fermentations going on.  The petite sirah and possibly merlot will be pressed on Saturday so a little space will be freed up for the incoming grapes.  The cab sauv is undergo a very slow but steady fermentation--the color extraction due to the low temp extended fermentation is simply out of this world!

And on top of that, there's the Carm-ah that's almost ready to bottle.  A winemaker's job is never done...and man do I love this job!


Friday, October 4, 2013

2013 Harvest is Here! thing you never quite forecast is how much work it is getting all the last minute details of a basement finishing project completed.  Seems like I have not seen the light of the sun this summer while I was painting, painting, painting, and more painting.  Besides some furnace room doors that still need staining & varnishing, all the pieces came together in late August and that project has largely been completed.

Just in time for the 2013 harvest season!  I actually got a jump on the season last week when I got notification that the pinot noir juice I had ordered from Westport Rivers Vineyard was going to be ready.  This vineyard is special in many ways, but not the least that it's located in Westport, MA.  Yes, high quality vinifera grapes can be grown in New England but only certain varieties and in certain locations.  The Russell family has located a unique property along the southwest coast of Cape Cod just 1 mile from the beach.  The vineyards border the Westport River as it empties into Buzzards Bay.  They've taken pains to only plant early maturing vinifera varietals like chardonnay, riesling, & pinot noir that are capable of ripening in our New England climate.  The vineyard is a beautiful piece of property and I feel lucky to source some of my starting materials from them.  The pinot noir has been happily fermenting away since I brought it home and is intending to form the base of our first rose wine.  Crisp, fruity, clean, & delicious on a summer day after it's released in the spring.

The excitement continues on Monday with the delivery of cabernet sauvignon & petite sirah!  I'm really looking forward to working with these grapes from the Suisin Valley in California that form the basis of our PS Project red blend again.  The 2012 PS Project is in the bottle and I must say that even I'm impressed with it.  Fruity with a tannic backbone that lingers on your tongue.  2012 was an excellent year, but what I've heard so far indicates 2013 will be even more spectacular.

What else is on tap?  Well, sit right back and I'll tell a tale, a tale of a budding winery...

Westport MA Chardonnay
CA Paso Robles Petite Verdot
CA Sonoma Valley Durell Vineyard Syrah
WAYakima Valley Viognier
WA Yakima Valley Merlot
WA Yakima Valley Cabernet Franc

and last but not least...

RI Merlot
RI Cabernet Franc

The later are from another special vineyard that I chanced upon.  Mums the word on more but trust me, finding high quality merlot & cabernet franc here in New England is quite the coup for Aaronap Cellars!

It's going to be a busy fall so stay tuned.  Find Aaronap Cellars on Facebook for last minute details as the season progresses!


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Chilean Harvest 2013

Sadly it's been awhile since I've posted a new update.  I know several of you have expressed concern that the winery had been what next??  Well, the next step is to start making wine!  I pushed the contractors a bit to get the winery done in time for the Chilean harvest this spring.  You may be asking yourself..."Sacre bleau!  He buys grapes from so far away?  Say it cannot be so."

Well, it is so.  I will acknowledge that there is a lot of fluff and movement in the wine industry today to focus closely on making local wine and express that local terroir, otherwise no one can possibly take you seriously.

To that point of view, I say "Nuts!"

The whole concept behind Aaronap Cellars is that I strive to make the best wine possible for the best grapes I can get my grubby little hands on so that any bottle can stand on its own two feet against the rest of the world.  I want you to buy my wine because it's darn good...and it's made by this guy in Westford, MA.

So what's that got to do with Chile?  Well, Chile vineyards are perhaps the best place on the planet to source carmenere and malbec grapes.  Prior to the late 1800s, both of these varietals were once grown in the Bourdeaux region of France and used to produce the fine wines the region was known for.  But then a little root louse called phylloxera caught a ride on some grape vine roots from America to France and all of a sudden the famous vineyards of France began to die.  It took several decades, but finally the antidote (grafting vulnerable French vines onto immune American rootstock) was discovered and France began to replant her vineyards.  As you'd expect, the vineyards in Bourdeaux were replanted with the most commercially successful varietals like merlot, cabernet sauvignon, & cabernet franc.  Carmenere & malbec became essentially extinct in the region.  Malbec survived in France with plantings in the Languedoc area, but became a minor player.  Little did we know that the European colonization of South American in the 1700-1800s also included transplanting many varieties of grape vines.  Fast forward about 80 years and imagine the consternation when "merlot" vines in Chile & Argentina were genetically identified as actually being carmenere & malbec.  Turns out that a lot of carmenere & malbec had been transplanted in South America as "merlot".  In the end Chile has become the last great bastion of plantings of carmenere in particular, as well as malbec.

I am a history buff and I love the story of the miraculous survival of carmenere.  I'm also a sucker for the underdog so I love the idea of making wine from a little known grape that smuggled its way into Chile and has become their celebrity varietal.  Thanks to my grape broker, I have access to the only place that grows significant amounts of carmenere and malbec.  Finding those varietals in MA & CA is next to impossible, so I've chosen to tap the resources of South America.

And I'm darn proud of that!

This spring, I purchased a quarter ton of carmenere and 0.75 tons of malbec from the Curico & Colchagua Valleys of Chile.  They arrived in a big stack of crates in the back of my pickup.

The new Zambelli destemmer performed admirably in crushing the grapes and pumping the must into the winery.

 And then the yeast did their thing.  Pods of fermenting must spotted the winery amidst the other equipment.

A few weeks later and then it was pressing time!  The sequence is the fermented must mixture is transferred from the fermentation tub to the press where the wine drains away from grapeskins/seeds.  The liberated wine drains into the bucket where it is pumped into a waiting stainless steel tank to allow the large solids to gravity settle.  Check out the high tech stepladder serving as pump holder!

 Pressed wine draining from the press!  Very artsy.

 At this point, alcohol fermentation is over.  The next step is to allow a secondary fermentation to occur that will convert the malic acid in the wine to lactic acid--this helps smooth out the wine.  Then, the wine will be transferred to oak barrels for aging over 9-12 months.  The carmenere will be featured in our signature "Carm-ah" blend with syrah, while the malbec will be featured in another blend (more details to follow).

Hopefully this was a helpful insider's view of the winemaking at Aaronap Cellars.  These varietals have come a long way from France to Chile and then to MA where we craft them into premium wines.  The best of the best is often found around the world and not just in your backyard.  Look for these wines to be released in Fall 2014 or Spring 2015 so that you can taste the true carmenere terroir!


Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Finale...and a New Beginning!

A very good friend of mine (yeah, I'm looking at you Mr R) recently chastised me for being negligent in updating the blog.  Apparently he was having difficulty finding things to read at work...  OK, that was a low blow because the guy is completely correct.  I have been negligent in posting about the final wrap up of construction.  That's right, we're 99.9% complete!  The pictures below tell the tale.

 View of the main room from the southeast corner looking towards the bottle storage room.  Barrels will line the wall.

 The cleaning area--one of the nerve centers of the operation & home to more plumbing than you can shake a stick at.

View towards the back door from the barrel corner.

View towards the back door from the sink area.

Last but not least...the bottle storage room.  This will be used for equipment storage until next year when we start bottling wine.

So what have I been doing besides finishing painting, staining & varnishing the interior door, & moving equipment into the winery?  Getting ready to make wine!  The Board of Health approved our residential kitchen permit so it's time to start fermenting stuff.  Not wasting a moment, we've hit the ground running with some frozen juice and the South American grape harvest.  Some wineries will hide the fact that they purchase grapes from South America in the spring to boost wine inventory.  Aaronap Cellars will never hide that information but celebrate that we can source unique grapes from south of the Equator in the spring to bring you another option for interesting flavors & some grape varietals that are hard to source here in the USA.  Stay tuned for details...that's worthy of another blog post.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

The end is near....

Gotcha!  No, this isn't a prophetic post on the end times.  I'll leave that up to what ever your personal belief system predicts.  However, construction at Aaronap Cellars is rapidly coming to a close!  The contractors installed the doors and trim earlier this week, including the massively heavy 2 hour fire door that the town required.  Have to say that I'm impressed that the door is weighted & hung to gently close on its own without being pushed.  The electricians came on Friday morning and completed the outlet, switches, lights, and fire/CO detector wiring.  Friday afternoon, the floor was sealed.  I selected a good old garage epoxy sealer with gravel grit on top to give some traction in case a little water or wine gets spilled.  The guys went to it with gusto and in fact, didn't give the electricians time to finish the last wiring of the internet/phone outlet!  There will have to be one last quick for the electricians next week to finish that.

Unfortunately, the floor is still curing so pictures will have to wait...until the plumbing is done and construction is finished!  We're anticipating the plumbers to arrive Monday or Tuesday to install the sinks.  A quick Board of Health in-construction inspection, and then it's up to me to move all the equipment back into the winery, hang the signage, fill the soap & towel dispensers, and we're ready for the final Board of Health inspection!

It's hard to believe, but I'm anticipating that we can start fermenting our first wines in early May.  Our unique dessert wine, Forest Gold, will be first up, followed by a Sparkling Cranberry.  Stay tuned for details!


Monday, April 8, 2013

Wall Paneling & Ceiling Paint as Construction Continues

Loyal readers will notice that I skipped a week or two of recapping the winery construction work.  Not that no progress was being made, but the focus of the basement project shifted briefly from the winery room to the rest of the basement as wallboard and plaster veneer work was being completed.  Once that was done, the guys could get started on installing the FRP wall panels in the winery.  We chose FRP panels to provide a durable, nonabsorbent, and washable surface to please the local Board of Health officials, but they do have the advantage of reducing the scope of the painting project!  The FRP panel installation was largely completed by last Friday.  Since the plaster ceiling had cured and the floor area was completely bare, I decided to leap in and paint the winery room ceiling this weekend.  This was a task that I haven't exactly been eagerly anticipating because it's been awhile since I've painted a ceiling and the last ceiling paint project left mental scars that still give me nightmares (trust me--a long story best left for recollections over several beers).  However, I was very pleased to find this situation was a complete charm.  I started on Saturday with a final sanding touch up and dust removal, taping off the new wall panels, and then priming the ceiling.  As in all of my home improvement projects, that took about twice as long as expected and left me very tired and muscle worn by early evening.  Staring up at a ceiling and pushing a paint roller around uses some interesting muscles that apparently don't get used very often in normal life.  But I must give credit to the plaster guys from Custom Contracting--they know how to properly plaster a ceiling and leave it ready for paint!

Sunday morning dawned, and after popping some ibuprofen, I headed back to the basement to start the ceiling paint.  Four hours later, my neck muscles were sore but the ceiling was completed.  And this morning, I'm pleased to share some pictures that show the dramatic change in the winery room.

We're getting really close to finishing the project as all that remains is floor sealing, installation of the 3-bay and handwash sinks and ejector sump pump, and finish electrical work.  I still need to paint the window trim, but that won't take that long (knock on wood).


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Day at the MA State House: Ag Day 2013

Today turned out to be a rare treat.  It was Ag Day 2013 at the Massachusetts State House and I decided to attend and support my fellow MA farm wineries in our quest for continued political recognition and support.  My lovely wife Shawna even volunteered to join me and lend her years of politicking to the cause as well.

We left early anticipating some ugly Boston traffic, but actually arrived a little early.  The scene was a little chaotic--as probably expected from trying to corral such a large and diverse group of agriculture-related associations and businesses.  We finally located the Mass Winery exhibit table and our fellow winery owners and established our plan of action.  Shawna and I took off to meet with our local state House/Senate representatives and (after getting a little lost in the rabbit warren that is the MA State House) ran into 2 very different receptions.  I have to give credit to Senator Eileen Donoghue and her office staff.  Not only had I received a prompt response from my email of last week asking for a brief appointment, but Deputy Chief of Staff Kirsten Centrella welcomed us with open arms by name and sat down for a brief discussion.  She's got my vote next election!  As for my local House representative, let's just say they weren't quite as cordial to meet a voter from their district.

The fun really began during the Grand Reception in the Great Hall.  Each ag association and business exhibitor had tables full of food, plants, flowers, fruit samples, etc and the attendees, legislators, and staff members descended on them like vultures!  By state law, we could not bring alcoholic beverages into the State House so we were forced to fall back on "pre-fermented" raw materials, i.e. Concord grape juice.  Brought a smile to many faces and provided the only beverage in the entire reception.  There were also an awful lot of underage FFA and 4H members attending so trying to check IDs would have been a nightmare.  Shawna and I spent the reception glad handing with state representatives and staff members, as well as other folks interested in wine.  Hopefully, we upped the attendance to our planned 2013 MA Wine Festivals!

The day culminated with a visit from Governor Deval Patrick.  Word quickly spread when he appeared at the reception and he slowly made his way down the line of tables.  His face really lit up when he came to the Mass Winery table and then fell when he realized the tasting cups were only grape juice.  We joked with him that we were playing by his rules and only he had the power to change them!  We had a robust and friendly conversation with him, got to shake his hand, and personally invited him to attend our 2013 MA Wine Festivals.  Hope to see you there Governor!

I'm sure that everyone's visit to their respective State House ends with shaking the Governor's hand....nah, didn't think so!  You'll understand why I got a little geeked to have the opportunity.  A very good day.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Fire Barriers

I have usually been posted construction updates on the weekends, but was so excited today that I had to share ahead of time, especially since the evidence will be concealed by this weekend.  Loyal readers will recall that Aaronap Cellars will be operating out of a portion of the basement of our residential home.  One of the requirements of the Westford Building Department to approve the building permit was that we had to install a 2 hour fire barrier between the winery and the rest of the house.  Even though the fire danger from vats of wine is pretty darn miniscule (try igniting a pan of wine with an open flame), I wasn't going to try to appeal this requirement since a fire barrier could be constructed fairly easily with minimal cost increase.

After we heard of that requirement, we (meaning my Custom Contracting experts) trooped off to determine what a constitutes a 2 hour fire barrier.  We got a little luck since the portion of the basement where the winery will reside is bordered on 3 walls by concrete foundation and a single layer of Type X drywall over the studs will suffice for those walls.  The 4th wall is the separation between the winery and residential spaces and this is where the fun starts.  To build a 2 hr fire barrier along this wall requires a double layer of Type X drywall on each side of the framed wall studs with a layer of R15 fiberglass insulation.  Not that bad...just doubled the amount of drywall panels needed for that wall, but still not bad.

Discerning minds might spot a gap above--we've covered the walls, but not the ceiling.  Yep, a 2 hour fire barrier had to extend across the ceiling as well.  We can't exactly rip off the top floor of the house to lay down a double layer of drywall on top of the floor studs, so it has to be hung from the ceiling of the basement.  Layers again come to the rescue, but this time a 1-inch metal spacer is installed in between the 2 layers of drywall.

The drywall guys got started early this morning and by this evening have enclosed the winery space.  The pictures below show the dramatic change and also illustrate the ceiling fire barrier as we've got one layer installed along with the metal spacers.  Tomorrow will see the final ceiling layer installed and then they'll start plastering!

It actually looks like a winery room!


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Winery Construction Recap--Week 4. It's insulation time!

Another week of banging & sawing in the basement and we're several big steps closer to the finish line.  All of the framing has been completed, along with rough plumbing and electrical work.  There were a slew of building inspectors coming through to check on the work and we passed each inspection with flying colors!  Friday was the most dramatic day of change since this was the day for insulation.

 The perimeter concrete walls received a 2-inch coating of closed cell spray foam insulation by folks from The Green Cocoon out of Salisbury, MA, who did an excellent job of spray installation and clean up.  There's a reason why that insulation is colored light green.  My Iowa farm roots beat loud and proud when I learned that the spray foam insulation was made from soybeans!  Not only is the insulation made from sustainable materials, but it contains no VOCs, HFCs, or CFCs.  I will admit that it was still a smelly process while they were working (we abandoned ship for the local shopping mall), but a quick airing out of the house for about 30 minutes and the odor was gone.
The bottle wine storage closet received a layer of conventional R15 fiberglass insulation and moisture barrier.

The basement is finally starting to look like separate rooms with the walls insulated.  Quite the dramatic change from a forest of studs!  Next week will be even more dramatic as we start to hang sheet rock panels.  Beginning to feel like it's all down hill from here!


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Winery Construction-Week 3 Recap

Another week has passed, along with a lot more banging in the basement.  This week saw several major steps forward, although visually the progress isn't spectacularly visual.  We had a little bit of excitement on Thursday night when the new furnace burners stopped functioning.  A tiny gas return valve had failed so the burner unit shut down.  My HVAC expert says this is the first time in 8 years that he's seen that valve fail.  But it was quickly fixed and we're rolling ahead.

Week 3 Big Steps:
1) All framing complete and soffit work begun
2) Rough electrical work completed.
3) Rough plumbing work in progress
4) Passed our electrical inspection with flying colors!!!!!

The 2 photos below show the completely framed bottled wine storage room from the southeast exterior corner and a close up of the room.  Nothing fancy since this is just for storage of bottle case goods.  The walls will be insulated with the sealed floor serving as a passive heat sink to cool the room.

This is the view of the sink area from the northeast exterior corner (where all the tanks will sit).  If you squint hard enough, you can see the roughed plumbing for the 3-bay sink and handwash sink.

This outlet is thrilling to me because I'm finally getting a 220V outlet in the basement to power some of the larger equipment that I'm purchasing!  Not that impressive looking at a glance, but just had to share.  :)

Now that the winery room walls are framed, I'm going to stop showing progress on the residential side of the basement after this one last shot of the adjacent bathroom.  Plumbing is in full swing with the installation of the shower unit in progress.

Rough plumbing should be completed on Monday with the plumbing inspection set for Tuesday or Thursday.  Once that's done we can start spray insulation on the walls, which is tentatively set for next Thursday-ish.  Lots of work done, but still lots to go!


Monday, March 11, 2013

Buying Equipment--The Money Drain Really Begins!

You know the old maxim "It takes money, to make money"?  Well, it's certainly true for winemaking!  As you can probably guess from the preceding posts about the winery construction, finishing a basement (let alone custom outfitting a room as a winery) is not an inexpensive proposition.  I'm certainly capable of tackling small home improvement projects by myself, but I'm very glad to enlist the services of Custom Contracting Inc to handle the complexity of a basement finishing project.  As constructions hurtles towards completion, I'm also faced with the rapidly approaching need to upgrade my equipment to handle an ~5x increase in production myself.  Going from 100 gallons/year to 500 gallons/year doesn't sound like that big of an increase, but when you're doing all the work by hand and by yourself there are technical challenges in moving 1/2 or 1 ton lots of grapes through the fermentation and aging process.  Anything that can take a little of the muscle work and backstrain out of the process would be quite helpful.

I mentioned in the last post that I spent last week at the Eastern Winery Expo in Lancaster, PA.  One of my primary reasons for going this year was to wander around the trade expo and visit the equipment manufacturers/retailers.  Often times, they bring equipment with them as display items and since they are traveling, they usually bring the smaller scale equipment that they sell.  Perhaps not what the big boys are looking for, but right up my alley!  The chance to actually touch and poke a machine rather than looking at online or catalog photos is invaluable.  I went with the goal of making decisions on 3 key pieces of equipment to make my life easier:  1) destemmer with a must pump, 2) transfer pump, and 3) bladder press. 

I'd been looking at a destemmer from a source in CA, but was curious if I could find one closer to home to save on shipping.  I've been using a motorized crusher/destemmer that has served me well, but it's a basic home winemaker's unit that really crushes the grapes to smithereens and makes a rather good-sized mess.  Transferring the crushed must from the tubs that I usually set underneath the machine to the fermentation bins also requires a fair bit of back muscle work.  My goals for a new unit included gentler fruit handling, a must pump that will take care of transferring the must into the fermenter, and ease in cleaning.  Turns out that I found everything that I needed in a Zambelli Gamma 25 destemmer from M&M in Hartford, CT!  They don't just do grapes & juice, but also equipment!  An almost exact copy of the destemmer from CA for a comparable price but without the shipping costs.  The picture below was provided by Napa Fermentation Supply who also sell the Zambelli line of crushers & destemmers but more for the West Coast crowd.  The fun part will be getting it from M&M to Westford, and out of the truck once it's home, but I've got some ideas to accomplish that task.

The next big ticket item was a bladder press.  I've been using a 120L ratchet press that was manufactured in 1939 by a Chicago ironworks company.  That venerable piece of history used to inhabit a home winemaking shop in Boulder, CO but made it's way to Ann Arbor, MI after the shop closed when the owners retired.  I used it for 2 years in Ann Arbor and then lugged it to MA where it's served my purposes nobly with few complaints.  But I wanted to upgrade to a faster press with less likelihood of bacterial contamination.  Imagine my delight when I walked into the Expo Trade Show to find the first booth inside the entrance was Oesco Inc, suppliers of orchard and vineyard management products from right here in MA, and they had a 120L Lancman stainless steel bladder press on display!  You'll probably be wondering why I'm not looking for something larger than 120L.  Truth is that I'd love to get a bigger unit, but I'm a little constrained by what will fit through the residential-size door of the winery room.  The 120L bladder press should need only 2 pressings to process my 60 gal batches, so it should fit my needs for the next 4-5 years at least.  If I really need additional throughput, I can always get a second press and have 2 running side-by-side.  The nice folks from Oesco were quite happy to wheel and deal a little, especially if I would take it home with me from the show so they didn't have to lug it back to MA.  And that's exactly what I did--right through the teeth of Winter Storm Saturn!  The amusing part of the drive home was the double take looks from drivers as they passed me wondering what was this R2D2 looking thing in the back of the truck.  The picture of my new toy below is from the Oesco website.

So the final item was a transfer pump to move wine around.  I was really wanting a flexible impeller pump with a variable speed drive that would be large enough to handle some must gunk (not the just crushed berries, but fermentation sludge).  Oh..and could I find one that ran on 110V single phase power??  I'll duck so that the electrical engineers don't hit me all at once.  I've been poking around several suppliers but the only pumps I was finding that operated on 110V single phase were single speed.  In theory they would work, but 9 gpm output speeds meant that I'd have quite a stream of wine roaring from tank to barrel with very little control.  I was really quite pleased to find that The Vintner Vault has realized that I'm not the only guy with those technical requirements and manufacturers a Vigor Mini pump for us small guys in mind.  They aren't cheap, but offer everything that I was wanting, along with a remote control!  I chuckle that running the Mini at its rated full power speed of 25 gpm, I'd be able to transfer an entire barrel of wine in 2.4 minutes!  Won't need that kind of speed, but there's certainly room to grow with this pump.  I was told that they can't keep these things in stock and are awaiting a shipment of pump heads from Europe to arrive before they'll have any for sale.  Unfortunately, I couldn't bring one home with me, but my name is on the waiting list.

So it was a very good trip to PA.  Spent quite a bit of money but met all 3 equipment decision goals.  Also chatted with grape growers, yeast providers, label printers, cork sellers, bottle sellers, etc, etc, etc.  Came home with about a ton of pamphlets from just about everybody at the show.  Lots of material to read in the future when I need to make more decisions.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Winery Construction-Week 2 Recap

The construction excitement continued during Week 2 even though it ended up being a short week.  Monday was a big day as the new 99.5% efficient furnace was installed.  It's definitely made an impact on heating the house since it notably turns on fewer times in a day and the house just feels warmer.  The only drawback is that it sounds a little like a jet engine when it starts up.  Tuesday morning also started with a bang as it was time to dig the egress windows.  I should have snapped some photos of the small backhoe that showed up and crawled across the yard, but that completely slipped my mind during the flurry of truck packing and answering final questions for the contractors so I could drive to Lancaster, PA to attend the Eastern Winery Expo.  My wife worked late all this week so I was left in the dark while I was in PA regarding each day's progression.  A little anticipation makes the end result all the more impressive.  The Expo was an excellent educational and fun experience, but more on that later.  As many of you will know, Winter Storm Saturn paid a visit to the mid-Atlantic area on Wednesday before heading out to sea and curling back towards New England.  Based on the weather forecasts, I expected that most of the storm would be gone by the time I hit the road on Friday morning. you know, the forecasts were wrong.  Saturn arrived in MA a little late on Thursday and then hung around longer to dump far more snow that anyone expected.  I managed to drive safely home (with some harrowing parts in upstate NY and CT) to find a 3 ft pile of snow at the end of my driveway that was also covered in ~10 inches of heavy wet snow.  The contractors had wisely chosen to stay home on Friday so it was left to me to dig into the driveway.  The end of that story is that I am in desperate need of a larger snowblower...

But what of the construction that had happened in my absence???  Even with a short week, a lot of work was accomplished.  Both egress windows were dug and window wells installed.  The cut concrete has been removed and the openings framed.  Window installation awaits arrival of the windows (next week) so the openings are temporarily boarded up, which makes the basement a lot darker at the moment.  The bathroom has been completely framed and some rough plumbing has been started.  The new furnace just looks so cute!  The wall dividing the great room and the winery has also been partially framed.  The mechanical closet and bedroom closet still need to be framed, but that will be done after the windows are installed.

Inside the winery room, lots more framing has been done with every wall finished except for the storage room.  To give you an idea of what the space will look like, I took photos from each of the corners.  The first is looking from where the sink area towards the basement door.

This shot looks from the office corner towards what will be the bottle storage room.

This shot looks from the outside wall towards the sink area where some rough plumbing lines have been run.

Still lots of work to do, but the walls are beginning to take shape!  Electrical and plumbing will be the primary focus during Week 3.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Winery Construction Week 1 Recap

One week into the project and things are moving along.  Here's a brief recap with some pictures.

1) Bathroom framed except for wall beside furnace
2) Bedroom framed except for exterior wall that has to wait until the window has been enlarged to egress size.
3) Water heater replaced and moved to accommodate bedroom wall.
4) Some framing along winery walls
5) Ceilings prepped for sheet rock installation.
6) Speaking of ceilings, we finally got clarification on what needs to be installed for 2 hr fire barrier in the winery space.
7) Inside concrete cuts for egress window in bedroom and larger window in great room done.  Have to wait until next week to dig the window wells and make the exterior cuts.

It's hard to see the concrete cuts in the pictures, but that's the straight dark lines under the windows.  Made quite the racket and mess doing that!

Next week will be a big one.  Windows installed & furnace replaced.  All framing should be done and we'll get started on the electrical work.  The change in the pictures should be dramatic!


Friday, March 1, 2013

Winery Construction Day 2

One day and I'm already falling a little behind.  Lots of prep work going on in the basement that is hard to capture on camera so it looks like not that much is getting done.  But, the amount of banging, sawing, & drilling noises emanating from the basement would convince you otherwise.

One side wall of the winery space has been framed, along with the wall separating the winery & new bathroom, which is framed on 3 sides.  The fourth side will be framed after the furnace is replaced with a new unit.

 To accommodate the wall for the new bedroom, we had to move the water heater.  As happens in all construction projects, when the plumber examined the water heater he recommended that it be replaced.  It was >10 years old, did have some corrosion evident on the inlet/outlet pipes, and notably missing an anode rod so probably a good idea to do it now.  We also upgraded to a 50-gal tank so there will be hot water aplenty in the future!  Between that and the shower unit/shower door that we purchased, we've already blown the project budget by Day 2/3.  :)


p.s.  After a day to let the water heater get up to full temperature, I nearly scalded myself when I turned the shower on to the usual hot level.  That is one efficient & hot heater!  Quickly turned down the heat level on that baby.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Winery Construction Day 1--Beginning With a Bang

My darling wife will tell you that I've been a little bit on edge the past couple of weeks.  The reason for this anxiety has been I've been waiting for final approval of the basement winery building permit.  Even though I had thought that my discussions with the folks up at town hall last fall had identified all the issues and concerns, it turns out that a few more had cropped up in the interim.  Needless to say the building permit approval process took a little longer while I dealt with the new stuff, but the permit was finally approved last Friday.  Construction was ready to begin!

Mother Nature had a little something to say over the weekend with the arrival of 3-4 inches of wet heavy snow on Sunday afternoon which required a little shoveling to clear the driveway & a path to the basement door for the contractors.  Does no one want this project to begin???

After a final shoveling, Monday morning began with the arrival of a Concord Lumber truck carrying a load of wood studs and other boards.  It was quite amazing to watch the crane operator deftly lift, twist, and dodge his loads past the house-roof and under the power lines to deposit them as close to the basement door as possible.  Eric, our head carpenter from Custom Contracting, Inc, was on hand to get started.  First job was to move the wood out of the snow and into the basement.  I pitched in and helped Eric man-handle the plywood and studs into the basement.  I had new respect for Eric since I think my arms stretched about 2-3 inches while we were moving the wood..  Fortunately by the time we got the big stack of studs transferred, another contractor arrived so I retired to the house, completely knackered.

After that, the afternoon passed with quite a bit of racket emanating from the basement.  Lots of prep work before walls can really start appearing, but the wall between the new bedroom and storage room was framed.  The rest of the winery space is still wide open for now, but we're poised to start really moving soon.  Photos below are essentially the starting point of the project (plus some stacks of wood).


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sparkling Shiraz & Other Sparkling Reds

Last week was a bit of a busy wine-tasting week with meetings of my white wine subgroup of our local American Wine Society chapter and the Chateauneuf-du-Pape dinner at the Boston Wine Festival (see prior post).  In between those bookend events, I sandwiched in a tasting of Vietti Piemonte wines at Lower Falls Wine Company in Newton, MA.  Vietti is one of my favorite boralo & barbera producers so I thoroughly enjoyed tasting their wines and talking with owner Luca Currado.  Nothing like sipping some very fine wine and talking shop with an enthusiastic Italian winemaker!  This was my first time going to the Lower Falls Wine Company shop so after the tasting, I wandered around the aisles to see what else they offered.  Very interesting place with an emphasis on fine wines, especially French old labels.  But over in a corner on a bottom shelf underneath a window, I spied a bottle label that caught my eye...

"Sparkling Shiraz"

Pretty sure that I hadn't read that correctly, I picked it up and sure enough, it was a bottle of dark red sparkling shiraz.  I ever held the bottle up to the light that determine the color!


Never heard of that before.  I'm kicking myself at the moment for not buying a bottle (don't even remember the producer), but I was in cheapskate mode at the time.  I started doing some internet research this weekend and discovered that sparkling shiraz is all the rage in Australia...and not much anywhere else.  Unlike white sparkling wines that are made from unripe grapes that are picked early, sparkling shiraz is made from fully ripe grapes and produced much like a regular still red wine.  Reviews I've read include tasting comments that sound like the reviewer had sampled a red wine:  "meaty, leather, chocolate, cherry.."  Most seem to be slightly sweetened to balance the tannins

I have to admit that I'm a little intrigued and wishing that I'd bought that bottle.  Apparently very little sparkling shiraz makes it out of Australian since the rest of the world has turned its collective wine snoot up against it.  There are only a few producers in California with Geyser Peak and Wattle Creek Winery being the best reviewed--not surprisingly, both have Australian born winemakers.

Perhaps a trip back to Lower Falls Wine Company is in order (after the current snowstorm ends).  But another option if I can't buy a bottle easily would be to make some myself and see what the Australians crave!  Hmmm...

Questions to my readers:
1)  Have you tried Sparkling Shiraz or any other sparkling red?  If so, what did you think?
2)  Should Aaronap Cellars investigate producing our version of a sparkling red wine?


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Boston Wine Festival Chateauneuf-du-Pape Dinner

Some of our very dear friends gave my darling wife and I tickets to the Boston Wine Festival's Chateauneuf-du-Pape seminar & dinner as a wedding present.  Since the event roughly coincided with Valentine's Day, we decided to make a romantic weekend out of it and got a hotel room in Boston.  To say the event was sumptuous doesn't quite provide a good description!

Held in the Atlantic Room of the Boston Harbor Hotel, the seminar was hosted by Alain & John Junguenet of Wines of France (Mr Chateauneuf-du-Pape and his son) and featured wines from 6 wineries.

Chateau Fortia Chateauneuf-du-Pape "Tradition" Rouge 2011 (3/4/4/1/1 = 13 AWS pts)
60% Grenache/40% Syrah  Light color--almost a dark rose.  Fruity nose with black cherry & pepper.  Tiny hint of leather.  Good acidity but a short finish with a bitter end.

Domaine Lafond 'Roc-Epine' Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge 2011 (3/5/4/2/2 = 16 AWS pts)
80% Grenache/20% Syrah.  Grenache was fermented & aged in stainless steel while syrah was aged in oak.  Dark purple color.  Heavy fruity nose with blackberry & plum.  Big mouthfeel, very dry tannic finish that lingered with a slight hint of vanilla.

Bosquet des Papes Chateauneuf-du-Pape "Tradition" Rouge 2011 (3/5/5/2/2 = 17 AWS pts)
75% Grenache/12% Mourvedre/10% Syrah/3% Cinsault-Counoise.  Very Dark color purple.  Floral nose with raspberry, black pepper, & nutmeg.  Smooth, full body with medium tannins.

Le Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge 2011 (3/3/3/1/1 = 11 AWS pts)
75% Grenache/15% Syrah/5% Mourvedre/5% Cinsault.  Dark purple.  Odd nose of black pepper, cinnamon, tobacco, green pepper, & Band-aid.  Very tight on the palatte with lavender finish.  A disappointment.

Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils Chateauneuf-du-Pape "Tradition" Rouge 2011 (3/5/5/3/2 = 18 AWS pts)
80% Grenache/10% Syrah/5% Mourvedre/5% Cinsault.  Dark purple.  Cherry, vanilla, caramel, & floral notes on the nose.  Smooth & silky on the tongue with a nicely lingering finish.  Very drinkable!

Chateau Sixtine Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge 2011 (3/3/4/2/2 = 14 AWS pts)
40% Grenache/35% Mourvedre/25% Syrah.  Very dark purple.  Spare nose with light aromas of cherry, vanilla, & white pepper.  Full body & good tannins.

Some of the winemakers were present to describe their wines, so it was a treat to hear their obvious love of the wines.  Our absolute favorite was the Usseglio & Fils.  After the seminar, we retreated to the entry hall & enjoyed a glass of Moet Chandon Blanc de Noirs Champagne while the tables were cleared and reset for dinner.  Then the dinner began....

First Course.
Pan Fried Brook Trout with Maine Lobster & Tarragon Sauce
Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils Blanc 2011 (3/5/5/2/1 = 16 AWS pts)
     Crisp, citrus, apricot, & a slight butteriness
Chateau Sixtine Blanc 2011 (3/4/4/2/1 = 14 AWS pts)
     Dark golden with dried floral, petrol, & vanilla

Second Course:
Smoked Long Island Duck Breast with Black Olives, Baby Zucchini, Eggplant, & Acini di Pepe Pasta
Le Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge 2009 (3/4.5/4/2/1 = 14.5 AWS pts)
     Almost nebbiolo-like.  Meaty, cardamon, & cinnamon.  Spicy finish.
Clos des Papes Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge 2009 (3/5/5/2/2 = 17 AWS pts)
     Heavy, meaty, black fruits with smooth, silky finish & soft tannins.

Third Course:
Red Wine Braised Short Ribs with Winter Vegetables
Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils 'Cuvee de Mon Aieul' 2004 (3/5/5/3/2 = 18 AWS pts)
     Dark, red fruits.  Smooth & very drinkable
Cuvee du Vatican 'Reserve Sixtine' 2004 (3/5/6/3/2 = 19 AWS pts)
     Inky dark, black fruit, pepper, cinnamon, & raisins.  Medium tannins but very drinkable
(Both wines in magnums)

Fourth Course:
French Cantal Cheese & Wild Mushroom Filled Puffed Pastry
Chateau Fortia 'Cuvee du Baron' 2004 (3/5/5/2/1 = 16 AWS pts)
     Tobacco, leather, meat, vanilla, dried cherry, cinnamon, & bramble fruits
Domaine Lafond 'Roc-Epine' 2006 (3/5/5/3/2 = 18 AWS pts)
     So good that I didn't take notes
Warm Apple Cinnamon & Phyllo Clafoutis

See what I mean about sumptuous?  My belly is still full and my head still aches a tad bit.  All in all, a very delightful evening that we were grateful to experience.  Got to meet some new people both wine industry folks & wine enjoyers, and sampled some excellent wines.  The 2011 vintage from Chateauneuf-du-Pape is a bit of a mixed bag, but there were some very good wines.  And the older wines were simply stunning.  The 'Papes have always been one of my favorites and they did not disappoint!


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Sparkling Cranberry Experiments Results

Roughly about this time last year, I posted about some experimental sparking cranberry wines that I was trying.  Back then, my lovely girlfriend (now my wife) helped me get ready for their secondary fermentations in the bottle.  She'll be the first to tell you that this was a pretty big endeavor since we were investigating the affect of 6 different variables as part of this experiment.  Each of the 3 different base wines (cranberry, cranberry-cider, and cranberry-niagara) were also split into 2 carbonation styles (a lightly carbonated spumante and a fully carbonated sparkling).  If that wasn't enough, I also wanted to try a potentially labor-saving fermentation style using an encapsulated yeast (read the original post for more details).

Since then, the bottles have been sitting quietly doing their thing.  During the winter, I housed them in an upstairs closet to stay warm and then in the basement during the summer to keep relatively cool.  After almost 12 months of hopefully fermenting, I decided to pop a few bottles open a few weeks ago while I was clearing out the basement in preparation for winery construction to begin.

Drumroll please....

"Blech."  Followed by "dang it...shoot" (the words were actually a bit stronger, but this is a family show).

Cranberry (base wine made from 2 lbs cranberries/gallon of water)

Very few bubbles at all.  The spumante bottles were barely fizzy at all and the sparkling bottles had only a light fizz that disappeared quickly after opening.  Pink color with a strong cranberry taste, a thin mouth feel, and a very bitter finish.

Cranberry-Cider (base wine made from 1 lbs cranberries/gallon of apple cider)

More bubbles, but only in about half the bottles.  The sparkling bottles had the largest number of "bubbly" bottles but still had a significant number of duds.  The sparkled bottles did produce a nice mousse of bubbles that lingered for a decent period of time.  Pale orange color with a barely perceptible cranberry taste that was dominated by the aroma & taste of old dried apples.

Cranberry-Niagara (base wine made from 1 lbs cranberries/gallon of Welch's White Grape Juice)

Just about every bottle had sparkled with only 1-2 duds  The spumante bottles were refreshingly fizzy but I wanted more.  The sparkled bottles had a nice lingering mousse of small, fine trailed bubbles.  Bigger mouth feel than the rest.  Pale pink-orange color with a barely perceptible cranberry taste that was dominated by the aroma & taste of foxy niagara grapes (like drinking a dry version of Sparkling Welch's Grape Juice).

In the end, I opened every bottle and dumped them down the drain.  The Cranberry-Niagara produced the highest quality sparkling wine, but did not have a flavor that I really wanted to ever taste again.  Rather than waste valuable storage space on a wine that I wasn't going to drink, I dumped them.

Some lessons learned for the future:
1)  Amount of cranberries in the recipe needs to be fine tuned.  2 lbs/gal resulted in too strong of a flavor, while 1 lb/gal gave too weak of a cranberry flavor.
2)  Use a grape base for best mouthfeel and higher chance of complete carbonation.
3)  Forgo the "foxy" grapes like Niagara and use a more neutral flavored V. vinifera grape as the base
4)  Encapsulated yeast do work well for "sparkling" wine production, although the jury is still out on whether I'd use this "yeast-in-a-cap" method again.  Worked well when it worked, but still had a larger number of duds than I would like.  Reasonable for amateur use, but not commercial use.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

In Situ Signature Wines Carmenere/Malbec Blend

I was in one of my local wine shops a few days ago doing some label research (what styles do I like, which do I hate, etc) and came across an interesting bottle of wine in the South American section.  I have a fondness for South American wine since they've only relatively recently been sprung on the wine world stage.  I love that they've adopted two kind of obscure grape varietals (carmenere and malbec) as their signature wines.  Both carmenere and malbec were once grown in the Bourdeaux region of France but were viewed as blending partners instead of star players.  After the phylloxera epidemic of the early 1900s, these varietals really died out as the vineyards were replanted with more commercially successful varieties like cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc.  Fortunately, cuttings of carmenere and malbec snuck rides to the New World during the Spanish colonial period and found a new home where they were at first confused with merlot.  Some genetic testing in the 1980s cleared up the problem and now we can enjoy many offerings of carmenere from Chile and Malbec from Argentina in our local stores.  The underdog grapes that were inadvertently rescued from the trash bin of history... 

This week, I stumbled across a proudly advertised blend of carmenere and malbec from Chile, so I had to buy a bottle to try--the fact that it was on sale for $5 off the asking price didn't hurt either!

In Situ Signature Wines
2011 Carmenere 55% & Malbec 45%

Origin:  Aconcagua Valley, Chile
 Producer:   Vina San Esteban

Appearance:  Dark red with some slight bricking along edge
Aroma:  Cherry, vanilla, blackberry, pepper, cassis
Taste:  Rich mouthfeel, medium tannins, spicy (almost shiraz-like) aftertaste that dwindles quickly.  Fortunately that makes me want to drink more, but it's not a wine to savor for a long time.

I'll admit the label is not impressive.  I was drawn by the blend in the bottle, not what was on the surface.  The fact that it was on sale tells me I'm not alone in that assessment.  A decent wine meant to be drunk fairly soon without the need to cellar before opening.  In fact, I can't find a single mention of the wine on the winery website which indicates to me that even the winery doesn't think too highly of this wine.  That makes me want to drink some more in a gesture of solidarity!


p.s.  This did pair quite nicely with a chicken mole that I made yesterday and reheated tonight.  The chocolate flavor of the mole brought a lasting spicy finish to the wine. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

"Orange" Wine Tasting Research

There's been a small but fresh breeze trickling through the wine world lately in the form of "orange" wines.  No, these aren't fruit wines made in Florida, but a new class of white wines that harken back to the olden ways of winemaking.  Today white wine grapes are usually fermented after the juice has been pressed off the skins to produce today's crystal clear wines with light colors, fruity aromas, & very little tannin.  However, once upon a time winemakers crushed white grapes and fermented them on the skins to produce hearty & robust elixirs that have a tannic edge and a light orange color. There have been a few innovative winemakers who have decided to take a page from history and re-introduce these "orange" wines to the world.  Makes sense that these wines would be first re-made in the Collio Goriziano sub-appellation of the Fruili region of northeast Italy along the Italian-Slovenian border since their ancestors made wine in this fashion centuries ago.  Producers such as Movia, Radikon, Josko Gravner, & Vodopivec have re-introduced this style of wine to the world wine market.

I became interested in these wines after reading an article about orange wines from New York in Imbibe Magazine.  Seems wineries such as Channing Daughters on Long Island, Red Hook Winery in Brooklyn, and others have been experimenting with this technique.  Intrigued and in need of a tasting theme for an upcoming meeting of my American Wine Society chapter, I set out to find some orange wines.  I quickly found that getting a hold of these wines is no easy task.  Most retail shops gave me a befuddled look when asked if they had any orange wines in stock.  Buying direct from the wineries was also not an option thanks to the continuing inaction of the wonderful legislators in the MA Statehouse on Beacon Hill to pass any bill allowing for direct shipment to consumers into MA (stay tuned for a diatribe post on that topic later).  Fortunately, some Google searching finally led me to the Belly Wine BarCentral Bottle in the Kendall Square area of Cambridge, MA.  Denizens of Kendall Square have the unique opportunity to sample a variety of orange wines by the glass at Belly and then can wander down the street to purchase bottles to take home at the sister store Central Bottle.

Armed at last, the AWS chapter met earlier this week to sample some orange wines.  All of the wines purchased were from the Collio region.  Tasting within a group is a great way to sample these wines since they are definitely not cheap.

Movia Ribolla Gialla 2008  ($37)
Movia Lunar 2008  ($52)
Radikon Slatnick 2010  ($44)
Vodopivec Vitvska Amphora 2005  ($66)

The tasting results were really quite eye-opening.  Bronze colors.  Aromas of apricots and dark tropical fruits with hints of cedar, cinnamon, & nutmeg.  Rich & full on the palate, slightly salty tasting, with lingering aftertastes and only a slight tannic bite.  Interesting sippers that paired well with dried sausage, cheeses like aged gouda, and bruschettia with mushrooms & caramelized onions.

It was definitely an interesting research tasting event.  Will there be an orange wine in Aaronap Cellars' future lineup?  I'm going to remain tight lipped on that for now, but stay tuned!


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Looking ahead to 2013

The end of an old year and the start of a new year always seems to put folks in a reflective mood, and I'm not different.  After a dinner of seafood paella and a glass or two of 2007 Prima Toro, I barely managed to stay awake to see the new year enter...although I seem to dimly recall someone nudging me awake just in time.  OK, I'll admit that Shawna nearly had to push me off the couch to get me awake.  However, the tables are turned this morning as I'm spending a few moments with the house to myself while she slumbers.

A lot was accomplished around Aaronap Cellars in 2012, even though we aren't quite ready for commercial production yet.  With all of the licensing complete, we are in the process of final negotiations with the contractors and hope to begin construction in the basement in January or February.  The winery should be in good shape to actually begin to ferment a thing or two in the spring and full production should be ready for the fall harvest.  We are turning a big corner as the new year dawns--with the ground work laid in 2012, the scene is set for a full sprint to commercial production in 2013.

As things are clicking along, I invite my faithful readers to stay tuned to the exciting developments.  There will be lots coming....winery unveiling, winemaking news, wine tasting events, and retail opportunities!

Happy Holidays to all and may 2013 bring peace and happiness to you!