Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wine hacks, or simple solutions to soaked problems

I love reading about and utilizing creative solutions to life's little problems. I'm also addicted to the LifeHacker website, for just that reason! Gummy shot glasses, anyone?

Sadly, there aren't enough wine based ones, so I've decided to post my own ghetto creative solutions!

I would first like to say that an empty two liter soda bottle is your friend! I use it for everything, from soaking bottles to get the labels off (more on that later), mixing laundry liquids, you name it!
My favorite use is to chill wine quickly. Seriously, just cut the top off an empty two liter soda bottle (save and use as a funnel), rinse it out, add ice, salt, and cold water, and in about six minutes you've got perfectly chilled wine! The salt reduces the freezing point of the water, and blah blah blah, it just works. Try it!

Sometimes I buy a bottle of wine, but have to work the next day, or only want a small glass of wine, and I can't finish it, or know that I won't be able to finish it the next day. Go to your local mega wine store, and buy yourself some super cheap little half bottles the 375 ml ones, with screw tops (or Stelvins if you're nerdy). It doesn't matter what kind, you don't care what's *in* the bottles, you just want the bottles. Take them home, rinse them out (they're top rack dishwasher safe, just remove the label first or you'll be picking bits of paper out of random food for weeks!) and use them to store your wine longer! Ever seen/heard about those little canisters of gas that people use to preserve their wine, or those big tanks of gas wineries use for winemaking? It's the same principle in both, use a neutral gas that doesn't impart flavors, but that is heavier than oxygen, to displace all oxygen in a bottle, tank, whatever. You're going to be doing the same thing, only using wine to displace the oxygen! Stick your (clean and newly sanitized thanks to the dishwasher) half bottle in the sink (for easier cleanup), and using a funnel, pour the rest of the wine all the way up to the top, you want it to overflow a little bit. Little is the key word, don't waste good wine, that's a party foul! Screw your top back on and ta-da! *Jazz Hands!* You've got wine that will keep for four or five days!!!

We sell these label remover things at my store. Well, I don't sell them, but we have them for sale. I don't see the point in charging people for what amounts to a very large piece of packing tape! I'd much rather use one of two methods, and save my money for some yummy wines!!

The first method is ridiculously easy, and works best on Old World labels, and is always my default first step in the label removing process. Since it's so simple, and I'm easily amused, I like to call this the Monsoon Method. Take your handy soda bottle, the targeted wine bottle, and find yourself a sink. Turn the water on (and if you live with me, let the water run for ten minutes until it actually gets hot) and pour a little hot water in the bottom of the soda bottle, then pop the wine bottle inside the soda bottle, and proceed to fill both of them up past the label, making sure the water is as hot as possible. The water inside the wine bottle with anchor it, and also helps to soften the glue. I'm lazy and normally let this sit overnight, but if you're impatient, you can check it in about fifteen minutes. Use your thumbnail to gently peel up the corner, if it starts to come up freely, just wait, it'll be floating in no time. It really doesn't get much easier than that!!

If your label is shouting "Viva La Resistance", it's time to show that label what happens to those who don't obey your command. I like to call this the Oven Method. (what? no one said YOU had to call it that!) Preheat your oven to 200 degrees and, once ready, pop the offending bottles into the oven, LABEL SIDE UP (otherwise you'll get scorch marks, which is desirable in a steak, or even grilled veggies, but not a label), and let those damned bottles feel the heat of your fury for about ten minutes. I like to check them around six minutes, that's usually when some of the cheaper glues start to soften. Lay a towel down on your counter, grab the bottle from the oven, and using one of those razor blades you get out of a box cutter, or one of those little paint scrapers you get from the hardware store for when you're a sloppy painter, use it to GENTLY scrape the label off the bottle. I like to start in one corner, and go slow, if the label isn't coming off easily, just pop it back into the oven for some more fury. It's best to save up a counter full of bottles for this task, although you might get accused of being "Some kind of wine connoisseur".

That's all I've got for now, I'll post more later! If you've got any other hints and tricks, feel free to leave them in the comments!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Harvesting pt. 2 (On Cloud 9....Billion...)

So now that I'm clean, fed, drinking watered, and am no longer picking out grape bits from my hair and nails, I'm actually going to post about my AMAZING day.

I apologize for not taking pictures, but I didn't think to bring my camera, and really, I didn't have clean hands long enough to take a picture!!

Once again, a big giant "THANKS" to Kris, for pimping me out, I owe you a big, fat, wet kiss when I see you! Unless I'm sick, then I'll hug you. Maybe I should just pretend to be sick and hug you instead... whatever..

Anyway, so today was just bursting with awesome!! I get to Fabbioli (my first time driving on gravel, it's weird, but the crunchy sound is cool!) and meet Birgit (sounds like beer get) who is totally the coolest tasting room associate/landscape architect ever! She set me up with some clippers and a crate (called a lug) and we got to work picking Merlot!

I cannot even BEGIN to tell you how beautiful those grapes were! (but obviously I'm going to try) The clusters were so perfect, they looked fake! Big, beautiful berries, covered in a perfect bloom (that's the powdery- white looking stuff on grapes), ripe and plump, and with surprisingly very little rot. It's Virginia, I was expecting more rot. Yeah, I ate a few.. Out in the vineyard, with the bees humming, the sun shining, and the cool breezes blowing, it was so peaceful, it was like therapy. Seriously, you feel this one-ness with everything(and then you learn to avoid the bees). It's tiring, sticky, messy work, your hands will look disgusting, but so rewarding! These were some of the best-maintained vineyards I have ever seen!

After a break for lunch and a tour of the winery and a super fun ride on a golf cart (I want one), my fellow grape slaves and I went back to fields and picked some more Merlot grapes! And then we got an impromptu Spanish and German lesson. I can now ask the time in Spanish and tell you what farfegnugen means. From ten in the morning till around 4, we were picking nothing but Merlot. I think we picked something like a ton. Carrie meet sunburn. Sunburn meet Carrie's face.

Next came the sorting table, where the grapes go into the crusher/destemmer, and get dumped out onto a table (unless your name is Doug Fabbioli, and then you use a kid's slide, the man's a genius) where you're elbow deep in crushed grapes and juice, and the goal is to get as much of the stems and detritus (like leaves and such) out of the must ( pressed grape juice is called must). If you have OCD, this is a job for you. Seriously, it feeds compulsive sides of yourself you didn't know you had! You also avoid the bees. I think Doug said it best when he was explaining to me, that basically, this is the most tedious but important step in quality control, because once you start fermenting, there is no way to get that stuff out. The stems have lots of tannins, and can give the wine an unpleasant green vegetal characteristic. However, they are good ammunition for throwing at your co-grape slaves.

Then the totally cool part began. Sit down, the awesomeness cometh!!
Doug took me inside and showed me some of the tests you do on wine. He used a refractometer to check the sugar level or "Brix" in the wine. Those things are totally cool, you basically drop the juice onto this little slide, and hold this thing up to your eye, you can see (especially if you hold it up to the light) a scale, and where the black line starts is your Brix level. I had read about them, but finally got the chance to use one, another theme of the day! Then we checked the acidity of the wine, which everyone should remember from high school chemistry, but not on the litmus paper, so I couldn't make jokes about congratulations you're pregnant. You get to make BRIGHT pink water!!! It's awesome!!! And the whole time Doug is explaining all these things to me, and why they do them, and it was just so cool! He is such a great teacher!

What I think I enjoyed the most is really getting to know Doug, his wines, and his approach to winemaking. Doug kind of looks like a mad professor, he's got glasses, a big smile and wild hair, and he's always going! The man doesn't seem to stand still, but he's always quick with a joke, and can take it as much as he can dish it! He takes his wine seriously, and will be the first to tell you, he's not a lab technician, he's a winemaker, which really sums up his whole approach to wine. The grapes are the most important part of his wine. Not the must adjustments, barrels, not some fancy new clone or designer yeast, the grapes. Doug prefers to pick based on acidity rather than a lot of other Virginia winemakers, and it shows, because his wine is actually good, even his *gasp* Cabernet Franc. That's right, I said it, Doug makes a good Cab Franc. It's missing that green "Virginia Tang" (his words) and instead has pretty bright primary red fruits, a hint of some baking spices, and perfectly balanced. There, my secret is out. I found a Cab Franc I could enjoy. Doug grew up literally with the vineyard under his nails, in his blood. All throughout high school and college, Doug's been working at a vineyard. His passion for and dedication to wine is obvious, his house is his winery, his tasting room part of his house! Inside the tasting room, you can see all the (many) awards his wines have won, these beautiful photographs of grapes taken by family members, and even a few pictures of the winemaker in his native habitat, looking even more so like the mad professor! Walking around the property, you start to notice these little details that really show this man cares, like his storage area made out of shipping containers, dug into a hillside to keep a steady cool temperature, and the compost pile, which gives you a hint of his sustainable minded methods!

My favorite of Doug's wines is his Tannat. When Doug mentioned he had a Tannat, I almost peed my pants! Tannat!! In Virginia!!! Apparently, Tannat grows pretty well in Virginia, and it doesn't have that harsh tannin that Tannat is usually known for. Doug, sensing my joy, was awesome enough to open a barrel (!!!) and give me a sample!! It's to die for, even though it was a bit young and in it's awkward oenological teen years, there's yummy red fruits, baking spice, sweet clove, and coat-your-teeth raspberry! Full of intensity and structure, Doug hit all the right notes on that one! And it goes without saying his Raspberry Merlot is just off the charts....

All in all, I had an amazing day. I learned so much, and got to meet so many great people, I can't wait to go back and (hopefully) get in the way help more!
I definitely recommend you go visit!!
I'm going to stop typing so you can stop reading and go back to your regularly scheduled lives. And I'm gonna go slather my face in aloe.


WOW! I just got home, and I'm tired, sore, sweaty, sticky, sunburnt, stinky, and completely blissful! I spent all day picking grapes and learning winemaking at Fabbioli Cellars, in Loudon County. Thanks Kris!!!

I can't wait to share everything so I don't explode from all this awesomeness, but first, I'm gonna go shower. ;)