Archive for the ‘Wine’ Category

Saskatoon Glean 2012


Long, long ago, in a former saskatoon u-pick that is now more lawn than bush, a friend and I harvested saskatoons by the 5 gal pail and I made wine. Not your usual cooler-esque cheery saskatoon wine, but a heavy, dense, rich, viscous wine, aged with american white oak. That was way back in 2009. That vintage is now 3 years old and I’m wagering is the type of wine that will rock in the 10+ year range. I hadn’t had the supply to make another vintage since – until now.

Over a year ago, I got in touch with a U-Pick grower who was on the Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton grower list, but last year the ridiculously deep snow in the winter prior yielded a crop failure thanks to the moose eating the bushes to get through the winter. No 2011 vintage in the stars, trumped by nature. This year though, it was game on. Not only did we get the grower some fruit to sell via her share, and donate a pile to OFRE and a local charity, I came home with enough to make a 2012 vintage of saskatoon wine. No time for it now, so the berries will go into the freezer for the time being until my insane schedule lets off a bit.

Surprisingly, despite the wonderful opportunity to stock up for the winter in a very win-win-win-win situation for all, not as many OFRE volunteers were chomping at the bit to get on board as I thought. We were hardly at capacity for the 2 nights we were out. Still, we managed to glean roughly 350 lbs of fruit. Then we got an email from another Saskatoon U-Pick grower, offering another glean. Saskatoons anyone? I’m done.

Episode 29 – Applejack


Applejack Made by Freezing Apple Cider/Wine

Applejack is a hard liquor of 20-30% abv that can only be made when it’s extremely cold out. For that, it is special to me. Its flavours and smells cannot be created in warmer climates – perhaps why the Normands don’t do applejack despite their apple-booze culture…they simply can’t. It’s extra special due to the fact that distilling booze to make spirits is illegal here – big time. But this isn’t. I spoke to 4 people at the AGLC [all strangely helpful and nice] before finding out if posting this would incriminate me. The guy at the top didn’t even know what applejack was, and had to look it up and get back to me. Apparently I am into the obscure. Clearly couldn’t be something they were enforcing if they didn’t even know what it was, no? Had to be sure though, and in the end, the authorities gave me the okay – but do check with the authorities in your jurisdiction prior to trying it, finding yourself in the slammer, and blaming it on me. Don’t do that.

You could try this with a full bodied white on the sweeter side if you want to give it a go and are short on cider [not a problem I have]. My one suggestion having done it is that you’d want to use as high quality an input as you can – use your good stuff, not your ‘this-sucks-but-maybe-if-I-Applejack-it-stuff’ – as it will concentrate the good, but also the bad. More, in the video.

Maybe Apple Wine CAN Improve With Age


A few weeks ago I was chatting with a friend about apple-booze-making, something near and dear to my heart, and I learned that he had out-produced me in volume this past year. And I made a lot. It was immediately clear to me that we would have to get together to do a tasting of our products to check them all out, compare notes, etc. So we did. That was last week. And I made a discovery.

Last year, on apple crush day one of many, I opened a bottle of the 2009 vintage, then a year old. I had kept a half case back, tucked it in a top corner of my wine cellar, and was resolved to test one a year to track its evolution. So pulled the cork, and besides some light bubbliness, it was very austere and boring. The newer vintage was better by far. I was really disappointed, and had built a lot of capacity to properly age wine. Looked like this stuff was going to be like most white wines – lose its bright fruit after a year or so and tank steadily after that. It was so disappointing that I wondered what to do with the remaining bottles.

So at last week’s mega-tasting among other things we tried a 3-4 bubbly ciders, and 3-4 apple wines, including a vertical of the 2009 and 2010 vintages from my tree. And lo and behold, the 2009 knocked the socks off the 2010. It was unquestionably more concentrated on the nose and palate, and had a far better flavor profile. Lovely stuff. I enjoyed every last bit of that bottle. So what happened?!?! It shut down after a year [it was good young], and then perked up after 2? Not sure, but I can tell you that I’m extremely glad I have a few more bottles tucked away in the cellar for future years, and am relieved that I have space to age more of the 2010 and 2011 vintages. Clearly more research required.

I’m So Over You, 2011 Apple Crush.


There has been an inverse relationship between my activity with food and my number of posts lately – ie, I’ve been so busy harvesting and processing fruit and veg that there’s really not much time left to write. But I believe I’ve turned a corner. Apple crush is over.

Last year I crushed and pressed about 1000 lbs of urban apples, and this year I did roughly the same. I have 9 full carboys fermenting away, 16L of juice put up with many litres already consumed fresh, have about 30 lbs fresh in the fridge, made a case-and-a-half of ‘pommeau’, gave a few boxes to charity and Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton, and am now happily turning down offers of more apples. I’m done. Way done. Done to the point of now trying to figure out how to streamline my process so that it’s not such a grind in future years. I recently built a space adjacent to my cellars to accommodate wine/cider making, so my process is under full review and likely to get a profound overhaul.

Needless to say, if my evenings haven’t been consumed by harvesting apples, they’ve been consumed by crushing, pressing, clean down, tending fermenting carboys, clean down, repeat, clean down – and am now seeing the other side where some of the carboys have fermented enough that my first bottling of semi-sweet cider is imminent. Which will mean bottling in flip-tops and then, more clean down. Conclusion: my new wine/cider making space will be well equipped for ease of clean down. Next task, plumbing.

Normandy, Part 2: Apple Booze


[Part 1 is here]. Over lunch yesterday it came up that some of the calvados I was tasting in Normandy was 40 years or older, the oldest specific vintage being a 1969 Dupont. That would be very unusual in the wine world, and highlighted  one of the fantastic things about spirits vs. wine: shelf stability. Opening a bottle of 1969 red wine would be a commitment, as that bottle would need to die within a short period of time to not waste its awesomeness. A bottle of 1969 calvados [or any similar spirit] is fine on the shelf well past your being dead. Which makes it clear to me why folks starting distilling in the first place. Pre-electricity, creating a shelf stable product out of perishable food was an accomplishment, often a necessary one. A food product that actually improved with decades of storage, even. Not many other food-stuffs can claim that feat, if any.

Secondly, it allows you to use a copious amount of produce. Let’s say for a moment that an apple tree produces about 220lbs of fruit. 10 trees would yield a tonne of fruit [2200 lbs]. 100 trees, 10 tonnes. I know folks with over 1000 trees – 100 tonnes. What do you do with 100 tonnes of fruit?? A bit absurd to consider, perhaps, but in fact it’s part of the problem I see with the urban fruit in our city that needs rescuing. If we could glean 100 tonnes of apples, what to do with all of that?? The man-power required to peel, core, cook, and put that fruit into some kind of consumable food-form is considerable. A portion of it could go that direction, but not all of it. Ask anybody staring at 100 lbs of apples, and they’d probably be eager to hear of other ideas of what to do with it all, nevermind a few tonnes. The answer: juice and its by-products.

So juice. You can see my crusher and press in action here, that can largely be slapped together for $100 or less if you’re thrifty. It makes juice. Tasty juice, actually, some apple varieties far more than others, which makes sense. In Normandy that’s product #1: apple juice. They pasteurize it via heating, as one would expect for shelf stability. Product #2 comes shortly thereafter: unpasteurized must is mixed with a previous vintage of calvados to make pommeau, my new favorite aperitif. The high alcohol content [17%] prevents any yeast parties, and stabilizes the product. And it’s tasty. Very cool. And it’s just a measure, mix, and bottle exercise that’s super easy. Once the must starts to ferment naturally – all the producers I visited rely on native yeast strains, none added  – they start watching specific gravity measurements to pull cider at different sweetness levels. The sooner the stuff’s bottled, the less time the yeast has had a chance to convert sugar to alcohol, so the sweeter the cider. Product #3: sweet cider. They’ll often pull an intermediate level of sweetness shortly thereafter – product #4: semi-sweet cider. They’ll then do the rest of the cider once much [but not all] of the sugars are fermented for product #5: dry cider. The rest of the juice is left to ferment to complete dryness, which would taste nasty as a cider essentially – for distillation. In the winter, they’ll start distilling it into product #6: calvados [apple brandy]. Many products come from that as different ages are bottled for different uses and palates. Many more products come in the way of cider jellies, vinegars, etc. All because of some apple juice. All  gleaned from different stages of the one process.

Part of my exploration was how apples impacted food culture in Normandy, and how that might translate here. I’d say booze is the biggy. Not only does it impact what you drink, but it also makes its way into your food. Dishes finished with calvados rather than grape-wine-made brandy. Meats cooked in cider rather than beer or wine. And as soon as you bring those apple flavors to the dish, it opens up the opportunity to bring the apples in themselves. While there I was putting pears and apples into nearly every dish, every meal. Apples are extremely versatile and can work in savory dishes as well as the sweet, can vary in texture from crunchy raw to mushy when sauced, and tend not to dominate a dish. Slow cooked apples and leeks in AOC Isigny butter with some local fleur de sel atop a local Bayeux breed of pork bone-in chop cooked over an open fire was a highlight. Simple, but lovely. Desserts were chausson aux pomme, or poire. My daily snack-on-the-go was a fresh apple picked that morning on my way out the driveway. I drank apple juice for breakfast every day, and cider, pommeau, and calvados in the afternoon and evening. Apples invaded my daily food instantly, from top to bottom, not missing a spot. So mission accomplished on that front: the chaussons aux pommes that I baked off last night are a testament to some of that Normand influence already making its way into my own food culture. I’m sipping some freshly blended pommeau as I write.

The humble apple is capable of much, and little used to its full potential here. I hope to change that in my home.

[Regarding apple seed toxicity. I've had many questions over the last few years about coring to rid the apples of seeds which contain trace amounts of toxins - there have been some debates in the comments. I can assure you, apple juice and cider producers do no such thing. They do not employ immigrants to core each of the millions of apples, or have a machine designed to do it. The apples go whole into a big machine of destruction and get turned into pulp, seeds and all. I'm not the only one going whole-apple. You don't consume the solids. In Normandy that goes to their cows. Presumably the seed solids even in that concentration won't kill a cow, or they would likely stop that practice rather abruptly.]

Normandy, Part 1: How They Do Things


I’m back. Not surprisingly, Normandy was quite the beautiful adventure. I was there to educate my palate, learn some methodology in cider and calvados production, and most importantly to glean from their centuries-old apple food culture. I live in a place of copious amounts of largely wasted urban apples, with a brand-newly emerging scene surrounding how to save them and what to do with them. Thankfully the Normands already have much of this figured out.

I stayed right on the cider route in the Pays d’Auge. I visited many producers, who each make a mind-numbing array of products. A producer would typically make a pasteurized apple juice, a couple different ciders, a poire [sparkling pear cider], a pommeau [blend of calvados and apple must], and a long lineup of calvados of different ages, ranging from 2 years to 40+ years old, cider vinegar, and often a few other creations. Some produced for up to 3 appelations: Calvados AOC, Calvados Pays d’Auge AOC, and Donfrontais AOC – and would then have calvados made differently according to each set of appellation rules. I also had the good fortune of staying on an apple farm that used to be a producer, but now grows fruit for domaine Huet in Cambremer.

A few myths were dispelled. The biggest is harvest method. I’ve often heard not to make cider or apple wine from wind falls. The french have machines that shake the shit out of the tree to make all the fruit fall, then they blow them into a row with a giant leaf blower thing on a tractor, then broom them up with another tractor attachment. All the while any apples that had fallen and were rotting or busted with bugs, etc – all go with the good ones. They then wash and do a triage – thank God for that. It made me grateful we are at a scale at home that easily allows hand-picking and choosing only the best fruit. Seems like a preferable approach. Their harvest also spans September to December, so often the machinery is shared amongst producers, as they have so bloody long to get the job done compared to most type of fruit harvesting where time is of the essence.

The fruit is then sorted by type, broadly speaking into sweet, acid, and bitter categories and crushed and pressed together as such. They then blend afterwards to get to a product they’re looking for. The variability is huge from vintage to vintage. They may or may not get fruit from the same growers each year. Some apple varieties may or may not have done as well as a previous year. Harvest timing may not have been the same – didn’t see any refractometers micro-managing sugar content.  Leaves a lot of quality control in the hands of the cider maker. Another myth that was dispelled for me was apple dropping as an indicator of when to harvest. The orchard I stayed on had fruit all over the ground, yet they said they were still 8 days or so out from harvest. Perhaps that’s when the harvest machines were booked. Most people I know start to freak out about harvest the moment an apple hits the ground. This year, I’m trying my hand at being patient on my tree, collecting windfalls and refrigerating them, but otherwise leaving the apples up: better flavor, more sugar.

Another piece of variability between producers was use of oak. Oak is decidedly important in the calvados equation, making the difference between an apple eau-de-vie and something that they could call calvados. Some used new french oak [has to be french to meet appelation requirements] for a year or two, then aged in huge old oak casks for decades. One producer I visited simply puts the calvados in huge oak barrels [oldest one I saw was from 1792] which puts a decidedly less oaky stamp on their products. Whether that’s good or bad is a matter of personal preference.

Among many, many other things, I left there with a flow-chart of products I would now like to make with my apple must, as they do. The two products I fell hardest for were pommeau, a blend of apple must and calvados yielding a fruity, semi-sweet, 17% alcohol piece of deliciousness, and the plain-old pasteurized apple juice. A properly blended apple juice can be intensely complex like a nice white wine can be, such a pleasure compared to what we’re used to out of a box. I’m also keen to have a go at bottling some fermenting must to enjoy some hard cider – which generally has an assertive fermenty stink that certainly isn’t for everyone, but if super cold can be refreshing like a cold beer, when well made.

Frontenac Vintage Update


My relationship with wine grapes is a complex one. I did piles of research a few years ago to be well prepped for the potential day in the future that I would have wine grapes in my very own back yard. I since have become a believer in the apple culture we live in here, and am heading to Normandy in two days to glean from their hundreds of years of apple food culture they’ve got on us. I’m going to be hanging out with cider and calvados producers, tasting, and asking questions. Now, a couple days before I leave, I’m staring at ripe wine grapes in my backyard for the first time. My excitement at the possibility of a grippy, robust red grape wine from my yard has been renewed.

For the other northern viticulture geeks: this was an extremely wet year, lacking any stretches of hot weather in July/August. This was year 3, and despite brutal winterkill, a few fruiting canes put out fruit, and I let them go to see what happened. I have a dozen or so bunches. This year I’ll lay the vines down to protect them more. I’m surprised that these grapes have ripened. It was a fantastic year for mushrooms, put it that way. I’m wondering if my severe aphid problem offered a hand by de-leafing the lower third and exposing the fruit to sun for quite some time. Not sure. All I know is I’m now very excited about the prospect of next year’s harvest. Year 4.

Apple Blossom


Apple blossom. It’s become a time of year that gets me excited for things to come, and wanting to slow time down to be able to enjoy the beauty of it all. I suppose this is simply an outcome of being more connected to my food – seasonal treasures like this simply make life more enjoyable.

I now understand why folks in days past often built root cellars primarily for potatoes and apples. Apples are a provider of wealth. Our tree produces 200+ lbs a year. I’ve spent a few years taming the tree via pruning, so the fruit is getting less numerous, but larger and riper, yielding roughly the same amount by weight from year to year. It has not skipped a year, as you often hear apples do. It provides us with fresh fruit for months, 4-5 cases of apple wine, and various other by-products – including apple wood for smoking pork.

I’m a firm believer that apples deserve a prominent role in our northerly food culture – so much so that I’m headed to Normandy in September to immerse myself in an apple culture, to get ideas, education, and inspiration. Don’t have an apple tree? Don’t need one. Our city is so full of them that tonnes of fruit get put in the bin every year by owners frustrated with the mess of food. Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton is a genius organization trying to change that. This year is doubly exciting as they get further geared up with a crusher and press for volunteer use – how cool is that!?!? I see cider in many an Edmontonian’s future.

Apple Wine 2010 Vintage Update


Turns out an apple wine updates is overdue.

I made apple wine from 5 different trees this year. We had actually harvested from 7, but two were held for a time in the not-yet-very-cold-cellar and those apples were a mess in the crush/press stage – just wouldn’t release their juice for some reason. Of the 5 batches, 1 was outstanding, 1 was a dramatic failure, and the others came in somewhere in between. All were made in the same way with the same yeasts, so apparently I’m in the process of discovering which apples make superior wine. I have one batch on oak at the moment, but most are unoaked this year as they’re so fruit-forward – the best one of candy-like, high-toned fuzzy peach and grapefruit.

All of the carboys are well done their alcoholic fermentation, and different than last year, no malolactic fermentation seems to have taken hold. I either missed observing it, or I’m right and the cellar was so cold that the wine was cold-stabilized before it could do its thing. I’m only bottling a short-term supply and bulk aging the rest, in case the wine decides to have an MLF party in the summer when the cellar warms up a bit. It’s currently 4C – a tad cold for my liking for the long term aging of posh french reds, but certainly lovely for storing fresh flavors in apple wines.

Good quality apple wine is vastly underrated. Now that I’m set up for it, my marginal cost per bottle of wine is under $0.25.  Free fruit abounds in the city. And I know, I know, crappy home-made wine isn’t even worth that, perhaps – but this stuff isn’t crappy, I assure you. Ridiculously cheap, local, tasty wine – one of the fronts to fight towards a cool regional food scene.