Archive for the ‘Wine Making’ Category

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.



Okay. So I underestimated the work involved in making this volume of wine. Yesterday things needed racking, and wow did it add up to a lot of work – I started around 1, took a break to feed the family and bathe the kids, then back to racking, finishing at about 8pm. I learned, through the tedium of this task, that I quite don’t like siphoning, but do get a perverse satisfaction cleaning carboys of their gross less. I also learned that there are few efficiencies in making more.

How much wine? Just under 9 carboys = 270 bottles or so or about 22 cases, a portion allocated to those who helped me during harvest/crush season of course.

The very exciting part of the process is having the opportunity to spend some time with each batch, smelling it, tasting it, getting to know it. And the extremely exciting part this year is having some really cool variation – one of the batches looks, smells, and tastes like pink grapefruit wine – made from an unidentified crabapple.

As I thought about where the wines were headed, assuming malo-lactic fermentation was in their future, I realized that my new root cellar was fridge-temp, meaning I had the opportunity to cold stabilize the whole lot if I wanted. I’m hoping it means I can keep them very stable, clear, and fruit forward for drinking through the winter, and then as the cellar warms in the spring likely prompting malolactic fermenation, I can then oak those with the body to deserve it for late-summer/fall consumption.

This being my second vintage with some of the fruit, I can see why winemaking would get into your blood. There’s a very slow yet dynamic process as one vintage wraps into and past the other, accumulating into a very long and involved relationship between the fruit and your life. It’s quite something. Something I didn’t get from drinking purchased wine prior, no matter how posh.

2010 Apple Wine Vintage Shows its Face


Oh, happiness. I’ve been keeping a loose eye on the bubbling of my apple wine carboys [a not-so-modest 9 carboys, or ~20 cases. I'm sharing with folks, honest], but hadn’t noticed them dropping clear until today. What does that mean? The yeast is done doing its thing – and no longer is creating turbulence in the solution. What does that really mean? It’s drinkable. I’m overjoyed. I ran out of last year’s far too quickly.

A few notes about this vintage. I kept all batches on-sediment/pulp rather than racking the clear juice the day after. Last year I took the clear juice hoping for a fruity approach – but the unavoidable MLF [malo-lactic fermentation] yielded a more funky/complex  [then oaked] wine, so keeping the lees involved for this style seemed to make good winemaking sense. Also may provide nutrients for the yeast. I’m finding this vintage looks darker in color, perhaps because of it. Last year’s looked almost this dark – but only after being oaked. It has a little young-lees-stink which I’m finding is normal and goes away with age & air. The wine in the photo is pre-MLF and pre-oak. It’s got notes of apricot, caramel [odd, pre-oak], apple, and light peach?

Me and my various crews crushed and pressed apples from 5 trees, in 5 yards around the city – so I have quite a few batches, 2 being lovely crabapple wines, which I intend on blending this year to achieve the best possible wine I can. Although I can’t wait to blend, I’m more excited to simply start enjoying hyper-terroir driven wine with and in my daily cooking again. Especially with the bounty of pork and goat cheese around lately. Life is good.

Making Apple Wine


I’d promised a video peek at how I’ve been making lovely apple wine from urban yard waste. Fortunately, Kristeva and Jessica volunteered to give me a hand, and they quickly jumped in and took over, allowing me to shoot a good portion of the process. If you have any questions about the details, ask in the comments.  [And pardon the profanity, but I just couldn't resist using this song. ]

Apple Wine 2010 – Round One


So what could one possibly do with 300-400lbs of apples from your yard – or perhaps your neighbor’s yard?! How much apple sauce or apple pie does one need? I propose the following solution: wine. My current estimate is that it takes about an hour to convert 100 lbs of apples into a carboy of juice – or about 2 cases of finished wine. So Saturday: 4 hrs of crush and press, roughly 4 finished carboys of wine, which will end up yielding about 10 cases of wine, or 120 bottles. Time well spent.

To take it a step further into economics-land, which I always tend to do, it’s important to note that results so far have been as good or better than commercially available fruit wines. So say $20/bottle. We pay a lot of tax on wine in Alberta, so I’d have to pay  roughly $20 to meet or beat the quality I’m producing. Assuming I’m correct on that estimate, 120 bottles holds a value of roughly $2400. Since the fruit was free - not only free but somebody’s problem that they were raking and putting in the trash to get hauled off – the rate of return on input costs, even time included, is rather high, I’d say. [Add to that, the crusher/press  setup I use is no excuse for barrier to entry - it's a home-made deal that anybody with some initiative could slap together. I posted about it last year.]

I had some great help this year on crush day, and was able to take some good video as things played out. So rather than get into ‘how-to’, I’ll defer to the soon-to-be-posted video for you to have a look at how we do it. Perhaps you too could be making apple wine soon. No apples? No problem. Go pick with these folks to get hooked up with fruit that others need picked, and help out a charity while you’re at it. I love win-win-win-win-win stuff.

Apple Harvest 2010: Round One


Good things come to those who ask. This spring, I was picking up some kijiji-found-cinder-blocks, and the folks who had the blocks happened to have inherited a city lot with an INSANE amount of fruit trees on it. So I asked. And today I received. A few hundred pounds of apples, which dented about 3/4 of one of their trees – and they have 6+ in their backyard. And they have raspberries, nanking cherries, saskatoons, evans cherries, and other fruits in significant quantity. Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton will need to pay them a visit.

Yes, some will be applesauce, some will be fruit for desserts, and some out of hand. But the vast, vast majority are about to meet their fate in my crusher and press setup – soon to be fermenting away into what appears may be a lovely white wine. The aromatics on this varietal, whatever it is, is reminiscent of gewurztraminer, but lacks acidity. Fortunately, when one has that many trees, some with two apples per, thanks to grafting, finding an acidic apple to pick up the slack is facile.

I’ve been waiting for this time of year for a long time. Last year’s apple wine was a tremendous success, and I ran out of my 3 cases quickly. Only a half case remains stashed in an out-of-the-way bin in my wine cellar for future years to track its aging potential. But round one of 2010 has begun. And I’ve got 2 other locations to pick at yet – then my own. I only have 10 carboys, I may have to go buy more.

So let this be the first but not last time of the harvest that I say: Ask thy neighbor, and put all that fruit to some good use. Please.

A Wild Food & Wild Wine Pairing ‘Moment’


I just had an unexpected notable ‘moment’. I have long contemplated the concept of ‘what grows together goes together‘ when it comes to the game meats we hunt. It’s a reasonably undisputed culinary rule.  So thinking of moose and elk, it has begged the question of pairing it with saskatoons, high bush cranberry, labrador tea, and other similar items you’d find in the bush where the animals live. I’ve given the concept the odd shot, with varied and moderate success. But tonight.

I figured I should get around to bottling my 2009 Saskatoon/Juneberry/Amelanche ‘Batch 2′. It’s been in carboy in the wine cellar since October, and periodic tastings indicated that the theoretic winemaking improvements were paying dividends [details in the linked post]. So into bottle it went, and a half-a-half-bottle remaining was to be tasted:

Nose: big, large volume. notes of wet soil, a pleasant light stink, woodsy – mostly evergreen/junipery with a definite dose of heavy flowers in the rose/lavender vein. Overall fresh, bright, big, and complex. Uniquely saskatoon. Massive notes of intense wild blueberry in the empty glass.

Palate: voluptuous and finely textured – nearly creamy, with a light metallic-style tannin finish. The texture was a shocker, I’d put it into the 92-94 range. The flavor profile is well defined and the oak is well balanced. Saskatoon wine may not be for everybody, but if they do like it, I’d wager a bet they’d like this.

The moment: My fridge happened to contain a previous day’s fire-grilled comparison between tough-2009-bull moose tenderloin vs. calf moose blade steak. Sliced cold with some fleur de sel, with a solidly made saskatoon wine was poetry. Finally.

Because I know it’ll be asked: the bull tenderloin did edge out the calf blade in tenderness, but not by much. which imo, says a lot.

Oak Tasting

I’m waiting for some wine samples of batch 2 to come up to room temp from cellar temp to do a tasting/assessment as they are all under different oak treatments at the moment. The two far ones have different toasts of oak going on. The last one has both toasts, but in twice the volume of wine. I’m trying to figure out when to blend. Put differently, I’m trying to not botch the whole project by forgetting about the stuff down there and ending up with a wood beverage that carries hints of mild fruit notes. Somewhere between now and that point I need to make a move.

Oh, and why the ramekins? The wine geek that wrote the book on wine cellaring that I lived by suggested it, and I do find it helps contain aromatics.

Oh yeah, I built my wine cellar

I’ve posted a few times about my intentions to build a wine cellar. Well barring some additional shelving that will be built this spring, it’s done. And thank the lord for that. Because I’m crazy and decided to try to grow grapes up here, I figured it would be prudent to learn to make both white and red wines this year from other fruits to get my act together for when the grapes came. In a few years. Well it turns out that Red Sparkle apples make lovely wine, as do saskatoons if handled properly. I happen to have both fruits on my property. So the need for grapes has been, well, reduced. A disappointment of sorts, but a tremendous success, really, at the same time. The point being that a mature apple tree on an average year seems to produce about 200 lbs of fruit – which yields roughly 5 cases of very nice wine. Storage is an issue.

Thankfully I was ahead of the game on the storage front. I track temperature and humidity stats daily in a spreadsheet daily [because I'm a geek and that's how I roll], and am very satisfied with the results since the door was hung. In the cold of January my cellar is in the 8C which is a touch cold, perhaps, but I have a plan to bring it up a degree in the ass of winter. In the summer the wine cellar floats in the 15C area.

How did I do it? I took ‘How and Why to Build a Wine Cellar‘ out of the library over, and over. The book has loads of inconsistencies, is not brilliantly compiled, but when you get your head around the important bits on the making of, it is the best resource I found. A few thoughts about it: passive cooling is brilliant, his humdification system works very well, his siting advice is sound, and the construction, insulation, and vapor barrier advice seems solid as well.

The current project, which I will also certainly fail to post consistently about – I’m building, well, mostly finishing my root cellar. Different humidity and temp specs, ventilation needs – whole different ball park. But I’m on it, it’s fun, and I can’t wait to reap the rewards.