Archive for the ‘Wine’ Category

Beef Throw-Down: 14 vs 24


This past fall, some friends and I bought 2 head of cattle from Shannon and Danny at Nature’s Green Acres [details of the butchering of my quarter are here]. I picked up my quarter after 14 days of dry aging. My friends had theirs cut at the meat shop after roughly 24 days. A recent discussion with the farmer about our experience with each approach led to a taste-test of the two side-by-side. Today was the day for the throw-down. Was 14 day or 24 day better? That was the question.

We did two preparations: a plain meatball and a rib steak. Although there were significant variations between the two meatballs, they were deemed more attributable to a) the grind and b) the fat content. The 14 day was fattier as I included far more fat, and I ground it coarser. The 24 day was ground finer, far leaner, and yielded an extremely juicy meatball. Neither had a perceptibly different complexity of flavor on the nose or palate.

On to the steak. I figured if there was a difference in texture, it’d show up here. But again, our conclusion was that the thickness, and cut [although both rib steak, no two steaks on an animal are perfectly homogeneous] contributed to the differences in experience rather than the age. Did we find one more tender with a greater concentration of flavor? Not really. Certainly not significantly so.

My conclusion: as with the big game calves I hunt, my choice is for less dry aging for the following reasons. 1] the animal’s already tender as a calf, so further tenderization is not needed; 2] concentration of flavor is not a goal of mine in my meats – delicately flavored calf meats is fine with me, and 3] dry aging creates waste via trim loss, something I can’t get behind with such a marginal benefit on the experience end. I’m certain that older animals or different palates would see this differently, but this is how I currently see it. Another important conclusion: both the 14 day and 24 day were both fantastic.

Many thanks to a good friend who hooked us up with the 24 day, and the 1975 Margaux.

Apple Wine Vinegar Wrap Up


I threw this out today. And not because if failed. A rare success story of home provisioning of food where the product just simply doesn’t bring enough to the table for me to bother. It looks gross, yes. Vinegar mothers tend to be proficient at that. Don’t believe me?

Turns out the months it takes to make this – I started this in early July – just isn’t worth it for me. Why? Well, it smells. Vinegar smells are good to a certain point, but not when it’s both a chronic and acute condition of the room you make it in. Reason #2 – acetobacter is no friend of winemaking. Unless you desire MANY gallons of vinegar when your otherwise lovely wine happens to  convert. And on a volume basis, I go through hundreds of times more wine than vinegar. Wine wins. Lastly, the resultant product, while good, is not something I go through much of. We use vinegar acids in salad dressings, but I prefer white wine vinegar. We clean with vinegar, but I prefer plain cheap white vinegar. So when it comes right down to it, I don’t use the stuff [I still have some of this batch from 3 years ago], and if I need it it’s cheap. In the world of value-ads I believe strongly in [gardening, butchering, charcuterie, etc], vinegar making has failed me.

All is not lost. I know how to make vinegar. If contemporary civilization fails and I need to know how to make it, fine. But in the meantime it has been axed from my to-do list.

On Building an Urban Cellar


Over the past year or so I’ve been asked by more folks than I anticipated about how to tackle building their own cellar. And the more I find my winter writing heavily dominated by cellar-related adventures, the more I’ve realized that I’ll need to offer a resource about how to actually build a cellar if information about how to put one to use is to be of any value. If you have a home with a basement and live where it gets bloody cold in the winter, read on.

THE PREMISE The goal is simple: create a space with specific temperature and humidity. That’s it, really, so keep your focus there. How you reach that end will depend on the specifics of your situation, so your creativity and intuition should most definitely be engaged. If you have a spare corner of your basement, even a small one, you should be good to go.

Your first problem to solve is to figure out what you’re going to use the space for. Different food items have different needs, so the temp and rh [relative humidity] range you’ll need to shoot for will depend on your intended use. For example, many root vegetables store best at temperatures close to 0C, and 90%+ humidity – conditions only necessary from fall through spring when storing veg. If you want to geek-out on the details, check out resources like this. Wine, on the other hand, stores best closer to 13C and 60-80% humidity – and stability is important. Canning and onions need cold and dry. What to do? I’ve found a practical solution in building a single long room divided in half by an insulated wall and door. When you enter my cellar, it’s first, the root cellar. Its conditions are practical for root vegetables, hanging animals prior to butchery, cold stabilizing batches of wine, and general use as a walk-in fridge. Inside the root cellar is the door to the adjacent wine cellar. Although originally intended exclusively for wine, it is now sharing half the space with dry cured meats and cheese aging setups – two items that I discovered happily enjoy similar environments. With some ingenuity, the two spaces are accommodating all of my needs.

MANAGING TEMPERATURE Because you need cool-to-cold depending on your use, it’s considered optimal to site the cellar in a north-east corner, opposite the house’s furnace, clear of duct work or other heat generating items. Although mine is sited optimally, I get the feeling it would still be effective if sited in a variety of locations in my basement. So if optimal is a choice, perfect, if not, don’t sweat it, at least not this far north anyway.

Bare foundation walls provide good access to cold, but counter-intuitively do not insulate well and therefore also let in a good amount of summer heat, especially above grade, and especially if the sun hits it. A surprise to me in my research is that your summer cold source, important for wine/meat/cheese is actually the floor below your feet. The shade of your house and depth of soil keep that soil cool year-round. So my wine/meat/cheese cellar is essentially an insulated box, open on the bottom to capture heat from the cold floor. Imagine a cooler flipped upside down on your basement floor, upsized. It’s insulated with polyextruded styrene boards – effective in high humidity – and also a vapor barrier, sealed with tuck tape. It keeps cool in in the summer [peaks at about 15-16C in August briefly], and captures any humidity I introduce into the space – that’s its job.

My root cellar has quite different properties. The foundation wall is not insulated as summer heat is not a problem [not storing any veg then] – the rest is insulated the same as my wine cellar. Where things really change is that it’s vented to the exterior, allowing cold air in the fall to get into the space, cooling it down quickly, and allowing in seriously cold air in during the winter to get temps down near 0C with ease. In fact, at -20C outside or so, I have to plug the vents to prevent the room from freezing. I used the former window to build a setup that would allow a hot air vent at the top, under which is a cold air return that’s diverted diagonally across the room and to the floor to create circulation and draw.

MANAGING HUMIDITY We live in a dry climate, and managing humidity is a bit of a dance with nature. But I can tell you that my cellar would be at 20% humidity or less in the winter if I didn’t regulated it. Some folks use electronic humidistats that trigger ultrasonic humidifiers to very good effect – most often in re-purposed small fridges. I use a pail, old cloth diaper, and salt water. I let it drip off a shelf onto the floor, where it pools, and drags the humidity upward dramatically. So much so that when I put up large batches of meats to dry cure, I have to disengage the water setup to avoid exceeding 75%rh. In mid-late summer, the cellar’s at 75% rh or so naturally. I’ve tracked it for years, have geeky spreadsheets and charts, so you can trust me on this one.

MY SETUP. At the time I built my cellar [2009/10] my priorities were wine and root vegetables.

I built my wine cellar based on Richard Gold’s book. It has 2 foundation walls insulated with 4″ of polyextruded styrene boards [insulation proved to be the most expensive part of the build] and 2 walls built with 2X4 wood construction and pink insulation. The only tricky part is the custom insulated door, which I’ll leave to his book to describe. At 6X6X8′ it can hold about 40-50 cases of wine, a few hundred pounds of dry cured meats, and quite a few kilos of cheese. I wouldn’t want it bigger. It has bins 1′ deep on either side and an aisle just over 3′ wide down the middle. You can see some detail on the dry cured meat hanging setup here. I do find it a tad cold in the winter, 3-4C this winter, now that the root cellar is functional [it used to bottom at 8C pre-root cellar being finished]. I’m considering running some cold air ventilation out from the wine cellar into the adjacent unheated storage room. On the plus side, I’m also anticipating it now being colder in the summer simply due to residual cold.

My root cellar is slightly larger than my wine cellar, and size here isn’t king either. At 6x6x8 I figure I could put up about 2000lbs of vegetables at full capacity. You likely don’t need larger either. I built shelves out of 2X10, two deep, and have bins and tubs to accommodate food. 1″ shelves are not even close to strong enough. I tried and failed. Although I know others have done it, my ventilation setup is something I’ve never seen before – most people use a single hole to the exterior, which works. I’d wager mine provides better ventilation through the space. I can tell you that white plastic sewer pipe is cheaper than black plumbing ABS when running the cold air return. I put two threaded eye bolts into the joists overhead to be able to hang animals.

YOUR SETUP Although my setup works and I love it, I’ve since come across an idea that I would use if I had to do it again. Eliot Coleman [see recommended reading below] suggests using cinder blocks as your framing material. Genius. It has loads of thermal mass, and more importantly, will not rot in a high humidity environment. My wood setup will eventually be compromised by nature. Cinder blocks will not. Coleman takes a bucket of water down to the cellar when getting veg, splashes it on the walls and floor to retain high humidity,  and uses the bucket to collect veg. That guy’s a genius.

So if you’re serious about building yourself a cellar, get the books below out from the library, give them a read, figure out your needs and space, and before you know it, you’ll be rocking. If you have questions after reading the books, drop me an email.

Recommended Library Reading: How and Why to Build a Wine Cellar, Richard Gold; Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables, Mike & Nancy Bubel; Four Season Harvest: How to Harvest Fresh Organic Vegetables From Your Home Garden All Year Long, Eliot Coleman.



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.

Cellar Dream-Come-True


I knew when I built my wine and root cellars, that they would bring me joy – but I had no idea it would happen so thoroughly, so quickly. Today I made a batch of very, very large saucisson sec. It was time to try again after my last slightly hurtful failure, and the humidity in my cellar has been above 60% since early spring, largely having been resolve by 1) building a door, imagine that and 2) having a passive humidifier setup which is a bucket with salt water + a rag wicking water on to a flat rock on the floor = ~20%+ bump up in RH.

As I tied the links up in the cellar, I paused at the sight of copious quantities of saucisson sec, hanging above aging wheels of local goat cheese, themselves above many carboys full of urban fruit wine - and was thoroughly pleased to the core. It’s a dream-come-true, really. The cheese setup, btw, is a genius one – Holly at Smoky Valley Goat Cheese hooked me up with this idea: food grade plastic bin with lid, salt water on bottom, add rack, cheese on top [not touching water] = 95+% humidity. The humidity can be tweaked by simply sliding the lid open or closed. I had no idea how to achieve the necessary humidity for cheese ripening without the typical old-fridge-setup folks use. Problem solved.

I find myself ducking down to the cellar daily now – checking dry cured meat or smelling the cheese and checking out for any microflora action, topping up wine carboys or checking their state of fermentation, grabbing a bottle of wine or a jar of pickles, jam, or fruit syrup, or rounding up some root veg for dinner. Cellars are underrated – mine’s changing my life, and I think I’m only just starting to get the hang of it.

FROM LOCAL FARMS – En Santé Organic Winery & Meadery


A simple hard truth about living in Alberta: vinifera grapes don’t grow here. [yet]. As a self-professed wine snob, that hurts the feelings a little. For a time I felt pretty good considering the Okanagan valley ‘local enough’ to get my wines, but a recent drive reminded me that 14+ hours isn’t really all that local anymore. Not even all that close really. I arrived home after a punishing drive with small children to my apple tree in full-on-huge-red-apple glory, and  laughed at myself. 5 cases of wine awaited me from my tree alone. No need to drive that far, or at all.

I admittedly have become lightly obsessed with urban orchard wines, given the propensity for city yard fruit trees to produce literally tonnes of wasted fruit that can be had by all for free. [I tackled over a tonne of fruit myself this year, literally] Which, of course, made En Santé Organic Winery and Meadery a clear choice for my From Local Farms project. They had to build an industry for themselves to exist, and offer products that speak to the terroir of our region – highbush cranberry, rhubarb, saskatoon, and mead included. Xina, their winemaker, dives into a discussion about our cultural shift away from and back to regional flavors, challenges the notion of ‘conventional’ agriculture, and chats a bit about their apple wines, mead, and other products.

Highbush Cranberry Wine – 2010


Last Wednesday evening, upon light prompting [read: suggestion] from friend Valerie, I headed back into the bush to pick another round of the abundant crop of highbush cranberries. I’d picked 20 lbs already. I really didn’t need more. But only a few days prior, I’d been out to En Sante Organic Winery and Meadery [who are going to be undergoing a full-on name change and rebranding btw - that's right, you heard it here first] to shoot their From Local Farms episode that’s in editing at the moment. Xina [their winemaker] let me try their lineup, including their Kalyna wine [ukrainian for highbush cranberry], which for some reason is not listed on their website. I will fully admit, I was a bit shocked. It was impressive. It was akin to a rosé with loads of structure for an orchard wine. I find orchard wines tend to, okay nearly always,  lack in the structure department, so this opportunity is key in my homewinmaking/blending adventures. I had to try to make some.

So 20-some lbs of fruit later, I was in. Picked up a couple tips worth sharing from Xina. 1. No need to wash/rinse/sort the fruit. Into the press they go as-is. This saves loads of time. 2. The fruit is not fragile. It must be the acid. Or the stink. These things sat in a bucket in my heated basement for almost a week, and it was hard to tell when I finally got to them today. I think grapes would have rotted. Tip 3, this one from me: 3. make a cheese with berries as you see in the picture, press, then re-form and press again. They don’t let up their juice as easily as crushed apples, say, so be patient. My 20 lbs or so turned into roughly 5L of juice. I topped up the 11L carboy with water, took the SG, then chaptilized to get to 12.5%abv. Even diluted, the pH was very low: 2.96. Suggests searing acidity in the straight juice, and means this is a good candidate for low-sulphite [or no-sulphite if you roll like that] wine.

I like rosé. I like high-bush cranberries. I like structure. If all goes well, I’m going to have one mean local wine in the cellar.

Below: the resulting pommace post-press. Valerie had suggested trying to dry the berries – a great idea. I’m going to try de-seeding the skins and drying them for a dried-cran-esque element to game dishes. Other shot: the straight juice.

Highbush Cranberry-fest


I’d had enough of reading about Karlynn‘s foraging successes, especially having spent far too much time harvesting far too few berries of the low-bush variety. Rather than a sheet pan one layer deep of low-bush, roughly the same amount of time spent picking highbush yielded 21 lbs of fruit. As you can see in the photo, highbush cranberry grows rather tall, into loose trees up to 15+ feet tall, and will fruit throughout the tree, resulting in many, many clusters of about a dozen berries per. It adds up fast.

We picked on a trail we used to walk daily for years, so my wife and I know it well – where the good spots are for every type of wild berry or mushroom one might want to harvest. This year, we didn’t make it half way to the first good spot, because the fruit was EVERYWHERE. I could have spent a week straight picking in that ravine, and likely still have fruit to pick. I get this strange fervor that comes over me when berry picking – I can’t stop. I get zoned into what I’m convinced is a genetically programmed bliss when foraging,  something pushing me to keep going, despite all logic suggesting I have enough. It’s strange, but fun.

So I made some jelly. Rather, I failed at making jelly. So I have syrup, which is okay by me. More importantly in my mind, I had enough juice [I juiced it in my fruit press], that I decided to try a small batch of wine. Very exciting, as I love the concept of pairing game meats with fruit wine from the bush where the game animals live, and have never made highbush cranberry wine. Coincidentally, I was at En Santé Organic Winery and Meadery a few hours after pitching yeast into the wine, shooting their ‘From Local Farms‘ episode, and I had the opportunity to try their highbush cranberry wine for the first time. It’s distinctly representative of the fruit, akin to a rosé with all kinds of structure on the palate. Orchard and wild fruit wines can lack in the structure department, so this was an important discovery for me. The opportunity to blend that structure into other wines – like saskatoon – is quite intriguing.

So thanks, Karlynn, for the kick in the butt to get out there. Turned out to be one of the best years I can remember for yield.  And there are still loads of berries out there – so get out and pick  all that free, local, wild food before the season ends!!!

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. ]