Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Give that new bottle a bit of time on its own

Saw the term "bottle shock" used in a newsletter I received last week from one of my favorite wineries. It had to do with wine that was tasted in March and ordered; the wine had been bottled and was ready to pick up. But purchasers were warned to wait one to three months before diving in.

So in the midst of a conversation with Anthony Vietri of
Va La Vineyards, last week, I steered him toward that subject. Probably more suited for a podcast, I’ll just roll out his response in a straight out quote and let you read it:

“It’s essentially something that happens in the process of moving the wines several times before you get to the bottle,” he began. “You’ve got this wine that has for one, two, or three years essentially lived a very quiet life in the cellar ever since fermentation. Every now and then you roused it . . . moved it to another tank or barrel, and that’s called racking. And then it . . . went to sleep again, depending on the winemaker, for two months, maybe a year, and nobody bothered with it. Occasionally somebody poked their head in there and topped up, or they added SO2 to keep it from oxidizing, but essentially the wine itself is not being moved very often. And then before bottling and in the preparations for bottling, there is a whole bunch of movement and, in some cases, the wine moves more during that week before bottling than it had since it was fermented. And in doing that it takes in copious amounts of oxygen or copious amount of nitrogen or CO2 depending on how you are gassing it.

“You’re adding SO2 to protect it from oxidizing. You might be adding touch-up acidity because perhaps the acid level has risen to a point where you feel that the PH is too high and you feel that perhaps you need to bring it down a little to keep it stable, and maybe you’ve added different things to cold stabilize it. All of these things tend to stupefy the wine for a short period of time.

“And let’s say you didn’t even do that.. let’s say you are an old-timer and -- I learned this way myself -- and you took it out of the barrel through a . . .siphon and into a bottle. Just that movement of going from that inert state, which is a state without oxygen, to filling the bottle, that simple little movement is a huge movement that we make on that small amount of wine that is in that bottle that suddenly now has been all completely moved and exposed to oxygen. It’s not a detriment to the wine because we’re careful as winemakers to not make it detrimental. But shock is a very good term. It basically stupefies the wine so what it will do is deaden the aromas and the flavors and so what happens is, you’re getting a much more subdued version than you’re going to get once the wine stabilizes in the bottle and goes back to its stasis and that has to do with the barometric pressure in the bottle and outside, and that has has to do with the SO2 that is in the wine stabilizing. It has to do with whether or not it’s been filtered or unfiltered. A lot of different elements go into that.

“That’s why though you can’t say that Bob’s wine will be ready in one month, my wine will be ready in 2 months, her wine will be ready in three months. There are so many factors involved that you can have a guess as to how long bottle shock will last, but no way of knowing for sure. So a simple way of saying it is, if you warn people [to wait] one to three months [before opening their wine that has just been bottled], that’s usually a good little window. Sometimes it’s less and sometimes it’s more, but normally 90 percent of the time the wine will fall within that window.”

Keep it in a quiet, dark spot, away from the direct sun. Preferably on its side, allowing the cork to remain wet. “There are a lot of studies going on right now about the amount of oxygen literally passing through the cork during resting,” he added, “even when it’s on its side by the way. What we’re finding is that there is definitely breathing going on; the wine definitely is breathing the atmosphere around it, so the atmosphere in your cellar is actually part of what is going in to your finished wine. . . . I just read a study talking about this, I believe it’s from Australia or New Zealand."

He stopped for a second, then added, "It’s really an amazing beverage in just every way. So the idea is that if you get a brand new wine it’s best, if they say if it’s just been bottled, to put it aside for a little bit. Find out when they bottled it and just subtract from there. If you wait three months, you’re probably fine. But the bigger the wine the more it needs to wait, generally speaking. So if you have a light picnic white, it probably doesn’t need to wait as long as a Cab from Napa.”

Able Grape: One stop information shopping

This post comes from someone I hope to meet someday, a woman named Deb Harkness who lives out on the West Coast and dispenses as much info and advice on wine as anyone I've been able to find on the Web. Her Good Wine Under $20 blog is one of the few I've linked onto my blog, and it features enough links to a variety of wine and food sites to fill the biggest barrel in Tuscany. Sigh. Mine's not one of them, but I'll kow I've made it when I do.

She filed this post last Thursday:

Posted: 07 Aug 2008 07:30 AM CDT

The web is a big place. No matter how good you are at concocting perfect search strings on Google or whatever search engine you're using, when it comes to finding information on wine it can be damn hard to locate something useful. Enter Able Grape. They say they're in Beta, but they look like they're all set to become the Alpha Wine Information Search Engine. With over 13 million pages of online wine information indexed and searchable, this is like a one-stop online reference library. And because it's dedicated to wine, just a word or two in the search box will usually yield results -- the kind of results you're looking for, not the stuff you have no interest in when you type in Cabernet Sauvignon (as in, Cabernet Sauvignon bath products).What kind of information is gathered on Able Grape? Reference works, producer Web sites, blogs, scientific articles, event information, tasting notes are all included in the database, and then they're just a click away.Check out the site next time you have a wine question, like what does Pineau d'Aunis taste like, or what kind of soil Pinot Noir likes. It's probably faster than driving to your local library to try to find the answer on Able Grape.

Kreutz Creek East thriving 'downstream'

Carole and Jim Fitzpatrick remember living in York and heading out to the few wineries in the area back in the 1980s, such as Naylor and Fox Ridge. Then Carole bought her husband a wine-making kit and “he started winning amateur competitions.” They bought a three-acre plot across the Susquehanna River in Wrightsville, and began their passion. Years later Jim was "being transferred to a job in New Jersey and this [West Grove, Pa.] was central to where we were going, so that’s how we kind of picked it.”

The desire to open a winery weren’t the only thing they brought with them. They also carried along the name of a creek running close to their home in Wrightsville that they took as the name for their
winery. A member of the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail, the Kirkpatricks planted grapes at their present site in 1998. Today, they sell out of their winery and at a satellite site in West Chester, Pa. And it’s obvious from the sales that both draw their own distinct clienetele.

“We’re known for a couple of wines,” Carole said recently from their West Chester tasting room. “One is our ice wine. But it’s funny, our popular wines are different in both locations. Up here in West Chester our Cabernet Franc is the most popular, and then in West Grove it’s more the sweeter things. So like our rose, [called] Steuben; we even had a fruit wine for awhile, a red raspberry, that was popular. Our port is very popular.”

Why the difference? “I wish I knew,” she said. “We actually pride ourselves in having something for everyone so we have always had a range, from sweeter wines to dry wines. We’ve always had a variety and we want to keep the variety.”

Their list currently features 16 wines, including what they call a Kordeaux, a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Carole said they have eight acres of grapes planted and sell about half of what they harvest. Her husband still works his day job; the winery and tasting room remain in the basement of their home. One of their plans for later this fall is to remodel that room, but not move anything out of there. “Actually, people like to see everything when they come down there,” she said.

Outside of that, the only other item on their “to do” list is tear out some of their Niagara grapes and plant Pinot Grgio or Sauvignon Blanc grapes. “We’ll have to talk to a couple people . . . and see what grows well in the area.”

Asked what advice she gives to people who ask about going into the business, she said, “don’t do it, don’t do it” before breaking into a laugh. “I actually do. People will come into the winery and the husband will look around and say, ’Oh, this will be good. This will be fun.’ I’m like, don’t do it.’

“It really consumes your every minute, but owning [any] business does.” Suggestions? “I would just say to research grapes that grow well in the area, and have your soil checked before you purchase the property; make sure it’s going to be conducive to good grape growing. And use the resources that are out there.”