Party-Packed November

Today was one of those days where I nestle into our little woodland cottage and do absolutely nothing all day (unless you count three loads of laundry and this blog post something. Let’s say we do). It has been so long since my last blog post, WordPress actually forgot my username and password – yikes!

The last two months have been harvest-y like crazy: both Cody and I were busy bees at our respective wineries; he, making the wine, and me, watching others make it outside my office window. But as it always does, the craziness has come to a close, giving us more than enough reason to celebrate (*side note: Cody’s first harvest as Assistant Winemaker: definitely the most stressful yet, but also the most awesome).

First, we had the Bedrock harvest party.

The Bedrock Crew(Us with Intern Extraordinaire Angela and Newly Promoted Cellarmaster Luke)

bedrock-party2(Post-party fireside time)

It was SO fun to be at the party again this year, just because whenever we experience a year anniversary, I go into a kind of shock over how long we’ve been living in California (minus the New Zealand stint) and how many wonderful things we’ve been blessed with along the way – dear friends, great jobs, our puppy, a sweet home, and on and on and on.

After that weekend, we had some of our first house guests! First, my dear college besty Betsy came for the full Wine County experience. We spent the weekend seeing the sights, “helping” Cody at the winery, and of course, quoting Mean Girls and referencing the OC as much as possible. And maybe recreating the intro song for Full House.

bets1The day after Bets flew back to the Midwest, another batch of Iowans came to visit: Mom, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa! I LOVED giving them the full Ram’s Gate experience – I am so proud of my workplace – and walking through the vines with Grandpa, talking about farming in a way I never appreciated growing up among the cornfields.

dad1

gpas1

photo (3)

Blissful sigh for wonderful family time – having three generations together is always so special.

The day after the parentals were here, we had some of our friends over for a little housewarming party. It’s quite the trek to get out to our place, with crazy winding roads and zero light, but the time was ripe to show off our beloved home. I loved connecting with some friends we hadn’t seen in a while, and we had some amazing bottles of wine in the mix as well. I neglected to capture many of those moments, but they included an outta-this-world Champagne Magnum and our first set of Zalto glasses that I only have horrible photos of – Cody’s bosses TOTALLY spoil us. ūüėČ

That brings us up to today! And full confession here: I’ve been rockin’ the Pandora Christmas station all day. Sorry, not sorry. I’m not allowed to listen to it in public until after Thanksgiving, and not around Cody until after his birthday (December 3rd), but in my secret quite alone time… it’s happening. Anyone else??

Until next time!
Emily

Back to the Sorting Table

One of the inevitable effects of harvest is that in order to hang out with my husband, I need to (ahem, GET to) hang out at the winery. Some days, that occurs in the form of stopping by after work for a cup of coffee and a quick spin on the forklift:

IMG_2648And other times, it’s like today, when I bring my computer, journal, and a couple books to occupy me while the guys get some Sunday work done. Today we also brought Kinner, who is training up to become a fully-licensed Winery Dog. We’re working on it; he hasn’t fully kicked the habit of chewing on expensive equipment and trying to eat all the grapes.

IMG_2889[still does ANYTHING for treats, though].

Meanwhile, down in Carneros, I got to wear my Sorting Table hat on Wednesday and help the cellar crew sort 10 tons of Pinot Noir.

IMG_2848

It’s always funny to come down from my blissfully ignorant, perfectly temperature-controlled office – where all day long I romanticize winemaking for a living – down to the crush pad. My main takeaway is that no matter how beautiful and artful and theological and symbolic and dazzling harvest is, its main descriptor is just plain sticky. Standard operating procedure is to be covered in grape juice after a day on the crush pad, especially with the Carneros winds that I so glorify in marketing copy blowing juice onto everything. The bottom line: making wine is hard work, but the sticky parts (both metaphorical and literal) only contribute to its awesomeness.

IMG_2857 IMG_2858

Sorting is an important part of fruit processing because it’s one of many levels of quality control. We only want nice, ripe, clean, pretty grapes to get destemmed and pumped into their fermenting location (whether barrel or tank). This week, we had three or four people standing next to the moving belt, looking for under-ripe grapes, any mold or mildew hiding inside clusters (especially Pinot Noir, which is known for tight clusters that carry the risk of unwanted growth like mold), and MOG, which is a great Wine Word of the Day that stands for “Material Other than Grapes.”

(Original, right? It mostly refers to leaves, but the generic term can signify anything you could ever imagine, including birds, bugs, spiders, plastic, sticks, small children, etc.)

It was a busy week at work for me, but whenever I say that, I kind of laugh because “busy” for me means maybe having to do an hour of catch-up work at night or work a half hour of overtime… meanwhile, Cody is working 16-18-hour harvest days. Perspective. ūüôā

That said, I’m going to keep hanging out watching TV shows on my computer while Cody and Luke do actual work and Kinley runs around looking for things to eat.

Until next time!

Emily

This really big moon

…is rising right next to me. Our yard gets super dark at night, so the full moon totally stands out just through a nice gap in the trees. It’s so big and bright, I’m honestly surprised Kinley isn’t howling. But he’s munching on a stick at my feet.

It’s been super hot here lately, and humid, which is totally rare for Sonoma County, so for once I’m totally happy at 8:30pm on the porch in my shorts and t-shirt. The neighbor dogs are starting their Evening News segment, where they bark across the hills to each other to catch up on the day’s events, and the crickets are adding a nice little chirping harmony to the night. All I need is a s’more and Cody and it’s the perfect summer night.

But drumroll please… it’s Cody’s first official day of harvest at the new winery! The guys got in the first red fruit of the harvest, so they’re eating together in town before Cody makes his way home. That means I’m in Writer Mode, finishing freelance projects and enjoying how blissfully uneventful my day at home has been. I love Mondays.

For dinner, I threw together a gourmet platter (not) of leftover Brussels sprouts and, for good measure, ate ice cream, too.

sprouts

I have my eye on the wines we have open in the fridge, too, but haven’t gone there yet. ūüėČ For now, I’m just enjoying time with my little mischief-maker.

Which reminds me, my “My Retriever is Such a Retriever” moment of the day is brought to you by the Retractable Leash that Couldn’t.

leashThis poor leash didn’t know what it was getting into when Kinner and I set forth on our walk this morning. As we traipsed along the winding road, sort of jogging but mostly just trotting, I saw something out of the corner of my eye that didn’t immediately register, because I so rarely see them out here.

A grey squirrel.

And it was pretty much all over from there in one die-hard sprint. The only casualty was a bit of my flesh that is sporting a red mark from the backlash of the ripped end – no squirrels were harmed. Kin went carousing down the steep hill that goes from the road to the neighboring creek, and at that point (thank goodness) he decided to make his way back to me. I think he realized that he had done something extra bad this time. But I couldn’t stay mad at him for long.

kinner

*Sigh*

And so recaps my first Monday of Harvest Time! A bit earlier than we expected, but I don’t mind yet. One of these days I’m off and the Bedrock team is getting fruit, I will TOTALLY be up in the hand-sorting again.

Until next time,
Emily

This Counts As Late Night for Me

…as I was typing this at 10:39pm the other night. Wow.

I was in Computer Mode tonight finishing some freelance work and felt Bloggy, in a good way, so I finished my Fig post and made a pot of tea in Ollie the Elephant. We’ve had kind of a crazy couple of weeks, so it feels amazing to sit in semi-darkness, sip my tea, and type words onto the computer. #introvertproblems.

Actually, before I start totally speaking in hashtag, let’s talk about the whole introvert/extrovert thing. When I took my Meyers-Briggs test for Northwestern Campus Ministry, I’m pretty sure I scored a 30/30 on Extrovert. I was like the definition of extrovert. I’m not sure what has changed, but I feel a heck of a lot more introverted in my post-college, post-marriage life. Oftentimes Cody and I feel the closest when we’re sitting together on our porch reading in silence. For real. I still get a total buzz serving wine to people in the tasting room… but once a week is more than enough for me. It comes in a concentrated spurt, and then I’m ready for the rest of the week of quiet desk writing time and meetings with no more than four people. One of my favorite times of day is my half-hour car ride home, radio blaring embarrassing Top 40 music. Not to mention awesome alone time with my boys.

I think one of the reasons I’m loving these moments is because my quiet time has been lacking this week. I’m reaching the end of a “workweek” (which, for me, ends on Sunday), and I know for a fact that I’d feel more rejuvenated and energized if I stepped up my Bible reading and journaling time in the mornings. Definitely a good goal for the week, I think – and even though we’re up soooo late tonight, I think I’ll try to kick off the day tomorrow with some early-morning quiet time.

‘Til next time!
Emily

Waipara

To maintain some sense of order in this flurry of quick blog posts on this, our final day in New Zealand, I present the next in a reverse-chronological order of our NZ Wine Adventure Week tastings: 
 
Waipara.
 
I remember the first time I learned that Waipara was a New Zealand wine region, I was just plain confused, thinking it must be some sub-region of Marlborough or something. But nope, Waipara is its own cute little region just north of Christchurch, and we popped in there for two nights before coming down south (west) to Queenstown (Central Otago). 
 
Here is a quick Googles Image of New Zealand:
 
This is kind of a rough sketch, but you can see the little asterisked Waipara Valley in region #9, Canterbury. 
 
Waipara literally translates to Muddy Water (wai -> water, para -> mud), so we were pleased to see the good ol’ Muddy Water wines (which Cody and I are both familiar with from former jobs) being poured at Greystone, the first place we visited. Greystone recently acquired Muddy Water, so we tasted the wines together and got to do some fun side-by-side comparisons.¬†
 
(Incidentally, it was really hard to get a good picture of the label. But there ya go).
 
After Greystone, we hopped over to Pegasus Bay for a quick visit. Pegasus Bay is probably the best-known of the Waipara wineries – it’s a favorite of Robert Parker’s and often wins the Winery Restaurant of the Year award. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to check out the menu, but we did get to taste some yummy wines. My favorite thing there was the super fun music-themed names of the different wines, like Encore (Noble Riesling), Maestro (Merlot), and Finale (Noble Semillon). We tasted the Encore, and mmm. Riesling that also happens to be dessert wine = yummm.¬†
 
Our last Waipara stop was a tour at Pyramid Valley. This was our longest visit, and a definite highlight of Wine Adventure Week. 
 
First of all, the winery is as “natural” as you can get – when we tasted a barrel sample, we were literally drinking grapes. No added acid, no sulphur, nothin’. The wines were incredible, and our steep hike up the vineyard was well worth the view.
 
The coolest takeaway from this tour was when Nik (in the blue shirt above) started talking about “hands-free” winemaking. It’s kind of a market trend to talk about leaving grapes to just do their thing, and hands-free is sort of synonymous with no added sulfur/acid/alcohol/sugars/etc. What Nik said, though, was that their wines couldn’t be further from hands-off. When the Chardonnay is fermenting in the clay amphora (pictured above), the winemaker will check on the fermenting juice every two hours, all through the day night. Instead of punching down the Pinots with a plunger tool, he climbs into the vessel and sort of swims the skins around, bathing them in the liquid to increase color and tannin extraction. Cool, huh?¬†
 
That is Waipara in a nutshell – and both nights we were in the valley, we slept in…¬†
 
…a renovated train car. It was so cool! We totally got to be the boxcar children, and the room was even well-stocked with the fixins for tea and coffee, and the electric heater and lots of blankets did the trick to keep us warm.¬†
 
That might be all, this side of the equator! I’ll have to catch up on Marlborough and Martinborough back in the states, unless we have some down time later today. For now, we are heading out to wander around Christchurch, probably to the famous Container Mall to look for some beach reading materials for Cody.¬†
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Central Otago

I’m kind of freaking out because I’m not going in chronological order here, but I figure it’s kind of my own fault for slacking so much in the blogging during Wine Adventure Week. So, since Central Otago (Thursday and Friday) is freshest in my mind, it gets to be written about. Sorry, other regions!¬†
 
Almost as an afterthought today as we were driving through the vineyards, I remembered all I’ve read about how Central Otago is generally regarded the most beautiful wine region in the world (in competition with Stellenbosch, South Africa). I’ve mentioned the tidbit in a bunch of NZ wine write-ups in my time, but it didn’t really hit me until I was looking at the perfectly clear mountains reflected in the water. So beautiful, and I don’t even have a picture of it. But here is a different water pic, courtesy of Cody:

 
We only visited a few wineries in Central Otago, but the visits were super rich – almost as rich as the manure-fed soils we sifted through our fingers at one of the sites. We’re talking like 2-3 hour visits at each winery, and this is with winemakers still finishing harvest, who hadn’t slept in weeks, and one whose firstborn child is due to be born on Monday. We felt so overwhelmed with hospitality!
 
Thursday started with Valli Wine, where the founder/winemaker Grant Taylor showed us around the winery and tasted us through a couple 2013 wines in barrel. The cool thing about Valli was that Grant was one of the first winemakers in the region, so he and Cody talked for a long time about Central Otago sub-regions. Terroir is complicated like that, I suppose – a place has a place-ness, but there is always a smaller place within that place. Within the New World, New Zealand; within New Zealand, Central Otago; within Central Otago, Bannockburn and Gibbston and Bendigo and Waitaki; within each of those sub-regions, vineyards; within those vineyards, blocks; within those blocks, rows; within those rows, vines. Labeling certainly hasn’t gotten to the point of distinguishing one vine from the next, but the differences between each “place” (however far or near those places’ boundaries stretch) matter bigtime.¬†
 
We then had a tour at Felton Road with a small group of young ‘un wine geeks like us. Felton Road was recommended to us by a lot of our industry connections, and they’re favorites of Wine Advocate and the like.¬†
 
Again, the hospitality here was amazing Рeven with tons of vineyard and winery work to do, the vineyard manager and winemaker spent hours with us, first explaining the conversion to Biodynamics, then tasting us through the 2012 and 2013 wines and talking about everything from whole cluster pressing and different strains of yeasts to blending trials and aging. 
 
We’d heard from a few winemakers already about Biodynamics, and seeing more and more vineyards using those growing practices makes me more and more eager to read more about it. At Felton Road, in particular, the vineyard manager’s eyes were lighting up as he told us about the new wildlife appearing in the vineyard because of the changes implemented in the last years, particularly removing chemicals (which has more to do with organics than biodynamics, but still).¬†
 
Cody’s and my favorite at Felton Road was the 2012 Block 3 Pinot Noir, which they’re hoping to release in the next week, so we couldn’t snag a bottle, unfortunately. All wine descriptors aside, it was just really super yummy.¬†
 
Next we popped into Mount Difficulty, which was fun for me after writing about one or two of the wines before. The view there was amazing – my pictures don’t do it justice, but…
 
 
We left Mount Difficulty just in time to see Max Mariott to taste his Auburn Wines in Cromwell; we were ridiculously excited about this one, because Auburn Wines. Specializes. In. Riesling.
 
Oh, sweet (or dry) Riesling, how do we love thee? Let me count the ways. No, let me not count the ways, because I’m trying to get on with the story here. But I. Love. Riesling. Enough to start using crazy, interruptive punctuation all over the place.
 
Max is one of those cool young winemakers who is just PUMPED about what he’s doing, which makes tasting the wines an amazing experience. I took a zillion pictures of the bottles to make sure I remembered what we’d tasted, and we’re heading back to the states with one of his 2012 Rieslings.¬†
The highlight of the evening was when Max pulled out two 375ml bottles of succulent dessert wines, made in a TBA style, or Trockenbeerenauslese (yep, saying “TBA” is a lot easier), made from carefully-selected,¬†botrytised Riesling berries.¬†In the 300s for residual sugar = Emily is a very happy, sugared-up camper.
 
Bonus linguistic exercise: Max named Auburn for a couple reasons; one, because Auburn is the color of Central Otago most of the year round; two, “Au” is the chemical symbol for gold, and “burn” is Scots Gaelic for river, so Auburn = gold river. So cool.
 
On Friday, we kicked things off with a visit with Rudi Bauer at Quartz Reef. 
 
As you can tell from the winery’s name, soil matters – a LOT. Here is Cody analyzing some rocks from the vineyard:
Quartz Reef’s vineyard is biodynamic, and Rudi showed us the different preps and the garden where they grow the materials needed for the different preparations.¬†
 
Biodynamics deserves a much more dedicated post, but the underlying principal is that a vineyard is treated like a holistic organism, and the primary tools to nurture the vineyard come from the land itself: preps made mostly of compost and cow manure, as well as dried herbs. These schedule for how these preps are administered follows the lunar calendar. 
 
I was extra excited about Quartz Reef for a couple other reasons, too – first of all, I was joined (or really, I was the joiner) in the backseat of the car by three winery dogs – love!
 
 
Secondly, the winery team welcomed us with open arms. We arrived just in time for smoko (New Zealandese for morning break ;), and sat right down with the staff for toast and quiche and coffee and tea and cookies (sorry Рbiscuits :) and lots of jollity. Rudi took the rest of the morning, right through lunch, showing us the vineyard, winery, and wines in the tasting room. 
 
Thirdly, Quartz Reef is know for… SPARKLING WINES. Yes. We haven’t tasted many over here, and I most definitely have a soft spot for bubbles. We are heading back to the US with a Quartz Reef Pinot, but are chilling a bottle of their Blanc de Blancs in our hostel’s fridge tonight (Sunday) to sip in honor of our last night in New Zealand. Mmm!¬†
 
We grabbed a quick bite to eat before heading over to Burn Cottage, where the lovely Sarah had a few samples for us to taste. Burn Cottage is another biodynamic vineyard that makes only one wine; the winery is owned by Ted Lemon, whose Sonoma Coast Pinot Noirs are quite possibly Cody’s favorite in the whole entire world.¬†
 
Ta da! That is Central Otago. By the time I finished writing this one, we’re at our hostel on the morning of our LAST day in New Zealand. Tomorrow, to Fiji we go.¬†
 
 
 
 
 
 

Wine Adventure Week Recap

Whew! We are in a cute Queenstown caf√© sneaking some free WiFi before dinner, and I can barely remember where I left things off with our travels…
 
…oh, it was me being grumpy about the crazy ferry action. Well, the week since then has been full of some of my favorite things.
 
Beautiful Vineyards:
 
Educational barrel tastings:
 
Walks with this guy:
Lots of warm beverages:
 
(Let’s get a close-up of my fine literary preferences, shall we?)
 
Unconventional places of lodging:
 
(Yep, that is a renovated train car at the fabulous Waipara Sleepers)
(the pseudo-living room, stocked with train seats).
Winery Dogs:
 
And TONS of awesome tastings and conversations with winemakers and vineyard managers about their passions.
 
 
I’m working on a more detailed series of posts about each region (we spent time in Martinborough, Marlborough, Waipara, and Central Otago), but I wanted to whip out a quick overview post in case I fail to follow through efficiently (funny how being in a state of constant relaxation makes one lazy… hmmm).¬†
 
Our main plan of attack for our last three days in New Zealand is to sell our car and organize our luggage. We fly out on Monday (the 20th), but won’t land in the US until Thursday the 30th due to a necessary and superbly inconvenient layover in Fiji. Right.¬†