Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Show Some "Spirit!"

Being a part of the Anacapa Project in Santa Barbara has been eye opening. We have delicious beer thanks to Figueroa Mountain Brewery, amazing wines (especially imports-yay!) thanks to Les Marchands Wine Merchants, outstanding food a la Lucky Penny and The Lark, and artisan spirits made right on site by Ian Cutler.

It's been a pleasure getting to know all of the people involved with these various entities, but Ian of Cutler's Artisan Spirits struck a chord with me and the Riverbench owners for different reasons. My family is from moonshine country, so distilling has always fascinated me, and one of my owners loves (loves loves loves) grappa. We have been making a small amount of honey infused grappa through Riverbench for the past year or so.

Last Thursday, Ian granted me the extreme privilege of allowing me to shadow him for a few hours to watch him in action. His chemistry know-how is mind blowing, and it was pretty cool to see the commonalities and differences between making spirits and making wine. Ian's place is like a mad scientist's lab, except he's methodical, organized, and deliberate (aka, not a mad scientist). Not to mention he's super talented and making truly remarkable spirits. (Try his Apple Pie. Seriously. Try it.)

The main takeaway was that making spirits requires the distiller to taste and smell to find the best balance through the distillation process. The first distillation is reputedly foul (Ian uses it to clean his car parts!), but as a liquid is distilled more and more, it becomes more refined and pure, with more concentrated flavors. The art is knowing how to find the balance, which is a sensory judgment. I loved that the three stages of distilling are called heads, hearts, and tails. How cool is that? Overall, it was a really interesting explanation of mashing, fermenting, and distilling that just made me want to learn more.

This harvest, Ian has agreed to experiment with grappa. Having never done it before, we'll supply him with various types of pommace to see what he can do, as we'd love to make our grappa locally. Do we have the best neighbors ever or what?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Taste Testing

I always love it when Clarissa lets me tag along on her frequent grape tasting expeditions during harvest. She's got such an amazing palate and it's absolutely fascinating to hear her talk about certain flavors in ripe grapes and not-so-ripe ones. She likes to walk a whole row at a time, tasting grapes every 10 to 15 steps. She says she carefully but randomly grabs them off each cluster, but I end up choosing the prettiest one each time because I like pretty. (Which is probably why I should never be a winemaker. That and the whole "gotta be patient" thing. Ugh.)

We tasted the blocks she uses for Rosé. She noted that color seems lighter than normal this year, so she might have to soak the juice with the skins a little longer to make sure our rosé is pink. The grapes weren't quite ready: they were still rather simple tasting and lacking that "hint of rose petal" Clarissa looks for in riper Pinot Noir.

Next, we headed to the Tributary block, where we get rows 12-16. She noted the drying leaves around the fruit zone, which is a sign that the grapes are ripening. She anticipates picking these grapes early next week, so she has already asked Jim to cut off the water so that they don't get diluted. The flavors here were lovely: That rose petal and some red cherry. She pointed out the slightly dimpled berries, and a few areas of botrytis, which seems to be more common this year than most. That means she's planning to sort the grapes not only in the vineyard but also on a table once they get to the winery. Extra work, but it's worth it to get all of that botrytis out.

We checked out the Riesling and some Chardonnay, too, neither of which was quite ready. She did mention that the Chardonnay tends to be ripening right there along with the Pinot Noir, which is rather unusual considering we typically have about two weeks between the two varietals. 2013 is shaping up to be a different harvest from years past, which is always what keeps us on our toes. :)

My favorite vineyard block, where our Clone 115 grows. Love that view!

And here is me as an excellent gate opener for your viewing pleasure: