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Jack's Winemaking Links

Jack Keller's
The Winemaking Home Page

Ben Rotter's
Improved Winemaking

Lum Eisenman's
The Home Winemaker’s Manual, and excellent book

Terry Garey's
Joy of Home Winemaking

Marc Shapiro's
The Meadery, my favorite mead site

Forrest Cook's
The Mead Maker's Page

Dave Polaschek's
Mead Made Easy

Mathieu Bouville's
Mead Made Complicated

Mead Lover's
The Bees' Lees

Talisman's
Mead

Michiel Pesgen's
The Home Winemaking Page

Roger Simmonds'
Homemade Wine

Jordan Ross'
Going Wild: Wild Yeast in Wine Making

UC Davis'
Making Table Wine at Home

Viticultural Roundtable of SW Ontario
Icewine

Vinovation's
Winemaking Fundamentals

Dina's
Wine Page

Drink Focus'
All About Apple Cider

The Brewery's
Cider Recipes

Members'
San Antonio Regional Wine Guild

WinePress.US
Discussion Forums

WV Mountaineer Jack's
WVMJ Elderberry Wine Making

Google's
rec.crafts.winemaking news group

Finevinewines.com
Fine Vine Wine's discussion groups

Twitter
Follow me on Twitter


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Who is Jack Keller?
Jack Keller is married to the former Donna Pilling and lives in Pleasanton, Texas, just south of San Antone. Winemaking is his passion and for years he has been making wine from just about anything both fermentable and nontoxic.

Jack has developed scores of recipes and tends to gravitate to the exotic or unusual, having once won first place with jalapeno wine, second place with sandburr wine, and third with Bermuda grass clippings wine.

Jack has six times been elected the President of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild, is a certified home wine judge, frequent contributor to WineMaker Magazine, creator and author of The Winemaking Home Page and of Jack Keller's WineBlog, the first wine blog on the internet, ever. He grows a few grapes, now works at being retired, and is slowly writing a book on -- what else? -- winemaking. He and Donna live separately but are still married.





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Some Other Wine Blogs

There are hundreds of wine blogs. According to Alder Yarrow (see below), none have been around as long as Jack Keller's WineBlog, but 99% of these newcomers are for wine consumers, not winemakers. They have anointed themselves the official "wine blogosphere." You can count on both hands those of us bloggers dedicated to actually making the stuff they write about, and yet our blogs are largely ignored by this elite. Still, they exist and are important. There are some who write for the buyer / consumer but still occasionally talk about the making of wine, even if they usually are talking about making it in 125,000-liter stainless steel tanks. Or they might talk about grape varieties, harvests in general, the cork-screwcap debate, stemware, or other subjects I think you might find interesting. They're worth reading even if you aren't interested in their tasting notes. Then again, that just might be your cup of tea. Here are a few of them I like, listed in a loose alphabetical order (by blogger):

Alder Yarrow's
Vinography: A Wine Blog

Ben Evert's
Making Homemade Wine and Beer, about home winemaking

Ben Hardy's
Ben's Adventures in Wine Making, a very fun read from across the Atlantic

Charlie Short's
Clueless About Wine

Chef Neil's
A Wine Making Fool's Blog, a lot of fun to read

Chris Nuber's
Texas Wine Blog, a good, unbiased read

Darcy O'Neil's
The Art of Drink

Eric Asimov's
The Pour

Erroll's
Washington Winemaker

Frugalwinemaker's
Frugal Wine Making

Ian Scott's
The Home Winery, about home winemaking

James Jory's
Second Leaf, about home winemaking

Jamie Goode's
Jamie Goode's Wine Blog

Jeff Lefevere's
The Good Grape: A Wine Manifesto

Jennifer's
My Wines Direct

Jorray's
Chez Ray Winemaking

Karien O'Kennedy's
New World Winemakeer Blog

Ken Payton's
Reign of Terrior, lots of good interviews

Ken W.'s
AlaWine.com

Mal's
Wine Amateur

Marisa D'Vari's
A Wine Story

Mary Baker's
Dover Canyon Winery

Michelle's
My Wine Education

Mike Carter's
Serious About Wine

Mike McQueen's
Life on the Vine

Noel Powell's
Massachusetts Winemaker

Noel Powell's
Random Wine Trails

[no name]'s
Budget Vino...for the $10 and Under Crowd

[no name]'s
Two Bees Wine, about home winemaking

Russ Kane's
Vintage Texas, searching for Texas terroir

Sondra Barrett's
Wine, Sex and Beauty in the Bottle

Steve Bachmann's
The Wine Collector: Practical Wine Collecting Advice

Thomas'
Vines & Wines

Thomas Pellechia's
VinoFictions, interesting variety

Tim Patterson's
Blind Muscat's Cellarbook

Tim Vandergrift's
Tim's Blog, a humorous and enjoyable flow from Wine Expert's Tim V.

Tom Wark's
Fermentation: the Daily Wine Blog

Tyler Colman's
Dr. Vino's Wine Blog






Jack Keller

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October 21st, 2014

If you experienced any problems accessing my site on October 15th I need to make full disclosure, as I did on my Facebook page. Your problems were experienced for your own computing safety---to prevent your computer from becoming infected with malware.

I pay for a service to make constant surveillance and routine (several times a day) security scans on my website, which includes this WineBlog. At mid-day on the 15th I was informed that my website (and WineBlog) had been hacked by a hacker-bot and 15,900 instances of malware strings of code were found. Most were on snippets of JavaScript found on most of the 501 pages as well as on all images and links. The JS snippets were automatically removed as they were found, but the others had to be removed by other means.

The service I have immediately quarantined every page as it was infected and within two minutes my whole site was taken off-line. At the same time they began cleaning the pages in order of their historic popularity (frequency of visits). The Winemaking Home Page and WineBlog were cleaned first and their downtime was minimal---a matter of 8 minutes or so. The entire site was cleaned in less than 3 hours and during that interval I contracted for a very expensive (for me) firewall since the bot had penetrated the server's firewall and I want to be sure this doesn't happen again.

At the same time I took the other website I built and run, FreePCServices, off-line. It had not been infected but I needed time to decide it's future. I just dumped $1500 into my primary site and cannot afford to double that. Your donations have been generous but not quite that generous. Traffic to my sponsor (please check out Wine Cooler Direct if you see a wine cooler in your future) has not been inspiring but I have high hopes for my TidBitts subscriptions to Winemaking With Jack Keller. In any event, at around 11:30 that same night, I brought FreePCServices back online because some of you probably really need it whether you realize it or not.

If you were inconvenienced by yesterday's developments I offer you my apologies, but every action taken was to protect your computer. If you visited the home page or this blog, have anti-malware software and got through in the seconds it took to take these two pages off-line, you are almost certainly safe. If you don't have anti-malware software, I invite you to visit my back-online FreePCServices.com and get a free program to protect your computer or device(s). Anti-malware programs are incorporated in the free anti-virus section. Not all anti-virus programs have anti-malware capabilities so you have to read.

Again, my apologies if you were inconvenienced in any way. I know I was....


Stroke illustrated

My friend Bob Wehner sent me an email about stroke indicators. I had seen it before and tagged it to discuss here, but somehow it slipped through the cracks. I decided it's too important to let slip through the cracks again. My mother has suffered two minor strokes---one while on a cruise and one at home.

According to the U. S. Center for Disease Control, 800,000 Americans have a stroke each year; 130,000 of those die. Yet a neurologist says that if he can get to a stroke victim within 3 hours he can totally reverse the effects of a stroke. He said the trick was getting a stroke recognized, diagnosed, and then getting the patient medically cared for within 3 hours, which is tough.

Stroke symptoms include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg---especially on one side of the body.
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause.

I have seen two mnemonics to help a layman diagnose a stroke if any of the above symptoms appear. One is FAST:

  • Face: ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • Arms: ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
  • Time: if you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.

The email Bob sent me offered a different mnemonic with a fourth symptom. It uses STRT, which I have changed to STAT (the email uses the R to mean Raise the arms, but I have changed it to Arms because STAT is easier to remember than STRT):

  • Smile: ask the person to smile. Does one side droop?
  • Talk: ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Is their speech slurred and lacks fluency?
  • Arms: ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downwards?
  • Tongue: ask the person to stick out their tongue. Is the tongue crooked or goes to one side or the other?

Obviously, if any of the diagnostic signs appear, call 9-1-1 immediately.


<i>Monkee</i> Michael Nesmith
Michael Nesmith as a Monkee, probably 1968

Many of my older readers (and I hope younger ones as well) will recognize the name Michael Nesmith as one of the four musicians in the television series The Monkees. They may not recognize him as a poet, singer, songwriter, actor, television host, record and movie producer, author, as well as musical innovator in many ways---for example, as a pioneer in country rock, producer of musical videos and movies, and creator of 3D virtual concerts.

The Monkees aired from 1966-1968 but their albums continue to sell today. Nesmith wrote many hit songs for the group and many performers ("Mary, Mary" byThe Monkees and Paul Butterfield Blues Band, "Different Drum" and "Some of Shelly's Blues" by Linda Ronstadt & The Stone Poneys, "Pretty Little Princess" by Frankie Laine, "Some of Shelly's Blues" and "Propinquity (I've Just Begun to Care)" by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, etc.). Whether you knew any of the above or not, my point is that Michael Nesmith is no lightweight in the musical world.

In 1970 Nesmith wrote and recorded one of the most beautiful and mature songs ever about a love of a younger past. His dreamily countryish song "Joanne" only made it to number 21 onBillboard and number 17 on Cashbox, but over the years it has become an iconic expression of young and lost love and embodies the best of Michael Nesmith.


Michael Nesmith's "Joanne" (with lyrics)

Footnotes about Michael Nesmith:

His mother and father divorced when he was four and he was raised by his mother in Dallas, Texas. She took temporary jobs ranging from clerical to secretarial to graphics design and when he was 13 she invented a liquid correction fluid for typewriters call "Liquid Paper." She founded, ran and built the Liquid Paper Corporation into a multimillion dollar entity and in 1979 sold it for $48 million. She passed away a few months later.

Nesmith, in 1965 an accomplished but still unknown musician/songwriter, went to the audition for The Monkees wearing a wool cap, carrying a bag of dirty laundry to wash on the way home, and basically acting like he could care less. They liked him---and the wool cap.

Nesmith paid $450,000 to buy his way out of his Monkees contract in 1970 and was financially strapped until his mother passed away a decade later and he inherited a fortune.

In 1974 Nesmith incorporated Pacific Arts Productions which was a multimedia company. It morphed into Pacific Arts Corporation which was the parent of several production companies focused on different media. Among many, many projects, in 1979 Nesmith created a television program for Nickelodeon Network called PopClips which aired in 1980 and 1981 and included such performers as Split Enz, Pretenders, Kim Carnes, Huey Lewis and the News, The Police, The Rolling Stones, Carly Simon, and many more. In 1981 the program was sold to Time Warner/AMEX, after which (according to PopClips director William Dear), "...they just watered down the idea and came up with MTV."

Michael Nesmith, 2013
Michael Nesmith, performer-entrepreneur
in 2013

In 1982 Nesmith won the first ever Grammy Award for a musical video (Long Form) for his hour-long Elephant Parts.

In 1985 NBC hosted the series, "Michael Nesmith in Television Parts," in which he introduced America to comedians Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Garry Shandling, Whoopi Goldberg, and Arsenio Hall.

From 1974 and throughout the 1980s Pacific Arts created or acquired (at the time) the largest catalog of non-theatrical video titles in the world and set up its own independent distribution system. In 1990 Pacific Arts and Nesmith entered into a contract with PBS to distribute the Pacific Arts video catalog under the PBS logo. Serious disagreements soon arose and were followed by lawsuits and counter-lawsuits. In 1999 a jury in the Los Angeles federal court unanimously awarded Nesmith and Pacific Arts almost $49 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

In 1995 Pacific Arts opened Videoranch, which hosted (and cataloged) several multimedia projects. In 1998 it launched Videoranch 3D (VR3D), a test bed for 3-D virtual technologies which could deliver live content into virtual environments. The latter remained largely a research and development operation until 2004, when Nesmith developed a process for seamlessly embedding live video into virtual worlds and a companion production technique that allowed live performers to interact in real time with a virtual audience. Nesmith has two patents pending for these processes.

Pretty amazing guy, isn't he? And I probably would have thought that if all he ever did was write and record "Joanne."



"Cork Taint" Isn't What You Think It Is

A woman's reaction to TCA (photo from<i>Gizmodo Australia</i> for illustrative purposes only)

TCA---cork taint---is instantly perceived when sniffing the wine before drinking it. But recent research in Japan has shown that TCA doesn’t really make wine smell bad. Believe it or not, it's probably all in your head.

A wine that has been tainted with TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole) gives a musty odor, most often described as resembling a "wet dog," "damp dishcloth" or "moldy newspapers," and is the main reason many wines---especially those from Australia---now have synthetic cork or screw cap closures.

If you dig deep enough you'll learn that TCA has a close cousin, TCB (2,4,6-tribromoanisole), that smells so close to TCA that few can distinguish between the two. While TCA and TCB are responsible for the vast majority of cork taint, other compounds cause different but objectionable odors often confused with cork taint by those not familiar with them and their specific odors---guaiacol, geosin, 2-methylisoborneol (MIB), octen-3-ol and octen-3-one. While all of these are problems if present in wine, it is TCA that is most common and therefore is the poster child of tainted wines with cork closures and our focus here.

Misconceptions and Facts

The common misconception is that TCA is formed in the wine after bottling due to various fungi and molds colonizing the natural cork closure. This seems logical because if it was in the wine itself it would have been detected before bottling. Another misconception is that the use of synthetic corks and screw-cap closures eliminate TCA incidences. The latter is not quite true, as TCA can and has been detected in wines with such closures, and if this is the case then both misconceptions must be false.

Truth is often a strange bedfellow. The fungi and molds responsible for TCA are airborne and therefore can exist anywhere they are carried, such as the bark of the cork tree, wine barrel staves, grapes, winery equipment, and even winery walls, floors and ceilings.. And they are incredibly small. By themselves they are harmless, but when they are mated with chlorophenol compounds they produce chlorinated anisole derivatives---one of which is 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA). The chlorophenol compounds can originate in pesticides, wood preservatives, chlorinated cleaners, or chlorine, once used to sterilize corks until banned.

If chlorophenols find their way into the winemaking process they can contaminate the equipment, the hoses used to transfer the wine, barrels and vats used to ferment or age the wine, or simply flow with the wine into the bottle. Every step along the way chlorophenols are harmless, but if they come into contact with those specific fungi or molds a metabolic process begins. It is not immediate, but it does not stop until after it has produced TCA.

That endpoint most likely occurs in the bottle, but the precursors may well have combined before bottling and therefore TCA can occur when screw caps and synthetic corks are used. In the case of the compounds, they need only exist in nanograms per liter, an incredibly small amount. TCA itself can be detected by sensitive noses at concentrations as low as 2 parts per trillion. That's "trillion" with a "t."

The Unexpected

Portion of the experimental schema reported in <i>PNAS</i>
Portion of the experimental schema reported in PNAS

Scientists and laymen alike always assumed TCA was like any other foul-smelling compound, detected by the scent receptors [n the nose and sent by electrical signals to the brain. However, a 2013 study by a Japanese research team, published in the US Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that TCA does not, as expected, excite olfactory receptor cells (ORCs) and recognize the smells associated with TCA. Rather, its presence, even at a very low threshold, suppresses the cells’ ability to convert chemical smell signals into electrical signals recognizable by the brain. In other words, it suppresses and numbs the ORCs’ ability to react to or categorize an actual smell.

We examined the effects of TCA on ORCs in whole-cell electrophysiological recordings. Considering its low effective concentration for producing off-flavors, we expected TCA to elicit excitatory responses in ORCs at low concentrations or in a majority of cells. However, we did not detect any ORC responses to TCA application. Instead, we were surprised to find that TCA actually suppressed ORC transduction currents
~ Hiroko Takeuchi, Hiroyuki Kato, Takashi Kurahashi, PNAS, vol 110 no. 40, 16235-16240

To translate, when those ORCs stop sending electrical signals to the brain, the brain apparently interprets the lack of input as a musty smell. Thus the perceived odor of wet dog, damp dishcloth or moldy newspaper apparently originates in your head as a sensory numbness. We cannot say for sure what the actual smell of TCA is.

In a follow-up study, the same researchers demonstrated that the original aroma of a TCA-tainted wine (or food) is always muted. This gives further credence to their finding that TCA numbs and suppresses actual scents. So the next time you think you are smelling cork taint, think again. You're smelling sensory numbness.





October 5th, 2014

Do NOT place a step-ladder on soggy, rain soaked grass and then climbe the ladder and lean over to cut a branch. The ladder will sink into the ground on the leaning side and you will fall. That's my safety tip for today based on recent experience.

I still have a large branch, still connected to the tree, fallen across my driveway. I've cut a tunnel under it I can drive through, but doing more will have to wait until my knee is better. Right now I can hardly walk, even with a knee brace and pain pills.


Nymph patterns, clockwise L to R, Killer Caddis, Wired Stone Fly, Zebra Midge, Anatomical Baetis/PMD, Troth Pheasant Tail (photo from Skip Morris Fly Fishing</a>under Fair Use Act for illustrative purposes
Nymph patterns, clockwise L to R, Killer Caddis, Wired
Stone Fly, Zebra Midge, Anatomical Baetis/PMD, Troth
Pheasant Tail (photo from Skip Morris Fly Fishing
under Fair Use Act for illustrative purposes

My recent flyfishing trip to the Black Hills was a learning experience. I love dry flies and never fail to coax the fish into striking...until this trip. They just weren't taking surface flies. After a full day of no strikes, I hung a dropper line with an emerger fly from the dry fly, using the latter as a strike indicator. Emergers weren't working either (at least MY emergers weren't), but my friends were catching trout using nymphs on the drop lines.

You don't need a dry fly as a strike indicator if you use bead head nymphs with a strike indicator on the line. You can use non-bead head nymphs with a lead split-shot weigh a few inches above the fly and a strike indicator. I didn't have any strike indicators so had to use the dry fly-drop line.

I don't really like to fish nymphs and had very few in my collection and very little experience fishing them. My friends had visited a fly shop in Rapid City before my late arrival and, having been told nymphs were the only thing working, stocked up. Since I missed that shopping trip, I had to use what I had.

Nymphs are basically bottom bait carried by the currents when washed out of their habitat. Our streams were fairly fast, so the trick was to cast high enough above the suspected fish to allow the nymph to fall to the bottom or a few inches above it and present itself as helpless food. When we hiked into the meadows, we found frequent beaver dams which slowed the current and created many structures for the fish, nymphing was a whole differed game. The drop lines were shorter and you could "work" the nymph with subtle line movement to simulate live, struggling bait.

For the most part these waters were crystal clear. If you could see the fish, they could see you. If you casted appropriately, the fish might not make a connection between you and the fly, but wading and shadows gave the fish many clues for caution.

The beaver ponds were the most challenging as here were a lot of in- and above-water logs, branches and exposed roots to snag on, and snag I did.

In free-flowing streams the challenges were just as great. There was plenty of organic material in the water to snag on, plus rock crevices, but misjudging the backcast area was lethal to the flies and tippets. And cross-bank overgrowth was equally dangerous. I pride myself on being able to drop a dry fly within inches of the far bank overgrowth. With a dropper line tied to the dry fly, this wasn't easy at all and on the next-to-last day I lost my last nymph while still trying to master the correct cross-bank technique. Luckily, my friend John Ewen gave me some of his, three of which I lost on the last day.

Nymphing is not what I'm used to, but I'm learning. I have a year to practice before our next trip to restock my fly collection and gear, and I will get it down just in case we face a similar challenge. You can bet on it. And I'm not finished with the Black Hills, either (God willing).


I received 5 emails and Tweets regarding John Denver's rendition of "The Weight." All were favorable, but all agreed The Band's version with the late Levon Helm singing at the drums is tough to beat. But three offered another version, known simply as "The Weight (encore)" at the Love for Levon Concert.

On October 3, 2012 at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey a wide variety of musicians who had worked with Helm as well as musicians who were influenced by him put on an incredible concert. The purpose was both a tribute to Levon as well as a fund raiser to keep Helm's Woodstock barn in his family's control and to continue his Midnight Ramble concert series in the structure. The encore performance of "The Weight" by all of the concert performers was a genuine show of love to a man they all admired and missed.

I could list the performers but it would take so long to do it that I won't. Just watch the clip below and I'm sure you'll recognize a few, or see the article linked at the end of the entry. But do watch the clip....


"The Weight" (encore) Love for Levon Concert, October 3, 2012. East Rutherford, New Jersey

That was amazing! The complete performance of the concert (2 DVDs + 2 CDs) is available here. It is worth the price if only to see/hear Gregg Allman and Warren Haynes perform "Long Back Veil", Bruce Hornsby do "Anna Lee". Grace Potter and Matt Burr perform "I Shall Be Released", Joe Walsh and Robert Randolph do "Up On Cripple Creek", Roger Waters, G.E. Smith and My Morning Jacket perform "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", and of course the encore of "The Weight" by everyone. It's a fabulous treasure to add to any music/video collection.


Winemaking With Jack Keller
Winemaking With Jack Keller launches October
6th by subscription

Big Day Tomorrow...

Tomorrow I launch my TidBitts stream, Winemaking With Jack Keller. This is a big event for me, almost like a second blog, only this one will contain exclusive content not publish in this WineBlog. The difference between the two will be dramatic. No rambling introductions, no winemaking or food recipes, no book reviews or musical memories—just focused winemaking tips, tricks and insights to help you become a better winemaker. You won't get it anywhere else but will get it every Monday and Thursday, delivered ad-free to any connected device, if you subscribe, for just 99¢ a month.

Tomorrow's TidBitt will be "How Can You Know When A Wine Is Ready To Drink?" and will save you at least one—maybe more—750mL bottles of wine finding out. Thursday will present "Be The Best Wiinemaker", followed by "Be A Pioneer", "Those Darn Campden Tablets (and Potassium Sorbate, too)", "Cyanide in Our Wine?", "Clarifying a Stubborn, Cloudy Wine", Perceptions in Wine Competitions", and much more. The first month is free when you subscribe and you can cancel at any time.

Subscribe now and don't miss an entry—once the next one is published the last one is gone. Your 99¢ will buy me a few hours of server and connection time. I thank you for your donations but I'll need both to survive.



Pumpkin Wine

Pumpkin Pie Wine Label

It's October. The year is winding down. If you make your wines from seasonal ingredients, as I usually do, the choices are slimming down. You can still find a few grapes and raspberries are finishing up their season so get some if you can. There are many winter vegetables suitable for wine and imported fruit will be available but nowhere near the quality of locally grown. However, two biggies remain and both make excellent wine. These are pumpkins and cranberries.

The trick to making a good pumpkin wine is to use small pie pumpkins. Avoid the large, carving pumpkins and you will be delighted.

Pumpkin Pie Wine

  • 5 lbs peeled and cleaned pie pumpkins, grated
  • 2 lbs Demerara (or Turbinado) sugar
  • 11-oz can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
  • 1 tsp finely diced fresh ginger
  • zest and juice of 3 Valencia oranges (or 15 oz Valencia orange juice and zest of any 3 oranges)
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 3-inch cinnamon sticks
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1/8 tsp grape tannin
  • Water to one gallon (about 3 quarts and 1 cup)
  • 1 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Champagne wine yeast

Put water on to boil. Meanwhile, peel pumpkins, remove seeds and grate with food processor. Put pumpkin, sugar and juice of citrus fruit in primary. Combine zests and spices in jelly bag, tie closed, and place in primary. Pour boiling water over ingredients in primary. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Cover primary and allow to cool to room temperature. Meanwhile, thaw grape concentrate. When must is cool add grape concentrate, pectic enzyme, yeast nutrient and then stir briefly and re-cover must. Wait 8-10 hours and add activated yeast in starter solution and re-cover the primary. When fermentation is vigorous, ferment three days, stirring daily. Remove spices and strain liquid into secondary, fit airlock and ferment 30 days or until still for 3 days. Rack, top up and refit airlock. After 60 days or when wine clears, rack again and stabilize with 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate and one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, top up, and refit airlock. After additional 60 days, sweeten to taste if desired and rack into bottles. Allow to age one year; two is better. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

This was a marvelous golden-white wine that aged wonderfully. If you cannot get the smaller, more tender pie pumpkins get the smallest you can. Get the pie pumpkins as soon as you see them, One or two are required for a gallon of wine (above recipe).



Cranberry-Raspberry Wine

Fresh cranberries

Raspberries are at the end of their season, so if your supermarket doesn't carry them frozen then buy fresh ones now and freeze them in freezer bags until needed. Cranberries are usually not available until fresh raspberries are no longer available so plan ahead.

  • 3 lbs ripe cranberries
  • 1 lb thawed raspberries
  • 11-oz can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
  • 2 lbs finely granulated sugar
  • 3 qts water
  • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 packet Champagne yeast

Put the water on to boil. Meanwhile, wash the cranberries and cull out any that are unsound or unripe. Coarsely chop the cranberries and put in nylon straining bag with raspberries, tied closed, in primary. Pour sugar over fruit and boiling water over all and stir o dissolve sugar. When cooled to room temperature, add pectic enzyme and yeast nutrient. Stir, cover with sterile cloth and set aside for 12 hours. Add yeast, re-cover and stir daily. When vigorous fermentation subsides, squeeze to extract all juices, transfer to secondary, and fit airlock. Rack after 30 days, top up, refit airlock, and ferment to dryness. When cclear, rack again and wait 30 days. Carefully rack into bottles and age at least 9 months before sampling. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

This is an excellent dry wine. I've received one complaint and that was from someone who sweetened the finished wine and then found it too sweet. As Forrest Gump's mother used to say, "Stupid is as stupid does."




September 30th, 2014

TidBitts 'bug'

As announced in my last entry, my TidBitts stream, Winemaking with Jack Keller, will be launching October 6th. This will be an ad-free, twice a week, stream of winemaking tips, tricks, tales, and insights written exclusively for subscribers. Subscription is 99¢ per month, the first month is free, and you can cancel at any time. None of the material in my TidBitts will be published here in the WineBlog or anywhere else. I'm confident your subscription will make you a better winemaker.

Every Monday and Thursday the stream will be delivered to all of your connected devices—your PC, laptop, tablet, or smart phone. I'm going to great lengths to provide it, but all you have to do to receive it is subscribe here. Let's have some fun together.


Fishing with nymphs requires acute concentration, no waders needed here (photo by John Ewen)
Fishing with nymphs requires acute concentration, no waders
needed here

I know I took a vacation with my wife last month to Florida, but that was for us. I just returned from a week of flyfishing with three friends in the Black Hills of South Dakota. This was an annual "guys only" getaway for me. My wife has her own "girls only" getaway week.

We cabined at Cheyenne Crossing and thoroughly explored Spearfish Creek and its tributaries and then drove over to Rapid Creek, which was lots of fun. In both locations the fish were picky. They refused dry flies, preferring midges, nymphs and emergers. Nymphs were the best enticers, but when your flies are tumbling along the bottom you snag a lot of roots, submerged branches and rocky crevices and as a result lose a lot of flies. Using a dry fly as an indicator and a drop line with the nymph worked reasonably well, but water levels were so varied that it was difficult to judge the correct drop length. But these variables are what makes flyfishing so challenging and fun.

And in the end it isn't about the right flies or the fishing itself, but about being out there in God's country and attempting to become one with the ebbs and flows of the streams. It's about communing with nature in a existential way. We caught browns, brookies and rainbow trout, but released them all to hopefully grow bigger and smarter. It was pure fun—almost.

Yes, I stepped on a rock that rolled and sent me into the creek. I forgot to put my cell phone and wallet in waterproof baggies and that was a costly mistake. The wallet and its contents dried out in the cabin but the cell was toast. We live and learn, although I had learned this lesson before so it was simple negligence on my part. I'd do it again tomorrow, with or without the baggies. The lure of the streams is powerful.


Wild Bill Hickok, Texas Jack Omohundro and Buffalo Bill Cody, 1873
Wild Bill Hickok, Texas Jack Omohundro and
Buffalo Bill Cody, 1873

Since most folks have no idea where Cheyenne Crossing, South Dakota is, it is located near the central western border of South Dakota. It is a short drive from Lead (pronounced Leed) and Deadwood, where James Butler (aka "Wild Bill") Hickok was shot in the back of the head on August 2, 1876 by Jack McCall while playing poker in Nuttal and Mann's Saloon, now commonly referred to as Saloon Number 10. The original saloon burned, along with 300 other buildings, in the fire of September 26, 1879. The rebuilt saloon burned again in the fire of 1899. The current building, possibly built on the wrong site, is made of brick.

Hickok was an original in every way. At age 18 he rode with General Jim Lane's "Jayhawkers" in the Kansas Territory, where he first met and befriended William F. (later known as "Buffalo Bill") Cody, who was then only 12 years old but an able horseman and marksman. In 1860, at age 23, he was mauled by a bear which he injured twice with his handgun and finally killed with his knife, but suffered multiple lacerations, a crushed chest, shoulder and arm. He was a Union soldier during the Civil War and later a scout for the 7th and 10th U.S. Calvary Regiments. He was a lawman in several towns in the Kansas and Nebraska Territories and personally knew (and liked) John Wesley Hardin, although at the time Hardin was using an alias and Hickok didn't know his true identity. Hickok was also a long-time friend of Buffalo Bill Cody and friend of Martha Jane (aka "Calamity Jane") Cannary (who claimed she had once been married to Hickok).

Hickok was known as "the first pisolero," what we would now call a gunfighter. It is well documented that he was the first man to face an opponent in a town square—Davis Tutt, in Springfield, Missouri in 1865—and kill him in a quick draw duel. Hickok had already killed David McCantles in a gunfight in Nebraska in 1861, but it was the mano y mano showdown in Springfield that solidified his reputation as the pistolero and caused dozens of dime novels to be written about him—almost none of them true. Wild Bill would kill 36 men during his 39 years of life.

Trout Slayer Ale, in a restaurant in Deadwood (photo by John Ewen)
Well what else are you going to order on a
trout fishing trip?

This detour in history now complete, our cabin was also a leisurely drive to Mount Rushmore, a sculpture well worth seeing. We also drove an additional 17 miles to see the far from completed Crazy Horse Memorial on Thunderhead Mountain—what will be the largest sculpture in the world if ever completed.

It was begun in 1948 to memorialize the Oglala Lakota warrior Crazy Horse and only a small fraction of it (notably, the head) is completed. A lady in the cabin next to ours suggested we not pay to "go in" to the monument as you can see everything you need to see from the highway. We ignored her advice and paid $7 each to go in anyway. I personally regretted the decision. The Visitors Center is a large building housing historic Oglala Lakota artifacts, clothing, weapons and art, but the majority of the space is occupied by vendors selling souvenirs, jewelry and crafts. With over a million visitors each year, one has to wonder why so little work has been done on the giant sculpture (If completed to design, it will be 641 feet long and 563 feet high). As one of my friends said, "They could take the entry fees, hire a brigade of Chinese, and the thing would be done in a few years."

Despite my disappointment of the Crazy Horse Memorial and losing my cell phone to North Spearfish Creek, it was a very enjoyable getaway. The fishing was both relaxing and challenging, as the brown, brook and rainbow trout—evident everywhere—were feeding on nymphs, not my favorite fly to fish. All fish caught were gently released


One evening in the cabin we were talking about music and I mentioned my love for the hauntingly enigmatic song by The Band, "The Weight." Fellow fisherman Charles Gallagher then introduced us to the purity of voice version by the late John Denver. While I personally prefer Levon Helm's' sometimes raspy delivery of the lyrics (especially their Woodstock performance), I do appreciate Denver's clean and sometimes passionate delivery.


John Denver, "The Weight" with lyrics



The TA vs. pH Debate

pH Scale, courtesy of Environment Canada under Fair Use Doctrine

My early winemaking books, most by British authors, discussed acidity in wine mostly in terms of TA. If pH was mentioned, it was sort of "another measure" you could make but I don't recall any serious emphasis on it. They used litmus paper to measure it and that was considered "too unreliable for meaningful results." Thus, I grew up making wine using TA as my acidity index.

It really wasn't until I moved to San Francisco and began taking day trips to the wine country and talking to the winemakers that I was seriously confronted with pH. None of these guys ever mentioned TA unless I brought it up. Their index was pH.

Let me preface here that the winemakers at the various wineries were very accessible to home winemakers if they were not in the middle of a process that required their full attention. Tastings were free, winery tours were sort of ad hoc, and if you wandered away from the tasting room and roamed around no one got in your face about it. It was a great period in the California wine industry's evolution—a laid back period when lots of new wineries were developing their niche and the big money had not yet started buying up labels and guarding their "secrets".

There were three winemakers in particular I liked to visit with. All three gave me generous samples of yeasts I had never heard of and explained why they used them. I tried to relate their varietal-specific examples to fruit and berries and they were very open to discussing this. But when they discussed acid, I was always lost because pH was largely a mystery to me. It took me a long time to actually appreciate where they were coming from and why.

TA stands for titratable acidity but is more easily understood by the more common misnomer "total acidity". In short, it is the sum of all acids in the must or wine as a volume ratio—a percentage of the total volume. Thus, a wine with 7.5 grams per liter of TA has 0.75% of its volume in the form of several combined acids. It makes no difference in the equation whether the acids are strong fairly stable and influential, such as tartaric or malic, or are weak and relatively unstable acids such as citric, succinic or acetic. In total, the average wine contains dozens of acids, but the vast majority are in such trace amounts that they have little or no effect on taste but do influence bouquet later on.

The above paragraph, beginning with "TA stands for...", has been corrected. Previously it said in part, "Thus, a wine with 7.5 grams per liter of TA has 7.5% of its volume in the form of several combined acids." A misplace decimal point made the percentage off by a factor of 10. It now correctly reads "0.75%". To say I am embarrassed is an undersatement. Thanks to my Facebook friends for pointing this out.

pH is much more complicated to explain and I'll only explain the basic concept here. Just remember that pH is a German abbreviation for the potenz (power, or potential) of a solution to yield hydrogen (H) ions (H+). There are French and Latin terms using the same abbreviations and meaning the same thing but really, who cares? The result is the same.

If the solution is acidic, it yields hydrogen ions. If it is basic (alkaline) it yields more hydroxyl ions than hydrogen ions. The scientific explanation of pH measurement is a negative logarithm scale of the hydrogen ion concentration—negative because the more hydrogen ions, the lower the pH and logarithmic because each whole number is an order of magnitude (+ or - 10) greater or lower than the next whole number. Distilled water has a pH value of 7 and is neutral. A solution with a pH value of 6 is 10 times more acidic than distilled water, while a solution with a pH value of 8 is 10 times more alkaline than distilled water.

Wine is normally between a pH of 3 and 4, with 4 considered biologically and chemically unstable as it will allow living organisms that place the wine at risk of spoilage. While pH 3.4 is considered safe, pH 3.6 is considered risky. Logically, there should be number between these two that is the threshold number, but what it is is open to debate. For years I have believed that 3.55 was that threshold, but during the past decade I have come to believe that pH 3.5 is a safer number. Personally, I am more comfortable with my wines being at or below pH 3.4.

There are other reasons pH is important. A lower pH requires less sulfite to reach and maintain an aseptic level to ensure biological stability and less bentonite to approach protein stability. Lower pH slows the rate of oxidation, allows the extraction of more and brighter colors, and makes malolactic fermentation much easier to control.

Finally, higher pH can lead to the development of acetic acid which, when coupled with higher alcohol, can lead to the formation of ethyl acetate—an all too common problem these days with so many wine yeasts reaching 14.5-16% alcohol. More is not always better If fact, higher alcohol creates balance problems many winemakers don't bother to correct or attempt to correct incorrectly. You can't just dump sugar in the wine to ameliorate the alcohol and expect balance. Time-consuming but necessary bench trials are required to do it right. A better solution is to use Montrachet yeast, which won't produce these high-alcohol wines in the first place.

In my opinion, pH is far more important than TA, and yet I measure neither in about half my wines. A simple taste test will usually tell me what I need to know but sometimes not. Then the pH meter comes out and all too often I discover my calibrating solutions are out of date (and the nearest supplier is a 76-mile round trip away). I have to get back into inventory control....




September 15th, 2014

As I reported in my last WineBlog entry I was scheduled to migrate my web activities to a UNIX server 8 days ago. This required converting hundreds of ASP pages to HTML. It isn't easy and, while I know HTML, I don't know UNIX and its strict rules. In the end I was in over my head with two other completely unrelated developments to contend with. After 5 days of pulling my hair out, I threw in the towel. I'll probably try again at some later day, but life is too crowded right now to tackle a new programming language. To those who sent me words of encouragement on my Facebook page, thank you very much for all the encouragement.

On September 22 one of those other two developments will kick off. Details follow below.




Winemaking with Jack Keller

TidBitts logo

On September 22 a new content delivery service will be launching called TidBitts. This is a subscription service covering a huge spectrum of unique content from your selected favorite participating authors for 99¢ a month. Once subscribed, the content will automatically be delivered in bite-sized "tidbitts" designed to be read in a minute or two. The content is unique, written exclusively for the TidBitts stream and not published elsewhere You can unsubscribe at any time if you don't think it is worth it. My "stream" will be published every Monday and Thursday at 10 a.m. Mountain Time beginning October 6th.

For years I have been asked by various publishers to package my WineBlog in a subscription format. I have turned down these offers because the blog is my portal to you as life happens. I like it like that. I can grab a topic and explore it as much as I want or as time permits. But, at the same time, I've noticed many, many times, in email or conversations with other winemakers, little snippets of insight or tips that pop up. At the time I recognize them as worthy (in my mind) of sharing but they are often too short to flesh out as blog entries. But when TidBitts came along, I recognized it as the perfect venue for capturing those snippets that formerly got lost on the cutting room floor.

I have been working hard at creating a stream of twice-weekly "TidBitts" for your benefit. While I was prepared to launch my subscriptions on September 22nd, the failed UNIX migration and upcoming travel have caused me to delay my launch until October 6th. But even with the delay, I think you will be happy with them.

Jack Keller's TidBitts stream (subscription) page

My "TidBitts" will be unique in the sense that I haven't published them before or in the context of the current example. For example I recently discovered that one small, obscure sentence in my "Wine Problems" page applied to a cloudy banana wine a reader made. He knew that my solution worked but wanted to know why. The whole thing was too short for a WineBlog entry but perfect for a TidBitts entry. And the content is exclusive. The only other person who has seen it is the person whose email I answered.

If you want to see what TidBitts is, go to TidBitts and take a 1-minute peek by clicking on the "What is TidBitts?" video. If you think you might like to try my stream (the first month is free after you subscribe), you will have to wait until September 22nd and go to Explore TidBitts and scroll down until you see my stream, Winemaking with Jack Keller. Again, this will not work until then. My stream will launch on October 6th, twice a week every week. I'm hoping that 99¢ isn't a budget-buster and you're curious enough to see what I have to say that you'll try it. If not, my WineBlog will still be here....



Preventing Watermelon Wine Spoilage

Watermelons

A reader wrote that his watermelon must spoiled 3 days into primary fermentation using a recipe found here. The recipes call for adding Campden, covering the primary, waiting 24 hours, and then pitching the yeast. He wondered if the 24-hour Campden treatment might be adding to the problem, as these are crucial hours when no alcohol is being produced and it is the alcohol content that protects the wine from spoilage.

I had to agree with him. In fact, I do it differently myself, adding the Campden at first racking rather than up front at the beginning, It is crucial that the wine reach 10% alcohol (12% is better) to preserve the wine from spoilage bacteria that sours the wine.

But, I also have a dedicated refrigerator with an external, programmable thermostat that I set to 59 degrees and place both the yeast starter solution and later the juice into and toss the yeast starter.

The published low tolerance of Montrachet yeast, the only yeast I use for watermelon wine, is 59 degrees, so it never fails to start. I build the yeast starter solution for at least 24 hours but also chill the watermelon(s) I'm going to extract the juice from and once extracted toss the solution directly into the juice and ferment in the refrigerator.

The cold must slows down the fermentation somewhat, but also helps prevent juice spoilage. The combination of a cold must and fast yeast (even chilled, Montrachet is among the fastest) works for me, but not everyone has the luxury of a second refrigerator. I acquired mine when my wife wanted a new one and I claimed the old.

Since watermelons are nearing the end of their season, I really need to rewrite the watermelon wine recipes to reflect this better procedure. A re-written recipe, using the discussion above as prelude, would look something like this:

Improved Watermelon Wine Recipe

  • 6-8 lb watermelon
  • 12 oz white grape juice frozen concentrate
  • 2 1/2 cups finely granulated sugar
  • juice and zest of 2 lemons
  • water to make up 1 gallon (if required)
  • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
  • 1/2 tsp crushed potassium sorbate
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • packet Montrachet yeast

Prepare yeast starter solution and chill to 59 degrees F. or as close to it as you can get. Place watermelon beside it to attain the same temperature. Build starter solution for 24 hours.

Cut the rind off of melon, cut melon into one-inch cubes, and put melon and any free juice in nylon straining bag in primary. Tie bag closed and smash melon to release juice. Thinly grate the yellow off two lemons, juice the lemons, and add the juice and zest (gratings) to primary. Add grape concentrate and water (if required) to make up 3-3/4 quarts total liquid. Add sugar and yeast nutrient and stir well to dissolve. Add yeast starter solution and cover primary with cloth. Ferment 5-7 days, stirring daily. Remove nylon straining bag and squeeze to extract liquid. Dispose of bag contents, wait one day, transfer liquid into secondary, fit airlock and ferment to dryness (about 30 days). Rack, stir in finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet and potassium sorbate, top up, and refit airlock. When clear rack again, sweeten to taste if desired, and wait 30 days. If no refermentation, bottle wine. Allow to age in bottles 3 months. Consume within 1 to 1 1/2 years. [Jack Keller's own recipe]



September Country Wines

S
eptember fruit harvest

I get many emails throughout the year asking about what wines to make at that time. As September reaches its halfway mark, this question has arisen in two emails. I usually reply with, "Google 'ripens in September'" or whatever month it is. Such a search will return several million hits and can be quite bewildering. Here's how to manage the results.

Google does something weird. It keeps track of your searches and attempts to tailor the results to your search history. I mention this because your search results might be different than mine. My results for "ripens in September" returned 5,600,000 results. I am only interested in what appears on the firt page or two of the results.

The first hit, for me, was Redwood Barn Nursery in Davis, California. A nice table was presented that lists the plants they sell that ripen in September. Among these are Fuji apples, several varieties of grapes, peaches and plums, and Asian pears and quinces. Since all of these can be made into wine, this is a good page to bookmark into your favorites -- especially since it also contains links to fruit that ripen in May, June, July, August, October, and November. Naturally, the list would be different for nurseries in Florida, Kansas, Minnesota, etc., but perhaps you can find more localized lists be searching "ripens in September in Florida" or whatever state you reside in.

This hit was confined to fruit. Thursday Bram (that's her name on the website) compiled a generalized list, by month, for the U.S. at WiseBread: Living Large on a Small Budget. This is another page worth bookmarking. Using her list, one could add egplants, pumpkins, tomatoes, and pomegranates to the list -- all of which can be made into wine.

A third page I have bookmarked is one by the Tropical Fruit Growers of South Florida and, as you might image, will add fruit that you might not easily find. Their Ripe for the Pickin'! page is not confined to a single month but rather lists the months certain fruit ripen. By scrolling down the page we can see that annonas, bananas, dragon fruit, guavas, jackfruit, mangos, mameys, papaya, and starfruit are all available now.

In addition to what I have listed above, I also have several foraging sites bookmarked that tell me what I can go out and find in the wild in Texas but one can find sites suited to their locale.

Having said all of this, except for foraging sites most folks don't really need websites to tell them what's available. They simply go to the market and look at what is there. But the searches have value if you live in the suburbs or rural areas where people have planted fruit trees. Freshly picked fruit taste much, much better than fruit in the supermarket that was picked a week or more ago.

Within a half-mile of my house are over a dozen homes with pear trees planted in plain sight of the street. I see them every day and yet seldom think about them until I see a reminder that the local pears are ripe right now. A mature pear tree produces far more fruit than the average household will consume fresh. Many folks preserve pears, but not every year -- not when their pantries still have jars of pears from previous years. The short of it is that almost any of the dozen homes in my neighborhood with pear trees will let me pick as many as I want if I just stop and ask. The lists of what is ripening remind me to stop and ask.




September 4th, 2014

My wife and I just returned from a much needed vacation in Florida, spending one week based in Fort Lauderdale and the remainder in Naples. We did not go online except to obtain boarding passes for our flights home. No email, no cell phone except when we made phone calls, very, very limited texting to family members. It was a great getaway.

Our greatest adventure was driving US Highway 1 to mile 0 on Key West. We spent too much time sightseeing and did not get back to our condo until 11:35 p.m., but it was worth it. This is what a vacation ought to be.

And, of course, the moment we saw the sign saying we were on Key Largo, Bertie Higgins classic song by that name started playing in my head, I wished I had brought a CD with the song on it so I could play it, but I didn't. But I can play it for you. I know most of my younger readers will not have seen the movie the song references -- it actually takes lines from Key Largo and Casablanca, both movies from the 1940s, the latter made before I was born but rereleased during the '50s -- but the message of the song is self explanatory. Please take 3 minutes and enjoy it.


Bertie Higgins, Key Largo with lyrics

The 1981 song was Higgins' only certified gold recording, reaching #1 on Billboards Canadian and US Adult Contemporary Tracks. I do regret not bring the CD with me....


Wine Refrigerators from Wine Coolers Direct

You may have noticed a message in my message box above, "Is the WineBlog Useful to You?" The message says, "You might also support one of my sponsors. Any purchase made through this link to Wine Cooler Direct will help support my efforts. Besides a large variety of in-home wine refrigerators, you can also find some beginners' winemaking supplies there.


A Big Change Is Coming


Because of four incidents where my site went down due to defects in the Windows server it was on, I have taken steps to move my site to another host server -- this one a more reliable UNIX server. This decision was not cheap and will not be done without great effort on my site to convert hundreds of .html pages to .html formats, but I have to do it to ensure better service. If you can support any of my sponsors or make a donation, I will be forever grateful.

You might think I just went on a vacation spending money that could better be spent on my server transfer, but that vacation was planned and paid for several months ago, before I knew the problems the site periodically encountered would be chronic. I think I deserved the vacation. Your opinion may vary.

The transition will, I hope, occur on September 8th. It should be seamless if I do my part and can endure one or two sleepless nights, but if you experience a brief "Error 404 message" on the 8th please try again later. Your patience will be appreciated.



Sea Grape Wine

Clusters of seagrape fruit in various stages of ripening
Clusters of sea grape fruit in various stages of ripening

We encountered many, many sea grape trees (Coccoloba uvifera) on the Keys. Due to pruning, some were more bush than tree and are commonly incorporated into landscaping. Because they tolerate salt, these tropical trees are often planted to protect dunes and coastal habitats. They are also one of God's free gifts to those who like jelly, jam or wine.

Following a stop for a delicious lunch on Key Islamorada my wife spotted what she thought, from a distance, were clusters of grapes in a tree, mostly dark purple but many still green and shades in between. They were the fruit of the sea grape tree. They were both sweet and tart at the same time, yet very flavorful, although a large central seed allows only marginal pulp. We pulled up a very small seeding and wrapped its roots in moist napkins which I latter transferred to a ZipLock bag. I transplanted it in soil in a pot immediately upon my arrival home but have little hope it will survive as it does not tolerate frost. Still, I had to try. I can bring it indoors on chilly nights -- maybe just keep it potted and strive for a tropical bonsai....

The fruit are tasty and make a good jelly, jam, syrup, or wine. I can imagine them being incorporated in ice cream or yogurt or even used in liqueur. My desire is to make wine with them one day if I ever get back down to the Keys and can collect, process and freeze them for the trip back to Texas. Until then, I can only dream....

Sadly, the following recipe is not entirely my own, but was adapted from one posted by Jim Walrod on eHow. His looked sound, but I greatly modified it to conform to my winemaking methods. I think will work very well.

Ripe sea grapes
While most sea grapes ripen red to light purple,
we found plenty that were almost black
Sea Grape Wine Recipe

  • 8 quarts of ripe sea grapes, destemmed
  • water to cover sea grapes
  • 2 lbs very finely granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp powdered pectic enzyme
  • 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate
  • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • general purpose wine yeast

Place washed and destemmed sea grapes in a large pot and add water sufficient to just cover them. Bring to a light boil, turn off the heat, and allow them to cool, covered. Meanwhile, begin a yeast starter solution with your favorite general purpose wine yeast. When fruit has cooled, strain them into a nylon straining bag (retain the water used in the boil), tie bag closed and set in a primary. Crush the fruit firmly by hand (rubber gloves are advised unless you like purple hands). Measure the juice obtained so you know how much of the reserved water to use to bring the liquid up to one gallon.

Measure the water required and stir into it the sugar, acid blend, pectic enzyme, and yeast nutrient until all are completely dissolved. Refrigerate the remaining water for use in topping up. Add sugar-water to primary, which should now contain the bag of fruit pulp, extracted juice and sugar-water mixture. Add yeast starter solution and cover the primary. Twice a day squeeze the bag of pulp to extract juice and allow yeast into the pulp. When fermentation is on fourth day, remove the nylon straining bag, squeeze it as dry as you can and discard pulp. Check specific gravity of must. If between 1.010 and 1.020 transfer to a gallon or 4-liter jug and attach airlock. Ferment to dryness and rack into another sanitized jug, adding 1/2 teaspoon of crushed potassium sorbate and 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. Top up with refrigerated cooking water and attach airlock.

Allow another 4-6 weeks for lees to settle. Wine should be clear. If not, use a fining agent or a little more time. If you wish to sweeten the wine, rack again and sweeten to your taste; top up and reattach airlock. Allow 30 days to see if wine continues fermenting. If it doesn't, bottle the wine. Allow at least two months before tasting but that might be rushing it. Should age well out to a year or more. [Jack Keller's own recipe]




August 19th, 2014

The WineBlog should load much faster now that I've archived the 2013 entries (see left column).


In my last WineBlog entry (August 6, 2014) I spoke of the loss I felt by the passing of Dale Ims. I specifically wrote, in part, "Every attempt to work on this blog has ended in depression...."

On August 11th the world lost a performing genius, Robin Williams, by suicide. It was widely reported that he suffered from depression. It was also reported, albeit not nearly as prominently as his depression, that he was only rcently diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, which obviously added to his depression and possibly was the straw that broke his will to continue life. This is speculation on my part as, of this moment, I have not heard of a final letter, recording or other form of communication in which he explained his motives for the final act he performed.

I was in California when the news broke and flew home as previously planned the following day. When I finally turned on my computer that evening I was greeted with over 380 emails. For five hours and 25 minutes, until 4:10 in the morning, I read emails, answering only three that evening (morning, actually) and deleted over 300. I saved 78 for further consideration and more careful reading, but only after falling asleep at the keyboard for about 20 minutes did I finally retire for sleep.

I almost missed a significant email -- well, significant to me. It was from someone I did not know with a last name, Polish I think, I could not pronounce. I actually highlighted it for deletion because I get several emails each day in foreign languages -- Russian, Slavic, etc. -- which I simply do not have time to have translated online. But the subject line caught my eye and I deselected it from deletion. The subject was, "Depression - Are You Okay?" I only got around to reading it on the evening of the 13th.

The writer, who lives in Ohio, basically said that following the death of Robin Williams and his reported depression she grew worried about me and my confessed depression. Then she penned about 400 words of reasons why I should never let the thought of suicide take up residence in my mind.

What an extraordinary thing, that a complete stranger to me would reach out about her concern and then offer wonderfully chosen words of reason and encouragement. I assured her I harbored no such thoughts, but thanked her profusely for her outreach. I will say no more about this except that she set an example of humanity to emulate and for that I was profoundly touched.

Rest in peace with God, Dale, Robin and Dad....



Robin Williams (1951-2014)

Robin Willams in <i>Good Will Hunting</i>, 1997

Robin Williams (July 21, 1951 – August 11, 2014) was an extremely gifted comedian, actor and voice for animated characters. If you don't know this already nothing I could say here could possibly cause you to appreciate the depth of his genius. He starred in, had supporting roles, or contributed to 81 films and 27 television series. His last film, Absolutely Anything, is not scheduled for release until 2015. He was in four movies with 2014 release dates (Boulevard, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn Merry Friggin' Christmas, and Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb).

I have spent over 11 hours watching YouTube clips of Robin Williams and four of his movies -- three of which I had seen before (Moscow on the Hudson [1980], Good Morning, Vietnam [1987],Dead Poets Society [1989]) and one I watched for the first time (Bicentennial Man [1999]). As time permits I will re-watch Awakenings (1990), The Fisher King (1991), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), The Birdcage (1996), Good Will Hunting (1997), Patch Adams (1998), and two oldies -- Popeye (1980) and The World According to Garp (1982). Because I am currently on vacation without a computer, these and probably others will have to await September and beyond. The viewing mentioned herein and the writing of this entire entry, with the exception of three sentences, was done three days ago in Texas but I ran out of time to upload it. It is being uploaded from a thumb drive attached to a pay-for-use computer at a resort.

One of the clips I watched was a webcast by Christopher Greene (not to be confused with British comedian Chris Greene) titled The Truth About Robin Williams' Suicide. In it he cynically postulates that none of us "really cares" about Robin Williams, and that if we did we would wear a black veil over our faces to cover it from the eyes down, wear a ribbon or pin of any color to signify Robin Williams as the person we are mourning, and speak to no one for a month.

This is a totally arbitrary and absurd set of "proofs" that one "really cares" about the tragic death of Robin Williams or anyone else for that matter. Neither I nor any member of my family did this when our father passed away and we certainly "really cared" for him and his departure. I immediately noted that Christopher Greene was not wearing a veil, pin or special ribbon for Robin Williams, and he certainly was speaking, so all he was proving was that he himself didn't really care. The absurdity of his "proofs" only detracted from the other points he was trying to make which I don't care to repeat.

Robin Williams, June 2001

I think if you cared about the loss of the living Robin Williams you might do as I did, only you would probably spread my 11 hours out over a wider span of time. What I mean is you would remember him by watching his performances -- clips of him on YouTube and revisiting your favorite Robin Williams films or maybe watch some movies you missed.

There is one clip on YouTube well worth watching, but it is an hour and 34 minutes long. Titled "Robin Williams - Inside the Actors Studio," it was originally uploaded to YouTube in many, many segments, but someone spliced them together into a "Full Video." Recorded June 10, 2001, it is an astounding interview by James Lipton and performance by Williams, who cannot help but perform spontaneously and yet still reveals incredible insight into how this shy child of two very different parents became the comedic genius he was.

Williams tributes his mother's sense of humor as encouraging his own. He speaks of his youth, his schooling and of drama classes that pulled him out of his shyness. Indeed, he frequently spoke of specific teachers in high school, college and the Juilliard School in New York City -- one of only 20 accepted into the freshman class of 1973. He cites excellent teachers, talented friends and an instinct to try anything and try to learn when to pull back. His lightning fast wit and improvenization zeal are not only witnessed in the Actors Studio interview, but commented on by others. It is well worth the time to watch.

I've linked it below, but must tell you in advance that whoever spliced it got the audio and video out of sync at about an hour and 6 or 7 minutes into it; you hear it before you see it, but the material is so rich, funny and revealing you don't care as much as you might if it were anything else. I strongly advise you to watch it...and to marvel.


James Lipton with Robin Williams Inside the Actors Studio, June 10, 2001



A Primer on Racking

Lees after racking (photo by Jared Skolnick, from 'First Racking' in <i>Wine Views</i>, February 24, 2008, displayed under Fair Use Act for illustrative purposes

I don't get many questions about racking but I do get some. Mostly they ask about avoiding siphoning lees, extracting wine from gross lees or using a siphon pump. Here's my thoughts.

First off, racking is simply using a siphon to transfer the must or wine from one vessel (tank, primary, carboy, jug ,or barrel) to another while leaving as much sediment behind in the first vessel as is reasonably possible. All you really need is a length of clear, food-grade tubing, but it helps to use a racking cane with a diversion flow cap on the bottom to prevent or at least reduce sediment transfer from the first vessel to the second. I use a 12-inch cane for both 1-gallon and 4-liter batches and a 21-inch cane for 3- to 6-gallon batches. The cane is bent or curved at the upper end to direct the flow downward through attached tubing. Both cane and tubing are clear, food-grade plastic or vinyl 3/8- to 1/2-inch inside diameter. I prefer 3/8-inch but use 1/2-inch when using my Buon Vino MiniJet pump/filter (which is rarely).

I don't use a siphon pump it initiate the flow. It is so easy to simply suck on the siphon hose to get the wine over the mouth of the carboy and at least down to the level of the wine, then quickly insert the output end into the receiving carboy and watch the flow, that a siphon pump seems like a total waste of money. I watched a fellow use one once and it took him longer to get a flow started than I could achieve using mouth suction. I know the arguments about getting my "germs" on the hose, but 12% alcohol by volume and an aseptic level of sulfites kill them dead. Call me frugal if you wish but the $20 spent on a siphon pump I don't need would be better spent on rib eye steaks.

Leaving the sediments behind is relatively simple and only requires hand-eye coordination. Once about 3/4 of the wine has been transferred from the first carboy, I tilt it toward me and slide a box of jello under the lifted part of the carboy to prop it up at an appropriate angle to aid removing the remaining 1/4 volume. The only key thing is to do the tilting slowly so as not to disturb the lees (if you must move the carboy to a higher elevation before racking, move it and then give it a few days for disturbed lees to resettle). As the wine volume is reduced, guide the racking cane as close as you can get to the lees without drawing them into the racking cane. One can actually get quite close, as seen in the photo above.

As for removing wine from gross lees consisting of fruit pulp, I have found that transferring the lees to one or more tall, very well cleaned and deodorized 1/2 gallon pickle jars allows them to settle more. The tall, smaller diameter jar causes the mass to be concentrated and slowly settle, freeing wine above for later removal. This settling could take a week or more. You will never recover all the wine trapped in the lees without pressing or drip-draining the lees in a woman's nylon stocking (knee-highs work well), but either of these methods allows the dead yeast lees to escape with the wine and another racking in 3-5 weeks will be necessary.

After the first racking, most of the solids in suspension will be yeast. As they die off they settle as lees. After they have metabolized all the sugar and nutrients available, many generations of yeast will die off and settle as lees. The rest release an enzyme that breaks down the cell walls of the dead yeast to release the nutrients contained within in a process called autolysis. The live yeast then began feeding off the released nutrients. If the wine is not racked again at an appropriate time this process can put the wine at risk of developing off-flavors and/or odors. Thus, it generally is necessary to rack the wine off the dead yeast lees to prevent this.

There is no hard and fast rule on when to conduct the second racking. It really depends on when the fermentable sugars are exhausted and a solid layer of yeast lees forms. This usually occurs within 2-5 weeks after the first racking and the wine should be racked within 4 weeks of this point -- autolysis takes time to occur and 4 weeks is the threshold point.

Recipes are experience-based guidelines. Some recipes specify the second racking should be conducted 4 weeks after the first while others might say two months. These instructions are based on the experience of the recipe developer but your conditions might differ. A specific gravity of less than 1.000 indicates sugar exhaustion but the yeast die-off might not be evident for another 2-5 weeks, Thus, you need to adjust the recipe according to the conditions you encounter.

If, after the second racking, you see a steady build-up of yeast lees, you racked too soon. This happens, especially with meads which ferment more slowly than wines. Specific gravity is the greatest indication of fermentation completion. As long as the gravity drops every 4-6 days, fermentation continues. Only when it flat-lines at the same specific gravity over a period of 10-14 days can we be certain when fermentation concluded.

It is amazing that when you bulk age a wine in a carboy after three well spaced rackings and stabilization, you almost always find a very light dusting of dead yeast on the bottom. If the wine is aged in a barrel you don't actually see the dusting but it is almost always there. Therefore, when adding the final dose of potassium metabisulfite to bring the unbound (free) sulfite density to 30 or 40 or 50 before bottling, it is essential that the wine be stirred to integrate the sulfite but then allowed to rest for a week or more so the light dusting can settle again before bottling. If one wishes to filter the wine before bottling, this is the time to do it -- after allowing the dusting to resettle. If the wine was brilliantly clear before you need not filter it; simply give it a month before bottling and then carefully rack the wine into bottles.

I always mark the last bottle or two by writing "LB" ("Last Bottle") on the outward end of the cork before inserting it. No capsules are placed over these corks as I want to know where these bottles are so they do not inadvertently get entered into competition. The reason is simple. If any of the bottles can be expected to have some of that dusting of dead yeast siphoned into them it would be these. I usually drink these bottles first when determining when a wine is ready for consumption and competition. You are welcome to do it differently.




August 6th, 2014

I will be archiving my 2013 WineBlog entries next week to speed up the loading of this page. Until then, please have patience.


Dale Ims of Rochester suburb Webster, New York, a winemaker, a friend, a collaborator, an inspiration, lost his battle with cancer in the early morning hours of July 9th. The news was a show-stopper for me, hitting me hardest where I live -- in my writing. For three weeks now I have been unable to write much more than a personal reflection of what knowing Dale has meant to me.

Every attempt to work on this blog has ended in depression, for behind the scenes I was trying to tie together a collaboration Dale and I started some months back. I wanted to finish it and publish it before Dale passed on, for he knew he was dying but only shared that news with me about three and a half weeks before he left us. My work on the project stopped when I received the news of his death. The fire within me simply went out.

To those who have written asking what has happened to my blog and to those who have wondered but not asked, I offer the above as an inadequate response. The whole truth is more complex than that but the essence is there.

I will say more about Dale at a later date, when I muster up the wherewithal to complete the work we collaborated on. At this time I only want to say Dale is survived by Linda, his wife of 48 years, children Steven Ims, Jennifer Hallworth and Lisa Stevens, 12 grandchildren, sister Norma Ims, and hundreds of friends-- about 300 of whom were at his memorial service. We will all miss him, but keep him alive in our hearts.

Rest in peace, Dale.


<i>Vitis lincecumii</i>

Dale made wine from commercial varietals grown in the Finger Lakes of New York, but also from the native grapes he found in wide abundance. He tried for several years to use my "Taming the Wild Mustang" article in the June/July 2004 issue of WineMaker magazine as a guide to working with his wild grapes.

The high acidity he found surprised him, but he was even more surprised at how much dilution was required to reduce it to tolerable levels. For the grapes he was working with, Vitis vulpina and V. riparia (see my, June 7th, 2014 WineBlog entry "More Native Grapes of New York"), this dilution corrected the acid at the cost of the fruitiness of the grapes. Mustang grapes possess a much stronger and penetrating flavor than either grape he worked with and thus accepts the dilution and still makes a flavorful wine.

It was only when he diluted less initially to take the edge off the acidity, made the wine and then reduced the acid a bit more post-fermentation using one of the carbonates that he began making real headway. Had he lived longer, he would have worked it out to perfection. I have no doubt about that.

Native grapes are a challenge for the home winemaker. And yet our forefathers managed to make good wines from them without the benefit of award-winning websites or blogs. As we read the private and public records of the past we discover that some were able to coax "exceptional" and "exquisite" wines from these free-for-the-picking bountiful grapes.

The mustangs are mostly gone here is South Texas, but still evident aplenty north of San Antonio. In the deep South the muscadines too have or are falling, but further north they still ripen. And everywhere else the wild grapes are pushing for a later maturity, challenging you to beat the birds and four-legged wildlife to the harvest. There's wine in them there grapes! Make it!


'Judgment of Paris' by George Taber

Joy Neighbors catches the essence of this affair, the 1976 Judgment of Paris, in two sentences:

It all began back in 1976 when British wine merchant Steven Spurrier organized the first Paris Wine Tasting. The event was meant to promote the “best of the best” in the French wine world, but something totally unexpected happened during the gala tasting.

What happened, of course, is that the eleven judges from the French wine industry selected, in a blind tasting, what they were sure were French wines. What indeed they selected as the best white wine was Chateau Montelena 1973 Chardonnay (Napa Valley) over Meursault Charmes 1973 (Roulot) and three other French Burgundies that included two famed Montrachets. Of the red wines tasted they selected Stag's Leap Wine Cellars 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) over Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 1970 (Pauillac) and three other Bordeaux blends that included the vaulted Chateaux Haut-Brion 1970. And Bordeaux's 1970 vintages were heralded as the best since the fabled vintage of 1961.

To say the results were "totally unexpected" is an understatement of the highest order. In France, it was outright scandalous and the eleven judges were heaped with scorn. In California, there was elation in local circles. Three of the four top scoring whites were Golden State wines, two from Napa Valley and one from Monterey. Two of the top five reds were Golden Staters (Napa Valley and Santa Cruz Mountains), but four Napa Valley whites filled the bottom four places. Still, both red and white Napa Valley wines beat the French -- in Paris, with French judges.

Nine of the eleven French judges at the Judgment of Paris, 1976
Nine of the eleven French judges at the Judgment of Paris, 1976

In the world of wine commerce, the Judgment of Paris in 1976 reshuffled the deck, perhaps forever. California's wine sales went from $300 million in 1976 to $23 billion in 2013. Consumers no longer instinctively asked for French wines. The New World had emerged, and it became a global emergence. Outside of France and French restaurants, wines from the United States, Australia, Argentina, Chile, and South Africa are more likely to dominate a wine list than wines from France

The 2008 movie Bottle Shock, which told a story of Chateau Montelena's 1973 Chardonnay's win at Paris, is anything but the story. So much fiction was written into the script to create a love story, elevate Bo Barrett from minor to major figure, and portray Steven Spurrier -- the organizer of the Judgment -- as a bumbling, comedic, shunned, English Francophile, and portrayed Jim Barrett as the winemaker of the famed 1973 Chardonnay that beat the French when in fact it was master craftsman Mike Grgich (pronounced "Gur-gich"). If the film even mentioned the Stag's Leap S.L.V. 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon that won the red wine half of the tasting I missed it.

The inaccuracies and omissions of Bottle Shock were the gnawing impetus for screenwriter Mark Kamen, who incidentally owns Sonoma's Kamen Estate Wines, to write the Judgment of Paris screenplay. After reading George Taber's book of the same name, he tells the as yet unrevealed story of Stag's Leap founder Warren Winiarski and presents an honest account of Steven Spurrier. At least that is the claim.

I highly recommend you read Joy Neighbor's July 30, 2014 Joy's Joy of Wine blog entry for much more of the story of this movie (see link at the bottom of today's entry). But first, enjoy the trailer for Judgment of Paris -- the movie.


Judgment of Paris trailer

If the movie is 1/4 the quality as the trailer, it will be well worth watching. We await a release date....




Borage Tea and Wine

Borage plants just about to flower (photo source: frozbroz.com, Fair Use Doctrine)

A request from DeKalb, Illinois sent me down memory lane and thinking of possibilities. Austin Cliffe grows borage in his garden and inquired about borage wine. I admitted I never made it, have never seen a recipe for it, but I have experience with borage and have made a lot of borage tea. I think the key to making a wine might build upon that experience.

Rich in vitamin C, calcium, potassium, and mineral salts, borage is a very ancient herb with various medicinal uses. It is associated with recuperation from illness, restoring one's strength, relief from stress, hangover relief, overcoming melancholy, an aid to summon courage to act or make a decision, and in treating fevers, chest colds, throat irritations, bronchitis, and digestive disturbances. It can also be made into a poultice to treat insect bites, stings, inflammation, bruising, boils and rashes. No interactions between borage and standard pharmaceuticals are known or suspected.

My own experience with borage began during the 1970s while living in Colorado Springs. A good friend was a self-taught herbalist and had one of the most amazing gardens which actually consisted of many segments spread throughout her property as landscaping. From our social interactions she correctly diagnosed me as suffering from PTSD, but knew that I rejected that as at that time I did not think PTSD was a real malady. So she approached it differently and made me a large quantity (a gallon, to be exact) of borage tea and suggested I drink two cups every morning before beginning my daily routine.

At that time I was student body president at college, state secretary of the Young Republican League of Colorado, a registered lobbyist for the Vietnam Veterans of Colorado, an appointed member of the State Advisory Council for Community Colleges and Occupational Education, and was courting the woman who later became my first wife. I had a full plate and stress was my constant companion. The borage tea had a noticeable calming effect and I drank it daily -- usually warmed but sometimes cold. My friend made me a gallon of the tea, delivered in 1-gallon milk containers, every week. It was not until I moved north to attend the University of Colorado at Boulder that my daily intake of borage tea ceased.

Many years and three wives later, I happened upon a wild patch of borage less than two miles from my house in Pleasanton, Texas. In retrospect, there had probably been a cabin or bungalow there at one time with borage planted as an herb. When the property was cleared of the dwelling and allowed to go fallow the borage survived and spread over a half- to three-quarter-acre area. This is conjecture on my part, but borage is not a native of Texas. But because it readily reseeds itself my conjecture explains its presence at that site, which has subsequently been developed and is mostly a paved parking area for trucks, trailers and oil field equipment. I can find no borage around that area, but intend to plant some in one of my garden areas.

I used the younger leaves of the plant, packing a measuring cup to its rim. I added these to 10 cups of boiling water and immediately covered the pot and removed it from the heat. I let it steep 20 minutes and strained the liquid into the carafe of my coffee maker. I did not know enough about borage to eat the cooked leaves, but will in the future. They are very nutritious, by themselves or mixed with spinach or any cooked vegetable.

I told Austin that if I were going to make borage wine, I would first make a gallon of borage tea and build my must from that. It would have to have sugar, yeast nutrients, acid blend and tannin dissolved in it, and I would also ferment it with 1 pound of chopped golden raisins or a container of 100% white grape juice frozen concentrate to add body to the wine. My preference would be for the concentrate.

It later occurred to me that there is no reason I can think of for not leaving the cooked borage leaves in the must and seeing what the yeast can do with them. I would make it both ways -- with and without the leaves in the primary -- and compare the results. However, I did notice that if the leaves were left in the hot water longer than 20 minutes the flavor became stronger than I liked, so if fermenting with the leaves I would remove them after 20 minutes and add them back to the cooled must.

The recipe below does not include the leaves during fermentation. It calls for 7 pints of borage tea. I would make a gallon (using 1 1/2 cups of packed borage leaves) and remove and refrigerate a pint for use in topping up after racking.

Borage Wine Recipe

  • 7 pints borage tea (see above)
  • 11-oz container 100% white grape juice frozen concentrate
  • 1 lb 6 oz very fine granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme (powdered)
  • 2 1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1/4 tsp grape tannin (powdered)
  • general purpose white wine yeast

Begin a yeast starter solution (see How to Make a Yeast Starter Solution). Make 1 gallon borage tea and reserve 1 pint, refrigerated, for topping up. In a primary, to the 7 pints of remaining tea dissolve sugar, acid blend, tannin, and yeast nutrient, stirring well to dissolve. Add frozen grape concentrate to cool the tea, stirring as needed. When under 100° F., add pectic enzyme, cover primary and set aside 10-12 hours or overnight. After set-aside period, add yeast starter solution.

When vigorous fermentation subsides, transfer to secondary and attach airlock. After 30 days, rack into another sanitized secondary with 1 finely crushed Campden tablet (or 1/16th tsp potassium metabisulfite), stir, top up using reserved borage tea, and attach airlock. After two months, taste wine. If flat, stir in 1/2 tsp acid blend, wait an hour and taste again. Continue adding acid blend as before until wine tastes crisp. If wine is too dry, stir in 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate and another finely crushed Campden tablet (or 1/16th tso potassium metabisulfite), reattach airlock and wait 30 days. Sweeten wine to taste -- usually only 1/4 cup of sugar dissolved in wine will raise it off dryness, but sweeten to your taste. Wait an additional 30 days and carefully rack into bottles. Wait at least 3 months before tasting. Should improve with time out to one year. [Jack Keller's own recipe]



Strawberry-Chocolate Port

Chocolate-dipped trawberry (photo source: Not Your Mother's Cookbook, Fair Use Doctrine)

Fran Henshaw of Sarasota, Florida noted that another writer had made my Strawberry-Chocolate Wine (see link following this day's entry) into a port and asked how his might be done. My reply follows.

Initially, make the Strawberry-Chocolate wine. Changing it from a wine to a port involves three things.

First, you have to increase the alcohol to 18-22%. You can do this by using an appropriate yeast capable of exceeding 18% alcohol by volume. Lalvin K1-1116 (Montpellier) would be my first choice (18-20% abv) but requires nitrogen-rich nutrients such as Fermaid K. If shooting for 18% abv, Red Star Premier Curvee/Lalvin EC-1118, Lalvin DV10, or Lalvin L226 (high nitrogen demands) will do the deed. The trick is to initially add enough sugar to reach 12-13% abv and slowly adding small increments of sugar to the must as fermentation proceeds. For example, wait until the s.g. drops to 1.010 and add just enough sugar to raise it to 1.020, then repeating this procedure. Eventually the yeast will stop and you will have a moderately sweet port.

Another option is to use a lower alcohol yeast and ferment to dryness, then add an amount of alcohol (such as 80- or 100-proof brandy) sufficient to hit the target of 18-22%. One can use a Pearson Square to calculate the amount of brandy to add (see link below), but the brandy will alter the taste of the port slightly. One could also use a neutral spirit such as Everclear.

Second, you will need to increase the body of the wine, as the higher alcohol will thin it out a bit. We tend to think that alcohol increases body because it gices the wine long legs, but it is less dense than water so thins the wine. This can be helped by adding some banana water to the must before fermentation begins -- or golden raisins (about 1 pound, chopped, per gallon) or a container of Welch's 100% pure white grape juice (or red if you prefer) frozen concentrate per gallon.

Bananas add body to wine. The best way to add this body-builder to wine is as banana water. To make banana water, use one pound of ripe bananas per gallon of wine. Ripe bananas have dark yellow peelings spotted or streaked with dark brown or black; the flesh inside is soft, turning slightly translucent, but still holds its shape while feeling slightly mushy. There is no need to peel the bananas. Slice crosswise 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Place the slices in one pint (16 ounces) of boiling water per pound of banana. Reduce the heat and simmer 20 minutes; strain without squeezing. Retain and cover the liquid and set aside to cool. The water should have reduced to about 12 ounces, but whatever the final volume is that is the amount used to increase the body of the wine. Measure and add this as part of the water added to the recipe -- in this case, the Strawberry-Chocolate Wine recipe.

Third, you have to balance the wine. When the alcohol is that high, balance becomes a struggle. You will have to make small additions of acid, tannin and sugar until the alcohol is brought into balance, while at the same time assuring the body is sufficient to hold it all together. This is not as difficult as it sounds. Add, stir, wait an hour, taste. At some point you will probably achieve balance but not recognize it. Your next additions of tannin and acid blend will be too much. You can't take it out, so just age it. After a year or two, the tannins will join together into longer chains and precipitate out, while the acids will tend to mellow out as they are slowly converted to malates or tartrates, the latter of which can be precipitated out by 3-5 weeks in a refrigerator or winter garage (and racked while still cold). At the same time, the sweetness of the port will tend to be perceived as increasing. This is normal, so I always recommend you sweeten it almost to the point of balance and it will age into balance.

Sweetening "almost to the point of balance" sounds like guesswork and you might easily get it wrong. If you sweeten a sample of the wine -- say 100mL -- and take exact measure of how much sugar you add, at some point the sample will taste perfect in terms of sweetness. At that point, you look at the cumulative additions prior to the last addition (the one that made it perfect) and that is the amount of sugar to add -- scaled up from 100mL to a gallon, or 3,785mL. When using this method, I use a gram scale to add sugar in 3-gram increments. Suppose on the 4th addition it tasted perfect. In that case I use the cumulative amount used for the 3rd addition -- the one before it tasted perfect. In this case it means I have to add 9 grams (3 X 3) times 38 (37.85 rounded up), or 342 grams (12 ounces by weight) of sugar to the gallon. Using this amount, I am assured that as the wine ages and tends to taste sweeter than it did when bottled it will age into tasting perfect.

If you make a port, including making the Strawberry-Chocolate Wine into a port, you must accept that it will probably be 3-4 years before you drink it. Port takes time. But it is worth it.




July 4th, 2014

Happy birthday, America. Your founders were brilliant in creating a nation where each of us are born, if not equal in social status, at least equal in opportunity to obtain an education, to succeed or fail as a result of our own decisions, efforts and merits, to prosper and rise above our birth status, to enjoy equal protection under the law, and to enjoy the freedom to express our opinions, worship as we choose, and travel, assemble and vote for our representatives and leaders.

We are blessed with vast natural resources, extensive navigable waterways, scores of natural harbors and seaports, great expanses of forest, prairie, plains, mountains, deserts, and bottom lands.

We are a great assimilation of immigrants, natives and the descendents of slaves and indentured servants. We are not and never have been a perfect nation, but we are the best expression of freedom, opportunity and equality in existence for the past 238 years.

I am lucky to have been born here and proud to be an American. Happy 4th of July and happy birthday, America.


In my last entry my link to the live video was wrong for 26 hours. It might have stayed that way had not a couple of you informed me of the error. I thank you for the correction and only wish I had read my email sooner. That performance of "Sultans of Swing" is without doubt the best live performance of the song ever recorded and I feel bad for anyone who missed it. Mark Knopfler's mastery of the guitar is brilliantly evident in this virtuoso performance in London's Hammersmith Odeon. I can't say enough about it.

I also mistakenly said that Mark Knopfler was the only permanent member of the band to span it's 15-year history. That was in error, as bass guitarist John Illsley also stayed from founding to dissolution. Also in this performance are Hal Lindes on rhythm guitar, Joop de Korte doing an outstanding job on drums, and Tommy Mandel on keyboards.

While this is of necessity a group performance, it is a tour de force by Knopfler's guitar. The triads in the riffs, which include second inversions, are particularly noteworthy, executed in Knopfler's unorthodox (but now widely copied) style of using his thumb to execute the first on a downward pick while using the index finger and thumb to pull the second and third notes respectively upward. Some of the triads are executed so fast as to seem impossible

The 2010 remastering of "Alchemy Live," the DVD this performance was pulled from, is perhaps the finest live concert album ever produced. You can obtain it in MP3 format for under $10 here or obtain the DVD for $3 more here. It is the most played DVD in my collection. A distant second is Roy Orbison (and friends)'s "Black & White Night" and the 25th Anniversary Special Edition of The Band's final concert (with notable friends), "The Last Waltz". If I could only take three musical DVDs with me into exile, these are the three I would take.



Peach Melomel

Grilled peach with honey cinnamon butter (photo from <i>The Mama Report</i> blog entry of July 31, 2013, Fair Use for illustrative purposes only, no commercial benefit derived)

Kevin Hart messaged me in Facebook in search of a peach melomel recipe. A melomel is a fruit based mead. I actually have two recipes -- one using regular peaches fermented directly and the second using grilled peaches. After tasting the second one, I doubt I will ever make the plain peach melomel again unless the peaches are just fabulous.

Having said that, I have to add that you should not take my word for this. If you have the peaches and the honey, make both and decide for yourself. All meads are an investment in time and you do not want to waste that time trying something radical. However, if you have the ingredients to make several batches you can afford to experiment.

Our neighbor who gave me and my wife 80-100 pounds of peaches each year passed away nearly 8 years ago and his home (with 5 fruiting peach trees) was sold by his estate. Within two years the new owner had killed the trees by not watering them. They produced delicious, freestone fruit and allowing them to simply die for lack of water was criminal. Each was planted in a shallow basin 6-7 feet across. A mere 15-18 gallons of water per tree per week was all they required to set and maintain a 30-pound crop per tree.

In the future, if I can obtain good peaches, I intend to make the grilled peach melomel with ground cloves and cinnamon. I have dreamed of this mead and think it would work as long as the spices are muted so as to not mask the peaches. Since I have never made this before, I would first make it using minimal spices. I would also like to make this as a wine fermented on brown sugar.

A word about peaches. They should be picked ripe and processed immediately or within a day. They should be sweet and flavorful. The flesh need not be soft and juicy but should be delightful to eat. The peaches from my neighbor had firm flesh that softened on the grill. They made excellent pie and cobbler. If your peaches are freestone, they can be halved and grilled. If the flesh clings to the pit, all you can do is remove it the best you can in wedges or chunks.

You have to understand that this is an investment in time. You will not bottle the mead for at least a year after starting it, and then must bottle age it for about six months before opening. If you cannot be patient enough to wait it out, make wine instead, which you cam drink in about a year.


Peach Melomel Recipe

  • 4 lbs peaches, washed, halved, pitted, and sliced thinly
  • 3 lbs clover honey
  • juice of 2 medium lemons
  • 1 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 1/2 cups orange juice at room temperature
  • Campden tablet
  • 1/4 tsp powdered grape tannin
  • Water to 1 gallon (approx 2 pints)
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 sachet mead yeast, or Red Star Montrachet

Begin a starter solution in sanitized quart jar with orange juice, yeast nutrient and yeast. Cover and set aside. Add 1/4 cup water (but no additional nutrient) every 2-4 hours.

Prepare peaches and place in primary; sprinkle with lemon juice until all is used. In enameled or stainless steel pot place honey and twice that volume of water (empty honey jar into pot and use jar to measure water-- a 3-pound jar of honey will hold about 2 pints). Stirring often, bring to a rolling boil then reduce heat to maintain a low boil for 20 minutes. Skim off any foam the forms. Pour over fruit, cover with sanitized cloth and let cool. Add acid blend, pectic enzyme, tannin powder, water. Stir, cover and set aside 10 hours or overnight. Add yeast starter solution and cover primary.

When vigorous fermentation slows, remove peaches (discard to compost pile or use to make a peach jam) and transfer liquid to secondary. Attach airlock and move to cool dark place for 2 months. Rack to sanitized secondary, top up, affix airlock and return to cool dark place for 3 months. Rack again into secondary containing very finely crushed Campden tablet dissolved in 1/2 cup water. Top up, reaffix airlock and return to cool dark place. After additional 3 months, rack, top up, affix airlock, and return to cool dark place. After 4 months, stir in another very finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, top up, reattach airlock and set aside 3 days. Carefully rack into bottles and age 6 months before tasting. [Jack Keller's own recipe]


Grilled Peach Melomel Recipe

This recipe is identical to the previous one except the peaches must be freestone so they halve, must be ripe but not overripe and soft, and are grilled. There are no rules, but here are some tips. If grilling outdoors using charcoal, wait until all the meats and corn or whatever is finished and the coals are about used up. Brush the cut faces of the peaches with honey and the grilling grate with canola oil. Set the peaches face down on the grill for 3-4 minutes. Baste the skin sides with honey and flip. Remove after about 3 minutes -- 4 if the coals are really dying out. If using a gas grill, adjust heat to low. If using an indoor cooktop grill, set heat to between low and medium-low. The best flavors come from the charcoal.

  • 4 lbs peaches, washed, halved, pitted, basted with honey, and grilled
  • 3 lbs clover honey
  • juice of 2 medium lemons
  • 1 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 1/2 cups orange juice at room temperature
  • Campden tablet
  • 1/4 tsp powdered grape tannin
  • Water to 1 gallon (approx 2 pints)
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 sachet mead yeast, or Red Star Montrachet

Begin a starter solution in sanitized quart jar with orange juice, yeast nutrient and yeast. Cover and set aside. Add 1/4 cup water (but no additional nutrient) every 2-4 hours.

Prepare peaches and place grilled halves in primary; sprinkle with lemon juice until all is used. In enameled or stainless steel pot place honey and twice that volume of water (empty honey jar into pot and use jar to measure water-- a 3-pound jar of honey will hold about 2 pints). Stirring often, bring to a rolling boil then reduce heat to maintain a low boil for 20 minutes. Skim off any foam the forms. Pour over fruit, cover with sanitized cloth and let cool. Add acid blend, pectic enzyme, tannin powder, water. Stir, cover and set aside 10 hours or overnight. Add yeast starter solution and cover primary.

When vigorous fermentation slows, remove peaches (discard to compost pile or use to make a peach jam) and transfer liquid to secondary. Attach airlock and move to cool dark place for 2 months. Rack to sanitized secondary, top up, affix airlock and return to cool dark place for 3 months. Rack again into secondary containing very finely crushed Campden tablet dissolved in 1/2 cup water. Top up, reaffix airlock and return to cool dark place. After additional 3 months, rack, top up, affix airlock, and return to cool dark place. After 4 months, stir in another very finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, top up, reattach airlock and set aside 3 days. Carefully rack into bottles and age 6 months before tasting. [Jack Keller's own recipe]





June 27th, 2014

As I was driving the interstates the other day I drove into a severe thunderstorm. In the blink of an eye I could see nothing in front of me, nothing to the sides, no headlights in my rearview mirror. I did not know if I was still in my own lane, but kept the steering wheel locked straight ahead, turned on my emergency flashers, and pumped the breaks to slow down gradually while flashing the break lights in the rear.

At times like this one must put his faith in the common sense of others and the protection of the Lord. After 20 or 30 very long seconds I drove into a pocket of lesser intensity and could briefly see the car in front of me as well as a line of 18-wheelers to my right. I moved over 3-4 feet to my left, saw headlights a safe distance behind me, and again drove into severe rain that swallowed the world.

I had slowed to 35 when I drove out of the storm. We had barely speeded up to 60 mph when we were swallowed up by another, similar downpour. When I say "we" I mean me and the cars immediately in front of and behind me as well as the trucks to my right. No one changed lanes or attempted to gain highway advantage between the storms. It was comforting to be part of a driving community that did nothing reckless when deprived of all visual cues. In all we would drive through three additional storms of equal intensity and each time did what we had done before. We came through as a team.


Book cover, <i>Cajun Cuisine</i> by W. Thomas Angers

I recently returned from a 5-day trip through the heart of Louisiana's Cajun and Creole heartlands -- from Lake Charles through Jennings, Crowley, Rayne, Lafayette, Breaux Bridge, the great Atchafalaya swamp, Baton Rouge, and around the north (Ponchatoula, Covington, Slidell) and south (New Orleans, Metairie, Kenner, Laplace) of Lake Pontchartrain. I basically followed the routes of the interstates, missing huge swaths of ancestral settlement, but I was visiting family and friends and time was short.

You don't stay in Cajun country without enjoying their rich and nuanced cuisine, which is subtler and less spicy than Creole cuisine. On this trip, the highlight meal was a catfish fillet smothered with crawfish etouffée.

Good Cajun food is a joy to eat and can be heart-healthy with simple attention to ingredients. But do you have to travel to Louisiana to enjoy it?

We had two Cajun cookbooks in our house -- Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen and later Thomas Anger's Cajun Cuisine: Authentic Cajun Recipes from Louisiana's Bayou Country.

My father, a pure Cajun, grew up in a house without a cookbook. His mother just put in the essentials and played with the ingredients until it tasted right. That's how they do it down there. My mother, of Scot-Irish stock, had no idea how to produce the dishes my father grew up with and loved, so when the great Cajun cookbooks of the 1970s and '80s came out she took advantage of them to please my father. My sister, a brother and I had already left home, but the cookbooks were there whenever we returned and enjoyed he evidence of their use.

Prudhomme's book is a classic, covering both Cajun and Creole cuisines with his own innovative and often brilliant adaptations. His recipes are exact but the results are divine. He is, after all, one of the most famous chef's to ever capture the essence of Louisiana's unique cooking heritage, elevating it to international fame. But few dishes in it are authentic Cajun. As I said, he is a chef and puts his own mark on everything -- but what a mark! I offer a warning here. His recipes are perfectly balanced. Do NOT try to tweak them in any way or you'll regret it. Many have tried; all have failed.

Anger's book is entirely different and authentic Cajun with no modernized renditions. The recipes are stripped down to their essentials, guaranteed to deliver dishes any Cajun would instantly recognize. They are the bare bones, intended to be played with by adjusting ingredients to taste. Less complex, modern and flamboyant than Prudhomme's, less spicy than Creole, rarely using tomatoes (but you can). Cajun dishes are built around the Cajun holy trinity of onions, celery and bell peppers, often added to a roux and augmented with chicken, shellfish, seafood, pork, rabbit, squirrel, or whatever you have on hand, most often served with rice, and meant to be eaten as is or seasoned by the eater with his or her favorite condiments -- salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, filé, Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Cajun mustard.

If you want pure Cajun cuisine, Anger's book is the only cookbook you'll ever need. If you want to entertain and impress your dinner guests, use Prudhomme's book. As my mother discovered, it's better to have them both. You can....

Cajun Cuisine: Authentic Cajun Recipes from Louisiana's Bayou Country, by W. Thomas Anger (for the real deal, basic recipes that stand on their own but can withstand your favorite tweaks)

Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen, by Paul Prudhomme (just in case you want incredibly tasty modernized versions of Cajun, Creole, and Southern Louisiana recipes)


One of the most successful British bands in history, Dire Straits first really big hit was 1979's "Sultans of Swing." Weighing in at just under 11 minutes, the song was never edited down for radio but once, for TV, it was concluded after the vocals and a final riff. BBC Radio was at first unwilling to play the long song, but after it became a hit in the US and was played here the BBC relented and it eventually got huge play-time.

Dire Straits received 11 prestigious awards and was nominated to another 15. Their albums have spent over 1,100 weeks on the UK albums chart and sold over 120 million copies worldwide. Why they have not been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when they dominated British music for nearly two decades is beyond me and hundreds of Hall of Fame critics (Google "Dire Straits and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame" and you'll see what I mean).

Originally Dire Straits consisted of brothers Mark and David Knopfler and friends John Illsley and Pick Withers. Over the band's 15-year history the only permanent fixture was songwriter, arranger, film score composer, record producer, guitarist extraordinaire, and vocalist Mark Knopfler -- clearly the guiding genius of the band. His finger-picking style influenced a generation of guitarists.

In 1982 the band embarked in an 8-month long world tour to promote their "Love Over Gold" album, which culminated with two sold out concerts at London's Hammersmith Odeon on 22 and 23 July 1983. The double album "Alchemy Live", was a recording of excerpts from these two concerts and was reportedly released without studio overdubs. It was mixed in November 1983 and released in March 1984, reaching the Top 3 spot in the UK Albums Chart. The concert was also issued on VHS and was remastered and released on DVD and Blu-ray in 2010 – the only performance on the new format to date. The performance below is from one of those concerts.

Inspiration for the song came from witnessing a jazz band playing in the corner of a practically deserted pub in Deptford, South London. At the end of their performance, the lead singer announced that they were the "Sultans of Swing", and Mark Knopfler found the contrast between the group's dowdy appearance and surroundings and their grandiose name amusing. Paul Williams writes that the band described in the song "has no hope whatsoever at making it big... It is not a stepping-stone to someplace else. It is, take it or leave it, the meaning of their lives, and much of the record's greatness is in the tremendous respect it evokes in every listener for these persons (whether they be great musicians or not) and the choices they've made. The ways they've chosen to live."
~~ Excerpted from "Sultans of Swing," Wikipedia

Mark Knopfler's guitar riffs from about 4:50 in the song until the end are a virtuoso performance unto themselves -- seemingly a free-wheeling jam session, but every note is tightly scripted and preformed -- singling him out as one of the great guitarists of all-time. Indeed, he was ranked 27th on Rolling Stone magazine's list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Follow the lyrics (below) with the performance.


Dire Straits performing "Sultans of Swing" in London, July 1983

Sultans of Swing


You get a shiver in the dark
It's raining in the park but meantime
South of the river you stop and you hold everything
A band is blowing Dixie double four time
You feel alright when you hear that music ring

Well, now you step inside but you don't see too many faces
Coming in out of rain to hear the jazz go down
Competition in other places
Oh, but the horns, they're blowing that sound
Way on down south, way on down south London town

You check out Guitar George he knows all the chords
Mind he's strictly rhythm he doesn't want to make it cry or sing
Left-handed old guitar is all he can afford
When he gets up under the lights to play his thing

And Harry doesn't mind if he doesn't make the fancy scene
He's got a daytime job, he's doing alright
He can play the honky tonk like anything
Saving it up for Friday night
With the Sultans, with the Sultans of Swing

And a crowd of young boys, they're fooling around in the corner
Drunk and dressed in their best brown baggies and their platform soles
They don't give a damn about any trumpet playing band
It ain't what they call rock and roll
And the Sultans, yeah, the Sultans, they play Creole, Creole

And then the man, he steps right up to the microphone
And says at last just as the time bell rings
"Goodnight, now it's time to go home."
And he makes it fast with one more thing,
"We are the Sultans, we are the Sultans of Swing."



Texas Winemaking -- The Early Years

San Antonio Regional Wine Guild logo, used with permission
Foreword

In August 2010 I began attempting to answer some questions put to me by Dr. Russell Kane, wine writer and blogger (www.VintageTexas.com/blog), in his on-going project ("Searching for Texas Terroir"). I attempted to recruit the aid of several SARWG members for research but little useable information came from that effort. My apologies for sounding dismissive of those who sent me information, for I sincerely appreciate what was offered. Some of it was scant, some wildly exaggerated and some having no citable source.

I recently found my answers to the first four of fourteen questions Dr. Kane asked of me. Whether I ever sent them to him or not I cannot ascertain, but having never seen the material assembled published, I thought it would be fun to rework those four answers into a look at early Texas winemaking. And, having just admonished contributors for not providing citable sources, I will here ignore that requirement and leave out the citations to make it more readable. I am not writing here for an historical journal. However, I will insert editorial comment in [brackets].


Earliest Reference to Wines Made from Native Texas Grapes

I have long searched for the earliest reference and have not found it because I don't read Spanish. Remember, an Anglo Texas is a very modern affair. Stephen F. Austin did not bring legal white colonists to Texas until 1822, although perhaps as many as 4-6,000 hunters and squatters -- illegal trespassers into the Spanish province -- had slipped across the Sabine and built lean-tos and cabins in the piney woods of the east. The trespassers outnumbered Austin's 300 families of legal immigrants by ten to one, yet had no standing and officially did not exist. Had Spain and then Mexico organized ranging companies to push back the trespassers as Austin did to drive out the Indians, there almost certainly would not have been enough Anglos in residence to support the 1835-36 revolt against Santa Ana.

This historical detour is necessary to explain what should be obvious. Squatters and poachers do not collect and record data for later researchers to mine. With the rare exception of La Salle's failed colony at Lavaca in 1685 and Lt. Zebulon Pike's 1806 trespass, the only records of Texas before Austin came along were written in Spanish. As much as I wish otherwise, it will be a bilingual researcher who will uncover the earliest mention of wines made from native Texas grapes. What I do know is that Austin wrote, "Nature seems to have intended Texas for a vineyard to supply America with wines."

Austin traveled extensively throughout Texas looking for the best land to situate his colony, so there is little doubt he was not referring only to the grapes that grew between the Brazos and Colorado Rivers where his colony was located. But even if he had limited his observations to this narrow (but long) slice of Texas, he would be referring to V. mustangensis [formerly V. candicans], V. cinerea var. cinerea, V. cinerea var. helleri [formerly V. helleri], V. rotundifolia, some V. vulpina [formerly V. cordifolia], V. aestivalis var. lincecumii [formerly V. lincecumii], V. aestivalis var. glauca [formerly V. lincecumii var. glauca], a few V. aestivalis var. aestivalis, V. monticola, and possibly some V. palmata, with V. mustangensis being the most common. However, if he knew any of these species by name, they would have been common names such as mustang, muscadine, possum, and post oak. However, I can find no instance where he recorded any grape by any name.

The first record I can find of a mention of wines in Texas in English is a March 1806 diary entry by Lt. Pike referring to his passage through El Paso, in which he noted "...numerous vineyards from which were produced the finest wine ever drank." These, however, were undoubtedly Mission grapes, introduced into the region by Spanish missionaries in 1659 or shortly thereafter. But on May 5, 1837, President Sam Houston reported to the Congress of the Republic of Texas regarding trade, "Her [Texas] cotton, sugar, indigo, wines, peltries, live stock, and precious minerals will become objects of mercantile activity." While he could have been referring to the wines of El Paso, in 1838 the grapes for these wines originated largely on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande around Ciudad Juarez. It is far more likely he was talking about wines from native grapes, but he failed to say so and so we must speculate.

But there were also small wineries located at each of the many missions in Texas, if only to provide wine for the sacraments. Both Spain and Mexico were officially Catholic and all legal immigrants to Texas prior to the Revolution had to swear they were Catholic or would convert to Catholicism. These were not commercial ventures, but they did exist. The grapes grown for these wines are largely unknown. The Mission grape of many missions from El Paso west to and throughout California is simply not proven evident at missions located east of the Pecos.


Ethnic Winemakers

We know the Spanish brought tons of cuttings with new friars sent to Mexico and other possessions in the New World, but we also know that most of them arrived dried out and did not root. But some did root and leafed through two or rarely three inflorescences. Those that flowered in phase with one another cross pollinated and their seed would produce V. viniferahybrids that, when germinated, would suffer the same early death fate as their parents. It is probable that a few flowers mentioned above and all vines that flowered out of phase with each other were pollinated by native vines in close proximity to where they grew. Grape pollen carries up to a mile with only moderate breezes. Seed from these grapes carried some genetic resistance to New World microorganisms and stood a good chance of survival.

The friars who were sent out to establish northern missions almost certainly carried seed from these rare fruit, both for economy of weight and space and because wood carried by burro would almost certainly rub off all potential buds. This means the grapes cultivated at missions were Old-New World hybrids and both tasted better than the pure natives and carried resistance to all the New World stuff that killed off European vines.

Most references place the "Mission grape's" origin at El Paso. If the original vineyard there (and eventually there were many) was grown from seed, decades of vineyard management would have weeded out nonproductive vines and replaced them with rooted cuttings from the more productive ones. It seems unlikely, even after 300 years, that all vines would have been replaced with clones from a single specimen. The work of the missionaries was too varied, unpredictable and demanding to focus on the vines as closely as that scenario would have required. Thus, no one knows what the "Mission grape" really is, but we know that one Mission grapevine is not the same as another. I have no belief whatsoever that a common Old-New World hybrid ever existed. There would have been hundreds if not thousands originally that were culled to perhaps a few dozen.

I have run across many reports of immigrants bringing vines with them from Europe to Texas. The trip from Germany, for instance, to the Hill Country of Central Texas was long and hard and wood only traveled bes in the winter when dormant. That wood had to travel across Germany to a port, cross the Atlantic and Gulf, and then be carried up into Central Texas. If they brought wood with them, I have no doubt it that little of it would have arrived in good shapr. But reportedly, some did root and leaf before dying off.

We know that many settlers made wine from native grapes. It is simply unlikely that someone would go through the trouble of bringing cuttings with them to Texas (which did not grow) and then decide not to try making wine from the abundant native grapes.

When speaking of Texas immigration, we must remember that Austin's authorized (by Mexico) colonists only arrived in the 1820s. The real great wave of immigration did not occur until after Texas won its independence from Mexico and the legislators of the new Republic of Texas worked out the conditions for settlement. Thus, the floodgate opened around 1840-41.

A German immigrant who moved to Cypress Mills in the Texas Hill Country in 1845 later wrote of enjoying a glass or two of "fiery Texas wine." That part of Blanco County is covered with V. mustangensis, whose red wine so perfectly matches that description of "fiery" as to be the probable grape.

The above report is so typical of communities throughout Texas that it would be boring to even cite them. Every community where native grapes grew developed an early home winemaking tradition. Ethnic communities tended to make a community project out of harvesting, crushing, fermenting and later processing the wine for clarity and distribution. Czech, Polish, German, Austrian, Estonian, Hungarian, Italian, and you-name-it communities harvested the local mustang, muscadine, post oak, possum, winter, and mountain grapes, none of which resembled any grape they had ever had to make wine from before, and they either learned to make decent wines with what nature provided or they adapted to the taste. There are scores of reports of communities harvesting 3,000, 8,000, 11,000 and even 20,000 pounds of grapes in one to three days, mostly Mustang, for community wine.

While the original emigrants had their own Old World winemaking methods, those were largely discarded as they were forced to deal with what nature provided -- high acid, low sugar, uncertain nutrients, and in some cases low juice to pulp ratios. Within 20-30 years, new generations who had never experienced Old World grapes or wines took the reins and had only New World influences to guide them. They must have figured it all out because their descendants make very good wine out of inedible native grapes.

If one can detect a German influence in the mustang wines of Fredericksburg, a Polish influence in the mustang wines of Poth, or a Czech influence in the mustang wines of Victoria please instruct me on those influences. I only taste mustang wine.


Evolving Native Wines

In 1853 J. D. B. De Bow reported, "We have many a time feasted on the most delicious grapes in our rambles through the hills and along the limpid streams of Texas." We wish the locales were revealed, but they are not. We can only speculate these were V. aestivalis or cinerea varieties, or V. vulpina, acerifolia, champinii, doaniana, or even very ripe monticola or rupestris, but there can be no doubt that De Bow was speaking of wild, native grapes, for only these were available as described.

De Bow goes on to quote the editor of the Houston Telegraph: "We are indebted to Col. William E. Crump for several bottles of excellent wine manufactured from the native grape. He has succeeded in making a white wine from the Mustang grape which we consider far better than the best samples of Catawba wine we have received from Cincinnati. The red he has made from the same grape is of an excellent quality and resembles the best claret; he has also made wine from the winter grape, which ripens late in autumn."

The mustang, however, would not be a candidate for "... the most delicious grapes in our rambles through the hills and along the limpid streams of Texas." They are simply too acid for raw feasting. They are, however, still made into commercial wines in Texas today, both white and red.

Native muscadines are still made into wine in east Texas but have been almost entirely passed over by commercial wineries in favor of cross-bred varietals. Indeed, since I cannot think of a single Texas winery that makes a native muscadine wine, perhaps the "almost" in the preceding sentence should be stricken, but I'll leave it in case I've overlooked one.

The best native grapes I have eaten off the tree-supported vine in Texas have been V. aestivalis var. aestivalis, var. glauca and especially var. lincecumii. These were the staple grapes of early eastern settlers and, we are told, Sam Houston's favorites. And yet, again, I know of no commercial winery in Texas making wine from them despite the fact that they grow in beautiful bunches, are typically low hanging, and grow in great abundance over most of the eastern quarter of the state.


Native Grape Winemaking Areas

The following is strictly historic, but offers an excellent breakdown of the most common native grapes in Texas regionally. It is not nearly as complete as "The Natural Distribution of Native Grapes in Texas" by Keller and Comeaux (2009, unpublished), but certainly the best available in 1866. One must expect that settlers in 1866 Texas did what settlers do -- made wine out of the best ingredients available. I'm sure wherever they were east of the Pecos they had blackberries, dewberries, probably elderberies, possibly huckleberries, pawpaws, persimmons, agaritas, mayhaws, plums, prickly pears, crabapples, mulberries, and many others, but the wild grapes would be too alluring to ignore, no matter how challenging they were to make into wine.

In 1866 S. B. Buckley published "A Preliminary Report of the Geological and Agricultural Survey of Texas." In it he describes the grapes of Texas as he understood them. His account is important because he points out he was first in naming and describing the Mustang grape (in 1861); in 1862 it was attributed to Englemann as V. candicans, but Buckley named and described it first as V. mustangensis and taxonomists have since corrected the name to reflect his first publication.

"Three species of native grapes are common here [Navarro County], the mustang, post oak and the winter grape. The mustang is so abundant as to be used in the manufacture of wine of a superior quality, which we tested on several occasions with the hospitable inhabitants of that region."

More generally, the report says of French immigrants, "...they can also grow grapes, for which this State possesses peculiar advantages, there being at least seven species indigenous here, besides others from abroad in cultivation; of these, the mustang grape (Vitis mustangensis), the most widely diffused and the most abundant. It grows throughout most of the State, excepting some parts of Eastern Texas, and perhaps a part of North western Texas; it attains a large size, sometimes almost completely overspreading the largest trees, and is readily known by its leaves, which are of a deep green above, and white and tomentose beneath, besides its fruit has very distinctive characters; it has a large black fruit, sometimes nearly an inch in diameter, and clusters of a moderate size it is little esteemed for eating, on account of an acid juice in the inner cuticle of the skin, which, if swallowed, gives a burning pain in the throat; still, the pulp is quite palatable, and wholesome if squeezed out, and eaten without the skin. It makes, what we think to be, an excellent red wine, which, by age, attains strength and flavor.

"The Lincecum grape (Vitis lincecumii) [(Sic!) should be V. aestivalis var. lincecumii] grows in Eastern Texas and in the eastern parts of the central portion of the State in post oak openings, whence it is often called the 'post oak grape.' It is of low habit and slender form, growing in clumps or climbing over small trees and bushes to the height. of from 4 to 10 feet. It has larger clusters of thin skinned, purple berries about three-fourths of an inch in diameter, which are juicy and of a pleasant acid taste. Fruit ripens the last of June and the first of July. It is well worthy of cultivation, being certainly for table use, and it ought to be tested as a wine grape.

"The Mountain grape (Vitis monticola) is of similar habit to the above; being seldom more than ten feet high. It has small cordate leaves of a pale green color, which are smooth above and more or less pubescent beneath, especially along the nerves. lts clusters are rather densely fruited with white or amber colored berries, one half or three quarters of an inch in diameter, thin skinned, which are ripe in July and August. It is said to be sweet tasted and of a very agreeable favor. It is sparingly cultivated, being as yet little known. Specimens of it with unripe fruit are in the collection at the geological rooms; and they have a strong resemblance to those of the winter grape, from which it is distinguished by its fruit and difference in time of ripening: its smaller leaves and its smaller size throughout.

"Mr. Lindheimer, a well known German botanist of New Braunfels, who has done much to elucidate the botany of Vitis, and who first brought the next species into notice also first called our attention to aestivalis, which, with the two preceding species we first described it the Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia for 1861.

"Mr. Durand, a French botanist, in describing the Mustang grape in 1862, gives it the name of 'Vitis candicans,' supposing it had been previously described by Dr. Englemann. This is a mistake. Dr. Englemann never published any description of the mustang grape, nor was any botanical description ever published of it previous to ours in 1861.

"The Rock grape (V. rupestris) grows along the borders of rocky streams in North western Texas. Its leaves are small, smooth and shining above and below of a deep green, and coarsely toothed. Its branches are rather stiff and, erect, three to four feet high, seldom trailing, but, often growing like raspberries and blackberries in thick clusters of nearly vertical sterns. It has small clusters of densely placed black berries about one half an inch in diameter. Its fruit is said to be thin skinned, acid and good. Its leaves resemble those of the muscadine grape. The other grapes growing wild in Texas, being also found in many of the States east of the Mississippi, are well known.

"The winter grape (V. cordifolia) [(Sic!) should be V. vulpina] is common in Central and Eastern Texas, and is next to the mustang the most widely diffused.

"The Muscadine or Bullace grape (V. vulpina) [(sic) should be V. rotundifolia] is confined to the southern and south eastern counties, extending in Central Texas as far north as Washington county. It is called scuppernong in the eastern part of North Carolina, where it is much cultivated for making wine.

"The returns of wine made in this State in 1859 are 13,946 gallons, most of which, we suppose, was made from the mustang grape, except perhaps a few gallons made from the El Paso grape on the Rio Grande."

These are about half the species/varieties native to Texas, but still the most complete listing to that date.


Postscript

The early winemaking history in Texas is not clear, but neither is it murky. We can say with confidence that there was a period when wine could not have been made from V. vinifera grapes unless the grapes formed on second or possibly third leaf vines, the latter seemingly unlikely because of the many microorganisms fatally hostile to those vines.

However, it was possible for those same dying vines to set some fruit. If self-pollinated or pollinated from other Old World vines, the seed would not be multi-generational viable. If pollinated by nearby native grape vines, seed from the resulting fruit would possess some degree of tolerance or even immunity to the New World environment. Successive generations of seed would presumably have greater tolerance or immunity. Seedlings from such successive-generation seeds, planted at missions, may have been generally termed Mission grapes because of where they were grown, leading to an impression that a Mission grape existed as a type.

Until the discovery that V. vinifera vines could be grafted to New World native rootstock and be afforded the tolerance and immunities inherent in those rootstocks it was not possible to grow V. vinifera long-term in the New World. Thereafter, it was. Still, grafting vinifera onto native rootstock did not occur wholesale in Texas until the 1970s -- 85 years after it was accepted in Europe as the only way to grow V. vinifera in the presence of phylloxera. With the exception of a few vineyards established on grated rootstock, Texans stubbornly looked for acceptable hybrids. Black Spanish (Lenoir), Herbemont, Champanel, Edna, Barlinka, Mother Gloyd, Weisser, Muscanal, Convent, and Ellen Scott were all identified as viable hybrids capable of supporting a wine or table grape industry (Mother Gloyd and Weisser are Mustang x vinifera hybrids, but seedless). Of these, only Lenoir and Herbemont are widely planted, although an extensive planting of Convent has been made. Again, it was not until the 1970s that entire vineyards were planted in Texas of V. vinifera varieties grafted to native rootstock.

During the period prior to grafting onto native rootstock the only grape wines most settlers could make were from native grapes. That ability continues through today. Further, throughout the settlement of the New World it was possible to make country wines from non-grape material -- fruits, berries, flowers, leaves, etc. The latter have been poorly described or not described at all in historical treatments of the settlement period.

There is much research that could be done to learn more of early winemaking activities in Texas. Every county and many local museums, historical societies and individual local historians maintain files of original or transcribed letters, journals, notations of commerce and other documentary records that may contain evidence or clues to these activities. Unless one is actually in need of this data, there is no incentive for non-involved persons to search these files for such evidence.

I will offer to file, collate, analyze, evaluate, and describe any such information forwarded to me, either by email or post. My email address is linked to in the upper left column. I can send my postal address to anyone who requests it for good reason.



Very Slow Fermentation

'Bishop's Collar' in secondary
"Bishop's Collar" in secondary -- no
airlock activity, ring of small bubbles
around top of clear wine

Should a plum wine ferment for 11 months? No, but it could happen. Far more likely is another, often over-looked problem.

Rob Morris again wrote that he had a problem. A plum wine had been fermenting eleven months. He doubled one of my recipes, adding the sugar in stages. During this time he racked the wine six times. The wine continues to emit a ring of small bubbles around the neck of the secondaries. The wine is in the coolest and most stable temperature in the house (69° F.) and it smells and tastes good. So he asked if I thought he should just leave it until the bubbles stop forming?

I replied that I had a similar problem once, only worse. I had a pomegranate bubble for two years. When I say bubble, I really mean it did what Robs did -- bubbles formed around the neck rather than pushing bubbles through the airlock. I should have recognized the asymmetry at the time but didn't.

There comes a time in most fermentations when the pressure of the CO2 being released during fermentation is not strong enough to push the water in the airlock far enough to release a bubble. Small bubbles often appear around the neck of the secondary, but if they do not contribute to the internal pressure enough to allow a bubble to escape then the gas in those small bubbles, as well as the microscopic bubbles you don't see, is trapped inside the secondary. So where does it go? Into the wine, of course.

When a wine becomes saturated with CO2 it begins releasing it in small bubbles. These often form around the neck of the secondary until their gas is reabsorbed by the wine. This is an endless cycle, but I didn't recognize it. So I told Rob what I did at the time that caused the little light to blink on.

Since the s.g. of my wine was at 0.992, I realized it was done and hit it with potassium sorbate and metabisulfite, left it alone for two additional months, racked it, and then degassed it for about 10 minutes a day for four days. It gained a point in s.g., probably due to the added sorbic acid (sorbate), but was still bone dry so I sweetened it a little. I should have measured the s.g. 6 months sooner at least, as it may have been sitting at 0.992 for that long or a lot longer and the bubbles were just CO2 being released from the saturated wine and then being reabsorbed.

One may ask why I let my wine sit for so long. It would be a good question but one easily answered. Then, as now and most days between, I really didn't need the wine but more importantly I had no place to store the wine if I bottled it. At this moment I have 68 gallons of wine ready to bottle but no place to store it if I did. My wine racks hold 182 bottles, I have two cabinets filled with bottled wine, and I have two cases of wine stacked in a cubbyhole in the laundry room (it was three but I just gave away a case of wine on my trip through Louisiana).

After Rob received my reply he wrote back that his plum's wine is coincidentally also at 0.992 s.g. So, he racked it, tasted it, and hit it with potassium sorbate and metabisulfite. The taste was very good, but there was a slight effervescent mouthfeel. The latter, of course, is due to the wine being saturated with CO2. Rob will degas the wine, bottle it and then let it bottle age.




June 16th, 2014

Have you ever tried to buy something when the cash register, which is really a computer, is down? It happened to me Tuesday when hunger and memory converged and I decide I wanted an old fashioned Dairy Queen cheeseburger with bacon. Since it was nearby, I drove over to the local Dairy Queen, parked and went in.

I brought an opened bottle of water in with me so all I wanted was what Dairy Queen calls a "Quarter-Pound Bacon Cheese Grillburger," which I clearly stated when I ordered.

The teenager behind the counter asked, "Do you want to upgrade the combo for an extra dollar?" I repeated that all I wanted was the sandwich.

"Would you like something to drink?" Somewhat annoyed at this point, I lifted up my bottle of water so he could see it and said all I wanted was the sandwich.

"Would you care for a dessert with that?" Frustrated, I very firmly (and probably a bit loudly) said, "For the fourth time, ALL I WANT IS THE SANDWICH." Two young female employees chatting near the drive-up window interrupted their chat to glance at me and then when back to their conversation.

He wrote something on an order slip, pulled out a laminated chart (tax table), ran down it with his finger and then wrote something else on the slip of paper. He looked up and said, "Sorry about that. Our register is down and I have to do this by hand. That will be $4.10."

I gave him a $5 bill. He stared at it for a few seconds and said, "I have to figure this out." I tried to help with, "You owe me 90 cents change." He stared at the slip he had written my order on and repeated, "I have to figure this out myself."

I was astounded, witnessing yet another example of our schools' failure to teach simple math. So I tried to help again and fished a dime out of my pocket. "Here. Just give me a dollar." He didn't take the dime, but stepped back and said, "You're confusing me. I don't want that. Just give me a minute to figure this out."

"It's 90 cents," I said. "$4.10 subtracted from $5 is 90 cents."

He never looked up at me but continued staring at the order slip. "I don't know that, so I have to figure it out myself. Our register is broken."

I'd had enough. May God help us because our schools certainly aren't. "Never mind. I don't want anything. Just give me back my $5." Reluctantly, he handed it over and I walked out, got in my car, drove to the drive-through and waited at the speaker.

One of the girls asked, "May I take your order?" "Yes, I'd like a Quarter-Pound Bacon Cheese Grillburger -- just the Grillburger." "What would you like to drink with that?" "Nothing -- just the Grillburger." "Do you want a Blizzard or dessert?" "No, just the Grillburger." There was a wait as she wrote it down and looked up the tax. That'll be $4.10. Please drive up to the window."

At the window I handed her the $5 bill. She took it, stared at it a few seconds and said, "Our computer is down. Give me a minute to figure this out."


I received the link below from a friend and attempted to verify the story but, although I found many links to it, I could not actually verify the story is true. And yet, the video exists and someone created it. Several sites, repeated the story, but that is not the kind of verification a journalist or historian would use. Nonetheless, here's the story,

Seventeen-year-old Joe Bush got a high school assignment to make a video reproduction. He chose history as a theme and tucked it all into two minutes. He took pictures from the internet, added the track "Mind Heist" by Zack Hemsey (from the movie Interception) and produced this. Turn on your sound and hold on tight! Here's a history of the world in 2 minutes.


Joe Bush's History of the World in 2 Minutes!

In one word, all I can say is "intense."


Today's major entries are about sulfites and sorbate. The two entries are quite different in focus. I hope you enjoy them.




Sulfites and the Regulatory Bias Against Wine

Wine label proclaiming 'Contains Sulfites'

It seems like I write on the subject of sulfites at least once a year, but I don't think the subject can be over-emphasized. Both this and the next entry concern sulfites. I'm not going to repeat here the contents of the next entry, which concerns using sulfites and potassium sorbate in our wine. Rather, I'm going to discuss "sulfite sensitivity" and a regulatory injustice perpetrated upon wine but not upon many other ingestibles containing higher amounts of sulfites than found in wine.

I repeatedly (or so it seems) get email asking for a recipe for [name your wine here] without sulfites. The emails usually claim the writer or his/her spouse is "sulfite sensitive" or "sulfite intolerant" and needs to eliminate sulfites from their wine.

I used to have a canned reply for this kind of email in which I explained that very, very few people (only a small fraction of a percent) are truly reactive to sulfites and its all in your (or your spouse's) head. Then in 2010 I sent it to a person who genuinely was sulfite intolerant and I felt like a fool. Even so, the truth is that very, very few people actually react adversely to sulfites, but how does one know?


Sulfite Sensitivity

Sulfite "sensitivity" and "intolerance" actually mean "allergy." There are medical protocols for determining if a person has an allergic reaction to sulfites and if so at what strength. Such protocols are administered by board certified Allergy/Immunology physicians and need only take 2-3 hours to diagnose with accuracy.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, "If you are not asthmatic, sulfite sensitivity would be very unusual." Even so, it affects over 200,000 people, most of whom must avoid wine. The question is does sulfited wine present a threat to everyone else.

In the last quarter of the last century the United States placed an upper limit on sulfites in wine at 350 ppm -- a limit rarely reached except for cheap, sweet and usually white wines -- and required labels to declare "contains sulfites" if the sulfite level exceeds 10 ppm. Although there are a few but growing number of wines that do not add any sulfites to avoid this label, a label declaring "contains no sulfites" would be deceptive because yeast produce small amounts of sulfites as a byproduct of fermentation -- sometimes enough to require the label. This regulated label declaration, "contains sulfites," however, has caused a wide and largely unwarranted consumer concern regarding sulfites. As Liza Gross points out:

[T]he words “contains sulfites” loom for the average consumer, unaware of the label’s intended audience: the sensitive few. And the sensitive few, researchers now know, typically have severe asthma. Of the estimated 22 million Americans who have asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 20% have severe asthma. Of that subgroup, about 5%—or 220,000 Americans—are sulfite sensitive.

For sensitive individuals, an inadvertent encounter with sulfites might trigger anything from itchy hives and wheezing to shortness of breath and severe chest constriction. Only rarely has ingesting sulfites resulted in death—attributed to complications from asthma—but never from drinking wine.
~~ Liza Gross, "Making Sense of Sulfites," Wines & Vines

Those last five words -- "but never from drinking wine" -- gave me pause, until I realized exactly what she was saying. She isn't saying that wine shouldn't be avoided by asthmatics with sulfite allergy, only that wine has never been linked to the death of one. So if not wine, then what? The odds are something they ate.

Graph, Sulfites in Wine
Comparative graph of common sulfite culprits (source: Wine Folly)

Madeline Puckette, "a certified wine geek," pointed out the more common culprits in the chart to the left. Whereas she shows dry red wine as the lowest, she also shows commercial wines at the maximum allowable 350 ppm, on par with soda and other soft drinks. The worse culprits on her chart are French fries and dried fruit. But the focus of her article is about sulfites in wine and thus she doesn't elaborate on the foods. More importantly, she doesn't mention that foods containing more than 10 ppm of sulfites are not required to label this as does wine -- only state their existence as a preservative in the ingredients.

All raisins contain sulfites because all raisin grapes contain sulfur. Dark raisins contain less than golden raisin because in order to preserve that golden color of the white grapes they are heavily sulfited. Dried apricots, apples, pears, mangos, papayas, pineapples, most banana chips and many other dried fruit are likewise heavily sulfited to preserve their color. They are in fruit roll-ups, snack and energy bars, trail mixes, and dozens of other products. If a person can eat these dried fruit without an allergic reaction, that person will not react to the sulfite load in wine.

However, notice the rank of French fries -- second highest. Almost every fast food outlet and many diners, cafes and restaurants use pre-cut frozen potatoes from which to make their fries. Potato starch turns to sugar and oxidizes to a brown color when stored at a temperatures below 45° F. unless sulfited. This leaves each potential fry with 13 ppm or more of sulfites. If the cut potatoes are coated with potato starch to keep them crisp longer, which many are, that sulfite load can double.

French fries are not the only heavily sulfited potato product. Any frozen product containing potatoes -- hash browns, potato patties, 'tater tots, potatoes O'Brien, mashed potatoes in TV dinners -- are heavily sulfited. None carry the same warning label as does wine. Nor do most fruit juices made from concentrates. soft drinks containing fruit juice from concentrate, caramel color (all colas), high fructose corn syrup (read the label), and several other ingredients containing sulfites.

These examples are mere samples of the foods and beverages containing sulfites, yet many medications contain sulfites or sulfates as well. The point I am trying to make is that it is very, very difficult to avoid consuming sulfites in whatever form, but only one form -- wine -- requires a "contains sulfites" label. Thus, whenever the average person is asked to name an ingested product that contains sulfites they say "wine."



Sulfites and Sorbate: What You Need to Know

Potassium sorbate

I was reading a thread on winemaking problems in a discussion group. One writer lamented, "I stirred in a crushed campden [sic] tablet and back-sweetened the wine. The day after I bottled it one of the bottles blew its cork and made a real mess. Could the problem be the campden [sic] tablet didn't completely dissolve?"

First of all, Campden is always capitalized because its a man's name, albeit deceased. Secondly, I hate the term "back sweeten." The correct term is "sweeten." [I also hate "the fact of the matter is." The correct English: "the fact is." Why use two or more words when one will do?] These are not mere stylistic complaints. In the first case, you wouldn't write, "We stayed at a hilton." Hilton is a person's name, so you capitalize it. In the second case, economy of language is a virtue if it communicates correctly.

The first two respondents to the post got it wrong. They agreed that not crushing the tablet fine enough to dissolve its particles was the problem. The third respondent got it right. "Campden by itself is not a stabilizer. You have to also add potassium sorbate."


Adding Sulfites

For the past 7-8 years, in my wine recipes, I have written, "1 finely crushed and dissolve Campden tablet." I added these extra words because too many people complained that crushed Camden wouldn't dissolve. It will. It just takes an awful lot of time and stirring. All that stirring is saturating the wine with oxygen (O2), hastening its eventual oxidation. If you draw off just a cup of the wine and dissolve the finely crushed Campden in it before adding it back into the secondary, you only expose a cup of the wine to O2 saturation but dilute the saturation when the cup is returned to the bulk.

The active ingredient in the original Campden formulation was sodium metabisulfite. Adding sodium to your wine has not been advised for decades. The preferred active ingredient is the salt potassium metabisulfite, which is now incorporated into the Campden tablets sold in the USA -- I do not know about other countries. But it is far more economical to use pure potassium metabisulfite rather than Campden tablets.

For a dose of potassium metabisulfite equal to that contained in a Campden tablet you need only add 1/16th of a teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite. Measure a level 1/4 teaspoon of the potassium salt, deposit it on a clean flat surface, and with a knife divide it in half. Then divide each half into halves. You'll end up with four partitions (quotients) of potassium metabisulfite, each equaling approximately 1/16th of a teaspoon. Compare that small amount with a Campden tablet. All that extra bulk in the Campden is inert binding material. Would you rather dissolve all of that into your wine or just the small amount of the active ingredient?

The 1/16th teaspoon dose is a ballpark number not chiseled in stone but is comparable to Campden's 45 ppm dose. For a slightly lesser dose, divide that 1/4 teaspoon into five equal parts (I do it all the time, so I know you can do it).

There are several factors which dictate adding more or less sulfite. These include the pH and temperature of the must or wine, the condition of the grapes or fruit from which the wine is made, and the type and style of wine being made. To better explain the influence of these factors would require a longer piece than is appropriate here, but I recommend one reads the piece referenced at the end of today's entry ("Sulfur Dioxide Additions for Home Wine Making").

Back to the original problem, the third responder was correct that Campden (or potassium metabisulfite) does not stabilize the wine. It just protects it against harmful microorganisms. Well, "just protects" is an understatement. It also protects the wine against premature browning, oxidation and development of off-odors from aldehydes. There are other reasons as well; e.g. preventing an already balanced wine from undergoing malolactic fermentation and ruining its balance when its acid component contains significant malic acid.

We don't know when the winemaker asking the question actually bottled his wine, but based on his rushed first racking one might suspect he sulfited and then bottled the wine soon thereafter. One must practice patience when making wine. This isn't beer. Wine takes time -- months.


Before You Sweeten....

If you want to sweeten your wine, you should first treat the wine with potassium sorbate. Potassium sorbate is the potassium salt of sorbic acid. Sorbic acid is practically insoluble in water but its potassium salt is completely soluble in water where 74% by weight is converted into soluble sorbic acid (it has already been dissolved, so has become soluble) and the remainder into ionic potassium. We say we add sorbate, but it is only a vehicle to adding sorbic acid.

Sorbic acid has selective anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties and inhibits yeast growth (reproduction) but does not kill the yeast. For that reason the wine should have been racked extremely clear and bulk aged long enough that the yeast density is very low when the potassium sorbate is introduced for it to be effective. After bulk aging a clear wine for several months to further reduce active yeast populations, the wine should carefully be racked again off any dead yeast before adding potassium sorbate.


Beware of Off Odors

The normal, ballpark dosage is 1/2 teaspoon per US gallon, or 150-200 ppm. It is more concentrated at low pH and the dose can be adjusted downward for higher alcohol but if you feel you cannot calculate the proper lower dosage use the 1/2 teaspoon per gallon and you'll be okay. Never add more than that or you'll introduce off odors similar to bubble gum. I will not include the calculations for reduced dosage here because most home winemakers will not be able to measure the smaller amounts the calculations will indicate and guessing could be dangerous.

Never add potassium sorbate to a wine that has already undergone malolactic fermentation or you introduce another unwanted off-odor -- geraniol, which resembles geraniums and cannot be removed without ruining the wine.


Adding Sorbate

I usually hold off sweetening my wines for a month or so after adding potassium sorbate to give the yeast culture time to thin itself out further, which will be evidenced by a light dusting of dead yeast lees on the bottom of the secondary. All surviving yeast won't die off in a month, but a significant portion will.

After sweetening, I leave the wine alone for another month to make sure it doesn't start refermenting. It shouldn't, but sorbate has a shelf life and the closer it gets to that end-time the less effective it will be.

Give the wine time to prove the efficacy of the sorbate. If it is too old or a calculated, reduced dosage is insufficient, the yeast will reproduce and the sweetened wine will trigger renewed fermentation. However, potassium sorbate has a taste threshold and one should never exceed the 1/2 teaspoon per gallon.

If you used the correct amount and fermentation renewed, the sorbate was too old and all you can do at that point is (a) wait it out and bulk age for another six months or more, or (b) chill the wine to 28° F. for no less than two weeks. Chilling the wine will usually cause the added potassium to precipitate out as potassium bitartrate. The wine should be racked off the bitartrate crystals or they will dissolve back into the wine as it returns to room temperature. Whichever avenue you choose, do NOT add more sorbate.


Additional Suggeations

I have two additional suggestions regarding potassium sorbate.

First, all the potassium sorbate I have ever purchased has been "prilled." This is a method of exuding the salt (potassium sorbate) when slightly moist through small holes, the result of which are small, elongated particles. These particles are quickly dried and can give the winemaker fits as they dissolve slowly and look unsightly for a while.. My solution has always been to reduce the particles to a powder in a mortar and pestle before stirring into the wine.

Second, I recommend buying the smallest amount of potassium sorbate you can get by with and replace it every 6 months no matter how much is left unused.

Sulfites are an important tool in the winemaker's arsenal, especially important in protecting the wine against spoilage bacteria and mold. Potassium sorbate is the best vehicle for adding sorbic acid to a wine containing residual sugar. In correct dosage it preserves that sugar by preventing refermentation. They should be used together before bottling a sweetened wine.





June 7th, 2014

Rarely can one do what I did last night. While writing descriptions of the grapes for the second major entry below I mentally searched for a word that meant "laying down, as if pressed," and the word "appressed" came to mind. To be certain it was the correct word, I got up, took a 3 3/8-inch thick dictionary down from a bookshelf, and opened it perhaps 3/16 inch from the beginning. I looked at the pages I had opened to (pages 72-73) and there was the word I sought! How often does THAT happen?

Later, I wrestled with using the word "trichomes" to indicate short hairs and again retrieved the dictionary. Son-of-a-gun if I didn't do it again! I cut the book open near the back, at pages 1428-1429, and there was the word! That has got to be as rare as being dealt two royal flushes in the same poker game. I'm dumbfounded...!


Ian & Sylvia's album, <i>Northern Journey</i>

Talk about coincidences, I woke up this morning with a folk song from the mid '60s playing in my head. The song was Ian and Sylvia's "When I Woke Up This Morning." Get it? I woke up this morning with "When I Woke Up his Morning" playing in my head. Weird!

Actually, that isn't the name of the song at all -- just the opening line. The real title is "You Were On My Mind." What was most strange is that I never, ever think of that song -- well, at least not that version of it, written by Canadian Sylvia Tyson, which actually starts with, "Got up this morning, you were on my mind...." What I always remember is the version performed by We Five, a quintet out of San Francisco who created a completely different song by changing a few words and a few notes. They topped the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart for five weeks with a folk-rock classic that in my opinion is still unmatched in sheer energy.

We Five's version begins nice and easy in the opening two stanzas. Then in the third stanza it builds in intensity and holds that intensity through the fourth. In the fifth stanza it again drops to a gentle, flowing tempo but again increases in intensity and holds it to a climatic end.

The very first time I heard it I recognized it from Ian and Sylvia's recording earlier that year, but I also recognized I was hearing something very different, very unique, very full of energy. See if you don't agree:


Fred Astaire introduces We Five live on Hollywood Palace

This live version lacks the mixing richness and energetic intensity of the studio recording, but it still beats any other version but the recording itself so I couldn't resist showing it. Besides, I like watching Beverly Bivens dance her two-step while singing. It makes me feel young again

The arranging genius of We Five was Michael Stewart, brother of The Kingston Trio's John Stewart who later had a distinguished solo career. John's best album ever was his live The Phoenix Concerts, containing too many classics to mention. However, "July, You're A Woman" and "The Last Campaign Trilogy" (containing "All the Brave Horses") are worth the price of the double album. Believe me.

The two gentleman on the left, Michael Stewart (glasses, playing the Gibson 6-string guitar) and Bob Jones (left rear, playing the Rickenbacker 12-string guitar) are both now deceased. Stewart left us in 2002 and Jones in 2013. Rest in peace, Michael and Bob. You live on in your music.



Elderberry / Concord Grape Wine

Black elderberries (photo source sambucolaustralia.com)Concord grapes (stock photo
Black elderberries and Concord grapes

I poured a glass of my Elderberry/Concord blend -- 4.5 gallons of 2003 Elderberry blended with 1.5 gallons of 2012 Concord (not precisely but close). There is of course a reason for this unlikely marriage, the result of which is very, very good.

The first duty of wine is to be red. The second is to be a Burgundy. — Alec Waugh, In Praise of Wine

I think Alec would have loved this wine, even though undutifully containing not a drop of Pinot Noir or any other noble grape. Not a Burgundy -- with an exclamation point -- but a joy to savor. The aromatics are rich and complex, darkly red, ripe and inviting, with a hint of heritage roses and freshly broken pomegranates. Absolutely inviting. It screamed. "Taste me," so I did.

Indescribable taste, so I won't try. Suffice it to say I am pleased. More than pleased. But it was a long journey to this glass.

The elderberry component was as close to "pure" (67.5%) as I ever want to make. I have made it with a higher percentage of juice and I then agonized similarly over its slow maturity. I fined out much of the tannins of that one. But I decided to wait out the 2003. It bulk aged for a month less than 10 years, always too tannic to consign to the lives of corks -- even ones that cost $1.18 each and supposedly are rated as 20-year closures.

Last year, while lamenting that my own life is finite, I decided to blend it with something drinkable. The only red wine I had aplenty that might work was Concord. It was a gamble./p>

When blending, there are three considerations. First, the blending wines should be good enough, sound enough, to stand alone. Blending a good wine with a bad produces a lot of bad wine. Second, the blended wines should maintain (if they have it) or achieve (if they don't) balance. Third, the flavors must, as a minimum, compliment each other and, as an optimum, enhance each other. Blending Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot is the norm rather than the exception because these two wines usually satisfy all three considerations in union.

I considered both my elderberry and Concord to be good and hoped the flavors would enhance one another. It was balance that concerned me most. If one of the blending wines will not balance because of too much or too little of one of the elements of balance (body, sugar, alcohol, acid, tannin) the other must be able to offset that deficiency so the blend achieves balance. The elderberry had more than enough tannin for two wines and the Concord, I believed, could accept a lot more but was not actually deficient.

Having never tasted this blend before, I hoped the flavors would meld together nicely but didn't really consider this the gamble. Nor did I think balancing the tannin was the gamble. The gamble was whether the Concord will live considerably longer with the elderberry's long-distance tannins or the longevity of the elderberry will be considerably shortened by a short-lived Concord. That was and remains my greatest concern.

It is a gamble to which only time will decide. In the meantime, I'm resigning myself to enjoying it. Life is too uncertain to bet on the long-haul at this juncture and the wine is delightful, so I will drink it without worrying about its aging potential.



More Native Grapes of New York

Jack Keller Winemaking Facebook Page excerpt
An except of my blog's Facebook Page

I've received many messages regarding my post on my friend Dale Ims making wines from wild grapes in New York. These communications generally reveal an interest in utilizing the grapes for making wine, but little knowledge about the grapes themselves. What they reveal is that most wild grapes are simply known as wild grapes. If they have a name, up there they are all either "fox" or "frost" grapes. This does an injustice to the "riverbank" and "winter" grapes sharing the habitat.

I don't expect everyone to know every plant in their area. I don't know all the ones around me, but I do try to learn the ones I happen upon time and time again. There are so many. But when two obviously different looking vines are growing close together, they can't both be "fox grapes." So let's look at the four true native grapes found around New York state. Descriptions are heavily dependent on T. V. Munson, Barry Comeaux and my own limited observations.

<i>Vitis labrusca</i> (Fair Use photo by Steve C. Garske, University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point)
Vitis labrusca (photo by Steve C. Garske,
University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point, )

V. labrusca is commonly known as the "fox grape." Despite the fact that various grapes are called this, no other grape anywhere has that same distinct pungent odor and flavor which long ago was termed "foxy" for reasons no one today can say with certainty (although there are three or four theories circulating). In Tennessee it is locally called "swamp grape" and elsewhere sometimes called "northern muscadine" although not at all a muscadine. Berries vary considerably in size but generally are 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter. Clusters are generally small but can be medium. Large clusters usually indicate hybridization. Seeds 2-4 medium to large, notched on top with a short but well-defined beak, colored pale purple or dirty-brown and maturing darker. Leaves vary geographically, can be small (3 inches broad to 2 1/2 inches long) to large (8 inches broad to 7 inches long), averaging about 4 1/2 inches broad, always broader than long, tip pointed. The petiole (leaf stem) is long, minimally half as long as the leaf, thicker at each end than in the middle. The basal sinus (the leaf indentation where the petiole attaches) is deep and can be narrow or broad. Slightly lobed closer to the tip than the base, typically 2/3 the way down, may be asymmetrical, the lobes typically pointed, the leaf edges slightly toothed. The underside is covered between the ribs with short, dense, whitish or brownish cottony felt. The upper surface initially is covered with densely appressed short hairs of a light (buff or pinkish) color which shed as the leaf matures to a wrinkled, dark dull green surface. Leaves on ground shoots of old vines, young vines and sometimes new growth more deeply lobed with 3-5 lobes, not always angular or dependable for identification -- use mature leaves for identification. Defining characteristic are tendrils, which on well-grown wood are on every node, continuous (no other species displays this). New growth is often strongly covered with pubescence and even stiff hairs at nodes, shedding to smoothness when mature. Wood and tendrils mature dark brown or chestnut in color. Natives bear little resemblance to labrusca-vinifera hybrids such as Himrod, Concord, Catawba, Niagara, etc.


<i>Vitis vulpina</i> (Fair Use of photo, Indiana Purdue University Fort Wayne)
="Vitis vulpina (photo credit, Indiana Purdue
University Fort Wayne)

V. vulpina, once misnamed V. cordifolia, is commonly called "frost grape" but also "winter grape," "possum grape" and "sour winter grape" elsewhere. "Frost grape" comes from beliefs that the berries only ripen after the first (or second) frost, but if a very late frost the berries will ripen anyway, evidenced by birds feeding on them when sugar peaks and acidity declines. Berries are small (3/16 inch to 3/8 inch in diameter), generally loose in the cluster which is medium to long, covered with a thin bloom and typically have an unpleasant, herbaceous flavor even when ripe. Clusters are sometimes shouldered but usually simple and open. It is a vigorous climber and can grow to massive sizes. Leaves average 3 1/2 inches broad by 3 3/4 inches long, cordate (heart-shaped), but basal lobes sometimes overlap. Basal sinus narrowly or broadly acute generally, but sometimes truncate. Edges small or large toothed, generally irregular. Ground shoots and seedlings for first two years leaf with 3-5 lobes with rounded sinuses, upon maturity (third year) leaves assume cordate shape, slightly lobed. in mature leaves, upper surface glabrous (smooth, devoid of hair or down), dark green, shining, lower surface a paler green, sporting usually 7 pairs of not quite opposite ribs of pale-yellowish-green with thin but stiff pubescence, the rib's divisions with prominent dense and stiff pubescence, especially in the bronzy-colored young leaves, gradually thinning with maturity. Seeds are small, nearly as broad as long, ovate, dark brown to chocolate color at maturity, beak short to medium, blunt or acute, rusty or reddish-brown. Young wood pale yellow-green or bronze-red with strong fawn-colored pubescence, shedding to maturity to drab or hazel color with lighter and darker striations, bark separating annually. In northern climes, one of the first native species to shed its leaves in autumn, but in the South leaves are persistent until most species drop their leaves.


<i>Vitis riparia</i> (Fair Use of photo by kgNaturePhotography.com)
="Vitis riparia in flower (Fair Use of photo by
kgNaturePhotography.com)

V. riparia, "riverbank grape," is almost always found close to water or drainage, hence its common name. It can be found as an aggressive climber developing impenetrable tangles or as more of a bush or knee-to-waist-high ground hugger, also forming tangles, when climbing support is absent, will cover fences if present. Berries 1/4 to 1/3 inch, rarely 1/2 inch, ripen black with heavy bloom, white grapes are rare but known, on 3-inch to 5-inch compact, slightly shouldered clusters, clusters typically many. Skin soft, pulp juicy, juice pure and vinous when ripe, very acidic before ripening, berries persistent. Seeds 2-4 very small to medium, broad, beak poorly defined, grooved. Petioles about as long as leaf is broad, color when young usually pale red or green, sometimes dark red aging to green, leaf at right angle or nearly so. Average leaves 3 to 5 inches broad, can be 6-7 inches (rare), length about same as width. Basal sinus broadly U-shaped, usually shallow but can be deep, basal lobes rarely closed or (rarer still) overlapping, always distinctly rounded. Lateral lobe about halfway or more to tip, sharply pointed, lobe groove acute, rarely rounded. Edges irregularly toothed, both large and small but usually large, tip pointed and usually prominent but sometimes tip is short. Upper leaf shoulders bend upwards when young, relax with age, distinctive. Upper surface dark green to lively middle green, glabrous, under side similarly colored but slightly lighter, smooth except on 6 to 7 pairs of not quite opposing ribs which are pubescent with tuffs conspicuous in rib/vein forks. Leaves firm but thin even with age. The wood's bark is often more reddish than any other grape, aging dark with gray or brown striations. Shedding bark at end of first or beginning of second year usually mostly gray.


<i>Vitis aestivalis</i> (photo by Mark Gelbart, Fair Use)
Vitis aestivalis (photo by Mark Gelbart,
Fair Use)

V. aestivalis ("summer grape" in South, "pigeon grape" in upper Atlantic seaboard, "winter grape" in New York) grows widely with multiple regional variation as abundant as those of V. cinerea. Variation is consistent with climes and geographic separation with many 19th and early 20th century "species" having been proven to be V. aestivalis variations. This variability makes generic description difficult. My description here is for pure holotype V. aestivalis var. aestivalis with caveats for some, but not all, variation. For example, V. aestivalis var. lincecumii. V. aestivalis var. glauca and other Southern and Western variants are not here described. All variants produce some vines normally good for making wine. Berries are typically 1/4 to 1/2 inch in diameter, considered small, thick to medium bloom when ripe, persistent at that time. Skin thin but tough, blue-black to deep black, pulp commonly dry acidic even when ripe, but occasionally tender, juicy and very sweet. Clusters are generally cylindrical, 4 to 8 inches long, simple and often slightly shouldered, compact to slightly loose and open. Petioles usually half or less as long as leaf is wide, with narrow shallow groove above obscured with pubescence or rusty wool or both. Leaf 4 to 7 inches long, always longer than wide except basal leaves (leaves closest to trunk) may be more rounded. Basal sinus deep, narrow V-shape to broad V with basal lobes approaching and sometimes lapping. Prominent lateral, pointed lobes halfway down, but commonly 5, rarely 3 lobes, often inconspicuous except by ribbing. Lobe sinuses acute, rarely toothed, rarely rounded except in ground shoots from old plants with 5 to 9 lobes, palmate in appearance. Edges toothed, small to large but typically irregular (except generally absent in lateral sinuses), defined and pointed. Tip long and pointed, often excessively so. Leaf color above rusty-wooly when young with trichomes (hairs) along veins, shedding to glabrous and leathery when mature, moderate to darker green. Leaf underside glaucescent (yellowish-green), typically with 7-8 prominent, not quite opposite ribs arising from the midrib, ribs both pubescent and rusty-wooly with pubescent tuffs in forks. Seeds 2-4, broad and ovate, light to dark cinnamon color, beak short, blunt and poorly defined -- sharp and defined usually indicates hybridization. Wood rusty-wooly when young, becoming smooth and bright reddish-brown on maturity. Nodes enlarged under buds but narrow opposite. Tendrils intermediate, once or twice forked, persistent.



Asparagus Wine

Bunched asparagus

Whenever I'm down it seems the inbox brings a pick-me-up. That was the case this week while mourning the passing of a friend. An email from Cheryl Scoledge of Jackson, Tennessee brought me an original recipe for Asparagus Wine she was gracious enough to allow me to share. I don't know why I never thought of this one.

Only a year into winemaking, Cheryl and her husband already have white grapefruit, dandelion, honeysuckle, coconut, and four others in secondaries or bottles. When she recently found asparagus at the market for $1 a pound she stocked up, only to find no recipe for asparagus wine on my site or anywhere else. Not to be deterred, her Tennessee pioneer spirit and understanding of the basics empowered her to create her own.

I made both a dry and a semi-sweet to see which I end up liking…. The scent is a bit weird – asparagus doesn’t have the most appealing aroma… It’s not like Chocolate Strawberry Port or anything! But it goes great with fettuccini dishes – vegetables – and I’m sure fish or eggs.

The following is her recipe in pretty much her own words. Very straightforward....

  • 4 lbs Asparagus
  • 3 oranges
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 can white grape juice conc
  • 1 tsp Penzey’s ginger (next time I’ll try 1 oz fresh ginger – could have used a little more)
  • 1 3/4 lb sugar
  • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1/2 tsp tannin
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Lalvin 1118 yeast

Peeled oranges and lemon into primary fermenter – juiced them, and added grape juice concentrate, ginger and sugar. Boiled asparagus until tender – drained over primary and kept asparagus for other recipes.

Tannin tends to clump together when added to water, so I mixed pectic enzyme, tannin, yeast nutrient, and 1 tbs sugar together and added to yeast starter No clumping!

.

This was a very fast wine, transferred to secondary 3 days later – racked 4 days later – sorbated and bottled within 1 month. Not bad at all.

I'm most proud of the Scoledges for jumping in and working out the essentials of a wine I'm going to have to try. Of course, they have local mentors from the Tennessee Viticultural and Oenological Society living in Jackson and nearby Nashville, but if this is any indication of their understanding I'll bet they will be mentoring new winemakers soon.

Thank you Cheryl for sharing.




May 31st, 2014

My vineyard looks pitiful. Several vines succumbed to the multiple freezes of this past winter and four more put out fantastic growth and then fell ill and died within three days. I hate to say it, but I have no idea what killed them. The leaves showed browning around all the edges one day, were completely brown the next, and were brittle and disintegrated when touched on the third day. I said my farewells but left them in the ground hoping for a resurrection. Two rebudded, broke into leaf and promptly gave up the fight. I have plenty of potted cuttings to replace them with, but most of these are native grapes from Virginia and New York. Gone are my Black Spanish and prized Orange Muscats. Sigh...!


Italian Meatball Stew in a Mug (photo by Colin Erricson, courtesy Robert Rose, publisher, with permission)

Last night it dawned on me I hadn't thought about dinner. As I looked in my refrigerator and freezer for guidance, I saw the answer. I had a container of leftover, refrigerated marinara sauce I made four nights ago and a bag of small, frozen beef meatballs I had purchased for a specific dish called Italian Meatball Stew. Both items are required for the recipe, which is in a new cookbook I acquired a few months ago called 250 Best Meals in a Mug by Camilla V. Saulsbury. It was time to put the ingredients to use.

It took about 5 minutes to throw the meal together and another 2 minutes to fsh cooking it in the microwave. It was delicious and satisfying. Best of all I had leftover ingredients to make it at least once more -- four times if I make (or buy) more marinara sauce.

First let me say a few words about this cookbook. Most of the meals in it are simplicity itself although some require more preparation time and ingredients. There are chapters on breakfast meals in a mug, breads and muffins, soups, stews and chilis, meatless main dishes, meat, poultry and seafood main dishes, pasta and grains, snacks, and desserts (oh yeah!). Perhaps best of all, there is a whole chapter on super-fast, cheap and easy recipes with 4 ingredients or less. I love this book.

The average dish requires a 12-16-ounce microwavable mug. I had mugs large enough, but I had doubts they were microwave-safe so picked up two new ones at a Dollar Store. Here is the recipe to fill one of them:

Italian Meatball Stew in a Mug

  • 4 medium or 6 small frozen beef meatballs
  • 1/2 cup marinara sauce
  • 1/2 cup ready-to-use beef broth (or vegetable, or chicken)
  • 1/2 cup drained canned mixed vegetables
  • 2 tbsp drained canned or jarred mushroom pieces
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • dash of garlic powder (my tweak)
  • dash of onion powder (my tweak)

In the mug, microwave the meatballs on high 1 to 2 minutes to defrost and warm them. After 1 minute I cut the meatballs in half in the mug with a fork and continued heating them another 30-60 seconds.

Stir in the marinara sauce, broth, mixed vegetables and mushrooms. I added the garlic and onion powder at this stage but not the salt and pepper. Microwave on high for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes or until heated through, stirring after 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper and top with grated Parmesan cheese ot grated Italian-blend cheese. A little chopped fresh parsley also adds to the richness of this simple meal. A little garlic bread on the side is nice but optional

The hard part is deciding whether to eat it with a spoon or a fork. I started with a fork and finished with a spoon. It was not only good, but super filling.


Scrambled Eggs Florentine in a Mug (photo by Colin Erricson, courtesy Robert Rose, publisher, with permission)

Here is a super easy breakfast meal in a mug. Buying frozen chopped spinach in a bag made measuring out a cup much easier than had I bought a block. While I was at it I measured out 2 more cups and refroze them in Ziploc bags for later use. I also divided the leftover canned tomatoes into Ziploc snack bags in 1/4 cup portions so as to be recipe-ready for another breakfast.

1 cup frozen chopped spinach
2 large eggs
pinch ground nutmeg (optional)
pinch salt
pinch ground black pepper
1/4 cup drained canned Italian-seasoned diced tomatoes
1 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

In the mug, microwave the spinach on high for 11/2-2 minutes or until thawed and warm. Using the tines of a fork, press down firmly on the spinach and drain off excess liquid.

Using a fork, beat in the eggs, nutmeg (if using), and salt and pepper until well blended. Stir in the tomatoes and Parmesan. Microwave on high for 30 seconds and stir with a fork. Microwave on high and additional 30-45 seconds or until the eggs are puffed and just barely set at the center. I actually stirred again after the second 30 seconds and then microwaved the last 15 seconds.

This is a hearty breakfast by itself, but doubly so with a toasted sliced bagel smeared with homemade marmalade and a 6-ounce glass of orange juice.

I heartily recommend this cookbook, especially for someone constantly on the go who has little time or inclination to cook. Can you spare 5 minutes? Good. This book will be a life-saver many times over. You can buy the 312-page 250 Best Meals in a Mughere. I know...I know. I had doubts about it too at first, but three months of use has convinced me this is a great find -- and a great gift for anyone living alone.


The short video (48 seconds) below is a relic of times gone by and features my boyhood hero, Roy Rogers, "King of the Cowboys." He was such a hero of mine that my 1st and 2nd grade school photos captured me wearing Roy Rogers tee-shirts.

What looks strange in the video is that all of the participants wear their trousers tucked into their boots -- a style called "showing the boots." A lot of people in this part of Texas (and others, of course) wear western style boots. I personally know only one man who shows his boots in public, but I'll bet he doesn't show them while venturing into the brush country.

If you showed your boots in the brush, you'd end up with all manner of leaves, twigs, seeds, insects, and who knows what else in your boots. Seeds would work their way down into the working part of the boot and would soon feel like pebbles under the feet. Ticks and other nuisances would soon be working their way stealthily up the leg inside the trousers. In short, it's not the best way to wear your boots in the brush or fallow grasslands. The practical way of wearing boots is with the trousers over the boots to keep everything but the feet out of the boots.

With women it's a different story. More often than not they'll show their boots just as they would any shoes. If you paid $200, $400 or more for a pair of fancy boots you might want people to see what you're wearing.

But, leaving all that aside, please watch the very short video. Terrible video quality, yes, but the content is right out of days gone by. You'll never again see an advertisement like it on TV.


Roy Rogers Quick Shooter Hat.... I want one!

Talk about concealed carry! In an armed robbery situation, just tell the robber, "I carry my money in my hat" and then offer him the money. If the weapon were a Ruger LCP .380 it would fit and drop almost any armed would-be robber with a bullet in the chest at point-blank range.

Even if a real-deal quick shooter hat were developed, you'd never see it advertised on TV. But since I wear a western hat 95% of the time I venture out into the public, I want one!



Mustang Grape / Blackberry Wine

Mustang grapesBlackberries
Mustang grapes and blackberries

I received an email from Aaron Finch -- location not disclosed but probably Texas or a contiguous state. He wants advice in making a Mustang/Blackberry wine. Fortunately, both I and one of my friends have a lot of experience with this blend. Aaron's email reads, in part:

My father's property has both mustang grapes and wild blackberries in overwhelming abundance, and I have been tossing around the idea of blending these two flavors in a wine. I could certainly substitute quantities in one of your existing recipes, but I wanted to check to see if you had any experience with this idea.

The mustang grape juice, when processed and diluted, has a very nice, clean, and tart flavor. Balanced with the full-bodied richness of the blackberries, I could see making a very nice, medium-bodied wine, anywhere from dry to sweet (my tastes favoring sweet).

Thank you for any time and consideration. Your contribution is unparalleled.

Aaron, your question is a good one and one my friends and I have shouldered many times. First of all, I highly recommend that you make two wines -- one mustang and one blackberry. Co-fermentation of the two ingredients will work, but the perfect balance of flavors will be impossible to control.

I suggest you use 6 pounds of mustang per gallon for that wine and 5-6 pounds of blackberries per gallon for that one. Blackberry cultivars such as Lawton, Navaho. Shawnee and others will produce a richer, more flavorful wine, but wild berries still make good wine and win competitions. Wild blackberries tend to be a little tarter than the cultivars. In addition to what you use foe wine, I suggest you press 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of blackberries and store the juice in the refrigerator or freezer for later use, as you'll see below.

After the two wines have finished fermentation, rackings and clarification, then the fun begins -- blending. Before we go further, stabilize both wines using 1/2 teaspoon of potassium sorbate and 1/16 teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite per gallon. Let the two wines sit for a few weeks before blending -- I let them sit a month but you can select a longer or shorter period if you like. The idea is to give the chemicals time to work on the surviving yeast. You don't want a refermentation after you bottle the blend.

Marvin Nebgen, at Messina Hof Hill Country
Marvin Nebgen, at Messina Hof Hill
Country, Fredericksburg,Texas

For this blend, I conferred with my good friend Marvin Nebgen of Fredericksburg, Texas because he has won more competitions than anyone I know of with this blend. As it turns out, Marvin does exactly what I do.

The typical blend for both Marvin an me is about 60% mustang and 40% blackberry. The key is typical. It changes from year to year based on the flavors the two wines deliver but 60/40 is typically in the ballpark. Here's how to nail it:

First of all, Aaron said he prefers a sweeter wine. So, into the blackberry wine he should add enough of the refrigerated or frozen (but now thawed) pure blackberry juice as he can to achieve the sweetness he enjoys. Since the juice contains unfermented sugars, this sweetens the wine. If you have a full gallon of blackberry wine there is no room to add juice, so transfer (rack) the wine into a larger jug -- 4L, 4.5L, 5L, or even a 3-gallon carboy. You need room for the juice. Add some juice, stir and taste. Do this until you like the taste. Now add 1/2 to 1 cup more juice. Why? Because you are going to mix this wine with mustang wine that will be dry. Trust me on this.

Put out several wine glasses -- let's use three in this example -- and in the middle one carefully measure and deposit 60 mL of mustang wine. I the one on the left put 65 mL of mustang and in the one on the right put 55 mL. From left to right put in 35 mL of blackberry wine, 40 mL, and 45 mL so that all three classes hold exactly 100 mL of blended wine. Stir each glass to integrate the wines and beginning from the left and working to the right taste each wine. Cover each wineglass with a napkin and wait 15 minutes. Now taste them again and select the one you liked best. You are trying to select a blend in which you can taste both the mustang and the blackberry with neither one dominate. If you selected the same one twice, good but you have more work to. If you selected two next to each other you still have work to do but less of it.

You are trying to select a blend in which you can taste both the mustang and the blackberry with neither one dominate.

Suppose you selected the center glass both times -- the 60/40 blend. Empty the two other glasses (drink 'em or combine them for later, but DO NOT USE THEM in the following steps), Place one on the left of the center glass and add to it 62.5 mL of mustang wine and 37.5 ml of blackberry wine. To the glass on the right pour 57.5 mL of mustang and 42.5 mL of blackberry. Taste each of these two wines and select the best. Now cover the glasses with a napkin and wait 15 minutes. Taste the center wine and the one you selected 15 minutes prior. Now select the one you prefer. That is the blend you should use, even if it differs from the one you selected 15 minutes earlier. I'll explain why in a moment.

Now let us consider the possibility that the first time you selected two different wines -- let us say you selected the middle wine and the one on the right -- blends of 60/40 and 55/45 respectively. Place a napkin over these two glasses and empty the third. Spread the two remaining glasses apart and put the empty glass in the middle, between them Into it pour a blend of 57.5 mL mustang and 42.5 mL blackberry. Taste all three and select the one you like best. Now cover the center one and after 15 minutes select the one you like best. Even if different from the one you selected 15 minutes earlier, this is the blend you should select.

Why do I insist you should select the one you liked best o the second tasting? The answer is because once you open a bottle to drink it, it will breathe before you finish it. After the first glass, it will taste more like the wine you selected at the second tasting. That is the blend you want.

If perchance the wine is not sweet enough for you even after adding the pure blackberry juice and blending, you can add dissolved sugar as simple syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water).a little at a time until you like the taste. However, it is best to stop short of what you prefer because over time the wine will taste sweeter than it does right now.

This, by the way, is one of the classic blends among Texas winemakers. The flavors go so well together that it is one of the reasons Marvin wins so many competitions with it. Do it and enjoy.



Blackberry Wine

Blackberries ripe, ripening and green (photo by Ragesoss, used under Creative Commons SA-3.0 Unported, SA-2.5 Generic), SA-2.0 Generic, and SA-1.0 Generic License[s]

When I had a ready-source for Brazos blackberries (a Texas A&M cultivar with big clusters of firm, sweet, juicy fruit that ripens here in mid-May), this was the recipe I used to produce more winning blackberry wines than all my other blackberry recipes combined. No matter what blackberries you have, use it with confidence.

5-6 pounds blackberries
2 1/2 pounds extra fune granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon powdered pectic enzyme
1/16 teaspoon potassium metabisulfite
7 pints water
1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
1 packet general purpose wine yeast in a starter solution

Pick only the deep black ripe berries, and don't be too concerned about gathering those which are a few days past ripe. Wash the berries carefully but thoroughly with cold water in a colander. Transfer them to a small-mesh nylaon straining bag and crush them in the primary. Pour 7 pints boiling water over berries and cover the primary with a sanitized towel. When water cools stir in the potassium metabisulfite and re-cover the primary. After 12 hours stir in the pectic enzyme and re-cover primary. After two days, remove bag and squeeze gently but thoroughly to recover as much liquid as you can without exuding pulp.

Add sugar and yeast nutrient and stir until completely dissolved (about 5 minutes -- up to 3 times that long with larger sugar particles). Add yeast as starter solution, cover, and set aside 5-6 days, stirring daily. Transfer to secondary of dark glass (or wrap clear glass with brown paper) to top of shoulder and attach an airlock. Place in cool (60-65 degrees F.) dark place for three months. Rack, stabilize and allow another two months to clarify, then carefully rack again* and bottle in dark glass. Store in a dark place. Allow 6 months to age, a year to mature. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

*After racking the last time but before bottling, taste the wine. If it tastes flat on the palate stir in 1/2 teaspoon of acid blend, wait 15 minutes and taste again. If still flat repeat until the wine tastes fruity, lively and right. The blackberries I used did not usually need acid additions, but all berries are different.

This is the perfect blackberry wine for blending with mustang wine, as discussed in the previous item.




May 26th, 2014

Iconic photo of 8-year old Christian Golczynski, son of Heather and Marine Staff Sergeant Marcus Golczynski, receiving the flag that draped his father's coffin from Marine Lt. Col. Ric Thompson at graveside, Wheeler Cemetery, Bedford County, Tennessee, April 4, 2007 (photo copyright Daily News Journal, photo by Aaron Thompson;  caption added by Jack Keller)

This is still one of the most poignant graveside photos I have ever seen. I added the caption to remind us of what this holiday is all about.

This iconic photo was taken by Aaron Thompson of the Daily News Journal, Murfreesboro, Tennessee at the April 4, 2007 graveside honors paid to Marine Staff Sergeant Marcus Golczynski. Lt. Col. Ric Thompson presents the flag that draped the Staff Sergeant's coffin to his son, 8-year old Christian Golczynski, "On behalf of...a grateful nation."

Staff Sergeant Golczynski, age 30, was killed by enemy gunfire while participating in combat operations with B Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment in Iraq on March 27, 2007.

Staff Sergeant Golczynski was on a voluntary second tour of duty in Iraq and was killed two weeks before his tour would have concluded.

In a letter to his family from Iraq, the late Staff Sergeant wrote:

I want all of you to be safe. And please don't feel bad for us. We are warriors. And as warriors have done before us, we joined this organization and are following orders because we believe that what we are doing is right. Many of us have volunteered to do this a second time due to our deep desire to finish the job we started. We fight and sometimes die so that our families don't have to. Stand beside us. Because we would do it for you. Because it is our unity that has enabled us to prosper as a nation.

However you may have felt about Operation Iraqi Freedom, Staff Sergeant Golczynski's words speak profoundly of duty, honor and country. It is for him and all who have fallen in the service of our nation that we celebrate Memorial Day. Pause from your grilling, shopping and playing and honor them. They would do it for you.


I first watched the video below a couple of years ago. Yesterday my cousin sent it to me again. I'm glad he did. There are great pictures and great quotes in it. Please take a few minutes to watch it.

A word of warning. Some of the quotes flash by fairly quickly. You might want to keep the cursor on the pause button just to be safe. The quotes are worth reading.


The Path of the Warrior -- what Memorial Day is all about

May God bless all who have served and embrace all who paid the ultimate sacrifice.



A Native Grape Wine From New York

Wild grapes in upper New York growing with poison ivy
Wild grapes growing with poison ivy; click image to see detail

My friend Dale Ims, who lives just outside of Rochester, New York, made some wines last year from native grapes growing wild in his area. The grapes are abundant, as the accompanying photo he sent me shows, and are present in several species. Yet few humans bother to pick them and make wine. He sent me a bottle of each of the two batches he made. I drank one a few nights ago.

I'm not sure exactly what grapes the consumed wine was made from. I know the remaining bottle is Vitis riparia, as I have 10 cuttings from the vines Dale harvested his grapes from growing right here at my home, now in their second leaf (year) and they match the species description almost perfectly. I'll have to wait another year for fruit, but Dale sent me all the photographic proof -- and hundreds of seeds -- I need to confirm the identity with certainty. They are V. riparia.

Native grape wines, regardless of species, present us a different experience than do wines most people normally drink. They simply present a different organoleptic profile -- one unlike any delivered by V. vinifera grape wines. In other words, they are unique, and each species among them is itself unique, and grapes within a species grown in different terrior present different nuances.

The sad thing is that very few wineries -- probably less than a handful in the entire United States -- make wines from true native grapes, harvested in the wild, from vines covering the fences and treelines along backroads. Poteet Country Winery in Poteet, Texas does -- it buys mustang grapes (V. mustangensis) by the pound from whoever brings them in -- and their wines are wonderful..

I was sent a bottle of wine from wild V. aestivalis, reportedly made by a winery in Georgia. Unfortunately, the wine had been divided among splits and thus did not bear the winery's label or identity. The wine was very good but I could not attribute it as neither the shipping box nor the internal note identified the sender or the winery. I waited in vain for a letter or email from the sender so I could identify the winery. Many internet searches failed to find it.

But my point is that it is very unlikely you will ever have an opportunity to buy a true native grape wine, and when I say "native grape" I mean "native" as defined here -- not a native species-V. vinifera hybrid like Concord or Norton.

You might have a friend who makes wine from native grapes and offers you a glass or a bottle, but that is a singular experience. As with commercial wines, that is but one taste out of countless potential tastes and would not be a fair assessment of the vast potential of native grape wines. They do not appeal to everyone and lovers of fruity V. vinifera varietals must abandon what they have experienced before, accept what is presented, or be disappointed. Some people love them immediately, others "acquire a taste" for them, while still others reject them out of hand and never try them again.

The bottle I drank was, as I told Dale, what I call "tame forward." By this I mean that upon its entry into the mouth there is little fruitiness to recommend it. It enters "tame" and to connoisseurs of noble (V. vinifera) varietal wines would be an immediate disappointment. Yet, as with many native grape wines, upon swishing it in the mouth and immediately swallowing, it coats the palate with its unique, inherent fruitiness and delivers flavor galore. Rather than fruit forward, it is fruit behind. The finish is long and the flavors linger for minutes, making it a delightful wine to enjoy over a leisurely meal or prolonged evening. But every sip remains initially tame until swished and swallowed.

Thank you, Dale. I will allow the second bottle to age a bit longer before drinking. Truly, I wait with great anticipation....



Making A Native Grape Wine

Two immature native grape species from Rochester, NY (photo by Dale Ims with permission)
Two different species of unripe native grapes. Rochester, NY

Here are the winemaking notes of a native grape wine from a 2008 batch totaling just over two and a half gallons. The species is not yet known but are the same vines that produced the grapes used in the previous piece to make a very nice wine. This is not a recipe. This is a method.

I thank Dale Ims for sending me these notes. I'm publishing them to give you something to think about. The method is sound. Only the details need adjustment to accommodate any wild grapes you might find in your area.

In south Texas, mustang grapes will begin ripening in 5 weeks and a harvest will be available for about 2 months max. In up-state New York, the very grapes Dale used will ripen in about 4 months, possibly less weather permitting, and hang on the vines for another month or so. Everywhere in-between will vary with latitude.

Warning!

There are a few vines that produce grape-like berries but aren't grapes. Look at the leaves. If they don't look anything like grape leaves you have seen in the past, either skip them or verify what they are. There are grapes with unusual leaves.

Use Google to locate a master gardener in your area and see if they can help you. Bring them a section of the vine containing several leaves, berry clusters and tendrils. Even if they don't know at first sight what the vine is they will possess the resources to find out.

Always be sure you are dealing with edible fruit before making wine from wild berries. With experience comes expertise.

For a winemaking adventure, scout out any native grapes in your area. You certainly don't need to know what kind they are to make wine from them. If they are grapes, with yeast they'll make wine. Just be sure they are grapes. Then visit them every once in a while to follow their development. When they change color, visit them at least weekly and taste a few from different clusters and from different placements in the clusters -- high near the stem, low near the bottom and in the middle, especially tasting a few on the side of the cluster not facing the sun.

They may not be all that tasty, especially at first, but you'll be able to taste ripeness when it occurs. If in doubt and the birds are eating them, pick 'em as fast as you can. No matter how thorough you are, you will always unintentionally leave plenty for the birds, but if you wait too long the birds won't leave any for you.

Even if you find the taste objectionable, pick 'em and make wine. It is one of the mysteries of nature that foul-tasting grapes can be coaxed into yielding wonderful wine by any good winemaker. You need to remember two things. They will be high in acidity so dilution with water is essential, and 98 times out of 100 you will need to add sugar -- lots of sugar. Oh, and a third thing to remember is that these are really wild grapes covered with really wild yeast and other microorganisms, so sulfite early and inoculate with a proven cultured yeast.


2008 Wild Grape Winemaking Notes*


*These notes are only lightly edited (by me) for clarity and were written by Dale Ims, Rochester, New York with my thanks for sharing.

10/24/08 Picked grapes from the 104 overpass of Maple Drive. Late in the season – some grapes had started to go to raisins. Weight with stems: 4.5 lbs. Picked berries from all the bunches to be sure that we don’t get stems in the mix. Put berries in stainless steel pot and smashed with 2x2. Added 2 quarts water that had been boiled & cooled, along with perhaps 4 grains of sodium metabisulfite.

10/25/08 Added ¼ tsp pectic enzyme in AM. Not even going to check SG of must. Going to add 4 quarts more water (with sugar) in two additions, and enough sugar to give 14% alcohol in 7 quarts of must. To get 14% alcohol from water, we need about 35 oz sugar per gallon of water. For 7 quarts, we need 62.5 oz sugar. For the first installment, we add 32.5 oz sugar to 2 quarts of water, boil it a couple minutes, then cool and add to must. Also add ½ tsp yeast nutrient. Make a yeast starter with water & RC-212 yeast, then step-wise additions of the must. Finally, add the starter to the must.

10/27/08 Ferment going well. Stirring the chapeau into the liquid 3-4 times per day. Lots of color, flavor and aroma in the must at the current level of dilution. Think I will add another quart of water and 9oz of sugar to the last addition. That will make the last addition 41oz of sugar in 3 quarts of water.

10/29/08 Adding the 41oz of sugar in 3 quarts of water. Boiled & cooled. Had slowed down pretty substantially.

10/31/08 Still tasting pretty sweet after stirring. Surprised that it isn’t ready to filter, rack & cap.

A cubitiner with spout
A typical cubitainer with spout

11/5/08 Strained the must into the 5-gal carboy to which I had added 8 grains of sulfite. Still tastes kinda sweet, but hasn’t been fermenting very fast. Siphoned the must into a 2 1/2 gal Cubitainer and added bubbler airlock. Got perhaps 2 gallons. Next day there are occasional burps from the bubbler.

12/5/08 Planned to rack the wine into jugs, but it is still bubbling occasionally. Think I’ll give it a little more time.

1/6/09 Still bubbling occasionally. Going to give it a little while longer.

2/4/09 Still bubbling. Moved the Cubitainer to the heated tent. With single sheet cover and 3-40 watt bulbs, getting about 68 degrees inside. Plan to cover better for higher temp.

2/18/09 Added some covering and improved things a bit. Getting up to 70 or maybe 72 degrees now. Seems to still be bubbling.

2/28/09 Couldn’t wait any longer – racked it. Tasted kinda sweet, so I checked the SG: 0.999. There is a little sugar left! Racked it into two 4-liter jugs plus there was perhaps 6 oz more. Amazed at how much – the cubitainer was 3 inches or so from full. Added 5 grains total of sulfite to the receiver jugs. Leave the jugs in the basement; the small bottle with the residual 6oz seems to be bubbling fairly frequently. Maybe the air in the bottle is helping the yeast. The jugs are very slow, but full to the neck.

4/1/09 Added some oak. The wine was still bubbling very slowly. I split out about 1.75” x 3/4 x 2.5” and added that to the jugs after boiling the chips for a couple minutes. Divided the splints up as possible. The jugs are bubbling faster since the wood was added.

7/1/09 Still getting some really small bubbles floating to the surface in the jugs. Measured SG: about 0.996 or 0.997. Maybe still fermenting slowly!

7/20/09 Bottled it. It seemed to have stopped bubbling. Added 6 grains of potassium metabisulfite to a 3-gal carboy and siphoned contents of both jugs into the carboy. Decanted the contents of the small bottle, as well as all but the dregs of the jugs. Very little residue in the jugs. Tastes pretty good. Want to measure the acid level with my pH paper scheme.

6/1/10 Measure TA in a 12oz bottle: 0.62%. A little pressure in the bottle when I opened it. At 0.62% TA, the grapes must have a lot of acid! We started with 4.5 pounds with stems, but probably only got a quart or so of juice. We added 6 quarts of water and got the 0.62%! Must have been about 4% acid in the juice!!!!

- - - - - End of Winemaking Notes --- Begin Jack Keller's Commentary - - - - -

As you can see, this was a very long fermentation, probably due in part to two factors.

First, Lalvin's RC-212 has a reliable fermentation window of 68-86° F. Below 68° the yeast gets sluggish as most of the colony goes dormant; if dormant too long the yeast slowly die off. Fermentation picked up after he placed a heat tent over the yeast, but slowly as the population had to replenish itself (a thermostatically controlled heating pad or heating belt would have worked too).

Second, RC-212 ferments more vigorously if some nitrogen is fed every so often, especially when the fermentation has dragged on for several months. This can be supplied by adding a small amount of generic yeast energy or, better yet, a branded nutrient supplement such as Fermaid K which provides readily useable nitrogen as alpha amino acids derived from inactivated yeast fractions.

Other than these two comments, I cannot fault the method Dale used. He followed the chemistry of the must as best he could, diluting the natural high acidity of many native grapes, factoring and fractioning his sugar additions so as not to create an osmotic imbalance detrimental to yeast health, and maintained an aseptic level of sulfites to combat any bad organisms that might otherwis take advantage of a slow fermentation. When temperature became an obvious issue he took steps to raise it. His method would have worked beautifully without temperature adjustment farther south.

One way or another, it will work for you.




May 14th, 2014

Thanks for the instant feedback I received on my article in the latest issue of WineMaker magazine -- "Small-Batch Winemaking: Make Wine a Gallon At a Time", pp. 40-44. I really appreciate it..

Art Bevens of Richmond, Virginia wrote, "I really appreciate the honesty you conveyed right up front by sharing both 'Why Small Batches' and 'The Downside of Small Batches.' I also found valuable your discussions of required equipment, expendable supplies and their shelf life, and 'Nice-to-Have Winemaking Stuff.' Your discussion of recipes was eye-opening. I can see it is not going to be as easy as making wine kits, which frankly have become boring, but you explained it so well I'm ready for the challenge."

Laura in Joplin, Missouri emailed, "Thank you Mr. Keller for another fine article. I've been making 1-gallon batches for years but once again you have taught me more than a few things that will make my future batches a lot better."

And Vincent Candy wrote, in part, "Your concise explanation of terroir is the best I have seen anywhere and has made you my go-to authority in all things related to wine making."

Not a subscriber to WineMaker yet? You can correct that by subscribing here. My article on making wines from tropical fruits will be in the next issue if no editorial changes occur.


A short stack of pancakes

I was recently in a group chat about baking and mentioned a little trick I've been using for years to make extra light and fluffy pancakes. I was surprised when none of the other chatters had ever heard of it so decided it might also be of value to some of you.

When I'm not making sourdough pancakes, I use a just-add-water pancake mix in a box. For four 6-inch pancakes, you use 1 cup of dry mix and 2/3 cup of water. If your griddle is hot, the pancakes come out near perfect.

Now, the secret trick. For lighter, fluffier pancakes, do not make the batter until the griddle is hot. Then, instead of using tap water use club soda. The carbonation in the water makes an almost foamy batter that in turn makes lighter pancakes.

Once I was out of club soda and opened a bottle of tonic water. It worked just as well and there was no discernable taste of the quinine in the tonic water. That sent me experimenting. For my next batch I used an orange-flavored carbonated water and topped the pancakes with orange marmalade instead of my usual maple syrup. Perfect! Since then I have used several fruit-flavored waters and jam toppings with excellent results.

It's a simple trick, but one you can see and taste.


Album cover, <i>Facing Future</i> by IZ Kamakawiwo'ole

A song has ben stuck in my head and I wanted to share it with you. But it isn't the song itself I wanted to share, but the experience of one particular version by one particular artist.

It is impossible for me to write about Israel "Braddah Iz" Kamakawiwo'ole, the great Hawaiian ukelele player with the gentle and soulful voice, without mentioning the history, impact and popularity of his music.

As co-founder and original member of the Makaha Sons of Ni?ihau, his recording career began with Poki Records in 1976 with the album No Kristo. His last album with the group was released in 1991 -- Ho?oluana -- although a 2001 album was compiled by Poki Records that included Iz.

In 1990 he moved to Mountain Apple [records] and began his solo career with the album, Ka ?Ano?i, a hugely popular release in Hawaii. In 1993 he released Facing Future, which for many years now has been and remains the top selling Hawaiian music album in the world. This was followed by six additional albums -- E Ala E (1995), N Dis Life (1996), IZ in Concert: The Man and His Music (1998), Alone in IZ World (2001), Wonderful World (2007) and Over the Rainbow (2011) -- each worthy in it's own right, although the last four were released after his death and the last three are compilation albums.

Iz passed away in June 26, 1997 at the age of 38 from heart and respiratory problems caused by his obesity -- at one point he weighed almost 770 pounds. His coffin lay in state in the State Capitol rotunda in Honolulu, only the third person in Hawaiian history bestowed this honor. Approximately 10,000 people paid their respects and the state flag flew at half staff on the day of his funeral. Israel Kamakawiwo'ole was the voice, the spirit, the heart of Hawaii, and the people of Hawaii loved and mourned him. They still celebrate his birthday.

Shortly after his ashes were scattered off his hometown Makua Beach, Universal Pictures featured Israel's rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What A Wonderful World" in the soundtracks of K-Pax and Meet Joe Black, while Columbia featured it in Finding Forrester and 50 First Dates, Sony used it in Men With Guns, Artisan Entertainment in Made, and Warner Brothers in Fred Claus and IMAX: Hubble 3D. It was also featured in TV's season finale of ER (50 million viewers), American Dad, Scrubs, Cold Case, Glee, and the UK's Life on Mars.

The resulting domestic and worldwide exposure shot "Facing Future" to the top of Billboard's World Chart. It stayed in the top 10 of that chart until time required it be moved to Billboard's World Catalog; combined, it stayed there an astonishing 493 weeks. "Alone in IZ World" enjoyed being there 423 weeks and "Wonderful World" 150 weeks.

I read an account about Israel's most played song. It said he called and woke his producer in the middle of the night and said he had just dreamed a version of a song and had to record it right away before it faded. They met at the studio, spent 15 minutes warming up the equipment, and Iz sat on a stool and recorded this unique and haunting version in one take -- then went home. It is the song by which most non-Hawaiians know him.



Well over 104 million views, about 50 of them mine....

Click here to watch the long version ("Somewhere Over A Rainbow/What a Wonderful World"), the second most played Iz song in the world. They used the same video from the first piece in this one with some repetition, only without the audio-video synchronization. Visually, it is less satisfying than the shorter, tightly edited piece, but just close your eyes and let his soothing voice carry you into another place. That's what he does best....

You can buy Facing Future here.



Hamburgers in the Inbox

Hamburger, from commons.wikimedia.org under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 License

I am sometimes astonished by which topics I write about trigger email. Within an hour of posting my last WineBlog entry (May 3rd) I began receiving email about hamburgers.

The first was from Mark Harling saying next time I'm in San Francisco I have to go by Marlowe's, south of Market on Townsend, and try the juiciest burger in The City. The patty is a marriage of beef and lamb (now that sounds interesting!) with bacon, cheddar and all the trimmings, but forget the mayo; the grilled bun facings are smeared with aioli for an unforgettable taste experience. Makes me want to hop on a plane....

Another swore that adding Panko, crumbled blue cheese and real bacon bits (cooked but not crisp, then chopped with a sharp knife) to the ground beef transforms the patty into a flavor-packed delicacy in its own right. All condiments are optional but should not detract from the flavors in the patty -- lettuce, tomato and avocado are in, but not raw onion (grilled or caramelized are okay) or pickles. I do not doubt the sincerity of this advice and intend to try it a couple of times at least, experimenting with and without the caramelized onions.

My friend Bob sent me his favorite burger recipe, which consists of a patty that is 75% lean Black Angus sirloin and 25% Italian sausage, mixed well but not compacted too tightly. The patty is grilled along side a pineapple ring. When the patty is grilled almost to perfection the pineapple ring is placed hottest side up atop it and a thick slice of white Cheddar or Gruyère placed atop the ring and allowed to soften just to the point of melting before removing the patty/pineapple/cheese from the grill and setting it on a grilled bun faced with mayo, a bed of baby spinach and arugula and a thin slice of red onion. He says avocado slices are optional but not tomato or pickle as they will detract from the sweetness of the pineapple ring. I intend to try that one, too -- twice, both with and without the tomato just to be sure.

The same day I received my June [2014] copy of Food & Wine magazine in the mail I also received an email from Percy McGrath (location not stated). He recommended I buy the magazine and read Daniel Duane's article, "The Secret Ingredient in the Perfect Burger is:" beginning on page 50. Having already collected my mail, it was the first article I read. It is a very enjoyable and enlightening read. I will definitely give it a try.

My next email was unrelated to hamburgers but leads into my next entry so I'll jump right to it.


Angels in the Wine

Celebration Herbals Angelica Tea, 24 teabags box

Every now and then a question leads to inspiration for a new wine. That's what happened a few days ago when an email from London, Ontario led to experimentation that sparked a decision to try something deliciously new.

An email from Rob Morris got my attention. He was preparing to make my April 12th recipe for Parsnips and Angelical Root Wine and wanted to substitute Celebration Herbals® Angelica Tea for the chipped angelica root my recipe called for. He explained:

The total weight of the package is just under an ounce, consisting of 24 tea bags, but I can't see using it all. Can you? Anyway, there are instructions for decoction for a medicinal tea using one tea bag per cup of water brought to a boil and simmered in a covered pot for 10 - 20 minutes and for a 'pleasure tea' using one tea bag per cup, steeped 5 to 7 minutes in boiling water. How much of this do you think I need and should I leave the bags to steep in the must for the prescribed time [as in your recipe using root chips]? Alternatively, do I just make a pot (say four to six cups worth) of strong, bordering on medicinal tea and add it to the must?

Excellent questions, Rob! As I said in my reply, it's a matter of adaptation -- using what you have to best fit the requirement. In your case, your tea particles are much finer than my root chips and give the particles a greater surface area to mass ratio. In other words, you'll get more flavor from a teaspoon of tea particles than I will from a teaspoon of my root chips. Thus, you should require much less tea to give you the same flavor as my chips yield.

I suggested you should make a cup of the medicinal strength tea and taste it. If you like the taste, dilute it by mixing with another cup of water and taste that. If you like the first best you need to use 16 teabags. If you like the second use 8. If you can't decide split the difference and use 12. Remember, whatever strength you use will be further complexed by the parsnip root, banana, grape concentrate, tannin, acid, etc.

I further said that whatever number you decide to use, put that number of teabags in the parsnip water while the bananas are simmering (leaving the tea bags in for 10-20 minutes or as long as you deem necessary).

Yesterday I had to go into San Antonio and before I left the house I called my favorite heath foods store and asked if they had this tea. The answer was yes, so I stopped by and picked up a box of Celebration Herbals Angelica and two boxes of their Damiana Tea (from which I will make a liqueur).

Last night I experimented with the angelica tea and decided to make an angelica wine without the parsnips. I've made angelica liqueur before and know the flavor this herbal root can deliver, so here is what I am doing.


Angelica Tea Wine

  • 16 bags Celebration Herbals® Angelica Tea \
  • 1 12-ounce can Old Orchard or Welch's 100% white grape juice frozen concentrate
  • 1 lb 10 oz white granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 6-1/2 pints water
  • 1 packet Red Star Côte des Blancs wine yeast

Bring water to boil, turn off heat and insert teabags. Steep at least 7 minutes. Remove tea bags, add sugar, acid blend and yeast nutrient. Stir well to dissolve all solids. Add grape concentrate and stir to integrate. Cover and set aside to cool. When cooled to 95° F., transfer to primary and add yeast in a starter solution. Cover primary and set aside. Stir daily until vigorous fermentation subsides, transfer to secondary and attach airlock. Wait 30 days and rack into sanitized secondary containing 1 finely crushed Campden tablet, top up and reattach airlock. Rack again every 30 days until clear, then add 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and another finely crushed Campden tablet* and sweeten to taste as desired. Wait another 30 days and bottle. Wait 3 months to taste but improves with time. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

*Do not add second Campden tablet 30 days after adding first. If wine is clear 30 days after adding first Campden tablet, rack and add both potassium sorbate and Campden tablet 30 days later.

I intend to sweeten mine to 1.010 s.g. -- slightly more if I feel it needs it. Angelica is delightful slightly sweet, but your taste might differ. Taste it dry and sweeten in small increments until you find what pleases you.




May 3rd, 2014

This entry has taken a long time to come together because of continuous distractions and a 3-day loss of my ISP. I beg your forgiveness, but real life trumps this blog every time. But I try....




I finished our tax preparations and filed them on April 15th -- again! I just hate going through that long process every year. If our taxes were simple to compute it wouldn't be so bad, but they get more complex every year it seems. Every new complexity brings with it new forms, schedules and worksheets, not to mention the records on our end to support them. From start to finish it took two days -- some of it a learning curve but much of it a hunt for records and receipts.

And, on top of it, I had to file the final tax return for my late father's estate, which leads me to the next part of this posting. I strongly encourage you to read it for lessons learned.


We Are All Going To Die....


Last Will and Testament

With life comes eventual death. We are all going to die someday and for the vast majority of us we don't know when this will occur. For that reason alone, it is never too soon to "get one's affairs in order." That means planning for what happens to what you leave behind and how it relates to one's survivors.

When my father passed away last year I discovered I was to be the executor of his estate. At first a mild panic set in. I have friends who have been executors and do not recall any of them describing it as a pleasant or easy duty. Worse, my father resided and passed away in California, a state known to write laws that guarantee, to the greatest extent possible, the necessity of hiring an attorney to accomplish all but the simplest of legal matters.

Before I even saw my father's Last Will and Testament I spent a day reading California's probate laws. They're online. It was not until I was near the end of them that I found the part that would actually apply to my father's estate.

When we looked into all the various assets to establish a value of his estate, we discovered something extraordinary. My father did everything right. There could not be a cleaner estate.

My father, a baker all his working life, was a man of modest means. His life became more and more financially comfortable as each of us five children moved out and paid our own way. He had banking accounts, some investments, annuities, life insurance, and Social Security. It was not a large enough estate to meet the threshold for probate, but even modest estates must go through probate (think lawyers) if certain conditions are met or other conditions are not met.

Everything my father owned was also jointly owned by my mother, who survived him. When I say jointly owned I mean both names were on the deed, the title, the account. When he passed away a year ago, he left no estate. Absolutely everything that was in his name was also in my mother's name. All else was community property and simply became hers. You cannot leave a cleaner estate than that.

So why am I telling you this? Because even in death my father continues to teach me something worth learning. I have also learned some things from observing the experiences of others. If you accept that you are going to die someday, please read the rest of this piece (it will open in another window so you won't lose your place here).




Did You Notice?


If you clicked on the link to read the rest of the piece above, you should have noticed the page to which you were taken was completely restyled. It should have been much easier to read, faster loading and, of course, cleaner in appearance.

I'm trying my best to update my skills and learn HTML5 and CSS3, the current standards for coding these pages. It isn't easy for me, as every time I attempt something and it doesn't do what I expected I go back to the two books I purchased to learn this.

This is not what the WineBlog itself will look like, but you have to learn somewhere and so I decided to take a very long piece and move it to another page as a short essay. The essay page is where I am practicing what I'm learning.




While the new standards, some of which have actually been specified for at least five years, will display fine for the vast majority of you, there are some who will see something else -- just what is something I can't predict. The problem is browser age. My server-side visitor statistics show the problem.

Exactly 1/3 of you (33.3%) are accessing my site using Safari. Just over 1/4 (25.7%) are using Chrome. Together, that's 59%. The remaining 41% are using Firefox (14.7%), Internet Explorer (12.8%), Mozilla (10.8%), Opera (1.5%), and other browsers (1.2%). I have no idea who is using what. The server collects no personal data.

Of the 59% using Safari and Chrome, nearly 1/4 of them are using versions too old to recognize the current standards. It's worse (almost 1/3) when it comes to the remaining browsers. That means between 1/4 and 1/3 are not seeing what web designers are creating for you. In some cases that means substantive content is missing from your views, but generally it means the pages look crappy compared to what they should look like.

Firefox is up to version 31, yet 96.2% of the Firefox viewers are using version 28 or older. Among Internet Explorer users, over half are using versions incapable of recognizing most of the newer standards and nine of you are using version 2.0 which was released in 1995 with Windows 95 and Windows NT.[if you are still using those operating systems you have no choice, as nothing you could download today would run on those systems].

I am not belittling anyone for running a 2- or 3-year old browser. I hate updating browsers and taking a chance my favorites will disappear (of course, I almost always back them up so it is just a minor inconvenience when the program does not automatically grab them), but every time I do upgrade I notice how much nicer things look on the internet. And let's face it, browser upgrade are free.

I have four browsers on my computer and will download a fifth today. I use them to look at my entries before I post them. Okay, a few times I was in a hurry, didn't do that and was unaware that I had screwed up the code, but generally I do. My poin is I know there is a difference in browser displays.

The best argument I've read for updating (or even changing) your browser was posted in this piece at Smashing Magazine. If you haven't updated your browser in the past year, or if you are still using any version of Internet Explorer, I invite you to read it for your own good




As I transition to winemaking subjects, I thought it would be nice to enjoy some wine as I write. I'm enjoying a gift bottle of 2011 VEO Grande Cabernet Sauvignon from the Colchagua Valley, Chile. I'm not going to do the tasting notes thing (plums, black cherry, tobacco, and all that nonsense) but will just say this is what Cabernet Sauvignon should taste like. It isn't fantastic, but it's awfully damned good.

By the way, "awful" in the English language was originally a very high complement, meaning the object of the complement inspired a fullness of awe.

To illustrate how words have changed, there is a popular story, attributed to both King Charles II or sometimes Queen Anne, when first entering Sir Christopher Wren's masterpiece, St Paul's Cathedral in London, described it in contemporary English of the day as "awful, pompous, and artificial." Stated another way, the words mean the cathedral left the witness full of awe, suggested pomp and ceremony and was designed and executed in the highest art of architecture and embellishment. In modern English we might say it is "awe-inspiring, majestic, and ingeniously designed and built."

St. Paul's Cathedral was consecrated while still largely incomplete in December 1697 and again in 1708 when it was completed enough to hold regular services. It was declared "completed" by Parliament in 1711, but construction and adornment continued until into the 1720s. Until 1962, it's dome was the highest man-made structure in London at 365 feet.

Since it's construction was not even begun until the old St, Paul's, damaged beyond repair by the Great Fire of 1666, was demolished in 1670, Charles II could not have uttered the words (above) attributed to him. He died in February 1685, over 12 years before it was first consecrated and 25 years before it's famous dome was completed. On the other had, Queen Anne reigned from 1702-1714 and undoubtedly would have visited the magnificent baroque cathedral, seat of the Bishop of London.

Yes, I rambled again, detouring acutely from the subject of this sub-entry, which was the 2011 VEO Grande Cabernet Sauvignon. I may have to pause my writing for a while, as the wine is affecting me.

Works In Progress


WineMaker Magazine

I'm back after a few days on other projects. I've been writing up a storm and hope you enjoy the results when they are published in WineMaker magazine. Two articles will appear in separate issues. The first should be in the next issue and will be on making small batches of wine. For all of you who make kit wines and have been hesitating to get into making small batches (a gallon or so), this article is for you. In the issue following that article will be one on making wines from tropical fruit, which in some cases can only be done in the Northern Hemisphere using juices as the fruit won't survive shipment. I think the more adventurous among you will find it useful.

If you don't yet subscribe to WineMaker, it's never too late to do so. Just click on the banner above and subscribe. It really is an invaluable resource if you make wine....

If your browser is too old to render the banner, just click here to subscribe (and for heaven' sake update that browser -- browsers are FREE!).



Spoiling the Yeast

<i>Saccharomyces cerevisiae</i> yeast (credit: Jef D. Boeke and Sarah Richardson, Johns Hopkins University)

I once had the pleasure of tasting an unfortified strawberry mead made by Greg Howard that boasted an amazing 28% alcohol by volume. It was, of course, sweetened with honey to balance the alcohol's heat. It had body to spare and the unmistakable aroma of freshly cut strawberries. The flavor lagged and was not fully appreciated until a second or two after swallowing. When I asked him how he made it he simply said, "I spoiled the yeast."

Having never heard this term I was about to ask the obvious question of what he meant when another person present at the wine guild meeting cut into the conversation and the opportunity slipped away. I always meant to ask him more about this but guild meetings were always happenstance -- unscripted, unmanaged and unpredictable. When I had a few moments alone with Greg I usually questioned him about something more pressing -- the location of his secret stand of mustang grapes that refused to drop and thereby became hanging raisins. From these he made the best mustang wine I've ever tasted.

Shortly before Greg was transferred to Oklahoma he gave me clues to the secret stand of mustangs, clues that were both vague and yet, in hindsight, absolutely accurate. My wife and I found it the next year after a dozen or so Sunday drives along the backroads between Rossville, Somerset, and Lytle, an area I referred to as "Greg's triangle."

In this part of Texas mustangs ripen in late June-early July and we found them in October -- much too late. It would take two more years before I found them just right, when they were about 1/3 shriveled and yet still soft, yielding and filled with their concentrated juice. That stand still remains but is reduced to a single female vine with a broad reach. But I digress.

Greg visits us irregularly and each time I kick myself for failing to ask him about spoiling the yeast. Two months ago, during one of those bitter cold spells we'll always associate with 2014, I ducked into a little country store near Dilley, Texas hoping to find a hot coffee dispenser (I did). Two men were talking at the counter and both were drinking a dark liquid from small, clear plastic cups. Partially hidden behind a display of various lottery scratch-offs was a near-empty screwcap wine bottle with a masking tape label that said "Mustang."

"Mustang?" I asked, half to myself. The man who was talking said a few words to the other, putting a fine point on whatever it was they were talking about, then turned and looked at me for 2-3 seconds. I recognized the face but could not place it. Then he turned to the other and said, "Fetch a glass for Mister Keller here. He might appreciate your wine." Then he turned back to me and introduced himself. We had met at the Medina County Fair 6-7 years ago when I was head judge of the Home Wine Competition. I think I awarded him a rosette, but can't be sure.

The wine I sampled that day was sweet, unmistakably mustang, and had a hint of fire as I swallowed. They both studied me as it went down. "Whoa," I said and they both grinned. The man behind the counter said, "It's a hair's width over 22% alcohol, none added." I asked what yeast he used and he said he didn't know -- he started it from the lees of another fermentation and lost track. When I asked the starting specific gravity he said it was 1.080. When he saw the look of puzzlement on my face he said, "I spoiled the yeast"

I wasn't going to let this pass, so I explained I'd heard this expression before but didn't know "precisely" what it meant. I assume he meant he fed it, and he said yes -- very slowly. He added the sugar two ounces at a time, using a postal scale to measure the sugar and kept a tally. His explanation went something like this:

I actually kept a hydrometer in the wine almost all the time. When it showed a gravity of 10 [s.g. 1.010] I'd add two ounces of sugar, remove the hydrometer, stir with a glass rod until it dissolved, then put the hydrometer back in. Fermentation almost stopped at 20%, then after a month it picked up again but was still slow. I figure it was 22.1% when it finally stopped. I hit it with sorbate and sweetened it until I could just taste the alcohol -- so I knew it was there. It ain't balanced, but it's like I like it.

And it was good. The alcohol bite was not unpleasant, but sort of acted as a constant reminder that you don't want to drink too much of this when you still have 50 miles to drive.

What actually happed in "spoiling the yeast" is that a high-alcohol yeast strain -- probably Premier Curvee/EC-1118, Lalvin 43, DV10, K1-V1116 or (less likely) L2226 -- reached its threshold of alcohol toxicity and began a wholesale die-off. But a few yeast adapted to the toxic environment, survived and reproduced. When their density was high enough to register continued fermentation the gravity dropped enough to eventually warrant a new addition of sugar. The upper limit of the surviving yeast may not have actually been 22.1%, but the activity was so slow fermentation appeared to have stopped and certainly did soon after stabilization.

And so this is how I confirmed my suspicion that "spoiling the yeast" is just a country expression (at least in these parts) for feeding the yeast slowly to allow them to acclimate to higher and higher alcohol levels -- levels above what they are rated at. And, I got to taste some whoop-ass mustang wine to boot.


Specific Gravity Corrected for Temperature Variation

Hydrometer reading below 1.000, courtesy of Rochester Area Home Winemakers

Hydrometers (or refractometers) are essential in determining the starting and ending specific gravity (or, if you prefer, degrees Brix). With these two numbers, you can calculate the alcohol content of your wine within one percent accuracy using the Potential Alcohol (PA) of the starting s.g.

Specific Gravity of Alcohol

The most accurate measures of density are made using a pycnometer, a laboratory instrument impractical for use in home winemaking. A much simpler instrument for density measurement is a hydrometer. In the United States hydrometers may be calibrated at 15.56° C (60° F.) or 20° C (68° F.). Either calibration yields the same numbers for the same liquid as long as the wine is measured using the calibration temperature or corrected to account for differences. Calibration at 20° C has been the preferred temperature since the early 1960s. While there is universal agreement that the specific gravity of distilled water at either calibration is 1.000, there are several values floating around for the specific gravity of alcohol itself, numbers derived using a pycnometer. Several authorities (e.g. ASBC, CSGNetwork) cite the s.g. of ethanol as 0.789; CRC cites 0.794 and others cite 0.790 and 0.792. I have generally used the number 0.792 as a happy medium. But why the differences?

The problem is defining alcohol, the purity of the alcohol and the type glass the pycnometer used to measure its density is made of-- Pyrex and ordinary glass yield different numbers, although slight. Winemakers generally refer to ethanol (ethyl alcohol) when they say alcohol but the alcohol in wine is mostly ethanol and trace amounts of higher alcohols as well. Thus, the range of numbers assigned to ethanol is really not critical because it is not the only alcohol in wine. Assuming an ethanol s.g. of 0.792 is "close enough."

It is worth noting that a hydrometer calibrated at 15.56° C yields a specific gravity of distilled water as 1.000, but if the water is 20° C that same hydrometer gives it a specific gravity of 0.998 -- which is why we correct for temperature.

The specific gravity of alcohol is not the same as distilled water. The latter is 1.000, but the s.g. of alcohol (specifically, ethanol) is much lower (see sidenote). Hydrometer tables factor in the change that ethanol causes to the s.g. of a must and resulting wine as far as potential alcohol (PA) is concerned. But again, they are only relatively accurate down to 1.000 and at the specific calibration temperature of the hydrometer -- either 60 or 68° F.

If a hydrometer is calibrated at 60&#;176 F. and your must or wine is higher than that you will get a lower reading than you would at the calibrated temperature. You have to compensate for that temperature difference.

  • At 70° F. add 0.001 to your s.g.
  • At 77° F. add 0,002 to your s.g.
  • At 84° F. add 0.003 to your s.g.
  • At 89° F. add 0.004 to your s.g.
  • At 95° F. add 0.005 to your s.g.
  • At 100° F. add 0.006 to your s.g

Similarly, if the hydrometer is calibrated at 68° F. and your must or wine is higher than that you will get a lower reading than you should. You have to compensate for temperature difference as follows:

  • At 74° F. add 0.001 to your s.g.
  • At 83° F. add 0,002 to your s.g.
  • At 90° F. add 0.003 to your s.g.
  • At 95° F. add 0.004 to your s.g.
  • At 101° F. add 0.005 to your s.g.

These corrections may not seem like much to you, but they are essential if you intend to write the alcohol level on your label. Get it right or forget noting the abv (alcohol by volume) level.



Hamburger, Anyone?

Jack Keller's giant hamburger, using a quarter (25-cent piece) for scale.  Author's photo.
Jack Keller's giant hamburger, using a 25¢-piece)
for scale.

Someone reminded me that this month (May) is National Hamburger Month. I don't know who decides these things but I'll play along. I love hamburgers as much as the next person and maybe even more.

When I lived in San Francisco I asked a date where she wanted to eat. This is a dangerous question in a city where you can easily be charged $300 and up just for hors d'oeuvres at some of the swankier places. Interestingly, my date said "Charlie's" and immediately read my quizzical look and began giving me driving directions. The place was a sit-down hamburger joint with an menu that took careful reading to decide.

I remember settling on one called "The Limelighter," that sported a 1/3-pound patty, caramelized onions, avocado, tomato, alfalfa sprouts (I had reservations about these, but they just blended right in), bacon, a great contrasting cheese (Gouda, I believe), and I asked for horseradish-mayo on both buns. It instantly became my favorite burger in the world, although there was no way a normally built person could ever get the tjing in their mouth to take a clean bite. But wrapped, you could surely try (it was still a juicy mess to eat, but oh so good).

I don't recall the full name of the place. It could have been Charlie's Burgers or Charlie's Hamburgers or just Charlie's. I searched long and hard for it on the internet but did not even find an historic mention.

Oh, and if you were wondering about the pictured burger above, that is a masterpiece I made using a full pound of beef strongly flavored, lettuce, tomato, avocado, white onion, extra sharp cheddar, mayo and Grey Poupon on a Muffuletta roll. The meat was thoroughly blended with Tony Chatchere's Creole Seasoning, soy sauce and Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce. Details are on my October 13, 2011 entry in the archives.

The email that started this topic recommends healthy alternatives to beef burgers -- vegetarian fare from Veria.com. I haven't tried them, but I might.

An old and dear friend says next time I'm in "The City" (San Francisco) I simply have to stop by the Plant Cafe and try their veggie burger -- the color of beets, not blood, with lentils, mushrooms, cashews, and bulgur wheat in the patty. He swears it's the finest veggie burger in town. Since Charlie's is no longer there, I may just have to try this....





April 12th, 2014

On the first anniversary of my father's passing my mother learned she had malignant choroidal melanoma. The news put a damper on a remembrance dinner and toast to my father, so much so that it was postponed until Friday, April 5th.

We don't know the extent of the cancer. All that has been confirmed is a single tumor that is growing aggressively in her retina. Before doctors will target it they need to conduct a full body scan to confirm or rule out additional tumors. Because of her normal run around with insurance, we were not expecting a speedy pre-approval for the scan. To our surprise it only took a week to gain approval and Thursday a full-body PET-CT was conducted. Now we wait for the results, which could take a week or more.


A Marvel of Medical Technologies

A little over a week ago my mother's ophthalmologist looked at a fluorescein angiogram and explained to her, my sister and youngest brother what the "whiteness" was in an otherwise dark mass that shouldn't be there. The whiteness ruled out any good news we had hoped for -- a vitreous or sub-retinal hematoma. He explained that the whiteness was micro blood vessel networks and there were a lot of them, meaning it is a sustained, growing malignancy called choroidal melanoma -- a cancer.

Anyway, that's why ophthalmologists love fluorescein angiography. It shows disruptions in known capillary patterns (such as by drusen and age-related macular degeneration, both of which I which I suffer from) and also shows patterns that shouldn't be there, as is my mother's eye.

Thursday my mother underwent a full-body PET (positron emission tomography) scan with a simultaneous CT (computed tomography) scan. A PET scan alone yields insufficient desired high resolution, so another scan is performed instantaneously using X-ray imaging (PET-CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (PET-MRI) and the two are co-registered by computer to produce much better and much higher resolution than PET alone. This whole technology took 30 or 40 years to develop and really only matured (PET-CT) in the 1999-2000 timeframe. It is a lot cheaper than a PET-MRI but still not cheap.

In my mother's case, I'm pretty sure they used the radioisotope fluorine-18 bound to a glucose analogue called oxyglucose to form a radiotracer called FDG (fludeoxyglusose) as a radiotracer. That's the main isotope they use when mapping neuron networks (and cancer sites) since both metabolize glucose constantly.

Fluorine-18 has a very short half-life and only exists for an hour or so after being created, so the imaging has to be done as soon after the isotope can be bound and injected. As the fluorine-18 component of FDG decays it emits a positron, which is the antiparticle of an electron. The positron travels a very short distance (a millimeter, more or less), is slowed by body mass until it collides with an electron in tissue and the positron and electron annihilate each other, producing two gamma particles as photons (two particles of light) that the PET-CT detects, records and stores as indexed data.

These annihilations occur all over the body (when using FDG) and are overwhelmingly numerous -- only a computer can sort them out and construct a detailed but useful image that is precisely mapped. A very skilled radiologist knows where and what the tissue should look like where the annihilation events occur, so when they start occurring somewhere they aren't expected it means a neural section has changed or a cancerous growth has been detected.

That we can even manipulate radiotracers to target metabolic activity and detect positron-electron annihilation at the sub-atomic level is incredible. Computers are fast, but they have to sift through billions of annihilation events occurring every billionth of a second for however long the scan lasted, so it will take some time before the radiologist can interpret the constructed images and deliver the results to my mother's doctor. So we wait, with hope and fear.

My reasons for writing all of this are two-fold. (1) I learned all of this so why not share it. The technology itself is fascinating. (2) My brain explodes every time I think about where science has taken us -- or is it where we have taken science? For those of you with absolutely no previous knowledge of any of this, I wanted to blow your mind too. None of the sciences involved were easy to apply to technologies that had to be precisely integrated to solve countless problems (and I really mean countless) and arriving at a single endpoint. Marvelous....


Random Thoughts

I want to be out there casting flies into one of the streams that pass for rivers in this part of Texas, but taxes are looming. Isn't there always something?

I'd also like to sit in the shade of one of my large oaks and have conversations with my dad we never managed to have. His passing last year makes that impossible in this physical world, but I do often talk to him when no one else is around. I regret very much not talking the time to do this when he was still among us.

Make time to embrace the ones you love. No matter how awkward the subject may be, converse with them. When they are gone and two-way conversations are no longer possible you'll be glad you did.


Snowbound grapevines, photo by Jamie Germano, <i>Rochester Democrat & Chronicle</i> staff photographer, displayed under Fair Use Act of 1984

If you've ever driven through upstate New York you know what mile after mile after mile of vineyards look like. My wife and I drove from Buffalo to North East, Pennsylvania. Once we left West Seneca we drove 73 miles of which I don't recall ever being out of sight of a vineyard. Most of the way they carpeted both sides of the highway.

This past winter has been brutal, not only up there but for a third of the country. New York may suffer 20% to 50% freeze damage to vines that normally have no problem surviving its winters, but so may a dozen or more other states. We won't know until harvest, but already growers in New York and elsewhere have announced they will be dropping the fruit of specific cultivars to give the vines a chance to recuperate from freeze damage. This is a grower by grower decision based on what they see in the vineyard.

Will this affect the price of wine next winter and beyond? It might affect the price of wines in hard-hit areas, but there will be plenty of wines available from South America, Australia, South Africa, Europe and elsewhere that will be priced competitively.

There are at least two schools of thought here. One is to price one's wines sufficiently to recoup the loss from freeze damage. This is a great strategy if consumers are willing to pay more for local wines when there are real choices occupying adjacent shelf space. The other strategy is to survive by pricing your wines to sell.

A friend of mine went to a commercial wine competition awards dinner years ago and happened to sit at a table of complete strangers from all over the country. When two people began discussing the pricing of their respective wines, one woman, who had mentioned over and over again that her winery was in Napa, loudly announced that if she couldn't get $100 a bottle for her wines then she wouldn't sell them. This quieted the table, but conversation eventually resumed (although not with her). When she left the table for some reason everyone laughed at her arrogance, especially since no one had ever heard of her winery! Wines have to earn a price. Just being from Napa Valley (or Finger Lake) does not confer grand cru status. She did not accept any awards for her wines and my friend never saw her at another function.

I hope the wineries up north do not price their wines too dearly when very good, affordable wines are available by the shipload. Make wines that sell and you'll survive until next year. You are, after all, farmers, and farmers have bad years as well as good. In bad years you try to survive. In good years you try to prosper. It's a universal ying / yang.


Carbonite InfoCenter screenshot

To those of you who read my write-up in my March 31st entry about Carbonite Online Backup and decided to test drive the program, good for you. A free test drive is easy to sign up for at THIS LINK and is the best way to determine if the program is right for you. It certainly is for me.

As I said previously, if you subsequently decide to subscribe to the program using the above link both you and I will receive a $20 gift card of choice. But again, I am not recommending it for the potential gift card, but because it has saved my bacon once and I sleep well knowing it is there if needed again. Sooner or later each of us will experience a hard drive or complete computer crash. Since 1988 I've had a few.

The last was potentially the worse because by then I had almost 2 terabytes of data on my computer. This included a complete backup of my three web sites and blog, thousands of files relating to winemaking, grape, fruit and berry growing, grape, fruit an wine chemistry, hundreds of research papers, and so much more that supports my hobby. Additionally, I had (and still have, thanks to Carbonite) over a hundred e-books, several hundred .html, .html and .css code "snippets," several dozen manuscripts, articles and writing projects, over 6,800 musical files, over 330 full-length movies, thousands of photographs, literally thousands of cooking, baking and cocktail recipes, many tutorials, my favorites, spreadsheets, databases, and much, much more.

I'm not trying to "sell" the program. I'm just telling you what I've experienced and how grateful I am to Carbonite for having it all continuously backed up. My initial backup was not quick. Because of the extremely large amount of stuff I had, spread over two internal and one external hard drives, it took months to complete the initial backup, but since then it keeps me backed up as I go. My premium service allowed me to receive my backup by mail. That was my choice but may not be yours. I understand this.

But we all know there will be a disaster one day. Having it backed up on your computer is, well, a fool's solution. Backing it up in the cloud, where Carbonite stores its data, is the reasonable solution if you are security conscious, install your security updates regularly, and are totally paranoid about clicking on un-vetted links on Facebook and other social networking sites, and are suspicious about emails containing nothing but a link.

Brute force hacking by automated password guessing software is not a likely threat unless you are using weak passwords. Your computer or connection is much less likely to be hacked directly and a keystroke recorder installed by downloading a free app or blindly clicking on links sent by email that are not amply described to you.

In the end you must decide for yourself. I've made my decision and it's Carbonite. It isn't the right choice for everyone but it will be for many.


A 'palindrome' reads the same backwards as forward. This video reads the exact opposite, backwards as forward. Not only does it read the opposite, the meaning is the exact opposite. It is not a palindrome, but....

This is only a 1 minute 44 second video and it is brilliant. Make sure you read as well as listen to the entire video....

The video was submitted in a contest by a 20-year old. The contest was titled "u @ 50". When they showed it, everyone in the room was awe-struck and broke into spontaneous applause. So simple and yet so brilliant.

Please click the link below and turn on your sound.



Outstanding Wine, Way Too Many Lees

Chopped tomatoes in their own juice

I am grateful to all positive feedback I get, but am especially grateful when the feedback concerns a non-grape wine off the usual track. Mark Richter wrote to me about a tomato wine he made, which by all accounts is outstanding. I left out the opening, laudatory paragraph to get to "the heart of the matter," with minor, non-substantive editing.

So far the best wine that I have made was tomato wine. We had a huge crop of tomatoes last year so I decided to try wine. You would not believe all of the raves I had. I am not sure if it was because it was good or people just were expecting the worst. The biggest surprise was that people didn't believe me that tomato juice is yellow, that the pulp is red. Everyone is asking me to make more of the tomato this year.

So here is my problem. After going through all of the work, doing the primary fermentation, the separation of the pulp was out of this world. I only got about 30% wine from all of the batch. I lost so much due to the high amounts of sediment that made its way through the cheesecloth bags. I filtered it through cheesecloth from the primary to secondary, and even between the rackings.

When bottling time was there, I ended up with about 17 bottles of wine out of [an original] 11 gallons. Don't get me wrong, I love the solving of the problem and I'm not looking for the shortcut but, if there is a way to avoid waste of this over something small that I am overlooking, I would sure like to know.

I think this year I am going to try different types of tomatoes and see if that helps or which one is the better tasting for the wines. Do you have any suggestions on reduction of sediment or even the best process to use for tomato wine?

The mesh size of the bag you used may have been too large. For many fruit and berry wines (and tomatoes are technically berries), the pulp breaks down too fine for all but the smallest mesh. Here's a solution I've used many times.

First, separate the legs of a new pair of pantyhose or buy a pair of "knee high" ladies' nylon stockings. Sanitize them in water with potassium metabisulfite in it (1 teaspoon per gallon will do the trick with only 3 minutes exposure -- clean all your equipment in it, but do it outside in a breeze or with a fan on so you don't breathe the caustic fumes). No need to rinse after sanitizing. Use these to hold the chopped or crushed tomatoes. Don't squeeze them -- just raise and dunk a few times a day to loosen up the pulp within so the yeast can move around. When it's time to remove them, just let them drip drain without squeezing. The pulp can be cooked into spaghetti sauce or casseroles or tossed onto a compost pile. Some very fine pulp will still get through, but just transfer it with the liquid to secondary.

When it's time to rack, sulfite the wine using 1/4 teaspoon potassium metabisulfite to 5 gallons of wine. Rack as usual, leaving the lees as you normally would. A double layer of the unused upper part of the pantyhose secured over the uptake end of the racking hose with a small, sanitized rubber band will help with some of the remaining lees.

Then take a double layer of very fine (tight weave) muslin large enough to drape in a bowl with plenty of material outside. Sanitize it first! Pour the lees in the bowl lined with the sanitized muslin, gather the overhanging muslin, tie it with strong cord, and lift and hang it over the bowl to drip drain (I tie it to an overhead cabinet door handle). Do not squeeze. Yeast and some extremely fine pulp particles will flow through but most of the lees will stay. After a half hour or so you can dispose of the lees (I spread mine around our roses) and add the liquid to the secondary.

Use the tightest weave muslin your fabric store has and you'll be doing the best you can without filtering the wine. Wash the muslin for future use, store it when dry in a large Ziploc bag, but sanitize it again before using it with wine when necessary.

Future rackings should leave normal lees. If you think the lees are still too thick, try the muslin again but you'll get diminishing returns. You might even place a heavy-duty paper towel between the layers of material, positioned so it is dead center on the bottom. If the paper towel clogs up and slows the flow, just give it time.

One last thought. If you can use the same tomato cultivar again, do it! Tomatoes are like grapes, peaches, plums and other fruit that vary in taste. When one works, don't change unless you can't get any more. Of course, there's nothing wrong with making small test batches with other cultivars to see if you can identify another winner.


Parsnip and Angelica Root Wine

Parsnips (photo from San Diego Master Gardeners Association site, fair use for illustrative purposes only

I usually make parsnip wine with an added aromatic, such as rose petals or elderflowers. I made it once using orange blossoms but denuded my tree and didn't get but two oranges that year -- but the wine was very good when it finally matured. But I got a good buy on parsnips at Whole Foods and searched their bulk herbs for a good aromatic. I picked up exactly one ounce of angelica root chips which I've used before in several wines, including parsnip.

Parsnips, of course, are a fall-winter crop best harvested after a hard frost, but are usually available all year because they travel well and have a long cellar life. I love their almost nutty flavor when added to soups, stews and many slow-cooker meals. Wine is made from the boiled water of the sliced root, so the method below saves the cooked root for eating while using the cooking water for wine.

Both banana water and 100% white gape juice frozen concentrate are used for adding body to the wine and banana water is obtained by cooking bananas. In this recipe the parsnip water is used to cook the bananas after the parsnips are removed.

Angelica (Angelica archangelica) root grows primarily in Northern Europe and Scandinavia but a variety grows in Southeast Asia . The root is used to flavor aromatic liqueurs such as Bènèdictine, Chartreuse, Dubonnet, and Vermouth, usually ordered as an apèritif to aid digestion. It also has medicinal value as a tea. I make a liqueur with it using only the root, vodka, sugar, and three drops of fresh lemon juice per 750 mL bottle. There are two major groups of aromatics in the root -- one is extracted in chloroform and to a lesser degree in alcohol while the other is extracted in water, The water soluble extracts are somewhat volatile and extracted in warm-to cooling water, not while boiling. It is important to know this and not attempt to take shortcuts in the method prescribed below.

Like most root wines (beet, carrot, rutabagas, etc.), parsnip has a long aging period, but usually can be enjoyed at two years. Only by maintaining a sufficient level of unbound sulfite can the wine be extended beyond that period; if made as specified below, it should last as long as 5 years in cool storage (56-70° F.), 7 years in cold storage (45-55° F.). Served socially with hors d´oeuvres, appetizers or before a special meal, it is a most appealing wine made dry or very slightly off-dry.

  • 4 lbs parsnips
  • 1 lb ripe bananas
  • 10-11 oz can of 100% white grape juice frozen concentrate
  • 1 oz chipped angelica root
  • 1 3/4 lbs finely granulated pure cane sugar
  • 1 1/4 tsp tartaric acid or acid blend
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme (reserved)
  • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet or 1/16 tsp potassium metabisulfite
  • 1/4 tsp grape tannin, powdered
  • water as required below (just under 1 gallon)
  • yeast nutrient
  • 1 pkt Lalvin R2 (preferred) or any Sauternes (but not Champagne) wine yeast

Put 1 pint water on to low boil and add sugar, stirring until dissolved. Set aside for later use in sanitized mason jar capped just until finger tight. Concurrently, put 5 pints water on to boil in stainless steel or coated interior pot, and while waiting wash, scrub, thinly slice parsnips, and add to boiling water. Reduce heat to low boil, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, slice ripe bananas, unpeeled, into 1/2 to 3/4 inch pieces and set aside (the peels contain amylase, an enzyme that hydrolyzes starch to produce dextrins, maltose, and glucose so do not remove the peels). Use slotted spoon to remove parsnips for eating and add sliced bananas to boiling parsnip water. Continue low boil, uncovered this time, for an additional 30 minutes. Removed from heat and remove and discard the bananas. If any foam or scum formed on the surface from cooking the bananas, carefully remove it with a large spoon. Encourage water to cool by adding frozen grape concentrate and cover pot.

Yeast Starter Solution

To a half cup of tepid water add a pinch of yeast nutrient,
a couple of drops of lemon juice (that's TWO drops) and
3/4 teaspoon of sugar, dissolved. Sprinkle the dry yeast on
the surface (do not stir) and set it aside, covered with a
sanitized piece of muslin or a paper towel held with a rubber
band. Check it in 30 minutes to see that the yeast granules
are viable (expanding); if not, add another packet of yeast.
After 2 hours of viable yeast activity, add another half-cup
of water, a pinch of yeast nutrient, 2 drops of lemon juice,
and 3/4 teaspoon of sugar, dissolved. Add these ingredients
every 2 hours until ready to transfer the must to secondary.

If you are going to bed or work and will be unable to attend
to the starter every two hours, simply add enough ingredients
to suffice for the period you will be asleep or away. The yeast
will do their thing without you there, so sleep well but stir
the starter when you awaken.

Place angelica root in a fluted coffee filter, gather edges and tie closed with enough string to allow draping over edge of pot for easy recover. As water cools, raise and dunk angelica every 10-15 minutes to aid infusion. When water is at or below 115° F. stir in dissolved Campden tablet or potassium metabisulfite (preferred), tannin and yeast nutrient. Cover and set aside 10-12 hours, lifting and dunking the angelica bag as often as is practical (every 30-60 minutes if possible, but okay to ignore if set-aside is overnight). During beginning of set-aside, make a yeast starter solution (see sidebar).

At the end of the 10-12-hours, remove angelica and very gently squeeze and discard, transfer must to a secondary along with the sugar water and yeast starter. Do not top up but do attach and airlock. Stir daily. When vigor begins to subside, top up. Rack at 30 days, top up and reattach airlock. Wait for wine to clear. If not clear in 60 days rack and add pectic enzyme. Wait 2 days and add another dose of sulfite (Campden or potassium metabisulfite). If you intend to sweeten slightly to off-dry (to no more than 1.004 s.g.) add 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate with sulfite and wait 30 days before adding sugar. Wait an additional 30 days to be sure there is no latent fermentation by residual yeast. Rack into bottles when wine clears or after additional time due to sweetening. Cellar wine in cool storage (the bottom of the most central closet in the house if you do not have a basement or cellar) for 2 years. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

This looks like a lot of work and is, in fact, more involved than most wines, but the matured wine is worth the effort and you'll be kicking yourself for not starting a batch every year. But remember, 2 years is the minimum aging time; it might take longer.

March 31st, 2014

Time flies and things are returning to normal around here, although I still have more to do than I have time for. I know, I know...join the club.


Relaxing before my presentation at TVOS 2014
Relaxing before my presentation
at TVOS 2014 in Nashville

My thanks to those who attended the 2014 TVOS Conference at Nashville and wrote to comment on my presentation, private conversations or some other aspect of our mutual attendance. I enjoyed my time in Nashville immensely and want to thank Chris and Elizabeth Card for their hospitality and stellar helpfulness.

I had some great conversations with attendees and was very impressed with the knowledge and seriousness of so many people. Of course, I find this at every conference or seminar I attend, as you don't attend these events unless you're serious about the subject.

When it came to viticultural discussions, I was most often the student. As I explained time and time again, I grow some grapes but am not a grape grower. I say this in the sense that the late Lon Rombough used the term in his classic book, The Grape Grower. I started growing grapes to understand the experience, not to become a viticulturist. Most people who grow grapes to make wine with know more about viticulture than do I.

Once again I say to all I met in Nashville, it was a real pleasure spending time with you.


Jack Keller and SARWG President Friench Tarkington (photo by J.D. Leppert, with permission)
SARWG President Friench Tarkington conducts a Guild
business meeting on my patio while I try to decide
whether to drink wine or coffee....

Nature blessed us on Sunday, March 16th, as the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild (SARWG) met at my home. The latest cold snap dissipated, the previous night's rain moved east and predicted 25-mph winds failed to materialize. The sun darted in and out of clouds and it was a comfortable 60° F. on my patio. Bouts of cold weather had kept the blue bonnets from carpeting my small vineyard (I use that term loosely), but three days later they opened dramatically. Oh well, you can't guarantee everything.

But I could guarantee a fine feed. As I have done for many years, I slow-cooked a brisket in my oven overnight on a bed of onions, liberally rubbed with Cajun spices, and the other members brought a lavish assortment of side dishes and desserts. Over three dozen wines floated around to wash things down. It was a damn fine time.

We were treated to a vertical tasting of Rioja wines by Bonnie Villacampa, an international wine judge who spent a decade in Spain earning her bona fides but now lives in Texas. She studied under one of the most renowned scientists in the Rioja region, has acute olfactory perception and loves everything "wine." Her enthusiasm for the wines she poured was contagious.

Bonnie Villacampa Tarkington (photo by J.D. Leppert, with permission)
Bonnie Villacampa, March 16, 2014

Bonnie quipped, "I am not or ever will be an expert," and then went on to tell us about the wines, their styles, and how each was made or aged as she poured a collection of Tempranillos she brought. She began with an unoaked, nouveau-style LG (de Leza Garcia) and then worked her way through a succession of older oaked and double-oaked (American and French) Cune and Barón de Villacampa, ending with a 10-year old de Villacampa Reserva that earned wide praise.

A 2009 Calatayud Los Rocas Garnacha rounded out the Spanish wines, itself a Tempranillo-core wine. All were good, as not a drop was left in a bottle.

I know that many of our members have long harbored an affection for Tempranillo, but I believe Bonnie's presentation might have swung any on the fence to embrace this rich, dark varietal. It is fruity in its youth, mellows somewhat with age, and yet never fails to deliver a warm and tangy flavor in spades. Not too tannic, not too acidic, the grape finds balance with ease under the guidance of decent winemakers.

I believe Tempranillo is now the most planted grape in Texas where it thrives in the long heat that extends from mid-spring to mid- to late-fall. The grape develops more complexity in American oak than French, where the wood's vanilla and coconut nuances combine well with the natural notes of prunes, chocolate and tobacco found in the grapes of both Rioja and Texas.

Thank you, Bonnie.


 A dead hard drive (photo from www.deadharddrive.com, used under Fair Use Act of 1984)

Sooner or later it's going to happen. Your hard drive is going to crash. When it does, the odds are good you're going to lose everything on it. It's happened to me more times than I care to count, either at home or at work. At work, we were required to backup our data every two weeks. Even then, I occasionally lost valuable, irreplaceable data.

The last time my personal hard drive crashed I had gone several months without backing it up because the external hard drive I used for back-ups was full. With almost 2 terabytes of data, this would have been disastrous had I not had a remote backup of my web sites, blog and favorites, plus my less crucial music, videos, photos, e-books, and other data. That was the day I thanked my lucky stars I had subscribed to Carbonite, the backup service that automatically encrypts and backs up all data files we all collect to a remote location. That day the service paid for itself and I have slept well ever since knowing it works.

Carbonite runs in the background whenever I turn on my computer and automatically backs up new or changed files. It allows me to synchronize files across all my devices (computer, laptop, tablet, smart phone). If (when) I next have a hard drive failure, because of the sheer volume of data I have, I have opted to have my data express shipped to me on a separate drive. The folks at Carbonite walked me through the steps to restore my files and they went to their proper locations.

You may consider this an unashamed commercial plug for Carbonite. The reason I say "commercial" is because I am asking you to consider Carbonite for your own peace of mind, and if you do I ask you to use this link to try the service for free. If you subsequently decide to subscribe (as little as $59 a year -- although my plan is more) both you and I will receive a $20 gift card of choice. I have recommended Carbonite to many without the enticement of a gift card, so that is not why I write this entry.

The important thing is your data will be backed up automatically and remotely without having to worry about your backup drive filling up and missing new data. You can restore your files at will, individually or all at once -- to the same or a new computer -- from any of your connected devices. Few people will need the extra delivery method I have chosen, but if you do it is available (you can upgrade plans at any time).

Consider it, for your own peace of mind and use the link above.


Once in a while someone sees something perceived as undesirable and a little light of inspiration clicks on to convert the undesirable into something desirable. We call this "thinking outside the box" or "inspiration" or any number of things denoting completely new technological application.

Thanks to a Twitter retweet by Ken Alawine Waggoner of a tweet by Spoonflower, I was led to a post on The FIDM Blog by Victoria (not further identified). There is a short (5:12 minutes) video of such an inspiration by Gary Cass. He has devised a way to make seamless, fashionable clothing from wine. Well, sort of.... The Fashion Institute of Design and Manufacturing (FIDM) is pursuing the incredible technology Cass has developed. Learn more in the following video.

(WARNING: Clicking on the links following the video could use up a significant block of time.)

Pretty remarkable, yes? I would like a pair of trousers, 32x29 (inches), in Wrangler boot cut fashion, with or without belt loops, button or zipper fly. But it's got to have pockets.


Understanding the Basics

Basics

I received an email that indicated both a real problem and an imagined one. I identified the real problem and offered solutions. At the same time I identified the imagined problem and recommended some reading regarding the basics of winemaking. While I admire those who are gutsy enough to jump right into something new without really understanding what they are doing (the Lord knows I've done this many times), it helps greatly to do a little reading first. Let me help.

Please don't get me wrong. As I said above, I admire those who are gutsy enough to jump right into something new. I made my first liqueur without any idea of how it was supposed to be done and threw it out. I tried to make soap, tan a hide and make wax without any understanding as to how each is done. In my cases, I was trying to reinvent each procedure using very slim clues I had picked up over the years through general reading -- not do-it-yourself or craft books. I did, by accident, reinvent the spinning wheel but totally failed to figure out how to make a loom until I went to the library.

At least the writer I was referring to above had a recipe to follow. Had all gone well there wouldn't have been a problem. But it didn't, there was, and that person had no idea what to do next except seek help. I was able, I think, to steer the novice in the right direction.

I offer here a bit of advice to novices. I have a page called "The Basic Steps." If you read it to the end (it ends with a copyright notice, so if you haven't gotten that far you haven't read it all) and follow the five links representing each step, you'll have a pretty good idea of what is supposed to be happening.

"Using Your Hydrometer" is another essential page, and I strongly suggest you get in the habit right away of recording the beginning specific gravity (s.g.) of every batch you make. There are several reasons for this, all of which help solve real or perceived problems. I'll point out just three that illustrate many emails I've received.

  • If the starting s.g. is higher than the highest s.g. on the chart on the page (hint: it's the number in lower left column on the chart), there is a good chance no fermentation will occur
  • If you get a stuck fermentation, you can subtract the current s.g. from the starting s.g. and determine the current alcohol level, which may be either dangerously low or sufficient to preserve the wine
  • If the final s.g. is a number not on the chart, look for the second chart and see if it is on there (if it is lower than 1.000, indicating a dry wine)

I've posted pages on "Yeast Strains" to help you select an appropriate one. If you're making a country wine (non-grape), you can go to my WineBlog archives and find the entry of October 24th, 2012 and find yeast recommendations for popular fruit and berries.

If you have a real or perceived problem, you can go to my page on "Wine Problems" and see if anything there resonates. Most common problems are there, but not all.

I'll be the first to admit that some things on my site are out of date. In some cases there are contradictions. I learn as I grow older. Just as eggs were good for you, then bad and then good again, my mind gets changed. I am remiss in going back and correcting, but newer posts reflect newer data. Have patience with me and I'll try to have patience with you.


Red Beans and Andouille Sausage Po' Boy

The Metairie Po' Boy (red beans and Andouille sausage), photo courtesy of Ulysses Press/Judi Swinks Photography
The Metairie Po' Boy (Red Beans and Andouille Sausage
photo courtesy Ulysses Press/Judi Swinks Photography)

I love a wide variety of foods, but I really, really love Southern food. I was born and spent my pre-teens in Louisiana so I guess it's in my roots. I love Tex-Mex food, but not like I love Cajun/Creole. The very best Cajun/Creole comes out of New Orleans, and in that regard I've got a real treat for you.

From the moment I opened a new cookbook -- The Southern Po' Boy Cookbook by Todd-Michael St. Pierre, a Cajun/Creole foodie and New Orleans native -- I knew I had hit a flavor-laden goldmine.

As I do with every new cookbook, I immediately started thumbing through the recipes before reading the introduction. The very first one, "The Peacemaker" (fried shrimp and oysters), got my salivary glands working.

I quickly skimmed through many famous New Orleans culinary delights: soft shell crab, crawfish étouffée, fried 'gator tail, shrimp rémoulade, fried catfish, crab cakes, Creole meatballs, eggplant parmesan, fried scallops and chipotle, and much more.

Soon I was heading to the supermarket to get ingredients for a variety of feasts.

My first po' boy from the book was "The Jazz Fest" -- stuffed Portobello mushrooms with two cheeses and balsamic vinegar. As I sat down to eat I started reading the introduction. I sure wish I had started there sooner.


Right Up Front

<i>The Southern Po' Boy Cookbook</i>, by Todd-Michael St. Pierre

The introduction tells the history of the po' boy, which is more than just an interesting bit of trivia. It defines the sandwich.

From the very beginning, size was an integral part of the po' boy sandwich. A small po' boy is large by other regions' standards, and in New Orleans large is gigantic. This huge sandwich is history you can eat. The po' boy dates back to 1929, when sandwich-stand owners and brothers Bennie and Clovis Martin offered free overstuffed sandwiches to striking streetcar conductors, whom they referred to as the "poor boys"....

At first, the Martin brothers used regular French bread, but then they asked the folks at John Gendusa Bakery to make the first poor boy loaf, so they would have a better size sandwich bread without narrowed ends to accommodate more filling. Keeping their promise, the Martins provided the striking workers with big, hearty, belly-filling sandwiches. Bennie Martin said, "We fed those men free of charge until the strike ended. Whenever we saw one of the striking men coming, one of us would say, 'Here comes another poor boy.'"

I never knew this. But another important feature in the introduction is a recipe for the long rectangular breads essential to good po' boys (crusty, like French bread, but in a different shape). I bought "submarine sandwich rolls" at the supermarket. Eight inches long, they are sufficient for "submarine" or "hero" sandwiches but poor substitutes for a po' boy wrapping. And for a po' boy, the bread is more than just a container for the innards. It is part of the culinary experience.


The Metairie Po' Boy

All of the po' boys in The Southern Po' Boy Cookbook have names. "The Metairie" is named for the town just west of New Orleans, sandwiched (pun intentional) between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain. Metairie is the southern terminus of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, the 23.87-mile long bridge that still holds the record as the world's longest bridge over open water.

This is the third po' boy I made using the new cookbook and the first I made using my homemade po' boy sandwich breads. It features three ingredients symbolic of Cajun/Creole cuisine -- red beans, andouille sausage and Creole mustard.

Cajun andouille (pronounced an-doo-ee) is a double-smoked, coarse-grained, pork sausage made with smoked Boston Butt roast, garlic, onions, pepper, wine, and other seasonings. After stuffing the casing, the sausage is smoked again. It can be a reddish-brown, plump, slightly moist, lightly smoked sausage or a thinner, dark, dry, heavily smoked and sometimes aged link -- or anything in between.. The Metairie is made from andouille somewhere between the extremes.

I still had some frozen andouille from the 20 pounds I picked up in Lafayette last year, purchased with gumbo as well as red beans and rice in mind. One thawed link, opened with a length-wise butterfly cut, redirected its purpose. The red beans are essentially red beans and rice without the rice. In the South you can buy Creole mustard, or you can make your own (see below).

Don't let the list of ingredients scare you. Making this is easier than it looks. It just takes time.

  • 1 lb dried red beans
  • 8 oz shredded pork (roast or carnitas)
  • 1 tsp olive oil or bacon drippings
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 4 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, very finely diced
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 tblsp crushed red chili pepper
  • 1 tblsp Cajun or Creole seasoning
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 lb andouille sausage
  • 12-inch loaves po' boy French bread rolls
  • Creole mustard (store-bought or homemade*)
  • mayonnaise (optional)
    *Homemade Creole mustard
  • 6 tblsp Dijon-style mustard
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Tabasco sauce or horseradish spread, to taste

1. Soak the red beans in a bowl overnight, in water at least 1 inch over the beans, discarding any floating beans; rinse after soaking and drain.

2. To get 8 ounces of shredder pork, cook a pork roast or carnitas in a crock pot on low according to the recommended directions of the appliance manufacturer or in 1 cup of beef stock overnight (8-10 hours). After cooking, shred the pork with two forks (all of it or just the amount required) and weigh 8 ounces for recipe and use the rest in another meal.

3. In a sauté pan over medium heat, heat the oil or bacon drippings. Sauté the onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large pot over high heat, bring the drained beans and 4 cups fresh water to a boil. As the water reaches a boil, the sautéed vegetables should be finished. Add them to the boiling pot. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 45 minutes. Stir in the shredded pork, crushed red pepper and Cajun/Creole seasoning and simmer 45 minutes longer, stirring occasionally.

4. Remove a cup of the red beans, mash them, then return them to the pot and cook for another 30 minutes. During this last half hour, check the red beans, If water remains in the pot, mash up some more beans and blend them in. Remove from heat, covered.

5. Split the sausage down the length without separating the halves and butterfly it (spread it out flat) in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Pan-fry the sausage until cooked through (about 8 minutes per side).

6. Place the sausage on the bread (spread mayo on the bread if desired). Stir the chopped parsley into the red beans, stir and place a generous portion on the po' boy. Top with Creole mustard. Cut into 2 sections and serve immediately with coleslaw or another fresh vegetable side..


Because I am still on a portion-control diet, half a po' boy works for me and my wife. If eating alone, saving half for the next day produces soggy bread no longer fit to be eaten as a po' boy but still incredibly delicious (the old saying goes: "Monday means red beans and rice, and on Tuesday they taste twice as nice"). So, when my wife is away I just add a little more of the red beans and Creole mustard to the leftover half the next day, microwave 4 minutes on 30% power (to prevent explosive splatter), and eat with a knife and fork. It is every bit as good, believe me. Finally, if you want to order the book (it will make your taste buds happy), you can ORDER IT HERE.


March 3rd, 2014

I was supposed to fly out of Nashville today, but when I logged onto Southwest Airlines yesterday to get my boarding pass my flight was cancelled due to an ice storm rocking the northern half of the country from coast to coast. I was lucky to get on the last flight to San Antonio last night. I love this global warming. It convinces me that Al Gore deserved his Nobel Prize as much as Barack Obama deserved his.


Unsafe chainsaw technique

When I was a junior officer in the Army, like all junior officers I was appointed many "additional duties." Among those were Company Safety Officer, responsible for motor pool, vehicle, weapons, and training safety. I was also responsible for conducting inquiries when anyone was injured in any manner while performing official or leisurely activities on or off post.

No one person could do all of this, his own duties, and a half dozen or more other appointed additional duties. So I relied on senior NCOs, instructors from higher echelons and consolidating safety training with lateral units. In other words, I managed to fulfill the duties expected of me by delegating much of it to others.

But as a result of this additional duty I became pretty good at surveying an area or situation and spotting unsafe potentialities. That's why this photo shocked me. Can you spot what the soldier is doing wrong?

Right away I realized he was not wearing ear plugs or safety goggles. His hearing and eyesight were both at risk when he pulled that starting handle.

I would hate to be his Safety Officer if he suffered negative consequences.

No need to thank me for this simple risk assessment. I just like to share the fruits of my training.


His master's image

I found the image on the left on Pinterest. It melted my heart. If you own a dog, it will probably melt yours too.

When I got home last night around midnight, my dog went absolutely nuts welcoming me home. I've been gone much longer than I have been on this trip but I never had the homecoming I received last night. I suspect it might have had something to do with the thermometer reading 30 degrees F. on the patio but maybe not. All I know is that I really wanted to get some sleep but she would have none of that. She kept me up until 3 a.m. and even then wanted to play some more. Even with the lights out, every few minutes she would come over and sniff at me to make sure I was still there.

This particular dog was a rescue animal and obviously had experienced some unsettling times before we got her. She would not come into the house and so lived outside regardless of the temperature. Two years ago she escaped our fence and was gone for 10-11 days (I'm not sure which) before I opened the front door and found her almost lifeless body on the front porch. She was malnourished and dehydrated yet too weak to eat or drink. I took her to the vet and he did blood work and started an IV. She had several serious problems, not least of which was tick fever and heart worms. The vet said her chances of surviving were less than 50%.

I was given a host of medications and a syringe with which to feed and medicate her through the mouth until she could take food. I carried her into my computer room and slept on the sofa next to her for just over a month while she recovered. We bonded really strongly during that time and she's been a fair weather outdoor dog ever since, only sleeping inside when the nights are bitter cold or refuse to drop below 90. She loves air conditioning and central heating.

This photo sings to me. If you are a dog person, you know what I mean.



TVOS Conference

Grapes, wine and barrel, from TVOS website
Grapes, wine and barrel, from
TVOS website

At the behest of Chris Card, president of the Tennessee Viticultural and Oenological Society (TVOS), I flew to Nashville last week. Since 1973, TVOS conducts and promotes the art and science of grape growing and winemaking to amateurs and professionals in both fields. Their annual conference, a day-and-a-half affair, has concurrent sessions disseminating information, conducting well-managed tastings and featuring speakers with national and international reputations. I therefore wonder how I ended up on the agenda, but do appreciate the honor. I met some terrific people there last year and expanded that body this year.

I hated to miss Dennis Rak's (Double A Vineyards) discussion of nursery production (they harvest 4,000,000 cuttings a year from plantings of about 100 cultivars!), but I simply could not miss John Watkins' concurrent vertical tasting of "Spicy and Sweet Muscats." The eleven wines tasted were from Spain (Malaga), Greece (Island of Samos), Italy (Asti, Lombardy), United States (California Central Valley), Australia (Murray River, Victoria), Chile (Limari Valley), Romania (Murfatlar), France (Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur) and offered a wonderful sampling of both still and sparkling wines. I also sat in on John's tasting of "Marvelous, Muscular Malbecs," where ten wines were presented, all but one from Argentina.

It was a pleasure to sit in on two presentations by Ellie Butz, a microbiologist of wide renown currently representing Lallemand and Scott Labs as well as Vintage Winery Consultants. Ellie was involved in the production of the first American freeze dried malolactic bacterial culture in 1979 by Tri Bio Labs. She was encouraged by the late Philip Wagner to establish a wine analysis lab to support the growing eastern wine industry. She spent eight years with Mississippi State University and fifteen with Purdue University in their enology and viticulture programs. She and Dr. Richard Vine ran the Indy International Wine Competition for many years, growing it into the largest in the United States in 2005. I could go on, but let's just say her bona fides are impeccable.

Her presentation on "Techniques for a Better Bouquet with Oak and MLF" was captivating. I wish it had been four or even six hours long as she covered the subjects with broad brush strokes that barely scratched the surface while still presenting much to ponder and apply. Her second presentation, "The Magic Apple: From Hard Cider to Apple Brandy," included a tasting of several commercial products and instilled an appreciation for the mass production of such elixirs.

Dr. David Lockwood, University of Tennessee, discussed "Virus, Insect and Canopy Management," another subject that can barely be surveyed in 75 minutes. David has along history of providing assistance in vineyard preparation and management to growers in Tennessee.

Robert Green discussed the "Enology and Viticulture Program Online," a feature of the Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Area Community College open to in- and out-of-state students. This is a serious course, but one can take individual classes for specialized needs if one so desires.

Matthew Germano of Germano Wine Cellars did a presentation on "Building a Modern Wine Cellar." I did not attend this, but know from others that he covered a wide spectrum of options, from closet conversions to full-blown winemaking and cellaring construction, both above and below ground.

Oh, and I spoke about my wine blog and took "email" (questions) from the audience -- which I then tried to answer.

I know I missed some presentations, but did not attend them and so don't feel comfortable writing about them.

Friday evening we were bused to the Nashville Lawn and Garden Show where 21 Tennessee wineries conducted tastings of their products. No one could sample them all and still remain standing, but most of us sure tried. A private hors d'oeuvres feast (and I do mean feast) was most welcome, with ample enough food to serve as a dinner and both buffer and mediate the effects of the wines consumed. A Saturday evening banquet offered more food and a never-ending supply of wines to pair or simply enjoy before and after the meal. It was a great trip, even if I had to scramble to leave a day early and missed seeing Nashville's more famous sights and eateries.



Top Topics

Top Topics

Last week I was reviewing the top topics clicked on through my rss feed, Twitter posts and Facebook mentions.

Frankly, I was surprised by the top topics, and this got me wondering about the topics mentioned in emails. In January 2013 I started creating files for email mentions of blog entries, so all I had to do was count them. It took a heck of a lot longer than I thought it would, but once again the results were surprising.

Since most items I post in my blog have unique addresses within the page (this one is page url + #030314B -- #030314A is the entry on the TVOS Conference), it is easy for me to track what people click on and what they don't. But I've really never tallied them up until now. I might do this again some day. It was interesting to me. Your mileage may vary.

Without going into the actual numbers (boring information), the top topics clicked on during the 14 months of January 2013 through February 2014 were (there was a tie for number 4):

#1 Aug 06,2013: What is a Native Grape?
#2 Apr 30, 2013: Serious Home Winemakers
#3 Feb 18, 2014: The Panty-Dropper (Orange Wine)
#4 Apr 24, 2013: 5 Tips for Winning Home Wine Competitions
#4 Jul 15, 2013: Apple Pie Moonshine
#5 Apr 11, 2013: Black Raspberry Wine
#6 May 04, 2013: 5 Snacks for Belly Fat Weight Loss

Since the number 3 topic was only posted two weeks ago, I can only surmise the title and lead-in had something to do with it's traffic. Number 2 is about my trip to Rochester, NY as the guest of the Rochester Area Home Winemakers and I suspect most of the clicks were by members of the club, with many being multiple clicks. Since I have said several times that the best wine I ever made and my favorite wine of all -- grape or non-grape, sweet or dry -- is black raspberry, I think this may have had something to do with the popularity of number 5. Only number 1 was a real surprise, but a pleasant one to me. I love working with real native grapes. If you can make good wine with them, you should be able to make fabulous wine with Vitis vinifera varieties.

Tallying up my emails was even more surprising, as the top three were items I posted in my introductory comments and were not named entries. They were:

#1 Feb 08, 2014: Intro piece on Federal Budget and Entitlements
#2 Apr 11, 2013: Intro piece on my father's passing
#3 Dec 31, 2013: Intro piece on Bob Hope
#4 Jul 15, 2013: Apple Pie Moonshine
#5 Apr 30, 2013: Review of Inside of A Dog
#6 Jul 11, 2013: The Relevance of pH in Wine

A friend told me he sent out an email referencing number 1 and I suspect it got forwarded more than a few times. All but a few thanked me for pointing out what I did. A few of the exceptions were from people living on entitlements who basically told me where to go....

The emails on number 2 were all -- every one of them -- emails of sympathy and condolence and I appreciated every one of them. Many of the email regarding number 3 were veterans who shared memories of Bob Hope touring his or her base -- the man is very beloved by veterans. Most of the emails regarding number 4 were tweaks people applied to the recipe or they shared different recipe versions altogether.

Without exception, emails for number 5 were by dog lovers, with most of the email received 3-5 weeks after my review of the book appeared, although I still get an email about the book every couple of weeks.

Number 6 is the only one of the top six about winemaking, which surprised me. However, the relevance of pH in wine is so important that it didn't surprise me it generated the most emails about winemaking. About a third were from people with a better grounding in chemistry than myself and I'm pleased to announce that only one of them said I didn't understand the subject very well. I suspect the others were just too polite to say it....




February 25th, 2014

I need to apologize once again. I have spent the last few days attending to pressing personal business. Some of it was personal, some medical, some pertaining to commitments I have made, and some of it was (and continues to be) legal. As a result, I have not worked on a WineBlog entry.

When I go more than a week without posting an entry I start getting email asking that I post something. I'm sorry, but life simply trumps this blog. It's in my face without an on/off or pause option.

Because I have a speaking engagement in Nashville I won't be able to work on an entry until next week. Again, my apologies.


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    February 18th, 2014

    Thanks to television -- a marvelous technology we all take for granted -- I'm really enjoying the Winter Olympics. The athletes are wonderful. Many know they don't really have a chance to win a medal, but they give it the best they can on their particular day and that's all anyone can do. The medalists get the glory, but they all -- each and every one of them -- can glow in the satisfaction of knowing that they are Olympians.

    Each athlete survived his or her nation's selection process and they competed -- for themselves and for their nations. Despite their numbers, very, very few people in the world can claim that. Their moments of competition, regardless of the outcome, will form memories that will survive their entire lives. Some that I witnessed will survive mine.

    In 50-60 years each that still lives can hold his or her head high and say, "I was an Olympian." I applaud them all. And thanks to television I can say that.


    The Real West television series

    Speaking of the Winter Olympics on television, I like to watch history programs as well. One of the series I very much appreciate is The Real West, a series that first aired 69 episodes in 1992-96. I enjoy the reruns, which are running on History Channel, MSN and A&E.

    Hosted by the incomparable Kenny Rogers, The Real West was a history lover's series. Every episode was packed with facts, stories, legends and myths surrounding just about every aspect of the old west. It highlighted the early explorers, the Native Americans, famous and not so famous characters, battles, movements, towns -- just about everything you can think of and much you can't.

    One of the things about the series I have always loved is the opening of each episode. Against the backdrop of beautiful vistas, an unknown Native American elder recites what I have always thought was a paragraph of the memoirs of some famous chief. I searched unsuccessfully for some time for this quotation and only tracked it down a few days ago. It is part of a song called "We'eyekin" -- the guardian spirit of the Nez Perce nation. What follows is the first part of the song. The portion quoted in the series begins with the third line.

    One time the wind blew free and there
    was nothing to break the light of the sun.
    In a past that is now lost forever
    there was a time when land was sacred
    and the ancient ones were as one with it.
    A time when only the children
    of the Great Spirit were here.
    to light their fires in these places with no boundaries,
    when the forests were as thick as the fur of
    the winter bear and a warrior could walk
    from horizon to horizon on the backs of the buffalo,
    when the deserts were in bloom
    and the streams pure as freshly fallen snow.
    And during that time when there were only simple ways,
    I saw with my heart the conflicts to come,
    and whether it was to be for good or bad,
    what was certain was that there would be change.

    The Real West seems dated today, not in the history but in the presentation. Although it was only 18 years ago that its last episode first aired, in those 18 years computer graphics, special effects and reenactments have become the norm of historical documentaries. Even so, the episodes are so loaded with information that any true lover of history will excuse the dust of technology's advance and accept them for what they are -- chapters of change, sometimes profound, sometimes not, but always legendary.


    There are songs and there are instrumentals. Among the instrumentals there are a few -- a very rare few -- that are so pure in sound, so stripped of non-essential accompaniment, that they are perfect just as they are. They are also timeless. In 1959 Santo and Johnny performed "Sleepwalk", the very epitome of what I am referring to.

    A year earlier Natalico and Antenor Lima, better known as Los Indios Tabajaras, recorded an instrumental version of a 1932 Spanish song called "Maria Elena." Their recording was not released in the U.S. until late 1962, where it rose to number 6 in Billboard's pop chart and number 3 in Billboard's easy listening chart. Please do your ears a favor and click on this recording.

    I remember this song from my childhood. My mother frequently played a 78 rpm version of it by Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra, with lyrics sung by Bob Eberly, recorded in 1941 -- before I was even conceived. I still remember that version, but it was so fully orchestrated that the skeletal core of the song is difficult to identify. Los Indios Tabajaras' version strips away the orchestration and reveals the essence of the song beautifully.

    My thanks to Leon Cross for tossing me this link to reminisce over and share.



    Fermentation Products

    One possible pathway for the fermentation of glucose into ethanol and carbon dioxide
    One possible pathway for the fermentation of glucose into
    ethanol and carbon dioxide

    A winemaker asked what exactly is produced as a result of fermentation. He knew that alcohol and carbon dioxide are produced at roughly 51.3 and 48.7 percentiles respectively, but what of the other fermentation products such as glycerol and higher alcohols? Excellent question, the answer to which is neither simple nor fully understood.

    The 18th century Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry, demonstrated that sugar is transformed through fermentation into alcohol and carbon dioxide and led him to the startling conclusion that "Matter cannot be created or destroyed," but simply transformed. Following Lavoisier's death Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac determined that the fermentation of sugar results in 51.34% alcohol and 48.66% carbon dioxide.

    Louis Pasteur later established that fermentation is more complex than previously thought and that Gay-Lussac's equation only accounts for about 90% of the sugar transformed. The rest is converted into other substances. No list of these substances will probably ever be complete, as more are discovered every year.

    Emile Paynaud noted:

    The chemical mechanism of sugar fermentation is incredibly complex. The diagram of the most important transformations comprises no less than 30 or so successive reactions, bringing into play a great many enzymes. You might say enzymes are the tools of the yeasts adapted to one stage of the transformation. Each reactions necessitates a specific tool, a different enzyme. The by-products...are somewhat like the remnants of these multiple reactions.
    -- Emile Peynaud, Knowing and Making Wine, 1981

    For many years it was thought that the active mechanism for alcoholic fermentation was the enzyme zymase. Even today writers incorrectly attribute fermentation to zymase. But zymase is not a lone enzyme but a complex of enzymes. Twelve (but not all) of the enzymes involved are listed below in the order they are activated by the yeast:

    • hexokinase
    • phosphoglucoisomerase
    • phosphofructokinase
    • diphosphofructo aldolase
    • triose phosphate isomerase
    • glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate dehydrogenase
    • phosphoglycerate kinase
    • phosphoglyceric mutase
    • enolase
    • pyruvate kinase
    • pyruvate decarboxylase
    • alcohol dehydrogenase

    Not all yeast species possess the same enzymes. One species may ferment one sugar but not another, and there are sugars which are not fermentable by any known yeast. Winemakers and brewers use species that perform the fermentations we desire. Other enzymes that may be activated for particular catalytic or metabolic needs are (in order of potential importance):

    • sucrase (also known as invertase)
    • maltase (also known as glucase)
    • lactase
    • hexosephosphatase
    • reductase
    • carboxylase
    • melibiase
    • endo-tryptase
    • proteolyptic enzymes (also known as the proteinase enzyme group)

    You don't have to understand any of this to make wine. However, if you do understand it conceptually you will realize what miracles yeast are to possess an enzyme toolkit that ferments sugar. Without enzymes, there would be no fermentation and no wine. Remember, the yeast make the wine.

    Peynaud identified the following primary components produced from the fermentation of sugar in water. The list is by no ways complete, as the final entry, " Many trace by-products", is a great many and more are identified all the time. Further, when you add the biochemistry of grapes to the fermenting mass you introduce a very rich environment for hundreds of more by-products. Well over 1,000 components of wine have been detected, so the list below for the fermentation of sugar in water seems sparse.

    Products Formed By The Fermentation of 170 Grams of Sugar
    from Peynaud, 1981

    By-Product Mean mg/L By-Product Mean mg/L
    Ethyl alcohol
    Carbon dioxide
    Glycerol
    Succinic acid
    Butylene glycol
    Acetic acid
    Lactic acid
    80,000
    76,000
    6,000
    800
    400
    300
    300
    Higher alcohols
    Citramalic acid
    Acetaldehyde
    Pyruvic acid
    x-ketoglutamic acid
    Acetoin
    Ethyl acetate
    Many trace by-products
    300
    80
    80
    60
    40
    40
    10
    Unk

    The above numbers are approximations. Much work has been done since 1981 and fermentation of "sugar" allows some variation as there are a great many kinds of sugar even sucrose can have variable compositions.

    Also, the original data for the above table presumes a test sample with 2 grams of residual yeast in the sample (whether live or dead is not revealed). If the sample were not subsequently racked and the yeast lees allowed to undergo autolysis (sur lie aging) with periodic stirring, additional by-products would appear, the most notable being mannoproteins (e.g. mannose), polysaccharides and some glucose -- the first associated with aromatics, mouthfeel, body, and a softening of astringency from tannins; the second possibly affecting mouthfeel (the jury is still out on this); but the latter making the wine susceptible to spoilage bacteria if not biologically stabilized (e.g.with sulfites or prolonged cold storage).

    The actual percentages of alcohol and carbon dioxide resulting from the fermentation of sugar is thus not yet known, at least I have not found a recent revision of the Gay-Lussac equation. I think it unlikely to be his 51.34% alcohol and 48.66% carbon dioxide, but if a revision exists I have not yet run across it and I have eleven 3-ring binders of scientific papers specific to sugar fermentation by yeast. If you have a revised equation and a cited source, please (even pretty please) email me.



    The Panty-Dropper (Orange Wine)

    Cointreau, the secret ingredient in this wine

    In 2004 I made an orange wine with a small amount of orange liqueur added. I offered some to a visiting friend and he talked me out of a bottle before heading home to Georgia. Some weeks later he called and suggested I change the name to "The Panty-Dropper" for reasons your imagination will have to fill in. When I went to post the recipe a few weeks later I couldn't find it. I just ran across it last night (I had used it as a place marker in one of my 3-ring binders on yeast) and decided to share it.

    First, a word about oranges. If you can get Valencia oranges, get 'em. They are the staple orange juice orange. Navel oranges just don't convey the same flavor. If you cannot find Valencia oranges, you can use pure orange juice (no pulp, no preservatives) in lieu of the oranges and water. Check the specific gravity because the sugar requirement will be very different.

    Second, a word about the orange liqueur. I used Cointreau. The only other liqueur I would use is Triplum Triple Sec Orange. These two liqueurs are very well balanced between bitter orange and sweetness, with a perfect blend of spices that complement the orange. Cointreau is 80 proof and Triplum is 78 proof. Triplum costs about half of what Cointreau costs, but the higher price is worth it. No substitutes! If you can't do it right, don't do it.


    The Panty Dropper (Orange Wine) Recipe

    Read the above first.

    Valencia oranges have seeds which must be removed before placing in a blender. Chopped orange seeds will make the wine almost undrinkable. Also, these oranges will have varying sugar content, so after adding water and allowing the juice to blend be sure to measure the specific gravity and calculate the exact amount of sugar to raise the specific gravity to 1.100. You my not get the same number that I did.

    Finally, do NOT add the liqueur until you are ready to bottle the wine. The secret is to allow it to blend with the wine without any further air contact until poured to drink.

    • 6 lbs very ripe Valencia oranges
    • 1 lb 10 oz extra fine granulated sugar (check hydrometer to be sure)
    • 3 qt water
    • 9 oz Cointreau or Triplum Triple Sec Orange
    • 1/4 tsp grape tannin
    • Campden tablets (or potassium metabisulfite)
    • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
    • 1 pkt Red Star Premier Curvee, Lalvin BA11 or ICV-D47 wine yeast

    Use very ripe oranges only. They will be softer to the grip. Put two quarts of water on to boil. Meanwhile, peel the oranges and remove all the white pith (it is bitter and will ruin the wine). Break the oranges into sections and remove all seeds and discard them. Drop the sections and any free-run juice in a blender or food processor and liquefy (you may have to add a cup of water to the blender). Pour the liquefied oranges into a fine-mesh nylon straining bag (or sanitized nylon stocking) in the primary and tie it closed. Add the sugar, tannin and yeast nutrient to the primary. Add boiling water and stir well to dissolve the sugar. Add an additional quart of water, cover and set aside to cool. When cooled to room temperature, add yeast.

    Ferment 7-10 days and remove bag, squeezing to extract juice from pulp. Transfer to secondary, add 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet (or 1/16 teaspoon potassium metabisulfite), top up and fit airlock. Rack every 30 days and again after additional 30 days, adding additional Campden tablet (or potassium metabisulfite) and 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate at 2nd racking. Wait 10 days and sweeten to taste. Wait additional 30 days to be sure fermentation does not continue.

    Add one shot (1 1/2 ounces) of orange liqueur to each bottle (5 bottles for one gallon) and one shot to the wine. Now carefully rack into the bottles and apply corks or screwcaps. Age at least 6 months (one year is better) before tasting. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

    I can neither confirm nor deny the effects this wine may have on a woman that caused my friend to suggest the name. He may have just gotten lucky. However, it is easy to drink too much.




    February 8th, 2014

    Philip Seymour Hoffman, actor and director, dead at age 46

    Philip Seymour Hoffman, actor and director, dead at age 46 from an overdose of heroin -- what a senseless waste of a talented life! He wanted to escape the real world with heroin and he did. If you play with fire, sooner or later you're going to get burned.

    When I was 19 a fairly good friend of mine over-dosed on heroin in a motel in Long Beach, California. A year later, a very close friend -- a genius in mathematics and destined to be a world class chess player -- also went bye-bye on heroin. Then many of my heroes in the music world began checking out. There's a lesson to be learned here.

    Sticking a needle in your arm to find escape is stupidity, as is doing it "just to see what it's like."

    About 30 years ago in San Francisco I ran into an old friend from Southern California who said he was living on the street. We went to a diner I liked and had a late lunch. While eating, he confessed he had a heroin problem and could use some money and a place to crash. I dodged the money and housing issues by instead telling him about a free clinic I knew of where they could steer him into a free rehab program. When he flatly declined this course, I asked him how he ever got hooked on heroin. He said that he became curious as to what it felt like and tried it once just to find out. One fix led to another and now....

    I paid for the meal but did not give him any money or offer him a spare bed. His problem was self-inflicted and I wanted no part of it other than take him to get medical help. Besides, I knew if I gave him so much as a dollar or a one-night stay I would never be rid of him and his expensive addiction. We are all challenged by countless crucial choices in life and when it came to heroin he made the wrong one. So did Philip Seymour Hoffman.


    The national debt ceiling was last raised on October 17, 2013, and technically expired yesterday, but at the last minute Treasury Secretary Jack Lew discovered "special accounting maneuvers" to continue paying the nation's bills until February 27. Can you imagine going to your credit card issuer(s) every few months and asking them to raise your credit limit because you don't have as much money as you'd like to spend? As you will see below, unless Congress takes some painful measures sooner or later to reform spending, entitlements and taxes, the debt ceiling will have to be raised until the United States goes bankrupt or ceases to exist, whichever comes first. I'm betting on bankruptcy.

    The largest element of the current and future debt is called entitlements.

    Entitlements commonly refers to benefits to which we are entitled to as taxpayers or citizens/residents. Some entitlements are earned by virtue of our investment through payroll taxes, such as Social Security and Medicare. Some are not paid for through payroll taxes but out of general revenues, such as Medicaid, Obamacare subsidies, Section 8 housing, SNAP/food stamps, student loan subsidization, and other welfare programs which you do not earn but rather qualify for.

    But there are other entitlements we don't easily think of unless we receive them. Buried within Social Security is a largely unfunded series of additional entitlements for the disabled, widows and orphans. Medical care and disability compensation for veterans are earned through their service, as well as potential lower home loan rates and educational benefits. Another layer of entitlements are paid for by employers, such as federal and state unemployment, worker's compensation and disability insurance.

    While a large segment of uninformed U.S. citizens think entitlements could easily be paid for if only defense spending were reduced sufficiently, the fact is that in 1976 entitlement spending exceeded defense spending and never looked back. In 2012 entitlement spending was more than twice defense spending, and that was after all U.S. troops were withdrawn from Iraq. And the rise in entitlements has only just begun. By 2045 just four programs (Social Security, Medicare, Obamacare subsidies, Medicaid) will devour all revenue of the United States.

    Medicare is adding to federal deficits faster than any other government program. Retiring baby boomers (yes, I'm one of them), an aging population and rising healthcare costs are driving this escalating rise. The second high-riser is Social Security, which began running deficits in 2010, paying out that year $48.9 billion more than taken in through payroll taxes and rising. Without reform, these deficits will only grow and grow and grow and never end.

    Only bold, transformational spending, entitlement and tax reforms, a reduction in the size and scope of government, policies that facilitate economic growth, and personal responsibility can reduce spending to sustainable levels and end deficits without raising taxes to onerous levels. In short, the nation needs to regain a sense of fiscal responsibility.

    None of us (I hope) manages our personal finances the way the government does. National debt will probably never be completely erased, but it badly needs to be brought under control.

    Not only is the government strapping our future generations with crushing obligations which can never be paid for with taxes, its irresponsible behavior also threatens each of us. As we have seen in Greece, Spain, Italy and other countries that embraced the mirage of unending "free" entitlements, when you run out of other people's money that house of cards collapses. Ours grows shakier every day.

    Much, but not all, of the information here was summarized from a blog entry by Tyler Durden, linked to at the end of today's entry. In it he lays out the problems and debunks the several popular fixes habitually circulating -- cutting discretionary spending, reducing (and even totally eliminating) defense spending, letting tax cuts expire, taxing the wealthy, raising taxes on everyone, etc. It is worth visiting.


    Strawberry wine with pulp cap

    I get some great questions on my Facebook page. One came to me from Tiffany Barnes Blickhan on February 2nd with the accompanying photo. She asked, "Can you please tell me what is going on with my strawberry wine?" Naturally, I wanted to know the particulars involved. After several exchanges, the important clues were as follows:

    This was started on January 13, and fruit removed on January 20. Racked into secondary on Jan 21. Red Star Montrachet active dry wine yeast.... No pectic enzymes were used.

    The fruit fermentation was fine. Strawberry tends to fall apart quickly and a seven-day fermentation is guaranteed to break it down pretty good. Leaving the wine in the primary longer after removing the fruit would have allowed the very fine pulp to form a thin cap which could have been skimmed off before racking. Instead, Tiffany transferred the wine to secondary the next day and the fine pulp with it. The result was the mass of fine pulp that the rising CO 2 pushed to the top.

    The ropiness of the pulp at the very top might be caused by yeast clumping with the pulp but more likely involves pectin. It is difficult to say for sure as this is a young wine for ropiness to develop in, but it looks right. If she racks this wine quickly, leaving the pulpy mass behind, the wine should recover fine.

    Leaving the mass will reduce the volume. I suggested topping up with water (will dilute the alcohol, color, flavor, body), another suitable wine (if no strawberry is available, then a fruity rosé would work) or fruit juice (strawberry would be preferable). A fruit juice would restart fermentation but shouldn't take too long and would rebuild the wine.

    All in all, this is not a serious problem. It looks worse than it really is.


    The above analysis of Tiffany's strawberry wine raised the question of how much fermentation pulp contact is enough or too much? That very much depends on the fruit being fermented as well as other factors.

    In the case of strawberries, kiwi, certain pears, paw-paws, or aggregate berries like blackberries, raspberries and their cousins -- fruit that yeast will quickly reduce to disintegrating pulp -- one should monitor the condition of the fruit or berries and remove them before they completely fall apart. Usually 5 days is long enough but the table below also applies.

    For fruit or berries that tend to hold together more completely during fermentation, there are several factors that influence how long to allow them to remain with the must. These factors should help influence a decision for either short pulp contact or long pulp contact.


    Shorter Pulp Contact Longer Pulp Contact

    Ripe or over-ripe
    Strong color in skin / pulp
    High tannin in skin / seeds
    Low or marginal acidity
    No or low sulfiting
    Room temperature fermentation
    Short-lived wine with little or no aging

    Under-ripe or just becoming ripe
    Lighter than expected skin / pulp color
    Weak to moderate tannin in skin / seeds
    High acidity
    Aseptic level of sulfiting
    Low temperature fermentation
    Long-lived, aged wine

    Some fruit or berries can be pressed after being removed from fermentation but many are too fragile when removed to survive pressing -- peaches, nectarines, apricots, figs, quinces, etc. The condition of the pulp as well as the table above should dictate when to remove it.

    The table above applies to grapes as well as fruit and other berries. I hope you find it useful.



    Concord-Elderberry Wine

    Concord grapes
    Concord grapes ready for the crusher

    Elderberries make an excellent wine by themselves but, like most wines, when blended with another base seems to excel. The elderberry contributes color, tannin and complexity to the blending base while mellowing and melding into the flavors contributed by the other. By request, I share a Concord-elderberry mixed fermentation yielding 5 gallons.

    I am still aging an elderberry-Concord blend which is now 9 years old. I blended 4.5 gallons of elderberry wine (from a 5-gallon batch made with 3.5 gallons of elderberries -- I never weighed them) and 1.5 gallons of Concord (from two 1-gallon batches made from concentrate). The recipe below uses Concord grapes and frozen elderberries. You can use fresh elderberries if they happen to ripen at the same time as your Concord grapes.

    This (below) is a good recipe. The wine can be drank young or allowed to age -- or both. The elderberries will give it good color.

    If you want to eliminate the water and use more Concord grapes, about 54-60 pounds of grapes should do it, but you're on your own from there. Having not done it, I can't offer adjustments to the other ingredients but they will be minor except for the sugar.

    In the recipe below, a cool, dark place does not mean a winter garage or unheated winter cellar, but rather an interior closet or other place out of direct sunlight. If you do not have a dark interior closet, at least cover the primary loosely with a blanket or other covering.


    Concord-Elderberry Wine Recipe

    • 5 lbs frozen and thawed elderberries.
    • 24 lbs fresh or frozen Concord grapes
    • 8 lbs 4 oz very fine granulated sugar
    • 2 1/2 gal water (approximate)
    • 2 tsp pectic enzyme
    • 1 3/4 tsp acid blend
    • 1/4 tsp potassium metabisulfite
    • 3 tsp yeast nutrient
    • 1 pkt general purpose wine yeast

    Put 1 gallon water on to boil. Meanwhile, crush grapes and elderberries in primary. When water boils, turn off heat and stir in sugar until dissolved, cover and set aside to cool. Meanwhile, sprinkle potassium metabisulfite over the fruit, add 1 1/2 gallons of water, stir well with wooden spoon and cover the primary. When sugar-water cools to approximately 105-115 degrees F., pour into primary, stir and re-cover the primary. Set primary in a cool, dark place for 12 hours total from when potassium metabisulfite is added. Begin a yeast starter solution separately. At the 12-hour mark stir in pectic enzyme, acid blend and yeast nutrient and set aside in cool, dark place for an additional 12 hours. Add yeast starter solution into the must. Cover the primary and set aside in a cool, dark place.

    Punch down the cap and stir the must twice daily. When vigorous fermentation subsides, strain off and press pulp, transferring all liquid to a 5-gallon carboy. Do not top up. Attach airlock and allow to ferment to dryness. Wait additional week and rack into a sanitized carboy. Top up as needed with water and reattach airlock. Set aside in a cool, dark place for 45 days. Rack, stabilize with 1/4 teaspoon potassium metabisulfite and 2 1/2 teaspoons potassium sorbate, dissolved in 1/2 cup warm water, top up, and reattach airlock. Set aside in cool, dark place for 30 days. Sweeten to taste as desired and set aside an additional 30 days. Carefully rack into bottles and wait 3 months before consuming. Will improve considerably with age. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

    When I made this wine (1998) the grapes were sweet but the elderberries were not, so I used a lot of sugar. My advice is to measure the specific gravity after crush and work from there. As you add water, continue measuring specific gravity and adjust.



    Red Beans and Rice

    Red beans and rice, with ham hocks and sausage
    Red beans and rice, with ham hocks and
    sausage

    Many people have written me offering to write guest entries. I always decline, not because I don't respect them but because this is my blog. If I want to incorporate others' content I'll do it my way. That way you can only blame me if something is wrong or you disagree. But the following entry is not mine. It was written by my brother Barry and my only contribution is very minor editing. It is his own recipe for a Cajun/Creole favorite, Red Beans and Rice.


    Barry's Red Beans and Rice
    by Barry Keller

    It's Monday, you're in New Orleans. You go to a neighborhood restaurant. You order the day's special. It will be red beans and rice. On Monday, it always is. Some say it started as a way to use the ham bone left from Sunday's dinner. Others say it started so that a Creole housewife could do her Monday washing while the beans simmered on the stove. I don't know if either of these origins of the red beans and rice Monday tradition is true, I only know you haven't lived till you've tasted real red beans and rice. This one is a real treat for your taste buds.

    Ingredients:

    • 1 lb dry red beans
    • Water
    • 6 large ham hocks (3-1/2 to 4 lbs) or two ham shanks (3-1/2 to 4 lbs)
    • 1 lb sausage (Andouille is preferred, but pork kielbasa works just as well, cut diagonally into 3/4-inch chunks)
    • 2-1/2 cups finely chopped celery
    • 2 cups finely chopped onions
    • 2 cups finely chopped green bell peppers
    • 5 bay leaves
    • 2 tsp white pepper
    • 2 tsp thyme
    • 1-1/2 tsp minced garlic
    • 1-1/2 tsp oregano
    • 1-1/2 tsp basil
    • 1-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
    • 1 tsp black pepper
    • 1 tbsp Tabasco sauce
    • 4-1/2 cups cooked, long-grain white rice
    Ham hocks
    Ham hocks are loaded with flavor, but should
    be trimmed of skin and fat for this dish

    Directions:

    Soak beans overnight in a large pot of water. The water should be an inch or two above the beans.

    The next day, into a large saucepan or Dutch oven, dump the ham hocks, the vegetables, the spices and 10 cups of water. Stir, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for an hour or so. Remove the ham hocks and set aside.

    Drain the beans and add them to the pot along with 6 more cups of water. Cover and simmer for an hour more, stirring occasionally (more often toward the end of the hour). Stir in the sausage and let it simmer until the beans start to fall apart, 30 minutes or so. Scrape the pan sides and the bottom often to keep the beans from sticking and burning. If it becomes too dry, add in a little more water. At this same time, start cookin' that rice! Add the ham hocks back in and heat for 10 more minutes. If there are hunks of fat in the ham hocks, keep them out. If using ham shanks, remove the bones and anything else that doesn't look too edible. You really just want the meat.

    OK, there is another way to make this which is how I always do it anyway. Soak the beans in a crock pot as above and pour out the extra water the next morning. Add all ingredients (except the rice) into the crock pot. Cover and simmer all dang day long (8 to 10 hours). Pull out the extra fat and/or bones.

    To serve, plop a big serving o' rice onto a plate. Smother with red beans. Make sure there are generous portions of ham and sausage on the plate. This is hot and spicy. A beer goes really great with it. Your mouth will think it has died and gone to heaven!

    You can also make this without the sausage, but I never do.

    End of Barry's Recipe

    I never leave out the sausage either. It just isn't right without it. And Barry is right about the crock pot and the wonderful things this dish does to the taste buds.

    Barry shared his recipe many years ago after working years to perfect it. I've played with green and red bell peppers and increasing the garlic and the cayenne pepper -- even replacing the latter with ground chipotle -- without improving it. This recipe simply works, and if you're really hungry serve it with a slice or two of buttered French bread and a salad on the side.

    And please, don't ruin it by adding tomatoes or tomato products. This is a tomato-free dish. Save the tomatoes for your salad.




    January 31st, 2014

    It has been a long hiatus since my last entry -- an entire month. I sincerely apologize, but life happened and was demanding. Unexpected projects around the homestead, another medical problem, my wife's automobile accident in California -- all conspired to compete for my attention. I have a couple of trips planned in the near future and some other writing commissions I'm obligated to, but hope they will not upset my posting schedule as much as the last few weeks have. Despite whatever else I am doing, this blog is always on my mind.

    I have discarded my New Year greeting and a couple of other introductory vignettes I had written for the blog, but have kept three and added one (on the weather). None of these are related to winemaking so you can skip them if you wish to without hurting my feelings.

    You have no way to know this unless I confess it, but I often write many more introductory pieces than I keep. Something attracts my attention and I write about it, but if I posted them all there would be no room for winemaking, so I discard many.

    But I do hope you all enjoyed your holidays. They are so important to maintaining close relationships. I do regret my influenza bout kept me quarantined but hope your experience was more rewarding.


    Just as I was preparing to post this last night (January 30) my website disappeared. I called the hosting support team and they indicated a 10-24-hour restoration period. I have already received 2 emails, a Tweet and a Facebook message reporting the site is down, but I just checked and it is up once again. These things happen.


    <i>Burn Notice</i> cast (l to r) Sharon Gless, Bruce Campbell, Jeffrey Donovan and Gabrielle Anwar
    Burn Notice cast (l. to r.) Sharon Gless, Bruce
    Campbell, Jeffrey Donovan and Gabrielle Anwar

    I'm a big fan of Burn Notice, the 7-season series that ran on USA Network from June 2007 through September 2012 and now is being rerun onIon Television. When the series first aired I had mixed feelings about it. The premise that, "When you're burned...you're stuck in whatever city they dump you in" insulted my intelligence. But once I actually got past that line in the pilot (and the introduction of every episode), I warmed up to the series itself. There are many reasons.

    For starters, Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) is easy on the eyes, even eyes with macular degeneration. Especially in a bikini. Then there are the gratuitous shots of hot babes in bikinis in most episodes, but now I'm repeating myself.

    The two real reasons I like it are (1) the scenarios are multi-layered, pretty creative, often using McGyver-like ingenuity, and downright entertaining, and (2) the narratives by Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donovan) are loaded with good (and quite real) trivia, statistics and tradecraft (spycraft, to the uninitiated). So good, in fact, that the Agency's (no one has called it "the Company" in decades except bad writers) Studies in Intelligence, a classified publication I received at work for about 24 years, featured a positive review of the series several years ago and specifically applauded the tradecraftsmanship (new word -- I just made it up) Weston employs. You can't get a better endorsement than that.

    The acting is good but not appreciated. Its only Emmy Award nomination for acting was Sharon Gless (plays Madeline Weston) in the category of "Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama." I personally think Bruce Campbell (as Sam Axe) was deserving in the 2011 prequel movie, Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe Although Jeffrey Donovan is solid in every episode, the scripts do not allow him to be anything other than Michael Weston, burned spy. Pity.

    Season one is screening now on Ion. Season two should be starting soon. Hell, maybe they've already transitioned into season two. In either case it's worth watching if you like action adventure and very creative plots. Check your cable or wireless provider for Ion Television and look for it in the schedule (Thursdays). I record them for convenient viewing.


    <i>Thank The Lord, He Only Made One Like You</i>, by Bob Wehner

    Bob Wehner is a friend of my wife and me and a lifetime member of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild. He's a caring and remarkable man. He recently published his memoirs and I was the first to post a review on Amazon. That review follows.

    Thank the Lord, He Made Only One Like You! (Paperback)

    Review by Jack Keller: 5 stars
    Entertaining journey over time with a man who has lived a full life

    Bob Wehner happens to be a friend of mine, but I'll try not to let that fact bias my review. Over the years I've heard many of the stories in "Thank the Lord, He Made Only One Like You!", but reading them, fleshed out as they are, was like hearing them for the first time.

    Bob's memoirs attest to a full and blessed life and is broken down into four parts. Part I covers highlights from his depression era and Word War II childhood years and includes collecting autographs and meeting movie legends of the time -- Glenn Ford even gave him a ride home -- while spending a summer in California (Lookout California), witnessing a suicide after a double murder (A Hot Summer Day), to hearing personal stories of Charles Lindbergh from family friends (More Boyhood Memories), walking into his aunt's house after being reported dead (Stranger Than Fiction), and other memories.

    Part II then jumps to his service days, participating in an airlift to get hay to snowbound cattle during one of the worst blizzards in Arizona's history (Operation Haylift), participating in the Berlin Airlift (The Berlin Airlift, and other chapters), to his days as a submariner when he was instrumental in the first submarine penetration of Puget Sound aboard the USS Sea Devil using a ruse (Aw, C'mon, Get Real), serving with the man who dove in to rescue Lt. George H. W. Bush from the waters off Chichi Jima (Far East Bound), and living through a battery fire in a Mark 47 electric torpedo (Torpedo Nightmare).

    Back in civilian life (Part III), Bob recounts how he became the youngest Dairy Queen owner in the country (at age 22), his marriage to Kay -- a Miss Missouri contestant -- (The Big Wedding), his tenacity at securing a job with Cessna (The Cessna Adventure), engine trouble while flying over Arkansas (The Longest Ten Minutes of My Life), and many personal stories about life, marriage and parenting which are both interesting and inspiring. They reveal the kind and decent people we know the Wehners have always been.

    The Final part of the book is a testament to Bob's love for his wife of 50 years and 5 weeks. We attended their 50th anniversary only recently aware that Kay had been diagnosed with incurable cancer two months before. Five weeks later she passed away while taking a nap. Knowing Bob as I do, I weep for him when reading the final chapters. His love never waivered and has not diminished since her passing.

    There are stories missing but their absence doesn't take away from the book. I suspect Bob simply got tired of writing.

    This is a very good book to read, filled with wonder as seen through the eyes of a boy, with service as seen through the eyes of a sailor and submariner, with daring and determination as seen through the eyes of a young man, with love and devotion as seen through the eyes of a husband and father. I recommend it to anyone who likes reading about living with values. You don't have to know Bob to appreciate a life well lived.

    If you want to buy the book, click on the picture above (currently only available at Amazon.com), order it, read it, and write a review. Or, order it HERE.


    I have twice posted videos of performances of "Nella Fantasia" on this blog -- on December 30, 2011 by Sung-bong Choi, and on March 7, 2012 by Sarah Brightman. I'm posting yet another performance of that song, both because I love the song and I love the performer.

    I'm not sure where or when this was performed, but I wish I had been there. Whenever it was, the performer was still young, being only 13 years old as I write this. Born Jacqueline Maria (but known to all as "Jackie") Evancho, this young lady will turn 14 on April 9th of 2014. Think about that as you watch this performance.


    Jackie Evancho has released 6 albums (her first, Prelude to a Dream, was withdrawn from distribution by her parents after her appearance on America's Got Talent and is now a collector's item). O Holy Night, released in 2010, debuted No. 2 on Billboard 200, No. 1 on Billboard's Classical Albums and No. 2 on Billboard's Holiday Albums. It went platinum in 3 1/2 weeks, making Evancho the youngest solo artist ever to go platinum. Her subsequent albums had similar successes. She is an amazing performer and I expect her to be around for a long, long time.


    Back on September 29th, 2013 I mentioned that both The Old Farmer's Almanac and Farmers Almanac both predicted "a bitterly cold upcoming winter." The latter publication even predicted "a winter storm will hit the Northeast around the time the first outdoor Super Bowl is played at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. It also predicts that two-thirds of the country will experience a colder than normal winter, with heavy snowfall in New England, the Great Lakes and Midwest regions."

    The National Solar Observatory and NASA both made similar predictions based on the absence of a solar maximum last year -- a period of increased sunspots and resulting solar radiation that occurs every 11 years. During the "Mini-Ice Age" of 1645 to 1715 there were no solar maximums observed, although their cycle was well understood by then.

    So, as you chip ice off your windshield repeatedly this winter, remember -- you may well have read it first here if you don't read the standby Almanacs.



    Complementary Wine Ingredients

    Mixed fruit, photo from hdwpapwes.com

    I've received many requests for wine and food pairings, for grape and non-grape blending suggestions, and several that really interested me -- for pairing ingredients that complement one another in mixed ingredient wines. Undoubtedly, certain ingredients go well together while others do not. While I cannot provide a definitive list of either, I can suggest ingredients that I know complement each other.

    Complement is a precise word with several meanings, used here in the sense of either of two parts that complete the whole or mutually complete each other. The table below offers a number of complementary selections for each ingredient listed, but by no means the only ones. With the exception of ginger, vanilla and occasionally mint, I omitted listing herbs and spices. Cinnamon, cloves, anise, and many other spices could have been added in some cases but I chose not to go there for reasons I won't go into.

    There are many ingredients not mentioned, not because they don't have complementary potentials, but because I stopped working on the table at 3:45 in the morning and did not pick it up again when I awoke because a minor crisis pulled me in another direction. Thus, it is a work in progress, but I wanted to get it out anyway "as is" because I suspect it will prove useful to many who make country wines.

    I intend to continue working on the table in the future and post a dedicated page on The Winemaking Home Page I can add to as deemed necessary.

    When pairing ingredients, rarely will equal quantities complement each other. You will have to dig through the posted recipes, search elsewhere or experiment to arrive at appropriate ratios, but keep in mind that ratios can be upset by ingredient quality and personal taste. It is easy to add an ingredient, but impossible to take it out once integrated. Thus, incremental additions are suggested. I have added pineapple juice to a wine a teaspoon per gallon at a time to find that exact taste I was looking for -- add, stir, let sit a half hour and then taste and decide what to do next. Patience is required to make really good wines.

    There are two ways to use this table. You can combine ingredients before fermentation or blend wines after their fermentations and clarifications are complete. I do it both ways depending on my confidence in the outcome. Experience will allow you to do the same.

    Ingredient Complimentary Ingredients

    Almond

    Apple

    Apricot
    Asian Pear
    Banana

    Blackberry
    Blood Orange
    Blueberry
    Cherry
    Chocolate

    Coconut
    Cranberry
    Currants, Black/Red
    Elderberry
    Feijoa

    Fig
    Ginger

    Gooseberry
    Grape
    Grapefruit

    Guava
    Kiwi
    Kumquat
    Lemon
    Lime

    Lychee
    Mandarin
    Mango
    Melon
    Orange


    Papaya
    Peach
    Pear
    Persimmon
    Pineapple

    Plum
    Pomegranate
    Prickly Pear
    Raspberry, Black/Red
    Rhubarb

    Strawberry
    Tomatillo


    apple, apricot, Asian pear, banana, blood orange, cherry, chocolate, coffee, fig, ginger, honey, kiwi, orange, peach, pear, plum
    almond, Asian pear, cranberry, currant, ginger, kiwi, lime, mango, maple, pear, persimmon, pomegranate, rhubarb, strawberry
    almond, ginger, honey, orange, peach, plum, vanilla
    almond, apple, ginger, honey, macadamia, raisin, vanilla
    cherry, chocolate coffee, ginger, honey, mango, papaya

    apricot, citrus, grape, other berries, peach, plum
    almond, chocolate, fig, ginger, honey, other citrus
    ginger, fig, lavender, mango, lemon, orange, other berries
    apricot, banana, chocolate, citrus, nectarine, peach, plum, vanilla
    almond, banana, cherry, ginger, mandarin, orange, strawberry, vanilla

    almond, banana, ginger, orange, vanilla
    apple, chocolate, citrus, mango, pear
    apple, chocolate, citrus, grape
    apricot, fig, grape, honey, lemon, mandarin, other berries, peach, plum
    banana, berries, citrus, mango, vanilla

    almond, citrus, pear, vanilla
    almond, apple, apricot, banana, berries, chocolate, citrus, coconut, grape, passion fruit, peach, pear, pineapple, plum, tropical fruit
    citrus, honey, other berries
    berries, chocolate, citrus, ginger, raisin
    other citrus, mint, tropical fruit, vanilla

    citrus, coconut, huckleberry, pineapple, strawberry, tropical fruit
    apple, banana, berries, cherry, citrus, coconut, mango, strawberry, tropical fruit
    berries, cherry, chocolate, coffee, persimmon, plum
    apricot, berries, cherry, other citrus, ginger, nectarine, peach, plum, prickly pear, tropical fruit
    apple, berries, cherry, other citrus, ginger, papaya, plum, strawberry, tropical fruit

    citrus, ginger, gooseberry, tropical fruit
    cherry, chocolate, coffee, fig, ginger, tropical fruits, vanilla
    apple, banana, berries, citrus, coconut, melon, tomatillo, tropical fruits, vanilla
    berries, citrus, grape, strawberry
    almonds, berries, cherry, chocolate, coffee, cranberry, fig, ginger, grape, persimmon, pineapple, vanilla

    banana, citrus, mango, tropical fruit
    almond, apricot, blackberry, cherry, elderberry, ginger, lemon, raspberry, rhubarb
    almond, apple, chocolate, citrus, persimmon, vanilla
    apple, citrus, kumquat, pear
    coconut, tropical fruit

    almond, citrus, honey, vanilla
    apple, citrus, tropical fruit
    citrus, tomatillo, tropical fruit
    apricot, citrus, ginger, nectarine, other berries, peach, plum, rhubarb, vanilla
    apple, apricot, berries, citrus, ginger, nectarine, peach, plum, strawberry

    apple, chocolate, citrus, kiwi, rhubarb, vanilla
    berries, citrus, mango, prickly pear, tropical fruit


    Usually two ingredients are paired -- blackberry and grape, for example, or strawberry and kiwi -- but complex unions are not unheard of. I have made wines with three and four ingredients many times and as many as 21 once -- a vermouth. Some ingredients pair with just about anything. Almond, apple and citrus as a group are obvious examples, but rhubarb has far greater complementary potential than any other ingredient, a fact not exhibited in the table above.

    In truth, rhubarb can be paired with just about any other ingredient. The beauty of rhubarb is that in small amounts it tends to adopt the flavor of whatever it is paired with, making it a great "extender" when you are just shy of having enough of something to make a batch with. If you grow rhubarb and give away your excess, try chopping the excess stalks into 1/2-inch pieces and storing them in the freezer for when you have almost but not quite enough of something else -- whether cherries, gooseberries, kiwis, peaches, plums, persimmons, strawberries, or whatever. If you don't grow rhubarb, consider doing so or make friends with someone who does.

    Finally, raisins, grape concentrate, apricots, dates, barley, and light dry malt extract are all body builders and one or another have been used for decades to centuries to add body to light country wines. Consider them if additional body is needed, but also consider their individual flavor profiles. Once added and fermented, you cannot take them out.



    Wine Won't Stop Bubbling

    'S-shaped' airlock, pushing a bubble through the lower curve

    I had something else planned here, but received an email I thought was more immediate and worth sharing so the other thing will have to wait. The email touches a problem all of us have either experienced or one day will. Hopefully, after this entry you'll know what to do if you experience it one day for the first time.

    Sep 5 -- started a 2.5 gal jug of blackberry wine -- no hydrometer reading taken
    Oct 20 -- FERMENTATION STOPPED
    Oct 26 -- racked into clean jug added campden tablet and pot sorbate -- IT STARTED FERMENTING AGAIN
    Nov 25 -- FERMENTATION STOPPED
    Nov 30 -- racked and added a bit of sugar -- STARTED FERMENTING AGAIN
    Dec 2 -- added more campden and pot sorbate
    Jan 15 -- FERMENTATION STOPPED
    Jan 20 -- racked again and FERMENTATION RE-STARTED

    It tastes great and I really want to bottle it -- will it ever stop fermenting or can I do something to stop it? I'm afraid of the corks popping.
    -- email from Carole, dated January 28, 2014

    My experience suggests the potassium sorbate used was old and therefore useless in stabilizing the wine. Optimally, potassium sorbate should be stored in a dry place out of direct sunlight. Even with proper care, shelf life once unsealed is only 6 to 8 months.

    Potassium sorbate should not be purchased in plastic bags or packets bearing the local homebrew shop's label, as this indicates a bulk supply was opened and the smaller quantities packaged from it. The problem is that the sorbate begins degrading as soon as the bulk supply is opened to the air and may have exceeded its shelf life before it is even purchased.

    I toss out at least 50 times more potassium sorbate than I use because it expires. It simply is the price you pay if you want to really stabilize a wine. All the sorbate I buy is in plastic containers with a foil vacuum seal under the cap. That is the only way to know it will be fresh when the seal is broken

    To stop this wine from bubbling, new potassium sorbate needs to be purchased and added to the wine at 1/2 teaspoon per gallon. Then wait however long it takes for the bobbling to stop. If it were me, I would measure the SO2 when the bubbling stops and bring it up to 50 ppm if not already there, then rack the wine and wait at least an additional 30 days before bottling.

    I know Carole is chomping at the bits to bottle the wine, but whenever a problem is encountered and corrected it is prudent to wait and make sure the problem is solved before bottling. Potassium sorbate does not kill active yeast. It just renders them incapable of producing new yeast. One should expect old yeast to die off after applying an appropriate dosage of potassium sorbate, but it might take a while. The test is to adjust the SO2, carefully rack the wine and observe for a period of at least 30 days.

    Racking, no matter how carefully we do it in a home environment, always introduces some fresh O2 into the wine, a catalyst for activating live but sluggish yeast. A day or two after racking often reveals those reinvigorated yeast as they resume fermentation and bubbling restarts. Be patient.

    When fermentation stops this time the yeast population should have diminished to a safe enough level to rack the wine into bottles, being careful not to disturb the fine dusting of dead yeast on the bottom. Personally, I would wait another 2-3 months after fermentation stops as the die-off will continue for a while and I would rather have the dead yeast precipitate in my carboy than in my bottles.

    Carole's problem is not unusual. I suspect that at least 90% of all home winemakers have inert potassium sorbate in their winemaking supplies. It is an easy detail to overlook.

    Most ingredients have a shelf life beyond which they are useless for the intended purpose. I have listed some of the shelf lives on my site (see links, below). I write the expected expiration date on a small label affixed to the cap of the product, determined by adding the shelf life to the date I first unseal and open the product. I then make a calendar entry a month earlier than the expiration date to remind me to order more.

    I hope this entry helps many more than Carole. Her problem is not unique. I experienced it for years before I happened upon a causal reference to the shelf life of potassium sorbate and a few other items. My self-appointed role is to pass that knowledge on to you. While I do this freely, I do hope if you find the information useful you will consider making a donation to assist in my continued research and experimentation. There is a button above in the left-hand column to facilitate a donation. None is too small to be appreciated.




    For earlier entries, see archives (left column)




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