Usually I am all smiles when writing this blog with my spouse, but I have a tinge of sadness today since our beloved Napa Valley in California has been besieged with flames of late. Many of our friends have suffered losses in their vineyards and the grapes are irreplaceable. It is a heartbreaking sight. We are all rallying behind these victims, helping to restore the vines for the next season. I wonder how the soil will react now that it is laden with ash. The fires last month were devastating, but it won’t stop us from touting the benefits of wine from a health and pleasure perspective. Life goes on. I will wait to take you on a mental tour of the local wineries and describe various types of wine tastings and the food that goes with them. There is a lot to say about wine appreciation and how to develop the right palate. You can learn a whole new vocabulary to express your opinion. All this will be a subject for another time. Today I want to talk about making your own wine when you don’t live in a glorious wine-growing region. Wine can be made in the traditional way in areas like Napa and Sonoma, but innovations have made the results much better in terms of flavor and texture. No, we don’t see people around here standing in barrels squashing grapes. Now we use air compressors from https://www.compressorforce.com/the-best-air-compressor-reviews/ to perform the usual task of crushing and pressing the grapes. It is wonderful to have these shortcuts in modern times. However, some of you might want to make wine at home, kind of like brewing bathtub gin. Ha! Seriously, you can buy starter kits with complete instructions. Once you have a few good recipes, you are ready to start. People who make their own beer often like to diversify and they attest to the efficacy of the process. Personally, I would rather grow the grapes. The result is much better. However, you need to buy oak barrels, sanitizing equipment, bottles, etc. It can be quite an investment. For a hundred dollars, you can buy a Master Vintner (I love the name) kit. I am all for it if it makes you enjoy wine more often. It goes with anything from pasta and pizza to lamb chops and fish. You can get kits for different types of wine like chardonnay or cabernet. You get two 8-gallon fermenting buckets with drilled lids, a fermenter’s siphon and bottle filler with tubing. You also will find a triple scale hydrometer, corks and certain chemicals like sodium metabisulfite. If you use the recipe in the kit, you will already have everything you need. Meanwhile now that the smoke has cleared and we have those glorious blue California skies back again, it is time to make the rounds and encourage the vintners here to carry on. Any words of support from you are most welcome.
In our part of the world, people entertain. They want to share their vast wine collection. A swim party is not uncommon in the summer and early fall. People love to be outside near the vineyards. They make a glorious backdrop for socializing. Folks are friendly in our neck of the woods. It is not a greatly populated area and most locals know each other if they live in and around Napa. What a blessing to live in such a beautiful region, but of course the big attraction is the wine. Some vineyards have been here for decades or more. Others are new. There was a time when everyone wanted to get into the wine business. It was surely for profit but also the cachet of being in an esoteric realm. Many people have become true experts and others aficionados. They are like groupies. Wine tastings are highly coveted and well attended. Tourists get the schedule and plan vacations around the best dates. You have to book early to get in. Meanwhile, a pool party now and then breaks the presumed monotony. For us, wine tastings are the heart of our business, but we also enjoy other activities as well. We were planning one of these swim soirees so we checked out the pool to see if it was clean and the auto heating system operating in good order. We also checked the robot vacuum and it was just fine. Some people like to get in the pool early, even before dinner to help them relax. They don’t exactly swim laps but use it like a hot tub. It is an ideal setting for an outdoor event. Upon checking the pool, however, I noticed a tear in the lining of the above ground pool. These pools are not concrete and are fragile if over used. I don’t remember when this happened. It could have been months ago. You can still use a pool with a defective liner, but it didn’t look nice. So I hopped in the truck and drove the considerable distance to the nearest pool supply store. Thankfully, they had above ground pool liners for my type in stock. I grabbed it and practically flew home. I didn’t have a lot of time and I would need to drain the pool in order to install the new liner. Then I would have to refill it and set the correct temperature. I had to give it time to reheat. I was so glad that I checked the pool at least a day before entertaining so I could accomplish the relining task. Sometimes I wish I had an in-ground pool, but honestly it wouldn’t have worked in the vineyard setting. The above ground style comes in various sizes and you can accommodate your property. I had many good places and finally chose one near a vine-covered pergola. Guests loved the hike they had to take to get there. It was truly so picturesque. We set up a grill so we could barbecue our dinners for these swim parties. Everyone always wants an invitation.
In the Napa, California region, you can take a wine tour every day and hit a different winery. The area is so charming and picturesque that you want to spread your wings and explore. There is so much within a small territory. You discover something new about wine in every location and you can add to your personal collection as you go. You can go for a day visit and it takes a couple of hours to sample a few wines and munch on the local cheeses. You can also make a weekend outing and stay at one of the many quaint and luxurious bed-and-breakfast inns. You can very personalized service. The rooms have huge beds with custom linens to match the décor of each one. There are views from all the windows. Breakfast comes with the room and you can be sure it is by prepared by a gourmet chef. No two inns serve the same food. After lunch you can start your private wine tasting and a tour of the vineyard which includes watching wine making and a glimpse of the huge oak barrel storage rooms. You can speak personally with the vintner and hear about the latest grapes and what is happening this season. You can ask questions and glean as much knowledge as you care to gather. Come night fall, you can visit one of the many restaurants in the region, some of great repute like the French Laundry—that is if you can even get a reservation. In the late evening it is time to take a soak in the indoor hot tub in a private building in a remote section of the grounds. What a treat. The water is warm and soothing and it has spray jets to massage your muscles. It is a great way to end a wonderful day. You are madly in love with the inn and take walks around the vicinity any change you can get. A bed and breakfast is a unique experience that is typical in Napa and in town they are in old Victorian houses. So you can choose if you want to be in a winery or a historic house. They are both worth a try at least once each so you can compare. Either way you can take the Napa train and enjoy dinner as you view the scenery along the route. There are multiple ways to make your stay special. The hot tub has to be the one thing that really stood out for us. Part of it was the walk to the building in which it was housed and part of it was the way it topped off a perfect evening. We enjoyed one last glass of wine while enjoying the splendor of the steaming water. It was the perfect night cap and part of the inns tradition for guests. We expect we will return shortly for another wine tour weekend. Try it yourself for a special experience.
Napa Valley is a glorious wine region in Northern California less than an hour from San Francisco and the Bay Area. You can get there pretty fast. As a result, it gets legions of tourists who come to taste the local product and tour the many fine wineries. Many people retire in the valley and spend their senior years learning more about grapes and various processes innovated in the region. Some even take the picturesque train that runs through the area which provides stellar views. All in all, we are proud to represent Napa Valley and the reputation it has accrued over the years, placing its wines favorably in competition even with the illustrious French. No doubt you have seen many of the movies filmed on site. They tell of the colorful success stories. In addition, anyone who lives around the vineyards has a wine cellar that boasts of the best years—and there are lots of them. It takes a lifetime to learn enough to be a real expert and in the know. People even in outlying areas inspired by Napa want to have a wine cellar as well. There is a certain art to building one to make sure there is proper temperature control and adequate dry storage. Having your own wine cellar is a wonderful luxury indeed; imagine you can have wine around the clock, whenever you like. You can build the shelves yourself or buy pre-existing units suitable for red and white wines co-existing peaceably. If you love wine as we do, you will take every precaution to protect your collection and that includes from the onslaught of mold. An air purifier that rids the environment of this deadly stuff is a must in any well-stocked and well-provided wine cellar. This is something that not everyone knows. They think you need to have air conditioning first and foremost. It takes more than this to regulate the cellar. An air purifier for mold is not just for allergies and being with respiratory problems. It can help keep mold at bay and limit any invasion of the wooden wine barrels. In point of fact, you can see that there is a lot to know. Mold can be destructive. It isn’t just that it is unsightly as it clings to the precious bottles. Anything that alters the taste of the wine is a threat indeed. While an air purifier is a must along with other equipment in your cellar, the purpose is to collect wines that you love and enjoy in sufficient quantities. I know many an aficionado who adores a special wine, but drank one case in no time flat and couldn’t get that particular year any more. Make your wine cellar your loving baby that houses wine from wineries you have visited. It is a great way to store memories in bottle form. Being from Napa, I can assure you that there is no shortage of wine from which to choose each and every day. It takes weeks to attend wine tastings in the region. You never run out.
There aren’t many homes here in California that have actual cellars like they do on the East Coast or in the Midwest, probably accounted for by weather. Likely it has something to do with earthquakes vs hurricanes or tornadoes. Our wine cellar is actually an addition that we added after we bought this house, and probably the best improvement to it we’ll ever make! Because it was an addition, we had to put in separate heating and cooling for it—there was no way to extend the duct work. One of the solutions that we found can work for both “cellars” like ours and for those of you with actual underground cellars. Our architect recommended radiant floor heating for when it gets cooler in the winter, or if we have visitors who don’t like the chill of the room. We thought this was an excellent idea, as we needed to put in flooring anyway, so it was a bit of a two for one! Radiant floor heating consists of a thin wire that zigzags around underneath your flooring. We went with wood for ours. You cannot see or feel the wire under the floor but you can feel it working. And it is blissful. We’re talking about installing it in the rest of the house now. We’re converts, for a few reasons:
- As everyone knows, heat rises. In a typical two story home, the vents are near the floor on the second level and in the ceiling on the lower level, so that ductwork can run in between the two floors. When it’s cold out and you’re on that first floor, the heat isn’t getting to you unless you’ve also got a fan circulating the air back down to where you are. And if you have high ceilings, forget it. You’re freezing in those rooms and your family members are sweating in other rooms with regular ceilings. With radiant heat, it is starting from the bottom and heating as it goes upward. You aren’t wasting money heating your ceiling anymore. And half the time, when the heat cycles off, you’re cold again even if you were warm before.
- Forced air blows dust and allergens at you every time it kicks on. You probably know this already because you’ve taken a look at your air filters when you’ve replaced them. And that dust is just sitting in the ductwork, which is an unappealing thought. Radiant heat, however, isn’t forcing air anywhere. It heats the air closest to it, that air rises and warms you.
- Because it is more efficient, it is actually less costly to run. If we had it in our entire house, we would use what is called zoned heating—we could set the temperature for each area of the house. We both hate how cold the bathroom can feel during the day. However, the dining room and its western exposure doesn’t need much help staying warm, even in winter. Rather than set the whole house to one temperature—and you know that’s not really what happens, some rooms are cold while others are stifling—we could set the bathroom to get warmer and barely heat the dining room at all. This would also help save us some money.
A wine cellar is a repository of treasures in the form of liquid gold, be it red, rose, or white. The ability to drink wine from a collection on the spot is instant pleasure. Having an extensive one is a privilege indeed. For those of us in the wine business, living in the heart of wine country like Napa, it is expected to have the cellar well stocked with local vintages. There are responsibilities that go with the territory and most aficionados know their business. Caring for the wine involves all kinds of storage decisions and also the maintenance of temperature and humidity control. Newbies beware the pitfalls of the industry. If you are new to the enterprise, it takes some consultation and discussion with the experts at Humidity Helper who will steer you straight and help you avoid costly errors. Installing humidifiers and dehumidifiers, for example, can make a huge difference in the outcome of a crop. The problem with most makeshift wine cellars is that they more than often do not have such appliances. The average wine lover keeps a few bottles on hand, maybe a few cases of a favorite label—perhaps purchased on a wine tasting tour. The avid wine lover wants more. He or she will buy a storage unit with built-in racks that is beautifully climate controlled and that can be installed anywhere, or the individual will make a cellar in a part of the basement. It is all about the kind of experience desired. Basements can be man caves that include a custom bar and home entertainment systems or they can be the repository of the washer or dryer. How you see your collection will dictate the choice you make. Temperature in a cellar or room can be erratic and vary with the seasons from sweltering hot to bitter cold. Your basement may not have A/C. You may want more or less moisture in the air as the case may be without it. So assessing your climate and individual needs is vital. You will no doubt place the cellar containing your prized collection in the optimal location on your property and you will go from there. Humidifiers that emit steam and mist seem redundant in dank, moist basements, but they can be useful in dry, arid climates. Dehumidifiers take care of excess moisture that causes mildew and mold. You don’t want a lot of that decorating your oak barrels. Barrels must remain dry on the outside since mold can damage the wine. There is a happy medium. Wine aging in barrels can lose volume if stored improperly. High humidity seems to be the environment of choice and natural cellars traditional served wineries and vintners. Nowadays, people use above ground cooled aging rooms with all the necessary modern technology. That means humidifiers used to cut loss by evaporation. I read about smart fog humidification which supplies “dry fog” to an area needing high humidity. Droplets are emitted that evaporate into the air. No free water collects on wine barrels and the aging room floor remains dry.
I am going to take a moment to diverge from my favorite topic of wine and recount a conversation I had with a couple we met on a tasting tour. They had recently been robbed and it was on their mind. They needed to talk about it to vent the fear that had acquired. It was not just about sharing. Not having experienced a home invasion, mobbing, or other similar threat, I was at first distant; but as the subject got personal, I realized that I could be a victim at any time. What struck me is the fact that you can’t be too safe. Ten locks on the door are irrelevant if a window can be pried open or you have a means of entry in the basement or garage. On behalf of myself and my family, I fully intend to buy a gun and safe to house the weapon. I hear that Stack-On is a good choice for the average owner. So let’s see what you need to know. An example is the PWS-1522 which is a type of fall safe that fits between studs. I wanted one that was large enough to handle various contents and also one that was bolted in place. In this case, the safe is mostly inside the wall and the door can be concealed from public view. No one would know that firearms, documents, keys, jewelry, cash, and other valuables were housed neatly inside. What attracted me to this model was the burglary-resistant solid plate steel pry-resistant door with an extra-thick steel locking plate. There is also an interesting safety feature that goes into action if there are several attempts to open the lock. For yourself, there is an emergency access override key included. Stack-On makes a number of good safes that uses fingerprints, for example, instead of an electronic key pad. They also have a variety of strong boxes. I mention this brand because it is a leading manufacturer of top-quality security products. You can’t go wrong, so look no further! They go back to 1972, by the way, and have earned a solid reputation for specialty storage including guns. I also like the FS-24-MG-C elite fire resistant convertible safe with combination lock. Your firearms and ammo are secure and out of reach. It is tamper proof and worry-free. You never want weapons to be too visible and attract children or unauthorized users. Plus this model has a DOJ firearm safety device and can protect belongings from fire up to 1400 degrees F for thirty minutes. This is a large unit as gun safes go and can hold 24 rifles but I wanted to give an idea of what people typically like, including collectors who want storage galore. You get live action steel locking bolds and steel dead bolts with 8 locking points. There is nothing as secure as solid steel and a reinforced door. Inside is quite another story. It is carpeted and contains four adjustable shelves. So my decision has been made and I will soon be the proud owner of a protective weapon. I will also have the usage of a top-tier gun safe that is a mandatory additional purchase.
Location matters with real estate. Does it matter with wine? I would say yes, but this has been exaggerated among some wine enthusiasts. They make it seem like the only wines worth tasting came from France, Spain, and Italy. Other countries actually have stepped up to the plate. They've tried to create better wines, and plenty of them have succeeded. There is plenty of great English wine and great American wine, contrary to popular belief. France, Spain, and Italy may always have them beat because they got such a huge historical head start, but an expensive wine from there is better than a cheap wine from France, Spain, or Italy. Not to mention, the exact location in which the grapes were raised makes a huge difference. A Malbec from Argentina is going to taste sweeter than a Malbec from France. Lots of people would guess that it was the opposite, since French wine has a better reputation than Argentinian wine. Some wine enthusiasts don't value sweetness as much as other qualities either, complicating the situation. However, I would say that you can't make too many generalizations about wine. It's inspired centuries worth of study and dedication for a reason. If it was all about choosing French wine over English wine, you couldn't make a hobby out of it.
Wine tastings are among the only sorts of events where it is completely socially acceptable to spit in public. The spittoons or tasting buckets that are going to be available at almost any wine tasting are really an essential public service. People would eventually be falling down drunk without the use of these spittoons. Even people who are great at pacing themselves during wine tastings are still going to end up taking in enough wine that they will end up drunk before long. You have to spit out the wine if you're actually going to enjoy the day. Wine enthusiasts have gotten our fair share of mockery over the years. That's fine: it's not like we haven't earned it at all. Lots of us are even proud of it. However, wine tastings are ideally not just excuses to get drunk. I personally don't think that anyone needs an excuse to get drunk. I sure don't use wine tastings as that excuse. I also recommend doing what you can to prepare for a wine tasting in advance. I know that my own tolerance for alcohol has gone down as I've gotten older, even though I've been going on vineyard tours and to wine tastings my entire life. It's just one of those inevitable consequences of aging that I guess a lot of people don't notice because they aren't hobbyists. At any rate, I try to make sure I've eaten something before going to a wine tasting. Most wine tastings are going to have food there, but you can't always guarantee that it's going to be enough to make a difference when it comes to your alcohol resistance. I recommend making sure that you never have to find out, which is where eating in advance comes in. Make sure that whatever you eat is high in protein and fat, too. I also recommend making sure that you're hydrated in advance. Try to make sure that you have some water with you, just in case. You never know what you're going to find at certain wine tastings. Nothing dehydrates you quite like alcohol, and you're going to have a rough time the next day if you don't stay hydrated during the wine tasting, as well as before and after the wine tasting. However, wine tastings are not about self-denial. If you get a little tipsy as a result of enjoying too much good wine, I say that it doesn't matter as long as someone can drive you home and you made preparations. It seems like everyone these days is trying to turn holidays and other special events into opportunities to diet. You have to somehow have a low-fat or low-carb Thanksgiving, however that works and whichever version is in fashion. You have to make sure you don't have any dessert at Christmas. You have to jump through all these hoops to avoid Halloween candy, even though candy is part of Halloween.
You learn a lot of things over the years at wine tastings. For one thing, wine tastings attract the truly passionate devotees like us. They also attract the kind of people who would like you to believe that they're truly passionate devotees, even if they wouldn't know wine from grape juice that had been left out in the sun for too long. I think that even people who aren't really passionate about wine could benefit from learning a little more about it. Wine is a precious commodity worldwide, and it has had a huge impact on human history. It's an important part of many different cultures. If you know anything at all about wine, you're automatically going to appear more cultured than a lot of your friends anyway, so what do you have to lose? Here's a fun fact: 250,000 different varieties of wine come out every year. People who laugh at how wine tasters could possibly have that much to do should remember that it's hard to get a lot of experience with wine in a normal lifetime. That's actually one reason why you should try to limit yourself to the best. Life is too short to taste cheap wines. For one thing, the five characteristics of wine are as follows: the fruit, sweetness, tannins, acidity, and body. I'd say that each aspect of the wine is pleasant in its own right in some ways. The sweetness is the characteristic that a lot of people talk about, and why wouldn't they? People who have only ever experienced cheap wine are shortchanging themselves in the wine department. Cheap wine is low on sweetness, which is why it basically tastes like a cleaning solution. Wines with no sugar can still taste sweet, as weird as it sounds. Wine that's made from sweet grapes with aged oak is going to be sweet. A typical glass of wine is five ounces or six ounces. That one little ounce can make a huge difference at wine tastings, let me tell you. However, the big burning question that people have is whether or not cost really matters with wine. The answer is yes, but the location, the aging, and other factors will complicate the situation. There's lots of great wine out there that isn't going to set you back like the purchase of a new car.
I love the expression 'ages like fine wine.' It's an expression that becomes even more popular among older people, and it's the sort of thing that we like to tell ourselves when we're feeling down about our years. We all want to be the fine wines that age well, and are in fact even better after several decades than they were when they were first new. I would say that people do often age like wine. However, does wine always age like wine? The idea that older wine is always better than newer wine is so pervasive that it's the only thing that most people 'know' about wine, and the expression is more popular than the beverage that supposedly inspired it. I'm here to tell you that a good ninety percent of the wine that is created should have been consumed in the same year that it was introduced. Not all wines get better with age. There are four factors that go into wine aging: the residual sugar, the acidity, the tannin structure, and the alcohol content. One of the curiosities of this phenomenon is not only the fact that fine wine gets better with age, but fine wine often doesn't even taste very good when it is new. As a rule, if you're dealing with a wine that tastes delicious when it is twelve years old, it isn't going to taste very good in the first few years after its initial release. Some people actually get the wrong idea about fine wine for that reason. They try it when it is too new to be good, and they come to the conclusion that the cheap stuff is better. The cheap stuff is just more widely available in every way. For a wine to age well, it's going to need to have a high acid content. You know how soft drinks tend to go flat after they're left out for too long? Wines aren't that much different in that regard. They get flat after their acid content weakens. A wine that didn't have that much acid to begin with is going to be as flat as Kansas after only a few years have gone by. A wine that is as acidic as can be is going to have plenty of acid to burn with time. Bear in mind that this is another reason why fine wines aren't going to be as tasty when they are first introduced. Wines with a high acid content are going to have a much sharper flavor for that reason, and not everyone is going to like that taste very much. After a decade goes by and the acid content starts to weaken a little, the acid level is going to be just right when it comes to the taste of the wine. You end up with a wine that is vastly better than a new wine with a comparable acid content. Here's a question I like to ask a lot of wine enthusiasts to see just how serious they are: do sweet wines age better than dry wines? I almost guarantee that you that a lot of people are going to say 'dry wines.' Lots of people like to age their dry wines, and it's almost considered a status symbol if you can manage to do it. However, one of the reasons for this in the first place lies in the fact that it is a lot harder to age dry wines than it is to age the sweet wines. The delicious wines that you see last for decades are often sweet wines like port or fortified wine. You'll see sweet wines like Sauternes, sherry, and riesling aging well right alongside these sweet wines. Really, this is one of the reasons why the oldest wines are also the tastiest in many cases. The tastier ones are just the ones that last longer! Wine enthusiasts will tend to debate a lot about white wine versus red wine. Really, it's one of the questions that you ask your fellow wine geeks. I don't know if it's the 'Kirk versus Picard' of wine, but it's up there. Anyway, I can tell you that red wine does tend to age better than white wine as well. Even the cheapest red wine will still be good for months after the cheapest white wine has turned into flat sludge. It's even more pronounced when it comes to the finer and more expensive wine. So yes: there's a reason why people will be drinking some wines for decades, and some of them will barely make it to the end of the year without tasting flat and defeated. However, at its core, I don't really think that wine does age well in an absolute sense. Wines that age well are just resistant to wear and tear because they have a lot to burn, so to speak. Also, while some wines get better with age, they don't absolutely get better with age. A wine that is better at age twelve than it was at age one isn't going to be better at age fifty necessarily. Wine also definitely doesn't last forever, and if it really got better with age, than it would. The number of wines that make it to the end of a century are rare. Wine is sadly as mortal as the rest of us, at least for now. Maybe we will both 'age like wine' in the future.
One of the aspects of wine tasters that has gotten some criticism over the years is the fact that we emphasize that there really is a special way to taste wine. People like to joke about how we're a group of people who needed remedial tasting and sipping. These are people who obviously view wine in a way that is very different from us, and they probably view life in a similar fashion. They view wine in an obviously functional fashion, and they don't think of the consumption of wine as being a profound sensory experience. Wine tasting isn't about getting wine down your throat as quickly as possible and then moving onto something else in order to maximize for some type of efficiency. Wine tasting is about really savoring and appreciating the beverage because it really can offer the sort of sensory experience that you just won't get with the majority of other beverages. You can't get to a point where you can really taste wine without really knowing what you're tasting and why. Usually, the first thing that you'll notice is the sweetness of the wine, or lack thereof as the case may be. You'll get a tingle on your tongue immediately if you're dealing with a very sweet wine. The middle of your tongue might feel slightly oily. The acidity of the wine is one of the next things that you will be able to taste. You'll probably think that it's the alcohol content of the wine that you're noticing, but the sharp, tart flavor is usually going to be the acidity of the wine. The acidity of wine will manifest itself as this sharp feeling on the front and sides of your tongue. Your mouth will feel wet and gravelly at the same time as a result of the strong acidity of the wine. You'll get a feeling of dryness in your mouth, which is almost always caused by the tannin content of the wine. It isn't a pronounced feeling of dryness and it isn't uncomfortable, but that is one of the consequences of the tannins in wine. Wine wouldn't have the body or the durability that it does without the tannin content that it has, and I think the tannins add to the experience in a pleasant way.