fermentation bin  

We are increasing production this coming year, 2009, and purchasing some additional equipment–barrel racks, macro bins and barrels.  Uzi found some lightly used barrel racks and macro bins from a contact at Joseph Phelps Vineyards in Napa and made arrangements for me to inspect the equipment in person before purchase.   

My trip to Joseph Phelps reminded me why Napa is such a sought after destination.  Uzi and I tend to visit Sonoma or other wine regions more frequently than Napa.  A drive on Hwy 29 is like a trip down the wine aisle at a large grocery store–Beringer, Mondavi, Sutter Home, Freemark Abbey.  There are countless B&Bs, Auberges, tour buses and gift shops. Despite all that, the scenery this time of year in Napa Valley is spectacular.  The grape vines are lush, full and green.  There are mountains, country lanes and weathered barns amid the vineyards.  And once you get off the beaten path you can find less frequented, more intimate wineries.  

joseph phelps   Napa vineyards

Unfortunately my business in Napa Valley this time did not include wine tasting or luxury accomodations.  I was there to inspect winery equipment–which passed the test–and camp with some friends.  Our big splurge was Taylor’s Automatic Refresher in St. Helena where you can enjoy Calera Pinot Noir in a proper glass with your cheeseburger and fries. A fine way by me to enjoy Napa Valley.

glass wine thief

glass wine thief

Uzi wanted a wine thief for Christmas.  A fancy hand-blown glass wine thief to replace the plastic one he’s had for the last six years.  The theory is that if wine tastes better in a fancy wine glass, like a Reidel, maybe it will also taste better from a classy glass thief. 

Ever tried to track down a wine thief?  Conjures up images of empty wine bottles strewn along a trail of red footprints, doesn’t it?  No, a wine thief is a tool used to draw out small amounts of wine from a barrel for tasting.  Lucky for me there happens to be a Berkeley business that makes hand-blown glass objects and tools for labs…including wine thieves.

Regarding his theory, the glass wine thief may not affect the flavors and aromas of the wine like the shape of a wine glass will do, but it does enhance the barrel sampling process:  it shows off the color of the wine and it just looks great.  Uzi shall never have to taste a barrel-drawn sample of our wine from a plastic utensil again. Just don’t drop it on the concrete floor! 


From time to time, I like to observe other people’s method of wine tasting.

Most practice the age old ritual of see, smell, taste, spit, or, the more American way:  see, smell, taste and swallow.  I started writing this post and then saw that The Wine Tasting Guy has a good post on the Ritual. I think this method works for many wines that are consumed young. Depending on the situation and the wine at hand, though, I may change the order.  I don’t mean spit first. Then what order, you ask? A very old bottle or a delicate varietal may not give you very long to smell the aromas, so I do that right away. For the most part, the color is not going to change very quickly during the tasting, especially for old bottles, so no need to waste precious time and inspect the wine immediately.  But, the bouquet of an old Pinot Noir can be fleeting and change from one moment to the next. One of the biggest pleasures I derive from wine smelling is observing the changing aromas throughout the course of the bottle. Changing taste and body, or mouth feel, comes next and color last. Try tracking these changes once and you will see what I mean.

One last smelling exercise. Kathryn makes fun of me when I do it, but then I caught her doing it herself once (she tells me it was only to make me laugh).  Vacu Vine wine pump

A Vacuvin is (picture at right) a pump device used to create a vacuum in a partially field bottle of wine in order to eliminate oxygen contact.

When we end up with a partial bottle, I pump it until I feel the vacuum pressure build up, indicating all the air is out. At that point I quickly lift it to my nose and then push on the pump handle to release the trapped wine aroma straight into my nose. An Aroma Bomb! The small pleasures of life.