It’s the Release Day for Beaujolais Nouveau!

IMG_20131124_131011This post originally ran in 2012, but we’re going to do a #ThrowbackThursday because the information is still good. And enjoy this year’s release.

Let’s be real – most of the time, wine pairing isn’t that tough. You have your basic rule of thumb: white wines with white meat/protein, red wines with red meats/sauces. The idea is that you (generally) want to match the more delicate flavors of a white wine with the more delicate flavors of chicken or fish, while you want a heartier red wine to go with the heartier flavors of a beef roast or steak. And while that is a pretty basic assessment, it will get you through 80 to 90 percent of the time.

Thanksgiving Dinner, however, is one of those 10 to 20 percent times when the old rule of thumb gets a little tricky. Turkey has a much stronger flavor than chicken, but it’s not quite as strong as steak, so a light white wine will be overwhelmed by the turkey and the turkey will be overwhelmed by the heavier red wine. Then there are all the sweet dishes that can throw even the best wine off.

Why? Well, think about what an orange tastes like after you’ve just brushed your teeth or taken a big bite of maple-syrup drenched pancake. Even the sweetest orange or orange juice will taste sour and icky. That’s the citric acid in the orange taking over on your tongue after matching out all the sweet flavors. The same thing happens with wine. Any good wine has several different acids playing out against the fruit flavors and the alcohol. So Aunt Mabel’s sweet potatoes and marshmallows are going to match out those fruit flavors in the expensive, perfectly balanced pinot noir that you bought to go with the turkey, and leave the wine tasting sour and yucky. Not the effect you want when you’ve coughed up $40 for a bottle. And let’s not even get into what the cranberries are going to do.

Which is why our favorite Thanksgiving Dinner wine is the annual Beaujolais Nouveau. The Nouveau is the brand new wine out of the Beaujolais region of France. Basically, all the winemakers who made Beaujolais Villages would hold a little grape juice back from the newly-picked grapes and make a new wine with it to celebrate the end of the harvest. Well, a man named Georges DuBoeuf realized that this was pretty tasty stuff and that if he bought up a bunch of the new wines, mixed them together, then created this big party in Paris, he could sell a boatload of it and make everyone happy.

So nowadays, the wine is released every year on the second Thursday of November to great fanfare and some sniping by the wine snobs, who love looking down their long, bony noses at it. It’s wine that was grapes, like, three months ago, and it’s very light and fruity with good acids, and it can stand up to the turkey and gravy and is fruity enough not to get too sour with the sweet potatoes. Plus, if you have any wine novices at your table who are terrified of red wines, it’s a great introduction to red wines, in general. The best part? Beaujolais Nouveaus rarely cost more that $15 a bottle. Just one thing to be aware of – the vintage year should be the current year. As in, if you find a Nouveau on the shelf from 2014 or later, walk the other way. This wine does not age well and gets rather blah or tart even as soon as Christmas.

So get a bottle of this year’s release and let us know in the comments what you think.

Wine for Your Thanksgiving Dinner

All you need to pick the perfect wine for your Thanksgiving Dinner.

All you need to pick the perfect wine for your Thanksgiving Dinner.

Wait. Isn’t Thanksgiving, like, three weeks away? Uh, yeah. So why worry about what wines to serve now? Well, we’re offering an easy way to figure that out. Catch is, it takes some time to make happen. Besides, you don’t want to be drinking three to four bottles in one night, do you? Yeah. Didn’t think so.

If you’ve never made Thanksgiving Dinner before, you can check out Anne’s series of blogs on the process, starting here. If you’ve simply been asked to bring the wine, then you can also use this post.

Now, the trick with wine for Thanksgiving Dinner is that not all of the traditional foods are all that wine-friendly. Sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, anything sweet, can make even the best cabernet sauvignon taste sour and icky. Think sipping orange juice after a big syrupy bite of pancakes. Blech. And wine experts will recommend all kinds of different wines. Some love pinot noir with turkey, others insist on a robust syrah, still others prefer merlot. Almost any of those will do quite nicely with a turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy.

Our two fail-safe Thanksgiving wines, however, are dry sparkling wines, including Champagne, Cavas and California sparkling, and Beaujolais Nouveau. The Nouveau is the first wine released in France and it always comes out the Thursday before Thanksgiving. Since it’s literally new wine, from this year’s harvest, it’s light and fruity, which does well with some of the sweeter parts of the meal. Plus it’s not so in-your-face heavy. That’s great for those of your guests who are new to wine, or even red wines. Bubblies are wonderful because they are already associated with celebrations and dry bubblies go with just about everything on the planet.

So your options are boundless. And so are all the variations on a theme on the shelf at your local wine store. It’s a bit overwhelming, but fear not. You’re not going in blind and hoping the wine will work. You’re going to buy a sample bottle or four and taste them before you buy however many you need to serve your guests. And you will know how many bottles that is because each bottle has about four to five glasses of wine inside, bubblies have five to six glasses of wine.

Note, we will taste even our standard Nouveau because not every year is that good. It’s not as big a deal because there are usually only two or three brands available. Also, while whites are nice to serve with salads and soup, you’ll probably want a red to go with the stronger flavors of the main event.

For your test tasting, you’ll need three to four bottles of potential wine. You’ll also need several turkey pot pies (depending on who else is tasting with you and whether you’re spreading the tastings out over several nights), a sweet potato and some cranberry sauce, if you’re into that sort of thing. We’re not, so we don’t worry about it. Finally, you’ll need a note pad and pen or pencil.

Cook your pot pie and sweet potato, open up one of your bottles, pour a splash and taste it while eating the pot pie and the potato. Check the nose or aroma, look at the color, but most important of all, does it taste good with the food? Write down why you think it tastes good or why it doesn’t. Is it really sour with the sweet potato? Does it taste harsh on the back of the throat even after a good mouthful of pot pie? Does it taste even smoother and more delicious with the turkey?

Then repeat the process with the other bottles. You may want to do one a night, and have someone help you finish the bottle. Or you can try sealing the bottle and putting it in the fridge and finish it some other evening. If it’s a white, just seal it and pop it in the fridge. Just don’t serve it with Thanksgiving Dinner. Red wines tend to oxidize after they’ve been opened and bubblies lose their bubbles. And whites will sometimes go off.

Once you’ve got your notes, you may have a clear winner. You may not. But that’s not such a bad thing, especially if by the time you get back to the store, your preferred wine is gone. It doesn’t happen a lot, but it does happen sometimes.

No go and taste and let us know what you’re tasting. We can always use a new idea.

Some Hands-On Wine History Education

Grapes before they become wine - from the Olvera Street vine

Grapes before they become wine – from the Olvera Street vine

When we started, we did not want the blog to be about us. Frankly, we’re not that interesting. Well, we weren’t, until Michael jumped into a wine history project that seems to have gotten all kinds of people more than a little excited.

In Real Life, Michael is the archivist for the city of Los Angeles – an insanely cool job. And as part of that job, he’s been working with Chris Espinoza, who is the director of El Pueblo de Los Angeles, the oldest part of the city. The two have been trying to find ways to connect what they do, since Michael has the paperwork and the history in his vault and Espinoza has, well, a state park, in which is located Olvera Street and one of the oldest buildings (if not the oldest) in the city, dating back to 1818. And way back when the adobe in question was actually being lived in, someone planted three grape vines, one across Olvera Street which was then known as Wine Street, one in the adobe’s courtyard and one just outside the adobe.

And last year or so, Michael asked Espinoza if he could trellis and prune the vines and see

What makes wine happen - yeast and yeast food.

What makes wine happen – yeast and yeast food.

if he could get some grapes off of them. Espinoza said yes, and Michael spent all last year, carefully pruning the courtyard vine, keeping an eye on things and consulting with Wes Hagen, a professional winemaker, who for years made the truly awesome Clos Pepe wines out of the Santa Rita Hills. Clos Pepe is now gone and Hagen has moved on to another venture. But he and Michael did convince the nice folks up at University of California, Davis, to do the DNA analysis on the vines for free and it turns out that these three vines came from the one remaining vine at Mission San Gabriel, one of the 21 missions founded by Father Junipero Serra in the late Eighteenth Century. For the record, the vines are known as “Vina Madre” a cross of the European vitis vinifera and a local Southern California grape called vitis girdiana.

Then in September, as Michael was beginning to harvest the few grapes there, Hagen ratted him out to S. Irene Virbila, the wine critic for the Los Angeles Times. Well, Virbila, being the good reporter she is, smelled a story and wrote it up.

Now, everyone is checking in and offering ideas. What Michael did decide to do is make a wine called Angelica (which we just heard was named for the city of Los Angeles). It was what the winemakers in L.A. were making up through the late 1870s, when Los Angeles was the primary wine growing and making region in the state (take that, Napa). Angelica is a sweet wine that is also fortified by adding brandy or other alcohol to the mix. We have about 25 pounds of grapes, so we won’t be getting very much. But it will be interesting and we promise to add updates in this space as we get them.

We're on our way! The yeast and yeast food being added to the grapes.

We’re on our way! The yeast and yeast food being added to the grapes.

Cindy Steinbeck Talks The Vineyard

Cindy Steinbeck on The Vineyard

Cindy Steinbeck in the vineyard at Steinbeck Vineyards & Winery

We’ve been trying to catch up with Cindy Steinbeck for a number of years now, ever since we met her at a Rhone Rangers tasting. She and her family own Steinbeck Vineyards and Winery. Steinbeck is the head of marketing, wine sales and public relations for the business. However, what got us excited are Steinbeck’s Crash Courses that she gives in the vineyard. They’re a series of tours the family gives on winegrowing, as opposed to winemaking.

The family has 520 acres planted out in 13 different varieties, 99 percent of which are sold to other wineries in the area, including Eberle and San Antonio.

So we asked Steinbeck why it’s important for consumers to know what happens in the vineyard.

“Wine starts in the vineyard,” she said. “The soil, wind, rainfall, those all affect the flavor of the grape. It’s a sense of place.”

As in that word wine geeks love to toss around “Terroir.’

Steinbeck says, yes, it’s for real – even in her family’s vineyard.

“On the south slopes of my vineyard, the grapes taste slightly different,” she said. “Grapes don’t grow in a vaccuum. Evey single factor is beyond our control. It’s not like making Bud. This is completely related to nature.”

Cindy Steinbeck talks the Vineyard

Cindy Steinbeck

But even though grape growers are mostly at the mercy of Nature, there are things that can be done.

“If I add too much water, then I’m going to grow too much leaf,” Steinbeck said. “If I have too much green leaf, I get bitterness [in the wine.] Too little canopy [leafy coverage], I’ve got raisins.”

For her, growing grapes is as much about art as it is knowledge, especially when it comes to knowing the best time to pick the grapes. Using instruments to measure the sugar in the grape can help, but there’s nothing like tasting one to see what’s happening.

“I’ve got to bite the seeds, to bit the skins in my teeth,” she said.

The family has been farming in the Paso area since the 1860s, and were growing wine grapes back then, as well. Cindy’s grandparents bought the current family farm in 1921, but grapes were grown on the property until 1982, when the family went into business with Gary Eberle, an early winery in the area. Today, the Steinbecks have 520 acres planted out with 13 different varieties of grapes, with 99 percent of them sold to folks like Eberle and San Antonio wineries. The one percent the family keeps is made into wine that they sell under their own label.


Learning About Wine Labels with Tricia Bump Davis

We caught up with Trica Bump Davis, general manager of Darms Lane Winery in Napa Valley, last spring. We were devastated when the video did not come out. But Davis’ discussion on learning about wine labels was so much fun, we couldn’t resist using the transcript. So here it is. With a wine label to look at.


Q – You are the general manager of Darms Lane

Davis – Yes. I am the gm, I am the general manager of Darms Lane. It’s actually my family’s business. My parents started just as investors in a vineyard in Napa Valley. And then over the course of time, their investment got bigger and bigger, and then they became the sole owners of our property. So just since 2000, it’s been in my family. And then I have two sisters, so my dad didn’t really have a choice on having a son run it because he only had girls.

Q – So what does a general manager do?

Davis – So my responsibilities… There’s not really any set specific things. I’m kind of responsible for everything. We have a vineyard manager who does our farming for us. So I manage that relationship. And then we have a winemaker that makes the wine, and I manage that as well. And then I also do all the not as fun stuff, like the compliance. I do compliance with the Federal government and then with all the states for all the licensing.

Q – What is compliance?

Davis – Compliance is just making sure… We’re making wine, which is an alcoholic beverage, so that complicates the process a little bit because the Federal government keeps track of and would like some excise tax from us so they want more information about what we’re making, and how much alcohol is in it, where it’s stored and all of those things. So there’s quite a bit of compliance that goes along with the winery.

Q – To switch directions, because you are dealing with an issue that a lot of people don’t understand – why labels are the way they are. And you’re dealing with that. Tell us about that and what everything means.

Davis – Every wine, when we go to bottle it, before we actually print the labels, we submit them to the Tax and Trade Bureau, which is the Federal government. And they look at a few specific characteristics on the label to make sure it’s within the law. So the things that they care about are the percentage of alcohol. They’ve switched it around. It used to always have to be on the front label, now it can actually be on the back label. And then where the wine comes from. That’s where they’re really really specific about when you put where the wine is from, it has to say… So if you say Napa Valley, it all has to be from Napa Valley. You can have a little bit of fruit from other places, but there’s different percentages, thresholds that we have to stay within for each of the items. So if it says cabernet sauvignon, then it needs to be 75 percent cabernet sauvignon. It can be a little bit of other things, but it needs to be at least 75 percent cabernet sauvignon. And then there’s a whole lot of other characteristics, like if you say estate grown. And on the back label there’s a statement that’s called… We call it the produced and bottled by statement. So that actually tells you a lot about specifics on the wine. So if it says produced and bottled by that means we made the wine, we produced it, so we made it into alcohol, and we bottled it all under our own permit. So you might see some that don’t say that and that may mean that the person maybe bought the wine from somebody else and put their name on it. So there’s a lot of different really, really technical things about the label that we don’t know about until you get into the business.

Q – Okay, what’s the point of putting all those technical things on the label if nobody knows what they are?

Davis –Well, industry professionals know, so if you’re working with wines in a restaurant, so a sommelier knows all of these legal requirements for a label, and then most wine shop owners know all of these technicalities, as well. So they can look at your label and know more about it than your average consumer. Your average consumer who walks up to a wine on the shelf and turns it around maybe isn’t going to know the little tiny details. But most professionals do.

Q – What’s the most important thing on the label for the consumer to understand?

Davis – I think the most important thing for the average consumer is to know, and it’s mostly based on preference because if I’m going to drink a pinot noir, if it’s a pinot noir and it just says California, then I don’t really know that much about where it specifically came from. But if I’m looking at a pinot noir and it came from the Russian River, or if I’m looking at a pinot noir and it came from Oregon, then as a consumer, I can start to see characteristics that are similar in those wines, and if I like them, I can go and seek those out. Once you start knowing what kind of variety of wine you like, then you can start to dive down into the detail of well, I like pinot noirs from Sonoma County, but maybe I don’t like them as much as I like Oregon pinot noirs or wines from other places. So it’s just a way of categorizing the wines within the specific variety.

Shannon Leary on Being a Winemaking Student

We spoke to Shannon Leary last November. She’s a winemaking student at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, and by now, soon to graduate. So when we heard about the Garagiste Festival‘s new scholarship program for Cal Poly winemaking students, we figured this would be a great opportunity to post our interview with Shannon. The transcript is below.

Anne and Shannon were probably talking over each other, so it didn’t come out in the video, but Shannon did say that the male to female ratio among her classmates is evening out. That’s good news as far as we’re concerned. One other thing – it sounds a little obvious that Shannon would want to be a winemaker. However, what’s she’s talking about is the job title, not the activity. The winemaker is usually the head honcho at a winery, whereas other folks, who probably also have winemaking degrees, are often lab techs, assistant winemakers, etc.

Shannon – It’s exciting. It’s been a great four years and I’m excited to see what’s next.

Q – Have you got any job prospects yet or are you just barely tapping that?

Shannon – I ‘m just finishing up an internship, so I’m going to start looking into different options here in the next few months and see what’s out there.

Q – Is that scary or…

Shannon – Mostly exciting. There’s lots of good opportunity and different areas you can go to and different parts of the industry that you can get involved in.

Q – Is there more equity in the classroom environment between men and women?

Shannon –It’s the industry so far, with female mentors and people who are helping me get started in my career and I’ve been encouraged a lot in the past few years with my career. So I’m looking forward to it.

Q – Why do you think that is? That we’re finally starting to see that even out?

Shannon – I think women bring a lot of unique things to the table. In any career, for that matter. But just a different perspective, different capabilities. And I think it’s a great industry for everyone to be involved in. Very passionate, very charismatic. And I think anyone wants to be involved with that.

Q- What makes for a good wine education program in today’s industry?

Shannon – One of the things that I really love about Cal Poly is the hands on experience that you get. So we have internships that are part of our curriculum. Labs. All of our classes are based on practical winemaking. Learning how to get out there and be a part of the industry. So when we graduate, we’re ready to get going. And that’s what I really love about Cal Poly. Each program brings unique things to the table. But I’ve loved my experiences so far. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve had great professors and classmates.

Q – What got you interested in wine age 21?

Shannon –Um, I did not come from a winemaking family at all. What I was looking for in a career was an industry where there was people I was going to like to work with, and something new every year, and challenging. And the wine industry definitely has that. So it’s an ever-changing career, and like I said, the people are great to be around. Very warm, friendly people who are willing to help and everyone just wants to elevate the industry.

Q – And what are your goals?

Shannon –My goals. I’d love to be a winemaker, have my own label someday. I’m not sure exactly where that’s going to take me in the next few years here, but I’m open to the possibilities. We’ll see where it goes.

Q – All right.

Winemaker Dorothy Schuler, Part Two

SchulerWe first stumbled into Bodegas Paso Robles last summer on our vacation. The tiny tasting room in downtown Paso Robles was one of several that were open that Tuesday. We loved the wines, a wide selection of little known Spanish varieties, so of course we wanted to talk to winemaker and owner Dorothy Schuler.

Imagine our joy when we just happened by the tasting room last November and found Ms. Schuler there. Not only was she happy to talk to us, the interview transcript was such a blast, we couldn’t think of anything to cut. So we’re going to feature Ms. Schuler in three posts spread out over the next few weeks. The first one looked at how Schuler got started in the wine business. Today, Schuler talks about last fall’s harvest and screw caps versus corks.

Quick note of explanation – Schuler uses the term “corked” both as a reference to wines that have been bottled with cork closures and in one instance, as the nickname for a wine that has been spoiled by cork taint.

Q- How was harvest for you last year?

Schuler – Bizarre. Absolutely bizarre. And I don’t know if everybody is going to be honest, but if everybody were honest, they would say bizarre.

Q – How so?

Schuler – Well, early in a lot of ways, I mean, in a lot of ways, early. Everything came in and then everything sloooooooowed down to like an ooze for fermentation.   Now, this is not a bad thing, but sometimes they’re too long. It makes you crazy.

Q – Are you doing native ferments [i.e. using the yeast that’s naturally on the grapes rather than adding it]?

Schuler – No. Actually, I do a little bit. But not… I want a little more control. But this year, there was no control over anything. It was like, oh my god. It’s all weather in charge. You know the weather’s in charge, anyway. We like to pretend it’s not, but it really is.

Q – You have screw tops on your white wines and corks on your reds – why?

Schuler – Ummm, I think screw caps are great for freshness, and whites…. you know when you’re having a dinner party and you don’t have enough cold white and you go an put it in the freezer? And you forget about it? If you put a corked bottle of wine in there, that cork’s going to pop out and be all over your freezer and that screw cap is not going to do that. I don’t think they’re great for aging, though. I’m just not going there. As much as I hate to open a bottle of corked [spoiled] wine, I think the aging elements of a cork are just much better than a screw cap.

Q- Are you basing that on experience?

Schuler – And on drinking a lot of older wines. I’ve never had a wine that’s been under a screw cap for 25 years. I don’t know. I don’t think anybody’s had a wine that’s been in screw cap for 25 years. Pour me one and let’s talk about it when you’ve poured me one.

Q – But just to argue, you’re not going to get one that’s been in screw cap for 25 years unless you put one down for 25 years.

Schuler – I’m not going to put one down, but other people should be putting them down. The people who’ve eschewed corks and only do it screw caps but I don’t think they’re putting wines down, to be perfectly honest. I think the only people who are putting wines down are doing it in cork.

Q – It’d be interesting to see.

Schuler – I’d be interested. I’m drinking some wines right now out of the ’70s, the 80’s, reds. They’re like heaven, but they’re in cork.

Rusack Santa Catalina Island Wine A Nice Surprise

RusackWe weren’t looking for great wine when we visited Avalon over the holiday. But, dang it, we found Rusack Santa Catalina Island Wine and were quite pleased.

Michael had heard that Rusack, a winery in the Ballard Canyon AVA, near Solvang, California, had a vineyard on Catalina Island. Catalina, for most of us here in sunny So. Cal., is this very rustic island off the coast of Los Angeles. The town of Avalon, located on the southeast end of the island, used to be quite the high-end party spot back in the early part of the 20th Century, mostly because the Wrigley family owned a good chunk of the island and had an estate there. The Wrigley’s as in the chewing gum and Wrigley Field in Chicago.

When Anne first visited Avalon in the late 1970s, it was a kitschy, rather endearing little tourist trap and beach town. Not exactly a haven for wine geeks and foodies. We went this past Saturday because we were looking for something different to do for the holiday and found a really good deal on the boat fare to and from the island. It’s still somewhat kitschy, but the food offerings have improved immensely. We went to the Bluewater Grill (which turns out to be a small chain here in Southern California) for lunch and enjoyed shrimp and scallops with papardelle and fried jumbo shrimp, both well made. And the wine list was respectable, though not overly exciting.

But we did track down the Rusack’s Catalina offerings at CC Gallgher: The Art of Creative Living, which were served to us by Betty Martinez, lead server, at the bar/store. Martinez was a total delight and very helpful, serving us generous tastes of the Rusack 2012 Santa Catalina Zinfandel and Chardonnay. Michael picked up some new oak in the nose and finish of the zin, which was very well balanced for 14.5 percent alcohol (which is a little on the high side for wine). Anne liked that it was fruity without being jammy. The chardonnay had the lovely crispness of a wine fermented without any oak, with mineral and apple notes in the flavor. Michael noted that it could use some food to go with it, but it was still very good by itself.

Alas, these are not cheap wines. The zin goes for $75 and the chard for $60. Worth it? Well, that depends. But they are very good. And Martinez was just as gracious and fun as she could be. Although, she thought we were joking when we invited her to dinner.

The bottom line is that good wine can be found just about anywhere these days. The trick is to be open to the possibilities. Kind of like Geoff Rusack and Alison Wrigley Rusack, owners of the winery. They wanted to plant vines on Catalina for the fun of it, according to their website. “Little did we know then that the classic, cool-climate conditions and clay loam soils that exist there would make it a world-class site for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.”

Winemaker Dorothy Schuler, Part One

Schuler women winemakers

Dorothy Schuler, winemaker and owner of Bodegas Paso Robles

We first stumbled into Bodegas Paso Robles last summer on our vacation. The tiny tasting room in downtown Paso Robles was one of several that were open that Tuesday. We loved the wines, so of course we wanted to talk to winemaker and owner Dorothy Schuler.

Imagine our joy when we just happened by the tasting room last November and found Ms. Schuler there. Not only was she happy to talk to us, the interview transcript was such a blast, we couldn’t think of anything to cut. So we’re going to feature Ms. Schuler in three posts spread out over the next few weeks. This first one looks at how Schuler got started in the wine business.

Q – What got you into winemaking?

Schuler – My husband’s project. He took a job in England, working on the London Underground. He was going and I said, “Honey, what are we going to do with this? we have this money invested,” and he said, “Oh, sure, let’s run with it.” So I hired a guy [Allen Kinney] to teach me how to make wine. He’s actually coming for dinner tomorrow night. I worked with him about a year and a half. He taught me well. He told me, he said, “Dorothy, making wine is not rocket science.”

Q – It isn’t.

Schuler – No. It’s a feel. It is science but, you  know, it’s more than science and it’s more than a feel. And my father wanted me to be a scientist. My father is a scientist. So I have a heavy-duty science background. So I get the science. But it’s more than science.BodegasBottles

Q – Tell us more about the balance between the science and the feel.

Schuler – Well, it’s a very tricky thing. And I guess more women would talk to you about this than men. I don’t know. It’s our nature to understand the balance between the two, I think…. I did not go to school. I’ve got a lot of friends who went to Davis, female friends who went to Davis. I didn’t go to school for winemaking. I went to school for something totally different.

Q – What?

Schuler – I was a journalist, writer and editor. That was my life. Different world. However, I think if you work for a really, really big winery where you’re producing a huge amount of wine, you need to know all of that chemistry because you’re making wine in huge quantities and you have to monitor everything you can. And you can’t fuck anything up because if you do, it’s millions of dollars. And if you don’t know that stuff, it’s really easy to screw up. But when you’re making wine, like I do, for 2500 cases, it’s a different story. And it’s nice to know that. And it’s like I kind of drive the guys a little nuts, with how I know certain things, You need to know a lot of that, but you can make a little mistake and fix it.

Judy Starr on Growing Grapes

We met grape grower Judy Starr late last fall at the Paso Robles Garagiste Festival and really enjoyed talking to her about how she got started growing grapes. So fast forward to early this month, and we’re doing a bus tour of the Paso Robles region with the Cellarmasters home winemaking club. Our last stop was Starr Ranch Vineyard and Winery. Starr was not only there, she stayed open late for us, then poured while we sat around tables in her winery yard, overlooking the vines, as a soft breeze rustled the trees above us. One of our friends called it our nap for the day, it was so relaxing. And the wine was even more amazing. So amazing Anne blew the wine budget and then some buying several bottles.

So we highly recommend getting a glass of nice, crisp rose, then hauling it and your laptop outside under a tree somewhere and watching the below video. There’s a transcription underneath, too. Oh, and one quick note – most winemakers enjoy chatting with people and pouring their wines, but they really don’t like the sales part of it.

Judy Starr:

I began life 14 years ago as a vineyard. When I got here, I did not expect to have a label called Starr Ranch. I just wanted to grow fruit.

So, that’s where I started and I now know that’s a good place to start, because you’re sure of your grape supply and the quality of it from the beginning. So after I’d done that for a few years, I started my own little label. Because, after all, you’ve nurtured these grapes from the beginning, and then you take the next step.

Q – How did you start growing grapes?

Interesting question. Actually, it was sort of a… It wasn’t a mid-life crisis kind of a thing. But my children grew up and they did what they were supposed to do. They left home and got jobs. And so then I decided I had enough time and energy to do something interesting. And I wanted to grow something. I didn’t know at that point what it would be. I looked around for about for about four or five years and decided it would be wine grapes. Once I got to wine grapes, Paso [Robles] was pretty easy. It was 14 years ago and there were 33 wineries.

Q – Do you enjoy selling your wines?

Actually, I do enjoy selling the wine. Because it is an expression of what I put my time and energy into. I’m not the winemaker, as such, except if you believe that the wine is made in the vineyard. That’s my job. I care a lot about farming the fruit and producing excellent product. So if you have that, then the winemaking piece of it is easy. So I think for me, yes, the most fun is… is… seeing harvest every year. You put a lot of time and energy into it. A lot of work, a lot of hand work, a lot of people. Even when harvest approaches, you get this sense of anticipation that permeates everything. And it’s a very intangible sort of thing, but it’s certainly there when you farm.

Depending on where you live, of course, you can buy Starr’s wines from her website. And if you’re going to be in Los Angeles on July 11, you can go to the L.A. Garagiste Festival at the Wiltern Theatre