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We champion winemakers, brewers & distillers who are farmers, gardeners, horsemen & herdsmen; artists, chemists, revolutionaries & philosophers. Some of them are old-school, some are innovators, a few may be weird (and proud of it) but all of them are wonderful.

Wine Times

Searching tirelessly for more info about our winemakers, tips on wine & beer pairings, cocktail recipes and all sorts of other liquid knowledge? Look no further! 

 

The Mint Julep: “The Zenith of Man’s Pleasure”

Gretchen Skedsvold

Late 19th Century journalist J. Soule Smith famously wrote an ode to the Mint Julep in which he dubbed the cocktail “the Zenith of Man’s Pleasure” and “the very dream of drinks,” amongst other (arguably) hyperbolic claims of greatness. Today, Mint Julep guru Chris McMillan recites this poem at Bar Uncommon in New Orleans before he serves up his world-famous version of the cocktail. McMillan, who is lauded as possessing the charm of bartenders of old, says of the Julep, “each sip is different from the one preceding it. Few drinks have that multidimensionality, building to the crescendo—which I think is the payoff of the Julep—of the bourbon and the mint together,” Indeed, the love affair of the mint and bourbon is highlighted in Smith’s poem. He writes:

It is the very dream of drinks, the vision of sweet quaffings. The Bourbon and the mint are lovers. In the same land they live, on the same food they are fostered. The mint dips its infant leaf into the same stream that makes the bourbon what it is. The corn grows in the level lands through which small streams meander. By the brook-side the mint grows. As the little wavelets pass, they glide up to kiss the feet of the growing mint, the mint bends to salute them. Gracious and kind it is, living only for the sake of others. The crushing of it only makes its sweetness more apparent. Like a woman’s heart, it gives its sweetest aroma when bruised. Among the first to greet the spring, it comes. Beside the gurgling brooks that make music in the pastures it lives and thrives.

The gurgling creek in Smith’s poem evokes an old legend of the Mint Julep’s U.S. origins in which a wayward wanderer was searching for water for his Bourbon on the banks of the Mississippi. When he found an abundance of wild mint growing there he added a little to his tincture and, voila! Mint Julep. This old wives' tale begs the question where does the beguiling Mint Julep find its great beginnings? 

Like many cocktails, the origin of the Mint Julep is disputed - its genesis shrouded in legend. The etymology of Julep is julab - Persian for rose. Merriam Webster defines Julep as 1. a drink consisting of a liquor (such as bourbon or brandy) and sugar poured over crushed ice and garnished with mint 2. a drink consisting of sweet syrup, flavoring, and water. In fact, the first recorded Julep is thought to be a simple concoction of water and roses. Stanley Clisby Arthur, author of Famous New Orleans’s Drinks and How to Make Them, dates this drink back to 1400 AD.     

The drink gained popularity in colonial times as a tonic. Aristocrats would often begin their day fortified with a Mint Julep, which they sipped delicately in bed. The libation was credited with curing stomach ailments and fighting off disease. It came to be recognized as a symbol of wealth and prestige, a form of conspicuous consumption if you will. The drink required a silver-serving vessel – a coveted and costly possession - ice, which was a luxury item, and a trustworthy servant (one who would not steal the silver or the Bourbon) to produce and serve the drink appropriately, dressed in an Irish white linen to keep the vessel cold but the guest's hand warm. 

J. Soule Smith states in his ode “he who has not tasted it has lived in vain.” So do yourself a favor and try a Julep before you kick the proverbial can (or silver cup). May we suggest mixing one up this weekend during the 2017 Kentucky Derby which airs Saturday at 2:30pm ET. According the official website, 120,000 mint Juleps are served each year at the event requiring 10,000 bottles of bourbon, 1,000 pounds of fresh mint and 60,000 pounds of ice. But first, a few suggestions from Mint Julep Master Chris MacMillan:

  • Use a metal mug – it’s better for conducting cold
  • Don’t over muddle the mint! Instead, gently press the mint leaves to release their oil, covering the sides of the mug. Over muddling releases the bitter components of the leaves.
  • Hand crush ice with a Lewis bag and mallet for perfect consistency (and to look profesh)
  • Coat the mug with a small amount of sugar while muddling but finish the drink with the simple syrup on top. “I like to put the sugar on afterward, à la Soule Smith, so you don’t have to get to the bottom of the drink in order to get to the reward,” Says MacMillan. You can adjust the amount according to your personal preference. 
  • Slap the mint before you garnish the drink! It releases more of the oils. 
  • Wrap it up…with a napkin, as this is the traditional way the drink is served. 

With these tips in mind, here is a basic recipe for a Julep:

2 1/2 oz. bourbon
1 oz. simple syrup
12-15 fresh mint leaves
Crushed ice
Tools: muddler, Lewis Bag, Mallet (if you’re feeling fancy)
Glass: julep or Old Fashioned
Garnish: fresh mint sprig dusted in superfine sugar

Place the mint and 1/4 ounce of the simple syrup in a julep cup or Old Fashioned glass and gently muddle, working the leaves up the side of the glass. Loosely pack the glass with crushed ice, then add bourbon and drizzle remaining peach syrup on top. Garnish.

For a variation on the drink, use a rose or peach infused simple syrup. Both are a great twist on the classic.

Cinco de Drink...uh, Mayo

Gretchen Skedsvold

Often confused with Mexico’s Independence Day (September 16), Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army’s David v. Goliath victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862...only to be defeated a year later by the French and overtaken by three years of French rule. 

While in Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is a ceremonial holiday mostly observed with military parades (and not a day off from work), in the United States, the day has become associated with the celebration of Mexican-American culture, in part due to hype from commercial interests like restaurants and beer companies...and the avocado industry? 

Try this conversation piece out at your next cocktail party: had Mexico not defeated the French in Puebla on May 5, 1862, France may have gone to the aid of the Confederacy in the U.S. Civil War and the United States' destiny would have been different. Just don’t bring up Andrew Jackson. 

And speaking of cocktail parties, here are a few drinks -- beyond the old stand-by margarita -- we like for the occasion:

Oaxaca Old-Fashioned

1 ½ oz tequila
½ oz mezcal
1 tsp agave nectar
2 dashes angostura bitters
Orange twist (garnish)

Stir all ingredients over ice, then strain into a coupe. To garnish, flame the orange twist over the drink, then drop it in.

Bitters & Smoke

1 oz. tequila
1 oz. Cynar
½ oz. Fernet-Branca
½ oz. mezcal
Tools: barspoon, strainer
Glass: cocktail
Garnish: grapefruit peel

Add ingredients to a mixing glass and stir with ice to chill. Strain into a chilled glass; garnish.

French 62

The French 75 is said to be named after the French 75-mm field gun, which was commonly used in World War I. Here’s a version with Mexican flair: 

2 oz Champagne
½ oz lime juice
1 oz Tequila (or Mezcal for some smokiness)
1 ½ tsp agave nectar

Combine tequila, agave nectar, and lime juice in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into an iced champagne glass. Top up with Champagne. Stir gently.

Michelada (for 8)

1 32-oz. bottle chilled Clamato (about 4 cups)
1 32-oz. bottle or 3 12-oz. bottles chilled Mexican lager
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. hot sauce (such as Tabasco)
1 tsp. Maggi Seasoning
2 Tbsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. chili powder
Lime wedges (for serving)

Mix Clamato, lager, lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and Maggi Seasoning in a large pitcher.

Mix salt and chili powder on a small plate. Rub rims of pint glasses with lime wedges and dip in salt mixture. Fill glasses with ice, add Michelada mixture, and garnish with lime wedges...and a straw coated with tamarind-and-chile-paste if you can find one.
 

To Prune or Not to Prune

Gretchen Skedsvold

Spring is upon us; soon vines will be budding and grapes will begin to grow. This pivotal moment is the official start of the growing season for vintners. But vineyard workers have been working all winter to prepare for bud break. In our recent conversation, Oregon-based vigneron and vineyard worker Jessica Miller spoke at length about what winemakers and vineyard hands do in the winter to prepare for spring. “The wintertime is all pruning. That is the bulk of the work. Pruning is pretty much a 9-5 for everybody.” But an immense amount of knowledge and technique is required to prune effectively. Jess’s experiences at Clos Roche Blanche in the Loire Valley, De Moor in Chablis and Inglenook in Napa provide unique insight into this tremendously important aspect of vineyard maintenance.

Jess’s first in-depth experience with pruning was with Julien Pineau, who took over Clos Roche Blanche in 2014. She spent a month working one-on-one with Julien learning the basic elements of pruning. There are two primary techniques used to prune vines. The first is called cane pruning. In cane pruning, workers prune at the head, the “V” that forms at the top of the trunk. This allows canes, the branches that grow from either side of the trunk, to grow anew. The second technique is called spur pruning. Spur pruning preserves canes from previous years on the wire; old vines growing from the canes are removed to make room for new vines to grow. Jess also described a less popular technique called gobelet pruning, which does not rely on wires. The trunk is kept short. Gnarled wood from years of spur pruning remains at the head. From there, vines grow upward in a goblet shape. This type of pruning is better suited for arid climates with less risk of rot.

Vines must be pruned before bud break but the precise timing of pruning is not crucial. While Jess was a cellar intern at Ingelnook in Napa Valley, they ran a pruning trial. They pruned some vines in late November and some in late March. To her surprise, “the phenolic* and the sugars and the acids have caught up by harvest”. The timing did not affect the quality of the grapes. 
However, after bud break, frost can damage the vines. Different techniques mitigate the impact of post bud break frost.  “In New Zealand it’s ridiculous,” recounted Jess, with a laugh, “they get helicopters out there to blow the air around.” For a more fiscally conservative vineyard owner, there are pruning techniques that can help protect against frost. Jess described a technique that she first witnessed in cooler climates in France and that she now sees every day from her home in Oregon, which overlooks 30-50 acres of St. Innocent vineyards where the same technique is employed. With this technique, pruners leave a third cane on the vine, slightly higher than the other two canes. In the case of a late frost, the lower hanging canes will bear the burden of the cold and spare the higher cane from damage. 

In her pruning work, Jess is primarily concerned with trunk disease. She first became aware of the severity of trunk disease when working with Alice and Olivier de Moor in Chablis. The disease had affected 60% of the couple’s vines. Luckily, they came across researchers in Sancerre who had written a manual on how to avoid trunk disease.  “By the way that you prune,” said Jess “you can create a habitat – or not – for trunk disease.” Incorrect pruning produces dead wood and dead wood is a host for trunk disease. There is a common misconception that rain is the primary vector for the disease, however research has shown that it is improper pruning that leads to the three fungi that cause the disease. “In Oregon no one had even heard of it,” said Jess. She has since passed on techniques for preventing trunk disease to others who have come to learn how to prune with her. Recently, she found someone who is willing to translate the manual to English and publish it in the U.S. 

Though pruning fascinates Jess, she says that her favorite part of the winter season is reflection and preparation. “The sun sets so early! You can only work so long in the wintertime. It’s great for farmers because when you have days that are over 12, 13, 14 hours long you tend to work as long as the sun is up so I think that ability to plan in the winter is really nice.” Alas, those days of quiet contemplation are numbered. With spring will begin long days in the vineyard carefully nurturing grapes for a new vintage.  

* One of the most important groups of compounds in wines are phenolics, which are derived from phenol, and are responsible for structure and color in red wines. Tannin and anthocyanin are examples of major phenolics found in wine. 


    
 

A Destiny of Dirty Boots

Gretchen Skedsvold

If the saying “wine made in the vineyard is true” then Twin Cities native Jessica Miller is poised to make true wine. Jess has spent time in vineyards all over the world learning different viticultural techniques used to produce great grapes. After several years of traveling and learning the industry, Jess has settled in Oregon where she just finished bottling part of her very first vintage. Jess’s story is a great example of an unexpected passion developing into a fruitful career. She has worked with highly reputed winemakers and viticulturalists in Europe, the US and New Zealand. Her diverse experiences are a unique portrait of trends in contemporary winemaking and the slow, circuitous road to producing wine. 

With the requirements for her international relations degree completed, Jess had the flexibility to take half credit courses during her final year at Boston University. Their school of hospitality offered several courses in wine history and Jess enjoyed the first course so thoroughly that she ultimately completed the entire curriculum offered at her school. She was taken by the interdisciplinary nature of wine, the importance of culture, history, geology, science, and travel, “So it was always kind of in the back of my mind after that,” said Jess during our recent conversation. 

After graduating, she spent several months working at The Wine Shop in Minnetonka before heading to Orvieto, Italy in the southwest of Umbria in 2010. She lived and worked at Tenuta Pietre Parlanti, a small family farm owned and operated by Dr. Robert Hasinger and his wife Gala. They primarily grow traditional Chianti grapes, Sangiovese and Canaiolo, along with a small plot of Merlot. While she was there, Jess realized she wanted to pursue winemaking; California seemed like the natural next step. 

Upon arrival, Jess set up an informational interview with Steve Waters, the head of retail at Kermit Lynch, one of the best-known wine importers in the country. His suggestion to an aspiring winemaker? Work in retail and taste, taste, taste. She says it is the best industry advice she received. She spent two years in the Bay Area working in retail, learning how buying decisions are made and developing her palate. Once she found her footing there she felt it was time to return to making wine and working the land.  

She returned to production in 2014 to work for Richard Ward and David Graves at Saintsbury in Sonoma County, a small production winery in Carneros. Jess was more interested in working in the vineyard than in the cellar but when she expressed this to the cellarmaster, who had worked his way up from vineyards since he came over from Mexico, he thought she was crazy. “That’s the worst job; that’s the job that no one wants,” she was told. 

At the ground level in the US, she found there is a stigma with vineyard labor. It is typically seen and paid as an entry-level position given to immigrant laborers with low-English skills. From there, workers will move on to better positions and leave the vineyard if they can. Nonetheless Jess felt learning vineyard work was essential. This belief would be reinforced by her future experiences.

"The causes of the different vineyard labor perspectives are largely systemic, in my experience," says Jess. "The US wine industry is, for the most part, built on the model of Big Ag, which has been maintained by a very large, cheap and effective source of labor. The system in Northern France, which is the other one I know, benefits from cheaper land prices and social support systems, but also a culture that has been small and local for a long time, and is built on single farmers farming around 20-35 acres by themselves. You hear a lot of winemakers there talk about pruning their vines as a point of pride and quality, but the fact is that they don't have the cheap, expendable labor force at their fingertips. It’s important to recognize the small people I worked with are also drastically in the minority there [in France]. Also, I think when people value vineyards in the New World, it comes more in the form of  dialing-in terroir and hyper-monitoring vigor and irrigation, not working with and being around the plants. Dirty-boot farming is not a white-collar job, but you can also legitimately argue that apart from the stigma, it's much less cost-effective here."

When her job at Saintsbury ended late in October due to a short growing season, Jess became anxious about imminent unemployment and finding work. A friend suggested that she apply to work the harvest in the southern hemisphere, which starts the earliest in January.  It is common in the industry to support yourself by following harvests. “Vintage-hopping is how people can make ends meet, by working the next vintage in another hemisphere." 

She had been thoroughly impressed by the wines she tasted from Burn Cottage in New Zealand so she e-mailed asking if they had a viticulture internship. Typically, aspiring winemakers want to be in the cellar but Jess was determined to continue developing her viticulture knowledge. It was lucky timing and two weeks later Jess was headed to New Zealand. 

The family that owns and operates Burn Cottage is originally from Kansas where they farmed cotton. Their New Zealand vineyards are biodynamic (for a brief overview on biodynamic farming see our summary here) and they have invested in the best tools and equipment that money can buy. It was Jess’s first direct experience with biodynamic farming. “I was into good farming and not using glyphosate (and other herbicides and pesticides) but I was not converted to biodynamics.” But during her 8-month tenure on the farm Jess observed the impact biodynamic farming had on the health of the ecosystem, the employees, and the vines. The question leaving Burn Cottage became “how do I do this on a budget?" a conundrum that plagues many winemakers who see the benefits of organic farming. 

Leaving New Zealand, Jess found an internship at Inglenook in Napa Valley where Philippe Bascaules of Chateau Margeaux, the world-famous Bordeaux winery, had recently been hired to take charge of wine production. The winery was heavily invested in research; Jess had the responsibility of following and gathering data for all their trials. Much to her chagrin, she got back to California just in time for bloom. “The time period from budbreak to bloom, for me it really helps you gauge the growth rate of the vines and basically gauge the season…by bloom you kind of know what the season is like,” others reassured her that she was plenty early. But Jess’s work in the vines has made her sensitive to the minutia of viticulture and the effect on wines. Observing the grapes from the beginning of their development is a tool she uses for understanding the trajectory of the season. 

While in New Zealand, this belief had been reinforced through conversations about pruning. Many of the workers and vignerons passing through discussed the importance of pruning. “[Pruning] so influences not only your yield but also the health of the vines." It determines how successful your grapes will be during the season and the coming years. So she decided that the next step on her journey needed to focus on this aspect of vineyard work. 

During her lunch break at Inglenook one afternoon, Jess called Catherine Roussel of Clos Roche Blanche. Catherine and her business partner Didier Barouillet converted their Loire estate to organic farming in the mid-90s and gained a reputation for making complex, terroir driven wines. In a 2011 interview, Didier pointed out that his work as a vigneron began with a focus on the cellar, which then moved to the vines, which then moved to the soil. Alas! Catherine informed Jess that they had produced their last vintage in 2014. However, Julien Pineau and his partner Laurent Saillard had taken over the vineyards. Jess was able to secure a position working the former Clos Roche Vineyard with Julien, who had worked closely with Catherine and Didier before taking over the estate. 

She worked with Julien one-on-one, learning the basics of pruning. Afterwards she worked with his friend Julien Prevel in Montlouis-sur-Loire, who farms 4 hectares of his own as well as assisting Frantz Saumon with his organic vineyards. She finally found herself working under the tutelage of Alice and Olivier De Moor in Chablis. The couple gave her a pruning manual based on the work of researchers in Sancerre. “Learn this; this is how we prune,” they told her. The couple had pruned conventionally for 25 years and watched vines die from trunk disease. The research from Sancerre dramatically altered their techniques and eliminated trunk disease. The manual on pruning, though used in France, is unknown elsewhere. Jess is one of the few fieldworkers in the US discussing this valuable information and using it in her vineyard work. 

In March of 2016, Jess left for Oregon where she got hired as the assistant viticulturist for a vineyard management company. “It hadn’t been my goal. I wanted to just be a little farmer and help farm smaller properties.” However, this gave Jess an opportunity to become better oriented with climates and best practices in Oregon. She also started independently farming a small property for an absentee couple in Eola-Amity. When the season was over, they allowed her to keep the fruit.  The grapes were all Pinot Noir.  Eager to experiment, Jess vinified a Pétillant Naturel, a Pinot noir rosé and a 100% Pinot noir red wine. 

Jess still lives in Oregon where she is currently finishing pruning in preparation for spring. Check back next week for more on preparations for spring and the impact of pruning. 
 

Keep Calm and Carignan.

Gretchen Skedsvold

You may have heard Carignan referred to by one of its many names: Carignane, Carignano, Cariñena, Mazuelo, Moestal, Roussillonen or Samsó, to name a few. This red wine varietal is believed to have originated in Spain and is most often used as a blending grape. But when its high yielding vines are given attention and treated with reverence it can also produce balanced wines bursting with red fruit flavors and fine tannins. 

Carignan is a vigorous a.k.a. high yielding, black-skinned grape. It is late budding and late ripening and therefore needs the long, hot growing season of an arid climate - such as the Mediterranean where it is widely grown - to fully mature. Though it grows vigorously, it is highly sensitive to powdery mildew, downy mildew and grape worms. It is found mostly in Southern France where it is a blending grape in Cotes Catalane, Corbieres, Minervois and Faugieres. In Spain - where it is most famously used as a blending grape in Priorat - it is known as Samsó, Mazuelo or Cariñena. 

Before 1962, the French imported the majority of their Carignan grapes from Algeria. After Algeria gained its independence in 1962, The French began to grow Carignan widely in Southern France. It quickly became the most highly planted varietal in France, used mostly for producing low quality wines. Eventually, The E.U. offered cash subsidies to rip up Carignan vines and replace them with other vines. (Merlot surpassed Carignan as the most planted varietal). Sadly, this period of time sullied the grape’s reputation.  

Today, however, the grape is experiencing a renaissance - in part because it is a great food wine. When well executed, Carignan wines are rich, smooth, well-balanced, medium–bodied wines with light tannins – perfect for pairing with both light and heavy dishes. They are a perfect fit for those who enjoy a light Zinfandel, a Merlot or a Rhone blend. Carignans are fruit forward with notes of red fruits, baking spices, licorice, and a delightful cured meat umami. Try it with a rich poultry (especially duck), anything pork, or even a beef brisket! 

Here are a few of our favorite Carignans at Henry and Son:

Louis Antoine-Luyt 2013 Legno Duro – We have talked about Louis Antoine Luyt before. This native Burgundian now makes wine in Chile. His 100% Carignan was grown in the Maule Valley, 155 miles South of Santiago. The vines are 70 years old and they are farmed organically and without irrigation. He produces his “Tinto Chileno” using only native yeasts and carbonic maceration – a technique in which grapes are put in a sealed container in whole clusters and allowed to ferment inside of their skins. It produces fruity wines with low tannins. It is then aged in a combination of tanks and neutral oak barrels. 

The wine needs a little time to open but then it is all kinds of YUM! It is bursting with juicy red fruits with tangy finish and a gentle chew like sour fruit leather. It has aromas of lavender and forest berries and with cinnamon, herbs, and joooooose on the palate. This wine is youthful, energetic, and fun. It’s a great introduction to Carignan. 

Donkey and Goat Carignan 2013 – This 100% Carignane has been dry farmed on 75-year-old vines in Mendocino. It is grows on decomposed limestone and Pinnobie Loam and spends 8 months in neutral French oak barrels. This lean, medium bodied wine has aromas of red and black cherries, plums and blackberries with a subtle earthiness. Carignane’s characteristic umami cured meat aroma translates into blood sausage aromas on the nose and hints of black olives on the palate. It has medium tannins, notes of cherries and blackberries and a tart acidity. 

Garage Wine Co. Lot #48 Portezuelo Vineyard Carignan 2013 – Garage Wine pays homage to garagistes - a group of winemakers who in the 1990s in Bordeaux bucked tradition and big business and produced wines on a small scale that were more in line with international trends. Garage Wines started as a hobby and over-time grew into a full-fledged business. They are low-intervention winemakers and work with grape growers from various regions in Chile. 
This is a field blend from the Itata Valley in Chile made with 10 barrels of Carignan and one of Cinsault. The vineyard is the site of the first winery in Chile where they still farm by hand and with horses. It is naturally fermented with native yeasts in small tanks with open tops. It was then barrel aged for two winters. The result is a rich, fleshy wine with the scent of herbs, wildflowers and soil. It has a full body for a Carignan with dark luscious fruits and notes of pepper and clove and grip on the finish. 

Domaine La Manarine Le Carignan 2014 – Here we have 100% Carignan from the old world, where it is best known as a blending grape.  Domaine La Manarine in the Rhone produces this powerful and fleshy Carignan with fine tannins and a firm grip. The characteristic berry notes mixed with gamey umami flavors are accented by hints of tar, lavender, and a heavy dose of pepper.