Grinding Away

cup-of-coffee

As Agent Cooper always said, “Damn fine coffee.”

I don’t always drink wine. Or even beer. I don’t even drink whisky every day, come to think of it. I don’t like soda pop for the most part, and I drink about two quarts of milk per calendar year. There are only two beverages I consume on a daily basis: water, of course, since I am a squishy bag of mostly water by design, and coffee, because it is delicious brain juice that lets me function in society.

punks

Nobody looks cool . . . oh, all right, they look ridiculously cool. Don’t smoke kids, it’s bad.

I started drinking coffee quite young. In retrospect, being in the single digit range for birthdays was probably a little on the youthful side for drinking caffeinated beverages, but if you believe the Coffee Achievers, it was probably the making of me, and there are worse habits.

My taste in coffee has evolved over the years, as has the way I consume it. As a kid I liked it with lots and lots of milk and sugar. I lost my taste for sweets after a while, quit bothering with milk, and started drinking hot, black coffee by the gallon. Keep in mind I was raised by simple prairie folks, and the coffee wasn’t premium or sophisticated. It was pre-ground, canned coffee that was on sale, and made in an automatic drip machine manufactured by a company more known for electric drills and sanders than for food equipment.

Braun_Coffee_Maker

It’s nice to know they never change.

A friend of mine once described this beverage as ‘Lutheran Coffee’, after the kind of brew you find in one of those giant percolators in a church basement. I liken it to hot brown coffee-water. After I left home I started buying beans and getting them ground at the store. Then I bought my own grinder, and one of the most perfect coffee making machines ever invented: the Melitta Cone Drip. That worked for years, until I got a bug in my ear about espresso. Then I had several set-ups, refining how I like my coffee with automated espresso makers, stove top units, et cetera.

green-beans

Seriously, they look like pebbles that aren’t even trying very hard.

I keep experimenting with coffee making, but the final frontier for me has been to seize control over roasting my own beans. Coffee is the seed of a cherry-like fruit, and after gathering and processing, it looks like a little green rock with a cleft in it, and it doesn’t taste of anything special. It’s not until you roast it to a rich, chocolatey brown that it releases that heavenly aroma and beguiling flavour.

beans

Oh baby, you look so good in black.

By this time you should be getting the idea that I never leave well enough alone, and everything in my life is in imminent danger of becoming an obsession. I did some research, fiddled around a bit with primitive methods, including roasting beans over a wood fire in an iron pan like the Ottomans did, but a conversation with a professional coffee roaster made me realise that there was something to having the right piece of equipment for the job: heat ramp-up especially was a thing. There’s a long explanation, but if you heat the beans up too slowly they dry out and lose some of their nuance. Heat ’em up too fast and they just char instead of roasting nicely. A good roasting machine can take that into account. A good machine like the Behmor 1600.

41402-after-dark-behmor-1600-plus-coffee-roasting-starter-kit-1000

The Behmor. The one I got came with a bunch of extras: a nice glass mug, a pound of coffee and a really good scale.

The unit is a masterful design. You can check out the manual here, which is an excellent segue: always read the instructions. With some things, like an ice-cube tray, the stakes are low. If you do it wrong, worst-case, you don’t get ice cubes. Because this machine is using high heat to dry out and subsequently roast cellulosic vegetable matter saturated with oil (coffee), if you overdo it, it can catch fire. Which is bad.

If you’re going to get a roaster, read and pay close attention to those instructions. They’ll make sure you stay safe and that you get a decent cup of coffee from the first try. After that, you can start fiddling around with the time, ramp-ups, drum speed and all that jazz. But start with the basics. To show you those basics, have a look at this overview of roasting basics that I put together in my kitchen.

The manual may be a little intimidating at first, but as you can see, it isn’t rocket surgery: Follow the instructions, don’t leave the Roaster unattended while it’s on, and learn to recognise the difference between first and second crack and you’re in.

A fascinating combination of high tech and established tech.

A fascinating combination of high tech and established tech.

If you’re curious about the coffee making rig shown at the end of the video, it’s an Aeropress, and it’s what I use to make an excellent–just about the best, really–cup of hot coffee I’ve ever had.

But what if you want a bigger thrill? What if you want the ultimate in coffee deliciousness? What if you want . . . this

Cold-brewed coffee is the hottest-cold thing to show up in coffee use in the last ten years. You get flavour extraction by trading the heat of the water for time. Rather than a three or four minute steep with water around 200F (your mileage may vary) you use tepid water and soak overnight, or for 24 hours. This slow, gentle extraction leaves behind a lot of the harsh tannins, while teasing out the smooth, rich flavours that make coffee so wonderfully good.

And Nitrogen dispense is what has made Guinness Stout so popular. Forcing your cold-brewed coffee through a Stout Faucet with medium-pressure nitrogen gives it that creamy, foamy ‘cascade’ of flavour goodness. Honestly, it makes coffee wickedly drinkable, to the point where I have to monitor my intake or I’ll wind up dancing around like wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube man.

NITRO! KABLOOEY!

5 pound nitrogen tank, high-pressure regulator, stout faucet and connectors. Not show, 19 litre Cornelius keg and dedicated keg fridge.

Previously, if you wanted to do nitrogen dispensing at home, you needed a full-on setup, with a keg refrigerator (standard homebrew kegs are not fridge-friendly: they crowd out the pot roast), a nitrogen tank, special regulator, and a bunch of other bits and bobs. Not a stretch if your life includes that kind of thing as a hobby, but a bit of a stretch for your average coffee fan.

jacked-up

Everything you need to Jack Up your coffee.

Enter the Jacked-Up™ Nitro Fully-Loaded Cold Brew Starter Kit. It includes everything you need for cold-brewed, insanely delicious cold-brewed-nitro-coffee at home. Two things make it ideal for home use. First, the keg itself. Have a look at mine.

nitro-cannonball

Coffee roaster, check. Coffee grinder, check. Jacked Up Nitro system, check. Gallon of pea-pod beer . . . what?

Pop the tap and the regulator off of it and the whole keg fits onto a shelf in a standard fridge, ready to dispense your coffee at any time. (Don’t tell anyone I told you, but it’ll also dispense Wine like a champ).

jacked-up-nitro-keg-regulator-white

I love good engineering. That regulator is built like a tank.

Second, check out that regulator, with the attached nitrogen cylinder. You don’t need to buy the full-meal-deal nitrogen tank, regulator et cetera, you just screw in a cylinder of nitrogen gas, pop it on the keg and dial up your pour. You can even take the Cannonball keg with you to parties or the back yard, or wherever. This is a brilliant enabler of coffee usage.

Check out how I do it.

I’ve nearly got the whole coffee thing handled. Five, six more years at most and I’ll have my system perfected.

Now, I wonder how you roast your own tea?

Garden Days

bumblebee

Lavender helps keep my bee girls healthy and strong.

Times have  been crazy busy at Chaos Manor, both personally and professionally–I’m really excited about Master Vintner, and all the good things we’ve got going on over there–don’t miss my ridiculously controversial blog post, Lies, Damned Lies, And Sulfites: The Facts. I love that topic, especially the angry mail I get from it.

I’m going to do a couple of garden updates this month, and a couple of cooking specials, sharing my love of good food to pair with good wine–and good friends. Many of my garden crops have come in and gone, still others are producing.

currants

I try to stay currant.

There’s currant jam to make, black currant wine, I made a bunch of spanakopita with my spinach crop, and I found time to make a batch of delicious head cheese.

I’ve been brewing pretty frequently as well: I’ve got half a dozen wine projects on the go, experimenting with extended maceration with grapeskins in wine kits and I’ve got a couple of hundred litres of cider to process.

produce

Fresh–really fresh–food.

First things first though: I’ve got a nice little dinner planned with minted peas, new potatoes, carrots and broccoli. Fresher food you can not get, and I’m pleased to be eating from my own garden.

 

 

Happy Canada Day

national-flag-canada-lge2

The true north, strong and free

Today is Canada Day, the 149th anniversary of the enactment of the Canadian constitution, Canada’s Birthday.

For those unfamiliar with our history, you can catch the whole thing on Wikipedia . The short version is that unlike countries that were former colonies that threw off the yoke of the oppressor through conflict, Canada did not go through war to become what it is. We actually just sort of happened when we smooshed up the former British colonies of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick with Upper and Lower Canada (now called Ontario and Quebec) into a Dominion.

dominion

Image courtesy edmaps.com

We weren’t quite a country of our own at that time, more a semi-independent kingdom still partly ruled through British parliament and the Cabinet, but in typical Canadian fashion we didn’t get too worried about it for the next century, but rather slowly shed the Queen’s oversight until 1982 when the Blessed Saint Pierre Trudeau (my the gods rest his soul) repatriated our constitution (by literally taking it from England back to Canada, no less).

As a country we’re a parliamentary democracy, although still nominally under the control of the British Crown: the head of our government is actually the Governor General, the Queen’s representative, who actually has the real, legal power to dissolve our democratically elected government should the situation arise.

johnson

The head of the Canadian government, The Governor General of Canada; His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston.

But that would be un-Canadian. Not the done thing, at all.

I got to musing on this as I was designated driver for a group this week, and one of the people there was on the verge of getting his Canadian citizenship as a recent immigrant. Fueled by a festive sense of the impending holiday (and several hours of an open bar at a wedding) he asked, ‘What is Canada day about, anyway? What does it mean to Canadians?’

sorry

Sorry for the ridiculous stereotype

It’s a fair question, and one that’s simultaneously easy, and yet impossible to answer. On the surface, Canadians take the day off and hang out at the cottage or the beach or at home. We grill (Americans, don’t listen to Canadians who say they barbecue: 99% of them are grilling. They mean well, but we have a long way to go to catch up to American ‘Q) and have a few beers, spend time with our family and generally don’t think too deeply about the greater meaning of the holiday, although we’ll wave a flag or wear a temporary Maple Leaf tattoo, and later we’ll go down to the park and watch some fireworks.

sparkler

Ooooh, aaaaah

Our fireworks are rarely as intense as American 4th of July pyrotechnics. I’ve always thought that it was partly because we’re more cautious, and partly because we’re like the guy on the cul-de-sac who lives next door to the house that has 100,000 Christmas lights that sync up to music and can be seen from outer space. You don’t compete with that, but you do show up and do your best.

If you pinned down a Canadian, however, and really got them to think about what it means to be a citizen of our country, you’d get an amazing array of answers, from the profoundly moving stories of people who came here are refugees from oppression, to the deeply nostalgic ones of people who fought for our country, both in wars and in the battle for social justice and inclusiveness that are part of our national identity, and even fiercely patriotic ones who see a shining light in the accomplishments of Canada as a nation and friend of nations.

amigos

I can hear theme music playing . . . image credit Reuters.

Here’s the thing: Canada doesn’t get a tonne of press, unless it’s people admiring our sleek new Prime Minister. A friend of mine coined a phrase that resonates deeply with me: Canada is the designated driver of North America. That’s a wee bit passive-aggressive, but the image of duty and a sober hand at the controls is accurate in many ways.

We’ve played important roles in both world wars, but  then we invented the concept of modern peacekeeping. Although it took a long time, we have recognised the wrongs we did to our Aboriginal populations and apologised, deeply and fully, and we’re now working on our reconciliation. We welcome immigrants from all over the world, but rather than demanding that they assimilate, we celebrate their diversity and culture, more like a tossed salad than a melting pot. We established the Division for Human Rights at the UN, and have been part of ever UN mission since 1957, and when America suffered a great tragedy on 9/11 our country took in hundreds of airplanes and opened our homes to American travelers.

I could go on, but that would be bragging, and that’s not the Canadian way. But I can tell you two things that summarise the way Canada really is.

rmc-flag

Nice enough, but a bit armor-y

First, the Maple Leaf flag was not the product of war, colonies uniting, or a struggle for independence. Instead, it was cribbed from the Royal Military’s college flag, that was red-white-red, but had a mailed fist clutching green maple leaves. Rather than the martial symbol, a single maple leaf was substituted.

american_travellers_posing_as_canadians

Go ahead, we’re cool with that.

It was then tacked up on a wall among other flag designs and in a classic Canadian move people were consulted, committees were formed and votes were taken, until it was finally adopted in 1964, to be stitched to the backpacks of Canadians travelling around the world. It’s a product of thoughtfulness, inclusiveness, compromise and, eventually, quiet pride.

Second, Canada’s national broadcaster, the excellent CBC Radio, held a contest to come up with a Canadian phrase to mirror the proudly American qualifier, “As American as apple pie”.

The winner? “As Canadian as . . . possible, under the circumstances”.

That’s my country. See you at the fireworks, let me know if you need a designated driver.

Winemaker Magazine 2016

Santa Rosa in reposa

Santa Rosa in reposa

It’s here! One more sleep!

The Winemaker Magazine conference for 2016 is in Santa Rosa, California. It’s the largest (and best) home winemaking conference in the world. As a columnist for Winemaker, I’ll be there as a speaker and panelist, giving lectures, answering questions, and hanging out with my wine making people.

Drinking alone is like . . .

Drinking alone is like . . .

Last year’s conference was in Portland, Oregon, and was a blast. I’m looking forward to seeing my good friends.

Gi, get ready for our annual picture!

Gi, get ready for our annual picture!

And some of my more sinister accomplices . . .

Plotting, with beer.

Plotting, with beer.

It’s a little too late to pick up tickets, but if you’d like to live vicariously, you can check out the conference schedule here, and you can follow my live conference updates on Twitter @Wine_Guy_Tim and on Facebook and look for the conference hashtag . . . when I find out what it is. #winemagconf2016 sounds good!

If you’re already booked and coming to the conference, I’ll see you there! You’ll recognise me by my Master Vintner shirt and my delighted grin at getting to hang out in such a gorgeous place, drinking wine with fabulous people.

I'll look for you in the audience!

I’ll look for you in the audience!

See you there!

pretty-rig

The Word of the Day is ‘Spunding’

krautI know a little German . . .

I’ve been incredibly busy with my Master Vintner project–have a look at some of the things we’ve got going on over here–making wine, tasting wine, talking about wine, and generally loving the whole Master Vintner concept.

In all my time in the consumer wine kit business I wanted to make a kit that I was completely responsible for, not so much because I’m a shiny-eyed control freak, but because I wanted to share something where everything was done exactly the way I wanted it, at each step. I get to do that now, and it’s a rare privilege in business to make something this good, and then to see people making the kits and loving them.

But, I do have other interests–cooking, gardening, photography, travel, motorcycles, hunting, shooting, hiking, reading and generally messing around learning stuff, and, as it happens, suddenly going into deep geek mode when something catches my imagination (I have been  accused of having ‘Attention Surplus Disorder’).

Which leads me to one of my latest offshoots: I was doing research on the Charmat Method, a process for making sparkling wine in pressure tanks, rather than carbonating in the bottle. It’s an interesting compromise: force carbonating, like the way they get the fizz into most mass-market beers, leaves large bubbles that are described as ‘coarse’, but it’s very inexpensive to do. Bottle conditioning is the traditional method for making champagne, and it uses a dose of sugar and yeast inside a sealed bottle to produce carbon dioxide in situ. That makes for fine, creamy bubbles, but it’s expensive and time-consuming. Do the conditioning in a tank and bottle it from there the theory goes, and you’ve got a decent product at a reasonable price.

The thing is, letting yeast have their way with sugar in a sealed vessel is tricky. Most homebrewers have had, or been present for a ‘bottle-bomb‘, where the carbonation was so high that either the bottle gushed foam like a fountain as soon as it was opened, pouring out until it was empty, or it actually exploded right where it was sitting. Glass is not a flawless choice for pressure applications.

Stainless steel tanks are pretty good, but past a certain point, unless they’re built like scuba tanks, they’re nearly as dangerous as a bottle bomb going off. What you need is a pressure relief valve that you can set accurately to hold in the amount of pressure you want, but will vent anything past that. Sounds easy, and it is, if you’re a gas-fitter or a millwright, but for home beverage applications those things aren’t just lying around.

Except all the bits are there, right in front of you, if you speak German.

A Spundapparat is a pressure relief valve used in the process of krausening (those wacky Germans, it’s like they have a word for everything!). Krausening is exactly the same process as the Charmat method, but more German and less French. Tootling around on the internets gave me a good idea of what the deal was: while the classic use was krausening, spunding valves are also used to ferment beer under pressure, allowing beers to finish faster while producing fewer off flavours and undesirable characters.

I didn’t have any appropriate candidate wine for a Charmat process on hand, but I did have access to a sample of WLP 925 High Pressure yeast, designed to be fermented at 14 PSI, and the ingredients for a Pre-Prohibition Pilsner on hand (didn’t know I made beer? Well, it’s yet another hobby . . .)

A beer? A pressure yeast? An interesting apparatus to play with? What ho! In geek heaven, I hatched a plan and immediately launched it!

And then I immediately stopped because the parts I needed for the spunding assembly wouldn’t arrive for a couple of weeks. Poo. I put out a call to my brewer friends and one of them came through for me. Nathaniel lent me his spunding rig, which he used for transferring beers in his solera (it has to do with soured beers, a fad I’m hopeful will soon go away).  His rig lacked a proper pressure gauge, but it wouldn’t be mission-critical in this application–the pressures were pretty low and I could fiddle around a bit.

Here’s his rig, and a tricksy little blow-off hose I rigged up. I’ll explain that in a second.

nathan's

Simple, yet effective, much like me.

Attached to my blow-off keg (see below).

spundy 3

Very technical

Here’s why the funny transfer hose: the grey disconnect is a gas-in connector. The black is a product-out connector. Product-out posts on the kegs have a stainless steel tube that runs to the bottom of the keg, allowing the liquid inside (wine or beer) to flow upwards, through the tap, into your glass, while the gas-in posts end right at the top of the keg. Makes sense, right?

spundy-5

21st century technology vs. old-school

I got a second keg, and set the whole thing up as a blow-off vessel. The very cool and complicated keg on the left is a Big Mouth™ Modular 5 Gallon Keg. Not only does it go from 1-gallon to 5 gallons with a few turns of a wrench, but also it has a port on top that allows you to hang an oak stave from (and retrieve it at will!) or a dry hop bag to flavour your beer. It’s my favoritest thing right now.

In case any foam-up during fermentation would flow through the gas port and travel down the product port in the smaller keg. Both kegs were sealed and purged, the spunding valve set at 14 PSI and the yeast was pitched.

It worked like a charm. The beer fermented dry in five days, and I heard the faintest of muttering from the valve as it uh, passed gas.  I moved it to my keezer (keg refrigerator made from a converted deep freeze) to drop the yeast and chill down.  The beer is quite good, but the yeast is non-flocculent (it doesn’t want to settle down). It’s not a huge flaw, but next time I’ll filter it to make it shiny and bright.

PPPils

I love a tall blonde . . .

Now I had all sorts of ideas. My last round of winemaking with my Winemaker’s Reserve kits had me kegging a lot of them, in accordance with Vandergrift’s Second Principle of Winemaking  (A winemaker’s desire to bottle wines is in inverse proportion to the number of bottles they have filled in their lifetime). In fact, I had a few kegs in the back of my car . . .

car

“What kind of car is that? ” “It’s a Volkswagen Keggerator.”

I wanted to do a pressure transfer of wine from one of my 10 US-gallon (38 litre) kegs to my awesomely excellent Master Vintner® Cannonball® Wine Keg System and the spunding rig would allow me to do a transfer under nitrogen gas, slowly and carefully. All I had to do was rig up a product-product transfer hose, attach a gas line between the big keg and the Cannonball, attach the spundapparatus to the Cannonball gas out, and then slowly dial back the spunding pressure and it would transfer meek as a mouse.

But I wanted a more accurate pressure gauge. the little direct rig was fine, as far as it goes, but I didn’t really trust it to be accurate. Fortunately, by now all of my parts had arrived, and I put my own special rig together.

spunding-02

I had to order the pressure relief valve on the right, and the two brass connectors on the left, but everything else was just lying around the house. Yes, my house is like that.

spunding-01

Neat as a pin. Doesn’t even look like I did it!

pretty-rig

Mr. Spundy in action!

It worked like a charm! Not only did I transfer wine from one container under inert gas to another, but also I did it without racking or pumping. A professional brewer or winemaker would be rolling their eyes at this point, as both of these are standard operations in the industry, but for a home winemaker it’s a pretty cool step, and it only cost around 25 bucks plus some Teflon tape.

What’s next for my little rig? I think it’s time to grab a Winemaker’s Reserve Pinot Grigio and do a Charmat-process sparkling wine–with good management and a little work I should have it ready to drink by the holiday season this year!

Unless, of course, I get distracted and do something even weirder in the meantime. I’ve been meaning to make a high-gravity Belgian beer with Muscat grape juice in it . . .

Announcement: New Kit Facility For Tim Vandergrift

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Tim Vandergrift Announces New Wine Kit Production Facility, KitWorld Inc.

By Fal Ernian, Vinotas News Service

April 1, 2016

Modesto, Ca – Canadian company Tim Vandergrift Consulting and Communications Inc. announced today that it has finished construction on a 200,000 square foot processing facility for grapes, juices and concentrate, and will be releasing its new wine kits this month.

kITWORLD OH YEAH

Cellar A, one of sixteen cryogenic tank farms

Construction of the facility, underwritten by private equity firm Lord-Buckley Capital, began in 2014 and final inspections and certifications were completed in March, during which a test run of thirty thousand kits was processed. Officials in the California Department of Food and Agriculture have certified the facility as fully operational and KitWorld Inc. goes into production today.

External storage for temporary processing

External storage for temporary processing

TVCC expects this facility to open up the US home winemaking market and widen its customer base by more than two million users.

CDO Tim Vandergrift, looking over his facility

CDO Tim Vandergrift, looking over his facility

“If we look at the Canadian market for wine kits”, says Chief Disruption Officer Tim Vandergrift, “It’s 20% of total sales, domestic and import–literally, for every case of wine opened in Canada on any day, two of those bottles were made by consumers: there’s not much to do in the land of moose and snow except to make wine and enjoy socialised medicine, ha ha! In the USA the total is far lower–despite the fact that the USA has a quarter of a billion people of legal drinking age, fewer than 7 million bottles are made by consumers at home. That’s less than 0.15% of the total wine consumed. Our initial goal is to raise that to 1% of the total, a 666% increase, and long term we want Americans to experience the drinking level of the average Canadian, and capture 20% of the US market, and net our company the largest share of the beverage industry in history!”

The World's Foremost Authority

The World’s Foremost Authority

TVCC began planning for the facility early on, hiring Conjectural Technology’s esteemed winemaker Professor Corey Irwin, the world’s foremost authority and co-inventor of the formal tennis shoe. Professor Irwin’s knowledge and guidance allowed the facility to be completed in record time, with over 220 varieties of wine ready for production.

Professor Irwin planned the new facility for continuous expansion. “Our plant will allow for the processing of ten million pounds of grapes per day, with storage for twenty million gallons of concentrate and juices in a state of the art cryogenic cellar. The world’s largest HST treatment system, combined with nano-scale obfuscating filtration, continuous flow gamma irradiation and a full-run DMDC inline injector will make wine juices shelf stable for up to twenty years, allowing wider distribution and the ability to take advantage of price fluctuations to hedge against crop issues, like when any of our competitors try to buy grapes.”

Running DMDC Injector/Gramma Irradiator unit

Running DMDC Injector/Gamma Irradiator unit

Perhaps the most exciting innovation is KitWorld’s partnership with aerospace company Fukaze’s drone division to bring kits directly to consumer’s homes within 24 hours of ordering.

“We had to develop an entirely new type of drone to be able to vector a payload of nearly sixty pounds,” explains Fujin Shinatobe, Flight Operations Manager for Fukaze Drones. “New battery technology and powerful permanent magnet motors allowed us to construct the A-10 drone, dubbed, ‘The Winehog’. We actually built it like a wine kit with a drone sticking out of it as opposed to a drone carrying a wine kit.”

De-militarized version of this drone will be used.

De-militarized version of this drone will be used.

With initial capacity at four thousand drones scalable to ten thousand in the first year and twenty thousand in the second,  Kitworld expects to meet 100% of US demand for consumer-produced wine going forward, and plans to expand to Europe and Asia by 2020.

More information is expected to be released following a shareholders meeting on April 2nd, 2016.

About Tim Vandergrift Consulting and Communications:

Founded in 2014, Tim Vandergrift Consulting and Communications is a White Rock-based marketing and brand-strategy firm in the beverage industry. It specialises in wholesome, healthy, wine lifestyle promotions and is committed to using only free-range imagery to create dialogue and market products for its clients. It has clients in countries and is 100% gluten-cruelty free.

Contact:

To learn more about KitWorld, please contact

Sue Donym, Media Relations

600 Yosemite Blvd, Modesto, CA 95354, United States

Office: (949) 717-3877

SueDonym@KitWorld.com

Tasting Master Vintner

mv kit pic

Be the master!

Good taste doesn’t exist. It is our taste. We have to be proud of it.

–Franco Moschino

If you read my blog, you know by now that I’m the Technical Winemaking Advisor for Master Vintner, the first new line of wine kits in years, and the first one sold exclusively by an All-American company. Aside from the usual sorts of things I do as an advisor (which grapes and juices, what varietals, how to package, instructions, launches, instructions, etc, etc) which fall under the heading of ‘Curation’–a designation I love because it really says what it is I do–I also make and drink the wines.

Beards help you taste.

Tasty!

After all, how else am I going to ultimately know how they taste? The human palate is the single most sensitive analytical tool that a winemaker possesses. Not that mine is necessarily the most sensitive in the world, but it does have three decades of training going for it, and that’s what I put to use this week when I went into my cellar and pulled out samples of my very first Master Vintner wines. They’ve been in the bottle long enough to develop their full slate of flavours and aromas, which I go through on the videos below.

First up, Master Vintner Chardonnay!

 

Next, Pinot Noir

 

The Big-Boy, Cabernet Sauvignon

And the luscious Merlot 

I’m as proud of these wines as I could possibly be. The process for making a new wine kit is long and sometimes it seems overwhelmingly complex, as you have to ensure that the wine is going to turn out right from the first time and every time. Working with the talented and dedicated folks at Master Vintner has been a joy. It’s not a matter of just making a kit, but of getting the kit painstakingly right, and good enough to put my name on it.

And it’s that good. I’m putting on a dozen new kits right away so I can fine-tune a whole bunch of winemaking parameters–oak, yeast modifications, sur lie and battonage, temperature control, barrel ageing, all of the good stuff that winemakers get to do to make every batch of wine their very own.

the-cameraman

Yeah, that’s about the size of it

One final thing: when you’re watching these keep in mind that I’m a long time video presenter, but a first-time video shooter . . . I bought a brand-new camera and put it to use for the first time, and during the filming my new studio lights caught fire and nearly burned my house down, construction on the street out front got loud and then a lot louder (a pneumatic hammer on an excavator shut me down for almost two days!) and a crow stole my lens cap.  It’s really a testament to how tasty the wines were that I got anything on video at all, and I’m looking forward to learning to shoot more (and better quality) in the future.

Captain Video!

mv blog face

A face you can trust! A wine you’ll love!

I’ve been busy! The Master Vintner website has launched and we’re busy filling it up with great wine kits, great deals and lots of cool info about making your own wine–and having lots of fun with it. One of the things I’m pursuing is making a bunch of new videos, right here in Chaos Manor.

Before I started making new videos, I went back and reviewed the stuff I’d done before, some of which is on my YouTube channel, with more on Northern Brewer’s channel. Some of it has even been bootlegged by other people, and much to my surprise some of my videos have gotten hundreds of thousands of views–how does that even work?

I thought I’d curate a bunch of them so you could pick and choose right here if you wanted to have a look at what’s going on with home winemaking right now. If you like ’em, go ahead and subscribed to my channel and you’ll get updates when new stuff is uploaded.

Note that some of these videos are of me from previous employers: don’t worry, the information is still good and you can learn just as much.

Winemaking Techniques

Other Winemaking Topics

And some silliness

 

 

Diversity

Diversity in home winemaking is something that’s been on my mind. Since I’m in the single most privileged category of humans who have ever lived: white, male, heterosexual, nominally Protestant, not impoverished, educated, North American, English speaking, et cetera, I had better be thinking about it. If I’m not, I’m just wallowing in privilege. To paraphrase Louis CK, you can’t even throw a slur at me–I am an Apex person in our society.

ck

This gives me a congenital blind spot about diversity–not because I’m against it, nor because I consciously want to maintain a privileged status quo beneficial to me, but if you want to talk about how other people are involved with water, the last person you would consult should be a fish.  I am that fish, swimming happily in a gloriously warm sea of perfect contentment.

Another spot where I have to check myself is my citizenship. Canada is an officially multicultural country. Unlike America, we don’t operate as a melting pot, with the refiner’s fire purifying the dross of external cultures and races and making ‘citizens’. We’re much more like a tossed salad, complete with leafy greens, vegetables, croutons, zesty dressings and accoutrements, all contributing singular and identifiable characters to our country and our communities.

charter

The most important document in my country.

It’s actually built into our charter of rights (section 27) and we’ve even been described as “the most successful pluralist society on the face of our globe”.  I don’t happen to think we do it perfectly, yet it shapes how Canadians think people behave everywhere, and it leaves the privileged with the idea that the whole diversity thing is handled: yup, nothing to see here, that’s all settled, nobody should complain, and if they do, they must want more than their fair share, because we got that behind us already, right?

Theoretically, but not always in practice. A dozen years ago it occurred to me that I worked in a relatively mono-cultural, mono-racial hobby, and that I was mainly surrounded by people more or less like me. I’ve always tried to make everyone who expressed an interest in home winemaking feel welcome and respected, and I’m delighted to learn about people who have ethnic and cultural lives and traditions different from mine. But still, there’s little diversity in the hobby and the industry.

craft drinkers

Data is available on age, gender and education, but not race. Infographic courtesy Steadyserv.

After I became aware of it I had to restrain myself a bit. Whenever I saw someone visibly different from me I had the urge to smother them in hugs and attention. It’s not that I wanted to bend over backwards to ‘correct’ or ‘balance’ anything. I was just grateful that there were folks bucking the trend. Just recently I was provoked by a very thoughtful article on diversity that pushed me articulate my feelings more strongly.

The article that spurred me popped up in my news feed last month:  THERE ARE ALMOST NO BLACK PEOPLE BREWING CRAFT BEER. HERE’S WHY, by Dave Infante. Infante is writing about the Craft beer movement, but his observations transfer very well to home wine and beermaking.

He gives some solid reasons for a lack of black participation in the Craft industry:

  • A sense of exclusion from the culture: “God forbid you want a ‘regular’ beer instead of an 18% homebrewed bacon-infused IPA. You’d get an earful from the closest neckbeards about how you just have to ‘work’ through the taste.”
  • Lack of welcome for black drinkers : ” Dennis Byron. . . told me that while “there are no ‘White Only’ signs” in craft beer, the market still has a long way to go to court black drinkers.”
  • Racism in the historic beer industry, dating back to the post-prohibition reopening of American breweries
  • Economic factors (breweries take a lot of money to open, and if you want fast returns and a rich lifestyle, don’t open a brewery)

The exclusionism is not a race issue–snobby, unwelcoming beer geeks have been around as long as we’ve had modern craft beer, whether it’s a leather-palated IPA fanatic who can’t taste anything below 100 IBU’s or the newly-minted sour enthusiast who thinks you ‘just don’t get’ why you should drink a bottle of carbonated vinegar. They’re capable of driving even the most inquisitive and open-minded tyro away from beer and into a more welcoming beverage category.

The lack of welcome for black drinkers and the inability or in attention to courting them is deeply institutional. There are only a handful of non-white brewers in the craft scene (Garret Oliver is the most prominent, but he’s been shouldering the load mostly by himself since the 90’s) and while I haven’t seen any ‘Whites Only’ signs, a lack of overt racism isn’t the same thing as open arms. I’ve yet to see any sort of marketing or positioning that reaches outside of the box to any minority community. Craft breweries simply aren’t thinking about it.

The history of racism in commercial brewing is sad and troubling. The world was different then, but in the decades that have passed there has been no meaningful address to the past. Since there weren’t any Craft brewers around at the time it can’t be hung around their necks, but if we’re going to inherit the beer industry, we need to take on its entire legacy, not just the good parts, and do what we can to make things better.

The economic factors are an over-arching theme in our society. Lack of access to funds affects everyone trying to open breweries, but minority groups have a proportionately harder time due to historic economic disparities.

There are very few exceptions to the whiteness in the industry. Garret Oliver seems to shoulder the load for the most part, and Black Frog Brewery in Toledo is minority owned, along with 5 Rabbit Cerveceria in Chicago. But it’s a handful of exceptions, not dozens and certainly not hundreds.

There is an NPR article on diversity in brewing that makes a very strong point about roots of brewing:

Looking at the nation’s community of home-brewers also sheds light on the matter, says brewer Jeremy Marshall, of Lagunitas Brewing Co.

“Craft brewing is rooted in home-brewing,” Marshall says. “And if you look at home-brewing, you see nerdy white guys playing Dungeons and Dragons and living in their mom’s basement, and I know this because I was and am one of them.”

Point taken: craft is definitely rooted in home fermenting, and home wine and beer makers are overwhelmingly white. But it doesn’t have to stay that way if we don’t want it to.

Those are all legitimate issues, but after them Infante gets around to asking the big question: does it even matter? After all, if the black community is fine with neck-bearded white guys lecturing each other about sours and Saisons, why should anyone care? He goes on to ask if the topic isn’t “just a big, foamy glass of white guilt masquerading as a beer story?” If it was, then my own feelings amount to an assumption of The White Man’s Burden, extending the cultural imperialism of the past with malt and hops.

Fortunately, Infante and I both think it does matter, for two very important reasons. First, by staying homogenous we lose out on people who are talented, passionate and dedicated to what they do. He cites Annie Johnson, a black woman who won Homebrewer of the Year in 2013, with a beer in the most difficult category of all, light Lager (thirty years on, I’m just getting a handle on the style–it’s a beast. This is the equivalent of climbing Everest in a Speedo and sandals, or running a marathon in a suit of armor) and yet, despite accolades like Pilsner Uquell’s head brewer telling her that hers was the best beer he’s ever had, she can’t break into the brewing world. This is a waste on a monumental scale: I want to drink her beer.

 

scovil

In home winemaking, there are people like my friend Ron Scovil. If you want to read Ron’s story in his own words, it’s here. I don’t want to overwrite his voice, but to compress it down, I met him in Colorado back in 2007 at a wine tasting/lecture I was giving. As soon as I tasted his first wine, I knew he had ‘it’–the ability to coax both flavour and balance from his raw materials. I knew he had what it takes to be a star winemaker, and I told him so and encouraged him to pursue it. (I also met his mom, an excellent lady–meet her and you know where he gets his good qualities from.)

Ron won Best of Show in Colorado for his wine twice and his mead three times in a row and wound up on the front page of the news in Napa, and on USA Today and NBC Sunday. Despite other winners getting a plaque in the sponsoring brewery and their winning brew on tap, Ron was left out. He persevered and won best of class and double-Gold as a professional winemaker in Napa. Again, despite his results he was unable to raise capital for his own operation or break into the industry, and talks about bigotry he suffered from people in the industry.

If there’s one thing my hobby and industry needs, it’s more Ron Scovils. Because talent like that should be welcome wherever it goes. I want to drink his wine, and the fact that I can’t is a waste of talent and skill that is a sin.

And that leads to the second reason why diversity matters: unless we open up and welcome everyone to our hobby, we risk perpetuating a larger social injustice, that of institutionalised racial inequality. If we can bring more diversity, broader ethnicity into our hobby, and make their presence a normative situation, then we can have an impact way above our weight in greater society.

Can our hobby  really change things, have a big impact? Only 50 years ago there was still official segregation in the USA, and it took a fierce fight, sacrifice, and the collective will of incredibly brave men and women to make progress against it. But the small things, what we do in our own homes and in our own lives, and how we treat and deal with others,  where we make room in our hearts and minds for new ideas, and for new people to come into that world, into that life, that we as individuals can slowly and patiently and change the world we live in. To paraphrase Infante, home wine and beer making isn’t the source of the problem, but it can become a part of the solution.

Which is the next step,  promoting diversity in home wine and beer making. The first step to solving any problem is to recognise that you have one–and we do. The next is to make sure you stop making the mistakes and assumptions that lead you to the problem in the first place, and after that to make the changes you need.

For my part I’m going to keep thinking about diversity, and I’m going to keep welcoming everyone to the fold of making their own beer and wine, and keep listening to their stories. And when and where I can, I’m going to use whatever influence I have over my industry to promote diversity and encourage everyone to join in. Diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences–and I’m certain that it’s the right thing to do.

And I’m going to continue to do what I think is my real job: encouraging people to make their own wine and beer, to share it with friends and to make it a part of their life, family and community–no matter who they are. Because a shared love knows no race, creed or ethnicity, and everyone should be welcome to share their passion and pride in accomplishment.

Note that with the exception of quoted material, these are all my own thoughts and I’m responsible for them, but thanks are due to my friends Fred and Nanette for taking the time to look at an early version of this–your help was invaluable.