Good taste doesn’t exist. It is our taste. We have to be proud of it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
noun: a weakness, especially in character; a shortcoming. “Pride is a terrible failing..”
If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.
So much deliciousness crammed in one pint glass
I was over at a neighbour’s house a little while ago and brought some of my homebrewed beer with me. His father, a very experienced brewer, was extremely complimentary about my Saison, a Belgian style of beer that features a low hop rate and a lot of spicy, fruity yeast character. I was momentarily filled with pride, because it was a pretty good beer, and it was the very first time I’d brewed it, and one of my peers was impressed. Yay me!
The next day I was working in my cellar and feeling pretty smug. As I racked a new brew into a keg I thought, “I can’t remember the last time I brewed a bad beer .”
That’s when I realised that I had a problem. Not failing was a sign that I was doing something terribly wrong.
For most people, failure is seen as a universally bad thing. Internet slang has produced a meme that has shortened criticism to the point where one can point to something and shout ‘FAIL!’, and it’s perfectly expressive opprobrium. Calling someone a failure is a pretty cutting insult.
The problem with this attitude is that a lack of failure doesn’t let us grow. Failure isn’t bad. If you want to learn something, really master it, the first thing you need to do is to figure out how not to do it. Thomas Edison made thousands of attempts to make a light bulb filament that would last more than a few seconds under current. When asked about his failure, he said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Failure is a great motivator, it not only helps us grow, it also motivates us to try harder, to try again. But there’s an even more important benefit to failing: it frees you of pride–well, not pride precisely, because it’s fine to be proud of an accomplishment. What it really wipes out is hubris. Hubris, according to the interwebs, often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one’s own competence, accomplishments or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power.
I am in theory an ‘authority’ on home fermentation. That’s what my career is based on, anyways, and it’s how I navigate most of my business interactions. I’m an excellent candidate for hubris. Luckily I mostly suffer from Imposter Syndrome, so I’m protected from hubris to some extent.
Image from gamasutra.com
Never heard of it? Imposter Syndrome is the feeling that you’re not really competent in your given field, that you’ll be found out to be an imposter. This is most common among people who are actually competent, rather than those who are not–they’re covered under the Dunning-Kruger effect , which is when someone cannot recognise their incompetence in a given area.
I was moping about how I was failing by not failing and generally wondering where to go next when I came across a philosopher who put his finger right on the main nerve. It isn’t the first time he’s put me on the right path when I needed guidance. Meet my spirit guide:
This works on two levels. First, it’s an acknowledgement that nobody starts out perfect, and it’s practice and effort that makes you better. But more importantly, sucking at something you thought you’d already mastered will open up new levels of complexity and new ways of thinking about what you’re doing.
Jake’s wisdom immediately cheered me up. I went out and brewed a batch of Belgian Witbier. I wanted to do something interesting, so I did a 5-step decoction mash (a complex technique that involves many steps of taking some of the grain mash, heating it and adding it back to raise temperatures, over and over again). I also added two kinds of dried orange peel and two different kinds of coriander, and a Saison yeast strain to kick up the spice.
It turned out terrible. And that’s great.
I learned things about the value of decoction mashing (low, in this case) subtlety with spices, and the lack of crossover between Saison and Wit yeast.
Most of all, I learned that I don’t have a magic touch or a lucky streak, and my beers can really suck when I lose focus, and that any pride I have is misplaced.
I followed that beer up by brewing a proper Saison, an Imperial IPA and a session beer. In every case I used new techniques, ingredients or yeast that I haven’t worked with before. I’m very lucky to have had the privilege of failure, the ability to make mistakes, see what they were, and to correct them. Failure makes me a better brewer, and I’m looking forward to screwing up next time–as long as I don’t run out of beer because of it!
Conjectural Technology Laboratories, a division of Tim Vandergrift Worldwide, is excited to announce the ultimate kit winemaking product, one that will revolutionise both the the use and the appreciation of wine. A decade of research and development has produced the ultimate device for detecting and defining the most subtle nuances of wine, the Beverage Vaporiser.
The Beverage Vaporiser system (also known as the Volcano for it’s cone-shaped appearance) allows the user to
Drink wine as young as 10 days old
Taste 100% of the nuances of any wine, regardless of type or quality
Identify not only grape variety and style like a wine professional, but even to name the terroir, region grown and even the vineyard, with no training or study!
System shown: red wine vaporiser, white wine vaporiser and two Vaporbotas.
“The concept is actually very simple”, says Dr. Ann Credulous, Director of the Conjectural Technology Lab for Tim Vandergrift. “Wine is a solution of organic compounds, with many volatile fractions–esters, ketones, aldehydes, thiols, monoterpenes, pyrazines, etc. For the most part The majority of volatile compounds responsible for aroma combine with sugars in the wine to form odorless glycosides. Through the process of hydrolysis, caused by enzymes or acids in the wine, they revert into an aromatic form. The act of tasting wine is essentially the act of smelling these vaporized aroma compounds. What we have done is found a way to duplicate the hydrolytic process that releases these aromas with tuned heat and vibration in a volatizing chamber.”
While the concept is simple, the results are anything but.
“Olfactory receptors cells, Dr. Credulous continues, “Each sensitive to a different aroma, pick up these compounds and transfer the information to the brain by way of the olfactory bulb. In the 1980s there was renewed focus in studying the correlation between aroma/flavor compounds in grapes and the resulting quality of wine. Scientists were able to use chromatograph-mass spectrometers to identify volatile aroma compounds in various grape varieties. It was our research into the action of the gas chromatograph chamber action that lead to the discovery of induced hyrdrolysis.”
Hydrolysis Chamber not shown for security reasons.
The Beverage Vaporiser works like this: the wine to be sampled is loaded into the Volcano and is put through the patented Chromatographic Hydrolysis Chamber. There, through a tuned system of temperature, resonance frequencies and aetheric distribution algorithms, the wine is turned into a richly textured, intensely flavourful vapour. Inhaled gently, this vapour reveals every aromatic compound and every bit of the bouquet and nuance of your wine. According to Credulous, that’s the key to identifying wine like a pro.
“By extracting and concentrating all of the aromas of wine in a small volume, they’re more pronounced. Anyone who has ever struggled to identify a particular character in a wine will be able to instantly smell blackberry in a Cabernet, or cat urine in a Sauvignon Blanc! Using pre-set algorithms in the Volcano, wines will release aromatic profiles identical to famous wines and vintages, from ’47 Mouton to 2001 Screaming Eagle. Training your palate has never been easier!”
And there’s more. According the Director of Customer Experience William Nelson,
“Because we tune the precise type and quantity of volatiles that are released, we ensure that only the finest, richest aromas come out. We can make an inexpensive or very young wine release the same aromatic character of a first-growth or Premier Cru wine that’s been aged for years, even decades.”
Director of Customer Experience, William Nelson (above) demonstrates prototype portable beverage vaporiser at the Montana Cattlemen’s Wine and Steer Show.
“But that’s only the beginning: because ethanol is a volatile compound we can suppress the hydrolisation frequency of alcohol in the machine–the vapour is as delicious as wine, but won’t lead to intoxication or drunkenness! The whole point of wine appreciation is to identify the character of a wine, to appreciate it for itself. By eliminating the effects of alcohol on the nervous system we can extend that pleasure indefinitely, and consumers can use as much wine as they want, without introducing toxins into their body or straining their liver.”
Ease up off that Cotes du Rhone, chum!
Of course, consumers can set the machine to deliver ethanol if they wish, by selecting the correct menu item on the touchscreen and agreeing to the End User License Agreement.
While there are plans for several types of vaporisers, including the portable prototype shown above, the Volcano is the first wine ‘Vape’ being launched. The Volcano Classic quality is first rate, and the build quality is incredibly durable: it’s made by a German company, Snortzen-Pickel, who offer a 3 year warranty standard on every purchase. Both the aromatic tuning and chamber size are adjustable to suit your needs–it can vaporise up to three litres of wine at one time, allowing you to serve two dozen guests easily.
Dr. Credulous in front of the first Beverage Vaporiser prototype.
The Beverage Vaporiser Volcano will be available in late September, timed to use in conjunction with the 2015 harvest. “We’re extremely proud of this product,” Says Ann Credulous, “Drinking wine is now a thing of the past–and rather than just sniffing a vintage like cavemen, we can literally inhale every drop!”
It’s been over a month since I posted to this blog. In social media terms, I might as well have left on a voyage for the new world and been captured by Barbary pirates and written off for lost, mourned only by creditors and a disgruntled cat, forgotten by time and tide.
I was originally taking a two-week break to go to Mexico, in order to soak up some Vitamin D (aka, ‘lay in the sun’) and local culture (aka ‘Tequila’). I did that and had some fun, but felt a little off the second week of the trip and by the time I got home, I had a cold.
Only no, it was a case of the H3N2 influenza. In popular culture a lot of folks equate a bad cold with ‘the flu’–I’ve probably been guilty of that myself. But the truth is this: if you can get out of bed, you don’t have the flu. Between a fever that ran over 102F for the better part of a week and the constant feeling that I needed a good solid night of sleep every time I woke up, I was off my feet for a week, recovering for two more and (oh the horror!) I completely lost my sense of smell and taste for nearly a month!
All the happy bottles!
Happily, that’s all behind me now, so I can get back in the saddle. I’m going to be tasting my Master Vintner series wines! They’re still very young but will have calmed down from bottle shock and be showing their true character.
I’m also hard at work on new projects with my friends at Northern Brewer, so I better get crackin’, and let the disgruntled cat and the Barbary Pirates know that I’m back amongst the living.
I can’t remember why I was so mad at that wine glass . . .
The big news is finally here! Midwest Supplies and Tim Vandergrift are working together! I’m really happy with the fit between us and excited to introduce new products and to work on advancing home winemaking. I became an independent consultant early in 2014. My biggest concern about my new career was where I could apply myself to make a difference in the consumer-produced beverage industry (aka Homebrewing and Winemaking).
While I connected with many small clients and really love the interaction I have with them, I looked around and realised that one of the most dynamic and exciting places in the industry was right in front of me, Midwest Supplies. I’ve worked with them for more than a decade on behalf of Winexpert and always loved how they ‘got’ the industry, understood home beer and winemakers, and generally felt they were my kind of folks. Of course, this didn’t keep me from thinking that they could probably use a guiding hand on the wine side, but I always had other priorities. Now that I’m their Technical Winemaking Advisor I feel incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to work with them to introduce some new ideas to home winemaking and do educational and promotional activities as well. I’ve even got a couple of videos up to start, one on the benefits of using a floor corker,
And one on the savage joy of using a three-pronged stirring whip! The Great! Big! Deal! that I’m really happy about is some of the new products we’ll be bringing out in the future. No hints just yet, but I’m pretty stoked about sharing them, and won’t hide that light under a bushel. If you’re already a Midwest customer, thanks! If you’re not yet, check ‘em out, and check out My Ten Favorite Wine Kits—nine of which are on sale for a limited time! Use the secret coupon code (hint: it’s WINEGURU) at checkout and you’ll save 15%. How’s that for a hello? Lots more to come, and so much to do, and I couldn’t be happier or more proud.
Making wine from a kit is an awesome way to become your own personal vintner. The kits provide all of the ingredients and materials to turn out a couple of cases of wine in less than a couple of months, and the instructions are complete, clear, and very easy to understand.
Everything you need! Well, except for the kit. And patience. Patience is the tough one.
Ahem. Given that I wrote most of the kit instructions out there over the years, it’s understandable that I’ve got a positive feeling about them. However, I’m aware that not everyone thinks they are as clear as they could be, and it almost always seems there’s too much detail or not enough.
One area where it’s difficult to convey the exact intent is in stirring. When you reconstitute the kit on day one, it’s important to stir hard enough to mix the juice thoroughly–easy enough. On fining/stabilising day stirring is even more important: you have to agitate the wine hard enough to disperse the trapped carbon dioxide gas. If you don’t, not only will the wine be slow to clear, it will be fizzy at bottling time and will always have a slightly off aroma and flavour–that trapped CO2 will carry a bit of other, nastier gases with it, like hydrogen sulphide and dimethyl sulphide: rotten eggs and cooked cabbage respectively.
In actual fact, you shouldn’t ‘stir’ your wine kit. Stirring merely moves the wine around, like a lazy kid on a merry-go-round. You need to agitate the wine hard enough to get all of the gas out.
This is why I’ve always recommended a drill-mounted wine whip.
Ready for blast-off!
To use one of these, once it’s sanitised, the top goes into the chuck of a high-speed reversible hand drill (plug-in kinds are best–those battery jobs always seem to be flat when you need them) and the three prongs are folded and inserted into the carboy or bucket. When you’re de-gassing, you always use the whip at full power, except at the very beginning, when you test to see how much gas saturation the wine has. Everything is fun and games until you’ve got Krakatoa Cabernet fountaining out of the carboy and onto the ceiling. Sequence goes like this:
Quick, one-second experimental stir. If things don’t instantly spray out of the carboy, proceed to step two.
Go absolutely full power, and keep it there.
When the wine begins to swirl up the sides of the carboy, looking like it’s going to overflow, immediately reverse direction, and go full power, against the flow of wine.
You’ll see the wine stop climbing up immediately. Keep it on full until it starts to climb up again, and repeat the reversal–full power.
Repeat this twice more, always full-on.
If your wine is not de-gassed at this point, it’s because the gods of fermentation hate you, or your wine was not finished fermenting, or your wine is very cold and it’s a bright sunny day (high barometric pressure). But I’m betting on some kind of divine divine vengeance because I’ve never needed more than three spins each way, less than two minutes altogether.
The point of intense agitation is to cause tip-vortex cavitation in the wine, at the tips of the whip. Cavitation happens when you vaporise a liquid by exposing it to decreased pressure. This vapour is the same thing as steam from a boiling kettle, but doesn’t involve heat–just the pressure reduction.
This is a little hard to visualise, but it obeys the laws of thermodynamics perfectly. The most common place to see cavitation is in boat propellers. Spin them up too fast and they won’t push the boat, because they’ll be in a cavity of water vapour, whirling about and doing nothing (unless they’re special supercavitating propellers, but let’s pretend they don’t exist).
“Attenshan crew: pleashe ignore my ridiculoush accshent and obvioush toupee. That ish all.”
For the last couple of decades I’ve been telling people about cavitation by quoting the 1990 movie The Hunt for Red October. It’s a techno-thriller about Soviet-era espionage and features Sean Connery as a Russian sub commander with a ridiculous Scottish lisp. In the fateful scene the commie sub tries to make a run for it but the propellers spin too fast and they cavitate. Why this is a crucial plot point is that during cavitation, when the vapour bubble collapses (as all good bubbles eventually do), they slam shut with such violence that they ‘hammer’ the water, which makes a large enough noise to alert enemy sonar operators. It’s this slamming/hammering effect that literally blasts carbon dioxide bubbles out of suspension, and why stirring any slower is almost useless for de-gassing.
(Not only does this make a really great echo for sonar operators who might be looking for Rooskies, in extreme cases it can cause sonoluminescence, a burst of photons [light] from the bubble collapse. You know why it does this? Good, that makes one of you. Nobody actually has a lock on the theory of why a collapsing bubble in a liquid makes light. It just does. Probably quantum, or Vogons or something.)
That analogy worked for the first decade, less well for the next, and now it doesn’t carry any weight with people under the age of twenty-five, who never lived with a Soviet Union, just a big old Russian crazy-quilt of ongoing collapse and oligarchic wealth transfer. I’ve been trying to find a new handle on the moment, and Just This Day I found one, courtesy of Smarter Every Day. If you’re not familiar with them, you’re welcome. Destin and his support crew demonstrate scientific and physical principles in extremely clear ways and film them (sometimes at twenty thousand frames per second!) and post them on YouTube. If you’re a science geek/covert nerd like me, that link is going to suck up a lot of your time for a while. My apologies to your family.
Here’s the video, in which they shoot an AK47 in an (empty) swimming pool.
It’s over ten minutes long, and while I urge you to watch all of this fascinating and brilliantly executed demonstration, if you’ve got a cake in the oven or are being chased by zombies, you can fast-forward to 4:30 for the most excellent illustration of the hammering effect of the bubble collapse. The AK47 bullet travels through the water, pulling a vapour bubble behind it. The bubble collapses, and as it does, you can actually see the intense shock wave that the collapse produces. And it hammers so hard, it rebounds and produces a secondary shock as well!
Imagine what being shot with a Russian carbine would do to a carbonated beverage. Yep, it would really go a long way to de-gassing it. And that’s the same kind of action you get when you stir your kit wine with a whip at full speed, only with less bullets and collateral damage.
The question could come up, ‘Why are you so hot on that three-prong whip, Tim? It’s much more expensive than the other drill-mounted stirring whips on the market–do they pay you?’
Alas, I only wish I got a commission on those things. I’ve been pushing them like a madman since I saw the first one. It’s purely a functional thing–the other models of whip work, but they’re not quite as effective, for a couple of reasons. First, most of the other whips cannot take the force of being reversed under full power. Their stubby little blades shear right off, or the hook-ish shaped ones twist themselves into a knot.
Second, if it’s the speed of the tip of the whip/propeller that makes the vortex appear, then spinning a set of three whips spanning a circle nearly a foot across at the same RPM as a wee stubby little set of blades will make those long whip-tips travel immensely faster–they have to to cover the same complete circle as the wee little ones, so they’re hustling much faster.
So there you have it. Please don’t fire an assault rifle into your carboy. Instead, get a drill and one of those amazing three-prong whips and you’ll be out of gas faster than a ’59 Caddy.
I have a zillion things going on right now, and it’s making me very happy indeed. I’m not a chap for sitting quietly and waiting for events to unfold. That way lies madness for me. Luckily, the unfolding, she comes. First, after a relatively short wait, I got a spot of shoulder surgery that I really needed. I first injured my right shoulder back in the mid 1990’s, competing as a powerlifter.
600-3/4 lb squat. Yes, I did a full squat (hip below knee joint)
The sport was very good to me, teaching me discipline, persistence, and the rewards of focusing on really big goals. The trade-off was, that high goals come with costs and I had three knee surgeries (which turned out well) but finally hurt my shoulder badly enough that I had to stop competing back in 2005. At the time I looked into surgery, but since I was considered extremely high-functioning (“It hurts when I bench-press more than 315 lb.” “Well, don’t do that.”) my best choice was to put off surgery until the techniques got better. Fast-forward a decade and they have. Last fall I went in for an assessment and day before yesterday they knitted me new set of rotator cuffs.
Black and white is better. Colour is pretty gruesome.
I had full ruptures of all my rotator cuff muscles, a torn biceps tendon, bone spurs and the head of my humerus apparently looked like a used golf ball. But all better! Other than being in a sling for two months, I’m pretty dang happy, and the prognosis is that I’m going to actually be able to return to training. Competitive powerlifting? Well, wouldn’t that be a trip . . . but we’ll see. I’ll just be glad to be able to reach for things on low shelves without having my arm flop out of the socket.
I’ve also got a couple of irons in the fire right now that are really exciting, product development-wise, plus something I’m terrifically pleased about. I hope to be able to let everyone know more very soon! Keep watching this blog, as I won’t be hiding any lights under bushels!