Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Growing Trend of Home Winemaking in Lamorinda


Three years ago, Liz Kelly's daughter was born and she joined Muir Mommies.  One of the many benefits of the group was that husband Tom, who had recently been learning more and more about wines and wine culture, met another dad with a shared interest in wine who had been making it himself for several years.  

Time passed, and Tom decided to partner with his new friend on making his next batch, a Syrah.  The barrel is stored in his friend's Walnut Creek Garage, and is almost ready for bottling.

"He has a chemistry background," Kelly said, whose background is in product management and marketing, "which is incredibly useful for serious home wine making, especially during the fermentation.  We can take samples, and send them off, and he knows how to read the results and we can make changes."

Kelly has recently received a wine certification after finishing a 12-week course in San Francisco.  

"The program is set up for people who want to do wine education, and I want to do that: help educate people about world of wine- it is so infinite- there is no way anyone could know everything about it- and that's what is so fascinating," said Kelly, who starting educating himself when they moved to the bay area.  "The class got pretty deep on all wine regions of the world.  They are so different, with different grapes, styles, and processes."

Even with this new education, Kelly emphasized the importance of scientific knowledge in winemaking.

"Unless you go in, studying the science behind it, you are at a disadvantage," he said.  "You test [the wine] -- and things can happen, and if you know how to read the results, it's really helpful."  

When making their wine, Kelly and his friend researched their grapes, and purchased theirs from a vineyard on the Russian River.

At the Russian River vineyard when Tom Kelly's grapes were being picked last fall. 

"We rolled up in my truck, looking for a half a ton of grapes," Kelly said.  "Typically most commercial wineries won't sell grapes to someone that small.  We were one of 15 or 20 ventures buying from them- and everyone gets the same short notice they are picking- and his staff of pickers goes through the field and you can go with them- or wait- while your buckets are filled."

They chose to buy grapes from that specific vineyard on the Russian River because, "it's impossible to make good wine with bad grapes.  Most of the magic happens in the vineyard."

Anne Cole, second from left, at their First Crush.  
Another Moraga resident, Anne Cole, can be found in her air conditioned shed with her barrels of aging wine.  That is, when she is not teaching group fitness at 24 Hour Fitness or with her children or partner David Eikel.  Eikel is also her winemaking partner and, though she lives on a vineyard, they buy grapes.

"I also have a vintner." Cole explained a vintner is a mentor for winemaking.  She said that when she and her ex-husband bought they property, they intended to make wine, and she started learning then. 

But last year was her first year actually making wine, and she bought 1,400 pounds of grapes and has two barrels that are nearly ready to bottle.  She is going to name the Syrah Damn Good Cookie and the Cabernet Sisters of Steel in honor of her girlfriends from her group fitness Bodypump class who helped her with the press and bottling.

"You are the most popular person on the block when you are making wine," Cole said with a laugh.  "The alcohol is already present." 

Additionally, Cole said she loves caring for the grapes, tasting the wine and noticing how it changes in the oak.
Cole and Eikel doing their First Crush.
Her vintner is Christopher Lynch, whom she met because their children are classmates at Bentley.  He explained they use semi-neutral, or slightly aged, oak barrels because they don't want too much of the flavor of the barrel to get into the wine, though it depends on the variety of wine you are making.

"You could [age the wine] in a glass carboy," Lynch said.  This is a five gallon growler style jug with an airlock. "I started with those when I started making wine eight years ago in my basement in Oakland, but moved up in the world to barrels because they let a little air in and a little air out.  This improves the flavor as well."

Lynch's business is helping home winemakers start making wine.  He calls it Temescal Creek and charges a flat fee to mentor you in your winemaking cycle for a year.  This includes the grapes and equipment, as well as his knowledge.  

"And I prefer to be called a Garagiste," Lynch said. "It's the garage winemaking [yeast] movement."  With a French accent, it is a word play on garage-yeast.  Lynch continued,  "We make wine in the garage.  The garage is a good temperature for fermentation, punching the cap, and then pressing the wine.  I store wine in my basement since that temperature is more consistent.  Though you could store it anywhere." 

In addition to being a winemaker, Lynch studies oenology and viticulture at UC Davis.  Lynch recommends a chemistry for winemakers class for any budding winemakers.  The Lamorinda Wine Growers Association is another resource.  Though Lynch's best advice?

"Call me.  I'll do it with you."

In addition to the DIY appeal of making wine at home, Lynch's student Cole says she wants to be able to control what's in the wine.  

"My wine is natural. I don't want chemicals or additives in it," Cole said.  "Producing a natural product is important for me.  For example, there is sediment on the barrel because it's been sitting for a year.  I won't filter the wine- the tannins in the bottom are good for the wine- they are tasty- some people even put them on cheese."

"I am also making a by-product - sugar scrubs - from my wine. It smells like the grapes- not alcohol," said Cole.  "I also want to dry the skins with the seeds and make flour."

Cole said winemaking is fun and that everyone should try it.  Her kids, 9 and 11, help by pressing, helping to top the barrels off, and helping to put nitrogen on top of the wine in the barrels.  They also punched the grapes while fermenting and will soon help with the bottling.

Tom Kelly after they finished pressing the grapes.
Kelly thinks that when his daughter, now 3, is older, she will be able to help by stirring the barrel and pushing down on the grapes. 

"It's a cool experience," said Kelly of winemaking.  "I want to keep doing it."

"Some people paint," said Lynch, who has continued to make his own wines in his basement in addition to his vintner duties.  "This is my art."

As an urban vintner, Christopher Lynch labels his wine by hand.

HOW WINE IS MADE AT HOME (THE STYLE OF WINE WHICH IS AGED IN A BARREL AND MADE AFTER PURCHASING GRAPES)~my summary,with many thanks to Christopher Lynch, Anne Cole, Tom Kelly and ye olde Internet~

  1. Decide on what kind of wine you are making.
  2. Order your grapes in July.
  3. Pick up your grapes between September and November.  The exact timing depends on the vineyard.  As harvest gets closer, the vineyards are measuring the grapes for sugar content and acidity daily.  They will give you one to three days' notice.
  4. Use a crusher/ de-stemmer to take the stems out and split the grapes. *Note: you can rent or purchase all equipment at More Beer! in Concord or Oak Barrel Winecraft in Berkeley.
  5. If you are making a red wine, add the yeast into the bucket, and stir it.  Then punch it down multiple times daily for ten days (it will get bigger like bread when it rises).  This is called fermenting.  Then press it with a wine press. Barrel it for a year or more. Bottle it.  You can taste it or take samples to send away at any point (During fermentation, your samples will help you make changes.  When it is in the barrel, your samples will help you determine when it can be bottled). 
  6. If you are making a white wine, press before fermenting, and then continue otherwise.
  7. There are many ways to make a rose.  One is to let it sit for three to four hours, then press it and continue otherwise (since the color of the wine comes from the skin of the grape).  Another way is to bleed some off of a red a few weeks into its aging and bottle it as a rose then.

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Preschooler Book Recommendations

  • The fishermen and the turtle - lovely story set in Aztec time with beautiful illustrations
  • The ox cart man - another timeless tale, nice word repetition
  • Dick and jane: we play outside - many stories inside a larger book. This one has grown with us- we started by not saying the works- just telling the story, and my older son is now learning to read and I say the words now but the preschooler still likes the story
  • My first Spanish number book - another one where you can read the words or not- and they can "read" it to themselves as well.  Good introduction to number concepts.
  • The lion and the mouse by jerry pinkney - no words- only beautiful illustrations for a fable worth telling
  • Diggers and Dump Trucks
  • Ships and boats
  • The king the mice and the cheese - one of my favorites from childhood my children also love. 
  • Click clack moo - nice word rhythm and a funny story. imaginative and cute.
  • Caps for Sale - another I loved as a child my children also like.  can stand for an enthusiastic reader.
  • Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs - imaginative within a familiar context.
  • Blueberries for Sal 
  • The Little Lamb - real photos instead of drawings.

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    Friday, September 12, 2014

    Kids' Project Idea: One Sheet Plywood Boat

    We were looking for a boat that we could build ourselves and came across Gardenfork.tv and his great video.

    As you can see, it takes him ten and a half minutes to make a boat.

    I did not quite explain the subtleties of camera cutting to my older child (now 6), who watched this with me and decided this boat was something we could do.  We are good at rough carpentry, and not that great at finish work.  This looked like it was just up our alley.

    So we made a materials list and went to Home Depot.  We managed to get help loading the sheet of plywood both into the cart and onto the car, so we were off to a strong start.

    We encountered some difficulty when it took me over an hour to clean silicon caulk off my hands (I missed that part of the video where he says to wear gloves, and I am not great at caulking to start with).  But we perservered, and even set the trim.

    My son noted that Gardenfork was a lot quicker at this boat building business than we were.  I then explained video cutting and time lapse and saw the light bulb go off in his head.  We let the caulk dry and called it a day.

    Priming was messy business with three kids around (we babysat a neighbor kid that afternoon), and I lagged in motivation to do the final coats.  The boat sat for a week.

    Then we got too annoyed at it in the driveway and did a coat one day.  Then another coat the next day.  Then we did touch up paint.  

    Then the stickers my son made went on~ one said the boat name and the other two were the registration tags~ and we added hooks for the deck hands and the rope.

    Then he had to design and make a rolling cart to move the boat.

    And it worked to get the boat to the nearest body of water.

    And it was deemed seaworthy!

    The little deckhand did his job.

    And it was even sturdy enough to be a stand up paddle board.

    This was a fun project.  It was a bit slippery inside for me when it was my turn for a ride, but I went barefoot.  Those tub strips for babies might be a good addition.

    The boat got a little scraped up on the pool edges, so we have some tires laying around and are going to make some bumpers for it.  I also need to talk him out of trying to get it to a reservoir/ lake and using it there.

    Follow Up: This has been turned into a kids' airplane.

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    Thursday, September 11, 2014

    Chapter Book Recommendations as Child Gets Older (non-reader in Kindergarten)

    1. Anything by Shel Silvestein or Dr. Seuss merely for the language and rhythms
    2. Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series
    3. Snow Leopard (Jackie Morris) 
    4. Treasure Island (RL Stevenson)
    5. The Ramona series (Beverly Cleary) 
    6. The Little Prince (St. Exupery) 
    7. James and the Giant Peach + others by Roald Dahl
    8. Mr. Popper's Penguins - A real classic for a child!
    9. How the Elephant Got its Trunk.   
    10. Diary of a Worm
    11. OOPS!  (Alan Katz)  
    12. ANYTHING by Judy Blume;  The Fudge series 
    13. Stuart Little
    14. Indian in the Cupboard books
    15. Winnie the Pooh
    16. The House at Pooh Corner
    17. Charlotte's Web
    18. Magic School Bus Series
    19. Magic Tree House Series
    20. The Lemonade War
    21. My Father's Dragon Series
    22. The Borrowers
    23. Nate the Great
    24. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
    25. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
    26. The Mouse and the Motorcycle (Beverly Cleary)
    27. Pippi Longstocking
    28. Mary Poppins
    29. Swamp Scouts - good but LONG
    Diary of a Wimpy Kid Magic School Bus Books Pin It


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