Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Vine to Wine

The process of making wine has existed for thousands of years. Although nature provides the ingredients, a winemaker must guide and enhance the process. There are five basic steps in making wine: harvesting, crushing and pressing, fermentation, clarification, aging and bottling. Winemakers can make endless, and often meticulous, modifications in the process, and those variations can result in remarkable wines. The Pacific Northwest is home to many outstanding winemakers, and their wines have the world taking notice.

Cave B

step 1: Harvesting

The winemaking process begins with harvesting the grapes. Grapes produce enough sugar to yield sufficient alcohol for wine. Moreover, no other fruit has the requisite acids, esters and tannins to make natural, stable wine on a consistent basis. For this reason, most winemakers acknowledge that, “wine is made in the vineyard.” In order to make fine wine, grapes must be picked at just the right time. The winemaker or vineyard manager carefully watches the fruit and has a crew ready when the decision is made to harvest the grapes. A combination of science and old-fashioned tasting go into determining the optimum time to harvest. 

Northstar Winery is a sterling example of a vineyard whose perfectly timed harvests lead to superb wines. Founded in 1994, Northstar produces world-class merlots from the Walla Walla and Columbia Valleys. A Washington merlot is bigger and more complex than that of other regions, and this winery showcases those differences brilliantly. Northstar winemaker David “Merf” Merfeld artfully blends other Bordeaux grapes, such as cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot and cabernet franc, with the merlot. He spends a significant amount of time tasting grapes in the vineyards from which Northstar sources its grapes.

Variations in the weather and soil composition affect each vintage, sometimes in a dramatic way. For example, unpredictable weather can influence the timing of the harvest. In 2009 Greg Lipsker, co-founder of Barrister Winery in Spokane, found himself in a vineyard near Pasco just after midnight, rescuing the grapes from freezing weather. Even so, the 2009 vintage ended up being an award-winning year for Barrister.

All wine is influenced by terroir, a French term that refers to the total natural environment in which a wine is produced—the climate, soil, and topography. Among other things, it is terroir that gives a wine its characteristic taste and flavor.  A winemaker must understand the region where the grapes are sourced and how its characteristics affect the winemaking process. Spring Valley Vineyard winemaker Serge Leville learned winemaking in his native France, but learned how to make Washington wine in Walla Walla. He capitalizes on the region’s unique terrior and responds to its nuances with his winemaking techniques.

Harvesting can be done mechanically or by hand. Many estates prefer to hand harvest, as mechanical harvesters can often be too hard on the grapes and the vineyard. Once the grape bunches arrive at the winery, winemakers sort them, culling out under ripe and spoiled fruit before crushing. There’s an advantage to wineries that grow their own grapes or obtain them from vineyards closeby. At Coeur d’Alene Cellars, for example, the fruit is hand harvested in the morning and hand sorted to fermentation tanks before the sun sets.

Chris Figgins (Walla Walla)

step 2: Crushing & Pressing 

Crushing whole clusters of ripe grapes is traditionally the next step in the winemaking process. Today, mechanical crushers have replaced the time-honored tradition of stomping grapes into what is referred to as must. using mechanical presses may detract from the romance and ritual of this stage of winemaking, but it is more efficient and sanitary. Mechanical pressing has improved the quality and longevity of wine, thus reducing the need for preservatives. Tradition, however, has not been abandoned completely: many wineries, such as Nodland Cellars in Spokane Valley, host crush parties at which guests can experience firsthand the stomping of grapes.

Not all grapes, though, are crushed at the beginning. Sometimes, winemakers prefer that fermentation begin inside uncrushed whole grape clusters. This allows the natural weight of the grapes and the onset of fermentation to burst the grape skins prior to the pressing.

Prior to the crushing and pressing stage, the making of white wine and red wine is essentially the same. At this point, however, red wine is left in contact with the skins to add color, flavor and tannins during fermentation. Tannins are responsible for the “mouthfeel,” the sensation of a red wine in the mouth. In contrast, winemakers who are making white wine quickly press the must after crushing. This separates the juice from the skins, seeds, and solids. By doing so, they avoid the unwanted color from the grape skins. In addition, the tannins cannot affect the wine.

step 3: Fermentation

Fermentation is when the magic happens. If left to its own devices, the must, with the aid of wild yeasts in the air, begins fermenting naturally within 6-12 hours. In clean wineries and vineyards, this natural fermentation is a welcome phenomenon. Many winemakers prefer to intervene at this stage by inoculating the natural must. They kill the wild and sometimes unpredictable natural yeasts. They then introduce a yeast strain of their choosing in order to influence the outcome. Once the process begin, regardless of whether it is natural or assisted, it normally continues until all of the sugar is converted to alcohol and a dry wine is produced. Fermentation can require from ten days to a month or more.

The alcohol level in wines depends on the total sugar content. Sweet wine is produced when the fermentation process stops before all of the sugar has been converted into alcohol. Whether a winemaker’s experience comes from formal education, mentorship, or simply trial and error, understanding how to manipulate the fermentation process is critical to the end result.

step 4: Clarification 

Barrister Winery

Once fermentation is completed, the clarification process begins. Winemakers have the option of racking or siphoning their wines from one tank or barrel to another. The goal is to leave the precipitates and solids, called pomace, in the bottom of the first tank. Filtering and fining may also be done at this stage. Fining occurs when substances are added to a wine. Egg whites, clay or other compounds may be added: they adhere to the unwanted solids and force them to the bottom of the tank. The clarified wine is then racked into another vessel, where it is ready for bottling or further aging.

step 5: Aging & Bottling

The final stage of the wine making is aging and bottling. After clarification, the winemaker has the choice of bottling a wine immediately or aging it further. Aging can be done in bottles, barrels, stainless steel tanks or ceramic tanks. As with all other decisions in the winemaking process, the choices and techniques employed in this final stage affect the outcome.

From the vine to the wine bottle, any variations in the winemaking process influence the wine. Winemakers differ in their perspective and approach to crafting the perfect taste. Michael Haig of Whitestone Winery in Creston believes that great wine comes from great fruit and that it’s the winemaker’s job to showcase the gifts from Mother Nature. Karen LaBonte, owner/winemaker of Walla Walla’s Trio Vintners claims her wines benefit from three principal features of eastern Washington wine- production: exceptional fruit, outstanding soils, and the perfect climate for growing grapes. Long Shadows is a winery—actually a group of wineries under one label—that brings together superstar winemakers from around the world to make wine from Washington fruit. The gathering place of this winemaking dream team is in the valley where the Snake River and Yakima River flow into the mighty Columbia River. The wines they produce are as diverse as the winemakers themselves and their range of methodologies and winemaking techniques.
Whatever the source of the magic, the Spokane, Walla Walla and Coeur d’Alene region offers the perfect setting for creating exceptional wines. 

As published in the 2013/2014 Essential Guide Spokane : Coeur d'Alene. : Walla Walla

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Honey Balsamic Chicken

This chicken is bursting with flavor. You'll need to be wild about tangy balsamic vinegar, sweet honey, and rich butter to concur but I think this recipe is worth repeating. This dish pairs nicely with a dry Washington State Riesling such as Bebop from Nodland Cellars, fragrant Jasmine rice and sautéed vegetables. 

  • 2 medium chicken breasts 
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar 
  • 1 clove garlic 
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil (divided) 
  • Pinches of salt & pepper and/or a dash of Thyme & Basil 
  • 1 Tbsp butter 
  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar 
  • 3 Tbsp honey 

Cut the chicken into thick strips. Place the strips in a quart sized zip top bag along with ¼ cup of balsamic vinegar, one clove of minced garlic, 1 Tbsp of olive oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Mix the ingredients in the bag and let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

When you’re ready to cook, heat the second tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, cook the strips until browned on both sides (about 2-3 minutes each side). Place the cooked chicken aside on a plate.

Turn the heat down on the skillet to medium-low and add butter and remaining 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar to the skillet. Use a spoon to stir the mixture and dissolve the sticky bits off of the bottom of the skillet. Once the mixture has dissolved together, add the honey, increase the heat, and allow the sauce to simmer until thickened (about five minutes).

Once the sauce has thickened, season to taste with a pinch of salt and pepper. Add the chicken back to the skillet and toss to coat in the warm balsamic sauce. Serve immediately.

Photo Credits: Sip of Spokane

(Recipe first discovered on Pinterest by Budget Bytes) 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Meet Me under the Mistletoe.

Plant yourself under mistletoe and there's a good chance you'll get smooched. 

As the tradition goes, simply hang a sprig of the symbolic plant in a foyer and underneath a kiss should commence. Legend goes with each kiss a berry should be removed. When the berries are gone, there's no more kissing. 

Mistletoe at Christmas time is a classic symbol of romance that dates back to ancient times. The Greeks believed couples who kissed under the mistletoe were destined to enjoy matrimonial bliss, and the Druids regarded it as a symbol of fertility.

But love is never easy. Although the berries are good for birds, it's interesting that mistletoe is actually toxic to humans. So if perchance mistletoe is the spark to love....kisser beware.  

Despite the warnings, LOVE is the greatest adventure. So take a chance and pick up some mistletoe. Then hang on and enjoy the ride. 


(Art Credit: Original Watercolor from the Joy of Color on Etsy) 

Sip with Purpose

Pretty excited about the special delivery from O Wines for the holidays. Thank you! 

Photo Credit: SIP

O is for Opportunity. Every purchase from this #WaWine winery helps provide scholarships to low income women so they can meet their highest potential through education. Love that. Now you can sip with purpose with the wine that makes a difference.

Photo Credit: O Wine

We liked the Chardonnay and the Red Blend so much we picked up a few more bottles. 
You know, just to be sure :)

Chardonnay: 2011 Columbia Valley AVA. 
This is a refreshing, lightly oaked chardonnay with delicate  fruit aromas such as pear and baking spice. A true Washington Chardonnay. Delightful. Hooray for Chardonnay.

Red Blend: 2010 Columbia Valley AVA. 
A blissful blend of Merlot (59%), Cabernet Sauvignon (27%) and Syrah (11%) and 3% other blending varieties. Aged for 22 months in American and French Oak Barrels.  
Bittersweet chocolate and cherry amor a and flavors with a trace of baking spice.

Both the red & white but especially the red benefitted greatly by being aerated. 
If you don't have one, I recommend the TRIBella, (tribella.com) which is a simple and beautiful cork style aerator that pours the wine in three artful streams.

If you don't have a aerator of any kind, just  leaving the bottle open for 20 minutes or so will change the wine dramatically. 

Photo Credit: SIP

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Up on the roof.

Beside the shabby farmhouse of my youth was a large oak tree that allowed perfect access to the roof. Of course, climbing on the roof was strictly forbidden. But when left home alone....I'd be up on the roof as soon as the car was out of sight. I'd sing, dance, dream and survey the rural land. Sometimes I'd slide down the very steepest part or walk dangerously along the top ridge. Oh and I wasn't just a fair weather roof dweller.  I was up in there in the rain and at least once in the snow but boot prints left obvious evidence. But it was the magical nights that were really inviting providing an awesome star gazing experience.

Fast forward a couple decades and although I didn't allow my boys to full access to our roof, there was a slope over the garage accessible from the front porch. Stargazing was permitted and even encouraged. I have fond memoirs of of the three of us huddled together on our perch. Sometimes we'd snuggle in a blanket at night and other times we'd eat ice cream and survey the 'hood. The quiet of the night was often the perfect setting for 1-on-1 mother/son talks. I cherish that time. Yes, the neighbors would double take. To which we'd laugh and wave. 

So it's no wonder why I adore a roof top deck. Here's a few from my Pinterest page. 

For photo credit and more rooftop decks, go to http://pinterest.com/sipofspokane/up-on-the-roof/

You & Me up in the Trees.

I believe you spend the first 25 years of your life trying to get away from home and the next 25 years trying to get back again.

I spent a good part of my childhood up a tree. I lived in a shabby little farmhouse with a leaky roof on 10 glorious, mostly forested acres. It was my Disneyland. I guess this is why pictures of tree houses completely capture my attention. Here's a few that are just a little more elaborate than the one my Dad build me.

We all have a soundtrack to our lives. This song by Marty Casey & The Lovehammers goes with this 
time in my life. 


Photos from Pinterest. Please go to my treehouse page for photo credits, as well as, other treehouse photos. http://pinterest.com/sipofspokane/you-me-up-in-the-trees/

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Get Lucky.

Celeste Shaw is a longtime collector of farm-style antiques and salvaged goods. Her junking passion is represented in her uniquely and delightfully decorated restaurant Chaps in Latah Valley. As if she wasn't busy enough, Shaw’s barn was bursting with inventory and she was destined to open a retail outlet and we're thrilled she did.

Lucky Detour is a one-of-a-kind home décor store in the cool space that was formerly a gas station in Vinegar Flats. Lucky Detour is filled with fabulous orphaned and repurposed home furnishing and accessories. The inventory includes traditional and sundry items such as restyled furniture, historic lighting fixtures, vintage signs and the occasional library card catalog curio. Reclaimed and shabby-chic finds that are rich in character, some with unknown histories, mingled with carefully chosen new items. Frequent visits are recommended since the merchandise is rotated regularly.

Warning...shopping at Lucky Detour is habit forming.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Tiny Bubbles

Nothing quite says “party” like a glass of bubbly. The festive libation exuberantly sets the tone for any gathering with lively sophistication. But when considering what cork to pop, you maybe wondering if all bubbles are created equal. The difference comes down to geography, but sometimes the particular grapes and the method in which the wine is created are also differentiators

In order to officially be referred to as Champagne, the bubbly needs to be from the Champagne region of France and made in accordance with specific guidelines referred to as ‘Methode Champenoise.’ Basically, this procedure means the bubbles come from a secondary fermentation in the bottle rather than carbonation. This strict process requires aging of at least 15 months, which means that the Champagne is kept in the bottle with the sediment that forms and is gradually turned and inverted until it’s time for the sediment to be removed. Vintage Champagne requires it be cellared for three years or more before the sediment that gathers in the bottle’s neck is removed. Three grape varieties are blended in a process called “assemblage”: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. The traditional French method also requires the bottles to be turned, or riddled, by hand. If it’s from France, but not from the Champagne region, it is often referred to as Cremant. Despite the strict labeling laws, many use the word Champagne as a generic term and associate the iconic wine with the lavish lifestyle of the rich and famous.

If you’re searching for a more affordable style, both Prosecco and Cava are similar yet usually less expensive. Prosecco is a sparkling white wine made with Glera grapes, grown in the Veneto region of Italy. It has a past reputation of being sweet and low quality, but that’s old news as today’s Prosecco, made with modern methods, is often indistinguishable from Champagne. With Prosecco, the Italian Charmat method is applied in which the second fermentation takes place in steel tanks rather than individual bottles. Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine that can either be white or rose. Like Champagne, in order for it to be called Cava, it needs to be from a specific region and be made in a particular way. In Spain, most Cava comes from Catalonia and is made in a similar way to Champagne. Freixenet and Codorniu are the grape varieties most commonly used in Cava. In terms of taste, Prosecco is arguably the closest Champagne knock-off and an ideal and agreeable aperitif to greet you at a party. Prosecco is usually quite fruity, but varies in regards to sweetness or dryness. Prosecco is soft and approachable. In comparison, Cava typically has more bubbles and a less sweet flavor. One can expect Cava to have a hint of citrus and at times an earthy essence. Cava makes a fantastic nightcap or post dinner indulgence.

Returning to North America, domestic bubbly is referred to as Sparkling Wine and is made with various methods, from mimicking France’s traditional method to Italy’s Charment method. There is no restriction on time in the bottle and favorable climates, especially in California and Washington states, which allow for a vintage wine to be produced almost every year. Current U.S. regulations banned the term “Champagne” from any wine produced outside the coveted French region after 2006. In Washington state, there are over 760 wineries, yet less than 10 make sparkling wine. This could be because Americans associate the festive wine only with special occasions, rather than as an everyday wine. This thinking is due for a change as any day can be a sparkling one.

As early as 1984, Mountain Dome Winery in Spokane began producing a high quality sparkling wine utilizing Methode Champenoise, which included hand riddling and bottle aging from two to seven years. Mountain Dome’s Brut with the whimsical gnome label (nicknamed Gnome Perignon) is a quality everyday sparkler that retails for under $18 a bottle. Don Townshend of Townshend Cellars recently purchased Mountain Dome, retaining second-generation winemaker Eric Manz. The sparkling wine can currently be tasted at the new Townshend Tasting room in the Green Bluff area of North Spokane. Another Washington state option is Karma Vineyards, which is located off the south shore of Lake Chelan. Karma Vineyards opened in 2007 and, like Mountain Dome, is producing quality sparkling wines also using the Methode Champenoise. Karma Vineyards has 14-acres of vineyards and an underground  wine cave that provides great temperature control for the bottles, as well as good acoustics. The winery has blossomed into a popular place for weddings and soirees.

If you still want to explore your bubbly options, go see John Allen at Vino! located just off 2nd Avenue on Washington Street in downtown Spokane, or Matt Dolan at the Rocket Market, atop Spokane’s South Hill off of 42nd Avenue. These knowledgeable wine guys can recommend bubbly at all price points from pretty much any region. Both Vino! and The Rocket Market have popular wine classes and tastings to further your knowledge of bubbles, the happiest wine you can pour.

Bubbly is not just for fancy parties and toasting; rather, food-friendly bubbly might just be the most versatile wine for pairing. Unless the meal includes steak or a very sweet dessert, bubbly is pretty much a sure thing. Bubbly traditionally contains high levels of acidity and a small amount
of sugar. Those two extremes compliment elements in the wide variety of food. From spicy Thai food and mild salmon to boxed mac & cheese, pizza and even popcorn…if in doubt, pour bubbles. Although it sounds almost wrong, bubbles even pair well with junk food. Like other wines, bubbly can range in sweetness. Extra-Brut has 0-6 grams of sugar per liter, meaning this is the driest of
dry, unsweetened. Brut contains less than 15 grams of sugar per liter and is the most
common style, with no sweetness. Extra Dry has 12-20 grams of sugar, giving a hint of sweetness. It gets sweeter as you move to Sec with 17-35 grams and Demi-Sec with 33-55 grams. The last stop is Doux, with more than 55 grams, which is considered dessert wine. Americans tend to reserve bubbly for special occasions but since quality bubbly can be found under $15 a bottle, we need to take another hint from the French and consider it an everyday wine.

Laurie L. Ross is a freelance writer, and the author of the popular Spokane blog, sipofspokane.com

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Cabin Fever

I've been a consistently published freelance writer for almost 7 years. Mostly, I write for guidebooks, magazines and social media for cash. But sometimes I write for wine, concert tickets, art and even dinner and lodging. In radio, we called it trade-io. Part cash, part trade is always the ideal kind of trade. You still get paid but you get to fully experience what you're writing about. Though it's never been a full-time gig, I love to write.

I've always dreamed of having a writing cabin. Sometimes I imagine it being in the mountains or by the ocean. I even like the idea of it being a slightly larger potting shed in the backyard. Besides having a good WIFI connection it's always been pretty rustic in my thoughts. It would have a place to dream (nap), lots of books, a thermos of coffee and bottles of wine. Of course, it would also have a proper desk at which to write near a window. Here's some pictures worth at least ten thousand words.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"Cheater" Chicken Chili

Maureen posted this on Facebook and I thought I'd give it a try. I renamed it "Cheater" Chicken Chili because it's not  from scratch. Shh...they'll never know. 

mixed it up a bit by using sharp cheddar, Fritos, salsa and diced avocados. 

Paired with Nodland Cellars Bebop, a dry riesling.