Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fun With Wine: Week 1

The view of the winery from the road

The vineyard with mountains as a backdrop

Benton-Lane pinot barrel

I hit the ground running my first week of my internship at Benton-Lane Winery. Out of 150 applicants, I, along with seven colleagues, was selected to pull crazy hours, get sticky and wet, haul hoses, and play with wine.

The crushpad prepped and ready for the first fruit

On our first day, there was a major awe factor when touring the facilities. They have some of the biggest and best equipment and lots of it! Boasting, 15 stainless steel tanks, a bladder press, pulse air, and so many other fun toys, Benton-Lane is truly state of the art. We sat down for an overview of the winery, our job, and met the winemaker Chris Mazepink and cellarmaster Howie Opatowsky. After orientation and a tour, we had a kick off lunch with a wine tasting and made our own pizzas with the on-site wood burning oven! We also enjoyed some local beer and spent time getting to know each other. Turns out, I'm in the minority for not making my own wine or brewing my own beer. I'm working with fermentation junkies! Not only will I learn a lot from this internship, but from my co-workers.

Making my own pie

With a few days of serious cleaning and ramping up for harvest under our belts, we set up for the first fruit. The first grapes to arrive was the winemaker's personal pinot noir from a neighboring vineyard. We only had to process a few tonnes, so it was a fairly light day. Processing entails sorting, destemming, and crushing the fruit. Sorting is probably the least laborious position, but it certainly is dirty! Earwigs are all over the grapes and they end up in your clothes and hair. I found them in my hair and jacket after I got home- gross! The pinot gris also arrived, which was dumped straight into the press as whole berries. Clean up wasn't terrible and we got used to how a typical day will play out. A couple more days of prep and incoming fruit, all leading up to Monday, which promised to be a huge day. Saturday we scrubbed tanks from the inside, pictures of me doing this soon to come, and we racked the pinto gris. Racking is a clarifying procedure where we pump the wine from one tank to another sloughing off the top layer of peanut butter like liquid. While doing this, I had Howie the cellarmaster shout out score updates on the UT football game. Such a Monday came quickly; we processed 65 tonnes of pinot noir in one day! It was the biggest day in the cellar since the winery opened. I was on the evening shift, so wine work was my responsibility. I learned how to do pump overs. Pump overs take the juice out from under the cap of seeds and skins and pump it back on top. This is essentially like stirring, helping to homogenize the wine especially after additives have been introduced. I love doing punch downs (which is another way to "stir" the wine), so I was equally excited to do pump overs. And it got me out of cleaning!

Bobby and I were tasked for sanitizing the sorting line... job well done!

Another fun thing I participated in was forklift training and test. Had they seen my driving record, I doubt they would have let me on that machine! I need a few more practice rounds, but I was getting the hang of it and managed to pass the test.

Still can't believe they let me behind the wheel!

I magically got a day off last week and seized the opportunity to head to the coast. It is absolutely gorgeous! I spent some time on the beach, checked out the tidepools, visited Newport, said hello to the sea lions, and did a beer flight at Rogue Brewery on the Bay. All in all, a great day off, especially since those are few and far between. The weather is about to turn rainy, so I was happy to get the beach in while it was still sunny.

We had today off due to a 70% chance of rain, can't pick in the rain, so I've taken the time to catch up on all the emails and phone calls I've been neglecting, as well as laundry and errands.

This coming week is proving to be a very busy one and packed in with lots of things to learn. As we get all the fruit in from the 140 acre vineyard, we will be more focused on wine work, fermentation, and eventually transferring to barrels. I'm also helping a fellow intern out with harvesting some of his fruit for his own wine this Sunday. The calendar says it will be a harvest moon! So for now, I am living, breathing, and of course, drinking wine!

More updates to come whenever I get another day off! In the interim, you can see my photos on Flickr.

Monday, September 21, 2009

MINI Goes West: The New Oregon Trail

3006 miles across the country, a relocation from Dallas, TX to Eugene, OR. Some other stats: 7 states. 5 days. 2 friends. 1 Mini Cooper.

Day 1: I pick up my friend Kevin with the Mini packed to the brim- barely enough room for his pack. We set the trip odometer to 0 and snapped a quick photo of the odometer at 11,139 to commemorate the start of a cross-country road trip. After many errands around Dallas, we finally head out of town.

Blazing our trail all the way across the Texas border, we powered through West Texas and barely crossed the border to stop in Las, Cruces for the night. We waved hello to Cathedral Mountain Vineyard as we blew by the turn off.

Day 2 was just as grueling, checking New Mexico and Arizona off our list. We stopped for a few hours in Phoenix to say hello to Kevin's Phoenix office and see a project he worked on last year. Pretty cool to see the sports complex he designed, better yet, it was for the White Sox! Back on the road we made it just north of LA, me pointing out the famous attractions from the highway.

Day 3: Feeling refreshed and finally a much less ambitious agenda, we wind our way up the coast to Santa Barbara. There is something so relaxing about spending time oceanside. A very chill afternoon spent in town was topped with camping on the beach at El Capitan. We loaded up with campfire supplies and had a delicious dinner made by grillmaster Kevin. You know you're living the good life when you get to sit on the rocks, drink a beer, and watch the sunset.

The next morning it was hard to leave our sweet spot, but we had big plans for day 4. Stopping by the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, just north of Santa Barbara, absolutely made my day. I was like a kid in a candy store with the litany of wineries to choose from. Koehler was our first stop and a home run. Had some fabulous wines at Fess Parker, and bought Kevin their signature coon hat wine bottle cozy. They look like a rat on your wine, but I thought was too funny and a good thank you gift for sharing in the driving. The last winery we grabbed meats and cheeses for lunch, drove out to a pier and had lunch on the beach. Continuing up the coast, we would have been remiss to not take Hwy 1, despite the extra time it takes to navigate the windy road. Kevin had a blast driving my standard through the crazy switchbacks and stunning scenery. Mini was in her element. In fact, we all were. That part of the country boasts some of the best that nature has to offer. We also briefly stopped in Big Sur for me to pay homage to Kerouac. Thanks to our diversion, we didn't roll into San Francisco until 9pm. We meet Kevin's friend Jason at a pub and I ordered a Widmer, then Anchor Steam, although the Anchor Steam was originally planned to be the first pint. Think local. Drink local.

Day 5 was spent being tourists around San Francisco. We hit the major highlights, but by late afternoon we were sunburnt and tired. Kevin's friends Jason and Katie were participating in Park(ing) Day, so we gave up on sightseeing to go hang out in their parking spot park. I could not think of a better way to experience San Francisco! The evening was spent in The Mission, exploring the edgy part of town's nightlife. I totally dig SF; it is now officially on my list of places to live.

The morning of day 6 we planned for another long day of driving. Mapped out was a haul up the coast for nine hours to Eugene. Along the way, we wanted to see more of the coastline and drive through the Avenue of the Giants. After breakfast and goodbyes, we parted with friends and San Francisco, heading out of town on the Golden Gate Bridge- so surreal! Of course, we could not bypass Sonoma, so another round of wine tastings were in order. We stopped by a few, including Fianza and Cline. Stopping only briefly for In n' Out, then to check out the sea lions, we surged onward into wooded Northern California. It was now getting dark, and we wanted to take the time to appreciate the Redwoods. A joint consensus was arrived to stop for the night and camp in the forest. Lo and behold, we pick a private campsite that is hosting a family reunion with a live band! It was too perfect, we had camping with live entertainment. A great last evening in California.

Day 7 we said adios to California and crossed into Oregon. We took the 30 mile detour through the Avenue of the Giants. A great decision on our part to see them in daylight. We stopped to take photos and hug a few trees. Amazing that some are over 2000 years old! We also took the time to drive through a carved out tree- I folded my mirrors in just in case. Even though the environment is very different from the ocean, there is a tremendous beauty in the forests of the Northwest. Most of the drive was spent with our jaws agape. With hills that appeared to be a sea of trees and sweeping turns, Mini enjoyed the drive as well. We finally reached our final destination in the early evening. Kevin had a midnight flight out of Portland back home, so I drove him to the train station, where we would part ways. Turns out the trains stop running
out of Eugene very early on Sundays, so we got back in the car and sped up Hwy 5 to Portland
International Airport. A quick photo op and a hug, we ended our travels together. I raced home to my new apartment in Eugene and crashed for the night. The next morning started a new chapter for me. I was beginning my winemaking internship at Benton-Lane.

My odometer read 14145 miles, marking the end of the best road trip ever.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Times Ten Fort Worth

In case you're wondering where I've been, allow me to explain myself and apologize for my prolonged absence.

For the past two years I have been working part-time at Times Ten Cellars in Dallas. Several months ago, an opportunity arose for me to become involved in the opening and running of a second winery in Fort Worth. So, as of August, I have been crazy busy prepping the space and getting organized for the opening. Well, we are FINALLY here! Thursday evening we had a very successful soft opening. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram came to shoot the space and do a write up. I also invited Kevin Buchanan, a fellow blogger to come in and do a small write up on his blog Fortworthology.com. And wow, he did such a wonderful job! Check out his post today: http://fortworthology.com/2009/09/11/times-ten-cellars-has-soft-opening/

Kevin is an amazing source for new restaurants and retail opening in the Fort Worth area, and he has shown much love to the 7th St. area, so we were ecstatic to have him stop by the winery. Loved the photos he took!

Be sure to stop by the shiny, new winery and come say hi! We're in the Cultural District, so you can make a day of it by seeing a museum exhibit, not even a mile away, and finishing off the evening with a glass of wine.

I am about to embark on an eight week winemaking internship in Oregon, so the next several posts will be dedicated to my trip up there...stay tuned!