First of all, this was Cousin John’s idea. (Those of you who don’t know Cousin John can do your background research here.) The rest of you know Cousin John as the Sonoma/San Francisco Mr. Natural. He’ll basically try to make foodstuff out of anything. He’s the ultimate hunter-gatherer. Cousin John, if you don’t stop him, will make pemmican or wine from roadkill. We’re trying to channel that energy and enthusiasm in a more profitable direction. So when Cousin John suggested that we make verjus from the green grapes that are thinned from our vines to strengthen the remaining ones, we had to sit up and take notice. Here’s the skinny on verjus: it’s the non-fermented juice of green wine grapes and the French have a million uses for it. But here in the States, it’s hard to come by. So, of course, it’s a very attractive prospect to Cousin John who is all about the arcane, the rare and the Stone Age processing techniques. Here’s the quick skinny on verjus: it can be used for a kinder gentler vinaigrette, it’s perfect for deglazing for pan gravy, it makes a mean court bullion for poaching fish. The list goes on. And it’s a clever use for what would otherwise be a waste product (trimmed grape cuttings), so that’s, I suspect, its great appeal to Cousin John.

Anyway, the making of verjus is a great dress rehearsal for our normal wine processing. Because you pick, crush/destem, press and chill all in the space of a few hours instead of over the course of weeks. That means dragging out all the equipment, cleaning out the mouse nests and fending off terriers for the cleaning.

terrier jump on crush pad

Terriers will not tolerate hoses!

Cousin John and his Spanish grape cutter

But, first, the picking. And Cousin John came prepared with his Spanish grape cutter.

stream of verjus from the press

Within hours of picking, we’d crushed/destemmed and were smushing the green grapes in the press. There’s a reason the French call this verjus. It’s really green!

What is supposed to be so great about verjus (in French it means, literally, “green juice”) is that it is a less acidic alternative to vinegar. And it doesn’t fight with wine, since it’s made out of wine grapes. So you can enjoy a dressed salad with a fine Cabernet or Pinot Noir. I’ve also heard that it’s a Michelin starred chef’s secret to “brightening” a sauce just before serving. Some chefs use a splash of lemon juice. The French trained chefs use verjus. We tasted the juice as it came out of the press and, indeed, it tasted like a very bright tart grape juice mixed with lemon juice.

Cousin John gives thumbs up for verjus.

Cousin John says, “Thumbs UP!”

So, so far, so good. We’re doing things the Cousin John way. Completely Old Skool and off the grid. And Cousin John is nagging us repeatedly to let him have some of the verjus BEFORE we add sulfite to it. A tiny amount of sulfite, I might add. Just a pinch of sulfite that is undetectable to any human palate but enough to stop the verjus from fermenting. But, oh no, not for Cousin John who must remain completely natural.

Except when we brought out the Glycol Chiller. Which is where auto mechanics meets winemaking. Yup, this is the same cooling technology used by your basic hot rod. And Cousin John? All over it! He’s not too natch for car stuff.

setting up the glycol chiller

It’s clearly a guy thing. Car stuff trumps crunchy granola any day.

In case you are wondering, here’s what the glycol chiller does. It chills down the juice quickly, as in from 80 degrees to 25 degrees in about an hour. That causes all the impurities and sediments to drop to the bottom of the tank immediately, leaving a clear sparkling juice. It worked wonders for clarifying our Rosé. We have high hopes for the verjus.

In the next day or two, we’ll syphon off the verjus, bottle it and start handing it out. We’re hoping some of our foodie friends will come up with some great verjus recipes. We’ll send you a bottle to get you started! This won’t keep long, so it has to be used and used and used in the next couple of months.

Except by Cousin John who will undoubtedly find some after-use for exhausted verjus. He’s just that natural.

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