Indian Leap 2009 CabernetThe one thing you need to know about making wine is that wine is a living thing. That means in the long intervals when it goes through various stages of fermentation, then rests in oak, and even after it is bottled, it’s constantly changing. So there is always hope, but just as often, there is despair. At least that’s the process when you are still amateur winemakers with more enthusiasm than skill. Which is why we found ourselves this Memorial Day Weekend, just getting around to labeling our 2009 Cabernet.

In our early days of winemaking, if our vintage started tasting funny at any point, we quickly, shall we say,returned it to the earth. It was an easy proposition when we were “practicing” on purchased grapes while we waited for our grapes to mature. We had no emotional attachment to those grapes — which were usually bought at rock bottom prices anyway — so we had no problem disposing of the wine if it failed to live up to our modest expectations.

Then our vines reached the earliest stages of viability for wine. Somewhere around four or five years of age, vines start to yield grapes that are “wine worthy”, although the French will scoff at anything from vines under seven years old. So starting in 2009, at about the four year mark, we figured we had a few years to learn this trade before we started messing up some good grapes. We dutifully processed our 2009 vintage, let it rest in oak for nearly two years and bottled it about six months ago.

Why such a long slow process? Well, it kept changing at every stage. All through primary and secondary fermentation it went from tasty to odd, back to tasty and back to disappointing. At whatever flavor level it was at, we just kept processing it and expecting that, if we waited awhile, it would change its nature again. After about two years in oak, it seemed to have stabilized at drinkable for long enough that we decided it was worthwhile bottling it. Bottling was a hard enough process with just the two of us, that we didn’t bother to label it. Besides, we wanted to see what more time would bring.

Periodically in the last months, we’ve opened a bottle every now and then to find that it is only varying between drinkable and drinkable. So we finally decided to label it. Which is not to say our 2009 Cabernet is fabulous wine. As I mentioned, the grapes were from immature vines — not to mention the immaturity of the winemakers. We’ve learned a lot since then.

Also, we may have picked the grapes too late which has caused a high pH. That affects the keeping power of the wine. If you open one of these bottles, you’d better be prepared to drink the whole thing. Once the air hits it, it goes off fast. But, I think I mentioned this is our “learning wine”. Might as well use it to learn how to work our new labeling machine. So we arranged ourselves in an assembly line, or as near to a line as you can get with only two people.

unlabeled bottles of Cabernet

How did I pick the short straw to be Chief Cook and Bottle Washer. Literally, I had to wash and dry the bottles.

lead caps for wine bottles

Andy's job was to drop on those lead caps for the bottles.

cap shrinking machine

Then pass it quickly in and out of the red hot coil that shrinks the cap to the bottle.

misshapen wine cap

He took those jobs because I proved myself unable to negotiate the bottle into the capper correctly.

Although, let me pause here to note that, as far as I know, the only benefit of those lead caps is to keep rats from gnawing on the corks, thus allowing the wine to spoil. So if you are storing your wine in a rat-free area, the caps are purely decorative. Therefore, my attempts must be judged as “extra decorative.”

On another note, I can hear a certain segment of my readership asking why this wine is being bottled under an “Indian Leap” label instead of “Two Terrier Vineyards”. Andy is convinced that, if we are going ever to sell wine, we need a proper brand. So we’ve named it after a prominent and legendary area of our property. However, I have commissioned Two Terrier Vineyard labels for what Andy is referring to as “our bargain brand”. I’m sure the worldwide Smooth Fox Terrier community will be beating a path to our door. It’s a small market, but I believe we can dominate it.

wine labeler

Which brings me to our hand-cranked labeler, a machine so low-tech, a Luddite would be happy to use it.

It mostly applies the labels in a fairly straight orientation. Early in the process, Andy kept setting aside the crookedly labeled ones and saying, “We’ll just drink these.” Soon, it became apparent that in that way lay madness. Or severely compromised livers.

Andy samples the Cabernet

Because, at least in this brief moment, our 2009 Cab is tasting pretty good.

And speaking of serving nothing before its time, Oscar is proud to announce that there is another fine Two Terrier product that benefits from judicious aging. Here is Oscar’s personal recipe for Sonoma Venison Jerky:

Find an old deer carcass that the Mountain Lion has abandoned. Tear off a particularly fragrant leg. Bury it for a few months. Dig it up, drag it through the dirt and into the pond. Savor!


Smooth Fox Terrier eats a deer leg

Just another unique artisanal Sonoma treat!