cinsault grapesYou’ve noticed there haven’t been many winemaking posts around here lately. That’s because we are moving into Stage Two of our winemaking adventure. That’s where we go from enthusiastic, somewhat clueless hobbyists to bonded winemakers who can actually sell their product. In between those two stages is a step called getting your winery location bonded. I’ll compress that to say “years of paperwork, probably close to a million dollars in improvements and no guarantees”. Suffice it to say that the county of Sonoma has been clamping down on authorizing new winemaking facilities for a wide variety of reasons. Oh, you can fairly easily grow grapes, you can get bonded to make wine, you can get licensed to sell it. It’s just very doubtful, if your land isn’t already grandfathered in as a production facility, that you will be able to make it on your land — at least as a sellable product. The answer is easy. Down the road from us is a series of bonded, licensed facilities. A veritable winemaking industrial park where more famous winemakers than you’d think make their wine. We’ve rented a corner of space with one and are using their facilities, equipment and expertise to move us ahead further than we could ever do on our own. That accelerates us in the winemaking game, but leaves us with a small and primitive crushpad and hobby-sized winemaking area that we seldom use.

Enter Cousin John.

Enter Cousin John.

You remember Cousin John. He’s our eccentric friend (although actually the cousin of a friend) who is a maniacal proponent of Old Skool food production techniques. Old Skool as in Medieval or sometimes Etruscan. He once saw a series of tapestries in the Louvre that depicted 15th Century winemaking. Cousin John vowed then that he would use no materials or techniques that weren’t stitched in those tapestries. I’ve told you before how Cousin John only uses natural yeasts. But while he’s a great fan of tradition, he’s wildly experimental. The man would make wine out of roadkill if he thought he could pull it off.

At this stage our Cabernet has been picked, carted down the road, pressed and is resting in oak. Our Grenache has also been picked, pressed and processed. Only the Mourvedre, which is always maddeningly late to ripen, is still hanging. Also our Cinsault, which is one of those strange blending grapes that Rhône winemakers in the Chateauneuf du Pape region use tiny percentages of in their blends. There are a lot of those minor blending grapes. We’re starting to think that we might have chosen the wrong one. Cinsault is very sweet and a little of it goes a long way. I know of only one winery that makes a 100% varietal of Cinsault. My question would be “Why?” You could also call it Chateau Bazooka because it had distinctly bubblegum notes. We are planning to graft over all or most of our Cinsault to better minor varietals such as Carignan and Viognier.

This plan has Cousin John concerned. He’s lobbying hard for us to keep at least some Cinsault — because John is all about doing something no one else is doing. Even if we point out that there is probably a very good reason not a lot of Cinsault is planted around here, it just makes John even more convinced that we should be doing it.

This is all the long way around getting to the point that Cousin John is angling to make as much wine from our Cinsault as possible while he still can — and to use all our Old Skool equipment to do so. We were perfectly happy to comply. It’s left kind of an empty hole not to be blundering around our crushpad doing everything with brute force and ignorance. We were glad Cousin John gave us the excuse to muck around in grapes again.

making wine, sulfiting equipment

By the way, here Andy is modeling what the well-dressed winemaker is wearing these days.

What Andy is doing is carefully scrubbing down every piece of equipment with a sulfite solution to kill any stray yeasts that might taint the wine.

What Andy is doing is carefully scrubbing down every piece of equipment with a sulfite solution to kill any stray yeasts that might taint the wine.

I'm not sure we would have taken the trouble had we known how John would insist on crushing.

I’m not sure we would have taken the trouble had we known how John would insist on crushing.

crushing grapes with feet

Andy did ask John if he wanted a sulfite spritz on his feet. I’ll let you guess what his answer was.

But, of course, Cousin John. Of course, he would crush the Lucy Ricardo way. Make that the Medieval Burgundian Lucy Ricardo way.

basket press, winemaking

And he loves our old fashioned Italian basket press. (I’m not sure his wife appreciates her pasta pan being used to catch the juice.)

Now we did explain to John that the traditional way to make Rosé in the Rhône is the saignée method. Saignée literally means “bleeding”. And that’s what you let the grapes do. You crush them, letting the juice bleed out, but you don’t press them as pressing extracts more color and more tannins — two things you don’t really want in Rosé. But apparently, this is a tradition Cousin John is happy to ignore. He wanted to press every last drop out of those Cinsault grapes.

Italian carboy, making rose

Happily tradition was quickly restored as we poured the juice into John’s hand blown Italian carboy.

I kid Cousin John. With love. And he may have the last laugh. He’s veered between bucking tradition and going way back to Etruscan Era tradition before. And, you know, in the past, he has made some nice Rosé.

Of course, it’s with our grapes which are infused with our terroir. And that certain je ne sais quoi that may be John’s feet.