This Year’s Grape Expectations

Yesterday afternoon Laura and I bottled our 2010 wine at local wine making school, Grape Expectations. Dave Lucchese’s Group, of which we were a part, had a total of eight (8) barrels of wine this year. Total yield was somewhere in the vicinity of 2,000 bottles.

The perfect shoes for making wine!

The process of grape selection, de-stemming, crushing, fermentation, barrel turning and ultimately, bottling began last August. Like the days immediately after graduating from college, a bittersweet melancholy is now mixed together with excitement and optimism.

The blends with the most promise right out of the barrel were the Pinot Noir and the Barbera/Syrah. (the barbera/syrah blend we did last year with our other wine-making group won a bronze medal at last year’s awards banquet, so hopefully we have a repeat winner!). The Barbera/Syrah was big and jammy and we expect the tannin heavy wine to mature nicely, just like last year.

Getting every last drop of our Barbera/Syrah!

Wine-making is a delicate blend of exact science and fine art which constantly produces unpredictable results. With the exception of our pinot noir grapes (which came from the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County) the majority of our grapes came from the Paso Robles area of Central California coast wine country this year. Obviously, the origin and the year of the grape are major determining factors in wine-making. We live in the Mojave Desert and we’re not foolish enough to think we can grow grapes in an arid environment on an ancient and still very crusty and alkaline seafloor.

We’re fortunate to be able to get the 750 pounds of grapes we need per barrel from premier California wine country.

Bottling wine take team work!

Our Italian Red (Sangiovese/Cab/Syrah) also tasted promising and just like the group’s sangiovese last year it is immediately drinkable. Unfortunately, one of the cab blends tasted a bit tart and a little fizzy right out of the barrel. But, the same blend (90% Cabernet Sauvignon + 10% Merlot) won the gold medal in cab blends last year so we’re hoping that a little air and time can soften the tang and turn things around in the bottle. Often the body of the wine and its flavors need months, sometimes even years, to mature into something wonderful. We’re hoping this is the case with Barrel #3.

Though Barrel #3 is initially a little disappointing, our Barrel #4 cab blend (60% Cabernet Sauvignon + 20% Petite Sirah + 20% Cab Franc) is big and bold already. But although it’s good now, I’ll probably give it three to six months in the bottle to settle and dry out a little. There’s nothing like a big, bold, dry cab with a nice piece of lamb or a juicy steak right off the bbq!

There were about 40 people in Dave’s group this year and more than half showed up for the heavy bottling and casing work. Bottling a barrel of wine is definitely a fast paced, ten person per barrel process! It was a fun, foodie and wine afternoon shared by all. I baked an apple pie that surprised most who tasted it (one woman said it was, “Hands down by far the best apple pie she had ever had.” Wow. Thanks! But I thought the navy bean and kielbosi soup was awesome and our Bellagio master chef wowed the crowd with an amazing vegetable thick crust pizza with a separate prosciuto carving station. De-lish!

Charlie Peters and the menu for the 2011 Grape Expectations Awards Banquet

Thanks to Juli and Chuck Moore for introducing us into this group and much applause and kudos to Lisa and Dave Lucchese for all of their organization work. As usual, proprietor and owner of Grape Expectations, Charlie Peters and his team, did a great job supervising the work flow and making everyone feel appreciated.

Our Life is Grape label for our 2010 wines w/the Lucchese Group.

Since the group was so big, everyone was in charge of their own labels. Laura did a great job designing our “Life is Grape” labels for the two cases we bought into. Personally, I think she’s going to win one of the coveted label design awards at this year’s awards banquet in August. (Get your tickets soon. They sell out every year!)

In the meantime, we’re looking forward to Friday night, June 3rd when we bottle our Cab Franc/Petite Sirah blend with Jackie, Barry and the rest of our regular wine group. It tasted great in January when we turned the barrel, so expectations are high. (My personal wine reputation is a bit on the line with this one, since I lobbied hard for this particular blend! :- )

Wish me luck getting in selling a freelance article on our wine-making experience to one or more of the local or national mags in the coming weeks!

(I’m going to take Rick Lax’s advice and play “a numbers game” by pestering editors until one of them falls in love with my idea!)

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