Grape Expectations

wine harvest

Harvest 2014

 

Here’s the beginning of a blog I began to write (rather optimistically) in September at the peak of this year’s winemaking mania:

“My house is filthy. My eyes are bleary. My back is achy and my hands are black. Is this a pathetic attempt at a limerick? Noooooo! It’s winemaking season again and this year’s harvest came in fast and furious.

I’ve spent the better part of 2014 getting my wine business legit here in Mexico. I haven’t been blogging much about this process because honestly there’s nothing sexy or fun about multiple trips to SAT (the Mexican IRS), forming a corporation, learning tax laws, working on trademarks, getting my tax stamp and Mexican wine labels, courting distributors, etc, etc.  My accountant (also a winemaker) is a rock star and has made the whole process a walk in the park …”

 

Mexican winemaker

Winemaker and C.P. Mario Benson with his excellent wines.

Big shout-out to Mario who has been a key player this year in moving my wine business from fantasy to the real deal.

It’s the end of November now and I am finally ready to catch up. It’s been a tumultuous and exciting year. I’d set a lot of goals for myself and the business and have been checking them off my list, one by one. Aside from all the legal shmeagal stuff I’ve been working on I was able to bump up this year’s production from 6 to 9 tons, crushing all with a hand-cranked destemmer and a lot of muscle, sweat, laughter and esprit de corps with family and friends. I’ve got 22 full barrels of wine in my spare room and believe I have reached capacity for what I can do on my back porch. My 2103 harvest went at a leisurely pace in retrospect. There were 21 days between my first and my last harvest. 2014 however was sheer insanity. I had 9 tons delivered to me within 10 days. What do they say? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?

baja wine

I love my hand cranked little destemmer!

 

Fitting all of the fermentation tanks on my back porch was a bit like playing Tetris. Only heavier. Note: pallet jack is on my wish list for next year’s harvest. Truly, the logistics of winemaking is an intellectual challenge that requires forethought, planning, decision-making-on-the-fly, and a dash of kismet, instinct, and artistry. Every year has its challenges (I sound like an old-hand now, don’t I?)

mexican vendimia

Harvest came fast and furious. Thankfully all hands were on deck

artisanal winemaking

Chente and Steve tipping a cup during one of our late night crushes

making wine in baja

Michael and Wendi grooming just-crushed grapes

This year more than ever I felt humbled and recognized more than ever how important my ongoing education is. I had problems with stuck fermentations this season. That means that the yeast stops gobbling up the sugar and turning it into alcohol so if you can’t jump start your yeast again you end up with a low alcohol, sweet wine. That wasn’t what I had in mind for my wine but despite my best efforts and good counsel from experienced winemaker friends I did end up with one sweet wine. Crushing? Well, when life gives you sweet wine, make: 1) a fortified port styled wine, 2) distill it and make Brandy. So that’s what I did. Half I fortified and the other half I distilled. The fortified wine already has chocolate notes that are REALLY yummy. I’m going to age this with wood and see where it goes. The Brandy I’m on the fence with at the moment. It’s my first experience with distillation and I know it needs rest, aging, some contact with wood, etc. Will keep you posted.

brandy wine mexico

This is the still at the little wine school where I made my Brandy

Chente and Brian C. helped me develop a “minimal processing” method for filtering and bottling my wines at home primarily using gravity rather than pumping through traditional wine filters after which it takes 4 months to a year for the wine to recover and begin to taste good again. Wine is alive, y’all, and she doesn’t much like getting beat up. So the gentle approach is what we all strive for. I’ve been so happy with this new method that I could practically do backflips except that I would hurt myself. So only “virtual” backflips allowed. The new wines have a richness and a velvety, full mouthfeel that I am thrilled with. And they never went into shock. Astonishing. They will continue to improve in the bottle and are ready to drink NOW. Another success.

 

craft beer in baja

Ava with Bryan M. and Claudio drinking mom’s wine.

It’s been a very family oriented year. In May of this year my daughter, Ava and her best friend, Michael, and another friend, Brian C. moved to Mexico and started making craft beer and other products, launching their own business, Brújula Brews (Compass Brews). My mother and her boyfriend visited and my son, Si, came down to help with the wine work for awhile. Free time? What? Never heard of it.

 

baja wine scene

Si gives El Corcho Rosa, my tasting bar some curb appeal

MORE NOTEWORTHY NEWS:

My Mexican trademark was approved last week! I officially own Valley Girl Wines in Mexico! Wooooo hooooo!

My trademark!

My trademark!

It took me a week of trial and error but I finally figured out how to issue an electronic sales invoice and sent my first shipment of wine to a sommelier on the Mexican mainland. This was one of my goals for 2014. Success!

Mexican sommelier

Sommelier Oscar with his mom drinking Tattooed Lady at my front porch tasting bar, El Corcho Rosa

Thanks to my friend, Mexican sommelier Oscar, one of my wines recently made it to a tasting with a group of Colombian sommeliers in Bogota, Colombia and was very well-received. An article about my wines was published in Wine Heart magazine this year (http://www.wineheart.com.mx/perfiles/) and I was invited to be included in the next volume of Bebiendo Nuestra Tierra, an annual book about the wines of Mexico (http://www.bebiendonuestratierra.com/). All of these little baby steps are helping to move my business forward.

 

harvest

Valley Girl celebrates her third harvest. Happy Birthday to my wines!!!

This is me with my last “cake” of the season. The cake is what we call the pressed skins of  the grapes after we squeeze the heck out of them to get the most good-tasting wine we can. Three candles for three harvests. I love my wine-soaked life.

 

artisanal winemaking

My helper Isaac and I returning grape crates when my car was out-of-order. We do what we’ve got to do!

artisanal winemaking

Open vat fermentation on my back porch. It’s like Tetris, only heavier.

valle de guadalupe vino

Me and my son doing a little winetasting around the valley

mexican wine artisanal wine

Brian C. measuring a gigantic cluster of Grenache!

 

mexican wine in baja

Michael rocking the press

 

barreling artisanal wine in mexico

Chente, the barrel master.

baja wine guadalupe valley wine

Bacchus be with you, my friends.

 

Thanks for your support and camaraderie. May the upcoming holidays bring you joy!

2 thoughts on “Grape Expectations

  • This was a fun way to catch up with you, since we seem to be running on parallel roads lately and they aren’t crossing. Gotta make up for that one day soon, Chica. You’ve come a long way and can certainly be proud of yourself. That peppery port is sure intriguing me. ‘-)

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