Like a Virgin

Grenache going into the small basket press

My car is buzzing with fruit flies. Why? Because I pressed my Grenache and Syrah, brought the cake home and tossed it in the driveway. Huh? Let me back up here. My luscious Grenache and my sensitive Syrah went through perfect fermentations. These “girls” are developing distinct personalities, btw. The Grenache is a fun, happy, slightly naughty girl …










While the Syrah is pensive, impatient, and prone to blue moods. Nevertheless, both girls did their job like champs and were ever-so-gently pressed. That is to say, separated from their skins, pulp and seeds in a hand-cranked basket press.

Rogelio and Gerardo rockin’ the press


What is left after the fruit is pressed and the wine runs off, is a dense, “cake” of solids. Many wineries spread the cake out to dry in their gardens and driveways where it makes an attractive ground cover. But the flip side of bringing the cake home in my car is that the fruit flies hitched a ride. (Car detailing is on my list of things to do like getting a pedicure after all the fruit has been fermented and pressed!) Meanwhile, I’m terribly proud of the grape skins drying aromatically in my driveway. I feel like I’ve made a statement. Like wearing a badge of honor. I’m officially initiated into wine world.

My first cake!







Now my South Rhône girls are in secondary fermentation which transforms the green-apple tartness into a creamier, softer mouth-feel. Tomorrow I will rack the wines off their heavy lees. Meaning I will pump the wine out of its current holding tank, taking it off the sediment which may contribute undesirable flavors and aromas.

Maria de la Luz and Soxi helping me clean and sort Barbera grapes for my Vin Nouveau

Then came the Barbera. She’s my ugly duckling. The grapes were not in great shape, covered in filth and mud with many damaged clusters and broken fruit. I was not a happy camper but nevertheless set to work recovering what I could. Barbera is a very acidic grape which is why it’s a good candidate for carbonic maceration. Carbonic maceration is a whole berry fermentation technique utilized by Georges Duboeuf in his famous Beaujolais. The first time I met Hugo D’Acosta (the artisanal wine pioneer of this region) I told him that I wanted to make a Beaujolais style young wine. Without hesitation he suggested Barbera.

Only clean, hand-selected clusters of Barbera are going into my Valley Girl Vin Nouveau

I spent over eight hours, with the help of two local ladies, sorting and cleaning the fruit, choosing only the best clusters. This will be my signature Valley Girl Vin Nouveau. I’m as nervous as a new bride with this one. In one week I will take the plastic wrap off the tanks and see how she’s doing.

Now I’m back to the escuelita vinifying Cabernet Sauvignon with another student. Iker Turcott is a young, energetic, Mexican-born chef who’s worked in Valencia, Paris and Cancún. To his already impressive list of accomplishments he is now a winemaker! He also works in the tasting room at L.A. Cetto, the largest winery in the valley. After doing virtually everything by myself and learning on my feet with my first three wines, I have to say it is terrific to have a partner! Because of his schedule and my proximity to the escuelita I will be hovering over the Cabernet like a mother over a sick child, checking her temperature, cooling her when she gets too feverish, grooming …. (picking out the little green berries and stems). I think I’ve stretched this analogy about as far as it can go.

Iker doing the first punch-down on our Cabernet










When I first spread those spent, fermented grape skins onto my driveway I felt like a former virgin displaying her wedding sheet the morning after for all the community to see. Now my neighbors know why I’ve been running around in pink rubber boots, hauling buckets in and out of my car and barreling around town with a wild look on my face. A virgin no more!

My badge of honor: spent grape skins drying in my driveway 😉

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