Two years ago my friend Robin and I spent five days at a house in the village of Magny-les-Villers in Burgundy – surrounded by vineyards and rolling countryside. On arrival at such a quiet location, Robin wondered aloud whether we would find things to do for five days. On leaving, we both wished we could stay for weeks longer.
I found this new book about Magny-les-Villers online. Turns out it was written by Laura Bradbury who (together with her husband Franck) rented us the house where we stayed. Titled My Grape Escape, this book is all about finding and renovating that property. It is about camaraderie with friends, family, and workers who help inject sanity and levity into the daunting task of completing renovations before the first paying guests arrive.
The genre is that of foreigner buys property in France, undertakes renovations, and in doing so learns to slow down and appreciate the quality of day to day life. It also documents the transformation of a person as well as a property. Laura was in her twenties when she and Franck purchased this property. Her years of studying law at Oxford convinced her that time spent in non-productive tasks was almost abhorrent, something to feel guilty about. But her husband Franck helped demonstrate otherwise.
When they set off to spend a day buying a second hand car, they instead enjoyed long hours with friends eating breakfast and lunch, and drinking wine and coffee, and buying – unexpectedly – all required kitchenware for their home at a bargain price. Their failure to find a car was alleviated within days when they found one to purchase elsewhere. The book is filled with these scenes – which expand Laura’s comfort in letting go of control. As Franck asks her about events in life: “…why don’t you try to believe that they will turn out just fine – no matter what we do or don’t do?”
One day when Laura and Franck part from their friend René, he leans in the open car window to tell her, “…never confuse what is urgent with what is truly important.”
Laura lets go of her plans and realizes that working long hours in a law firm might damage her precious marriage. She also begins to enjoy herself more. Opportunities to learn abound around Magny-les-Villers. “I had never met anyone who was more gifted for capitalizing on a moment of celebration than Burgundians,” she writes.
On visiting a physician to get a prescription for pills to reduce anxiety, Laura hears her husband Franck ask whether his wife can still drink wine while on medication.
“Only good wine,” Doctor Dupont answered. “I would highly recommend around two glasses at lunch and dinner. Something fortifying. A Pommard or a Vosne-Romanée would be perfect, though I would also consider a solid Savigny. I would, however, advise you to stay away from the whites at the moment, Madame Germain. They tend to have an agitating effect.”
The book is riddled with colors, scents, and images of good food and wine. There are blue-footed chickens from Louhands, yellow wine from the Jura region, cherry red ramekins, lime green pie plates, as well as stewed rabbits and prunes in white wine sauce, smoked morteau sausages and potatoes with crème fraiche and freshly chopped parsley, and bottles of bubbly crémant, Hautes-Côtes de Nuits, and Savigny-les-Beaune Les Guettes.
The home they are renovating comes with historical intrigue. Built in the year of the French Revolution and the storming of the Bastille – 1789 – it was also used to house a billeted German soldier during the Second World War.
It was a pleasure to read this story of how the property we stayed in was first renovated. Though I never met Laura and Franck personally because they were in Canada at the time, the attention to detail they put into each communication, and their rapid responsiveness to our queries were both informative and helpful. The brightly painted home was a joy to stay in. On more than one morning while there, we woke, drank coffee, sliced a baguette for breakfast, then simply opened the door to wander by foot around some of the most sublime and precious wine properties of the Cote D’Or.
This book brings alive the quirky joys of living in the French countryside, and will make you reconsider what you truly consider important in life.
Where to go?
Laura and Franck can recommend some of the best places to visit. Two local wineries recommended by Franck are the following:
In Magny-les-Villers; 03 80 62 91 50; email@example.com
In nearby Savigny lès Beaune; 03 80 21 53 42; firstname.lastname@example.org
Here are two dessert recipes for the holidays.
One comes from wind-zapped, volcanic isles known as the Azores, which are circled by the raging Atlantic Ocean – by way of California; the other is from California’s San Francisco – by way of the ancient, stone walled city of Beaune in Burgundy, France.
I took the photos below, which are not nearly as gorgeous as those from cookbooks. But if you make the effort on the first recipe and pull through, you’ll be so delighted with the result that you too may pull out a camera and start snapping.
Unfortunately the cookbook I purchased during a visit to the Azores is now packed away in some storage area (these pictures were taken a few years ago). Instead, I’ll refer you to the recipe of Nancy Grossi. She concocted these ‘espece’ cookies in California’s Healdsburg wine country, based on the recipe of her Azorean relative. Click here for Nancy’s recipe.
In the above photo you see that perched next to these cookies is a bottle of Pico Lajido wine. This sweet liqueur is made from fortified verdelho grapes grown on the island of Pico, which is dominated by a (sometimes) snow ringed, conical volcanic peak. The grapevines of the Azores are so unusual that less than a decade past they received UNESCO World Heritage designation, which I wrote about a few years ago.
Below is the second recipe, which a friend and I learned at a cooking class while vacationing in Burgundy. The cook is an American – Marjorie Taylor – who runs the Cook’s Atelier cooking school in Beaune, France. Her recipe for lemon cream tarts is adapted from a book of recipes based on those from a San Francisco bakery. The book is titled Tartine, by Elisabeth M. Prueitt.
The recipe involves first making a sweet dough, and then a lemon cream.
While putting in effort to make these tarts, you may want to open a bottle of bubbly. Try a 100 percent Pinot Meunier Champagne or sparkling wine, because it is fruit forward, often with aromas of bread dough, as well as red or citrus fruits – which will complement the dish you’re making (and the ingredients you’ll be sampling). You may want to try the sparkling wine Domaine Chandon Carneros 2011 (about $30). If you want to splurge with friends and are cooking for a special festive day, you may want to open a bottle of 2008 Chartogne-Taillet ‘Les Allies’ Extra Brut Champagne ($70 – $85). Then again, you might want to save that bottle for the opening of your entire meal.
After you finish a decent dinner (perhaps of asparagus and giant ravioli, shown below), you’ll be ready to tuck into your dessert masterpiece.
Enjoy the holiday upcoming holiday season.
This week it’s time for something different.
I write two blogs – one about wine, the other about books and publishing.
Every Tuesday I try to fire off one blog post, alternating posts on different weeks between the wine and publishing sites.
Why Tuesday? I checked the stats. People don’t check the internet much on weekends. They’re at football games or soccer matches or fixing up their homes or cooking with friends. They tend to look at the internet quite a lot on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. So I write during weekends and post on Tuesdays, hoping to snag attention when most eyes surf the net.
The reason is simple.
A few years ago, a friend sent a link to check out Wine Library TV. Someone named Gary Vaynerchuk ranted about wines on videos. I thought he was a bit over the top and loud, but he did come across as down to earth.
I’m now reading Vaynerchuk’s book – Crush It. Basically, he used the internet to promote his family wine business and succeeded wildly, then decided to step away from wine in order to work on promoting how the internet can be used for personal branding. The book is filled with short videos that keep the narrative lively.
This self-appointed wine wizard transformed himself into a branding guru.
Here are a few quotes from Vaynerchuk’s book regarding following your passion, and branding yourself.
“…live and breathe your passion. Do that, and you’ll no longer differentiate between your work life and your personal life. You’ll just live, and love doing it.”
“Everyone – EVERYONE – needs to start thinking of themselves as a brand. It is no longer an option; it is a necessity.”
“…skills are cheap, passion is priceless.”
“Tell me your story, and if you’re good, I’ll come back for more. Then I’ll tell my friends, and they’ll come…”
[Italicized quotes above - copyright: Vaynerchuk, Gary (2010). CRUSH IT! Kindle Edition.]
His steps toward success in building your brand are simple, but require that you work your tail off. The major factors he attributes toward succeeding in building your brand are: do what you are passionate about, create excellent content, keep it down to earth and real, create a community, and make the world listen. This is a fun book to read, because Vaynerchuk is down to earth and energized.
Whether you like wine, are an aspiring author, are looking for work, or trying to carve out your own professional niche, it’s worth reading this book. Why? Because personal branding is critical to selling your product or yourself. I never met Gary. But what he says resonates with the same message provided by the authors of the book titled: APE, Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur – How to Publish a Book, described in an earlier blog post: if you want to succeed in this internet wired world, don’t pump out BS or try to be what the Irish call a ‘chancer.’ Because whether you are describing wines you love or trying to get others to tune into your latest series of sci-fi or pet grooming book series, you truly have to believe in what you are doing.
That confidence resonates with others.
Your brand will grow as your outreach expands, your confidence notches up, and your communities grow.
The internet has created a brave new democratic space. Writing web log posts has allowed me to gain access to a community of people who are passionate and informed about what they do. The virtual community is far larger and more diverse and international than if I was only able just to walk around the ‘hood getting to know neighbors.
Let me illustrate, first about wines, then about publishing.
If I have a question about wine from the French Riviera or the Ligurian coast, I’ll contact blogger Chrissie who writes The Riviera Grapevine; if I want to know about Italian Piedmont wines such as Barolo (or if I want to talk about a new fiction book idea), I can drop an email to author / wine guide / blogger James Sajo who lives in Italy and runs a guide business and is dialed into local wines. To get the scoop on the best deals in Bordeaux wines, I’ll get in touch with my friend Les Kellen, who runs wine tours and operates a guest house in Blaye, Bordeaux.
If I want advice on publishing and marketing (or want to see some zippy artwork), I’ll check out Robin Kalinich’s site, or check out the blog or drop a message to Fiona Pearse – an IT guru and author living in London.
Using the internet, I don’t have to hop on a plane or drive (though that’s fun) to get up to date information from people who are passionate about what they do. Instead, I just check in with the virtual world, and zip off an email query.
Another Word about Wine and Books -
What else do wine and books have in common? I subscribe to the Wine Spectator magazine. Because I’m working in Asia, I get the digital rather than the print edition. So I recently looked at the site and realized they have an entire wine course – with quizzes, instructional materials, quotes, and multiple videos that are free for subscribers. As the site says, homework was never so much fun. One lesson is about Buying Wine. To encourage people to be experimental at wine stores, they write:
“Think of a trip to the wine store as if it were a trip to the book store…None of the titles are familiar, so you read the plot descriptions on a few back covers as well as the employees’ comment cards…Buying wine is pretty much the same, only a bottle of wine is often less expensive than a hardcover book…” [Copyright Wine Spectator magazine.]
Thanks, as always, for tuning in.
Does wine taste different when you’re on an airplane?
The simple answer is yes. But this easy question has contradictory answers. The information is largely anecdotal, and there’s a lack of research about why wine tastes differently at twenty-eight thousand feet above sea level than it does on the ground.
After reading dozens of articles, blogs, and research papers – I’ve come to these conclusions:
There are two sources for why wine tastes differently during a commercial plane flight than it does on the ground. First - our taste buds register tastes differently high in the sky. This is the major reason. Second, the chemistry of wine alters in the environment of a plane. This is a minor reason.
Let’s look at the major reason first.
In the sky, our sense of smell and taste alter due to three principal factors. First, cabin air pressure is lower than at sea level. Second, cabin air is relatively dry (or has low humidity). Third, the engine background noise level is relatively high.
All three factors impact taste.
Even if you were even close to sea level – sitting at a wine store in Napa, Bordeaux, or Walla-Walla in Washington state – and a storm system suddenly cruised in and the clouds gathered above and the air pressure shifted from high (sunny) to low (murky), the wine before you would likely taste slightly differently before and after the weather shift. Changes in atmospheric pressure will change how wine gives off odors, and change the way that your nose and taste buds perceive the taste of that wine.
At twenty-nine, or thirty thousand feet above sea level (an odd number means that you are flying east; an even number means that you are flying west. You didn’t know that, did you?), cabin pressure is lower than at sea level. On commercial airlines, the pressure is maintained at about the same as if you were sitting at eight thousand feet above sea level, or as high as the city of Aspen, Colorado.
Generally, reduced air pressure in the cabin dulls your taste buds. This is partly because there are fewer molecules you are available to sniff, and partly because the mild hypoxia (lack of oxygen) caused by a lower cabin pressure impacts how oxygen is transferred within the body. Also, studies show that the relatively high noise levels inside an airplane (95 decibels) reduces our ability to taste salt and sugar (but increases our ability to appreciate crunchiness in food). These factors mean that for wine, your ability to taste fruitiness is diminished, which is why airlines often serve fruit bomb wines – to overcome your diminished taste for it.
The reduced moisture in an airplane cabin impacts the efficiency with which we salivate. Usually tannic wines cause us to salivate heavily in order to reduce the astringency of tannins. But because our salivation works less well in the dry conditions up in the sky, tannic wines often taste more tannic. Perhaps for the same reason, the taste of acidity in wines also comes out stronger when you are on an airplane.
With our sense of fruitiness diminished, while our sense for tannins and acidity increased – we may suddenly better appreciate the fruit of a Merlot, or an Amarone, while finding the tannins of Cabernet Sauvignon undesirable. For whites, a sweet Riesling may appeal to us more than it would on the ground, while we might find the acidity of a Sauvignon Blanc over the top.
Earlier, I mentioned how the chemistry of the wine itself changes in cabin conditions. The low pressure inside a cabin means that volatiles may leave our wine more quickly than down on earth, and often this means that fruit flavors march off first. That just adds to the diminished taste of fruit in wine at altitude.
To test out if these ‘guidelines’ are actually considered by airlines, I inspected a 2012 wine list from Etihad (Etihad is based in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates). Excuse the poor quality of the scan below, and the crinkles from folding the drinks menu to put in my pocket. I’ll address a few of the wines.
Do these wines ‘comply with the sky?’
- Chateau de Chassagne-Montrachet AOP Saint Aubin 1er Cru, “Le Charmois,” 2008, Burgundy, France
The review I found is for a 2006 bottle, but the characteristics are likely similar. The review includes:
“…pleasant buttery and light oak like bouquet…medium bodied, balanced, smooth, with traditional light oak…”
The key term here is ‘light oak,’ which indicates not heavy on tannins.
- Terrazas de los Andes Reserva Torrontés 2011, Salta, Argentina
The wine review for this (click on the wine name above), mentions “Its white flower aromas, such as orange blossom and rose combine harmoniously with its intense fruity notes of pear, mango and passion fruit. On the palate, it is fruity and sensual, with excellent acidity…”
‘Intense fruit notes,’ and ‘excellent acidity’ mean lots of fruit and not too much acidity. This wine will likely stay tasty in the sky.
- Villa Maria Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Marlborough, New Zealand
The wine review includes, “mid-palate weight, and a balanced acidity.”
Again, I’ll interpret ‘excellent acidity’ to mean not too high – meaning ‘cabin compliant.’
- Segla 2008 Margaux, Bordeaux, France
I’m including quotes from two non-professional tasters who published their thoughts on the Cellar Tracker site:
“Complex cedar, sweet dark fruits and rose perfume…Medium – full-bodied. Fine grained tannin…”
“This has intense and expressive aromas of blackberry…A bit lean at the back that seems lack of the structure for the long term but, who cares?”
Both quotes hit on the intensity of fruit, and the low level of tannins (‘lack of structure’ means, basically, lack of tannins). Once again – the wine sounds fruit forward and not too tannic. Considering this is a left bank Bordeaux blend, which is typically dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, the laid back tannins is atypical, but right on for drinking during a flight.
- George Wyndham Founders’s Reserve Shiraz 2010, Langhorne Creek, South Australia
The Australian Crackawines website gave me the following review:
“…black berry cola fruit. The palate is pippy, currants and black fruit, medium long and low in tannin, high in acid on the finish.”
So, high in fruit and low in tannin – good for the skies. But the high acid might not be such a delight up high.
Taste.com, also from Australia, said much the same:
“…concentrated and glorious fruit aromas, and ripe crimson berries…balanced by subtle oak.”
‘Glorious fruit’ and ‘subtle oak’ indicate lots of fruit and low tannins.
Conclusion? Airlines buy wine depending on price, availability, on its regional origin (flights to, say, South America usually feature Chilean or Argentinian wines), and on taste. Typically, blind tastings are made of hundreds of wine before a few are selected, and the selections in Business or First class are usually changed about every three months.
Tasters are aware of what tastes well in the sky, as evident from this press release from British Airways. Judging from our above inspection of an Etihad wine list from last year – you should expect wines that are high in fruit, and not high in either tannins or acidity.
That said, newer aircraft such as the Boeing 787 are being designed to reduce the cabin pressure, increase the cabin humidity, and decrease cabin noise – all of which will reduce the impact of how the taste of wine alters between the earth and the sky.
Years ago, friends and I drank liters of full-bodied beer on a hillside known as La Collina D’Oro (The Hill of Gold) in the Swiss province of Ticino above the city of Lugano.
Today, one of those drinking partners – Mick Coker – is reinventing himself and family business by producing award-winning beers and wines in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This includes mead, or honey wine.
Inside his Sandia Chile Grill hangs a road sign, taken from La Collina D’Oro. Below this hang recently won state medals for brewing prowess.
The wines that are winning state awards include a 14.5 % alcohol Ruby Red mead, which won not only the 2013 Gold Medal but also the Best in Show Medal for two years. With a taste that includes blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries, Mick says the mead is “well balanced – a citrus punch.”
His 27-year old son Clint works with Mick to produce these winners.
Almost two years ago, Mick bought some beer making kits, then checked out the financials for production. “It’s a screaming deal,” he said. “Whereas in food production the food costs 25 to 30 percent of sales cost, beer costs are only 9 to 16 percent of sales cost.
“I just started making beers and ciders in 2011, and a year later in the New Mexico State Fair won a Gold Medal for cider, and the Best of Show Overall Medal for beers, ciders, and meads.
“We just kept working on recipes. I’m still hearing about the awards from people who’ve been working at making beer for ten years. It’s a thorn in their sides. Even though we’d only been brewing for one year, we were doing two batches a week. So just because you’re a ten-year brewer doesn’t mean you’re brewing that much. We put in the hours. We don’t look at it as years, we look at it as brewing time.”
One result of their rapid success is that, “A few people within the brewery scene shunned us. I told them that I drank in Switzerland when growing up, and learned to taste good beer.
“Five years from now, we want a big brewery. We’d like to have a place with a big dance hall with a saloon western environment – because, don’t people like to drink and dance?”
For dinner Clint cooked us sirloin steak with mushrooms and bacon, smothered in green chile and cheese.
Mick and Clint cultivate their own yeast. They showed me photographs of their yeast cells. They take pride in their ‘hands on’ approach – and provided a quick tour showing valves, barrels, pressure gauges, spigots, hemosectometers, pipettetes, and hydrometers. This is quite a sophisticated operation, though Mick summarizes, “Some shit works, some shit don’t work.”
“I hated chemistry. I hated biology. If they told me I could make beer using chemistry, then I’d have been there at class fifteen minutes early, penciling notes.
“It’s all math,” he said. “God gave us the art form, the rest is math and science.”
Clint likes the challenge of making mead, because the technique is not widespread.
“The challenge is finding things I can compare my meads to.”
“It’s a lost art,” Mick added.
“It’s like a samurai sword,” Clint agreed. He talked about the history of mead-making in the Middle Ages and its prevalent role in the worlds of Vikings, Romans, monks, and nobility.
Earlier in the day, I had given Mick a hard copy of a book I wrote almost a decade ago, titled Rivers of Change – Trailing the Waterways of Lewis and Clark. Serendipitously, I recalled that the book included a passage about mead. I flipped pages to the chapter about Weston, Missouri, and read aloud:
“Inside, I sidled up to a wood counter beneath stained glass windows. A grinning lass with a hairdo in the shape of a bucket poured samples of honey wine, apple wine, and raspberry mead into three glasses. I downed each with ease. She told me how the owners of the forty-acre vineyard produced up to ten thousand gallons a year. While swirling more wine in a glass, I picked up a book marker titled A Little Bit of Romantic History. It told how Vikings and Norsemen first introduced honey wine (mead) to England. Savoring its crude bouquet, the English deemed the concoction a love potion, then forged a tradition that bride and groom sip the mead for a full moon cycle after marriage – thus the word honeymoon.“
“The ultimate goal,” Mick said, “is to make a living for the rest of our lives on good alcohol, and giving other people the opportunity to enjoy the finer things in life.”
That sounds like a worthy ambition.
You may be just a few clicks away from buying decent wine at an affordable price.
Amazon Wine simplifies wine buying. Enter the web page, click on your preferred grape variety, then (if you like) choose a region you want the wine to come from. Read your list of selections.
To test it, I first hunted for a 2010 Firestone Riesling from California’s Central Coast – Santa Ynez valley. Although the label was on the website, the wine was not available for sale. I then realized it was possible to uncheck the little box on the left titled ‘Include Out of Stock.’
I next chose a grape variety as well as a geographical location, clicking on Grenache and France, then fine-tuning by clicking Provence as a region – and found a sparkling rose made entirely from Grenache. It costs only $15. If you order, it will be shipped to you from Planet Wine, located in Oakland, California. The shipping cost is $9.99. But if you buy six bottles, the shipping cost remains $9.99.
Amazon is trying to simplify online wine purchasing, but this only works in 17 states within the United States, due to the Byzantine system of alcohol laws which vary state by state. Click this guide to find out which states ship wine (obtained from an article in the Chicagoist about Amazon’s wine program). If you live in the UK, you can also buy wine from Amazon. Actually, Amazon does not stock or ship wines in the U.S. or U.K., but acts as a mediary between wine sellers and buyers.
For the next try, I searched for a Riesling from Washington state in the U.S., with a professional rating of higher than 90 points (these include ratings from the Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, and Robert Parker). Boom – 11 are listed, including a $17 Convergence Zone Dewpoint Riesling (this only showed a rating from Wine Enthusiast) – though this is only available for shipping to four states (California, Colorado, Florida, Washington), and the District of Columbia.
Okay, let’s say I want a Chardonnay (click) from Washington state (click) that is 12 to 14 percent in alcohol (click) and – should you want – is gluten-free (click). There’s one available from Mercer Canyons for only $14.99 a bottle.
Hmmmm….let’s try a few more clicks again on a specific country and grape type to find an Argentinian Cabernet Franc, for only $16.99 a bottle.
What does this mean? A few months ago I was at a ranch in a remote part of New Mexico in the United States, and a friend told how Amazon Fresh delivers some food and general groceries weekly. This is testimony to the growing reach of the company. The September issue of Fast Company magazine includes an article on how Amazon has gone far beyond books - and is selling a massive array of products throughout the world.
You get the idea. If you live where wines can be shipped, and dabble in internet shopping, you may never have to leave home again to experiment with vintages that fit your criteria (although – much of the fun of wine is getting out to share it with friends).
Beside the USA and the UK, where else does Amazon sell wine? Where will it deliver the same day as you order? Improbable though it may sound, where else but China? They are building over a dozen massive warehouses throughout the country to facilitate this business.
Odds, Ends, and Intriguing Alleyways to Explore -
Book, Wine Tours, Italy -
On a separate note, I’m following a new wine blog by an American who lives in Italy, and is also an author. He’s a very approachable and modest guy, and from what I’ve read of his book The Salome Effect, his writing is easy to read and entertaining. The book includes snippets of insight into Italian life, food, and wine. These help flavor the plot about an American who is in love with both a Torino stripper, as well as a Caravaggio painting, and who plans to have both. Suggest you check out the site of James Sajo. He’ll also hook you up with a wine tour around the Venice (Venezia), or Piedmont (Piemonte), or Turin (Torino) regions of Italy.
From The Salome Effect -
“He reduced the heat under the eggplant and tossed a generous handful of linguini into the boiling water. Time for a glass of wine…He opened a bottle he had found at a small winery near the village of Guarene near Alba…the owner had told Robert to open this bottle, a 2004 blend of Barbera d’Alba and Nebbiolo grapes called Ruit Hora, for a special occasion.” [copyright James Sajo, 2012]
Money to Buy Wine -
If you want to improve finances to improve your ability to buy and try different wines, you need to check out the financial wisdom of James Collins about Money, Business, and Life. Really. He also has some colorful advice about spending time in Ecuador.
A Wine to Try, a Book to Read -
Years ago Peter May took me on a tour of vineyards and wineries in the Stellenbosch region of South Africa. Peter’s book Pinotage combines history and mystery to produce a true detective story about South Africa’s flagship grape. This is a good read about a wine that deserves more world recognition. You might also want to check out Peter’s website.
Writing Wine Notes -
Lettie Teague of the Wall Street Journal just posted this piece about writing wine notes. It’s informal, entertaining, and instructive.
Free Book -
For this month of October, anyone who signs up as a subscriber to this blog (you can sign up on the Home page), or to the Roundwood Press website/blog (which is the mother company of this web log) gets a free copy of the e-book Wine and Work in both Kindle and non-Kindle formats. (A positive review on Amazon would certainly be appreciated, but that’s up to you…) No, I won’t share your email or contact information with anyone else.
A recent article in the New York Times tells of Mexican winemakers getting established in northern California. No surprise. Their families have picked grapes, worked cellars, and grown accustomed to the entire wine production cycle over decades. Wine has also been made in Mexico since Cortés the conquistador planted grapevines throughout the land he and his men plundered in the early 1500s.
Over a year ago my friend Les Kellen, who runs Villa St. Simon and gives wine tours in the Bordeaux region of France, put me in contact with recent guests who stayed with him. The couple, Hans and his wife Itzia operate Cantina Hussongs in Ensenada, Mexico, which has been open for over 120 years. They now also produce wine. Eight years ago I visited Hussongs in Ensenada for drinks and so – intrigued – I contacted Hans about his winemaking. He wrote back the following.
“Hi Tom – Glad to hear that you have visited us! And you are right, Les is a fantastic host. We had a really good time in Bordeaux and made a really good friend.
“The winery is called Bodegas San Rafael in honor of the valley where we are. This used to be called San Rafael valley and is now called Ojos Negros (Black Eyes) – hence the name of our premium line of wines. We started back in 2000. When we first started growing grapes, we used to have cattle, and planted whatever was in demand. One day my dad decided he wanted to make wine and planted 15 hectares of grapes, which proved to be a marvelous bet. We now have 25 hectares and are the only winery in that valley – which proved to be perfect for wine growing.
“Regarding celebrities that have visited us [Hussongs] – these include John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, Bing Crosby, U2 and Margarita Henckel, among the most famous. Margarita Henckel was the daughter of the German ambassador in the 1940s, and the ‘Margarita’ drink was named after her, invented right here in our bar by one of our bartenders in 1941.”
The winery operated by Hans and Itzia now produces wines from ten varieties of grapes. These wines made under the label Ojos Negros include single varietals with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Syrah.
The list below shows that the winemaker is also not afraid to be bold with blending: how often do winemakers in Mexico produce 100% Cabernet Franc?
Delirio - blend of Riesling, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc
Desseo Rose – 70% Syrah and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon
Euphoria - 100% Cabernet Franc
Alegria - 70% Tempranillo, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon
I have not yet tasted the wines. Someday. But Mexican wines look like fresh territory to explore.
And if you have no interest in the wines, here’s how to make a Margarita.