for September, 2011

September 23, 2011 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

2011 Harvest – Days Two and Three @AOWinery

The way to Enlightenment is the way to listening.

Cigar’s log, Star-date September 21st, 2011, 9:30pm Pacific Standard Time:

My… body… is on… fire.

I have to commend my fellow cellar workers at Alpha Omega. These chaps are incredibly hardworking people who take their job seriously (though intermittent joking is rampant and necessary to break up the routines of cellar work which, truth be told can be very repetitive). I’ll introduce each of them here in Winetology as we forge ahead and the grapes keep-a-comin’. Though I should mention a young man from Napa, named Aldo, who left us today to take work in Calistoga. He was with AO for half a year, but the reality is he needs to earn much more money because he has a second child on the way. We had an interesting conversation about marriage and parenting and he put it to me like this: “In the Latino community – at least the way I was raised – when you have a kid with someone, you’re with that person. Married or not, you’re together.” He scoffed at me when I asked if he was married. He has no interest, but like he said, it doesn’t matter. He’s with the mother of his children until the end. Everyone at AO wishes Aldo the best of luck.


This work ain’t easy – not that anyone ever said it was – though I’m beginning to understand the “you’ll see” winks and smiles that I’ve been met with leading up to Harvest work. And I’ve only been at it for three days! Some work year-round. Without these tough-skinned, incredibly smart and quick-thinking cellar teams (who work tirelessly around the wine countries of the world) these wonderous-grape-elixirs we all love to open and share and experience would simply not exist – at least not at the level of quality many of us expect. Once you’ve been bitten by an amazing bottle of wine, there’s no turning back… so next time you pop open something that drinks itself before you do, toast to the cellar workers, the vineyard workers and the winemakers who have made the wine what it is.

So what’s happened in the last two days? A hell of a lot.

A lot of cleaning, and some pressing of grapes. They like to say that winemaking is 80% cleaning and 20% making. About right, I’d say. Before the wine goes into barrels some have to be cleaned and that looks like this:

Clean Clean Clean! Power washing with 180 degree water.

Once they are power rinsed with hot, hot, caliente water, they are doused with Ozone. That’s right. Ozone. How fantastic is that? This machine makes Ozone. Someone should tell the Obama Administration that there is a machine that simply makes Ozone. So we can deplete it as much as we like! But in the winery, Ozone (O3) is used to sanitize. Electricity hits water and inside this contraption makes Ozone and the smell is definitive… oddly enough it reminds me of being in a plane… hmmmf! By a process of grabbing onto certain molecules the O3 sanitizes the inside and then we rinse the barrel with cold water and et voila! Ready for fresh vino.

This machine makes Ozone.

On Day Two some Russian River Pinot Noir came into the winery and it was destemmed, sorted and put into barrels for an extended maceration with the skins and daily punchdowns. I was on the sorting line. As grapes whizzed past it was my duty to extract anything “green” i.e. stems. Also, any clusters or grapes that looked shriveled, gnarly entrenched in leaves, etc. This is the only opportunity to grab all the stuff you don’t want in your wine before it begins the fermentation/aging process.

Sort through that.

These grapes/juice went into barrel for an extended period of maceration – the time the juice is in contact with the grape skins and seeds. This allows for a free exchange of tannin, i.e. color and texture tannins.

Looks like Bluerberry gazpacho. But it's Russian River outrageousness, really.

Later, there are punch-downs. The skins begin to form a cap, and harden a bit and so they need to be punched down. Exactly the same thing that would happen to me if I went for a midnight stroll through Bed-Sty in my Astor & Black bespoke suits! This kind of punch-down is much more fun though. And at this point the “wine,” which isn’t wine just yet, looks like a massive vat of blueberry gazpacho. Yum. Smells great.



Day Three I was introduced to the Sutter Penumatic Press. An expensive machine that takes several tons of grapes and presses out the juice. At Alpha, there are three stages of pressed juice:

  • D-Juice
  • Free Run
  • Press
This is incredibly fascinating because each juice goes into its own tanks and is blended into the final wine when the winemakers feel it’s time. D-Juice is the first bit of juice that comes from the weight of the grapes (gravity) on themselves… and it’s a lot of juice, sometimes as much as a barrel or two. Free Run is the golden juice, the coveted juice that comes from the gentle pressing of the grapes. Press is the juice that comes from really applying gravity to the grapes that have already been pressed — there’s still something in all of the skins and grapes and when you’re paying thousands of dollars a ton you want as much juice as you can get.
Here’s what the grapes look like when the come in from the fields:

Sauvignon Blanc in from the fields. Tastes SO good. Juicy and sweet.

Here’s what they look like after going into the Sutter Pneumatic Press:

Stem Mountains and valleys

And here is Mr. Sutter:  I had to climb up in that thing to shovel out some of the pressed grape skins and stems. The cellar team had a good time when I was inside. Some of the remarks were, “We’ll turn it on now, okay?” and “It’s gonna start to rotate” and “Just let us know when you want us to stop it.” Again, “Ha ha, very funny you guys,” was about all I could muster in response. They did in fact hold my life in the … push of a button. Now that’s winemaking!!


 And that’s not even half of it. It’s 10:13pm PT on Thursday, September 22, and it’s taken me a day to write this because of how exhausted/busy I am (if you noticed the beginning of this post begat itself yesterday). I’ve just gotten in from a dinner at the Morgan’s (Jeff and Jodie Morgan of Covenant Wines) and I learned that on my first day of Harvest work, the stirring of the sulfur in the wine is called “Batonage.” I’ve always wondered what that was. Turns out I did it. If some of this is incorrect, or makes no sense or if you are concerned with any of the grammar in this article, please feel free to get on a plane, come out to Napa and join me as we work this year’s crush, together :)

September 20, 2011 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

2011 Harvest — Day One

Monday, September 19th... a warm #Harvest morning at Alpha Omega Winery in the Napa Valley. My first day on the job.

Today was my first official day of Harvest; the reason I came to California all those weeks ago. To say that the days leading up to this new beginning have been nothing short of joyous, rapturous occasions would be… dishonest – an injustice to my psyche and to the psyches of those around me.

I made facetious remarks about coming out here to dig for gold and tonight, burdened by the simplicity of life: on the verge of utter ruin! living a seemingly luxurious lifestyle! I find myself living out some absurdo-spectacle partly my own making but largely the manifestations of forces pushing and pulling me in many directions. What is it I am looking for? I was hoping to find it in the bottom of a barrel of wine and today… what I found was this:

Bottom of a 10,000 gallon tank - what's left of SB that made it's way into barrel.

Residual lees, yeasts, grapes, skins, sediment, etc. The fruits of labor, strewn about a cold and stainless steel-clad battle field. These are the suds of life. These are the bubbles of my hopes and dreams. I can see myself in them; a child’s bubbles, a suds-laden afternoon of carefree happenstance.

Here we are: Harvest.

There were no bells or whistles. I showed up to work at 8:00am. Everyone speaks Spanish. I speak English and I tell people I used to speak Italian and have been trying to speak French for years. Who cares. Remember Larry Harbison? “Who Gives a Flying F##k.” God save Larry Harbison. God save the King.


I worked hard and the reality is that the work is gratifying. I’m not just saying that because it’s one of those phrases people like to use… the temperature was 96 degrees outside, but the comforts of a cool cellar are to be reckoned with. I used to hay farm. When you farm hay, you live and breathe 96 degree days for 18 hours straight and just before you collapse from utter exhaustion, you have to drive yourself home.

I’m on the Harvest team at Alpha Omega Winery. The winemaker is Jean Hoefliger and the Assistant winemaker is Henrik Poulsen.

We sulfured some wine today. You ever pour liquid sulfur into barrels of aging Chardonnay? Me either, until today. I was climbing up barrels stacked eight high (about 35 feet in the air) galloping (it seemed) from barrel to barrel.

“Don’t worry, they won’t go anywhere,” shouted Issac, one of the other cellar workers. “They better not,” was all I could think of in reply.

My job was to stir the sulfur into the wine by using a metal cleaver-looking tool to stir, stir, stir. 100 barrels later, it was time to wash crates; the kind of crates the grape-pickers use to bring in the grapes from the fields. They look like this:

Srcubin away in a citric bath.

After that we made a yeast bath and poured that bath into a tank full of SB (Sauvignon Blanc) for a private client. We fed the yeasts yeast food a.k.a. “Fermaid-K” a mixture of diammonium phosphate, potassium, ammonia, carbon, etc… goodies to help the yeast go forth, prosper and be merry.

Fermaid-K looks like this:

Just kidding! But don’t you wish it did. It looks like this, really:


And finally, just when my Mexican friends and co-workers thought I was one young pup from somewhere they’ve never heard of, they tried to pull a fast one on me.

“Try one of Lalo’s candies,” said Isac.

“Yeah,” said Lalo in Spanish, “have a candy you silly girlie boy-man,” again in Spanish. (I was able to translate by recalling all my middle-school Latin. Sure did come in handy).

“I’m no dummy, gents. I wasn’t borne yesterday. I was borne the day before,” I said. I didn’t try Lalo’s candy. I had heard already from someone who warned me that these alleged “candies” have landed people in the hospital and have rendered grown men completely immobile for a 24 hour period. I’m looking forward to more. Day two, here I come…


September 12, 2011 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Tailgaiting at the 49ers | Finishing strong at Sutton Cellars

Jonny Cigar and the Jonny Cigar Beertets!

The San Francisco 49ers played the Seattle Seahawks yesterday and Mathew Homyak (of Stag Dining Group) and I happened to have two tickets and a penchant for Tailgaiting.

Mathew Homyak and the Stag Dining Stagettes!

So, what do two chaps of questionable lineage but brimming with good culinary/libation senses do for a Tailgate party? Arrive late — with two bottles of wine (French Chardonnay and a Carneros Pinot Noir), a salad of compressed beets, arugula, blue cheese and bacon, sandwiches from Falletti’s, a baguette for aesthetics and three-piece suits to boot. Make small-talk with the neighbors who are miserably dressed and joke about the fact that two Oakland fans were shot in the parking lot and that Tailgaiting is no longer allowed to go on during the game as a result.

Healthy Living.

Can you say: Almond cookie-cracker, fig, dark chocolate, and olive oil???? #tailgatedessert

Then this happened:

Football game, circa 2011

And then it was over. And we began our decent back into society. But before that transition we had to have a wonderfully memorable experience. So here’s where I have to be blunt and say something to a very select crowd of idiotic tail-gaiters: You’re idiots. And I’m talking to the greasballs in the stolen Mercedes who were wearing more dime-shop “gold” chains than a school bus in the winter in Denver. Nice teeth, too, idiots. Now listen everyone, don’t get your shoulder-pads in a bunch folks, I’m just venting from an experience that practically ruined our delightful Tailgate/Football outing. We nearly were involved, ourselves, in a battle of the classes. Post-game (49ers clobbered ’em) and sporting Perrier, Matthew climbed into our car and in doing so, graced the door of a neighboring car. Graced is the key word – left no mark, merely touched, like a feather touching another feather and anyone who’s ever been to a football game knows that opening your car door inevitably means you’ll make some kind of contact with the car next to you. Well, in a fit of ignorant despair, four goombas decided they wanted to make a scene out of it. Luckily, the police pulled up right as the four upstanding citizens began to inflict bodily harm on our car. No damage was actually done (from fist punching the door) but damage was done to our psyches. The two of us, battling with a high from our delightful food, two bottles of wine and good ole fashioned sportsmanship vs the barbarianism of the idiocracy that follows some of the spectators of football around like a ball and chain.

Anyway, we assuaged our anguish by stopping for ice cream at Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous – a mom and pop ice cream shop delighting the Dogpatch. Right down the road is Sutton Cellars run by Carl Sutton, a maniac winemaker who opened up his Urban Winery in the Dogpatch not very long ago at all. Watch Carl disgorge some of his delicious rose that made us feel even better post-ice cream. May the ignorance of generations find shelter in the closed chapters of burning books.


September 8, 2011 1 comment Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

The Grapes They Are Almost-a-Ready

Juliana Vineyards

A couple weeks ago I joined Jeff Morgan (Covenant Wines) as we journeyed into the forgotten land of Pope Valley. We drove 35 hours through the night at speeds of 100+ miles per hour. We saw no other cars for 14 hours at a clip. We took acid and read Chinese Philosophy. For a brief period of 23 minutes Jeff and I realized that we were Enlightened. Actually, we were Enlightened for 12 seconds but it took 22 minutes and 48 seconds to realize we in fact were not Enlightened and that we had not been driving for 35 hours in the dark, that in fact I was simply having a nightmare the evening before heading to Pope Valley with Jeff.

Okay: let’s get to it. Our destination post-my-late-morning-nightmare was Juliana Vineyards in the valley they call Pope. A bit-o-history on Pope Valley first: home of the Aetna Springs Resort – a golf course from the 1800’s, and Hollywood movie-star hang out, well-to-do Bay Area elite getaway and valley to cure all ailments. Sun, fog, springs and dry heat to revive the senses. The resort fell into disrepair and high society forgot about Pope Valley. I consider myself to be high society, and so let’s say it’s been rediscovered.

Jeff visits the vineyards regularly to take a look at his blocks and to taste grapes and to ensure that there is not “jungle fever” taking hold of the blocks… as in… overgrowth.

I learned that once the initial cluster of grapes forms, a secondary cluster called “second crop” forms higher up the vine. Second crop is typically eliminated, though can be left and picked later (as it ripens later) and used to make a second-tier wine. Additionally, each branch will form 1-3 clusters of grapes. So, depending on what you’re looking for (in terms of fruit concentration), part of vineyard management practices is to remove some of those clusters so that the branch focuses all the nutrients into the one or two clusters you want for your eventual vino-vino.

Jeff Morgan with the Vineyard management team at Juliana. Jeff is pulling off "second crop."

And now, I can tell the difference between Petite Verdot and Cabernet Vines. This was a big day, let me tell you. The leaves are different and the clusters are different. Cabernet clusters are surprisingly loose – the grapes apparently like their space – and the leaf, if it’s a healthy leaf looks like someone took a hole-punch and punched three holes forming a perfect triangle.

Cabernet Sauvignon leaf - three hole punches! Perfect triangle formed!

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes - airy clusters - they like their space!

Veraison, the ripening of the grapes, is seeing great progress toward ripened delight since just a couple weeks ago. And if you think that is fancy, take a look at this photo below. Only a few years ago some of these blocks of vines were shafted and new vines were spliced into the old rootstock. Hence the two vines diverging in a … well… a green wood, not a yellow wood. Sorry Mr. Frost.

Same rootstock, different clone. How viniferous is that!

A hell-of-a-bunch. This is ridiculous. This bunch of grapes is growing out of the old rootstock, which is pretty wild. We all stood perplexed and after a few seconds of nodding and "ahs" we carried on about our business.

How can one not love being amidst the vines?

Pope Valley, I have not forgotten you.

Jeff's Red C -- was great to see the fruit on the vine that maketh the wine.

Vine graveyard.

September 1, 2011 2 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

It was #CabernetDay with Cook With James and The Noble Rot

The Cabs we "sipped"

The Second Annual Social Media blitzkrieg, “#CabernetDay” hit Twitter feeds, Facebook posts, Tumblr pages and the whites of our teeth across this country on Thursday, September 1st. The Twitter Sphere was alive with consumers, wineries, brand ambassadors and people like James Stolich (Cook With James) and I touting and conversing about the king of all grapes: Cabernet. Briefly, you may be keen to know that Cab was not the king of grapes pre-phylloxera. That was Malbec. However Malbec didn’t graft well to the new American Rootstock being planted in France after Phylloxera, and so it settled into the role of tiny percentages in Bordeaux blends. Well, maybe there’ll be a #MalbecDay soon. We’ll have to ask Rick Bakas – the chap behind this global call to action.

We had a great time hosting an evening of 25 San Franciscans (some communists, some Philistines, and the rest naturalists). James dished out an incredible family-style meal, detailed below in the wine pairings we came up with. James is a hell of a cook and offers classes as well as fanciful dinners for small groups. I met James when he was one of the chaps cooking for the Michelin Guide Red Book release party at the Clift Hotel last October out here in SF. This time, James and I teamed up to host at his fabulous apartment in Ashbury Heights.

The Cabs we tasted/guzzled were:

  • 2007 “Alexis” Swanson Vineyards Cab Sauv (Oakville) $75
  • 2007 Kelly Fleming Cab Sauv (Calistoga) 100% Cab Sauv, 850 cases produced – $90
  • 2007 Mueller Family Vineyards Cab Sauv (Diamond Mtn), 100% Cab Sauv, 168 cases produced – $48
  • 2007 The Terraces Cab Sauv (Napa Valley) 95.23% Cab Sauv, 2.38% Malbec, 2.38% Petite Sirah, 465 cases produced –  $48
  • 2008 Taken Cab Sauv (Napa Valley) $30
  • 2005 Smith-Madrone Cab Sauv (Spring Mtn) 82% Cab Sauv, 9% Merlot, 9% Cab Franc – 1,459 cases produced – $45 (photo below)

Last but not least.

And what, good reader do you want to know about these cabs? Well, let me say this: we all enjoyed the different styles of these Cabs. Smith-Madrone was the most like a Bordeaux-style Cab and certainly has had more time to mellow into itself, with soft and round tannins. Taken had great acidity and paired nicely with James’s creamy burrata with Dirty Girl Farm tomatoes. Mueller was a treat on its own — the scotch drinkers Cab I call it. Alexis and the 5 Dot Ranch braised beef (one of James’ specialties) left us all on the floor, singing gospels songs to praise the pairing. Kelly Fleming was as enchanting as you might imagine the actual Kelly to be, and I can attest as I’ve met her and toured the Kelly Fleming caves dug into Mt. St. Helena. The Terraces sipped with crostini of eggplant caponata transported us all to the high holy days of Rome. Why Rome? Why not?

Check out The Terraces fruit!

The Terraces

The Terraces

James is old pals with Craig Newmark (founder of Craigslist), and Craig graced our party with his presence. A delightful chap who I thoroughly enjoyed conversing with!

Craig Newmark (Craigslist) and Jonny Cigar on #CabernetDay 2011

And there was a surprise of the evening: JAQK Cellars. A delightful gal named Kelsey brought along a stylish cab of immense taste and weight. I loved the packaging and so would any fellow bootlegger/gambler. Check this stuff out:

JAQK Cellars "22 Black" - the bottles is a damn roulette wheel!!! And we tasted through a vertical: 2006, 07 08. The 2007 rocked us.

The rest of the photos can do the talking below. This week coming up on Winetology: my first experience hosting solo the Salon Tastings at Swanson Vineyards, updates on the launch of the Noble Rot Talks podcast, a recent trip to the Hill Family Estate farm and mucho vino moro.

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