How did you get started in winemaking?
Caris started making wine as a hobbyist, because she wanted to understand wines better as an interested consumer. She was also looking for a low-stress, pleasure-oriented hobby while working in a high stress profession (the film industry). She went to a local winemaker supply shop and bought the equipment to make a kit wine. It turned out awfully, and she decided to try again using good fresh grapes from a known wine vineyard. Her next two wines made with good fruit won silver medals in statewide competition. She knew she was onto something using good fruit. About 100 wines later, here we are.
Why did you start a winery?
Because we found we had a talent for winemaking, which quickly revealed itself as a passion. Each of us having spent 25-30 years in our first careers, we wanted to do something for the next 20 years that would make use of our respective talents, as well as bring pleasure and beauty to others.
Our overreaching philosophy is that of living an elegant-yet-earthy life while using our minds and hearts and bodies to make the world a bit better for our having been here. Caris’ personal vision is that of ‘making spirit visible’ – she does this thru her artworks, and thru her winemaking. We have worked hard to even have the tasting room decor reflect this ideal. Winemaking is a natural pathmate with art and friendship and food and music and love and laughter. We also hope to inspire others to use more of the pleasures and beauty that surrounds us all.
Where is your vineyard?
Visitors to our small winery can see that we have some vines, but certainly not enough to support our wine output. This is true of many wineries. We have long-term contracts with winegrape growers – they are specialized farmers who have their own passion for growing excellent fruit, and that marries with our passion for making excellent wines from that fruit. Our main contract is with a famous-in-his-own-right grower in Plains, Texas – Neal Newsom. We make Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Orange Muscat wines with Neal’s fruit. Neal’s vineyard is about an hour southwest of Lubbock, in the middle of the Cap Rock, at about 3600′ elevation, which gives warm days and cool nights during the growing season. The cool nighttime temperatures allow the grapes to develop their full sugars and flavors, which make rich, complex, full-bodied wines.
I like Chardonnay wine. Why are Chardonnays so different from winery to winery?
The names Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Temperanillo and many others are actually the name of the type of grape used to make that wine. For comparison, think of a Granny Smith or Pippin or Macintosh apple – all apples, but different types with their own flavors and characteristics. By federal law, in order to call a wine by its grape type, the wine must be made of at least 75 – 80% of that grape.
Other names such as Rhone, Chianti, Bordeaux and Burgundy are names of regions where the grapes are grown, and these wines will contain the dominant type of grapes grown in those regions – these grapes are typically not listed on the bottle, but if you learn about the great wine regions of the world you’ll come to understand that, for instance, most Bordeauxs are a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franch, while Chianti is legally required to be at least 90% Sangiovese grape.
So, to answer the question, each winery’s Chardonnay is different because the grapes are probably from a specific vineyard (which lends its own characteristics to the final wine) and made by a winemaker who puts their own touches on the wine, perhaps creating a distinctive style suited to the region.
How long can you use a barrel?
Barrels will impart oak flavors into a wine for about 2-3 years, a little less each year, kind of like using a tea bag – the first cup is strong, the second cup is weaker, the third cup is too light to care about. After they reach the point where they’re no longer giving any oak flavors they are called a ‘neutral vessel’. They can then be used for wine storage or simple decoration. (We’ve seen some fun furniture made from old barrels.) Barrel aging, besides adding the nuances of woody flavors (fresh tobacco, smoke, leather, cedar, vanilla, etc.) do the wine a huge service by concentrating it – water evaporates out of the pores of the wood very slowly, so your wine will concentrate 10 to 20% over a year’s time. This concentration makes the wine more intense in flavor and gives it more body and mouth feel. Barrels can go bad if they are not stored properly when empty. When this happens, they are taken out behind the winery and shot.
How do you keep a half empty bottle of wine?
Wine goes bad when exposed to oxygen. Since there is oxygen in the air we breathe, the first thing you want to do is remove as much air from the bottle as possible. You can use a couple of specially made devices for this – our favorite is Vac-U-Vin, which pulls a vacumn in the bottle. It has a special stopper that keeps the air out. If you don’t have one of these $10 devices (available at the tastintg room), blow into the bottle for several seconds – your exhaled breath has CO2 (carbon dioxide) in it, which will help protect the wine from the O2. Stopper the bottle with the cork (turning the cork upside down helps to get it back in), or use your favorite decorative stopper. Then, put the wine in the fridge – do NOT leave it on the kitchen counter. The warmth in the room will degrade it – the cool fridge will help you keep it longer.
If you don’t have a fancy wine cellar, how can you store bottles of wine?
Wine likes a cool, stable temperature, and lack of vibration and light. About the worst place in a house you could keep it would be in the laundry room right next to the dryer. Another bad place is on the top of refrigerator – the fridge vibrates, it’s hot up there, there’s a lot of light…. OK, so get a refrigerator thermometer from the grocery store (about 5 bucks), and find the place in your house that has the coolest, most stable temperature. Leave the thermometer in place for a week or so, and watch the temperature swing. If one place is cool and then warm, and one place is a little warmer but is stable, you will probably want to choose the warmer, stable spot (as long as it’s not too warm). Try to find a place that is not over 70-72 degrees. If you have a spot that is in the mid 60’s, all the better. Often a spot lower to the floor (since cold air drops) will be good. If there’s a lot of light in that location, cover the wine rack with a pretty cloth. Nice, inexpensive small wine fridges are available thru Costco and Home Depot for about $130 – a good investment to store your whites and better reds. You can also go a step bigger and convert a closet into a wine ‘cellar’ – there are specialized cooling units made for these applications. Check out www.iwawine.com, or www.wineenthusiast.com for various sized fridges, chillers, and a variety of wine accessories.
What is the best temperature to serve wine?
Most reds: about 60• Put your bottle of red wine in your fridge for about twenty minutes before you serve it. Do not leave it in too long – we like to say that cold makes wine ‘stupid’ – it does not express itself fully. If you get a glass of wine that is too cold, cup your hand around the bottom of the glass to warm it up. If you get a glass of wine that is too warm, you can drop an ice cube in it for about 20 seconds. Take the ice out, lest it dilute the wine.
There are exceptions to these guidelines – many rosés and lighter reds benefit from being served cooler than big reds – treat them like a white wine.
Most whites: about 50• The common household fridge is set to run at about 40 degrees. Put your bottle of white wine in the fridge for about an hour to cool it down. Take it out about 10 minutes before you serve.
“Room Temperature” – this really refers to cellars, which are commonly about 60-65•. Please, please, please do not think ‘room temperature’ means to serve a wine at 75 degrees – wine served too warm will quickly destroy its flavors and leave you with a glass of unpleasant, sour swill.
Should I decant? Does taking the cork out of the bottle help it breathe?
Pulling the cork out of the bottle only exposes the wine at the very top of the neck to air…the exposed volume is too small to do any good. Don’t bother.
Decanting, which is pouring the wine slowly into a decanter (to move the wine off of any sediment that may have been thrown in the bottle, and to carefully expose the wine to oxygen which will make the flavors and aromas more accessible) helps many red wines reveal their true nature. Some oaky white wines will also benefit. Do not decant fruity reds, most whites or dessert wines.
To properly decant a wine: Take it from your rack and set it upright for 24 hours to let any sediment fall to the bottom. Put a light behind the bottle (some folks use a candle for this) and watch the wine as you slowly pour it into the decanter – if there is sediment in the bottle you will see it move up towards the neck…. stop pouring before you pour the sediment into the decanter too! And, don’t stop pouring midway and then start again – you will mix up the sediment. Once you start, don’t stop until all the wine is out, leaving behind the sediment.
Does the glass I use really make the wine taste better or worse?
Yes. Yes. And yes. If you try to be quaint and use jelly jars or small, straight sided non-stem bistro glasses, you won’t get a quarter of the impact of the wine you’ve paid good money to appreciate.
Riedel (pronounced like ‘needle’) glassware is famous for demonstrating how the shape affects the tastes. You want a glass that has the appropriately shaped bowl, and with a top that curves in, not out, so as to hold in the aromas of the wine so you can better savor them. If you look at websites that sell wine glassware (Check out www.iwawine.com, or www.wineenthusiast.com) you will see some of the different glasses. The choices can be a little overwhelming if you’re not used to this type of shopping. At our house, we use a knockoff (made in Romania) of a Riedel Bordeaux style glass that we bought at Pier 1 for $7 a stem. That is our tip of the month. You break one, you don’t cry, and they do a lot more for the wine than the smaller, badly shaped cheap glasses. Or just bust loose with the cash and buy a couple of good glasses – you’ll never go back.