The Prohibition Sugar Spike; the Birth of Mass Type Two Diabetes?

lady-mary-crawley-downton-abbeyBejeweled earrings, flapper dresses and diabetes: we’re the twenties an era of almost all good things? To be fair, the current diabetes epidemic is likely rooted in multifaceted causes.

One of the earlier jump starting causes if you will, is this: your craving for sweets is replaced with your craving for booze and vice versa.

According to Barb Stuckley, author of “Taste What You’re Missing; The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Taste’s Good,” “the more you drink, the less likely you are to eat candies, cookies and cakes.”

“Taste” is the book responsible for my blue tongue blog post about three weeks ago and yes it does take me three weeks to read a single book these days.

Barb notes that US sugar consumption boomed in the 1920s post prohibition.  How crazy is that.  It does make sense that the two would fill the same void- ever drink too much and find yourself wide awake at 3 am?  Well don’t do it this weekend.  Happy Summer.  Ashley

Microwaving Wine


The microwave, invented by Percy Spencer shortly after World War II, was originally named the “Radarange.”

So it was a bit of a surprise when a taster suggested to do a ten second nuke on a glass of too cold wine.

Microwaves work by sending quickly fluctuating waves through food. Any food molecules that are polarized (think AA batteries: negative charge on one side, positive on the other) will try to align themselves with the wave but because it is moving so quickly, that alignment turns instead into a spin. The energy it takes to spin, produces heat. Water has high polarity so it starts spinning quickly.

It leads me to believe that with enough time, this spinning and heat would lead to new bonds and volatilization of some desired aromas and personality.

Someone out of France’s Languedoc-Roussillon region agreed with me but assumed that some good could come of it (different from my assumption).

Flash Detente (accents belong on that word but I’m blogging by phone so this is the best I can do) is a recently invented process by which wine must is heated to 180 degrees F and quickly cooled to 82 degrees F and sent down a vacuum chamber to contain alcohols and important phenolic volatiles. The idea is to use extreme heat to break down grape skin cell walls, extracting more goodies from the grapes while nuking off methoxypyrazines- known for grassy, vegetal and spicy aromas.

Opponents to the process, of which there are many, claim a cotton candy aroma to the finished product. Proponents are in love.

It is seldom used because it sounds insane and irreversible. I guess that could be said for both the good and bad in life.

Have a great weekend. Ashley

Cross Training


Last week was a “big week,” where I did lots of “heavy lifting” that was all “work related.”

I really wanted to dye my tongue blue (see last week’s post) but was not able to get around to it until this week because Monday and Tuesday I was doing blending trials in preparation for bottling on August 1st.  Wednesday I went to my manly tasting group (mostly men), where we drank copious amounts of Grand Cru white Burgundy.  It was earth shatteringly good.  Thursday night I went to my ladies’ tasting group (all ladies), where we tasted Sancerre and oddly enough, a rose Sancerre that was fantastic.

I am no expert in food coloring, but if thousands of dollars worth of wine enjoyment were at stake, I figured it would be best to hold off and approach with the theory: “taste now, dye later.”

All of this, of course, is in the good name of hard work.  “Cellar palate” is an affliction that so many professionals suffer from and it is, as MLK Jr. once said, “not only our right but our duty,” to work beyond it, to push the outer limits of our physical constraints. So I did.

Cellar palate is what happens to wine professionals who taste too much from their own cellar, or I would argue, their own region.  You forget how broad of a spectrum within which wine can work.  The confines become more confined.  While you think you are making a drastically different blend from your varietal next to it, you may be making a hazy photocopy.

Terroir, oak, vineyard techniques, yeast strains, maceration methods- the wine creation world is not only large, but overwhelmingly varied and at times the pitfall of comfort and clarity is appealing.  It is times like these when one must power through and prove one’ s professionalism and go drink amazing wines.

Cheers to hard work.  Have a good weekend, Ashley




Turquoise: The Tell Tale Hue


Pressing wine.


For those of you who enjoy turning anything into a competition: you’re welcome.

Some of us can’t smell “asparagus pee,” while others taste cilantro as soapy.  Certain people are more sensitive to acid where others are texture food eaters.  Smell and taste are clearly subjective.

They, in fact, are.

But for those of you who can’t help cramming every last ounce of objectivity into a competition (myself included), help is here.

Dye your tongue blue with food coloring.  Do this outside for obvious reasons.  Taste buds will shine more turquoise than the rest of the tongue.  Take a donut shaped sticker- the ones you used to use to protect hole punches in your school binders.  Place one on your tongue.  If you have over 40 turquoise taste buds within the hole, you win.  Under 15, you lose.  Anywhere in the middle, you are indeed mediocre. Gasp.

This must be taken with a grain of salt, unless you won, in which case, stand by the test vehemently.  Certain people have bald spots on their tongue from ear infections, bad dental work, who knows.  Any number of factors can contribute to the loss of taste buds including the inevitable and sad human ageing process.

If any of you have ever had a physical handicap, you might remember, or are currently noticing, that other parts of your body have gotten stronger to recoup the loss.  This too can happen with taste buds.

And there are people who have amazing taste buds but have never bothered to hone their naming skills.  They can tell you how much they hate the taste of something on a scale of 1-10, but they can’t tell you that it smells like cardamom because they’ve never bothered to think about cardamom while the spice jar was open.

Enjoy your now competitive weekend.  Ashley


Old Men With Drinking Solutions; Our Nation’s Leaders

Presidents get to be presidents because because they find solutions to the big questions in life. So who better to turn to for suggestions on what, in this wide, wide world, do we drink?

George Washington was the kind of man who would make my husband proud. He spent over $6000 on wine in one year, 1775. Almost all of it Madiera.

Thomas Jefferson was probably the president we most closely link to wine due to a vineyard that he planted by Monticello. What so many of us don’t know is that he was never able to try his own wines. The vines took too long to be fruitful.

An interesting novel, The Billionaire’s Vinegar,” details a true story about one of TJ’s wines being sold to someone at an auction for copious amounts of money when the wine actually was… Well I won’t spoil the surprise.

Rutherford B Hayes’ wife, Lucy Webb banned wines at the table. Despite her and the prohibition movement, wines were continually found at the White House.

Reagan, for obvious reasons, began serving more Californian wines.

Nixon used to pour the table mediocre French wines while simultaneously and secretly imbibing Chateaux Margaux as my daughter would say, “all by his lone.”

To his defense, and we’ve all been there, it is slightly painful sharing a gorgeous, precious bottle with someone who you know won’t notice it. But no, I’ve never pulled that move.

And upon his retirement, Carter began making his own wines.

Happy 4th. Drive Safely.


My Foe: The Water


In honor of this lovely day, let me say that water is so profoundly boring.

I understand that it is “necessary” to our “vitality,” but… ugh.

As someone who spends most waking moments trying to decipher what it is that I am smelling, tasting or feeling, I can honestly say that when done right, water is the crystallization of inconsequential.  

Tasting one’s way through the day, from the moment you wake up until the last blink before bed, is such a rich and present way to pass the time.  One surely has meaningful days or worthless days, thrilling days and days of pure, relentless sorrow. But if you focus on the beauty of the details throughout, it makes each moment more poignant.  With each passing new smell, there is a new association with a time or place or person.

The brain, as it happens, is organized so that the area of smell is adjacent to the hippocampus- the area where memories are made and stored.  It is the sense that is most closely linked to memory.  Red wine is doubly potent in that not only does it carry strong scents, but it is packed with antioxidants, which act against brain decay.  

Current theory stipulates that the reason smell and memory are so closely linked are so that once an animal remembers the smell of a food, he can go find it again.  Why water wouldn’t be the smelliest of objects then, is baffling.

We had the Walla Walla Chamber Music Festival play at the vineyard and winery last Friday and it was beautiful.  I might very well have a future association with Gamache Vineyard Malbec and Debussey.  And what a lovely thought that would be.  

So glad it wasn’t water.


Syrah: The Slave Boy Tea Bowl of Its Medium

Syrah: The Slave Boy Tea Bowl of Its Medium

Before there was tupperware, there were Korean slave boys. And those slave boys would throw tea bowls. They would throw thousands upon thousands of tea bowls that would land anywhere from heirloom to trash. They would then throw thousands upon thousands more. There is a school of thought that eventually, these tea bowls were a pure extension of the soul. There was no symmetry, no contrived stress in attempting a taller or fatter bowl, there was simply thoughtless movement, a pure release. Beautiful, right? This is not to say that the ends justified the means.

So when was the last time you bought a crooked tea bowl? Well, if you’re a dorky potter, maybe recently. But if you are the general Williams-Sonoma public, maybe it’s been a while.

Syrah is pretty similar. It is such a raw, dusty and bleeding grape- shriveled in the vineyard and gnarly in the bottle. Dirty earth, blueberry, black olive tapenade, licorice and black currant- this variety is not your adorable chocolate and cherry libation. Nor is it the black pepper full-fisted punch to the eyes that you can get with a huge cabernet. It is, instead, so full of soul and nuance that it lacks “symmetry.” It is the slave boy Korean tea bowl. It is one of the grapes experts love to love.

Winemakers love to make syrah. It is so sensuous and indicative of its native plot- the wind, the soil, the rain. It shows every last ray of sun or drop perspired. The tea bowl pictured above is worth more than my house. And that is how winemakers often feel about a grape like syrah.

Come try one of our Waters’ syrahs in the tasting room this weekend or stop by Walla Walla for our “Celebrate Weekend” honoring, you guessed it: syrah.

How Many Orange Types Can You Handle; The Molecular Friday Round

Orange_and_cross_sectionGivaudan, is a lab out of Cincinatti that is making your oranges. 4,000 of them in fact.

You don’t need 4,000 oranges you say? Well, according to the 101 of economics: supply and demand, you apparently do. They also make 3,000 chicken types and 6,000 versions of strawberry. 6,000.

Grapes need no Cincinatti. On their own, they contain thousands of volatile compounds. Thiols (guava, passionfruit, grapefruit etc.), terpenes (fruit and floral) and norisprenoids (honey-like) all come from the skin. The seeds and stems impart tannins to structure the framework within which you taste (smell really) and the pulp imparts tartness that keeps things lively.

So the next time you hear someone describe a wine as having “smoked boysenberry, tarred over with sprinkles of honeysuckle and raw coffee harvested by virgins on a Tuesday dawn,” roll your eyes and then try some. There might be something to it. At least half of it.

It might even taste better than 3,999 versions of orange.

How Pregnancy and Obesity in America is Affecting Your Winemaking

sumo 2

What if Christmas came twice a year?  What if, instead of Christmas being one day, or two days, it was September 5th- November 8th?  Every day.  Well welcome to winemaking.

Want some last second syrah? Done.  The sauv blanc was over-cropped but is miraculously packed with mature polyphenols?  Great.  Mother Nature feels like being awesome?  Thanks.  And suddenly you have the same sized barrel room as last year, only this year you have to pack in triple the barrels.

So you stack 4 high.  And then you line your rows extra tight.  Herein is the detail in which the Devil lays.  One month later, you have to top.  And if you don’t want elevated levels of acetic acid, acetaldehyde, ethyl acetate, or any number of other issues, you’re going to want to top every last barrel.

If what you’re going for is mass production of nail polish remover or vinegar, take this route.  But if you’re interested in making fine wines, better get skinny enough to fit through those barrel rows and start topping.

It has been a joy coming back to work.  But I was thinking the other day, it is such a deeper, more vivid joy to no longer be a pregnant winemaker.




Tasting Hard

I spent last night tasting wines, beer and spirits as a quasi consultant for a chocolate company that wants to publish chocolate and beverage pairings. Chocolate isn’t actually the best pairing for any wine- but no one including myself wants to dwell on that for very long, so we trudged through.



The Windrow petit verdot went really nicely with one of the darker chocolates filled with cocoa nibs. The Phinny Hill Malbec went nicely with a medium bodied chocolate with some berry notes in it. And the Waters rose went well with a milk chocolate.

I spent so long tasting through that flight that I had no palate left for all of the 2012 and 2013 barrel samples that I had pulled from our cellar to map out my next 4 months.

Instead, I tasted those- wait for it- at 5:30 this morning. Post diaper change, pre-asparagus strata.

My son wakes up at 5:20 each morning, so there we were, bottles lined up and ready to go, no coffee taint on the tongue, no egg smell in the house. Aside from the cultural taboo, it was the perfect time for tasting, so I went for it. Don’t judge. Ashley