Fruit of the Vine

Being Irish, I know I should be writing this week about green beer and the best places to eat corned beef. But instead, I want to talk about wine. A few months back, I embarked on yet another round of winemaking. I try to do this once a year, but for some reason, I didn't do it last year. But I am happy to report that the 2010 wine is done. It took a few months but now I get to sit back and reap the benefits of my labor. The reason I make wine is not because it's cheaper, although it does work out to be slightly cheaper than buying wine in the package store. Typically, the wine I make in bulk will last me a year or two, depending on how many parties I throw or how many gifts I give away. So, no, I don't sit around and drink all that wine myself. I give it away mostly.

For some reason, when I tell people that I make wine, they somehow think it's free; that it didn't cost me anything. This is similar to owning a pool. I've had conversations with people who don't own pools who think, "It's just water. Water is free". Ah, but the chemicals that keep the water clear aren't free. And the electricity to run the pump isn't free. And the inevitable parts that break every year that need to be replaced aren't free. And my hourly rate of having to skim the leaves, vacuum, add the chemicals, hook everything up, is not free.

In that same vein, homemade wine is not free to make. It requires an initial outlay of cash for the equipment. Then one has to purchase a kit or ingredients to make the wine. Then there are chemicals that need to be purchased to make sure the wine turns to alcohol, clears, and stabilizes. And just like a pool, there is always the need to replace broken equipment parts. Not to mention the cost of maintaining a certain degree of temperature in the room that the wine is being made. Time and labor over just cleaning and sanitizing bottles is enough to make most people not indulge in the hobby. Similar to how people come to visit and jump in the "free" pool, people like to partake in the "free" wine. Neither of which bothers me. I like to share. I'm just pointing out that it isn't free.

The reason I make wine is the same reason why I drink it. I find that every bottle of wine I have ever had is different. A new experience with every new bottle. No two bottles of wine are the same. Whether that's due to the pairings of the food that accompany the wine, or the outside elements like who you are sharing that bottle with, the taste is always different; the smell is different; the pairing it with different foods changes it's taste altogether. One can buy the same bottle, brand, year, etc. but, in my experience, every variable changes the experience so it's not the same. I love sharing a bottle of wine with someone and comparing notes on it.

With all the different options of wine there are, it always amazes me when people say they don't like wine. How do they know they don't like wine? I want to ask, "Have you tried every kind out there? Have you tried every year and every grape? [Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Petit Syrah, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris, Chablis, Chianti, OMG, the list goes on and on.] Or did you have Ruinite or Boone's Farm, throw up, and then decided you hate all wine????" I view all wine as being so different, that I can't even imagine ruling them ALL out. It's like saying, "I hate all fruit." Really? Have you tried every single one? I know that some wine can taste really awful. Did you know that an actual tasting note of wine can be things like dirt? Even tar is a taste in wine and there is nothing wrong with it. If one's first experience with wine is tasting those flavors then I can see why someone would be turned off. But my point is, not all wine tastes the same.

I am not a sommelier by any means. But my favorite wine is a wine from California. It's called Rosenblum Kathy Cuvee's 2005 Viognier (pronounced vee-on-yay). This wine tastes like apricots, pineapples, and lychee nuts all wrapped up in a full body and has a long finish, which means the taste lingers even after swallowing. It's happiness in liquid form. The first time I had it was at the Mall of America at the Napa Valley Grille Restaurant. Upon getting home, I ordered a case of it. I just recently found a place in New Jersey that had 9 bottles left, bought them all and had them shipped to my house. Seriously, this is the best wine for under $20 a bottle. And it must be 2005. I have a case of 2006 that I ordered by mistake but it isn't the same. Every year the grapes change due to climate and other conditions so 2006 is not as good as the 2005, but still quite enjoyable. Rosenblum has 2008 out now but I haven't tried it yet. There's something gluttonous about making 120 bottles of wine and going to the package store and buying a bottle. So I'll be waiting a while to try the 2008.

In making wine, it's the ultimate experience, because not only have I made it myself, but it's the intrigue of how it will turn out. Also, the joy of having others taste it. They find different things in it that my palate may not have picked up on. Every bottle is an adventure and is something to be shared. Plus, unlike all the other self-medicating options there are out there, I like the way a nice glass of wine makes me feel. Relaxed and at home. Brad Garrett's character Robert Barone on an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond , while sitting back and enjoying a glass of wine, he said "Ahhhh. Wine. It makes you comfortable with your own body." I love that.

OK, so here are some of the wines I made this time around:

To the right is a picture of the Blueberry wine I made. The verdict is still out on whether it's any good or not. I'm letting it age in the bottle for a while to see if it gets smoother. Right now it's a little rough around the edges. It might be perfect for summer.

I also made Port this time around. This is a picture of my regular Port and Chocolate Port. This is best for the winter months. It's
stronger than wine so the intent is to sip it like brandy. I asked Rachel to draw me a picture of what "warmth" meant to her. Being winter, she drew her cat, Swiffur, by the fireplace. That became my label for this warm and cozy treat. They are both full bodied, sweet and served as a dessert wine or after dinner drink. My port will warm the cockles of any one's heart. This won't be ready until next fall. Just in time for Christmas.

Also pictured are some port pipes. Not pot pipes. Port pipes. Port is served room temperature, not cold. In olden times, men would drink brandy and port from pipes such as the ones in the pictures so they could warm it up. The idea is to pour the port in the barrel and then warm the barrel up with one's hand. The heat from your hand warms the alcohol and lets is "breathe". It makes it a more soothing and enjoyable experience. Once warm, one sips through the mouthpiece. I have several port pipes as collector pieces. Mostly, they just sit in a cabinet on display. But I have been known to break them out at the end of a dinner party to let my friends enjoy the experience.

Next is my peach wine that I call Opici (pronounced o-peach-ee and pictured on the right in the picture). This one is my own recipe and I have never shared the recipe with anyone. One of those things I'll take to the grave. Usually when someone hears the word peach, they conjure up "sweet". Typically peach wines are sweet. But not mine. I have mastered the art of making a peach wine that is dry. Hard to imagine, I know. But ask anyone that has tried my Opici and they will tell you, it's good. Every time I make wine I make Opici because I have it down to a science now and know how it will turn out. It's an old standby, should all the other wine turn to undrinkable vats of yack. (And it has happened. Add all that waste to the cost!) But Opici I can make with my eyes blindfolded and is drinkable every time.

The other bottle in this picture (on the left in the picture) is my attempt to recreate Rosenblum's Kathy's Cuvee Viognier. This wine was made from a kit that I bought. A kit is simply buying the grape concentrate already stomped and pressed and it comes with all the chemicals and ingredients needed to make the wine. I'm not hopeful that it will match my expectations, but will know more come the summer after it ages in the bottle for a few months. I'm warning you all now. If this kit turns out like Rosenblum's, I'm becoming a full blown wino. (As if you're not thinking that I am already.)

Unlike the above, where the grape juice is pre-packaged and comes in a kit, the picture to the right is of my OWN Cuvee. (Cuvee is the type of yeast I used to turn
the sugar to alcohol) This wine gave me some trouble but I'm hoping it was worth it. Upon first tastings, it's full bodied, almost like an ice wine (Ice wine is where they take grapes and upon the first frost, they squeeze the layer of juice that is between the skin of the grape and meaty part of the grape, where there is a thin layer of juice. Usually this only produces 1-2 droplets of juice. Therefore, ice wine can be very expensive. It is typically very sweet and is a dessert wine.) Anyway, back to my Cuvee, it tastes right now like lychee nut and pineapple. Quite yummy but will know more in a few months after it ages a bit more.

Would you like to know what 120 bottles of homemade wine looks like and where does one store it? You store it in the wine cellar, of course. Ok, so it's not quite a wine cellar, like one would have in Tuscany. But it is a cellar and it does have a sign on the basement door that reads "Wine Cellar". Close enough. The temperature in my basement is perfect for wine. It never gets hot down there and it never gets too cold. My house was built on a ledge (hence Ledge-yard!) so the rock keeps it nice and cool. Wine needs to lay flat to keep the cork moist so I had to buy a rack. This is what it looks like in my basement.

My Kaneclusion: In moderation, they are finding that wine has health benefits. So I'm taking that seriously and I'm stocking up. For those of you that don't drink wine, you don't know what you're missing.

I think Benjamin Franklin said it best:
Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.

I believe that. And I'm following in Jesus' footsteps by turning water into wine. If you're not religious, then here's a little known fact that may (or may not) interest you. Johnny Depp has a tattoo* that reads "Wino Forever". Many have looked like Johnny Depp to me after drinking wine. Now tell me you don't like wine!

(*This same tattoo once read 'Winona Forever'!)

OK, for a little bit of Irish for St. Paddy's Day AND wine, here's a song for you. And I hope none of you end up like this this week!!!!

And They Call It Puppy Love

I have an announcement to make. Now, just so we're clear, I'm only telling some of my closest friends. And that's you. So don't be going around telling everyone. I like to keep my private life private. So I'm trusting you with this information. So please keep it to yourself. Are you ready? Okay. Deep breath...

I am in-love, people! Yes, it's true. I have finally found the man of my dreams and I have fallen hook, line and sinker. He's absolutely perfect for me. We met a few months ago and, at first, I didn't care for him all that much. But we've gotten to know each other quite well over time, and now I find myself looking forward to seeing him at the end of the day. I wake up in the middle of the night just to make sure he's still here in bed with me. I roll over and touch him, just to make sure he is real. I ask myself why it took me so long to find someone like him and why I put it off for so long.

He's very handsome, and yet can be kind of goofy. He's not perfect by any means. He's hairy and he snores. But I can overlook those things. He's gray. But aren't we all? Or at least will be someday? I guess for me, he IS perfect. He's playful, gentle, and super easy to please. He likes staring at me when I'm in the shower. At first this was unnerving because I'm kind of modest. But he's into that kind of thing and I have learned that it's just his curiosity. So I have learned to ignore him while he does it. If it amazes him to see me taking a shower than that's okay with me.

It seems like he's always been here. Ever meet someone like that? I don't know what life was before him. He has changed my life. And no, this is not a puppy love, like Donny Osmond sang about...

And sure, this might just be the "honeymoon phase" where everything he does is cute and funny. And I'm sure that this, too, will come to an end someday. But for now, I'm glad and relieved that the search is over. I think he feels the same way about me. He even let me know recently that he too is tired of the whole "cat and mouse game". That's when I knew he was a keeper. Scroll down to see the new love of my life...

Wait for it...

This is Swiffur, my new love, tired of the cat and mouse game.

Yes, that's right. I admit it. The cat that I didn't want Santa Claus to bring has wormed his way into my heart. He's become the light in the house. When we come home, the first question is "Where's Swiffur?" Never has there been a cat that has gotten so much attention. And he knows he's the man of the house, the way he saunters around, with a slow confident stride, that screams, "look at how beautiful I am". The attitude on this cat! It's like, instead of "get me a beer woman" it's "fill up my cat dish people". Such a manly attitude. So cute.

Speaking of "worming" his way into my heart and this newfound testosterone manliness, we took Swiffur back to Petco for his follow up booster shot, worming and rabies shot. This trip was much different from the one before. (Is He or Isn't She) Unlike last time when he tore the vet techs to shreds with his claws, this time we decided to take Edward Swiffurhands to the grooming place to have his claws clipped FIRST. We're getting smarter about this. Unfortunately, they couldn't do it until he got his rabies shot. So, we joined the other 96 people in line, with their mangy dogs and cats, and waited for 2 hours to get shots. I am happy to report that Swiffur was much different this time. He didn't let out a meow that stopped people in their tracks this time. He took it like a man. First a shot in the hind leg, then in the shoulder, then a syringe down his throat for worming. All without as much as a meow. He even let the vet tech feel to see if he is a boy. Last time, and for the last 4 months, it's been debatable. The last vet tech told us she was 90% sure he was a he. But that 10% still had us wondering. So we had this vet tech check again. Sure enough, he has "one testicle coming down into the sack", said the male vet tech. I figure a male vet tech has a better form of reference than the 20 year old female vet tech that examined him last time. So we're going with it.

SWIFFUR IS A BOY! Woohoo! No getting knocked up and having kittens in the house! (But we will have to worry about him sneaking out late at night and taking the car. Boys will be boys.)

When we got him home, he was lethargic again for the next couple of days like the last round of shots. Now, I know what I'm about to say is strange, because nobody wants their kids or loved ones to be sick. But there is something so great about when your kid has a cold and has to stay home from school and you get to pamper them back to wellness. I think I like it because they get needy. I would never want my child or my animal to be in this state permanently. I don't envy parents that have to deal with chronic illnesses or deadly diseases and have to be in this state full time. But on the once a year occasion, when my kids are sick and I get to nurse them back to health, it brings out the maternal side of me and fills my heart with love, compassion, and joy over the need to take care of another human being. My kids are so independent that it feels like this is the only time they need me. Is that wrong? Anyway, Swiffur was listless for a few days and we all loved being gentle with him and bringing him to his water so he would drink. And of course, again, lifting him on to the bed and such because without claws, he would attempt to jump like he had before and end up just sliding off. (You would think he would learn that he can't do that after getting his claws clipped. But no. Swiffur is beautiful to look at, but admittedly, Swiffur isn't too swift. A common saying around the house.) Anyway, this is what a Swiffur looks like after a trip to Petco...

My Kaneclusion: Pussycat, Pussycat, I love you. Yes I do. You and your pussy cat and your pussy cat and your pussy cat nose.