What the heck is a Blog?

Who is Jack Keller?
Jack Keller lives with his wife Donna in Pleasanton, Texas, just south of San Antone. Winemaking is his passion and for years he has been making wine from just about anything both fermentable and nontoxic.

Jack has developed scores of recipes and tends to gravitate to the exotic or unusual, having once won first place with jalapeno wine, second place with sandburr wine, and third with Bermuda grass clippings wine.

Jack was five times the President of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild, is a certified home wine judge, frequent contributor to WineMaker Magazine, creator and author of The Winemaking Home Page and of Jack Keller's WineBlog, the first wine blog on the internet, ever. He grows a few grapes, now works at being retired, and is slowly writing a book on -- what else? -- winemaking.

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Some Other Wine Blogs

There are hundreds of wine blogs. According to Alder Yarrow (see below), none have been around as long as Jack Keller's WineBlog, but 99% of these newcomers are for wine consumers, not winemakers. They have anointed themselves the official "wine blogosphere." You can count on both hands those of us bloggers dedicated to actually making the stuff they write about, and yet our blogs are largely ignored by this elite. Still, they exist and are important. There are some who write for the buyer / consumer but still occasionally talk about the making of wine, even if they usually are talking about making it in 125,000-liter stainless steel tanks. Or they might talk about grape varieties, harvests in general, the cork-screwcap debate, stemware, or other subjects I think you might find interesting. They're worth reading even if you aren't interested in their tasting notes. Then again, that just might be your cup of tea. Here are a few of them I like, listed in a loose alphabetical order (by blogger):

Alder Yarrow's
Vinography: A Wine Blog

Ben Evert's
Making Homemade Wine and Beer, about home winemaking

Ben Hardy's
Ben's Adventures in Wine Making, a very fun read from across the Atlantic

Charlie Short's
Clueless About Wine

Chef Neil's
A Wine Making Fool's Blog, a lot of fun to read

Chris Nuber's
Texas Wine Blog, a good, unbiased read

Darcy O'Neil's
The Art of Drink

Eric Asimov's
The Pour

Washington Winemaker

Frugal Wine Making

Ian Scott's
The Home Winery, about home winemaking

James Jory's
Second Leaf, about home winemaking

Jamie Goode's
Jamie Goode's Wine Blog

Jeff Lefevere's
The Good Grape: A Wine Manifesto

My Wines Direct

Chez Ray Winemaking

Karien O'Kennedy's
New World Winemakeer Blog

Ken Payton's
Reign of Terrior, lots of good interviews

Ken W.'s

Wine Amateur

Marisa D'Vari's
A Wine Story

Mary Baker's
Dover Canyon Winery

My Wine Education

Mike Carter's
Serious About Wine

Mike McQueen's
Life on the Vine

Noel Powell's
Massachusetts Winemaker

Noel Powell's
Random Wine Trails

[no name]'s
Budget Vino...for the $10 and Under Crowd

[no name]'s
Two Bees Wine, about home winemaking

Russ Kane's
Vintage Texas, searching for Texas terroir

Sondra Barrett's
Wine, Sex and Beauty in the Bottle

Steve Bachmann's
The Wine Collector: Practical Wine Collecting Advice

Vines & Wines

Thomas Pellechia's
VinoFictions, interesting variety

Tim Patterson's
Blind Muscat's Cellarbook

Tim Vandergrift's
Tim's Blog, a humorous and enjoyable flow from Wine Expert's Tim V.

Tom Wark's
Fermentation: the Daily Wine Blog

Tyler Colman's
Dr. Vino's Wine Blog

Who is Jack Keller?
How to contact Jack Keller:

Remove the patriotic colors and replace the parenthetical items with their symbols.


WineBlog Archives

Blog entries are generally presented in reverse chronological order, with earlier entries at the bottom and recent ones at the top so the newer can be read first. An archive is more useful if the entries are presented chronologically. I have thus rearranged them as such.

January 5th, 2013

With all my heart I wish a belated Happy New Year to one and all. If 2012 was not a great year for you, let's hope 2013 is better. If 2012 was great for you, let's hope 2013 is at least as good.

The 2013 WineMaker magazine International Amateur Wine Competition will be judged April 19-21. The deadline for entry is March 15th. Entry fee is $25 per wine but the sense of accomplishment, if you place, is exhilarating. Details are on the WineMaker magazine website (link following this day's entry). I mention this so you can make plans for sending in your entries. Now is not too early.

If you are not a subscriber to WineMaker magazine, you should be. It is, in my opinion, the best continuing bargain for the home winemaker one can buy. Already subscribe? Why not give a newbie or wannabe winemaker a gift subscription as a belated Christmas gift or just an act of kindness? They will forever be in your debt....

WineMaker Magazine

Bread pudding with Frangelico sauce

I have received six wonderful emails praising my recipe for bread pudding with Frangelico sauce published in my last WineBlog entry. I can't thank you six enough for your feedback. I was especially appreciative of this one from Constance Ryan of Chicago.

"Mr. Keller, we received a bottle of Frangelico hazelnut liqueur for Christmas and had no idea what to do with it. Your recipe was a Godsend. I used French bread instead of Italian bread because I had a fresh loaf on hand. I could not imagine that it made a great difference since it was so good, but by popular demand from my husband and two daughters I had to make it again. Since I needed bread, I bought an Italian loaf. It did make a difference. We also had another brand of spiced rum on hand which I used both times, but because the bread made a difference I sent my husband out to buy some Sailor Jerry's and another bottle of Frangelico. My third batch was exactly according to your recipe and I have to say it is the very best bread pudding any of us have ever eaten. Many, many thanks from all of us for what has already become a family favorite."

To help Constance and others use up that bottle of Frangelico on something other than my Bread Pudding with Frangelico Sauce, the next section is for you.

Frangelico Recipes

Frangelico Iced Chocolate Cake cocktail

If you've made my Bread Pudding with Frangelico Sauce (see second intro item, above) and want to know what else you can do with that bottle of Frangelico Original Hazelnut Liqueur, here are some ideas, from simple to more complex. All are simply yummy.

Frangelico and Chocolate

2 oz Frangelico Original Hazelnut Liqueur
6 oz hot chocolate

Pour the Frangelico hazelnut liqueur into a mug of hot chocolate, stir briefly and serve. Great to serve arriving guests in front of the fireplace.

Frangelico Iced Chocolate Cake

1 oz Frangelico Original Hazelnut Liqueur
1 oz SKYY Infusion Citrus Vodka

You read it right...no chocolate in this drink, but the name fits. You can enrich it by adding an ounce of Cream de Cacao. Combine ingredients in a short rocks glass and enjoy.

Friar Tuck

  • 1 oz Frangelico Original Hazelnut Liqueur
  • 1 oz dark Creme de Cacao
  • 2 oz cream

Combine, shake and pour into a v-shaped cocktail glass and garnish with cinnamon.

Heavenly Orgasm

  • 1 oz Frangelico Original Hazelnut Liqueur
  • 1/2 oz Amaretto Almond Liqueur
  • 1/2 oz Bailey's Irish Cream

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker half-filled with crushed ice. Strain into and old fashion glass 1/3 filled with ice cube. One sip and you'll know how it got its name.

For more recipes for Frangelico Original Hazelnut Liqueur, see the link following this day's entry.

Easy Hazelnut Wine

Cafe al Fresco Gormet Hazelnut Syrup

I was looking in the pantry for a jar of sliced dill pickles when I noticed a bottle of sugar free hazelnut syrup I had bought on sale some time back. When something stays in my pantry several months, chances are it has taken up residence. I should not allow that. I grabbed it to try in my coffee. Suddenly, something clicked in my brain and 30 minutes later I was beginning what would become a hazelnut wine.

The key to using any flavoring in a wine is to study the label carefully. This particular syrup contained both sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate as preservatives, each of which can be used to biologically stabilize a wine. That being the case, I knew I could not add this syrup to a must. But I also didn't think I needed to. I could make a neutral flavored wine and add the syrup to it after fermentation is complete.

I had several potential choices. Water and sugar will make a true neutral wine, but anyone who has made it knows it is as thin as water and actually has no redeeming value. So, my first choice was to make a rhubarb wine and add the syrup when fermentation was complete. While rhubarb has its own flavor, the wine will readily adopt just about any other flavor added to it. Unfortunately, I didn't have any rhubarb.

Next on my list of choices was to make a Niagara wine from Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate. While not a true neutral wine, it easily lends itself to added flavors. I cut my list right here and opened the freezer. Thirty minutes later I pitched yeast in a starter solution into a primary. It was an easy wine to make, so thought I'd share it with you.

To make the must, combine the following:

  • 2 11.5-oz cans Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate, thawed
  • 1 lb 2 oz very fine granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 1/8 tsp powdered grape tannin
  • 6 pts plus 1/2 cup water
  • 1 pkt general purpose wine yeast

Combine all but the yeast in a primary. Starting specific gravity should be exactly 1.090. Remove 1 cup of must and pour into a 1 pint mason jar and sprinkle the yeast in it (do not stir). When yeast proves viable add to must. Ferment 7 days and transfer to secondary. Do not top up, add 1 finely crushed Campden tablet and attach an airlock. Wait 30 days and rack. Do not top up. Reattach airlock. Wait additional 30 days and rack again. Add 375 mL bottle (12.7 fl oz) of sugar free hazelnut syrup (any brand will do).and another finely crushed Campden tablet. Reattach airlock. Set aside 60 days. Either rack and then bottle or carefully rack into bottles and set aside 3 months before drinking. Alcohol should be about 11%. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

The syrup lifts this wine off dryness, but it isn't sweet. The hazelnut flavor is subtle but there. I think it would be better with 1 1/2 bottles of the syrup or possibly even two, but that would change the recipe and I haven't done it so cannot guide you. I've added 16 drops of hazelnut extract to the bottle I opened and that improved the flavor considerably. I arrived at 16 by first adding 10, then 2 more after stirring and tasting, then 2 more, and finally 2 more. I think 1 1/2 teaspoons to the gallon would have been about right for the whole, or the extra syrup as mentioned, but only if one wants the stronger hazelnut flavor.

Even without adding extra syrup or extract, this is a nice, subtle wine, better chilled than not. Adding the extract simply intensifies the flavor and is not considered necessary unless pairing this wine with a strong competing flavor. I initially drank this wine while enjoying Monet Original Entertainer Crackers generously covered with Giovanni's Lobster Spread with Cognac. Perhaps the richness of the spread made the addition of extract seem desirable. I finished the enhanced bottle that evening with a lettuce, spinach and cucumber salad (no dressing) and the hazelnut flavor was loud and strong. I will drink my next bottle without adding extract.

January 13th, 2013

Tuesday a friend called to inform me that his emails to me were bouncing because my mailbox was full. I deleted about 700 emails and clicked "Send/Receive", but nothing happened. I called my ISP and discovered I had to delete them from the mail server to free up room. Once I was certain what to do I deleted every message I received in 2012 as I already had them backed up on my computer.

Why do I mention this? It has something to do with the message on my Home Page asking you NOT to write to me, and warning that if you do I probably won't answer you. Despite this message, many, many people write to me anyway. Most are not looking for a response, but some are. I disappoint many but answer some. Every now and then I answer one and the person interprets that as an invitation to write to me almost daily, asking one question after another. I usually drop a hint or two and the emails stop, but sometimes I have to get rude. I hate having to do that, but today's exercise in message deletion might shed light on why it is necessary.

In 2012 I received 10,931 emails, not counting those filtered into my Spam folder. I know because I deleted them. The biggest month was December, with 1,327 emails. I'm estimating about a third were holiday or birthday greetings.

Although I don't have time to answer even 10% of the emails I receive, it might surprise you that I read almost every one of them, with the exception of obvious spam that my filter missed, obvious chain-mail, and assorted other email I can tell from the subject I don't want to read. Finally, I also don't read emails without a subject.

Please, use discretion when mailing me, and don't expect an answer. That way if I do reply you'll be surprised instead of getting upset when I don't (yes, I get nasty-grams from people I didn't reply to).

Tuesday we had a $20 rain – a light sprinkle all day in which every drop soaked into the ground with no wasted runoff. I call it a $20 rain because that's approximately how much it saved me from having to water my 2-acre lawn. Then, around 10 o'clock at night, it turned into a real downpour that lasted most of the night.

I don't know how much rain we got. My rain gauge overflowed at 5.5 inches. But I'm grateful for every drop of it.

'Ghost Riders In the Sky' by Chase Stone

I woke up with "Ghost Riders In the Sky" stuck in my head. But it wasn't just any version of this classic song of the old west, but the electric rock version by The Outlaws.

The song was written by Stan Jones back in 1948, based on a folk tale he had been told when he was only 12. The story was of a cowboy who sees a herd of red-eyed, steel-hooved cattle thundering across the sky, chased by the spirits of cowboys damned to do this for eternity. One tells him he had better change his ways or he would be joining them one day.

The song, released as "Ghost Riders In the Sky," "Riders In the Sky," "Ghost Riders," and "The Legend," has been charted by The Outlaws, Vaughn Monroe, Bing Crosby, Frankie Lane, Burl Ives, Marty Robbins, The Ramrods, and Johnny Cash, but over 50 artists have recorded it. My earliest memory of it was Gene Autry singing it in the 1949 movie "Riders in the Sky." I was only 5 at the time and remember seeing it at the Round-Up Drive-In Theater in Lake Charles, Louisiana with my folks and my sister.

The following video displays the words to the song while being sung and played by The Outlaws. Enjoy....

The Outlaws omit the final verse of the song but their version is still my favorite:

As the riders loped on by him he heard one call his name,
"If you want to save your soul from hell a-riding on our range,
Then cowboy change your ways today or with us you will ride
A-try'ng to catch the devil's herd
Across these endless skies."
Yippee-yi-ay, yippee-yi-o,
The ghost herd in the sky.
Ghost riders in the sky.

Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours

'Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours' [Hardcover with slip case]

My wife bought me this astounding book for my birthday. If you've used any of Jancis Robinson's (OBE and Master of Wine) previous references, you know the quality of her writing. Joined here with Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz, this 1,280-page hardcover book with slip case is the latest word in grape identification and description. Extensive use of DNA analysis reveals the parentage and relationships of nearly 1,400 grape varieties. I treasure it and handle it reverently.

Weighing in at 6.7 pounds, this is not a field guide and is not cheap, but it largely replaces over a dozen books in my library that together cost more than three times what this one sells for. And only one of the others uses any DNA analysis at all and even then very limitedly, mainly because it is such a recent tool and the data somewhat difficult to obtain and then interpret.

The book contains a rich variety of full-color illustrations from Viala and Vermorel's century-old classic ampelography. Truly, these are masterpieces of art of the grape. Besides the coverage of the history, growing conditions and wine potential of nearly 1,400 distinct varieties, the book also lists the many synonyms for the many varieties, an indispensible feature when trying to find a grape that has many regional names.

This work is not perfect in execution. Using extremely thin paper to keep the size manageable, it nonetheless lays 2 5/8 inches thick without the slip case. The thin paper is not opaque and print on the reverse of any page is slightly visible, making reading at times a chore. Yet if the paper were only half again as thick the book would be an unwieldy 4 inches thick and weigh over 10 pounds.

Another problem is that there are 14 pedigree charts spread throughout. Most are two pages facing, but some are facing pages with a foldout. On some charts the content dips into the binding and there cannot be read, but all of the charts are available online, thanks to Jancis (see her Purple Pages, available but only by subscription). If the missing data is important to you, it can be obtained for one month's subscription fee.

These problems aside, the book is worth every penny asked and the content is excellent. I love it. It may seem relatively expensive, but only compared to far lesser books. The book lists for $175, but is available on Amazon for $97.75 with free shipping. It can be obtained from third party book sellers for $1 less, but with shipping fees added. Considering the content, it is worth the money at either of the prices mentioned, imperfections and all.

If you are at all interested in this book, which you should be if you grow or plan to grow wine grapes, please click HERE and order it through my Amazon portal. I will receive a small commission that will help support the costs of bringing you this WineBlog and The Winemaking Home Page. You will get a great book at a discounted price and I will be in your debt.

Mustang Port

Late-hanging Mustangs (September 2012) at Pleasanton,Texas

I pulled the February-March 2013 issue of WineMaker magazine from my mailbox today and confirmed my article on making Mustang Port was in there (pp 46-51). I've had a number of emails on that subject but did not want to address it until the article came out as a professional courtesy. Since I know a lot of folks in mustang country have bags of these grapes in their freezers, let's make some port wine....

The mustang grape is not at all a perfect wine grape. It is highly and unusually flavored, rich in tannins, high in acid, and low in sugar. Despite these unseemly characteristics, it is so plentiful in Texas that the very first American and European settlers tackled the grape, determined to see what kind of wine could be made from it. What it produced was so good, albeit unlike anything they had tasted before, that they made wine by the thousands of gallons. Indeed, the first commercial wineries in Texas made Mustang Wine exclusively.

One has to add both sugar and water to mustang juice to make wine. The water is essential to dilute the acid and strong flavor, but adjusting the quantity of grapes used per gallon of wine is the biggest flavor regulator. For a "jug wine" for personal consumption I will use a little as 4 pounds of mustang grapes per gallon. For something I want to be proud of I will use between 6 and 8 pounds per gallon – with 8 being the better number. For making a port, I generally us 10 pounds per gallon. This will produce about 3.6 pints of juice which is ameliorated with 4.4 pints of water to produce a gallon – less water is actually required because of the volume increase from the added sugar. These numbers are for average-size grapes but big mustangs yield considerably better numbers than this (by about 50%) and thus the winemaker really has to work with what the grapes provide.

To make Port I want to start with a must chaptalized to 1.118 s.g. and fermentation arrested at 1.028. This will give me a 12% alcohol wine with some residual sweetness that I will fortify to port levels %18 to 22% abv. Fortification is accomplished according to the sound math provided by using the Pearson Square.

Pearson Square, annotated

To use the Pearson Square, you need to know three things to solve for the other two. If you know the percentage alcohol by volume (abv) of the fortifier (A), the percentage abv of the wine to be fortified (B) and the desired abv of the port you are making (C), you can calculate the ratio of the wine (D) to fortifier (E).

For example, if the fortifier is 80-proof (40% abv) brandy, the wine is 12% abv mustang and you want a 20% abv port, subtract B (12) from C (20) to solve D (8 parts of brandy) and subtract C (20) from A (40) to solve E (20 parts of wine), or 2 parts brandy to 5 parts wine. If you have 1 US gallon (3.785 liters) of mustang wine, you need to add 2/5 of that amount (roughly 1.5 liters or 50.72 fluid ounces) of brandy, or 6 cups and 2 ounces. The result will be 5.285 liters of port, or seven 750mL bottles and a shot for your efforts.

Fermenting to a higher alcohol level will require less brandy, but with 12% abv wine the brandy required works out to exactly two 750 mL bottles of brandy. You can get by with less spirit if you use 190-proof Everclear, but the port will take longer aging to "smooth out."

Here is a recipe for Mustang Port. It uses dried malt extract as a body-builder and makes an excellent port. It also uses heat to extract color, tannins and juice from the grapes. One can eliminate the heating and simply crush the grapes cold and ferment as usual. The heat produces a deeper colored and more tannic port-styled wine, capable of aging for many, many years. This recipe is one of two in the WineMaker magazine article (three recipes if you count the one for Mustang Wine).

  • 10 lbs ripe mustang grapes
  • 2 lb 15.2 oz granulated sugar
  • 1/2 c dry or extra light dry malt extract
  • 4 pts 6 oz water
  • 1 crushed Campden tablet
  • 1/4 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 pkt recommended wine yeast*

*I strongly recommend you use one of the following wine yeasts, each of which can handle the high sugar content of the must where other yeasts might fail to even start fermentation: Red Star Pasteur Red, Lalvin BDX, ICV-D21, K1-V1116, or RC212.

Wash and destem the grapes. Place in large stainless steel pot with one cup of water and set over low to medium heat, covered, but do not allow to boil. Stir with wooden paddle every few minutes until grapes break apart and juice oozes out. Allow to cool in the pot off the heat. Meanwhile, boil remaining water and pour over sugar in crock or plastic primary, stirring to dissolve. When water has cooled, stir in dry malt extract and stir until dissolved. When grapes are tepid, pour grape juice and pulp into primary with juice. Add water mixture, acid blend, yeast nutrient and pectic enzyme. Cover and set aside 10-12 hours. Add finely crushed Campden tablet, stir, cover, and set aside another 10-12 hours. Add activated yeast in a starter solution and re-cover primary.

Use wooden paddle to push down cap twice daily for 5 days. Strain pulp into nylon straining bag and press pulp well to extract residual juice. Add pressed juice to primary and measure sg. Retain in primary until target (1.028) is reached. Add required (calculated) amount of spirit into a sanitized 3-gallon carboy and transfer wine into same to make the port.

If all that air in the 3-gallon carboy makes you nervous, either add CO2 to the carboy or add another finely crushed Campden tablet to the port. You should rack the port after 30 days and again 30 days after that. If you later decide it needs another racking, you can postpone that until bottling as the only deposits then should be errant yeast cells.

If you wish to add oak or mesquite, do so after second racking. Taste periodically to decide when to remove wood. When the port is approximately 6 months old from fortifying date, taste and decide if it needs additional sweetening to achieve balance. Bulk age until next mustang harvest and then bottle. It improves remarkably with age but you probably won't be able to resist. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

I have tasted Mustang Ports up to 40 years old. They are extremely good with age, although 40 years is pushing it. I have one that is 11 years old. I plan to drink it at 15 years, sooner if the right occasion compels it.

By the way, if you don't subscribe to WineMaker magazine, (how many times do I have to say this?) you should. You can become a new subscriber or renew a lapsed subscription by clicking on the banner image below:

WineMaker Magazine

January 17th, 2013

My apologies if my comments on email in my last entry offended anyone. Perhaps I did not say things correctly. In my heart, I appreciate all email because it means that you at least appreciate some aspects of my attempts to make winemaking easier, more varied or more meaningful to you. I'm not ungrateful that you send it and if I appeared that way I apologize for por wording. Be assured I do read every email that is about winemaking or my internet content. What I cannot do is answer most of it. I simply don't have enough time to respond to all of it even if all I did every day was answer email. I do hope you understand that without being offended.

A fellow named Clifton – a name most of us don't see every day – wrote me to say that my posting on "Ghost Riders in the Sky" in my previous entry stirred a memory. He was in a saloon outside of Austin, Texas several years back (and we do name them saloons here in Texas) when he heard a fellow who was playing guitar and harmonica simultaneously start playing "When Johnny Came Marching Home." About 30 seconds into it he just changed a cord or two and was playing "Ghost Riders in the Sky." He did this several times, switching seamlessly from one song to the other for several minutes and got a huge ovation when he was done. Clifton didn't know the performer's name but opined it should have been "Damned Good."

"Ghost Riders in the Sky" and "When Johnny Came Marching Home" do share certain melodic intervals but "Ghost Riders" is a much later song. The earlier was written in 1863 by bandleader and composer Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore and published under the pseudonym Louis Lambert. Gilmore admitted the song was inspired by a tune he heard someone humming in New Orleans. He claims he wrote it down, dressed it up and set it to words expressing a feeling of the times. The melody set to different words was published as "Johnny Fill Up the Bowl" previous to Gilmore's publication and later Gilmore wrote that "When Johnny Came Marching Home" should be sung to the tune of "Johnny Fill Up the Bowl."

Some have suggested both were based on the melody of "Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye," but the latter was not published until 12 years after Gilmore's publishing. Nonetheless, "Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye" is claimed to be about a British conflict of 1803-1815, thus pre-dating the American Civil War. Still, many songs have existed for decades or longer and were passed on orally before being formerly published, so this may well be the case here. [Consider the melody for "Danny Boy," composed as "O'Cahan's Lament," circa 1610 by Rory Dall O'Cahan, later rendered and popularly known as "Londonderry Air" before being adapted to the words of "Danny Boy" by Frederic Edward Weatherley in 1913.] Gilmore claimed no credit for the melody itself – only the words and arrangement.

"When Johnny Comes Marching Home" also bears a melodic resemblance to "John Anderson, My Jo," the tune of which dates back to 1560 or so. But they are not the same.

"Ghost Riders in the Sky" is, in fact, loosely based on, inspired by or influenced by portions of the melody of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," although the two differ. It therefore makes good musical sense that someone would interweave the two together as Clifton witnessed.

A Wireless Sensor Bung for Monitoring Wine Development in the Barrel

Schematic of the wireless sensor bung monitor and communications system, from <i>The Academic Wino</i> blog entry of January 14, 2013

Every now and then something really awesome happens in technology and excites me. George Gale, University of Missouri at Kansas City, sent me an article by email of the latest happening – a wireless sensor bung that monitors temperature, pH and malolactic fermentation progress and completion in a wine barrel and relays that information to a receiving base station and computer.

The system was tested in 2011 at the Azienda Agricola Comparini winery in Empoli, Tuscany, Italy. The sensor was placed into a 225L Bordeaux-style barrel of Sangiovese red wine and set to acquire data every 5 seconds. In normal winery operations the frequency could be set to any interval, with 4 collections per day (6-hour interval) assessed to be sufficient, but a 5-second interval was set to test the reliability and precision of the system. Manual measurements were also taken to compare to the system's data.

The 5-second interval taxed the system and resulted in data interruption due to battery drain after 8 days. A 6-hour interval would allow a 75-day battery life.

Manually acquired data and that from the wireless sensor bung were very similar, with a higher level of correlation of pH and malic acid concentration issued by the wireless sensor bung. Thus, the novel new system proved more accurate and potentially useful than traditional but time consuming data collection methods.

The system is obviously in research, development and testing stage. The authors of the original article, subsequently reported in Becca Yeamans' The Academic Wino blog entry of January 14, 2013 (sent to me by George), believe the system could be used to simultaneously monitor up to 250 wine barrels. They also discussed using both analog and digital channels in the hardware to easily integrate other types of sensors and thereby create a complex system of monitoring and analyzing the wine in the barrels that would save even more time and resources.

It is obvious this is not a system aimed at the home winemaker, but it does possibly suggest the development of future systems we might all be able to afford and use.

Three Cinnamon Tea Wines

Box of 20 Bigelow Cinnamon Tea bags

It is difficult to say how good these three wines are, but they are good. The predominate flavor is cinnamon, but each one has a different spice profile. Easy to make, wonderful to drink, here are three sure-fire recipes guaranteed to delight you and your guests next winter if you start them now.

First, a little history is in order. As I mentioned in my recent Christmas Eve post, I make kombucha – a tea fermented with a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. A week or so before Thanksgiving while looking over the tea selection at my local supermarket for my next batch of kombucha, I spotted a box of Bigelow Cinnamon Tea and decided to try it. Ten days later I was enjoying my first glass of cinnamon kombucha and was hooked. I had already started a second batch of cinnamon kombucha, each time using eight teabags per gallon of tea, and realized I needed more cinnamon teabags for my next batch. On the way to buy some more the idea of Cinnamon Tea Wine took hold and I bought a lot of tea.

I'll admit I was going to keep the secret of my cinnamon kombucha to myself. In my Christmas Eve WineBlog entry I mentioned putting a cinnamon stick in kombucha to flavor it – which will work – but in truth I was trying to get around admitting to the Bigelow Cinnamon Tea because I wanted it to be my secret. So what changed? Read on....

After starting an initial batch, the idea to kick up the spice took hold. The rest is history and the following three recipes are the proof. I decided to "come clean" only after tasting each of the three while racking.

Each recipe uses a can of pure white grape juice frozen concentrate to add body. If you want to add even more body add two cans and reduce the sugar to 1 pound 2 ounces and adjust the water accordingly.

Now, you might ask how do I know these wines will be so fantastic if I only recently started them? Well, they were all started on the same day and I just recently racked them for the first time, tasting each as I racked. I have enough winemaking experience to know that these are all winners and I'll stake my reputation on it. You can trust me now or wait a year to see if I am right.

Cinnamon Tea Wine

  • 6-8 teabags Bigelow Cinnamon Tea (number depends on strength desired)
  • 1 container Welch's or Old Orchard 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate, thawed
  • 1 lb 9 oz very fine granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 7 pts water
  • 1 pkt general purpose wine yeast

In a 5-quart pot, bring 3 pints water to boil, remove from heat and add teabags. Cover pot and allow to steep 3-5 minutes. Remove and discard teabags, add sugar, stir well to dissolve, add remaining water, recover the tea and allow to cool to room temperature.

Combine sweet tea and all other ingredients except the yeast in a primary. Remove 1 cup of must and pour into a 1-pint container; sprinkle the yeast in it (do not stir). When yeast proves viable add to must. Cover the primary with a sanitized muslin cloth and ferment to 1.020 s.g. (about 5-7 days), then transfer to secondary. Add 1 finely crushed Campden tablet, stir and attach an airlock. Wait 30 days and rack, top up and reattach airlock. Wait additional 30 days and rack again. Add 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and another finely crushed Campden tablet. Reattach airlock. Set aside 60 days and rack. Sweeten to taste if desired and set aside 30 days. Carefully rack into bottles and set aside until next winter's holiday season. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

Cinnamon-Clove Tea Wine

  • 6 teabags Bigelow Cinnamon Tea (number depends on strength desired)
  • 1 container Welch's or Old Orchard 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate, thawed
  • 1 lb 9 oz very fine granulated sugar
  • 12 whole cloves
  • 1 1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 7 pts water
  • 1 pkt general purpose wine yeast

In a 5-quart pot, bring 3 pints water to boil, remove from heat and add teabags and cloves in a tea ball/cage. Cover and allow to steep 3-5 minutes. Remove teabags and cloves, add sugar, stir well to dissolve, add remaining water, recover the tea and allow to cool to room temperature.

Combine sweet tea and all other ingredients except the yeast in a primary. Remove 1 cup of must and pour into a 1-pint container; sprinkle the yeast in it (do not stir). When yeast proves viable add to must. Cover the primary with a sanitized muslin cloth and ferment to 1.020 s.g. (about 5-7 days), then transfer to secondary. Add 1 finely crushed Campden tablet, stir and attach an airlock. Wait 30 days and rack, top up and reattach airlock. Wait additional 30 days and rack again. Add 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and another finely crushed Campden tablet. Stir and reattach airlock. Set aside 60 days and rack. Sweeten to taste if desired and set aside 30 days. Carefully rack into bottles and set aside until next winter's holiday season. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

Spiced Tea Wine

  • 6 teabags Bigelow Cinnamon Tea (number depends on strength desired)
  • 1 container Welch's or Old Orchard 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate, thawed
  • 1 lb 9 oz very fine granulated sugar
  • 12 whole cloves
  • 9 whole allspice
  • 1 1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 7 pts water
  • 1 pkt general purpose wine yeast

In a 5-quart pot, bring 3 pints water to boil, remove from heat and add teabags and cloves and allspice berries in a tea ball/cage. Cover and allow to steep 3-5 minutes. Remove teabags but leave the cloves and allspice berries in another 10 minutes, add sugar, stir well to dissolve, add remaining water, re-cover the tea and allow to cool to room temperature.

Combine sweet tea and all other ingredients except the yeast in a primary. Remove 1 cup of must and pour into a 1-pint container; sprinkle the yeast in it (do not stir). When yeast proves viable add to must. Cover the primary with a sanitized muslin cloth and ferment to 1.020 s.g. (about 5-7 days), then transfer to secondary. Add 1 finely crushed Campden tablet, stir and attach an airlock. Wait 30 days and rack, top up and reattach airlock. Wait additional 30 days and rack again. Add 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and another finely crushed Campden tablet. Stir and reattach airlock. Set aside 60 days and rack. Sweeten to taste if desired and set aside 30 days. Carefully rack into bottles and set aside until next winter's holiday season. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

I am making all three wines in 1-gallon batches, which will give me 15 bottles of wine. I intend to open the first wine (Cinnamon Tea) at Thanksgiving and the other two over the Christmas-New Year holidays. I intend to start 3 more after Thanksgiving.

Slow Cooking At Its Best

Best of Bridge Slow Cooker Cookbook cover image

Several months ago I acquired a new slow cooker cookbook and have been making some mighty tasty meals from it. When I like something I recommend it. I can now say that the Best of Bridge Slow Cooker Cookbook is a great investment for those who love sensational food that is easy to prepare and cook without making you a hostage to the kitchen for hours.

I have used the cookbook seven times and every dish thus far has been incredibly delicious. The recipes I have tried so far are:

  • Sunrise-Sunset Apple Bacon Strata – a satisfying and tasty melding of flavors (apples, bacon, green onions, Dijon mustard, smoked Gouda cheese) with stale cubed bread; I added some diced, fire-roasted red peppers to satisfy a craving I always have for their flavor (I paired with a crisp Texas Moscato);
  • Cranberry Party Meatballs – made with ground lean turkey, dried cranberries, toasted pecans, grated onion and a dozen other ingredients, these are moist and delicious meatballs that can be served as hors d'oeuvres, with a meal or in a roll for a meatball sandwich (these pair with any red wine);
  • Casablanca Chicken Soup – this is a hearty, delicious soup that taught me a thing or two about blending unexpected flavors together; highly recommended for a cold winter night (I paired this soup with a chilled rosé once, my own white Mustang another time, and my own Blanc du Bois another time);
  • Beef Goulash – this is the dish on the cover of the book, incredibly flavorful from an excellent blending of spices and other ingredients (I added sliced water chestnuts and celery sliced thin), served over buttered noodles or rice (I paired this with an aged Malbec once and my own Mustang another time);
  • Hoisin Ginger Beef Stew – I had a favorite diner in San Francisco that served this but never had a recipe until now, and believe me this will be made often from now on; sweet and spicy, rich and lively, thick and satisfying, I served it with both buttery noodles and diced sweet potatoes (I paired this with a lively Texas Merlot and my own slightly sweet Black Raspberry);
  • Flamenco Stew – this took me back to Spain, blending chorizo sausages with pork shoulder blade and a dozen other ingredients, served with roasted garlic potatoes and steamed broccoli (I paired with a Tempranillo)
  • Apple-Cranberry Cake – if someone had served me this and said it was made in a slow cooker I'd have seriously doubted them, but it's true; the only things I had to buy to make this were 2 Fuji apples and a small bag of frozen cranberries; I had everything else on hand (I paired this with my own cranberry wine).

The two best things I found about this book are that (1) the print is large so you can read it easily even f you have macula degeneration as I do, and (2) every single ingredient I've needed thus far was on hand in my kitchen or pantry or readily available at my local supermarket. There was no need to drive into San Antonio to a gourmet grocery as I have done so many times in the past.

Well, I suppose there is a third and fourth thing – (3) the recipes are easy and (4) every one seems to be a real winner. What more could one ask for?

If you are at all interested in this book, which you should be if you like to cook without a lot of work, please click HERE and order it through my Amazon portal. I will receive a small commission that will help support the costs of bringing you this WineBlog and The Winemaking Home Page. You will get a great book at a discounted price, shipping is free and I will be in your debt.

January 29th, 2013

Where has the time gone? Consider these two sayings. Time flies when you're busy, and time flies when you're having fun. Well, time really flies when you're busy having fun. Question answered – guilty as charged and no apology offered.

My brother Larry sent me a link to the following video and I hope you take a moment – 2 1/2 minutes, actually – to watch it....

As a Vietnam veteran, I can sympathize with the veteran in the video. Only since September 11, 2001 have people thanked me for my service, although I do not really need their thanks. But also, only since September 11, 2001 have I approached servicemen and servicewomen in uniform and thanked them for their service.

There is a distinct difference between my service and those serving today. Initially, I was drafted. Because of specific test scores and demonstrated performance during Basic Training, I was selected to attend Officer Candidate School and was subsequently commissioned, but my point is that, like 90% or more of those who served in Vietnam, my entry into the Army was through the draft.

To my knowledge, no one serving today has served so long that they entered the service through the draft. If that is correct, today's military ranks are 100% volunteers, men and women who volunteered knowing they will probably be deployed into harm's way. If you want to thank someone for their service, by all means thank them. They serve by choice knowing there could be great risk to their lives. While their risk is no greater than the risks to our Vietnam-era draftees, today's service members did volunteer. They truly do deserve our thanks.

Please join me in thanking them whenever you encounter them.

Scrumptious Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Scrumptious grilled cheese sandwich with Gouda, baby spinach, avocado, and fire-roasted red pepper, photo by Jack Keller

Here is my favorite grilled cheese sandwich creation.

Spread mayonnaise or your favorite condiment on facing sides of two 9-grain (or other favorite) bread slices. Lay one slice of Gouda (or your own favorite sandwich cheese) on each bread slice. Lay a single layer of baby spinach leaves on one slice of Gouda. Cover the layer of baby spinach leaves with a single layer of avocado slices. Cover the avocado with a single layer of roasted red pepper, opened flat. Cover the roasted red pepper layer with another single layer of baby spinach. Carefully turn the other slice of bread onto the layer of baby spinach, Gouda side down. Now very lightly butter the top side of the sandwich and turn it buttered side down into a pre-heated non-stick skillet on medium heat.

Set timer for 3 minutes and during that time lightly butter the side facing up. Using a spatula, turn the sandwich over and set the timer for 3 minutes. I wrap the sandwich in waxed paper, baker's parchment or butcher paper to handle while eating. I make this at least once a week. It's doubly great with sweet potato fries.

I have added fried bacon to this creation, fried crisp to reduce the fat, between the avocado and roasted red pepper layers, as a variation. I have also added a barely fried egg, dusted with ground cayenne, in lieu of the bacon. Both are fantastic for different reasons.

The Best On-Line Wine Grape Resource

Screen image of Anthony J. Hawkins'' Glossary, capture by Jeff Siegel

We've been having a discussion in the grapebreeders Google Group about Anthony J. Hawkins' "Super Gigantic Y2K Winegrape Glossary." This massive listing was my first go-to resource for wine grape information before my wife gave me Jancis Robinson et al.'s Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours (see my January 13th WineBlog entry for my review). Our discussion centered on concern for the future of this fantastic online list.

Several websites host Hawkins' Glossary, but the official host as far as I've ever been able to determine is Robin Garr's Wine Lovers Page.

Recently Jeff Siegel, known to countless thousands as "the Wine Curmudgeon" online and in print, published a blog entry about Hawkins and his Glossary. It is an interesting story I didn't know.

Hawkins, now age 83, is retired from the ceramics department at Alfred University in western New York state. He began his wine grape glossary in the early 1990s to learn how to use a computer and teach himself some simple programming. Interestingly, I began my Winemaking Home Page with my "Glossary of Winemaking Terms" as a place to consolidate information from scattered sources and teach myself simple internet programming, so I can identify with Hawkins' motives.

There is a major difference in our two paths. When I began my work I was already a long-time winemaker while Hawkins wasn't all that interested in wine or wine grapes when he began his project. He knew a home winemaker and wanted to know more about what was involved and what grapes were available in western New York at the time. His curiosity got the better of him and the result is this astounding resource.

There weren't any good online lists of grapes at that time as the internet, formerly a resource of the military as MILNET, was only opened to the public in 1992. He eventually received decent references from Cornell, but his list was a slow build and sometimes not too accurate. Users set him straight when he made mistakes and his desire for accuracy sent him into exhaustive research.

The value of his work is beyond measure. He has attempted to cross-reference official grape names with country and regional synonyms and aliases, provide parentage, preferred clonal variants and rootstocks, growing areas and conditions, and winemaking notes. His work is fairly well annotated with academic sources and references, making it the single best go-to source on the internet today, even though it has not been updated since 2007 when health problems caused him to cease work on it.

Hawkins very much wants to find someone to take over his work. It would be a tremendous challenge and responsibility. If my plate weren't so full....

If any reader out there has an interest, you can contact Anthony Hawkins at hawkins at alfred dot edu. I sincerely thank Jeff Siegel for his informative blog entry from which I borrowed heavily.

Fresh Guava Wine

Guavas, photo by Jack Keller

Some time back I got a good deal on some small guavas that were very ripe. Fearing they might spoil if fermented on the pulp, I chopped and boiled them and extracted the juice. The wine I made was very good although a bit light in body. I've tweaked the recipe to correct this.

Guava are highly nutritious and rich in vitamin C, beta-carotene and minerals. Depending on variety, the flesh can be soft and melting or firm and crunchy and everything in between. The flavor can be rich or mild but is always distinctly "guava." Some have a rich aroma and others are nearly odorless. The small seeds can be eaten (but are best if not chewed) right along with the flesh, making the entire fruit edible.

Originating in the tropical Americas, guavas have been so prized that they have spread throughout the tropical world. For folks not living in guava-producing areas, they are an underrated but exceptional fruit. They come in a variety of sizes, shapes, color and characteristics.

When I lived in San Bernardino, California a neighbor grew a small tree on his fence that produced very sweet fruit, the size and shape of large lemons, with yellowish skin and flesh. In Florida I ate red-fleshed guava with few seeds and good flavor. In Hawaii I enjoyed sweet, pear-shaped guava with yellow skin and pink flesh of exceptional flavor. I have bought small round guava from Peru with white flesh, few seeds and good flavor. The small guava I used to make my wine were from Florida and were yellow-skinned with mildly pink flesh.

All the guava I've mentioned thus far are best suited for eating raw, but a number of varieties are high in natural pectin and favored for making jelly. Others have firm flesh and are idea for canning. Guava nectar is excellent served chilled and blends well with other fruit juices.

When I made my wine, I neglected to weigh my guava but guess I had 3 1/2 to 4 pounds. I quartered them, put them in a stock pot with a cup of water and simmered them for about 20 minutes, stirring once. Simultaneously, I began a yeast starter with sweetened water and nutrient. I left the guava to cool with the lid on and then hand pressed them in a fine-mesh nylon straining bag. I added 1/4 cup of the juice to the yeast starter and exactly one quart of juice to the primary. The recipe below deviates at this point to add Old Orchard 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate for body.

Fresh Guava Wine Recipe

  • 4 lbs fresh guava
  • 12-oz container Old Orchard 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
  • 1 lb 5 1/2 oz very fine granulated sugar
  • water to 1 gallon
  • 1 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1/2 tsp powdered pectic enzyme
  • 1/4 tsp powdered grape tannin
  • 1 pkt Lalvin EC-1118 wine yeast

Use only sound fruit, quartered into a stock pot with a cup of water. Bring to a simmer and hold 20 minutes, stirring once. Cool with the lid on and then hand press in a fine-mesh nylon straining bag. Measure one quart of juice and add to primary with thawed grape concentrate. Add remaining ingredients except yeast and stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Cover primary and set aside 12 hours. Add yeast in a starter solution and re-cover primary. Ferment to 1.020 s.g. and transfer to secondary. Attach airlock and ferment to dryness.

Rack, top up and reattach airlock. Rack again after 30 days and allow wine to clear. After wine clears, rack again, adding 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and one finely crushed Campden tablet. Wait two weeks and sweeten to taste. Wait 30 days and bottle. Great after aging one year. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

While this makes a delightful dry wine if the flavor is strong, lesser flavored fruit make a better wine if sweetened to just off dry (0.998 to 1.000 works for me). The small amount of added sweetness summons and enhances the guava flavor considerably. This is, of course, a matter of taste so work with a sample before sweetening the whole.

A greater quantity of fruit will yield more juice and a stronger flavored wine. I simply have not made it so cannot advise you from experience. However, a winemaker in Florida says he uses 6 pounds of fruit per gallon of wine, chops his fruit finely and ferments on the pulp. He does warn that a yeast starter solution should be husbanded for 20-24 hours before chopping the fruit in order to start a vigorous fermentation before the fruit spoils. Makes sense to me....

February 21st, 2013

I receive several emails each year asking for a schedule of when I will post entries so the senders don't have to check here every day to see if I've posted something new. I tell them all the same thing. If you want to be sure to catch my next (and every next) posting, instead of checking here daily just subscribe to my RSS feed by clicking this button:

rss button

This is painless. You do need an rss reader, but they are numerous (276 free readers are listed here) and most are free. But when you click the "RSS" button above it will ask you to identify your reader, and the ones they list for you to choose from are My Yahoo, NewsGator, My AOL, Bloglines Reader, Netvibes, Google Reader, Pageflakes, Feed Demon, NetNewsWire (smart phones app), RSS Owl, and Shrook (for MacIntosh). Click the button, select your reader and rest easy. You'll be notified when there is new content. Here is what the rss feed looked like for my last entry:

  • Scrumptious Grilled Cheese Sandwich
    Here is my favorite grilled cheese sandwich creation. Read more....
  • The Best On-Line Wine Grape Resource
    We've been having a discussion in the grapebreeders Google Group about Anthony J. Hawkins' "Super Gigantic Y2K Winegrape Glossary." This massive listing was my first go-to resource for wine grape information before my wife gave me Jancis Robinson et al.'s "Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours" (see my January 13th WineBlog entry for my review). Our discussion centered on concern for the future of this fantastic online list. Read more....
  • Fresh Guava Wine
    Some time back I got a good deal on some small guavas that were very ripe. Fearing they might spoil if fermented on the pulp, I chopped and boiled them and extracted the juice. The wine I made was very good although a bit light in body. I've tweaked the recipe to correct this. Read more....

Not only is it simple and painless, but I go through quite a bit a trouble to prepare the feed and you would be making it worthwhile for me to do.

My "Scrumptious Grilled Cheese Sandwich" was the most viewed item in my last dated entry. It also generated a number of emails. Here are three.

"Jack, I tried your grilled cheese sandwich and agree that it is scrumptious. As soon as I finished it I made myself another one. Unlike most grilled cheese sandwiches, this one is moist inside and the flavors just flow together. I ate it with potato chips and cucumber spears on the side and White Zinfandel in my glass. Thank you for this wonderful, quick and delicious lunch entre."

"Mr. Keller, I made your grilled cheese sandwich with Gruyere cheese and added the bacon. It was fantastic. Next time I will take your advice and have it with sweet potato fries."

"I made your grilled cheese sandwich and it was great. I did not have gouda cheese so used Swiss. I added some sautéed onions between the avocado and roasted red bell pepper because I like sautéed onions. This was the first culinary recipe of yours I've tried and it was magnificent. I'm going to go back and try a few of the other recipes you posted. Thank you for being a 'Jack of all trades.'"

Great idea. I like sautéed onions too, slightly caramelized with sugar.

Killing Lincoln: the Movie

The National Geographic 'Killing Lincoln' movie poster

I rarely mention movies but watched a good one last Sunday on the National Geographic Channel – Killing Lincoln. Based on Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard's best-selling book (over a year in the top 10 on the NT Times best-sellers list) with the same name, the movie gives equal billing to the President, the conspiracy, the assassin, and the ensuing manhunt. It is a history-lover's movie. Produced by Ridley and Tony Scott, directed by Adrian Moat, narrated by Tom Hanks, and starring Billy Campbell as Abraham Lincoln and Jesse Johnson as John Wilkes Booth, Killing Lincoln is National Geographic's first ever docudrama movie. It also drew the largest viewership in National Geographic Channel's history.

Whenever I think of Billy Campbell, I always think of the young, daring aviator in The Rocketeer, starring opposite the seductively lovely Jennifer Connelly. So I later marveled that not once during the 1 hour and 28 minutes of Killing Lincoln did I even think that Lincoln was Campbell or Campbell was Lincoln, but rather a creditable portrayal had been rendered.. Nor did I compare him with Daniel Day-Lewis' portrayal of Lincoln in the excellent movie Lincoln. The two movies cannot be compared. Being a documentary when no film of the man or events was possible, Campbell's job was to stand in for and represent the great man in his final days, hours and minutes. He did this creditably.

Jesse Johnson as Booth was easy to fathom. I only know him from one film, Chapman, but after Killing Lincoln, in which he did a superb job, I have the highest respect for him but will hereafter probably always think of him as John Wilkes Booth. If anything, his performance somewhat stole the movie

Killing Lincoln was presented in a way I enjoy. The timeline is accurate but, like all timelines, contains both sequential and simultaneous events. Here they are juxtaposed so you gain insight to the plot as it unfolded. Some have said Tom Hanks' role as narrator was unnecessary but I disagree. His role was to put things into both perspective and the timeline. He did this well.

I especially appreciated his paraphrasing of Jefferson Davis at the end – that the two most crushing events to the future of the South were the Civil War itself and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Booth, blinded by his hatred of Lincoln, never appreciated, let alone even realized, that the best hope for a forgiving reconstruction of the South lay in the stewardship of Abraham Lincoln. His murder unleashed the wrath of those who sought vindictive retribution, and the result was as brutal as Sherman's march to the sea.

O'Reilly's book is an important contribution to the history of a watershed moment of this nation. The movie, for those who cannot or will not read, is equally important. I only hope National Geographic releases it to a wider arena of outlets so more people might see it.

If you missed the airing, it will be re-aired Saturday, February 23 at 9 p.m. Eastern on the National Geographic Channel. Make it a personal appointment.

Dandelions Are Coming

True dandelion, photo by Greg Hume from <i>Wikipedia</i> under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Five days ago I saw my first dandelions of the year in bloom while pruning my grapevines. Since then I have seen another 16-20. Most of you won't see yours for another month or two, but mark my word, they're coming. I think it was Ray Bradbury who said dandelion wine is bottled sunshine. It certainly is a special treat and one of the first "from scratch" wines many of us will make this year. Here is the recipe for the last dandelion wine I made and it was superb.

I've said this before but it's worth saying again. When you see all those yellow petals greeting you soon, make sure they are real dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) and not one of the several "false dandelions" that look similar but are not as fragrant and make a lesser quality wine. True dandelions put up a single flower on a single stalk. False dandelions put up a branched stalk sporting two or more flowers that look almost exactly like true dandelions.

The look-alikes are usually catsear (Hypochaeris radicata or a closely related Hypochaeris species), but could also be the mountain dandelion (Agoseris ssp.), hawksbeard (Crepis ssp.), hawkweed (Hieracium ssp.), hawkbit (Leontodon ssp. or Scozoneroides ssp.), or even Nothocalais or Pyrrhopappus. Of the false dandelions, the catsear and mountain dandelion make the best of the lesser quality wines, which is like saying they are the better of the consolation prizes.

The flowers need to be dry when picked. The importance of this is not trivial. If it rained overnight or in the morning, or there was a morning dew, wait a day to pick the flowers unless a full sun comes out and dries them completely by noon. Noon is the best time to pick them as the flowers will be fully opened and most fragrant at that time. Do not pick them and set them aside to de-petal later because the flowers will close within 2 hours of picking. Get those petals off as soon as you can. If you can't pick enough at one time to make wine, pick, de-petal and refrigerate or freeze the petals in a ZipLoc bag until you have enough.

The following recipe uses both dandelion and rose petals and makes a gallon of wine. If you don't have rose petals (or crushed rose hips as an alternative), add that volume of additional dandelion petals. Age it at least a year. It will peak at around 18 months (the best time to drink it) and should be consumed before it reaches 24 months in age from date of bottling.

Incredible Dandelion-Rose Petal Wine Recipe

  • 6 c dandelion petals
  • 1 1/2 c rose petals, packed
  • 1 lb golden raisins, diced or minced
  • 1 lb 12 oz very fine granulated sugar
  • juice of 2 oranges
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • water to 1 gallon
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • sachet of Red Star Steinberg Wine yeast

Bring 2 quarts of water to boil in a large stock pot. Add sugar and stir until dissolved while returning water to simmer. Meanwhile, put raisins, orange zest, dandelion and rose petals in nylon straining bag, tie closed and place in simmering sugar water. With wooden spoon, push bag down under water ad hold while water returns to simmer. Release bag and cover pot to simmer 15 minutes. Remove from heat, uncover, add orange juice and water to total 1 gallon volume and allow to cool, but while still warm (but not hot), add acid blend, pectic enzyme and yeast nutrient. Cover pot and set aside 12 hours. Stir vigorously to oxygenate water and add activated yeast in a starter solution. Punch down bag 2-3 times a day for 7 days. Remove bag and squeeze to extract liquid. Discard bag contents and transfer liquid to secondary. Attach airlock and set aside for 3 months (Steinberg yeast is slower than others, so follow this schedule). Rack, top up and reattach airlock. When wine is clear, rack again, mix 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate a finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet and add to secondary. Top up and reattach airlock. Wait 2 months, rack, sweeten to taste and bottle. Age as instructed above. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

I cannot emphasize aging of dandelion wines enough. Many times I have questioned people who criticized dandelion wines as highly overrated or worse, and every singe time I found them drinking a wine that was only 1-6 months in the bottle or, on one occasion, a 4-year old wine. My instructions on aging are clear. Age it at least a year. It will peak at around 18 months and should be consumed before it reaches 24 months in age from date of bottling. Ignore this at your own peril.

March 4th, 2013

'I really need a day between Saturday and Sunday' image from an email

I've found myself in a time crunch – too much to do and not enough time to do it. The image says it all. I really DO need a day between Saturday and Sunday!

In the midst of this crunch, Friday evening and almost five hours on Saturday a week ago were lost due to computer problems encountered from a root sector malicous program that got by my security software. This is embarrassing, especially since I have two free rootkit detection and cleaning programs listed at my Free PC Services website on the "Serious Tools for Serious Situations" page. In a moment of idiocy, a few months ago I removed the one I actually had installed on my computer in order to free up some C-drive space. Fool, fool, fool.

I'm no security geek, but it appears the root sector program I had was not complete an therefore wasn't doing whatever it was designed to do. It could have been streamed in through a website or a video email attachment in pieces that would assemble themselves when all were present, installed itself in my root sector where normal antivirus programs could not find it, and has been there for at least three - possibly four – weeks. But it seems it was not complete. Whatever it was supposed to do, all it actually did was trigger repetitive errors in my Event Log.

I discovered it by examining the Event Viewer, an almost never used utility that has come with Windows for many years. Here I found 516 errors and warnings that freaked me out. I then closed everything I had open and surrendered to rising blood pressure. I'm not going to go through the whole process, but eventually I was able to select the right program that detected, located and removed it. Unbelievably relieved, I had the program delete it. I should have had the program email it to the software company so they could identify it. My bad!

If you want to examine your own computer's Event Viewer, left-click on your Start button (lower left corner when Windows is running), type "eventvwr" (without the quotes) in the dialog box at the bottom of the pop-up, press "Enter," and then click on the listed program. In the program's central window (labeled "Recently Viewed Nodes" in my version) may or may not be one or more entries. If the second column of any entry starts off with "Critical, Error and Warning events...", double-click on each such entry. I had 516 such listings over a three-week period and a concluding notation that my computer was at "high risk." Take my word for it, it was quite unnerving.

If you follow the above steps and discover a perceived problem, DO NOT call me. Do what I did and run the most in-depth security scan your security program allows. In fact, I ran scans on two different security programs – only one being enabled at a time. No active viruses were found by either, but the first found and removed two malware infections that had slipped in and both indicated possible problems outside their programming ability. (At that point I went nuts. I won't go into details, but I eventually downloaded and used four additional programs.)

If your security program finds things it cannot cleanup for you, you might have to Google a few terms to understand what it found. That should tell you if you need a registry cleaner, a rootkit cleaner or some other specialize utility. Go to my Free PC Services website and look at the items in my navigation bar at the top. Most are straightforward in their description. The obscure stuff is in the Serious Tools for Serious Situations page. Or, call in a computer security geek.

DISCLAIMER: I simply found and listed the programs on the pages. I accept no responsibility for their use or effectiveness. I did download and play with each program before I listed and described it, but that is all. Some links may be broken and some programs may be dated but you will still find plenty of help there. When I began that website I had no idea how filled my days would become. I am busier in retirement than I was when I worked fulltime.

Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1841-1935

The other day I listened to a close but liberal friend of many years wail against talk radio and Fox News Channel with venomous passion and hateful words and flatly declare in the strongest terms that both should be silenced forever.

My only response was to quote the late and great Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes (1841-1935). "If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought, not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate."

Sadly, my friend's response was to glare at me with contempt and walk away. I believe a long friendship has ended, snapped by the endearing wisdom and logic of Oliver Wendell Holmes confronting unyielding hatred.

Holmes, who often was the dissenting voice on the Supreme Court, also said, "The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving." Sadly, my friend would have us moving in the direction of one voice, and that is tyranny. The Nazis, Bolsheviks, Fascists, Maoists, and Fidelistas all liquidated dissenting thought. It did not bode well for their countries. We must passionately embrace and preserve our constitutional rights, for only they guarantee our freedom.

Tennessee Viticultural & Oenological Society 2013 Conference

The author, discussing winemaking at the TVOS Conference in Knoxville (photo by John Freels)
The author at the TVOS Conference in
Knoxville (photo by John Freels)

I returned last night from attending the annual conference of the Tennessee Viticultural & Oenological Society (TVOS) in Knoxville. I was invited to speak on making country wines and on indigenous grapes. I did both, but more importantly I met some truly outstanding people who are serious about making wine, I drank some wonderful examples of their craftsmanship, and I had a terrific time. The only way I could have had a better time is if my wife had been with me to kick that terrific time up a notch.

Within minutes of arriving at the Knoxville Hilton, which was fully booked, at least a half-dozen people asked me if I was there for the concert. I responded to the sixth query with, "No, but who is in concert?" The answer was, "George Strait." Damn, so close but...no ticket.

The two-day TVOS conference was an excuse for me to meet a couple from Sharp Chapel, a mere 36 miles away, who were kind enough several years ago to share with me their secret for infusing chocolate flavor into fruit wines. They have sent me many, many wines over the years to evaluate for them and nearly all were excellent, so I looked forward to meeting them both at long last.

Unfortunately, the husband half of the couple had to be elsewhere on business, but I had lunch and a great afternoon with his wife. I had a thoroughly enjoyable time, ate some terrific grilled shrimp at Calhoun's, and discussed winemaking with Nedra in an attempt to glean a few more secrets. But the real secret I sought resides with Allan and he wasn't there. Still, I am so glad I was able to spend time with and thank at least one of the people who walked me through a nagging problem of winemaking.

By the same token, many people approached me during the TVOS weekend and thanked me for helping them in some small way in their winemaking. Every time someone thanks me I am mindful of the many folks who have helped me over these many years. The thanks I receive is the fuel that fires my furnace and keeps me going. I thank all of you who have thanked me. The circle is complete.

The conference had split sessions – simultaneous sessions in difference conference rooms – so no one could attend every presentation. Nonetheless, I was able to attend the sessions I most wanted to attend so I felt the agenda was well designed. My own two-subject session was well attended and the interest pleased me. I'm not sure every attendee appreciated the time I spent on indigenous grapes of Texas but many said they did. My presentation also tied in very well with Chris Card's presentation on the indigenous grapes of Tennessee so I think it was appropriate.

I certainly learned from the sessions I attended, especially John Freels' presentation on serious deficiencies in wines. While I was able to identify some, one had me (and many others) stumped. I learn something every day.

As in most such gatherings, the greatest rewards came from interacting with interesting people who are passionate about winemaking and their wines – which we sampled until 2-3 a.m. on consecutive nights. People who came to pick my brain may be surprised to know that I was picking theirs. There are so many roads that lead to Rome that one is guaranteed to cover new ground on each of them. Life continually rewards us if we are receptive. Thank you, Tennessee (and Kentucky), one and all.

Revisiting Key Lime A-Rita

Bottle label for Jack Keller's Key Lime A-Rita

Saturday I tasted the Tennessee Viticultural & Oenological Society's home wine competition's Best of Show wine. It was a lime wine and it was exceptional. Later that evening during an unorganized late night partying session I tasted a lemon wine which the winemaker insisted be poured over ice. It, too, was exceptional served as instructed. About that time it occurred to me that something was missing in the lime wine I had tasted earlier but this was not the time to think about it. Later that night – actually well into Sunday morning – as I tried to drift off to sleep, the lime wine I had tasted burst through the cobwebs and I had to confront it. While thinking about it, my wife's favorite wine pushed it's way forward and I knew what was missing in the lime wine – Triple Sec.

I first published this recipe in January 2009. I credit Martin Benke with the original recipe although I've tweaked it a bit. What the TVOS Best of Show wine lacked, in my estimation, was the Triple Sec. It doesn't take much to change the character of the wine. Key Lime A-Rita takes the character to another level.

Triple Sec is a liqueur that begins as Curacao but contains the peelings of two other oranges. Curacao is made using the peelings of Laraha oranges, small bitter oranges grown on the island of Curacao. It is unlikely you will ever find a suitable substitute orange for Laraha, as their peelings are exceptionally aromatic. The dried Laraha peelings and some secret spices are bagged and hung in alcohol to make Curacao. Triple Sec uses the peelings of Laraha and two other oranges – one bitter and one sweet. Today, the science of chemistry allows both Curacao and Triple Sec to be made synthetically.

The Triple Sec used in Key Lime A-Rita is a cheap synthetic Triple Sec syrup available in HEB grocery stores in Texas. It is also available elsewhere at Wegmans, More Wines, Walmart, and other outlets. If you want to use real Triple Sec, a number of companies will take your money.

This recipe makes one gallon. To make more than that, do the math.

  • zest and juice from 10 key limes
  • juice from an additional 10 key limes
  • 11.5 oz. can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
  • 1 lb. 10 oz. sugar*
  • 1 tsp. pectic enzyme
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1/4 tsp. powdered grape tannin
  • 3.25 qt. water
  • 1/2 tsp. potassium sorbate
  • potassium metabisulfite (or finely crushed Campden tablets) as needed
  • 200 mL (6.75 fluid ounces) Finest Call Premium Triple Sec Syrup
  • Red Star Côte des Blancs wine yeast

*To produce an initial dry wine, sugar should not be increased; the grape concentrate will provide 8.45 oz. of additional sugar. Initial PA will be reduced after topping up following racking but this is expected. This wine is not balanced above 13% abv.

Collect the zest from 10 key limes and then juice them and 10 more, Put zest, juice, tannin, yeast nutrient, and sugar in primary. Add grape juice concentrate and water and stir until sugar is dissolved. Stir in pectic enzyme and cover primary with sanitized cloth. Wait 10-12 hours and add activated yeast in starter solution. Recover the primary, set aside until vigorous fermentation subsides and transfer to secondary. Top up to within 3 inches of mouth of secondary and attach airlock. After one week, stir in 1/16th tsp. potassium metabisulfite (or one finely crushed Campden tablet) and top up to within 3/4 inch of bung. Wait for wine to ferment to absolute dryness (30-45 days) and rack, top up and reattach airlock. Rack again when wine is brilliantly clear (additional 45-60 days). Add potassium sorbate and additional 1/16th tsp. potassium metabisulfite (or another finely crushed Campden tablet) and let bulk age 3 months. If additional sediments have formed, rack once again. Obviously, the "secret" ingredient is the Triple Sec syrup. Add it now and stir. Bottle and set aside to age. Do NOT taste this wine for at least 6 months %1 year if you have real willpower. It will be worth the wait, but you will hate yourself if you don't make several gallons initially. [Jack Keller's own recipe, with inspiration from Martin Benke]

March 13th, 2013

This blog entry was written on March 13th, but almost as soon as it was saved I lost my internet connectivity and was not able to post it until March 16th. My apologies, but it was beyond my ability to control.

The San Antonio Regional Wine Guild is meeting at our house Sunday and I still have much to do to make the place presentable, so this will be a brief entry – with more apologies.

"The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed, lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work instead of living on public assistance." – Cicero , 55 BC

So, evidently we've learned nothing in the past 2,068 years.

My brother in Everett, Washington sent me the link to this video. I have to admit I was overwhelmed by thoughts about how complex the mechanisms must be to make this happen. This is a "music box" of sorts. Turn up your sound and click if you want to be amazed....

Oh, just mouse-over the annoying pop-ups and close each at the little "x" in the upper right .

I once designed a spring-launched, 6-function device that turned to open a valve, power two auxiliary functions, throw a switch, trip a lever and complete an electrical connection. It served no actual purpose (but could have) and was never built, but I did it to see if I could back when I was single and had too much time on my hands. The hand-drawn schematics took about 40 drafting pages to fully show all parts and functions. I probably still have ithem somewhere, in one of the 83 boxes stored in the garage. But this...the sheer complexity blows my mind. If you did not click the link, please rethink that decision. I guarantee you will be amazed.

Jack Keller at TVOS Conference Banquet, Knoxville, TN
Author at TVOS Conference Banquet, Knoxville,
TN; the red nose means too much wine

The TVOS conference in Knoxville was a lot of fun for me, but there were a time or two when too much wine was evident. Not that that was necessarily a bad thing. Shortly after this picture was shot I was dragged out onto the dance floor by a beautiful blonde to bogie to a jazzy blues number that lasted oh so long. It was sufficient enough to get the metabolism going and get that wine moving through my body and ended just before my legs did. Timing is a good thing.

So is hospitality. I could not have desired more of that than the Tennesseans exhibited to me and each other. I was truly impressed.

Texans have always had a special affection for folks from Tennessee. The first and third President of the Republic of Texas was former Tennessee Governor Sam Houston. Of the 180+ fallen defenders of the Alamo, 32 were from Tennessee. Tennessee is woven into our history as is no other state.

If a couple of good folks in Tennessee had not sent me photos of the event I would not have any at all. All 86 photos taken with my camera were next to useless. It turns out there was an oily smudge% probably by own fingerprint after eating some finger foods – on the front aperture of my camera, blurring the results. Of course, I did not notice this until I got home and transferred the photos to my computer. I have cleaned the camera, but too late to recapture what was loss.

So, if any of you fine folks who attended want to share your photos with me, send them to jackredkellerwhitewine(at)gbluemail(dot)com – just remove the patriotic colors from the address and normalize the items in parentheses. And please identify the subjects. I was introduced to far too many folks to remember all of the names.

Chiltepins and Chile Wine

Chiltepins, also known as Texas Bird Pepper; Bird Pepper; Pequin, Tepin, Petin, Bird’s Eye Pepper, Turkey Pepper, photo from Howard Garrett, The Dirt Doctor

We have a little pepper that grows wild called the chiltepin, also known as Texas Bird Pepper; Bird Pepper; Pequin, Tepin, Petin, Bird's Eye Pepper, Turkey Pepper and probably a few names I missed. It is about the size of your small fingernail (trimmed) and packs a lot of heat for so small a berry. I have two growing in the back next to an oak tree and the birds plant them along fences and under trees. Naturally, I had to make wine from them.

But first, a few words about this potent little berry.

Some years ago we had some Latino workers doing some work in our yard. In the hot Texas heat, they earned every penny we paid them. While bringing them some iced tea, I noticed one of the workers taking a chiltepin from his shirt pocket and popping it into his mouth. Within a minute sweat broke out on his forehead. I asked how he could eat them in this heat. He laughed and said they cooled him off. They make one sweat, he explained, and sweat cools you off when it evaporates in the heat. And the heat in the mouth, he said, keeps you alert.

He also explained that his family lives about a hundred miles south near Corpus Christi. The drive there late at night can lull him to sleep while driving, but if he pops a chiltepin in his mouth and chews it, it is impossible to go to sleep while driving. I have used this advice on a couple of drives and can swear it works.

Only after the workers left did I discover they had stripped my plants of every ripe chile. My wife and I dry these and grind them into a very hot chile powder. But it was okay. The bushes flower and produce new berries all summer and into the fall so our supply was soon renewed.

When I decided to make chiltepin wine, I turned to my tried and true jalapeno wine recipe. Jalapeno wine is both a cooking wine and a sipping wine. As a cooking wine, it is very versatile. It can be used to marinade meats, spice up barbeque sauces or glazes, or added directly to foods and sauces. It does something to spaghetti sauces that is beyond description. But as a sipping wine on a cold night, this is a superb choice. It will warm you like no other, and even goes well mixed with V-8 Juice for a Bloody Mary affect with much less alcohol than Vodka delivers.

Where my jalapeno recipe uses 16 hot jalapenos, my chiltepin recipe uses 20 much, much smaller chiles but make every bit as hot a wine. The heat is sharper, but delightful if you like hot and spicy....

Chiltepin Wine Recipe

  • 20 ripe chiltepins
  • 1 lb golden raisins, chopped or minced
  • 2 lbs very fine granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp acid blend
  • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • water to one gallon
  • 1 finely crushed Campden tablet
  • 3/4 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Red Star Pasteur Champagne Wine Yeast

Cover the raisins in warm water and soak them overnight. The next day, wearing rubber gloves, wash the peppers, remove the stems and cut in half length-ways. Remove the seeds for mild heat, but leave them in for a full-strength wine. Removing the seeds is easiest with a pecan pick. Now cut the halves in half and place in a fine mesh nylon straining bag. Chop or mince the raisins and place them in the bag with the chiles in a primary. Add the remaining ingredients except the pectic enzyme and yeast. Stir well to dissolve the sugar, cover and set aside for 12 hours. Add the pectic enzyme and cover for another 12 hours. Add the activated yeast. Re-cover the primary and stir daily for 7 days. Wearing rubber gloves, squeeze the nylon straining bag and transfer all liquids to a secondary and attach an airlock. Ferment to absolute dryness (45-60 days). Rack, top up and refit the airlock. Rack two more times, 30 days apart. Wait a final 30 days and carefully rack into bottles. The wine can be used for cooking immediately or drink in 2 months, but it will age if 1/4 teaspoon of tannin to ingredients. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

As a marinading wine for pork and red meats, fully hot chiltepin wine is exceptional at imparting a piquant flavor into the outer 1/8 to 3/8 inch of meats. Other herbs and spices should be selected to compliment the heat. Your own tastes must guide you.

As with jalapeno wine, I used some chiltepin wine in making both barbecue and spaghetti sauces. Here it seems to shine, as not much wine is used in either. The flavor and inherent heat are subtle but there, giving them a uniqueness unrivaled. Finally, as with jalapeno wine, it mixes well with tomato juice and V-8. If you make it, you will discover your own niches where it will shine.

March 19th, 2013

The San Antonio Regional Wine Guild (SARWG) met here this past Sunday and we had a stellar time. The pot luck feed was great, the wines brought for tasting were exceptional (okay, one was over the hill but the rest were exceptional) and the social conversations were both enjoyable, entertaining and sometimes educational. When this many winemakers get together, you cannot help but learn something without even trying. Someone will taste a wine and say, "This wine reminds me of the time I...." I pays to listen.

Thank you SARWG, for a great day! And thanks for leaving me a little of my brisket to enjoy on another day (yep, once again I slow cooked a whole brisket in the oven, tightly covered, at 175° F. for 10 hours – this one prepared with a sweet/spicy barbecue rub instead of my usual Creole rub – on a bed of sweet onion halves). And thanks one and all for participating in the wine judging program. I think we all benefited from the sharing of so many perceptions and opinions. As I said several times during the judging exercise, there are no wrong opinions, so write yours down on the judging form so the winemaker knows why you scored it as you did. As a judge, you owe the winemaker that much.

It was a totally enjoyable day. The only detraction was the members who could not make it and those who have passed on. We missed them.

When I look back over the years, SARWG members who could not consistently make the long monthly drive to the San Antonio area have gone on to form the Austin Area/Central Texas Wine Guild, the North Texas Wine Guild and the Central Louisiana Wine Guild, each of which has grown and evolved into its own universe. As Martha Stewart likes to say, "It's a good thing."

If you make wine or just enjoy wine and do not belong to a club or guild you are missing out on so much potential for sharing and growth, not to mention just plain fun. Consider this: life is shorter than we think and we either embrace it fully or its full potential passes us by. By all means, embrace it.

I don't know how old this is (I have traced it back to March, 2012) but I like it. According to the email I received, there's an annual contest at the Griffiths University, (five campuses) Australia, calling for the most appropriate definition of a contemporary term.

This (2012) year's term was "political correctness".

The winning student wrote:

"Political correctness is a doctrine, fostered by a delusional, illogical minority, and rapidly promoted by mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a piece of shit by the clean end."

I think he (or she) hit the nail squarely on the head. The sooner we abandon political correctness and get back to honest, open dialog using real words that have common and exact meanings the better off we will be as a body politic (regardless of nationality, race, religion, gender, you-name-it). If someone is offended by a word or phrase that is real, defined and in the common lexicon, that is their problem – not mine – and they need to deal with it.

I once fought a nearly year-long battle over the use of the term "Dago Red" in one of my recipe names. An Italian-American advocacy organization got involved and I felt the weight of pressure until I felt myself bending. Then the person who started the whole campaign because she thought the word "Dago" was derogatory wrote me a scathing email in which she stooped to the lowest of name-calling, and that is when my spine straightened, my heels dug in, and I firmly said, "The name of the recipe stays. The names you have called me will be deleted with all of your emails. End of discussion. Further emails from you will be rejected."

I'm tired of political correctness. I want to get back to the English language with all of its colloquialisms. If my language or opinions offend you, you are free to close your browser or navigate elsewhere.

WineMaker magazine banner

Nearly two years ago the editor of WineMaker magazine asked me to write an article on aging country wines. I did so. It was the most difficult article I ever wrote. Eventually I submitted it on the deadline date. Then nothing happened. I scanned each issue as it arrived but the article never appeared. About 5-6 months ago I asked the editor for the courtesy of a rejection letter if he did not intend to use it. He replied it had inadvertently gotten overlooked, but he had slotted it for the April-May 2013 issue. That issue arrived today and it was there.

When I say, "It was the most difficult article I ever wrote" I mean that in every sense those words mean. Usually, I spend a few days mulling the subject over in my mind to arrive at my approach to the article. Then I spend 1 1/2-2 days writing it. I save it and go about my business for a few days and then read what I wrote. Then I edit/rewrite until I am satisfied. I then skip a day and re-edit it. At this stage the article is spell-checked with two different programs and minor editing is done. I immediately send it off to the editor. This article was quite different.

First I pondered the subject for several weeks, trying to get a handle on how to approach the subject matter. I never really felt comfortable with an approach so decided to just start writing and see where it went. Then I spent fours days and nights writing version one. Three days later I read it and felt very sick inside. It read like a chapter in a book on organic chemistry.

I immediately began rewriting it, using a few snippets from the first version but deleting all the names of specific compounds, the reaction diagrams and the charts on reductive/oxidative sequences. Two days later I "put it to bed" and reviewed it a few days after that. Once again I felt sick inside. Everything I wrote was correct, but it was haphazard at best, skipping about like a stream-of-consciousness recital on LSD. While I could understand it, I cursed the author for making me try to pull it together for him.

I slept on the problem for a week, then another, then looked at the calendar and panicked. The deadline was six days away. I began cutting paragraphs out of the second version and pasting them into a third. Slowly it began to make sense. At 4:30 in the morning I stopped and went to bed. The morning brought a new day but an old sickness in the stomach. Version three was not a disaster, but I didn't want my name on it. I turned off the computer and went fishing.

Flyfishing is a wonderful hobby when the mind is troubled, jumbled or otherwise in torment. Mine was all of the above. There is something about being outdoors, standing in the cool water and feeling the slow current, sun and breeze both playing on the skin, and trying to think like a fish lying somewhere out there in the bottom structure of the river that liberates the mind, elevates the soul and focuses the senses. When this happens, it makes no difference at all if you actually catch a fish or not. It is the transformation within that is important. And this is good, because I did not catch a fish that day. But I went home at peace with myself.

The next morning I began rewriting each paragraph in turn to stabilize the voice, the tone and the flow. About six hours later I saved it, turned off the computer and curled up on our loveseat with the book, "Why Does E=mc²? (and why should we care)" by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw. This was the second time I had read it and will probably read it again. It provokes thought, which I like in a book. Strangely enough, I completely forgot about the article. I mean really forgot about it.

A few days later I was looking at the calendar and noticed the notation "Article due." Holy smoke! I retrieved the article, quickly read it, and felt sick. Once again I was dissatisfied, but it was too late. I drafted a cover letter saying I was not satisfied with it but did not think I could improve it much with a deadline extension so here it is. I expected a cautiously worded request to rewrite it or a rejection, but received neither. Time passed and you know the rest of the story as that is where I began.

Well, I have now read in print what I labored and agonized over. Separated by many, many months, it was like I read "Aging Country Wines" for the first time. It is better than I had allowed myself to believe. I am just very glad it is in the past.

By the way, if you don't yet subscribe to WineMaker magazine, you really should think about what you're missing. You can become a new subscriber or renew a lapsed subscription by clicking on the banner image below:

WineMaker Magazine

Maria's Black Bean Salad

Maria's Black Bean Salad, a truly delicious and healthy snack, side or entree

I get sent a lot of recipes because I occasionally post recipes I really like and people want me to try their favorites. When this one came to me I immediately recognized it as both heart-healthy and nutritious. Two other things impressed me. One, all ingredients are budget friendly and two, they are all allowed in my adopted diet to keep away the belly fat I've shed (37 pounds in the past 12 months!). The question is, how does it taste? There is only one way to find out, so I made it. Bingo!

The recipe originated with Maria Zoitas, creator of "Maria's Homemade" line of prepared food sold exclusively at Westside Market NYC, with four locations in New York City. Since I am half a country away from there, I cannot pop in and buy Maria's prepared foods, but luckily for me (and you) she shares the recipes. Willingly.

Most people have heard of the so-called Mediterranean diet. The secret here is that traditional foods of Spain, France, Italy, Greece, etc. are higher in monounsaturated fats than saturated fats, which is good for the heart and circulatory system, and they contain foods that lower bad cholesterol while building good cholesterol. Combined with other aspects of the diet, a Mediterranean diet, coupled with a modest amount of regular exercise, greatly benefits the cardiovascular system, reduces the risk of type-2 diabetes, obesity, depression, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer's disease, and cancer of the breast, colon, pancreas, prostate, and endometrium.

Complete Idiot's Guide to Belly Fat Weight loss, paperback

The ingredients in this recipe are all in the Mediterranean diet and are also good for reducing belly fat. The olive oil in the Italian dressing is the number one source of monounsaturated fat. The avocado in the salad is the number two source. They are also high in fiber, vitamins E and K, folate, and potassium. As a bonus, they also provide lutin and zeaxanthin, both of which are good for eye health.

The black beans provide about 14 grams of protein per 1-cup serving. What's more, that same amount provides 12 grams of fiber, half the recommended daily amount to maintain good health and shed belly fat. The recipe makes 4 servings, so you're only going to be eating slightly more than 1/2 cup, but the benefits are still there.

The tomatoes in the recipe are high in lycopene, an antioxidant good for the prostate and skin. The onions and scallions are in one of the seven groups of "super foods," nutritional all-stars providing lots of fiber, phytonutrients and vitamins when compared to other foods.

The only component of the recipe not in my diet is the tortilla chips, but moderation is the key when it comes to such things. One could omit them altogether without messing up the recipe, but I follow the advice my cardiologist gave me right after I had a long visit by the hospital's dietician/nutritionist following my second heart attack. He essentially said if I strictly followed the dietary recommendations I was just given I would be healthier than if I didn't, but conceded that the diet might be boring for someone (me) who listed as his favorite foods barbecued pork ribs, Southern fried chicken, pork chops, and porterhouse steak. He said I could reward myself every once in a while for staying on the diet by eating something not in the diet, but stressed that moderation and "every once in a while" were the key components of his advice. I think a dozen or so tortilla chips might be covered here as small rewards for eating the rest of the meal.

Below is the original recipe, untouched. My only tweaks were to add 2 tablespoons of unsalted sunflower kernels and 2 teaspoons of flax seeds. These are both rich in monounsaturated fat and fiber and are solidly in my belly fat weight loss diet; i.e. they are muy healthy. They also blended into the recipe beautifully.

Enjoy. I did. Oh, and if you'd like to order the book I use for belly fat weight loss, simply click on the book's image just above on the right.

Black Bean Salad (4 servings)

  • 2 cups canned black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 avocados, diced
  • 2 plum tomatoes, diced
  • 1 bunch of scallions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 5 ounces Italian dressing
  • Tortilla chips

In a large bowl, place black beans, avocados, tomatoes, scallions, cilantro, red onion and toss with Italian dressing.

Serve with tortilla chips on the side.

What to Do with Your Wines-In-Progress When You Move

Carboy collection, courtesy of Barbara Pleasant

A home winemaker recently asked me what he should do with his wines-in-progress when he moved to a new residence. His wines had a lot of lees but it wasn't time to rack them yet. I've faced this problem myself and it can cause anxiety, but it need not do so. The answer is quite simple.

The person who asked stated that he did not want the lees disturbed by the move. I suspect he feared the agitation might cause problematic reductive off flavors and odors. It could if the lees were old and starting to decay – a process known as autolysis – but young, healthy lees can withstand agitation. Nonetheless he stated his instincts were to rack the wines off the lees before moving. I concurred with this.

Racking a wine early has only one potential problem, which time will overcome. Most wine yeasts settle into the lees and do their work of fermentation there. As they release microscopic bubbles of CO2 that rise, combine again and again with other bubbles and eventually increase enough to become visible to us, the action of the rising bubbles causes the wine to slowly circulate in the carboy and continually brings new food to the yeast in the lees. Racking early leaves that yeast population behind and for a period lasting up to several weeks the airlock sits dormant while the yeast population rebuilds.

Not to worry. Some yeast always make it into the receiving carboy and as long as sugar is present in the wine they will reproduce to numbers that once again cause activity in the airlock. But they do use up most or all of the remaining yeast nutrients as they reproduce, so adding 1/2 teaspoon of nutrients into the receiving carboy while racking is a good idea. Adding a pinch of potassium metabisulfite is also recommended to reduce the risk of spoilage organisms gaining hold in the sugar rich environment.

There is a dichotomy when it comes to autolysis. Certain wines such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc benefit from autolysis by gaining complexity during the process that enhances their structure and mouthfeel, giving them extra body and increasing their aromatic complexity. The practice of aging a wine on the lees for a few months to a year is called sur lie (French for "on the lees") aging. It is accompanied by frequent (every few days) stirring of the lees – what the French call bâtonnage. Aging a wine sur lie avec bâtonnage can result in a creamy, viscous mouthfeel.

By the way, when we speak of sur lie aging, we specifically mean the yeast lees, not the initial gross lees composed of organic matter from the grapes or fruit base the wine was made from. Any wine destined for sur lie aging must be racked off the gross lees – usually within 5-7 days following the cessation of vigorous fermentation – so that a clean deposit of fine yeast lees can commence forming. These are the lees you will begin stirring every few days after allowing the layer to thicken for about 2 months.

But not all wines react favorably to prolonged contact with the lees and not all yeast produce lees conducive to sur lie aging. Unfortunately, I have never set out to collect data on which wines and which yeast are best predisposed to sur lie aging. If any reader has knowledge of such data I would appreciate hearing about it.

March 27th, 2013

It is difficult for me to give up something that has been with me for years, but the other day I decided to make the WineBlog more easily readable. I hope you like the results. I will probably tweak it some more, but have decided not to return to contrasting backgrounds. I realize they obscured the written content on the page and am sorry for subjecting you to that.

On March 17th Marvin Nebgen gave me a bottle of his Mustang Port. It was uncorked, but stoppered with a T-cork. Since I could not lay it down, it stood in my dining room until two nights ago, when temptation overcame me and I removed the closure and sampled it. It was delicious. Now it is gone. Thank you, Marvin. Tonight I had to open one of my own.

Life would be less enjoyable without wine, but it would be less rich without port. Port gathers itself in age where lesser wines languish. Port has substance. Port has depth. Port is rich in complexity. I raise my glass to port and its delicious magic.

I am about to go into "income tax preparation" seclusion for a few days and thought I should post this single-subject blog entry before I do. I hope it appeals to some of you.

A Tale of a Flower Wine

Wildflower scene in Rocky Mountains

On my page, Edible Flowers Suitable for Use in Home Winemaking, I list 234 flowers – some wild, some cultivated – suitable for winemaking. It is by no mean an all-inclusive list, as there are undoubtedly thousands of flowers out there I have no knowledge of, or have limited knowledge of but no access to. I did more than due diligence in compiling this list. I searched every list of edible and toxic flowers I could find up to a point.

Many, many lists out there are merely copies of other lists. After searching over 200 lists, I reached a point where all I was seeing were copies of previous lists, or lists compiled by others that contained few names and none of them new to my compilation. After days of searching, I stopped. I had reached a point where no further progress was being made.

A few of the flowers on the list can be found on lists of "toxic plants." While these lists are useful, they only identify plants that have some form of toxin somewhere in their system, and the toxin(s) that put them on the lists may only be mildly toxic to, say, sheep or cats, but perfectly fine for humans. There are huge data repositories concerning plants and their relationship with our pets and domesticated grazing animals. I spent days confirming that every flower on my list was not toxic to humans even though it might be harmful to, say, cows or horses.

A few examples of composite flowers, used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or later

Many of the flowers on the list – notably the composites – simply contain pollens that some people are allergic to, and for some strange reason the definition of "toxic" has been expanded by the creators of some "toxic plants" lists to include those with pollen allergens. This defies the medical definition of "toxic" and I simply ignored this bastardization of the language. But in fairness I should say that if you suffer from hay fever, stay away from the composite flowers and any others you know cause you a problem. For the vast majority of us, none of these flowers will cause us problems.

For the remaining few listed somewhere as belonging to plants that are "toxic" in some sense, I have done enough research in each case to satisfy myself that I would make wine with this flower. You have to decide for yourself if you would.

I get email occasionally challenging some flower on the list. The "big two" are lilacs and lavender. Both appear on numerous lists as "toxic." It is not an exaggeration to say that I have spent literally days confirming, again and again, that these flowers pose no health risk to humans as the base for wine.

Quite a few flowers on the list contain unique compounds that serve a purpose to the plant producing them. Some compounds are unsavory – they simply taste bad if enough are eaten. But they are not toxic. The purpose of the compound in the flower is interpreted as a defense mechanism to discourage deer and other herbivores from eating them and thereby preventing the flower from producing seed. Other compounds are unusual but simply produce a unique odor that attracts certain pollinators. In both instances the compound serves a purpose that contributes to the continuation of the plant's future existence. If the compound is not toxic, the flower remains on the list. It may not be the best flower to make wine from, but it is suitable by the standards I have set for myself.

A typical magnolia blossom, source of photo unknown

I say all of this as prolog to relating a wine from a single flower – that of the magnolia tree. Many years ago I made wine from magnolia blossoms collected at a friend's home in Louisiana. It was not a great wine but was drinkable. It possessed a slight aftertaste that was unique but not entirely unlikeable by me. I never published the recipe but have shared it a couple of times in correspondence. Now, it seems, I have misplaced it, as no log notes can be found. Since, over the years, much material I have produced has been boxed up and retired to storage, I am confident it still exists but I have neither the time nor desire right now to expend the effort to locate it. But I did make the wine once.

Be that as it may be, I am not the only person to have made this wine. Several months ago another winemaker reported to me that he had started a batch of magnolia blossom wine. In due course he sent me a bottle for my evaluation. His only instructions were to allow the wine to rest a couple of weeks, to recover from any ill effects of shipping, before opening it. When I received it I looked at the calendar and realized the wine would be well rested when the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild (SARWG) met at our house in March. I had planned on conducting a mock "judging" of a wine at the meeting and decided I would present this wine to the members.

At the meeting, I introduced the wine and told the members everything I knew about it. I had them clear their glasses and passed out SARWG judging forms and the wine was poured to everyone. Then we went through the judging form, item by item, and each person recorded his or her score and was asked to write comments if the wine did not receive the highest score for an item.

Some of the SARWG members on my patio, waiting for the magnoia wine judging to begin (photo be Charlie Suehs)
SARWG members on author's patio

The purpose of this exercise was threefold. First and foremost, to discuss the various aspects of judging a wine that no one other than myself had ever tasted, let alone made. When dealing with a completely foreign wine, certain latitudes must be given in certain areas. For example, is the color of the wine exactly as expected for this type of wine, or is it lighter or darker than expected? If you have never encountered magnolia blossom wine before, how are you to know? The answer is you cannot know, so unless the wine is obviously colorless or has darkened from aging as you know white wines do, then the wine should receive the benefit of doubt and be rated highly in this area.

Secondly, I wanted to challenge the members to both write comments and to do so constructively. If you say, "This wine has a peculiar smell," it is not helpful to the winemaker. But if you say, "The wine smelled slightly of cooked cabbage," the winemaker can do a little research and discover that this is caused by methionol or methyl mercaptan, both of which are distinct sulfur compounds caused by a reductive-oxidative (often shortened to redox) progression generally allowed by too low a pH value. This comment is constructive and potentially can help the winemaker while "a peculiar smell" is not at all helpful.

Thirdly, I wanted to evaluate the magnolia blossom wine for the gentleman who made it. I could have done it alone, but thought it would be more valuable to him if he received numerous evaluations.

I think the first purpose was fulfilled. Many of the members present commented that they learned a lot from the exercise and how to approach the various aspects of the SARWG judging form. The second purpose was less successful, but at least a lot of people were challenged to at least make comments, even if they could not always figure out how to word them constructively. But it was in the third purpose that the force of numbers came into play

This wine possessed a peculiar aftertaste. The members were all over the spectrum in trying to describe it. Some thought it was from too much alcohol. Some thought it was too much acid. I can say with some authority it was neither of those. Others called it bitter and still others called it astringent. But in reality, it was neither. It was something else.

Principal taste areas of the human tongue

Bitterness is a taste sensation most notably perceived near the back of the tongue, but it truly can be perceived elsewhere as well. Astringency is a tactile response perceived throughout the mouth, not just on the tongue. The aftertaste we perceived in the magnolia blossom wine was almost universally perceived at the back of the tongue and especially where the tongue descended into the throat. I personally had trouble describing it but remembered it from (1) having eaten a magnolia petal and (2) from my own magnolia wine (although I thought my own wine possessed less of it). This experience led me to think it was possibly a non-flavonoid phenolic compound, a naturally occurring unsavory discouragent to herbivores or an attractant to specific pollinators. Whatever it was, I could not identify it but believed it was pronounced because too many flowers had been used in making the wine.

I later summarized the results in an email to the winemaker and told him I was mailing the judging sheets that contained comments. My email comments focused on the wide variety of scores, from very low to fairly good, and on the aftertaste. I stressed that at least two people actually liked the aftertaste while most thought it was a distractant at best, a fault at worse. The email I received in return was both interesting and non-illuminating.

He said as soon as he read about the aftertaste he went to his cellar and retrieved and opened a bottle of the wine. To him, it was as balanced and pleasant as it had always been. Then a thought occurred to him. His wine was stored at 55° F. and consumed before it had risen a degree. So he wondered if I had served the wine chilled or at room temperature. He allowed a glass of the wine to sit out until it was near 70° and tasted it. There was a noticeably disagreeable aftertaste that wasn't there when the wine was chilled. I found this taste difference very interesting, but had encountered it before with at least two other wines. I am just sorry he did not ask me to chill it before serving as I surely would have done so, but in truth he did not know it would change taste at higher temperatures.

The non-illuminating aspect of his reply was that it shed no light to me on what might have caused the aftertaste. Certainly there are knowledgeable and analytical wine tasters out there who could turn this information into an informed guesstimate (Alison Crowe, John Hudelson, Marian Baldy and Jamie Goode come to mind), but I doubt any of them read this blog.

And so it remains a mystery to me, but I do believe it is a natural taste of the magnolia blossom petal as it was present when I ate a petal many years ago. But in spite of it, the magnolia blossom is decidedly a flower suitable for use in home winemaking. Just serve it chilled.

April 11th, 2013

I've received numerous comments on the new look of the WineBlog and a few pages of my Winemaking Home Page website. All were positive. I promise to work on the remaining pages as time permits, but this is a busy time for me. Please practice patience.

I will be flying to Rochester, New York later this month to accept an award for contributions to home winemaking, presented by the Rochester Area Home Winemakers. It is an honor to be thusly recognized. The RAHW is a vibrant club and I look forward to visiting with them.

I will attend my 50th high school reunion in May. The San Bernardino High School Class of '63 is doing it right, with a dinner and dance at Marina Del Rey followed by a 4-day cruise out of Long Beach and a picnic on Catalina Island. Ours was a BIG class. We have located 375 classmates, still cannot find the whereabouts of 316, and 96 have passed away.

Left to right, Rosalie Keller, Barbara Garner, Jack Keller Sr., and Barry Keller
l to r, Rosalie Keller, Barbara Garner, Jack Keller Sr., and Barry
Keller, Thanksgiving 2012

As announced in my last WineBlog entry, my plans were to start working on my taxes and beat the last minute rush. My plans were interrupted by a phone call from my sister. My father, age 91, had fallen at home and was in the hospital in San Bernardino, California. They found minor internal bleeding between the skull and brain, but it looked okay. No sooner had the neurosurgeon given her the good news when my father developed a respiratory problem. The next morning my sister called to say it didn't look good and I had better fly out. I did. A few days later, on April 3rd at 3:15 a.m., he passed away with eight of us by his bedside. The only reason I flew back to Texas six days later was because I still had to prepare and file my taxes. I'm taking a break from that unpleasant chore to write this....

The photo at right is my mother, father, sister Barbara and brother Barry last Thanksgiving. What follows is the obituary I wrote for him, with only minor editing.

Jack Keller Sr. was born in Eunice, Louisiana November 22, 1921 to Dennis and Eva Keller. He had three brothers and two sisters. His father was a baker and he took up the trade at an early age. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy a few months after the attack on Pearl Harbor and underwent his basic seaman's training in San Diego. His future bride, Rosalie Robertson of Lake Charles, Louisiana, arrived at San Diego by train at the same time his train, unbeknownst to her, was leaving the same station to take him to Bremerton, Washington for Cook and Baker School. Rosalie moved to Seattle and they were wed on September 26, 1942.

Jack and Rosalie have five children: Barbara Jean Garner (Eugene, Oregon), me (Jack Jr., Pleasanton, Texas), Larry Glen (Everett, Washington), Keith Alan (Gardnerville, Nevada), and Barry Wayne (Highland, California). In 1956 the family of seven moved from West Orange, Texas to Muscoy, California and Jack secured employment with Noyes Bakery in San Bernardino.

Jack was Noyes Bakery's cake decorator for 35 years. His creativity was showcased when Dick Noyes had a picture window installed at Jack's workbench so people could watch him create masterpieces for thousands of weddings and special occasions throughout California's Inland Empire. He retired from baking in 1985 and took up traveling with Rosalie and family members throughout Europe, North Africa and Mexico. Later, he loved to go on cruises with his wife and family. Above all, he treasured visiting Israel and walking the roads, paths and gardens where Jesus walked.

Jack was the consummate small town citizen. He achieved life membership for service in the PTA, combined 25 years of service as Boy Scout Master and Explorer Advisor, was active in Democrat Party politics for over four decades, taught regular and themed Adult Bible Studies at the Muscoy United Methodist Church for 28 years, served with the Muscoy Recreation Association for almost 20 years, and simply was involved wherever he felt needed. His life was a demonstration of citizenship, friendship and fatherhood.

Jack was witty, intelligent, generous, kind, and loving. He loved gardening and creating unique landscapes around their home. He made it a point to pack the family into their station wagon every free weekend and holiday and head out on the back roads to enjoy the beauty and history of California. He loved camping with his family and his Scouts.

Jack is survived by his wife of 70 years, his five children and their spouses, fourteen grandchildren and nine great grandchildren by blood or marriage, and countless friends. He will rest eternally at the Veterans Administration Riverside National Cemetery.

I miss him dearly.

Black Raspberry Wine

Black raspberries, photo from Specialty Produce

I received an inquiry about my Best of Show Black Raspberry Wine recipe on the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild website. In the method portion I say to add acid blend, but there isn't any listed in the ingredients portion. The inquirer wanted to know how much to add. This sent me digging through my recipe logs, where I made a startling discovery.

My log showed, "Measured acidity and added acid blend to reach 6 grams per liter." I didn't note from where to reach 6 g/L or how much acid blend was added – only that it was deficient and I bumped up the acidity. This was nearly 15 years ago, so my memory of that specific measurement is, well, fuzzy to say the least.

What I do remember is the wine. It was the best batch of black raspberry wine I've ever made. I was saving two bottles to enter in the Texas State Fair – they had a home wine competition back then – but my wife served them proudly to her sorority sisters.

I told the inquirer to follow the chemistry. His black raspberries might not need an acid bump, but I thought mine did. Blackberries and dewberries seem balanced at around 5.5 g/L, but black rasps and blueberries taste crisper at 6 g/L...to me, anyway. So here is the original recipe, edited lightly.

Black Raspberry Wine Recipe

  • 4 lbs black raspberries
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 2 lbs sugar
  • 7 pts water
  • 1 crushed Campden tablet
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 pkg Cote des Blancs wine yeast

Pick only ripe berries. Combine water and sugar and bring just to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Wash and destem berries. Put in nylon straining bag, tie, put in bottom of primary, and crush berries in bag. Pour hot sugar-water over berries to set the color and extract the flavorful juice. Add acid blend if needed and yeast nutrient. Allow to cool to room temperature and add crushed Campden tablet. Cover primary. After 12 hours, add pectic enzyme. After additional 12 hours, specific gravity measured 1.092. Add wine yeast and re-cover primary. Stir daily for a week. Remove nylon bag and allow to drip drain about an hour, keeping primary covered as before. Do not squeeze bag. Return drippings to primary. Continue fermentation in primary until specific gravity falls below 1.015, stirring daily. Rack to secondary, top up with water and fit airlock. Use a dark secondary or wrap with brown paper (from paper bag) to preserve color. Ferment additional 2 months, then rack into clean secondary. Refit airlock and rack again after additional 2 months. Wait a final 2 months, rack again and stabilize wine with potassium sorbate and another crushed Campden tablet. Stir in 1/2 cup sugar and refit airlock. Wait 30 days to be sure wine does not referment and bottle in dark glass. Drink after one year. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

This is an excellent sweetish wine, but you must ferment the full 6 months and age another year. Berry quality and ripeness are key. They should be jet black and soft to the touch.

April 20th, 2013

My mother, sister Barbara, me, and my father in 1945
My mother, sister Barbara, me, and my father in 1945

Thank you all who have expressed sympathy sentiments for the passing of my father. This is not an uncommon event in the nature of things, but it only happens to each of us but once. Thanks again for your compassion. (Photo at right: my mother holding my sister Barbara, my father holding me, 1945)

My father was honorably discharged from the United States Navy on November 26, 1945. On December 19, 1945 the following letter was mailed to him by James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy. Hundreds of thousands of such letters were mailed in 1945 and 1946, each of them hand typed. Think about that....

blank space"My dear Mr. Keller:

blank space"I have addressed this letter to reach you after all the formalities of your separation from active service are completed. I have done so because, without formality but as clearly as I know how to say it, I want the Navy's pride in you, which it is my privilege to express, to reach into your civil life and to remain with you always.

blank space"You have served in the greatest Navy in the world.

blank space"It crushed two enemy fleets at once, receiving their surrenders only four months apart.

blank space"It brought our land-based airpower within bombing range of the enemy, and set our ground armies on the beachheads of final victory.

blank space"It performed the multitude of tasks necessary to support these military operations.

blank space"No other Navy at any time has done so much. For your part in these achievements you deserve to be proud as long as you live. The Nation which you served at a time of crisis will remember you with gratitude.

blank space"The best wishes of the Navy go with you into civilian life. Good luck!

blank space"Sincerely yours,

blank space"James Forrestal"

He truly was part of "the greatest generation." Thank you, Dad.

Second bomb explodes in Boston while smoke from first is still rising (photo from CBS News)

The shock, horror and sadness evoked by the Boston Marathon bombings confirms for us all that the specter of terror remains at large. If any had become complacent in the intervening years since the 9-11 attacks on America, the horrific scenes from the heart of Boston should bring them back to reality.

The killing of one suspect and the capture of the other are comforting, but should not lull us from realizing there are still people out there who want us dead. They have not gone away. Anyone who denies this is delusional. Boston proves the passage of time without an attack is no indication we are safe. People who believe in jihad will be around for many, many years.

Our prayers should be focused on all who were touched by the double bombing. Be thankful so many were willing to run toward the blasts to render aid. That typifies the true spirit of America, and as long as it survives America will also survive. Be thankful too that our law enforcement community can rise to the occasion of investigating such acts and zero in on suspects.

The capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Watertown, Massachusetts was an exercise in self-restraint by law enforcement. I know I join all of you in congratulating all departments and agencies that helped bring about this desirable conclusion. God bless them, each and every one.

Thank you all who have expressed positive thoughts about my article in the current issue of WineMaker magazine. I appreciate being appreciated.

"Cuties" Wine

Cuties brand mandarin or Clementine oranges

A couple of months ago I began seeing boxes of small Mandarin oranges called "Cuties" in my supermarket. Shortly thereafter, a neighbor mentioned them, saying they were the best mandarin oranges she had eaten – sweet, juicy, easy to peel, seedless. I didn't buy any until recently, fearing there were too many in each 3.2-pound box for me to consume before they went bad. I finally bought a box with the idea of sharing them with my neighbor, but after tasting one, then two, then three, I decided to make wine with them. I had to buy another box, as I was eating them three at a time, three times a day.

Cuties are classified as mandarins and Clementines, a hybrid tangerine whose origin is uncertain. The Clementine is believed to be a cross between a mandarin orange (Citrus reticulata) and Chinese sweet orange (believed to be Citrus sinensis). Clementine mandarins first came to Florida 1909. Five years later the first saplings were received by the University of California at Riverside where they flourished and were bred.

Clementines are one type of mandarin – others are Satsuma, Owari. Mikan, Murcott, Tangerine (also known as "Dancy Mandarin"), and Tangor (also known as "Temple Orange").

According to Alecia Li Morgan, the Cuties brand is available for a long time "...because they very wisely use TWO varieties of Mandarin: Clementine Mandarins, available November through January; and Murcott Mandarins, available February through April. This explains why some packages call them California Mandarins and some call them California Clementines.

Each of the boxes I bought had 40 Cuties in them. I used a box and a half to make my wine. I'm basing this recipe on two wines (Clementine and Mandarin Orange) I've made before.

Cuties Wine Recipe

  • about 60 Cuties (Clementines or mandarins)
  • 2 c sweet orange juice (pulp or no pulp – doesn't matter)
  • 1 1/2 lb very fine granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp acid blend
  • 3/4 tsp pectic enzyme (powdered)
  • 1/4 tsp powdered grape tannin (powdered)
  • 1 finely crushed Campden tablet
  • 2 1/2 qt water
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Red Star Premier Curvee or Steinberg wine yeast

Put water on to boil. Meanwhile, peel Cuties and chop across the segment 3-4 times, collecting released juice. Place segments in fine-mesh nylon straining bag, tie closed, place bag and juice (including bulk orange juice) in primary, and cover. When water is almost at a boil, turn off heat and stir sugar into water until dissolved. Stir in acid blend and tannin and stir some more. Cover water and set aside to cool (about 4 hours). Stir crushed Campden tablet and yeast nutrient into water and set aside 10-12 hours. Stir pectic enzyme into water, add to primary, re-cover primary and set aside an additional 10-12 hours. Add activated yeast as starter solution and re-cover primary. Stir daily several days (until specific gravity drops to 1.010). Drip drain bag (do not squeeze) and transfer liquid to secondary. Top up if required, attach airlock and ferment to dryness. Rack in about 30 days, top up and reattach airlock. Rack again, top up and refit airlock every 60 days for 6 months, adding crushed Campden tablet as needed.. Taste. If too dry or tart, stabilize, sweeten to taste, wait additional 30 days to ensure no referemtation and rack into bottles. Age one year before tasting. [Author's own recipe]

My must is fermenting, but I am confident this recipe will produce a winner. If not, I will modify as needed.

When Can I Drink My Homemade Wine?

Sampling a homemade wine

I get a lot of emails throughout the year asking something like, "I know the recipe says to let it age a year, but it tasted good when I bottled it a month ago, so can I drink it now?" This is not a difficult question to answer if you've been making wine a long time, but it is difficult for the novice to understand the reasoning behind the answer.

In my March 19th WineBlog entry I mentioned my article in the current issue (April-May 2013) of WineMaker magazine on aging country wines. In the opening to that article I wrote:

"Wine is a dynamic chemical soup, constantly changing, evolving reducing and oxidizing. From the moment it is made, its fate is sealed. Yes, it will improve, mature, reach a peak, and then it will decline and eventually become undrinkable. The best we can do is make it in such a way that it ages gradually, reaches that peak when we expect it to and declines slowly. It can be done, but in both grape and non-grape wines it is not an everyday occurrence."

While the cited article concentrates on aging, one should note that the process begins with improving, maturing and then reaching a peak. Most of the recipes on my site include a recommendation as to the minimum time the wine should be allowed to improve before drinking it. This period is not absolute, but rather an assessment based on batches of this type of wine made in the past.

If a recipe says, "Drink after 6 months; will improve to a year", it means that no matter how good it tasted when bottled, it will be better in 6 months and even better still, on average, in 12 months. The phrase "will improve to a year" means it should peak at that point and then start its decline, but it might peak two months earlier or six months later. The creator of the recipe is giving you the benefit of his or her experience with this wine, on average. But every wine is different.

From the movie <i>Sideways</i>

I long ago made it a habit of bottling at least 750mL and preferably 1500mL of each batch into 375mL bottles – known as splits because they split a 750mL bottle into two equal halves. The reason for doing so is to be able to judge when a bottled wine is ready to drink without sacrificing a full, 750mL bottle in the process.

My advice is to heed the advice in the recipe. You can usually start drinking most country wines earlier than the advised period, but they should be better if allowed to improve and mature. There are exceptions.

Some wines, most notable flower and root wines, simply cannot be consumed enjoyably without allowing them to improve adequately. Dandelion wines are notorious for taking 18 months to reach a window of enjoyment. Beetroot wines take 2-3 years and sometimes longer to become enjoyably drinkable. Such wines usually carry a warning to that effect at the end of the recipe. Pay heed to such advice. It is based on experience.

But if a wine tasted good when bottled, go ahead and enjoy it. After all, it's your wine. Just set one bottle aside to drink when advised to do so by the recipe. Then see if it has truly improved or not. I'll bet it has.

April 24th, 2013

Google's Mistaken Decision

Google Reader is being killed

I read that Google Reader, the search giant's rss aggregator, will be discontinued on July 1st, 2013. If you use Google Reader to subscribe to my rss feed, you have until then to select another rss aggregator (reader). I agree with the blogger I read and question this move by Google, which continues to make room for its Google+ social network, "...but not a service that fits right in with their core mission: cataloging the world's information."

If you will be looking for a new rss aggregator as a result of Google's misguided decision, or simply don't know what an rss reader is, please scroll to the introduction of my February 21st, 2013 WineBlogentry on this page. There I explain what an rss reader is and which ones you might want to look at for convenience.

FeedDemon logo

I personally recommend FeedDemon for three reasons. First and most importantly, you can download it now and synchronize it with Google Reader before it disappears. This will load all your rss subscriptions, tags and shared content. Second, it lets you assign your own tags (keywords) to items and make it easier to classify and locate articles you've previously read. Third, your own tags (keywords) can be used to search your subscribed blogs as well as watch for your keywords in future blogs you don't even subscribe. With very little work, you can begin to build a library of blogs with your keyworded content. This is a powerful option.

FeedDemon is also highly configurable, a feature that might interest you more than my three reasons above. You can display your feeds in a long list, as does Google Reader, or arrange them into three columns, newspaper style. You can also us scores of customizable keyboard shortcuts that let you do almost anything you want in the reader without using your mouse. Very cool.

An rss aggregator (reader) can make your visits to this blog a lot more timely. You won't have to check in here daily to see if new entries have been added, and what has been added will be summarized for you so you can pick and choose what you want to read.

Missing Money Found!

Missing money

I recently went to Missing Money, a website for finding money you didn't know you had owed you. I found two amounts owed me and eight amounts owed my wife under her previous married name which she can claim. In all cases they were small amounts, but better than nothing. Try it yourself!

The Missing Money website is easy to use and costs you nothing but your time. All states keep records of monies owed past and current residents of their jurisdiction. These might be unclaimed utility deposits, refunds on a terminated services, unclaimed dividends, balances of closed accounts – whatever. If you find a hit relevant to you, you'll have to file a claim with the state and provide documentation asserting your claim. I did not find this step to be difficult at all. You should search all states where you have resided. Do not be duped into paying a "money finder" to search for missing money owed you. It's easy enough to do yourself and free. You may not find anything, but then again you might

Let me know if you do. I'm not asking for a finder's fee....

5 Tips for Winning Home Wine Competitions

Jack Keller with Honorable Mention and Best of Show Rosettes

Having judged many, many home wine competitions, I've compiled a list of tips for home winemakers that will increase their odds of winning. While some of these may seem like common sense, it is amazing how many wines I judge that ignore them.

If you get in the habit of bottling 750mL or, better still, 1500mL in 375mL "splits," you can sample the bottled wine every 3, 6 or 12 months to see how it is maturing. Before entering a wine into competition, open a split and check the wine for these key factors.

1. Bouquet and Aroma: Pour a small amount (about two fingers high) and immediately smell the wine. This will be the wine's bouquet, the esters and volatile acids created in the bottle. An off-odor should alert you that the wine may not score well. Wait 30 seconds and smell the wine again. The nose should change after the bouquet has dissipated, leaving the underlying aroma of the base (grape, fruit, flower, etc.). The more suggestive it is of the wine's base, the better it will score. Complexity influences judges. Wines with neutral aroma can still be entered, but may not score well. Slower fermentations yield better aroma. Proper aging yields complexity.

2. Color and Hue: White grapes should produce white wines, not yellowish-amber. The closer your wine is to the expected color – straw, light yellow, even light greenish-yellow – the better it will place. Some reds are expected to be light red but still red, while others are expected to be deeper in hue or even dark – but red. Managing skin contact and/or using color extracting enzymes is often key with grapes, berries and many fruit.

Wine colors and clarity

3. Clarity and Polish: With few exceptions, all wines are expected to be clear, devoid of and haze or floating particles. A wine that isn't clear is greatly handicapped before it is even entered. Polish is another aspect of clarity. A polished wine is crystal clear, brilliant in direct sunlight, and refracts light off the bottom of the glass in bursts of gem-like displays. Time itself will render most wines brilliant, but simple fining, followed by racking, or filtering will polish those that do not rise to expectations.

4. Taste: We all know a great wine when we taste it. Its flavor exceeds what we expected. The fruitiness of the grape or berry is "in-your-face" evident – fruit-forward is the tired but nonetheless appropriate term. For flower, leaf and root wines, the flavor is obvious yet delicate. A less than delicious wine can still place, but its flavor must still be enjoyable. Longer maceration and cooler fermentation brings out these qualities and judges appreciate them.

5. That All-Important Balance: A beautiful wine that lacks balance is a rose with wilted petals. A fabulous wine without body robs the taster of substance and feels like flavored water in the mouth. Too much sweetness or dryness are both sad mistakes Except in dessert wines, excessive residual sugar overwhelms the judge and will not be appreciated. Equally sad is a near masterpiece that is so dry that even the smallest imbalance in alcohol, acidity or tannic astringency stands bold. Both acidity and alcohol must be present, but neither should rise to attention. A deficiency in tannin constricts or negates the bite one expects of wine, while too much leaves the judge reaching for a drink of water. Follow the chemistry and orchestrate the final balance with careful judgment.

Placing well in competition begins with the quality of the base and depends on good winemaking practices. Testing as many parameters as one can is useless unless one knows how to manage the results. We all enter inferior wines from time to time, but this should be rare if you judge the wine according to these tips prior to entering competition. Bottling some of the batch in splits allows one to critically evaluate his or her own wine without opening a 750mL bottle.

April 30th, 2013

I just about threw up today when I heard that Washington State has legislated against the use of the word penmanship in favor of handwriting because penmanship contains a gender bias. Don't the loonies in Washington have anything better to do than strip our language of its evolutionary usage? Penmanship is handwriting, but handwriting with distinction, style and precision. Not all handwriting exhibits penmanship. Will the citizens of Washington state know this in 10-15 years?

What asinine alternative will they come up with for German language classes or Roman history? Will they rename the Ottoman Empire? What about being human? Will they remove Harry Truman from the list of Presidents? What if your name is Herman Chapman? I'm sick of this politically correct insanity.

If politicians are going to collect salaries while writing a 475-page bill, as this one was, I'm sure the citizens of Washington state would be better served if its aim was to repair or expand roads, bridges and other infrastructure. This was a six-year endeavor to dilute the richness and precision of our language without returning tangible substance.

Serious Home Winemakers

Relaxing with wine at Tom Banach's home in Rochester
far left (clockwise) Charlotte Klose, Audrey Sibert, Paul Carletta,
author, Dick Rizzo, Larry Kilbury, Mindy Zoghlin, Ben Zoghlin

Last night I returned from Rochester, New York where I had the pleasure of spending a few days with some serious and fun home winemakers. And they treated me to some very good homemade and Finger Lakes commercial wines.

I flew to Rochester as the guest of the Rochester Area Home Winemakers to meet them and accept their award for contributions to home winemaking. It was an honor to do both. I have been a member of this club in absentia for several years.

While there I was introduced to many historic and cultural sites I had been totally ignorant of. I knew George Eastman, of Eastman Kodak, was a Rochesterian. However, I was surprised to learn that Joseph Wilson (founder of Xerox), John Bausch and Henry Lomb (founders of Bausch and Lomb), Hiram Sibley (founder of Western Union), Henry Wells (founder of American Express and co-founder of Wells Fargo), Henry Augustus Ward (founder of Ward's Natural Science), Paul Bucheit (creator of Gmail and Adsense), Donald Stookey (inventor of CorningWare), Clara Barton (founder of the Red Cross), Cab Calloway (composer, band leader), Chuck Mangione (jazz musician, band leader), Mitch Miller (band leader), Lou Gramm (band Foreigner), Will Hollis (band The Eagles), Joe English (band Wings), Stephen A. Doulas (Lincoln-Douglas debates in Illinois), Henry Jarvis Raymond (founder of The New York Times), Joseph Smith (founder of the Church Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints [Mormons]), Susan B. Anthony (women's rights leader), Frederick Douglas (abolitionist), Emil Gruppe (impressionist painter), actors Bud Abbott (Abbott and Costello), John Lithgow, Hugh O'Brian and Peter Deuel, and scores more famous personalities hail from Rochester.

Author and Mark Misterka at the falls of the Genesee River, Rochester, NY (photo by Jill Misterka)
Author and Mark Misterka at the falls of the Genesee River. I still
have a little work to do on that belly fat....

I enjoyed beautiful weather for sightseeing. We stopped to see the falls of the Genesee River, combining that stop with a tasting and tour of the Genesee Beer Brew House and Museum where we also lunched on great salads of greens, apples and walnuts – a wonderful mixture of textures and flavors.

We stopped at Highland Botanical Park to tour the Lamberton Conservatory and enjoy the woodland groves the park is famous for. There is far more to see and do in the Park than we had time for, but if I get back to Rochester I'll make time for Warner Castle and Sunken Garden, the Lilac Arches, and hopefully can time it to enjoy the annual Lilac Festival.

Shopping and snacking at the historic Public Market allowed me and my guides, Larry Kilbury and Betty Moley, to take advantage of some real bargains. Walking the causeways flanking the Lake Ontario entrance to Irondequoit Bay presented an opportunity to collect some wild grape cuttings. I have no idea what species they are as they have not yet leafed, but I'm hopeful they will root and allow me to identify them.

The sightseeing highlight was the George Eastman House and International Museum of Photography and Film – the world's oldest museum dedicated to photography and one of the world's oldest archives of film. Whether you're interested in photography and film or not, this is a must-see stop if you're visiting Rochester. There's no way I can summarize this stop except to say it was more rewarding than I anticipated. The mansion tour was well worth the time. The evolution of the house and grounds was presented by an enthusiastic and dedicated guide who obviously loves her job and considers her tours a grave responsibility.

The Conservatory in the George Eastman House, photo by Barbara Puorro Galasso, 1991, released to public domain by photographer
The Conservatory, George Eastman House, where Eastman enjoyed
music daily. A built-in pipe organ is in the far wall. Eastman spent years
and considerable money making the room acoustically perfect.

The Museum's photography collection includes more than 400,000 specimens from the invention of photography to the present day, with more than 14,000 photographers represented. It includes a major collection of Ansel Adams' early and vintage prints, a major collection of 19th-century photographs of the American West, two major photographic collections of the American Civil War, a major collection of early British and French photography, and one of the largest collections of daguerreotypes in the world – and these are only highlights of the whole.

The Museum's Motion Picture Collection is one of the major moving image archives in the United States, with over 30,000 titles and the personal film collections of directors Kathryn Bigelow, Ken Burns, Cecil B. DeMille, Norman Jewison, Spike Lee, and Martin Scorsese. It also includes the largest single collection of nitrate Technicolor YCM negatives in the United States. As important as the collection itself is, the on-going preservation program, one of the most intensive and comprehensive efforts in the world is possibly more important. The L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation, in partnership with the University of Rochester, provides student archivists with the training and techniques necessary to continue the work of film restoration within an archive environment.

Any tour of the George Eastman House leaves the visitor with a solid appreciation of George Eastman's love of music and his endowment. Not associated with the House and Museum is the Eastman School of Music of the University of Rochester and from its inception was an innovator in American music education. The value of an Eastman academic degree is demonstrated by the number of graduates who hold positions in professional orchestras, bands, chamber ensembles, opera companies, conservatories and college music departments, school music programs, community music schools, the recording industry, the musical instrument and technologies industry, and many other fields. While I did not visit the ESM, I left with a deep appreciation of its legacy.

Saying hello to attendees at the Rochester Area Home Winemakers Annual Banquet
The author greeting each attendee at the Rochester Area Home
Winemakers Annual Banquet.

The Rochester Area Home Winemakers' proximity to the Finger Lakes region influences but does not define the club. Whereas the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild heralds mustang wine because that grape surrounds it, Riesling tends to be heralded by the RAHW. As one would suspect, both clubs tend to perfect their heralded wine. I sampled several Rieslings in Rochester and every one of them was crisp, well-rounded and delightful. These folks know this grape.

But the RAHW is not a one-wine club. In a short span of two days I sampled reds and whites of a long and varied gauntlet. While the majority were vinifera and French-American hybrids indicative of the northern latitude, the first and last wines I drank were delightful country wines.

Mindy Zoghlin's dandelion wine reminded me to what heights one can take this trodden weed. It was the perfect opener to a wonderful evening of wining, dining and great conversation. And the meal was in a class of its own. I can't thank Mindy and Ben enough for the magnificent things they did to my taste buds.

Tom Banach hosted a relaxing and well-appointed afternoon with a dozen or more club members. While I did not count the wines we enjoyed, the quality and variety were impressive and seductive. Wine invites relaxation, and all were well-relaxed before we broke to prepare for that evening's banquet.

I'll make no pretenses about the banquet. The food was delicious, the wines superb, and if anyone spoke too long it was probably me. The main event was the installation of club officers for the coming term. Outgoing President Bruce Dunn passed the gavel to Tom Banach, who was joined by VP Jack Turan, Treasurer Paul Carletta, Secretary Hank Kingston, and Board Member Ernie Sulouff. Absent due to recent surgery was Board Member David Gerling. Bruce may not be President any longer, but he remains in service as Board Chairman.

After formalities, we socialized. It was during that period that I was treated to Karen Anne Lowenguth's wonderful catnip mead – first a generous splash and then a glass. It was everything a mead ought to be, plus more. The unique flavor was a joy to savor and ingest. A hint of the honey lingered and slowly melted away, inviting another sip. It was a great finish to a pleasurable evening.

I was truly delighted to meet winemakers who are self-critical and searching craftsmen, serious but light-hearted aficionados, who combine their wine with fun, introspection, genuine friendship, and enthusiastic camaraderie. These attributes capture the essence of what a home winemaking club should be. Thank you, Rochester.

Inside of a Dog

<i>Inside of a Dog - What Dogs See, Smell, and Know</i>, by Alexandra Horowitz

I'm reading a fascinating book entitled "Inside of a Dog" and subtitled "What Dogs See, Smell, and Know" by Alexandra Horowitz. The author warns at the outset that if you own a dog you will never look at it the same way after reading this book.

I picked it up in an airport shop to have something to read on my flight. I've only read about a third of its 384 pages because I was side-tracked by conversation, but I'm already looking at my dog differently.

The author is an ethologist, a scientist of animal behavior. She also owns a dog. The more she applied the scientific method in her research of a highly social species (the white rhinoceros), the more she questioned her long-held assumptions about dogs in general and her own dog in particular. It was the rapid changing of dogs' behavior when with people and then with other dogs that shattered her familiarity. Their behavior was anything but simple and understood as she had previously believed.

She began making videos of her dog and other dogs playing at a dog park and when she watched them in slow motion she began to see complex communicative nuances, split-second assessments of each other's abilities and desires. The dogs could play with each other for long periods of time, animals being animals, seemingly rough but at crucial times gentle, and yet when called by their humans they slipped into another role, the role of loyal pet. Fascinated, she began studying dogs.

We tend to commit one of two sins when it comes to our dogs. We either treat them as animals that, but for us, would revert to wolves from which they are descended from or we anthropomorphize them – assign human emotions, thoughts and desires to our pet. Both perspectives are wrong.

Wolf in Montana, public domain photo by USFWS
Dogs are the descendents of domesticated
wolves but are not tame wolves. Yet they
share all but 1/3 of 1% of their DNA.

Man's first canine companion was a wolf. Archeological evidence dates the domestication of the wolf at 10 to 14 thousand years ago. During that time, dogs have lost their wolfness. They cannot hunt for food efficiently, don't make dens for their litters, don't form family unit packs (but might join together temporarily in bands). And yet dogs and wolves share all but 1/3 of 1% of their DNA. But it is that 1/3 of 1% that makes dogs decidedly dogs and wolves decidedly wolves.

Dogs are not interested in what we are interested in, unless we are interested in feeding them, petting them or playing with them. Their needs are simple compared to ours. We have whole houses full of stuff, but most of it is of no interest to our dog, so much so that it is invisible to it. If the dog cannot lay on it, chew it, eat it, or play with it, it doesn't exist to the dog unless it emits a peculiar or unpleasant smell.

Dogs smell so much better than we do that we are, in comparison, pathetic smellers. A dog can enter a house and within seconds smell everyone who has been in it and everything that was eaten in it in the last month. They can smell your fingerprints on a glass a week after you touched it. And they watch you intently when you are active to try and understand what you are going to do for or with or to them. As soon as they determine you are not going to interact with them, they go back to sleep. But if you look at them, they are intently mindful of it and await your next action.

This is a captivating book. What I have learned so far has opened my eyes to my dog, Reba. I can't wait to read more. I'm sure I'll have more to say later. If you want to join me in this discovery, you can order the book here.

As I look out the windows behind my desk, a covey of quail are finding something of interest among the blades of grass needing mowing. In the back acre three deer are nibbling among the wildflowers. My dog, as usual, is sleeping, possibly dreaming of a covey of quail working its way across the lawn or deer nibbling. I wish I knew....

Sparkling Wine in Regular Wine Bottles

Champagne cork popping

A reader wondered why you cannot make sparkling wine in a regular wine bottle. He noted that beer bottles are the same thickness as a wine bottle and they don't explode. He sounded like he might be on the verge of doing this, so I immediately warned him not to.

Beer bottles are smaller, have less surface area and therefore have stronger structural integrity. If a wine bottle were two feet wide and eight feet tall and the same thickness as a 750mL wine bottle, it would explode simply from the pressure of the wine inside pressing against the glass. The fact is that wine bottles are very fragile when under pressure. Use them for sparkling wine at your own risk, and I do mean risk. Even if they hold the pressure while at rest they can explode while trying to remove the cork. There is over two centuries of human experience with this. Learn from it.

It is the nature of man to be curious, but it is also the nature of man to develop solutions to problems. If it were not we would not have progressed beyond the hunter-gatherer stage. When you see that centuries of winemaking have evolved into a certain set of procedures, you should assume it is for a reason even if you don't understand why. It's okay to ask why. In fact, I would prefer you ask why than just assuming there is no good reason and acting counter to the established procedures.

If you think reducing the amount of CO2 is a work-around to bottle thickness, please think again.

First of all, the correct amount of sugar to prime a cuvée must be exact even when making sparkling wine in Champagne bottles. To reduce the internal pressure enough to render a regular wine bottle safe to use would require knowledge of how much pressure the bottle can handle safety and how much sugar to add to achieve that pressure and no more. Such a calculation is beyond my knowledge.

Secondly, a reduced pressure will not produce a Champagne-like sparkling wine. It will be spritzy and may be a good sparkling wine when first opened, but you should expect it to lose its carbonation rather quickly, which a Champagne-like wine should not do. Don't try to use work-arounds if you want to make good wine. Follow tried and true established methods (and equipment).

Not For Sale

Bess and Harry Truman at home (photo from an email)
Bess and Harry Truman at home in Independence, Missouri

Harry Truman was a different kind of President. Aside from his decision to drop the atom bomb, which stands alone in the annals of human history, he probably made as many or more important decisions regarding our nation's history as any of the other 32 Presidents preceding him. However, a measure of his greatness may rest on what he did after he left the White House.

The only asset he had when he died was the house he lived in, which was in Independence, Missouri . His wife had inherited the house from her mother and father and outside their years in the White House, they lived their entire lives there.

When he retired from office in 1952 his income was a U.S. Army pension reported to have been $13,507.72 a year. Congress, noting that he was paying for his stamps and personally licking them, granted him an 'allowance' and, later, a retroactive pension of $25,000 per year.

After President Eisenhower was inaugurated, Harry and Bess drove home to Missouri by themselves. There were no Secret Service agents following them.

When offered corporate positions at large salaries he declined, stating, "You don't want me. You want the office of the President, and that doesn't belong to me. It belongs to the American people and it's not for sale."

Even later, on May 6, 1971, when Congress was preparing to award him the Medal of Honor on his 87th birthday, he refused to accept it, writing, "I don't consider that I have done anything which should be the reason for any award, Congressional or otherwise."

As president he paid for all of his own travel expenses and food.

Modern politicians have found a new level of success in cashing in on the Presidency, resulting in untold wealth while paying few if any expenses. Today, too many current and former Congressmen also have found a way to become quite wealthy while enjoying the fruits of their offices. Political offices are now for sale (i.e.the unsavory memory of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich).

Good old Harry Truman was correct when he observed, "My choices in life were either to be a piano player in a whore house or a politician. And to tell the truth, there's hardly any difference!

I hope you relish this glimpse back upon the last President to actually emulate the spirit of what our Founding Fathers envisioned a citizen politician to be. There will probably never be another to do so. How sad.

May 4th, 2013

I received an email yesterday from "Chase Notifications" regarding a secure online message for me. Having a Chase credit card, I did not analyze the email before clicking on the enclosed link. Luckily, I have good security software and the site was blocked as a known "phishing" site. Only then did I relook at the email and chided myself for my haste and stupidity. The actual sender was "jdisdaman@hosting3.multiplay.co.uk; on behalf of; Chase Notification [SMNotification@emailonline.com]". Everything that could be wrong was.

If you value your identity and assets, please, please, please make sure you have good security software on your computer – firewall, antivirus, antimalware, phishing and pharming, for computer, email and websites. If you don't have it, you might start by looking at Free PC Services (my site) for free programs, but the very best will be the versions you have to buy. I use Avast! Internet Security Suite, which sends me 2-5 updates per day, but there are others probably as good. The responsibility for your security is yours.

Judy Garland and Fred Astaire in <i>Easter Parade</i>
Judy Garland and Fred Astaire, in Easter Parade

I don't know where in the brain these things come from, but I woke up this morning with the Irving Berlin song Easter Parade in my head. Come on, now, this is from a 1948 movie of the same title starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, with Ann Miller and Peter Lawford as co-stars with competing love interests. How would I remember this song and its lyrics? I was four years old when it played in the theater – and yet, I do.

I need to find a good book that explains how ancient memories surface in dreams. It intrigues me that this happens so often.

Now, in my awakened state, the song keeps cycling through my head perfectly, but I question one word. I remember the line, "And you'll find that you're in the rotogravure," but I wonder why it isn't "photogravure" instead. I head to Google and end up in Wikipedia where I learn, or perhaps relearn because it seems that I learned this once in high school when I was in journalism class and on the staff of my school's weekly newspaper, that rotogravure was the rotary process used in newspapers while photogravure was flat plate used for high-quality prints in magazines and other media. Did our school use rotogravure or photogravure? It seems like we used the latter.

In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it,
You'll be the grandest lady in the Easter Parade.
I'll be all in clover, and when they look you over,
I'll be the proudest fellow in the Easter Parade.

On the avenue, Fifth Avenue, the photographers will snap us,
And you'll find that you're in the rotogravure.
Oh, I could write a sonnet about your Easter bonnet,
And of the girl I'm taking to the Easter Parade.

While I checked the lyrics to be certain I had them correct, there was no need. I remembered them perfectly. Explain that, Dr. Freud....

5 Daily Snacks for Belly Fat Weight Loss

Wife with author (190 pounds) on Kaua'i
Belly fat, 2011 on Kaua'i -- seeing this photo was my wake-up call

I often mention my belly fat diet, but those of you who do not see me in person have no idea how bad it was. The picture at the left of my wife and me was taken in 2011. The belly is clearly visible. Our next trip after this was to Spain, where the belly had grown even larger. I looked for a photo from that trip showing the magnitude of the problem but all had been cropped so the belly was not visible.

In March 2012 I thought I was looking in the mirror at a third-trimester pregnancy. I could no longer accept what I had allowed myself to become. That month I bought The Complete Idiot's Guide to Belly Fat Weight Loss and began reading and changing the way I ate.

I have always been a big eater – big meals, large portions and I cleaned my plate. I also ate a lot of things (entrées, sides and snacks) this book warns are major contributors to belly fat. The first thing I did was to rid my pantry of the bad things stored there. Almost everything in a box or bag was donated to a food drive. Except for vegetables, beans, fruit, sauces, soups, and a few other things, many canned goods were donated as well.

I kept my instant mashed potatoes, rice, flour, and corn meal, but I no longer cooked servings for meals, but added a tablespoon or so to soups and stews as thickeners. My weekly loaves of sourdough are memory. So too are rice and gravy, potatoes bathed in melted butter, chicken and dumplings, pasta of all sorts and pizza...except on special occasions. Starches feed belly fat, so I had to limit them.

One of the biggest dietary changes concerned fats. All my life I have been addicted to Southern fried chicken, barbecued pork ribs, marbled rib eye steaks, grilled pork chops, chicken fried steak drowned in white gravy, thick bacon slices, and blends of meat loaf. All of these are loaded with bad fat that the body stores as fat.

Bad fat is both saturated fatty acids and trans-fatty acids. These fats tend to cling, congeal and get stored as fat. Good fats are polyunsaturated fatty acids from fish, flaxseed and certain oils, and monounsaturated fatty acids from avocados, olives, nuts, seeds, and canola oil. These fatty acids don't congeal, flow easily in the bloodstream and get utilized by the body as energy.

There are many avenues to shedding belly fat, but diet, exercise and stress management are common to all. I chose to approach diet in the following manner. While I try to a Mediterranean eating pattern generally, I am still a son of the South and certain cultural foods are occasionally indulged in, although sparingly. At home, I try to eat one main meal per day, supplemented by five healthy snacks. It is usually impossible to do this when away, but home is where I live.

The one regular meal a day is composed of small portions. I try to include at least 2-4 ounces of meat, fish or tofu, two veggies, a small portion of fruit, and sometimes a piece of cheese (small piece of low-fat cheese – Laughing Cow Light wedges are great for portion control while delivering satisfying flavor).

Author at Knoxville
Belly fat, 2013 at Knoxville, -37 pounds later

You might wonder what "five healthy snacks" might include. A couple of family members and a few friends have asked me about this. To answer this, I have made a list of a few of my choices. This list is by no means complete or static, but is offered to give one an idea of how one can hold hunger at bay while fueling the body with variety. Naturally, the choice of fruit and vegetables are seasonally limited, but there are always many available to select from.

  • 5 green olives with 15 nuts (almost every day)
  • small avocado with lemon juice (almost every day)
  • 1 long stick of celery cut into bite-sized pieces, with 15 cashew halves or a tablespoon of peanut or almond butter
  • 1 Roma tomato (every other day) and 1 tablespoon of tofu or cottage cheese
  • mug of soup (any kind) with a teaspoon of flaxseed stirred in (my favorites are lentil, split pea, tomato, onion, pumpkin, chicken broth, creamed anything – creamed soups are splurges, not regulars)
  • 1 small nutritional drink (like Ensure, but only 8 ounces)
  • small bowl (about 1 1/2 cups) of fresh salad (greens chopped small, diced mushroom, tomato, avocado, cucumber, onion, bell pepper, shredded or sliced carrot, sliced olive – see * NOTE below) with sunflower kernels or pumpkin seeds, very lightly drizzled with olive oil, and with a teaspoon of flaxseed sprinkled over it
  • small bowl (about 1 1/2 cups) of cut fresh spinach leaves, very lightly drizzled (and tossed) with olive or coconut oil and a teaspoon of flaxseed sprinkled over it
  • 5 dates and 1/2 banana (2 days in a row)
  • 8-10 baby carrots
  • 1 pear with 5 teaspoons cottage cheese
  • 1 banana and a tablespoon of peanut or almond butter
  • 3-4 wedges of oven-baked sweet potato fries brushed with olive oil and spiced to taste before baking (leftovers can be frozen in ZipLoc snack bags for later meals)
  • 4-5 wedges of pickled beet and 4-5 teaspoons cottage cheese
  • 2/3 cup of fresh broccoli (cut small) or zucchini or summer squash, drizzled lightly with olive or coconut oil and sprinkled with a teaspoon of flaxseed
  • 1/2 large dill pickle or 5-6 slices of sweet pickle (depends on mood) with 15 nuts or a tablespoon of peanut or almond butter
  • 1 cup of low-fat yogurt with a teaspoon of flaxseed stirred in
  • 4 "Cutie" mandarin oranges
  • 1 navel orange
  • 1/2 large apple, sliced (2 days in a row) with a tablespoon of peanut or almond butter
  • 1 or 2 plums (depends on size)
  • 1 mango
  • 3 figs with 3 teaspoons of tofu or cottage cheese
  • 1 large or 2 very small peaches
  • 1/2 cucumber, speared (with or without peeling on – depends on toughness)
  • 5 dried apricot halves with 15 nuts
  • 1/3 cup drained (cold) lima, butter, black, or kidney beans, or black-eyed or purple-hulled peas, sprinkled with a teaspoon of flaxseed
  • 3-5 mushroom buttons (depends on size) with wedge of Laughing Cow Light Creamy Swiss Cheese

* NOTE: I make up small, segregated containers containing onions, bell pepper strips, small flowerets of broccoli, sliced olives, shredded or thinly sliced carrot, chopped firm tomato, etc. and add pinches of each to greens to make a salad. I'll add to it a wedge of avocado cut up, dice up a mushroom, cut a few slices of cucumber, and anything else that doesn't store well diced. This allows me to make a salad in about 4-5 minutes every day. I sometimes add 6-8 garbanzo beans if I think I need protein. The sunflower or pumpkin seeds (kernels) and flaxseed are essential for oils, fiber and protein. But you also want to ensure you include antioxidants and a good mix of vitamins and minerals. My selections do that.

When traveling, I make up a snack-size Ziploc bag or two containing nuts, pumpkin seeds, dried fruit (bananas, papaya, raisins, cranberries, apples, chopped dates), soy beans, M&Ms, etc., plus a Mini Babybel Light cheese round. It tastes good, is filling and nutritious.

Not everything above is in the book as "good" (cheese is generally "bad" unless low-fat – "light"), but most is. A little variety makes it easier to do and I try to get a good daily mix.

FOOTNOTE: I gained 4 pounds in Rochester, but lost it all in a week at home. It works! I still have a ways to go but am getting there. And, as I said earlier, there are many avenues to belly fat weight loss. Select one that suits you.

The Grapes of New York

<i>The Grapes of New York</i>, by U. P. Herdrick, 1908

To those who are serious about American native grapes, there are three books that are "must-haves" and one webpage. I will concentrate here on U. P. Hedrick's The Grapes of New York, Albany: J.B. Lyon, 1908. If you could afford one original printing book, this would be the one to choose. The illustrations alone, possibly the finest anywhere of American grapes, are worth the steep asking price. Reprints in black and white are available for a fraction of what the original demands but are a poor substitute.

Ulysses Prentiss taught botany and horticulture at Oregon Agricultural College (1895–1897), Utah Agricultural College (1897–1899), and Michigan Agricultural College (1899–1905). He became a horticulturist at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York in 1905, which he directed from 1928 until 1937, when he retired. The Grapes of New York was his first of many seminal works.

The first thing one must realize is that Hedrick wrote this 564-page book as a "Report of the New York Agricultural Experiment Station for the Year 1907." Its style and content are geared to be agriculturally and commercially informative, while at the same time presenting a history of grapes, their uses, their cultivation, and their varieties. Thankfully, he did not succumb to the temptation to highlight the Vitis vinifera grapes being grown at that time but focused on American grapes and their hybrids. This allows a treatment of the true "grapes of New York," even if many are hybrids.

Hedrick's organization is logical, but tempts one to jump to whatever section one is most interested in. This, in my opinion, would be a mistake as the book builds upon itself and is much richer in content if read straight through, even if some of the reading is "speed" reading with reduced retention. His chapters are:

  • 1 - The Old World Grape
  • 2 - American Grapes
  • 3 - The Viticulture of New York
  • 4 - Species of American Grapes
  • 5 - The Leading Varieties of American Grapes
  • 6 - The Minor Varieties of American Grapes

I appreciate the fact that Hedrick was educated when he was and footnoted his book extensively. Some footnotes run over half a page, but I'd rather have them than not.

His chapter on American Grape Species begins with a very useful synopsis of the botanical classifications of the grape, meaning a chronological summary of their descriptions by the botanists describing them. He then progresses to descriptions of the grapes.

I said in my opening paragraph "there are three books that are 'must-haves' and one webpage." The one webpage is my own Native North American Grapes and Wines, and I recommend it to correct the misnaming grapes in the past. As the science of taxonomy has progressed, many named "species" of yesteryear have gone by the wayside. Hedrick followed and applied his judgment to the conventions of his day, but names such as V. candicans, V. cordifolia and V. longii, for example, are no longer in academic use. My page will inform you at once that these are, respectively, V. mustangensis, V. vulpina and V. acerifolia.

But, this issue aside, Hedrick's Grapes of New York offers the best compendium of American species and hybrid grapes of its time. And, as I said earlier, possibly the finest illustrations anywhere of American grapes. I highly recommend it. Scanned versions of the original are available for online viewing from several archival libraries.

May 8th, 2013

Good wine, good prices and good luck beat the alternatives. When we are fortunate enough to find a good wine at a good price we are blessed. I happened down the wine isle at my local market – not looking for a wine but heading for the front of the store from the back – when I spotted a wine I had tasted and mentally noted. It was Ménage a Trois Red, 2011, and priced at under $7. I have more wine than I can drink but I remembered this wine, a blend of aged Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. I grabbed a bottle and turned around to buy a ribeye (not in my diet, but hey – in moderation). Both were good moves. The wine was terrific and both the wine and the steak lasted two meals.

Wild Harvest Baby Arugala

Is it just me or does anyone else hate salad recipes that start off with massive amounts of arugala? It seems to me that every recent cookbook I've seen in the past few years is loaded with salads requiring the stuff, and my problem with these salads is that I've only seen it a handful of times at my three local supermarkets, and those times it was about the most expensive thing in the produce department.

I'll be honest with you. I've only bought it once. Just once. I threw a bunch of it in a couple of salads and it was gone. And to be honest with you once again, I don't even remember what it tastes like. The recipe I followed called for dowsing it with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and putting it in the refrigerator overnight, but I was making a salad to go with our meal right then, so we ate it. I do remember thinking, "Good balsamic vinegar."

I asked Fred, the produce manager at the supermarket I frequent 2-3 times weekly, why they don't carry arugala regularly and he gave me a funny look – from my boots to my hat. Then he said they carried it a few times and nobody bought it, then added that I'm only about the 10th or 12th person who has ever asked for it and he has been working there 18 years. Maybe it's a Texas thing. Maybe real Texans don't eat arugala. Well, they certainly won't if they don't sell it and when they do it costs more than 3 hearts of Romaine.

App for Wine and Food Pairing

Wine Sommelier screen shot, selecting food groupsblank spaceWine Sommelier screen shot, recommending winesblank spaceWine Sommelier screen shot, characteristics of a recommended wine
Wine Sommelier screen shots: selecting a food group, wine recommendations for a specific food, and
characteristics of a recommended wine

I found this app, Mobile Sommelier, in an article, "Take the Whine Out of Wine Drinking With These 5 Apps" at Tech Page One (see link at end of today's entry), alone with four other apps. I found this one very interesting – almost compelling. But I need to say right up front that I do not own a smart phone and cannot test this app. However, this might be a good reason to buy one.

Mobile Sommelier, by VinoMatch, was made for Windows Phone 7.0, 7.5, and 8.0. Why it has not been ported to iPhone or Android platforms is a mystery. It seems to me a made-to-order candidate but, not owning either, I am not an authority on this subject.

There are any number of scenarios where this app could be more than merely useful., like ordering a wine to pair with a meal at a restaurant, shopping for a wine to bring to a dinner party or special occasion celebration, shoppng for a wine to pair with your grocery purchases, taking notes and photos at a wine tasting, or just learning about food and wine pairing.

The app opens with a choice of food and wine pairing, create a new wine note, or your existing wine tasting notes. Touching pairing brings up a menu of food groups to choose from – meats, poultry, seafood, pasta / rice, etc. After selecting the group you zero in on the specific of interest – raw oysters, for example. This presents a number of suitable wine pairings. Select one and it presents the characteristics of the recommended wine, allowing you to zero in on the characteristics you or your dinner party prefer. Or, you might just decide to impress those with you by asking for a good Loire Valley Muscadet.

Another touch of the screen and you can sniff the wine and announce that you recognize notes of lemon, apple and hay straw. After a reflective sip you can opine that it has a sharp crispness, subtle oak character, medium body, and is dry and a bit puckery. Imagine the brows that might be raised – or not.

The program's developer claims you get instant answers to perfect pairings with minimum thinking required. You'll save time while ordering the perfect wine for any dish like an expert, and the program is both educational and fun to use. For knowledgeable connoisseurs, you can create highly personalized wine notes, rate the wines you've tasted and keep track of favorites, and you can take pictures of wine labels for future reference.

Boasting an intuitive interface, the program has a comprehensive taste and aroma library, makes it easy to pick varieties, countries and aromas, has a huge food library including ethnic foods, cheeses and desserts, and an extensive wine library with varietals from around the world. It allows automatic backup on vinomatch.com.

Not bad for $2.99, and yes, I got all of this info off VinoMatch's website

For an iPhone alternative, there is the more pricey ($4.99) Pait It! – Food and Wine Guide, which seems to me a less intuitive and less endowed, but what do I know?

Rochester Revisited

Jill Misterka presenting me the RAHW Appreciation Award at Rochester
Jill Misterka presenting Jack Keller the Rochester Area Home
Winemakers' Appreciation Award

It's always an honor to receive an award. It's also fun. I've already said how much fun I had in Rochester, but I think this photo captured an introspective moment. At the moment this photo was taken I was flashing back on countless moments of crushing, racking and bottling, of taking notes and devising recipes, and thousands of hours at my computer while my wife did other things. I did it because I wanted to, but at this moment I was wishing my wife could be there to share the moment. All those hours were lonely for her. I cannot give them back. So in my heart I was accepting the award for her, too.

If I left out anything in my previous post, it was a couple of personal "thank yous." I was picked up at the airport by RAHW President Bruce Dunn. This was unexpected because I had already made arrangements to take the hotel's shuttle. It was all the more rewarding when he shared with me some of Rochester's history while relaxing in the hotel's spacious, open lounge. I thank him for that.

I also want to thank Dale Ims and Keith Burfield for being my hosts on the morning I departed. They took me to breakfast, then out to Irondequoit to collect some grape cuttings (their buds broke a couple of days ago), and then to the airport. Dale presented me with a personal, handcrafted gift I greatly appreciated. Good ambassadors, one and all.

Finally, I want to thank the RAHW members who shared their time, their winemaking knowledge and their photographs with me. My camera died on me – probably only a dead battery – but the inability to take photographs when you want to is a serious detractor. My thanks, again, to all who shared theirs.

Once again, thank you Rochester.

Foundations of American Grape Culture

<i>Foundations of American Grape Culture</i>, by T. V. Munson

In my last entry I said that for who are serious about American native grapes, there are three books that are "must-haves" and one webpage. The first "must have" book I reviewed was U. P. Hedrick's The Grapes of New York. Today I'm reviewing the second of the three books, and it, too, is an "oldie but goodie" – the1909 seminal work, Foundations of American Grape Culture by the legendary grape breeder T. V. Munson.

Published in the Fall of 1909, Thomas Volney Munson's Foundations of American Grape Culture was immediately recognized as the authoritative text on North American Vitis and utilization of native North American species in breeding new hybrid grapes. In it, Munson carefully described a lifetime of observations and experience with grapes. Including a history of his interest in grapes, his taxonomy of North American Vitis, thorough descriptions of the native species, discussion of how grape breeding is accomplished, and complete examination of his breeding results, Munson left behind the foundational work upon which viticulture could be adapted to every habitat that supports wild vines on the continent.
– from Foundations Centennial Meeting announcement

My personal copy is cherished as 266 pages of sheer brilliance. Munson's book differs from Hedrick's in several ways. Hedrick was an academician as well as pomologist and a very good one, but Munson created many of the grapes Hedrick reported. Hedrick's color illustrations of the grapes are arguably the finest paintings of the subjects ever produced, while Munson used black and white photography to illustrate his book. But Munson took great pains to compose his photographs with grapes and leaf to help in their identification. Hedrick wrote about the grapes generally while Munson wrote with great specificity. If you have the vine in front of you, you can identify it with Munson's descriptions. Hedrick's career brought him in contact with the vines on a frequent and continuing basis, but Munson's entire adult life was spent collecting, growing breeding, and hybridizing grapes.

Munson's work culminated in the creation of hundreds of new cultivars, of which only a few score survive today. He was Vice President of the American Pomological Society, Honorary Member of the American Wine Growers' Association and the Société Nationale D'Agriculture de France, twice awarded France's Chevalier du Mérite Agricole (de Legion d'Honneur) for service to the French grape industry, and a self-described "practical viticulturist and nurseryman."

Perhaps his greatest achievement was in the development of rootstocks from native species. When the great phylloxera epidemic swept through and devastated European vineyards in the late 19th century, Munson realized that American natives were resistant to the root louse and organized an effort to send tons of American vines to France to serve as rootstock for grafted Vitis vinifera cultivars, thus saving the noble grapes of France and the rest of Europe. That's why they gave him the Chevalier du Mérite Agricole (de Legion d'Honneur) – twice!

Munson also organized and classified the taxa of American grape species. His organization was not without fault, but served as a foundation for later taxonomists such as P. Galet, M. O. Moore C. R. Lacroix, D. J. Rogers, and B. L. Comeaux to build upon.

Munson's Foundations of American Grape Culture is unusual in that it contains no forward table of contents but rather a "Synopsis of Chapters" at the rear. There are two indices, one for species and varieties and one for topics.

Chapter I, Botany of American Grape Species, introduces his classification system and is invaluable in details for identifying the species, even though the species have been reduced by inclusion and exception in later years. The names Munson used have themselves undergone some subsequent revision, but any name Munson used can be rectified by using the North American Native Grape List at my own Native North American Grapes and Wines page on my site.

Chapter II, Breeding of Varieties of Grapes, although a mere 26 pages, served as the reference for hundreds of later grape breeders and is still widely cited today despite being eclipsed by modern techniques and practice.

Chapter III, Select Families and Varieties of Grapes for Practical Vine-Growers, includes a great many of the very best of Munson's own varieties. He makes no apology for this, but notes that those mentioned are only the very best of the more than 75,000 hybrid seedlings germinated, grown and "...culled with extreme care. Hundreds of varieties better than Concord have been thrown away." While most of these varieties have been eclipsed by better cultivars, they are still important and used today in grape breeding programs because of their inherent resistance to many grapevine diseases, especially Pierce's Disease. Thus, his legacy survives.

When Chapter II is married with Chapter IV, Adaptation of Varieties, they laid the framework and inspiration for grape breeders such as E. Swenson, L. Rombaugh and faculty and staff at numerous universities and experimental stations to breed grapes for specific climates and soil types.

Part II, Practical Grape Growing, on the surface, appears less useful as modern agriculture has far surpassed Munson's abilities and knowledge, and yet its underlying premises remain sound today and are worth reading.

Munson's life work was astounding. He traversed much of Texas, often on horseback, collecting vines from the wild and plotting their range. He also witnessed the beginning of the demise of several species in this state due to grazing, agriculture, lumbering, and urbanization. He noted this in his Foundations, which makes it all the more important a book for historical reasons. This was the first book I ever bought on grapes alone and it remains the most used book outside The Holy Bible I possess.

Munson's Foundations can be viewed or downloaded from several archival libraries. A cheap, poorly executed paperback version is available from the .com bookstores, but is not recommended. A hardbound reprinting of the original can be purchased for $39.95 plus $5.00 shipping from Grayson College Foundation, Inc., ATTN: Cindy Perez, 6101 Grayson Drive, Denison, Texas 75020. You may call Cindy at (903) 463-8621. You should consider this a good investment.

May 16th, 2013

This will be my last blog entry for couple of weeks and a bit short. I'm off to Southern California to attend my 50th high school reunion and spend some time with my mother, sister, wife...well, family. I also need to handle some legal matters for my father's estate as its Executor. This is a much larger responsibility than I originally thought.

As for the length of this entry, I have simply run out of time. It happens.

Burt Prelutsky

Hat's off to Burt Prelutsky, webcaster of The Burt Prelutsky Show, for the following bit of analysis:

One of the things included in the immigration reform bill proposed by the Gang of Eight that caught my attention was the part where it mentioned that proof of the border being secure would be when Homeland Security managed to stop 90% of those people attempting to sneak in.

One, I know how to count those we manage to round up, but how on earth do you count those who elude capture? And, two, if you manage to do everything necessary to prevent illegal aliens from sneaking in, how and why would those ten-percenters continue to get through? How much lower can expectations go?

Wouldn't it be like the warden of Sing Sing addressing a convention of his fellow wardens, and saying, "Fellas, we're all doing a hell of a job. Only one out of every 10 prisoners is breaking out of jail! Drinks for everyone!"

– excerpted from A few Glad Tidings

I love people who bothered to take Logic 101 in college. I just wish there were more of them.

After that, we need a lighter note. This video was sent to me by several people within a period of 8 days, so it is making the rounds and you might have already seen it. But it's funny no matter how many times you've seen it.

If you are Catholic, you will laugh out loud. If you are not Catholic, you'll probably laugh even louder. Father Guido Sarducci (Don Novello) explains the afterlife on a 1980 Saturday Night Live oldie but goodie:

If you don't know much about Don Novello (Father Guido Sarducci), you should look him up on Wikipedia. He is quite a fascinating character

A Practical Ampelography: Grapevine Identification

<i>A Practical Ampelography: Grapevine Identification</i>, by Pierre Galet

This is the third "must have" book if you are keenly interested in native American Grapes. Pierre Galet, of the École Nationale Supérieure Agronomique de Montpellier, has made a systematic study of the vines and shared his findings here. His ground-breaking A Practical Ampelography: Grapevine Identification gave all of us the tools to identify wild grapes with relative certainty.

Originally published in French in 1952 as Ampélographie Pratique, it was translated into English in 1979 by Lucie Morton. A Practical Ampelography: Grapevine Identification, was updated in 2000. The copy I have is the earlier 248-page edition.

Galet's system was based on the shape and contours of the leaves, the characteristics of growing shoots, shoot tips, petioles, the sex of the flowers, the shape of the grape clusters and their color, size and pips of the grapes themselves. Many other minor characteristics also come into play and are often the difference between one species or another, or even a subspecies.

While DNA fingerprinting has risen to the forefront as the more accurate method of identification, it's expense and specialized laboratory requirements place it outside of all but well-funded researchers, leaving the works of Galet, Munson, and to a lesser extent Hedrick as the common man's toolkit.

There are two drawbacks to Galet's work. The first is that book itself is rare and quite expensive when available on the used book market – in the neighborhood of $400-$500. The second is that Galet's major research was in France, not North America where the greatest ranges of wild grapes in the world are located. His classification system differs from Munson's and the great revision in taxonomic acceptance of grape nomenclature had not yet been implemented. Thus, one finds several of his species' names have been replaced and some are missing completely. But one can rectify the last shortcoming by using the North American Native Grape List at the Native North American Grapes and Wines page on my site. These drawbacks aside, A Practical Ampelography is a milestone publication.

If one can obtain the book on inter-library loan, it can be Xeroxed for under $30, an investment well worth making. If one wants the original hardbound copy, the cheapest I have found are available here, through Amazon, starting at $389.97.

June 1st, 2013

Well, I returned from Southern California around midnight Tuesday and was up until 3:40 a.m. weeding through email. It was therefore frustrating when I woke up Wednesday morning and had no internet connectivity most of the time. Every couple of hours I could get on for 10-30 minutes, but really could not function as I am used to online. This problem has continued through today, but I was able to log on for a couple of hours yesterday. We'll see how today goes when I try uploading this WineBlog entry.

Jack and Donna Keller dining at 50th high school reunion at Marina Del Rey Hotel in California
Jack & Donna Keller at his 50th high school reunion at the Marina del
Rey Hotel in California

In my last entry I said I would be gone a while to attend my 50th high school reunion and take care of a few things regarding my late father's estate. Both tasks were completed and I had an absolutely marvelous time visiting with old friends at the reunion.

Only a few were recognizable at first glance, but then I was one who wasn't recognizable to any but a couple I had kept up with over the years.

Our nametags had our yearbook photos affixed and we all found ourselves glancing at the nametags for comparison and placement in ancient files tucked into dusty corners of our memory. It is amazing what you can remember by glancing for a fraction of a second at a photo from the distant past.

I saw seating relationships in various classes, cheerleaders in pleated skirts, brief meetings in hallways to confirm schedules or compare test grades, athletes making (or missing) key plays, longing or diverted glances in the cafeteria while searching for dining partners, and faces at parties that revealed who was and who wasn't drinking. I found my driving partner in drivers ed, my lab partner in biology, a bully in the locker room after gym class, and my best friend for five of my last school years. There were many I didn't recognize at all (we were a huge class of almost 700), some I did but couldn't quite place, and some I looked for but simply weren't there.

Fifty years takes its toll and most of us gained a few (or more) pounds, lost a little (or more) of hair and grew a few (or more) wrinkles. At least 96 (1 in 7) did not live long enough to make it to the gathering. Their yearbook photos were flashed on a screen during dinner so we could remember them as we last saw them. I remembered all too many.

Jack and Donna Keller in the requisite portrait at the 50th high school reunion
Jack & Donna Keller's obligatory photo at his 50th high school reunion

The reunion was supposed to be a dinner-dance, but too late in the planning stage to opt for a larger dining room a slew of people decided to attend after all and the dance floor disappeared as extra tables filled its space. It turned out that was okay, as our musical plans were sabotaged by the disappearing dance floor and DropBox.

I had volunteered to collect the music we grew up with (I have over 8,000 songs in my CD collection) – the top songs of January 1956 to June 1963. My plan was to burn them to DVDs – a master DVD for the sound system and copies for attendees who wanted one. My plans were interrupted by my father's passing and other members of the planning committee got nervous and began uploading songs into a DropBox folder – a place in "the cloud" for storage and sharing.

When time became available I spent two days of my life identifying the top 10 songs for each month and uploading them to the appropriate folder. I had to purchase 48 of them and 22 could not be located for single-song purchase and thus were left out. I edited the folder and deleted duplicates others had uploaded. I then waited a week while I purchased blank DVDs, DVD labels and labeling software. I designed a "Music We Went to School With" label and was ready. Then I set aside a day to do the burning and labeling with less than a week to go. I logged into DropBox and my heart sank.

Of the nearly 400 songs I had confirmed were there, only 76 remained. Hectic emails to committee members unearthed no culprit and the member who had said he would download them to a thumb drive "just in case" had not done so yet. I had neither the time nor the energy to do it all again. Others jumped in and a total of 145 songs were finally uploaded to DropBox and downloaded to thumb drives by other committee members, but many of the biggest hits of our era were missing – number one hits by Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, Ricky Nelson, Jan and Dean, Elvis Presley, Dick Dale, Phil Specter's stable of artists, the Motown invasion, most of the doo wop classics, and so many more were silent.

We finally decided that DropBox was the culprit. In people's enthusiasm to share old photos from high school, they had uploaded too many and exceeded our storage capacity. Rather than rejecting the new uploads, DropBox simply deleted files already there to make room and our music disappeared.

In hind-sight, we had ten times more music than we would have had time to play anyway – if the dance floor had not been sequestered by diners. But I never expected them to all be played. I simply wanted to give my classmates the very best of the music we listened to during our school years.

The whole music scene changed drastically just a few months after we graduated when The Beatles, Johnny Rivers, Sonny and Cher, Bob Dylan, and The Byrds (as examples) hit the charts. The subsequent British invasion, electric folk-rock and blues, counterculture rock, and the psychedelic revolution all came after my high school days (heavy metal and punk were years later). It is easy to misplace when sounds hit the airwaves. I had planned to firmly place "our music" on one DVD so we could enjoy it at our leisure and relive the memories it pulled from the recesses of our minds. Damn you, DropBox!

Donna and Jack Keller at dinner aboard the Carnival Inspiration
Donna & Jack Keller aboard the Carnival Inspiration

I call the backlit picture at the right my "Einstein photo." There we were, my wife and me, getting ready to order dinner aboard the Carnival Inspiration, when classmate John Dodson said "smile" an this is what resulted. Aside from a few photos and some cherished memories, I gained 10 pounds in my 9 days away from home and my diet. Ten pounds!

I have shed 3 pounds in the four days at home, so still have a ways to go to get back to my recent low weight. Wish me luck.

My class decided to make our 50th high school reunion something special, so we organized a dinner-dance (the latter half of which never materialized), a next morning 2-hour buffet breakfast so we had some extra time to socialize, and then a 2-dozen-mile trip to Long Beach to board the Carnival Inspiration for a 4-night cruise to Catalina and Ensenada, Mexico. The morning after sailing we dropped anchor off Catalina and some of the non-cruisers ferried over from the mainland to join us for a catered buffet lunch at a private beach at northern edge of Avalon – more time to socialize, catch-up and have fun.

Some cruises are adventures in port-hopping, taking you from one exotic destination after another. This cruise, for those who grew up in Southern California, is really a getaway – a chance to relax and leave one's worries behind while being presented with numerous opportunities to over-eat, drink, enjoy entertainment, and gamble if one is so inclined. What one does at the two ports of call is up to the cruiser, but there are opportunities to be adventurous at each if one wishes and is organized.

Both Catalina and Ensenada were day-trips in my youthful days, although Ensenada was best visited as an overnighter. A decent room could be had in the city for as little as $4 a night in 1963. Camping at any of the beaches between Tiajuana and Ensenada was a cheap way to negotiate the overnight requirement (that $4 saved could buy a lot of beer and frijoles back then), with Rosarita, about 25 miles south of the border, being a favorite. I don't think I would recommend dong that today, but I'm more cautious now than I was when I was 18.

The night-long journey to Santa Catalina Island was laughable but fun. The distance as a seagull flies is but 32 miles. Nonetheless, we paid for it and enjoyed the circles the ship made during the night, sleeping through about half of them. The anchor was raised late in the afternoon and it was on to Ensenada, which we also reached just after the sun rose. We cast off for the trip back to long beach before the sun set, spent the next day at sea, and finally limped into port after the sun was well up, the 140 nautical mile trip having taken a day and a half. But then, we were not there to set any speed records but to enjoy each other, which we succeeded in doing very well.

To be honest, you really don't think much about the distances and time involved when on a cruise. The whole point is to relax and have fun. Take a cruise if you haven't. If you aren't on a rare ship that has problems, it really is a vacation from your worries.

Locust Blossom Wine

Honey Locust flowers in Meadowlands, Minnesota, photo by minnesotamom, used under fair use doctrine, not for commercial use or gain

Seven years ago I published my Locust Blossom Wine recipe featuring black locust flowers. Since then I've gotten a couple of emails each year telling me how good this wine is and I appreciate them very much. This past week I received a reader's email reporting a tweak to my recipe and simply had to share it with you.

Honey locust is in full bloom in Pennsylvania right now, so I am preparing my second batch of locust blossom wine. I made the first in 2011 based on your recipe and it was outstanding. I encourage you and your many readers to give it a try. I found it to be much more aromatic than my rose petal wines, and have had several requests for the locust blossom wine and recipe.

The only variation I made on your recipe was that I did not wash and boil the blossoms as specified. Instead, I picked out leaves and stems, then placed the blossoms in a nylon strainer bag. I then poured my boiling water with dissolved sugar over the bag in the primary and let it steep and cool overnight. I then proceeded as you describe in your recipe, with starting SG=1.084. I removed the bag of blossoms after 2 days when the SG=1.060 and left the wine in the primary until SG=1.010 in 3 more days. This worked very well for me.

– Tim Murphy, Susquehanna Winemakers Guild, Harrisburg, PA

Tim's tweaks are sound, but so is his using the Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) flowers. My recipe used the Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), which has drawn a couple of inquiries because the pods of the Black Locust are toxic. Believe me, the blossoms of neither are toxic and the seed pods of the Honey Locust contain an edible inner pulp before the pods dry out

Most web sources treat Honey Locust as a single species, but in truth there are several kinds of "locust" trees in the Gleditsia genus which are curiosities outside their local habitats. These include the Bushy Honey Locust ( Gleditsia triacanthos var. etegantissima), the Bujot Honey Locust ( Gleditsia triacanthos var. bujotii), and Dwarf Hoey Locust ( Gleditsia triacanthos var. nana).

Black locust thorns, photo by Greg Hume [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Honey Locust torns

Some sites mention the Thornless Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos inermis), which is quite popular as a landscape tree simply because of the absence of thorns. Both the Black Locust and Honey Locust produce incredibly wicked thorns (up to a foot in length) and can be a nuisance at best and a source of severe injury at worse. There are also Seedless Honey Locust (several varieties) that have been bred and are popular in nurseries, but they are of no interest to us because they don't produce the many flowers we desire for winemaking.

The Water Locust (Gleditsia aquatica) resides in deep swamps and marshlands from eastern Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas to Florida and up to South Carolina and northward to Illinois and Indiana. It sports fewer and smaller racemes of light greenish-white flowers than other species and are therefore not considered a good specimen for winemaking.

The Texas Honey Locust (Gleditsia X texana) is a proto-species, believed to be a hybrid of Gleditsia triacanthos and Gleditsia aquatica. Both thornless and thorny specimens abound. Reaching a height of 50-120 feet with a diameter of up to 2 1/2 feet with smooth pale bark. The flowers are orange-yellow on racemes only 3-4 inches long. The branches are ascending or spreading, making the majority of flowers out of reach but they can be collected on younger trees. Although their largest habitat is along the Brazos River drainage in Texas, they grow to a lesser degree in other Texas locations, along the Red River near Shreveport, Louisiana, at Yazoo City, Mississippi and near Skelton, Indiana

The Black Locust also has many varieties (at least 24) and several specie cousins within the Robinia genus. Most notable of the latter are the Rusby Locust (Robinia rusbyi) in New Mexico; the New Mexico Locust (Robinia neomexicana) in New Mexico, western Texas, Arizona, and north into Colorado, Utah and Nevada, with one known variety (var. luxurians); the Rose-Acacia Locust (Robinia hispida) in Oklahoma eastward to Georgia and Virgina, mostly north of the Gulf Coast plain, with two known varieties and known hybridization with Black Locust. The Rusby and New Mexico Locust have flowers very similar to Black Locust, while the Rose-Acacia Locust has smaller racemes.

For the purpose of this recipe, the common Honey Locust will be used. This is a tree attaining 100 feet in height with a thorny trunk and branches and a loose, open crown. The flowers are not as large and the racemes not as long as those of the Black Locust, but are sufficiently dense and numerous to make collecting achievable. The racemes are 2-5 inches long, green with clustered pale flowers with cream-colored petals. The flowers appear in May-June throughout much of the central and eastern United States, from central Texas to the Atlantic and generally extending north not quite to the Great Lakes.

Honey Locust Blossom Wine

  • 1 1/2 lb Honey Locust flowers, destemmed
  • 1 3/4 lbs granulated sugar
  • 1 can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate (thawed)
  • approximately 3 qts water (to make 1 gal)
  • 2 tsp acid blend
  • 1/4 tsp powdered grape tannin
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 pkt general purpose wine yeast

Put water on to boil. Meanwhile, destem, wash and place the flowers in a nylon straining bag, tie closed and set in primary. When water boils remove from heat and stir in sugar until completely dissolved. Pour water over flowers and allow to cool. Stir remaining ingredients, except yeast, into primary and stir until integrated. Add activated yeast as starter solution, cover primary and set in warm place. Remove flowers after two days and discard. Re-cover primary and transfer to secondary when specific gravity reaches 1.010 (about 5 days) and affix an airlock. If wine does not clear in 30 days, put one teaspoon pectic enzyme in clean secondary and rack wine into it. Reattach airlock and wait additional 30 days. Rack, add one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet and 1/2 tsp dissolved potassium sorbate. Wait 10 days, sweeten to taste and set aside additional 30 days. Rack into bottles and age at least 3 months. [Jack Keller and Tim Murphy's recipe]

June 8th, 2013

George Strait on stage in San Antonio, June 1, 2013 [photo from Twitter without attribution]
The very great George Strait

WARNING: FOUL LANGUAGE. I am sooooo pissed! George Strait was in San Antonio on June 1st and I wasn't. Damn! He doesn't perform in his hometown often and I MISSED IT! Damn again! I've talked to two people who attended and heard it was an absolute scream! I can't show my face in public wearing my cowboy hat for a week at least....

George is a country legend. I remember when he received recognition for his 50th number one hit and no one in the entertainment industry could believe it. And now he has 60! You rock, George!

George Strait was born in Poteet, a mere 8 miles from my house. His parents lived in Pleasanton in a small house a friend of mine's father owned but there is no hospital in Pleasanton so they went to Poteet to welcome George into the world (that hospital is long closed and the only area hospital today is also 8 miles away in Jourdanton). George's father moved the family to his father's ranch in Pearsall when George was still a toddler and that's where he grew up.

George's current tour is "The Cowboy Rides Away Tour," named after one of his 60 number one hits. I love that song. But my favorite GS song is "Where the Sidewalk Ends," even though we played his "Cross My Heart" at our wedding. And, to be honest, "Amarillo By Morning" is a close second favorite. Hell, I like 'em all. By the way, his entire tour is sold out, no tickets available anywhere except from scalpers.

I heard a claim a few years ago on the radio that I can't confirm but don't doubt for a minute: Every second of every day there is a George Strait song being played on the radio somewhere in Texas. Nope, can't doubt that at all.

So now you know. I'm a George Strait fan. But my musical tastes are wide and I love a lot of different music and artists. There's room enough in my heart for many more.

Can't believe I missed him! Damn!

Steve Haebig's bragging rights from the Wisconsin State Fair
Steve Haebig's Wisconsin State Fair awards

It is really satisfying when someone writes to say they have used my recipes or advice to make award-winning wines. Congrats to Steve Haebig for a 1st, two 2nds and a 3rd place in the Wisconsin State Fair; Rob Pecchenino for winning three People's Choice nods at the Asian Food Expo in Cebu, Philippines; Doug Darrow, Janet Benson and Hal Canfield for various wins; and Randy Knowles in the UK for his medals.

I should also mention the many, many winners of the 2013 and past years' WineMaker International Amateur Wine Competition, sponsored by WineMaker Magazine, who thanked me for helping them make great wines. I count myself among the winners of the past, having not entered for several years.

I do not take any credit for those winning wines. The winemakers who crafted their entries deserve all the credit. But I do appreciate the many emails I receive thanking me for whatever instruction, advice or inspiration I may have contributed to their endeavors. These thanks provide the joy that fuels the continuation of my Winemaking Home Page and this WineBlog.

Last Monday I met with a local couple for lunch to discuss their new hobby of winemaking. Answering their questions about mustang grapes and in general and offering suggestions for future wines from other than usual ingredients (dandelion, rose petal and cactus flower wines were mentioned) was far more satisfying than the excellent club sandwich and fruit salad I consumed. I saw myself sitting across from me many, many years ago asking the only person I knew who made wine all sorts of questions.

H. L. Mecken, photo from Wiki Commons under CC-SA-3.0 license
H.L. Mencken

H.L. Mencken (1880 - 1956) was a journalist, satirist, critic, and Democrat. He wrote this editorial while working for the Baltimore Evening Sun, which appeared in the July 26, 1920, edition:

As democracy is perfected, the office of the President represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be occupied by a downright fool and complete narcissistic moron.
– H.L. Mencken, The Baltimore Evening Sun, July 26, 1920

There are those who gleefully perpetuated the anti-George W. Bush, "quatrain" created in 2000 and fictitiously attributed to Nostradamus (denounced as fictitious on both Fact Check and the Urban Legends site at snopes.com) about the people electing the village idiot as their highest leader, but Bush was actually very smart (Yale and Harvard graduate, the only President to hold an M.B.A.), an experienced military fighter pilot, a successful businessman, and a proven leader (Governor of Texas and 2-term President of the United States).

On the other hand, there is no doubt about the narcissism of Barack H. Obama. He has broken all records as President for including the personal "I," "me" and "my" in his public speeches, blames anything and everything for his setbacks and failures, and, of course, always speaks with his chin raised so he is looking down at his audience. I would not, however, suggest he is a moron.

I am drawn to genuinely poignant historical quotes that speak from the past to lecture the present, as H.L. Mencken's quote above, or the following by American Socialist Norman Thomas (1884-1968):

The American people will never knowingly adopt socialism. But, under the name of "liberalism," they will adopt every fragment of the socialist program, until one day America will be a socialist nation, without knowing how it happened. He went on to say: I no longer need to run as a Presidential Candidate for the Socialist Party. The Democratic Party has adopted our platform.
Norman Thomas, American Socialist, 1944

Or this 2,068-year old quote:

The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed, lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work instead of living on public assistance.
– Cicero , 55 BC

We would do well to remember this oft-misquoted passage of the great philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952), from Volume I of The Life of Reason:

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
George Santayana, 1905

Seal of the Department of Homeland Security, photo from Wiki Commons under CC-SA-3.0 license

The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has solicited bids for 1.1 billion rounds of ammunition. Think about that number for a minute. There are 315 million people in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. That's 3.5 rounds for every man, woman and child – whether citizen or illegal alien – in the country. What possible plans could they have for that much ammo?

There are conspiracy theories all over the place to explain this. The most popular is that the DHS is buying up all the marketable ammunition in the United States just so there won't be any for a more and more disillusioned citizenry to buy. And I'll be the first to admit that retail ammunition is getting scarce in places. Two friends of mine, one in the San Francisco Bay Area and the other in Southern California's Orange County have independently written to me saying there is no 9 mm, .40 cal. or .45 cal. ammunition in any of the gun shops and sporting goods stores in their respective areas, and the one in Southern California said there is not even any .22 cal. LR ammo to be found. Each reported that most store managers simply said it's on back-order but a few opined that DHS was buying it all to make privately owned firearms useless. A gun without ammo is just an ineffiient club.

I don't know if the above (about DHS buying it to make private gun ownership useless) is true or not, but the scarcity of certain calibers of ammunition has extended so long that the gun dealer I bought my handgun from recently sent me an email announcing that the ammunition for my particular handgun is now available but expected to go fast. Indeed, when I called the store three days later I was told it all was sold the day it was received. So what the heck is going on?

In case you are not aware of what the DHS is, it is a huge umbrella agency that includes the following integrated agencies:

  • Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
  • Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Countermeasures Programs
  • Domestic Emergency Response Teams
  • Energy Security and Assurance Program
  • Environmental Measurement Laboratory
  • Federal Computer Incident Response Center
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency
  • Federal Law Enforcement Training Center
  • Federal Protective Service
  • Immigration and Naturalization Service
  • National Biological Warfare Defense Analysis Center
  • National Communications System
  • National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center
  • National Domestic Preparedness Office
  • Nuclear Incident Response Team
  • National Infrastructure Protection Center
  • Office for Domestic Preparedness
  • Plum Island Animal Disease Center
  • Strategic National Stockpile National Disaster Medical System
  • Transportation Security Administration
  • U.S. Coast Guard
  • U.S. Customs Service
  • U.S. Secret Service

I can understand why some of the employees of some of the above agencies have legitimate need for a firearm and ammunition, but 1.1 billion rounds?

Sometimes paranoia is justified. I thank God for the members of Congress who inserted an amendment to the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2014 (H.R. 2217) which prohibits DHS from purchasing ammunition until the agency has submitted to Congress a report detailing the Department's ammunition inventory, use, and procurement procedures. I just pray that Harry Reid's Senate doesn't block it.

Juicing Pomegranates for Winemaking

Pomegranate arils, photo by w:User:Pschemp [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Several readers have inquired why I never use a juicer to extract the good fermentable liquids from fruit or berries, but especially pomegranates, to create a must. Excellent question, many answers.

We once owned a very fine, very expensive Champion Juicer. We got rid of it (although I don't recall the details) when we moved to Pleasanton and lost our big kitchen with ample countertop space. I used it to juice several fruit and some occasional vegetables for winemaking, but was generally unhappy with the results except on rare occasions that included pomegranates.

Despite the magnificent design and quality of the Champion juicer we had and the efficient way it separated juice from solids and compacted those solids for other uses (what could not be cooked went into my compost pile), I generally still found very, very fine solids in the juice, resulting in lees somewhat thicker than I wanted that trapped some of the desired wine. I could compress these lees somewhat with gelatin or Bentonite before racking and thereby liberate some trapped wine. This was but a minor issue but an issue nonetheless.

My major issue concerned occasionally bitter juice from seeds ground up in the juice. With the pomegranate this was not a major issue as the pomegranate seed is totally edible and highly nutritious – but removed during the winemaking process by racking. After breaking apart the fruit itself and liberating the arils (those little sacs of juice and seed), they are culled of any pithy membrane and peeling and dropped into the juicer. The Champion juicer actually grinds up less of the seed than any other juicer I have seen, but some still gets ground up. I could run the solids through the juicer again to further grind them for a healthier drink, but not if my purpose was to make wine.

As I said, the seeds of the pomegranate are perfectly edible, highly nutritious and benefit the body in many ways. Eating whole pomegranate seeds benefit conditions of the heart and blood vessels including high blood pressure, congestive heart failure (CHF), heart attack, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), and high cholesterol. They also benefit conditions of the digestive tract, including diarrhea, dysentery, tapeworm and other intestinal parasites. They can be dried and used outright or then ground to produce a very flavorful and tangy spice known as anardana, primarily used in Pakistani and Indian cuisine.

Depending on ripeness and variety, the juice can be sweet or sour or both. The complete aril contains numerous polyphenols such as hydrolyzable acidic tannins called ellagitannins, formed when ellagic acid binds with a carbohydrate, and flavonoids such as catechins, gallocatechins and multiple anthrocyanins. They are also a super source of dietary fiber, so chew them well before swallowing.

You'll need 12 large pomegranates. I don't use a juicer for pomegranates (or any other fruit) anymore because we no longer have our Champion juicer, but I do still juice them for wine. I separate the fruit and place sections under water to then separate the arils. I bring a cup of water in a large pan to a boil and add the arils of 6 pomegranates, stirring every minute or two but otherwise keeping the lid on. The heat bursts the sacs and liberates the juice, which I then strain thoroughly when cooled. On average, each pomegranate contains a cup of arils and will yield between 1/3 to 1/2 cup of pure juice. By selecting large fruit I can easily get a quart of juice from this method. Repeat the above to extract another quart of juice. I once made a gallon of wine using pure juice with no dilution except for topping up, but my wife complained I was using too many of our scarce fruit (we only have one pomegranate tree).

Alternatively, if you win the lottery you can buy pure pomegranate juice.

Pomegranate Juice Wine

  • 12 large pomegranates juiced (see above)
  • 1/2 cup light dry malt extract
  • very fine granulated sugar to s.g. 1.090 (about 1 lb, but use your hydrometer)
  • 6 1/2 cups water
  • 1 large lemon, juiced
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Lalvin RC212 or EC-1118 Wine Yeast

Bring water to boil, remove from heat and immediately stir in 3/4 pound sugar and dry malt extract until completely dissolved. In primary, combine pomegranate juice and sugar-malt-water, cover and let cool until room temperature. Measure s.g. and add additional sugar if required, stirring until completely dissolved. Add lemon juice and yeast nutrients and stir again for one minute. Add activated yeast as a starter solution and cover primary. Transfer to secondary when s.g. drops below 1.020. Do not top up, but affix an airlock and ferment to dryness. Wait approximately 30 days and rack, adding one finely crushed and dissolved Camden tablet or 1/16th tsp potassium metabisulfite. Top up and reattach airlock. Set in dark place and forget it for 90 days. Rack again and add 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate, dissolved, and 1/2 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet or a pinch (about 1/32 tsp) of potassium metabisulfite. Attach airlock and set in dark place 2 weeks. Sweeten just enough to pull off bone dryness (to about 1.000-1.002) – or sweeten to taste – and return to dark place for 30 additional days. Rack into bottles and cellar 6-12 months, the latter being preferred. [Jack Keller's own recipe, © 2013]

For those who just can't wait and drink their wines young, this wine was so-so at 4 months, won a Grand Champion at 9 months and a Best of Show at 10 months. It peaked at 13 months and declined slowly and gracefully until consumed at 16 months, still quite nice. However, I made a 3-gallon batch of pomegranate that I flavored with mesquite shavings, bulk aged in carboy for two years, and was still a delightful wine two years after bottling. You simply never know.

Potatoes Anardana (Excellent!)

Anardana seeds, photo at My Spice Sage, used under fair use doctrine, not for commercial use or gain blank space  Anardana powder, photo at My Spice Sage, used under fair use doctrine, not for commercial use or gain

Writing about Pomegranate Wine reminded me of a delicious potato snack and/or side dish using dried pomegranate (anardana) seeds as a major taste component. Quick and easy to make, this one is a sure winner for every taste.

I first found this recipe on the internet several years ago after buying some dried pomegranate seeds packaged as Anardana. The original recipe is called Aloo Anardana – aloo being potato and anardana being dried pomegranate seeds in India – and was posted by Jen Maiser on her blog. She explained she obtained the recipe from an Indian friend:

Shalini Balla is a friend who I met in the past year who has taught me more about home Indian cooking than I have ever learned before. Through her snacks and little bites of concoctions here and there, I have learned that Indian home cooking is nothing like you eat at the $5.95 curry buffet down the street.

Shalini taught me recently about Anardana, dried pomegranate seeds, that are used in Indian cooking. The seeds are dried and can be purchased as a spice.... The tang to the seeds adds a dimension to the flavor that is specific to Indian food.

She goes on to introduce aloo anardana, saying it is so good and so easy to make it became a regular at her house.

Well, it became a regular at my house after trying it. It takes little preparation – just boil potatoes, let then cool, and gather a few ingredients. While the recipe calls for using a wok, I use a favorite non-stick skillet.

The recipe calls for two ingredients he average American may not have – anardana (dried pomegranate seeds) and ghee (a clarified butter indispensible to much Indian cuisine). Both can be found at any Indian market in any average city. But if, like me, you live in a small town (and don't want to drive into the nearest city just to buy anardana and ghee), you may very well find them in your supermarket in the ethnic foods section or can have the market order them for you. I originally found anardana at my local market under the name "Dried Pomegranate Seeds" and they ordered ghee for me – I have used it many, many times for its taste and long shelf life, but I use it less and less now because it does not fit into the diet I have followed for the past 15 months. I make an exception for this dish.

The recipe below is slightly modified from the original posting I adapted it from. There are many small potatoes that will work with this dish, but do NOT use Russet potatoes. I personally like the small, long finger potatoes, Yukon gold, or purple potatoes if you can get them (I can) – their flavor is unique.

The Thai chilies are my replacement for simply "whole red chilies" in the original. If you don't like your chilies that hot, any small, whole red chilies will do, even sweet ones if that is your taste.

When I bought my "dried pomegranate seeds," I then placed them in my coffee grinder and reduced them to powder. The powder coats the potatoes far more thoroughly and evenly than do the seeds and you don't have to worry about finding an unusually hard seed when you bite down. Otherwise, the recipe is pretty much as published and is quite simple.

  • 1 1/2 lbs potatoes (Yukon gold, red skin or other small potato – do not use Russet potatoes)
  • 1/4 cup pure ghee
  • 3 to 4 Thai red chilies
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tbsp coriander powder
  • 3/4 tsp cumin powder
  • 1/2 tsp red chile powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 cup Anardana (dried pomegranate seeds), finely powdered.

Boil the potatoes until tender and let cool completely. I prefer not to peel my potatoes for this dish. Chop the potatoes into 1 inch or smaller pieces.

Heat the ghee in a wok or round-bottomed skillet. Add the whole red chilies and fry till they begin to change color. This takes a few seconds. Add the chopped potatoes and fry until crispy. Add the powdered spices and mix to ensure that all the potatoes are coated in the spices. Add the powdered pomegranate seeds and mix. Fry for another couple of minutes and serve hot.

June 11th, 2013

I thank those who wrote to gloat that you saw George Strait and Martina McBride in concert in San Antonio. You really know how to hurt a guy.

The pre-show party on the North Plaza of the Alamodome featured 3 1/3 hours of performances by south Texas groups Palacios Brothers and Chris Salinas and the WildGrass Band. Early arrivers soaked it all up!

Southern copperhead camouflaged in dead leaves, photo by Tim Ross, in public domain
Copperhead (not mine) camouflaged in dead leaves

This morning I went outside to drink some coffee while my dog sniffed the lawn for evidence of nocturnal intruders. She took about eight steps off the porch and sniffed something, then jerked her head back. I immediately headed her way to see what it was (I feared a scorpion) when she again sniffed, jerked her head and took a step backwards as I arrived. It was a young copperhead – a beautifully colored but venomous snake. This one was about 3/4-inch in diameter and just under 2 feet long. Venomous, yes, but rarely deadly for large dogs and humans.

Had it been a rattler I would have scrambled to the garage for a shovel and it would have died, but copperheads actually eat small vermin. I'd rather have the copperhead around than the vermin. This one was probably still too small for mice, so it probably eats insects and possibly small frogs, lizards and geckos, but it will grow. I took my dog back inside so the snake (and the dog) could escape with honor.

The copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) is a subspecies of the Crotalinae (pit viper) subfamily. I have seen several on my property, but they have always been in the back yard or far-back acre. I have found them tucked under a leaning mesquite tree, under or around stacked firewood, around large fallen branches, or under foundation growth at the base of the house, garage or out-buildings. All but one have been brightly colored, as this one was.

When discovered, all I have encountered have frozen, as if dead. In the places I described before, their inactivity actually helped them blend into the background despite colorful crisscrossing bands of tan (or once, pinkish-tan) and light to darkish brown. The two small ones I've encountered, including this one, had yellowish tails. Despite this color, even on a green, mulched lawn this one was hard to see when I turned away and then back, waiting for it to move (it did not). But when I went out a while later it was gone.

Mustang grapes, photo by Marvin Nebgen with permission

I watch my local native grape, the Mustang, with interest. The recent rains are swelling berry size, which is good for reducing their tannin load but could be bad if they create new acids. They are already one of the most acidic grapes in the world and need a late ripening to naturally reduce it. The swelling should have little impact on their pathetic sugar, but sugar is still affordable so I'll chaptalize as required.

I've harvested ripe Mustangs as early as June 21st, but June 28th is an average beginning harvest date in the 21 years I've lived in South-central Texas. July 4th is late for my area but average for the Texas Hill Country north of San Antonio.

Despite their drawbacks, Mustangs still make good wine with attention to detail. I am not the best Mustang winemaker I know. Marvin Nebgen, Greg Howard and Bob Denson all make better Mustang wine than I do, but I sure do like what I make and have won more awards for Mustang than for any other wine. I have but one bottle of Mustang left so need to make some soon. So I watch the grapes with keen interest.

Handicapped? No, World Champion!

Former President Bush dancing with wounded warrior Melissa Stockwell at his ranch, 2012
President Bush with Melissa Stockwell after com-
pleting the W100 mountain bike ride, April 2012

President George W. Bush is captured here dancing with former Army First Lieutenant Melissa Stockwell (Bronze Star, Purple Heart), the first American female warrior to lose a limb in combat (2004, near Baghdad, Iraq), in April 2012. The occasion here was a relaxing evening after completing the President's famous 3-day, 100 kilometer mountain bike ride with 19 other wounded warriors. The ride, through some of Texas' most beautiful and challenging country, has been dubbed the W100. But Melissa's story, aside from completing the challenging ride, is quite incredible.

President Bush has brought groups of wounded warriors to Texas several times a year – since 2011. The events are hosted by the George W. Bush Institute's Military Service Initiative. The two big events are the 2-day, 36-hole Bush Center Warrior Open golf tournament and the Bush Center Warrior 100K mountain bike ride Melissa participated in.

Melissa began swimming as a form of physical therapy at Walter Reed and later trained for and made the U.S. Paralympic Swimming Team. She set the 2008 American Record for the 400m freestyle at the U.S. Paralympic Swimming Trials in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She swam the 400m freestyle, 100m freestyle and 100m fly in Beijing and later carried the American flag in the closing ceremonies.

After Beijing Melissa Stockwell turned to the sport of triathion, was a member of the 2010 paratriathion national team and became the 2010 Paratriathion World Champion in her class, only one of her many athletic accomplishments.

Melissa Stockwell has already run nearly half of the 17 races on her 2013 schedule. Her story is an inspiring one. She is a board member of the Wounded Warrior Project and works with many groups to positively change public attitudes and perceptions about amputees and people with physical disabilities.

Melissa Stockwell chatting with President Obama while looking at President Carter at the dedication of the Bush Presidential Center dedication
President Obama chats with Melissa while she looks at
President Carter at the dedication of the Bush Presidential
Center. L-R, President Carter, Rosalynn Carter, Hillary
Clinton, President Bill Clinton, President George W. Bush,
President Obama, Melissa Stockwell

On May 4, 2013 Melissa was invited to the George W. Bush Presidential Center Dedication Ceremony. An honored guest, she was able to meet the current and all four living former Presidents and First Ladies of the United States. The 3-time World Champion Paratriathlelonist is no stranger to President Bush and First Lady Michelle Obama, but she had never met the others present.

Among Melissa's many athletic titles are:

  • 2010 Paratriathlon World Champion
  • 2010 Paratriathlete of the Year
  • 2011 Paratriathlon National Champion
  • 2011 Paratriathlon World Champion
  • 2011 Paratriathlete of the Year
  • 2012 Paratriathlon National Champion
  • 2012 Paratriathlon World Champion

She has been an Amputee Coalition of America Peer Visitor since 2005, has served on the Wounded Warrior Project Board of Directors since 2007, was a 2010 Presidential delegate to the Vancouver Paralympic Games, co-founded Dare2Tri in 2011 with Keri Schindler and Dan Tun, was named 2012 Champion of Change for Michelle Obama's Let's Move Now w/Dare2Tri, and in 2012 was placed on the MSN List of Most Inspiring Athletes Ever. Gulp! And believe it or not I left out eight other honors bestowed on Melissa that I know of.

Melissa Stockwell – veteran, paralympian, 3-time world champion paratriathlete, certified prosthetist, triathlon coach, motivational speaker, mentor, organizer, Wounded Warrior ambassador, proud American – is a true inspiration. I feel very insignificant in her shadow.

Beware What You Order

Extreme pizza and photo from Marianitos Extreme Tex-Mex Grill in San Antonio

I just saw a pizza commercial and a memory popped into my head I want to share with you. In 1993 my wife and I (then not married) drove from a summer resort we were staying at near the top of the Aostra Valley of northwestern Italy over the Great St. Bernard Pass into Switzerland. We ate in Martigny, Switzerland, amused that a dog was sleeping at the feet of one of the diners. After a bit of sight-seeing, we drove back over the Pass and stopped several times for views and short walks, eating cherries from wild trees at one stop. Darkness caught us high up on the way down and we eventually made it to Courmayeur where we were staying. We were hungry and sought a place to eat.

The Great St. Bernard Pass is famous as the route Napoleon chose for his 1800 invasion of Italy and crosses the ridge between Mont Blanc and Monte Rosa, the two highest summits of the Alps. It straddles the watershed of the headwaters of the rivers Po in Italy and Rhone in Switzerland. In Italy, the Aosta Valley sports many old but well-preserved castles which we lovingly visited. But, back to the story.

We passed a couple of tucked-away restaurants and I was looking for a place to turn around when suddenly we spotted the word "pizza" lit up on a distant building. We navigated toward it and found a nearly full parking lot, to us a good sign. Inside, it was warm, crowded and smelled wonderful.

We approached a counter and examined the elevated menu. Addressed in Italian, I responded with, "Do you speak English?" The young man behind the counter answered, "Of course." Recognizing little on the Italian menu, together we ordered a large pizza with black olives, sausage, bell peppers, mushrooms, pepperoni, and mozzarella. The guy stared at us for a moment and finally asked if bell peppers were sweet peppers. We said yes, and ordered two beers while we waited.

The pizza took about 20 minutes to appear. We expected something like the picture above. Instead, we were presented with a large pizza with perfectly pie-shaped, segregated regions, each topped with one of the six toppings we asked for. I should have gone to the car for my camera, but was laughing so hard I didn't think of it so the presentation was lost.

We laughed so hard we could barely eat, but after a while we were into it. Compared to most commercial pizzas sold in America, assuming you ordered six wedges of different single-topping pizza, this one was below average – thin, not at all crisp, and with the thinnest of tomato bastings one can imagine. But the atmosphere was great, we were starving and the beer divine.

I just wanted to share that.

The Relevance of pH in Wine

Scale for pH as a measure of acid and base properties. from GSY HyperPhysics website, used under fair use doctrine

Acidity affects both the techniques one employs in making a wine as well as the quality of the wine itself. Acidity can be measured as titratable acid (TA) or as pH. While both are important, many argue that only pH needs to be measured and managed, as pH influences a wine's color, aging potential, and susceptibility to oxidation and spoilage organisms.

pH is a measurement of a wines acidity on a scale of measurement related to the concentration of hydrogen ions in solution. The pH scale of 1.0 indicates the most acidic, 14.0 indicates the most alkaline and 7.0 is considered neutral. Wines commonly have a pH between 3.0 and 3.6, although any wine with a pH above 3.55 should be considered at risk of biological contamination.

pH is measured on a logarithmic scale reporting the negative value of the concentration of hydrogen ions (H+) in solution. A logarithmic scale displays the value of a physical quantity using intervals that correspond to orders of magnitude. If you are only used to linear scales, this may be a concept that is difficult to get your head around.

A wine with a pH of 1.0 is ten times (an order of magnitude) more acidic than one with a pH of 2.0, 100 times (2 orders of magnitude) more acidic than one with a pH of 3.0, and 1,000 times (3 orders of magnitude) more acidic than one with a pH of 4.0. But that wine with a pH of 4.0 is only 10 times (1 order of magnitude) less acidic than a wine with a pH of 3.0.

Confused? It takes a while to integrate into one's way of thinking, but it might be helpful to think of a scale with equally spaced increments labeled 1, 10, 100, 10000, etc. instead of 1, 2, 3, 4.... The difference (increase or decrease) between any two adjacent increments on the scale is an exponential – an order of magnitude – of 10.

The problem with acidity in wine is that there is no direct connection between the quantity of all acids present and the strength or concentration of those acids. Remember, the quantity of all acids in wine is measured as titratable acidity (TA) while the strength or concentration of all acids in wine is measured as pH. To those without an education in chemistry it seems illogical that there is no direct connection between TA and pH, but to those who find themselves in that predicament please accept it as so or continue your education appropriately and learn why.

The pH of a wine is influenced by the quantity of all acids present but also by the strengths or concentrations of those acids, whether strong or weak (e.g. tartaric or malic). But pH in wine is also influenced by the presence of elemental ions, the most important in wine being potassium.

Tartaric acid and its tartrates, graphic from UC Davis EnologyAccess website, used under fair use doctrine

At this point I could go into the formation of malates and tartrates and their presence in the juice we make wine from, but that would be a lengthy and unnecessary tour that would hurt my head to write (my formal education in the subject is Chem 101 in college). It would also most likely hurt your head to read it. So, let us just assume some things are true (because they are) and leave the chemistry explanation to chemists

While you can taste the acidity of a juice, more than half of the tartaric and a good deal of the malic are bound with potassium ions in the form of potassium acid salts – tartrates and malates. Tartrates eventually can and do precipitate in the wine, binding with pigments and other particles, in a crystalline structure. Since these crystals can be unsightly in the bottle, it is prudent to chill the wine appropriately to hasten their formation, after which the wine can be racked off the crystals. The result is a reduction in TA and an increase in pH.

Malates are another problem, so excessive malic acid in wine can be handled by malolactic fermentation, a bacterial process during which some malic acid is converted into milder lactic acid. Due to the proton makeup of the two acids, the net result is a higher pH (less acidic) and more appealing mouthfeel.

TA is measured by titration, a relatively simple testing procedure whereby all acid is measured as one type – usually tartaric in the U.S. – while pH is measured using a pH meter. The meter is calibrated using standard buffer solutions at two pH points, usually 7.0 and 4.0, and good meters automatically adjust for temperature differences (if any) between the two buffers. Each meter comes with instructions for its use and these may vary among manufacturers so it would be pointless to attempt to summarize them here.

pH influences winemaking procedures more so than TA. High pH wines are more susceptible to spoilage from bacteria and require more free SO2 to combat this and the onset of oxidation. The following table illustrates the corresponding pH and free SO2 required to inhibit oxidation and microbial contamination:


ppm Free SO2

















Thus, one can see that it is vitally important to know both the pH and free SO2 values of your wines. Knowing these can allow you to adjust acid levels to manage the wine's pH and plan a more accurate method of adjusting free SO2 levels than simply adding a Campden tablet every so often as many recipes (including many of mine) suggest.

A new instrument is now available that measures TA, pH and SO2, and the whole procedure takes less time than yesterday's procedures. Although pricey (around $355, give or take), the Vinmetrica SC-300 combines three time-consuming tests into one with acceptable accuracy (free SO2: ± 2 ppm, TA as tartaric: ± 0.2 g/L, pH: ± 0.02) and each 3-parameter test costs less than $2 for the necessary reagents, much less than all three tests would cost individually using yesterday's methods. The best part, in my opinion, is the electronic detection of the endpoint when testing for free SO2 is a dark red wine. However, those on a budget (probably most of us) can continue testing all three using less expensive, separate instruments and test kits.

As a rule of thumb, white wines are considered stable at pH levels from 3.0 to 3.4, while red wines are considered stable at 3.3 to 3.5 – you can flirt with 3.55 or 3.6 if you have a history of luck. I say "rule of thumb" because every wine is different and the goal is to achieve balance between these and other factors – sugar, acid, alcohol and tannin. Sweet wines require different strategies than dry ones, and fortified wines have their own considerations. But this entry has already exceeding a prudent length and so I will leave it here.

June 19th, 2013

I thank all of you who commented by email or Facebook or Twitter about my entry of June 11th. Many great comments on my piece on pH, but the piece garnering the greatest response was the Melissa Stockwell story. Again, thank you all.

Mint plants

After good rains, my mint plants looked full and thick with growth. To thin them out to allow new shoots room to rise to the sun, I culled eight stems, then five more, and finally three more. That left me with a thick bundle of leafy stems I brought inside and de-leaved. When done, I retrieved my dehydrator from a closet, cleaned it, then loaded all five trays with leaves.

Previous experience taught me that this dehydrator dries the leaves too hot and too quickly, driving off the essential oils and flavor mint is famous for. To counter this I replaced the plastic top with an old, thin hand towel to allow much of the heat to escape and plugged it in. The result was nicely dried, dark leaves, which I crumbled into a bowl and then bagged, but not before placing a quarter-cup in a teapot.

Overnight my throat had become scratchy and heading toward soreness, so I added a teaspoon of licorice root to the teapot and brewed some very nice tea. After sweetening it with honey, it was soothing to the throat and nicely balanced in taste.

I take medications for high blood pressure and congestive heart failure. As a result, I am careful not to overdo the licorice, which should not be concomitantly ingested with these meds over long periods or in large amounts. One must not mix folk medicine with modern prescriptions without learning of potential consequences. Natural does not necessarily mean safe when interacting with prescriptions. For example, I can no longer consume grapefruit (it is know to adversely interact or affect the dosages of over 50 medications, including one of mine) or red rice yeast because I take a prescribed statin.

The best site I know of for discovering and weighing potential risks folk remedies might present to medications you take is the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a component of the National Institutes of Health. Simply search their database for the herb you are considering using in a folk remedy and look for side effects and cautions, if any.

Conversely, you can search the Food and Drug Administration's website for the medications or supplements you take. If there is a risk or caution associated with them, it will be listed. The problem with this approach is that every adverse thing reported during clinical trials and subsequent usage history is often included as potential side effects. If you don't know how to read these or question them, they will scare you into never taking any medication. You should first and foremost heed your doctor or pharmacist's warnings, secondarily the literature accompanying your medications, and thirdly do your own research. If the latter does not agree with the other two, contact your pharmacist. He or she is your most current and reliable source of information on incompatibilities.

While there may be many things wrong with this nation, there are many orders of magnitude times more that are right. But if we look at those things that are wrong, one of the main ones in my opinion is the flagrant disregard for laws, rules and ethics when one can get away with it.

Examples might be as simple and victimless as jaywalking or a faceless victim like Microsoft through theft of a software program by copying it. But when every person in the United States is a victim, that makes it more personal if you are one of them.

We look to our leaders to set an example for us. When they are shown to be dishonest or flagrantly unethical, we should castigate them. Disregarding rules you are bound to uphold is unethical. Disregarding a law you are bound to obey is something else. Watch this 4-minute video from the floor of the United States Senate.

Ignoring the rules of the Senate because you are the majority party is not only unethical, but sets a precedent that could be used against them when the other party gains the majority. To prevent this, rules must be obeyed and voters must demand that they are. Those who thumb their noses at rules because they can should themselves be thumbed by the voters.

Senator Rand Paul not only lists the rule being broken by the Senate Majority, but also identifies the law it has disregarded for over three years – passing a budget for the United States. Without a budget, there is no control on government spending. I had a nice lecture planned for insertion here, but if you've paid attention to the news over the past four years and can think you can draw your own conclusions.

My 1966 Maserati 3500 GTI, in Colorado Springs

I was playing Castle Age on the computer last night with the TV on in the background. An uninteresting movie was on and every now and then the dialogue or action sounds caused me to glance at the screen off to my right. I heard a car chase scene and looked up to watch the action. The setting was in Rome and there were several obligatory scenes of pedestrians and pigeons scattering to avoid the lead car at various times. Suddenly, while the car was exiting a traffic circle, a 1966 Maserati flashed by going the opposite direction.

I don't know the exact model, whether coupe or quattroporte, but as a former owner of a 1966 Maserati 3500 GTI the front end was unmistakable. I ditched the movie and my game to search for what is possibly the only surviving photograph of my car. Then I sat and relived pleasant memories of driving that lovely machine in Colorado.

This was the first car I ever "became one with" while driving it. This did not happen at once, but only after about four months of steadily aggressive driving. The moment of "oneness" occurred after turning off U.S. Highway 24 at Divide onto 67 heading toward Cripple Creek. The road out of Divide is straight for just less than a mile, wiggles a bit, and then makes a sweeping hairpin to the right before climbing the Pikes Peak mastiff in a series of exciting turns if there are no cars in front of you to spoil that excitement. On this day there weren't and I seemingly had the road to myself for about 10-12 minutes.

This was the day I figured out about setting up a curve – cutting as close to its inside edge as possible and then accelerating out and outward so as to "straighten" the curve as much as possible. On successive curves, this can be an exhilarating experience, and while concentrating on making the cuts something very Zen-like occurred – my consciousness melded into the car and we were one.

I wasn't driving the car, I was the car, and as such I was not only negotiating the road I was aware of the texture of the roadway, the grip my tires had on it and the speed and braking required to attain a maximum ascent. As a result, I flew up the mountain as I never had before. It was liberating, as I was no longer concerned I might exceed my own or the roadway's abilities. I drove for perhaps 6-8 minutes in this state, until I approached a slower car in front of me and slowed down and out of the experience.

I have described this experience to many people over the years, but I truly doubt that but a few really understood. Those that did supplied anecdotal experiences that seemed to confirm it. Among those few, a former jockey described the race he "became one" with his horse and knew exactly what to do and when and rode the best race of his life, never to experience it again.

Luckily, I was able to achieve that state many more times, all of them in my 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta. But that is another story that will have to await a later entry..

A New Legislative Advocacy Group for Wine Consumers

American Wine Consumer Coalition logo

I am foregoing my planned entry here in favor of a more pressing development. Congress and most states lock out wine consumers when holding hearings on new legislation that directly affects them. The invited testimony is almost always from representatives of the alcohol products industry and distributors. Thus, legislation is almost always in their favor and to the detriment of wine consumers. But that is about to change.

Today, with the founding of the American Wine Consumer Coalition (AWCC), wine consumers will be given a voice is legislative hearings across the country. Such a need is long overdue.

"In 2011 Congress held hearings on a bill (HR 1161) that, if passed, would have fundamentally and negatively impacted consumer access to wine, yet not a single consumer was invited to testify before Congress," notes AWCC President David White. "While this was not the first nor the last time those most impacted by these kinds of deliberations were shut out of the conversation, this is when it became clear to a number of wine consumers across the country that their voice is ignored, and that something needed to change."
– Press release, AWCC, 19 June 2013

According to the AWCC, numerous states block consumer access to wine and the ability of consumers to enjoy a simple bottle of wine of their choice as a result of a variety of archaic and protectionist laws that serve special interests, but not the basic interests of wine consumers:

  • 11 states still ban their residents from having wine shipped to them from out of state wineries
  • 36 States still ban their residents from having wine shipped to them from out of state retailers
  • 17 States still ban its residents from buying wine in grocery stores
  • 4 states ban the purchase of wine on Sundays
  • 2 States control the sale of wine, rather than allowing its residents to buy their wine in a free and open marketplace
  • 15 states ban their residents from bringing a bottle from home into a restaurant

AWCC Priorities

Among the priority issues high on AWCC's agenda are:

  • Fight protectionist laws that support bans on direct shipments of wine
  • Advance laws that allow you to have wine legally sent to you from wineries, retailers, wine-of-the-month clubs, and auction houses
  • Promote "bring your own" wine and manage restaurant corkage laws
  • Advocate to put wine in grocery stores where its access is convenient
  • Fight back against nonsensical laws that protect huge companies while harming consumers

Until a few years ago the middlemen in a 3-tier system had a stranglehold on wine distribution in Texas. Thanks to the efforts of a dedicated and heroic few and a vocal many, shipments of wine from wineries to consumers' homes and other inroads were gained, so advocacy can benefit the consumer. But Texans still cannot order wine from retailers, meaning we cannot order imported wines because they are only sold by retailers. The AWCC offers the first real hope that this can be corrected in Texas and that similar change can be obtained at other state and national levels with the consumer as the champion.

Wine Consumers across the country can learn more about the American Wine Consumer Coalition at its website: http://www.wineconsumers.org and join if they wish to support these efforts. An annual membership brings with it the knowledge that a real voice for wine consumers is being supported as well as a number of benefits that will aide wine lovers in their wine appreciation. Annual consumer membership is $35.00. I just joined....

Grilled Spicy Shrimp Tacos

Grilled shrimp, the heart of the grilled shrimp taco (photo public domain))

These are so good they should be outlawed for people on diets. There are two parts to this recipe, as it requires a salsa that must be prepared ahead of time. The salsa is muy bueno and makes these tacos excelente, so don't be a slouch and skip it. Indeed, keep the recipe handy because it can be used on or in many Mexican dishes.

By the way, both recipes are from 200 Easy Mexican Recipes: Authentic Recipes from Burritos to Enchiladas (2013, 224 pages) by Kelley Cleary Coffeen. I've only tried about a dozen of the recipes thus far, but I'll keep trying them as my diet allows. If you want to try them along with me, you can order the book right here and now.

So, start with the Fiery Corn Salsa (the recipe makes 2 cups):

Fiery Corn Salsa

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tsp finely minced fresh cilantro
  • 3 tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1 1/2 cups sweet corn kernels (canned drained, frozen thawed, grilled)
  • 2-3 jalapeños, seeded and diced
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large bowl, combine oil, lime juice and cilantro. Add tomatoes, corn and jalapeños to taste. Stir to mix. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour or for up to 2 days.

Grilled Spicy Shrimp Tacos

  • 4 flat wooden skewers or as required, soaked in water 30 minutes before use
  • 4 chipotles in adobo sauce, puréed
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 24 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (use more if less than medium-sized)
  • 8 corn tortillas, skillet-warmed
  • 2 cups shredded cabbage
  • Fiery Corn Salsa

In a medium-sized bowl, combine chipotle purée, honey and oil.

Thread 4-6 shrimp on each skewer. Grill, turning once, until shrimp turn pink – 3-4 minutes per side. Brush shrimp with chipotle glaze and continue to grill, turning once, until shrimp are opaque throughout – about 1 minute more per side. Transfer to a platter.

To build tacos, divide shrimp evenly among the tortillas. Top with cabbage and Fiery Corn Salsa. Fold tortillas in half and enjoy.

I know there are many of you who thinking they will opt for the preformed, crisp tortillas that come in a box. If you enjoy freshness, I urge you not to do this. But, if you like crisp taco shells, use the fresh ones and fry them quickly in about 1/2 inch of hot oil in a skillet. As soon as they look like they are changing to a light brown, remove them with tongs and lay them quickly on several layers of paper towel and lay another 3-4 towels on top to absorb as much oil as possible. While doing so, wear cook's mittens to handle and fold the tortilla in half, then set it on a large platter to continue cooling and free the paper towels for the next tortilla. This works best with two people working together, but one person can do it if he or she works mindfully and quickly.

We have a long, rod-type rolling pin about 1 1/2 inches in diameter which we balance on the pouring spouts of two glass measuring cups, placing it about 4 3/4 inches above the counter top. After laying several sheets of short (Select-A-Size) paper towels over it, we can drape the tortillas across it directly from the skillet. They naturally drape over the pin and assume the shape of the preformed shells in the box, cooling to a crispness many of us like. But their freshness is very noticeable.

For a change in taste and consistency, use flour tortillas fried crisp as above. I actually prefer them to corn tortillas but my diet prefers the corn.

Finally, I should say that a nice Sauvignon Blanc would go well with these tacos unless you side with another dish requiring another wine. If not and you prefer a sweeter wine, an off-dry Riesling would also work very well. I've eaten these with spicy borracho beans and Spanish rice. I paired my own off-dry Cranberry-Champanel rosé and it was a great match. But use your own instincts.

June 26th, 2013

There is little that compares with sitting in the left lane of the freeway at a complete standstill with all lanes as far as you can see in the same predicament. The complete standstill only lasted about 15 minutes, and then we began to creep forward very slowly. I had a local radio station on but they never mentioned traffic.

Last Friday, eastbound on I-10 in Beaumont, Texas, I found myself in this scenario. It took 2 hours and 5 minutes to go 5 1/2 miles, at which time the traffic suddenly went from 2 1/4 miles an hour to 20, 35 and finally 60. I don't know how many vehicles were involved in the accident, but at least one tractor-trailer had blocked 2 lanes. There was lots of debris in the left shoulder. We count our blessings and move on.

Label for author's 2007 Orange-Chocolate Port

I was driving east on I-10 to attend the annual family reunion on my mother's side in Lake Charles, Louisiana. The Robertson clan is large, but aging. My mother's siblings and my cousins attend, but few of their children follow suit. But the food is always enough to feed twice as many as attend and the catching up and fellowship is as satisfying as the food.

There are no beer, wine or spirits allowed at the actual reunion, but some or all of these are almost mandatory at gatherings the night before and evening after. I usually bring some wine. This year I brought some of my 2011 Blanc du Bois and the last bottle of my 2007 Orange-Chocolate Port – both award-winners.

Most present had never tasted Blanc du Bois before, so I had to tell them about the grape and the resulting wine. All but one person who tried it stuck with it glass after glass. It was just off-dry, very fruity and had that citrusy finish (grapefruit was the most common impression) the grape always delivers. It grows on you.

Blanc du Bois is the result of a cross made in 1968 by Dr. John Mortensen at University of Florida which was selected for further evaluation in 1974 and released in 1988. It has a complex lineage which includes Vitis vinifera, V. smalliana, V. simpsoni, V. labrusca and an unknown open-pollinated selection thought to be V. lincecumi. It is the best known wine grape tolerant of Pierce's Disease, which kills most grape varieties in the South.

When it was gone I brought out the port. It did not require any "getting used to," but I brought it out late and it was not finished. I gave the remainder to my nephew's son, who is now "legally" of age to drink. He enjoyed it immensely.

If you can read the label on the right (I used two labels on this batch, this one with the photo and one without the photo) you'll see it was made from orange juice, [Dutched] cocoa powder and "flavored extracts." It was fortified with Napoleon brandy. To enhance the orange juice, which was not obvious after aging, I added a little orange extract. Then, to add a touch of complexity, I added a very small amount of coconut extract. You can't taste it and most cannot detect it in the nose, but it is there, as are a few drops of almond extract. The overall impression is one of orange and creamy chocolate with an underlying smoothness that defies words. I was very pleased with this port, as were the judges who evaluated it.

Steve Jobs was an awesome innovator and human being, but not a saint. He had no problem stealing ideas that were promising and then turn them into technological marvels. But he made a difference and that is his legacy.

It seems like he only died a few months ago, but in fact it has been 20 months. I guess that's long enough to make a movie (Jobs). I hope it is true to his character and not just his legacy. Here is the trailer....

I plan to see it on opening night, August 16th.

Making Watermelon Wine

Watermelons, photo on Wikimedia Commons by Steve Evans, used under license CC-BY-2.0

I've received three emails in the past week regarding watermelon wines that have gone sour during primary fermentation. This is the most common problem with making watermelon wine and I have written about it many, many times as well as how to best protect your must from suffering this fate.

There are two precautions you can take that will greatly enhance your chances of having a successful watermelon fermentation. The first is to chill the watermelon for 24 hours before even cutting it and the second is to make a yeast starter solution and build upon it for the 24 hours you are chilling the melon.

Watermelon spoils faster than any other fruit I am aware of, although technically, watermelons are berries. Chilling the melon results in a cold juice, which takes far, far longer to spoil than warm melon and juice. It's common sense.

Not everyone has the luxury of free refrigerator space for a large watermelon, let alone enough for a 3- to 5-gallon batch. When we bought a new refrigerator some years back, we retired the old one into a detached building for winemaking use. I removed two racks so I could insert a carboy with airlock but left a rack (and the meat and vegetable drawers) to hold my winemaking supplies and yeast. When not cold-stabilizing wine, it has ample room to hold 5 watermelons. Prior to this, I chilled watermelons with ice in one of our two bathtubs. If just one melon, a washtub makes a good ice bucket.

I once slipped a melon into a 5-gallon primary packed with ice but later had a heck of a time getting it out.

The yeast starter is every bit as important as chilling the melon. Start with a half cup of tepid water with a pinch of yeast nutrient, a couple of drops of lemon juice (I say again – a COUPLE of drops) and about 3/4 teaspoon of sugar, dissolved. Sprinkle the dry yeast on the surface (do not stir) and set it aside. Check it in 30-60 minutes to see that the yeast granules are expanding and if not add another packet of yeast.

Here is the schedule you want to follow. Every 2 hours you need to add another half cup of water, pinch of yeast nutrient, 2 drops of lemon juice and 3/4 teaspoon of sugar (dissolved in the water). If you follow this schedule, at the end of the 24 hours your yeast starter solution will be about 6 cups and contain hundreds of billions of yeast cells.

Now, here's another thing you need to do. After about 18 hours, place the jar of starter in a large bowl of cold tap water. Change the water at 19 and 20 hours. At 21 hours add 6-8 ice cubes to the bowl at 22 hours add another 6-8 ice cubes. At 23 hours remove the jar, wipe it dry and place it in the refrigerator. By hour 24, the starter will be about as cold as the watermelon and when the watermelon juice and yeast starter are combined the yeast will not go into shock from the cold.

You can simplify the starter solution by using apple juice instead of water without needing to add the lemon drops and sugar. However, I still add the yeast nutrient (just a pinch!) every 2 hours. Also, if using apple juice, begin with juice at room temperature and after 10-12 hours you can start adding cold juice. You will still need to chill the starter solution as above, but the yeast will adapt to a cooler environment more quickly.

Now, a few words about yeast strain selection. I like to use Montrachet yeast with watermelon because it ferments very fast. But Montrachet has an active range of 59-86° and your melon and starter solution will dip below that. For this reason I like to build a starter solution for 12-14 hours and then add a packet of Prise de Mousse (Lalvin EC-1118), which tolerates 39° to the solution. The initial fermentation will begin with the Prise de Mousse and as the must warms up the Montrachet will also go to work.

Following these simple steps will greatly increase your chances of having a successful watermelon fermentation. See the link following this day's entry for watermelon wine recipes.

Rack Before Bottling?

Carboy with very light lees at bottom

I'm sure we have all seen it – a very thin dusting of dead yeast on the bottom of the carboy with a crystal clear wine above. And you wanted to bottle it now. What to do? Do you rack the wine off the dusting and upset your timetable or do you take a chance and bottle?

First of all, one should expect a thin dusting of dead yeast to form a few months after racking a clear wine. If you don't wait for it and rush to bottling, you're going to find that dead yeast in your bottles. You can avoid this unsightly fault if you simply bulk age your wine for six months or more.

Secondly, you should expect a thin dusting of dead yeast after stabilizing a wine that has not been bulk aged. Potassium sorbate will prevent surviving yeast from reproducing, but it does not kill them. They will die of old age if you give them time, so give them time. I wait at least 30 days even after bulk aging – longer if I haven't bulk aged.

Back to the question – do you rack or bottle? Racking exposes the wine to another oxygen intake unless you carefully use inert gasses in the empty carboy and in the carboy being emptied. This hastens browning, oxidation and other undesirables. But it gives you a crystal clear wine without those dead yeast just waiting to be siphoned into your bottles.

If you bottle carefully, keeping the uptake end of the siphon near the surface of the wine, you can bottle with confidence until you fill that last bottle. This is what I do, and I write "LB" (for last bottle) on the cork of the last bottle – the one that will undoubtedly end up with some of that dead yeast in it. I never give that bottle to a friend or enter it in competition. It's mine and will taste fine.

Here's the point I always come back to. If you rack very carefully so as not to suck that dead yeast into the receiving carboy, you can bottle using the same care. But no matter how carefully you rack or bottle, when the racking wand gets to the bottom you're going to suck up some of the yeast. I choose to bottle – then I know where those wayward yeast are going to end up and I can segregate them from the rest of the wine.

In the end, it's your decision.

June 30th, 2013

There is an excellent blog entry by Tim Vandergrift in WineMaker Magazine – "Your Hydrometer is Lying to You." Tim makes excellent points and helpful advice that applies to 99% of all home winemakers, so please read it. If you aren't a current subscriber to WineMaker, you're missing out on the very best professional magazine for home winemakers. You can correct that by subscribing here:

WineMaker Magazine

Thank goodness I have an excellent boxed set of four calibrated hydrometers, a gift from Bob Denson (winemaker and co-owner of Poteet Country Winery) years ago, that, combined, measure specific gravity from 0.986 up to 1.160, plus two basic hydrometers of the inexpensive variety. I've calibrated the last two numerous times – one is accurate and the other off by +0.002 – not bad.

My big loss is a small, thin "Wine Judge's Hydrometer" that slipped into a wine bottle (before pouring more than a sample of wine) – a long neck allowed it to be retrieved. It had a cigar-shaped aluminum case that clipped onto the belt or inside coat pocket. It measured specific gravity between 0.94 and 1.020 – a range sufficient to answer most judges' questions. It worked great in clear, amber or light green bottles, but required a flashlight or laser pointer for brown, blue or dark green ones (sometimes with difficulty). Unfortunately, I loaned it to a judge at a competition near Houston and never saw him or it again. It, too, was a gift and I have never found anything like it online.

Squirrel-proof bird feeder

I saw a retarded cardinal today.

From my computer I have two windows before me to view the back yard and the far back acreage. Just beyond my covered patio, hanging from a mesquite tree, is a cylindrical bird feeder with 6 feeder ports surrounded by a squirrel-proof wire cage, similar to the one pictured at the right.

A cardinal landed on the wire cage and saw many black sunflower seeds inside the clear plastic cylinder. It pecked at the cylinder, trying to secure a seed. It did this several times, unable to figure out how to get at the seeds even though there were two sparrows freely eating seeds from the feeder ports. After perhaps 8-10 attempts, it gave up and flew away.

It baffles me that the cardinal was unable to observe the other birds feeding easily and learn from their example. Many, many cardinals feed there, all easily feeding from the feeding ports. I can only assume this one is retarded in some way.

By the way, this feeder's design is the best "squirrel-proof" one I have found. It does not stop the squirrels from crawling all over, around and under it looking for a way to defeat it, but all they can do is try. The cage works. All of my other feeders have long ago been trashed by the squirrels.

Watermelon and Berry Salad

Watermelon, strawberry, blueberry and mint salad, photo from Babbe.com, used under fair use doctrine

It has been hot, not as hot as the Southwest, but still over 100 degrees F. I had some watermelon, strawberries and thawed blueberries in the refrigerator. Outside I had mint growing in a long planter. So when I found a recipe for "Watermelon and Berry Salad" in my new cookbook, Delish Just Four Ingredients Fast, I knew I had a light, refreshing lunch there for the making. It was a good decision to make it. Np, it was a great decision to make it -- one I'll make soon and probably often as the heat wave continues.

The recipe is below, just as published in Just Four Ingredients. I'll admit I did not follow it strictly, as I didn't need to make the four servings the recipe allows. However, if you're having friends over go all the way -- and serve it with a crisp, chilled Riesling for neutrality or a strawberry wine to tip the scales in that fruit's direction. Either way, you'll be more than glad you did. Not having friends over? Go ahead an make the full recipe to share with you spouse on Saturday, with a left-over serving stored in the refrigerator for Sunday.

  • 4-pound piece seedless watermelon
  • 8 ounces strawberries, halved
  • 4 ounces fresh blueberries
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves

Using watermelon baller, cut out watermelon balls [I just cut mine into bite-sized peces]. Combine watermelon in medium bowl with berries and mint.

This is fast and simple, and most refreshing on a hot day! I'll certainly make it again.

The cookbook, Delish Just Four Ingredients Fast, is a really valuable addition to my collection. I have drawn up a short shopping list for my next trip to the market that will provide ingredients for several meals using "just four ingredients." Examples are:

  • Scrambled Eggs with Asparagus (asparagus, eggs, skim milk, tomato)
  • Spiced Plums with Yogurt (canned whole plums, cinnamon, cardamon, Greek yogurt)
  • Fresh Peaches with Lemon and Mint (peaches, fresh mint leaves, lemon juice, honey)
  • Raspberry Coconut Creams (heavy cream, vanilla pudding, coconut macaroons, raspberies)
  • Beet and Feta Salad (canned baby beets, mixed greens, fresh mint leaves, feta)
  • Roasted Mushrooms with Ricotta (portobello mushrooms, ricotta, flat-leaf parsley, green onions)
  • Warm Red Cabbage and Bacon (bacon, red cabbage, red wine vinegar, brown sugar)
  • Prawn and Miso Soup (prawns, instant miso soup, baby spinach leaves, red chili)
  • Sticky Chicken Drumettes (tomato sauce, plum sauce, Worcestershire, chicken drumettes)

I could go on and on. The book's chapters are Brunch, Lunch on the Run, Weeknight Standbys, From the Veggie Patch, Dinner with Friends, Hot off the Grill, Coffee Break, Just for Kids – something for every occasion. The last two chapters are loaded with dessert-suitable recipes, all with just four ingredients (okay – one has just three).

If you're interested in this inexpensive but very useful cookbook, you can order it here. For those of us on belly fat weight loss diets, it is invaluable. Many of the recipes yield multiple servings that can be refrigerated for healthy snacks.

Yeast Starter Solution Explained

Yeast starter solution using apple juice in an Erlenmeyer flask

I have mentioned yeast starter solutions almost every time I posted a recipe over the past several years. I've explained the rationale and procedures several times, but evidently people simply refuse to search my site or read my blog archives (upper left column). Okay, for the lazy readers out there, why should one make a yeast starter solution for each batch of wine? It only takes about 3 minutes to prepare one and it accomplishes three things:

(1) You learn real fast if the yeast are viable or not;

(2) By adding a little must to the starter every few hours, you get the yeast acclimated to the environment you are going to dump them into;

(3) You increase the size of the culture exponentially – it doubles about every two hours. By the time you are ready to add the yeast to the must you have a few hundred to a few thousand times as many yeast cells as when you started. Fermentation will kick in fast and furious.

One packet of yeast cells grows approximately like this:

02 hours = 2 packets
04 hours = 4 packets
06 hours = 8 packets
08 hours = 16 packets
10 hours = 32 packets
12 hours = 64 packets
14 hours = 128 packets
16 hours = 256 packets
18 hours = 512 packets
20 hours = 1024 packets
22 hours = 2048 packets
24 hours = 4096 packets

You can see where this is going. It's just a VERY good idea. And, if you are starting two batches, you can divide the starter solution and give each a kick start.

Now, some people get confused because I have offered several versions of making a starter solution. The differences are minor. There are MANY ways to do it and all I have described work.

In my last WineBlog entry I discussed making a yeast starter for watermelon wine. I suggested the following: "Start with a half cup of tepid water with a pinch of yeast nutrient, a couple of drops of lemon juice (I say again – a COUPLE of drops) and about 3/4 teaspoon of sugar, dissolved. Sprinkle the dry yeast on the surface (do not stir) and set it aside. Check it in 30-60 minutes to see that the yeast granules are expanding and if not add another packet of yeast." The instructions then say to add another half-cup of water, a pinch of yeast nutrient, 2 drops of lemon juice, and 3/4 teaspoon of sugar, dissolved. This schedule is recommended for a 24-hour period from start to pitching the starter into the must. The total volume of the starter at time of pitching into the must is about 6 cups, so start with a pint-sized mason jar and move up to a quart and then half-gallon as required. Or, you can use an Erlenmeyer flask (name refers to the shape) as pictured above (using apple juice).

Later in the watermelon wine discussion I added, "You can simplify the starter solution by using apple juice instead of water without needing to add the lemon drops and sugar. However, [you must] still add the yeast nutrient (just a pinch!) every 2 hours." But, if you are making Concord wine or blackberry wine you can use Concord grape or blackberry juice in the starter. Some people use water in every starter and others use apple or orange juice. Use whatever helps you sleep well at night.

This is not rocket science. It is very simple to do and extremely advantageous to your wine. If you are going to bed or work and will be unable to attend to the starter every two hours, simply add enough liquid and other ingredients to suffice for the period you will be asleep or away. The yeast will do their thing without you there, so sleep well.

It is possible to employ very poor winemaking procedures and make good wine – sort of by accident. The more things you do right, the better chance you will make good wine. Making and using a yeast starter solution is one thing you can do to ensure...well, re-read the three numbers bullets above.

For earlier entries, see archives (left column)

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