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The Meadery, my favorite mead site

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Who is Jack Keller?
Jack Keller is married to the former Donna Pilling and lives 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 has six times been elected 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. He and Donna live separately but are still married.

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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

Jack Keller

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July 4th, 2014

Happy birthday, America. Your founders were brilliant in creating a nation where each of us are born, if not equal in social status, at least equal in opportunity to obtain an education, to succeed or fail as a result of our own decisions, efforts and merits, to prosper and rise above our birth status, to enjoy equal protection under the law, and to enjoy the freedom to express our opinions, worship as we choose, and travel, assemble and vote for our representatives and leaders.

We are blessed with vast natural resources, extensive navigable waterways, scores of natural harbors and seaports, great expanses of forest, prairie, plains, mountains, deserts, and bottom lands.

We are a great assimilation of immigrants, natives and the descendents of slaves and indentured servants. We are not and never have been a perfect nation, but we are the best expression of freedom, opportunity and equality in existence for the past 238 years.

I am lucky to have been born here and proud to be an American. Happy 4th of July and happy birthday, America.

In my last entry my link to the live video was wrong for 26 hours. It might have stayed that way had not a couple of you informed me of the error. I thank you for the correction and only wish I had read my email sooner. That performance of "Sultans of Swing" is without doubt the best live performance of the song ever recorded and I feel bad for anyone who missed it. Mark Knopfler's mastery of the guitar is brilliantly evident in this virtuoso performance in London's Hammersmith Odeon. I can't say enough about it.

I also mistakenly said that Mark Knopfler was the only permanent member of the band to span it's 15-year history. That was in error, as bass guitarist John Illsley also stayed from founding to dissolution. Also in this performance are Hal Lindes on rhythm guitar, Joop de Korte doing an outstanding job on drums, and Tommy Mandel on keyboards.

While this is of necessity a group performance, it is a tour de force by Knopfler's guitar. The triads in the riffs, which include second inversions, are particularly noteworthy, executed in Knopfler's unorthodox (but now widely copied) style of using his thumb to execute the first on a downward pick while using the index finger and thumb to pull the second and third notes respectively upward. Some of the triads are executed so fast as to seem impossible

The 2010 remastering of "Alchemy Live," the DVD this performance was pulled from, is perhaps the finest live concert album ever produced. You can obtain it in MP3 format for under $10 here or obtain the DVD for $3 more here. It is the most played DVD in my collection. A distant second is Roy Orbison (and friends)'s "Black & White Night" and the 25th Anniversary Special Edition of The Band's final concert (with notable friends), "The Last Waltz". If I could only take three musical DVDs with me into exile, these are the three I would take.

Peach Melomel

Grilled peach with honey cinnamon butter (photo from <i>The Mama Report</i> blog entry of July 31, 2013, Fair Use for illustrative purposes only, no commercial benefit derived)

Kevin Hart messaged me in Facebook in search of a peach melomel recipe. A melomel is a fruit based mead. I actually have two recipes -- one using regular peaches fermented directly and the second using grilled peaches. After tasting the second one, I doubt I will ever make the plain peach melomel again unless the peaches are just fabulous.

Having said that, I have to add that you should not take my word for this. If you have the peaches and the honey, make both and decide for yourself. All meads are an investment in time and you do not want to waste that time trying something radical. However, if you have the ingredients to make several batches you can afford to experiment.

Our neighbor who gave me and my wife 80-100 pounds of peaches each year passed away nearly 8 years ago and his home (with 5 fruiting peach trees) was sold by his estate. Within two years the new owner had killed the trees by not watering them. They produced delicious, freestone fruit and allowing them to simply die for lack of water was criminal. Each was planted in a shallow basin 6-7 feet across. A mere 15-18 gallons of water per tree per week was all they required to set and maintain a 30-pound crop per tree.

In the future, if I can obtain good peaches, I intend to make the grilled peach melomel with ground cloves and cinnamon. I have dreamed of this mead and think it would work as long as the spices are muted so as to not mask the peaches. Since I have never made this before, I would first make it using minimal spices. I would also like to make this as a wine fermented on brown sugar.

A word about peaches. They should be picked ripe and processed immediately or within a day. They should be sweet and flavorful. The flesh need not be soft and juicy but should be delightful to eat. The peaches from my neighbor had firm flesh that softened on the grill. They made excellent pie and cobbler. If your peaches are freestone, they can be halved and grilled. If the flesh clings to the pit, all you can do is remove it the best you can in wedges or chunks.

You have to understand that this is an investment in time. You will not bottle the mead for at least a year after starting it, and then must bottle age it for about six months before opening. If you cannot be patient enough to wait it out, make wine instead, which you cam drink in about a year.

Peach Melomel Recipe

  • 4 lbs peaches, washed, halved, pitted, and sliced thinly
  • 3 lbs clover honey
  • juice of 2 medium lemons
  • 1 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 1/2 cups orange juice at room temperature
  • Campden tablet
  • 1/4 tsp powdered grape tannin
  • Water to 1 gallon (approx 2 pints)
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 sachet mead yeast, or Red Star Montrachet

Begin a starter solution in sanitized quart jar with orange juice, yeast nutrient and yeast. Cover and set aside. Add 1/4 cup water (but no additional nutrient) every 2-4 hours.

Prepare peaches and place in primary; sprinkle with lemon juice until all is used. In enameled or stainless steel pot place honey and twice that volume of water (empty honey jar into pot and use jar to measure water-- a 3-pound jar of honey will hold about 2 pints). Stirring often, bring to a rolling boil then reduce heat to maintain a low boil for 20 minutes. Skim off any foam the forms. Pour over fruit, cover with sanitized cloth and let cool. Add acid blend, pectic enzyme, tannin powder, water. Stir, cover and set aside 10 hours or overnight. Add yeast starter solution and cover primary.

When vigorous fermentation slows, remove peaches (discard to compost pile or use to make a peach jam) and transfer liquid to secondary. Attach airlock and move to cool dark place for 2 months. Rack to sanitized secondary, top up, affix airlock and return to cool dark place for 3 months. Rack again into secondary containing very finely crushed Campden tablet dissolved in 1/2 cup water. Top up, reaffix airlock and return to cool dark place. After additional 3 months, rack, top up, affix airlock, and return to cool dark place. After 4 months, stir in another very finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, top up, reattach airlock and set aside 3 days. Carefully rack into bottles and age 6 months before tasting. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

Grilled Peach Melomel Recipe

This recipe is identical to the previous one except the peaches must be freestone so they halve, must be ripe but not overripe and soft, and are grilled. There are no rules, but here are some tips. If grilling outdoors using charcoal, wait until all the meats and corn or whatever is finished and the coals are about used up. Brush the cut faces of the peaches with honey and the grilling grate with canola oil. Set the peaches face down on the grill for 3-4 minutes. Baste the skin sides with honey and flip. Remove after about 3 minutes -- 4 if the coals are really dying out. If using a gas grill, adjust heat to low. If using an indoor cooktop grill, set heat to between low and medium-low. The best flavors come from the charcoal.

  • 4 lbs peaches, washed, halved, pitted, basted with honey, and grilled
  • 3 lbs clover honey
  • juice of 2 medium lemons
  • 1 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 1/2 cups orange juice at room temperature
  • Campden tablet
  • 1/4 tsp powdered grape tannin
  • Water to 1 gallon (approx 2 pints)
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 sachet mead yeast, or Red Star Montrachet

Begin a starter solution in sanitized quart jar with orange juice, yeast nutrient and yeast. Cover and set aside. Add 1/4 cup water (but no additional nutrient) every 2-4 hours.

Prepare peaches and place grilled halves in primary; sprinkle with lemon juice until all is used. In enameled or stainless steel pot place honey and twice that volume of water (empty honey jar into pot and use jar to measure water-- a 3-pound jar of honey will hold about 2 pints). Stirring often, bring to a rolling boil then reduce heat to maintain a low boil for 20 minutes. Skim off any foam the forms. Pour over fruit, cover with sanitized cloth and let cool. Add acid blend, pectic enzyme, tannin powder, water. Stir, cover and set aside 10 hours or overnight. Add yeast starter solution and cover primary.

When vigorous fermentation slows, remove peaches (discard to compost pile or use to make a peach jam) and transfer liquid to secondary. Attach airlock and move to cool dark place for 2 months. Rack to sanitized secondary, top up, affix airlock and return to cool dark place for 3 months. Rack again into secondary containing very finely crushed Campden tablet dissolved in 1/2 cup water. Top up, reaffix airlock and return to cool dark place. After additional 3 months, rack, top up, affix airlock, and return to cool dark place. After 4 months, stir in another very finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, top up, reattach airlock and set aside 3 days. Carefully rack into bottles and age 6 months before tasting. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

June 27th, 2014

As I was driving the interstates the other day I drove into a severe thunderstorm. In the blink of an eye I could see nothing in front of me, nothing to the sides, no headlights in my rearview mirror. I did not know if I was still in my own lane, but kept the steering wheel locked straight ahead, turned on my emergency flashers, and pumped the breaks to slow down gradually while flashing the break lights in the rear.

At times like this one must put his faith in the common sense of others and the protection of the Lord. After 20 or 30 very long seconds I drove into a pocket of lesser intensity and could briefly see the car in front of me as well as a line of 18-wheelers to my right. I moved over 3-4 feet to my left, saw headlights a safe distance behind me, and again drove into severe rain that swallowed the world.

I had slowed to 35 when I drove out of the storm. We had barely speeded up to 60 mph when we were swallowed up by another, similar downpour. When I say "we" I mean me and the cars immediately in front of and behind me as well as the trucks to my right. No one changed lanes or attempted to gain highway advantage between the storms. It was comforting to be part of a driving community that did nothing reckless when deprived of all visual cues. In all we would drive through three additional storms of equal intensity and each time did what we had done before. We came through as a team.

Book cover, <i>Cajun Cuisine</i> by W. Thomas Angers

I recently returned from a 5-day trip through the heart of Louisiana's Cajun and Creole heartlands -- from Lake Charles through Jennings, Crowley, Rayne, Lafayette, Breaux Bridge, the great Atchafalaya swamp, Baton Rouge, and around the north (Ponchatoula, Covington, Slidell) and south (New Orleans, Metairie, Kenner, Laplace) of Lake Pontchartrain. I basically followed the routes of the interstates, missing huge swaths of ancestral settlement, but I was visiting family and friends and time was short.

You don't stay in Cajun country without enjoying their rich and nuanced cuisine, which is subtler and less spicy than Creole cuisine. On this trip, the highlight meal was a catfish fillet smothered with crawfish etouffée.

Good Cajun food is a joy to eat and can be heart-healthy with simple attention to ingredients. But do you have to travel to Louisiana to enjoy it?

We had two Cajun cookbooks in our house -- Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen and later Thomas Anger's Cajun Cuisine: Authentic Cajun Recipes from Louisiana's Bayou Country.

My father, a pure Cajun, grew up in a house without a cookbook. His mother just put in the essentials and played with the ingredients until it tasted right. That's how they do it down there. My mother, of Scot-Irish stock, had no idea how to produce the dishes my father grew up with and loved, so when the great Cajun cookbooks of the 1970s and '80s came out she took advantage of them to please my father. My sister, a brother and I had already left home, but the cookbooks were there whenever we returned and enjoyed he evidence of their use.

Prudhomme's book is a classic, covering both Cajun and Creole cuisines with his own innovative and often brilliant adaptations. His recipes are exact but the results are divine. He is, after all, one of the most famous chef's to ever capture the essence of Louisiana's unique cooking heritage, elevating it to international fame. But few dishes in it are authentic Cajun. As I said, he is a chef and puts his own mark on everything -- but what a mark! I offer a warning here. His recipes are perfectly balanced. Do NOT try to tweak them in any way or you'll regret it. Many have tried; all have failed.

Anger's book is entirely different and authentic Cajun with no modernized renditions. The recipes are stripped down to their essentials, guaranteed to deliver dishes any Cajun would instantly recognize. They are the bare bones, intended to be played with by adjusting ingredients to taste. Less complex, modern and flamboyant than Prudhomme's, less spicy than Creole, rarely using tomatoes (but you can). Cajun dishes are built around the Cajun holy trinity of onions, celery and bell peppers, often added to a roux and augmented with chicken, shellfish, seafood, pork, rabbit, squirrel, or whatever you have on hand, most often served with rice, and meant to be eaten as is or seasoned by the eater with his or her favorite condiments -- salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, filé, Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Cajun mustard.

If you want pure Cajun cuisine, Anger's book is the only cookbook you'll ever need. If you want to entertain and impress your dinner guests, use Prudhomme's book. As my mother discovered, it's better to have them both. You can....

Cajun Cuisine: Authentic Cajun Recipes from Louisiana's Bayou Country, by W. Thomas Anger (for the real deal, basic recipes that stand on their own but can withstand your favorite tweaks)

Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen, by Paul Prudhomme (just in case you want incredibly tasty modernized versions of Cajun, Creole, and Southern Louisiana recipes)

One of the most successful British bands in history, Dire Straits first really big hit was 1979's "Sultans of Swing." Weighing in at just under 11 minutes, the song was never edited down for radio but once, for TV, it was concluded after the vocals and a final riff. BBC Radio was at first unwilling to play the long song, but after it became a hit in the US and was played here the BBC relented and it eventually got huge play-time.

Dire Straits received 11 prestigious awards and was nominated to another 15. Their albums have spent over 1,100 weeks on the UK albums chart and sold over 120 million copies worldwide. Why they have not been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when they dominated British music for nearly two decades is beyond me and hundreds of Hall of Fame critics (Google "Dire Straits and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame" and you'll see what I mean).

Originally Dire Straits consisted of brothers Mark and David Knopfler and friends John Illsley and Pick Withers. Over the band's 15-year history the only permanent fixture was songwriter, arranger, film score composer, record producer, guitarist extraordinaire, and vocalist Mark Knopfler -- clearly the guiding genius of the band. His finger-picking style influenced a generation of guitarists.

In 1982 the band embarked in an 8-month long world tour to promote their "Love Over Gold" album, which culminated with two sold out concerts at London's Hammersmith Odeon on 22 and 23 July 1983. The double album "Alchemy Live", was a recording of excerpts from these two concerts and was reportedly released without studio overdubs. It was mixed in November 1983 and released in March 1984, reaching the Top 3 spot in the UK Albums Chart. The concert was also issued on VHS and was remastered and released on DVD and Blu-ray in 2010 – the only performance on the new format to date. The performance below is from one of those concerts.

Inspiration for the song came from witnessing a jazz band playing in the corner of a practically deserted pub in Deptford, South London. At the end of their performance, the lead singer announced that they were the "Sultans of Swing", and Mark Knopfler found the contrast between the group's dowdy appearance and surroundings and their grandiose name amusing. Paul Williams writes that the band described in the song "has no hope whatsoever at making it big... It is not a stepping-stone to someplace else. It is, take it or leave it, the meaning of their lives, and much of the record's greatness is in the tremendous respect it evokes in every listener for these persons (whether they be great musicians or not) and the choices they've made. The ways they've chosen to live."
~~ Excerpted from "Sultans of Swing," Wikipedia

Mark Knopfler's guitar riffs from about 4:50 in the song until the end are a virtuoso performance unto themselves -- seemingly a free-wheeling jam session, but every note is tightly scripted and preformed -- singling him out as one of the great guitarists of all-time. Indeed, he was ranked 27th on Rolling Stone magazine's list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Follow the lyrics (below) with the performance.

Dire Straits performing "Sultans of Swing" in London, July 1983

Sultans of Swing

You get a shiver in the dark
It's raining in the park but meantime
South of the river you stop and you hold everything
A band is blowing Dixie double four time
You feel alright when you hear that music ring

Well, now you step inside but you don't see too many faces
Coming in out of rain to hear the jazz go down
Competition in other places
Oh, but the horns, they're blowing that sound
Way on down south, way on down south London town

You check out Guitar George he knows all the chords
Mind he's strictly rhythm he doesn't want to make it cry or sing
Left-handed old guitar is all he can afford
When he gets up under the lights to play his thing

And Harry doesn't mind if he doesn't make the fancy scene
He's got a daytime job, he's doing alright
He can play the honky tonk like anything
Saving it up for Friday night
With the Sultans, with the Sultans of Swing

And a crowd of young boys, they're fooling around in the corner
Drunk and dressed in their best brown baggies and their platform soles
They don't give a damn about any trumpet playing band
It ain't what they call rock and roll
And the Sultans, yeah, the Sultans, they play Creole, Creole

And then the man, he steps right up to the microphone
And says at last just as the time bell rings
"Goodnight, now it's time to go home."
And he makes it fast with one more thing,
"We are the Sultans, we are the Sultans of Swing."

Texas Winemaking -- The Early Years

San Antonio Regional Wine Guild logo, used with permission

In August 2010 I began attempting to answer some questions put to me by Dr. Russell Kane, wine writer and blogger (www.VintageTexas.com/blog), in his on-going project ("Searching for Texas Terroir"). I attempted to recruit the aid of several SARWG members for research but little useable information came from that effort. My apologies for sounding dismissive of those who sent me information, for I sincerely appreciate what was offered. Some of it was scant, some wildly exaggerated and some having no citable source.

I recently found my answers to the first four of fourteen questions Dr. Kane asked of me. Whether I ever sent them to him or not I cannot ascertain, but having never seen the material assembled published, I thought it would be fun to rework those four answers into a look at early Texas winemaking. And, having just admonished contributors for not providing citable sources, I will here ignore that requirement and leave out the citations to make it more readable. I am not writing here for an historical journal. However, I will insert editorial comment in [brackets].

Earliest Reference to Wines Made from Native Texas Grapes

I have long searched for the earliest reference and have not found it because I don't read Spanish. Remember, an Anglo Texas is a very modern affair. Stephen F. Austin did not bring legal white colonists to Texas until 1822, although perhaps as many as 4-6,000 hunters and squatters -- illegal trespassers into the Spanish province -- had slipped across the Sabine and built lean-tos and cabins in the piney woods of the east. The trespassers outnumbered Austin's 300 families of legal immigrants by ten to one, yet had no standing and officially did not exist. Had Spain and then Mexico organized ranging companies to push back the trespassers as Austin did to drive out the Indians, there almost certainly would not have been enough Anglos in residence to support the 1835-36 revolt against Santa Ana.

This historical detour is necessary to explain what should be obvious. Squatters and poachers do not collect and record data for later researchers to mine. With the rare exception of La Salle's failed colony at Lavaca in 1685 and Lt. Zebulon Pike's 1806 trespass, the only records of Texas before Austin came along were written in Spanish. As much as I wish otherwise, it will be a bilingual researcher who will uncover the earliest mention of wines made from native Texas grapes. What I do know is that Austin wrote, "Nature seems to have intended Texas for a vineyard to supply America with wines."

Austin traveled extensively throughout Texas looking for the best land to situate his colony, so there is little doubt he was not referring only to the grapes that grew between the Brazos and Colorado Rivers where his colony was located. But even if he had limited his observations to this narrow (but long) slice of Texas, he would be referring to V. mustangensis [formerly V. candicans], V. cinerea var. cinerea, V. cinerea var. helleri [formerly V. helleri], V. rotundifolia, some V. vulpina [formerly V. cordifolia], V. aestivalis var. lincecumii [formerly V. lincecumii], V. aestivalis var. glauca [formerly V. lincecumii var. glauca], a few V. aestivalis var. aestivalis, V. monticola, and possibly some V. palmata, with V. mustangensis being the most common. However, if he knew any of these species by name, they would have been common names such as mustang, muscadine, possum, and post oak. However, I can find no instance where he recorded any grape by any name.

The first record I can find of a mention of wines in Texas in English is a March 1806 diary entry by Lt. Pike referring to his passage through El Paso, in which he noted "...numerous vineyards from which were produced the finest wine ever drank." These, however, were undoubtedly Mission grapes, introduced into the region by Spanish missionaries in 1659 or shortly thereafter. But on May 5, 1837, President Sam Houston reported to the Congress of the Republic of Texas regarding trade, "Her [Texas] cotton, sugar, indigo, wines, peltries, live stock, and precious minerals will become objects of mercantile activity." While he could have been referring to the wines of El Paso, in 1838 the grapes for these wines originated largely on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande around Ciudad Juarez. It is far more likely he was talking about wines from native grapes, but he failed to say so and so we must speculate.

But there were also small wineries located at each of the many missions in Texas, if only to provide wine for the sacraments. Both Spain and Mexico were officially Catholic and all legal immigrants to Texas prior to the Revolution had to swear they were Catholic or would convert to Catholicism. These were not commercial ventures, but they did exist. The grapes grown for these wines are largely unknown. The Mission grape of many missions from El Paso west to and throughout California is simply not proven evident at missions located east of the Pecos.

Ethnic Winemakers

We know the Spanish brought tons of cuttings with new friars sent to Mexico and other possessions in the New World, but we also know that most of them arrived dried out and did not root. But some did root and leafed through two or rarely three inflorescences. Those that flowered in phase with one another cross pollinated and their seed would produce V. viniferahybrids that, when germinated, would suffer the same early death fate as their parents. It is probable that a few flowers mentioned above and all vines that flowered out of phase with each other were pollinated by native vines in close proximity to where they grew. Grape pollen carries up to a mile with only moderate breezes. Seed from these grapes carried some genetic resistance to New World microorganisms and stood a good chance of survival.

The friars who were sent out to establish northern missions almost certainly carried seed from these rare fruit, both for economy of weight and space and because wood carried by burro would almost certainly rub off all potential buds. This means the grapes cultivated at missions were Old-New World hybrids and both tasted better than the pure natives and carried resistance to all the New World stuff that killed off European vines.

Most references place the "Mission grape's" origin at El Paso. If the original vineyard there (and eventually there were many) was grown from seed, decades of vineyard management would have weeded out nonproductive vines and replaced them with rooted cuttings from the more productive ones. It seems unlikely, even after 300 years, that all vines would have been replaced with clones from a single specimen. The work of the missionaries was too varied, unpredictable and demanding to focus on the vines as closely as that scenario would have required. Thus, no one knows what the "Mission grape" really is, but we know that one Mission grapevine is not the same as another. I have no belief whatsoever that a common Old-New World hybrid ever existed. There would have been hundreds if not thousands originally that were culled to perhaps a few dozen.

I have run across many reports of immigrants bringing vines with them from Europe to Texas. The trip from Germany, for instance, to the Hill Country of Central Texas was long and hard and wood only traveled bes in the winter when dormant. That wood had to travel across Germany to a port, cross the Atlantic and Gulf, and then be carried up into Central Texas. If they brought wood with them, I have no doubt it that little of it would have arrived in good shapr. But reportedly, some did root and leaf before dying off.

We know that many settlers made wine from native grapes. It is simply unlikely that someone would go through the trouble of bringing cuttings with them to Texas (which did not grow) and then decide not to try making wine from the abundant native grapes.

When speaking of Texas immigration, we must remember that Austin's authorized (by Mexico) colonists only arrived in the 1820s. The real great wave of immigration did not occur until after Texas won its independence from Mexico and the legislators of the new Republic of Texas worked out the conditions for settlement. Thus, the floodgate opened around 1840-41.

A German immigrant who moved to Cypress Mills in the Texas Hill Country in 1845 later wrote of enjoying a glass or two of "fiery Texas wine." That part of Blanco County is covered with V. mustangensis, whose red wine so perfectly matches that description of "fiery" as to be the probable grape.

The above report is so typical of communities throughout Texas that it would be boring to even cite them. Every community where native grapes grew developed an early home winemaking tradition. Ethnic communities tended to make a community project out of harvesting, crushing, fermenting and later processing the wine for clarity and distribution. Czech, Polish, German, Austrian, Estonian, Hungarian, Italian, and you-name-it communities harvested the local mustang, muscadine, post oak, possum, winter, and mountain grapes, none of which resembled any grape they had ever had to make wine from before, and they either learned to make decent wines with what nature provided or they adapted to the taste. There are scores of reports of communities harvesting 3,000, 8,000, 11,000 and even 20,000 pounds of grapes in one to three days, mostly Mustang, for community wine.

While the original emigrants had their own Old World winemaking methods, those were largely discarded as they were forced to deal with what nature provided -- high acid, low sugar, uncertain nutrients, and in some cases low juice to pulp ratios. Within 20-30 years, new generations who had never experienced Old World grapes or wines took the reins and had only New World influences to guide them. They must have figured it all out because their descendants make very good wine out of inedible native grapes.

If one can detect a German influence in the mustang wines of Fredericksburg, a Polish influence in the mustang wines of Poth, or a Czech influence in the mustang wines of Victoria please instruct me on those influences. I only taste mustang wine.

Evolving Native Wines

In 1853 J. D. B. De Bow reported, "We have many a time feasted on the most delicious grapes in our rambles through the hills and along the limpid streams of Texas." We wish the locales were revealed, but they are not. We can only speculate these were V. aestivalis or cinerea varieties, or V. vulpina, acerifolia, champinii, doaniana, or even very ripe monticola or rupestris, but there can be no doubt that De Bow was speaking of wild, native grapes, for only these were available as described.

De Bow goes on to quote the editor of the Houston Telegraph: "We are indebted to Col. William E. Crump for several bottles of excellent wine manufactured from the native grape. He has succeeded in making a white wine from the Mustang grape which we consider far better than the best samples of Catawba wine we have received from Cincinnati. The red he has made from the same grape is of an excellent quality and resembles the best claret; he has also made wine from the winter grape, which ripens late in autumn."

The mustang, however, would not be a candidate for "... the most delicious grapes in our rambles through the hills and along the limpid streams of Texas." They are simply too acid for raw feasting. They are, however, still made into commercial wines in Texas today, both white and red.

Native muscadines are still made into wine in east Texas but have been almost entirely passed over by commercial wineries in favor of cross-bred varietals. Indeed, since I cannot think of a single Texas winery that makes a native muscadine wine, perhaps the "almost" in the preceding sentence should be stricken, but I'll leave it in case I've overlooked one.

The best native grapes I have eaten off the tree-supported vine in Texas have been V. aestivalis var. aestivalis, var. glauca and especially var. lincecumii. These were the staple grapes of early eastern settlers and, we are told, Sam Houston's favorites. And yet, again, I know of no commercial winery in Texas making wine from them despite the fact that they grow in beautiful bunches, are typically low hanging, and grow in great abundance over most of the eastern quarter of the state.

Native Grape Winemaking Areas

The following is strictly historic, but offers an excellent breakdown of the most common native grapes in Texas regionally. It is not nearly as complete as "The Natural Distribution of Native Grapes in Texas" by Keller and Comeaux (2009, unpublished), but certainly the best available in 1866. One must expect that settlers in 1866 Texas did what settlers do -- made wine out of the best ingredients available. I'm sure wherever they were east of the Pecos they had blackberries, dewberries, probably elderberies, possibly huckleberries, pawpaws, persimmons, agaritas, mayhaws, plums, prickly pears, crabapples, mulberries, and many others, but the wild grapes would be too alluring to ignore, no matter how challenging they were to make into wine.

In 1866 S. B. Buckley published "A Preliminary Report of the Geological and Agricultural Survey of Texas." In it he describes the grapes of Texas as he understood them. His account is important because he points out he was first in naming and describing the Mustang grape (in 1861); in 1862 it was attributed to Englemann as V. candicans, but Buckley named and described it first as V. mustangensis and taxonomists have since corrected the name to reflect his first publication.

"Three species of native grapes are common here [Navarro County], the mustang, post oak and the winter grape. The mustang is so abundant as to be used in the manufacture of wine of a superior quality, which we tested on several occasions with the hospitable inhabitants of that region."

More generally, the report says of French immigrants, "...they can also grow grapes, for which this State possesses peculiar advantages, there being at least seven species indigenous here, besides others from abroad in cultivation; of these, the mustang grape (Vitis mustangensis), the most widely diffused and the most abundant. It grows throughout most of the State, excepting some parts of Eastern Texas, and perhaps a part of North western Texas; it attains a large size, sometimes almost completely overspreading the largest trees, and is readily known by its leaves, which are of a deep green above, and white and tomentose beneath, besides its fruit has very distinctive characters; it has a large black fruit, sometimes nearly an inch in diameter, and clusters of a moderate size it is little esteemed for eating, on account of an acid juice in the inner cuticle of the skin, which, if swallowed, gives a burning pain in the throat; still, the pulp is quite palatable, and wholesome if squeezed out, and eaten without the skin. It makes, what we think to be, an excellent red wine, which, by age, attains strength and flavor.

"The Lincecum grape (Vitis lincecumii) [(Sic!) should be V. aestivalis var. lincecumii] grows in Eastern Texas and in the eastern parts of the central portion of the State in post oak openings, whence it is often called the 'post oak grape.' It is of low habit and slender form, growing in clumps or climbing over small trees and bushes to the height. of from 4 to 10 feet. It has larger clusters of thin skinned, purple berries about three-fourths of an inch in diameter, which are juicy and of a pleasant acid taste. Fruit ripens the last of June and the first of July. It is well worthy of cultivation, being certainly for table use, and it ought to be tested as a wine grape.

"The Mountain grape (Vitis monticola) is of similar habit to the above; being seldom more than ten feet high. It has small cordate leaves of a pale green color, which are smooth above and more or less pubescent beneath, especially along the nerves. lts clusters are rather densely fruited with white or amber colored berries, one half or three quarters of an inch in diameter, thin skinned, which are ripe in July and August. It is said to be sweet tasted and of a very agreeable favor. It is sparingly cultivated, being as yet little known. Specimens of it with unripe fruit are in the collection at the geological rooms; and they have a strong resemblance to those of the winter grape, from which it is distinguished by its fruit and difference in time of ripening: its smaller leaves and its smaller size throughout.

"Mr. Lindheimer, a well known German botanist of New Braunfels, who has done much to elucidate the botany of Vitis, and who first brought the next species into notice also first called our attention to aestivalis, which, with the two preceding species we first described it the Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia for 1861.

"Mr. Durand, a French botanist, in describing the Mustang grape in 1862, gives it the name of 'Vitis candicans,' supposing it had been previously described by Dr. Englemann. This is a mistake. Dr. Englemann never published any description of the mustang grape, nor was any botanical description ever published of it previous to ours in 1861.

"The Rock grape (V. rupestris) grows along the borders of rocky streams in North western Texas. Its leaves are small, smooth and shining above and below of a deep green, and coarsely toothed. Its branches are rather stiff and, erect, three to four feet high, seldom trailing, but, often growing like raspberries and blackberries in thick clusters of nearly vertical sterns. It has small clusters of densely placed black berries about one half an inch in diameter. Its fruit is said to be thin skinned, acid and good. Its leaves resemble those of the muscadine grape. The other grapes growing wild in Texas, being also found in many of the States east of the Mississippi, are well known.

"The winter grape (V. cordifolia) [(Sic!) should be V. vulpina] is common in Central and Eastern Texas, and is next to the mustang the most widely diffused.

"The Muscadine or Bullace grape (V. vulpina) [(sic) should be V. rotundifolia] is confined to the southern and south eastern counties, extending in Central Texas as far north as Washington county. It is called scuppernong in the eastern part of North Carolina, where it is much cultivated for making wine.

"The returns of wine made in this State in 1859 are 13,946 gallons, most of which, we suppose, was made from the mustang grape, except perhaps a few gallons made from the El Paso grape on the Rio Grande."

These are about half the species/varieties native to Texas, but still the most complete listing to that date.


The early winemaking history in Texas is not clear, but neither is it murky. We can say with confidence that there was a period when wine could not have been made from V. vinifera grapes unless the grapes formed on second or possibly third leaf vines, the latter seemingly unlikely because of the many microorganisms fatally hostile to those vines.

However, it was possible for those same dying vines to set some fruit. If self-pollinated or pollinated from other Old World vines, the seed would not be multi-generational viable. If pollinated by nearby native grape vines, seed from the resulting fruit would possess some degree of tolerance or even immunity to the New World environment. Successive generations of seed would presumably have greater tolerance or immunity. Seedlings from such successive-generation seeds, planted at missions, may have been generally termed Mission grapes because of where they were grown, leading to an impression that a Mission grape existed as a type.

Until the discovery that V. vinifera vines could be grafted to New World native rootstock and be afforded the tolerance and immunities inherent in those rootstocks it was not possible to grow V. vinifera long-term in the New World. Thereafter, it was. Still, grafting vinifera onto native rootstock did not occur wholesale in Texas until the 1970s -- 85 years after it was accepted in Europe as the only way to grow V. vinifera in the presence of phylloxera. With the exception of a few vineyards established on grated rootstock, Texans stubbornly looked for acceptable hybrids. Black Spanish (Lenoir), Herbemont, Champanel, Edna, Barlinka, Mother Gloyd, Weisser, Muscanal, Convent, and Ellen Scott were all identified as viable hybrids capable of supporting a wine or table grape industry (Mother Gloyd and Weisser are Mustang x vinifera hybrids, but seedless). Of these, only Lenoir and Herbemont are widely planted, although an extensive planting of Convent has been made. Again, it was not until the 1970s that entire vineyards were planted in Texas of V. vinifera varieties grafted to native rootstock.

During the period prior to grafting onto native rootstock the only grape wines most settlers could make were from native grapes. That ability continues through today. Further, throughout the settlement of the New World it was possible to make country wines from non-grape material -- fruits, berries, flowers, leaves, etc. The latter have been poorly described or not described at all in historical treatments of the settlement period.

There is much research that could be done to learn more of early winemaking activities in Texas. Every county and many local museums, historical societies and individual local historians maintain files of original or transcribed letters, journals, notations of commerce and other documentary records that may contain evidence or clues to these activities. Unless one is actually in need of this data, there is no incentive for non-involved persons to search these files for such evidence.

I will offer to file, collate, analyze, evaluate, and describe any such information forwarded to me, either by email or post. My email address is linked to in the upper left column. I can send my postal address to anyone who requests it for good reason.

Very Slow Fermentation

'Bishop's Collar' in secondary
"Bishop's Collar" in secondary -- no
airlock activity, ring of small bubbles
around top of clear wine

Should a plum wine ferment for 11 months? No, but it could happen. Far more likely is another, often over-looked problem.

Rob Morris again wrote that he had a problem. A plum wine had been fermenting eleven months. He doubled one of my recipes, adding the sugar in stages. During this time he racked the wine six times. The wine continues to emit a ring of small bubbles around the neck of the secondaries. The wine is in the coolest and most stable temperature in the house (69° F.) and it smells and tastes good. So he asked if I thought he should just leave it until the bubbles stop forming?

I replied that I had a similar problem once, only worse. I had a pomegranate bubble for two years. When I say bubble, I really mean it did what Robs did -- bubbles formed around the neck rather than pushing bubbles through the airlock. I should have recognized the asymmetry at the time but didn't.

There comes a time in most fermentations when the pressure of the CO2 being released during fermentation is not strong enough to push the water in the airlock far enough to release a bubble. Small bubbles often appear around the neck of the secondary, but if they do not contribute to the internal pressure enough to allow a bubble to escape then the gas in those small bubbles, as well as the microscopic bubbles you don't see, is trapped inside the secondary. So where does it go? Into the wine, of course.

When a wine becomes saturated with CO2 it begins releasing it in small bubbles. These often form around the neck of the secondary until their gas is reabsorbed by the wine. This is an endless cycle, but I didn't recognize it. So I told Rob what I did at the time that caused the little light to blink on.

Since the s.g. of my wine was at 0.992, I realized it was done and hit it with potassium sorbate and metabisulfite, left it alone for two additional months, racked it, and then degassed it for about 10 minutes a day for four days. It gained a point in s.g., probably due to the added sorbic acid (sorbate), but was still bone dry so I sweetened it a little. I should have measured the s.g. 6 months sooner at least, as it may have been sitting at 0.992 for that long or a lot longer and the bubbles were just CO2 being released from the saturated wine and then being reabsorbed.

One may ask why I let my wine sit for so long. It would be a good question but one easily answered. Then, as now and most days between, I really didn't need the wine but more importantly I had no place to store the wine if I bottled it. At this moment I have 68 gallons of wine ready to bottle but no place to store it if I did. My wine racks hold 182 bottles, I have two cabinets filled with bottled wine, and I have two cases of wine stacked in a cubbyhole in the laundry room (it was three but I just gave away a case of wine on my trip through Louisiana).

After Rob received my reply he wrote back that his plum's wine is coincidentally also at 0.992 s.g. So, he racked it, tasted it, and hit it with potassium sorbate and metabisulfite. The taste was very good, but there was a slight effervescent mouthfeel. The latter, of course, is due to the wine being saturated with CO2. Rob will degas the wine, bottle it and then let it bottle age.

June 16th, 2014

Have you ever tried to buy something when the cash register, which is really a computer, is down? It happened to me Tuesday when hunger and memory converged and I decide I wanted an old fashioned Dairy Queen cheeseburger with bacon. Since it was nearby, I drove over to the local Dairy Queen, parked and went in.

I brought an opened bottle of water in with me so all I wanted was what Dairy Queen calls a "Quarter-Pound Bacon Cheese Grillburger," which I clearly stated when I ordered.

The teenager behind the counter asked, "Do you want to upgrade the combo for an extra dollar?" I repeated that all I wanted was the sandwich.

"Would you like something to drink?" Somewhat annoyed at this point, I lifted up my bottle of water so he could see it and said all I wanted was the sandwich.

"Would you care for a dessert with that?" Frustrated, I very firmly (and probably a bit loudly) said, "For the fourth time, ALL I WANT IS THE SANDWICH." Two young female employees chatting near the drive-up window interrupted their chat to glance at me and then when back to their conversation.

He wrote something on an order slip, pulled out a laminated chart (tax table), ran down it with his finger and then wrote something else on the slip of paper. He looked up and said, "Sorry about that. Our register is down and I have to do this by hand. That will be $4.10."

I gave him a $5 bill. He stared at it for a few seconds and said, "I have to figure this out." I tried to help with, "You owe me 90 cents change." He stared at the slip he had written my order on and repeated, "I have to figure this out myself."

I was astounded, witnessing yet another example of our schools' failure to teach simple math. So I tried to help again and fished a dime out of my pocket. "Here. Just give me a dollar." He didn't take the dime, but stepped back and said, "You're confusing me. I don't want that. Just give me a minute to figure this out."

"It's 90 cents," I said. "$4.10 subtracted from $5 is 90 cents."

He never looked up at me but continued staring at the order slip. "I don't know that, so I have to figure it out myself. Our register is broken."

I'd had enough. May God help us because our schools certainly aren't. "Never mind. I don't want anything. Just give me back my $5." Reluctantly, he handed it over and I walked out, got in my car, drove to the drive-through and waited at the speaker.

One of the girls asked, "May I take your order?" "Yes, I'd like a Quarter-Pound Bacon Cheese Grillburger -- just the Grillburger." "What would you like to drink with that?" "Nothing -- just the Grillburger." "Do you want a Blizzard or dessert?" "No, just the Grillburger." There was a wait as she wrote it down and looked up the tax. That'll be $4.10. Please drive up to the window."

At the window I handed her the $5 bill. She took it, stared at it a few seconds and said, "Our computer is down. Give me a minute to figure this out."

I received the link below from a friend and attempted to verify the story but, although I found many links to it, I could not actually verify the story is true. And yet, the video exists and someone created it. Several sites, repeated the story, but that is not the kind of verification a journalist or historian would use. Nonetheless, here's the story,

Seventeen-year-old Joe Bush got a high school assignment to make a video reproduction. He chose history as a theme and tucked it all into two minutes. He took pictures from the internet, added the track "Mind Heist" by Zack Hemsey (from the movie Interception) and produced this. Turn on your sound and hold on tight! Here's a history of the world in 2 minutes.

Joe Bush's History of the World in 2 Minutes!

In one word, all I can say is "intense."

Today's major entries are about sulfites and sorbate. The two entries are quite different in focus. I hope you enjoy them.

Sulfites and the Regulatory Bias Against Wine

Wine label proclaiming 'Contains Sulfites'

It seems like I write on the subject of sulfites at least once a year, but I don't think the subject can be over-emphasized. Both this and the next entry concern sulfites. I'm not going to repeat here the contents of the next entry, which concerns using sulfites and potassium sorbate in our wine. Rather, I'm going to discuss "sulfite sensitivity" and a regulatory injustice perpetrated upon wine but not upon many other ingestibles containing higher amounts of sulfites than found in wine.

I repeatedly (or so it seems) get email asking for a recipe for [name your wine here] without sulfites. The emails usually claim the writer or his/her spouse is "sulfite sensitive" or "sulfite intolerant" and needs to eliminate sulfites from their wine.

I used to have a canned reply for this kind of email in which I explained that very, very few people (only a small fraction of a percent) are truly reactive to sulfites and its all in your (or your spouse's) head. Then in 2010 I sent it to a person who genuinely was sulfite intolerant and I felt like a fool. Even so, the truth is that very, very few people actually react adversely to sulfites, but how does one know?

Sulfite Sensitivity

Sulfite "sensitivity" and "intolerance" actually mean "allergy." There are medical protocols for determining if a person has an allergic reaction to sulfites and if so at what strength. Such protocols are administered by board certified Allergy/Immunology physicians and need only take 2-3 hours to diagnose with accuracy.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, "If you are not asthmatic, sulfite sensitivity would be very unusual." Even so, it affects over 200,000 people, most of whom must avoid wine. The question is does sulfited wine present a threat to everyone else.

In the last quarter of the last century the United States placed an upper limit on sulfites in wine at 350 ppm -- a limit rarely reached except for cheap, sweet and usually white wines -- and required labels to declare "contains sulfites" if the sulfite level exceeds 10 ppm. Although there are a few but growing number of wines that do not add any sulfites to avoid this label, a label declaring "contains no sulfites" would be deceptive because yeast produce small amounts of sulfites as a byproduct of fermentation -- sometimes enough to require the label. This regulated label declaration, "contains sulfites," however, has caused a wide and largely unwarranted consumer concern regarding sulfites. As Liza Gross points out:

[T]he words “contains sulfites” loom for the average consumer, unaware of the label’s intended audience: the sensitive few. And the sensitive few, researchers now know, typically have severe asthma. Of the estimated 22 million Americans who have asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 20% have severe asthma. Of that subgroup, about 5%—or 220,000 Americans—are sulfite sensitive.

For sensitive individuals, an inadvertent encounter with sulfites might trigger anything from itchy hives and wheezing to shortness of breath and severe chest constriction. Only rarely has ingesting sulfites resulted in death—attributed to complications from asthma—but never from drinking wine.
~~ Liza Gross, "Making Sense of Sulfites," Wines & Vines

Those last five words -- "but never from drinking wine" -- gave me pause, until I realized exactly what she was saying. She isn't saying that wine shouldn't be avoided by asthmatics with sulfite allergy, only that wine has never been linked to the death of one. So if not wine, then what? The odds are something they ate.

Graph, Sulfites in Wine
Comparative graph of common sulfite culprits (source: Wine Folly)

Madeline Puckette, "a certified wine geek," pointed out the more common culprits in the chart to the left. Whereas she shows dry red wine as the lowest, she also shows commercial wines at the maximum allowable 350 ppm, on par with soda and other soft drinks. The worse culprits on her chart are French fries and dried fruit. But the focus of her article is about sulfites in wine and thus she doesn't elaborate on the foods. More importantly, she doesn't mention that foods containing more than 10 ppm of sulfites are not required to label this as does wine -- only state their existence as a preservative in the ingredients.

All raisins contain sulfites because all raisin grapes contain sulfur. Dark raisins contain less than golden raisin because in order to preserve that golden color of the white grapes they are heavily sulfited. Dried apricots, apples, pears, mangos, papayas, pineapples, most banana chips and many other dried fruit are likewise heavily sulfited to preserve their color. They are in fruit roll-ups, snack and energy bars, trail mixes, and dozens of other products. If a person can eat these dried fruit without an allergic reaction, that person will not react to the sulfite load in wine.

However, notice the rank of French fries -- second highest. Almost every fast food outlet and many diners, cafes and restaurants use pre-cut frozen potatoes from which to make their fries. Potato starch turns to sugar and oxidizes to a brown color when stored at a temperatures below 45° F. unless sulfited. This leaves each potential fry with 13 ppm or more of sulfites. If the cut potatoes are coated with potato starch to keep them crisp longer, which many are, that sulfite load can double.

French fries are not the only heavily sulfited potato product. Any frozen product containing potatoes -- hash browns, potato patties, 'tater tots, potatoes O'Brien, mashed potatoes in TV dinners -- are heavily sulfited. None carry the same warning label as does wine. Nor do most fruit juices made from concentrates. soft drinks containing fruit juice from concentrate, caramel color (all colas), high fructose corn syrup (read the label), and several other ingredients containing sulfites.

These examples are mere samples of the foods and beverages containing sulfites, yet many medications contain sulfites or sulfates as well. The point I am trying to make is that it is very, very difficult to avoid consuming sulfites in whatever form, but only one form -- wine -- requires a "contains sulfites" label. Thus, whenever the average person is asked to name an ingested product that contains sulfites they say "wine."

Sulfites and Sorbate: What You Need to Know

Potassium sorbate

I was reading a thread on winemaking problems in a discussion group. One writer lamented, "I stirred in a crushed campden [sic] tablet and back-sweetened the wine. The day after I bottled it one of the bottles blew its cork and made a real mess. Could the problem be the campden [sic] tablet didn't completely dissolve?"

First of all, Campden is always capitalized because its a man's name, albeit deceased. Secondly, I hate the term "back sweeten." The correct term is "sweeten." [I also hate "the fact of the matter is." The correct English: "the fact is." Why use two or more words when one will do?] These are not mere stylistic complaints. In the first case, you wouldn't write, "We stayed at a hilton." Hilton is a person's name, so you capitalize it. In the second case, economy of language is a virtue if it communicates correctly.

The first two respondents to the post got it wrong. They agreed that not crushing the tablet fine enough to dissolve its particles was the problem. The third respondent got it right. "Campden by itself is not a stabilizer. You have to also add potassium sorbate."

Adding Sulfites

For the past 7-8 years, in my wine recipes, I have written, "1 finely crushed and dissolve Campden tablet." I added these extra words because too many people complained that crushed Camden wouldn't dissolve. It will. It just takes an awful lot of time and stirring. All that stirring is saturating the wine with oxygen (O2), hastening its eventual oxidation. If you draw off just a cup of the wine and dissolve the finely crushed Campden in it before adding it back into the secondary, you only expose a cup of the wine to O2 saturation but dilute the saturation when the cup is returned to the bulk.

The active ingredient in the original Campden formulation was sodium metabisulfite. Adding sodium to your wine has not been advised for decades. The preferred active ingredient is the salt potassium metabisulfite, which is now incorporated into the Campden tablets sold in the USA -- I do not know about other countries. But it is far more economical to use pure potassium metabisulfite rather than Campden tablets.

For a dose of potassium metabisulfite equal to that contained in a Campden tablet you need only add 1/16th of a teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite. Measure a level 1/4 teaspoon of the potassium salt, deposit it on a clean flat surface, and with a knife divide it in half. Then divide each half into halves. You'll end up with four partitions (quotients) of potassium metabisulfite, each equaling approximately 1/16th of a teaspoon. Compare that small amount with a Campden tablet. All that extra bulk in the Campden is inert binding material. Would you rather dissolve all of that into your wine or just the small amount of the active ingredient?

The 1/16th teaspoon dose is a ballpark number not chiseled in stone but is comparable to Campden's 45 ppm dose. For a slightly lesser dose, divide that 1/4 teaspoon into five equal parts (I do it all the time, so I know you can do it).

There are several factors which dictate adding more or less sulfite. These include the pH and temperature of the must or wine, the condition of the grapes or fruit from which the wine is made, and the type and style of wine being made. To better explain the influence of these factors would require a longer piece than is appropriate here, but I recommend one reads the piece referenced at the end of today's entry ("Sulfur Dioxide Additions for Home Wine Making").

Back to the original problem, the third responder was correct that Campden (or potassium metabisulfite) does not stabilize the wine. It just protects it against harmful microorganisms. Well, "just protects" is an understatement. It also protects the wine against premature browning, oxidation and development of off-odors from aldehydes. There are other reasons as well; e.g. preventing an already balanced wine from undergoing malolactic fermentation and ruining its balance when its acid component contains significant malic acid.

We don't know when the winemaker asking the question actually bottled his wine, but based on his rushed first racking one might suspect he sulfited and then bottled the wine soon thereafter. One must practice patience when making wine. This isn't beer. Wine takes time -- months.

Before You Sweeten....

If you want to sweeten your wine, you should first treat the wine with potassium sorbate. Potassium sorbate is the potassium salt of sorbic acid. Sorbic acid is practically insoluble in water but its potassium salt is completely soluble in water where 74% by weight is converted into soluble sorbic acid (it has already been dissolved, so has become soluble) and the remainder into ionic potassium. We say we add sorbate, but it is only a vehicle to adding sorbic acid.

Sorbic acid has selective anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties and inhibits yeast growth (reproduction) but does not kill the yeast. For that reason the wine should have been racked extremely clear and bulk aged long enough that the yeast density is very low when the potassium sorbate is introduced for it to be effective. After bulk aging a clear wine for several months to further reduce active yeast populations, the wine should carefully be racked again off any dead yeast before adding potassium sorbate.

Beware of Off Odors

The normal, ballpark dosage is 1/2 teaspoon per US gallon, or 150-200 ppm. It is more concentrated at low pH and the dose can be adjusted downward for higher alcohol but if you feel you cannot calculate the proper lower dosage use the 1/2 teaspoon per gallon and you'll be okay. Never add more than that or you'll introduce off odors similar to bubble gum. I will not include the calculations for reduced dosage here because most home winemakers will not be able to measure the smaller amounts the calculations will indicate and guessing could be dangerous.

Never add potassium sorbate to a wine that has already undergone malolactic fermentation or you introduce another unwanted off-odor -- geraniol, which resembles geraniums and cannot be removed without ruining the wine.

Adding Sorbate

I usually hold off sweetening my wines for a month or so after adding potassium sorbate to give the yeast culture time to thin itself out further, which will be evidenced by a light dusting of dead yeast lees on the bottom of the secondary. All surviving yeast won't die off in a month, but a significant portion will.

After sweetening, I leave the wine alone for another month to make sure it doesn't start refermenting. It shouldn't, but sorbate has a shelf life and the closer it gets to that end-time the less effective it will be.

Give the wine time to prove the efficacy of the sorbate. If it is too old or a calculated, reduced dosage is insufficient, the yeast will reproduce and the sweetened wine will trigger renewed fermentation. However, potassium sorbate has a taste threshold and one should never exceed the 1/2 teaspoon per gallon.

If you used the correct amount and fermentation renewed, the sorbate was too old and all you can do at that point is (a) wait it out and bulk age for another six months or more, or (b) chill the wine to 28° F. for no less than two weeks. Chilling the wine will usually cause the added potassium to precipitate out as potassium bitartrate. The wine should be racked off the bitartrate crystals or they will dissolve back into the wine as it returns to room temperature. Whichever avenue you choose, do NOT add more sorbate.

Additional Suggeations

I have two additional suggestions regarding potassium sorbate.

First, all the potassium sorbate I have ever purchased has been "prilled." This is a method of exuding the salt (potassium sorbate) when slightly moist through small holes, the result of which are small, elongated particles. These particles are quickly dried and can give the winemaker fits as they dissolve slowly and look unsightly for a while.. My solution has always been to reduce the particles to a powder in a mortar and pestle before stirring into the wine.

Second, I recommend buying the smallest amount of potassium sorbate you can get by with and replace it every 6 months no matter how much is left unused.

Sulfites are an important tool in the winemaker's arsenal, especially important in protecting the wine against spoilage bacteria and mold. Potassium sorbate is the best vehicle for adding sorbic acid to a wine containing residual sugar. In correct dosage it preserves that sugar by preventing refermentation. They should be used together before bottling a sweetened wine.

June 7th, 2014

Rarely can one do what I did last night. While writing descriptions of the grapes for the second major entry below I mentally searched for a word that meant "laying down, as if pressed," and the word "appressed" came to mind. To be certain it was the correct word, I got up, took a 3 3/8-inch thick dictionary down from a bookshelf, and opened it perhaps 3/16 inch from the beginning. I looked at the pages I had opened to (pages 72-73) and there was the word I sought! How often does THAT happen?

Later, I wrestled with using the word "trichomes" to indicate short hairs and again retrieved the dictionary. Son-of-a-gun if I didn't do it again! I cut the book open near the back, at pages 1428-1429, and there was the word! That has got to be as rare as being dealt two royal flushes in the same poker game. I'm dumbfounded...!

Ian & Sylvia's album, <i>Northern Journey</i>

Talk about coincidences, I woke up this morning with a folk song from the mid '60s playing in my head. The song was Ian and Sylvia's "When I Woke Up This Morning." Get it? I woke up this morning with "When I Woke Up his Morning" playing in my head. Weird!

Actually, that isn't the name of the song at all -- just the opening line. The real title is "You Were On My Mind." What was most strange is that I never, ever think of that song -- well, at least not that version of it, written by Canadian Sylvia Tyson, which actually starts with, "Got up this morning, you were on my mind...." What I always remember is the version performed by We Five, a quintet out of San Francisco who created a completely different song by changing a few words and a few notes. They topped the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart for five weeks with a folk-rock classic that in my opinion is still unmatched in sheer energy.

We Five's version begins nice and easy in the opening two stanzas. Then in the third stanza it builds in intensity and holds that intensity through the fourth. In the fifth stanza it again drops to a gentle, flowing tempo but again increases in intensity and holds it to a climatic end.

The very first time I heard it I recognized it from Ian and Sylvia's recording earlier that year, but I also recognized I was hearing something very different, very unique, very full of energy. See if you don't agree:

Fred Astaire introduces We Five live on Hollywood Palace

This live version lacks the mixing richness and energetic intensity of the studio recording, but it still beats any other version but the recording itself so I couldn't resist showing it. Besides, I like watching Beverly Bivens dance her two-step while singing. It makes me feel young again

The arranging genius of We Five was Michael Stewart, brother of The Kingston Trio's John Stewart who later had a distinguished solo career. John's best album ever was his live The Phoenix Concerts, containing too many classics to mention. However, "July, You're A Woman" and "The Last Campaign Trilogy" (containing "All the Brave Horses") are worth the price of the double album. Believe me.

The two gentleman on the left, Michael Stewart (glasses, playing the Gibson 6-string guitar) and Bob Jones (left rear, playing the Rickenbacker 12-string guitar) are both now deceased. Stewart left us in 2002 and Jones in 2013. Rest in peace, Michael and Bob. You live on in your music.

Elderberry / Concord Grape Wine

Black elderberries (photo source sambucolaustralia.com)Concord grapes (stock photo
Black elderberries and Concord grapes

I poured a glass of my Elderberry/Concord blend -- 4.5 gallons of 2003 Elderberry blended with 1.5 gallons of 2012 Concord (not precisely but close). There is of course a reason for this unlikely marriage, the result of which is very, very good.

The first duty of wine is to be red. The second is to be a Burgundy. — Alec Waugh, In Praise of Wine

I think Alec would have loved this wine, even though undutifully containing not a drop of Pinot Noir or any other noble grape. Not a Burgundy -- with an exclamation point -- but a joy to savor. The aromatics are rich and complex, darkly red, ripe and inviting, with a hint of heritage roses and freshly broken pomegranates. Absolutely inviting. It screamed. "Taste me," so I did.

Indescribable taste, so I won't try. Suffice it to say I am pleased. More than pleased. But it was a long journey to this glass.

The elderberry component was as close to "pure" (67.5%) as I ever want to make. I have made it with a higher percentage of juice and I then agonized similarly over its slow maturity. I fined out much of the tannins of that one. But I decided to wait out the 2003. It bulk aged for a month less than 10 years, always too tannic to consign to the lives of corks -- even ones that cost $1.18 each and supposedly are rated as 20-year closures.

Last year, while lamenting that my own life is finite, I decided to blend it with something drinkable. The only red wine I had aplenty that might work was Concord. It was a gamble./p>

When blending, there are three considerations. First, the blending wines should be good enough, sound enough, to stand alone. Blending a good wine with a bad produces a lot of bad wine. Second, the blended wines should maintain (if they have it) or achieve (if they don't) balance. Third, the flavors must, as a minimum, compliment each other and, as an optimum, enhance each other. Blending Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot is the norm rather than the exception because these two wines usually satisfy all three considerations in union.

I considered both my elderberry and Concord to be good and hoped the flavors would enhance one another. It was balance that concerned me most. If one of the blending wines will not balance because of too much or too little of one of the elements of balance (body, sugar, alcohol, acid, tannin) the other must be able to offset that deficiency so the blend achieves balance. The elderberry had more than enough tannin for two wines and the Concord, I believed, could accept a lot more but was not actually deficient.

Having never tasted this blend before, I hoped the flavors would meld together nicely but didn't really consider this the gamble. Nor did I think balancing the tannin was the gamble. The gamble was whether the Concord will live considerably longer with the elderberry's long-distance tannins or the longevity of the elderberry will be considerably shortened by a short-lived Concord. That was and remains my greatest concern.

It is a gamble to which only time will decide. In the meantime, I'm resigning myself to enjoying it. Life is too uncertain to bet on the long-haul at this juncture and the wine is delightful, so I will drink it without worrying about its aging potential.

More Native Grapes of New York

Jack Keller Winemaking Facebook Page excerpt
An except of my blog's Facebook Page

I've received many messages regarding my post on my friend Dale Ims making wines from wild grapes in New York. These communications generally reveal an interest in utilizing the grapes for making wine, but little knowledge about the grapes themselves. What they reveal is that most wild grapes are simply known as wild grapes. If they have a name, up there they are all either "fox" or "frost" grapes. This does an injustice to the "riverbank" and "winter" grapes sharing the habitat.

I don't expect everyone to know every plant in their area. I don't know all the ones around me, but I do try to learn the ones I happen upon time and time again. There are so many. But when two obviously different looking vines are growing close together, they can't both be "fox grapes." So let's look at the four true native grapes found around New York state. Descriptions are heavily dependent on T. V. Munson, Barry Comeaux and my own limited observations.

<i>Vitis labrusca</i> (Fair Use photo by Steve C. Garske, University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point)
Vitis labrusca (photo by Steve C. Garske,
University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point, )

V. labrusca is commonly known as the "fox grape." Despite the fact that various grapes are called this, no other grape anywhere has that same distinct pungent odor and flavor which long ago was termed "foxy" for reasons no one today can say with certainty (although there are three or four theories circulating). In Tennessee it is locally called "swamp grape" and elsewhere sometimes called "northern muscadine" although not at all a muscadine. Berries vary considerably in size but generally are 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter. Clusters are generally small but can be medium. Large clusters usually indicate hybridization. Seeds 2-4 medium to large, notched on top with a short but well-defined beak, colored pale purple or dirty-brown and maturing darker. Leaves vary geographically, can be small (3 inches broad to 2 1/2 inches long) to large (8 inches broad to 7 inches long), averaging about 4 1/2 inches broad, always broader than long, tip pointed. The petiole (leaf stem) is long, minimally half as long as the leaf, thicker at each end than in the middle. The basal sinus (the leaf indentation where the petiole attaches) is deep and can be narrow or broad. Slightly lobed closer to the tip than the base, typically 2/3 the way down, may be asymmetrical, the lobes typically pointed, the leaf edges slightly toothed. The underside is covered between the ribs with short, dense, whitish or brownish cottony felt. The upper surface initially is covered with densely appressed short hairs of a light (buff or pinkish) color which shed as the leaf matures to a wrinkled, dark dull green surface. Leaves on ground shoots of old vines, young vines and sometimes new growth more deeply lobed with 3-5 lobes, not always angular or dependable for identification -- use mature leaves for identification. Defining characteristic are tendrils, which on well-grown wood are on every node, continuous (no other species displays this). New growth is often strongly covered with pubescence and even stiff hairs at nodes, shedding to smoothness when mature. Wood and tendrils mature dark brown or chestnut in color. Natives bear little resemblance to labrusca-vinifera hybrids such as Himrod, Concord, Catawba, Niagara, etc.

<i>Vitis vulpina</i> (Fair Use of photo, Indiana Purdue University Fort Wayne)
="Vitis vulpina (photo credit, Indiana Purdue
University Fort Wayne)

V. vulpina, once misnamed V. cordifolia, is commonly called "frost grape" but also "winter grape," "possum grape" and "sour winter grape" elsewhere. "Frost grape" comes from beliefs that the berries only ripen after the first (or second) frost, but if a very late frost the berries will ripen anyway, evidenced by birds feeding on them when sugar peaks and acidity declines. Berries are small (3/16 inch to 3/8 inch in diameter), generally loose in the cluster which is medium to long, covered with a thin bloom and typically have an unpleasant, herbaceous flavor even when ripe. Clusters are sometimes shouldered but usually simple and open. It is a vigorous climber and can grow to massive sizes. Leaves average 3 1/2 inches broad by 3 3/4 inches long, cordate (heart-shaped), but basal lobes sometimes overlap. Basal sinus narrowly or broadly acute generally, but sometimes truncate. Edges small or large toothed, generally irregular. Ground shoots and seedlings for first two years leaf with 3-5 lobes with rounded sinuses, upon maturity (third year) leaves assume cordate shape, slightly lobed. in mature leaves, upper surface glabrous (smooth, devoid of hair or down), dark green, shining, lower surface a paler green, sporting usually 7 pairs of not quite opposite ribs of pale-yellowish-green with thin but stiff pubescence, the rib's divisions with prominent dense and stiff pubescence, especially in the bronzy-colored young leaves, gradually thinning with maturity. Seeds are small, nearly as broad as long, ovate, dark brown to chocolate color at maturity, beak short to medium, blunt or acute, rusty or reddish-brown. Young wood pale yellow-green or bronze-red with strong fawn-colored pubescence, shedding to maturity to drab or hazel color with lighter and darker striations, bark separating annually. In northern climes, one of the first native species to shed its leaves in autumn, but in the South leaves are persistent until most species drop their leaves.

<i>Vitis riparia</i> (Fair Use of photo by kgNaturePhotography.com)
="Vitis riparia in flower (Fair Use of photo by

V. riparia, "riverbank grape," is almost always found close to water or drainage, hence its common name. It can be found as an aggressive climber developing impenetrable tangles or as more of a bush or knee-to-waist-high ground hugger, also forming tangles, when climbing support is absent, will cover fences if present. Berries 1/4 to 1/3 inch, rarely 1/2 inch, ripen black with heavy bloom, white grapes are rare but known, on 3-inch to 5-inch compact, slightly shouldered clusters, clusters typically many. Skin soft, pulp juicy, juice pure and vinous when ripe, very acidic before ripening, berries persistent. Seeds 2-4 very small to medium, broad, beak poorly defined, grooved. Petioles about as long as leaf is broad, color when young usually pale red or green, sometimes dark red aging to green, leaf at right angle or nearly so. Average leaves 3 to 5 inches broad, can be 6-7 inches (rare), length about same as width. Basal sinus broadly U-shaped, usually shallow but can be deep, basal lobes rarely closed or (rarer still) overlapping, always distinctly rounded. Lateral lobe about halfway or more to tip, sharply pointed, lobe groove acute, rarely rounded. Edges irregularly toothed, both large and small but usually large, tip pointed and usually prominent but sometimes tip is short. Upper leaf shoulders bend upwards when young, relax with age, distinctive. Upper surface dark green to lively middle green, glabrous, under side similarly colored but slightly lighter, smooth except on 6 to 7 pairs of not quite opposing ribs which are pubescent with tuffs conspicuous in rib/vein forks. Leaves firm but thin even with age. The wood's bark is often more reddish than any other grape, aging dark with gray or brown striations. Shedding bark at end of first or beginning of second year usually mostly gray.

<i>Vitis aestivalis</i> (photo by Mark Gelbart, Fair Use)
Vitis aestivalis (photo by Mark Gelbart,
Fair Use)

V. aestivalis ("summer grape" in South, "pigeon grape" in upper Atlantic seaboard, "winter grape" in New York) grows widely with multiple regional variation as abundant as those of V. cinerea. Variation is consistent with climes and geographic separation with many 19th and early 20th century "species" having been proven to be V. aestivalis variations. This variability makes generic description difficult. My description here is for pure holotype V. aestivalis var. aestivalis with caveats for some, but not all, variation. For example, V. aestivalis var. lincecumii. V. aestivalis var. glauca and other Southern and Western variants are not here described. All variants produce some vines normally good for making wine. Berries are typically 1/4 to 1/2 inch in diameter, considered small, thick to medium bloom when ripe, persistent at that time. Skin thin but tough, blue-black to deep black, pulp commonly dry acidic even when ripe, but occasionally tender, juicy and very sweet. Clusters are generally cylindrical, 4 to 8 inches long, simple and often slightly shouldered, compact to slightly loose and open. Petioles usually half or less as long as leaf is wide, with narrow shallow groove above obscured with pubescence or rusty wool or both. Leaf 4 to 7 inches long, always longer than wide except basal leaves (leaves closest to trunk) may be more rounded. Basal sinus deep, narrow V-shape to broad V with basal lobes approaching and sometimes lapping. Prominent lateral, pointed lobes halfway down, but commonly 5, rarely 3 lobes, often inconspicuous except by ribbing. Lobe sinuses acute, rarely toothed, rarely rounded except in ground shoots from old plants with 5 to 9 lobes, palmate in appearance. Edges toothed, small to large but typically irregular (except generally absent in lateral sinuses), defined and pointed. Tip long and pointed, often excessively so. Leaf color above rusty-wooly when young with trichomes (hairs) along veins, shedding to glabrous and leathery when mature, moderate to darker green. Leaf underside glaucescent (yellowish-green), typically with 7-8 prominent, not quite opposite ribs arising from the midrib, ribs both pubescent and rusty-wooly with pubescent tuffs in forks. Seeds 2-4, broad and ovate, light to dark cinnamon color, beak short, blunt and poorly defined -- sharp and defined usually indicates hybridization. Wood rusty-wooly when young, becoming smooth and bright reddish-brown on maturity. Nodes enlarged under buds but narrow opposite. Tendrils intermediate, once or twice forked, persistent.

Asparagus Wine

Bunched asparagus

Whenever I'm down it seems the inbox brings a pick-me-up. That was the case this week while mourning the passing of a friend. An email from Cheryl Scoledge of Jackson, Tennessee brought me an original recipe for Asparagus Wine she was gracious enough to allow me to share. I don't know why I never thought of this one.

Only a year into winemaking, Cheryl and her husband already have white grapefruit, dandelion, honeysuckle, coconut, and four others in secondaries or bottles. When she recently found asparagus at the market for $1 a pound she stocked up, only to find no recipe for asparagus wine on my site or anywhere else. Not to be deterred, her Tennessee pioneer spirit and understanding of the basics empowered her to create her own.

I made both a dry and a semi-sweet to see which I end up liking…. The scent is a bit weird – asparagus doesn’t have the most appealing aroma… It’s not like Chocolate Strawberry Port or anything! But it goes great with fettuccini dishes – vegetables – and I’m sure fish or eggs.

The following is her recipe in pretty much her own words. Very straightforward....

  • 4 lbs Asparagus
  • 3 oranges
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 can white grape juice conc
  • 1 tsp Penzey’s ginger (next time I’ll try 1 oz fresh ginger – could have used a little more)
  • 1 3/4 lb sugar
  • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1/2 tsp tannin
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Lalvin 1118 yeast

Peeled oranges and lemon into primary fermenter – juiced them, and added grape juice concentrate, ginger and sugar. Boiled asparagus until tender – drained over primary and kept asparagus for other recipes.

Tannin tends to clump together when added to water, so I mixed pectic enzyme, tannin, yeast nutrient, and 1 tbs sugar together and added to yeast starter No clumping!


This was a very fast wine, transferred to secondary 3 days later – racked 4 days later – sorbated and bottled within 1 month. Not bad at all.

I'm most proud of the Scoledges for jumping in and working out the essentials of a wine I'm going to have to try. Of course, they have local mentors from the Tennessee Viticultural and Oenological Society living in Jackson and nearby Nashville, but if this is any indication of their understanding I'll bet they will be mentoring new winemakers soon.

Thank you Cheryl for sharing.

May 31st, 2014

My vineyard looks pitiful. Several vines succumbed to the multiple freezes of this past winter and four more put out fantastic growth and then fell ill and died within three days. I hate to say it, but I have no idea what killed them. The leaves showed browning around all the edges one day, were completely brown the next, and were brittle and disintegrated when touched on the third day. I said my farewells but left them in the ground hoping for a resurrection. Two rebudded, broke into leaf and promptly gave up the fight. I have plenty of potted cuttings to replace them with, but most of these are native grapes from Virginia and New York. Gone are my Black Spanish and prized Orange Muscats. Sigh...!

Italian Meatball Stew in a Mug (photo by Colin Erricson, courtesy Robert Rose, publisher, with permission)

Last night it dawned on me I hadn't thought about dinner. As I looked in my refrigerator and freezer for guidance, I saw the answer. I had a container of leftover, refrigerated marinara sauce I made four nights ago and a bag of small, frozen beef meatballs I had purchased for a specific dish called Italian Meatball Stew. Both items are required for the recipe, which is in a new cookbook I acquired a few months ago called 250 Best Meals in a Mug by Camilla V. Saulsbury. It was time to put the ingredients to use.

It took about 5 minutes to throw the meal together and another 2 minutes to fsh cooking it in the microwave. It was delicious and satisfying. Best of all I had leftover ingredients to make it at least once more -- four times if I make (or buy) more marinara sauce.

First let me say a few words about this cookbook. Most of the meals in it are simplicity itself although some require more preparation time and ingredients. There are chapters on breakfast meals in a mug, breads and muffins, soups, stews and chilis, meatless main dishes, meat, poultry and seafood main dishes, pasta and grains, snacks, and desserts (oh yeah!). Perhaps best of all, there is a whole chapter on super-fast, cheap and easy recipes with 4 ingredients or less. I love this book.

The average dish requires a 12-16-ounce microwavable mug. I had mugs large enough, but I had doubts they were microwave-safe so picked up two new ones at a Dollar Store. Here is the recipe to fill one of them:

Italian Meatball Stew in a Mug

  • 4 medium or 6 small frozen beef meatballs
  • 1/2 cup marinara sauce
  • 1/2 cup ready-to-use beef broth (or vegetable, or chicken)
  • 1/2 cup drained canned mixed vegetables
  • 2 tbsp drained canned or jarred mushroom pieces
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • dash of garlic powder (my tweak)
  • dash of onion powder (my tweak)

In the mug, microwave the meatballs on high 1 to 2 minutes to defrost and warm them. After 1 minute I cut the meatballs in half in the mug with a fork and continued heating them another 30-60 seconds.

Stir in the marinara sauce, broth, mixed vegetables and mushrooms. I added the garlic and onion powder at this stage but not the salt and pepper. Microwave on high for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes or until heated through, stirring after 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper and top with grated Parmesan cheese ot grated Italian-blend cheese. A little chopped fresh parsley also adds to the richness of this simple meal. A little garlic bread on the side is nice but optional

The hard part is deciding whether to eat it with a spoon or a fork. I started with a fork and finished with a spoon. It was not only good, but super filling.

Scrambled Eggs Florentine in a Mug (photo by Colin Erricson, courtesy Robert Rose, publisher, with permission)

Here is a super easy breakfast meal in a mug. Buying frozen chopped spinach in a bag made measuring out a cup much easier than had I bought a block. While I was at it I measured out 2 more cups and refroze them in Ziploc bags for later use. I also divided the leftover canned tomatoes into Ziploc snack bags in 1/4 cup portions so as to be recipe-ready for another breakfast.

1 cup frozen chopped spinach
2 large eggs
pinch ground nutmeg (optional)
pinch salt
pinch ground black pepper
1/4 cup drained canned Italian-seasoned diced tomatoes
1 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

In the mug, microwave the spinach on high for 11/2-2 minutes or until thawed and warm. Using the tines of a fork, press down firmly on the spinach and drain off excess liquid.

Using a fork, beat in the eggs, nutmeg (if using), and salt and pepper until well blended. Stir in the tomatoes and Parmesan. Microwave on high for 30 seconds and stir with a fork. Microwave on high and additional 30-45 seconds or until the eggs are puffed and just barely set at the center. I actually stirred again after the second 30 seconds and then microwaved the last 15 seconds.

This is a hearty breakfast by itself, but doubly so with a toasted sliced bagel smeared with homemade marmalade and a 6-ounce glass of orange juice.

I heartily recommend this cookbook, especially for someone constantly on the go who has little time or inclination to cook. Can you spare 5 minutes? Good. This book will be a life-saver many times over. You can buy the 312-page 250 Best Meals in a Mughere. I know...I know. I had doubts about it too at first, but three months of use has convinced me this is a great find -- and a great gift for anyone living alone.

The short video (48 seconds) below is a relic of times gone by and features my boyhood hero, Roy Rogers, "King of the Cowboys." He was such a hero of mine that my 1st and 2nd grade school photos captured me wearing Roy Rogers tee-shirts.

What looks strange in the video is that all of the participants wear their trousers tucked into their boots -- a style called "showing the boots." A lot of people in this part of Texas (and others, of course) wear western style boots. I personally know only one man who shows his boots in public, but I'll bet he doesn't show them while venturing into the brush country.

If you showed your boots in the brush, you'd end up with all manner of leaves, twigs, seeds, insects, and who knows what else in your boots. Seeds would work their way down into the working part of the boot and would soon feel like pebbles under the feet. Ticks and other nuisances would soon be working their way stealthily up the leg inside the trousers. In short, it's not the best way to wear your boots in the brush or fallow grasslands. The practical way of wearing boots is with the trousers over the boots to keep everything but the feet out of the boots.

With women it's a different story. More often than not they'll show their boots just as they would any shoes. If you paid $200, $400 or more for a pair of fancy boots you might want people to see what you're wearing.

But, leaving all that aside, please watch the very short video. Terrible video quality, yes, but the content is right out of days gone by. You'll never again see an advertisement like it on TV.

Roy Rogers Quick Shooter Hat.... I want one!

Talk about concealed carry! In an armed robbery situation, just tell the robber, "I carry my money in my hat" and then offer him the money. If the weapon were a Ruger LCP .380 it would fit and drop almost any armed would-be robber with a bullet in the chest at point-blank range.

Even if a real-deal quick shooter hat were developed, you'd never see it advertised on TV. But since I wear a western hat 95% of the time I venture out into the public, I want one!

Mustang Grape / Blackberry Wine

Mustang grapesBlackberries
Mustang grapes and blackberries

I received an email from Aaron Finch -- location not disclosed but probably Texas or a contiguous state. He wants advice in making a Mustang/Blackberry wine. Fortunately, both I and one of my friends have a lot of experience with this blend. Aaron's email reads, in part:

My father's property has both mustang grapes and wild blackberries in overwhelming abundance, and I have been tossing around the idea of blending these two flavors in a wine. I could certainly substitute quantities in one of your existing recipes, but I wanted to check to see if you had any experience with this idea.

The mustang grape juice, when processed and diluted, has a very nice, clean, and tart flavor. Balanced with the full-bodied richness of the blackberries, I could see making a very nice, medium-bodied wine, anywhere from dry to sweet (my tastes favoring sweet).

Thank you for any time and consideration. Your contribution is unparalleled.

Aaron, your question is a good one and one my friends and I have shouldered many times. First of all, I highly recommend that you make two wines -- one mustang and one blackberry. Co-fermentation of the two ingredients will work, but the perfect balance of flavors will be impossible to control.

I suggest you use 6 pounds of mustang per gallon for that wine and 5-6 pounds of blackberries per gallon for that one. Blackberry cultivars such as Lawton, Navaho. Shawnee and others will produce a richer, more flavorful wine, but wild berries still make good wine and win competitions. Wild blackberries tend to be a little tarter than the cultivars. In addition to what you use foe wine, I suggest you press 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of blackberries and store the juice in the refrigerator or freezer for later use, as you'll see below.

After the two wines have finished fermentation, rackings and clarification, then the fun begins -- blending. Before we go further, stabilize both wines using 1/2 teaspoon of potassium sorbate and 1/16 teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite per gallon. Let the two wines sit for a few weeks before blending -- I let them sit a month but you can select a longer or shorter period if you like. The idea is to give the chemicals time to work on the surviving yeast. You don't want a refermentation after you bottle the blend.

Marvin Nebgen, at Messina Hof Hill Country
Marvin Nebgen, at Messina Hof Hill
Country, Fredericksburg,Texas

For this blend, I conferred with my good friend Marvin Nebgen of Fredericksburg, Texas because he has won more competitions than anyone I know of with this blend. As it turns out, Marvin does exactly what I do.

The typical blend for both Marvin an me is about 60% mustang and 40% blackberry. The key is typical. It changes from year to year based on the flavors the two wines deliver but 60/40 is typically in the ballpark. Here's how to nail it:

First of all, Aaron said he prefers a sweeter wine. So, into the blackberry wine he should add enough of the refrigerated or frozen (but now thawed) pure blackberry juice as he can to achieve the sweetness he enjoys. Since the juice contains unfermented sugars, this sweetens the wine. If you have a full gallon of blackberry wine there is no room to add juice, so transfer (rack) the wine into a larger jug -- 4L, 4.5L, 5L, or even a 3-gallon carboy. You need room for the juice. Add some juice, stir and taste. Do this until you like the taste. Now add 1/2 to 1 cup more juice. Why? Because you are going to mix this wine with mustang wine that will be dry. Trust me on this.

Put out several wine glasses -- let's use three in this example -- and in the middle one carefully measure and deposit 60 mL of mustang wine. I the one on the left put 65 mL of mustang and in the one on the right put 55 mL. From left to right put in 35 mL of blackberry wine, 40 mL, and 45 mL so that all three classes hold exactly 100 mL of blended wine. Stir each glass to integrate the wines and beginning from the left and working to the right taste each wine. Cover each wineglass with a napkin and wait 15 minutes. Now taste them again and select the one you liked best. You are trying to select a blend in which you can taste both the mustang and the blackberry with neither one dominate. If you selected the same one twice, good but you have more work to. If you selected two next to each other you still have work to do but less of it.

You are trying to select a blend in which you can taste both the mustang and the blackberry with neither one dominate.

Suppose you selected the center glass both times -- the 60/40 blend. Empty the two other glasses (drink 'em or combine them for later, but DO NOT USE THEM in the following steps), Place one on the left of the center glass and add to it 62.5 mL of mustang wine and 37.5 ml of blackberry wine. To the glass on the right pour 57.5 mL of mustang and 42.5 mL of blackberry. Taste each of these two wines and select the best. Now cover the glasses with a napkin and wait 15 minutes. Taste the center wine and the one you selected 15 minutes prior. Now select the one you prefer. That is the blend you should use, even if it differs from the one you selected 15 minutes earlier. I'll explain why in a moment.

Now let us consider the possibility that the first time you selected two different wines -- let us say you selected the middle wine and the one on the right -- blends of 60/40 and 55/45 respectively. Place a napkin over these two glasses and empty the third. Spread the two remaining glasses apart and put the empty glass in the middle, between them Into it pour a blend of 57.5 mL mustang and 42.5 mL blackberry. Taste all three and select the one you like best. Now cover the center one and after 15 minutes select the one you like best. Even if different from the one you selected 15 minutes earlier, this is the blend you should select.

Why do I insist you should select the one you liked best o the second tasting? The answer is because once you open a bottle to drink it, it will breathe before you finish it. After the first glass, it will taste more like the wine you selected at the second tasting. That is the blend you want.

If perchance the wine is not sweet enough for you even after adding the pure blackberry juice and blending, you can add dissolved sugar as simple syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water).a little at a time until you like the taste. However, it is best to stop short of what you prefer because over time the wine will taste sweeter than it does right now.

This, by the way, is one of the classic blends among Texas winemakers. The flavors go so well together that it is one of the reasons Marvin wins so many competitions with it. Do it and enjoy.

Blackberry Wine

Blackberries ripe, ripening and green (photo by Ragesoss, used under Creative Commons SA-3.0 Unported, SA-2.5 Generic), SA-2.0 Generic, and SA-1.0 Generic License[s]

When I had a ready-source for Brazos blackberries (a Texas A&M cultivar with big clusters of firm, sweet, juicy fruit that ripens here in mid-May), this was the recipe I used to produce more winning blackberry wines than all my other blackberry recipes combined. No matter what blackberries you have, use it with confidence.

5-6 pounds blackberries
2 1/2 pounds extra fune granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon powdered pectic enzyme
1/16 teaspoon potassium metabisulfite
7 pints water
1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
1 packet general purpose wine yeast in a starter solution

Pick only the deep black ripe berries, and don't be too concerned about gathering those which are a few days past ripe. Wash the berries carefully but thoroughly with cold water in a colander. Transfer them to a small-mesh nylaon straining bag and crush them in the primary. Pour 7 pints boiling water over berries and cover the primary with a sanitized towel. When water cools stir in the potassium metabisulfite and re-cover the primary. After 12 hours stir in the pectic enzyme and re-cover primary. After two days, remove bag and squeeze gently but thoroughly to recover as much liquid as you can without exuding pulp.

Add sugar and yeast nutrient and stir until completely dissolved (about 5 minutes -- up to 3 times that long with larger sugar particles). Add yeast as starter solution, cover, and set aside 5-6 days, stirring daily. Transfer to secondary of dark glass (or wrap clear glass with brown paper) to top of shoulder and attach an airlock. Place in cool (60-65 degrees F.) dark place for three months. Rack, stabilize and allow another two months to clarify, then carefully rack again* and bottle in dark glass. Store in a dark place. Allow 6 months to age, a year to mature. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

*After racking the last time but before bottling, taste the wine. If it tastes flat on the palate stir in 1/2 teaspoon of acid blend, wait 15 minutes and taste again. If still flat repeat until the wine tastes fruity, lively and right. The blackberries I used did not usually need acid additions, but all berries are different.

This is the perfect blackberry wine for blending with mustang wine, as discussed in the previous item.

May 26th, 2014

Iconic photo of 8-year old Christian Golczynski, son of Heather and Marine Staff Sergeant Marcus Golczynski, receiving the flag that draped his father's coffin from Marine Lt. Col. Ric Thompson at graveside, Wheeler Cemetery, Bedford County, Tennessee, April 4, 2007 (photo copyright Daily News Journal, photo by Aaron Thompson;  caption added by Jack Keller)

This is still one of the most poignant graveside photos I have ever seen. I added the caption to remind us of what this holiday is all about.

This iconic photo was taken by Aaron Thompson of the Daily News Journal, Murfreesboro, Tennessee at the April 4, 2007 graveside honors paid to Marine Staff Sergeant Marcus Golczynski. Lt. Col. Ric Thompson presents the flag that draped the Staff Sergeant's coffin to his son, 8-year old Christian Golczynski, "On behalf of...a grateful nation."

Staff Sergeant Golczynski, age 30, was killed by enemy gunfire while participating in combat operations with B Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment in Iraq on March 27, 2007.

Staff Sergeant Golczynski was on a voluntary second tour of duty in Iraq and was killed two weeks before his tour would have concluded.

In a letter to his family from Iraq, the late Staff Sergeant wrote:

I want all of you to be safe. And please don't feel bad for us. We are warriors. And as warriors have done before us, we joined this organization and are following orders because we believe that what we are doing is right. Many of us have volunteered to do this a second time due to our deep desire to finish the job we started. We fight and sometimes die so that our families don't have to. Stand beside us. Because we would do it for you. Because it is our unity that has enabled us to prosper as a nation.

However you may have felt about Operation Iraqi Freedom, Staff Sergeant Golczynski's words speak profoundly of duty, honor and country. It is for him and all who have fallen in the service of our nation that we celebrate Memorial Day. Pause from your grilling, shopping and playing and honor them. They would do it for you.

I first watched the video below a couple of years ago. Yesterday my cousin sent it to me again. I'm glad he did. There are great pictures and great quotes in it. Please take a few minutes to watch it.

A word of warning. Some of the quotes flash by fairly quickly. You might want to keep the cursor on the pause button just to be safe. The quotes are worth reading.

The Path of the Warrior -- what Memorial Day is all about

May God bless all who have served and embrace all who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

A Native Grape Wine From New York

Wild grapes in upper New York growing with poison ivy
Wild grapes growing with poison ivy; click image to see detail

My friend Dale Ims, who lives just outside of Rochester, New York, made some wines last year from native grapes growing wild in his area. The grapes are abundant, as the accompanying photo he sent me shows, and are present in several species. Yet few humans bother to pick them and make wine. He sent me a bottle of each of the two batches he made. I drank one a few nights ago.

I'm not sure exactly what grapes the consumed wine was made from. I know the remaining bottle is Vitis riparia, as I have 10 cuttings from the vines Dale harvested his grapes from growing right here at my home, now in their second leaf (year) and they match the species description almost perfectly. I'll have to wait another year for fruit, but Dale sent me all the photographic proof -- and hundreds of seeds -- I need to confirm the identity with certainty. They are V. riparia.

Native grape wines, regardless of species, present us a different experience than do wines most people normally drink. They simply present a different organoleptic profile -- one unlike any delivered by V. vinifera grape wines. In other words, they are unique, and each species among them is itself unique, and grapes within a species grown in different terrior present different nuances.

The sad thing is that very few wineries -- probably less than a handful in the entire United States -- make wines from true native grapes, harvested in the wild, from vines covering the fences and treelines along backroads. Poteet Country Winery in Poteet, Texas does -- it buys mustang grapes (V. mustangensis) by the pound from whoever brings them in -- and their wines are wonderful..

I was sent a bottle of wine from wild V. aestivalis, reportedly made by a winery in Georgia. Unfortunately, the wine had been divided among splits and thus did not bear the winery's label or identity. The wine was very good but I could not attribute it as neither the shipping box nor the internal note identified the sender or the winery. I waited in vain for a letter or email from the sender so I could identify the winery. Many internet searches failed to find it.

But my point is that it is very unlikely you will ever have an opportunity to buy a true native grape wine, and when I say "native grape" I mean "native" as defined here -- not a native species-V. vinifera hybrid like Concord or Norton.

You might have a friend who makes wine from native grapes and offers you a glass or a bottle, but that is a singular experience. As with commercial wines, that is but one taste out of countless potential tastes and would not be a fair assessment of the vast potential of native grape wines. They do not appeal to everyone and lovers of fruity V. vinifera varietals must abandon what they have experienced before, accept what is presented, or be disappointed. Some people love them immediately, others "acquire a taste" for them, while still others reject them out of hand and never try them again.

The bottle I drank was, as I told Dale, what I call "tame forward." By this I mean that upon its entry into the mouth there is little fruitiness to recommend it. It enters "tame" and to connoisseurs of noble (V. vinifera) varietal wines would be an immediate disappointment. Yet, as with many native grape wines, upon swishing it in the mouth and immediately swallowing, it coats the palate with its unique, inherent fruitiness and delivers flavor galore. Rather than fruit forward, it is fruit behind. The finish is long and the flavors linger for minutes, making it a delightful wine to enjoy over a leisurely meal or prolonged evening. But every sip remains initially tame until swished and swallowed.

Thank you, Dale. I will allow the second bottle to age a bit longer before drinking. Truly, I wait with great anticipation....

Making A Native Grape Wine

Two immature native grape species from Rochester, NY (photo by Dale Ims with permission)
Two different species of unripe native grapes. Rochester, NY

Here are the winemaking notes of a native grape wine from a 2008 batch totaling just over two and a half gallons. The species is not yet known but are the same vines that produced the grapes used in the previous piece to make a very nice wine. This is not a recipe. This is a method.

I thank Dale Ims for sending me these notes. I'm publishing them to give you something to think about. The method is sound. Only the details need adjustment to accommodate any wild grapes you might find in your area.

In south Texas, mustang grapes will begin ripening in 5 weeks and a harvest will be available for about 2 months max. In up-state New York, the very grapes Dale used will ripen in about 4 months, possibly less weather permitting, and hang on the vines for another month or so. Everywhere in-between will vary with latitude.


There are a few vines that produce grape-like berries but aren't grapes. Look at the leaves. If they don't look anything like grape leaves you have seen in the past, either skip them or verify what they are. There are grapes with unusual leaves.

Use Google to locate a master gardener in your area and see if they can help you. Bring them a section of the vine containing several leaves, berry clusters and tendrils. Even if they don't know at first sight what the vine is they will possess the resources to find out.

Always be sure you are dealing with edible fruit before making wine from wild berries. With experience comes expertise.

For a winemaking adventure, scout out any native grapes in your area. You certainly don't need to know what kind they are to make wine from them. If they are grapes, with yeast they'll make wine. Just be sure they are grapes. Then visit them every once in a while to follow their development. When they change color, visit them at least weekly and taste a few from different clusters and from different placements in the clusters -- high near the stem, low near the bottom and in the middle, especially tasting a few on the side of the cluster not facing the sun.

They may not be all that tasty, especially at first, but you'll be able to taste ripeness when it occurs. If in doubt and the birds are eating them, pick 'em as fast as you can. No matter how thorough you are, you will always unintentionally leave plenty for the birds, but if you wait too long the birds won't leave any for you.

Even if you find the taste objectionable, pick 'em and make wine. It is one of the mysteries of nature that foul-tasting grapes can be coaxed into yielding wonderful wine by any good winemaker. You need to remember two things. They will be high in acidity so dilution with water is essential, and 98 times out of 100 you will need to add sugar -- lots of sugar. Oh, and a third thing to remember is that these are really wild grapes covered with really wild yeast and other microorganisms, so sulfite early and inoculate with a proven cultured yeast.

2008 Wild Grape Winemaking Notes*

*These notes are only lightly edited (by me) for clarity and were written by Dale Ims, Rochester, New York with my thanks for sharing.

10/24/08 Picked grapes from the 104 overpass of Maple Drive. Late in the season – some grapes had started to go to raisins. Weight with stems: 4.5 lbs. Picked berries from all the bunches to be sure that we don’t get stems in the mix. Put berries in stainless steel pot and smashed with 2x2. Added 2 quarts water that had been boiled & cooled, along with perhaps 4 grains of sodium metabisulfite.

10/25/08 Added ¼ tsp pectic enzyme in AM. Not even going to check SG of must. Going to add 4 quarts more water (with sugar) in two additions, and enough sugar to give 14% alcohol in 7 quarts of must. To get 14% alcohol from water, we need about 35 oz sugar per gallon of water. For 7 quarts, we need 62.5 oz sugar. For the first installment, we add 32.5 oz sugar to 2 quarts of water, boil it a couple minutes, then cool and add to must. Also add ½ tsp yeast nutrient. Make a yeast starter with water & RC-212 yeast, then step-wise additions of the must. Finally, add the starter to the must.

10/27/08 Ferment going well. Stirring the chapeau into the liquid 3-4 times per day. Lots of color, flavor and aroma in the must at the current level of dilution. Think I will add another quart of water and 9oz of sugar to the last addition. That will make the last addition 41oz of sugar in 3 quarts of water.

10/29/08 Adding the 41oz of sugar in 3 quarts of water. Boiled & cooled. Had slowed down pretty substantially.

10/31/08 Still tasting pretty sweet after stirring. Surprised that it isn’t ready to filter, rack & cap.

A cubitiner with spout
A typical cubitainer with spout

11/5/08 Strained the must into the 5-gal carboy to which I had added 8 grains of sulfite. Still tastes kinda sweet, but hasn’t been fermenting very fast. Siphoned the must into a 2 1/2 gal Cubitainer and added bubbler airlock. Got perhaps 2 gallons. Next day there are occasional burps from the bubbler.

12/5/08 Planned to rack the wine into jugs, but it is still bubbling occasionally. Think I’ll give it a little more time.

1/6/09 Still bubbling occasionally. Going to give it a little while longer.

2/4/09 Still bubbling. Moved the Cubitainer to the heated tent. With single sheet cover and 3-40 watt bulbs, getting about 68 degrees inside. Plan to cover better for higher temp.

2/18/09 Added some covering and improved things a bit. Getting up to 70 or maybe 72 degrees now. Seems to still be bubbling.

2/28/09 Couldn’t wait any longer – racked it. Tasted kinda sweet, so I checked the SG: 0.999. There is a little sugar left! Racked it into two 4-liter jugs plus there was perhaps 6 oz more. Amazed at how much – the cubitainer was 3 inches or so from full. Added 5 grains total of sulfite to the receiver jugs. Leave the jugs in the basement; the small bottle with the residual 6oz seems to be bubbling fairly frequently. Maybe the air in the bottle is helping the yeast. The jugs are very slow, but full to the neck.

4/1/09 Added some oak. The wine was still bubbling very slowly. I split out about 1.75” x 3/4 x 2.5” and added that to the jugs after boiling the chips for a couple minutes. Divided the splints up as possible. The jugs are bubbling faster since the wood was added.

7/1/09 Still getting some really small bubbles floating to the surface in the jugs. Measured SG: about 0.996 or 0.997. Maybe still fermenting slowly!

7/20/09 Bottled it. It seemed to have stopped bubbling. Added 6 grains of potassium metabisulfite to a 3-gal carboy and siphoned contents of both jugs into the carboy. Decanted the contents of the small bottle, as well as all but the dregs of the jugs. Very little residue in the jugs. Tastes pretty good. Want to measure the acid level with my pH paper scheme.

6/1/10 Measure TA in a 12oz bottle: 0.62%. A little pressure in the bottle when I opened it. At 0.62% TA, the grapes must have a lot of acid! We started with 4.5 pounds with stems, but probably only got a quart or so of juice. We added 6 quarts of water and got the 0.62%! Must have been about 4% acid in the juice!!!!

- - - - - End of Winemaking Notes --- Begin Jack Keller's Commentary - - - - -

As you can see, this was a very long fermentation, probably due in part to two factors.

First, Lalvin's RC-212 has a reliable fermentation window of 68-86° F. Below 68° the yeast gets sluggish as most of the colony goes dormant; if dormant too long the yeast slowly die off. Fermentation picked up after he placed a heat tent over the yeast, but slowly as the population had to replenish itself (a thermostatically controlled heating pad or heating belt would have worked too).

Second, RC-212 ferments more vigorously if some nitrogen is fed every so often, especially when the fermentation has dragged on for several months. This can be supplied by adding a small amount of generic yeast energy or, better yet, a branded nutrient supplement such as Fermaid K which provides readily useable nitrogen as alpha amino acids derived from inactivated yeast fractions.

Other than these two comments, I cannot fault the method Dale used. He followed the chemistry of the must as best he could, diluting the natural high acidity of many native grapes, factoring and fractioning his sugar additions so as not to create an osmotic imbalance detrimental to yeast health, and maintained an aseptic level of sulfites to combat any bad organisms that might otherwis take advantage of a slow fermentation. When temperature became an obvious issue he took steps to raise it. His method would have worked beautifully without temperature adjustment farther south.

One way or another, it will work for you.

May 14th, 2014

Thanks for the instant feedback I received on my article in the latest issue of WineMaker magazine -- "Small-Batch Winemaking: Make Wine a Gallon At a Time", pp. 40-44. I really appreciate it..

Art Bevens of Richmond, Virginia wrote, "I really appreciate the honesty you conveyed right up front by sharing both 'Why Small Batches' and 'The Downside of Small Batches.' I also found valuable your discussions of required equipment, expendable supplies and their shelf life, and 'Nice-to-Have Winemaking Stuff.' Your discussion of recipes was eye-opening. I can see it is not going to be as easy as making wine kits, which frankly have become boring, but you explained it so well I'm ready for the challenge."

Laura in Joplin, Missouri emailed, "Thank you Mr. Keller for another fine article. I've been making 1-gallon batches for years but once again you have taught me more than a few things that will make my future batches a lot better."

And Vincent Candy wrote, in part, "Your concise explanation of terroir is the best I have seen anywhere and has made you my go-to authority in all things related to wine making."

Not a subscriber to WineMaker yet? You can correct that by subscribing here. My article on making wines from tropical fruits will be in the next issue if no editorial changes occur.

A short stack of pancakes

I was recently in a group chat about baking and mentioned a little trick I've been using for years to make extra light and fluffy pancakes. I was surprised when none of the other chatters had ever heard of it so decided it might also be of value to some of you.

When I'm not making sourdough pancakes, I use a just-add-water pancake mix in a box. For four 6-inch pancakes, you use 1 cup of dry mix and 2/3 cup of water. If your griddle is hot, the pancakes come out near perfect.

Now, the secret trick. For lighter, fluffier pancakes, do not make the batter until the griddle is hot. Then, instead of using tap water use club soda. The carbonation in the water makes an almost foamy batter that in turn makes lighter pancakes.

Once I was out of club soda and opened a bottle of tonic water. It worked just as well and there was no discernable taste of the quinine in the tonic water. That sent me experimenting. For my next batch I used an orange-flavored carbonated water and topped the pancakes with orange marmalade instead of my usual maple syrup. Perfect! Since then I have used several fruit-flavored waters and jam toppings with excellent results.

It's a simple trick, but one you can see and taste.

Album cover, <i>Facing Future</i> by IZ Kamakawiwo'ole

A song has ben stuck in my head and I wanted to share it with you. But it isn't the song itself I wanted to share, but the experience of one particular version by one particular artist.

It is impossible for me to write about Israel "Braddah Iz" Kamakawiwo'ole, the great Hawaiian ukelele player with the gentle and soulful voice, without mentioning the history, impact and popularity of his music.

As co-founder and original member of the Makaha Sons of Niʻihau, his recording career began with Poki Records in 1976 with the album No Kristo. His last album with the group was released in 1991 -- Hoʻoluana -- although a 2001 album was compiled by Poki Records that included Iz.

In 1990 he moved to Mountain Apple [records] and began his solo career with the album, Ka ʻAnoʻi, a hugely popular release in Hawaii. In 1993 he released Facing Future, which for many years now has been and remains the top selling Hawaiian music album in the world. This was followed by six additional albums -- E Ala E (1995), N Dis Life (1996), IZ in Concert: The Man and His Music (1998), Alone in IZ World (2001), Wonderful World (2007) and Over the Rainbow (2011) -- each worthy in it's own right, although the last four were released after his death and the last three are compilation albums.

Iz passed away in June 26, 1997 at the age of 38 from heart and respiratory problems caused by his obesity -- at one point he weighed almost 770 pounds. His coffin lay in state in the State Capitol rotunda in Honolulu, only the third person in Hawaiian history bestowed this honor. Approximately 10,000 people paid their respects and the state flag flew at half staff on the day of his funeral. Israel Kamakawiwo'ole was the voice, the spirit, the heart of Hawaii, and the people of Hawaii loved and mourned him. They still celebrate his birthday.

Shortly after his ashes were scattered off his hometown Mākua Beach, Universal Pictures featured Israel's rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What A Wonderful World" in the soundtracks of K-Pax and Meet Joe Black, while Columbia featured it in Finding Forrester and 50 First Dates, Sony used it in Men With Guns, Artisan Entertainment in Made, and Warner Brothers in Fred Claus and IMAX: Hubble 3D. It was also featured in TV's season finale of ER (50 million viewers), American Dad, Scrubs, Cold Case, Glee, and the UK's Life on Mars.

The resulting domestic and worldwide exposure shot "Facing Future" to the top of Billboard's World Chart. It stayed in the top 10 of that chart until time required it be moved to Billboard's World Catalog; combined, it stayed there an astonishing 493 weeks. "Alone in IZ World" enjoyed being there 423 weeks and "Wonderful World" 150 weeks.

I read an account about Israel's most played song. It said he called and woke his producer in the middle of the night and said he had just dreamed a version of a song and had to record it right away before it faded. They met at the studio, spent 15 minutes warming up the equipment, and Iz sat on a stool and recorded this unique and haunting version in one take -- then went home. It is the song by which most non-Hawaiians know him.

Well over 104 million views, about 50 of them mine....

Click here to watch the long version ("Somewhere Over A Rainbow/What a Wonderful World"), the second most played Iz song in the world. They used the same video from the first piece in this one with some repetition, only without the audio-video synchronization. Visually, it is less satisfying than the shorter, tightly edited piece, but just close your eyes and let his soothing voice carry you into another place. That's what he does best....

You can buy Facing Future here.

Hamburgers in the Inbox

Hamburger, from commons.wikimedia.org under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 License

I am sometimes astonished by which topics I write about trigger email. Within an hour of posting my last WineBlog entry (May 3rd) I began receiving email about hamburgers.

The first was from Mark Harling saying next time I'm in San Francisco I have to go by Marlowe's, south of Market on Townsend, and try the juiciest burger in The City. The patty is a marriage of beef and lamb (now that sounds interesting!) with bacon, cheddar and all the trimmings, but forget the mayo; the grilled bun facings are smeared with aioli for an unforgettable taste experience. Makes me want to hop on a plane....

Another swore that adding Panko, crumbled blue cheese and real bacon bits (cooked but not crisp, then chopped with a sharp knife) to the ground beef transforms the patty into a flavor-packed delicacy in its own right. All condiments are optional but should not detract from the flavors in the patty -- lettuce, tomato and avocado are in, but not raw onion (grilled or caramelized are okay) or pickles. I do not doubt the sincerity of this advice and intend to try it a couple of times at least, experimenting with and without the caramelized onions.

My friend Bob sent me his favorite burger recipe, which consists of a patty that is 75% lean Black Angus sirloin and 25% Italian sausage, mixed well but not compacted too tightly. The patty is grilled along side a pineapple ring. When the patty is grilled almost to perfection the pineapple ring is placed hottest side up atop it and a thick slice of white Cheddar or Gruyère placed atop the ring and allowed to soften just to the point of melting before removing the patty/pineapple/cheese from the grill and setting it on a grilled bun faced with mayo, a bed of baby spinach and arugula and a thin slice of red onion. He says avocado slices are optional but not tomato or pickle as they will detract from the sweetness of the pineapple ring. I intend to try that one, too -- twice, both with and without the tomato just to be sure.

The same day I received my June [2014] copy of Food & Wine magazine in the mail I also received an email from Percy McGrath (location not stated). He recommended I buy the magazine and read Daniel Duane's article, "The Secret Ingredient in the Perfect Burger is:" beginning on page 50. Having already collected my mail, it was the first article I read. It is a very enjoyable and enlightening read. I will definitely give it a try.

My next email was unrelated to hamburgers but leads into my next entry so I'll jump right to it.

Angels in the Wine

Celebration Herbals Angelica Tea, 24 teabags box

Every now and then a question leads to inspiration for a new wine. That's what happened a few days ago when an email from London, Ontario led to experimentation that sparked a decision to try something deliciously new.

An email from Rob Morris got my attention. He was preparing to make my April 12th recipe for Parsnips and Angelical Root Wine and wanted to substitute Celebration Herbals® Angelica Tea for the chipped angelica root my recipe called for. He explained:

The total weight of the package is just under an ounce, consisting of 24 tea bags, but I can't see using it all. Can you? Anyway, there are instructions for decoction for a medicinal tea using one tea bag per cup of water brought to a boil and simmered in a covered pot for 10 - 20 minutes and for a 'pleasure tea' using one tea bag per cup, steeped 5 to 7 minutes in boiling water. How much of this do you think I need and should I leave the bags to steep in the must for the prescribed time [as in your recipe using root chips]? Alternatively, do I just make a pot (say four to six cups worth) of strong, bordering on medicinal tea and add it to the must?

Excellent questions, Rob! As I said in my reply, it's a matter of adaptation -- using what you have to best fit the requirement. In your case, your tea particles are much finer than my root chips and give the particles a greater surface area to mass ratio. In other words, you'll get more flavor from a teaspoon of tea particles than I will from a teaspoon of my root chips. Thus, you should require much less tea to give you the same flavor as my chips yield.

I suggested you should make a cup of the medicinal strength tea and taste it. If you like the taste, dilute it by mixing with another cup of water and taste that. If you like the first best you need to use 16 teabags. If you like the second use 8. If you can't decide split the difference and use 12. Remember, whatever strength you use will be further complexed by the parsnip root, banana, grape concentrate, tannin, acid, etc.

I further said that whatever number you decide to use, put that number of teabags in the parsnip water while the bananas are simmering (leaving the tea bags in for 10-20 minutes or as long as you deem necessary).

Yesterday I had to go into San Antonio and before I left the house I called my favorite heath foods store and asked if they had this tea. The answer was yes, so I stopped by and picked up a box of Celebration Herbals Angelica and two boxes of their Damiana Tea (from which I will make a liqueur).

Last night I experimented with the angelica tea and decided to make an angelica wine without the parsnips. I've made angelica liqueur before and know the flavor this herbal root can deliver, so here is what I am doing.

Angelica Tea Wine

  • 16 bags Celebration Herbals® Angelica Tea \
  • 1 12-ounce can Old Orchard or Welch's 100% white grape juice frozen concentrate
  • 1 lb 10 oz white granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 6-1/2 pints water
  • 1 packet Red Star Côte des Blancs wine yeast

Bring water to boil, turn off heat and insert teabags. Steep at least 7 minutes. Remove tea bags, add sugar, acid blend and yeast nutrient. Stir well to dissolve all solids. Add grape concentrate and stir to integrate. Cover and set aside to cool. When cooled to 95° F., transfer to primary and add yeast in a starter solution. Cover primary and set aside. Stir daily until vigorous fermentation subsides, transfer to secondary and attach airlock. Wait 30 days and rack into sanitized secondary containing 1 finely crushed Campden tablet, top up and reattach airlock. Rack again every 30 days until clear, then add 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and another finely crushed Campden tablet* and sweeten to taste as desired. Wait another 30 days and bottle. Wait 3 months to taste but improves with time. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

*Do not add second Campden tablet 30 days after adding first. If wine is clear 30 days after adding first Campden tablet, rack and add both potassium sorbate and Campden tablet 30 days later.

I intend to sweeten mine to 1.010 s.g. -- slightly more if I feel it needs it. Angelica is delightful slightly sweet, but your taste might differ. Taste it dry and sweeten in small increments until you find what pleases you.

May 3rd, 2014

This entry has taken a long time to come together because of continuous distractions and a 3-day loss of my ISP. I beg your forgiveness, but real life trumps this blog every time. But I try....

I finished our tax preparations and filed them on April 15th -- again! I just hate going through that long process every year. If our taxes were simple to compute it wouldn't be so bad, but they get more complex every year it seems. Every new complexity brings with it new forms, schedules and worksheets, not to mention the records on our end to support them. From start to finish it took two days -- some of it a learning curve but much of it a hunt for records and receipts.

And, on top of it, I had to file the final tax return for my late father's estate, which leads me to the next part of this posting. I strongly encourage you to read it for lessons learned.

We Are All Going To Die....

Last Will and Testament

With life comes eventual death. We are all going to die someday and for the vast majority of us we don't know when this will occur. For that reason alone, it is never too soon to "get one's affairs in order." That means planning for what happens to what you leave behind and how it relates to one's survivors.

When my father passed away last year I discovered I was to be the executor of his estate. At first a mild panic set in. I have friends who have been executors and do not recall any of them describing it as a pleasant or easy duty. Worse, my father resided and passed away in California, a state known to write laws that guarantee, to the greatest extent possible, the necessity of hiring an attorney to accomplish all but the simplest of legal matters.

Before I even saw my father's Last Will and Testament I spent a day reading California's probate laws. They're online. It was not until I was near the end of them that I found the part that would actually apply to my father's estate.

When we looked into all the various assets to establish a value of his estate, we discovered something extraordinary. My father did everything right. There could not be a cleaner estate.

My father, a baker all his working life, was a man of modest means. His life became more and more financially comfortable as each of us five children moved out and paid our own way. He had banking accounts, some investments, annuities, life insurance, and Social Security. It was not a large enough estate to meet the threshold for probate, but even modest estates must go through probate (think lawyers) if certain conditions are met or other conditions are not met.

Everything my father owned was also jointly owned by my mother, who survived him. When I say jointly owned I mean both names were on the deed, the title, the account. When he passed away a year ago, he left no estate. Absolutely everything that was in his name was also in my mother's name. All else was community property and simply became hers. You cannot leave a cleaner estate than that.

So why am I telling you this? Because even in death my father continues to teach me something worth learning. I have also learned some things from observing the experiences of others. If you accept that you are going to die someday, please read the rest of this piece (it will open in another window so you won't lose your place here).

Did You Notice?

If you clicked on the link to read the rest of the piece above, you should have noticed the page to which you were taken was completely restyled. It should have been much easier to read, faster loading and, of course, cleaner in appearance.

I'm trying my best to update my skills and learn HTML5 and CSS3, the current standards for coding these pages. It isn't easy for me, as every time I attempt something and it doesn't do what I expected I go back to the two books I purchased to learn this.

This is not what the WineBlog itself will look like, but you have to learn somewhere and so I decided to take a very long piece and move it to another page as a short essay. The essay page is where I am practicing what I'm learning.

While the new standards, some of which have actually been specified for at least five years, will display fine for the vast majority of you, there are some who will see something else -- just what is something I can't predict. The problem is browser age. My server-side visitor statistics show the problem.

Exactly 1/3 of you (33.3%) are accessing my site using Safari. Just over 1/4 (25.7%) are using Chrome. Together, that's 59%. The remaining 41% are using Firefox (14.7%), Internet Explorer (12.8%), Mozilla (10.8%), Opera (1.5%), and other browsers (1.2%). I have no idea who is using what. The server collects no personal data.

Of the 59% using Safari and Chrome, nearly 1/4 of them are using versions too old to recognize the current standards. It's worse (almost 1/3) when it comes to the remaining browsers. That means between 1/4 and 1/3 are not seeing what web designers are creating for you. In some cases that means substantive content is missing from your views, but generally it means the pages look crappy compared to what they should look like.

Firefox is up to version 31, yet 96.2% of the Firefox viewers are using version 28 or older. Among Internet Explorer users, over half are using versions incapable of recognizing most of the newer standards and nine of you are using version 2.0 which was released in 1995 with Windows 95 and Windows NT.[if you are still using those operating systems you have no choice, as nothing you could download today would run on those systems].

I am not belittling anyone for running a 2- or 3-year old browser. I hate updating browsers and taking a chance my favorites will disappear (of course, I almost always back them up so it is just a minor inconvenience when the program does not automatically grab them), but every time I do upgrade I notice how much nicer things look on the internet. And let's face it, browser upgrade are free.

I have four browsers on my computer and will download a fifth today. I use them to look at my entries before I post them. Okay, a few times I was in a hurry, didn't do that and was unaware that I had screwed up the code, but generally I do. My poin is I know there is a difference in browser displays.

The best argument I've read for updating (or even changing) your browser was posted in this piece at Smashing Magazine. If you haven't updated your browser in the past year, or if you are still using any version of Internet Explorer, I invite you to read it for your own good

As I transition to winemaking subjects, I thought it would be nice to enjoy some wine as I write. I'm enjoying a gift bottle of 2011 VEO Grande Cabernet Sauvignon from the Colchagua Valley, Chile. I'm not going to do the tasting notes thing (plums, black cherry, tobacco, and all that nonsense) but will just say this is what Cabernet Sauvignon should taste like. It isn't fantastic, but it's awfully damned good.

By the way, "awful" in the English language was originally a very high complement, meaning the object of the complement inspired a fullness of awe.

To illustrate how words have changed, there is a popular story, attributed to both King Charles II or sometimes Queen Anne, when first entering Sir Christopher Wren's masterpiece, St Paul's Cathedral in London, described it in contemporary English of the day as "awful, pompous, and artificial." Stated another way, the words mean the cathedral left the witness full of awe, suggested pomp and ceremony and was designed and executed in the highest art of architecture and embellishment. In modern English we might say it is "awe-inspiring, majestic, and ingeniously designed and built."

St. Paul's Cathedral was consecrated while still largely incomplete in December 1697 and again in 1708 when it was completed enough to hold regular services. It was declared "completed" by Parliament in 1711, but construction and adornment continued until into the 1720s. Until 1962, it's dome was the highest man-made structure in London at 365 feet.

Since it's construction was not even begun until the old St, Paul's, damaged beyond repair by the Great Fire of 1666, was demolished in 1670, Charles II could not have uttered the words (above) attributed to him. He died in February 1685, over 12 years before it was first consecrated and 25 years before it's famous dome was completed. On the other had, Queen Anne reigned from 1702-1714 and undoubtedly would have visited the magnificent baroque cathedral, seat of the Bishop of London.

Yes, I rambled again, detouring acutely from the subject of this sub-entry, which was the 2011 VEO Grande Cabernet Sauvignon. I may have to pause my writing for a while, as the wine is affecting me.

Works In Progress

WineMaker Magazine

I'm back after a few days on other projects. I've been writing up a storm and hope you enjoy the results when they are published in WineMaker magazine. Two articles will appear in separate issues. The first should be in the next issue and will be on making small batches of wine. For all of you who make kit wines and have been hesitating to get into making small batches (a gallon or so), this article is for you. In the issue following that article will be one on making wines from tropical fruit, which in some cases can only be done in the Northern Hemisphere using juices as the fruit won't survive shipment. I think the more adventurous among you will find it useful.

If you don't yet subscribe to WineMaker, it's never too late to do so. Just click on the banner above and subscribe. It really is an invaluable resource if you make wine....

If your browser is too old to render the banner, just click here to subscribe (and for heaven' sake update that browser -- browsers are FREE!).

Spoiling the Yeast

<i>Saccharomyces cerevisiae</i> yeast (credit: Jef D. Boeke and Sarah Richardson, Johns Hopkins University)

I once had the pleasure of tasting an unfortified strawberry mead made by Greg Howard that boasted an amazing 28% alcohol by volume. It was, of course, sweetened with honey to balance the alcohol's heat. It had body to spare and the unmistakable aroma of freshly cut strawberries. The flavor lagged and was not fully appreciated until a second or two after swallowing. When I asked him how he made it he simply said, "I spoiled the yeast."

Having never heard this term I was about to ask the obvious question of what he meant when another person present at the wine guild meeting cut into the conversation and the opportunity slipped away. I always meant to ask him more about this but guild meetings were always happenstance -- unscripted, unmanaged and unpredictable. When I had a few moments alone with Greg I usually questioned him about something more pressing -- the location of his secret stand of mustang grapes that refused to drop and thereby became hanging raisins. From these he made the best mustang wine I've ever tasted.

Shortly before Greg was transferred to Oklahoma he gave me clues to the secret stand of mustangs, clues that were both vague and yet, in hindsight, absolutely accurate. My wife and I found it the next year after a dozen or so Sunday drives along the backroads between Rossville, Somerset, and Lytle, an area I referred to as "Greg's triangle."

In this part of Texas mustangs ripen in late June-early July and we found them in October -- much too late. It would take two more years before I found them just right, when they were about 1/3 shriveled and yet still soft, yielding and filled with their concentrated juice. That stand still remains but is reduced to a single female vine with a broad reach. But I digress.

Greg visits us irregularly and each time I kick myself for failing to ask him about spoiling the yeast. Two months ago, during one of those bitter cold spells we'll always associate with 2014, I ducked into a little country store near Dilley, Texas hoping to find a hot coffee dispenser (I did). Two men were talking at the counter and both were drinking a dark liquid from small, clear plastic cups. Partially hidden behind a display of various lottery scratch-offs was a near-empty screwcap wine bottle with a masking tape label that said "Mustang."

"Mustang?" I asked, half to myself. The man who was talking said a few words to the other, putting a fine point on whatever it was they were talking about, then turned and looked at me for 2-3 seconds. I recognized the face but could not place it. Then he turned to the other and said, "Fetch a glass for Mister Keller here. He might appreciate your wine." Then he turned back to me and introduced himself. We had met at the Medina County Fair 6-7 years ago when I was head judge of the Home Wine Competition. I think I awarded him a rosette, but can't be sure.

The wine I sampled that day was sweet, unmistakably mustang, and had a hint of fire as I swallowed. They both studied me as it went down. "Whoa," I said and they both grinned. The man behind the counter said, "It's a hair's width over 22% alcohol, none added." I asked what yeast he used and he said he didn't know -- he started it from the lees of another fermentation and lost track. When I asked the starting specific gravity he said it was 1.080. When he saw the look of puzzlement on my face he said, "I spoiled the yeast"

I wasn't going to let this pass, so I explained I'd heard this expression before but didn't know "precisely" what it meant. I assume he meant he fed it, and he said yes -- very slowly. He added the sugar two ounces at a time, using a postal scale to measure the sugar and kept a tally. His explanation went something like this:

I actually kept a hydrometer in the wine almost all the time. When it showed a gravity of 10 [s.g. 1.010] I'd add two ounces of sugar, remove the hydrometer, stir with a glass rod until it dissolved, then put the hydrometer back in. Fermentation almost stopped at 20%, then after a month it picked up again but was still slow. I figure it was 22.1% when it finally stopped. I hit it with sorbate and sweetened it until I could just taste the alcohol -- so I knew it was there. It ain't balanced, but it's like I like it.

And it was good. The alcohol bite was not unpleasant, but sort of acted as a constant reminder that you don't want to drink too much of this when you still have 50 miles to drive.

What actually happed in "spoiling the yeast" is that a high-alcohol yeast strain -- probably Premier Curvee/EC-1118, Lalvin 43, DV10, K1-V1116 or (less likely) L2226 -- reached its threshold of alcohol toxicity and began a wholesale die-off. But a few yeast adapted to the toxic environment, survived and reproduced. When their density was high enough to register continued fermentation the gravity dropped enough to eventually warrant a new addition of sugar. The upper limit of the surviving yeast may not have actually been 22.1%, but the activity was so slow fermentation appeared to have stopped and certainly did soon after stabilization.

And so this is how I confirmed my suspicion that "spoiling the yeast" is just a country expression (at least in these parts) for feeding the yeast slowly to allow them to acclimate to higher and higher alcohol levels -- levels above what they are rated at. And, I got to taste some whoop-ass mustang wine to boot.

Specific Gravity Corrected for Temperature Variation

Hydrometer reading below 1.000, courtesy of Rochester Area Home Winemakers

Hydrometers (or refractometers) are essential in determining the starting and ending specific gravity (or, if you prefer, degrees Brix). With these two numbers, you can calculate the alcohol content of your wine within one percent accuracy using the Potential Alcohol (PA) of the starting s.g.

Specific Gravity of Alcohol

The most accurate measures of density are made using a pycnometer, a laboratory instrument impractical for use in home winemaking. A much simpler instrument for density measurement is a hydrometer. In the United States hydrometers may be calibrated at 15.56° C (60° F.) or 20° C (68° F.). Either calibration yields the same numbers for the same liquid as long as the wine is measured using the calibration temperature or corrected to account for differences. Calibration at 20° C has been the preferred temperature since the early 1960s. While there is universal agreement that the specific gravity of distilled water at either calibration is 1.000, there are several values floating around for the specific gravity of alcohol itself, numbers derived using a pycnometer. Several authorities (e.g. ASBC, CSGNetwork) cite the s.g. of ethanol as 0.789; CRC cites 0.794 and others cite 0.790 and 0.792. I have generally used the number 0.792 as a happy medium. But why the differences?

The problem is defining alcohol, the purity of the alcohol and the type glass the pycnometer used to measure its density is made of-- Pyrex and ordinary glass yield different numbers, although slight. Winemakers generally refer to ethanol (ethyl alcohol) when they say alcohol but the alcohol in wine is mostly ethanol and trace amounts of higher alcohols as well. Thus, the range of numbers assigned to ethanol is really not critical because it is not the only alcohol in wine. Assuming an ethanol s.g. of 0.792 is "close enough."

It is worth noting that a hydrometer calibrated at 15.56° C yields a specific gravity of distilled water as 1.000, but if the water is 20° C that same hydrometer gives it a specific gravity of 0.998 -- which is why we correct for temperature.

The specific gravity of alcohol is not the same as distilled water. The latter is 1.000, but the s.g. of alcohol (specifically, ethanol) is much lower (see sidenote). Hydrometer tables factor in the change that ethanol causes to the s.g. of a must and resulting wine as far as potential alcohol (PA) is concerned. But again, they are only relatively accurate down to 1.000 and at the specific calibration temperature of the hydrometer -- either 60 or 68° F.

If a hydrometer is calibrated at 60&#;176 F. and your must or wine is higher than that you will get a lower reading than you would at the calibrated temperature. You have to compensate for that temperature difference.

  • At 70° F. add 0.001 to your s.g.
  • At 77° F. add 0,002 to your s.g.
  • At 84° F. add 0.003 to your s.g.
  • At 89° F. add 0.004 to your s.g.
  • At 95° F. add 0.005 to your s.g.
  • At 100° F. add 0.006 to your s.g

Similarly, if the hydrometer is calibrated at 68° F. and your must or wine is higher than that you will get a lower reading than you should. You have to compensate for temperature difference as follows:

  • At 74° F. add 0.001 to your s.g.
  • At 83° F. add 0,002 to your s.g.
  • At 90° F. add 0.003 to your s.g.
  • At 95° F. add 0.004 to your s.g.
  • At 101° F. add 0.005 to your s.g.

These corrections may not seem like much to you, but they are essential if you intend to write the alcohol level on your label. Get it right or forget noting the abv (alcohol by volume) level.

Hamburger, Anyone?

Jack Keller's giant hamburger, using a quarter (25-cent piece) for scale.  Author's photo.
Jack Keller's giant hamburger, using a 25¢-piece)
for scale.

Someone reminded me that this month (May) is National Hamburger Month. I don't know who decides these things but I'll play along. I love hamburgers as much as the next person and maybe even more.

When I lived in San Francisco I asked a date where she wanted to eat. This is a dangerous question in a city where you can easily be charged $300 and up just for hors d'oeuvres at some of the swankier places. Interestingly, my date said "Charlie's" and immediately read my quizzical look and began giving me driving directions. The place was a sit-down hamburger joint with an menu that took careful reading to decide.

I remember settling on one called "The Limelighter," that sported a 1/3-pound patty, caramelized onions, avocado, tomato, alfalfa sprouts (I had reservations about these, but they just blended right in), bacon, a great contrasting cheese (Gouda, I believe), and I asked for horseradish-mayo on both buns. It instantly became my favorite burger in the world, although there was no way a normally built person could ever get the tjing in their mouth to take a clean bite. But wrapped, you could surely try (it was still a juicy mess to eat, but oh so good).

I don't recall the full name of the place. It could have been Charlie's Burgers or Charlie's Hamburgers or just Charlie's. I searched long and hard for it on the internet but did not even find an historic mention.

Oh, and if you were wondering about the pictured burger above, that is a masterpiece I made using a full pound of beef strongly flavored, lettuce, tomato, avocado, white onion, extra sharp cheddar, mayo and Grey Poupon on a Muffuletta roll. The meat was thoroughly blended with Tony Chatchere's Creole Seasoning, soy sauce and Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce. Details are on my October 13, 2011 entry in the archives.

The email that started this topic recommends healthy alternatives to beef burgers -- vegetarian fare from Veria.com. I haven't tried them, but I might.

An old and dear friend says next time I'm in "The City" (San Francisco) I simply have to stop by the Plant Cafe and try their veggie burger -- the color of beets, not blood, with lentils, mushrooms, cashews, and bulgur wheat in the patty. He swears it's the finest veggie burger in town. Since Charlie's is no longer there, I may just have to try this....

April 12th, 2014

On the first anniversary of my father's passing my mother learned she had malignant choroidal melanoma. The news put a damper on a remembrance dinner and toast to my father, so much so that it was postponed until Friday, April 5th.

We don't know the extent of the cancer. All that has been confirmed is a single tumor that is growing aggressively in her retina. Before doctors will target it they need to conduct a full body scan to confirm or rule out additional tumors. Because of her normal run around with insurance, we were not expecting a speedy pre-approval for the scan. To our surprise it only took a week to gain approval and Thursday a full-body PET-CT was conducted. Now we wait for the results, which could take a week or more.

A Marvel of Medical Technologies

A little over a week ago my mother's ophthalmologist looked at a fluorescein angiogram and explained to her, my sister and youngest brother what the "whiteness" was in an otherwise dark mass that shouldn't be there. The whiteness ruled out any good news we had hoped for -- a vitreous or sub-retinal hematoma. He explained that the whiteness was micro blood vessel networks and there were a lot of them, meaning it is a sustained, growing malignancy called choroidal melanoma -- a cancer.

Anyway, that's why ophthalmologists love fluorescein angiography. It shows disruptions in known capillary patterns (such as by drusen and age-related macular degeneration, both of which I which I suffer from) and also shows patterns that shouldn't be there, as is my mother's eye.

Thursday my mother underwent a full-body PET (positron emission tomography) scan with a simultaneous CT (computed tomography) scan. A PET scan alone yields insufficient desired high resolution, so another scan is performed instantaneously using X-ray imaging (PET-CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (PET-MRI) and the two are co-registered by computer to produce much better and much higher resolution than PET alone. This whole technology took 30 or 40 years to develop and really only matured (PET-CT) in the 1999-2000 timeframe. It is a lot cheaper than a PET-MRI but still not cheap.

In my mother's case, I'm pretty sure they used the radioisotope fluorine-18 bound to a glucose analogue called oxyglucose to form a radiotracer called FDG (fludeoxyglusose) as a radiotracer. That's the main isotope they use when mapping neuron networks (and cancer sites) since both metabolize glucose constantly.

Fluorine-18 has a very short half-life and only exists for an hour or so after being created, so the imaging has to be done as soon after the isotope can be bound and injected. As the fluorine-18 component of FDG decays it emits a positron, which is the antiparticle of an electron. The positron travels a very short distance (a millimeter, more or less), is slowed by body mass until it collides with an electron in tissue and the positron and electron annihilate each other, producing two gamma particles as photons (two particles of light) that the PET-CT detects, records and stores as indexed data.

These annihilations occur all over the body (when using FDG) and are overwhelmingly numerous -- only a computer can sort them out and construct a detailed but useful image that is precisely mapped. A very skilled radiologist knows where and what the tissue should look like where the annihilation events occur, so when they start occurring somewhere they aren't expected it means a neural section has changed or a cancerous growth has been detected.

That we can even manipulate radiotracers to target metabolic activity and detect positron-electron annihilation at the sub-atomic level is incredible. Computers are fast, but they have to sift through billions of annihilation events occurring every billionth of a second for however long the scan lasted, so it will take some time before the radiologist can interpret the constructed images and deliver the results to my mother's doctor. So we wait, with hope and fear.

My reasons for writing all of this are two-fold. (1) I learned all of this so why not share it. The technology itself is fascinating. (2) My brain explodes every time I think about where science has taken us -- or is it where we have taken science? For those of you with absolutely no previous knowledge of any of this, I wanted to blow your mind too. None of the sciences involved were easy to apply to technologies that had to be precisely integrated to solve countless problems (and I really mean countless) and arriving at a single endpoint. Marvelous....

Random Thoughts

I want to be out there casting flies into one of the streams that pass for rivers in this part of Texas, but taxes are looming. Isn't there always something?

I'd also like to sit in the shade of one of my large oaks and have conversations with my dad we never managed to have. His passing last year makes that impossible in this physical world, but I do often talk to him when no one else is around. I regret very much not talking the time to do this when he was still among us.

Make time to embrace the ones you love. No matter how awkward the subject may be, converse with them. When they are gone and two-way conversations are no longer possible you'll be glad you did.

Snowbound grapevines, photo by Jamie Germano, <i>Rochester Democrat & Chronicle</i> staff photographer, displayed under Fair Use Act of 1984

If you've ever driven through upstate New York you know what mile after mile after mile of vineyards look like. My wife and I drove from Buffalo to North East, Pennsylvania. Once we left West Seneca we drove 73 miles of which I don't recall ever being out of sight of a vineyard. Most of the way they carpeted both sides of the highway.

This past winter has been brutal, not only up there but for a third of the country. New York may suffer 20% to 50% freeze damage to vines that normally have no problem surviving its winters, but so may a dozen or more other states. We won't know until harvest, but already growers in New York and elsewhere have announced they will be dropping the fruit of specific cultivars to give the vines a chance to recuperate from freeze damage. This is a grower by grower decision based on what they see in the vineyard.

Will this affect the price of wine next winter and beyond? It might affect the price of wines in hard-hit areas, but there will be plenty of wines available from South America, Australia, South Africa, Europe and elsewhere that will be priced competitively.

There are at least two schools of thought here. One is to price one's wines sufficiently to recoup the loss from freeze damage. This is a great strategy if consumers are willing to pay more for local wines when there are real choices occupying adjacent shelf space. The other strategy is to survive by pricing your wines to sell.

A friend of mine went to a commercial wine competition awards dinner years ago and happened to sit at a table of complete strangers from all over the country. When two people began discussing the pricing of their respective wines, one woman, who had mentioned over and over again that her winery was in Napa, loudly announced that if she couldn't get $100 a bottle for her wines then she wouldn't sell them. This quieted the table, but conversation eventually resumed (although not with her). When she left the table for some reason everyone laughed at her arrogance, especially since no one had ever heard of her winery! Wines have to earn a price. Just being from Napa Valley (or Finger Lake) does not confer grand cru status. She did not accept any awards for her wines and my friend never saw her at another function.

I hope the wineries up north do not price their wines too dearly when very good, affordable wines are available by the shipload. Make wines that sell and you'll survive until next year. You are, after all, farmers, and farmers have bad years as well as good. In bad years you try to survive. In good years you try to prosper. It's a universal ying / yang.

Carbonite InfoCenter screenshot

To those of you who read my write-up in my March 31st entry about Carbonite Online Backup and decided to test drive the program, good for you. A free test drive is easy to sign up for at THIS LINK and is the best way to determine if the program is right for you. It certainly is for me.

As I said previously, if you subsequently decide to subscribe to the program using the above link both you and I will receive a $20 gift card of choice. But again, I am not recommending it for the potential gift card, but because it has saved my bacon once and I sleep well knowing it is there if needed again. Sooner or later each of us will experience a hard drive or complete computer crash. Since 1988 I've had a few.

The last was potentially the worse because by then I had almost 2 terabytes of data on my computer. This included a complete backup of my three web sites and blog, thousands of files relating to winemaking, grape, fruit and berry growing, grape, fruit an wine chemistry, hundreds of research papers, and so much more that supports my hobby. Additionally, I had (and still have, thanks to Carbonite) over a hundred e-books, several hundred .asp, .html and .css code "snippets," several dozen manuscripts, articles and writing projects, over 6,800 musical files, over 330 full-length movies, thousands of photographs, literally thousands of cooking, baking and cocktail recipes, many tutorials, my favorites, spreadsheets, databases, and much, much more.

I'm not trying to "sell" the program. I'm just telling you what I've experienced and how grateful I am to Carbonite for having it all continuously backed up. My initial backup was not quick. Because of the extremely large amount of stuff I had, spread over two internal and one external hard drives, it took months to complete the initial backup, but since then it keeps me backed up as I go. My premium service allowed me to receive my backup by mail. That was my choice but may not be yours. I understand this.

But we all know there will be a disaster one day. Having it backed up on your computer is, well, a fool's solution. Backing it up in the cloud, where Carbonite stores its data, is the reasonable solution if you are security conscious, install your security updates regularly, and are totally paranoid about clicking on un-vetted links on Facebook and other social networking sites, and are suspicious about emails containing nothing but a link.

Brute force hacking by automated password guessing software is not a likely threat unless you are using weak passwords. Your computer or connection is much less likely to be hacked directly and a keystroke recorder installed by downloading a free app or blindly clicking on links sent by email that are not amply described to you.

In the end you must decide for yourself. I've made my decision and it's Carbonite. It isn't the right choice for everyone but it will be for many.

A 'palindrome' reads the same backwards as forward. This video reads the exact opposite, backwards as forward. Not only does it read the opposite, the meaning is the exact opposite. It is not a palindrome, but....

This is only a 1 minute 44 second video and it is brilliant. Make sure you read as well as listen to the entire video....

The video was submitted in a contest by a 20-year old. The contest was titled "u @ 50". When they showed it, everyone in the room was awe-struck and broke into spontaneous applause. So simple and yet so brilliant.

Please click the link below and turn on your sound.

Outstanding Wine, Way Too Many Lees

Chopped tomatoes in their own juice

I am grateful to all positive feedback I get, but am especially grateful when the feedback concerns a non-grape wine off the usual track. Mark Richter wrote to me about a tomato wine he made, which by all accounts is outstanding. I left out the opening, laudatory paragraph to get to "the heart of the matter," with minor, non-substantive editing.

So far the best wine that I have made was tomato wine. We had a huge crop of tomatoes last year so I decided to try wine. You would not believe all of the raves I had. I am not sure if it was because it was good or people just were expecting the worst. The biggest surprise was that people didn't believe me that tomato juice is yellow, that the pulp is red. Everyone is asking me to make more of the tomato this year.

So here is my problem. After going through all of the work, doing the primary fermentation, the separation of the pulp was out of this world. I only got about 30% wine from all of the batch. I lost so much due to the high amounts of sediment that made its way through the cheesecloth bags. I filtered it through cheesecloth from the primary to secondary, and even between the rackings.

When bottling time was there, I ended up with about 17 bottles of wine out of [an original] 11 gallons. Don't get me wrong, I love the solving of the problem and I'm not looking for the shortcut but, if there is a way to avoid waste of this over something small that I am overlooking, I would sure like to know.

I think this year I am going to try different types of tomatoes and see if that helps or which one is the better tasting for the wines. Do you have any suggestions on reduction of sediment or even the best process to use for tomato wine?

The mesh size of the bag you used may have been too large. For many fruit and berry wines (and tomatoes are technically berries), the pulp breaks down too fine for all but the smallest mesh. Here's a solution I've used many times.

First, separate the legs of a new pair of pantyhose or buy a pair of "knee high" ladies' nylon stockings. Sanitize them in water with potassium metabisulfite in it (1 teaspoon per gallon will do the trick with only 3 minutes exposure -- clean all your equipment in it, but do it outside in a breeze or with a fan on so you don't breathe the caustic fumes). No need to rinse after sanitizing. Use these to hold the chopped or crushed tomatoes. Don't squeeze them -- just raise and dunk a few times a day to loosen up the pulp within so the yeast can move around. When it's time to remove them, just let them drip drain without squeezing. The pulp can be cooked into spaghetti sauce or casseroles or tossed onto a compost pile. Some very fine pulp will still get through, but just transfer it with the liquid to secondary.

When it's time to rack, sulfite the wine using 1/4 teaspoon potassium metabisulfite to 5 gallons of wine. Rack as usual, leaving the lees as you normally would. A double layer of the unused upper part of the pantyhose secured over the uptake end of the racking hose with a small, sanitized rubber band will help with some of the remaining lees.

Then take a double layer of very fine (tight weave) muslin large enough to drape in a bowl with plenty of material outside. Sanitize it first! Pour the lees in the bowl lined with the sanitized muslin, gather the overhanging muslin, tie it with strong cord, and lift and hang it over the bowl to drip drain (I tie it to an overhead cabinet door handle). Do not squeeze. Yeast and some extremely fine pulp particles will flow through but most of the lees will stay. After a half hour or so you can dispose of the lees (I spread mine around our roses) and add the liquid to the secondary.

Use the tightest weave muslin your fabric store has and you'll be doing the best you can without filtering the wine. Wash the muslin for future use, store it when dry in a large Ziploc bag, but sanitize it again before using it with wine when necessary.

Future rackings should leave normal lees. If you think the lees are still too thick, try the muslin again but you'll get diminishing returns. You might even place a heavy-duty paper towel between the layers of material, positioned so it is dead center on the bottom. If the paper towel clogs up and slows the flow, just give it time.

One last thought. If you can use the same tomato cultivar again, do it! Tomatoes are like grapes, peaches, plums and other fruit that vary in taste. When one works, don't change unless you can't get any more. Of course, there's nothing wrong with making small test batches with other cultivars to see if you can identify another winner.

Parsnip and Angelica Root Wine

Parsnips (photo from San Diego Master Gardeners Association site, fair use for illustrative purposes only

I usually make parsnip wine with an added aromatic, such as rose petals or elderflowers. I made it once using orange blossoms but denuded my tree and didn't get but two oranges that year -- but the wine was very good when it finally matured. But I got a good buy on parsnips at Whole Foods and searched their bulk herbs for a good aromatic. I picked up exactly one ounce of angelica root chips which I've used before in several wines, including parsnip.

Parsnips, of course, are a fall-winter crop best harvested after a hard frost, but are usually available all year because they travel well and have a long cellar life. I love their almost nutty flavor when added to soups, stews and many slow-cooker meals. Wine is made from the boiled water of the sliced root, so the method below saves the cooked root for eating while using the cooking water for wine.

Both banana water and 100% white gape juice frozen concentrate are used for adding body to the wine and banana water is obtained by cooking bananas. In this recipe the parsnip water is used to cook the bananas after the parsnips are removed.

Angelica (Angelica archangelica) root grows primarily in Northern Europe and Scandinavia but a variety grows in Southeast Asia . The root is used to flavor aromatic liqueurs such as Bènèdictine, Chartreuse, Dubonnet, and Vermouth, usually ordered as an apèritif to aid digestion. It also has medicinal value as a tea. I make a liqueur with it using only the root, vodka, sugar, and three drops of fresh lemon juice per 750 mL bottle. There are two major groups of aromatics in the root -- one is extracted in chloroform and to a lesser degree in alcohol while the other is extracted in water, The water soluble extracts are somewhat volatile and extracted in warm-to cooling water, not while boiling. It is important to know this and not attempt to take shortcuts in the method prescribed below.

Like most root wines (beet, carrot, rutabagas, etc.), parsnip has a long aging period, but usually can be enjoyed at two years. Only by maintaining a sufficient level of unbound sulfite can the wine be extended beyond that period; if made as specified below, it should last as long as 5 years in cool storage (56-70° F.), 7 years in cold storage (45-55° F.). Served socially with hors d´oeuvres, appetizers or before a special meal, it is a most appealing wine made dry or very slightly off-dry.

  • 4 lbs parsnips
  • 1 lb ripe bananas
  • 10-11 oz can of 100% white grape juice frozen concentrate
  • 1 oz chipped angelica root
  • 1 3/4 lbs finely granulated pure cane sugar
  • 1 1/4 tsp tartaric acid or acid blend
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme (reserved)
  • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet or 1/16 tsp potassium metabisulfite
  • 1/4 tsp grape tannin, powdered
  • water as required below (just under 1 gallon)
  • yeast nutrient
  • 1 pkt Lalvin R2 (preferred) or any Sauternes (but not Champagne) wine yeast

Put 1 pint water on to low boil and add sugar, stirring until dissolved. Set aside for later use in sanitized mason jar capped just until finger tight. Concurrently, put 5 pints water on to boil in stainless steel or coated interior pot, and while waiting wash, scrub, thinly slice parsnips, and add to boiling water. Reduce heat to low boil, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, slice ripe bananas, unpeeled, into 1/2 to 3/4 inch pieces and set aside (the peels contain amylase, an enzyme that hydrolyzes starch to produce dextrins, maltose, and glucose so do not remove the peels). Use slotted spoon to remove parsnips for eating and add sliced bananas to boiling parsnip water. Continue low boil, uncovered this time, for an additional 30 minutes. Removed from heat and remove and discard the bananas. If any foam or scum formed on the surface from cooking the bananas, carefully remove it with a large spoon. Encourage water to cool by adding frozen grape concentrate and cover pot.

Yeast Starter Solution

To a half cup of tepid water add a pinch of yeast nutrient,
a couple of drops of lemon juice (that's TWO drops) and
3/4 teaspoon of sugar, dissolved. Sprinkle the dry yeast on
the surface (do not stir) and set it aside, covered with a
sanitized piece of muslin or a paper towel held with a rubber
band. Check it in 30 minutes to see that the yeast granules
are viable (expanding); if not, add another packet of yeast.
After 2 hours of viable yeast activity, add another half-cup
of water, a pinch of yeast nutrient, 2 drops of lemon juice,
and 3/4 teaspoon of sugar, dissolved. Add these ingredients
every 2 hours until ready to transfer the must to secondary.

If you are going to bed or work and will be unable to attend
to the starter every two hours, simply add enough ingredients
to suffice for the period you will be asleep or away. The yeast
will do their thing without you there, so sleep well but stir
the starter when you awaken.

Place angelica root in a fluted coffee filter, gather edges and tie closed with enough string to allow draping over edge of pot for easy recover. As water cools, raise and dunk angelica every 10-15 minutes to aid infusion. When water is at or below 115° F. stir in dissolved Campden tablet or potassium metabisulfite (preferred), tannin and yeast nutrient. Cover and set aside 10-12 hours, lifting and dunking the angelica bag as often as is practical (every 30-60 minutes if possible, but okay to ignore if set-aside is overnight). During beginning of set-aside, make a yeast starter solution (see sidebar).

At the end of the 10-12-hours, remove angelica and very gently squeeze and discard, transfer must to a secondary along with the sugar water and yeast starter. Do not top up but do attach and airlock. Stir daily. When vigor begins to subside, top up. Rack at 30 days, top up and reattach airlock. Wait for wine to clear. If not clear in 60 days rack and add pectic enzyme. Wait 2 days and add another dose of sulfite (Campden or potassium metabisulfite). If you intend to sweeten slightly to off-dry (to no more than 1.004 s.g.) add 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate with sulfite and wait 30 days before adding sugar. Wait an additional 30 days to be sure there is no latent fermentation by residual yeast. Rack into bottles when wine clears or after additional time due to sweetening. Cellar wine in cool storage (the bottom of the most central closet in the house if you do not have a basement or cellar) for 2 years. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

This looks like a lot of work and is, in fact, more involved than most wines, but the matured wine is worth the effort and you'll be kicking yourself for not starting a batch every year. But remember, 2 years is the minimum aging time; it might take longer.

March 31st, 2014

Time flies and things are returning to normal around here, although I still have more to do than I have time for. I know, I know...join the club.

Relaxing before my presentation at TVOS 2014
Relaxing before my presentation
at TVOS 2014 in Nashville

My thanks to those who attended the 2014 TVOS Conference at Nashville and wrote to comment on my presentation, private conversations or some other aspect of our mutual attendance. I enjoyed my time in Nashville immensely and want to thank Chris and Elizabeth Card for their hospitality and stellar helpfulness.

I had some great conversations with attendees and was very impressed with the knowledge and seriousness of so many people. Of course, I find this at every conference or seminar I attend, as you don't attend these events unless you're serious about the subject.

When it came to viticultural discussions, I was most often the student. As I explained time and time again, I grow some grapes but am not a grape grower. I say this in the sense that the late Lon Rombough used the term in his classic book, The Grape Grower. I started growing grapes to understand the experience, not to become a viticulturist. Most people who grow grapes to make wine with know more about viticulture than do I.

Once again I say to all I met in Nashville, it was a real pleasure spending time with you.

Jack Keller and SARWG President Friench Tarkington (photo by J.D. Leppert, with permission)
SARWG President Friench Tarkington conducts a Guild
business meeting on my patio while I try to decide
whether to drink wine or coffee....

Nature blessed us on Sunday, March 16th, as the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild (SARWG) met at my home. The latest cold snap dissipated, the previous night's rain moved east and predicted 25-mph winds failed to materialize. The sun darted in and out of clouds and it was a comfortable 60° F. on my patio. Bouts of cold weather had kept the blue bonnets from carpeting my small vineyard (I use that term loosely), but three days later they opened dramatically. Oh well, you can't guarantee everything.

But I could guarantee a fine feed. As I have done for many years, I slow-cooked a brisket in my oven overnight on a bed of onions, liberally rubbed with Cajun spices, and the other members brought a lavish assortment of side dishes and desserts. Over three dozen wines floated around to wash things down. It was a damn fine time.

We were treated to a vertical tasting of Rioja wines by Bonnie Villacampa, an international wine judge who spent a decade in Spain earning her bona fides but now lives in Texas. She studied under one of the most renowned scientists in the Rioja region, has acute olfactory perception and loves everything "wine." Her enthusiasm for the wines she poured was contagious.

Bonnie Villacampa Tarkington (photo by J.D. Leppert, with permission)
Bonnie Villacampa, March 16, 2014

Bonnie quipped, "I am not or ever will be an expert," and then went on to tell us about the wines, their styles, and how each was made or aged as she poured a collection of Tempranillos she brought. She began with an unoaked, nouveau-style LG (de Leza Garcia) and then worked her way through a succession of older oaked and double-oaked (American and French) Cune and Barón de Villacampa, ending with a 10-year old de Villacampa Reserva that earned wide praise.

A 2009 Calatayud Los Rocas Garnacha rounded out the Spanish wines, itself a Tempranillo-core wine. All were good, as not a drop was left in a bottle.

I know that many of our members have long harbored an affection for Tempranillo, but I believe Bonnie's presentation might have swung any on the fence to embrace this rich, dark varietal. It is fruity in its youth, mellows somewhat with age, and yet never fails to deliver a warm and tangy flavor in spades. Not too tannic, not too acidic, the grape finds balance with ease under the guidance of decent winemakers.

I believe Tempranillo is now the most planted grape in Texas where it thrives in the long heat that extends from mid-spring to mid- to late-fall. The grape develops more complexity in American oak than French, where the wood's vanilla and coconut nuances combine well with the natural notes of prunes, chocolate and tobacco found in the grapes of both Rioja and Texas.

Thank you, Bonnie.

 A dead hard drive (photo from www.deadharddrive.com, used under Fair Use Act of 1984)

Sooner or later it's going to happen. Your hard drive is going to crash. When it does, the odds are good you're going to lose everything on it. It's happened to me more times than I care to count, either at home or at work. At work, we were required to backup our data every two weeks. Even then, I occasionally lost valuable, irreplaceable data.

The last time my personal hard drive crashed I had gone several months without backing it up because the external hard drive I used for back-ups was full. With almost 2 terabytes of data, this would have been disastrous had I not had a remote backup of my web sites, blog and favorites, plus my less crucial music, videos, photos, e-books, and other data. That was the day I thanked my lucky stars I had subscribed to Carbonite, the backup service that automatically encrypts and backs up all data files we all collect to a remote location. That day the service paid for itself and I have slept well ever since knowing it works.

Carbonite runs in the background whenever I turn on my computer and automatically backs up new or changed files. It allows me to synchronize files across all my devices (computer, laptop, tablet, smart phone). If (when) I next have a hard drive failure, because of the sheer volume of data I have, I have opted to have my data express shipped to me on a separate drive. The folks at Carbonite walked me through the steps to restore my files and they went to their proper locations.

You may consider this an unashamed commercial plug for Carbonite. The reason I say "commercial" is because I am asking you to consider Carbonite for your own peace of mind, and if you do I ask you to use this link to try the service for free. If you subsequently decide to subscribe (as little as $59 a year -- although my plan is more) both you and I will receive a $20 gift card of choice. I have recommended Carbonite to many without the enticement of a gift card, so that is not why I write this entry.

The important thing is your data will be backed up automatically and remotely without having to worry about your backup drive filling up and missing new data. You can restore your files at will, individually or all at once -- to the same or a new computer -- from any of your connected devices. Few people will need the extra delivery method I have chosen, but if you do it is available (you can upgrade plans at any time).

Consider it, for your own peace of mind and use the link above.

Once in a while someone sees something perceived as undesirable and a little light of inspiration clicks on to convert the undesirable into something desirable. We call this "thinking outside the box" or "inspiration" or any number of things denoting completely new technological application.

Thanks to a Twitter retweet by Ken Alawine Waggoner of a tweet by Spoonflower, I was led to a post on The FIDM Blog by Victoria (not further identified). There is a short (5:12 minutes) video of such an inspiration by Gary Cass. He has devised a way to make seamless, fashionable clothing from wine. Well, sort of.... The Fashion Institute of Design and Manufacturing (FIDM) is pursuing the incredible technology Cass has developed. Learn more in the following video.

(WARNING: Clicking on the links following the video could use up a significant block of time.)

Pretty remarkable, yes? I would like a pair of trousers, 32x29 (inches), in Wrangler boot cut fashion, with or without belt loops, button or zipper fly. But it's got to have pockets.

Understanding the Basics


I received an email that indicated both a real problem and an imagined one. I identified the real problem and offered solutions. At the same time I identified the imagined problem and recommended some reading regarding the basics of winemaking. While I admire those who are gutsy enough to jump right into something new without really understanding what they are doing (the Lord knows I've done this many times), it helps greatly to do a little reading first. Let me help.

Please don't get me wrong. As I said above, I admire those who are gutsy enough to jump right into something new. I made my first liqueur without any idea of how it was supposed to be done and threw it out. I tried to make soap, tan a hide and make wax without any understanding as to how each is done. In my cases, I was trying to reinvent each procedure using very slim clues I had picked up over the years through general reading -- not do-it-yourself or craft books. I did, by accident, reinvent the spinning wheel but totally failed to figure out how to make a loom until I went to the library.

At least the writer I was referring to above had a recipe to follow. Had all gone well there wouldn't have been a problem. But it didn't, there was, and that person had no idea what to do next except seek help. I was able, I think, to steer the novice in the right direction.

I offer here a bit of advice to novices. I have a page called "The Basic Steps." If you read it to the end (it ends with a copyright notice, so if you haven't gotten that far you haven't read it all) and follow the five links representing each step, you'll have a pretty good idea of what is supposed to be happening.

"Using Your Hydrometer" is another essential page, and I strongly suggest you get in the habit right away of recording the beginning specific gravity (s.g.) of every batch you make. There are several reasons for this, all of which help solve real or perceived problems. I'll point out just three that illustrate many emails I've received.

  • If the starting s.g. is higher than the highest s.g. on the chart on the page (hint: it's the number in lower left column on the chart), there is a good chance no fermentation will occur
  • If you get a stuck fermentation, you can subtract the current s.g. from the starting s.g. and determine the current alcohol level, which may be either dangerously low or sufficient to preserve the wine
  • If the final s.g. is a number not on the chart, look for the second chart and see if it is on there (if it is lower than 1.000, indicating a dry wine)

I've posted pages on "Yeast Strains" to help you select an appropriate one. If you're making a country wine (non-grape), you can go to my WineBlog archives and find the entry of October 24th, 2012 and find yeast recommendations for popular fruit and berries.

If you have a real or perceived problem, you can go to my page on "Wine Problems" and see if anything there resonates. Most common problems are there, but not all.

I'll be the first to admit that some things on my site are out of date. In some cases there are contradictions. I learn as I grow older. Just as eggs were good for you, then bad and then good again, my mind gets changed. I am remiss in going back and correcting, but newer posts reflect newer data. Have patience with me and I'll try to have patience with you.

Red Beans and Andouille Sausage Po' Boy

The Metairie Po' Boy (red beans and Andouille sausage), photo courtesy of Ulysses Press/Judi Swinks Photography
The Metairie Po' Boy (Red Beans and Andouille Sausage
photo courtesy Ulysses Press/Judi Swinks Photography)

I love a wide variety of foods, but I really, really love Southern food. I was born and spent my pre-teens in Louisiana so I guess it's in my roots. I love Tex-Mex food, but not like I love Cajun/Creole. The very best Cajun/Creole comes out of New Orleans, and in that regard I've got a real treat for you.

From the moment I opened a new cookbook -- The Southern Po' Boy Cookbook by Todd-Michael St. Pierre, a Cajun/Creole foodie and New Orleans native -- I knew I had hit a flavor-laden goldmine.

As I do with every new cookbook, I immediately started thumbing through the recipes before reading the introduction. The very first one, "The Peacemaker" (fried shrimp and oysters), got my salivary glands working.

I quickly skimmed through many famous New Orleans culinary delights: soft shell crab, crawfish étouffée, fried 'gator tail, shrimp rémoulade, fried catfish, crab cakes, Creole meatballs, eggplant parmesan, fried scallops and chipotle, and much more.

Soon I was heading to the supermarket to get ingredients for a variety of feasts.

My first po' boy from the book was "The Jazz Fest" -- stuffed Portobello mushrooms with two cheeses and balsamic vinegar. As I sat down to eat I started reading the introduction. I sure wish I had started there sooner.

Right Up Front

<i>The Southern Po' Boy Cookbook</i>, by Todd-Michael St. Pierre

The introduction tells the history of the po' boy, which is more than just an interesting bit of trivia. It defines the sandwich.

From the very beginning, size was an integral part of the po' boy sandwich. A small po' boy is large by other regions' standards, and in New Orleans large is gigantic. This huge sandwich is history you can eat. The po' boy dates back to 1929, when sandwich-stand owners and brothers Bennie and Clovis Martin offered free overstuffed sandwiches to striking streetcar conductors, whom they referred to as the "poor boys"....

At first, the Martin brothers used regular French bread, but then they asked the folks at John Gendusa Bakery to make the first poor boy loaf, so they would have a better size sandwich bread without narrowed ends to accommodate more filling. Keeping their promise, the Martins provided the striking workers with big, hearty, belly-filling sandwiches. Bennie Martin said, "We fed those men free of charge until the strike ended. Whenever we saw one of the striking men coming, one of us would say, 'Here comes another poor boy.'"

I never knew this. But another important feature in the introduction is a recipe for the long rectangular breads essential to good po' boys (crusty, like French bread, but in a different shape). I bought "submarine sandwich rolls" at the supermarket. Eight inches long, they are sufficient for "submarine" or "hero" sandwiches but poor substitutes for a po' boy wrapping. And for a po' boy, the bread is more than just a container for the innards. It is part of the culinary experience.

The Metairie Po' Boy

All of the po' boys in The Southern Po' Boy Cookbook have names. "The Metairie" is named for the town just west of New Orleans, sandwiched (pun intentional) between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain. Metairie is the southern terminus of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, the 23.87-mile long bridge that still holds the record as the world's longest bridge over open water.

This is the third po' boy I made using the new cookbook and the first I made using my homemade po' boy sandwich breads. It features three ingredients symbolic of Cajun/Creole cuisine -- red beans, andouille sausage and Creole mustard.

Cajun andouille (pronounced an-doo-ee) is a double-smoked, coarse-grained, pork sausage made with smoked Boston Butt roast, garlic, onions, pepper, wine, and other seasonings. After stuffing the casing, the sausage is smoked again. It can be a reddish-brown, plump, slightly moist, lightly smoked sausage or a thinner, dark, dry, heavily smoked and sometimes aged link -- or anything in between.. The Metairie is made from andouille somewhere between the extremes.

I still had some frozen andouille from the 20 pounds I picked up in Lafayette last year, purchased with gumbo as well as red beans and rice in mind. One thawed link, opened with a length-wise butterfly cut, redirected its purpose. The red beans are essentially red beans and rice without the rice. In the South you can buy Creole mustard, or you can make your own (see below).

Don't let the list of ingredients scare you. Making this is easier than it looks. It just takes time.

  • 1 lb dried red beans
  • 8 oz shredded pork (roast or carnitas)
  • 1 tsp olive oil or bacon drippings
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 4 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, very finely diced
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 tblsp crushed red chili pepper
  • 1 tblsp Cajun or Creole seasoning
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 lb andouille sausage
  • 12-inch loaves po' boy French bread rolls
  • Creole mustard (store-bought or homemade*)
  • mayonnaise (optional)
    *Homemade Creole mustard
  • 6 tblsp Dijon-style mustard
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Tabasco sauce or horseradish spread, to taste

1. Soak the red beans in a bowl overnight, in water at least 1 inch over the beans, discarding any floating beans; rinse after soaking and drain.

2. To get 8 ounces of shredder pork, cook a pork roast or carnitas in a crock pot on low according to the recommended directions of the appliance manufacturer or in 1 cup of beef stock overnight (8-10 hours). After cooking, shred the pork with two forks (all of it or just the amount required) and weigh 8 ounces for recipe and use the rest in another meal.

3. In a sauté pan over medium heat, heat the oil or bacon drippings. Sauté the onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large pot over high heat, bring the drained beans and 4 cups fresh water to a boil. As the water reaches a boil, the sautéed vegetables should be finished. Add them to the boiling pot. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 45 minutes. Stir in the shredded pork, crushed red pepper and Cajun/Creole seasoning and simmer 45 minutes longer, stirring occasionally.

4. Remove a cup of the red beans, mash them, then return them to the pot and cook for another 30 minutes. During this last half hour, check the red beans, If water remains in the pot, mash up some more beans and blend them in. Remove from heat, covered.

5. Split the sausage down the length without separating the halves and butterfly it (spread it out flat) in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Pan-fry the sausage until cooked through (about 8 minutes per side).

6. Place the sausage on the bread (spread mayo on the bread if desired). Stir the chopped parsley into the red beans, stir and place a generous portion on the po' boy. Top with Creole mustard. Cut into 2 sections and serve immediately with coleslaw or another fresh vegetable side..

Because I am still on a portion-control diet, half a po' boy works for me and my wife. If eating alone, saving half for the next day produces soggy bread no longer fit to be eaten as a po' boy but still incredibly delicious (the old saying goes: "Monday means red beans and rice, and on Tuesday they taste twice as nice"). So, when my wife is away I just add a little more of the red beans and Creole mustard to the leftover half the next day, microwave 4 minutes on 30% power (to prevent explosive splatter), and eat with a knife and fork. It is every bit as good, believe me. Finally, if you want to order the book (it will make your taste buds happy), you can ORDER IT HERE.

March 3rd, 2014

I was supposed to fly out of Nashville today, but when I logged onto Southwest Airlines yesterday to get my boarding pass my flight was cancelled due to an ice storm rocking the northern half of the country from coast to coast. I was lucky to get on the last flight to San Antonio last night. I love this global warming. It convinces me that Al Gore deserved his Nobel Prize as much as Barack Obama deserved his.

Unsafe chainsaw technique

When I was a junior officer in the Army, like all junior officers I was appointed many "additional duties." Among those were Company Safety Officer, responsible for motor pool, vehicle, weapons, and training safety. I was also responsible for conducting inquiries when anyone was injured in any manner while performing official or leisurely activities on or off post.

No one person could do all of this, his own duties, and a half dozen or more other appointed additional duties. So I relied on senior NCOs, instructors from higher echelons and consolidating safety training with lateral units. In other words, I managed to fulfill the duties expected of me by delegating much of it to others.

But as a result of this additional duty I became pretty good at surveying an area or situation and spotting unsafe potentialities. That's why this photo shocked me. Can you spot what the soldier is doing wrong?

Right away I realized he was not wearing ear plugs or safety goggles. His hearing and eyesight were both at risk when he pulled that starting handle.

I would hate to be his Safety Officer if he suffered negative consequences.

No need to thank me for this simple risk assessment. I just like to share the fruits of my training.

His master's image

I found the image on the left on Pinterest. It melted my heart. If you own a dog, it will probably melt yours too.

When I got home last night around midnight, my dog went absolutely nuts welcoming me home. I've been gone much longer than I have been on this trip but I never had the homecoming I received last night. I suspect it might have had something to do with the thermometer reading 30 degrees F. on the patio but maybe not. All I know is that I really wanted to get some sleep but she would have none of that. She kept me up until 3 a.m. and even then wanted to play some more. Even with the lights out, every few minutes she would come over and sniff at me to make sure I was still there.

This particular dog was a rescue animal and obviously had experienced some unsettling times before we got her. She would not come into the house and so lived outside regardless of the temperature. Two years ago she escaped our fence and was gone for 10-11 days (I'm not sure which) before I opened the front door and found her almost lifeless body on the front porch. She was malnourished and dehydrated yet too weak to eat or drink. I took her to the vet and he did blood work and started an IV. She had several serious problems, not least of which was tick fever and heart worms. The vet said her chances of surviving were less than 50%.

I was given a host of medications and a syringe with which to feed and medicate her through the mouth until she could take food. I carried her into my computer room and slept on the sofa next to her for just over a month while she recovered. We bonded really strongly during that time and she's been a fair weather outdoor dog ever since, only sleeping inside when the nights are bitter cold or refuse to drop below 90. She loves air conditioning and central heating.

This photo sings to me. If you are a dog person, you know what I mean.

TVOS Conference

Grapes, wine and barrel, from TVOS website
Grapes, wine and barrel, from
TVOS website

At the behest of Chris Card, president of the Tennessee Viticultural and Oenological Society (TVOS), I flew to Nashville last week. Since 1973, TVOS conducts and promotes the art and science of grape growing and winemaking to amateurs and professionals in both fields. Their annual conference, a day-and-a-half affair, has concurrent sessions disseminating information, conducting well-managed tastings and featuring speakers with national and international reputations. I therefore wonder how I ended up on the agenda, but do appreciate the honor. I met some terrific people there last year and expanded that body this year.

I hated to miss Dennis Rak's (Double A Vineyards) discussion of nursery production (they harvest 4,000,000 cuttings a year from plantings of about 100 cultivars!), but I simply could not miss John Watkins' concurrent vertical tasting of "Spicy and Sweet Muscats." The eleven wines tasted were from Spain (Malaga), Greece (Island of Samos), Italy (Asti, Lombardy), United States (California Central Valley), Australia (Murray River, Victoria), Chile (Limari Valley), Romania (Murfatlar), France (Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur) and offered a wonderful sampling of both still and sparkling wines. I also sat in on John's tasting of "Marvelous, Muscular Malbecs," where ten wines were presented, all but one from Argentina.

It was a pleasure to sit in on two presentations by Ellie Butz, a microbiologist of wide renown currently representing Lallemand and Scott Labs as well as Vintage Winery Consultants. Ellie was involved in the production of the first American freeze dried malolactic bacterial culture in 1979 by Tri Bio Labs. She was encouraged by the late Philip Wagner to establish a wine analysis lab to support the growing eastern wine industry. She spent eight years with Mississippi State University and fifteen with Purdue University in their enology and viticulture programs. She and Dr. Richard Vine ran the Indy International Wine Competition for many years, growing it into the largest in the United States in 2005. I could go on, but let's just say her bona fides are impeccable.

Her presentation on "Techniques for a Better Bouquet with Oak and MLF" was captivating. I wish it had been four or even six hours long as she covered the subjects with broad brush strokes that barely scratched the surface while still presenting much to ponder and apply. Her second presentation, "The Magic Apple: From Hard Cider to Apple Brandy," included a tasting of several commercial products and instilled an appreciation for the mass production of such elixirs.

Dr. David Lockwood, University of Tennessee, discussed "Virus, Insect and Canopy Management," another subject that can barely be surveyed in 75 minutes. David has along history of providing assistance in vineyard preparation and management to growers in Tennessee.

Robert Green discussed the "Enology and Viticulture Program Online," a feature of the Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Area Community College open to in- and out-of-state students. This is a serious course, but one can take individual classes for specialized needs if one so desires.

Matthew Germano of Germano Wine Cellars did a presentation on "Building a Modern Wine Cellar." I did not attend this, but know from others that he covered a wide spectrum of options, from closet conversions to full-blown winemaking and cellaring construction, both above and below ground.

Oh, and I spoke about my wine blog and took "email" (questions) from the audience -- which I then tried to answer.

I know I missed some presentations, but did not attend them and so don't feel comfortable writing about them.

Friday evening we were bused to the Nashville Lawn and Garden Show where 21 Tennessee wineries conducted tastings of their products. No one could sample them all and still remain standing, but most of us sure tried. A private hors d'oeuvres feast (and I do mean feast) was most welcome, with ample enough food to serve as a dinner and both buffer and mediate the effects of the wines consumed. A Saturday evening banquet offered more food and a never-ending supply of wines to pair or simply enjoy before and after the meal. It was a great trip, even if I had to scramble to leave a day early and missed seeing Nashville's more famous sights and eateries.

Top Topics

Top Topics

Last week I was reviewing the top topics clicked on through my rss feed, Twitter posts and Facebook mentions.

Frankly, I was surprised by the top topics, and this got me wondering about the topics mentioned in emails. In January 2013 I started creating files for email mentions of blog entries, so all I had to do was count them. It took a heck of a lot longer than I thought it would, but once again the results were surprising.

Since most items I post in my blog have unique addresses within the page (this one is page url + #030314B -- #030314A is the entry on the TVOS Conference), it is easy for me to track what people click on and what they don't. But I've really never tallied them up until now. I might do this again some day. It was interesting to me. Your mileage may vary.

Without going into the actual numbers (boring information), the top topics clicked on during the 14 months of January 2013 through February 2014 were (there was a tie for number 4):

#1 Aug 06,2013: What is a Native Grape?
#2 Apr 30, 2013: Serious Home Winemakers
#3 Feb 18, 2014: The Panty-Dropper (Orange Wine)
#4 Apr 24, 2013: 5 Tips for Winning Home Wine Competitions
#4 Jul 15, 2013: Apple Pie Moonshine
#5 Apr 11, 2013: Black Raspberry Wine
#6 May 04, 2013: 5 Snacks for Belly Fat Weight Loss

Since the number 3 topic was only posted two weeks ago, I can only surmise the title and lead-in had something to do with it's traffic. Number 2 is about my trip to Rochester, NY as the guest of the Rochester Area Home Winemakers and I suspect most of the clicks were by members of the club, with many being multiple clicks. Since I have said several times that the best wine I ever made and my favorite wine of all -- grape or non-grape, sweet or dry -- is black raspberry, I think this may have had something to do with the popularity of number 5. Only number 1 was a real surprise, but a pleasant one to me. I love working with real native grapes. If you can make good wine with them, you should be able to make fabulous wine with Vitis vinifera varieties.

Tallying up my emails was even more surprising, as the top three were items I posted in my introductory comments and were not named entries. They were:

#1 Feb 08, 2014: Intro piece on Federal Budget and Entitlements
#2 Apr 11, 2013: Intro piece on my father's passing
#3 Dec 31, 2013: Intro piece on Bob Hope
#4 Jul 15, 2013: Apple Pie Moonshine
#5 Apr 30, 2013: Review of Inside of A Dog
#6 Jul 11, 2013: The Relevance of pH in Wine

A friend told me he sent out an email referencing number 1 and I suspect it got forwarded more than a few times. All but a few thanked me for pointing out what I did. A few of the exceptions were from people living on entitlements who basically told me where to go....

The emails on number 2 were all -- every one of them -- emails of sympathy and condolence and I appreciated every one of them. Many of the email regarding number 3 were veterans who shared memories of Bob Hope touring his or her base -- the man is very beloved by veterans. Most of the emails regarding number 4 were tweaks people applied to the recipe or they shared different recipe versions altogether.

Without exception, emails for number 5 were by dog lovers, with most of the email received 3-5 weeks after my review of the book appeared, although I still get an email about the book every couple of weeks.

Number 6 is the only one of the top six about winemaking, which surprised me. However, the relevance of pH in wine is so important that it didn't surprise me it generated the most emails about winemaking. About a third were from people with a better grounding in chemistry than myself and I'm pleased to announce that only one of them said I didn't understand the subject very well. I suspect the others were just too polite to say it....

February 25th, 2014

I need to apologize once again. I have spent the last few days attending to pressing personal business. Some of it was personal, some medical, some pertaining to commitments I have made, and some of it was (and continues to be) legal. As a result, I have not worked on a WineBlog entry.

When I go more than a week without posting an entry I start getting email asking that I post something. I'm sorry, but life simply trumps this blog. It's in my face without an on/off or pause option.

Because I have a speaking engagement in Nashville I won't be able to work on an entry until next week. Again, my apologies.

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    February 18th, 2014

    Thanks to television -- a marvelous technology we all take for granted -- I'm really enjoying the Winter Olympics. The athletes are wonderful. Many know they don't really have a chance to win a medal, but they give it the best they can on their particular day and that's all anyone can do. The medalists get the glory, but they all -- each and every one of them -- can glow in the satisfaction of knowing that they are Olympians.

    Each athlete survived his or her nation's selection process and they competed -- for themselves and for their nations. Despite their numbers, very, very few people in the world can claim that. Their moments of competition, regardless of the outcome, will form memories that will survive their entire lives. Some that I witnessed will survive mine.

    In 50-60 years each that still lives can hold his or her head high and say, "I was an Olympian." I applaud them all. And thanks to television I can say that.

    The Real West television series

    Speaking of the Winter Olympics on television, I like to watch history programs as well. One of the series I very much appreciate is The Real West, a series that first aired 69 episodes in 1992-96. I enjoy the reruns, which are running on History Channel, MSN and A&E.

    Hosted by the incomparable Kenny Rogers, The Real West was a history lover's series. Every episode was packed with facts, stories, legends and myths surrounding just about every aspect of the old west. It highlighted the early explorers, the Native Americans, famous and not so famous characters, battles, movements, towns -- just about everything you can think of and much you can't.

    One of the things about the series I have always loved is the opening of each episode. Against the backdrop of beautiful vistas, an unknown Native American elder recites what I have always thought was a paragraph of the memoirs of some famous chief. I searched unsuccessfully for some time for this quotation and only tracked it down a few days ago. It is part of a song called "We'eyekin" -- the guardian spirit of the Nez Perce nation. What follows is the first part of the song. The portion quoted in the series begins with the third line.

    One time the wind blew free and there
    was nothing to break the light of the sun.
    In a past that is now lost forever
    there was a time when land was sacred
    and the ancient ones were as one with it.
    A time when only the children
    of the Great Spirit were here.
    to light their fires in these places with no boundaries,
    when the forests were as thick as the fur of
    the winter bear and a warrior could walk
    from horizon to horizon on the backs of the buffalo,
    when the deserts were in bloom
    and the streams pure as freshly fallen snow.
    And during that time when there were only simple ways,
    I saw with my heart the conflicts to come,
    and whether it was to be for good or bad,
    what was certain was that there would be change.

    The Real West seems dated today, not in the history but in the presentation. Although it was only 18 years ago that its last episode first aired, in those 18 years computer graphics, special effects and reenactments have become the norm of historical documentaries. Even so, the episodes are so loaded with information that any true lover of history will excuse the dust of technology's advance and accept them for what they are -- chapters of change, sometimes profound, sometimes not, but always legendary.

    There are songs and there are instrumentals. Among the instrumentals there are a few -- a very rare few -- that are so pure in sound, so stripped of non-essential accompaniment, that they are perfect just as they are. They are also timeless. In 1959 Santo and Johnny performed "Sleepwalk", the very epitome of what I am referring to.

    A year earlier Natalico and Antenor Lima, better known as Los Indios Tabajaras, recorded an instrumental version of a 1932 Spanish song called "Maria Elena." Their recording was not released in the U.S. until late 1962, where it rose to number 6 in Billboard's pop chart and number 3 in Billboard's easy listening chart. Please do your ears a favor and click on this recording.

    I remember this song from my childhood. My mother frequently played a 78 rpm version of it by Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra, with lyrics sung by Bob Eberly, recorded in 1941 -- before I was even conceived. I still remember that version, but it was so fully orchestrated that the skeletal core of the song is difficult to identify. Los Indios Tabajaras' version strips away the orchestration and reveals the essence of the song beautifully.

    My thanks to Leon Cross for tossing me this link to reminisce over and share.

    Fermentation Products

    One possible pathway for the fermentation of glucose into ethanol and carbon dioxide
    One possible pathway for the fermentation of glucose into
    ethanol and carbon dioxide

    A winemaker asked what exactly is produced as a result of fermentation. He knew that alcohol and carbon dioxide are produced at roughly 51.3 and 48.7 percentiles respectively, but what of the other fermentation products such as glycerol and higher alcohols? Excellent question, the answer to which is neither simple nor fully understood.

    The 18th century Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry, demonstrated that sugar is transformed through fermentation into alcohol and carbon dioxide and led him to the startling conclusion that "Matter cannot be created or destroyed," but simply transformed. Following Lavoisier's death Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac determined that the fermentation of sugar results in 51.34% alcohol and 48.66% carbon dioxide.

    Louis Pasteur later established that fermentation is more complex than previously thought and that Gay-Lussac's equation only accounts for about 90% of the sugar transformed. The rest is converted into other substances. No list of these substances will probably ever be complete, as more are discovered every year.

    Emile Paynaud noted:

    The chemical mechanism of sugar fermentation is incredibly complex. The diagram of the most important transformations comprises no less than 30 or so successive reactions, bringing into play a great many enzymes. You might say enzymes are the tools of the yeasts adapted to one stage of the transformation. Each reactions necessitates a specific tool, a different enzyme. The by-products...are somewhat like the remnants of these multiple reactions.
    -- Emile Peynaud, Knowing and Making Wine, 1981

    For many years it was thought that the active mechanism for alcoholic fermentation was the enzyme zymase. Even today writers incorrectly attribute fermentation to zymase. But zymase is not a lone enzyme but a complex of enzymes. Twelve (but not all) of the enzymes involved are listed below in the order they are activated by the yeast:

    • hexokinase
    • phosphoglucoisomerase
    • phosphofructokinase
    • diphosphofructo aldolase
    • triose phosphate isomerase
    • glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate dehydrogenase
    • phosphoglycerate kinase
    • phosphoglyceric mutase
    • enolase
    • pyruvate kinase
    • pyruvate decarboxylase
    • alcohol dehydrogenase

    Not all yeast species possess the same enzymes. One species may ferment one sugar but not another, and there are sugars which are not fermentable by any known yeast. Winemakers and brewers use species that perform the fermentations we desire. Other enzymes that may be activated for particular catalytic or metabolic needs are (in order of potential importance):

    • sucrase (also known as invertase)
    • maltase (also known as glucase)
    • lactase
    • hexosephosphatase
    • reductase
    • carboxylase
    • melibiase
    • endo-tryptase
    • proteolyptic enzymes (also known as the proteinase enzyme group)

    You don't have to understand any of this to make wine. However, if you do understand it conceptually you will realize what miracles yeast are to possess an enzyme toolkit that ferments sugar. Without enzymes, there would be no fermentation and no wine. Remember, the yeast make the wine.

    Peynaud identified the following primary components produced from the fermentation of sugar in water. The list is by no ways complete, as the final entry, " Many trace by-products", is a great many and more are identified all the time. Further, when you add the biochemistry of grapes to the fermenting mass you introduce a very rich environment for hundreds of more by-products. Well over 1,000 components of wine have been detected, so the list below for the fermentation of sugar in water seems sparse.

    Products Formed By The Fermentation of 170 Grams of Sugar
    from Peynaud, 1981

    By-Product Mean mg/L By-Product Mean mg/L
    Ethyl alcohol
    Carbon dioxide
    Succinic acid
    Butylene glycol
    Acetic acid
    Lactic acid
    Higher alcohols
    Citramalic acid
    Pyruvic acid
    x-ketoglutamic acid
    Ethyl acetate
    Many trace by-products

    The above numbers are approximations. Much work has been done since 1981 and fermentation of "sugar" allows some variation as there are a great many kinds of sugar even sucrose can have variable compositions.

    Also, the original data for the above table presumes a test sample with 2 grams of residual yeast in the sample (whether live or dead is not revealed). If the sample were not subsequently racked and the yeast lees allowed to undergo autolysis (sur lie aging) with periodic stirring, additional by-products would appear, the most notable being mannoproteins (e.g. mannose), polysaccharides and some glucose -- the first associated with aromatics, mouthfeel, body, and a softening of astringency from tannins; the second possibly affecting mouthfeel (the jury is still out on this); but the latter making the wine susceptible to spoilage bacteria if not biologically stabilized (e.g.with sulfites or prolonged cold storage).

    The actual percentages of alcohol and carbon dioxide resulting from the fermentation of sugar is thus not yet known, at least I have not found a recent revision of the Gay-Lussac equation. I think it unlikely to be his 51.34% alcohol and 48.66% carbon dioxide, but if a revision exists I have not yet run across it and I have eleven 3-ring binders of scientific papers specific to sugar fermentation by yeast. If you have a revised equation and a cited source, please (even pretty please) email me.

    The Panty-Dropper (Orange Wine)

    Cointreau, the secret ingredient in this wine

    In 2004 I made an orange wine with a small amount of orange liqueur added. I offered some to a visiting friend and he talked me out of a bottle before heading home to Georgia. Some weeks later he called and suggested I change the name to "The Panty-Dropper" for reasons your imagination will have to fill in. When I went to post the recipe a few weeks later I couldn't find it. I just ran across it last night (I had used it as a place marker in one of my 3-ring binders on yeast) and decided to share it.

    First, a word about oranges. If you can get Valencia oranges, get 'em. They are the staple orange juice orange. Navel oranges just don't convey the same flavor. If you cannot find Valencia oranges, you can use pure orange juice (no pulp, no preservatives) in lieu of the oranges and water. Check the specific gravity because the sugar requirement will be very different.

    Second, a word about the orange liqueur. I used Cointreau. The only other liqueur I would use is Triplum Triple Sec Orange. These two liqueurs are very well balanced between bitter orange and sweetness, with a perfect blend of spices that complement the orange. Cointreau is 80 proof and Triplum is 78 proof. Triplum costs about half of what Cointreau costs, but the higher price is worth it. No substitutes! If you can't do it right, don't do it.

    The Panty Dropper (Orange Wine) Recipe

    Read the above first.

    Valencia oranges have seeds which must be removed before placing in a blender. Chopped orange seeds will make the wine almost undrinkable. Also, these oranges will have varying sugar content, so after adding water and allowing the juice to blend be sure to measure the specific gravity and calculate the exact amount of sugar to raise the specific gravity to 1.100. You my not get the same number that I did.

    Finally, do NOT add the liqueur until you are ready to bottle the wine. The secret is to allow it to blend with the wine without any further air contact until poured to drink.

    • 6 lbs very ripe Valencia oranges
    • 1 lb 10 oz extra fine granulated sugar (check hydrometer to be sure)
    • 3 qt water
    • 9 oz Cointreau or Triplum Triple Sec Orange
    • 1/4 tsp grape tannin
    • Campden tablets (or potassium metabisulfite)
    • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
    • 1 pkt Red Star Premier Curvee, Lalvin BA11 or ICV-D47 wine yeast

    Use very ripe oranges only. They will be softer to the grip. Put two quarts of water on to boil. Meanwhile, peel the oranges and remove all the white pith (it is bitter and will ruin the wine). Break the oranges into sections and remove all seeds and discard them. Drop the sections and any free-run juice in a blender or food processor and liquefy (you may have to add a cup of water to the blender). Pour the liquefied oranges into a fine-mesh nylon straining bag (or sanitized nylon stocking) in the primary and tie it closed. Add the sugar, tannin and yeast nutrient to the primary. Add boiling water and stir well to dissolve the sugar. Add an additional quart of water, cover and set aside to cool. When cooled to room temperature, add yeast.

    Ferment 7-10 days and remove bag, squeezing to extract juice from pulp. Transfer to secondary, add 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet (or 1/16 teaspoon potassium metabisulfite), top up and fit airlock. Rack every 30 days and again after additional 30 days, adding additional Campden tablet (or potassium metabisulfite) and 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate at 2nd racking. Wait 10 days and sweeten to taste. Wait additional 30 days to be sure fermentation does not continue.

    Add one shot (1 1/2 ounces) of orange liqueur to each bottle (5 bottles for one gallon) and one shot to the wine. Now carefully rack into the bottles and apply corks or screwcaps. Age at least 6 months (one year is better) before tasting. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

    I can neither confirm nor deny the effects this wine may have on a woman that caused my friend to suggest the name. He may have just gotten lucky. However, it is easy to drink too much.

    February 8th, 2014

    Philip Seymour Hoffman, actor and director, dead at age 46

    Philip Seymour Hoffman, actor and director, dead at age 46 from an overdose of heroin -- what a senseless waste of a talented life! He wanted to escape the real world with heroin and he did. If you play with fire, sooner or later you're going to get burned.

    When I was 19 a fairly good friend of mine over-dosed on heroin in a motel in Long Beach, California. A year later, a very close friend -- a genius in mathematics and destined to be a world class chess player -- also went bye-bye on heroin. Then many of my heroes in the music world began checking out. There's a lesson to be learned here.

    Sticking a needle in your arm to find escape is stupidity, as is doing it "just to see what it's like."

    About 30 years ago in San Francisco I ran into an old friend from Southern California who said he was living on the street. We went to a diner I liked and had a late lunch. While eating, he confessed he had a heroin problem and could use some money and a place to crash. I dodged the money and housing issues by instead telling him about a free clinic I knew of where they could steer him into a free rehab program. When he flatly declined this course, I asked him how he ever got hooked on heroin. He said that he became curious as to what it felt like and tried it once just to find out. One fix led to another and now....

    I paid for the meal but did not give him any money or offer him a spare bed. His problem was self-inflicted and I wanted no part of it other than take him to get medical help. Besides, I knew if I gave him so much as a dollar or a one-night stay I would never be rid of him and his expensive addiction. We are all challenged by countless crucial choices in life and when it came to heroin he made the wrong one. So did Philip Seymour Hoffman.

    The national debt ceiling was last raised on October 17, 2013, and technically expired yesterday, but at the last minute Treasury Secretary Jack Lew discovered "special accounting maneuvers" to continue paying the nation's bills until February 27. Can you imagine going to your credit card issuer(s) every few months and asking them to raise your credit limit because you don't have as much money as you'd like to spend? As you will see below, unless Congress takes some painful measures sooner or later to reform spending, entitlements and taxes, the debt ceiling will have to be raised until the United States goes bankrupt or ceases to exist, whichever comes first. I'm betting on bankruptcy.

    The largest element of the current and future debt is called entitlements.

    Entitlements commonly refers to benefits to which we are entitled to as taxpayers or citizens/residents. Some entitlements are earned by virtue of our investment through payroll taxes, such as Social Security and Medicare. Some are not paid for through payroll taxes but out of general revenues, such as Medicaid, Obamacare subsidies, Section 8 housing, SNAP/food stamps, student loan subsidization, and other welfare programs which you do not earn but rather qualify for.

    But there are other entitlements we don't easily think of unless we receive them. Buried within Social Security is a largely unfunded series of additional entitlements for the disabled, widows and orphans. Medical care and disability compensation for veterans are earned through their service, as well as potential lower home loan rates and educational benefits. Another layer of entitlements are paid for by employers, such as federal and state unemployment, worker's compensation and disability insurance.

    While a large segment of uninformed U.S. citizens think entitlements could easily be paid for if only defense spending were reduced sufficiently, the fact is that in 1976 entitlement spending exceeded defense spending and never looked back. In 2012 entitlement spending was more than twice defense spending, and that was after all U.S. troops were withdrawn from Iraq. And the rise in entitlements has only just begun. By 2045 just four programs (Social Security, Medicare, Obamacare subsidies, Medicaid) will devour all revenue of the United States.

    Medicare is adding to federal deficits faster than any other government program. Retiring baby boomers (yes, I'm one of them), an aging population and rising healthcare costs are driving this escalating rise. The second high-riser is Social Security, which began running deficits in 2010, paying out that year $48.9 billion more than taken in through payroll taxes and rising. Without reform, these deficits will only grow and grow and grow and never end.

    Only bold, transformational spending, entitlement and tax reforms, a reduction in the size and scope of government, policies that facilitate economic growth, and personal responsibility can reduce spending to sustainable levels and end deficits without raising taxes to onerous levels. In short, the nation needs to regain a sense of fiscal responsibility.

    None of us (I hope) manages our personal finances the way the government does. National debt will probably never be completely erased, but it badly needs to be brought under control.

    Not only is the government strapping our future generations with crushing obligations which can never be paid for with taxes, its irresponsible behavior also threatens each of us. As we have seen in Greece, Spain, Italy and other countries that embraced the mirage of unending "free" entitlements, when you run out of other people's money that house of cards collapses. Ours grows shakier every day.

    Much, but not all, of the information here was summarized from a blog entry by Tyler Durden, linked to at the end of today's entry. In it he lays out the problems and debunks the several popular fixes habitually circulating -- cutting discretionary spending, reducing (and even totally eliminating) defense spending, letting tax cuts expire, taxing the wealthy, raising taxes on everyone, etc. It is worth visiting.

    Strawberry wine with pulp cap

    I get some great questions on my Facebook page. One came to me from Tiffany Barnes Blickhan on February 2nd with the accompanying photo. She asked, "Can you please tell me what is going on with my strawberry wine?" Naturally, I wanted to know the particulars involved. After several exchanges, the important clues were as follows:

    This was started on January 13, and fruit removed on January 20. Racked into secondary on Jan 21. Red Star Montrachet active dry wine yeast.... No pectic enzymes were used.

    The fruit fermentation was fine. Strawberry tends to fall apart quickly and a seven-day fermentation is guaranteed to break it down pretty good. Leaving the wine in the primary longer after removing the fruit would have allowed the very fine pulp to form a thin cap which could have been skimmed off before racking. Instead, Tiffany transferred the wine to secondary the next day and the fine pulp with it. The result was the mass of fine pulp that the rising CO 2 pushed to the top.

    The ropiness of the pulp at the very top might be caused by yeast clumping with the pulp but more likely involves pectin. It is difficult to say for sure as this is a young wine for ropiness to develop in, but it looks right. If she racks this wine quickly, leaving the pulpy mass behind, the wine should recover fine.

    Leaving the mass will reduce the volume. I suggested topping up with water (will dilute the alcohol, color, flavor, body), another suitable wine (if no strawberry is available, then a fruity rosé would work) or fruit juice (strawberry would be preferable). A fruit juice would restart fermentation but shouldn't take too long and would rebuild the wine.

    All in all, this is not a serious problem. It looks worse than it really is.

    The above analysis of Tiffany's strawberry wine raised the question of how much fermentation pulp contact is enough or too much? That very much depends on the fruit being fermented as well as other factors.

    In the case of strawberries, kiwi, certain pears, paw-paws, or aggregate berries like blackberries, raspberries and their cousins -- fruit that yeast will quickly reduce to disintegrating pulp -- one should monitor the condition of the fruit or berries and remove them before they completely fall apart. Usually 5 days is long enough but the table below also applies.

    For fruit or berries that tend to hold together more completely during fermentation, there are several factors that influence how long to allow them to remain with the must. These factors should help influence a decision for either short pulp contact or long pulp contact.

    Shorter Pulp Contact Longer Pulp Contact

    Ripe or over-ripe
    Strong color in skin / pulp
    High tannin in skin / seeds
    Low or marginal acidity
    No or low sulfiting
    Room temperature fermentation
    Short-lived wine with little or no aging

    Under-ripe or just becoming ripe
    Lighter than expected skin / pulp color
    Weak to moderate tannin in skin / seeds
    High acidity
    Aseptic level of sulfiting
    Low temperature fermentation
    Long-lived, aged wine

    Some fruit or berries can be pressed after being removed from fermentation but many are too fragile when removed to survive pressing -- peaches, nectarines, apricots, figs, quinces, etc. The condition of the pulp as well as the table above should dictate when to remove it.

    The table above applies to grapes as well as fruit and other berries. I hope you find it useful.

    Concord-Elderberry Wine

    Concord grapes
    Concord grapes ready for the crusher

    Elderberries make an excellent wine by themselves but, like most wines, when blended with another base seems to excel. The elderberry contributes color, tannin and complexity to the blending base while mellowing and melding into the flavors contributed by the other. By request, I share a Concord-elderberry mixed fermentation yielding 5 gallons.

    I am still aging an elderberry-Concord blend which is now 9 years old. I blended 4.5 gallons of elderberry wine (from a 5-gallon batch made with 3.5 gallons of elderberries -- I never weighed them) and 1.5 gallons of Concord (from two 1-gallon batches made from concentrate). The recipe below uses Concord grapes and frozen elderberries. You can use fresh elderberries if they happen to ripen at the same time as your Concord grapes.

    This (below) is a good recipe. The wine can be drank young or allowed to age -- or both. The elderberries will give it good color.

    If you want to eliminate the water and use more Concord grapes, about 54-60 pounds of grapes should do it, but you're on your own from there. Having not done it, I can't offer adjustments to the other ingredients but they will be minor except for the sugar.

    In the recipe below, a cool, dark place does not mean a winter garage or unheated winter cellar, but rather an interior closet or other place out of direct sunlight. If you do not have a dark interior closet, at least cover the primary loosely with a blanket or other covering.

    Concord-Elderberry Wine Recipe

    • 5 lbs frozen and thawed elderberries.
    • 24 lbs fresh or frozen Concord grapes
    • 8 lbs 4 oz very fine granulated sugar
    • 2 1/2 gal water (approximate)
    • 2 tsp pectic enzyme
    • 1 3/4 tsp acid blend
    • 1/4 tsp potassium metabisulfite
    • 3 tsp yeast nutrient
    • 1 pkt general purpose wine yeast

    Put 1 gallon water on to boil. Meanwhile, crush grapes and elderberries in primary. When water boils, turn off heat and stir in sugar until dissolved, cover and set aside to cool. Meanwhile, sprinkle potassium metabisulfite over the fruit, add 1 1/2 gallons of water, stir well with wooden spoon and cover the primary. When sugar-water cools to approximately 105-115 degrees F., pour into primary, stir and re-cover the primary. Set primary in a cool, dark place for 12 hours total from when potassium metabisulfite is added. Begin a yeast starter solution separately. At the 12-hour mark stir in pectic enzyme, acid blend and yeast nutrient and set aside in cool, dark place for an additional 12 hours. Add yeast starter solution into the must. Cover the primary and set aside in a cool, dark place.

    Punch down the cap and stir the must twice daily. When vigorous fermentation subsides, strain off and press pulp, transferring all liquid to a 5-gallon carboy. Do not top up. Attach airlock and allow to ferment to dryness. Wait additional week and rack into a sanitized carboy. Top up as needed with water and reattach airlock. Set aside in a cool, dark place for 45 days. Rack, stabilize with 1/4 teaspoon potassium metabisulfite and 2 1/2 teaspoons potassium sorbate, dissolved in 1/2 cup warm water, top up, and reattach airlock. Set aside in cool, dark place for 30 days. Sweeten to taste as desired and set aside an additional 30 days. Carefully rack into bottles and wait 3 months before consuming. Will improve considerably with age. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

    When I made this wine (1998) the grapes were sweet but the elderberries were not, so I used a lot of sugar. My advice is to measure the specific gravity after crush and work from there. As you add water, continue measuring specific gravity and adjust.

    Red Beans and Rice

    Red beans and rice, with ham hocks and sausage
    Red beans and rice, with ham hocks and

    Many people have written me offering to write guest entries. I always decline, not because I don't respect them but because this is my blog. If I want to incorporate others' content I'll do it my way. That way you can only blame me if something is wrong or you disagree. But the following entry is not mine. It was written by my brother Barry and my only contribution is very minor editing. It is his own recipe for a Cajun/Creole favorite, Red Beans and Rice.

    Barry's Red Beans and Rice
    by Barry Keller

    It's Monday, you're in New Orleans. You go to a neighborhood restaurant. You order the day's special. It will be red beans and rice. On Monday, it always is. Some say it started as a way to use the ham bone left from Sunday's dinner. Others say it started so that a Creole housewife could do her Monday washing while the beans simmered on the stove. I don't know if either of these origins of the red beans and rice Monday tradition is true, I only know you haven't lived till you've tasted real red beans and rice. This one is a real treat for your taste buds.


    • 1 lb dry red beans
    • Water
    • 6 large ham hocks (3-1/2 to 4 lbs) or two ham shanks (3-1/2 to 4 lbs)
    • 1 lb sausage (Andouille is preferred, but pork kielbasa works just as well, cut diagonally into 3/4-inch chunks)
    • 2-1/2 cups finely chopped celery
    • 2 cups finely chopped onions
    • 2 cups finely chopped green bell peppers
    • 5 bay leaves
    • 2 tsp white pepper
    • 2 tsp thyme
    • 1-1/2 tsp minced garlic
    • 1-1/2 tsp oregano
    • 1-1/2 tsp basil
    • 1-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
    • 1 tsp black pepper
    • 1 tbsp Tabasco sauce
    • 4-1/2 cups cooked, long-grain white rice
    Ham hocks
    Ham hocks are loaded with flavor, but should
    be trimmed of skin and fat for this dish


    Soak beans overnight in a large pot of water. The water should be an inch or two above the beans.

    The next day, into a large saucepan or Dutch oven, dump the ham hocks, the vegetables, the spices and 10 cups of water. Stir, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for an hour or so. Remove the ham hocks and set aside.

    Drain the beans and add them to the pot along with 6 more cups of water. Cover and simmer for an hour more, stirring occasionally (more often toward the end of the hour). Stir in the sausage and let it simmer until the beans start to fall apart, 30 minutes or so. Scrape the pan sides and the bottom often to keep the beans from sticking and burning. If it becomes too dry, add in a little more water. At this same time, start cookin' that rice! Add the ham hocks back in and heat for 10 more minutes. If there are hunks of fat in the ham hocks, keep them out. If using ham shanks, remove the bones and anything else that doesn't look too edible. You really just want the meat.

    OK, there is another way to make this which is how I always do it anyway. Soak the beans in a crock pot as above and pour out the extra water the next morning. Add all ingredients (except the rice) into the crock pot. Cover and simmer all dang day long (8 to 10 hours). Pull out the extra fat and/or bones.

    To serve, plop a big serving o' rice onto a plate. Smother with red beans. Make sure there are generous portions of ham and sausage on the plate. This is hot and spicy. A beer goes really great with it. Your mouth will think it has died and gone to heaven!

    You can also make this without the sausage, but I never do.

    End of Barry's Recipe

    I never leave out the sausage either. It just isn't right without it. And Barry is right about the crock pot and the wonderful things this dish does to the taste buds.

    Barry shared his recipe many years ago after working years to perfect it. I've played with green and red bell peppers and increasing the garlic and the cayenne pepper -- even replacing the latter with ground chipotle -- without improving it. This recipe simply works, and if you're really hungry serve it with a slice or two of buttered French bread and a salad on the side.

    And please, don't ruin it by adding tomatoes or tomato products. This is a tomato-free dish. Save the tomatoes for your salad.

    January 31st, 2014

    It has been a long hiatus since my last entry -- an entire month. I sincerely apologize, but life happened and was demanding. Unexpected projects around the homestead, another medical problem, my wife's automobile accident in California -- all conspired to compete for my attention. I have a couple of trips planned in the near future and some other writing commissions I'm obligated to, but hope they will not upset my posting schedule as much as the last few weeks have. Despite whatever else I am doing, this blog is always on my mind.

    I have discarded my New Year greeting and a couple of other introductory vignettes I had written for the blog, but have kept three and added one (on the weather). None of these are related to winemaking so you can skip them if you wish to without hurting my feelings.

    You have no way to know this unless I confess it, but I often write many more introductory pieces than I keep. Something attracts my attention and I write about it, but if I posted them all there would be no room for winemaking, so I discard many.

    But I do hope you all enjoyed your holidays. They are so important to maintaining close relationships. I do regret my influenza bout kept me quarantined but hope your experience was more rewarding.

    Just as I was preparing to post this last night (January 30) my website disappeared. I called the hosting support team and they indicated a 10-24-hour restoration period. I have already received 2 emails, a Tweet and a Facebook message reporting the site is down, but I just checked and it is up once again. These things happen.

    <i>Burn Notice</i> cast (l to r) Sharon Gless, Bruce Campbell, Jeffrey Donovan and Gabrielle Anwar
    Burn Notice cast (l. to r.) Sharon Gless, Bruce
    Campbell, Jeffrey Donovan and Gabrielle Anwar

    I'm a big fan of Burn Notice, the 7-season series that ran on USA Network from June 2007 through September 2012 and now is being rerun onIon Television. When the series first aired I had mixed feelings about it. The premise that, "When you're burned...you're stuck in whatever city they dump you in" insulted my intelligence. But once I actually got past that line in the pilot (and the introduction of every episode), I warmed up to the series itself. There are many reasons.

    For starters, Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) is easy on the eyes, even eyes with macular degeneration. Especially in a bikini. Then there are the gratuitous shots of hot babes in bikinis in most episodes, but now I'm repeating myself.

    The two real reasons I like it are (1) the scenarios are multi-layered, pretty creative, often using McGyver-like ingenuity, and downright entertaining, and (2) the narratives by Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donovan) are loaded with good (and quite real) trivia, statistics and tradecraft (spycraft, to the uninitiated). So good, in fact, that the Agency's (no one has called it "the Company" in decades except bad writers) Studies in Intelligence, a classified publication I received at work for about 24 years, featured a positive review of the series several years ago and specifically applauded the tradecraftsmanship (new word -- I just made it up) Weston employs. You can't get a better endorsement than that.

    The acting is good but not appreciated. Its only Emmy Award nomination for acting was Sharon Gless (plays Madeline Weston) in the category of "Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama." I personally think Bruce Campbell (as Sam Axe) was deserving in the 2011 prequel movie, Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe Although Jeffrey Donovan is solid in every episode, the scripts do not allow him to be anything other than Michael Weston, burned spy. Pity.

    Season one is screening now on Ion. Season two should be starting soon. Hell, maybe they've already transitioned into season two. In either case it's worth watching if you like action adventure and very creative plots. Check your cable or wireless provider for Ion Television and look for it in the schedule (Thursdays). I record them for convenient viewing.

    <i>Thank The Lord, He Only Made One Like You</i>, by Bob Wehner

    Bob Wehner is a friend of my wife and me and a lifetime member of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild. He's a caring and remarkable man. He recently published his memoirs and I was the first to post a review on Amazon. That review follows.

    Thank the Lord, He Made Only One Like You! (Paperback)

    Review by Jack Keller: 5 stars
    Entertaining journey over time with a man who has lived a full life

    Bob Wehner happens to be a friend of mine, but I'll try not to let that fact bias my review. Over the years I've heard many of the stories in "Thank the Lord, He Made Only One Like You!", but reading them, fleshed out as they are, was like hearing them for the first time.

    Bob's memoirs attest to a full and blessed life and is broken down into four parts. Part I covers highlights from his depression era and Word War II childhood years and includes collecting autographs and meeting movie legends of the time -- Glenn Ford even gave him a ride home -- while spending a summer in California (Lookout California), witnessing a suicide after a double murder (A Hot Summer Day), to hearing personal stories of Charles Lindbergh from family friends (More Boyhood Memories), walking into his aunt's house after being reported dead (Stranger Than Fiction), and other memories.

    Part II then jumps to his service days, participating in an airlift to get hay to snowbound cattle during one of the worst blizzards in Arizona's history (Operation Haylift), participating in the Berlin Airlift (The Berlin Airlift, and other chapters), to his days as a submariner when he was instrumental in the first submarine penetration of Puget Sound aboard the USS Sea Devil using a ruse (Aw, C'mon, Get Real), serving with the man who dove in to rescue Lt. George H. W. Bush from the waters off Chichi Jima (Far East Bound), and living through a battery fire in a Mark 47 electric torpedo (Torpedo Nightmare).

    Back in civilian life (Part III), Bob recounts how he became the youngest Dairy Queen owner in the country (at age 22), his marriage to Kay -- a Miss Missouri contestant -- (The Big Wedding), his tenacity at securing a job with Cessna (The Cessna Adventure), engine trouble while flying over Arkansas (The Longest Ten Minutes of My Life), and many personal stories about life, marriage and parenting which are both interesting and inspiring. They reveal the kind and decent people we know the Wehners have always been.

    The Final part of the book is a testament to Bob's love for his wife of 50 years and 5 weeks. We attended their 50th anniversary only recently aware that Kay had been diagnosed with incurable cancer two months before. Five weeks later she passed away while taking a nap. Knowing Bob as I do, I weep for him when reading the final chapters. His love never waivered and has not diminished since her passing.

    There are stories missing but their absence doesn't take away from the book. I suspect Bob simply got tired of writing.

    This is a very good book to read, filled with wonder as seen through the eyes of a boy, with service as seen through the eyes of a sailor and submariner, with daring and determination as seen through the eyes of a young man, with love and devotion as seen through the eyes of a husband and father. I recommend it to anyone who likes reading about living with values. You don't have to know Bob to appreciate a life well lived.

    If you want to buy the book, click on the picture above (currently only available at Amazon.com), order it, read it, and write a review. Or, order it HERE.

    I have twice posted videos of performances of "Nella Fantasia" on this blog -- on December 30, 2011 by Sung-bong Choi, and on March 7, 2012 by Sarah Brightman. I'm posting yet another performance of that song, both because I love the song and I love the performer.

    I'm not sure where or when this was performed, but I wish I had been there. Whenever it was, the performer was still young, being only 13 years old as I write this. Born Jacqueline Maria (but known to all as "Jackie") Evancho, this young lady will turn 14 on April 9th of 2014. Think about that as you watch this performance.

    Jackie Evancho has released 6 albums (her first, Prelude to a Dream, was withdrawn from distribution by her parents after her appearance on America's Got Talent and is now a collector's item). O Holy Night, released in 2010, debuted No. 2 on Billboard 200, No. 1 on Billboard's Classical Albums and No. 2 on Billboard's Holiday Albums. It went platinum in 3 1/2 weeks, making Evancho the youngest solo artist ever to go platinum. Her subsequent albums had similar successes. She is an amazing performer and I expect her to be around for a long, long time.

    Back on September 29th, 2013 I mentioned that both The Old Farmer's Almanac and Farmers Almanac both predicted "a bitterly cold upcoming winter." The latter publication even predicted "a winter storm will hit the Northeast around the time the first outdoor Super Bowl is played at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. It also predicts that two-thirds of the country will experience a colder than normal winter, with heavy snowfall in New England, the Great Lakes and Midwest regions."

    The National Solar Observatory and NASA both made similar predictions based on the absence of a solar maximum last year -- a period of increased sunspots and resulting solar radiation that occurs every 11 years. During the "Mini-Ice Age" of 1645 to 1715 there were no solar maximums observed, although their cycle was well understood by then.

    So, as you chip ice off your windshield repeatedly this winter, remember -- you may well have read it first here if you don't read the standby Almanacs.

    Complementary Wine Ingredients

    Mixed fruit, photo from hdwpapwes.com

    I've received many requests for wine and food pairings, for grape and non-grape blending suggestions, and several that really interested me -- for pairing ingredients that complement one another in mixed ingredient wines. Undoubtedly, certain ingredients go well together while others do not. While I cannot provide a definitive list of either, I can suggest ingredients that I know complement each other.

    Complement is a precise word with several meanings, used here in the sense of either of two parts that complete the whole or mutually complete each other. The table below offers a number of complementary selections for each ingredient listed, but by no means the only ones. With the exception of ginger, vanilla and occasionally mint, I omitted listing herbs and spices. Cinnamon, cloves, anise, and many other spices could have been added in some cases but I chose not to go there for reasons I won't go into.

    There are many ingredients not mentioned, not because they don't have complementary potentials, but because I stopped working on the table at 3:45 in the morning and did not pick it up again when I awoke because a minor crisis pulled me in another direction. Thus, it is a work in progress, but I wanted to get it out anyway "as is" because I suspect it will prove useful to many who make country wines.

    I intend to continue working on the table in the future and post a dedicated page on The Winemaking Home Page I can add to as deemed necessary.

    When pairing ingredients, rarely will equal quantities complement each other. You will have to dig through the posted recipes, search elsewhere or experiment to arrive at appropriate ratios, but keep in mind that ratios can be upset by ingredient quality and personal taste. It is easy to add an ingredient, but impossible to take it out once integrated. Thus, incremental additions are suggested. I have added pineapple juice to a wine a teaspoon per gallon at a time to find that exact taste I was looking for -- add, stir, let sit a half hour and then taste and decide what to do next. Patience is required to make really good wines.

    There are two ways to use this table. You can combine ingredients before fermentation or blend wines after their fermentations and clarifications are complete. I do it both ways depending on my confidence in the outcome. Experience will allow you to do the same.

    Ingredient Complimentary Ingredients



    Asian Pear
    Blood Orange
    Currants, Black/Red

    Prickly Pear
    Raspberry, Black/Red

    apple, apricot, Asian pear, banana, blood orange, cherry, chocolate, coffee, fig, ginger, honey, kiwi, orange, peach, pear, plum
    almond, Asian pear, cranberry, currant, ginger, kiwi, lime, mango, maple, pear, persimmon, pomegranate, rhubarb, strawberry
    almond, ginger, honey, orange, peach, plum, vanilla
    almond, apple, ginger, honey, macadamia, raisin, vanilla
    - cherry, chocolate coffee, ginger, honey, mango, papaya
    apricot, citrus, grape, other berries, peach, plum
    almond, chocolate, fig, ginger, honey, other citrus
    ginger, fig, lavender, mango, lemon, orange, other berries
    apricot, banana, chocolate, citrus, nectarine, peach, plum, vanilla
    almond, banana, cherry, ginger, mandarin, orange, strawberry, vanilla
    almond, banana, ginger, orange, vanilla
    apple, chocolate, citrus, mango, pear
    apple, chocolate, citrus, grape
    apricot, fig, grape, honey, lemon, mandarin, other berries, peach, plum
    banana, berries, citrus, mango, vanilla
    almond, citrus, pear, vanilla
    almond, apple, apricot, banana, berries, chocolate, citrus, coconut, grape, passion fruit, peach, pear, pineapple, plum, tropical fruit
    citrus, honey, other berries
    berries, chocolate, citrus, ginger, raisin
    other citrus, mint, tropical fruit, vanilla
    citrus, coconut, huckleberry, pineapple, strawberry, tropical fruit
    apple, banana, berries, cherry, citrus, coconut, mango, strawberry, tropical fruit
    berries, cherry, chocolate, coffee, persimmon, plum
    apricot, berries, cherry, other citrus, ginger, nectarine, peach, plum, prickly pear, tropical fruit
    apple, berries, cherry, other citrus, ginger, papaya, plum, strawberry, tropical fruit
    citrus, ginger, gooseberry, tropical fruit
    cherry, chocolate, coffee, fig, ginger, tropical fruits, vanilla
    apple, banana, berries, citrus, coconut, melon, tomatillo, tropical fruits, vanilla
    berries, citrus, grape, strawberry
    almonds, berries, cherry, chocolate, coffee, cranberry, fig, ginger, grape, persimmon, pineapple, vanilla
    banana, citrus, mango, tropical fruit
    almond, apricot, blackberry, cherry, elderberry, ginger, lemon, raspberry, rhubarb
    almond, apple, chocolate, citrus, persimmon, vanilla
    apple, citrus, kumquat, pear
    coconut, tropical fruit
    almond, citrus, honey, vanilla
    apple, citrus, tropical fruit
    citrus, tomatillo, tropical fruit
    apricot, citrus, ginger, nectarine, other berries, peach, plum, rhubarb, vanilla
    apple, apricot, berries, citrus, ginger, nectarine, peach, plum, strawberry
    apple, chocolate, citrus, kiwi, rhubarb, vanilla
    berries, citrus, mango, prickly pear, tropical fruit

    Usually two ingredients are paired -- blackberry and grape, for example, or strawberry and kiwi -- but complex unions are not unheard of. I have made wines with three and four ingredients many times and as many as 21 once -- a vermouth. Some ingredients pair with just about anything. Almond, apple and citrus as a group are obvious examples, but rhubarb has far greater complementary potential than any other ingredient, a fact not exhibited in the table above.

    In truth, rhubarb can be paired with just about any other ingredient. The beauty of rhubarb is that in small amounts it tends to adopt the flavor of whatever it is paired with, making it a great "extender" when you are just shy of having enough of something to make a batch with. If you grow rhubarb and give away your excess, try chopping the excess stalks into 1/2-inch pieces and storing them in the freezer for when you have almost but not quite enough of something else -- whether cherries, gooseberries, kiwis, peaches, plums, persimmons, strawberries, or whatever. If you don't grow rhubarb, consider doing so or make friends with someone who does.

    Finally, raisins, grape concentrate, apricots, dates, barley, and light dry malt extract are all body builders and one or another have been used for decades to centuries to add body to light country wines. Consider them if additional body is needed, but also consider their individual flavor profiles. Once added and fermented, you cannot take them out.

    Wine Won't Stop Bubbling

    'S-shaped' airlock, pushing a bubble through the lower curve

    I had something else planned here, but received an email I thought was more immediate and worth sharing so the other thing will have to wait. The email touches a problem all of us have either experienced or one day will. Hopefully, after this entry you'll know what to do if you experience it one day for the first time.

    Sep 5 -- started a 2.5 gal jug of blackberry wine -- no hydrometer reading taken
    Oct 26 -- racked into clean jug added campden tablet and pot sorbate -- IT STARTED FERMENTING AGAIN
    Nov 30 -- racked and added a bit of sugar -- STARTED FERMENTING AGAIN
    Dec 2 -- added more campden and pot sorbate
    Jan 20 -- racked again and FERMENTATION RE-STARTED

    It tastes great and I really want to bottle it -- will it ever stop fermenting or can I do something to stop it? I'm afraid of the corks popping.
    -- email from Carole, dated January 28, 2014

    My experience suggests the potassium sorbate used was old and therefore useless in stabilizing the wine. Optimally, potassium sorbate should be stored in a dry place out of direct sunlight. Even with proper care, shelf life once unsealed is only 6 to 8 months.

    Potassium sorbate should not be purchased in plastic bags or packets bearing the local homebrew shop's label, as this indicates a bulk supply was opened and the smaller quantities packaged from it. The problem is that the sorbate begins degrading as soon as the bulk supply is opened to the air and may have exceeded its shelf life before it is even purchased.

    I toss out at least 50 times more potassium sorbate than I use because it expires. It simply is the price you pay if you want to really stabilize a wine. All the sorbate I buy is in plastic containers with a foil vacuum seal under the cap. That is the only way to know it will be fresh when the seal is broken

    To stop this wine from bubbling, new potassium sorbate needs to be purchased and added to the wine at 1/2 teaspoon per gallon. Then wait however long it takes for the bobbling to stop. If it were me, I would measure the SO2 when the bubbling stops and bring it up to 50 ppm if not already there, then rack the wine and wait at least an additional 30 days before bottling.

    I know Carole is chomping at the bits to bottle the wine, but whenever a problem is encountered and corrected it is prudent to wait and make sure the problem is solved before bottling. Potassium sorbate does not kill active yeast. It just renders them incapable of producing new yeast. One should expect old yeast to die off after applying an appropriate dosage of potassium sorbate, but it might take a while. The test is to adjust the SO2, carefully rack the wine and observe for a period of at least 30 days.

    Racking, no matter how carefully we do it in a home environment, always introduces some fresh O2 into the wine, a catalyst for activating live but sluggish yeast. A day or two after racking often reveals those reinvigorated yeast as they resume fermentation and bubbling restarts. Be patient.

    When fermentation stops this time the yeast population should have diminished to a safe enough level to rack the wine into bottles, being careful not to disturb the fine dusting of dead yeast on the bottom. Personally, I would wait another 2-3 months after fermentation stops as the die-off will continue for a while and I would rather have the dead yeast precipitate in my carboy than in my bottles.

    Carole's problem is not unusual. I suspect that at least 90% of all home winemakers have inert potassium sorbate in their winemaking supplies. It is an easy detail to overlook.

    Most ingredients have a shelf life beyond which they are useless for the intended purpose. I have listed some of the shelf lives on my site (see links, below). I write the expected expiration date on a small label affixed to the cap of the product, determined by adding the shelf life to the date I first unseal and open the product. I then make a calendar entry a month earlier than the expiration date to remind me to order more.

    I hope this entry helps many more than Carole. Her problem is not unique. I experienced it for years before I happened upon a causal reference to the shelf life of potassium sorbate and a few other items. My self-appointed role is to pass that knowledge on to you. While I do this freely, I do hope if you find the information useful you will consider making a donation to assist in my continued research and experimentation. There is a button above in the left-hand column to facilitate a donation. None is too small to be appreciated.

    December 31st, 2013

    Tomorrow the calendar turns to 2014 and yesterday I turned 69. For some reason 2014 doesn't sound much different than 2013, but 69 sounds much older than 68. I think the former is because both are early teen years, neither marking a midway point nor closing out a decade. The latter is probably because it pushes me up against another decade marker, albeit a year away. I may be 69, but I am also "going on 70." I am grateful for the years no matter how they sound. Having had my first heart attack at age 52, I honestly never expected to make it this far.

    If you would like to wish me a belated happy birthday (many of you already did on Facebook), simply go to my WineBlog and Winemaking Home Page Facebook page and "like" it. If you have previously done this, thank you. Your thoughtfulness is enough to please me.

    16 popular spices, graphic from http://fitfoodcoach.wordpress.com/2010/09/ under Fair Use Act of 1984

    Yesterday I ventured out of my house for nonmedical reasons for the first time in 13 days while a lamb shoulder cooked in my slow cooker. I whipped the flu, but a stubborn respiratory infection simply had the best of me and I nearly spent Christmas in the hospital with pneumonia. I'll spare you the details and simply say I dared not go out and about with a chronic and acute cough as it could have spread the flu, which never really announces when it has departed. But I needed milk, butter, tea, and fresh fruit and vegetables, so I went to market. It was good to get out and about.

    To be honest, I was going to save the prepared lamb for today and go to Chili's for dinner on my birthday, but when I lifted the lid of the sow cooker and smelled the lamb I changed my mind and hurriedly prepared accompanying vegetables.

    The lamb turned out wonderful -- both tasty and unbelievably tender. I followed no recipe but rather my instincts and they proved appropriate. The secret was a spicy marinade, searing its surfaces on high heat and slow cooking it for about 8 hours.

    When I returned from my third tour in Vietnam I was hungry for knowledge in many areas. You learn best when you want to learn. One of the things I wanted to know was the unique flavors different spices impart.

    There was a store in Colorado Springs that sold bulk spices. I bought small samples of a dozen or so popular herbs and spices and prepared a chicken and rice dish each evening using just one spice, then two spices I often saw paired in recipes. Eventually my spice rack contained over 80 unique flavors. This is how I learned to incorporate herbs and spices into my cooking to make my own recipes and tweak existing ones. Anyone can do this. It just takes time and some conscientious note-taking.

    Cooking is a joy for me, especially when I am free-wheeling it, Discovering on my own how to bring out the best in a food is always rewarding, as much so as making a wine from ingredients I can find no prior record of. Today's entry contains one such wine and a food recipe. Both are unique, both are delicious and both are mine. I hope you will try one -- or both.

    For 50 years, from 1941 to 1991, Bob Hope (1903-2003) did an absolutely remarkable thing. He spent his Christmas' entertaining U.S. servicemen around the world. From 1941 through 1947 the Christmas shows were by radio, but in 1948 he took his show to Berlin during the Berlin Airlift and began a tradition that spanned 42 years.

    That doesn't mean Bob Hope didn't tour the troops during those radio-Christmas years. In the summer of 1944 alone, Bob Hope hopped from island to island in the South Pacific to entertain the troops. It was an emotional, as well as dangerous, journey for Hope and his colleagues. He logged over 30,000 miles and gave more than 150 performances. But his reception by the troops during his 1948 Christmas tour to Berlin so moved Hope that he made it an annual event.

    In 1943 John Steinbeck, then a war correspondent, wrote, "When the time for recognition of service to the nation in wartime comes to be considered, Bob Hope should be high on the list. This man drives himself and is driven. It is impossible to see how he can do so much, can cover so much ground, can work so hard, and can be so effective. He works month after month at a pace that would kill most people."

    So beloved was Hope by the troops that year after year they bombarded Congress with pleas for special recognition. In 1997 Bob Hope was designated an honorary veteran for his humanitarian services to the United States Armed Forces by Congress. He is the only individual in history to have earned this honor. Hope remarked, "I've been given many awards in my lifetime, but to be numbered among the men and women I admire most is the greatest honor I have ever received."

    Please take a few minutes to watch this tribute to this remarkably giving man and a legend to millions of veterans.

    Bob Hope lived 100 years and 2 days shy of 2 months. He spent half of that life entertaining the troops. I know God blessed Bob just as Bob blessed us.

    Raspberry Zinger Herbal Wine

    Celestial Seasonings Raspberry Zinger Herbal Tea

    Several years ago I made wine with Celestial Seasonings Red Zinger Tea. It was a huge success, so last year I made a batch of wine using Celestial Seasonings Raspberry Zinger Herbal Tea. Combining hibiscus, rosehips, roasted chicory, orange peel, blackberry and raspberry leaves, raspberries, and natural flavorings, the tea makes a rich tasting herbal brew that transfers nicely into the wine.

    The rich red color, sweet-tart flavor and exhilarating aroma of raspberries are beautifully captured in this tea. It seemed like a natural base for a light, summer wine. The first challenge was to get the proportions right.

    A box of tea contains 20 teabags, each of which brews 8 ounces of tea. The entire box makes 160 ounces, so only 16 bags are required to make 128 ounces or one gallon. I start with this number even though I'm going to include sugar and grape concentrate in the total mix. Each will displace and thus reduce the amount of water needed, but not tea. The amount of flavor required for a gallon of liquid remains the same whether part of the liquid is grape concentrate or water.

    Raspberry Zinger Herbal Wine Recipe

    • 16 bags Celestial Seasonings Raspberry Zinger Herbal Tea
    • 1 12-ounce can Old Orchard or Welch's 100% white grape juice frozen concentrate
    • 1 lb 10 oz white granulated sugar
    • 1 tsp acid blend
    • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
    • 6-1/2 pints water
    • 1 packet Red Star Côte des Blancs wine yeast

    Bring water to boil, turn off heat and insert teabags. Steep at least 5 minutes, but longer will do no harm. Remove tea bags, add sugar, acid blend and yeast nutrient; stir well to dissolve. Add thawed grape concentrate and stir to integrate. Cover and set aside to cool. When cooled to 95° F., transfer to primary and add yeast in a starter solution. Cover primary and set aside. Stir daily for 3 days and transfer to secondary when vigorous fermentation subsides and attach airlock. Wait 30 days and rack, add 1 finely crushed Campden tablet, top up and reattach airlock. Rack again every 30 days until clear, then add 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and another finely crushed Campden tablet* and sweeten to taste if desired. Wait another 30 days and bottle. Wait 3 months to taste but improves with time. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

    *Do not add second Campden tablet 30 days after adding first. If wine is clear 30 days after adding first Campden tablet, rack and add both potassium sorbate and Campden tablet 30 days later.

    I sweetened mine just enough to raise it from bone dryness to 1.000 s.g. and found this to be a delightful level for me. Your taste might differ.

    Slow-Cooked Lamb Shoulder

    Lamb shoulder, fork tender

    A lamb shoulder can be bought bone-in or deboned. I bought the bone-in roast because it was much cheaper and the residual bones can be broken to reveal the marrow and used in soup. Either way, lamb shoulder is a great cut for roasting or slow-cooking.

    I first score the fatty side in a tight diamond pattern, with scores about 1/2 inch apart. Then I place the roast in a gallon ZipLoc bag and add the marinade to it. After sealing the bag with as little air in it as I can manage, I turn the bag many times to spread the marinade over the whole surface and place it in the refrigerator. Every hour or so I turn it, leaving it in the refrigerator overnight when I turn in. I leave it overnight fat side up so the meat rests in the marinade for more intense flavoring.


    • 2 star anise, ground finely
    • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
    • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
    • 1/2 tsp ground fennel
    • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
    • 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
    • sea salt to taste (I used about 3/4 tsp)
    • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
    • 1/2 cup dry white wine (Sauvignon Blanc)

    Remove bagged roast from refrigerator about 45-60 minutes before use. During that waiting time,

    • cut six 5-inch sprigs of rosemary
    • peel an entire cluster of garlic
    • set aside 1/2 cup flour and 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
    • slice 6 shallots in 1/4-inch slices

    When the wait is over, heat an iron skillet on high. Add the olive oil. While oil is heating, remove roast from bag (reserve marinade) and coat all sides with the flour. Place roast in skillet and sear 3-4 minutes on each side (until just brown). While meat is browning, spread sprigs of rosemary and cloves of garlic evenly over bottom of slow-cooker. When all sides of roast are seared, place lamb roast on rosemary-garlic bed, fat side up, and pour marinade over roast. Spread slices of shallots over top of roast and place lid on slow-cooker. Cook on low for 8 hours.

    Remove roast from slow-cooker to serving plate. Remove and discard rosemary sprigs from slow-cooker, leaving any leaves that fell off. Pour liquid from slow-cooker, plus garlic and shallot slices, into 2-cup glass measuring cup. Skim and discard all but about 1 tablespoon of fat from top of liquid. Pour liquid into iron skillet on medium heat and mash cloves of garlic and slices of shallot with wooden spoon. Add another 1/2 cup of wine to liquid. Slowly stir in 1/4 cup flour and continue stirring until liquid simmers. Simmer for 6-8 minutes, stirring frequently, to make a thin gravy. Transfer to a gravy boat with ladle for serving.

    Pull apart the roast with two forks into serving size pieces (or cut if you prefer, although the roast will be very tender and may simply fall apart when trying to cut). Serve with your favorite vegetables and ladle gravy over lamb.

    I added a tablespoon-size dollop of Louisiana Sweet Blackberry Pepper Jelly to the lamb before adding the gravy. I cannot imagine the lamb being better than this....

    I served this with baked whole baby Yukon potatoes (smashed on the plate with a fork and covered with the gravy), steamed snow peas, cooked carrots, and beet wedges. I drank the open bottle of Sauvignon Blanc with the meal

    Lamb is one of the most under-rated meats in America but some people simply won't eat it regardless of the many excellent ways it can be prepared. This same recipe (above) could be used with pork roast or even a thick beef chuck roast trimmed to fit the slow cooker (if necessary), although with beef I would change the wine to a Malbec, Shiraz or Tannat, add some ground sage and thyme to the marinade, add sprigs of basil to the bed of rosemary and garlic, replace the white pepper with black, and triple the number of shallots. But then, if you're the cook you can do it however you like. That's the fun of cooking.

    Have a safe and sane New Year's celebration and I'll be back right here in 2014. God bless....

    December 25th, 2013

    No real entry today -- just a brief message.

    'Adoration of the Shepherds' by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622
    Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard van Honthorst,

    Today is Christmas and I wanted to wish all a safe and healthy holiday and share a couple of thoughts.

    Having not quite recovered from the flu and a respiratory infection that devolved to the edge of pneumonia, the importance of health is uppermost on my mind right now. Take care of yourself.

    I just wanted to acknowledge that this holiday celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. Every year in December the news is full of assaults by atheists to remove Christ from Christmas.

    No one has a "right" to be insulated from an idea they disagree with. If Christmas offends them, their annual assaults on Christmas offend me. I am just tolerant enough to accept their right to believe what they wish. They, on the other hand, not only do not accept my right to my own beliefs, they wish to eliminate public references to them. I only hope that one day they will grow up.

    Merry Christmas to all. I hope to feel up to writing more soon.

    In case I don't, please accept my best wishes to you and yours for the coming new year.

    December 16th, 2013

    I had planned to publish on December 7th with a whole blog entry on my thoughts of that historic day, but I had both computer and internet connectivity issues and only recently recovered both. The piece will have to await next year.

    But following the planned historical footnote, today is the 240th anniversary of a crucial event that, in less than three years, would result in the American Revolution.

    During late night hours of December 16, 1773, a group of men (variously estimated as 30 to 130), most members of the Sons of Liberty, dressed up as Mohawk Indians, boarded the ships Dartmouth, Eleanor and Beaver and dumped their entire cargos -- 342 chests if tea bearing a tax the colonies had not approved -- into Boston Harbor. The issue was not the Tea Tax itself, but how the tax was passed -- without approval by the colonies. The deeply cherished concept of "no taxation without representation" would ultimately be the lynch-pen issue that led to the revolution.

    To celebrate the occasion, I brewed some tea today. I paid a sales tax on the tea, not a tea tax.

    I like clever things. Here are some puns I received via email. Thank you Leon.

    • I tried to catch some fog. I mist.
    • When chemists die, they barium.
    • Jokes about German sausage are the wurst.
    • A soldier who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.
    • I know a guy who's addicted to brake fluid. He says he can stop any time.
    • How does Moses make his tea? Hebrews it.
    • I stayed up all night to see where the sun went. Then it dawned on me.
    • This girl said she recognized me from the vegetarian club, but I'd never met herbivore.
    • I'm reading a book about anti-gravity. I can't put it down.
    • I did a theatrical performance about puns. It was a play on words .
    • They told me I had type A blood, but it was a type-O.
    • This dyslexic man walks into a bra .
    • PMS jokes aren't funny, period.
    • I didn't like my beard at first. Then it grew on me.
    • A cross-eyed teacher lost her job because she couldn't control her pupils?
    • When you get a bladder infection, urine trouble.
    • What does a clock do when it's hungry? It goes back four seconds..
    • I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger. Then it hit me!
    • Broken pencils are pointless.
    • What do you call a dinosaur with an extensive vocabulary? A thesaurus.
    • England has no kidney bank, but it does have a Liverpool .
    • I used to be a banker, but then I lost interest.
    • I dropped out of communism class because of lousy Marx.
    • All the toilets in London police stations have been stolen. Police say they have nothing to go on.
    • I took the job at a bakery because I kneaded dough.
    • Velcro - what a rip off!
    • Cartoonist found dead in home. Details are sketchy

    I was sent a video clip of Dinesh DSousa and Michael Shermer debating Obamacare at the Socrates Club of Oregon University back on 10/8/12. It gives interesting perspective into taxes and welfare generally and socialized health care (Obamacare) specifically. It is relatively short and well worth viewing. but I warn you that it requires some thoughtful interpolation on your part. Do not watch it if you are mentally challenged.

    I thought it was brilliant use of metaphors to win debating points. Speaking of debate, I wish logic and debate were required subjects to get a high school diploma. Too many people have no concept of logic or fallacy, and that goes double for politicians and television pundits. I am sick and tired of the fallback tactic of both when confronted with argument or fact to avoid the point raised by (a) avoiding the issue by changing the subject, or (b) avoiding the issue by asking a question which essentially changes the subject, or (c) by reciting talking points rather than rebut the argument or fact, or (d) attack someone ad hominem rather than address the point raised.

    These tactics (and others) for dodging an issue, while glorified by Saul Alinsky in his Rules for Radicals and embraced by the left, are actually cowardly and belittling of the practitioner. I will say no more about this. It elevates my blood pressure. The video above presented effective debate.

    Author at Knoxville
    Answering questions is what I like to do...

    Collectively, my computer and internet connectivity were down for almost nine full days. When I got back online, I had 211 emails in my private account, 14 in another and 268 in my winemaking account. It takes time just to navigate through these and weed out the spam that got by my filters, read everything, and answer the ones that appear most in need of answering.

    Please remember: I do not answer emails asking questions that are already answered on my site. I am not your search engine. But I do have a search engine on my site to assist you.

    I answer about 15% of my email. I am not trying to be rude, but my time is limited and. I won't spend my days shackled to my computer.

    My first entry below is a potpourri of answers I provided over the past two days that I felt may help the general reader. If you have a question, please use my website's search engine, built specifically for my site. But do not include the word "wine" in your search query (e.g. "persimmon wine") or it will call up every page in my website -- over 500 -- because they all contain the word "wine.". In the example, "persimmon" would be enough.

    My second entry below is a lamb chop recipe I made up during the week. It's damned good, but the secret is the Louisiana Sweet Fig Pepper Jam. I cannot imagine it using any other jam except possibly their Satsuma Habanero Jelly. The pepper is jalapeno (we call them jalapeno chilies in Texas, but those Cajuns do their own thing).

    You can order the jam from Louisiana Sweet Jams and Pepper Jellies (their Muscadine Pepper Jelly is my wife's all-time favorite jelly and mine is a 3-way tie -- Blackberry Pepper Jelly, Persimmon Pepper Jam and Mayhaw Pepper Jelly). Anyway, when you get the jam, the recipe is here.

    Tips, Questions and Answers

    Rod's wines. 'I've been making wine 1 year now. This is what you started.'

    I received 268 emails on my website's email account over a 9-day period when I was off-line. I've only answered a fraction of them, but in doing so realized some tips I received and answers to questions I provided might benefit others, so here is a potpourri of information you might find interesting.

    I had read your advice a few months back for easily removing wine labels. I cannot find the Clorox Ultra Advantage, so I tried something else that worked out really well. I soak the bottles in hot water with a tiny bit of Dawn dishwashing liquid and some Oxiclean. After about 20 minutes, the labels are really easy to peel off. I occasionally use a knife with a curved blade, but they come off so easily this way that, if they don't peel off in one or two pieces, my fingernails work just fine. If there is any adhesive left, I use a brillo pad to remove it. Simple and fast!

    Great tip and I'll pick up some Oxiclean next time I go to market. Here's another tip.

    You recommend spinning the hydrometer after inserting it in a fermenting wine to prevent bubbles from attaching to it and causing it to rise higher than it should. While I agree with this whole heartedly, I go a step further, I insert a sanitized plastic spoon into the wine and give it a good stir before putting in the hydrometer and spinning it. This stirs up the lees, but also causes the millions of micro bubbles to collide and exit the wine quickly, giving truer reading.

    Great tip! Not only does the agitation cause a momentary clearing of the wine of air bubbles, but the agitated lees also knock the air bubbles around and hasten their rise to the surface. The lees will settle quickly enough and really do not increase the density of the wine.

    I made a 2 gallon batch of lime wine (with Mexican limes), and got the first gallon bottled, but one of the corks popped out while I was having dinner. I put a bung with an airlock on that bottle and overnight the other corks have moved up a bit (1/4 inch or less) but have not popped out. I had sweetened the wine with 3/4 cup of honey syrup 5 days after stabilizing it. I'm guessing that I should have waited longer before sweetening. What should I do at this point? I worry about the other corks popping out while I'm not around. I could take all the corks out and put bungs on all of them. Also, what about the other gallon?

    Since I could not answer right after the query was sent, I said, "I assume by now you've done something with the lime wine.

    "Over the years I've gone from stabilizing and sweetening; to stabilizing, waiting 2 weeks, and then sweetening; to stabilizing, waiting 30 days, then sweetening; and finally to stabilizing, waiting 30 days, sweetening, and then waiting 30 days more before bottling. You have to give the yeast time to die or make their last stand.

    "If I could have answered you immediately I would have said to uncork, refill your secondary, and wait 30-45 days. I trust you at least got all the wine under airlocks. [That goes for the second gallon too.]"

    I have a carboy full of pumpkin wine that has stopped fermenting. It was going gangbusters to 1.040 and I racked into 6 gallon carboy for 2nd Fermentation and wham, it stopped at 1.020. The recipe I used is with fresh pumpkin. Also, followed the directions and used Cote d’Blanc yeast.

    I have read all the comments on stuck fermentation but still not sure what to do next. Is it possible the wine is completed at this high sg?

    Should I use your starter system and give more yeast?

    I think we have all been there. The question is what to do? My response: "Taste it. If it is too sweet, rack it again and wait a few weeks to see if it doesn't revive. If it doesn't, try restarting it [new yeast starter solution using Lalvin K1-V1116]. If you like it sweet, just rack it again, stabilize it and wait 2-3 months. It may or may not restart half-heartedly on its own. This is a situation known as limbo. We have no idea what is happening so must just wait. Take a gravity reading every month or so to get an idea if anything is going on you can't see."

    I tried adapting your Cranberry-Raspberry Juice wine recipe to a Cranberry-Blackberry concentrate. I followed the recipe exactly except for the substitution of the Cranberry-Blackberry juice. I started this in May and it is still very gassy. Do you have any idea why? What can I do to fix this situation. I have already added the campden tablet, 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate. Upon doing this I had a volcano. That was on 10/31/13, Its still very gassy today. I just spent an hour stirring with my drill, degassing. Help!

    I wrote: "Degassing is something that sometimes has a timetable of it's own. There might be a slow fermentation still going on or maybe even an MLF. However, you are doing the right thing. It might take another month or two for live yeast to die out, Give it a couple of weeks and degas again. If it is still gassy after that, give it another couple of weeks. We can hurry our own activities, but wine is another creature. I once had a wine that took almost two years to fully degas and I have no idea why. As they say, it is what it is."

    That same person wrote back listing all the wines he has made in the one year he has been making wine. Impressive list! He sent me the photo above. "This is what you started!" he said. Yep! I know the feeling.

    Finally, there was this:

    I made a lemon wine from your recipe but did not use as many lemons as you specified. The wine therefore had a weak, flat lemon flavor. I was going to add some lemon extract to increase the flavor but noticed it was 40% alcohol. Will adding alcoholic extract skew the balance of the wine?

    Great question, not so much for what was asked but for what was not.

    A flat taste in a wine most often indicates insufficient acid. Add acid blend and the flavor will probably intensify.

    But, if adding an alcohol-based extract, you will not add enough to increase the alcohol measurably. Indeed, when doing this add the extract 1/4 teaspoon at a time, stir well to integrate it and then taste. If you need more, add another 1/4 teaspoon. Extracts are highly concentrated, so not much is needed. However, there are other concerns.

    Citrus concentrates can often contain the oil of the fruit (usually from the peel). Read the label carefully and do not add extracts containing more than a minimal amount (single digit percentile) of oil.

    Further, extracts can add an artificial character to the wine that any wine judge trained in country wines can detect if overdone. The casual wine drinker may not notice it, but a wine judge probably will. A lemon wine, for example, should not taste like alcoholic lemonade but like lemon wine -- diluted lemon juice that has been fermented. The taste is different. All wines share this flavor change. If you ever get a chance to taste some Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, do so. They do not taste anything like the wine made from them.

    Lamb Chops with Fig and Jalapeno Jam Sauce

    Lamb chop with fig-pepper jam sauce, wild rice pilaf, green beans, and sweet corn
    Lamb chop with fig-pepper jam sauce, wild rice pilaf,
    green beans, and sweet corn

    A jar of Louisiana Sweet Fig Pepper Jam, the pepper being jalapeno, inspired me. I had just returned from the butcher with four 1-inch thick lamb chops. Tasting the fig jam, I could imagine it blending with the lamb. I would not be disappointed.

    First I made a thin marinade with the jam, white wine vinegar and freshly chopped rosemary. I placed the chops in a shallow Tupperware container and covered them with the marinade. I left the container in the refrigerator for two hours. I lined a roasting pan with aluminum foil, put its rack in place and spaced the chops on the rack. I then spooned half of the excess marinade over the chops.

    Meanwhile, I heated the oven to 500° F. on convection broil. I put the chops in for 6 minutes, with the chops 6 inches below the broiling coils. Meanwhile I made a thick sauce using 3 tablespoons of jam, 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar and 2 teaspoons of chopped fresh rosemary. When the chops came out they were turned over, the remainder of the marinade spooned over them and they were returned to the oven for 3 minutes, at which time the internal temperature had reached 165° F. The marinade caramelized over both sides of the chops.

    I placed a chop on each dinner plate accompanied with wild rice pilaf, cut green beans, sweet corn, and a dinner roll on the side. The thick sauce was divided among the chops sufficiently thick enough to ooze onto every slice of the meat. It was a delightful meal

    November 30th, 2013

    I spent Thanksgiving with family. The fellowship, conversations and food were all special. My nephew Tim is a great cook and put together a meal that would be hard to beat. We all had much to be thankful for. I hope your day was special, too.

    Cranberries, halved, ready for fermentation
    Cranberries, halved, ready for fermentation

    A friend wrote and lamented that there are only apples, oranges, bananas, lemons and limes available at his grocery right now. He asked what kind of other wines can he make at this time of year. I wrote back and suggested he start thinking outside the norm.

    Cranberries are definitely in season right now and make a fantastic blush, sweet or dry, and dried cranberries are available all year. Sliced or slivered almonds, rutabagas, snow peas in the pod, carrots, cabbage, sweet potatoes, beets, celery -- all are there to make wine with. I also directed him to the frozen concentrate fruit juice selections. And don't ignore the canned fruit and jelly sections. Just read the labels first and avoid sorbic or benzoic acids. Jellies are easy to make wine with but you do have to negate all the pectin with pectic enzyme.

    There is never a time of year that nothing is available to make wine with. The trick is thinking beyond the conventional. Go to the requested recipes section of my website and browse the long list of wines below the main entry. You can't help finding something you can start now. There is also a list of links immediately following the recipe list that contain other wine recipes.

    Just do it and have fun.

    Jase, Si, Willie, Phil

    I make no bones about the fact that I'm a huge Duck Dynasty fan. The show makes me laugh and that suits me fine. I have no time to waste watching people bidding on storage lockers and luggage, chasing gators or hogs, eating weird food, shopping, or most of the other activities that pass for "reality" shows. I do like to watch the finals of some of the talent shows, but not well enough to watch a whole season and I've never, ever watched Dancing With the Stars. Some things interest me and some things don't.

    We all have different tastes in what we like to watch. I loved the series Lost, Boston Legal, 24, Burn Notice, and Monk. I also like CSI Miami, Criminal Minds, The Blacklist, The Vikings, and, of course, Duck Dynasty.

    Duck Dynasty is funny, I like the characters, I like it that they are in Louisiana -- my birth state -- and they are Robertsons, my maternal grandfather's name. But there is no family tie. My grandfather's line hails from East Texas, not northeast Louisiana.

    The Robertson family of Duck Dynasty is a real family. Their story is actually rather incredible. Phil, the father, was raised dirt poor in the woods where the family subsisted on what they killed, caught or grew. But he was an all-state class high school athlete in football, baseball and track. He got a football scholarship to Louisiana Tech University where he was the first string quarterback, with football Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw sitting on the bench as his backup. He turned down a recruitment feeler by the Washington Redskins because it would interfere with his duck seasons. Phil earned both Bachelor and Master Degrees in education and taught for several years. In 1972 he made a better duck call than any then on the market and gave up teaching to market his duck call. He was smart enough to patent his design and today is worth an estimated $11.8 million.

    Phil and his wife, Miss Kay, have four sons -- Alan, Willie, Jason (Jase), and Jeptha (Jep). Alan is a clean shaven minister and rarely appears on the show. Willie, with a business degree, became CEO of the family business, Duck Commander, and grew it into a multimillion dollar company. Their videos on duck and deer hunting techniques are considered the best there are.

    The show centers around the antics and adventures of the parents, Uncle Silas (Si), the three bearded sons and their wives, their children, and a few friends. It is fair to say the three sons outwardly display maturity problems, but it could also be described as brotherly competiveness and contrariness carried to extremes. Uncle Si, who is Phil's brother, is also a genuine character I won't try to describe. You have to see him over several episodes to understand. He is simply unique.

    If you want to know more, there are a couple of links at the end of today's entry, but better yet, watch them on A&E on Wednesdays. I'll met you there....

    Back when men were men, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew that sooner or later the United States was going to be drawn into the war against Adolf Hitler. He called upon several industrialists to prepare for transition to production of war materiel and to produce equipment he could "lend-lease" to Britain. Among those he called upon was Henry Ford, who was asked to build a plant to produce components for the B24 Liberator bomber, which would then be assembled by Consolidated Aircraft and Douglas Aircraft, the plane's designers. Ford went way beyond what Roosevelt asked.

    At first he did as asked and built a plant at Willow Run, Michigan which opened in June 1941, almost six months before the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the war. But remote assembly proved problematic. Ford was determined that he could mass produce bombers just as he had done with cars and within months he received permission to build complete Liberators. The Willow Run plant was greatly expanded and would become the largest single building in the world at that time and would produce a completed B24 bomber every 55 minutes. Think about that. A complete bomber, with 1,250,000 parts, every 55 minutes!

    Ford had its own ground crews to service and pre-flight test every component system and its own pilots to test fly each aircraft before delivering it to the Army Air Corps. Watch the following short video of the plant's production line and testing and be amazed. This was before robotic welders -- before robotic anything -- and a testament to what this nation was once capable of doing.

    Needless to say, Adolf Hitler had no idea the United States was capable of this sort of production when he hastily declared war on the United States following Pearl Harbor. Over 8,500 Liberator bombers were produced in less than four years.

    Apple Sherry

    <i>The Alaskan Bootlegger's Bible</i>

    I received an email asking me what I thought of the Apple Sherry recipe in The Alaskan Bootlegger's Bible by Leon W. Kania. I replied with my own variation of Leon's recipe, which I'll share here with apologies to Leon.

    I have mixed feelings about Leon's book. On the one hand he covered a lot of ground in a single book -- wine, beer, cider, moonshine and liqueurs. On the other hand he sacrificed detail for general procedure. The latter is crucially important but does not cover all circumstances. The devil is often in the details.

    For this particular wine, Leon's instructions are:

    Chop and mash apples. Boil apricots in 1 gallon of water. Pour hot fluid over apples and add yeast when cool. Ferment for two weeks, then rack into another container. Add shredded wheat and chopped raisins and then ferment for approximately three more weeks, When fermentation stops, rack and bottle. Proceed with basic wine making steps on page 20.

    There can be no doubt the last two sentences should be switched. You need to proceed with the basic steps he covered on pages 20-23 before you bottle the wine. But this and similar gaffs are really only minor annoyances. Anyone with a brain between their ears ought to figure out how to re-order the instructions.

    This is a very enjoyable and often humorous book to read even though rather basic (but sufficient to make good wine and other beverages) and very low tech. He explains how to do almost everything as cheaply as one can -- including building or making most of your equipment. I know this will appeal to many readers -- there was a time my circumstances dictated I do the same -- but I hope anyone who follows his "on the cheap" advice upgrade their equipment as soon as they can. You can buy the book by clicking on its image on the right.

    I actually adapted and restructured this recipe years ago to my own methods and presented my version of it last year in my July 5th, 2012 blog entry. I'm posting it again because I wish to explain something I failed to do last year and make a couple of minor adjustments that didn't quite make it from wine log to WineBlog.

    A few words about raisins may be helpful. You can use dark raisins or golden raisins. I use golden raisins because I like the lighter color and adequate flavor they impart on the sherry. Dark raisins impart a stronger sherry-like flavor, but golden raisins suit me fine. You have to decide for yourself. Just remember that darker raisins also mean a darker color, which might not look right in an apple-based wine.

    Chopping raisins is not easy. Once cut, the reduced pulp sticks to the knife and you spend more time scraping sticky pulp from the knife (and your fingers) than you do chopping raisins, and the knife is difficult to clean afterwards. I use a mincer, an old fashioned device that clamps onto the counter or table edge, has a hopper above and worm gear inside that turns by a hand-crank to move the raisins into a rotating cutting disk. It is much easier to use but still requires soapy water and elbow grease to clean. Both chopping (and mincing) are easier if the raisins are soaked overnight in warm water.

    Please read the instructions carefully. This wine is made in steps.

    Apple Sherry Recipe

    • 6 lbs tart apples
    • 1 lb dried apricot halves chopped
    • 1 lb raisins chopped or minced
    • 1 large shredded wheat biscuit
    • 2 lbs granulated sugar
    • 7 pts water
    • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
    • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
    • packet Red Star Premier Curvee wine yeast

    Wash and inspect apples. Cut out any brown spots or insect damage. Cut and core apples, then chop apples into 1/4 to 1/3-inch slices. Place apples in fine-mesh nylon straining bag and tie closed. Place in primary. Chop dried apricot halves into several pieces each. Place in 6-quart or larger pot and add water. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Strain off solids (use them in a pie, muffins, jam or just eat them) and pour the water over apples. When cool add pectic enzyme and yeast nutrient. Cover primary and set aside 10-12 hours. Add activated yeast in a starter solution. Recover primary. Punch apples down 2-3 times a day for two weeks. Remove bag, drip dry and discard apples.

    Add sugar to primary and stir well to dissolve. Place chopped or minced raisins and shredded wheat biscuit in nylon straining bag and place in primary. The shredded wheat adds nutrients and body to the wine -- much as adding barley or cracked wheat would. Submerge bag 2-3 times a day for 3 weeks. Remove bag and let drip drain (do not squeeze). Discard raisins/shredded wheat. Rack wine into secondary and attach airlock. Rack after 2 months and allow another month for all lees to drop. Rack, add another 1/2 teaspoon of pectic enzyme, top up and refit airlock. When perfectly clear, bottle wine and allow at least 6 months to mature. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

    Apple sherry will last several years, but there is no reason to keep it more than two years if you make a batch every year.

    November 22nd, 2013

    On JFK, Wine Science, Van Damme, and Obamacare

    My late father was born on November 22, 1921. He would have turned 92 today. His 42nd birthday was an unforgettably sad day for him, the whole family and the entire nation. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy ripped the heart out of the nation.

    Today, of course, is the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination. It occurred in the dawn -- not the prime -- of Kennedy's presidency and left us with an unfinished legacy. But it was more than that.

    As a nation, we lost our innocence. The years that followed were ugly, even hateful, and certainly chaotic. The assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were symptoms. The "summer of love" was a distraction that gave way to the antiwar riots that epitomized the late '60s. I'm not going to write a summary of the history that followed, but will say it really wasn't pretty. Yes, we had high points -- Neil Armstrong's "one small step," the heroic efforts to save Apollo 13 and the celebration of our bicentennial to name three -- but these were offset by Watergate, the rise of OPEC, our hostages in Iran, the rise (and fall) of corporate Japan, and periodic skyjackings and acts of terrorism.

    We look back on that dark day in Dallas fifty years ago as the day the darkness began. We hunger for the idealism we lost, for what might have been.

    I loved JFK. I was liberal then, as most young people are, but I thought JFK was spot on in cutting taxes to revive the economy. The lesson he taught me -- that by cutting taxes you allow more money to circulate and stimulate economic growth while at the same time boosting tax revenues because of the extra economic activity -- stuck with me over the years and was instrumental in steering me toward conservatism when the Democrats fought every subsequent tax cut while championing programs that subsidized what I thought was irresponsible behavior.

    In hindsight, Kennedy was charismatic, charming and a loving father -- and he had Jackie, his greatest asset -- but he was not nearly as great a president as liberal historians make him out to be. He had potential in spades but needed a second term to bring it to fruition. He was nonetheless a breath of fresh air and an incredible inspiration. He was as much an idealist as is President Obama, but they are polar opposites on the spectrum of Democratic thought. I miss him dearly, still.

    Ronald S. Jackson's 'Wine Science, Third Edition: Principles and Applications (Food Science and Technology)'

    Last Christmas my wife gave me the 1,242-page Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including their Origins and Flavours by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz, a gift I cherish and peruse often. If you are looking for a super gift for your winemaking partner, giving him or her what I received would not be an unappreciated gift. But if your winemaker is more into the winemaking part than the grape varieties part, then I would suggest Ronald S. Jackson's Wine Science, Third Edition: Principles and Applications (Food Science and Technology).

    Jackson himself wrote:

    When the opportunity presented itself to teach a course in wine technology, it was discouraging to find that most texts failed to mention many aspects that personally seemed fascinating. These included topics such as the evolution of grape vines, the origin of cultivars, the essential differences between the multitude of training systems, soil microbiology, cold hardiness, the breeding and origin of wine yeasts, cork structure and function, oak anatomy relative to barrel making, various special wine making techniques (e.g., botrytised, appassimento, and carbonic maceration wines), the logic behind various appellation control laws, and the psychophysiology of wine sensory evaluation. With so many topics missing, I seized on the chance to fill the void. The reception Wine Science has received appears to have justified my view that what was lacking did indeed merit coverage.

    This book is not a guide to making wine, but an understanding of what is happening when you do make it. My copy is well-used, heavily bookmarked and usually my first or second go-to book when I want to understand some aspect of winemaking or search for a solution to a problem.

    This 772-page jewel is not cheap, with a list price of $155, but I can guide you to some respectable bargains. If you click right here, it will take you to Amazon's page for this book. As I write this, the book is temporarily out of stock at Amazon, but if you look just underneath the "temporarily out of stock" notice you'll see that many new copies are available starting (at this moment) at $90.71 (in the UK) and $124.99 (in the USA). But shop early because the cheaper ones will go fast and leave you looking at more expensive options.

    You may have seen this already, but you may not know the details behind it. 53-year old Jean-Claude Van Damme's Volvo truck commercial is one of the best commercials I've ever seen. It's mesmerizing, an unbelievable feat of strength, flexibility and balance, and I'm quite sure I will never forget it. If you don't know what I'm talking about, please do yourself a favor and take a look:

    The story behind this incredible commercial is that the drivers practiced it for three days (they are, after all, driving backwards -- no small feat) and when the time came to do the commercial they shot it in one take. One...!

    Jean-Claude was hooked up to unseen safety wires in case the unthinkable happened and his feet were resting on special platforms welded to the mirror mounts, but he wasn't strapped in or locked onto the platforms and the safety wires didn't reduce the weight or stress on his legs as he went into the full split. Absolutely incredible, both in terms of physical ability and perfect execution by the two drivers.

    Go ahead and watch it again. I did...several times.

    Healthcare.gov's 'Please Wait' page

    On November 8th, Bret Bair read an email from "Bill in Kentucky" on Fox News. I searched for the email for two days, but only found it many days later. I'm paraphrasing the email here.

    Obamacare was signed into law on March 21st, 2010 and went into effect with the Healthcare.gov roll-out on October 1st, 2013. The interval between the signing and roll-out was 3 years, 6 months and 10 days.

    The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941 and Germany declared war on the United States. Germany surrendered unconditionally on May 8th, 1945. The interval between Germany's declaration of war on the United States and its unconditional surrender was 3 years, 5 months and 1 day, This was 1 month and 9 days less time than the interval between passing Obamacare and rolling out its implementing website.

    Following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor and Germany's declaration of war on the United States we mobilized 16.1 million citizens into the armed forces, produced 22 aircraft carriers, 8 battleships, 48 cruisers, 349 destroyers, 420 destroyer escorts, 203 submarines, 34 million tons of merchant ships, 100,000 fighter aircraft, 98,000 bombers, 24,000 transport aircraft, 58,000 training aircraft, 93,000 tanks, 257,000 artillery pieces, 105,000 mortars, 3,000,000 machine guns, and 2,500,000 military trucks.

    We invaded North Africa, Sicily, Italy, Normandy, fought the Battle of the Bulge, and raced to Berlin -- all while we were also fighting the Japanese in the Pacific.

    And in the time we did all of that, plus 1 month and 9 days, the Obama Administration could not even build a working website. Think about it...!

    [Note: I am leaving the email now and voicing my own opinions. Feel free to disagree.]

    Of course the website is only the tip of the iceberg. There are still millions of people losing their healthcare plans after being promised by President Obama, "If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep your healthcare plan. Period."

    There wasn't any fine print, ifs or maybes in that statement he repeated ad nausea, but a "period." Now millions of Americans are finding out that what the President promised is not only not true but was never an intended feature of the Affordable Care Act in the first place. The whole idea was to force you into the exchanges. Further, many are finding out that there is nothing "affordable" about the Affordable Care Act unless you receive a subsidy, and even then your deductibles will be substantial and, for many, unaffordable. To keep as few people as possible from feeling the financial reality of this law before the mid-term elections in November, President Obama has delayed implementing as much of it as he can by fiat until after the elections, something he has no constitutionsl power to do. By allowing him to do it, Congress is yielding to an unhealthy precedent of usurption.

    Any time a loan officer insists you have to sign a contract in order to find out what is in it you know you are being told to bend over. That's what Nancy Pelosi did, insisting they had to pass the ACA in order to find out what was in it. Not one Republican was stupid enough to bend over and vote for this travesty, but all those lockstep gullible Democrats did. That's when government of the people, by the people and for the people was replaced with government of the party, by the party and for the party.

    The Democrats in the Senate reinforced this by changing the filibuster rule, which has been in effect since Thomas Jefferson wrote the Senate Rules, to allow them to break a filibuster by 51 votes rather than 60 and pass President Obama's nominees to expand the Washington Court of Appeals and make it forever liberal.

    Some Democrats did not lie and deceive the American people to get Obamacare passed because they were not allowed to read it and did not know what was actually in it, but others did because they designed it. But all have turned into outright bullies to pack the federal courts with radical judicial activists. They will regret this vote when the Republicans take control of the Senate, which is bound to happen some day. I think JFK is probably turning over in his grave. The framers of our Constitution, who did everything they could to dilute power in government and divest it in the states, most certainly are.


    Budding yeast (photo from 'Molecular Cell Physiology' under Fair Use Act of 1984 for educational purposes)

    I recently received an email complaining about a failed blackberry wine. When I questioned the writer he admitted he relied on "spontaneous fermentation," meaning he let the wild yeast on the blackberries do the fermentation. I wrote about this in my very first WineBlog back in April 2003 which was about yeast. With minor editing, here is my first blog entry.

    I am fond of reminding people that yeast make the wine. We, as winemakers, simply orchestrate the process as best we can. We arrange the environment yeast live and work in and clean up after they are gone, but they truly do the work. And what magnificent and efficient workers they are! If we are half as good at orchestrating as they are at doing what they do, ogether we will make some pretty good wine.

    There are two approaches to yeast when making wine. You can use the wild yeast that ride in on the skins of the grapes, fruit or berries you choose to make your wine from. In this case you are not orchestrating the making of the wine, but rather leaving it up to chance. You are betting the yeast that dominate the fermentation are good yeast for making wine. Usually, they will be and the wine will at least be decent and often good. Occasionally, they won't be and the result will make good vinegar but terrible wine.

    You can also use a cultured wine yeast that was isolated and selected because of the unique characteristics it imparts while fermenting sugar into ethanol and carbon dioxide. Make a 5- or 6-gallon batch of blackberry must and then break it down into 1-gallon primaries. Inoculate each with different yeast. The result will be five or six different wines. The differences between some may be insignificant, but certain yeasts will make superior blackberry wine. I have run this experiment six times, making 32 individual batches of blackberry wine. Without doubt, almost all of the Burgundy strains consistently make great blackberry wine.

    In 2001, I made 13 gallons of blackberry and fermented them with all of the Burgundy strains I could obtain. There were almost no differences in the young wines, but after 18 months the Lalvin RC212 and RA17 strains each had more complex bouquets, retained richer colors and possessed creamier mouthfeel. Gervin Yeast No. 2 (Red Label) made a superb full-bodied wine with a delightful, lingering finish. I regret some of the yeasts out today were not available then, for I would have loved to include them in this trial. All three of the mentioned wines, by the way, have earned blue ribbons.

    Yeast are a tool. Choose the strain you use carefully and it will serve you well. If you choose to use wild yeast, just remember that you really are rolling the dice.

    November 13th, 2013

    My Dell computer problems (see November 1st entry) continue. I finally called Dell after fighting for 5 1/2 straight hours to get my monitor to come on and of course the technician in India said he had to charge me $59.95 to assist me because my computer's warranty expired. I told him I would pay IF and only IF he could guarantee me he could fix the problem. He had to check with his supervisor, whom I also spoke to. Eventually they agreed and accepted my conditional $59.95. About an hour later they refunded it because they could not make it come on despite having me try 3 different strategies.

    For the record, I continued trying things and shortly after 11 p.m., 11 1/2 hours after I started, I brought the screen to life. My next computer will be anything but a Dell.

    Flag-draped casket being carried off aircraft

    Veterans Day...let us not forget those who have always guarded our restful nights. This is not a day to remember the dead (that is Memorial Day's purpose) but rather a day to be grateful for all who have served and are serving. Still, I could not resist posting this poignant photo, the origin of which I have no knowledge.

    I went to Chili's on Veterans Day and received a free meal. I selected the Margarita Chicken and it was excellent. The chicken breast was fork tender and the black beans, rice and pico de gallo with lime topping was perfectly balanced (and healthy). Of course I blew it all by ordering their Molten Chocolate Cake for dessert (topped with vanilla ice cream with chocolate shell and drizzled with caramel), so I attempted to walk it off when I got home. My goal was 3 miles, which I figured would burn the dessert's calories, but after a mile I turned around and headed home. Well, 2 miles are better than none.

    I am grateful to Chili's and the other 70 or so restaurant chains that opened their doors to veterans and fed them for free (the dessert was on me). That's more than a mere "thank you." I'm also grateful to Chili's for being one of 123 employer participants in the 100,000 Jobs Mission to hire 100,000 veterans. If anyone needs a job it is the men and women who put their civilian lives on hold to serve in our nation's armed forces, knowing a tour in a combat zone was almost a certainty. I wish more employers joined in this effort to move veterans to the front of the line.

    To all who wore the uniform, past and present, thank you for your service from the bottom of my heart.

    A ripe pineapple on the plant
    This is what a ripe Hawaiian pineapple looks like
    nice and golden

    God bless whomever it was from Nanakuli, Oahu, Hawaii that sent me the bottle of homemade pineapple wine. Most of the "from" address was missing as that corner of the box was partially damaged, but the wine itself was intact. I opened it last night after 3 hours in the refrigerator and it is excellent. Also, the 11.25% alcohol is perfect.

    The bottle sweated after refrigeration and streaked the beautiful label before I thought of photographing it and now I can't, but "Paradise Pineapple Wine" is a fitting name and was worked nicely into the design. Please send me an email so I can thank you personally.

    I've said it before on this WineBlog and on my Winemaking Home Page, you can't make great pineapple wine without pineapple freshly harvested at the peak of ripeness. A pineapple does not continue to ripen after it is harvested so what it is then is the best it will ever be.

    I've had friends returning from Hawaiian vacations pick me up a twin-pack of harvested-that-day pineapples at the airport so I could make wine. The ones I buy here in Texas, which come from Mexico, don't hold a candle to the fresh Hawaiians even though pineapples originated from Mexico.

    So I really appreciate the bottle of wine. I just wish I knew who sent it....

    In 1882 Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience." This is good advice to follow in making wine. Both yeast and malo-lactic bacteria have life-spans we cannot accurately predict, although the latter's span is much shorter than the former. But more importantly, you can't rush aging, which depends on progressive chemical reactions that are time-dependent.

    So in winemaking and many other endeavors, follow Emerson's advice and adopt the pace of nature -- patience.

    Artichoke Wine

    Artichoke, trimmed for quartering, photo from internet under Fair Use Act of 1984
    Artichoke, trimmed for quartering

    About 15 years ago I made a wine from artichokes on a whim. It turned out very well and I published the recipe some five years later when someone from California requested an artichoke wine recipe. Last year I revisited this wine and improved upon the recipe. The result is a nice, spicy white that pairs well with fish or fowl entrees, cheesy pasta dishes and fruit or mixed salads.

    Artichokes are an unlikely candidate for wine. The cultivated globe artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) is a variety of a species of thistle. The edible portion of the plant consists of the flower buds and their stems when harvested before the flowers come into bloom. Once the flower blooms, its bud changes to a largely inedible form. The wild variety of the species is called a cardoon, native to the Mediterranean region.

    The flowers develop in a large edible bud about 3-6 inches in diameter with numerous triangular bracts or scales. The edible portions of the buds consist primarily of the fleshy lower portions of the bracts and the base, known as the "heart." The mass of immature florets in the center of the bud is called the "choke" and is usually discarded.

    We know from written records that artichokes were cultivated at least as far back as ancient Greece and the globe artichoke appeared by the 9th century in Naples. Further improved cultivars appear to have been developed in Muslim Spain and northwest Africa in the medieval period and subsequently moved northward into Europe, England, and eventually the United States. In 2010 Italy was the world's leader in artichoke production (400,000 tons), more that 12 times the production of the United States (39,000 tons).

    Preparing artichokes for wine is similar to preparing them for eating. The uppermost inch or so of the globe is cut away to remove the topmost spiny tips and the upper 1/4 of each remaining intact bract is individually cut away for the same reason. Normal food preparation leaves the globes whole while being steamed or boiled, but for wine more flavor is extracted if the globes are quartered top to stem before boiling.

    • 4 1/2 lbs artichokes
    • 12-oz container 100% white grape juice frozen concentrate
    • 1 3/4 lbs finely granulated sugar
    • 1 large lemon, juiced
    • 1 large orange, juiced
    • 1 oz ginger root, thinly sliced
    • 1/4 tsp grape tannin
    • 6 1/2 pts water
    • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
    • sherry wine yeast

    Cut ends from artichoke spines (as above), and slice the ginger root. Qyarter the artichokes lengthwise (top to stem). Meanwhile, bring water to boil. Put artichokes and ginger in water and boil for 30 minutes, covered. Meanwhile, juice the orange and lemon and immediately add juice to boiling water. Remove water from heat after 30 minutes and allow to cool. Strain off artichokes and ginger and save the artichokes for your next meal. Pour cooled artichoke-ginger water into primary. Add thawed grape concentrate, tannin, 1 pound of sugar, and yeast nutrient, then stir well until sugar is completely dissolved. Add activated yeast in a starter solution and cover the primary.

    Ferment vigorously for 7 days, then add 1/2 pound of sugar, stir well to dissolve, and re-cover primary. After another 7 days, add final 1/4 pound of sugar, stir well to dissolve and again cover primary and set aside for two weeks. Rack into secondary, add one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, top up if required and attach airlock. After 2 months, rack, top up and reattach airlock. Allow 90 days for wine to clear. If it does not clear on its own, add amylase according to its instructions. When clear, rack again, top up and refit airlock. Age 2 months and add juice of an additional lemon if needed (if wine tastes flat). Stabilize with 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet and refit airlock. After final 30 days, rack into bottles and allow 3 months rest before drinking. [JackKeller's own recipe]

    You may want to sweeten this wine very slightly after stabilizing, just enough to bring it off bone dryness, but the wine is intended to be dry and not sweet so don't overdo the sweetening.

    Serve chilled. Drink within one year. This wine peaks about then.

    My Secret Baked Beans Recipes

    Jack Keller's South Texas Baked Beans, photo by Jack Keller
    Jack Keller's South Texas Baked Beans, photo
    by Jack Keller

    Here are two recipes that will probably make the best baked beans you'll ever taste. I debated whether to share them or not. It's nice to have one or two things you make that everyone raves about and yet you keep the recipes secret just to make them truly "yours." That's how I feel about these recipes. On the other hand, I want you to try them, so here they are.

    I started with a recipe called "Best Baked Beans" I found on the internet and modified it and then modified it again. You can tweak either recipe below to your heart's content, but I don't know if you can make either better.

    I've created two versions. The first is for you folks unfortunate enough to live in areas where you can't get nopalitos -- diced cactus pads. There is no substitute. The other is for you folks who can obtain them. Also, the first calls for jalapeno peppers because they are widely available. The other is for those in nopalito country who can also probably get Hatch green chilies (when in season). If they aren't available fresh, pick up a can of diced Hatch green chilies.

    The goal here was to create the perfect balance of blended flavors, so nothing dominates and yet nothing is unnoticed, even if only a strong "hint" comes through. It is what we strive for when making wines -- the perfect balance between sugar (whether it be revealed in sweetness or withheld in dryness), alcohol, acid and tannin, distributed throughout the flavors of the base (grape, fruit, berry, etc.) and tied together in body and announced through aroma and bouquet.

    I dice my jalapenos very finely, my green bells a little larger and my red bells larger still -- the latter about 1/4-inch square. The distribution of each is perfect for the release of flavor each possesses. My nopalitos and onion are also diced about 1/4-inch square. You can dice yours any way you want.

    I specified Colman's dry mustard because it has a unique flavor among mustards. The original recipe did not specify any brand and was only 1/2 teaspoon, but I wanted a bolder statement and yet it remains subtle.

    Preparation time is about 1 hour for each recipe, baking time is 2 hours 30 minutes.

    Jack Keller's Baked Beans

    (Makes a lot, perfect for a pot luck entree, but if making for yourself or family you can containerize the leftovers and store in your freezer or refrigerator)

    • 2 large cans (28-ounce each) baked beans
    • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
    • 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
    • 1 cup ketchup
    • 1 teaspoon Colman's mustard powder
    • 1 large onion, diced
    • 1/2 large green bell pepper, diced
    • 1/2 large red bell pepper, diced
    • 2 large jalapenos, deseeded and diced
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1/2 pound (8 ounces by weight) bacon, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
    • 1 small can crushed pineapple
    • (optional spices)
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom or ginger
    • (reserve)
    • 1/4 cup Bourbon
    • 1/2 small can sliced black olives

    Dice the onion, bell peppers and jalapenos; set aside.

    In a large skillet, cook the bacon, stirring/flipping often, until just browned and chewable but not crisp. Remove from skillet and set aside.

    Drain off all but about 2 tablespoons of bacon grease. Immediately add onions, bell peppers and jalapenos to skillet and sauté, stirring frequently, until softened slightly but still crunchy. Add bacon and garlic and stir continuously for 3 minutes.

    While onions/peppers are sautéing, mix together in large bowl the beans, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, ketchup, dry mustard, spices (optional), and pineapple. When skillet content are cooked, add to bowl and mix to integrate.

    Pour contents into large oven-proof casserole and bake covered at 300 degrees for 1 hour 15 minutes, then remove cover and continue baking another 45 minutes. Remove from oven, increase oven to 350 degrees, and stir bourbon and sliced black olives into beans. Return beans to oven for 30 minutes, uncovered. Remove and serve immediately. Allow leftovers to cool about 2 hours before containerizing.

    Jack Keller's South Texas Baked Beans

    (Makes a lot, perfect for a pot luck entree, but if making for yourself or family you can containerize the leftovers and store in your freezer or refrigerator)

    • 2 large cans (28-ounce each) baked beans
    • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
    • 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
    • 1 cup canned diced roasted tomatoes, drained
    • 1 teaspoon Colman's mustard powder
    • 1 large onion, diced
    • 2/3 cup nopalitos, diced
    • 1/2 large green bell pepper, diced
    • 1/2 large red bell pepper, diced
    • 3 Hatch green chilies, deseeded and diced (or 1 small can of same)
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 3/4 pound (12 ounces by weight) bacon, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
    • 1 small can crushed pineapple
    • (optional spices)
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
    • 3/4 teaspoon dried, crushed cilantro
    • (reserve)
    • 1/4 cup Mezcal, Tequila or Dorwart (Mexican) Whiskey
    • 1/2 small can sliced olives

    Dice the onion, bell peppers, nopalitos and chilies; set aside.

    In a large skillet, cook the bacon, stirring/flipping often, until just browned and chewable but not crisp. Remove from skillet and set aside.

    Drain off all but about 2 tablespoons of bacon grease. Immediately add onions, bell peppers, nopalitos and diced chilies to skillet and sauté, stirring frequently, until softened slightly but still crunchy. Add bacon and garlic and stir continuously for 3 minutes.

    While onions/peppers/nopalitos are sautéing, mix together in large bowl the beans, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, drained diced tomatoes, dry mustard, spices (optional), and pineapple. When skillet contents are cooked, add to bowl and mix to integrate.

    Pour contents into large oven-proof casserole and bake covered at 300 degrees for 1 hour 15 minutes, then remove cover and continue baking another 45 minutes. Remove from oven, increase oven to 350 degrees, and stir the liquor sliced olives into beans. Return beans to oven for 30 minutes, uncovered. Remove and serve immediately. Allow leftovers to cool about 2 hours before containerizing.

    You cannot imagine how good these baked ingredients are in both recipes. The sautéed ingredients should still retain texture and be chewable. You'll notice I did not add salt. The bacon and baked beans add all the salt either dish needs.

    November 1st, 2013

    My apologies to all for the lapse in posting and answering the few emails I actually answer. I've been experiencing severe problems with my computer, My Dell flat screen monitor continues to go into power saving mode for no reason whatsoever and nothing I can do brings it back into service. Powering down and restarting after a prolonged period usually solves the problem, but for 3 days this did not work. I bought (and returned) 2 different monitors but each failed to display a signal when connected. Upon reconnecting my old monitor after returning the second monitor it came on.

    This is most frustrating, but when I searched for similar problems (and solutions) I found hundreds of similar problems and no clear, universal fix. Almost all involved Dell computers and monitors but a few involved HPs. Like everyone else, I have turned all the energy-saving settings to "Never" in Windows and my BIOS so theoretically neither the CPU nor the monitor should ever do what it has been doing. I have replaced all drivers (some 3 times) and have installed all Windows updates. This seems to be a mystery that has been plaguing Dell products for at least 5 years and they are not very helpful in solving the problem. Needless to say, this is the last Dell I will ever buy.

    I've gotten good feedback from my entries on composting and the health benefits of cacao and dark chocolate. Thank you all for your emails and posts on my Facebook Page.

    I also received a couple of good ideas for new wines -- spicy chocolate (using fresh cayenne chilies or jalapenos for the heat) and nasturtium. I've already started a spicy chocolate wine using an orange-chocolate wine as a base. I've used my Mandarin-Chocolate Wine recipe as a jumping off point (see links following today's entries). The nasturtium wine will have to wait until next year, as I have no plants at the moment. But, they grow readily from seed and I'll plant them next Spring.

    Thank you all for your input, questions and suggestions. I'll be running a contest soon on my Facebook Page, so you might want to put it in your Favorites List and check in on it every now and then (and "like" it if you haven't).

    I keep getting email about yeast starter solutions. There is nothing complicated about them, but some folks have gotten confused because I have published different instructions for making one. The differences are slight, but there. So below I will publish a final version. This version from here on out will be posted on my site as How to Make a Yeast Starter Solution. From here on, when I refer to making a yeast starter solution here in the WineBlog I will simply link to it.

    John McAfee on Fox News

    I've deleted a long entry I had already written because it was dated after this long delay. It involved security of the Obamacare exchanges. There are many spoof sites out there designed by hackers simply to obtain your name, date of birth and Social Security number -- all they need to steal your identity. This was made possible because the site designed by the government was not a portal to all exchanges.

    An explanation of this and criticism of the security aspects of the HealthCare.gov website were made by McAfee Antivirus founder John McAfee in an interview by Neil Cavuto. If you haven't seen it already, I invite you to watch the interview yourself and put your caution antennas up. I personally expect this to be fixed in the future if they delay the drop-dead deadline for signing up or incurring a fine (the Supreme Court called it a tax). That would give them plenty of time to redesign the whole architecture, but it doesn't protect those trying to sign up now.

    How to Make a Yeast Starter Solution

    Yeast starter solution in mason jar

    It is always a good idea to make a yeast starter solution to introduce yeast to your wine must. There are several reasons to do this, but the most obvious are:

    blank space•   Prove the viability of the yeast without having to wait two or more days
    blank space•   Dramatically increase the yeast population before pitching the yeast
    blank space•   Initiate fermentation almost immediately after adding the yeast to the must
    blank space•   Help fermentation with problem musts such as blueberry, huckleberry, etc.
    blank space•   Help watermelon must quickly reach high enough alcohol content to prevent juice spoilage

    Packets of dry active yeast, averaging 5 grams of yeast, contain hundreds of millions of yeast cells. There are many reasons those yeast cells may not be viable.

    The packet may be old. I have seen yeast packets in local homebrew shops that were 7 years old. Never buy an old packet. If it is 2 years old you should not expect more than half the yeast cells to still be viable, especially if the yeast was sitting on a shelf at room temperature.

    Yeast should be stored refrigerated, but at the local homebrew shop and at your home. The yeast will be viable many times longer if refrigerated.

    Yeast should be transported refrigerated, but usually is not. The metal trailer of a 16-wheeler can get mighty hot in the summer. Even parcel shipped via aircraft ar at risk. I have seen hundreds of parcels sitting on blistering hot tarmacs in June, July, August and September. Yeast are at risk above 105° F. and certainly won't survive long on a hot tarmac.

    Even after purchase, yeast are at risk if they are not taken straight home and refrigerated. I, myself, have bought yeast and then stopped to have lunch, leaving the yeast in a hot vehicle interior. After lunch, I've entered the vehicle only to find the interior at an uncomfortable 120+° F. The yeast left in the vehicle had very low viability when used, but making a starter solution with them 24 hours in advance resulted in good fermentations. Here's why.

    Yeast bud (reproduce) about every two hours under the right conditions. We create those conditions in the yeast starter solution. When you add the yeast to the starter solution you begin with X number of viable yeast cells, whether only 10 or 150,000,000. Let's call that number, whatever it really is, "1". After 2 hours, that number is approximately "2" (it doubled). After another 2 hours that number is "4" (it doubled again). This doubling can be seen in the chart below:

    As you can see, if you husband the starter solution for 24 hours before you intend to add it to your must, you will be adding over 4,000 times as many active yeast cells to the must than you would if you just sprinkled the packet of yeast into the must. If the packet of yeast is old (I have packets of yeast that have been in my refrigerator for 5 years and I expect some of the yeast within to be viable), you can husband the starter for 48 hours, in which case the active yeast will have expanded to 16,777,216 times as many. This is the power of doubling.

    Making the Starter Solution

    There are many ways to make and husband (care for) a starter solution. Here's one way:

    In a sanitized 1-quart mason jar, combine 1/2 cup of preservative free* white grape juice, apple juice or pulp-free orange juice, 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and a pinch** of yeast nutrient. Stir until sugar is dissolved completely and then sprinkle a packet of yeast onto the liquid. Do not stir. The yeast may float or sink. It makes no difference, but it is easier to check the viability of yeast that float.

    *Preservative free juice means juice that does not contain sorbate or sorbic acid or benzoate or benzoic acid in the ingredients listed on the label. Sufites and/or ascorbic acid are okay.

    **A pinch is just that. Reach into the container of yeast nutrient and pinch a small amount of nutrient between your thumb and forefinger. That amount is sufficient.

    Hours Number of Packets



    Cover the mason jar with a piece of clean linen, paper napkin or paper towel secured with a rubber band. You want air to pass through the covering but want to stop airborne mold, bacteria or dust from entering the jar.

    Set a timer for 2 hours and when it rings look at the starter solution. If the yeast are viable, the grains of yeast will have expanded to about twice their original size and turned a light yellowish-gray or yellowish-brown -- similar to the color of Dijon mustard. If not, all the grains of yeast will look exactly as they originally did -- slightly larger perhaps because they absorbed water, but their color will be the same.

    If they are not viable, throw them out and start over with another yeast or simply add another packet of yeast to the solution and wait another 2 hours to see if these are viable.

    Assuming the yeast are viable, add another 1/2 cup of preservative free white grape juice, apple juice or pulp-free orange juice, 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of yeast nutrient. Stir until the sugar is dissolved completely, cover the jar again and reset the timer.

    You repeat this procedure every two hours to keep feeding the yeast. You could use water instead of fruit juice, but fruit juice is better because it contains acid, additional nutrients and sugar. Pouring the juice into the starter and stirring to dissolve the sugar puts oxygen in the solution and yeast need oxygen to reproduce. The pouring and stirring every 2 hours recharges the oxygen and keeps the yeast happy. Happy yeast are a good thing.

    When you add 1/2 cup of juice every 2 hours the volume increases. We start with a 1-quart jar because at 24 hours we have 6 cups (3 pints) of starter solution to add to the must. The jar will be 3/4 full and that extra airspace above the solution is an oxygen source for the yeast.

    Except for watermelon or melon wines, it is a good practice to add the juice from your must at the 16th, 18th, 20th and 22nd hours. In total, you are only adding 2 cups (1 pint) of the must to the starter solution, which acclimates the yeast to the environment you'll be adding them to later. This is only 1/3 of the starter solution's total volume, but usually sufficient. If the must is vastly different than the juice used in the starter solution, you might start adding juice from the must earlier -- say at the 8th hour. I do this for mustang and several other wild grapes, starfruit, pineapple, blueberry, and berries from extreme northern latitudes (e.g. Newfoundland, Scandinavia). If the must-juice being added has been sulfited, so much the better, as it allows the yeast to become accustomed to sulfites and eliminates any potential shock later.

    When you use a starter solution you always know your yeast is viable, the quantity of yeast you are adding to the must is several thousand times more than if you just sprinkled a packet of yeast to the must, and you can expect an almost immediate fermentation of your must. It may take another day for a truly vigorous fermentation to develop, but that is much quicker than the 3 days it usually takes.

    Outstanding Slow Cooked Chicken Provençal

    Chicken Provençal (photo by Jeremy Gordon, from his blog, used for educational purposes under Fair Use Act of 1984)

    This slow-cooked Chicken Provençal recipe is 100% gluten-free, fork tender and utterly delicious. If the recipe is followed, it will always turn out perfect, and so render you can cut the chicken with a fork.

    I found this recipe in The 163 Best Paleo Slow Cooker Recipes, by Judith Finlayson, author of 15 cookbooks with over 750,000 sales. When I got this book all I knew about Paleo was an impression I obtained from seeing books like The Paleo Diet by Loren Corbain, whose advertising thrust was healthy, nutritional eating. That was the extent of my knowledge of paleo -- an impression. I was therefore surprised when I discovered the true meaning.

    Paleo refers to the diet of our paleolithic ancestors, those who lived from about 2.5 million years ago until about 10,000 years ago when something changed. What changed was the advent of agriculture. Dr. Walter Voegtlin, a gastroenterologist, was one of the first to suggest that a diet similar to pre-agricultural man was actually healthier and more in tune with our genetic needs. The concept gained notice in 1985 when Dr. Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner published an article called "Paleolithic Nutrition" in The New England Journal of Medicine.

    The impetus behind this concept were studies of paleolithic hominin remains that revealed generally healthy people without evidence of many of the medical problems plaguing contemporary man. There are many diseases or conditions for which there is no evidence in paleolithic hominins, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, cancer, and many others. However, the whole concept is hotly debated because there are so few paleolithic hominin remains capable of revealing such diseases -- notably natural mummies or quick-frozen specimens.

    Nonetheless, there is a logic behind the concept that is appealing. Modern man does seem to be riddled with more and more diseases as time progresses and certainly our diet has changed profoundly in the last 10,000 years. We eat countless things paleolithic man did not -- grains, legumes, breads, pastas, potatoes, dairy products, processed oils, refined sugars, most beverages, and the list goes on. Paleo diets generally lean toward eating foods as close to its natural state as possible, with an emphasis on protein sources such as grass-fed and free ranging domesticated meat sources, fish, shellfish, nuts, seeds, eggs, etc., and fruit, berries, vegetables, herbs and spices that can be gathered.

    There are many variations of the paleo diet. The major differences are the degree to which specific, healthy foods are allowed that would not have been available to paleolithic man -- olives and olive oil are simple examples.

    The book I'm using allows some things but not others, not necessarily because they are "modern" (post-paleolithic) but because the author is gluten sensitive and has a delicate digestive system, so all recipes are glutten-free. I'm fine with that. I adopt what I want and tweak what I want to suit my own goals, but overall the entries in her book are nutritiously healthy and promote belly fat weight loss and overall weight maintenance. I just don't go overboard on this paleo thing, like eliminating all grains (hey, I love brown rice), flours (come on, give up sourdough pancakes?) and sweet potatoes (oven-baked sweet potato fries, yummy). I just subscribe to moderation.

    Chicken Provençal Recipe

    I am absolutely certain that Chicken Provençal made in a slow-cooker is something no caveman ever enjoyed, but the idea here is that most of the ingredients (there are exceptions) were within his collective grasp. When you see the list of ingredients you'll think this is a stretch (and it is), but play along. The result is absolutely delicious and nutritious. (For the record, I halved this recipe but am publishing it as written.)

    • 3 lbs skinless, bone-in chicken thighs (12 thighs)
    • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
    • 4 oz chunk bacon, diced
    • 2 onions, finely chopped
    • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
    • 1 1/2 tsp herbes de Provence
    • 1/2 tsp sea salt
    • 1/2 tsp cracked black peppercorns
    • 1 cup dry white wine
    • 1 can (14 oz) tomatoes with juice, coarsely chopped
    • 1/2 cup chopped pitted black olives (optional, but I used them)
    <i>The 163 Best Paleo Slow Cooker Recipes</i>, by Judith Finlayson

    Arrange chicken evenly over the bottom of slow-cooker stoneware, overlapping as necessary.

    In a skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add bacon and cook, stirring, until nicely browned. Using a slotted spoon, remove bacon and drain on paper towels. Drain off all but 2 tbsp of the fat from the skillet.

    Add onions to skillet and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add garlic, herbs de Provence, salt and peppercorns and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add wine, bring to a boil, and maintain boil for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes with juice and bring to a boil. Add reserved bacon.

    Transfer to slow-cooker stoneware. Cover and cook on Low for 6 hours or High for 3 hours, until juices run clear when chicken is pierced with a fork.

    Optional Step: Sprinkle chopped olives evenly over the top of the chicken after it has finished cooking. Cover and cook on High about 5 additional minutes, until olives are heated through.

    My Own Tweak: I added 6 portabella mushroom buttons, sliced and diced, to the skillet with the tomatoes. I'm confident mushrooms were in the diet of paleolithic man. Besides, I love 'em.

    This dish is wonderful! Only make it if you respect your taste buds. And if you truly do respect them, take the next step and order The 163 Best Paleo Slow Cooker Recipes by Judith Finlayson.

    October 22nd, 2013

    I'm not big on interpreting dreams. Long ago I was introduced to several theories of dream interpretation in college, but none seem consistently relevant for all dreams. I've had many, many dreams that fit none of the theories I studied.

    Last night I had one that was so real I was sure I was living it, until the phone rang and reality intruded. And yet while I was on the phone, I thought back over the dream and realized it made no sense, that the world in which I inhabited in the dream was populated by people I actually know (or once knew) but who would never occupy the same social space together. What's even stranger is that this dream had a musical sound track.

    I assume we all have dreams like this at one time or another...or maybe not. Life is sometimes very strange, but our dreams can be stranger still. Just thoughts that occupy my mind today....

    Heirloom roses, variety unknown

    Many years ago I pondered what to do with lees from my wines. It seemed a shame to keep washing so many down the drain if they actually had a use. I finally decided to pour them on my compost pile. And so I did for many years.

    One day I was watering our roses and the idea of applying the lees to the roses blossomed in my mind. Pouring them on the ground seemed possibly perilous, as I had no idea how any alcohol in them might affect the roots. So I devised a method and experimented.

    We had a large round cake pan -- 15-inches -- which saw little use and had a nice, rust resistant surface. The next time I racked wines I deposited the lees in the pan and set it in the garage, which is quite warm during the summer. I checked on it several days later and the liquid content had evaporated. What was left was a layer of semi-hard clay-like material. I broke this up and poured it into a plastic bag for later use. Many other deposits went into the bag and eventually I kneaded the material together, reducing it to fine powder.

    I sprinkled this around several of the roses and used a 3-pronged hand cultivator gardening tool to work it into the soil, then watered the ground. Within days I saw new growth and new rosebuds. The dead yeast and organic residue seemed an ideal fertilizer.

    One still has to apply balanced fertilizers, the best of which is pure, reduced compost. My compost consists primarily of oak leaves, seedless grass clippings and chipped grapevine cuttings, with coffee grounds, tea leaves and non-meat kitchen scraps. I have to buy manure to add to it and occasionally add some fireplace ash and some of our characterless sandy soil while turning the pile. The gray ash and light sand are soon lost in the dark organic compost, but the ash balances the pH from the oak a hair's width and the sand adds granularity to it. I still add lees -- in the winter, when the garage is cold.

    More on compost later....

    Colman's Original English Mustard

    I love Colman's Original English Mustard. I never did care for that bright yellow stuff Heinz, French's and other American companies pass off as mustard. I turned to Dijon because I didn't know where else to turn, but it lacked a spiciness I crave. I used to mix cayenne or horseradish with it to give it some life, but that was time-consuming and tricky when I just wanted a little for a hot dog or hamburger bun.

    I didn't know what real mustard could taste like until the U.S. Army decided to send me to Japan. The Japanese know how to spice up their condiments and their mustards did wonders to my taste buds. In San Francisco, I Japanese mustard was readily available due to the many Japanese markets.

    One day I was shopping for mustard in a market that didn't carry Japanese mustards and saw one that looked different. It wasn't exactly yellow but it wasn't exactly brown either. It came in a small jar so I decided to try it. I could always doctor it up the way I liked if it tasted flat. To my surprise, it was exactly what I was craving -- a spicy mustard loaded with flavor. It was Colman's Original English Mustard. You might notice it mentioned in a lot of my food recipes.

    If you want this mustard and live in Pleasanton, Texas you have to wait until you go into San Antonio to find it. We have two full-size supermarkets here, but neither one carries Colman's except one sometimes carries their powdered mustard. It's a 30+ mile drive to get the prepared stuff. And I don't go into San Antonio all that much these days.

    So, when I recently found myself scraping the bottom of the mustard jar I went to the internet and bought a 12-jar case of the stuff. I figure the shipping would be less that the gas to high-tail it into San Antonio and back twice. It arrived Saturday, two days after the empty jar went into the recycling bin. I am a very pleased man.


    An open compost pile

    Composting takes more time than work, but it does take some work. The raw materials have to be gathered, managed and turned, but as time passes they transform into one of the best things you can add to your garden or vineyard.

    Think of compost as a time-release fertilizer and soil builder for your plants. Trace minerals and elements slowly leach into the soil over an extended period while insects, earthworms and watering slowly integrate this enriched organic material into the soil itself.

    I once spread a 1-inch layer of compost over a patch of unimproved soil. My soil is a light-colored, very fine, slightly alkaline sand. My intent was to turn the compost into the soil with a shovel and plant a garden, but health problems intervened and I left this plot alone. A year later, I weeded the plot and started digging it up for a garden. I was surprised to see the top 7-8 inches of soil were dark and much more granular than the fine sand beneath. That was the moment I was sold on compost, which I readily applied to the same patch before planting the garden.

    For the average person, a compost pile consists of raked leaves, grass clippings, kitchen garbage, seedless weeds and their roots, vine and landscape clippings, aged manure, and possibly a little soil. The pile is watered initially and moistened occasionally. It also needs to be turned occasionally with a pitchfork so the constituents are mixed and surface material is internalized. Billions of microscopic bacteria, fungi and microbes break down the raw organic matter, reduce it and convert it to a nutrient-rich, soil-like organic material.

    While the process of conversion is done by the unseen microorganisms, it does require our help. Our beneficial partners in this process require air, moisture, heat, and food.

    Getting air to the microorganisms requires us to turn the pile periodically, break up chunks of compacted material, bring bottom material to the top, and work topmost and side material into the mass. My back aches after dong it but that simply means I need more exercise. Two naproxen sodium (Aleve) and a parafon forte (muscle relaxer) take care of the back and the effort takes care of the compost.

    Multiple compost bins allow rotational feeding<br>and harvesting (photo from <i>okijimm's eggroll emporium</i>, fair use act of 1984)
    Compost bins allow rotational feeding and harvesting

    If there is not sufficient rainfall to keep the pile uniformly moist, spraying the pile with a garden hose as needed and several times while turning it keeps all portions moist, an essential requirement. Moist does not mean drenched, but simply damp. Too much moisture drowns the beneficial organisms, while complete dryness results in dehydrated and dead organisms. You have to find a suitable balance.

    A compost pile will generate its own heat. As the microorganisms metabolically break down the raw materials, they generate heat that becomes concentrated in the core of the pile. The optimum temperature at the core is 145°F. This temperature causes moisture evaporation. It is not unusual to see steam rising from a compost pile on cool mornings. Heat can build up too high and the result is a burned, ash-like compost. Turning the pile when the internal temperature rises above 155°F (garden centers sell thermometer probes for composters) helps dissipate the heat, aerates the pile and offers an opportunity to add cooling moisture that heat is driving out.

    I know people who cover their compost piles during the winter with tarps to contain the heat. For better or worse, I have never done that, relying on a thick layer of autumn leaves and clippings to provide a natural blanket. They get turned under or raked off and used to start a new pile in the spring and are rapidly integrated.

    The ingredients one adds to the pile feed it. Some elementary knowledge and common sense is required. Oil and fat should never be added to the pile. Salted table scraps add unwanted salt to the pile. I solve this problem by placing salted food scraps in a colander and rinsing them before adding to the compost pile. Orange and lemon peelings are difficult to compost, but if you chop them into smaller pieces they integrate fine. I used to dry out my egg shells and break them up before adding to the pile but learned this is unnecessary.

    Wood chips, sawdust and bark chips decompose slowly and rob the compost of needed nitrogen, so I spread these on the ground and cover them with a layer of cow manure, which is rich in nitrogen and helps them break down. Their moisture must also be maintained and I use a shove to turn them and slowly consolidate them into a small pile. After 6-8 months they can successfully be added and worked into the main compost pile.

    I do not add seeded weeds to the pile, but their leaves, stems and roots (all but the seed-heads) are fair game. The roots especially should be placed on top of the pile to dry out and die before they are turned under. Some sources say weed and grass seeds will be "cooked" when in the core of the pile, but I have had weeds (and tomato plants) grown both in the pile itself and in the applied compost, so I simply put the seeded parts and raw tomato scraps in my trash bin and let them fight for life in the landfill.

    I once chopped up some shriveled potatoes and tossed them into a pile just before turning. I was surprised a few weeks later when potato plants started growing all over my pile. Nature is surprisingly stubborn.

    I have both a contained and a couple of open compost piles. The contained bin (it needs mending) tends to compost faster and needs turning more often. Turning it is more labor intensive, especially when the raw biomass is significant in depth. But the result is worth the effort. The open piles compost more slowly, and at some point they are reduced enough that I combine them into a single pile.

    Compost, no matter how acidic the raw ingredients, tends to age to a fairly pH-neutral biomass. It may be a tad acidic when applied, but tends to neutralize quickly after application so don't lose sleep worrying about all those oak leaves and pine needles in the compost. Spend that time having good dreams....

    Some Health Benefits of Cacao (and Dark Chocolate)

    Cacao pods in various stages of ripening (from Wikipedia, in public domain)
    Cacao pods in various stages of
    ripening (photo from Wikipedia, in
    public domain)

    The story of the health benefits of wine is never concluded. Some time back, while researching the never-ending publication of scientific studies on this subject, I ran across an article mentioning the health benefits of raw, cold-processed cacao, the species name of the tree (Theobroma cacao) that gives us cocoa and chocolate. That sent me on a separate line of research that continues to this day.

    Chocolate's medicinal benefits were postulated and documented at least as far back as the reign of the Aztecs, but undoubtedly they go back further. Archaeological evidence of cacao beverages date back to 1900 BC. Cortez was introduced to cacao beverages in 1519 when he met Montezuma. The introduction of a cacao beverage to the Spanish court occurred in 1544 by Mayan nobles brought from the New World to meet Prince Philip. They brought with them claims about the medicinal benefits of this flavorful drink. Proving those benefits has taken almost five centuries and the story is not yet finished.

    Just so everyone understands from the outset, the medical researchers and I are not talking about 98% of the chocolate you'll find on the candy aisle, which is rich in saturated fatty acids, sugar and filler products. The studies concern high-quality dark chocolate and the raw cacao products it is made from. Yes, it is pricier, but read on before you decide to get your chocolate fix on the cheaper candies.

    There are three products that come from raw cacao processing -- butter, powder and nibs. I've snacked on the nibs for several years without ever developing a strong affinity for them and until I encountered this research I have only bought cacao powder -- not to be confused with cocoa powder -- once. After doing a few hours of research, I've now embraced the cacao powder and, to a limited extent, the cacao butter.

    Cacao (pronounced ka-cow) powder differs from cocoa (pronounced ko-ko-a) powder in that it is made from cold-pressing the raw cacao beans to remove the fat (cacao butter), with the temperature never allowed to rise above 115° F. The importance of cold-pressing should not be under-estimated.

    Raw cacao beans are allowed to undergo a natural fermentation with the pulp from the pod in which they grow, then dried completely and finally roasted, pressed and made into cocoa butter, powder or made into chocolate. The roasting heat reduces the levels of antioxidants and other healthy constituents of both the butter and powder, minimizing the many health benefits found in the unprocessed, raw cacao. Raw, non-roasted cacao products convey the greatest benefits to health.

    What's in the cocoa bean?

    The raw, cold-pressed cacao products offer the highest health benefits, most of which come from their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. But this does not appear to be all. In the examples below, when you see "chocolate" think high-quality dark chocolate or, better still, raw, cold-pressed cacao powder.

    Cardiovascular health: Raw cacao products are high in polyphenols called flavonoids, antioxidants with multiple health benefits. The dominate benefit may be to the heart. A 9-year study in Sweden of over 30,000 women found that those who consumed up to an ounce of high-quality chocolate 1-3 times a month had a 26% reduced risk of developing heart failure, while those who had 1-2 servings a week had a 32% risk reduction. No risk reduction was found in women consuming 1 or more servings daily. But the truth is that dark chocolate consumption has been associated with lower incidence of myocardial infarction, stroke and mortality from coronary heart disease.

    Blood Pressure maintenance: Numerous studies have linked blood pressure reductions with as little as 0.2 ounces of daily chocolate consumption. Flavanols, especially catechins, which stimulate the production of endothelial nitric oxide and cause vasodilation, are thought to be responsible for the blood pressure lowering properties. An editorial in the Lancet warned that one should not rely on dark chocolate to improve health because the beneficial compounds may have been removed due to their bitter taste; this is not the case with raw, cold-pressed cacao powder.

    Cholesterol control: Dark chocolate with at least 60%-70% cocoa (high-quality dark chocolate is that with 70%-85% cacao solids) appears to have a positive affect on cholesterol levels. Although cocoa does contain saturated fatty acids, it is primarily stearic acid and believed to be cholesterol neutral. It is believed that the antioxidant affects of flavonoids reduce oxidation of low density lipoproteins (LDL, the "bad" cholesterol), thus lowering overall cholesterol,

    Inflammation reduction: Raw cacao products and dark chocolate decrease the levels of C-reactive protein (an inflammatory marker) and thereby reduce inflammation.

    Cognition improvement: A recent study found that those who had consumed the largest amount of cocoa flavanols in liquid form had significantly improved verbal fluency scores, cognitive function and flexibility. Although still speculative at this point, it is thought that the flavanols improved glucose-insulin metabolism, while flavonoids help keep blood vessels healthy, enhancing circulation in the brain.

    Body Mass Index reduction:A 2012 study reported that frequent chocolate consumption is associated with lower body mass index. Overall diet, exercise and chocolate's antioxidant properties are cited as potential contributors to these surprising findings.

    Mood regulation: Cacao contains tryptophan, a precursor of serotonin, which may reduce the onset of depression, possibly mediated by an increase in dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure. I say "may reduce the onset" because the jury is still out -- one review reported that the benefits are not sustained. The latter could be attributed to heavily processed chocolate negating the potential benefits. Finally, alkaloids, proteins, beta-carotene, leucine, linoleic, lipase, lysine, and theobromine, all present in cacao, may all work together to improve overall physical and mental health. For example, theombromine helps to stimulate the central nervous system, relax smooth muscles, and dilate blood vessels, allowing the body a boost of energy that could contribute to a sense of well being.

    Glycemic Index vs. Glycemic Load: The glycemic index of dark chocolate is reported between 23 and 70, depending on the data source and quality of the chocolate. But the latest data I have for dark chocolate (70%-85% cacao solids) is that the glycemic load is only 15, which is very good compared to the caloric intake.

    These are but the most studied health benefits, but there are others. I lost the reference breaking the studies into benefit groups, but there have been hundreds of studies conducted over the past 30 years into the health benefits of dark chocolate and raw cacao powder. Again, hundreds.

    Think portion control. All cacao and dark chocolate comes with a caloric price to pay. A 3.5 oz bar of Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate (72% cocoa) contains about 500 calories. If you cannot reduce that caloric intake elsewhere in your diet, just one square can satisfy your chocolate craving for only about 70 calories. A single Dove Dark Chocolate bite only has about 40 calories.

    All things are relative. The kind of dark chocolate, the age of the person, the blood pressure of the person before eating chocolate, daily exercise, and balancing the caloric intake by reducing calories elsewhere all have relevance. Milk negates the healthy affects of chocolate. Dark chocolate with caramel, nougat, marshmallow, cream filling -- all taste good but increase your health risk.

    My focus is on raw, cold-pressed cacao powder and, to a lesser extent, cacao butter, so all of the above is relevant (or perhaps simply more relevant). Ordinary cocoa powder or cocoa butter do not convey these benefits.

    As in the research into the health benefits of wine, this story is not finished. All we can say for sure at this point is that a bite-size portion of dark chocolate consumed three times a week is both good tasting and good for your overall health. I'm just saying....

    October 15th, 2013

    I keep getting emails asking when my next post will be. I send each of them 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 at last count are listed here). 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 (this changes from time to time) currently are My Yahoo, Bloglines Reader, Netvibes, Feed Demon, NetNewsWire (smart phones app), NewsFire, NewsGator Outlook Edition, RSS Owl, and Shrook (for MacIntosh), and Universal Subscription Mechanism (USM). Click the button, select your reader and rest easy. You'll be notified when there is new content.

    Yes, I've said all of this before in February, but some people don't read older content....

    Still image from the movie <i>Gravity</i>, showing astronaut Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock)  being cast into space

    I was drawn to see Alfonso Cuaròn's Gravity by the trailer. I opted to see it in 3D. I'm glad I did. I cannot imagine it being as intense in 2D. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are the only characters whose faces are in the movie, so essentially they are the cast. It was worth seeing.

    The plot involves two astronauts on a Hubble Telescope maintenance mission when debris from a Russian anti-satellite test destroys their space shuttle (and the Hubble telescope). Tethered together in open space with dwindling oxygen, the movie is a drama/thriller of a race for survival. Despite the impossibility of the actions taken, the whole plot is an impossibility since there are no more flying space shuttles. But it is good suspense.

    I'll give no spoilers here. If you want to know what happens and how it turns out, go see the movie – in 3D.

    I was a kid when the first major wave of 3D movies hit the theaters in the 1952-53 timeframe. The only three I distinctly recall seeing were House of Wax, 13 Ghosts and It Came From Outer Space. I believe I went to see House on Haunted Hill but have no memory of it. My late father claimed he took me and my sister to see it and I fell asleep before the movie even began, so.... What I remember about these early 3D movies was that you wore cardboard glasses with one red and one green lens.

    In 1954 the second wave of 3D films hit the theaters. These were much better technically – easier to watch, less strain on the eyes, and the film-making was better quality. The three films I remember were Creature from the Black Lagoon, Taza, Son of Cochise and Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder. Creature from the Black Lagoon remains in my memory the best 3D film I ever saw until I broke down in 2009 and went to seeAvatar for the fourth time, only that time I went for the 3D version. What a trip!

    I know a lot of 3D movies were made between the mid-1960s and 2009, but the medium held no interest for me. I had cemented the experience of the early 1950s – the cardboard frames and red and green lenses – into my consciousness and simply was turned off to the whole concept of 3D. What an eye-opener the Avatar 3D experience was. The technology had evolved immeasurably. It killed my bias within minutes and I embrace 3D today if the movie itself attracts me. Gravity was such an attraction and worth the elevated price of admission (a hefty $6.50 [seniors] matinee in Pleasanton, TX – regular $4.00 [seniors] matinee). I love living in Pleasanton.

    I admire talent. That's a very broad horizon. Let me narrow it down. What follows is a video, a collage of dance routines. I admire most of the routines because of the talent inherent in creating and executing them, but that is secondary to what I like about this clip. I admire the talent of the person who searched hundreds of films, spotted, extracted and spliced specific clips and ordered them to fit the music, "All These Things That I've Done" by The Killers. I cannot imagine how long that took. The person behind this 5 minutes of enjoyment is Barbara Collins.

    Unfortunately this is YouTube and it doesn't work on iPads and mobile devices unless something has changed I don't know about. But if you are using a laptop or desktop, click the frame below and see if you agree with me. Despite the opening, this is not a ballet....

    I had never heard of this song before, but I'm glad Barbara Collins had. For the record, the images were all gathered from public domain sources. I'm old enough to have recognized the performers for all but three of the clips:

    1) Svetlana Zakharova - Swan Lake
    2) Riverdance - Reel of the Sun
    3) Michael Flatley - Lord of the Dance
    4) Michael Jackson - Beat It
    5) Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse - Singing in the Rain
    6) Elvis - Jailhouse Rock
    7) Charlie Chaplin - Modern Times
    8) John Travolta/Olivia Newton John - Grease
    9) Jimmy Cagney - Yankee Doodle Dandy
    10) Debbie Reynolds - Singing in the Rain
    11) A Chorus Line
    12) Patrick Swayze - Dirty Dancing
    13) Natalie Wood/Richard Beymar - West Side Story
    14) Al Nims & Leon James doing the Charleston
    15) Maxim & Mel B - Dancing with the Stars
    16) Elvis and Ann Margret - Viva Las Vegas
    17) Michael Jackson from TV Special
    18) Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers - Swing Time
    19) Gene Kelly - Singing in the Rain
    20) All That Jazz
    21) Three Stooges get a dance lesson
    22) Flashdance
    23) Shirley Temple & Bill "Bojangles" Robinson - Just Around the Corner
    24) Anne Reinking - All That Jazz
    25) Nicholas Brothers - Stormy Weather
    26) Wizard of Oz

    The dance steps aren't always an absolutely perfect match to the beat, but they're so darn close as to be "good enough." I've watched this about 8-10 times without tiring of it. I hope you enjoy it once.

    Honey Lover, Hummel #312, an M.I. Hummel Club 15-Year Member Exclusive.

    It has been 18-19 years since my wife and I first saw this figurine and fell in love with it. We tried to buy it but it was unobtainable. It is an exclusive release of the M.I. Hummel Club for 15 years of membership. You had to have an entitlement card from the club to buy it. We joined the club a few years later and finally, this year, were able to buy it. It is called Honey Lover.

    Collecting these figurines has given us immeasurable pleasure. Each has its own beauty or at least cuteness and most display an underlying humor of role-playing, exploration or affection that seem to accompany healthy childhood. Honey Lover, catalogued as Hummel #804 (mold #312), is an exception.

    The little boy sitting before a crock of honey and helping himself conveys a sense of self-indulgence many – if not most – of us have probably yielded to while growing up. Instead of a look of pleasure, which Sister Hummel was quite capable of rendering, he has a look of apprehension after two bees land – one on his left shoe and one on the honey pot. It is the expression of being caught raiding the valuable honey.

    It gives me joy every time I glance at it, and most glances invite a longer and appreciative gaze. More simply put, it appeals to me. It is also one of my wife's favorite Hummel pieces.

    As a child, I had my own experience of "raiding the honey pot." In my case, it was not honey, but a meringue-topped lemon custard pie. My father was a baker – the cake decorator at Noyes Bakery in San Bernardino, California. He often brought home pies, usually apple, cherry, mincemeat or pumpkin. Seldom was it peach (my favorite), pineapple, or anything with meringue on it, and never strawberry (my brother Keith was allergic to strawberries). But one day he brought home a lemon custard meringue pie. After dinner, my mother cut us each a small wedge (there were seven of us), leaving an extra one for my father in the morning before he went to work.

    The taste of that lemon custard pie stayed with me all night, and after everyone had gone to bed I sneaked into the kitchen and sliced a small sliver off that extra piece thinking no one would know.

    A pie cut precisely into eighths results in pieces of an exact size. If you slice off a portion of one, no matter how thin, it is apparent to an educated eye. My mother has two such eyes. She called us kids together and confronted us. We all denied it, but I thought of George Washington and the cherry tree and finally confessed. The results of confessing (after initially denying it) did not go as I hoped. When my father got home from work and was briefed by my mother, I received three sharp lashings across the butt from my father's belt – not for taking a piece of the pie, but for first lying about it. Lesson learned....

    Ah, childhood. It is what the Hummel figurines are all about. What more can I say?

    Watermelon Jicama Salad

    No-Cook Watermelon Jicama Salad (photo by Matt Kadey, courtesy of Ulysses Press, with permission)

    It occurred to me that watermelon season will soon end. Despite their high cost these days, I broke down and bought one. I was glad I did, both because it is nice and sweet but also because I wanted the opportunity to make one of my favorite salads a few more times.

    Six weeks ago I mentioned the No-Cook, No-Bake Cookbook by Matt Kadey and promised you'd be hearing more of it. This is one of those times.

    This salad is a sure winner for any occasion, but I eat it as one of my 5 daily snacks to maintain my 45-pound weight loss. It not only tastes good, but nutritionally is very healthy. It is cool, crunchy, salty-sweet, and juicy. It contains protein, far more healthy unsaturated fat than saturated, good Omega-3/-6 fatty acids, an excellent distribution of essential vitamins and minerals, good fiber, and plenty of good flavors that go surprisingly well together. Try this once and you'll make it again.

    This recipe makes 4 servings.

    Watermelon Jicama Salad Recipe

    • 5 cups seedless watermelon, cut into 1-inch cubes
    • 2 cups thinly sliced (into strips) jicama
    • 1 medium avocado, cubed
    • 1 cup cubed feta cheese (about 3 ounces)
    • 1/2 cup unsalted raw or roasted whole cashew nuts
    • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
    • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
    • 1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • juice of 1/2 lemon
    • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or ground chipotle)

    In a large bowl, gently toss together the watermelon, jicama, avocado, feta cheese, cashews, basil, and mint.

    In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and pepper flakes. Dribble this over the watermelon and jicama mixture while tossing. It helps to have a third hand doing the dribbling while the other two toss. It is best served if refrigerated about an hour.

    The first time I made this I substituted cubed semi-soft tofu for the feta and sprinkled grated parmesan cheese over the salad during the final tossing. It turned out very good. But using the feta this time is better. Trust me on that.

    This really is a great tasting salad, pulled from the pages of a great no-cook book of recipes Check it out at The No-Cook, No-Bake Cookbook.

    Pie Pumpkin Wines

    Pie pumpkins on display

    I received an email pointing out an error in a recipe I posted some years ago and that got me thinking about all the variations I've heard of and tried over the years for this wine – pumpkin. Two are worth highlighting. As the name implies, they are made using pie pumpkins, those small pumpkins about 5-9 inches in diameter.

    I have always assumed that pie pumpkins have more sugar in them and therefore make better pie as well as better wine. While it is true they make better pie and wine than large jack-o-lantern pumpkins (which lack full flavor), the elevated natural sugar content, which is actually only a small elevation, is only part of it. The quality of the flesh texture and the accompanying richness of flavor is the main reason for their selection.

    The sugar content of pumpkin is only about 1%. Pie pumpkins typically have a fraction of a percent more natural sugar so the increase is negligible. But the flavor is better.

    As a food, the glycemic index (GI) of pumpkin has been reported between 64 and 75, which is considered moderately high. However, the glycemic load (GL) of pumpkin is very low (3), which indicates good fiber content and the carbohydrates in pumpkin are absorbed slowly. In other words, there is no spike in blood sugar that the GI might suggest but rather a slow, steady delivery of energy and good absorption of nutrients.

    After reading much on this specific food, I emphasize that the GL is more important than the raw GI. Pumpkin is one of the more nutritional foods out there, extremely rich in vitamins and minerals and extremely low in fatty acids, sodium and cholesterol. All it really lacks is protein. A cup of boiled pumpkin is very filling, keeps you feeling full for quite some time and is good for belly fat weight loss.

    Most of the nutrients in pumpkin are carried over into its wine, which is a good thing.

    The first recipe below is a spiced wine and uses whole cinnamon and cloves. You might be empted to use prepared pumpkin pie spices, but do not as the wine may require a fining agent to remove them. Also, do try to find the Demerara (or Turbinado) sugar, as this imparts a very desirable flavor. If you absolutely cannot find either one, use light brown sugar lightly packed.

    The second wine is a straight pumpkin wine, should turn out sweet, and is very good with age.

    Pumpkin Pie Wine

    • 5 lbs peeled and cleaned pie pumpkin, grated
    • 2 lbs Demerara (or Turbinado) sugar (or light brown)
    • 11-oz can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
    • 1 tsp finely diced fresh ginger
    • zest and juice of 3 small Valencia oranges (or 4 clementines)
    • zest and juice of 1 lemon
    • 3 3-inch cinnamon sticks
    • 6 whole cloves
    • 1/8 tsp grape tannin
    • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
    • 1 Campden tablet, finely crushed and dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water
    • Water to one gallon
    • 1 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
    • Champagne wine yeast

    Put water on to boil. Meanwhile, cut the pumpkins into manageable pieces, peel them and grate the pieces with a food processor. Put pumpkin, sugar and juice of citrus fruit in primary. Combine zests, tannin and spices in jelly bag, tie closed, and place in primary. Pour boiling water over ingredients in primary and stir until sugar is dissolved. Cover primary and allow to cool to room temperature.

    Meanwhile, thaw the grape concentrate. When the must is cool add grape concentrate, yeast nutrient and pectic enzyme. Set aside 10-12 hours, add one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet and stir briefly. Cover and set aside for 12 hours. Add activated yeast in a starter solution and recover the primary.

    To strain the liquid from the must, I pour mine through a
    nylon straining bag and let the bag drip drain without
    squeezing. Squeezing will only force starches into the
    wine and complicate clearing. You can discard the
    pumpkin flesh, but I use it in pumpkin bread and cookies.

    When fermentation is vigorous, ferment three days, stirring twice daily while punching down the cap of grated pumpkin. Remove spices and strain the liquid into a secondary. Attach an airlock and ferment 30 days. Rack, top up and refit airlock. After 60 days the wine should be clear. If it isn't, wait until it clears. When clear, stabilize with 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate and one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, rack again, top up, and refit airlock. After additional 60 days, sweeten to taste if desired and rack into bottles. Allow to age one year; two is better. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

    This is a wonderful spiced wine. Start it now for the holidays next year, although it will be better the year after next. If you don't think you can stand the wait, make two batches and enjoy one next year and one the year after. If you do this every year you'll be glad you did – the second year you'll be able to taste a 1-year old wine next to a 2-year old one and see the difference yourself.

    Pie Pumpkin Wine (Sweet)

    • 5 lbs grated pie pumpkin flesh
    • 3-1/2 lbs finely granulated sugar (or light brown, lightly packed)
    • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
    • 1/2 oz citric acid
    • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
    • 1/4 tsp yeast energizer
    • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
    • 6-1/2 pts water
    • Lalvin 71B-1122 or Lalvin ICV-D80 wine yeast

    Cut the pumpkins into manageable pieces, peel them and grate the pieces using a food processor. Do NOT place chunks in a blender and attempt to chop them. Bring the water to a boil and stir in the sugar until dissolved. Remove from heat. Place grated pumpkin flesh in primary and pour boiling sugar-water over pumpkin.

    Allow to cool to room temperature and add finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. Cover primary and allow to sit 10-12 hours. Add pectic enzyme and allow to sit overnight. Next morning add citric acid, yeast nutrient, energizer and activated yeast in a starter solution. Cover primary and stir twice daily for three days, submerging the cap as necessary to keep moist.

    Pour through a nylon straining bag and let pumpkin drip drain. Transfer liquid to secondary and fit airlock. If you did not recover a full gallon of liquid, wait 5 days and top up as necessary. Rack after two weeks and again after additional 30 days, topping up and refitting airlock each time. Set aside for 3 months and then rack, stabilize, sweeten if desired (unlikely you will need to but...), wait 60 days for dead yeast to fall out, and rack into bottles. Set aside to drink next year at Thanksgiving or Christmas. Allow a second year for best results. [Adapted from Leo Zanelli's Home Winemaking from A to Z with major modifications by Jack Keller]

    This wine is very different from the first, but very good. When I first posted a version of this recipe (around 1998) I had not made it and pumpkins were not in season. I made it the following autumn and it turned out very nice after a year. I had set aside one bottle to enter in competition and forgot about it. I found it the following October and feared it might be past its prime, so did not enter it in an upcoming competition. Instead, I hesitantly opened it at Thanksgiving and was sorry I had not entered it – it was fabulous after two years of aging.

    October 11th, 2013

    About two weeks ago a dove hung from the bottom of one of my hummingbird feeders and arched up to feed from one of the feeder ports. I have never seen a dove do this, but it does it several times a day every day. It is doing it now.

    I wish I could get a photo of it, but the two photos I took through my window are terrible – the screen degrades everything and the backlit sky washes out the bird and feeder with glare.

    "Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand."
    – General Colin Powell

    Don't you wish we had one?

    I have always loved the quote:

    In this life
    be kinder than necessary,
    for everyone you meet is
    fighting some kind of battle.

    I have not always acted in this spirit, but I try.

    I recently decided to find out who wrote this. It was a frustrating endeavor. Various people attribute a version of it ("Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.") to either Plato or Philo, but no one seems to be able to find an original citation from either.

    Several sources attribute that version to 18th Century Scottish author Ian MacLaren, pen name of Reverend John Watson. He offered it in several versions over the years, but the central idea was clearly important to him.

    It may well be an amalgamation of two separate quotations. One source attributes "Be kinder than necessary' to James M. Barrie (author of Peter Pan). It is altogether possible that this has been substituted for MacLaren/Watson's "Be kind."

    As for the opening "In this life" and the reworded ending, "... fighting some kind of battle," I can find no clue. But someone assembled the various parts into a very nice piece of advice to live by. Attributing it to Anonymous seems so inadequate....


    An airlock with positive pressure (photo from E.C. Krause website, displayed for educational purposes under Fair Use Act of 1984)

    I have a Strawberry-Chocolate wine that has been bulk aging for three months. It was very still, but had dropped a fine dusting of dead yeast lees and so yesterday I racked it. Today it is bubbling away. This has happened many times with many wines and meads, so what is going on? Why are wines still for months and then fermentation revived after racking?

    Yeast need oxygen to reproduce. Must has that oxygen when the yeast culture is introduced and they reproduce like crazy. As their density increases, they settle down and metabolize sugar into energy, expelling ethanol and carbon dioxide as waste byproducts. As oxygen is depleted, CO2 gets absorbed and the ethanol quantity builds, together creating an increasingly unfavorable environment. Under these conditions older yeast begin dying of age. But there are still young yeast in there.

    As the environment becomes more and more unfriendly due to O2 depletion, CO2 absorption and ethanol build-up, the young, viable yeast either die prematurely or go dormant. When the wine is racked O2 is absorbed and some CO2 expelled (degassed), changing the environment. True, the ethanol content hasn't changed but the stranglehold on the yeast has been lessened just enough for the dormant yeast to awaken. They begin reproducing and metabolizing sugar. Fermentation restarts.

    The danger for the inexperienced or impatient is that they see a still wine and think it's time to bottle it, then wonder why they have problems. One novice reported a bottle literally split in half (better than a grenade-like explosion with flying glass – and wine – going everywhere), but most simply report popping corks and stained flooring. I cannot stress enough that wine takes time. If you want a quick ferment, brew beer.

    Fermentation probably would not have ended had I racked the wine before it went still. The only negative from the 3-month hiatus is that the wine will take longer to finish fermenting. That doesn't bother me because at this time I have more wine than I can drink or store. If it were someone else's wine, it might be a different matter.

    I have developed many recipes where racking is extended to 45-60 days. These periods are generally not too long for wines in general and the wines they were imposed upon specifically, but each base and the wine it produces is different. And occasionally, I do indeed specify a 90-day period between racking. This is always at the end of fermentation and the intent is that the yeast die-off will be near total and the lees dropped will be the last or next to last. Meanwhile, the wine bulk ages, and that's a good thing.

    September 29th, 2013

    The beauty of the Second Amendment is that it will not be needed until they try to take it. – Thomas Jefferson

    My opening notes in my last entry about the health effects of beer produced several emails asking for a comparison with wine. Sorry, but I didn't design the research study or surely there would have been at least one wine in the line-up. That doesn't take away from what we already know about the health benefits of drinking red wine, which I have reported on over the years (ya gotta read the archives, my friend).

    But here are some brief comparisons that show that both contribute to health in moderation. These are not definitive lists, by any means:


    • Resveratrol in Red wine is good for the heart
      • Helps prevent blood vessel damage
      • Helps prevent blood clots
      • Reduces bad cholesterol
    • Procyanidins in red wine reduces risk of diseases
      • May help reduce the risk of type-2 diabetes
      • May help prevent or slow the formation of cataracts
      • May help reduce the risk of colon cancer
    • Flavanoids in red wine stop the skin's chemical reaction from excessive sun exposure


    • Silicon in beer is associated with increased mineral density in bones
    • Beer boosts vitamin B6, B12 and folic acid, reducing risk of heart disease and easing stress, anxiety and depression
    • Beer's highest water content among alcoholic beverages is easier on the kidneys
    • Sugar in beer-marinated pan-fried steak helps block carcinogens from pan-frying

    I know I could list more health benefits of wine, but I'll leave that to another time (although there are many listed in my WineBlog archives).

    Worldwide, approximately 189 billion (with a B) liters of beer are consumed each year, compared with 24 million (with an M) liters of wine. That means that 1 glass of wine is consumed for every 3,500 bottles of beer.

    Vatican City holds the record for annual wine consumption per capita, at 365 bottles of wine per person (a bottle a day!). Norfolk Island is second with 363 bottles, Luxembourg third with 350, France fourth with 304, Italy fifth with 281, and the United States 56th with 63 bottles per person per year.

    If that sounds dismal for the USA, beer consumption in America has steadily declined while wine consumption has steadily increased. In 1992, 47% of Americans drank beer, while only 27% drank wine. Twenty years later, in 2012, 36% drank beer and 35% drank wine. The shift away from beer is most pronounced among younger Americans and minorities. I'm not sure I trust these numbers, but I trust the trend.

    Top selling wine brands in the world

    The oldest known bottled wine is a 1,650-year old bottle in Pfaz, Germany excavated from a Roman grave. The bottle is sealed with wax, preserving the wine inside. Despite the intact seal, I fear this wine has passed its peak.

    The world's most expensive wine is the Penfolds 2004 Kalimna Block 42 Cabernet Sauvignon Limited Edition Ampoule from Australia, worth $168,000. Only 12 bottles exist worldwide, each one uniquely marked and can only be opened by the Penfolds winemaker, who will fly to wherever a bottle is that needs opening and perform the ceremony with style. Penfolds 2004 Block 42 is a rare, single-vineyard wine, only released in stellar vintages and produced from the oldest continuously-producing Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the world. The 10-acre Block 42 was planted only 30 years after the great 1855 Bordeaux Classification.

    Top selling beer brands in the world

    The oldest continuously operating brewery in the world is in Weihenstephan Abbey, Bavaria, Germany. The abbey was originally founded as an Augustinian monastery around 725. The monastery proper was dedicated around 811 but in 1021 was rededicated as a Benedictine abbey. Within is a brewery that can trace its roots to 768 and was officially "licensed" as a brewery in 1040. Weltenburg Abbey, also a Benedictine monastery in Bavaria, was founded in 620, but its brewery was not founded until 1050, placing second as the oldest.

    The world's strongest beer is Armageddon, from Brewmeister in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, which is 65% alcohol by volume and currently sells in the UK for about $129 a bottle (half that at the brewery). Reviews have not been all that nice.

    These and many more interesting facts are from an infographic by Alex Hillsberg called "Beer vs. Wine: Surprising Facts, Popular Brands & Big Festivals – The Great Drink Debate Rages On," augmented with my own research and comments. The link to the presentation is at the end of today's entry. Check it out. Fun stuff....

    Old Farmers Almanac 2014 cover

    The Old Farmer's Almanac was first published in 1792, during the first term of George Washington, and is the nation's longest continuous published periodical. From its first printing, it has always predicted the weather. Their long-range weather forecasts are traditionally 80% accurate, an impressive number, and they are predicting a bitterly cold upcoming winter.

    The Farmers Almanac, only 197 years old, predicts a winter storm will hit the Northeast around the time the first outdoor Super Bowl is played at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. It also predicts that two-thirds of the country will experience a colder than normal winter, with heavy snowfall in New England, the Great Lakes and Midwest regions.

    These publications are not alone. The National Solar Observatory and NASA have both made similar predictions based on an ill-behaving celestial body. The culprit is the Sun.

    Our sun goes through an 11-year cycle and right now we should be experiencing the effects of a solar maximum – a period of increased sunspots and resulting solar radiation. By all rights this should be a very mild winter. But the Sun did not flare up as predicted. In fact, it is experiencing its lowest activity in 100 years. Although the reasons for this inactivity are not understood, the affects can be predicted and have been, as indicated above. Get ready for a cold winter.

    The solar maximum cycle is just one solar cycle solar physicists are aware of. Back in the early '70s I attended a public debate by a panel of experts in Colorado Springs. The subject was "The Coming Ice Age," as the Earth was experiencing colder than usual temperatures. After several speakers issued their dire warnings of doom and gloom, a tall gentleman from a new organization, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, stood, pointed upward and said something like this: "It's the sun. It goes through cycles and we're experiencing one. In 25 years they'll be telling you the Earth is going to burn up. Don't believe it. It will pass and it will get colder again. It's a cycle."

    Having experienced "The Coming Ice Age" hysteria and that lone gentleman from NOAA's prediction of coming global warming followed by global cooling, I rode out the "Global Warming" hysteria with utter contempt. To watch Al Gore make millions of dollars and collect a Nobel Prize for politicizing a natural phenomenon that true climatologists understood but were ridiculed as being politically incorrect made me realize what an enormous herd of sheep we are.

    Global temperatures have stabilized for the past six years and the cooling has begun. It takes time for the ocean currents to absorb the shift in ambiance, but they will. It will cool and continue to cool for about another 20-25 years, then it will warm again. I doubt the absence of this solar maximum will have a long lasting effect on our climate – with or without it the Earth will cool – but it could.

    During the Maunder Minimum – the period 1645 to 1715 which has been dubbed the "Mini-Ice Age" – there were no solar maximums observed although they were well known by then and expected. But if we miss another solar maximum in 2024 I would certainly start planting more cold hardy grape varieties just to be safe....

    Questions About Making Mead

    My Texas Purple Sage Mead is fermenting away and smelling good. I did receive two emails about boiling the honey and pouring the boiling water over the flowers – both emails from the same person but very thoughtful.

    Darren in North Dakota pointed out that I have not boiled honey for some meads and have boiled it for others. Why?, he asked. Great question.

    I sometimes buy superior grades of honey. The honey is crystal clear and sometimes costs almost twice what regular Grade A honey costs. I generally don't boil it.

    High grade, crystal clear honey (image found on internet, fair use doctrine for educational purposes)

    There are four grades of honey in the United States (A, B, C, Substandard), but there are substantial differences in Grade A. Grade A honey is pure honey that has been filtered or strained to remove particulates we can see with the naked eye – bee parts, small insects, air bubbles, bits of comb wax, etc. It is supposed to be clear but grade labeling in the U.S. is voluntary, performed by the producer, and so it is not uncommon for Grade A honey to be slightly hazy. That haze is caused by the tiny particulates still in the honey, chief among them pollen dust and microscopic air bubbles. If at all hazy, I boil it and the particulates rise to the top in a dense foam.

    I use a small wire mesh strainer (I bought it to strain tea leaves from my tea) to remove the foam in two steps. The foam starts forming early, but I bring the boil down to low (stove-top setting is just a hair under medium high) and after about 10 minutes use a silicon scraper to remove the foam from the sides of the pot and the strainer to carefully remove it from the surface. I perform the same removal at the end of the boiling, after the heat has been turned off.

    To boil or not to boil honey-water is your choice, but there is another reason to boil it if it looks suspect. Many microorganisms grow in honey due to its low water content. Honey typically contains dormant endospores of the microorganism Clostridium botulinum, which might be dangerous to infants and young children. Although not generally a threat to healthy adults, I prefer to kill it and any other microorganisms with heat if the honey is not really high grade. It's a case-by-case decision on my part. I don't think many microorganisms survive 12-14% alcohol but....

    Daren also stated he had read that pouring boiling water over fruit, berries and flowers destroys some of the aromatic and taste components. I have read the same thing, but I like to know for sure.

    I do research before I pour boiling water over a base ingredient. I read any recipes already published to gain insight if any is offered. When I find experiential evidence that a cold pour yields superior results to a hot pour – which means the author has done it both ways – I adopt the lesson learned.

    When an author states something to the effect that he doesn't boil his honey because has heard that hot pours are detrimental to the outcome, I dismiss him. No rule fits all and he has not learned this simple truth but is just following the herd.

    When I cannot find evidence either way, I have to use my own judgment or make two batches and find out.

    I have found that heat sets the colors of certain bases without degrading the taste or aromatic development of their wine or mead, but it does affect other bases negatively. Unfortunately, I have not run side by side comparisons of more than a dozen or so bases because heat is not involved as much in winemaking as it is in mead making. Although I have made a lot of meads, I rarely have enough base or honey to make side by side batches using both methods.

    The first time I made Texas Purple Sage Mead I took a chance and did a hot pour. The resulting mead was exquisite. Having also made wine from this flower, I knew the hot pour took nothing away from the mead.

    Having said all of that, if you are making a flower mead and don't want to risk pouring boiling water over the flowers, all you have to do is let the honey-water cool and do a lukewarm or cold pour. After all, you are making it. I'm only offering guidance you are free to accept or ignore.

    Avocado Chocolate Mousse

    No-Cook Avocado Chocolate Mousse (photo by Matt Kadey, courtesy of Ulysses Press, with permission)

    I'm always looking for ways to to keep off the 45 pounds of belly fat I lost, so when I recently obtained the No-Cook, No-Bake Cookbook I was delighted with what I saw inside – healthy, wholesome dishes that in most cases can be easily made and in all cases without a stove or oven. One of the first dishes I made was this delicious Avocado Chocolate Mousse. I've now made it four times.

    I am at the point where I am simply trying to maintain the weight lose I've already achieved, not lose additional weight. This means adjusting my carbohydrate intake and possibly allowing some of the no-nos of the past 18 months in minimal amounts – like a piece of fried chicken or catfish every now and then. But there are some recipes in here that might change my mind. You can expect to see more recipes from it in the future.

    I already eat avocado (and olives with nuts) every day, so when I saw this recipe I had to give it a try. I'm not at all tired of eating the raw fruit, but a little variety is good, and once I tried it I was hooked. And it's easy to make and cleanup is simple.

    The recipe is supposed to serve 6. I've adjusted the portions to get four servings from it. The left-over portions refrigerate for up to two days without decline in an airtight container. They rarely last that long, as each of my portions only contains 1/2 an avocado and I'm used to eating a whole one each day.

    Avocado lends this no-fuss chocolate mousse a rich, creamy texture that will have you coming back for more. You could try the same recipe with pumpkin puree or soft tofu, as the author suggests, but I'll stick to avocados. Why change a good thing?

    The secret to this dish is to buy avocados that are neither too hard nor too soft. This takes a little practice, but when you have bought as many as I have it becomes second nature. And the large banana should be ripe. That means there should be brown or black spots on the skin. They are sweeter when ripe and more easily processed in this recipe. Trust me on this.

    The only ingredient I had to buy for this was coconut milk. The recipe only uses 1/4 cup, so you might be tempted to substitute regular milk for the coconut. Don't. Coconut milk is very nutritional and adds unique flavor to this mousse. Do what I do to save the extra coconut milk for future use. Freeze 1/4 cup quantities in small containers and when frozen empty the containers into a freezer storage bag....

    Avocado Chocolate Mousse Recipe

    • 2 large avocados, flesh scooped out
    • 1 large ripe banana
    • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
    • 1/4 cup coconut milk
    • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
    • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla or chocolate extract (but not both)
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder or cayenne powder (optional, but you'll be glad you added it)
    • pinch of sea salt

    Place all the ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. You can serve immediately, but I chill mine for 45 minutes before digging in.

    Garnish as desired. The photo shows raspberries and orange zest, which I've tried. I've also tried blackberries, chopped strawberries, and kiwi fruit with orange zest. Other ideas I am playing with are mango, dark chocolate shavings and coconut flakes.

    If you're interested in this book, you can order it here, at The No-Cook, No-Bake Cookbook.

    September 25th, 2013

    According to a new study by researchers at Harokopio University in Athens, Greece published online in the July 1, 2012 issue of Nutrition journal, a pint of beer a day improves blood flow to the heart. Just 2/3 of a pint (400 L) of beer per day reduced aortic stiffness and pressure wave reflections while aortic and brachial pressure and endothelial (blood vessel) function were improved.

    The study compared 400 mL consumption of beer, non-alcoholic beer and vodka/water and their effects on these aspects of cardiovascular function.

    Subjects were healthy, non-smoking male volunteers with average age 28.5 who randomly consumed one of the three beverages on three occasions at least one week apart after fasting. Measurements were taken at fast and one and two hour intervals after ingestion.

    All three beverages reduced aortic stiffness, but only beer improved endothelial function, and did so significantly. The constituents of beer (alcohol and antioxidants) are assumed responsible for the results.

    This is but one of many studies that suggest that moderate drinkers, as compared to non-drinkers, have a lower risk of heart disease. The key words here are "moderate drinkers."


    Roy Rogers and Dale Evans
    Roy Rogers and wife Dale Evans

    I received an interesting email the other day about the closing and sale of the contents of the Roy Rogers Museum. To those under the age of 50, or maybe it is 55, this would have little meaning, but to my older readers it probably conjures up memories.

    Roy Rogers was one of the heroes of my childhood, above even Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger, Sky King, and Superman. In my 1st and 2nd grade class photos, I was wearing two different Roy Rogers T-shirts.

    Roy always came out on top because he embodied righteousness. He always stood for doing the right thing, helping your neighbors (or even complete strangers who were in need), faith in God and country, a belief in both good and evil and that only the former was God's will, respect for one another, our animals and especially women, honor, loyalty and absolute honesty. Roy Rogers was a greater influence on me during my preteens than any other man except my father. I feel sorry for the kids of today who have no such stellar role model to follow.

    Roy's horse Trigger, Dale's horse Buttercup and their German shepherd Bullet were their real pets. Trigger, a golden palomino (the only horse breed's name I knew for many years), won at PATSY Award in 1953, for the movie Son of Paleface. Roy and Trigger made 106 movies and 82 TV episodes together. Trigger was also the horse Olivia de Havilland rode on in the 1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Errol Flynn as Robin.

    Roy's stardom was huge during the 1940s and early '50s. These fact from Wikipedia:

    In the Motion Picture Herald Top Ten Money-Making Western Stars poll, Rogers was listed for 15 consecutive years from 1939 to 1954, holding first place from 1943 to 1954. He appeared in the similar Box Office poll from 1938 to 1955, holding first place from 1943 to 1952. (In the final three years of that poll he was second only to Randolph Scott.) Although these two polls are really an indication only of the popularity of series stars, Rogers also appeared in the Top Ten Money Makers Poll of all films in 1945 and 1946.
    Roy Rogers in Wikipedia

    Roy's passing in 1998 was a sad day for me. The passing of his wife of 51 years, Dale Evans, three years later was equally sad. It was the end of an era, and that is even sadder.

    Jack Keller and Wayne Key judging wines at Victoria, Texas.  In the background, Martin Benke and Bill Christopher are also judging wines.  Photo by Martha Tarkington.
    Jack Keller and Wayne Key, judging wines at Victoria, Texas.
    In the background, Martin Benke and Bill Christopher are
    also judging wines. (Photo by Martha Tarkington)

    Last Sunday I traveled to Victoria, Texas to help judge the Home Wine Competition at the Czech Heritage Festival. This is always a fun event for me, as the Festival is colorful, lively and varied, with good food, good music and good people. And there are the wines, of course.

    Various communities in Texas celebrate their heritage with festivals of one sort or another. My wife and I have attended German, Polish, Alsatian, Italian, Mexican, and Czech festivals, but the one in Victoria is the only one I know of that includes homemade wine and beer competitions.

    I only tasted two wines that I wish I hadn't and many I'm glad I did. I try to write comments on my judging forms that either encourage or guide the winemaker. In the latter case I try to identify any faults or defects that cost the wine judging points. If your wine doesn't do as well as you hoped, you should know why. It takes longer to judge the wines, but it is the right thing to do.

    Selecting the Best of Show wine was difficult. After tasting the winners of each wine category, we narrowed it down to two – a Dewberry and a Blanc du Bois. This was a tough decision, as each wine was superb. But having made each wine many times, I knew that it took more talent to craft that Blanc du Bois than the Dewberry.

    The biggest challenge in making the Dewberry is managing the acid and balancing it against the sugar, tannin and alcohol, which in my experience is fairly straightforward. Building body is a subtle challenge, but usually accomplished through balance. Selecting a yeast that metabolizes some of the malic acid and produces more than average glycerol helps all around with Dewberry, but these are winemaking techniques that any winemaker can master. Crafting a great Blanc du Bois (BdB) is another matter altogether.

    Picking the grapes at the peak of ripeness is a given, but birds love these grapes so it is not easy to let them hang until optimal ripeness is achieved. But these grapes are finicky. The juice and pulp begins browning as soon as the grapes are crushed and continues to darken during pressing, necessitating that crush and press be accomplished as quickly as possible. Chilling the juice quickly to about 34° F. slows the browning and changes it from a permanent to a transitory problem. Exactly how long the juice should be chilled is a matter of preference, but I usually chill my BdB juice for three days. It takes courage to keep it in refrigeration longer, as it appears to continue to darken. However, after a vigorous fermentation the brown pigments settle into the lees. Both sugar and acidity can be a problem, with natural sugar usually low and acidity high if the grapes are not at optimal ripeness.

    It was a tough call, but I voted for the BdB over the Dewberry for the reasons described above. The other judges agreed, but both wines were wonderful.

    Purple Sage Mead

    Purple sage blossoms

    On the drive home from Victoria Sunday I stopped on US 59 about 8 miles east of I-37 and picked Texas Sage blossoms for inclusion in a mead. Having made this several times, I know what awaits me in a year or two. The fragrance of the blossoms was heavenly. I ate several as I picked. The mead is going to be fantastic.

    Several days of off-and-on rain about two weeks ago triggered the blooming. It has done so every year but one for the past several years. It takes about 30 minutes for me to pick about a quart of packed flowers. Sunday, I picked for 50 minutes.

    Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) has several other names, with Texas Ranger and Silverleaf Sage being the two most common. After observing it in bloom, many people mistakenly call it Purple Sage, a name I give to my wine or mead made from it even though I know it is incorrect. True Purple Sage has leaves with a purplish upper surface, which this does not have. I combine the names and call it Texas Purple Sage Mead for popularity's sake, not for strict correctness. I beg the botanists to forgive me.

    As in the past, I tried not to pick any leaves. This is an impossibility but that is okay, as a few (but not too many) leaves add flavor and tannin to the mead. One does not want the leaves to do more than add a tiny bit of complexity. It is the blossoms that must drive the flavor.

    In the recipe below I add acid blend and tannin to the must. I do this to please my wife's tastes. She likes mead less than I do because, according to her, it lacks a little "something" that wines have. That something, I long ago decided, was both sufficient acid and tannin. When I began adding these ingredients to my meads she liked them. This batch follows that practice. After this batch is finished I might decide to add a bit more acid blend to it. I'll judge that by taste after it bulk ages but before bottling.

    Texas Purple Sage Mead Recipe

    • 2 qts Texas Sage flowers loosely packed, or 1 qt tightly packed
    • 2 lb 8 oz non-varietal honey
    • 2 1/4 tsp acid blend
    • water to 1 gallon
    • 1 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
    • 1/8 tsp yeast energizer
    • 3/16 tsp powdered grape tannin
    • 1 pkt mead yeast [alternate: Lalvin 71B-1122]

    The night before, begin a yeast starter with 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, a pinch of yeast nutrient and 1 drop lemon juice (best delivered with an eye dropper) dissolved into 1/2 cup lukewarm water in a mason jar. Sprinkle the yeast on top, cover the jar with a napkin held in place with a rubber band and husband it every 2-3 hours by adding the same amount of water, sugar, nutrient, and lemon juice.

    Add the honey to 2 quarts water and stir while bringing it to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a low boil for about 20-25 minutes. Use a metal mesh strainer to remove any foam/scum that forms on top. This contains the unseen particulates in the honey (pollen, bee parts, dust) and removing it will greatly aid the mead in clearing.

    Meanwhile, place the flowers in a colander and rinse under a cold spray while tossing them with your clean hands for several minutes. This will remove dust, small insects, pollen and various droppings. Again, this will aid the mead in clearing. Transfer the flowers to a nylon straining bag, tie shut and place in the bottom of your primary.

    Measure the volume of your honey-water (I cannot accurately predict it because some evaporates during boiling) and write down the number for later use. Pour the boiling honey water over the flowers and cover the primary. Subtract the volume number you wrote down from 1 U.S. gallon and write down the difference (the answer of the subtraction). Allow the honey water to cool for two hours. Subtract the volume of your yeast starter (a pint, pint-and-a-half, etc.) from the difference you wrote down earlier. The answer to this subtraction is the amount of water you need to add to the honey-water, now cooled. Add the water, the acid blend, the yeast nutrient and energizer, and the tannin and stir to dissolve. Now add the yeast starter solution, cover the primary and set it aside to ferment.

    Stir twice daily, punching down the bag (I place about 30 marbles in a quart jar, fill it with water, cap it, and place it on top of the mesh bag to keep the flowers submerged) for about a week. Remove the bag and squeeze it gently over the primary to extract any liquid. Discard the flowers and re-cover the primary. When specific gravity drops below 1.020 transfer it to a secondary and attach an airlock.

    Rack, top up and reattach the airlock after 60 days, adding one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet (or 1/16 teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite). Rack again 60 days later. Wait 90 days and rack again, adding another finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet (or 1/16 teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite). Set aside another 90 days and carefully rack into bottles. You can drink this in 2 months but it really does improve with age.

    September 17th, 2013

    The other day my keyboard stopped working. Being wireless, I changed the batteries – twice. No luck. I went out to the car to drive to WalMart for another keyboard and discovered I had a flat tire. Suffering a bad back from over-exertion the day before, I went back in to call AAA and discovered my land line was dead. I found my cell phone to call AAA about my car and AT&T about my phone and discovered it too was dead. I plugged it into my wall charger and realized right away that it wasn't sending a charge to my phone. I took the cell out to the car and plugged it into my car charger. I ran the engine for 30 minutes to charge it enough to make the calls. You'd have thought it was Friday the 13th but it was only Thursday the 12th. Some days are like that....

    Hummingbird at feeder, photo from internet, fair use doctrine

    As I look out my window from my computer, two of my four hummingbird feeders are in sight. I often pause and spend many minutes lost in the amazing antics of these small creations as they approach a feeder and then feed. Quite often, another playfully approaches and the two do amazing aerial spins and twists, darting every which way at incredible speeds.

    I cannot begin to imagine life as a hummingbird, or the world as it appears to them. I have read quite a bit about them, and yet knowledge does not decrease the wonder they evoke.

    I am only too happy to feed them, for it brings them into my view so very often and that pleases me. Yes, their aerial antics and sheer beauty please me very much.

    Crafting a Chocolate Mead

    Hershey's Cocoa Special Dark, a blend of natural and Dutched cocoa

    Last year I got a very good buy on honey and made several 1-gallon batches of mead. One began as a traditional mead – just honey and water – but several days into it an idea formed in my mind and I transformed it into a chocolate mead. Now, 11 months later, I can say it was a roaring success.

    Traditional meads are just honey, water, some acid and nutrients, and of course yeast. If the honey is a pure varietal, such as clover, orange blossom, sage or tupelo, the mead is usually named after the varietal. The color, flavor and aroma of the mead is, when best, that of the flower the nectar came from that made the honey.

    The honey I got a good deal on wasn't named, so it was a blend of many different nectars and possessed no specific character. It was that fact that got me thinking about changing the mead shortly after fermentation had really started. I searched among my bulk herbs for an idea but none excited me. Suddenly, the word "chocolate" appeared in my mind – in neon.

    I had an unopened can of Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa, a blend of natural and Dutched cocoas. Perfect.

    2 pounds honey
    2 heaping tablespoons Hersey's Special Dark Cocoa powder
    1 1/2 teaspoons acid blend
    1 teaspoon Fermax yeast nutrient
    3 1/2 quarts water
    Mead or Champagne yeast

    Water boiled, honey added, low boil maintained 15 minutes while
    skimming off foam with strainer, cooled, acid blend and nutrients
    added, then yeast as starter solution. Cocoa added as stated.

    I drew off three cups of the must into a sanitized 1-quart mason jar and spooned in two heaping tablespoons of the cocoa. I inserted a whisk into the jar and spun it between my palms as one spins a stick when making a fire without flint and steel. When the powder was well-integrated, I stirred it into the primary. I did not want to over-do the chocolate. Meads should be subtle.

    I stirred it 4-5 times a day for about 16 days (mead ferments slower than wine) before the specific gravity was down to 1.020. I stirred it again, immediately transferred it to a secondary and crowned it with an airlock. Then I left it alone for three months.

    The color was not inspiring but neither is the color of coffee wine. But the mead was almost clear. I racked it carefully so as not to disturb the cocoa-lees and added some sulfite before reattaching the airlock. Then it sat for another three months.

    A very fine dusting of lees coated the bottom of a very clear mead. I should have racked again and left it another three months but did not. I racked it very carefully straight into bottles in one continuous operation so no backflow between bottles would disturb the lees. I did this by placing all the bottles in a roasting pan on the floor and quickly moving the siphon hose from one bottle to another without stopping the flow. Messy, yes, but I finished with the lees undisturbed and that was my goal. The bottles were cleaned and dried before corking.

    Because of spillage between bottles the last bottle was not quite full. I let it sit until last night and opened it. When I taste something real good it takes real willpower not to over-indulge. Last night I lost my will and drank the whole bottle while watching recorded reruns of Duck Dynasty. The show is funny enough by itself, but even funnier after the third glass of chocolate mead.

    Asparagus, Polenta and Egg

    Asparagus, Polenta and Egg, photo by Melissa Camero with permission, from <i>Bitchin Camero</i>

    About two months ago I made an incredible dish from the breakfast section of The Low-GI Slow Cooker Cookbook by Snyder, Clum and Zulaica. I tweaked the recipe a bit and moved it from breakfast to bunch and could not be more pleased by its simplicity and satisfaction. I call it Asparagus, Polenta and Egg, and it only takes an hour and a half to slow cook after 10-12 minutes preparation.

    By the way, this is a very useful cookbook, built around the glycemic index (GI) as the name implies. It contains a great appendix listing foods and their GI load. No GI is listed for asparagus so its GI must be very low (the GI for arugula, which is listed, is only 5).

    The actual recipe I tweaked used no asparagus but served the polenta (with blended diced onion) with egg on a bed of arugula flavored with olive oil, red wine vinegar and salt. The book gives each serving a GI load and the value of this breakfast dish is 14, which is very low and very good, especially for diabetics and pre-diabetics. I cannot imagine the GI load of my dish being higher but I'm no expert at this. All I know is that my dish is very good.

    Asparagus, Polenta and Egg Recipe

    • 1 lb fresh asparagus
    • 1/4 cup diced white onion
    • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
    • 3 cups water
    • 4 large eggs
    • 2 Tblsp grated Parmesan cheese
    • sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste

    Spray the inside of the slow cooker with olive oil (it's available) or another no-stick spray. Spread 1/4 cup diced white onion over the bottom. Arrange the asparagus spears in a closely packed layer over the onion as best you can (I alternated the asparagus end to tip to even out the layer) and create a second loose layer crosswise if you have extra asparagus. In a bowl, mix a slurry of the cornmeal and water and pour it over the asparagus. Some will soak through the asparagus and onion, but if the asparagus is tightly layered not all of the cornmeal will.

    Place the top on the slow cooker and turn on high for 1 hour. Remove the top and use a spoon or ladle to make 4 evenly spaced depressions. Crack and deposit an egg into each depression, return the lid and allow to cook another 20 minutes. Turn off heat but leave the lid undisturbed for 5-10 minutes (until the yoke is the consistency you want. Use a knife to cut the dish into quarters between the eggs, being careful not to damage the bottom of the slow cooker. Use a spatula to remove the quarters to serving plates. Season to taste with sea salt and cracked pepper and then sprinkle the Parmesan. It's a great main dish.

    I have made this with chopped pepperoni sprinkled in with the onions, with precooked (but not yet crisp) bacon chopped and added to the onions, and with smoked mackerel broken up and mixed with the onion – each before the asparagus is laid down. Each was delightful. The smoked mackerel was my favorite, but smoked salmon would also work.

    There are many possible tweaks to this idea. The polenta mix (cornmeal and water) could be placed over a layer of corned beef hash (the glycemic load would rise), or the onions, cornmeal and water could be cooked, the eggs added as before, and the finished dish could be served over steamed asparagus (very similar to Melissa Camero's photo above featuring a poached egg over polenta and asparagus%see link following today's entry for this different approach), over endives, cabbage, bok choy, arugula as in the cookbook, or over whatever you can imagine. And of course, the polenta can be spiced in any number of ways. I do love experimenting with food.

    Boatlift, An Untold Tale of 9/11 Resilience

    Boats evacuating people stranded on Manhattan on 9/11/2001

    One should, if possible, give tribute to those who do what the moment requires to serve the needs of others. I recently was passed a URL that made me aware of hundreds of unnamed people who came together on September 11, 2001 to do what the moment required. It is a story that needs retelling.

    I was aware, somewhat, that many people got off of Manhattan – an absolute island – on 9/11 by boat. I knew no details and assumed they used the ferries, as all other ways off the island were closed – the bridges, the subways, the automobile tunnels. It really never occurred to me what really happened.

    The following 12-minute film, produced and directed by Eddie Rosenstein and narrated by Tom Hanks, tells the story of what happened that day when a half-million commuters and residents wanting off the island found themselves stranded on Manhattan. What happened in the next nine hours is truly staggering. This short documentary is well worth watching. Please do yourself a favor and watch it.

    The documentary has been out for three years, so many of you may have already seen it. Watch it again. It will do your soul good.

    It humbles me to recognize the monumental scope of what those people did that day. I can only try to imagine how grateful I would be – if I were one of those evacuees – for those who came to help. In truth, I really doubt my imagination is adequate to the task.

    If you were one of those who were evacuated off the island that day I would love to hear from you. Click this link for my email address and let me hear from you. Please....

    September 11th, 2013

    It was 12 years ago today that we first heard that a plane had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center, and a year ago today that we learned the US Consulate in Benghazi was under armed attack. These were two very different attacks and were handled very differently by our leaders.

    September 11, 2001

    Hearing it on the radio, both the announcer and I thought a small single or twin engine plane had done the deed. Only television viewers quickly realized that a much larger plane was involved. It took a while for me to realize the same thing – it was a commercial jetliner.

    Although I had no TV available at work, as soon as I heard a second plane had crashed into the second tower I knew it was terrorism. Then came the news that another plane had hit the Pentagon. No one knew the breadth of the attacks but an additional hijacked plane seemed to be involved. When it crashed in rural Pennsylvania en route to Washington, DC we were still unsure if more attacks would follow.

    But events continued to unfold even as authorities assured us no more commercial aircraft were unaccounted for. Unthinkably, one of the towers collapsed, then the other. It was like the sinking of the Titanic. It simply couldn't happen. But it did.

    Only after both towers collapsed were I and my coworkers sent home, in shock like the rest of the country. Seeing it at home on TV was more than just emotional. I kept thinking of the firemen in the second tower who bravely climbed those many stairs knowing what probably awaited them...who willingly climbed those many stairs into the arms of the Lord.

    The most surreal event(s) of that day for me was the grounding of every airplane inbound to or aloft over the United States...at airports ill-prepared to receive them or their passengers. A somber TV announcer said the FAA had just confirmed that the only aircraft flying anywhere over the United States were combat air patrols. It was a profound statement.

    Throughout the day we were told President Bush spoke with the Vice President, various Cabinet members and agency heads, the Mayor of New York City, and many others. He was very much engaged. He addressed the nation that very day. And within two months we had made a pact with the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and had people in-country looking for Osama bin Laden & company.

    I still get emotional thinking about it all. Terrorists declared war on the United States of America. They have not yet surrendered or declared a truce.

    September 11, 2012

    A year ago today the terrorists reaffirmed their war against the United States at Benghazi, Libya. The attack began at 3:42 pm Washington, DC time. The final attack on the CIA Annex began at 11:15 pm Washington time.

    During that entire time Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met once with President Obama (at 5 pm). Once.

    According to Panetta, he did not communicate again with the President during the entire period of crisis. Not once. It was – and continues to be – a shameful display of apparent non-interest.

    The next day President Obama declared the U.S. would bring those responsible to justice. "Make no mistake," he said, "we will bring justice to the killers who attacked our people." He then left for Las Vegas and Colorado for a round of campaign fund raisers.

    One year later, not only has no justice been served, but we still don't even know what Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton did during that prolonged attack. "The most transparent administration in history" continues to hide its non-interest and inaction behind a veil of secrecy.


    My elders always got very emotional about December 7th. I thought I understood their reaction even though it didn't affect me quite the same way as it did them. It was not until the attacks of September 11, 2001 that I reacted emotionally to a date in a similar fashion. Now, I suppose I always will.

    But September 11, 2012 conjures very different emotions. Your mileage may vary.

    Scaling Up from a 1-Gallon Recipe

    Scaling up from 1 gallon recipes – various carboy sizes

    I am often asked how to use one of my 1-gallon recipes to make larger batches, say 5 or 6 gallons in size. When making a larger batch, you do need to make some changes.

    Never assume your fruit and mine will be the same. Mine may be sweeter, have more juice or be more acidic than yours, or vice versa. Our fruit may vary in ripeness or may be slightly different cultivars. Assume nothing, but verify by measuring key parameters if possible. If you can't, making a 1-gallon batch from my recipes will probably be okay – both you and I assume it will, and experience has shown that is usually good enough.

    But when you scale up, small differences get magnified and often matter a great deal more.

    First, in my 1-gallon recipes I usually say to use a finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. I say this even though I don't use them. I use 1/20 teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite. The few times I have actually said to use 1/20 teaspoon potassium metabisulfite I received a rash of emails asking how to measure that. I said you place 1/4 teaspoon of the material on a flat glass surface (a mirror?) and use a razor blade to divide it into 5ths. I got more emails saying that was too difficult to judge, so I simplified it to 1/16 teaspoon – just cut the 1/4 teaspoon in half and then each half into halves to yield 1/16ths. More emails, so I went back to saying a finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet.

    If you make a 5-gallon batch, use 1/4 teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite. If you make a 6-gallon batch, use just under 1/3 teaspoon or a slightly heaping 1/4 teaspoon. If you want to be more exact, use 3/10 (6/20) of a teaspoon. Switching from Campden tablets to pure potassium metabisulfite is a step in the right direction. You'll see at once how much inert filler material there is in a Campden tablet, as a full 1/4 teaspoon of potassium metabibulfite equals a ot less bulk than one finely crushed Campden tablet.. If you measure pH, you can be more exact (see my WineBlog post of Sep 8).

    Second, measure the specific gravity of the must and add sugar as required rather than what is in the recipe. What worked for my base may well work for yours, but if there is a small difference between them it will be compounded by 5 or 6 times for larger batches and that could be disastrous. Prepare the base. add the potassium metabisulfite, and allow it to macerate in the added water, if any, for 12 hours. Then add pectic enzyme and wait another 12 hours. Then measure the specific gravity and add sugar as requited to reach 1.090 or your own target level.

    Measuring applies to acid as well as sugar. If you can measure your acidity, do so and adjust it according to your must's needs. Acid can be measured as TA and pH. If you can only measure one way but not the other, do it. If you can measure both, all the better. pH is a better measurement for many reasons, but you have to have a pH meter to do it reliably. Most home winemakers do not, but it would be a nice Christmas or birthday gift.

    The amount of water used is always an estimate based on what I used in my recipe but is totally dependent on the amount of juice in your fruit or berries or how much sugar you added (which affects volume), so it might very well vary. Add water as required to make your target – 5 or 6 gallons.

    Some think that when I use a packet of yeast to make 1 gallon they should use 5 or 6 times that amount to make 5 or 6 gallons. This simply isn't true. I use a packet because once it is opened the yeast will not survive long. If I don't have another wine to start within a few days, I use the whole packet on one batch.

    Begin a starter solution 24 hours before it is needed and feed it every 2 hours if practical so that one packet of yeast will grow to the equivalent of over 4000 packets when needed. It will grow to this amount because yeast populations double about every 2 hours during the first 2-3 days – until their density causes them to stop reproducing at such a rate. One packet is plenty enough for 5-6 gallons if husbanded appropriately as I've described so many times in this WineBlog.

    Remember, a yeast starter solution adds volume. If you have exactly 1 gallon of juice and add a pint of starter solution it isn't going to fit in a 1-gallon secondary. Subtract the volume of the starter solution from the amount of other liquids up front to get it right. It sounds like common sense but even I forget to do it occasionally.

    All other ingredients of a 1-gallon recipe should be as stated and then multiplied by the number of gallons to be made. Remember, the Sumerians could do it, so you can too.

    Dried Fig Wine

    Dried figs, photo from www.driedfruits.com.cn under fair use doctrine of 1984, educational intent with no commercial gain derived from use

    My first ever fig wine was made with dried figs. Not having a recipe, I used my date wine recipe. The wine was thin and not very good, so I made a second batch using 3 times the amount of dates. This wine was very full bodied, so I blended the two batches together and liked the result. By comparing the two recipes, the correct formulation became evident.

    Fresh fig wine and dried fig wine are not the same in taste just as the fresh and dried fruit don't taste the same. But both are worthy of the effort. The good things about dried figs are that they extend the fig winemaking season considerably and don't take up as much room as frozen figs.

    Fresh figs are modest in sugar content, being 6.9% – less than fresh plums but slightly more than average fresh strawberries. Dried figs, however, contain 66.5% sugar by weight – a huge difference. Four pounds of dried figs contain 2 pounds 9 1/2 ounces of sugar, although some is not fermentable. If the figs are sliced in half lengthwise, the fermentable sugar is instantly available to the yeast and little sugar needs to be added to the must.

    The recipe below is not my original or its successor, but one I made several years ago that worked better than my previous attempts. The body is improved even more without increasing the figs. This is accomplished by using light dry malt extract. Do not over-do it. Use the amount called for.

    Dried Fig Wine Recipe

    • 4 lbs dried figs
    • 6 3/4 oz very fine granulated sugar
    • 1/3 cup light dry malt extract
    • 3/4 tsp pectic enzyme
    • 2 tsp acid blend
    • 1/4 tsp grape tannin
    • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
    • water to one gallon (about 7 1/2 pints total)*
    • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
    • 1 sachet Lalvin K1-V1116 wine yeast

    *Total water includes the volume used in yeast starter solution.

    Put 1 quart water on to boil and remove from heat when boiling. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Meanwhile, destem and halve the figs lengthways. Place in primary and pour hot sugar water over figs. Add remaining water (see * above), dry malt extract, acid blend, tannin, yeast nutrient and Campden. Cover primary and set aside for 12 hours. Stir in pectic enzyme, re-cover primary and set aside an additional 12 hours. Add activated yeast in a starter solution, re-cover primary and stir 2-3 times daily until specific gravity drops to 1.010.

    Remove the fruit to a colander placed securely over a bowl to catch the drippings. Press lightly with a large spoon to extract more juice. Use fruit for preserves or tart or pie filling (or discard) and return drippings to primary. Transfer liquids to a secondary (do not top up) and attach an airlock. Ferment to absolute dryness (about 30 days) and rack, top up and reattach airlock. Rack again after 45 days and, if clear, bottle (if not clear, rack and wait an additional 30 days), or, if desired to sweeten stabilize with 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and a finely crushed Campden tablet; top up, reattach airlock and set aside 30 days. Sweeten to taste and allow another 30 days (to proof against refermentation) before bottling. Allow at least 3 months before tasting, but will improve with time. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

    This wine has great body and could actually be started with more sugar to achieve a higher alcohol content but this would necessitate some sweetening at the end to attain balance. I made this one year as an 18% port style wine and drank it over the year-end holidays with great relish.

    September 8th, 2013

    noun a division or contrast of two mutually exclusive or contradictory groups, entities or ideas
    synonyms: contrast, difference, polarity, conflict, gulf, chasm, division, separation, split, rare contrariety
    Example: We are encouraged not to judge all Muslims by the actions of a few lunatics, but we are encouraged to judge all gun owners by the actions of a few lunatics.

    Enough said.

    Sausage, Vegetable & Bean Stew (photo by Jack Keller)

    I got ready to begin making Cassoulet today and discovered I was missing a key ingredient (forgot I had eaten it and not replaced it), so I decided to make a stew instead in my slow cooker. I just threw it together, so don't really have a name or recipe for it, but I guess I could call it "sausage, vegetable and bean stew."

    It contains carrots, green beans, white kidney beans, onion, garlic, Herbs de Provence, basil, oregano, and pepper – and good old smoked country sausage (a mix of beef, pork and turkey), more than slightly spicy, and lots of it. I used too much oregano but the other flavors still bleed through. I used corn meal and pureed navy beans to thicken it, and it's good. I wanted to add celery, bell pepper and tomatoes, but I used the small cooker and got carried away on the sausage and other ingredients, leaving no room for the extras.

    The actual recipe I was going to use is referenced at the end of this entry, but when I discovered I hadn't replace the eaten pork tenderloin I put away the kielbasa, took out the country sausage and did my own thing. Cooking is, after all, a creative endeavor.

    Wisteria Bonsai, on my Pinterest board Bonsai Trees

    I have seen the word Pinterest many times associated with social media sites. Facebook and Twitter eat up enough of my time, so I didn't want anything to do with another one. Thus, I avoided it without really knowing what it is.

    One day last week a friend wrote me and attached a photo of an antique airplane. In the body of the message he had a link saying "more". I clicked and was on his Pinterest board of antique airplane photographs. It was pretty cool and I explored his other boards, then clicked on a photo and was on someone else's board. I looked at their other boards and before you knew it I had opened a Pinterest account – no boards, no pinned photos, just a portal.

    Pinterest is a site where you can "pin" to your board just about any photo you find anywhere on the internet, either directly as a "repin" if it has already been pinned or through the use of ancillary software if it has not already been pinned.

    I now have four boards – Gardening with Succulents, Recipes to Try, Bonsai Trees, and Recipes I've Tried and Recommend. In the latter, several are previous posts in this WineBlog.

    These are all areas that interest me, and I'm sure there will be more. I grow some succulents and plan on planting a succulent garden; I raised bonsai trees when I lived in San Francisco, having 48 different planters with single or multiple trees in them; I wanted a place to reference recipes I want to try, so that was my first board; and the recipe recommendations are really for my family and friends (but you can try them).

    If you're on Pinterest, follow me and I'll probably follow you back.

    Short Answers

    Questions and Answers

    I get a lot of email. If the answer is on my website, I tend not to answer or will reply with a hint of where to find the answer. Or I will point to my on-site search engine where they can find the answer's location. But sometimes I do answer and that becomes the nuclei of a future blog post. Short answers rarely get shared here But here are some short answers to questions that deserve sharing because they might help a greater number of people.

    You sometimes say in your recipes to squeeze the pulp to remove the juice and other times to strain without squeezing. I know that sometimes squeezing can make the wine cloudy, so what is the rule with when it's safe to squeeze and when it's not?

    Squeezing or not squeezing the pulp is both a perception and experience thing – not really a rule of thumb. For really fine pulp (like from strawberries or kiwifruit), I use a lady's knee-high nylon stocking and after it drip-drains I twist the top to exert pressure. The trick is to twist and wait, twist and wait, as each twist tightens it more but it takes a number of seconds for the internal moisture to work its way to the outer surface. At some point the yield is not worth the effort and it's time to stop. With regular nylon mesh bags found in homebrew shops, very fine pulp will ooze out if too much pressure is applied and that very fine pulp becomes a problem in clarifying and racking. Use your instincts and observations. If very fine pulp begins to ooze, stop.

    My closest homebrew shop is more than 60 miles away and I seldom visit it except to buy new yeast and additives. Last time I was there they were out of nylon mesh bags and the one I have is really showing wear. Is there any other source for them without shopping on-line? I don't have a credit card and don't want to get one.

    Almost any paint or hardware store sells paint straining bags, used by painters to strain lumps out of paint that was opened previously and resealed. These are much cheaper than bags at homebrew shops but not as deep or as durable, so buy several and discard when the mesh shows signs of fatigue.

    Some ingredients you regularly use in your recipes are not available here on Leyte [Philippines]. I cannot find pectin enzyme or frozen grape concentrates and shipping from anywhere is international and expensive. Is there a substitute for pectin enzyme? Can I use bottled grape juice instead?

    Save the peelings from all your papaya and freeze them in sealable plastic bags or containers for later use. The inner peeling contains natural pectinase. A 9-inch strip of peeling 1/2-3/4 inch wide will provide enough pectic enzyme for a gallon of wine. Leave the peeling in the must during primary fermentation and the yeast will extract the pectinase for you.

    You can use bottled grape juice, but most of those contain preservatives that make them impossible to ferment. Read the ingredients label very carefully and do not use any that contain sorbate, sorbic acid, benzoate, or benzoic acid as these prevent yeast budding (reproduction). Pasteurized juices containing sulfites or ascorbic acid as color preservatives are generally okay if they do not contain the previously listed ingredients.

    You will have to use four times as much juice as you would concentrate. If the recipe calls for a 12-ounce can of frozen concentrate, use 48 ounces of juice. Adjust the amount of water you add to the must accordingly.

    I'm making my first wine, but have been making homebrew beer for several years. Can I use beer bottles instead of wine bottles and caps instead of corks?

    Absolutely. Many people find a beer bottle a perfect size for two glasses of wine with a meal. But if you are single, resist the habit of drinking from the bottle and use a wine glass. It is the combination of drinking and inhaling the bouquet and aromas that produce the most enjoyment of drinking wine, and wine glasses are designed to deliver both at once.

    I made some wine from strawberry/kiwi/banana nectar and it won't clear. What can I do?

    Nectars are flavor intensive but are generally problematic when it comes to clearing. Some will clear but many will not, which is why I never include them in my recipes. But if you do use nectars, then follow the following protocol for clearing them.

    First, be sure to add and appropriate dose of pectic enzyme to the must at least 12 hours prior to introducing the yeast – 1 1/2 teaspoons of powdered pectic enzyme per gallon, a bit higher than for fruit juice. If you have liquid pectic enzyme, follow its instructions but use 1 1/2 times as much as for juice.

    Second, not sooner than a month after fermentation, use a two-part clarifier like Claro KC or Super Kleer K-C (there are others, but these are the two I use) according to the manufacturer's instrutions. The KC stands for kieselsol and chitosan, two fining agents that are negatively charged and positively charged respectively. The negatively charged kieselsol attracts (and thereby binds with and removes) proteins and some metallic compounds, while the positively charged chitosan attracts and removes excess tannins, phenols, anthrocyanins, yeast cells, and bacteria. These agents are populat because they are fairly gentle on the wine – don't strip it of its color, aroma, body, or character. Use these according to their instructions, racking the wine about 2 weeks after their use.

    If the wine is not clear enough after their use, and assuming you used pectic enzyme as instructed, then and only then can you resort to filtering. Rarely does this protocol fail, but a very few nectars simply defy clarifying to brlliance.

    How much will a gallon of juice increase when you add a pound of sugar?

    A pound of very finely granulated sugar, which volumetrically is 2 1/4 cups, dissolved in a gallon of fruit or grape juice (or just plain water) will increase the volume by 1 3/8 cups. That is the displacement volume of the sugar when dissolved. If we make a simple syrup with that one pound of sugar, we add 2 parts sugar to 1 part water, or 2 1/4 cups of sugar into 1 1/8 cups of water. The displacement is still 1 3/8 cups, so the final volume of simple syrup is a whisper under 2 1/2 cups – 1 1/8 cups water + 1 3/8 cups displacement = 2 1/2 cups (but it will be a teeny, tiny bit less). For our purposes, 2 1/2 cups is close enough.

    My local homebrew shop operator talked me into buying some Metatartaric Acid and I cannot recall what it is used for. Can you tell me?

    All grape wines (and any country wines to which acid blend was added) contain tartaric acid and potassium. These combine in the finished wine to form potassium bitartrate in solution. If there is too much of both, the excess will precipitate out over time in crystalline structures which are usually clear, odorless and tasteless, although in red wines the crystals can contain some of the pigment. In barrels the crystals can grow onto the inner surface in a coating, but in carboys or bottles they usually appear as tiny crystals on the bottom surface (a side if the bottles were laying down). They are harmless even if accidentally swallowed but could really freak out the wine drinker who might perceive them as pieces of glass.

    Any wine displaying potassium bitartrate crystals should be decanted before serving, but most winemakers would rather their wines not drop the crystals at all. There are two methods of prevention.

    The first involves cold and time – the wine is brought to a temperature just above freezing and held there for a period of time – several weeks to several months depending on the severity of the excess tartaric acid and potassium. It is then racked off the crystals and bottled.

    The second method involves adding an appropriate dose (read the directions) of metatartaric acid. The latter, which is a polymerized form of tartaric acid, prevents the dissolved potassium bitartrate from forming crystals for a period of about a year and a half if the wine is stored below 68° F or 20°C. If you cannot store the wine at this temperature, the metatartaric acid is useless to you and you should return it for a refund.

    How do you remove labels from recycled wine bottles?

    I fill each bottle with very hot water and stand it upright in a 5-gallon pail. To the pail I add 1/2 cup of Clorox Advantage Bleach – you have to look for the word "Advantage" on the label. This bleach has an oxidizer that I find makes it more effective than other bleaches. I then fill the space around the upright bottles with hot water to an inch or so above the highest label, but do not bring the water level quite up to the rim of the bottles. I simply don't want to worry about removing bleach from the inside of the bottles, which can be disastrous if any remains behind..

    I allow the bottles to soak for a while. This may be two hours or may be overnight. Longer is generally better and many labels will simply float off, but some labels use stronger adhesives and will come off easier if the water is still warm. Try peeling the label off. If this doesn't work, use a paring knife or a single-edged razor blade to help separate it from the glass. A scouring pad or metal scrubbie will help remove most residual glue, but some adhesives defy this treatment and are best removed with Goo Gone or another adhesive-remover product.

    One such product is zylol (zylene), available at many hardware stores. Wearing rubber gloves, put some zylol on a paper towel and rub it on the stubborn adhesive. The gunk will come off. But be sure to do this outside, as this stuff is volatile and not good for your lungs.

    Treating Oxidation

    Oxidized wine (photo by Mark Fisher and used under Fair Use Doctrine of 1984, educational with no commercial gain received from this publication
    Two wines, healthy and oxidized (photo by Mark
    Fleming, published under fair use doctrine of 1984

    Wines oxidize for any of several reasons. The juice or concentrate used to make the wine may have been oxidized before the wine was made (the first kit wine I ever bought contained an oxidized Chardonnay concentrate). This, of course, is completely beyond the winemaker's control. Then there are juices that simply oxidize quickly, such as apple juice. But here, the winemaker can act to slow the process down.

    Simply adding sulfites (SO2) to the must is not enough to combat oxidation. The dosage has to be correct. The dosage is determined by the pH of the must. The higher the pH, the more SO2 is required to protect the wine. The classic discussion of this, by Daniel Pambianchi, is linked at the end of this entry. I strongly suggest you read it. The winemaker is entirely responsible for sulfite additions, calculations and measurements and Daniel lays it all out for you.

    Also, the must can be oxidized by accidental, careless or negligent means. I have had airlocks knocked loose of their carboys by carried articles, by my pet dog, by visitors, and I suspect by myself. These are accidents.

    I have also had bungs lose their seal – especially the so-called "universal" bungs which the manufacturers claim will seal almost any jug, carboy or demijohn. While their failure is blameless the first time it occurs, using one after one failed is just plain carelessness on the part of the winemaker. I've been there and know. Similarly, failing to wipe the inside of the mouth of a secondary after adding dry additives directly is also carelessness. A single grain of yeast nutrient, acid blend, potassium metabisulfite or potassium sorbate will prevent the bung from sealing.

    Finally, it can only be considered negligence when the winemaker allows the water seal in an airlock to go dry, allowing air to pass uninhibited into the secondary.

    But wines also naturally oxidize over time. Indeed, the fate of all wine is to oxidize in their old age. Whatever the reason, when a wine oxidizes, you can remove some – but not all – of the oxidase from the wine. An oxidase is any of the enzymes that catalyze biological oxidation either directly or indirectly. These enzymes may be oxidoreductase, oxygenase or peroxidase, but identifying which is present is not important. Whichever, you can remove some of the enzyme responsible for the oxidation.

    First, correct the wine's SO2 level commensurate with its pH. Then measure 1/2 gram of non-fat powdered milk per liter of wine and dissolve this in 5 mL of cold water per liter. In other words, to treat 5 U.S. gallons of wine (approximately 19 liters), you would dissolve 9.5 grams of powdered skim-milk in 95 mL of cold water. This should be added to the wine by injecting it with a basting bulb abruptly under the surface and then stirring. The wine may foam, but will soon stop doing so. The reconstituted skim-milk solution must be thoroughly integrated into the wine or it will accomplish nothing. After it is added and integrated, small brown curds will develop in the wine but will eventually settle as lees.

    About three days after adding the reconstituted skim-milk solution, rack the wine carefully off the oxidase-laden curds into a clean secondary. You may want to tie a piece of fine, sanitized nylon over the intake end of the racking hose (or racking cane, if you use one) to prevent the small curds from being siphoned into the clean secondary. While racking the wine, add the required amount of second fining agent you should use (see below) to the transferred wine (the clean secondary). Allow this to settle under airlock for about 10-14 days, then rack again. The wine will be greatly improved, but not as good as if it had not oxidized at all.

    There are several choices of second fining agent to add. Polyvinylpolypyrrolidone (PVPP) is a synthetic, insoluble polymer that can reduce tannins, but it is more useful in removing some of the taste, odors and browning of oxidation.

    Similarly, Polyclar Ultra K-100 and Polylact are products that combine casein with PVPP for tackling browning problems. Casein is a protein found in milk. Commercially, it is usually sold as potassium caseinate and used in red wines to reduce tannins and in white wines to remove brown color from oxidized wine. It is the active ingredient in the powdered skim milk already used so you might want to use PVPP alone.

    If oxidative odors persist, a fining of activated charcoal usually does the trick. It absorbs the browning and off-odors of oxidation, but if not used in the correct dosage will strip the wine of its color, flavor and character. Be sure to use it according to the manufacturers instructions.

    September 1st, 2013

    Today I am 25,082 days old. Yep, 3,583 weeks and 1 day old. In other words, 825.03 months young. If I say 68 years and 35 weeks old, well, that sounds much older. I like the other measures better. Want to know how old you are? Just go to How Many Days Old Are You? and enter your birth date. Kinda fun....

    Jicama (photo from

    If you've read this blog for the past year and a half you know I have changed my eating habits to lose a third-trimester belly and its accompanying weight. I refer to it as my "diet" but it is no such thing. It is simply the way I eat now – one moderate meal a day and 5 healthy snacks throughout the day to prevent any feeling of hunger. One of my fairly regular snacks is 3/4 cup (about 2 ounces) of jicama cubes or sticks eaten with a dip (see below).

    Jicama (pronounced hic·uh·muh, or, hi[as in hit]·ka·ma, which sounds Japanese to me) is the tuberous root of the Pachyrhizus erosus, a member of the bean family, from Mexico. This relationship (tuberous root of a bean-producing vine) gives it its nickname, yambean. The root is large, like a big sweet onion or slightly flattened turnip, with a brown skin and white, solid, crunchy interior that is moist without being juicy. The taste is slightly sweet and refreshing %like a water chestnut – and remains crunchy even when baked.

    Jicama is a very healthy alternative to potatoes in certain applications (see below). Extremely low in polyunsaturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, it is a good source of Vitamin C, folate, and choline (an essential dietary requirement within the B-complex vitamins), traces of Vitamin A, calcium, iron and protein, and an excellent source of a soluble dietary fiber called inulin. According to Annaliisa Kapp, "Inulin is a zero calorie, sweet inert carbohydrate and does not metabolize in the human body, which make the root an ideal sweet snack for diabetics and dieters."

    The root is best managed by cutting in half vertically. An unused half can be wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator for a week or more. The skin is best peeled by using a paring knife to get under the skin and pulling it off. Once peeled, it can be prepared many, many ways – shredded into salads, baked into casseroles, sliced and oven baked into chips, or used as a potato substitute for hash browns or French fries.

    I prefer to eat jicama raw in bite-sized cubes or cut into sticks like French fries and eaten plain, drizzled with lime juice and lightly spiced, or with a dip. My favorite dip is equal parts of light mayonnaise and Colman's Original English Mustard, a deliciously spicy mustard and, in my opinion, the best mustard there is, period. I also like it with guacamole. But a ZipLoc bag of plain jicama sticks makes a great snack while hiking or on long drives – crispy, juicy and satisfying, and much healthier than a bag of potato or corn chips.

    Shredded or diced finely, jicama can be cooked in a skillet with diced onion, bell pepper, garlic and spices in a very small amount of coconut or olive oil to make wonderful (and healthy) hash browns.

    Tossed with a tablespoon of coconut or olive oil, dried chipotle (or red chili) powder, dried cilantro, and pinches of garlic powder and sea salt, thin jicama sticks can be oven baked at 375-400° F. for 30 minutes and then drizzled with lime juice for delicious oven baked fries. Although baked, they will still be crunchier than similarly baked potatoes. Why the lime? It just goes good with jicama.

    This is a great food item, folks. It can be cooked into soups or stews, added to salsas (including guacamole for a crunchier treat), omelets, an endless entourage of salads, and more casseroles than one could list. Try it – write me if you don't like it. That's a double-dare....

    Blueberry Pomegranate Wine from Frozen Concentrate

    Old Orchard Blueberry Pomegranate frozen juice concentrate

    Mark Witmer recently wrote me that he won a double gold at the Indy International Wine Competition with a blueberry pomegranate wine "loosely based" on my Welch's Frozen Grape Juice Concentrate Wine. This information bounced around in my head until I found myself at the freezer aisles at my supermarket and my eyes locked onto Old Orchard Blueberry Pomegranate Frozen 100% Juice Concentrate. I just had to try it!

    Old Orchard also sells a Premium Pomegranate Blueberry Frozen 100% Juice Blended Concentrate, but it has more pomegranate than blueberry and I wanted it the other way around.

    Blueberry juice has a subdued flavor when compared to pomegranate juice, so to get the most blueberry-forward flavor in a blend of the two juices blueberry must be the dominate juice. U.S. laws require that blends must list blends in order of percentile dominance, although you might have to read the ingredients label to be sure. This allows you to buy what you prefer, and that is important when selecting from Old Orchard's 23 frozen juice concentrates (and then there are Welch's, Minute Maid, Tree Top, Hawaii's Own, Coloma, ShopRite, Peake's Pick, Cascadian Farm, Dole, and many others in the U.S. market).

    I did not ask Mark his exact recipe. If he wanted to share it he would have and I would have published it and his double gold would be up for grabs. But I did devise my own recipe. There is no guarantee it will win a double gold, but it should be really good drinking a year from now. Pomegranate, especially, is best at two years while blueberry tends to peak earlier, so a year to 18 months is a good compromise.

    My recipe takes into account the measured sugar and acid in the reconstituted juice. If you follow the directions on the containers you might think I added too much concentrate for the amount of water added. I'm betting this extra concentrate will make a nice flavor statement.

    Blueberry Pomegranate Wine Recipe

    • 3 12-oz cans Old Orchard Frozen Blueberry Pomegranate 100% Juice Concentrate
    • 1 lb 13 oz very fine granulated sugar
    • 1 1/2 tsp acid blend
    • 1/4 tsp powdered grape tannin
    • Water to 1 gallon
    • 1 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
    • Lalvin RC212 wine yeast

    Bring 1 quart water to boil, remove from heat and dissolve sugar, acid blend and grape tannin. In primary, combine Frozen Blueberry Pomegranate 100% Juice Concentrate, sugar water and yeast nutrient. Add water to make 1 gallon and stir in yeast nutrient. [Tip: If you add one gallon of water to your primary and mark the water's edge with a scribe, then after drying it out trace the scribe mark with an indelible marker, you will always be able to "add water to make 1 gallon."] Cover primary until cooled to under 100° F. Add activated dry yeast in a starter solution, re-cover primary and set aside. Stir daily until specific gravity drops to 1.010, then transfer to a secondary and attach an airlock. Allow 30 days to pass before racking. Stabilize with 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and a finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet; rack again after additional 30 days. Sweeten wine to taste if desired, then wait a final 30 days and carefully rack into bottles. Wait 1 year to 18 months for best enjoyment. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

    Waiting to Bottle the Wine

    I have explained this several times but still people ask why I wait 30 days to bottle after sweetening if the wine has already been stabilized. Stabilizing with potassium sorbate renders live yeast incapable of reproducing, but it doesn't kill them. Neither does the potassium metabisulfite in the Campden tablet, which is added to protect the wine from harmful bacteria which can spoil it or turn it into vinegar.

    The yeast live on and metabolize any available sugar into energy for themselves and emit carbon dioxide and ethanol as waste. So you stabilize and wait 30 days before adding sugar in order to give the yeast time to die off. Most will, but some won't. You can wait longer, but in any case after adding sugar you wait an additional 30 days to see if there are enough yeast present to continue fermentation. A steady pressure on the airlock, even if there isn't enough to push a bubble, is a sign it isn't yet time to bottle.

    The 30 days are a minimum. If there appears to be fermentation you wait however long it takes to be safe. A friend recently uncorked a bottle of very young Concord and not only was the wine carbonated, but you could see bubbles rising in the bottle itself. Bottled too early....

    I understand the desire to bottle quickly. I experienced that desire for several years, only losing it when I had enough wine on hand that I didn't need newly bottled wine for near-term consumption. Since then I seldom have empty spaces in my wine racks begging to be filled, so I typically wait 90 days or more after sweetening a wine (just enough to bring it off bone dryness) before bottling it. Prudence is better than sorrow.

    August 23rd, 2013

    My friend Bob Wehner wrote that the first five days after the weekend are always the hardest. Keep a stiff upper lip, Bob. Those five days are almost over.

    If anyone out there has a recipe for bunchberry wine, please send it to me and I will pass it along to a gent who needs one. Look at the top of the left column for the link to my email address.

    Twitter users, if you tweet about homemade wines or winemaking, use the hashtag #homewine to flag your tweet for the rest of us. Hashtag #homewine pertains to all things relating to homemade wine or home winemaking or home winemakers.

    Vodka Zinger loaded with fruit

    I have this gadget called a Vodka Zinger that makes infused vodka in a jiffy. It consists of four pieces that fit and screw together easily and is quite ingenious. The bottom-most piece is a compartment that has vertical blades. You insert berries, fruit, mint leaves or a combination of all three, being careful of those blades. Another bladed piece slips down inside it and has a sieve-top that allows the vodka to get into and out of the bottom compartment. It also has a handle to allow you to twist it so that the blades chop the contents. A metal cylinder screws onto the bottom, you fill it about 3/4 with your favorite vodka, screw on a lid (in the photo the cylinder and lid are screwed together and upside down), and put it in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes. When ready for a drink, you shake it up and down about 15 seconds and voila! It's ready to pour without any pulp. After you've consumed the contents, you can refill it with vodka and go for seconds...and thirds.

    My first experiment was with blueberries. I was amazed at how many drinks I got out of a small handful of blueberries. I used the same berries four times and the vodka was still well flavored and lavender in color. I then used strawberries and after two uses added in two peach wedges without removing the strawberries. Great stuff.

    When cleaning out the fruit (which are loaded with vodka), I stirred them into plain Greek yogurt. It just doesn't get much better than this.

    Reused blackberries.
    Recycled blackberry pulp has lost its dark, black-
    berry color but still makes good jam, delicious on
    English muffins

    In this part of Texas June was the month for picking wild blackberries, although some ripened into July. Just 75 miles north of here in the Hill Country the harvest was later and I found (and ate) some late berries last week along a river bank.

    I picked my berries for blackberry wine along Salado Creek in June. The wine is ready for its second racking and this harvest gave me a double bounty. After a 3-day maceration and fermentation in a nylon mesh bag, I removed the pulp, let it drip drain about 20 minutes, and then emptied the bag into a pot and made blackberry jam. Traditional jam recipes don't work for these recycled berries. They require more sugar, more acid (lemon juice), more pectin, and one had better test the jam's setting power before canning or you might end up with just a tasty topping for pancakes, waffles and ice cream.

    My mother used the "sheet test" to gauge when her jam or jelly was done. I've never had much luck using this method. My wife taught me another way to test jams and jellies after I canned 8 jars of prickly pear cactus syrup instead of jelly (but it was great syrup!). You simply put a large soup spoon in the freezer beforehand and when you think the jam or jelly is ready you drip some of it into the frozen spoon. It will quickly cool and display the consistency it will have when you open a jar of it later on. If it is still more liquid than you hoped, stir in some more pectin and cook it just a while longer. But don't overcook it or the heat will break down the pectin and you are back to syrup.

    I have seen several references that say that fruit that has "started fermenting" cannot be used in jams or jelly because the taste is objectionable. I've been making jams and jellies with fruit that has most certainly been fermented and the tastes have never been objectionable. Color loss and reduced flavor are the greatest criticisms. Just do it right and it will be fine. If you want to boost the flavor with a little blackberry flavoring (most homebrew shops sell it), do so. I've done it, as the one thing lacking in recycled fruit pulp that can be fixed is the flavorful juice. But it only takes 2-3 teaspoons to correct the flavor for a batch.

    When using recycled berries or fruit like this, measure the pulp to coincide with traditional batch amounts when the recipe calls for "crushed" berries. In other words, if your jam recipe calls for 8 cups of crushed berries, use that amount. If you have 12 cups, for example, just use 8 cups and either make a reduced batch later on or find another use for the additional 6 cups – like pie or tart filling. We have so many cookbooks that we can always find a jam recipe that uses just 5, 6 or 7 cups.

    Pulps that have macerated and fermented more than three days tend to be too broken down to use for jams, but might still be processed as a decent filling for tarts. You have to use your judgment on this.

    Finally, a word to the wise. You cannot reuse the pulp from strawberries or kiwi fruit. Use them for your compost pile instead.

    Pin Cherry Wine

    Pin cherries, photo by Ellen Zachos (see link below)
    Pin cherry clusters in the wild (photo credit in
    link below)

    A request for a pin cherry wine recipe, also known as fire cherry and bird cherry, sent me reminiscing. These small berries, with little pulp and a hard, central seed, are nonetheless extremely flavorful and make an excellent wine. A gallon of pin cherries will yield a gallon of you'll-be-glad-you-made-it wine.

    The pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica) spans the breadth of Canada, north until frigid winters are prohibitive and south into New England, the Great Lakes region, and in north-south belts following the Appalachians, Smokies and Rockies. While most pin cherries grow in thickets as shrubs or small trees, isolated specimens can grow to impressive heights and live twice as long as the usual 20-40 years. In their shrub form their berries are easy to harvest, but as they transition to trees their crowns rise and their bounty grows out of reach of human gatherers. Birds love them and spread their seeds.

    The berries are most often used in jams, jellies and syrups (the latter is wonderfully flavored and a real treat on pancakes), but as a red or rosè wine it is quite delicious. I am puzzled why more people in their areas of prolific growth don't make it. My suspicion is that most folks are just too lazy to go out and pick them.

    Hopefully, some will be inspired by this entry to try it. It takes a couple of extra steps to make, but isn't rocket science. Pioneer women have been making it for centuries so anyone can do it.

    Pin Cherry Wine Recipe

    • 1 gallon pin cherries
    • 2 cups maraschino cherries, drained and chopped (canning liquid saved)
    • 3 1/2 quarts water
    • 2 pounds very fine sugar
    • 1/2 cup dry malt extract (for body)
    • 2 teaspoons acid blend
    • 1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
    • Any general purpose wine yeast

    Place cherries and 1 quart of water in a pot, bring to a simmer and hold for 20 minutes. Mash the cherries in the pot using a flat-bottomed wine battle filled with hot water. Do not use enough force to crack seeds. If uneasy to mash, add a cup of hot water and simmer another 10-15 minutes and repeat. When satisfied, add chopped maraschino cherries and their liquid, stir to combine, cover the pot, remove from heat and set aside for 12-24 hours.

    The next day heat 2 1/2 quarts of water and dissolve sugar. Remove from heat, cover and allow to cool 1 hour. Stir in dry malt extract, acid blend and yeast nutrient until dissolved.

    Holding a fine meshed nylon straining bag inside your primary, pour the mashed cherries and their liquid into the bag and tie it closed. Add water with dissolved sugar, acid and nutrients. Add yeast as a starter solution and cover the primary.

    After 48 hours, remove bag and allow to drip drain 30 minutes, then gently squeeze bag to extract additional liquid but not so hard as to extrude pulp through the mesh. Discard cherry residue*, re-cover primary and ferment to1.010. Transfer to secondary, attach air lock and set aside 30 days. Carefully rack, top up and reattach airlock. Wait 60 days and repeat. After additional 30 days, bottle as a dry wine. Best when aged 1 year and served chilled. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

    If you sweeten at all (not recommended, as this is an excellent dry wine), stabilize first with 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. You must wait at least 30 days after stabilizing and sweetening before bottling.

    * It is possible to get a weaker second wine by reboiling the residue, but if you do this I would add a can of pie-cherries to strengthen the flavor. Two cans would be better.

    August 12th, 2013

    I've been having mystifying computer problems for 2-3 months. Despite all my system settings having been set to never allow my CPU or monitor to go into power saving "sleep," my monitor has been going into power saving mode at very random and inopportune times. When it does that, the monitor goes black and nothing I can do will awaken it.

    Friday it did it three times within 3 1/2 hours. My thanks to Lance Gibson, a Facebook friend, for patiently walking me through the steps to replace my video driver and monitor cable and discussing further steps I might take. Thanks, Lance.

    The next day I did some serious PC-cleaning and tuning. I cleaned out all my temporary files, my antivirus quarantine files, my downloaded setup files for programs already installed, pieces of programs left behind after programs had been uninstalled, removed 541 "dead" entries in my registry, defragged all my drives, and found and removed two malware routines hiding in my root directory. I also uninstalled and reinstalled the Chrome browser and Avast Internet Security Suite as my previous actions had altered both programs' behavior.

    After all of that, my computer is now booting fast again and is acting snappy. Most of the tools used to perform these tasks are at Free PC Services, my own website.

    Screenshot of Mars from email

    I'm sure some of you have received an email claiming that Mars will be closest to earth on August 27 that it has been in over 5,000 years. It further says that it may not come this close again until 2287.

    I certainly do encourage you to go out and examine the night sky if city light pollution permits it, but not because of this email. Do it because it is worth doing. Viewing the night sky at various times of the year can be most rewarding for the pleasures it brings if you do just a little research.

    Back in 1958, aa a young teenager, I earned my Boy Scout Astronomy Merit Badge. It was a proud achievement for me, as I then had a working knowledge of sky navigation where I had none before. I could identify the major and some minor constellations, point out our closest stars, find the Andromeda Galaxy, and find the observable planets. What's more, I could (and did) chart the planets' relationships to background stars over a few weeks and show that they moved relative to their background, proving what the ancients and early astronomers figured out, that they "roamed" about in the sky – were actually in orbit around the Sun.

    If you can star-gaze, you should do it to learn and then apply what you learn, not because of this bogus email about Mars. The email seems to get recycled back into circulation every August. The event it describes – the close passage of Mars to Earth – already happened on August 27, 2003.

    I watched it then. Did you? Mars was very bright but not abnormally large to the naked eye. I did not have my telescope then, but even my 25X binoculars allowed me to see it clearly as a disc. And Orion Nebula (in Orion's belt) can be clearly seen using just the binoculars. But with a telescope – oh boy!

    Remembering Stephen Zellerbach's Wines

    Talk about flashbacks! In the early 1980s I was stationed at the Presidio of San Francisco and many Saturday mornings drove north into the wine country to taste wines and add a few to my collection. In those days there were no fees to taste wines and it was a great way to spend a day. Often, after a morning of tasting and then a lunch, I'd find a place to park in the shade and take a nap in the back seat of my Mazda RX2, then go taste some more wines.

    One Saturday I drove up to the Alexander Valley in the Healdsburg-Geyserville-Cloverdale area of Sonoma County. I drove past several wineries and saw some balloons at an entrance of a new winery and pulled in. I walked inside and a man was on a ladder stapling bunting to an upper wall. I asked, "Are you open?"

    Stephen Zellerbach 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon

    The man turned and said, "Well, since you're here, I guess we are. You're our first visitor." He climbed down and found a guest book under the counter and I was the first to sign it. The man was Stephen Zellerbach. This was Zellerbach Vineyard's new tasting room. Everything was new and I felt a little odd as he pulled a glass from a shipping carton, washed and dried it and placed it in front of me. He started pulling corks and I tasted six wines.

    One was a very nice, very intense 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon. It sunk in the mouth with full, heavy suggestions of currant, dark plum and black cherry, then rose and did a little spice dance over the tongue. Finally, its acidity and tannins sucked the mouth dry as I swallowed. It was something I wanted to taste again and again, but at $12 a bottle I could only afford one. But I also bought two bottles each of the more reasonably priced 1981 Cabernet Sauvignon and 1980 Zinfandel – $6 and $8 a bottle respectively.

    I visited Stephen Zellerbach several times and each time the price of the 1978 Cab was a little more. Finally, when he informed me he only had two cases left, I caved in and paid what was then the exorbitant price of $18 each for two bottles. I could be thrifty tomorrow.

    My wine collection rested on shelves I built in a sloped-ceiling closet under a staircase in my flat in the Richmond District of The City (San Francisco to the uninitiated). I kept an inventory of my wines on pages taped to the inside of the closet door, crossing them out as I drank them and adding new ones below the last entry.

    Collapsed buildings in Marina District, San Francisco, October 1989
    The Richmond District has subsurface bed-
    rock and fared better than the Marina District,
    built on landfill

    At 5:04 p.m. on October 17, 1989 a 6.9 magnitude earthquake (Richter Scale – surface-wave magnitude was 7.1) occurred near Loma Prieta Peak It shook San Francisco for 10-15 seconds, ending in a mighty jolt that tossed my collection onto the floor. One hundred and nineteen bottles of wine broke and a well-fitted wooden door jam confined most of the wine to the closet where the red elixir soaked through the oak floor into the garage below. But two so-so bottles survived.

    That evening, me and all my neighbors were sitting in clusters on curbs and stoops eating whatever people had in their refrigerators. The power was out and nobody knew for how long so in all likelihood the food would spoil. A team of residents quickly moved from building to building turning off the gas – San Francisco burned after the 1906 earthquake and we weren't going to be responsible for a repeat. I produced my two bottles of wine and we passed them around, wiping the mouths and drinking from the bottles.

    I have an incredible insurance company. Because I was not a homeowner, I did not need earthquake insurance. My USAA household goods policy was enough to cover most of my damages, which were fairly extensive. My collection of Ming ceramics and artifacts suffered the most because I did not have an art or antiquity rider. But, because I had a wine inventory, they replaced every commercial bottle of wine I lost except eleven that were no longer available anywhere, including the 1978 Zellerbach Cabernet Sauvignon. The value of those eleven were included in the check they sent me several weeks later.

    In 1992, after moving to San Antonio, I wrote to Stephen Zellerbach to give him my new address. He periodically sent me notices of new releases. Although he had sold the winery, his name still appeared on the wines until a reorganization changed the name. But in 1992 I still had his personal business card with his Healdsburg address. In my letter I told him how I had lost my wines in 1989 and among my biggest disappointments was the loss of the last bottle of the 1978 Cab. To my amazement, he sent me a bottle of the wine in early 1993 with a note saying this was from his private stash. It was in a nice box and I left it there. In 1997 we moved to Pleasanton. My wife did most of the packing.

    Saturday I was looking for a magnifier – a stand with a fantastic magnifying lens I used to examine my stamp collection. I knew it was in one of the cartons hidden away in a closet. As I rummaged through one of the cartons I came upon the box with the 1978 Zellerbach Cab with Stephen Zellerbach's note. I sat on the floor and just stared at the bottle, reliving memories tucked away in the recesses of my mind. After what seemed like a long time but probably wasn't, I went into the kitchen and carefully opened the bottle.

    I hesitantly poured a glass and knew immediately that the wine was long past its drinkable life. Thirty-five years is a long time for any wine with an average cork. I stood there looking at the rusty-colored liquid, trying to decide whether to spoil good memories by tasting it or just pour it out. I smelled it. No vinegar, but strong oxidation.

    Stephen Anthony Zellerbach passed away in November 2011 at his home in Healdsburg, at age 84. I remember him well, standing on that ladder stapling bunting, taking out a new guest book, cleaning glasses and pouring wines, talking about the grapes, the harvest, the unbridled smell of fermentation in the winery. And I remember his wonderful 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon.

    I won't tell you what I did with that glass of '78 Cab, but instead will ask – what would you have done?

    Improved Apple Pie Moonshine

    Apple Pie Moonshine, from blog entry of July 15, 2013

    I have gotten a good deal of feedback on my Apple Pie Moonshine recipe. Some offered alternative recipes, some asked questions, but most were laudatory or constructively critical. I took the latter very seriously, studied the other recipe offers, and made two other batches since my first. I've improved the taste considerably.

    As an aside, I also made a mini batch (not counted above) by scaling everything down a bit but increasing the alcohol to 27%. It was far too hot to appreciate as a sipping liquor. I subsequently sweetened it with simple syrup (2 parts sugar dissolved in 1 part water) until it smoothed out. I won't publish that recipe, but I am enjoying it.

    Apparently, most makers of this liquor believe it requires more sugar. Every one of the offered recipes also use more sugar. Thus, I am increasing the amount by 1/2 cup of each type. That amount worked well for me.

    Secondly, after long telephonic conversations with three folks, I am adding additional spices to the recipe below. These spices should be mixed together and placed inside a paper filter container capable of allowing them to infuse the liquor.

    I have pre-made tea bags for bulk teas that fold over and are sealed with a staple (glue won't work as it will leech out into the liquor and the seal will be lost). As an experiment, I made a container by folding coffee filter paper into a container, folding it until sealed, and securing it closed by tying it with a piece of thread. It is quite easy to figure out and works well.

    Martinelli's Gold Medal 100% Pure Apple Cider

    I used Martinelli's Gold Medal 100% Pure Apple Cider in my first recipe because it was clear and I did not want a cloudy liquor. However, I have been in contact with Martinelli's and they tell me their 100% Pure Apple Cider and 100% Pure Apple Juice are the same exact product. Since the success of the taste is that half the apple product should be pure apple cider, which by definition is unfiltered apple juice, I have switched to a cloudy, unfiltered cider. This produces a cloudy finished product, but once again I've turned to my email and found clearing procedures.

    Amy from Biloxi, Mississippi writes, "Just leave it in the carboy for a month or two and it will clear all by itself. Rack it off the sediment."

    Roger Lane wrote that he just adds Sparkolloid according to its instructions and sets his carboy in a closet for a month. It comes out brilliantly clear and the Sparkolloid compacts the lees considerably and makes it easier to rack.

    Payton and Julie wrote that adding pectic enzyme to the cider and letting it work before adding sugar and cinnamon sticks and boiling it will reduce any pectin haze, but otherwise they just mix the cooled ingredients in a carboy and let it clear by itself.

    You can use whichever procedures you want, but below is my third batch's recipe. It uses a combination of the above advice and my own instincts and is a bit more complex than my original. But one of my subsequent batches cleared nicely in 2 weeks and the other is almost clear after not quite 2 weeks (I'll let it sit another few weeks because I don't have empty screw-cap bottles available).

    Let me know how yours turns out. My email address is linked in the upper left column.

    Improved Apple Pie Moonshine Recipe

    • 1 gal 100% pure, unfiltered apple cider *
    • 1 gal unsweetened apple juice
    • 8 4-inch cinnamon sticks (or 10 3-inch)
    • 1 1/2 cup Zulka Pure Cane Sugar (or use raw sugar)
    • 1 1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
    • 1 1/2 tblsp pure vanilla extract
    • 1 spice packet (see below)
    • 2 liters 190-proof Everclear or Diesel grain neutral spirit

    *NOTE: Apple cider is unfiltered apple juice and is usually cloudy, not clear. Using cider is essential for the flavor desired. I previously used Martinelli's clear cider, but it is really filtered apple juice and I no longer use it except to drink alone. I've used organic apple cider in my last two batches.

    Spice Packet

    • 2 tsp powdered allspice
    • 1 tsp nutmeg
    • 3/4 tsp finely crushed or powdered cardamom**
    • 1/2 tsp powdered ginger

    **NOTE: If you absolutely cannot find cardamom, either ground (powdered) or seeds (which you crush in a mortar and pestle before using for a much fresher taste), you can use 1/2 tsp of ground cloves (or slightly less) instead, but the cardamom taste is what you really want.

    Open the gallon jug of cider and stir in 1 teaspoon of powdered pectic enzyme. Recap the jug and set aside 24 hours.

    In a large stockpot combine the apple cider, apple juice, sugar and cinnamon sticks. Bring to a soft boil, stir until sugar is dissolved, place a lid on it, reduce heat just enough to hold the soft boil (watch for a few minutes to be sure it doesn't boil over) and hold it there for at least 15 minutes but not longer than 30 minutes. Remove any scum that forms on the surface, if any. Remove from heat, add the spice packet immediately, and allow to cool completely.

    Remove the cinnamon sticks and spice packet. Transfer to 3-gallon carboy and add Sparkolloid according to instructions (mix for 3 gallons). Stir and seal carboy with a solid bung or plastic wrap secured by a rubber band and set aside at least 2 weeks (may take a month) to clear. Rack into another carboy and add vanilla extract and 190-proof spirit. Stir and allow an hour or two to integrate. Rack into bottles or quart mason jars, leaving as little ullage (headspace) as possible.

    Store bottles from 2 weeks to 2 months to smooth out the bite and refrigerate 3-4 hours before serving. Always return opened bottles to the refrigerator. This stuff is smoother and tastier that my first batch and will really sneak up on you, so don't drink it and drive.

    Thanks to all who shared their experience with Apple Pie Moonshine with me, and thanks to all who made constructive criticisms.

    August 6th, 2013

    Some of you both appreciated my advice to clear your cache to resolve problems loading my (and other) pages and reminded me you have to restart your computer to apply the fix. My bad. My own browser told me to restart my computer to effect the clearance. I simply forgot to pass that on in case your browser wasn't as friendly. You folks rock! Thanks for keeping me straight.

    Linkedin Logo

    I get a kick out of social networking. I love it, really, but it is a time sink. I can't even check in on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Linkedin without spending a half hour. And forget about inviting me on all the others. There aren't enough hours in the day....

    I don't know about the others I didn't mention, but Linkedin has this thing called "endorsements." While endorsements, in my opinion, should be handed out judiciously, I'm not sure they are. I look at my own endorsements and wonder about the validity of the practice. They do, however, reveal some interesting things.

    I am endorsed first and foremost as a Blogger, then Online Marketing, Social Networking, Social Media Marketing, and then a tie between Historian and Copywriting. Way, way down on the ladder, not even in the top 20, is Winemaking. Someone even endorsed me as a Chef. Now that is flattering.

    I have no problem with the first place being Blogger, but I really don't know why Winemaking (or Winemaker) is so low. Well, it might be because many of my contacts know me through former work associations and I did not talk winemaking (much) while doing my job. They remember me for many things, most of which are not listed among the suggested endorsement categories. That many of them remember the historical perspectives I tried to inject into my writings is very flattering. That many of the winemakers I am "Linkedin" with do not think of me as a winemaker is, well, unflattering. It is not something I will lose sleep over but is curious.

    Slow-churned ice cream, 1/2 cup, a 100-calor snack

    It is altogether pleasing to me when someone reaches out unexpectedly to offer recommendations that might assist me and those recommendations are ideal for sharing. This was the case when Keith Burfield, whom I met and shared a morning with in Rochester, New York, sent me an internet link. He wrote:

    My wife just gave me this and I thought I would forward it to you. Maybe one of these will be a new snack for you on your diet.

    I have been on a diet for 6 weeks now and so far I have dropped 24 lbs. It is working and I am sticking to a nice salad once a day and a mild dinner or a small lunch and then a salad for dinner . It is working so I am not changing it.
    – Keith Burfield, Rochester, NY

    The link is 25 Super Snacks With 100 Calories or Less, a slideshow on the WebMD website. For the diet I am on, which entails one modest meal a day with five snacks spaced to ward off hunger during the rest of the day, this was pure gold.

    During my first run-through of the presentation I estimated I already incorporated a little more than half of these into my variety of snacks, but on second look I realized the number was slightly less than half. For a sampling of some of the snacks I eat, see my WineBlog entry of May 4th, 2013, "5 Daily Snacks for Belly Fat Weight Loss". My weight loss is now down to 45 pounds. I want to lose another 2 pounds and then level off.

    What I like about the WebMDlist of 25 is that some of them never occurred to me. Examples include the above-pictured 1/2 cup of slow-churned chocolate ice cream, baked apple with cinnamon, a graham cracker and frozen yogurt sandwich, 6 cups of unbuttered popcorn (SIX cups?), ricotta cheese-stuffed whole-grain pita pocket, 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt with honey, smoked salmon-cream cheese pinwheel-roll-up, and one cup of jicama sticks and salsa (only 54 calories!).

    These are practical yet tasty and healthy snacks. They add a variety of tastes to my already long list of snackables and include a few things I assumed I should not eat but can. When I start to try leveling off, those multi-grain carbohydrates will be welcome. The secret, of course, is that they be whole grain at least and preferably multi-grain.

    A bonus is that this presentation is followed by one entitled "Food Cravings That Wreck Your Diet ." Together, they offer more than a bit of wisdom to a growing, overweight populace. But will overweight people even read them? I tend to doubt it.

    Thank you, Keith, for sharing (and way to go on the diet!).

    I appreciate talent, but I especially appreciate it when it's exhibited by a very young person. That's why I was so blown away in 2010 by 10-year old Jackie Evancho when she appeared on America's Got Talent. To view her performances, just Google "Jackie Evancho America's Got Talent." Actually, just type her name and you should be offered a Youtube search category.

    But this entry is not about Jackie Evancho. It is about another 10-year old's performance on the drums. Yes, drums.

    I knew as soon as I watched the following video (I've watched it at least 25 times now) that I would post it here. Her performance is truly amazing for someone so young (and yes, I've seen the 9-year old Australian drummer, Jagger). Here she accompanies Kelly Clarkson's "My Life Would Suck Without You" and she is a joy to watch.

    Try as I did, I could find little else about the identity of this gifted young talent except that her name is Pau, has two guitar-playing sisters (one a year younger and one a year older than her), and this performance was in or before May 2012 in Bateria, Mexico.

    I love this song by Kelly Clarkson, but it will never sound right to me again without this little girl on the drums. I mean it. Thank you, Pau.

    What Is A Native Grape?

    Wine label (Mustang x Berlandieri)

    My local friends and I make a lot of native grape wines. By native grape, I don't mean Concord, Catawba, Norton, or Niagara, all of which have Vitis vinifera in their genes, or Ison, Fry or Noble muscadines, all of which were created by man. I mean native grapes, those that have grown in the wild long before Columbus landed on the wrong continent.

    Native grapes are intriguing to me. With the exception of some V. aestivalis and its subspecies, some V. riparia, V. californica and V. labrusca, few North American native grapes taste like good candidates for wine. True, almost any unpleasant species can occasionally produce good tasting grapes, but usually they don't unless you work at it.

    Vines that produce good tasting grapes while those around them do not should be tagged (I use a lime green piece of ribbon – yellow, red and orange, which are much easier to see, will often be spotted by county road crews who think it means to cut them down) so they can be easily identified in February or later when they are leafless but their buds begin to swell. This is when the sugar stored in their roots has begun to be released as sap and cuttings can be taken for propagation. If the vines that result from the cuttings, which are clones of the original vine, produce good tasting grapes, the vines should be further propagated for their own goodness and/or shared with interested grape breeders.

    Strict Interpretation

    The San Antonio Regional Wine Guild (SARWG) takes a strict interpretation of what we allow to be entered in competition as a native grape wine. We do not allow any grapes with Vitis vinifera in their gene pool. In most cases, the history of the grape and the physiological characteristics of the vine place the grapes into the [native] × vinifera category, but some grapes, such as Norton/Cynthiana, have had to await DNA analysis to be certain. But we go a step further.

    We also exclude grapes resulting from human engineering within a single species. The many muscadine cultivars – Ison, Fry, Carlos, Noble, etc. – that were developed by selective breeding, are among those we exclude. The reason for this is simple, two-pronged, and easy to appreciate if you make muscadine wines. First and foremost, it confers an unnatural advantage to those who buy and grow the best cultivars over those who scout the backroads and woods for their grapes. This argument is analogous to why we don't force native grape wines to compete with vinifera wines – they would seldom, if ever, place. The second reason is slightly more complex.

    When a breeder cross-pollinates selected vines within a species and then plants hundreds or thousands of resulting seeds and ultimately selects one as the best, either for future cross-breeding or as a releasable cultivar, he is doing something it is very unlikely nature would do on its own. The guys roaming the woods collecting wild grapes haven't got a chance of placing against such engineered selections.

    Native-Vinifera Hybrids

    So where does one enter Concord, Norton and Carlos wines? In SARWG competitions, they compete against wines in table grape, blends or dessert wines. If you think this is unfair, think again.

    SARWG's judges are experienced in tasting these wines and both trained and educated in using this system. They are just as adept at appreciating and scoring a well made Concord, Norton or Carlos as they are of appreciating and scoring a well made Riesling or Cabernet Sauvignon.

    The proof is that these wines not only place, but have walked away with Best of Show honors. The key, of course, is the experience, training and appreciation of the judges. This system will not work among judges who adhere to a bias that only vinifera makes good wine. Unfortunately, too many judges across the country refuse to broaden their experience and develop an appreciation for diversity.

    The Secret of Great Native Grape Wines

    While there are notable exceptions, in general the best native grape wines, like the best vinifera wines, are blends of two or more species or varietals.

    With one exception, every single Cabernet Sauvignon in my wine rack has some amount of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot or other red grape included, even if the blending wine is but a small percentage. The reason is complexity. What Cabernet lacks, other wines can provide. The same is true for many other wine grapes.

    Makers of muscadine and mustang grape wines tend to rely on the single grape, but this is not require. One of the best native grape wines I ever made was about 60% mustang and the remainder a blend of V. cinerea var. helleri (formerly known as V. berlandieri), V. vulpina (formerly known as V. cordifolia) and V. monticola of unrecorded percentiles. I have tried to replicate that blend several times and have come close but not quite gotten it right. This is what happens when you don't take time to create a wine log.

    Similarly, back in 1999 I happened upon a white muscadine in the woods east of Jasper, Texas – a total rarity in this area. I was only able to harvest enough grapes for a 2-gallon batch, but my closest carboy was 2.5 gallons. So I crushed some white mustangs from my own fence, combined the two grapes in the primary, and made a killer white native grape wine that tasted like neither grape and yet was better than either.

    But one must be careful in labeling native grape wines. Several times I have blended mustang with Dog Ridge, a V. × champinii grape discovered by the late T. V. Munson in Bell County, Texas on the Dog Ridge geographic feature. Dog Ridge softens the wild taste of mustang considerably, so much so that one judge disqualified one of these wines from the native grape category claiming it contained vinifera. Since I did not declare the Dog Ridge in the wine's entry tag (but did list it on the entry form), my discovery after the fact was too late to rectify.

    I see nothing wrong (although technically incorrect) to use old names like V. champinii, V. berlandieri and V. cordifolia in labels to help us older folks identify the grape. One should just be aware of the correct names and that these names are no longer accepted in scientific literature.

    I live too far from the East Texas natural range of V. aestivalis and V. aestivalis var. lincecumiii, but if I lived closer I would be aggressively experimenting with blends of these grapes with mustang, Dog Ridge, V. cinerea and V. monticola. There are more possibilities than I can imagine if one blended the native grapes of different regions and states.

    Absolutely Simple and Fast Dessert!

    <i>Delish Just Four Ingredients Fast</i> cookbook

    I have mentioned this cookbook before (June 30, 2013), but now I am flat-out endorsing it. If you want to throw together easy, quick and economical dishes that are absolute winners, the Delish Just Four Ingredients Fast! cookbook is invaluable.

    I have already mentioned Watermelon and Berry Salad (seedless watermelon, strawberries, blueberries, mint leaves) in my above-mentioned previous post, as well as:

    • 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)

    Now I'm adding White Chocolate and Macadamia Parcels to the list of easy and fast recipes (I could add 20 more, but this one is a super winner). These bake in 10-12 minutes and are an incredible dessert. At 407 calories each, you'll have to skip desserts for a couple of days as penance, but these are worth it.

    Make them when you have three others at the table. Otherwise, the temptation to eat them all will be too great.

    White Chocolate and Macadamia Parcels

    • 4 sheets filo pastry
    • 1 cup soft ricotta cheese
    • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped, roasted, unsalted macadamia nuts
    • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped white chocolate

    Preheat oven to 350 ° F. (325° F. convection). Lightly grease a baking sheet and line with parchment. In bowl, combine ricotta and macadamias and mix to combine.

    Lay out one sheet of filo pastry dough and spray with oil-spray. Lay second sheet of filo on top of first and repeat spraying. Then third and fourth sheets. Cut the stack of sheets crosswise to make two halves.

    Place a quarter of the cheese-nut mix in the center of each half and fold the ends in toward the center to cover mixture. Roll from one unfolded side to enclose filling. Place the two parcels on the baking sheet, seam side down. Repeat process to make two more parcels.

    Bake 10-12 minutes in center of oven or until pastry is golden brown. Serve hot (or at least warm) with honey drizzled over pastries if desired.

    The second time I made these I tweaked the recipe and added a fifth ingredient – three diced Medjool dates. I love these both ways....

    If you are interested in this book, you can order it at Delish Just Four Ingredients Fast! or by clicking on the picture above. It isn't as expensive as it should be. And if you do yourself a favor and get it, be sure to try the Italian-Style Lamb Cutlets on page 90...um, um, good.

    July 24th, 2013

    I received about a dozen emails between 10:18 p.m. Monday (July 15th) and 4:35 p.m. Tuesday (july 16th) that the WineBlog was down. I knew it, but there was nothing I could do about it.

    I've said before that I do not use blogging editing and publishing software because I started blogging before these appeared. I did not want to spend the time converting old blogs and use a backbone structure I did not build. As a result, it takes me a lot longer to write, encode and test my blog entries than it takes most bloggers. Yes, I know I am making life difficult for myself, but at least I know what I'm doing and not troubleshooting code I did not write. That said, when I published my last blog entry, the whole WineBlog crashed.

    I spent the whole of Monday writing and formatting the July 15th entry. At 10:18 p.m., I published it and my blog disappeared. For those who don't know how this is done (or at least how do it), there is a backbone file that contains certain permanent elements of the blog and numerous "includes" – calls to include and integrate other files into the blog.

    To err is human, but to really foul things up you need a computer. - Paul Ehrlich

    The main content of WineBlog is in an "include" file called "blogentries.html". When I published Monday night, I uploaded that file and upon calling up the blog's URL got an error message saying the include file, "blogentries.html", on code line 134 of my backbone, did not exist. Clearly that was wrong because I could see it on my server.

    I spent 5 hours – until 3:10 a.m. – looking and relooking at every byte of code in the file and could find nothing in it that broke the file. Finally, I called my hosting service and told them there was a problem on their end. It took them 25 minutes to verify that it was, indeed, a problem on their end. It then took three different teams spanning two work shifts on their end 13 hours to find and correct the problem.

    The reason it took so long is because the problem was isolated to the very top tier of their server software – Windows itself – and they had to make sure that when they corrected the problem for me it did not cause hundreds of thousands of problems for their other clients. At 4:35 p.m. on Tuesday, by WineBlog reappeared.

    This is a worse-case example of what I go through to present the WineBlog to you. No need to thank me – 99% of the time it is an enjoyable and trouble-free experience.

    Popcorn. I love the stuff. It isn't in my diet, but I don't care. Since I am usually up long after midnight (I usually retire between 2-3 a.m.), I sometimes pop a mini-packet of popcorn around the witching hour and share it with my dog Reba. I get 2-3 popped kernels and she gets one. She loves it as much as I do but I have opposing thumbs and thus get to control the distribution.

    A couple of weeks ago I happened upon G.H. Cretors brand of pre-popped corn. What a selection! While I usually prefer to pop my own, these looked inviting. They have "Chicago Mix" with both cheese and caramel corn mixed together. If you prefer "Just the Caramel," they sell that. But the "Just the Cheese" is even cheesier than the cheese in the Chicago Mix, or at least tastes like it is. But my favorite (I don't share this with Reba) is the "Caramel Nut Crunch," a gourmet blend of caramel corn, toasted almonds and cashews. At least the nuts are in my diet.

    In Texas these can be found in United Market Street stores, Brookshires, Fiesta Marts, and Rice Epicureans. They have a store locator on their website. Good stuff!

    I received numerous great reviews on my trip to Lafayette to visit the Louisiana Wine Makers Guild - Acadiana Chapter, with several requests for a recipe for gumbo. While there are many recipes on the internet, very few Cajuns actually follow a written script unless trying to recapture a legendary memory the cook happened to write down – my brother Barry makes such a gumbo and I have his notes. But generally, it's just too versatile a dish to confine to a recipe.

    But let me think on it. I might be able to synthesize making the heart and soul of gumbo – the roux, the Cajun Holy Trinity, and the spices. Everything else that goes into it is collectively referred to as the "dis and dat." More on another day.

    The Genius of Thomas Jefferson

    Thomas Jefferson, Virginia House of Burgesses

    My favorite president since I was in the sixth grade and read the biographies of "the great three" – Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln – has always been Thomas Jefferson. Despite his ownership of slaves and other imperfections by today's standards, Thomas Jefferson was a very remarkable man and a recognized genius in his own day. He started learning very early in life and never stopped. He was a self-taught surveyor, architect, engineer and inventor, and he read books like a starving man eats.

    At 5, he began studying under his cousin's tutor.

    At 9, he studied Latin, Greek and French and became proficient in each.

    At 14, he studied classical literature and additional languages.

    At 16, he entered the College of William and Mary. Also could write in Greek with one hand while writing the same in Latin with the other. Think about that. Very, very, very few people can do this using only one language.

    At 19, he began studying Law for 5 years, starting under George Wythe.

    At 23, he started his own law practice.

    At 25, he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses and began construction of Monticello.

    At 31, he wrote the widely circulated "Summary View of the Rights of British America" and retired from his law practice. He also invented the swivel chair.

    At 32, he was a Delegate to the Second Continental Congress and wrote "Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms."

    At 33, he wrote the Declaration of Independence.

    At 33, he began a three-year revision of Virginia's legal code, wrote a Public Education bill and a statute for Religious Freedom.

    At 36, he was elected the second Governor of Virginia, succeeding Patrick Henry.

    At 40, he was elected to Congress, serving for two years.

    At 41, he was the American minister to France and negotiated commercial treaties with European nations along with Ben Franklin and John Adams. He also began his legendary wine collection.

    At 44, he invented a machine to extrude macaroni, a pasta he brought to America from Europe.

    At 46, he served as the first Secretary of State under George Washington. He invented the cipher wheel to encode State Department messages.

    At 49, he invented the Great Clock, built at Monticello, which is gravity powered and marks the hour with a gong that can be heard many miles away.

    At 51, he redesigned Monticello based on architectural styles he studied in France.

    At 53, he served as Vice President and was elected president of the American Philosophical Society.

    At 55, he drafted the Kentucky Resolutions and became the active head of the Democratic Republican Party.

    At 57, he was elected the third president of the United States.

    At 60, he obtained the Louisiana Purchase doubling the nation's size.

    At 61, he was elected to a second term as President.

    At 65, he retired to Monticello.

    At 66, he invented a spherical sundial accurate to 5 minutes year-round, at Monticello.

    At 72, he owned the largest library in America and sold it to the Library of Congress to replace the Library's holdings of half that size which the British burned in 1814 during the War of 1812. He immediately began collecting a comparable personal library.

    At 80, he helped President Monroe shape the Monroe Doctrine.

    At 81, he almost single-handedly founded, designed and over-saw construction of the University of Virginia and served as its first president.

    At 83, he and John Adams died exactly on the 50th anniversary of the publication of the Declaration of Independence.

    President Thomas Jefferson

    Thomas Jefferson knew about government because he himself studied the previous failed attempts at government. He understood actual history, the nature of God, His laws and the nature of man. He was well read in the natural sciences and could identify almost any plant he encountered in Virginia and later in France. That happens to be way more than what most understand today. He synthesized the wisdom of his past and present to frame a social, cultural and political future unmatched in the history of the world.

    John F. Kennedy held a dinner in the White House for a group of the brightest minds in the nation at that time. He made this statement: "This is perhaps the assembly of the most intelligence ever to gather at one time in the White House with the exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined here alone."

    We could do far worse than to contemplate and learn from Jefferson's own writings:

    When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall become as corrupt as Europe.

    The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.

    It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world.

    I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.

    My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.

    The greatest danger to our American freedoms is a government that ignores the Constitution.

    No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.

    The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.

    The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.

    To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.

    – Thomas Jefferson

    During the 20th Century our leaders consciously chose to ignore Jefferson and impose upon us an income tax to pay for more and more government, but they rarely chose to check spending to that which was actually collected. In other words, they rarely balanced the federal budget, an action Jefferson would have considered a crime against our children and their children. During the past four years, federal spending skyrocketed far beyond our ability to repay what is being borrowed, furthering the magnitude of the crime.

    Thomas Jefferson also warned in 1802:

    I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.

    If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property – until their children wake – up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.

    – Thomas Jefferson

    We stand at the abyss between all that this country has stood for and achieved and the corrupt, tyrannical government Jefferson warned us against that would "...take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not." Do not take my word for it. Just look at free and subsidized benefits including payments for being unemployment that extend far beyond the period it reasonably takes to find new employment, outright welfare, housing, utilities, cellphones, school breakfast and lunches, Aid for Dependent Children, child care, medical care, food stamps, commissary food, prescription and non-prescription medications, education, education testing, and refundable "tax credits" to those who pay no taxes. There are lengthier and more detailed lists than this. Why would parents of two children work when they could collect in excess of $47,000 a year for not working? If one of them claims a disability their income for doing nothing is even more.

    The pragmatist might look at those pushing us toward the abyss turning a blind eye from Jefferson and the architects of our republic and say,

    The only thing we learn from history is that it is inconvenient.
    – Bill Kincheloe.

    Re-read what Jefferson wrote and tell me I'm wrong.

    There are more books and websites on Thomas Jefferson than I care to list, so just look for a good one. I sincerely ask that you stay clear of unbalanced and biased revisionist histories, whether praiseworthy or condemnational. Of those I would recommend, my personal favorites are as follows:

    Mark's Strawberry Wine

    Fresh strawberries

    I saw a huge display of strawberries at the market this morning and was hit in the face by their aroma. I looked over the display and saw that they had placed a strawberry air scent at the top of the display. Good marketing ploy, because my mouth began salivating and I picked up a quart of the deep red berries. But something about the scent reminded me of an email I received three years ago. Back at home, I searched and found it.

    In 2010 I received an email from Mark Baich, a long-time confidant and reviser of the artwork at the top of the WineBlog. I am including his email, with only minor editing, because it says it all.

    I bottled my strawberry wine today which is largely based on your SB #2. I made some modifications to eliminate the raisins and replace with Welch's Niagara, and tweaked the sugar to be 50/50 white/light brown. I sweetened it with 1 cup of sugar (in 1/2 cup water) per gallon but didn't add the citric acid because there is plenty of acid in there already. I used more strawberries per gallon, so my ABV is a little high (and hot) at about 13.6%. But the sweetness, aroma, flavor, acidity all complement each other quite nicely.

    There is mouthfeel to the wine, but I would've liked a little more. I'll open a bottle in June when we go and pick strawberries again and determine if adding bananas would be beneficial. The only other "fault" is that the wine is more orange than red, but I figure it is likely due to the varietal of strawberries.

    I sampled it before going out to the store, and I could still taste it in my mouth when I returned an hour later. Now that is staying power!

    The truly amazing aspect to this wine is the bouquet. When I returned to the basement after rinsing the bottles upstairs, the whole room was enveloped in strawberries! It was as if I had a large bowl of freshly picked and cut strawberries sitting out in a bowl.

    This is the strawberry wine I plan on mixing with the Cab/Merlot & Chocolate Vodka. It is going to be a winner!

    Just wanted to say "Thank You" again for all your wonderful recipes. Your tutelage has significantly improved my winemaking ability! Here is the recipe I used for 6 gal:

    - 22 lb very ripe you-pick strawberries (4 baskets, 5.5 lb per basket)
    - 6 cans Welch's 100% White Grape Juice (Niagara) frozen concentrate
    - 4.5 lb white sugar
    - 4.5 lb brown sugar
    - 4 Tablespoons acid blend (I didn't have citric on hand)
    - 1.5 teaspoons grape tannin
    - 30 pints water, boiled (added 1 cup for evaporationƑ
    - Cotes des Blancs yeast

    - 6 cups sugar in 2.5 cups water, heated until clear syrup, then cooled

    I'm STILL tasting strawberries!

    – Mark Baich in email to author

    My reply to Mark was much shorter than Mark deserved, as often is the case when I am pressed for time. I mentioned that strawberry often does come out more orange than red (blush), but some varieties set the color very well. Strawberry wine is the flagship offering of Poteet Country Winery and I have never seen better color in strawberry than in theirs. Their secret is that they very slowly stir the whole berries by impeller in a 750-L slow cooker, pasteurizing the berries/juice and then cooling quickly and adjusting the must before adding yeast. I have brought my berries to 165° F. once, but the whole process made me so nervous I never did it again. But it worked fine and produced great color. flavor and aroma.

    But what Mark says about the smell is very important. Not only is the underlying aroma of freshly sliced strawberries preserved marvelously, strawberry wine develops beautiful bouquet. The latter is often temporarily lost when the cork is pulled, but the suction of pulling the cork fills the room with both aroma and bouquet of this intoxicating berry. You just can't easily separate them.

    To isolate the bouquet, open a screw-topped bottle of strawberry wine if available and very gently pour about two fingers into a wine glass (a depth about the thickness of two fingers stacked horizontally) and immediately place your nose into the glass and inhale sharply but not too deeply. You are smelling the wine's bouquet. After exhaling, smell it again, only deeply this time. What you smell now is the aroma of the underlying fruit.

    With a pulled cork, you can recapture the bouquet by pouring two fingers, cupping the glass bowl's bottom in your palm for a minute – slightly warming the wine – and then swirling the wine so it rides up the sides of the glass for about 15-20 seconds, releasing more of the volatile acids, alcohols and esters we call bouquet. Now smell it again. Heavenly!

    Also worth noting is Mark's movement away from raisins to white grape concentrate for body and complexity. I myself did that long ago except for a few specific wines. You don't know how fresh the raisins you buy actually are and they do oxidize and degrade over time. Thus, old raisins do terrible things for wine but are beneficial in making a sherry. Frozen concentrate solves this aging and oxidation problem.

    Mark mentioned possibly adding bananas next time to bolster body. A ouple of tablespoon or three of light dry malt extract (DME) per gallon integrated into the must before pitching the yeast can accomplish the same thing. Be careful not to overdo it. I initially used a half-cup of DME in several wines, but except for ports and other heavy bodied wines I now use no more than 1/4 cup per gallon.

    I want to thank Mark for his own contributions to my WineBlog and this contribution to winemaking. Small tweaks to existing recipes are expected as it is unlikely your base will be exactly the same as mine. Reporting tweaks to me helps me understand diversity in base ingredients and also how the tweaks affect the wine. I actually made Mark's wine, but only a gallon. Thanks, Mark.

    This Blog and Computers

    Problems with this blog?

    Several people have called or written with complaints that either (1) my WineBlog is still down or (2) it takes forever to load. Both of these problems have been attended to, but you may not be able to take advantage of these fixes because you aren't maintaining your computer. This is real easy to do.

    If you were seeing a message that the WineBlog had an internal server error (ergo, was "down"), unless you were persistent you might not even be reading this explanation. That message was created during the period I described above (15-16 July), and if you saw it after the late afternoon of the 16th you need to clean out your cache.

    Your computer has several caches', but the one you need to be concerned with is your browser's cache. It stores the contents of any page you visit so the next time you visit it the browser can deliver it to you very quickly. Ideally, if the content changes your cache will incorporate the changes. But not always. In some cases the cache keeps a static image and keeps loading the same thing.

    Cache's usually refresh themselves periodically, discarding sites you don't return to after a defined period. If they didn't, they would eventually fill up your hard drive. You can also clean it out manually or set up your operating system to clear your browser's cache at defined times, events or intervals. I have mine set to clear it (dump the content) every time I shut down my computer.

    So, when folks wrote or called saying my WineBlog was still down after it was back up, I suggested they go to Goggle and type "How to clear the cache in [name of browser]" and follow the instructions. It isn't rocket science.

    The second complaint requires an explanation. As time passes, the current content of my WineBlog grows and takes longer and longer to load, especially since I started incorporating more photos. You might wonder why I don't just archive older content after, say, six months. There are reasons.

    First and foremost, I hate breaking out (archiving) content, and when I do it is a year's worth at a time. It takes nearly a full day to do it because, as explained before, I do all of my own coding. When I archive content, I have to reverse the order of entries from latest on top to chronological order. Sounds simple, and is, but very time consuming and requires total concentration.

    Second, I carry about 30-35 items in my rss feed. As I add topics to the feed I also delete topics from it. I will never archive a period (6-months) as long as there is still an active feed item in that period. If I did the archived material couldn't be found without me going in and editing the rss.xml file containing all the feed links. We are talking about more work than I have time for, so that isn't going to happen.

    Third, I don't just archive a 6-month increment when it clears the rss feed because I archive a full year at a time in two increments. It's a matter of symmetry (a complete year rather than a half year) and programming focus. I once broke out a January-June increment and left the July-December active in the current content area and later, when I went to archive the latter period, I got confused in the programming and wiped out the previous 6 months. Luckily, I had it backed up and could recover the lost archive, but the panic that hit me when I saw my error nearly caused a third heart attack (one I don't look forward to as my heart is weaker now than when I had my second heart attack). Life is uncertain and I'm trying to postpone the inevitable. Bear with me, please.

    I was planning to archive 2012 in May of this year, but April-May were terribly busy for me. My father passed away in California at age 90, I had to fly back to Texas just to do my taxes and then fly back to California later (I was executor of his estate and had a lot of legal hurdles to negotiate). I also had a 50th high school reunion in California and a trip to Rochester during that period. The blog suffered because I didn't have time to archive 2012 until recently.

    If the WineBlog is still loading very slowly for you and you can scroll down and see any 2012 entries, clean out your cache. You're still loading last week's WineBlog.

    Thanks for bearing with me. I'm trying....

    July 15th, 2013

    I drove to Lafayette, Louisiana and back this week. The drive there was uneventful, but two things happened on the way home that made me realize how lucky I am.

    I intended to call one person on my cell while driving west through Beaumont, Texas, but while quickly glancing at the phone I misaligned the name I intended to call and called another, an old friend. Surprised to hear his voice, I was quickly lost in conversation. Soon we were making plans for a flyfishing trip in the Rockies in 2014. Suddenly, the car sputtered and I glanced down and saw that I was out of gas. Losing speed and thinking I had to call AAA when I stopped, I terminated the call and spotted an exit up ahead. I shifted into neutral and rolled to the exit, which had a slight decline. Up ahead was a Shell station but I didn't think I could make it. I rolled to the first pump at 2 miles per hour. That's when I confirmed my tank held exactly 12 gallons of gas. I thanked the Lord for His provision and continued my journey.

    Not more than 15 minutes later, doing 80 in the left lane, I spotted an accident occurring between 3/4 to a mile in front of me. While I could not see the details of actual cause, I saw a vehicle's front end move abruptly to the right and the rear-end swing to the left, then it rolled at least once and ended up with the driver's side against the ground and the top against the restraining cables along the median that protected traffic in both directions from each other. Everyone braked and by the time I rolled past a woman was climbing out of the damaged vehicle's upward facing passenger window and two children were scrambling out an open rear door. It looked like a van long enough to have two rows of rear seats. Pulled over ahead of it was a truck pulling a flatbed trailer with shot side rails that looked damaged. While I have no positive knowledge of how the accident happened, it looked like the truck pulling the trailer might have changed lanes, from left to right, without the trailer having cleared the vehicle it was passing. If it struck it, that would explain the abrupt front-end movement to the right and speed could have driven the rear-end's momentum to the left, resulting in the roll-over. At least 10-12 cars had stopped and people were rushing to the damaged vehicle, so I could add nothing to the scene. I said a brief prayer and continued westward, reducing my cruise control to 75 – the posted speed limit.

    The latest issue (August-September 2013) of WineMaker magazine is out and contains my article on "Berry Country Wine Making: The Best Berries To Start Fermenting This Summer" on pages 28-35. It includes 17 berry wine recipes, so get it and get those yeast working for you.

    If you don't subscribe to WineMaker, perhaps it's time you did. Just click below....

    WineMaker Magazine

    I want to thank all of you who have visited my page on Facebook. If you haven't yet, please take a look at Jack Keller Winemaking and "like" it if you do.

    I work hard to provide you, the reader, with content that hopefully appeals to a wide readership. You won't like everything I write but it is doubtful you'll like everything in any publication. My Facebook page offers you an opportunity to provide public feedback. I only ask that you please keep it civil even if negative.

    Laissez les bons temps rouler!

    Jack Deshotels making jelly
    Jack Deshotels making Backberry Pepper jelly at Lafayette
    (photo by Jack Keller)

    Laissez les bons temps rouler is Cajun-French for "let the good times roll," and that's what happened when I arrived at Lafayette, Louisiana. Gib DeLisle treated me to a couple of wine tastings within minutes of my arrival and before I left I had more wine, beer, hard lemonade and moonshine. I ate well but tried hard not to stray too far from my one meal a day and five snacks. But Cajun food is not easy on the beltline, so I gained three pounds – without regret.

    My visit was to attend a meeting of the Louisiana Wine Makers' Guild - Acadiana Chapter, which I continue to think of as the Central Louisiana Wine Guild even though that has never been its name. It's a geography thing.

    Before the meeting, I had time to visit Jack Deshotels and Jim Leonard's large and varied orchard and jelly-jam making facility. Jim grows the fruit and Jack makes some of the best sweet and spicy jellies one could enjoy. He makes both fruit and fruit-pepper jellies. I've eaten them before and bought a mixed case of Muscadine Pepper, Mayhaw Pepper, Satsuma Habanero, Blueberry Pepper, Fig Pepper, and Blackberry Pepper jellies. The pepper is jalapeno and the habanero speaks for itself. These are not only delicious on breads, biscuits and crackers, they each have numerous potentials for glazing or garnishing various meats and in other culinary entrees. I have used the Blueberry Pepper on both lamb and pork chops and the Satsuma Habanero in rolled and tied veal and think the Fig Pepper will also meld well with veal. The Mayhaw Pepper flavors quail and chicken wings like no other glaze and I injected some into a meatloaf that completely changed its character. I'm dying to experiment. If this tickles your saliva, give Jack a call at 1-800-745-9491 or visit their website here.

    Gib DeLisle and Reno Duhon
    Gib DeLisle & Reno Duhon discussing the merits of a
    particular grape (photo by Jack Keller

    We also visited the home vineyard of Reno Duhon. Reno is a true Southern gentleman and grows a wide variety of grapes, paper shell pecans, citrus and figs. The grapes are various standard muscadine varieties grown in the South, but also include Victoria Red and hybrids M-52, Q21-B17 and SV-2-66, promising cultivar breeding stocks reported to resist Pierce's Disease. As far as I know, Reno has the last surviving specimens of SV-2-66, which just begs to be crossed with Blanc du Bois. Reno admits he is not a grape breeder, but enjoys the grapes for their own character and is preserving the hybrids in case a grape breeder desires some of the wood for rooting or grafts.

    My old friend Barry Comeaux joined us at Reno's and we four had a wonderful time walking among the vines and talking about grapes, vineyard management and wine. Barry has forgotten more about "the vine" than I'll ever learn, so listening to his poignant observations was truly instructive to all of us. And, of course, his wit was both entertaining and infectious.

    Gib and I visited Marcello's Wine and Liquor, which is a combination homebrew and liquor store. We found Kevin in the back helping a customer, who I'll simply call Andre, who was getting ready to bottle a blackberry wine. After introductions, Andre had some questions about watermelon wine. I suggested he make a potent yeast starter solution and explained how to do it. After a bit, he asked us to meet him outside after he completed his purchase as he had something he wanted to "share" with us. Gib and I both thought we were going to sample one of his wines, and so were surprised when he opened a cooler in his vehicle and gave each of us a bottle of a golden liquid."

    Andre said it was "apple pie moonshine" but would say no more about it. All he promised us was that we would think we were drinking real apple pie. he moment we got into Gib's vehicle we tasted it. Glory be to God for the gifts he has allowed mankind to fashion. This stuff was smooth, incredibly delicious, and not only tasted like liquid apple pie, but you could even taste the crust of the pie. More about this below, I promise.

    Matt Turlak, Helen Williams and Bill Hausman
    Matt Turlak (L) and Helen Williams (C) listen to Bill Hausman
    (R) at Louisiana Wine Makers' Guild - Acadiana Chapter
    meeting. Jack Deshotles sits in the background talking to
    Jack Keller (hidden) (photo by Carole DeLisle with permission)

    The meeting of the Louisiana Wine Maker's Guild - Acadiana Chapter could rightly be divided into four parts. The first hour or so was socializing and sampling the many wines brought to share. The next 30-45 minutes were spent eating and then eating some more, then the meeting was called to order by President Bill Hausman. The meeting and associated program lasted about an hour or so, and then there was a 30-minute period of clean-up, making plans or sharing contacts and saying farewells. It was a very warm and natural affair which I enjoyed immensely.

    For me, the highlight was the food and fellowship. The people were all as friendly as could be and totally unreserved. I felt at home within moments of arrival. But while I was meeting people, engaging in wine talk and sampling wines the unmistakable aroma of Stanley and Annetta Lee's Chicken and Sausage Gumbo invaded my consciousness. This was going to be my one meal of the day and I was ready for it.

    There are few staples of Cajun cuisine as sacred as gumbo. I grew up on it but had not had a really good one in perhaps two years. Yes, I was ready.

    Chicken and sausage gumbo with two scoops of potato salad
    Stanley and Annetta Lee's Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
    with two scoops of Carole DeLisle's bodacious Potato
    Salad (photo by Carole DeLise with permission)

    Gumbo can be as simple or complex as the cook wishes. Traditionally, one adds to it what one has on hand, but chicken and sausage are traditional staples although squab, duck, rabbit, squirrel, crab, crawfish, shrimp and other shellfish are all ingredients that grace the dish and give it its character – shellfish gumbo rarely has fowl or other meats in it unless there is a scarcity of shellfish.

    Central to gumbo is a thick brownish-black roux – flour cooked in butter, lard or fat until it is almost burnt and then quickly diluted with just enough water or stock to stop further browning. Then the Holy Trinity of Cajun Cuisine is added and allowed to cook to tenderness – onions, bell peppers and celery. At that point more stock is added along with any meats or shellfish requiring extended cooking. If a shellfish gumbo, shrimp are added a few minutes before serving. Traditionally, gumbo is served in bowls over rice.

    Gumbo's success or failure rides on the quality of the roux. Roux is a thickener that gives the stock body. Okra can be added to provide additional body as it is a natural thickener. If someone feels the stock is not thick enough, they may sprinkle filé over the gumbo, allow it to hydrate for a minute or two, and then stir it slightly to add flavor and body. Filé is dried and ground sassafras leaves and was a spice gift to Cajuns from the native Choctaw Indians of the region.

    Meat is usually deboned and may or may not be browned in a skillet before adding to the gumbo. Gumbo is not rushed, so uncooked chicken, sausage, rabbit or squirrel will have an hour or more (usually several) to cook in the pot. I've had chicken and squirrel gumbo at Barry Comeaux's three times – cooked in an iron pot suspended over an open fire in the back yard for a couple of hours – and each was a culinary delight.

    As seen in the photo above, one does what one has to do. Lacking room for separate dishes, Carole DeLisle's delightful potato salad went into the gumbo which enriched the flavor of each. A second potato salad, made more in the German style, graced a second helping of the main dish.

    Jack Keller addressing the Louisiana Wine Maker's Guild - Acadiana Chapter
    The author addressing the Louisiana Wine Makers' Guild -
    Acadiana Chapter (photo by Rick Fontenot with permission)

    The "program" of the meeting was an unscripted talk by me about the origins of my website and tales of unusual wines I have made in the past. I am known by anyone who has met me as a story teller. The answer to any question asked of me usually includes a story of some sort to illustrate or decorate the answer. I actually had no conscious recognition of this mannerism until a few years ago when I retired from Government service and one person after another got up and said they would miss my endless stream of stories. And so it was at this occasion.

    My talk was followed by questions which I tried my best to answer. Fortunately, none involved detailed organic chemistry, my weakness. But I was struck by the quality of the questions asked. These folks are serious winemakers and it enlivened my heart to be engaged by them. I've said it before and will say it again: if you want to enrich your winemaking experience, join a winemaking club even if you can only attend meetings infrequently. There is no substitute to collective wisdom and even the most difficult problems or challenges can be overcome when many minds and scores of years of collective experience are brought to focus.

    My sincere thanks to the generosity and fellowship I enjoyed in Lafayette. I especially want to mention the kindness and time extended to me by Gib and Carole DeLisle, Jack Deshotels and Jim Leonard, the members of the "Wednesday night supper club," Barry Comeaux and Reno Duhon, Rick and Debbie Fontenot, Matt Turlak (for an incredible desert and poignant questions), Stanley and Annetta Lee, President and Secretary Bill and Gayle Hausman, and last but not least the members of the Louisiana Wine Makers' Guild - Acadiana Chapter. I'll be back if the Good Lord allows it.

    Apple Pie Moonshine

    Apple pie moonshine
    Apple Pie Moonshine (photo from Inside NanaBread's
    under Fair Use Doctrine of 1984, no commercial
    value derived from this publication)

    I mentioned previously having been given a bottle of Apple Pie Moonshine by a winemaker named Andre. I sipped this stuff and was amazed by its smoothness and distinctive yet complex flavor. How can one possibly taste apple pie crust in a drink? It's amazing to say the least. I had to have the recipe!

    I have Andre's phone number and called him. He works for a living so I really wasn't expecting him to answer at mid-afternoon on Monday. However, his number is a cell and so it travels with him. I explained that the internet is full of recipes for this potent beverage, but there seems to be as many ways to make it as there are roads to Rome. I really wanted to narrow the field if I could. I also explained that I intended to publish the recipe, so if there were any secret nuance he didn't want to share I would understand.

    It turns out that the secret is not Andre's to share. A friend actually makes the stuff and is, in fact, rather secretive. However, being a good mannered Cajun Andre said he would call his friend and ask him to call me. When he did call, he was not at liberty to tell me specifics because his father held the actual recipe. So, I had been reading dozens of recipes online and could see the strengths and weaknesses of each. I put this knowledge to use, did some math and came up with the following recipe. This one is mine and unlike any other I read. Although I have not made it yet (all the ingredients are in my kitchen and it will be started tonight), I am confident it will be as good as or better than any recipe I've read online.

    Apple Pie Moonshine

    • 1 gal Martinelli's Gold Medal 100% Pure Apple Cider *
    • 1 gal unsweetened apple juice
    • 8 4-inch cinnamon sticks (or 10 3-inch)
    • 1 cup Zulka Pure Cane Sugar (or use raw sugar)
    • 1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
    • 1 1/2 tblsp pure vanilla extract
    • 2 liters 190-proof Everclear or Diesel grain neutral spirit

    *NOTE: Apple cider is unfiltered apple juice and is usually cloudy, not clear. Using cider is essential for the flavor desired. Martinelli's is a clear cider. If you use organic or most other ciders, do not expect a clear product. The choice is yours.

    In a large stockpot combine the apple cider, apple juice, sugar and cinnamon sticks. Bring to a soft boil, stir until sugar is dissolved, place a lid on it, reduce heat just enough to hold the soft boil (watch for a few minutes to be sure it doesn't boil over) and hold it there for 15 minutes. Remove any scum that forms on the surface, if any. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely. Remove the cinnamon sticks and add vanilla extract and 190-proof spirit. Store bottles from 2 weeks to 2 months to smooth out the bite and refrigerate 3-4 hours before serving. Always return opened bottles to the refrigerator. This stuff is very smooth, very tasty and will sneak up on you, so don't drink it and drive.

    This recipe will make about 10 quarts or almost 13 750-mL screw-capped wine bottles of Apple Pie Moonshine at just under 20% alcohol by volume. Most recipes found online use an additional cup or two of sugar and 1 liter of 190-proof spirit and result in a brew just over 9% alcohol, but some use 80- to 100-proof vodka which puts it in the realm of beer.

    July 8th, 2013

    Like us on Facebook

    I have at long last put up a Facebook page for this blog and my Winemaking Home Page, which you can visit here and hopefully "like." Since there are no public stats on visits to a Facebook page, the number of "likes" is the only metric that gets attention. I'm still trying to figure out how to place real content on it, so it's a "work in progress." Your comments are welcome.

    If you have read this blog for a while you know I am a huge fan of the Doo Wop genre of rhythm and blues and early rock and roll. What appeals to me is the simple beat, the overriding harmonies, the usual purity of message in the lyrics, and the emotions the whole composition and delivery evolk.

    Doo Wop is a style of vocal-based rhythm and blues developed in the '40s and achieving mainstream popularity in the '50s. According to Wikipedia:

    Built upon vocal harmony, doo-wop was one of the most mainstream, pop-oriented R&B styles of the time. Singer Bill Kenny is often noted as the father of Doo-wop for his introduction of the "top & bottom" format used by most doo-wop groups. This format features a high tenor lead with a "talking bass" in the song's middle.

    As a musical genre, doo-wop features vocal group harmony with the musical qualities of many vocal parts, nonsense syllables, a simple beat, sometimes little or no instrumentation, and simple music and lyrics. It is ensemble single artists appearing with a backing group.

    Wikipedia continues:

    At the outset, singers gathered on street corners, and in subways, generally in groups of three to six. They sang a cappella arrangements, and used wordless onomatopeia to mimic instruments since instruments were little used: the bass singing "bom-bom-bom", a guitar rendered as "shang-a-lang" and brass riffs as "dooooo -wop-wop". For instance, "Count Every Star" by The Ravens (1950), includes vocalizations imitating the "doomph, doomph" plucking of a double bass.
    – "Doo-Wop" in Wikipedia

    One of my favorite songs of the genre is "Deserie" by The Charts, a true classic of the genre. It rose to number 3 on Billboard's national R&B charts. The group, from Harlem, was comprised of teenagers Joe Grier (lead), Stephen Brown (first tenor), Glenmore Jackson (second tenor), Leroy Binns (baritone), and Ross Buford (bass). Here is their classic:

    Most historians of modern popular music agree that 1963's "Denise" by Randy and the Rainbows was the last true Doo Wop recording to chart in the top 10, although some give that honor to "Da Doo Ron Ron" by The Crystals. Whichever assertion you subscribe to, the fact remains that the genre faded from the popular charts in 1963.

    As an aside, many historians cite the 1953 hit "Gee" by the Crows as the first rock 'n roll hit and the most influential Doo-Wop song to cross over from R&B to the popular charts, making Your Hit Parade in 1954. It was the first '50's Doo Wop record to sell a million copies, with infectiously upbeat vocals, wonderful harmonies and use of nonsense syllables Doo Wop is so famous for. In 1966, my Drill Sergeant at Fort Ord was a former member of the Crows and he encouraged a group of the black members of my platoon to do impromptu Doo Wop songs. He would simply start snapping his fingers to a beat and they would gravitate together and someone would fit a song to the beat and they would go at it like professionals. It was wonderful to watch and listen to.

    Doo Wop's demise is attributed to several factors. Among these are the rise of the teen idols such as Ricky Nelson, Paul Anka, Frankie Avalon, Annette, and Fabian, the ever-presence of Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers and Jerry Lee Lewis, and the emergence of "the California sound" epitomized by Dick Dale, the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean. The final nail in Doo Wop's coffin was the 1964 British invasion and America's musical response to it. However, Doo Wop's influence continued and is strongly evident in the vocals of Dion & the Belmonts, Jan & Dean and the Beach Boys.

    Many of the old Doo Wop classics were rearranged and re-recorded in the following years. Some were popular as mainstream rock and rock ballads and some were molded into other genres. Compare The Charts original with Laura Nyro's 1971 remake, re-titled "Déseree":

    Call me old fashioned, but I like that old time music where singing was a vocal art and the music was sophisticated compared to rap's monotonous repetition. But, while I like the older sounds, your mileage may vary.

    I will be out of town for a few days. Hope to see you next week.

    Blackberry Melomel

    Blackberries and honey, photo from Little Seed Farm blog under Fair Use Doctrine of 1984, no commercial value derived from this publication
    Blackberries and honey, perfect for melomel

    I received an email from an Army Sergeant in Afghanistan only weeks shy of rotation back to the States. He is already planning his return with a blackberry melomel. He sent me the recipe he plans to use and asked several questions worth sharing.

    His recipe is sound and is as follows, slightly edited (the personal comments are his):

    • 15 lbs of Clover Honey (artisan grade)
    • 2 cans of 96oz. Blackberry fruit wine base
    • 2.5 tsp of pectic enzyme
    • 5 Campden Tablets
    • Fermaid K (staggering nutrient)
    • DAP (staggering nutrient)
    • 4184 Wyeast Sweet Mead yeast (11% tolerance)
    • Distilled water to fill to 5.5 gallons

    Ensure everything is sterilized. Add both cans of blackberry base to ferment bucket (catching fruit pieces in mesh bag). Add Campden Tablets and wait 10-12 hours. Add the pectic enzyme after the 12 hours. Heat one gallon of water to approx. 130° (helps dissolve the honey). Add water and approx. 15 lbs of honey to bucket (enough to get 1.100 S.G.). Stir until honey is dissolved. Add distilled water until the level is right at 5.5 gallons (make enough room for headspace when fruit is removed). Mix in Fermaid K and DAP (staggering nutrients so that the yeast stay healthy). Place cover on bucket and let sit until it cools down enough to add yeast. Aerate must with .5 micron air stone and medical grade O2 for 15-20 seconds (ensure yeast have oxygen to multiply). When at correct temperature add yeast (it is a smack pack so I'll start that roughly 9 hours after pectic enzyme). Stir daily to remove CO2 and add in nutrients (do this up until 1/3 sugar break). Let ferment up until roughly 1.020 (which is where I expect it to almost complete fermentation). Sir and transfer to 5 gallon carboy and let finish fermenting and wait for the dropping of the gross lees. Then transfer to another carboy, add sorbate, flavor to taste if needed. Add french oak medium toast cubes (I do not know how much to add due to never using oak before. if you have any suggestions, that would be greatly appreciated). Let sit on cubes until it acquires the taste I prefer, then transfer to another carboy and let age for approx. 6-8 months. [recipe source unknown]

    My comments are as follows:

    Before any comments on my part, I want to thank you for your service. I served 3 tours in Vietnam, but I wasn't in a volunteer Army. I know what you have done to be where you are and I greatly respect that. Keep your head down and make it home healthy and whole. I will pray for you.

    The recipe and intentions look sound. Don't rush things. Mead takes longer than wine to ferment and one can grow inpatient.

    As for oak, look at my comments at the end of my piece on "Dried Elderberry Mead" (only a 1-gal batch, but easy to scale up from there) in my October 15th, 2012 entry of my WineBlog.... Patience with the blog. It is slow loading right now because it is loading a year and a half of blog entries – I need to archive 2012 soon.

    Also look at the 24 April 2012 entry on "Aging With Mesquite" and further down on "Oak". This should give you ideas.

    He then replied, in part, "I read that you like to stir before you add your wine/mead into the secondary fermenter. I never thought about that, as I am still new to this hobby, but I am sure going to give this a whirl! You have a lot of great advice on your page. Thank you for your help. I might buy a smaller can of puree after it ages and clears to get some of the original blackberry flavor back into the melomel. I like to let my wine set for an average of 4-6 months before I make any attempts to back sweeten or flavor. I do that so I have a better idea of the end flavor and helps me judge how much to add....

    "One last question. How long should I leave the blackberry fruit pieces in the fermenter during primary? I have read that leaving it in there for too long makes the melomel very harsh and it wouldn't be good to drink for years."

    To this I answered:

    I shoot for 3-5 days in the must, but have kept them in for as long as 13 days because I was travelling. It was a little harsh and I aged it 3 years, but by then it was absolutely fabulous.

    I seldom add juice/concentrate to my finished meads because I like the flavor of any residual honey, but we all have different tastes. Just don't overwhelm it or it will taste phony. It's supposed to taste like blackberry mead, not blackberries.

    He then replied, "My yeast strain, from Wyeast, has a tolerance of 11%, so I am expecting roughly for it to complete fermentation at roughly 1.020. Its going to be sweet, but I believe that a mixture of honey and blackberries will be excellent.... Do you recommend I wait until the fermentation is complete to rack or should I stir just before it is over and rack? What is your preference on this when making mead?"

    I answered:

    I remove fruit as soon as it is prudent to do so, transfer to a secondary as soon as the vigorous fermentation begins to calm, and rack 3-4 weeks after transfer to secondary. I'll rack as many times as needed to get a crystal clear wine, but I space them out 30-60 days apart to reduce oxygen exposure. Ideally, I rack no more than 3 times, but sometimes another is needed.

    I provided the whole exchange, minus nonessential comments and military talk, because I thought it might be instructive to anyone thinking of making a blackberry melomel. I know I'm thinking about it...!

    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.

    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 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 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 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 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]

    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.

    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 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.

    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.

    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 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 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.

    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.

    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 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 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]

    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.

    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....

    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 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 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.

    For earlier entries, see archives (left column)

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    Jack Keller's WineBlog, Copyright (©) 2003-2014 by Jack B. Keller, Jr. All Rights Reserved. Don't mess with Texas....