Monday, October 3, 2011

A Wining Child

A couple years ago, my in-laws brought us a stick from Paso Robles. It was a bit of vine root for an exotic wine varietal called Mourvèdre, which isn’t a household name like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or Cabernet Sauvignon, but alone or blended, it is an essential part of the wines from Spain and southern France. We dropped it in the yard and forgot about it, until it suddenly exploded into a mess of vine, tendrils, and grapes this year.

We figured we could either let it be decorative or actually see if we could produce something drinkable. We’ve got a small herb garden growing in the bed outside the kitchen, and a blood orange tree, a Valencia orange tree, a pomelo tree, a loquat tree, and a macadamia tree – though the squirrels always get to the nuts before we get any. We think there’s value in showing Mikey where the stuff he eats and drinks comes from, even if in the case of the Mourvèdre, he can’t drink it yet.

As a rule of thumb, we learned, one vine can produce about a gallon of wine, which is about 5 bottles. We decided that was a good start.

The first step was constructing a trellis around the grapes to get them up off the ground. The standard is a two-wire trellis, which looks like a miniature phone line. Once we had it up, we could watch the grapes turn from green to red to midnight blue over the summer.

The next step, if we were less dilettantish about this, would be to determine the proper time to harvest them based on Brix sugar ratings from our (nonexistent) equipment. In our more casual approach, we went for general time (Mourvèdre tends to be ready for harvest later than other grapes, in October), look (they should look like balloons which have begun to lose some air), and taste (sweet and yummy).

Yesterday, after Mikey’s nap, I woke him up and asked him if he wanted to stomp on some grapes.

“Now?” he asked. “Yay!”

We took our five gallon bucket from Eagle Rock Supplies in Culver City ( and filled about half full with our harvest, stems and all. Then we began the stomp.

Mikey really got into it, though he was a little alarmed when a bright green spider ran up the side of the bucket, escaping from his squishing. One wonders how many crushed and decomposing spiders end up in the wine we drink everyday.

I removed a couple of stems from the mush, and then, there was only one other step for the day: adding a few grams of potassium metabisulfide to the mix to kill off the wild yeasts, to make room for the wine yeasts we’ll add tomorrow. Mikey wanted to help, of course. And then he wanted to add more.

It’s really no good explaining to a 3-year-old how too many sulfides in wine aren’t considered pleasant to the palate. The best you can do is yank the little package away and substitute with another toy. That works too.

First step done in the process of creating our small batch of Château Peterson-Smith 2011 Mourvèdre.