Author Archives: PasoDr

About PasoDr

I'm Daryle W. Hier and co-owner of Paso Wine Barrels. We take old used wine barrels and bring them back to life as a full-sized Decorative Wine Barrel. Structurally unchanged, the recrafted barrels are sanded, stained, sealed and varnished to give them a new furniture-like luster with an artisan touch that becomes the talking point of any room or area they are in. We also, make assorted wine barrel stave products including racks.

Racking Wine

The beautiful rolling hills of vineyards, always looking so enchanting. The wine business can look charming but there is a lot more that goes into making vines turn grapes into that great tasting liquid that grows ever more popular. To end up with that great looking glass of wine requires quite a bit of work. One of the usually unseen deeds that go unnoticed, except by those working in a winery, is the racking of the wine.

I knew a little bit about this before I ever moved into Paso Robles wine country. Being a homebrewer for two decades, when I first was introduced to beer-making, there were three rules: clean, clean and clean. I would transfer my five gallon wort (beer) into a carboy, to rinse the yeast cake or trub (sediment) from the bottom of the vessel, so that it can clear itself and maybe mature a little more before bottling. Making wine and racking is essentially the same thing.

After primary and secondary fermentation, wine sits in a oak barrel for a few weeks and then is racked – not all winemakers do this. However, almost certainly, some months later, vintners like to rack the wine. Vintners have different philosophies for how often but consider anywhere from three to six months, or maybe even longer. Figure a wine gets racked at least two or three times during its life in a barrel. Wines need rest and the less disruptions, the better.

Racking_wine_between_barrelsRacking process

When racking, it simply is moving the wine from one barrel into another – maybe a neutral barrel – to clear the wine after it settles. A racking cane is inserted into the oak wine barrel and placed right at the bottom, trying not to retain sediment. What is called off flavors created by lees can be imparted into the wine if not racked. Lees is the sediment, which mostly is yeast that’s left behind. It needs to be cleaned out, then that barrel can be reused again and even have the original wine transferred back in that same barrel. By the way, lees can be reused into making dough.

That’s what a neutral barrel can be used for. Neutral barrels are vessels that have been used to the point that they no longer are imparting any flavors into the wine, and therefore after being cleaned, are temporary containers used for racking purposes. Note sometimes, in bigger wineries, the barrels are emptied into steel vats before transferring back into the now cleaned barrels.

Cleaning

Having done this process a time or two, I can tell you it’s difficult work. Gravity-aided siphoning isn’t so hard, but to clean a barrel once it has been emptied isn’t necessarily fun. Typically, the barrels are rinsed initially with water and then cleaned with citric acid. There are barrel washing tools that blast the inside to help clean and then rinse the cleaning agents out – and likely more than once. Both hot and cold water may be used.

Cleaning_wine_barrels-hot_water

Cleaning wine barrels isn’t glamorous, but very critical nonetheless.

You’re probably wondering what happens after racking, because a certain amount of space inside the wine barrel is now open due to some of the product having been cleaned out. The wine barrel needs to be full, so the extra area is filled with top off wine – something I talked about earlier this year.

Wineries try not to splash the wine because they don’t want to aerate it; but, racking in the end is a much needed process in winemaking with the biggest result offering a wine that is clean with the debris left behind.

This time of year, with harvest already underway in some vineyards, racking is occurring with wine ready for bottling, being emptied and those barrels to be cleaned for the next vintage.

Not all of winemaking is glamorous, but here’s to racking, which helps produce a clean and sometimes clearer wine – the end result of all that behind the scenes hard work in the winery.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Is California Still The World’s Breadbasket?

Grape yields in California may be lower this year due in part to the four-year drought and the state’s incompetent handling of water issues. However, the vineyard business isn’t the only industry suffering in the Golden State. The once vibrant farming industry is steadily being shrunk at ever alarming rates, bringing to question: Is California still America’s breadbasket?

Stockton_farmland

Before those in the Great Plains start having a conniption fit over the term ‘breadbasket’, for a century or more, California has always had the title of the ‘world’s breadbasket’, probably due to the fact so many foods, grown year-round are produced in the nearly 165,000 square miles of its borders. According to California Department of Food and Agriculture, while the state only has 1/20th of the farmland in the United States, it supplies the most products, including dairy, nuts and of course grapes.

Fish = Fallow land

Yet, this great state’s accomplished farm production is waning as huge lots of land acreage go fallow. Although there are many factors involved in how this agricultural powerhouse lost its way, when a bait fish can stop a farmer dead-in-his-tracks, you know there’s something not right.

In the past decade, the delta smelt, used primarily by local fishermen in the San Joaquin Delta for bait to catch other fish, made it’s way into the canals that supply the thousands of farms in the central part of the state where so many crops are grown. The delta smelt and also the Chinook Salmon weren’t comfortable, so to make life better for the fish, life became much worse for the people of the state. You can go here, for more of the insanity regarding the delta smelt. Let’s just say the crazy ways of Sacramento have been very detrimental to human life in the Golden State.

Delta canals distributing water to farms.

The farms of the San Joaquin Valley relied on the water from mountain streams that led into reservoirs and finally the canals. However, with drought, the state felt compelled to stop sending water to the farms, so farmers in-turned, drilled for water. But, they went to the well too often and many of those water wells have dried up. And with it, farmlands have dried up too, looking more like arid deserts, than a vigorous and unique land of plenty.

Lost lands and livelihood 

It’s estimated that 5% of California’s farmlands have gone unplanted. Hundreds of millions of dollars – and maybe billions – have been lost due to the financial strain caused by shrinking farm production. A cross section of crops such as orange orchards and rice fields have gone fallow at alarming rates. Lost businesses and jobs are the norm. Drive through the center of the state, and you will see fallow lands everywhere. It’s not pretty.

Climate change folks might bark that this is a direct result of ‘global warming’, but even alarmist experts have backed off any correlation between the weather in California and so-called man-made climate change (source: NBC).

California farmland going fallow quickly.

The southern part of the San Joaquin Valley is being hit the worse. Counties such as Kern, King and Tulare are running out of ground water, some of which was sold to other regions before they new there would be a severe drought. And there lies another problem.

Big city water

The big cities of the state including Los Angeles, have tied up and purchased vast amounts of water from around the state. The Metropolitan Water District in Southern California has control of vast amounts of water. For instance, they purchased large farmlands next to the Colorado River, to ensure water for the millions of people living in the Greater L. A. Area (source: Desert Sun).

The state has ripped the water rights away from farmers all over California. Crops like grapes haven’t been affected too badly yet, but it will be only a matter of time before vineyards start being left abandoned with no irrigation to keep them going.

UC Davis reported in June that the agricultural industry in the state will have an estimated $2.7 billion in losses and about 18,600 job cuts as a result of the drought. Over half-a-million acres have gone fallow in the Golden State, which has left fields looking gold and not green.

Is California Still The World’s Breadbasket? The answer may not be long in coming.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Renovated Used Wine Barrel

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get these already popular barrels now! 

 

 

Haggen: The Hits Just Keep On Coming

We don’t want to pile on, but what’s happening to the new Haggen presence in the Southwest, and pointedly here in California? The once small Bellingham, Washington based market expanded into the Southwest when they purchased 146 Albertsons, Vons and Safeways after those stores merged. However, they are quickly shrinking less than a handful of months after the acquisitions.

(KSBY photo)

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27 stores will be closing over the next two months including 21 in California. One of those stores to close will the Los Osos store here in San Luis Obispo County. And to add to the agonizing growth pains, Haggen admits this might not be the last of the closings.

It appeared there would be a new and different player in the world of supermarkets when Haggen grew from a relatively small 18 store local chain into a small regional 164 store powerhouse. Albertsons and Safeway merger forced those stores to sell off some of their locations to meet with federal restrictions regarding the mega-merger.

Plans quickly gone awry 

However, Haggen has struggled from the outset and not long after the takeover, they had to lay off some of their employees. Then it was announced last month that they had been sued by Albertsons for non-payment.

As far as competition, it’s always good to see a new and different approach to marketing your services, and certainly Haggen on paper had a fresh concept both literally and figuratively. They offer more locally grown products along with fresh goods for their customers. In a farm rich region like the Central Coast, that sounded great. In Paso Robles, we had lost the only decent market in town – Scolari’s – three years ago. Haggen came in and took over the Vons and we were hopeful; but high prices and otherwise indistinguishable products, leaves us wondering if there was much or any worthy differentiation.

Apparently many others around the state are wondering the same thing as Haggen stores start to disappear less than six months after they opened. Whether they can right the ship remains to be seen and the prospects are suspect for Haggen in the Golden State; yet, we hope they can turn around what so far has been a short and dismal stay outside the state of Washington.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Renovated Used Wine Barrel

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get these already popular barrels now! 

Grape Waste Not

A rambunctious early harvest has started here in wine country. The drought conditions have created another earlier than usual picking time as tons of wine grapes start the process of becoming wine. However, with all those grapes being crushed into juice, what happens with the rest of the parts of the grapes, often called pomace? Grape waste not.

grape waste

Piles of grape waste

When I first learned about the processes of making wine, I wondered what was done with all those stems, skins, seeds and sediment. I learned then that some vineyards discarded these solids without any reuse and made into piles to be trucked away to a dump.

I talked with some winemaker friends of mine in the business and found out that more and more are using the waste for an assortment of utilizations. In this day and age of businesses trying to be more environmentally sound, these developments and practices are becoming more rewarding than just making an effort. Troublesome pomace piles are becoming a rare site.

Piles of pomace for good

Now, understand that grapeseed oil has been around since ancient times. Still, the process of taking grape seeds and making oils out of them, had not been widely done until recently. Pomace is the solids or pulp of what is left after the juice is extracted from the grape. Ask those in the know and they will tell you that the pomace of grapes has more of the beneficial health benefits than the juice. These by-products include flour, oils and many other goods. Animal feed is also being produced from grape waste.

Destemming grapes – What to do with the stems?

Some vineyards are creating piles of compost from their pomace and then sell to farms or keep and better their own vineyard amelioration.

The by-product can be made into food preservatives and in fact is used to spray on raisins as a natural preservative while helping to retain or even improve their flavor. Pomace is rich in antioxidants, iron, fiber, protein, vitamin E and anti-bacterial properties, so with a high-smoke rate, when combined as an cooking oil, offers a wonderfully innovative and unique cooking spray, ideal for baking, grilling, sauteing or stir-fries.

Pomace power

Another use that has budding growth in popularity is grape waste as a biofuel. A few years ago, UC Davis started a research project on taking pomace, prunings and other vineyard winery waste to create bioenergy. Considering many vineyards discard their pomace at a cost, making biofuel for the wineries seems a economically feasible and sensible thing to do. With farms trying to be more sustainable, this is a logical step towards those goals.

Bioenergy can be created from pomace

Reuse of any product requires extra cost, but as more ideas are pushed into the mainstream of business, the making of grape waste as a viable option is possible. Combining the nutritive advantages with bioenergy, it appears the useful compounds of pomace’s future look great. With new options popping up all the time, disposing of this grape waste may not be a problem anymore, but an actual benefit.

Additional sources: The Encyclopedia of Seeds, UC Davis

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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These coat/hat racks are selling like hotcakes 

Godzilla, El Nino … And The Blob?!

“History shows again and again
How nature points out the folly of men”

I’ve had this ringing in my ears for almost a month after seeing Blue Oyster Cult sing one of their big hits “Godzilla” at the Mid State Fair. No, this isn’t about classic rock groups or ‘B’ movies, but instead the irony and how true it rings now that the supposed Godzilla of El Nino’s sits out in the Pacific, ready to emerge once fall is in full force.

Godzilla

That’s what the weather experts are calling for this coming season (source: L.A. Times) and therefore we may see the rainiest El Nino on record. Of course, predicting nature and weather, even among scientist, is little more than a bad game of dart throwing. Still, from every corner, we’re being told that after having one of the worse droughts on record, we may end the drought with the most massive subtropical moisture driven winters ever. This may be worse than any ‘B’ movie can conjure up.

The National Weather Service states every computer model now has the Southwestern U.S. staring down the barrel of a big El Nino late this year. It likely will last through early spring. Whether this all comes to past is up for grabs since the history of nature has a tendency to show us again and again the folly of forecasting weather – it’s never been an exact science.

“With a purposeful grimace and a terrible sound”

Certainly this summer has been influenced mightily by the warm waters off our California coast. We’ve had monsoonal flow from Arizona all the way up here in Central California. The Godzilla of summer storms hit California in July bringing the remnants of Hurricane Dolores right to our doorstep, causing terrible damage. There was terrible sounds of furious thunder and lightning, plus flooding and mudslides after heavy winds and three-and-a-half inches of rain fell – most of it in less than a couple hours.

Godzilla Versus The BlobThe Blob

Not to be outdone – with another ‘B’ movie reference – we also have the ‘Blob’ to contend with. Nicknamed the Blob, it’s a warmer than usual body of water that may have contributed to pulling Dolores further up the Pacific Coast. It sits in the Gulf of Alaska and although much more shallow than El Nino as far as the depth of warm water is concerned, the Blob brings an X-factor to weather forecasters.

The farmers, especially grape-growers, don’t seem as apprehensive since the vines are dormant during winter. Frost is usually the big concern in early spring after bud-break, however, if this powerful rain phenomenon should continue into spring, diseases like rot and mildew can wreak havoc with vineyards. Dolores was relatively quick, but a constant drumbeat of incessant downpours are a trademark of El Nino. If El Nino should make a premature arrival in early fall, wet weather can also ruin grapes prior to harvest; but, this years early picking will probably dodge that pitfall.

The Blob’s warm waters off Alaska and Canada is a big unknown. A typical El Nino has only warm waters off California with cooler temps north. This year’s conditions though are more intense with bigger and deeper warm water. No one is sure how this will affect the normal El Nino pattern – it could bring storms farther north and moderate the impact, or it might exasperate the conditions and make for a monster weather system.

The truth of the matter is, the Blob could influence the Godzilla of El Nino’s, which in-turn may raise its ugly head and turn around, heading back into the depths of the Pacific. October is roughly the beginning of the rainy season in California and climatologists say the next several weeks will determine more certainty as to whether this prediction of a devastating rain pattern will actually happen. Until then, it’s something no one knows for sure.

“Oh no, they say he’s got to go go go Godzilla”

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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These coat/hat racks are selling like hotcakes 

NEW! Renovated Wine Barrel

It looks like a Decorative, but it’s not. This is Paso Wine Barrels newest version called Renovated. The Renovated wine barrels cost out about $50 less than a Decorative – yes, $50 less, yet don’t look remarkably different.

Renovated Used Wine Barrel

They are lightly sanded and stained with a sealer. Customers have wanted a barrel with a little more patina, showing off some of its uniqueness and this does the trick – plus that part about it being $50 less.

The barrel will make its first showing at the Olive Festival, Saturday August 15th (Downtown Park in Paso Robles). They will officially go on sale through the website August 20th at $175 – the first barrel available at the Olive Festival will be a one-day sale of $165.

Order now, because with request already coming in, there might be a backlog and wait.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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California Needs Drag Strips: The Answer? Central Coast

The fact that Paso Robles has become a destination resort location with wine at its focal point, doesn’t mean it should rest on its laurels. The Golden State is where drag racing was born, yet there are very few drag strips left. You can count on one hand how many quarter-mile tracks are left in Southern and Central California. Famoso, near Bakersfelid is the loan representative in the Central part the of the state. The region could use another drag strip and Paso Robles could use another reason to come attract new and unique visitors. The answer?

The Nest

In a state where drag racing was born due in part to dry lakes racing and the regions fervent support and love of the automobile, there seemed to be a quarter-mile drag strip in every corner of California.  Starting with the innocuous Goleta, there may have been nearly 100 drag strip facilities dotted throughout the state from Fremont to Fontana and Saugus to Santa Ana (pictured).Santa-Ana-drags

Population up, drag racing down

However, with the onslaught of population and the crush of urban development – along with noise activists – tracks disappeared.  Everywhere you looked, there were abandoned strips that sometimes sat vacant for decades afterwards.  Famed tracks like Orange County eventually became a plot of commercial highrises while Irwindale turned into a brewery and Lions, well, sadly it’s just a storage yard.

In a century of growth, the greater Los Angeles area in Southern California went from roughly 200,000…

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Where The Barrels Have Gone

Many have asked over the past months, why availability of used wine barrels has become poor, while prices have risen. The short answer is, well, there really isn’t a short answer.

To put it simply, several forces have been brought together to create this problem.

The most obvious answer to why there is a shortage of used wine barrels is due to winemaking, or rather the increased production and sale of wine, especially here in the United States. Wine consumption is at an all-time high in the U.S., therefore wineries are increasing output and in-turn retaining and using barrels longer. Add to that, the fact California grape productions has been huge over the last few years, which has vintners hedging their bets and holding onto barrels that would otherwise be retired. It’s a little more complicated than that, but essentially, barrels were being hoarded by wineries.

Spirit makers 

Now grape production has slowed a bit in California due to the drought, which we’ve discussed in prior stories. Okay, so where are those barrels? That’s another reason used wine barrels are more rare: spirit makers are buying up those used barrels from the Golden State for increased production of different alcohols including whiskey. Couple that with more craft brewers using more used wine barrels – like local brewery Firestone Walker – and voila, barrels disappeared from the barns of wineries at alarming rates.

Whiskey barrel with bottle lights

Barrels are used for a multitude of creations

These aren’t the only reasons that barrels are harder and harder to find. The furniture business has exploded with used wine barrels being taken apart to be re-crafted into a menagerie of furnishings such as chairs, which are extremely popular. Also, art-based fixtures like lighting and more simpler ideas such as pots and pan holders, plus more common uses like hat and coat hangers with staves have burst on the scene.

We at Paso Wine Barrels are always searching and sometimes we have to limit the sale of used barrels so we have enough to make our popular Decorative barrels. In two years, we’ve had a couple one-month spells where there weren’t enough barrels to go around. The industry will ebb and flow with availability a matter of timing as to who has barrels and who doesn’t.

A few years ago, it wasn’t unusual for used wine barrels to be free to pick up. Those days are long gone.

Additional sources: Wine Institute

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Haggen’s Troubles Continue

Haggen may be in worse trouble than originally thought.

Not only has Haggen cut employee hours along with actually their work force (see re-blogged story), but now it appears they can’t make payments on the initial sale of the stores (source: L.A. Times).

Albertsons claims Haggen reneged on payment for inventory. However, Haggen states they were never going to make that payment to begin with. Therefore Albertsons has filed suit and it appears the courts will have to decide. Haggen denies any wrongdoing and instead, says Albertsons was at fault.

In Haggens own words, they admit unprecedented competition for the Washington based companies battle to enter the Southwest. Whether this is another sign the originally tiny store chain can make the leap to regional supermarket remains to be seen.

Paso Wine Barrels

Here on the Central Coast, we have had some good markets come and go including my favorite Scolari’s, which folded up after a 60 year reign and left the Golden State in 2012 due in part to being over-taxed and over-regulated by Sacramento. Then came some news this past year that seemed positive when Washington based Haggen bought up nearly a hundred Albertsons and Vons in California. It was thought that Haggen would bring better customer service and a more fresh set of products to market, somewhat along the lines of Whole Foods. It sounded promising, but only three months into their endeavor, it appears the concept isn’t working.

Cuts

Based in Bellingham, Washington, Haggen announced this week that there would be layoffs throughout the Southwest. No exact numbers we’re given and the store says they are “temporary layoffs”. The layoffs aren’t a big surprise as employees have already had their…

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Record-breaking July Storm In Paso Robles

“It never rains in California, but girl, don’t they warn ya
It pours, man, it pours”

That infamous chorus of words were never more true than when remnants of Hurricane Dolores came up from the Mexican tropics and dumped extremely rare heavy rains on generally the southern half of California. What a powerful and freak occurrence.

I don’t believe Albert Hammond’s’ 1972 song It Never Rains in Southern California had summer in mind, because essentially it never rains in California in the summer, period. Sure, an occasional monsoonal flow from Arizona sneaks in usually in late summer, but those rains do not make regular appearances except for maybe the Southern California deserts. Yet, rain in heavy amounts pummeled much of California.

Normally dry – Now Hurricanes? 

Here in the wine country of Paso Robles, measurable rain is even more rare, because our cool waters off the Central Coast stop any energy from generating strength to pull storms this far north. Plus, July is our driest month with an average of .1 inches of rain in a normal year. Except this isn’t a normal year as El Nino has made its presence felt long before winter arrives. And that’s how the moisture associated with a former Hurricane came to spew what energy it had left on the North County.

Hurricane Dolores off Baja as she approaches Southern California.

Hurricane Dolores off Baja as she approaches Southern California.

Paso Robles received over three and a half inches of rain on July 26th, most of which fell during a few early morning hours. Constant lightning and thunder hammered the area incessantly before, during and after the big rain event. Unprecedented, doesn’t do this occurrence justice. With ground dry as a bone, Dolores’ remnant moisture made its way everywhere and flooded any crevice, creating a mess. By the way, the former record for rain in the whole month of July is .59 inches. The record is as Mick Jagger would say: Shattered.

On a personal note, the rain devastated the backyard and part of the house. There’s a hill behind the house and the hard rain washed away anything it could including mud right into the backyard and patio, making for quite a muddy wet swamp. Shovels are at the ready as we wait for an insurance adjuster. The force of the storm was so ferocious, it actually ripped up a very small portion of the roof – but understand this is a concrete tiled roof.

All-in-all it was one of those rare infrequent episodes that reared its ugly head and decided the parched and drought-stricken California was a nice place to disgorge itself of massive amounts of water.

California drought over?

We pray for rain in the Golden State, and maybe we prayed too hard, because rain came in buckets over a very short period and wreaked a little devastation along the way. This may not have ended the drought, but indications are, it certainly could come to an end soon.

The warmer waters off the the coast created by El Nino have allowed monsoonal flows from the desert to reach us this summer with light showers or sprinkles, but this powerful storm did much more than that. Paso Robles was at the very northern edge of Dolores’ impact, but in the end, we may have received more of her fury than most. Also, this area is dry as a rule, but we’ve had a muggier than normal summer so far.

I don’t know if this will be a problem for the wine-growers, because one of the results of rain like this and humid conditions is mildew, which is an unwanted problem for vineyards.

If this is any indication of what we’re in for when the rainy season actually arrives, the California drought will be over and we may have other more pressing and damp problems to address. In the interim, as MC Hammer might say, it’s shovel time.

Additional sources: El Nino in History, Accuweather

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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