Category Archives: Wine

Anything to do with wine

Paso Robles: Top Wine Country Travel Destination

One of the older established online travel sites, Orbitz, has a list of places their editors say are the top destinations. This year, they have 17 different regions to visit and only one is in a wine country vicinity: Paso Robles. In fact Orbitz listed Paso as the number four most exciting and amazing places to travel to … in the world.

bon-niche-cellars_PasoRobles

Yes, the sleepy little town I fell in love with decades earlier is now a wine enthusiast’s nirvana. Located halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, Paso’s small town feel has largely been kept intact. Nestled in the eastern hillsides of California’s Coastal Range, this Central Coast diamond has become a highly sought after travel destination. Orbitz states the over 400 wineries now spread all over the northern reaches of San Luis Obispo County:

“Produce some damn fine varietals”

From it’s many tasting rooms to Victorian style buildings to “a perfectly walkable downtown”, there’s certainly plenty to enjoy in this remarkable vacation destination. Rolling hills may obscure the many wineries, but being in close proximity to town yet offering a faraway feeling, are some of the many reasons to visit Paso Robles, according to Orbitz’s expertise.

Hotels range from luxury accommodations to the more typical arrangements. Also, foodies shouldn’t be alarmed because this town has more than its fair share of great restaurants. So the next time you’re looking for that unique cozy charm of a small town, yet the extra amenities of a larger city, Paso Robles should be number one on your list of amazing places to travel.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Old Bank Barn As Winery

Driving about here on the Central Coast in wine country, there’s plenty of new and old blended into the scenery along the rolling hills of Paso Robles. Yes, the booming vineyard business has greeted us with new modern and fancy buildings and tasting rooms. And yet there are unique and distinctive farms and barns that have given me new appreciation for the old history of the region.

sleeping_lady_winery-bank_barn

Diamond in the rough

This brings me to an interesting story of a barn up in Napa Valley (near Yountville) that may be the only one of its kind. The historic building was built in the late 1800’s and could end up being the only bank barn as a winery.

Built into the side of a hill, bank barns are peculiar in that they have two levels reached from ground level, making it easily accessible. Construction of these unusual buildings is more expensive than a normal flat building, but they offer multi-level advantages including entry to an ‘upper’ floor from the ground. The descriptive word ‘bank’ stands for a slope.

What’s old is new

This particular barn will be restored by Napa Valley’s Sleeping Lady Winery, who is a successful vineyard in their own right.  The 3651 square foot barn will be a winery and includes a tasting room, fermentation area and barrel storage. A covered outdoor crush pad will be added as well.

sleeping-lady-vineyard

In helping to give significance and preserve this old barn, a local councilwoman, Juliana Inman, did some research that discovered this is one of only two bank barns listed with the state of California. They have to follow state guidelines for preservation and restoration of this historic site.

Napa certainly has a nugget to check out, when Sleeping Lady Winery is finished with their restoration here in the Golden State.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Wood Bung Plug

Wood bung plugIf you’re not familiar with this term used in the world of wine, the bung hole is simply the hole on the top of a barrel. It-turn, the bung hole is covered with a bung or bung plug – similar to what a cork does. Other names like stopper, cork or taper can be used to describe a bung.  The bung plug typically can be made out of almost anything including plastic, rubber, glass, silicone and of course wood.

There are advantages to each product such as the fact that rubber is easy to manipulate and move, while plastic is cheaper, glass looks the best and silicone might breath the best. These different attributes are important, and maybe there’s a little bit of all of them in wood bungs.

Wooden Bung Plug

The wood bung plug that is offered here is two inches in diameter on the outside or top of the bung, and roughly one and three quarters inch on the end or inside. Though each is handmade and therefore unique from each other, they are about an inch and a half long. Paso wine Barrels came up with the size based on the typical wine barrel bung hole, which is an inch and seven eighths to just a hair shy of two inches in diameter. The inch and a half is long enough to be able to grab hold of to pull off, yet not too short that you can’t get a hold of it to take off. Note, a typical wine barrel capacity is 58-60 gallons or about 225 liters.

To make this unique bung plugs, a two inch pine dowel is cut about an inch and a half long. Then its sanded until the taper will fit a test bung hole. Roughly an inch of the bung length has a taper. The edges and ends are sanded, then stain and sealed with a dark cedar tone. This offers a longer lasting and better looking bung plug. Unlike glass, wood does have a little bit of breathing ability and yet is more natural than plastic, rubber or silicone. If you’re interested in a truly working bung plug to make beer, wine or spirits, there is the ultimate plug called the LUX bung. Click here to check out a story done on it a couple years ago.

Other than staves, the wood bung plug is the single most popular item sold at PasoWineBarrels.com. Every state in the union has one and its popularity continues to grow.

LUX bung plug

Decorative barrel with LUX bung

I’m sure some of you including millennials have been snickering while reading, thinking the whole time about the term bung hole; but, this discussion is only talking about barrels and not butts.

Many holes in containers like barrels, are universally made to two inches, therefore Paso Wine Barrels bung plug can used in many different applications, including the larger alcohol related barrels like puncheons, casks and tun. So, whether you’re looking for a bung stopper, cork, taper or whatever you may call it, this is the bung plug for you.

“I find friendship to be like wine, raw when new, ripened with age, the true old man’s milk and restorative cordial.” – Thomas Jefferson

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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And The Newly Crowned Largest Wine Barrel Is?

With time, records will fall, so as far as the largest wine barrel is concerned, a newly crafted 300,000 liter oak barrel made in the south of France, holds the peculiar notoriety of now being the largest oak wine barrel of its kind in the world.

A very large barrel

Worlds_largest_wine_barrel

To be specific, the barrel was made – and finished this month – in the province of Languedoc in Saint-Drezery, France for the Chateau Puech-Haut estate’s owner Gerard Bru. The barrel weighs a total of 44 tons or 88,000 pounds. It’s about 40 feet long and 20 feet high. I don’t think we can get it in the back of our Durango. Sadly, Mr Bru says the colossal barrel won’t be used for wine, but instead will be an attraction and likely events could be held inside. I’m certain of that.

Over five tons of steel were used as hoop bands and I believe half a forest was cut down to make this enormous contraption. Actually, it was estimated that 40 tons of oak were used to create this massive hulk of wood and metal.

Chateau de Puech-Haut

Chateau Puech-Haut

Based in the huge grape producing region of Languedoc, the winery itself sits in an important winemaking center that dates back over a couple millenniums ago. The vines here are considered the oldest in France and probably were planted by the Greeks during their Classical Period in fifth century BC.

Beats the Tun

If you were wondering, the largest wine barrel was formerly the infamous Heidelberg Tun, which is cellared several hundred miles north at Heidelberg Castle in, you guessed it, Heidelberg, Germany. It held 58,500 gallons, when it was new in 1751, but because of shrinkage, now is about 57,800 gallons. It was originally used for actual wine storage, but now resides as another tourist attraction. There’s a stairway that leads to a dance floor on top of the Heidelberg Tun barrel. Can you just imagine those crazy Germans doing their Schuhplattler in lederhosen … on top of a wine barrel?!

The Chateau Puech-Haut has many other larger than life wine barrels and some of them have been adorned with art and exhibited globally. Seguin Moreau and surely other cooperages, make giant barrels and casks on a regular basis.

Chateau Puech-Haut - barrel-storage

Inside Chateau Puech-Haut wine barrel storage facility.

It is said that no poem was ever written by a drinker of water; so, in the land where troubadours first emitted their poetic songs, I leave you with this great poem called: ‘We Have a Huge Barrel of Wine But No Cups’ – which doesn’t sound like a problem. Here’s to you Gerard Bru.

“We have a huge barrel of wine but no cups, that’s fine with us. Every morning we glow, and in the evening we glow again. They say there is no future for us. They are right; which is fine with us.” – Rumi (13th Century Persian poet)

Additional source: The Cooper and His Trade

Salootie Patootie,

Daryle W. Hier

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California Wine Production Drops Again, But …

The Golden State generates over 90% of all wine produced in the United States. So sometimes numbers have to be put in prospective. Still, the wine grape tonnage created in California for the 2015 season dropped a second year in a row, according to the just released California Grape Crush Report.California_Grape_Crush_Report-2015

We at Paso Wine Barrels keep tabs on statistics like this because it can affect our business, whether the winery crop production is high or low. Until just recently, it was difficult to find used wine barrels, because crush reports over the past few years have been high. After two back-to-back record breaking years in 2012 and 2013, wineries were leery and caused vintners to essentially hoard their used wine barrels in case the next year was the same as the last.

Drought tough to beat

Drought has gripped California for five years and that finally slowed down grape-growers who saw a dip in 2014, but still it was a very strong output. So some wine-makers relinquished their barrels, but most held steady figuring to wait one more year. That year was this past season and the grape crush is the lowest it’s been since 2011.

However, the amount of wine produced last year was average by comparison to past seasons during the 21st Century. Therefore, even though production was down 5% year-or-year, California is still the fourth largest wine producer in the world behind France, Italy and Spain – and we’re neck-and-neck with Espana. In other words, the wine is still flowing big time in sunny California.

If California was its own country, it would rank fourth in the world - maybe third - in wine production.

If California was its own country, it would rank fourth in the world – maybe third – in wine production.

Those in the industry will say that they needed a breather because there was too much bulk wine available, which can drive prices down. Yet, the world as a whole is drinking more wine, but not producing enough of what the demand wants. Hard to know for sure how that works out considering the elongated Recession is gathering up steam for another big hit economic-wise.

Chardonnay down, but not out

Although the cost of grapes in California is down a bit overall, for some varietals like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, prices have already increased, due to very low tonnage in 2015. So yours truly tries to pinpoint wineries who concentrate on those varietals. Locally, we had bouts of shatter on the Central Coast, which significantly reduced overall grape production. Simply stated, shatter is when the young grape cluster flowers are stressed to the point they fall off the vine. We knew it wasn’t going to be a good year and last harvest offered a glimpse into the troubles we were heading towards.

Chardonnay still leads the way as the number one varietal in California.

Chardonnay still leads the way as the number one varietal in California.

A few stats of interest from this harvest report show the leader with more than one-in-six grapes is Chardonnay. Cabernet Sauvignon is still king, at least among reds, and second place in the state. By the way, Thomson Seedless was the leading varietal regarding raisin production. Well over half a million acres in the Golden State have grapes growing on them.

A final report will be out in about a month with the complete rundown of all that is known of last years grape crush. Only five other years in state’s history of wine production had higher tonnage. So yes, the crush is lighter than the previous three years, but perspective will tell you that the wine industry is doing just fine in California.

Additional source: Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia

Salute!

Daryle W. Hier

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Wine: Where It All Began, Sort Of

Mount Ararat - Armenia

Casual conversations among wine drinkers sometimes leads to where did it all begin. Okay, maybe my interest in history leads to that conversation. Still, where it all began is interesting thought regarding wine.

When, then where

Maybe the better question could be when did winemaking start. I’m not going to get into the exacts of this because there are unbounded vagaries as to the who, what, when, where and how of wine and winemaking. It’s arguable, and archaeologically speaking, the history of winemaking is a bit blurred. However, sometime during the end of the Stone Age, or upwards of 10,000 years ago, may be where early man discovered the pleasurable magic of vino. The Bronze Age some 5,000 years later is when wine production probably began. It should be noted that theoretically, man discovered alcohol from watching birds eat fermented fruit and then becoming odd in their actions afterward.

Armenia-pottery-ancient

Ancient pottery from archaeological site in Armenia

While wild grapes can be found from Western Europe to China, the domestication of wine looks to have begun in the steppe region of Armenia (also known as the Upper Middle East). In these highlands, with the advent of pottery, wine production likely began. Less than 30 years ago, there were archaeological digs in this region that found 5,000 year old pottery remnants with a red hue, thought to be wine residue.

The trek that wine took went from Armenia and migrated south to Mesopotamia (Iraq) and west to Eastern Europe.

Its biblical background

From a biblical perspective, it’s suggested this Upper Middle Eastern plateau expanse could be where the Garden of Eden was located. Another tidbit is this area might have been where the first production of apricot brandy occurred. It’s well known that brandy was first regularly produced in large supply in Eastern Europe including the Black Sea Region, not far from Armenia. Geographically speaking, Ancient Armenia stretched from the Mediterranean to the Black and Caspian Seas.

Greek wall painting showing grape-vines trained over a trellis, then crushed in a vat. The Bible credits Noah with inventing wine.

Greek wall painting showing grape-vines trained over a trellis, then crushed in a vat.
The Bible credits Noah with inventing wine.

Noah was said to have planted a vineyard in this same area and made wine from it. This is the first written account of grape growing and winemaking. Mount Ararat, where Noah’s Ark landed, was in the middle of Armenia (edge of modern day Turkey). Although wine was produced mainly for royalty and dignitaries, some partook for sacramental, religious or spiritual occasions.

The Levant – a name that only recently starting making the news with ISIS (aka ISIL or Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) – is a region just south of Armenia and Turkey which is brought up as the earliest times of food … and of course wine production.

Other places

Others state that wine had its start in China some 9,000 years ago. However, this recipe was made from rice and not grapes. Archaeological sites from Iran, to Georgia and Greece show signs of domestic wine production dating back some 7,000 years ago. The earliest exporting of wine from the Levant was shipped to Ancient Egypt over 5,000 years ago. The Egyptians were thought to be the first vine pruners. Note that Ancient Palestine had wine, but it was date wine, made from date palms.

Oldest winery - Armenia

Oldest winery – Armenia

The oldest winery dates back 6,000 years to Armenia – a central and recurring place of reference when researching wine’s history. Yet, truly the Romans brought wine to the fore about 1,000 BC, creating a science and viniculture that is with us today. It is said the Romans created the wooden cask to carry products easily while keeping foods and drink protected, which also kept them from spoiling. Eventually the wooden cask for wine – or wine barrel – would be used as a regular container for vino.

The birthplace of wine might not be clear, and many cultures delved into making different forms of alcohol. Still it could be said that the highlands of Armenia are as good a place as any for where it all began when considering the beginnings of wine.

Sources: Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of VinicultureAlcohol: A History, University of Pennsylvania

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Wine And China

The great experiment of Capitalism combined with Communism in China may be struggling. And with it, the sudden slowdown of wine consumption in China has followed.

Vineyard at Huadong-Parry winery, Shandong Province, China.

Wine and China intrigued me when I was contacted over the last couple years by some wine barrel import/exporters interested in buying up any and all wine barrels I could get my hands on. Part of the interest was coming from China. Of course, many others were also interested in used wine barrels, including furniture manufacturers, spirit makers and a sundry of beer producers – just to name a few.

Boom or bust?

The drought has brought a slow down here in wine country as grape crops have fallen off their high volumes of a couple years ago. Barrels are still in demand, but the market isn’t quite as tight as it was. And there has come a deafening silence from China.

Many folks including those in the wine industry thought that China would be a major boon to grape growers – and it was for a time – but now bottles of wine by the boatloads are languishing in warehouses or being sold off at fire-sale prices. The multi-billion dollar Chinese wine market has hit a big bump in the road.

Growth

Wineries and cooperages were popping up all over China with the idea being they could reproduce what the rest of the world was making to ease the extremely tight market their economy was creating. However, where once lay the Silk Road, now is lined with vineyards growing grapes that no one wants.

To be sure, the wine industry in China hasn’t stopped, but when heading fast and furious as the growth skyrocketed, now a more slower and moderate pace has taken hold. Award-winning wines have been produced from Chinese grapes and certainly a new influential and potentially dominant player in the vino industry is at hand. Still in its infancy, the once almost limitless development and expansion in China of wine has backtracked somewhat. Remember, wine is still a luxury in China.

In addition, the attitudes of foreign countries to China and their wine are still hard to get around. Although wine isn’t new to the Chinese people, this Asian region of the world was known for rice and not grape-based wines. This has made selling Chinese wines abroad more difficult.

A little side note. China’s first grape vines were planted in the late 19th century and came from none other than right here in California. The Chinese Civil War stunted any growth and then along with the Communist overthrow, the wine industry stagnated for decades.

Bigger or …

China is one of the Top 10 largest wine producing countries, and with its immense population and land size, will likely be in the top five before long – it may already be. The over-enthusiastic growth of wine in China will likely find a more moderate pace in the years to come – if we don’t plunge into a worldwide depression.

If the truth be known, the world has never really risen from the Great Recession and although China seems to have it’s own economy, its involvement with capitalism has brought it closer to the rest of the world. Yet, its burgeoning middle class is hungry for more – and that includes wine.

The future of wine and China is in balance just as the world economy teeters with a global depression. The fledgling Chinese wine market is here to stay as a major force; but, will it continue to grow and eventually dominate the industry as some expect?

Sources: International Business Times, Thirsty Dragon

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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