Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tsunami in Samoa

I just found out that Samoa has been struck by a massive earthquake-induced tsunami. American Samoa, Samoa, and Tonga were all hit by four consecutive 15-20 foot waves that leveled entire villages up to a mile inland. The tsunami hit on the 30th (yesterday, since it's on the opposite side of the dateline) and the death toll has already reached over one hundred people.

 I visited Samoa in February and stayed on the southern shore of Upolu with a lovely family. This is one of the most devastated areas. My thoughts and prayers go out to Malae, Netina, and their children in Tafitoala. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Porta Reserva 2005 Maipo Valley Carmenere

The Guiterrez-Porta family has been making wine for nearly forty-five years in the Cachapoal Valley, a short hour and a half drive from Santiago. It wasn't until 1991 that they began producing wine under the name Casa Porta. After being bought out by Vinedos y Bodegas in 1997, the winery's capital significantly increased. This lead to the acquisition of vineyards throughout several of Chile's wine regions, including Aconcagua, Maipo, Colchagua, and Bio-Bio. They currently produce wine under six different categories (Varietal, Reserva, etc.), each with several wines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Chardonnay, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir. The Reserva 2005 Carmenere comes from the Maipo Valley, known for its red varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Winery - Porta
Location- Rancagua, Colchapoal Valley, Chile
Wine - Porta Reserva 2005 Maipo Valley Carmenere
Varietals - Carmenere
Appellation - Maipo Valley
Alcohol - 14% by volume. 
Price - $15 USD (my good friends Hayes brought this back from a trip to Chile a few years back, but that's what I saw it for online)

Color
- Dark red.
Nose/Aroma - Very earthy scent, muddled with strawberries and oak.
Palate/Flavors - Sweet, overripe cassis and boysenberries upfront that lasts through the finish. Complemented by black pepper and chocolate with an undefinable earthiness. Medium to full body, velvety tannins, and great balance.
Style -Chile is basically the adopted homeland of Carmenere. I'm not sure if its homeland Bordeaux can even compete.
Food Pairing -Chicken cacciatore served over a bed of linguine.
Comments- Nicely made wine, good balance and complexity. I think I pulled this out of the cellar at its peak. If this is truly worth the price I found, then this is a great deal. I would love to see some of Casa Porta's other wines, since Reserva is only the second in six tiers of wines produced.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Foggy Afternoon

After several 12 hour days at work last week, I was glad to finally finish early on Saturday. I headed straight home, grabbed my board and wesuit, and headed to the beach. It was clear skies and 95 degrees at the winery, but I found cool weather and fog creeping into Morro Bay, making a surf check impossible. I paddled out and found some good waves with a few surfers and an abundance of sea life. There must have been a bait ball in the lineup because there were gulls, pelicans, harbor seals, sea lions, and dolphins diving and jumping everywhere, which made the entire lineup a bit uneasy.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Indonesia Memories

A good friend of mine told me, "Since the first time I went to Indonesia, the only thing I can think of when I go home is how I can get back". Photos - 1. Bali sunrise 2. Kuta 3. Ulu's parking 4. Java dawn patrol

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Black Sand & Iguanas

I traveled to Costa Rica hoping to find some surf, just like hundreds of other surfers every year. Even the International Surfing Association (ISA) wanted to come, choosing Playa Hermosa, one of Costa Rica's best beaches, as the site for the 2009 World Surfing Games. Nick, Drew, and I made sure to avoid the area since thousands of people converged on the beach. Since the week long competition ended on the 9th of August, a few days before our flight back to California. we decided to take a chance and head to Playa Hermosa the day after the competition with hopes that most people would leave the area to explore elsewhere.

Our bus dropped us off around the hot midday sun just before noon on Monday. Nick led us to our last home in Costa Rica, a place he had stayed several times before when he visited the area. We dropped our bags and took the short walk down to the beach, where we were greeted by scorching black sand and a few iguanas. Leftover rubbish from the World Surfing Games was visibly present everywhere. Low tide had left the beach quite drained and only a handful of surfers dotted the water. We decided to wait until the tide came back in the afternoon to try again.

Playa Hermosa consists of several kilometers of beach, with most surfing focused at the northen end of the beach (Terrazas) or El Almuerdo (a massive almond tree located near the center of the beach). Since our hostel was near the north end of the beach, we surfed around there. We checked the surf periodically over the next couple hours before we finally walked down to find some fun peaks beginning to form. We grabbed our boards and ran down, surfing until sunset. It seemed like it was four hours of straight surfing.

We went to bed rather early after having a nice dinner; we were all exhausted but wanted to surf in the morning. Our last few days consisted of surfing in the morning, resting at lunchtime, and surfing again in the evening. Consistent head to overhead high surf with difficult paddle outs, heavy shore break waves, and a very manageable crowd made our few days there great.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Playa Grande

We successfully traveled Costa Rica's Peninsula de Nicoya with one day to spare, meaning we had an extra day to use our rental car while we were in Tamarindo. Tamarindo is quickly becoming one of Costa Rica's most popular tourist destinations. Two of Tamarindo's beaches, Playa Langosta and Playa Grande, are nesting sites for giant leatherback turtle, making the area part of Costa Rica's national park system. It is also one of the first areas ever surfed in the country, with several surf schools spread along the town's sandy beaches.


We first arrived at Playa Grande just as the sun began to set. This session had the smallest waves we had at Playa Grande, a consistent beach breaks with right and left peaks. Since we still had the rental car, Drew was able to bring his camera and get some shots (above shows Nico, pulling in to a smaller one; below is just another a-frame). After returning our rental car, we quickly found out how long the four kilometer trek along the beach from town really was. Thanks for the shots Drew.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bodegas Castano 2003 Solanera Vinas Viejas

Ramon Castano's family had held vineyards for several decades in the small Spanish region of Yecla when he began making bulk wine in 1950. It wasn't until the 1980's that Bodegas Castano Winery was upgraded and began bottling their own wine while increasing their vineyard holdings. They now offer over thirty wines at various prices, and have been a driving force for Spanish wines in international markets. The DO of Yecla has about 4,500 hectares of wine grapes, restricted to the varieties of Macabeo, Chardonnay, Monastrell (Mourvedre), Garnacha (Grenache), Tintorera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo, and Syrah.

Winery - Bodegas Castano
Location-Yecla, Spain
Wine -Castano 2003 Solanera Vinas Viejas
Varietals -65% Monastrell, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon
Appellation - Yecla, Denominacion de Origen
Alcohol -14% alcohol by volume
Price - $15

Color
- Very dark purple, almost black.
Nose/Aroma -Blackberries, toasted oak, and earthiness.
Palate/Flavors -Complex flavor profile, not fruit dominated. Overripe blackberries and blueberries, charred oak, and truffles with a medium body and nice structure. Acid was a bit tighter than expected.
Style - Great Spanish wine; demonstrates the complexity of Monastrell/Mourvedre.
Food Pairing -Patacones ticos with black beans.
Comments- This was probably not quite at it's peak, seems like it could stand up for another couple years easily. Solanera is a wine custom made for US wine importer Eric Solomon and consistently earns acclaim.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Finally Bottled - American Pale Ale #3 Recipe

I brewed my eighth pale ale in the past two years a month ago and finally had a chance to bottle it yesterday before heading to work. The term pale ale refers to any beer brewed with primarily pale malt and ale yeast, including such styles as English Bitter, Indian Pale Ale, Scotch Ale, Irish Red Ale, and American Pale Ale. American pale ale typically has low to medium hops, medium body, and higher than average alcohol levels. American hops provide citrus and pine flavors, the defining characteristics in most American pale ales.
I created this recipe on a whim, basically because of a limited hops selection when I met to my local supply shop. Cascade hops are very commonly used in American pale ales and I have used them for several other beers (including an all Cascade brew). Amarillo hops are excellent and has just recently become more available. It has a flavor profile similar to Cascade except for much higher alpha acids (over 150% in this instance). This means Amarillo will contribute more bitterness. Still, I think Amarillo imparts some great fruit flavors of its own that compliment the aromatics provide by Cascade. At the time of bottling, this pale ale had a nice citrus aroma and flavor that worked well with the caramel maltiness and bitterness in the finish. The sugar added at bottling seemed to be decreasing the perception of bitterness, which I think will increase to level that will balance out this beer well. We'll see in a couple weeks!
Pale Ale #3 Recipe

8.75 lb     pale malt syrup
12 oz       crystal 30/37 steeping grains
4 oz         cara pils steeping grains
37 g        Amarillo hops (alpha 8.6%)
25 g        Cascade hops (aplha 5.4%)
11.5 g     Safale US-05 dry ale yeast
5 g          corn sugar (for bottling)

Steeping - All steeping grains added directly to two gallons of water for 40 minutes at 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Strained out prior to boiling.  
Additions/Hops - 8.75 pounds of pale malt syrup stirred in slowly once water reached boiling. 30 grams of Amarillo hops added as bittering hops for 60 minutes boil, while 14 grams of Cascade hops added as aroma hops for 5 minutes boil.  
Primary Fermentation - After adding just over 3 gallons of water and cooling the wort to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, inoculation was completed. Fermentation started quickly due to extremely warm weather but slowed down towards the end once I was able to get the temperature under control. 
Secondary Fermentation - Once carbon dioxide release had nearly stopped, the beer was racked off its solids into a 5-gallon carboy on the second of September. It was then dry hopped with 7 grams of Amarillo and 11 grams of Cascade hops.
Bottling - After another racking, a priming solution composed of 5 ounces of corn sugar and 2 cups of water was added to the beer to induce fermentation in the bottle.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Wine Region: Edna Valley

Appellation - Edna Valley
Sub-appellation(s) - None
Location
- United States (San Luis Obispo County, California); 35th parallel.
Size - 9,065 hectares (22,400 acres).
Rainfall - 22 in/yr (560 cm/yr)
Growing Degree Days - 2,400
Varietals - Albarino, Chardonnay, Grenache, Merlot, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Viognier, Zinfandel.
Claim to Fame - Superb Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; has one of California's longest growing seasons due to unique oceanic influence.
Edna Valley has been an American Viticultural Area (AVA) since 1982, becoming a section of the large Central Coast AVA. Located just south east of San Luis Obispo proper, Edna Valley is bound by the Santa Lucia Mountains and San Luis Range, but connected to the Pacific Ocean via the Los Osos Valley. This unique geography brings cool ocean air directly into valley, cooling the vineyards and allowing grapes to undergo slow, even ripening and longer hangtime for flavor development. Along with its climate, Edna Valley's soil makes this area quite distinctive. The soil benefits from heavily calcareous marine sediment and volcanic soils from the eroding chain of volcanic mountains, including Islay Peak (shown above), which surround it.
 Edna Valley is home to over two dozen wineries, producing wine from over 3,000 acres of wine grapes. Chardonnay thrives here, resulting in nicely structured wines with great stone fruit and tropical flavors such as peach and pineapple. These wines are typically less oak influenced than those from Napa Valley or Burgundy. Pinot Noir is the other shining star in the Edna Valley, where robust wines with great phenolic character and outstanding cherry and raspberry flavors result. Vineyards such as Chamisal, Paragon, and Edna Ranch have led to highly acclaimed Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from wineries such as Baileyana, Domaine Alfred, Edna Valley Vineyards, and Tolosa.
While Pinot Noir and Chardonnay defined Edna Valley's reputation, other varietals such as Syrah have proved successful. Elegant Syrah with a fruit forward but strong structure have been regularly produced, particularly by Alban Vineyards, a winery dedicated to Rhone varietals. More recently, the Spanish varietal Albarino has created some buzz. Originating in a region quite similar to the Edna Valley, wines produced from Albarino are typically aromatic and acid-based, with citrus and stonefruit flavors. With only a few recent plantings in the United States, Edna Valley's Tangent Winery, who focuses on alternative white varietals, is lucky to control the largest portion of this acreage.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Needing Waves

The low tide had left Playa de Coyote drained and covered with crabs, quickly scurrying across the sand to avoid our car as Nick drove us towards the southern headland. We could see waves breaking nearly a quarter-mile out to sea, near the cliff. Unfortunately, the waves didn't look too enticing, particularly with such a long paddle to an unknown break. Costa Rica is full of little nooks and crannies where one can find stellar waves a few days a year. We decided to continue up the coast to check the surf elsewhere.

After driving for nearly three hours and checking every possible surfing spot we could find, including Camaronal, Playa Carillo, Samara, and Garza. As we continued up the coast, wave size was slowly increasing. Still, we didn't feel particularly hopeful as we searched for the beach in Guiones. 

We walked over the dunes just as a set crested on the horizon, lightly feathered by offshore wind. It only took us a few minutes to get in the water and find an empty peak. The blazing sun made the warm water seem cold, but we had some great waves. Guiones picks up any westerly swell and can produce great waves. It's also one of the most consistent spots in the area.

We even made a friend, Randall, who helped us get a good room in Nosara. Randall grew up in Costa Rica before moving to New Zealand for two years, only to return to live in Nosara, the city just inland from Guiones (where accommodation is better and cheaper). We shared a great session followed by a couple beers at a local bar before getting dinner and turning in.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Peachy Canyon 2004 Jester

Peachy Canyon Winery has been owned and operated by the Beckett family since 1988. Located just off Highway 46 West, Peachy Canyon is in the heart of Paso Robles. Along with farming 100 acres of their own grapes, the Becketts work with over twenty local growers to meet their increasing production that has grown from a few hundred to over 60,000 cases. Peachy Canyon specializes in Zinfandel with six or seven different labels devoted to this unique varietal, such as the Westside Zinfandel. Of course, they have several other offerings, including Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Viognier.

Winery -Peachy Canyon Winery
Location- Paso Robles, California
Wine - Peachy Canyon 2004 Jester
Varietals - 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Petite Sirah, 20% Syrah, 5% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlot
Appellation -Paso Robles
Alcohol - 14.3%
Price - $19 USD

Color
- Reddish brown, rather opaque.
Nose/Aroma - Cooked plums and blackberries with a hint of tomato leaf.
Palate/Flavors - Jammy raspberries and dark fruit upfront, supported by nice acid structure and a medium body. The long finish of aniseed and cedar is rather bitter but not particularly astringent. Instead, the tannins are soft and coating.
Style - A California blend similar to a Bordeaux (although it does contain Syrah, a non-Bordeaux varietal). Very well integrated and tons of fruit.
Food Pairing - Gorgonzola stuffed sirloin burgers with Waldorf potato salad.
Comments- This is a very approachable, user friendly wine. The fruit is almost overwhelming. I think it has aged well but is probably at or near its peak. Great wine for the price, with a cool label.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Harvest Update: Winery Nights

California experienced some unusually hot weather over the past month, quickly pushing wine grape harvest into full force. Thus far, we've processed over 500 tons of fruit with an estimated total of just over 2,000 tons for the 2009 harvest. Most of the Pinot Gris and Albarino lots are already undergoing fermentation, along with several lots of Sauvignon Blanc. While we have a few lots of Pinot Noir on site, we're expecting to have the bulk of the crop in the winery by mid-week. The Chardonnay has also began trickling in, along with a bit of Riesling, Syrah, and Zinfandel.


I think the original estimates about a later and quicker harvest have been relatively accurate, although I think the hot weather brought a late harvest forward substantially. Still, the days have become rather long rather quickly, which made for regular 10-12 hour shifts. This means a lot of late nights at the winery for those on the late shift. I was able to time my breaks with the sunset a few nights and take a few shots. Our winery has a great view over the Edna Valley, and a great design that allows natural light into the facility.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Into the Wild

After a few fun days in Santa Teresa, we debated whether to stay longer or head somewhere else. We wanted to continue north up the Peninsula de Nicoya, but knew that poor road conditions made travel difficult. Though the southern and northern areas of Mal Pais and Tamarindo have been developing rapidly, the central coastline is less accessible and thus, less populated.
The dirt roads leaving Santa Teresa wind inland over mountains and across rivers. Since several rivers have no bridges, they often become impassible during the rainy season (May-September). Several people informed us that the rivers were low enough to cross, so we decided to rent a 4x4 and face the elements. We were enjoying our Suzuki Samurai when we met our first river about 40 minutes outside of Santa Teresa (shown above). While we were surveying the river, another car pulled up. The man and his family told us the river level was low. We followed him across and continued on our journey, seeing only a few other cars during the three hour drive.
It was nice to explore an area that has remained less disturbed by tourism. The beautiful rolling hills and mountain backdrop enveloped us as we weaved through valleys. We crossed two more rivers with success before finally finding our way back to the beach in Playa de Coyote, just as the sun began to set.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Costa Rica: Planes, Buses, and Boats

Modern travelers have a range of transportation options these days. Within our first 24 hours in Costa Rica, we had traveled via plane, taxi, bus, and boat. We arrived in San Jose the afternoon of July 29th and decided to stay our first night there. Nick went to school in San Jose a couple years ago and was destined to be our tour guide of sorts on our journey. After a leisurely first day exploring, we awoke at dawn the following morning for a long journey to Santa Teresa on the Nicoya Peninsula. Our six hour bus ride included an hour and a half ferry crossing from Puntarenas to Paquera (the bus even came along).
 We arrived in Santa Teresa just as it started to rain. We quickly found a nice room at the Funky Monkey, suggested by a nice Canadian girl we met on the bus (picture below was from our room). After settling in, we pulled our boards out and made our way down to the beach. Santa Teresa is home to several kilometers of variable beach break, with the main peaks focused on a rocky outcrop near the center of town and a parking lot 200 meters further up the coast. We found the beach rather drained at low tide but there were a few waves coming through still. Once the sea breeze backed off, we had a fun session and we were excited for what the next day would bring. We spent the following two days in Santa Teresa, surfing in the morning, relaxing during the hot midday hours, and surfing again in the evening.
 Our last surf, Drew decided to bring along his waterproof camera to take some shots in the lineup. He, Nick, and I traded off taking pictures. The first shot below is Drew, looking for the tube. The following two are me, the first taken by Nick, the second by Drew.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Fall's Back






Adjusting to the long hours that typically come with harvest, the rest of life seems to take a back seat. Unusually warm weather over the past several weeks has brought rapid ripening to wine grapes and our winery seems to be reaching full stride quickly. Fortunately, I've begun working the evening shift, which means more free time. I have new posts coming since I will be able to upload photographs tomorrow. I'm also hoping to clean off this pool table once some swell fills in.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Solena 2004 Pinot Noir Grand Cuvee

Laurent and Danielle Andrus Montalieu purchased 80 acres in the Willamette Valley's Yamhill-Carlton District in 2000. They quickly planted Pinot Noir and began sourcing fruit from other areas around Oregon and Washington, primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Gris, Syrah, and Zinfandel. Solena creates its Grand Cuvee by blending small lots of Pinot Noir sourced from different sub-appellations in the Willamette Valley.

The Willamette Valley AVA encompasses the entire Willamette River drainage basin, secluded by the Oregon Coast Range and the Cascade Mountains. There are now six AVAs within the Willamette Valley; Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge, and Yamhill-Carlton District.
Winery -Solena
Location- Carlton, Oregon
Wine - Solena 2004 Pinot Noir Grand Cuvee
Appellation -Willamette Valley
Alcohol - 13.8% 
Price - $26 USD

Color
- Ruby red.
Nose/Aroma - Cherry syrup and rose petals with a touch of toasted oak.
Palate/Flavors - Black cherries with toasted oak, complemented by a certain type of earthiness. Nice acid upfront that leads to a long finish of tobacco and oak with light astringency and bitterness. I thought the wine was relatively well balanced except for the mid-palate where it just dropped out.
Style
- Pretty good example of Oregon Pinot Noir; more refined and less tannin-influenced than California Pinots tend to be.  
Food Pairing - Since we're in the Pacific Northwest, how about some grilled Salmon. 
Comments- Nice flavor concentration without overextraction. The mid-palate was simply lacking and it did detract from what would have been an excellent wine. I think this is a case where too little tannins can be blamed.