Sorry I haven't been very active here lately, but I'm currently working on some new content and updating my site. Forgive me for any pages that aren't functioning properly.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Successful Wine Fermentation - Yeast Propagation Part II

See previous Successful Wine Fermentation posts: Introduction, Selecting the Right Yeast (Part I, Part II), Preparing Juice/Must for Fermentation, Indigenous Yeast, Inoculation, Yeast Propagation Part I.

Integrating on-site wine yeast propagation into vintage procedures can be difficult. Specialized equipment and a dedicated staff are required to successfully utilize yeast propagation on a large scale; the larger the facility and the faster the pace of fruit intake, the more demanding a program like this becomes. I have worked at facilities that had a winemaker dedicated solely to managing propagation and fermentation procedures, with several cellar staff members dedicated to this alone.

A winery needs to allocate adequate equipment for yeast propagation; this will be based off several factors including the volume of each batch of juice/must to be inoculated at once (within the day) and the number of yeast strains to be propagated simultaneously. There are specialized tanks for sale that are specifically manufactured for yeast propagation, but wineries without such tanks can modify those on hand easily; full temperature control (hot and cold) and the ability to constantly add oxygen (either via a built-in or mobile sparging unit) are the two most important characteristics. Besides tanks, a pump that is able to handle solids and rather gaseous liquid gently is important; a mono-pump is pretty ideal because it can be run dry (without liquid) and move small volumes against head pressure. I always think having a set of hoses dedicated solely for propagation is important because inoculations with yeast starters need to be completed in a timely fashion and with properly sanitized equipment.

Besides having tanks ready, the appropriate laboratory equipment is necessary for analytically tracking propagation progress and to determine inoculation rates and timing. Along with the ability to conduct basic analyses (brix, pH, TA, free and total SO2, VA, and YAN), the ability to accurately measure yeast population is necessary. I've used this basic method for cell count determination quite a bit and it seems to give a pretty accurate reading. A note of caution: if using yeast rehydration nutrients during propagation procedures, viability testing will be inaccurate (yeast rehydration nutrients are composed largely of autolyzed yeast cells).

Once all the equipment is prepared, it's time to start propagating some yeast. Part III will discuss starting propagation, building a yeast starter culture, and inoculation calculations and timing.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Rare Experience in Cambodia

Kristin and I only had one full day to enjoy Cambodia after transiting to Cambodia from Thailand. The tiny town of Siem Reap has become a major tourist destination due to its historical significance. Other than the remnants of ancient civilizations, the town is packed full of hotels, restaurants, and bars all within walking distance or a short tuk-tuk ride. The downtown area's two main attractions are Pub Street and the Night Market; I'm not sure why they found it necessary, but both are demarcated by several massive neon-light signs.
After a lovely dinner, we organized our tuk-tuk for the following day and headed back to our hotel for an early night's sleep. The hotel clerk stopped us; he said it was the last night of a 7-day ceremony for the opening of a new pagoda (temple) just outside of town, a rare occasion that we should take part in. The three of us hopped on his motorbike; despite a bumpy dirt road, the bike drove like a dream (the bike was a Honda Dream, so I repeated this several times thinking it was hilarious). We arrived at the padoga to find a massive crowd of people; everyone was smiling and laughing, and warmly welcomed us despite being the only non-locals.
The entire atmosphere was invigorating that is was almost overwhelming; music played, people danced, and everyone seemed so filled with positivity. We joined the crowd as they circled through the pagoda, making small offerings into large pits and to several monks who sat praying. We also received prayer bracelets, blessed for good health and fortune. Afterwards, we passed through the adjacent carnival, erected solely for the pagoda opening ceremony. Thousands of locals were enjoying the rides, games, and food on offer. As the only tourists involved, we felt so privileged to be involved in such large display of community spirit.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Nyepi- Quiet Time and Ogoh-Ogohs

Nyepi is the celebration of the new year, based off one of the three calendars used by the Balinese Hindus (Nyepi is based on the Sasih, a monthly calendar of Indian origin; they also use the Gregorian and the Pawukon, a 210-day weekly calendar of Javanese origin). Also referred to as the "Day of Silence", Nyepi is reserved for self-reflection and all distractions are prohibited (no lights, no fires, no entertainment, no working, no traveling, etc.). People are meant to remain indoors all day, except for the Banjar (traditional security force that ensures prohibitions are followed). Since Bali's population is largely Hindu, the entire island participates in this holiday. This year, Nyepi was from 6 AM on the 23rd until 6 AM on the 24th.
The four-day celebration begins two days prior to Nyepi with Melasti, and ends the day after with Ngembak Geni. The most exciting day is the day just prior to Nyepi, Tawur Kesanga, when each village holds an exorcism ceremony to rid the island of evil spirits. These ceremonies are held just after sunset, when large Ogoh-ogohs (large monsters built to symbolize evil spirits) are paraded through the main streets of the villages accompanied by gamelan music. Kristin and I observed the festivities in our local village of Pecatu; we felt fortunate to be allowed to take part in such a beautiful ceremony with our friends and neighbors. Selamat Hari Raya Nyepi!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Successful Wine Fermentation - Yeast Propagation Part I

See previous Successful Wine Fermentation posts: Introduction, Selecting the Right Yeast (Part I, Part II), Preparing Juice/Must for Fermentation, Indigenous Yeast, Inoculation.

Active dry wine yeast strains (see previous posts) are propagated from pure cultures of yeast that are known to produce quality wine. Propagation is conducted using specialized equipment, and the yeast is supplied with adequate nutrients and oxygen through growth phase until they are dehydrated from approximately 70% to 8% water. Then, the dried yeast is quality tested based on several factors (% solids/proteins, stability, viable population, bacteria, killer factor, etc.) before it is vacuum-packed and ready for sale. As discussed in Inoculation, most wineries used such yeasts to directly inoculate their juice/must.

More prevalent several decades ago, an increasing number of modern wineries are returning to yeast propagation by using active dry wine yeast to create yeast starters. If done properly, the financial benefits of such a program can be rather significant, particularly for medium- to large-scale operations that would use thousands of dollars worth of active dry wine yeast for dry inoculations. When I have worked with yeast propagation in commercial winery settings, we would regularly propagate 2 kilograms of active dry yeast to inoculate 250,000 liters (approx. 66,000 gallons) of juice; using direct inoculation at 250 ppm, this would require 62.5 kilograms of active dry yeast. Depending on the yeast strain, one may be paying $50-100 per kilogram; if you're fermenting a few million liters of juice, you're talking about a lot of money. Add in the cost of using yeast rehydration nutrients (products like dyanstart, usually used at a rate of 200-250 ppm), and the savings nearly double.

Of course, wine is not always about the financial bottom line. Far less is said about the wine quality benefits of fermentation conducted using propagated yeast: 

Better Acclimatization - During the inoculation process, yeast are subject to numerous stress factors (temperature difference, population dispersion, sugar levels, etc.). During direct inoculation procedures with active dry wine yeast, the yeast is rehydrated and quickly acclimated. When propagating yeast, they are given optimum fermentation conditions (temperature, yeast rehydration nutrients, fermentation nutrients, etc.) at the beginning and slowly acclimatized over 1-2 days prior to inoculation. This gives the yeast time to build up tolerance to stressors, meaning that propagated yeast cultures (yeast starters) tend to have cleaner ferments (producing less undesirable compounds such as hydrogen sulfide), quicker ferments (every winery has ferment space issues during vintage), and less problems fermenting to dryness (every winemaker dreads restarting stuck ferments). 

Less Risk of Undesirable Microorganism Activity - Prior to fermentation, the juice/must is highly susceptible to undesirable microorganisms, including native yeasts (such as Pichia and Kloeckera), Lactobacillus, and Brettanomyces. The faster the chosen yeast strain begins actively fermenting, the more protected the juice/must will be from undesired activity. Yeast starters begin fermentation immediately upon inoculation, while direct inoculation usually results in 1-2 days of lag time before fermentation truly kicks off.

Better flavor and aroma retention - Many desirable flavor and aroma compounds in juice/must dissipate quickly prior to fermentation; the faster the fermentation starts, the more these positive compounds are retained. The difference in fermentation onset when inoculating with a yeast starter and with direction inoculation discussed above can mean a far duller wine.

More Accurate Inoculation Rate - Active dry wine yeast rehydrated following manufacturer's procedures at 250 ppm will result in a final viable yeast population of 2,000,000-5,000,000 cells/mL with a 1-3% inoculum volume to juice/must volume. This range of population is rather significant; inoculating at lower levels will result in significantly different fermentation kinetics and can lead to unsuccessful fermentation. When a winery conducts yeast propagation, the viable yeast population is accurately recorded throughout the process and the desired inoculation rate can be assured.

Continue on to 'Successful Wine Fermentation: Yeast Propagation Part II'.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Chok Chok Chocolate - Organic Dark Chocolate in Bali

All my friends know I've got a sweet tooth. Chocolate has always been my favorite treat, but it's pretty hard to find good quality products here in Bali. At least it was until Chok Chok chocolate came around. Handmade with love and 100% organic ingredients, Chok Chok Chocolate is nothing less than delicious; way healthier and tastier than any of the other chocolate that can be found on this little island. Check out their facebook page, and look for them in fine establishments throughout Bali. They currently offer three different selections with 82% cocoa: Gila Gila (Dark Chocolate with Caramelized Almonds), Chok'lapa (Dark Chocolate, Almonds, & Coconut-Vanilla-Almond Butter), and Wedang (Dark Chocolate, Almonds, & Spiced-Almond Butter). The Wedang is the drifting winemaker special; check out the label!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Cheapest Way to Reach Cambodia from Thailand

I like to think of myself as a pretty thrifty traveler, and I usually take the cheap options when getting from one locale to another. Not only is it good for the wallet, but I like to think that I get a better feel of the local culture. During our recent trip, Kristin and I had allotted one day of travel between Bangkok, Thailand and Siem Reap, Cambodia. There are plenty of options for this route; the typical method is obtaining one of the many shuttle services from the Khao San Road area to the border town of Poipet (I've been told that it's cheaper to get shuttle buses traveling Siem Reap to Bangkok due to complicated legalities).
Our journey was approximately 450 baht ($15 USD) per person and took us about nine hours total. The majority was spent on the local train that runs from Bangkok's central Hua Lamphong Station to Aranyaprahet. We awoke around 5 AM on Sunday morning, sleepily dragging ourselves and bags out onto the street to catch a taxi amid straggling party-goers along Khao San Road; the short ride only cost us about 30 baht ($1 USD). We purchased our train tickets at the counter (each 48 baht; $1.60 USD).
We loaded onto the open-aired train and were soon clacking along the rails through Bangkok. The train slowly filled with passengers during several stops over the first hour or so. We exited the city into rural Thailand after a couple hours as the heat of the day crept up. People came and went at each stop, and vendors from the local villages lined the railways selling passengers snacks and beverages through the windows.
The countryside was beautiful. We passed acres and acres of farmland and lakes dotted with swooping birds and cattle. In between enjoying the views, Kristin caught up on a bit of sleep while I enjoyed a book.
We arrived in Aranyaprahet just after noon, enjoying some quick lunch before jumping in a tuk-tuk for Poipet; the 15-minute ride cost 50 baht ($1.60 USD). This is where the corruption began; instead of taking us to the actual border, the driver took us to a very legitimate looking "visa office" where a friendly "official" greeted us and invited us inside to purchase our Cambodian 'Visa on Arrival' for triple the actual price. We told our driver to kindly continue on to the real border if he'd please, and he dropped us off at the next "official visa office". Again, this is not where you want to buy your visa! We exited through Thailand immigration and followed the path; this is where you want to buy your 'Visa on Arrival' for Cambodia (picture below).
I went in and filled out the paperwork quickly (as a Filipino, Kristin didn't need to get a visa). Surprisingly, the officials here even asked for more money! I nicely but assertively restated the actual price (15-day 'tourist visa' is only $20 USD) and was finally granted my visa after a short stand off. We finally walked through Cambodian customs after an hour of hassles, caught the free shuttle to the taxi depot, and organized a shared taxi with another traveler named Claudia. Shared taxis usually take four passengers at a rate of 400 baht per person ($13 USD), but our driver agreed to take just the three of us granted that he could "pickup a friend along the way". To earn extra money, taxi drivers pick up locals along the long drive to fill up their car; I would suggest making sure your driver won't do this.
The drive from the border to Siem Reap takes a couple hours. We stopped quickly to fill up the gas tank. Surprise number one: cars in Cambodia run on propane (pictured above). Our next stop was to pickup our driver's "friend". With Claudia, Kristin, and I setup in the back of the Camry, surprise number two came. The driver squeezed two locals into the front passenger seat. We weren't terribly excited about this but we decided that it was alright; he's just trying to earn some money and we were jut trying to make it to Siem Reap. The biggest surprise was number three, when we pulled over once again to pickup another passenger. Our driver said not to worry because it's common to get eight people in a Camry in Cambodia and we only had seven! This was rather unnerving but having paid upfront (mistake), we couldn't really do anything at this stage. So we kept our mouths shut until we eventually arrived in Siem Reap. The driver wound through the small streets until we found a hotel that suited. So, two suggestions to avoid such a situation: make it clear that picking up other passengers along the way is not acceptable and don't pay upfront.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Finding Delicious Food in Thailand

After our late night arrival in Thailand, Kristin and I awoke mid-morning to begin our only full day in Bangkok. After a quick morning coffee, we ambled over to Ratchadamnoen Klang Road to the nearest bus stop; after watching dozens of buses pass, we finally saw our number and had to run out into the street to flag it down. We boarded and eventually arrive at our destination, Chatuchak Weekend Market. Known as Asia's largest market, Chatuchak covers a 35-acre area and houses over 8,000 different stalls selling a myriad of goods: clothing, ceramics, furniture, artwork, handicrafts, books, and of course, food.
While Kristin's top priority was finding some nice Thai clothing, mine was getting some skewers. There are dozens of street carts selling these all over Bangkok, but Chatuchak seemed like the place to find the best selection. Each vendor has their own marinades and special dipping sauces so try a few different ones. One stick is priced at 5-20 bot (approx. 10-60 cents US) depending on what it is and how big it is. I was a bit surprised that Thai cuisine has such a large emphasis on pork. That being said, there is a broad selection of chicken, fish, and other seafood at these little skewer carts. I'm not much of a pork eater but I have to admit that my favorites were probably pork: hot dogs, cut into chunks, and wrapped in bacon!
After passing through a few dozen stalls and feeling a bit overwhelmed, it was time for lunch. We exited the damp stall area and re-entered the world on a sunny street, stumbling upon several food vendors with little awnings setup. They all looked pretty similar, and the smell of traditional Thai cuisine was very enticing. We both ordered khanom chin namya, boiled rice noodles with fish balls in a fish-based sauce. The chef prepared it quickly and it was on our table in minutes. Then, we got to customize our bowls with fresh ingredients that took up most of our table space: bean sprouts, cabbage, fresh and pickled cucumber slices, a whole selection of greens (spearmint leaves, Accacia  pennata leaves, and others I can't name), and plenty of different sauces that range from sweet to very spicy.
Kristin and I spent a couple more hours walking through the stalls and bargaining for deals. I think we both wanted to buy a whole lot of different things because there are such unique products on offer at Chatuchak. We thought about our traveling lifestyle and knew that more is less, so we restrained ourselves and each bought a few articles of clothing before weaving our way back through the crowds to the busy bus stop.

After a long trip back to the Khaosan Road area and a little rest, it was time for a couple of beers and some dinner. We again indulged in street food along Khaosan road, and debated trying some insects (yes, the picture above is a selection of bugs). Many insects are considered a delicacy in Thai cuisine; the maeng da, a gaint water bug, is said to taste like gorgonzola cheese! Other insects on offer include grasshopper (far left), scorpions (first in back-left), termites, bee larvae, and silkworms. They are mostly deed-fried with a selection of different spices (kaffir lime leaves, cumin, coriander, and/or chilies). I have been known to eat insects, but I don't think I've ever paid for any before. One scorpion cost 30 bot ($1 US), the same as a whole dish of pad thai!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Thailand - Khaosan Road

My Amazing Race SE Asia trip with Kristin was planned as a tight itinerary (Bali-Singapore-Vietnam-Cambodia-Malaysia-Bali). The first leg of the trip went fine, and were in Singapore's well-appointed international terminal by late Friday morning. After spending some time wandering the expansive airport, we caught a train, then a bus over to the LCCT (low-cost carrier terminal); this is where airlines such as Air Asia and Jetstar are situated, and it's definitely a step below the rest of the airport. When I tried to check-in for our flight to Vietnam, I was informed that a letter of invitation from the Vietnamese embassy was required (I didn't have, and couldn't get on short notice). Big problem.
After running through a few different options, we settled on booking a flight to Thailand. This allowed us to keep the remainder of my itinerary the same. We arrived in Bangkok around midnight, made it through a long immigration line, and caught a taxi straight to the Khaosan Road area. Khaosan Road was originally Bangkok's largest rice market, but has recently developed into the hub of the city's budget traveler community (it's been nick-named the "backpacker's ghetto"). The short stretch of street and the surrounding area has earned an international reputation as a center of partying; it's lined with bars, night clubs, tourism agents, guest houses, hotels, and vendors selling all sorts of goods from food to clothing to electronics.
We were a bit worried about finding a place to stay in such a busy area of Bangkok, particularly since the taxi dropped us off around 2 AM on Saturday and the streets where still brimming with people. Fortunately, we were quickly able to find a cheap room at a local guest house. After throwing our bags down, we headed out for some food (we hadn't eaten since 4 PM) and a beer (necessary after 18 hours of traveling). We quickly found a street cart offering up some delicious pad thai, another offering up skewers of all sorts, and a 711 (yes, they are everywhere in Thailand) with some cold Chang Beer; we spent about 150 bot (just over $5 US) and enjoyed them all happily while wandering the street. We soon retired to the guest house for a short sleep before starting our busy second travel day.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Alexander Surfboards 6'9" Single-Fin

I've wanted a big wave single-fin for years but never found the right shaper to make it. Ever since the thruster revolution in the early 1980's, most shapers have left behind the single-fin design when making performance surfboards. Still, I love the feel of single-fin boards and the challenge of surfing them; there is a totally different approach to wave-riding required than on a board with a typical thruster or quad setup. One of my favorite boards is one I was given several years ago by a friend; an old 5'10" Pure Joy, shaped sometime in the late 1970's.
When I met Jeff Alexander, I knew he was the right guy to make this board; with over 25 years of experience shaping in California, Hawaii, and Bali, his craftsmanship in design and execution shows through in his product. When we first talked about the idea, he was stoked to have the chance to make a retro design reminiscent of the North Shore in 1970's. We were soon in the shaping bay drawing lines and talking design. Since picking this up in January, I've tested it in a range of conditions from small to solid triple-overhead surf.
I can't wait to get my next Alexander Surfboard, a sweet 6'1" we've designed. I would highly recommend anyone who is in or coming to Bali talk with Jeff; he'll work with you personally to design a board that will satisfy you beyond your expectations. Contact him at

Friday, March 9, 2012

Successful Wine Fermentation - Inoculation

See previous Successful Wine Fermentation posts: Introduction, Selecting the Right Yeast (Part I, Part II), Preparing Juice/Must for Fermentation, Indigenous Yeast.

Inoculation is the process of adding yeast to juice/must to begin fermentation. This is typically done immediately following solids separation for white varietals, and after some period of cold soaking for red varietals. Ensuring that the juice/must is properly prepared for inoculation (see here) is essential for the growth of the yeast culture, and in turn, successful fermentation.

Most winemakers use one strain of active dry wine yeast for inoculation, though some use two or more strains symbiotically or use one symbiotically with indigenous yeast. Active dry wine yeast is a commercially produced product available from a wide array of manufacturers (see post I and II). These companies not only provide basic instructions for preparation and inoculation rates (typical recommended rate is 250 ppm, or 25 g of yeast per 100 L of juice/must; this equate to approximately 5 million cells per mL), but also basic fermentation needs of the yeast (temperature, nutrient needs, etc.) and suggested varietals with "typical" aroma/flavor profile seen after fermentation.

Rehydration of yeast is a simple but very important step in winemaking. As mentioned, manufacturers provide preparation guidelines and there are plenty of different ways to prepare yeast, but these are the basics:
  1. Weigh out the appropriate amount of yeast. If a yeast rehydration nutrient is to be used, weight it out as well.
  2. Measure out the appropriate volume of clean, warm water based on the inoculation rate; deionized water is ideal, but unchlorinated water works too. Manufacturers typically recommend water at 40° C (104° F); this is essential because temperature shock is one of the greatest killers of yeast. If a yeast rehydration nutrient is being used, I like to get the water temperature to just above 41° C (106° F) because the nutrients will surely bring down the water temperature.
  3. If a yeast rehydration nutrient is being used, mix it into the water until completely dissolved. Then, re-check the temperature of the mix to ensure it is at 40° C. 
  4. Add the dried yeast and gently mix until all granules are dissolved (gently is key; if too much aeration occurs, it will foam tremendously).
  5. Allow the inoculum to rest for 15-20 minutes; don't let it sit too long, the yeast need food!
  6. Make sure the inoculum looks active and happy (should be foaming some or a lot, depending on yeast strain). At this stage, the inoculum can either be added directly to the juice/must as long as the temperature differential isn't too high (remember, temperature shock is bad!). If the temperatures are widely different, add a mixture of 50/50 juice and water to slowly bring the temperature down (this may take several tries, allowing it to sit another 15 minutes each time you add). Usually inoculum should be within 5° C (approximately 10° F).
  7. Once the inoculum is added to the juice or must, homogenize the juice/must gently. The juice/must will ideally be in a temperature controlled environment to ensure that fermentation proceeds at the desired rate.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Last Week at Uluwatu

After a pretty long stretch without much swell, there was a slight bump in swell early last week. Some unseasonably calm weather gave surfers plenty of options; all coasts saw relatively glassy conditions for a couple of days. I decided to head to Uluwatu and found some fun waves; nothing epic, but at least the crowd was right; since it's off-season, it's rare to get a good session out there this time of year and half the crowd shows up.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Amazing Race - SE Asia

I arrived back in Bali  late Tuesday night after a dizzying 5-day, 4-country trip that took me to Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, and Malaysia (photo below of me resting a bit at Angkor Wat). Unfortunately, I didn't get to see everything I wanted due to time constraints but it was a great trip nonetheless. I do think it was excellent preparation for the Amazing Race though, maybe they'll cast me? I'll be sharing my stories once I have everything ready, so keep an eye out.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Little Bit of Travel

I'm currently enjoying Singapore's Changi Airport as I began a short southeast Asian adventure and break from the rough life in Bali. I'll be back on Indonesian soil next week, with new stories to share along with the next installment of 'Successful Wine Fermentation' series and some photographs from last week's swell.