The Wine & Bread Journey

Our new tasting room has brought to fruition many of the ideas and dreams my family has had for a long time. We are now settled amongst our vines and get to watch the day-to-day life of the vineyard. We are now offering new wines and some are estate grown such as the 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, or 2016 Malbec (both “yummy” I may add). With the concept of new food offerings, my dad and I discussed starting with the basics…wine, cheese, and bread. I knew at that moment that we had to do bread in house as there is nothing like homemade bread. It was a daunting thought, but one I knew was necessary to accomplish what we wanted.

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In 2017 my bread journey began when I was by chance watching a cooking episode featuring Nancy Silverton, the founder of La Brea Bakery. The video inspired me and I knew exactly what I needed to do. I began reading about bread science, which in some ways is very similar to winemaking. It’s about yeast, flour, water, and temperature. Of course, it took me a little time to understand this as I am more right brained. Even though I began to understand the basics I felt unsure where to begin.

A month later I had Chef William Carter walk into our downtown tasting room with his sweet wife, Katherine. They are the owners of the gorgeous Canyon Villa in Paso Robles, which is a very special place to me as I had photographed it previously. Chef Wills and I began to talk about bread and before I knew it, I had a teacher and a mentor. He shared his enthusiasm for artisan breads and specifically sourdough. We discussed doing a starter from our Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, and it was something he could help me with. I was thrilled!

Once harvest arrived, I gathered the grapes and brought a bucket to Chef Wills. He was wonderful enough to begin the starter as I was in the midst of the busy harvest season. He knew I badly wanted to be there by his side, so he texted me updates through the process. Purple, bubbly…there it was, our Cabernet Sauvignon Sourdough.

Almost exactly a year ago in (Jan 2018), I arrived to the kitchen of the Canyon Villa, bread naive and unsure what to expect, but excited none the less for bread lessons. Chef Wills took three days to show me the ropes and then another three days to have me show him what I learned. It was a great time for both of us amongst the lightly flour dusted air. We fed starters, including our Cab starter, which had turned out beautifully. He showed me how to revive a starter. If you are not familiar, bread starters can out live us as long as they are fed!

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I learned about the importance of temperature and baking styles as well as how sourdoughs are a living thing. I began to see how you could combine flours to create more flavor. Sticky hands and happy smiles later I realized not only had I begun a bread journey, but I was further understanding what my dad, husband, and Cody had been doing in the winery.

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There was something about learning how to control yeast that made me connect that much more with the wine process. In winemaking, the yeast is what creates alcohol by feeding on the sugar of the grapes. In bread making, the yeast is what generates energy and growth by feeding on the flour and water.

It was very special time and I am so grateful to Wills for giving me the opportunity.

Nervous. Staring at a new kitchen with new ovens. “Oh, my gosh, can I do this?” I had only really baked on my own for a handful of times and now the pressure to get bread done for customers was real. The time was here. I took baby steps and began with the focaccia. Once I was able to do that, I pulled out the Cabernet sourdough starter and stared at it. I followed the steps and a couple days later the smell of bread filled the upstairs of the tasting room. We began to cut into the first loaf and to my surprise it was perfect. I tried hard not to seem too much like a giddy child as I walked around to the team saying, “try this…it turned out,” but I was like a proud kid thrilled to show the family. Ultimately, I was happy to finally share the work with the customers.

A month in something happened. The sourdough started to be flat and was uncooked in the middle. I was discouraged and frustrated. I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted the best for our customers. I pulled out my notes and bread books and began reading. I frantically looked online at discussions for answers. I wanted to call Wills, but knew it was in the midst of his busy season. So, I began testing. I finally figured out it was the starter and due to my busy schedule, I was not feeding it enough. I began working hard to rectify it and the starter began looking and smelling happy again. Our sourdough was back on track and I realized that much like life (and winemaking), you never arrive…you keep learning and growing. It is for this reason I love baking bread, photography, and wine because they are all processes that are a constant learning experience. This realization encouraged me to start playing more like I do with photography.

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Most recently I have started doing a hand ground rosemary with olive oil on top of the focaccia. It’s a small change, but one I like. I use a whisk to flick the oil onto the focaccia sponge and it makes me feel like I’m doing a Jackson Pollock. Also, I started doing a simple white bread (still delicious) to help me on weeks when I know I don’t have time to bake a Cab sourdough.

While I love all the breads, my favorite is still the Cabernet Sauvignon Sourdough as it holds the most memories for me. It makes me think of this whole process…the life of yeast, our vines, my family, my time with Wills, and the joys & trials of bread baking. It has been a lot of work, but I am so beyond grateful for this ongoing journey. To learn one skill such as bread and to have it spur realizations in other areas of life is priceless.

Cheers for reading through this long blog and I hope you’ll stop by soon for some wine, cheese, and bread!

-Cecily


If you would like to start your own bread journey, I really enjoyed Tartine’s book. I’ve spotted it at the General Store in Paso Robles.

 

Vineyard: Bud Break

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Bare lines of vines, a coo of a pigeon in the distance, and the crackling of footsteps as a vineyard manager passes through the rows in the morning light. He has done this many mornings, but his steps stop as he notices something different. There it is…light green, soft, even a little fuzzy…it is a bud.

Each year we eagerly wait for bud break to occur. This is when the vines push open leaves much like other plants during the spring. Dormant vines awake when daylight and temperatures increase, which encourages the vines to pull up stored water and macro-nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) from the roots to the limbs. This up-flow of water and nutrients push open the buds. You would think that after leaves push open that it would mean photosynthesis would occur immediately, but it does not. It takes the vine a little bit of time, leaves the size of about silver dollars, before that process begins.

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One of the most important parts of bud break is that it is a measurable starting point for the vineyard. We can actually start the clock for when pivotal moments will occur. For instance, we now know we are about 150 to 200 days away from harvest depending on the grape variety. It seems like this then would mean that bud break itself is actually a markable date, but it’s not that simple. This is still farming, which means everything is variable. When bud break occurs depends on a few things. Each terroir is different. And you can probably guess, each variety of is different.

A cooler terroir means that bud break will be later, while a warm terroir like in Paso Robles, CA will have an earlier bud break. In Paso Robles, we have seen buds as early as February. Although for us this year (2018) we are running a little slower as we have had a cooler spring. Each year is different! Another factor is micro-terroir. The difference between locations of vines in a single vineyard will even come into play. A hillside vine will have bud break because of its elevation, but a lower valley vine will still be dormant. Lastly, varieties will have bud break at different times. In our Adelaida Vineyard, our  Malbec and Cabernet Franc had bud break first, but the Cabernet Sauvignon hit the snooze button. As you can see, there are many variables that go into this and this is just one part of the vine cycle!

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While there are variances in the cycle, one consistent thing is temperature. Vines are very dependent and particular about temperature. Vines prefer gradual temperature increases for bud break, but they don’t always get that. Sometimes they get awoken from slumber with a warming trend and then hit with a freeze. That is why vineyards have tall fans to help with frost protection. A freeze will damage the cellular tissue in the leaves and the leaves will then turn black. It’s awful. This then kills the growth for your year and can sometimes decimate a vineyard. Bud break is basically the infancy stage of the vine. You want to protect it because the leaves are soft and fragile at this stage, much like you would with a newborn (and well, we all know parenting doesn’t stop there). So, that is the one thing all farmers can count on is frost season and the need to be vigilant.

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We have a mobile, quieter fan it’s so cool. Contact us if interested.

After bud break, we now watch as the leaves begin to grow (obviously). Photosynthesis will begin at a certain point and once that happens the shoots of the vines will really take off as the vines will receive something that they love, much like humans, carbs! Up next is flowering, so stay tuned.

Happy Friday and hopefully this gave you something to think about while you sip your wine…cheers!

-Cecily

Harvest

With the welcoming of Autumn, we are definitely in the midst of harvest. So far in the last month we have brought in from our Adelaida Vineyard: Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache, Zinfandel, various clones of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Syrah. It has kept us the busiest we have ever been, but it is worth it to have our own fruit in the tanks.

The toughest thing this season has been deciding when to harvest. Normally, we are waiting on the brix (sugars), but this year we are waiting on the flavor and the seeds to go from green to brown. We have certain brix numbers we want to reach with each variety, but going too far over will mean not only higher sugar, but alcohol as well.

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David & Cody talking about when to harvest this block of Cabernet Sauvignon

The weather has also been playing games ranging from hot-hot to mild days. The warmer the weather the faster things go, but with the mild days and cold mornings it slows things down. As farmers though, this is how it goes. The weather is always unpredictable; even with our technology, we cannot harness its wild side.

With the long days, one thing is for sure that we are at least spending a lot of time together.

Happy Harvest!

Cecily

 

 

Seeing Purple – Harvest 2016

On Monday we rang in the harvest season with our only green, golden grape-child, Sauvignon Blanc. It was beautiful and looks like it’s going to be a fantastic vintage! The rest of the season will be filled with blue, purple, and red grapes. Soon it will become a blur of purple as we will be harvesting a total of 11 estate varieties, forecasted to be 60 tons! This will be our busiest season ever, but our proudest.

Since 1995 we have been harvesting our own Cabernet Sauvignon, but this year will be the first year we harvest all estate fruit! Estate just means that it is from our vineyard. So, anytime you see “Estate” on a wine label, it means that the grapes came from that winery’s vineyard. Furthermore, it means that the winery has watched these grapes from slumber, bud, flower, veraison, ripe to juice. It’s a lot more work, but a dream for any winery. This is why this harvest will mean that much more to us.

So, what is on the line up…well, Sauvignon Blanc is one, but the other ten are: Cabernet Sauvginon (obviously, with it being us), Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Malbec, and Zinfandel. These grapes are coming from three terroir-diverse vineyards in Creston, El Pomar, and Adelaida, which are sub-AVAs of the Paso Robles District. Here’s a quote of my dad, David, from a recent article:

“Every year, the fruit is going to be different thanks to weather,” says Parrish. “But what we can count on are these three sites producing certain characteristics consistently. Creston, with its granitic soil and high calcium content produces grapes with beautiful color and flavor. El Pomar produces enormously round fruit and earthy flavors along with great mouthfeel. And in our Adelaida vineyard, with the mix of clay and calcareous, we get pronounced acidity, both full high tannins, great structure, and spice.”

This is why I find wine so fascinating is that every wine is going to be unique due to not only the variety, weather, winemaker style, but also the location (terroir) that the grapes were grown. As my dad says regularly, wine starts in the vineyard…how a vineyard is kept and its location will determine the grapes’ quality. So, here’s a cheers to the 2016 vintage as we feel it will be a great one!

Visit us next week (Labor Day Weekend, hurray!) at the tasting room as we’ll have out some of our Award Winning Wines!

Happy Harvest-

Cecily