Most autumns, the atmosphere in the winery feels like a party, with the music cranked up while everyone hustles to usher the newly harvested fruit onto its next phase of life, as wine.
This year was different. We wore masks at our winemaking facility—not just because of the pandemic but also because of the wildfires raging just 10 miles away. The smoke mostly blew away from us, but still, it formed a cloud overhead, and a feeling of melancholy hung in the air in the cellar. No one felt like finishing the day with the usual round of beers or Champagne.
Our early tests for smoke taint in our grapes were not conclusive. But so far, the fruit and juice have passed our taste tests with flying colors. As we write this, fermentation is finishing up. Michael is draining the tanks and lightly pressing the fruit before moving our wines to barrels.
Our hearts ache for our California friends who have lost property and vines during the devastating 2020 fire season. But we remain hopeful for regrowth, rebuilding, and a spectacular vintage.
We are all about spontaneous gatherings at our homes, both in Ohio and Sonoma. When friends show up at our door, Michael goes straight for his corkscrew and a bottle of our Grenache. We always serve wine with food, so I find it helpful to have the makings for an elegant cheese board on hand at all times. The components change depending on the time of the year, what’s growing in my garden, or my mood of the moment.
My recent obsessions are homemade spicy tomato-pepper jam—which is especially tasty this time of year thanks to its autumnal color and piquant heat—and Himalayan salted almonds. And yes, I do bake my own crackers.
This requires a bit of advance planning and cooking, but the recipe is so easy that I don’t even have to think about it anymore. It’s my take on the “The Life-Changing Crackers” recipe from the My New Roots cooking blog. These rustic, seedy, satisfying snacks are the perfect foils for cheese and wine, and they’re quite nutritious, to boot.
My all-time favorite cheeses just happen to match beautifully with our Grenache. Piave Vecchio is a deliciously nutty pasteurized cow’s-milk cheese from the Veneto region in northern Italy. Originally from the Netherlands, aged Gouda is a hard, pale-orange cheese that’s nothing like the soft Gouda you might know from your grocery deli. The aging process develops calcium lactate crystals, which bring an enjoyable crunch as well as sharp and slightly sweet flavors to the cheese.
I keep staples like caper berries and honey in my cupboards and fridge, as well; I like to offer an interplay of sweet, spicy, and salty flavors. Finally, to beautify the board, I clip sprigs of rosemary, thyme, or lavender from the garden. We feast with our eyes as well as our palates, so I like to create a pleasing presentation that’s in keeping with the quality of the ingredients.
For a printer-friendly version of the following recipe, click here: RECIPE
rosemary, thyme, or lavender sprigs
six-seeded crackers (recipe below)
spicy tomato-pepper jam (recipe below)
Himalayan salted almonds (recipe below)
1 cup sunflower seeds
½ cup flax seeds
⅓ cup pumpkin seeds
¼ cup sesame seeds
1 ½ cups rolled oats
2 tablespoons chia seeds
4 tablespoons psyllium seed husks (3 tablespoons if using psyllium husk powder)
1 ½ teaspoons fine-grain sea salt
1 tablespoon maple syrup
3 tablespoons melted coconut oil or ghee
1 ½ cups water
Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl, stirring well. Whisk maple syrup, oil, and water together in a measuring cup, then add to the dry ingredients, blending together until all liquid has been absorbed, forming a thick dough. If the dough is too dense to mix, add one or two teaspoons of water at a time until ingredients are fully combined.
Divide the dough roughly in two pieces. Gather one dough half into a ball and place it between two sheets of parchment paper. Using a rolling pin, firmly roll the dough out into a thin sheet. Remove top layer of baking paper, and using the tip of a knife, score the dough into rectangles of your desired size. Repeat process with remaining half of dough. Allow dough to rest on your counter for at least two hours, or as long as all day, or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350° F. Slide the dough sheets, still atop their parchment paper, onto cookie sheets and bake for 20 minutes. Remove cookie sheets from oven, flip the whole crispbread over, using another cookie sheet if possible (if it breaks a bit, don’t worry!), and peel the parchment paper off the back. Return crispbread to oven to bake for another 10 minutes, until fully dry, crisp, and golden around the edges.
Allow to cool completely, then break crispbread along scored lines to create crackers. Enjoy immediately or store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.
Makes 2 baking sheets of crispbread.
4 large beefsteak tomatoes (about 2 pounds), coarsely chopped, or one 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 banana, Hungarian wax, Cubanelle, or Anaheim peppers, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
juice of 3 limes
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Place tomatoes in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic, peppers, onion, lime juice, sugar, and herbs, stir together, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, stir in tomato paste, and simmer, uncovered, for 1 to 1 ½ hours. As the tomatoes soften, smash and break them apart into chunky pieces with a wooden spoon. Season with the salt and pepper and let cool. The jam is done when the mixture has reduced and is very thick.
Makes 3 cups. The jam will keep for up to 5 days covered in the refrigerator.
2 cups plain almonds
1 tablespoon Himalayan (pink) salt
1 to 2 tablespoons water
Preheat oven to 325° F. Mix Himalayan salt and water to make a paste, then with the almonds combine in a medium bowl. Transfer almonds to a parchment-paper-lined sheet pan and cook 10 to 15 minutes until done to your liking. Can be stored in an airtight container for several weeks.
Array cheeses, crackers, condiments, and garnishes on a large cheese board and serve.
Most farmers welcome bumper crops. In the world of fine wine, however, vineyards that naturally produce very little fruit are points of pride. Less is more.
The wines that we find most thrilling—such as “L’Ermita,” produced by Alvaro Palacios in Priorat—are sourced from impossibly steep, rocky sites that offer up scant grape clusters each year, each berry small and thick-skinned due to its struggle to survive the growing season. If grit builds character, these grapevines have character in spades.
After this year’s harvest, we feel as though we are naturally moving closer to the conditions in Priorat, where Palacios struggles against the elements to vinify one of the world’s greatest wines.
In spring, rainstorms knocked some of our delicate blossoms off their vines, resulting in a lower-than-average fruit set. (As discussed in our May newsletter, the term for this is shatter.) Then, summer brought many 100-plus degree days, with the temperature reaching 116° F one day in early September.
So while we picked a quarter ton more Grenache than usual for our rosé, we’ll end up with 15 fewer cases at bottling. The grapes simply weren’t as juicy as they had been previously.
This is actually a very good sign for the 2020 vintage as far as red wines are concerned.
Small, slightly dehydrated berries make for a higher skin-to-juice ratio, which results in a more concentrated wine, brimming with flavor, density, and aromatics. Overall, we picked a full 40% less Grenache this year than we harvested in years past.
Vinetending is an occupation of highs, lows, and delayed gratification. We work in the vineyard all year long, and harvest our efforts in a matter of hours. Then we wait and see how the wines progress. We feel as though we barely scraped through this year, but against all odds, this could be our best vintage yet.
Save the date! Get your holiday shopping done at our three-evening Open House in a historic Ohio barn. Monday, November 23, is members-only night; Tuesday and Wednesday, November 24 and 25 are open to all.
Taste, browse, and order your holiday wines. We’re offering complimentary gift packaging, including wooden boxes and tote bags, so your gift will make a lasting impression.
Email us or contact Shelley at 440-915-5748 to RSVP.
Doors open at 4pm.
Address: 2138 N. Cleveland Massillon Rd., Akron, OH 44333
Or, if you can’t attend one of our Open House nights, you can place your personalized holiday order online. Click the link below to place your order:
Nov. 23-25: Holiday Open House! See description above.
Email us or contact Shelley at 440-915-5748 to RSVP.
Apr. 1, 2021: Wine Auction benefiting the Marco Island Center for the Arts, Marco Island, FL
Postponed to Nov. 5, 2021: T.J. Martell Foundation Best Cellars Dinner, Cleveland, OH
Or: Book a private tasting at our Sonoma winery.
Contact Jen at 330-620-1919 to arrange your appointment.