Tim's Wine Blog http://www.timswineblog.com/ Words of wisdom from a wine expert...Mon, 17 Feb 2014 10:57:06 -0800http://www.vortexcms.com/en SELECT * FROM cms_articles_articles WHERE articleid='1' AND public='1' ORDER BY date DESC LIMIT 20 Happy All Hallows Eve! http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/10/happy-all-hallows-eve http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/10/happy-all-hallows-evehttp://www.timswineblog.com/2013/10/happy-all-hallows-eve#commentsThu, 31 Oct 2013 00:00:00 -0700Spooky Tim Blog Posts
Happy Hallo . . . 

Whether they call it Halloween, Samhain, Punkie Night or something else, all around the world folks are indulging in costumes, parties, mummery, guising, trick-or-treating and other traditions of the season. I love this time of year--it's pretty much my favorite religious holiday, what with the dress-up, the spooky movies and all the candy you can eat--with no relatives!

I decorated the yard this year, and I'm pretty happy with how it turned out this year. Pictures are kind of tough to take of a spooky graveyard, especially when the wind keeps blowing the mist from my fog machine everywhere, but I like the slightly more brutal look I've gone for this time:

Eeek! Look at that clover infestation!
Don't have a cow-head, man

I'll be donning my costume later tonight, and I'll put a picture of it up--it's one I've wanted to do for a long time, and now I've pulled it off. Scaaary.

Howsoever you choose to celebrate this night, stay safe, stay visible, don't indulge in boos if you're driving, and have a great time.


The Return of the King http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/10/the-return-of-the-king http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/10/the-return-of-the-kinghttp://www.timswineblog.com/2013/10/the-return-of-the-king#commentsThu, 17 Oct 2013 00:00:00 -0700TimbeerBlog PostsA couple of blog entries ago I alluded to an exciting new project I’ve been working on. Now I’m ready to reveal the big secret.
Only beer can make a man this crazed with happiness. Picture circa 1995, so don't expect much in person.

It’s the return of beer.

Not that beer ever went away. We’ve always—since the very first day of our original company, Brew King, thirty years ago—had beer products as part of our lineup. The entire consumer beverage industry got its start—just as so many of our winemaking consumers did—with beer making.

That’s where I came from as well: way back in the dawn of time, I made my first batch of beer. I remember it well, a Mexican Cerveza that used some very elderly LME (liquid malt extract), flaked corn and a lot of sugar. The beer itself was probably pretty mediocre, but I was a young lunkhead more interested in drinking beer than crafting it. That one beer started me off in a career that’s been both weirder and far more fun than I could ever have imagined.

Time passed and the industry changed: Brew King produced the first modern bag-in-box wine kit and the quality of wines took a vast leap forward. The kits caught on pretty well, and as the possibilities of making wine on premise in BC and Ontario became evident, our company changed. We developed new wine kits, researched new technology and doubled down on our commitment to the consumer produced wine industry in general, even changing our name to Winexpert.

That was great, and it still is. But while we still make our fine line of Baron’s Beer kits and carry a range of other beer products, we gradually got out of the grains and hops, the yeast and most of the other beer-related stuff. While Baron’s and the other kits make good beer, they’re modelled on our strongest internal paradigm: simplicity, ease of use, guaranteed results—add water and stir, pitch yeast and you’ll have beer in three to four weeks.

Very Good Beer

But despite these features we really weren’t reaching new beer folks. New products have been introduced that feature single-strength beer wort (instead of malt extract) and for a while it looked like that might capture the imaginations of a new bunch of beermakers, but those kits haven’t set the world on fire either.

So what was missing? What was it that attracted people to making their own craft beer in the first place? It finally came down to engagement: beer brewers not only want to make the best beer possible, they want to make it on their own terms, controlling the ingredients and the process, ultimately taking responsibility for the outcome of their brews. They want to get fully into the process, to be integral to the success.

In retrospect, it’s such a simple concept that I can’t believe I didn’t see it sooner. After all, I am a sterling example of engagement. Back when I had more time in my life I brewed like a madman and eventually graduated to being an all-grain brewer, making my brews straight from grains, hops and yeast I cultured myself in a home laboratory. Each batch of beer took a minimum of six hours from start to finish, and involved a lot of very muscular lifting, extended time spent over grain beds and boiling pots, a ton of cleaning and sanitising, and absolutely no guarantee that I’d have drinkable beer at the end of it all, because the variables I had to learn to control were so numerous and complex that it was a very long time before I could consistently reproduce the same beer twice.

Yep, those are real tattoos, and he's real serious about his beer

And I loved every single minute of it! I geeked out hard, becoming a certified beer judge (the exam was excruciating. I did  a year of studying and three months of cramming), building my own brewing equipment, learning to weld stainless steel, plumbing a kegging system and spending weekends and vacations visiting beer destinations so I could soak up more beer knowledge. I was completely engaged in my hobby, and if someone suggested I could make a great beer by adding water and stirring a kit, I might have acknowledged the possibility, but there’s nothing about it that would have appealed to me.

Oh beer, you coy temptress . . . 

Another clue can be seen in the US consumer beverage market. While we were concentrating on wine our US counterparts really built up their beer portfolio, and home brewing there is amazing—there are some homebrew supply stores that resemble Home Depot more than anything else, with tall aisles filled with brewing pots and burners, kegging systems, yeast culturing equipment, mash tuns, refrigerators full of hops, and even grain rooms with fifty or sixty kinds of malted or roasted grains and grinders ready to turn them into grist. The brewer culture is intense, with hundreds of beer clubs and organisations, specialty magazines, competitions and a general level of engagement that is both inspiring and delightful.

Shiny! Beer! Good!

In light of this insight, our next move is simple. We’re bringing back the beer. Rather than go through a steep learning curve and producing a wholly new grains/malt/hops kit (and incurring all the infrastructure and space that entails), we knew where we could source the best kits in the industry and bring them to Canadians with the guarantee that they’d make fantastic, fresh, authentic craft beer the very first time they tried it—Brewer’s Best.

Teaching a brewing class. FUN!

BB kits take about two hours from start to finish, and the recipes are completely authentic to the BJCP guidelines for style. They’ve got every single ingredient you need to make your beer, like dry and liquid malt, crushed grains, bittering, flavouring and aroma hops, specialty yeast strains, priming sugar and even bottle caps! There’s even an equipment kit with all the stuff you need to get going right away—all you need is a pot about 12 litres (3-ish gallons) in size and you can make beer—great beer, craft beer—in your own kitchen.

Everything you need to make your own craft beer, in one box

I’ve made a dozen Brewer’s Best kits in the last month and a half. I made three in one day! The quality of the ingredients is so good, and the malt is so fresh, that my all-grain equipment is still under the tarp in my storage area. I know it misses me, but when I can make a hoppy, aromatic India Pale Ale, a rich, creamy Oatmeal Stout and a snappy, crisp Continental Pilsner all in less than six hours, and be drinking them in three and a half weeks . . . well, it’s going to miss me for a while longer!

Youthful mien, facial hair, sardonic style and skinny jeans.
I will never again be this cool, but love of beer crosses all boundaries
What's better than attracting new people to brewing? Attracting women, who are woefully under-represented.
Plus, they're almost always better brewers than men--seriously.

One of the cool features of Brewer’s Best is the size—not of the box it comes in, that’s about the size of a (big) loaf of bread. It’s the finished volume of 4 Imperial (5 US) gallons, or 19 litres. Most of the people making wine and beer in Canada have been doing it in 23 litres. Brewer’s Best is sourced from the USA, where all brewing is done in American measurements (yeah, they’ve been officially on the metric system since 1978, coincidentally the time Jimmy Carter, POTUS39 legalised hombrew there, but beer caught on and metric didn’t) and 5 US gallons is the standard brewing size.

Important tip: drunkards are people who have more alcohol than you, and teetotaling prudes are people who have less

Why do I think it’s cool? 19 litres is four dozen standard bottles, which sits up in a neat pair of two-fours, the standard flat of beer, a decent amount to have on hand and stack in the pantry. But the super-cool application is kegging: bars use the familiar quarter-barrel Sanke kegs, which hold 58 litres of beer. They’re too heavy and too big for most people to wrestle into a keg fridge, and they’re designed specifically to be cleaned by machines, making them impractical for home users. Instead, consumer draught systems use Cornelius kegs, which will be familiar to most adults as ‘pop kegs’. Carbonated soda pop used to be shipped to retailer’s fountains in them. Nowadays it’s a bag-in-box of coloured high-fructose corn syrup that’s mixed into carbonated water. Cornelius kegs have the advantage of being available used, there’s a huge infrastructure of parts and accessories for them, and . . . they hold 19 litres exactly. One batch, one keg, no leftovers.

It's a much better fate than storing TV dinners. 19 litre Corny kegs and suchlike

Guess what I’ve got on my patio? That’s right, a kegging setup. It’s a very happy patio.

I’m having an awful lot of fun brewing again. It’s like returning to a sport you loved as a kid, or rediscovering a hobby or craft you set down long ago. The familiar rhythms of hop additions, timing the boil, cooling the wort and smelling the malt and hops coming together are like a meditation: if my intent is clear and my steps are done correctly, I’ll have great beer. It gives me focus and pleasure at the same time. There is definitely something to be said for this whole engagement thing.

I’m having so much fun I’m sharing it at every opportunity. I’ve taught a couple of consumer beer making classes in the last month, I’m working on a beermaking video, and next Monday I’m doing a brewing day with a bunch of my retailer friends. And there’s an important date coming up that I’m really looking forward to.

Boiling up a batch of Double India Pale Ale. Smells great!

Saturday November 2nd is National Learn to Homebrew Day. I’m going to host a brewing day in the parking lot of the Winexpert facility in Port Coquitlam (1622 Kebet Way, just off the Maryhill bypass near the Pitt River Bridge). There are at least three brews booked to go on that day, and everyone is invited to come down and see just how easy and fun it is to make your own craft beer at home. It’s rain or shine, I’m setting up a tent, and there’s lots of parking. Officially it’s on from noon to four, but we’re going to host at least one all-grain brew (Thanks Matt!) and that takes a bit longer, so we’ll be setting up from about 10 am and winding up when all the beer is finished and the yeast is pitched.

You’re invited—all of you! Join the event group on FaceBook and click on ‘I’ll be attending’. If you’re not down with the social media thingy, send me a note to let me know you’re coming. And if you want to haul your gear down and brew a batch, you are one of my new best friends. There’s running water, facilities, and cleanup/washdown sinks. Bring the whole brewclub! Let’s geek out, talk about beer, brewing, techniques, ingredients and have the best discussion that beergeeks can have: what is the best single beer in the world? I spent two hours in a brewpub just last night discussing this very topic, and we eventually involved two bartenders, two pro brewers, three home brewers and six or seven regular beer consumers, we all came to the very same conclusion: each individual was right and everyone else was wrong, but that was okay because we had beer.

I think my geek is showing. And that makes me pretty happy. Let’s brew beer and see what happens.

Oh, right, this is what happens: 

Why? Because, beer!

Happy Thanksgiving! http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/10/happy-thanksgiving http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/10/happy-thanksgivinghttp://www.timswineblog.com/2013/10/happy-thanksgiving#commentsSun, 13 Oct 2013 00:00:00 -0700TimBlog Posts
Few people know Norman Rockwell's Canadian roots. Because he didn't have any. 

On Thursday, January 31, 1957, the Parliament of Canada proclaimed:

A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed – to be observed on the 2nd Monday in October. 

For Americans who see Canadians observing Thanksgiving weeks early, it's not that we're trying to get a leg up on the turkey and pie deal. The Canadian holiday is indeed a liturgical festival, but it has stronger ties to European harvest festivals than with Pilgrims and such. In fact, 'Thanksgiving' holidays have been celebrated in May, June and many other dates. That's why it took an act of parliament to set the day in stone. 

Traditionally we celebrate over the long weekend with the usual accoutrements (ten thousand calories of dry, overcooked turkey, stuffing and pie, Football, and lying still and groaning under the thundering fog of calories). I'm a bit busy this year for my own celebrations, but in my heart I'm thankful for all the wonderful things this life brings me: blue skies, warm days, well-tilled soil, the song of birds and the company of family and friends. May your thanksgiving be filled with comfort and mindfulness. 

And pie. 

Limited Edition 2013 is here! http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/10/limited-edition-2013-is-here http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/10/limited-edition-2013-is-herehttp://www.timswineblog.com/2013/10/limited-edition-2013-is-here#commentsSun, 06 Oct 2013 00:00:00 -0700Limited Tim!Blog Posts


Limited Edition 2013 is upon us, and it's going to be a great year: not only do we have a lineup of three reds, including one with grapeskins, we also have two exciting whites, one of which is the return of our most popular LE ever, Pacific Quartet. But don't let me blather on: listen to this guy instead.

Handsome chap, and so well spoken

Here's the synopsis of each of the varieties:

January Red: South African Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon

January White: South African Viognier Chenin Blanc Roussanne

February White: Pacific Quartet

March Red: Oregeon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

April: Washington Red Mountain Cabernet Merlot


Wait, 'limited'? You mean I have to pre-order to make sure I get my wine? 

There are also some wonderful recipe videos to go with the varieties--I've tried all of them, and while I'm a pretty accomplished cook, I was surprised by just how easy they were to execute, and how wonderful each of them turned out. Check out Winexpert's Official Youtube Channel to see a cooking demo. 

Now, it's off on my LE2013 tour! See you in Minnesota tomorrow!

Here There Be Dragons http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/10/here-there-be-dragons http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/10/here-there-be-dragonshttp://www.timswineblog.com/2013/10/here-there-be-dragons#commentsThu, 03 Oct 2013 00:00:00 -0700Beer TimBlog PostsI love maps, especially vintage maps and ones with weird projection schemes (I'm a Winkel-Tripel man, myself) but the one bug/feature of early maps, the tendency to leave large blank sections with a note about monsters or the edge of the world has always delighted my sense of ambiguity--I'm far less interested in answers than I am in good questions.

But not today. Today I discovered a map that has very few gaps, and a whole lot of 'here there be beer'.

Okay Columbus, here's the deal: sail west until you find new route to India Pale Ale

If you want to check out a full-sized and navigable image, click on Pop Chart Lab.

From the website:

This wall map is the most complete charting of beer ever, breaking down ales and lagers into over 100 delicious styles from hoppy IPAs to fruity lambics, and including over 500 individual beers as notable examples of each style as well as glassware recommendations. The Magnificent Multitude of Beer captures the proud work of hundreds of breweries around the world, clocks in at a staggering 60 inches by 40 inches, and is the perfect finishing touch for your man cave or lady lair.


Awesome, isn't it? Everybody who knows me knows I like beer in much the same way as I like oxygen (surprise! I'm not all about wine all the time) and even though this map is ninety bucks, I'm pretty sure I'm going to smash Porky the Bank and get one for myself. 

Now all I need is a place where I can hang it in my house where my wife won't see it . . .


Back Just In Time For http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/09/back-just-in-time-for-.-.-. http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/09/back-just-in-time-for-.-.-.http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/09/back-just-in-time-for-.-.-.#commentsThu, 05 Sep 2013 00:00:00 -0700TimBlog Posts
This is my good side

It's been a while!

I've had a busy summer, with a lot of cool stuff going on. I haven't merely been an idle layabout avoiding this blog: I was away on vacation for three solid weeks, an unusual circumstance, in this busy era we live in. The first week I was consumed with the various chores I had put off for 365 days, getting up every morning an hour earlier than I do for work, flopping into bed well after dark and making a new list up the next day. When the next week rolled around I packed up the car and roared up to a place called Horsefly.

It wasn't called Horsefly back then, it was called 'Ouch! What are these danged things?'

The trip was courtesy of my chum Mark, whose family has a cabin up there. It was a fun time of campfires, gopher hunting, long hikes and darn fine camp cooking. Those gophers never saw what hit 'em, which is to say: nothing. I'll be back again, and this time I'll bring my A game, dang rodents. 

After that was another week of staycation: long walks, beach days, gardening and hiking. I've been enjoying the trails through Campbell Valley Regional Park, a short drive from my place. There are wonderful trails that are simultaneously quiet, stuffed with wildlife of various sorts and quite serene.

That's no slug! It's a banana
Hey buddy, want a nice apple for your ladyfriend?

 There's also some wonderful old farms and barns attached to the park

Too pretty for storing hay or antelope, or whatever it is they use barns for.

 But, the beach beckoned

On a clear day, you can see the algae forever
What's a beach without a patio and snacks? Nothing, in my opinion. 

But as pretty as the beach is, it was no match for the magnificence that was my garden. This year was the most productive I've ever had:

Triffids. They're so cute when they're little.
Ich bin ein Kohlkopf
Long, orange with green foliage: yep, those are strawberries all right. 
Beets me!
Cauliflower ear my eye
Triffids like to change their 'do

You may well ask, what did I do with the wondrous bounty? Well, as ever, the women's shelter sent me a polite thank-you, amended with a firm request for 'No more damn zucchini', but I also wound up doing some preserving.

Beet me daddy, 8 to the jar
Just one of six batches of different pickles I made this year

Not to mention Project Pesto 2013: I usually grow a whole bunch of basil plants and make many litres of Pesto--my recipe freezes really well, so I don't mind having a dozen containers to last me through the coming year. Ha ha ha, who knew that a greenhouse would act like radioactive steroids for basil plants? 

This is the third haul from these plants. They. Just. Won't. Quit.
Plucked and washed, they still bulked out
I should have gone into the Pesto business, since I'm already in the pest business

Eventually I did get back to work, which is a little different for me these days: Winexpert closed the sales office/warehouse where I used to keep offices, so I work from home now. It's a bit of an adjustment--people who went from a structured office to a home-based one know what I mean. It takes more discipline than you think to get up every day at the same time, dress and shave and sit down only steps from your bed to be a productive member of your team. It's been a strongly positive experience though: without a commute I'm far less tense (if you haven't driven in Vancouver traffic from one side of the river to the other, trust me: idiots to the right, fools to the left, incompetents in front and lunatics behind . . . and that barely gets you out of my driveway). 

Good thing too: we have a new marketing team and they're really on the ball, and it's been a lot of fun working on new projects. I got the Limited Edition presentation and write-ups done and then it was time to fly to Ontario to shoot the LE 2013 video.

Luckily the pink socks don't show in the final edit

 Since then I've been working on LE scheduling, training and the usual customer stuff. 

And one really big project. It's going to be huge. And I'm going to talk about it real soon

But not tonight! Because tomorrow I've got to get up early to go to the Great Canadian Beer Festival

Ha ha ha, I just got it: Bottle Rockets!

 I haven't missed a festival in a couple of decades--yep, I've been going that long. In fact, I've been going so long that I feel obligated to help cover it in my capacity as a journalist. Not that it's a very high capacity, but I like to help out and do my part. Since it always sells out a few minutes after ticket sales open, the likelihood is that not many of my blog readers will have the opportunity to attend. To get you up to speed, from the GCBF website:

The Great Canadian Beer Festival has become one of the worlds' must-attend beer events. People from all over the globe seek out Victoria and the GCBF every year; we get brewers from Australia, volunteers from England and beer lovers from all over. Our little annual beer festival first held in 1993 has blossomed into a truly international event.

The GCBF is held each year on the first weekend after Labour Day with over 55 craft breweries from across Canada and the USA and more than 8,000 happy people coming together in the beautiful city of Victoria to celebrate the diversity of the brewers' craft.

As always, we will feature non-stop entertainment by local acts and once again there will be a fantastic selection of food offered by local restaurants and caterers.

And to keep you even more up to speed, be sure to follow my Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/tim.vandergrift) and follow me on Twitter @WinexpertTim, or just look for the #GCBF hashtag. There's going to be a lot of good beer, and a lot of fun times--old friends and new. 

And I promise, I'll tell you about the new super-secret project when it's time. Ooh, it's killing me. I hope you like it. 


This Wine Stinks http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/07/this-wine-stinks http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/07/this-wine-stinkshttp://www.timswineblog.com/2013/07/this-wine-stinks#commentsMon, 22 Jul 2013 00:00:00 -0700Pyew-y timBlog PostsVirtually everyone is familiar with the flavour of the precursor of wine, grapes: they smell and taste delicious even before they make all the wonderful alcohol that we enjoy so much.
This picture has several steps missing . . . 

But what about making wine from a fruit that doesn't smell very good. In fact, what about making wine from a fruit that smells like it came straight from a sewer, and one critic described it as being 'like eating strawberry blancmange in a toilet'. What horrific fruit is that, you might ask (and following hot on the heels of that, who's weird enough to eat it)? Behold the stinkingest pile of armoured deliciousness the world of fruit has to offer: durian.

No, this isn't photoshop or some hallucinating Dutch Masters's still-life

Growing in Southeast Asia, durian is a large, dangerous fruit: it's a foot long and six inches in diameter (although I've seen much larger examples in local markets) and according to Wikipedia

Regarded by many people in southeast Asia as the "king of fruits", the durian is distinctive for its large size, strong odour, and formidable thorn-covered husk. The fruit can grow as large as 30 centimetres (12 in) long and 15 centimetres (6 in) in diameter, and it typically weighs one to three kilograms (2 to 7 lb). Its shape ranges from oblong to round, the colour of its husk green to brown, and its flesh pale yellow to red, depending on the species.

The edible flesh emits a distinctive odour that is strong and penetrating even when the husk is intact. Some people regard the durian as pleasantly fragrant; others find the aroma overpowering and revolting. The smell evokes reactions from deep appreciation to intense disgust, and has been described variously as almonds, rotten onions, turpentine, raw sewage. The persistence of its odour has led to the fruit's banishment from certain hotels and public transportation in southeast Asia.

Marvellous! All the things you want in a fruit, plus spikes sharp enough to penetrate leather gloves and the stench of turpentine and sewage. Some people describe it with even less favour: 

Chef Andrew Zimmern compares the taste to "completely rotten, mushy onions". Anthony Bourdain, a lover of durian, relates his encounter with the fruit thus: "Its taste can only be described as...indescribable, something you will either love or despise. ...Your breath will smell as if you'd been French-kissing your dead grandmother."

Having eaten and enjoyed durian, I can tell you that this is an accurate description, with the added character of deliciously mellow almond custard and a smooth, lush mouthfeel. Bourdain is right: if you're the kind of person who likes stinky cheese or well-hung game, you'll like durian. If not . . . well, there are people out there turning it into wine. According to the press wires this morning, 'Scientists in Singapore are turning their hands to wine-making, using the pungent-smelling durian as a replacement for grapes. They're still a long way from commercialising durian wine, but the reseacrhers are confident that the so-called "King of Fruits" has potential for producing a wine that people will want to drink.' 

If you watch closely, you can see they're all wearing nose-plugs

I'll stick to grapes and the occasional tree fruit for now, I believe. 

Language Lesson http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/07/language-lesson http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/07/language-lessonhttp://www.timswineblog.com/2013/07/language-lesson#commentsTue, 09 Jul 2013 00:00:00 -0700TimBlog PostsCourtesy of The Drey, a very important and useful local guide--one that travellers everywhere should memorise for us on all and any occasions
Incredibly useful!

Click on the image to embiggen for clearer reading. Skoal, and thanks to The Drey for the invaluable public service. 

California Dreamin http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/06/california-dreamin http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/06/california-dreaminhttp://www.timswineblog.com/2013/06/california-dreamin#commentsTue, 25 Jun 2013 00:00:00 -0700Photographin' TimBlog Posts
All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray
I've been for a walk on a winter's day
I'd be safe and warm if I was in L.A.
California dreamin' on such a winter's day

I've done a wee bit of travelling in the last couple of months, as is my usual practice--criss-crossing the continent like some high flying . . . high-flyer, I guess.  Ohio in April, Monterey in May with a bit of R&R after, and from there directly to Toronto, back to Ohio and almost immediately back to Toronto again! It's almost like I can't make up my mind, but that gives me too much credit for having a mind to make up. 

I have some great pictures from the LD Carlson retailer conference back in May, but I'll need to sort out some of those shots with legal . . . there was an enormous amount of fun had! You can see some of my pictures from that in my Facebook IOS photos (are you my friend on Facebook yet? Why not?)While I get around to putting together more, I thought I'd share some of my pictures of my road trip after the Winemaker Magazine conference. Several years ago after the Santa Barbara conference I rented a car with the intent of driving up the Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco. The Coastal Highway is so heart-stoppingly beautiful that you think you'll get tired of it after a while, or become numb to its ever-unfolding charms.

But you don't. It just keeps getting better, and better. 

Unfortunately, that trip was cut short by a landslide that wiped out a big chunk of the highway south of Monterey. I had to backtrack and go around the slide, missing some of the most beautiful and rugged landscape. This time, I took no chances, grabbed another car and drove south from San Francisco down to San Diego to see the sights. It was an awesome trip, one that I'll treasure for a very long time. 

Such a lovely setting, in such a lovely city

First, though, San Francisco. I love this town to pieces. Once I discovered that there was life away from Fisherman's Wharf, the whole place came alive for me: Top of the Mark, The Tonga Room, Buena Vista Park, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Presidio National Park . . . the list goes on forever, and I haven't even touched on my ten or fifteen favourite bars (I'm looking at you, Vesuvio). But one place I've read about and thought was worth a visit was the Palace of Fine Arts

Yeah, they shooed me away from there when they realised I was neither fine nor artistic

Originally built for an exposition in 1915 and slated to be torn down afterwards, it was so popular that they preserved it, renovated it and eventually retrofitted it. When I was there they were laser-scanning the whole place so it could be 3D mapped for a virtual fly-through. It was really a lovely place to hang out on a very hot California day.

That's a strong profile

There are many lovely architectural details, and despite the place actually being as authentic as Disneyland, it really does charm you, with soaring spaces and some imposing sculpture.

I really don't trust angels, and this one looks like he has a lot on his mind . . .

The grounds are lovely as well:

Swanning along
I'm afraid it's turtles all the way down . . . 

I managed to see a lot of other stuff while we were there too: hit a few of my favorite bars, do a lot of walking and generally tourist it up. This time I hit some of the less famous neighbourhoods for a walking tour, and was rewarded by a zesty if slightly raffish set of sights.

Fabulous artwork--this was really the only family-friendly shot, though.

From SF it was time to loiter down the coast and take in the sights from the Highway.

I must state categorically that this is only an average vista: everything is at least this beautiful
That's not snow: note the gulls . . . 
Not a single cloud the whole trip. 

From San Francisco we moved down to another of my favorite spots in California: Carmel By the Sea. The first picture at the top of this entry is the beach right in front of Carmel, and the whole place is genteel, lovely and refined, with beautiful vistas and some stunning gardens--vegetation we Canadians rarely get to see.

It's like an artichoke had a baby with a cabbage while they were both high on hallucinogens
May flowers
That gorgeous chap in the middle is agave--whence comes Tequila!

Eventually we moved further down the coast, soaking up wonderful sights. Imagine living in the house on the right of this picture: 

There's actually a pull-out so you can stop and take a picture right here

I'm not sure I'd ever use my pool with rubberneckers taking snapshots of me all day. 

Apparently bacon comes out of his ear. Wes Hagen and his fur-pony. Photo nicked from Wes' twitter feed

I stayed the night in Lompoc with my friend Wes Hagen, at Clos Pepe. Wes is a brilliant winemaker with a fine, restless mind and a wide-range of interests and an eclectic education. He also knows how to enjoy himself in a style to which I am delighted to share. Thanks for the wonderful night, and excellent hospitality--especially that amazing alarm clock! You guys are gems. 

As the highway wandered ever-further down the coast, I came to a magical place of wonder, delight and hamburgers: Nepenthe

Yes, all that and food and drink too

 There's no wide-angle lens wide enough to encompass the spectacular vista. A place with a view this good could get by having mediocre food, but they don't: the ambrosia burger is a thing of beauty, the service is prompt and accurate (very rare in California, although everyone is friendly enough) and the whole experience is magically good. One thing to watch out for is sneak-thieves:

Ooo, you wascally waptor!

I watched this Machiavellian maestro steal a dozen French fries, two hamburgers and a side of coleslaw in less than an hour. His standard technique was to hop right onto the counter in front of a guest, wait for their startled delight, and as they reached for their cameras, abscond with their lunch. The staff warned everyone at least three times when they sat, when the ordered and when they were served, but some folks didn't pay attention. I did and really enjoyed other people's consternation. 

Finally, it was time to hit the City of Angels, Rodeo Drive and Hollywoodland.

You'd be amazed how bloody hard it is to get anywhere near that sign to take a picture

LA was a gas from beginning to end. I haven't spent any time there since I was a child, except to pass through, and this time I wallowed in a bit of fun. 

Yes, we're related. You can tell by our extremely similar back-hair

 The Walk of fame called

Nerd Alert! Set phasers on 'Geek'!

 And TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly Grauman's Chinese Theatre)

What? People dress in Muppet costumes all the time!

 And of course, no trip to LA would be complete without a pilgrimage to Jim Morrison's pants

Fortunately, well-sealed behind glass

 And associated LA weirdness

I assumed she was selling Tang

For me though, there was one place I really wanted to visit, ever since I was a little boy: the Griffith Park Observatory.

People of Earth, We Greet You!

Built on three thousand acres of land overlooking the LA basin, donated by a man named Griffith Griffiths (saved on learning to spell two names, I suppose) it was built as a WPA venture in the 1930's, with the idea that astronomy should be accessible to the common man. 

And there are few men more common than me

 There were more adventures, particularly those involving five-hour traffic jams (LA might be heaven, but it's not perfect) and an evening spent in the Gas Lamp district in San Diego (makes Sodom and Gomorrah look like Disneyland) but at the end of the day it was a wonderful trip to a magical place--and I can't wait to get back there again. 

Dig those crazy cabbages



Corks Gone Screwy http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/06/corks-gone-screwy http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/06/corks-gone-screwyhttp://www.timswineblog.com/2013/06/corks-gone-screwy#commentsWed, 19 Jun 2013 00:00:00 -0700Mr. HelixBlog Posts
Cork trees are closely related to bananas. True story.

Putting a cork in it has a long and storied history: corks provided the ideal closure for bottles and barrels for twenty centuries, and the argument still exists that there is nothing better than a chunk of tree bark for keeping quality wine in good condition. 

However, in the early 20th century cork manufacturers in Portugal were nationalised, with the government handing over complex industrial and distribution systems to their cronies and useless brothers-in-law. Only a few companies managed to keep continuity, to keep producing quality corks, but they were overwhelmed the bumblers who produced volumes of second-rate TCA ('corked-aroma') closures for years. 

Things have gotten better--enormously better, with good industrial controls and manufacturing practices, and protocols that have reduced TCA from unacceptable levels of a few decades ago to a minor manufacturing issue today. But in that time period of bad cork, other closures made progress. While the first plastic corks were about as appealing as ground-up hockey pucks, and the first screw-caps left wine unaged and rather unlovely, they made a lot of progress, and today are considered strong alternatives to natural (die-cut) or manufactured (agglomerated) cork products. 

In order to offer some of the convenience of screw caps while still using the romantic (and sustainable) raw material of cork, Amorim (full disclosure: they're friends of mine, and fine folks to boot) have come up with a new type of closure, the Helix. According to Drinks Business, it was a collaboration between an American manufacturer and the Amrorim group that came up with a T-shaped stopper that's held in place inside the bottle by a very long screw-thread, resembling most closely the rifling on the inside of a gun barrel. 

Photo: Drinks Business 

Agglomerated T-stopper corks aren't new: they've been around for many years. The real changer is the bottle, which has the raised thread on the inside of the neck, allowing the cork to grip tightly, yet pull loose with a moderate amount of twisting. For a wine designed to be used in the short term, it's a pretty great idea--ugly, to be sure, but I'm usually most interested on what's inside the bottle, as long as I can get it open and the cork isn't tainted. 

Here's a short video from Tom Cannavan, a British wine writer who got his mitts on one of the early release bottles.


Pretty interesting stuff, but strictly for the commercial industry rather than for those of us who make wine at home--first off, those are proprietary bottles, so you'd be locked into using them forever, and buying them from the manufacturer, and second, I haven't seen the machine that inserts those corks, but I don't imagine it's within purchase reach of the average home winemaker. 

We can keep watching though: it may eventually filter down to us over time. 






What Makes the Wines of Chile Great http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/06/what-makes-the-wines-of-chile-great http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/06/what-makes-the-wines-of-chile-greathttp://www.timswineblog.com/2013/06/what-makes-the-wines-of-chile-great#commentsThu, 06 Jun 2013 00:00:00 -0700Video TimBlog Posts


Here's a video I did about Chilean wines. I think I look pretty smooth for not being an actor, but I have to admit it started out at about 18 minutes of footage--thank goodness I'm also not the video editor, because it'd still be that long--I can never get to the point. 

The one thing that didn't make the final cut is the secret reason why Chile is such a powerhouse at making great wines: it's free of graft. That is to say, everywhere else in the world is subject to a vine pest called Phylloxera that attacks the roots of vinifera grapes (the kind that make wine), so they have to plant on rootstock derived from something like table grapes, and graft vinifera on top.

Oooh, you lousy . . . louse.

Not so in Chile. The evil little louse can't get a foothold there, so all of the vines are on their own rootstock, unimpeded and uninfluenced by a grafting site. While it's difficult to quantify precisely how much quality difference this makes, there's one certain thing: it costs far less to plant a vineyard in Chile than anywhere else, and that means Chilean wines generally punch way above their weight class across the board, tasting better than many more expensive wines. 

If you're interested in making some of these Chilean wines for yourself, check with your local retailer, but hurry--sale's only on this month!

LD Carlson Retailer Conference 2013 http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/06/ld-carlson-retailer-conference-2013 http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/06/ld-carlson-retailer-conference-2013http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/06/ld-carlson-retailer-conference-2013#commentsSun, 02 Jun 2013 00:00:00 -0700TimBlog Posts
Pretty much the view from my room. Pretty nice!

It's the first weekend of June, and that means it's the annual LD Carlson conference. LD is Winexpert's distributor in the USA and the largest consumer beer and winemaking supplier in the world. Winexpert's relationship with them goes back over two decades, when Carlson's Ron Hartman took on the original Brew King wine kits--a bit of a visionary step at the time, but one that's been great for both of us. 

The very first conference was 14 years ago, and it was a tiny affair in Akron Ohio with a few dozen retailers. Small, but effective: the first time I spoke at the conference I did a Q&A that lasted what seemed like days--it was well over four hours, as the folks attending got hooked on the idea that there was a guy who not only could answer their questions about wine kits, but also was obligated by his job description to give those answers. 

We've all some a long way since then. The recent conferences have been held in Cuyahoga Falls, in a pretty lovely venue at the Sheraton there. The eponymous river is very famous locally, for an amazing phenomenon. It used to be so polluted that it actually caught fire--thirteen times

Yeah, put water on it, that'll work. Photo courtesy of Ohio Histroy Central

 Today it's much cleaner, and a lovely place to spend time. Our conference takes place all day Sunday, followed  by a tour of the LD warehouse on Monday morning. The sessions have been great! 

 The LD panel on the hot seat--good questions, good answers!
Peter Mills tells how it's done
Lynne concentrates, Gavin has some kind of seizure, Ron is intent and Peter is thinking of punching me

 I almost forgot: we also have a wine tasting later tonight, featuring a wide array of snacks, delicious beer, and Winexpert wines. Sounds like a party to me! 

Fermentaton Flooey and the Gooey Kablooie http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/05/fermentaton-flooey-and-the-gooey-kablooie http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/05/fermentaton-flooey-and-the-gooey-kablooiehttp://www.timswineblog.com/2013/05/fermentaton-flooey-and-the-gooey-kablooie#commentsThu, 30 May 2013 00:00:00 -0700Foamy Tim Blog Posts


Vectored from my friend Chip over at Chop and Brew, this is a brilliant video, partly in slow-motion, showing why you need to use a right-sized primary fermenter. This is beer, which can exacerbate foaming issues, but it applies to wine as well--high gravity fermentations and quantities of oak and grapeskins in solution can foam like crazy, plugging airlocks and causing some serious issues with goop on the floor (and maybe the ceiling).

Winexpert recommends using a 30 litre (7.9 US-gallon) primary fermenter for our kits. Any smaller and this is just the sort of problem you could run into--not a pretty sight!

Failure to Communicate http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/05/failure-to-communicate http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/05/failure-to-communicatehttp://www.timswineblog.com/2013/05/failure-to-communicate#commentsSun, 26 May 2013 00:00:00 -0700Old, Old TimBlog Posts
He did seem eager to open a dialogue . . . 

I've been thinking about the wine kit business (I know I don't mention this very often, but since it keeps me in cheese sandwiches and pays the kitty-treats bill, I do think about it quite a lot). This is always a dangerous proposition, but I have been coming across the same question from a bunch of different sources, and in most places that I visit where we distribute our consumer winemaking products: 'How do I get new customers interested in my wine/wine business?' 

Sure, not a new question, but it's getting more obvious as times goes by. While wine sales are generally increasing across the category, not every consumer winemaking store is growing at the same rate as the commercial side, and it's more significant when you compare the wine numbers to those of beer. To be sure, traditional macro-brew beers (those made by one of the Big Four, who collectively control 50% of all beer on earth) are in the swamp, declining continuously for the last decade, but Craft beer (brewed by independents for reasons in other than quarterly corporate profit), is exploding, continues to explode:for all intents and purposes appears to be a big happy explosion as a default state. Wine people can't help but think, 'Where's my piece of that delicious alcohol-pie?' 

A reasonable request

The symptom seems to be that the consumer base for wine consumption is getting older. As retailers and manufacturers, we have tried our best to maximise our consumer's use of the product. We have sales, we hold tastings, match recipes to our wines, help people build up cellars, have Limited Release-type vintage products, offer a broad range of solutions to beverage needs, et cetera. All good stuff, but at the end of the day, when our current customer base is enjoying our wine at the maximum healthy rate of consumption, we need to look for new consumers to bring into the family. 

I had an interesting sort of data point for this opinion recently when I discovered a fascinating book by Clayton Christensen, The Innovator's Dilemma. The main thesis of the book is that a business can do everything right: develop products, understand their core consumers, add value at every point in the sales chain, do good marketing and still ultimately fail. Most of the failures are attributable to disruptive technological innovation--the example that's most striking is from computer storage. When Christensen started studying the phenomena, computer disk-drive manufacturers were going out of business every year, one after another. They'd make a great product, up the storage, increase reliability, and then blammo! Someone would invent a new way of storing information in a smaller space for way less money, and despite the good work and best efforts of the existing company, it was finished. 

Given the rate at which we are innovating our products internally these days, and the fact that it's very unlikely that another properly-capitialised consumer wine products company will spring into life with the Next Great Thing, we probably aren't going to get swamped by a technological innovation. Lot's of reasons for this, but it comes down to the character of the product: shelf-stable wine products that consumers can quickly and easily turn into high-quality wine in a short time-frame. You can tune the product to make it more quickly, but the quality suffers. You can tune the product for more intense flavours and varietal character (and we do) but price rises and time-frames lengthen. If you fiddle with the raw material to make it more compact or stable, the flavours go. If you fiddle with it to make it exactly like using a fresh grape product, it needs to be stored, shipped and sold frozen--the logistics of which don't work in a traditional, year-round retail store. 

If disruptive innovation is unlikely, then what do we do to get more people interested in winemaking? We already do good marketing and have tried any number of advertising options. That's not where we need to focus. We need to look beyond the traditional ideas. 

First step is to figure out who represents our desired target demographic. Obviously it's younger folks--us geezers (anybody who can remember life before the internet) like our wine and have the time to have learned about the arcana of varietals, the characteristics of regions, the food pairing possibilities and all that other wine-junk. In addition, in our dotage we've usually shuffled off the sprogs, accumulated things and generally have some dosh to splash out on wine. Since we're already in the category, we're not important anymore. It's the young 'uns who should be attracting an enormous amount of marketing attention. Well and good for the youth-types, as there's nothing as much fun as being pandered to when it benefits you. But I'm starting to wonder if those efforts might not be misguided. 

Let me tell you what I mean. The sharpest, quickest and most interesting consumer segment right now is Hipsters, and Hipster-aligned consumers (they're also sometimes identified as 'Millennials', a cheap-fast-easy neologism that's not as focused as 'Hipster', but it's useful). The reason for the second category is because there are some people who would never allow themselves to be called 'Hipster', yet closely follow the actions of the Hipster bloc). What's a Hipster, you ask? Here's an excerpt from the Urban Dictionary:

Hipsters are a subculture of men and women typically in their 20's and 30's that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter. The greatest concentrations of hipsters can be found living in the Williamsburg, Wicker Park, and Mission District neighborhoods of major cosmopolitan centers such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco respectively. Although "hipsterism" is really a state of mind,it is also often intertwined with distinct fashion sensibilities. Hipsters reject the culturally-ignorant attitudes of mainstream consumers, and are often be seen wearing vintage and thrift store inspired fashions, tight-fitting jeans, old-school sneakers, and sometimes thick rimmed glasses.   . . . Despite misconceptions based on their aesthetic tastes, hipsters tend to be well educated and often have liberal arts degrees, or degrees in maths and sciences, which also require certain creative analytical thinking abilities. Consequently many hipsters tend to have jobs in the music, art, and fashion industries. 

There are variations of the hipster aesthetic, and critical writing on the subject is all over the map: Hipsters are post-modern, Hipsters are passive-aggressive, Hipsters consider themselves too cool for everything, and one New York Times op-ed piece dismissed it as being an utterly inauthentic construct of regurgitated cultural aesthetics! I'm never going to be a spokesman for Hipsters, but I'm pretty sure they'd reject all of those analyses as insignificant, while doing something ironic and deliberately un-cool. 

Why Hipsters? Because they have a magical, almost spooky ability to drive markets. Malcolm Gladwell noted this in his book, Outliers, that in the mid-1990's Hush Puppy shoes (you know, the semi-clunky ones with thick soles and oldster styling) suddenly started selling at multiples of their previous numbers. It all went back to an area in Brooklyn where the proto-Hipster movement started. Folks there just decided that Grandpa shoes were so un-cool they were cool and Hush Puppies, with no marketing and no sales effort, and no initial knowledge of what was going on, suddenly got huge. Similar things have happened with other brands, such as Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, a frankly terrible American industrial lager with nothing to recommend it except alcohol and wetness. Hipsters, for their own reasons, adopted it as a pride-of-brand item and it's sales are strong and steady, despite there being many other better-tasting and better marketed beers.

Every person in the wine industry would love to get a piece of this demographic, and we're trying to get a handle on them. It's everywhere in the wine blog-o-sphere, and the burning question is, 'how can we market to these folks?'. An excellent example from from 1 Wine Dude blog by Joe Roberts sums up the thinking: What the New Generation Wants from a Wine  He cites the following

  • Authenticity – if you have to ask, then No, you’re not being authentic, okay?
  • A good story – and not your family’s coat-of-arms; it’s anything that makes you seem more human in an increasingly dehumanized, over-marketed and exploited world.
  • A “true” product – can’t deliver the quality goods? get out of the way please for those who can.
  • Wines with interest – the real curse of the modern age is not to be lambasted for what you do, but to be ignored because you’re boring.
  • Connection… to a time, place, person – back to being human, how close can you get us to where you are as a producer through the consumption of your product?

I can't disagree with any of that . . . except that it's pretty meaningless. Sure, that's what they want. But marketers are never going to be given the chance to tell any of those stories. Because the kind of people you're trying to reach are utterly impervious to your message

The Hipsters you want to persuade are right behind this door. You'll have to speak really loud

From the time Hipster-people first became conscious of the world around them, they were being marketed to at an astonishing, almost overwhelming rate. All of their baby accessories were test-marketed and work-shopped to the nth degree, their breakfast cereals were orchestrated marketing come-ons of epic proportions, the cartoons they watched on television were barely disguised commercials for toys that were interspersed with commercials for toys. Every insecurity they had growing up had a product solution marketed towards them, every life marking event had a crafted commercial aesthetic around it. They grew up with spam in their inbox for every conceivable human activity, desire or interest, and they have been the object of minute and exacting study and interest by marketing companies. 

And now they're immune. They swim in a sea of desperate and savage marketing focus, and it passes through them like they were made of shadows. The fact of the matter is, actively trying to recruit Hipster-grade consumers guarantees that they'll mockingly reject you and your non-vintage, loose-fit jeans ideas. Not that commercial wine companies aren't trying, by applying irony to existing products, like selling premium wine in bag-in-box style packaging. However there's possibilities for backlash inside growth as well. In the article, Millennials: the Great White Hope for the Wine Industry, AdAge notes: 

Some companies have formed special millennial divisions, such as The Wine Group, maker of Franzia, whose Underdog Wine Merchants unit is enjoying big success with Cupcake Vineyards. The brand was the 14th-best-selling wine for the four-week period ending Oct. 31, with sales jumping 250%, according to SymphonyIRI.

Sure . . . it's up 250%. But is it strictly to Hipster/Millennials? How do they know? And 

Still, marketers risk overplaying their hand if they reach out too aggressively to the generation, known for its suspicion of overt selling tactics. For instance, some industry executives are noticing a backlash against trendy, edgier wine labels.

"If you order a wine that's got a dancing gorilla on it and it tastes bad, then who's stupid? You are," said Don Sebastiani Jr., CEO of Don Sebastiani & Sons, seller of Smoking Loon and other wine brands that make no concerted effort to reach millennials. "If you have a great bottle of wine that's priced right in a really classy package, you will be successful."

Do the hustle! 

If even the potent image of a dancing gorilla can't sell wine to Hipster-analogue consumers, what can? I'm not really sure. I'm hoping that our combination of DIY fun, product authenticity/sense of place (hey, how else are you going to make your own Mosel Valley Gewurztraminer or Stag's Leap Merlot at home?) and plucky dedication to quality will win the younger folks over to the consumer winemaking lifestyle. If anyone has any ideas on how to get in touch with the Hipster Illuminati, I'd love to hear about it--as a wine geezer, I'd be happy to see some new folks come to enjoy it as much as I do.  

All Good Things http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/05/all-good-things-.-.-. http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/05/all-good-things-.-.-.http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/05/all-good-things-.-.-.#commentsSun, 19 May 2013 00:00:00 -0700Blog Posts

So long . . .

TheWinexpert Retail store will be closing permanently on the 24th of May, 2013. Winexpert will continue to produce and distribute all of its products, but the 1622 Kebet Way location will no longer be in business.

Originally founded as Brew King, the store opened its doors in 1983. The first sale was a single package of yeast that brought in 39 cents. From small beginnings, the store expanded under the leadership of the founders, Doug and Ross Tocher, who had a vision for the consumer wine and beer industry.
They began manufacturing their own beer and wine kits, distributing them across Canada and the USA. Eventually the company grew large enough that it became a force in the commercial industry as well, with one out of every five bottles of wine produced in Canada being made from kit products.

Even after the company was sold to Andrew Peller Limited in the late 1990’s, and the name changed to Winexpert, the retail store remained both as a source for home winemakers to purchase equipment, supplies and kits, and as a resource centre for Winexpert’s Customer Service department.

For the last 17 years Linda Kazakoff has run the retail store and answered incoming inquiries, at first through mail and telephone, and as the internet became the dominant business communication channel, through email as well. Her wealth of knowledge, along with that of all of her helpers and assistants over the years, has been a source pride for our company. Her patience, attention to detail, and her never-ending good humour have made her a valuable employee and a good friend to all who know her. In her own words,

It is with mixed feelings that I gave my notice to Winexpert and decided it was finally time I retired. While I am looking forward to checking off those items on my bucket list I will dearly miss the camaraderie and friendships that I have developed over the past 17 years. I would like to thank you all for being such great customers and making my job so easy and most enjoyable.

Hope you are able to drop in to say hi over the next few weeks.

Linda Kazakoff

It has been my honour to work with Linda the last 13 years, and to be her Manager the last two. Her hard work and dedication have made my job not only easier, but also more fun and rewarding than I might have thought possible. While I regret the store’s closing, I am confident that Linda is going to enjoy a wonderful retirement, and I wish her all the best.

The store will remain open for business during its final week, the 21st to the 24th of May. During this time we will be featuring all of our products at 35% off (while supplies last!), as a last thank-you to our customers. Going forward, we have some wonderful local retailers who are there to help you find all of the wine kits and supplies you need to keep making your best wine ever. Look for them at the Find a Retailer link on our homepage. 

On behalf of everyone at Winexpert, thanks to all of you for your loyalty as customers, your fellowship as friends, and for making this a thirty-year pleasure.




Making Corks http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/04/making-corks http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/04/making-corkshttp://www.timswineblog.com/2013/04/making-corks#commentsTue, 30 Apr 2013 00:00:00 -0700TimBlog PostsI'm a huge fan of synthetic corks. While I'm also down with natural corks, the price-point on them for equivalent quality is so high that synthetics beat the heck out of them for most purposes--they never chip, rot, leak, split or taint, go in easy, come out easy and are extremely uniform in size and appearance. Nomacorc is my product of choice, as they have excellent quality control and great research on their products.

But have you ever wondered how synthetic corks are made? Vectored from the wonderful site, Wine Folly, here is a short video of the process:


Yeah, that's pretty cool.


A Matter of Some Gravity http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/04/a-matter-of-some-gravity http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/04/a-matter-of-some-gravityhttp://www.timswineblog.com/2013/04/a-matter-of-some-gravity#commentsTue, 23 Apr 2013 00:00:00 -0700TimBlog Posts 
Nebbiolo grapes looking ripe. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Oh my, this is some kind of record. I'm going to talk about Winexpert products for the third time this year. Wow, you'd swear they paid me or something. 

But I'd talk about our Limited Edition wines even if they weren't my baby: top quality grapes from extremely cool regions and viticultural areas, varietals and styles that can be unfamiliar (at first!) and the opportunity to make a vintage wine to age and enjoy in the coming years--what's not to love? This year was totally cool because it was the first time we included a grapeskin pack in one of our LE 2012 wine kits.

For those fuzzy on the whole 'wine kit' thingy (how did you wind up here?), Winexpert produces consumer winemaking products. We take beautifully ripe grapes from growing regions around the world and process them in our winery. We do every last thing to them that a winery would need to do to make wine for commercial sale, but for one tiny detail: we don't add any yeast. Instead, we flash-pasteurise them to make them shelf-stable, package them in bag-in-box containers and sell them to you--along with a packet of yeast. You take the box of juice home, make a few additions according the (clearly and beautifully written) instructions and then pitch that yeast. In 4 to 8 weeks, depending on the type and style of wine, you can bottle it and when it ages you've got an excellent wine that you made, with no muss or fuss or squishing of grapes, that can stand up proudly to wines you can buy in the store. 

Fine and dandy, and every year we make a line-up of kits that are very special, each with its own story, terroir and style. We make a limited number and take pre-orders for them (when we're out of grapes, we're out of kits) and it makes a lot of people very happy (including me: I haven't missed an LE in 14 years). 

The LE2012 April release was the one with the skins. It's an Italian Nebbiolo from Reggio Emilia. I'm stoked on this, as the grapes came from a wonderful vineyard, the specs were great, and Reggio Emilia is where everything good happens in Italy. Seriously, check it out: Parma, where Parma ham (Prosciutto) comes from, along with Parmigiano Reggiano, wonderful Italian Mortadella, along with hundreds of different regional cheeses, preserved meats and wines, brilliant produce and some of the best cooks in the world . . . keep Tuscany, you can have Rome and the Piedmont, I'm for Reggio Emilia. 

That's it: in my next life I want to come back as an Italian mouse

But there's a mistake in the kit's instructions. And, like many things in this life, it's my fault. So I want to explain.

The instructions list the starting specific gravity (take after adding the grape skins) as 1.090-1.100. The SG before adding grape skins is between 1.065 – 1.070. The reason for this is that the skin pack is incredibly dense in fermentable solids (grape sugars), and it contributes very heavily to the starting gravity and to the finished alcohol content. But that incredibly sticky, sugary grape pack is very slow to dissolve. Lab trials show that it can take between 1 and 2 hours for the gravity to rise to its final level at 24C/75F, and it takes longer than that at lower must temperatures. The problem is, the instructions don't mention the extra time needed for the gravity to rise, which is confusing for some winemakers. 

Kali Ma! Kali Ma! Kali Ma Shakti de! No, just kidding: that's the grape pack from my kit, not Indiana Jone's ticker.

This can be more confusing for consumers who have previously made Winexpert grapeskin wines such as Eclipse and Selection with skins. These start with a broader stated SG range (1.080-1.100), which appear to be in the correct range immediately, without stirring, even though the gravity will continue to rise as the fermentable sugars in the pack dissolve over a 24 hour period. 

So if you've started your Nebbiolo and and didn't measure the gravity, what should you do? Don't do anything: even if your must temperature was lower than the lowest level we recommend (22C/72F) the grape pack will still release all of its sugars in 24 hours. Poke the muslin sack holding your grapes once a day like it says in the instructions, and that will be more than enough to disperse all the good stuff into the must. I made two of my LE2012 Nebbiolo kits last week, one at 22C/75F and another at 18C/65F (don't try this at home: I am a trained professional who gets his experimental kits for free) and I used a very sensitive refractometer to measure the sugar content in the centre of the pack, and while the warm one went down in less than four hours (probably quicker, but I got distracted and didn't check it until I was leaving the office for home) even the cold one gave up all the good stuff by the third day, with plenty of time left for the yeast to work on it. 

I'd like to thank my stunt-double for doing this picture--thanks Ryan Gosling!

To recap, other than egg on my face for not getting my stuff together and getting the instructions right the first time, no worries about the wine: it's going to be great. If the preliminary taste I took at racking, even before I added the toasted oak cubes for the post-fermentation hit of tannin and structure is any guide, this is going to be one of the best Limited Edition red wines we've ever done. It's exactly the right colour and hue (deep, deep ruby with garnet highlights, pure Nebbiolo fruit, firm-but-not-swingeing tannin and a bright acidity and pleasant red-fruit aroma. I am really glad I did two of this one because I'm going to age it out for a decade or so to watch it evolve (the joys of a giant cellar). I'll try my first bottle in November, so I can talk about the grapeskin experience during the LE2013 events, but my bet is that in about 18 months it will show pretty well and at three to five years it's going to rock out. 

Okay, back to your regularly scheduled blogs not about wine kits. Whew! 

Canada Where Wine Comes to You! http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/04/canada-where-wine-comes-to-you http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/04/canada-where-wine-comes-to-youhttp://www.timswineblog.com/2013/04/canada-where-wine-comes-to-you#commentsMon, 01 Apr 2013 00:00:00 -0700Big Tim Sports CamperBlog Posts
This is going to be good!

This is without a doubt the most exciting announcement I’ve ever made in the 13 years I’ve been with Winexpert—and it’s something that’s going to change everything about the Consumer-Made wine industry, from coast to coast!

Let me explain: in Canada there are two ways to make your own wine. The first is obvious: you buy a wine kit and a few pieces of necessary equipment and in the comfort of your own home you go through the process of making up the batch, pitching the yeast, transferring the resulting wine, clearing and stabilising it, and finally bottling it so it can age until it’s ready to drink.

The second way, as done in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and in parts of Quebec is to use the service of an On-Premise operation. There you go in, purchase the kit, make it up (right there!) and pitch the yeast. At that point you get to leave, and over the course of one to two months the proprietor takes care of all of the racking, clarifying and filtering—you don’t have to worry about clean-up, setting up a wine room in your house, or buying equipment. All you have to do is pay a fee for the service and come back to bottle and remove your wine.

What’s not generally known is that consumer wine sales in On-Premise provinces are generally much higher than they are in take-home only markets. There is a certain amount of consumer hesitation about the process done at home, and it limits the number of people who are willing to try it on their own. Legislation to allow On-Premise in the other provinces is stalled with governments that are opposed to small business or against changing any regulations on principle.

But all that is about to change, because of a terrifically unlikely confluence of two laws, a quirk in interprovincial trade agreements, and the rise of Food Truck regulations. Let me explain.

Ontario and British Columbia were the first (and for a long time the only) provinces that allowed On-Premise because of a small grammatical error in the legislation covering home wine and beer making. Instead of saying, ‘Canadian residents can make any amount of wine or beer for their personal use on their own premise’, the act read, ‘on a premise’. Sharp folks in Ontario and BC noticed this slip and immediately opened storefronts and declared that their ‘premise’ was open for business. That’s the first law that we’re concerned about.

This was all well and good for them, but expansion has slowed down in recent years, despite a cadre of hard-working small business owners who helped grow the industry and promoted On-Premise winemaking for decades. What would really help things is a new business model—and the governments of various provinces have made this happen.

The second law has been in effect for many years, but was only noticed in the context of the consumer wine industry last year. It states that no-one may store or consume beverage alcohol in a vehicle, unless that vehicle is listed as their primary residence. This is to allow folks who own campers, 5th-wheel trailers and motorhomes to carry and to consume (when they’re not driving!) alcohol without violating the law.

Those are just the forms to fill out the forms . . . 

The interprovincial trade agreements, signed into law by Ontario and British Columbia, now allow for shipping of wine between provinces without tariffs or restrictions. Many Canadians may not know it, but before this agreement, if you bought a bottle of wine in Ontario and brought it into BC, you would be obligated to pay provincial duty and taxes, and there are very strict limits on the amounts you could bring. Other provinces copied the legislation as boiler-plate and approved it with no debate—after all, BC and Ontario are the biggest producers, with Quebec and Nova Scotia well behind, so it just made sense to go along.

Everything tastes better out of a truck!

Finally, in an attempt to catch up with consumer trends and changing demographics, all major Canadian cities have passed Food Truck regulations, governing the kind and types of vehicles that are allowed to convey and sell ready-to-consume foodstuffs, with licensing, inspections and details now well sorted out.

When you put it all together, here is what Winexpert will be rolling out this April: the Winexpert Mobile On-Premise™.

A majestic sight!

In this business model a standard 40-foot tractor-trailer unit is used, our Winexpert Authorised Retail Partner (all Winexpert Mobile On-Premise™ operations are independently owned) declares it first as his primary residence, and second, as his licensed place of business. It is outfitted with kit storage, shelves, power and water supply, sinks, hoses and racks for transporting the wine. Because the trucks fall under Food Truck legislation, and sell only prepackaged juices, the inspections and licensing are minimal. Because there is already extensive legislation regarding making wine ‘On-Premise’, they are perfectly legal. And because there are no longer inter-Provincial trade barriers against the transport of alcohol between provinces, they are coming to every neighbourhood in Canada in the next three months!

Truck shown in stationary mode--clamp racks and grapples come down when in motion
Just enough room for the operator to move the customer's wine onto the racks

The trailers are very carefully designed and laid out, with air suspension, heating and cooling and sprung shelving with safety restraints and impact bars—there is no worry about spills or broken carboys. There is enough room to make up each batch of wine and move it onto the shelves safely and easily

Our new facility can hold over 300 fermenting units at a time

Although onboard storage space is limited, which could hamper sales (Winexpert carries over 100 different types of wine kit to choose from!) that problem is eliminated because at the end of every run, the operator transfers the wines each customer makes to a fermenting trailer, separate from the primary business trailer, located at our state-of-the-art Winexpert trucking hub . The wines are finished there, fined, racked and filtered, at which point they are ready to go back to the customer.

Roomy and well-lit, it's a very welcoming space

When the wines are ready for bottling they are transferred back into the Winexpert Mobile On-Premise™ truck, driven to the consumer’s home, and steps outside their front door (or their place of business, or any location they choose!) they can fill and cork in the airy and spacious bottling compartment! It’s big enough for groups of up to four people to bottle at once, making short work of even multiple batches of wine.

Naturally Winexpert is very excited to be rolling out this amazing service to our friends and neighbours in the other provinces of Canada. We’re starting with a fleet of 130 trucks, based out of locations in St. Catherines Ontario and Port Coquitlam British Columbia, and we’re on track to add another 3-400 trucks by the end of 2015.

If you’d like to learn more about this amazing service, including when it will be available in your location, please contact your local Winexpert Retailer by April 1st, 2013.


Love Your Mobile On-Premise™ Wine


Shameless Commercial Appeal http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/03/shameless-commercial-appeal http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/03/shameless-commercial-appealhttp://www.timswineblog.com/2013/03/shameless-commercial-appeal#commentsSun, 24 Mar 2013 00:00:00 -0700Glengarry GlennTimBlog Posts
Good advice at any time, really

Oh my: for the second time in a year I'm going to talk about Winexpert business. This has absolutely no correlation to the fact that it's my annual review, year-end, and I'm trying to bump up sales for the Winexpert Retail store. 


In any case, it's a very rare opportunity for you to come in and get the sweetest deal ever on a wine kit. On March 28th we're doing our fiscal year-end inventory, so on the  26-27th we'll be holding a rare thing--a sale! 

It's kind of a dichotomy: you'd think being the factory store that we'd have the cheapest prices anywhere, right? Not so much: Winexpert has a business model that involves authorised retail partners that have defined trading areas, and there are several close-up in our neighbourhood. I know and love them all, so undercutting great, family-run businesses that serve their communities very well would be a pretty boneheaded thing to do. So, we sell things at the MSRP and rely on my charm and good looks to move product. 

No, that's not going to work at all . . . 

Which is why we're having a pre-inventory sale! 

We're getting a new box, so they must go!

Buy 1 Selection International 15 litre kit at the regular price and get a second l5 litre kit FREE. (Personal shopping only, no phone or mail orders, while supplies last, first come-first served, may not be combined with any other offers). Yes, you heard right: if you buy one of my remaining Selection International 15-litre kits, I'll give you the second one of your choice, FREE. Wowie! Got to clear those shelves, and I hate counting stuff, so in addition to that, we've got Selection Original kits with BLUE DOTS 15 % off regular pricing! Need some fast fast wine for summer? Chai Maison is a great value from the start, but right now if you buy a Chai Maison kit, we'll sell you the second kit HALF PRICE

It's unbelievable. How can you afford not to come down and give me money? 

Keep in mind we'll be closed on the 28th for inventory, and on the 29th for the statutory holiday on Good Friday. 

We now return you to the regularly scheduled grumpy blogging and ludicrous opinions you've come to expect. Thanks for you attention. 

Customer Shaming http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/03/customer-shaming http://www.timswineblog.com/2013/03/customer-shaminghttp://www.timswineblog.com/2013/03/customer-shaming#commentsFri, 15 Mar 2013 00:00:00 -0700Big Angry TimBlog Posts
Yeah, that's how it works. 

One of my favorite newspapers, the New York Post, published an article this March about rude bartenders in the city, Take This Drink and Shove It, detailing some very offensive interactions between customers and the members of the hospitality industry they encountered. While hedging their criticism by noting that there are plenty of good bars that don't intentionally insult and degrade customers, they gave some examples that are eye-popping in their unmannerly conduct. 

One spot in particular, Mayahuel has a charming bartender who declared, 

“I don’t carry vodka or light beer because they teach morons to like things that have no taste. I don’t carry Coca-Cola either. It ruins palettes. People should know where they are going and what they are doing. When somebody walks into a bar and says that he wants a Long Island iced tea, what he’s basically saying is, ‘Put as much s - - t into a glass as possible, so I can get f - - ked-up.’ They are saying that they don’t care about taste.”

Well, isn't that a relief, knowing that there is an ultimate arbiter of taste in this universe, and that he lives in the centre of his own little world? Potty mouth aside, what's he really saying here? Do people who like sweet or strong drinks have less of a place in the beverage-service world? Are patrons of a bar merely supplicants at the font of wisdom to be handed down from on high? 

In the article Jim Meehan, an author and mixologist, puts his finger on the issue: 

Part of the problem, Meehan says, is that some mixologists still see themselves as principled rebels going against the grain of the vodka-soda guzzling masses.

Everyone loves the story of a rebel, but the rebel himself? Not so much. Rebels are high-maintenance, tend to prima-donna-ism and acts that border on anti-social and can spill over and affect people who are innocent of ill motives, most of whom merely occupy the system that offends the rebels so much.

Another customer described their experience, 

“The bartender chastised me for ordering a mainstream gin, and then he sold me something that I had never even heard of,” recalls Weil, adding, “The whole thing was a degrading experience and makes me never want to go back there again.”

Suddenly he looks like a much better person

I initially wondered if this was a caricature of a New York stereotype, the shopkeeper who hates you and bullies you, but you have no choice except to purchase his goods--much like the Soup Nazi character from Seinfeld. I was in a place in New York last year, Katz's Deli, where if you didn't know what you wanted when you got to the head of the queue they chided you for not knowing protocol. But that kind of interaction really relies on people getting the joke, being on the inside, being included. These chaps with the chips on their shoulders seem determined to divide people into two groups, those worthy of their attention, and those who are not.

And that is a darned shame. There is no right or wrong way to enjoy the hedonic pleasures of a good beverage, and the only one who is an arbiter of your taste is you. I've had the opportunity to drink some terrifically high-end wines in my time. 

If I had those today, I could sell them and take a year off work. But I'd still just drink them instead.

Does that mean I think people who drink Two-Buck Chuck or box wine are unworthy of attention? Hardly. I've said it many times: a good wine is one that tastes good to you, and there is no other criteria. My beverage's house contains many mansions, and all are welcome. The same goes for any other alcoholic drink. I like single-malt scotch, and generally don't touch vodka--in fact, I can't recall having had any vodka since I was a teenager. But that doesn't mean people who enjoy it are lesser beings than I am, just different.

And that's okay. Really. I might not enjoy light beer, but there's no way on earth I'm going to get my hate on for you if you order one at my local--there are lots more interesting things to tussle over than what you drink. And just because I take ten minutes to make my favorite Martini, one that requires many steps and attention to detail, I'm not going to mock you for liking rum and coke--forcing you to drink something you don't like to conform to my ideals is the worst sort of normative, cultural-imperialist snobbery I can think of. 

I'm beginning to wonder now that if this isn't part of trendy types attempting to justify their interest in esoteric or fussy attention to booze in the face of an 'Emperor Has No Clothes' situation--if you make a cocktail that requires a two-month trip to the Amazon to gather ingredients, and can only be made in the correct phase of the moon at the right barometric pressure and stage of the tides, and it winds up not tasting very good, you'd really need to keep the pressure on to cover up your huge investment in your own mythos. 

Bartender, I'll have a glass full of whatever is in the bottom of your refrigerator

I recall going to an extremely trendy cocktail bar in San Francisco a couple of years ago. I'd been told a number of times that a cocktail aficionado like myself had to go there and try the drinks. When I got there I couldn't seem to order what I wanted--the bartender was selectively deaf to my desire for a Perfect Manhattan. Instead he bullheadedly directed me to order off of his cocktail 'menu', itself a piece of ephemeral art laser-etched onto organic, post-consumer recycled paper made locally. I tried three different drinks, and each of them was elaborate, over-sweet, over-strong, and over-wrought with weird combinations and offbeat garnishes (culantro in a cucumber-fennel 'mojito'? Tasted like organic window cleaner) that made me want a shot of Thunderbird or Ripple. Yet the place was packed with people. As I watched them I noticed that many patrons had a glass of (locally sourced, cruelty-free) mineral water with their drink, and with every sip they quickly gulped water immediately after, so the taste wouldn't catch up with them. 

Not that I'm criticising their drink choices: they're welcome to drink whatever makes them happy, and while I think they'd be better off with a simple, well-made drink that showcased the flavour of the alcohol and the mix, I'm not the decider. And much more importantly than that, neither is the person who is serving them drinks, because of that word, serve. 

I like to develop a relationship with my bartender. They're not therapists or dispensers of booze, they're service professionals who have a job to do. When they do it well, getting drinks right, making me feel welcome and that my business is appreciated, I tell anyone who is interested about what a great place the bar is. But a bar is a storefront that has alcohol and seats, and cannot be intrinsically wonderful (despite good architecture or other such features). It's the people who make it what it is, and good people don't judge you for harmless affectations, like your choice of cocktail, they accept you for who you are and encourage you to be that person comfortably, in a pleasant environment. 

One more thing: remember to tip your bartender. How much depends on the place, but a buck a drink is not too much, and if you order something complex and difficult to make during a rush, tip really hard--a pousse cafe when the barkeep has thirty beers to pour and six different margaritas to make requires a lot of effort to get right. And remember not to drink in places that don't make you feel welcome. Life is too short, and you have too little liver capacity to waste it on someone else' idea of what's right for you.