Thursday, March 31, 2011

What Makes a Wine Worth $50.00 (or More)?

In today's Blog, we're going to try and answer that age old question..."Why is any bottle of wine worth $50.00 or more"? Let's head into the Wine Cave and 'mull' (no pun intended) this one around.
Ok, I think that I can offer some answers, but I'll have to answer it in my own way.
Many years ago, we traveled the highways and byways of Florida looking for those pioneer grape growers. No, not those well known and modern wineries of today. We were looking for the unsung heros. Those people who actually grew their own grapes and handcrafted their own wines. After much searching, we finally found this illusive, but profoundly special group of..."wine masters". They were located off the main highways and mostly in the backwoods of Florida. They were never quoted by any wine publication, nor was their advise ever sought by any wine expert. They had lived their entire lives mostly under the scope of the wine world. They had lived their lives, grown their grapes (mostly muscadines) and made their fabulous wines with unlimited measures of love and passion. These were the 'True' wine masters!
There was one gentleman that has always stood out in my mind and has been our inspiration. When we met him, he was "87 years old". He had been growing his muscadine grapes on his land for his entire life...since he was 21 years old! His single goal was to create the finest wines that he could and to see just how long and how well that they would age. On his property, he had converted an old 'refrigerated reefer trailer' to store his wines. His 'refrigerated reefer trailer' was covered by a pole type barn. Nothing fancy, but it worked just fine. With him as our guide, we were priviliged to have been granted permission to enter this secret sanctum. There were wooden, handcrafted shelves around all the walls. On these wooden shelves were glass and ceramic containers of all shapes and types. There were "glass mason jars, ceramic cider jugs, glass mayonnaise jars, glass carboys and many other assorted glass containers (no oak barrels)! To an uninformed outsider, this would have seemed like utter chaos. To him, everything was perfect order. Each container had hand written notes attached. These notes told the story of his life! Included, was the date that the wine was created, type of muscadine grape and how it looked and tasted.
Have you ever been offered a glass of "50 year Florida Muscadine (Noble) Red Wine"? Well, we have and its..."To Die For"!! As expected, the color had lightened over the years, but the taste, flavor and bouquet was 'warm, mellow and superb'! We were unable to suppress our joy and amazement and happily told him so!
After we returned from our 'cloud 9', we asked him if he would share, with us, his secret for creating such fantastic wine. He agreed, and even included his secret ingredient.
We happily share his recipe, below:
#1 Use Only the Grapes that you personally Grow (this keeps you in tune with the vines & grapes)
#2 Pick Only the Ripest Grapes (by hand, of course)
#3 "NEVER" Filter your wine (you want to retain the 'taste, flavor & bouquet of the grape)
#4 Age your Wine(never less than a Year. It will get better with age)
#5 "NEVER" mix or Blend your Grapes(You want to create only a pure wine product)
#6 Use Only Glass to age your wine( glass doesn't add or subtract anything to/from your wine)
Lastly (the secret ingredient):
#7 A part of your self must be in every bottle of wine that you make!
So, now, that I've taken you on this round about journey, I think that I'm ready to answer that age old question..."Why is a Bottle of Wine Worth $50.00 or more"?
If you ever find a wine that is made the way that this 87 year old gentleman, from Florida, made his wine, you should feel free to pay...$50.00 a bottle. If you ever find a wine that is made the way that this 87 year old gentleman, from Florida, made his wine's 50 years him anything he's PRICELESS!!

'Salute and Happy Days' 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Being "GREEN" is NOT about Selling Stuff!

With this Blog, we're going to tackle a subject that is dear to our hearts..."the Commercialization of the GREEN movement"!
Being GREEN is NOT about selling anything, it's all about...'Saving'!
Being GREEN has been effectively co-opted by many large and multinational corporations. It is time that WE understand what's going on and start voting with our dollars. Reducing the size of a plastic water bottle cap does not make the plastic bottle any less detrimental to our shared environment. If we look at the huge waste of fossil fuels in creating the plastic bottle and the plastic packaging and factor in the cost of oil extraction, manufacturing, warehousing, transportation and disposal/recycling, the Green color fades away. Any time that you see a package that touts its GREEN nature, you should be wary of a sales pitch. A truly GREEN business conducts its business in a "Silent" GREEN way. No notoriety is sought or expected. Their motivation is subtle and sincere.
We at Bunker Hill Vineyard and Winery, are truly, a "GREEN environmentally responsible vineyard winery. Our motivation is to operate our vineyard/winery in a way that enables us to minimize our carbon footprint and to work with mother nature and the environment. Our fabulous wines are our reward for our faith and commitment to Living Green.
At BHV every GREEN step that we have taken has been done with NO expectation of any rewards or accolades. We have done them, solely, because...'it's the right thing to do'!
Before the first vine was planted or wild grape harvested, we had already decided to locally source 100% of our wine bottles. Every wine bottle that we use was/is 'Saved' from certain disposal in our local landfill. We clean and sanitize every reused/recycled wine bottle 'By Hand'. The use of fossil fueled electricity is used only out of absolute necessity. If we don't need to use it, we don't.

We encourage All of our customers to return their used wine bottles to us so they can be reused and recycled. Because we use only Natural Corks (not plastic corks) and seal our wine bottles with sealing wax (not plastic or aluminum foils) we, also, ask that these be returned to us for recycling and/or reuse.
All our used wine boxes are inverted and recycled/reused. Sometimes it becomes necessary to irrigate our vineyard. We only use water that is collected in our cistern (no water is pumped out of the earth) and distribute it to our vines using the current energy of the sun via 'Solar Panels' (no energy from the power grid). Our Wine processing and Storage buildings were selected because they are made from steel (U.S.A.). At the end of their lifespan in 50~60 years, they can be recycled. As a side note, we even used the pallets that our buildings were shipped on to support our 16' processing and wine sampling table.
Unlike most wineries, we use only glass carboys to age our wines. Because we create only a pure wine product (not mixed or blended) glass is the perfect choice. As you know, glass is 100% reusable (it will last forever) and is inert (it neither adds nor subtracts anything from our pure wine product).
There are many more things that we do that supports our Green commitment. This should, however, give you an idea of who we are and why we do things in a Green way. None of our wine packaging attempts to compromise or take advantage of our Green values. Being Green should spring from the heart. Being Green is about saving and preserving our environment for future generations to come. It is Not about selling stuff for all the wrong reasons.
Today, there are businesses that are genuinely Green at heart. They have seen the earth being spoiled and exploited and are dedicated to making a change. They are committed and concerned. Many are local and in your backyard. Seek them out and support them with your dollars. Share their story with the world! Please remember, change never starts at the top, it begins at the bottom. It begins with...You and Me"!
 'Salute and Happy Days'

Saturday, March 26, 2011

We Will Only Pass This Way But Once!

Today's Blog is going to be a little different. We're not going to go into the Wine Cave. We're going to sit outside on the concrete bench and relish the warm sunshine and talk about 'Roads'.  You know, there are all kinds of roads. There are concrete roads, asphalt roads, shell roads and dirt roads. There are long roads and short roads and narrow roads. Today, however, we're going to talk about a different kind of road. Our road has a definite beginning, but an 'uncertain' ending. Just like all those roads, above, our road has its share of potholes and detours. There are plenty of cross-roads and, sometimes, it's not very well marked or lit. As those other roads, we share our road with many different people. Our road is paved with "mistakes, good intentions, trials, tribulations, good deeds, hopes, failed dreams, heartache, passion, love and countless other pavers". It is our individual..."Road of Life"!
When we're near the beginning of our Road of Life, it seems that our road goes on forever. All that matters is what makes us happy and prosperous. As we move further along our Road of Life, we slowly become aware that there are countless other roads that parallel, intersect or diverge from our road. As we near its end, we tend to stop and ponder our Road of Life. Was it a good road? Was it a bad road? Is it too late to make repairs? Today, we're going to talk about making repairs to our Road of Life.
If we've treated each other badly, let's shake hands and apologize. If we have been thoughtless, let's become thoughtful of each other's feelings. If we have been dishonest with each other, let's pledge to always be honest and above board. If we have ignored those souls with less fortune, let's reach out our helping hand. If we have frowned too often, let's smile much more. If we have been an island unto ourselves, let's become a river for all mankind.
We must remember that we cannot go back over any part of our Road of Life. The part that we have already walked will always remain in our past. Our Road of Life could end at any time. Although "We Will Only Pass This Way But Once", it is 'Never' too late to make repairs.
I'm glad that the sun is shining. I've got a few repairs to make. How about you?

'Salute and Happy Days'

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"Certified Florida Farm Winery"...Does the Florida Legislature Need to Update the Rules?

By far, the number one wine producing State in the U.S.A. is California. Close to 1 million people are employed directly by the California wine industry. Sales of California wines are somewhere in the 30 Billion dollar range. California has worked hard to build their wine industry and to position their State as a "Premier" Wine producing State. The California State Legislature and the people of California have consistently, throughout the years, supported the growth and prosperity of their vineyards and wineries. They have been able to compete successfully on the the World stage, in part, due to this hometown support.
Florida, however, has not earned a reputation as a "Premier" Wine producing State, even though Florida is the "Third" largest Wine Consuming State in the nation! Floridians should ask the question...WHY? Currently, Florida is suffering from one of the highest unemployment rates in the country...12% unemployment. A thriving wine industry in Florida could help put many Floridians back to work!
A cursory comparison between the two states, California and Florida, might be helpful. Both California and Florida grow many of the same crops, due to similar growing conditions. Just consider..."Oranges, Tomatoes, many Truck Crops, etc.". Grapes, however, are not even on the scope of most people. Does this mean that Florida doesn't have the ability to produce "World Class" wines?...Absolutely...NOT!
The Florida Legislature has been collecting taxes from wine sales for decades. Most of these taxes have been directed towards grape research and development at our major Florida universities. Some wonderful research has been done and our grape knowledge has been greatly enhanced. The fact still remains, however, that Florida is "NOT" recognized as a "Premier" Wine producing State! So, where do we go from here?
First, let's take a look at the rule book titled the..."Certified Florida Farm Winery" written, years ago, by the Florida Legislature.
For your convenience, I've copied it, below:

599.004 Florida Farm Winery Program; registration; logo; fees.--
(1) The Florida Farm Winery Program is established within the Department of Agriculture and
Consumer Services. Under this program, a winery may qualify as a tourist attraction only if it is
registered with and certified by the department as a Florida Farm Winery. A winery may not
claim to be certified unless it has received written approval from the department.
(a) To qualify as a certified Florida Farm Winery, a winery shall meet the following standards:
1. Produce or sell less than 250,000 gallons of wine annually.
2. Maintain a minimum of 10 acres of owned or managed vineyards in Florida.
3. Be open to the public for tours, tastings, and sales at least 30 hours each week.
4. Make annual application to the department for recognition as a Florida Farm Winery, on
forms provided by the department.
5. Pay an annual application and registration fee of $100.
(b) To maintain certification and recognition as a Florida Farm Winery, a winery must comply
with the qualifications provided in this section. The Commissioner of Agriculture is authorized
to officially recognize a certified Florida Farm Winery as a state tourist attraction.
(2)(a) The department, in coordination with the Viticulture Advisory Council, shall develop and
designate by rule a Florida Farm Winery logo, emblem, and directional sign to guide the public
to certified Florida Farm Winery tourist attractions. The logo and emblem of certified Florida
Farm Winery signs shall be uniform.
(b) Upon the request of a certified Florida Farm Winery, the Department of Transportation shall
acquire and place Florida Farm Winery logo, emblem, and directional signs on the rights-of-way
of interstate highways and primary and secondary roads. All costs for placing each sign shall be
paid by the certified Florida Farm Winery requesting the sign. However, the cost of placing a
sign shall not exceed $250 and the annual permit fee shall not exceed $50.
(c) Each certified Florida Farm Winery shall pay to the Department of Agriculture and
Consumer Services a licensing fee of $10 each year for each Florida Farm Winery logo, emblem,
and directional sign in place.
(3) All fees collected, except as otherwise provided by this section, shall be deposited into the
Viticulture Trust Fund and used to develop consumer information on the native characteristics
and proper use of wines.

Please note that I've highlighted #2 in red. This is the single rule that has done the most to prevent the growth of the Farm Wineries in Florida!
Florida wineries can come in all kinds of shapes (check out our own "Bunker Hill Vineyard & Winery" ). Under the current rules, only grape wineries are recognized as Florida Farm Wineries and only those grape wineries with neatly plowed and cultivated rows. Any winery that produces wines from "fruits & vegetables" is discriminated against, as are those wineries that produce wines from their wild and freely growing grapes, old growth citrus and/or elderberries.
Here's the real killer. There is "NO" requirement that the current Florida Farm Wineries grow their own grapes or even produce their wines from "Only" Florida grown grapes. Many are "importing" juices from California and other places. This has nothing to do with promoting Florida grapes, Florida grape growing or growing the Florida wine industry. Their only requirement is that they plow up 10 acres and plant some grapes. Those "Other" wineries (check out our "Bunker Hill Vineyard & Winery" ) are producing their grape wines "Only" from Florida grapes that they grow or harvest from their entire 23 acres. Yet, they cannot even apply for certification as a Florida Farm Winery. In the case of "Bunker Hill Vineyard & Winery", we are a 'Green' environmentally responsible winery. We recycle 100% of our wine bottles, promote Florida wines, provide wine education and produce all of our wines in harmony with the Earth and Mother Nature. The backs of all our wine labels proudly display the "From Florida Logo"! Even the U.S.D.A. has recognized our uniqueness by including us in their 2011 Spring Soil & Conservation tours.
Yet, today, the old and obsolete rules still prevail.
To enable Florida to become a "Premier" wine producing State, every antiquated obstacle must be removed. The Florida Legislature must update the rule book to reflect the changes that have occurred in wine production in Florida. Producing Florida wines in a "Green" and sustainable way should not only be recognized, but encouraged! Those Florida wineries that produce wines from Florida grown Fruits and Vegetables should be welcomed into the Certified Florida Farm Wineries program with opened arms. Arbitrary rules regarding planted acreage should no longer be used to exclude any Florida winery.
Everything that we do should be about transforming Florida into a "Premier" wine producing State and putting our fellow Floridians back to work!

Salute & Happy Days!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Wine Not Sweet Enough?..Add Some "SUGAR"!

File this blog under "Empowerment"! Another wine myth is about to come tumbling down, so lets head to the Wine Cave and have a frank discussion about the relationship between wine and sugar.
The first question that we have to ask is, what's the difference between "Dry, Medium Dry, Medium Sweet and Sweet wines? Firstly, the term 'Dry' simply means the 'absence' of sugar. A wine that the winemaker calls dry, should contain ZERO sugar. If it was fermented properly, the wine yeast would have consumed 'all' the carbohydrates (sugars) and left the winemaker with a wine devoid of any sugars. Today, unfortunately, some mass produced wines contain "residual" amounts of sugars. If there's any doubt in your mind, ask them. The difference between the Dry wine and the Medium Dry, Medium Sweet and Sweet wines is (you guessed it)..."Sugar'! At some point, after the initial fermentation, the winemaker will "ADD" a set amount of 'Sugar' to his wine to create the other three wines.
Now, here comes the part that I like best...tearing down wine myths! From this day forward, you are "Empowered" to add SUGAR to your wine! If your wine's not quite sweet enough, sweeten it to your taste. Don't listen to any of those, so called, wine experts when they tell you that you can't do that! It's NOT about's about YOU! Sweetening wine is exactly like adding sugar to coffee, tea, etc. Every persons taste buds are special and unique. If the winemaker can add one lump of sugar and you need two...don't ask for his permission...just do it!!
Salute & Happy Days!!
Questions, comments or suggested topics are always welcome!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sparkling Wine...NOT just for Special Occasions!

The other day, I was having a very pleasant conversation with a middle aged and professional lady about her favorite wines. When I asked her about Sparkling Wine, she responded that she only drinks Sparkling Wine on special occasions (weddings, graduations, holidays, etc.). When I asked her why, she responded that, well..."that's what I was always told". When I asked her if she liked Sparkling Wine, she responded, "yes,  but only the sweet kind, not the dry". Her honest and sincere responses inspired me to write this blog.
It occured to me that, probably, there were many other people that thought about Sparkling Wine in exactly the same way. So, if you are thirsting for some knowledge on Sparkling Wine, lend me your ear. I promise you a dose of education and empowerment.
To begin, a "True" Sparkling Wine can "Only" be made "Dry". A 'Sweet" Sparkling Wine is a fake! Here's why. To create a "True" Sparkling Wine, it must be fermented "Twice". First, it must go through the primary fermentation, just like any other wine, then, it "must" be fermented the second time..."in the bottle"! The winemaker, will add a small amount of sugar and yeast to the wine in the bottle and seal the bottle. By sealing the bottle, he insures that the natural carbonation ( carbon dioxide) created by the yeast eating the sugar, will be trapped in the bottle. You guessed it, a sweet (fake) Sparkling Wine could Not have had any yeast added, because the yeast would have eaten the sugar. That winemaker creating the 'fake' Sparkling Wine simply used the dry wine from the primary fermentation and added sugar to it and pumped it up with CO2 from a pressurized CO2 tank. His process is quick and cheap and totally fake!
That "True" Sparkling Wine will read 'FERMENTED IN THIS BOTTLE' somewhere on the label. If that's missing...Don't Buy it!
Now that we understand that a 'True' Sparkling Wine can 'Only' be made in a "Dry (not sweet)" state, here's how you can create your perfect glass of 'Sweet' Sparkling Wine. Take a teaspoon and add sugar to taste! Yep, that's all there is to it!
Finally, should Sparkling Wine only be enjoyed on special occasions? Nope, no way, nodda!! You should feel free to enjoy your favorite Sparkling Wine as freely and as often as you like. Sparkling Wine is always a special wine drink! If you wish, drink it every day! Salute and Happy Days!!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Why is Your Wine Filtered?

Does anyone know why most commercially produced wines are 'Filtered'? I've looked over countless wine labels, fronts and backs and from all over the world and not one tells me why their wine is filtered. Is it a secret? Are they hoping that no one will ask? Not one label suggests that I should buy their wine because it's filtered. OK, I understand that the TTB doesn't require them to tell me, but that's a flimsy excuse. They talk about other unintelligent things like 'Racy Acidity' and 'Hints of Floral', so why their wine is filtered isn't an unreasonable question. When a wine maker creates an "Unfiltered Wine", he puts it right on the label for all the world to see. Could it be that the 'Filtered' wine isn't as great as it should be? Is that why they add all those 'hints & tastes & whiffs & bells & whistles' to their wines?? Are they trying to make a less than stellar wine product..palatable?
You are Empowered to ask your wine maker 'If' his wines are 'Filtered' and 'If' they are filtered, 'Why' doesn't he tell you on his label. Depending on his answer, you'll be in a much better position to vote with your wine dollars.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"Unfiltered Wine" the Wine of Yesterday, Today!

For this post, we're going to go into the 'Wine Cave', shut and lock the large steel doors behind us and hop on board our 'wine time machine'. We're going on a secret mission to discover how the finest wines in the world were made long before the corporate wine machines took over. Before we start our mission, we must be clear on our purpose. We must promise to keep an open mind, share our findings with as many people as possible and to add as much as possible to our wine knowledge and sense of 'empowerment'. OK, ready? Set the year to 1956, turn the key to 'back in time', pull back the lever and we're off to my childhood home. We're going there to watch a segment of one the most popular TV shows of the day...the "I Love Lucy Show (the Grape Stomping episode)". Oh, by the way, as we travel, no one can see us...we're invisible. Ah, there it is, that old Raytheon B&W TV. Look what's on, there's Lucy and  Ethel stomping around in a large vat of grapes. They're in Italy. There's lots of laughter as Lucy and Ethel fall into and get covered in grape juice. It's easy to see why this show was so popular. Comedy like this is timeless.
 So, what's the purpose of this lighthearted diversion? Well, quite simply, to show us that wine should be fun, exciting, memorable and made the way that Lucy and Ethel were making it. You say, what! What do you mean the way that they were making it? What I mean is, great wine should be created in a handcrafted and hands-on fashion. For hundreds of years, wine was made exactly as Lucy and Ethel were making it. To get at the vitality of the grape, all manner of means were utilized, including crushing the grapes with their bare feet. By our standards of today, creating these wines of yesterday took a lot of work. To them, however, it was simply a full measure of 'Love and Passion'. That my friends is what's missing in most wine making today. Oh yes, there are still wine makers in Italy making wines with this same love and passion of yesterday. However, they are getting fewer with each passing year.
What I'm about to say next are, two words, that will change your life. So, please, write them down, etch them into your memory and cherish them forever. These two words are..."UNFILTERED WINE"!!
For, at least, the last 30~40 years most commercially produced wines have been...'Filtered, Blended, Mass Produced and created with Corporate Profit Motives (not Love & Passion) as the incentive. The wine created from the grapes that Lucy and Ethel were stomping in that vat, would have been an "UNFILTERED WINE. It would have been naturally gravity filtered for a very long time, perhaps years. That wine of yesterday would have retained the 'Flavor, Taste and Bouquet' of the grape. Unlike the commercially filtered wines of today, there was no need to add a bunch of weird external flavors and tastes to their wine. Its taste would have stood on its own two feet.
From now on, our goal will be to seek out and relish only 'Unfiltered Wines'. It's not going to be easy. Most of these wine artisans have disappeared. You'll know when you've found a precious gem when your taste buds do hand springs. If you find a wine maker that answers 'Yes' to the following questions, give him/her all your business forever & ever and get all your friends (and strangers too) to carry their banner. Firstly, is the wine ' Unfiltered'? Second, is the wine fermented 'With the Skins' for the entire fermentation process? Third, is the wine 'Aged (in glass), at least, One Year' before bottling? Fourth, is the wine 'Unblended"? Lastly, and probably the highest bar to meet, do they grow 'All their Own Grapes'. Any wine maker that meets these standards should be considered...a 'National Treasure'!!
So, back to the future we go. With 1956 just a memory, we touch down in our own present, in our own 'Wine Cave'. Unlocking the Wine Cave door, we venture back out into the sunshine. This time, however, we're like a bird dog on a scent. We're out to rediscover the wines of yesterday. Those rarest of all wines! Those "UNFILTERED WINES" to die for!!