A weekend in Ashland

We left Friday morning (just the wife and I; Grandma had the kids for the weekend) and headed down to southern Oregon for a play and a getaway. The weather turned out great, and the trip was largely a winery tour, among other things; we visited four wineries and ended up buying just over a case of wine.

The last time we’d been to Ashland was nine years ago, before the kids were born. Compared to Bend over the past decade, few things in the area have changed; both Medford and Ashland have remained pretty stable, and even though there are signs of growth, much of it (particularly downtown Ashland) is as I remember it.

(Holy smokes, this post got long.)

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Chelsea Lane is closing

Just a quick note about Chelsea Lane, a nice little wine shop that used to be downtown but is now located at the factory outlet stores on south Highway 97: they’re closing! I don’t know when the last day will be, but right now they’re selling their wines at 30% off, and beer for 15% off. I picked up four normally-spendy beers there the other day.

Get down there while the getting’s good. It’s really too bad they’re closing; I don’t really know of any other wine shops in Bend (dedicated/exclusive wine shops—not just wineries or places that also sell wine), except maybe for Vino Mercato.

Elderberry Wine

Glass of homemade elderberry wineFollowing up yesterday’s Wine Stories post, today I opened up a bottle of the elderberry wine and tried it.

It’s not bad!

It’s much more like a sherry than anything else. The aroma is quite good, almost exactly like what I’d expect a good dessert sherry to smell like, with a strong hint of brandy. The flavor doesn’t live up to this, though; there are a bunch of different profiles going on in there: a sweet-ish sherry, some fusel alcohols, mild-but-tart fruit, a mead-like dry character (my wife suggested it reminded her of mead). They clash a bit, but all in all it turned out much better than I could have hoped.

Wine Stories

I occasionally dabble in making wine and thought it would be amusing to write down some notes about my homemade efforts. I’ll start with a disclaimer, though: I am not a wine connoisseur by any means. I have enough knowledge, as they say, to be dangerous. I do enjoy making it, however, even though it takes quite a bit longer than beer.

I have five bottles left of a batch of rhubarb wine that I made about five years ago and I’ve taken it upon myself to work on drinking those bottles up over the next few months as a sort of sideline contribution effort to the moving process. For a homemade fruit wine (an unconventional fruit at that) it’s not at all bad, and in fact won a second place ribbon at the Deschutes County Fair a few years back.

It’s best served very cold, and has a very dry and very neutral profile, surprisingly pleasant. Not astringent, not sour (as one might expect from a rhubarb wine). I have no illusions about its quality, however: it is very much a table wine and I wouldn’t open a bottle as a main attraction for guests, but would keep it on-hand for anyone interested in tasting it.

The very best wine I have ever made was my last batch, a Cabernet Sauvignon that I made for my wife from a kit. It turned out to be surprisingly high quality, despite my reservations about “kit wine.” This is a wine that I would serve to guests as the main wine, and have. The only complaint I can make against it is that it seems to turn astringent after being opened for a couple of days more quickly than a wine from a professional winery; I surmise that wineries must add more preservatives to their finished products.

I also have five bottles of an elderberry wine I made about a year before I made the rhubarb wine, but to tell the truth I have no idea what it’s like because I’m a bit afraid of it. What happened was I acquired about four, four-and-a-half pounds of fresh elderberries from my aunt and, following a general recipe in my winemaking book, decided that I would use all of those elderberries in a one gallon batch of wine. Four pounds of elderberries is a lot to put into a single gallon, but my reasoning was that I would be making an elderberry port wine, a dessert wine with higher alcohol content.

I let this wine ferment and age in glass for about a year before I got around to bottling it. When I finally bottled it (probably about the same time I bottled the rhubarb), I poured myself a small taster to see what had been happening to it over the course of the year. To my great surprise, it turned out to be the most astringent, puckering, strongly un-sweet example of a wine I had ever tasted. I nearly poured it out entirely; the only thing the kept me from doing it was the amount of effort and time I had put into it up to that point, and besides, what’s the harm in bottling up five extra measly bottles?

A little subsequent research into the use of elderberries uncovered the fact that elderberries, in normal proportions (no more than two pounds per gallon), make quite a harsh wine that takes quite a bit longer than a normal wine to age and mellow to a drinkable quality. D’oh! So I haven’t opened a single one of those five bottles in five years, largely because I don’t know how long I should wait to let this wine mellow, and if—if—it is going to mellow and turn into a decent wine, I’d hate to open one now as a crapshoot on the off chance it might be ready.

But you know what? I think I’ll open up a bottle tomorrow to see what it’s like. Crapshoot be damned. :-) I’ll blog the results, too.

San Francisco Trip, Day 2

Saturday the 12th in Frisco was the busy day; we took the Napa Valley Wine Train, which ate up about 8 hours.

It was a lot of fun. The tour bus that took us to Napa only had 3 other couples on it, so there were 8 of us total. The driver was a really good tour guide, named Roberto, with an accent that I couldn’t quite peg; I knew it wasn’t Spanish, so I had settled on Italian, but he ultimately revealed himself to be Portugese. On the way to Napa he detoured through Sonoma (he does that on weekends, because the train leaves later and there’s an extra couple of hours to do this kind of stuff. So take the Wine Train on Saturdays) and stopped at the Viansa Winery. We toured the Winery, tasted a lot of really good wine, and bought a few things. We ended up with 3 bottles of wine to take with us, and signed up for 4 months of their Tuscan Club. Very good detour.

The Wine Train itself was cool; I get a kick out of trains, seeming to me to be very retro and luxurious in a sort of pre-Depression American-decadence way, I don’t know. This train pretty much carves a straight line through Napa and back, covering about 3 hours, and you are served a very nice lunch with wine, dessert, etc. While you’re waiting for your meal (or after the meal; they do it in 2 shifts— we were the second shift), you can wander among the various cars, sit in a lounge car, view the scenery from an observation deck, taste wine, that sort of thing. Like I said, I get a kick out of riding a train, and I think it would be neat sometime to ride cross-country in one, just to do it.

Roberto drove us back to San Francisco, of course, and on the way back he took us up to a great vantage point overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge in the Golden Gate Recreation Area. Amazing view, only marred by the number of people already there, taking in the view themselves.

It’s such a charming city; I’d only been there once before, when I was 16, and we were simply passing through on a foggy day. It’s an area I’d consider living in, if I didn’t have other things going on right now that require staying put in Bend.

The rest of the day after we got back was spent doing some more shopping, unwinding, and having dinner in a nice little Italian place at the hotel, called Cafe Pescatore. I was pretty beat by the end of the day, and during dinner I noticed a funny phenomenon: the day spent riding a train and in a tour van had tricked out my inner ear so that it seemed like solid ground was still rocking like the train—phantom movements, as it were. The same occurence that happens when you’ve been out on a boat in the ocean for a long period and have trouble finding your “land legs” again. Very interesting.