Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Celebrate National Wine Day This Weekend

Monday, May 25, is not only Memorial Day, it's National Wine Day, too.  Although the origins of the holiday are unclear, it's a perfect opportunity to enjoy a day set aside to celebrate wine!

Wine has been consumed throughout the world for centuries. The earliest known production of wine dates back to around 6000 BC.  The oldest known winery was discovered in a cave in the mountains of Armenia.
The earliest wine production in Europe, dates back 6,500 years ago, and was discovered at an archaeological site in northern Greece near Macedonia.

Wine was very common in Ancient Greece and Rome, playing an important part in religion and was known as the "Juice of the Gods.”

For the Greeks, Dionysus was the god of wine and revelry.  Dionysus was worshiped from c. 1500 – 1100 BC.  His festivals were the reason for the development of Greek theatre.

Bacchus was the god of wine for the Romans.  He reigned over the grape harvest, winemaking, and the resulting frenzied festivals that occurred.  Bacchus was believed to be a divine being who could communicate with both the living and the dead.
Apparently the Romans also knew how to bottle wine.  A 1,650 year old bottle of wine, the oldest one ever to be discovered, was found in 1867 during a dig in Speyer, Germany. It was located inside a Roman stone sarcophagus. The bottle has been on display at Germany’s History Museum of the Pfalz for over one hundred years.

During this early ‘wine period,’ winemaking technology improved tremendously in the ancient world.  The wine press underwent great changes, and barrels were developed for storing and shipping wines.

Even in Egypt, wine played an important part in daily ceremonial life.

By the Middle Ages, wine was the common drink for all social classes.  It was used for the celebration of Catholic Mass, with the Benedictine Monks producing most of the wine for this purpose.  Housewives made their own wines and served them at every meal.  Wine was watered down with 4 parts water to one part wine for everyday use.

Throughout history, Europe has always been known as the premier wine region.  In fact, American wines were looked down upon throughout the world until 39 years ago when two American wines won acclaim during the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976.
As you remember the reason for Memorial Day, and celebrate the beginning of summer, plan to lift a glass and celebrate National Wine Day, too!
~ Joy

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

6 Drinking Phrases and What They Mean

Wine has been with us for centuries so it stands to reason that sayings or phrases involving wine would crop up in our vocabulary. Here are six well known drinking phrases, how they came about, and what they mean.

1) Boozing It Up
The word booze (bouse) has been around since medieval times. The term means to drink a lot of alcohol, especially whiskey or other high alcohol spirits. Some one who is said to be “boozing it up” is drinking in excess. In Australia, a drinking binge is known as a boozeroo.

Pope Clement VI

2) Drunk as a Pope
This phrase is based on the conduct of Pope Clement VI who was selected to serve as Pope at the conclave of 1342. The Pope quickly became well known for his lavish lifestyle, and his inability to curb his drinking. When he died in 1352, the Pope’s reputation was of "a fine gentleman, a prince munificent to profusion, a patron of the arts and learning, but no saint."

3) Off the Wagon
To fall "off the wagon" means to resume drinking after having stopped. The origins of the word actually do relate to wagons – water wagons. At the turn of the 20th century, abstinence was sweeping the country and many men had “taken the pledge” (not to drink.) Instead, they said they were on the water wagon, or water cart; meaning they were drinking water not liquor. If someone began drinking again it was said that he had fallen “off the wagon.

4) The Bitter End
Bottle Sediment
This phrase usually describes reaching the limit of a person’s abilities or efforts, but it also can reference wine. For thousands of years, vino was stored in clay vessels where the sour lees (a sediment made up of dead yeast and other particles) would eventually fall from the wine to the bottom of the container. When emptying the vat, these dregs could end up being poured into a cup, and someone could find themselves drinking “the bitter end.”

5) Three Sheets to the Wind
This is actually a sailing phrase referring to the chains or ropes that control the angle of a boat’s sails. If the sheets, or ropes were loose, the boat would become unsteady or tipsy. (The actual phrase was three sheets in the wind.) To be "three sheets to the wind" indicates someone who is extremely drunk and unsteady on their feet.

6) To Your Health
The custom of offering a toast before drinking can be traced back to ancient religious rites involving the Greeks and Romans who offered wine to their gods at feasting events. These customs evolved into today’s ritual of wishing your drinking partners a long life, or raising a glass “to your health.

So “Here’s mud in your eye,” “Here’s to you,” and “Cheers!”

~ Joy

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Mumm's The Word At The Derby

The Run for the Roses takes place this Saturday and this year, you’ll see more than mint juleps and Bourbon glasses being raised as a toast.

G.H. Mumm is the official Champagne sponsor for the 141st Kentucky Derby, which takes place May 2nd at Churchill Downs in Louisville.

As part of this partnership, G.H. Mumm will create the “G.H. Mumm Winner’s Circle beneath the iconic Twin Spires. This will include 20 private open-air, all-inclusive suites and another 600 temporary premium seats for Derby horse owners and their friends to use during the race. The $4.2 million construction was proposed after the Derby was criticized last year for not providing, what some horse owners thought were prime seats and views.

Before the race, a bottle of Mumm Cordon Rouge, the House’s signature champagne, will be sabered in the “G.H. Mumm Toast to the Kentucky Derby.”

By garnering the official status, G.H. Mumm will be a featured part of all victory celebrations and major events held at Churchill Downs throughout the year.

G.H. Mumm was started by three brothers in 1827 and is known as the leading international champagne house in France.

~ Joy

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Roll Out the (Reconditioned) Barrel For Earth Day

Today is Earth Day, the perfect time to share a “green” idea that has been embraced by the wine industry: giving barrels a second life.

New wine barrels will impart an oaky favor for 3 to 5 years. After that length of time, they become neutral which means the barrel does not provide much in the way of oak flavors.

Usually, once barrels become neutral, they are sold to dealers or artists to use for the creation of barrel crafts. But barrels can be re-conditioned to be used again in the industry for wine aging, storage and other uses. Most small to mid-sized wineries, along with home winemakers are interested in these environmentally (and budget) friendly options. Here are just a few companies that do this.

ReCoop Barrels, a company based in Sebastopol California, began in 1989 by offering to extend the life of wine barrels. The company has a patented process and equipment, which has been used to recondition over a quarter of a million barrels. Reconditioned barrels range in size from 60, 30, 20, 15 and 10 gallons in French oak, and 60 gallon barrels are also available in American or Eastern European oak. ReCoop also offers silicone bungs for sale.

Another re-cooperage firm is The Barrel Broker, located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The firm, which opened in 2009, works to resource white oak barrels, which have held wine, whiskey and bourbon. These barrels are reconditioned and offered for sale to wineries and distilleries. The company has over 300 French, American and Hungarian 60 and 70 gallon barrels in stock, and over 250 spirit barrels are also available.

Barrel Staves
Barrel Racks
But those barrels that are past the reconditioning phase are still useable in other ways.  Customers of The Barrel Broker can also purchase barrel bungs, inserts, lids, metal bands, staves and barrel racks. Other barrels past their prime are sold for use as rain barrels and planters.

Nelson Cooperage in New Zealand not only crafts new barrels, the company also repairs and reconditions older barrels, casks, vats and buckets. Port and spirits barrels are offered as display barrels; barrels that you can place your homemade wine or spirits in for personal use. Barrel alternatives are also offered and include wine barrel furniture, shelves, trays, bar furniture and barrels for historical displays.

And another company located “down under” is S.A. Cooperage in Hackham, Australia. They also make new barrels, but S.A. Cooperage takes used barrels, knocks them apart and re-machines them in order to extend the life of the cask. The company offers to re-manufacture barrels, which means that a barrel is downsized into a smaller capacity, which can then be re-seasoned and re-fired, although re-firing does not reproduce the original toast levels.

Oak Forest
These are just a few of the green alternatives for reconditioning and reusing wine barrels. These options provide the chance to prolong the life of well cared for barrels while saving oak forests and allowing boutique wineries and local wine makers a better chance to make quality wines: A real green win-win option.

Happy Earth Day!

~ Joy

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Celebrate World Malbec Day This Friday

This Friday, April 17th, is Malbec World Day (MWD) thanks to a bill that was passed on April 17, 1853 that brought about the foundation of a Quinta Normal and a School of Agriculture.  The bill led to the development of Argentina’s wine industry.

French agronomist Miguel Pouget went in search of a grape that would grow well in Argentina’s climate. He took several European vines back and set up an experimental vineyard. The Côt grapes flourished in the higher, drier climate of South America, and Malbec is now the country’s best-known varietal.

Malbec Grapes
Malbec was also an important grape in France until the killing frost of 1956. This frost killed off 75% of the Bordeaux region’s Malbec vines.  Some vines were replanted, but the grapes are now used mainly for blending with Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tannat. In France the Malbec grapes are more intense and tannic.

In Argentine, Malbec stands on its own and provides an intense, dark wine with plum and berry flavors. Argentina has over 76,000 acres (over 31 hectares) planted in Malbec. Eighty-six percent are located in Mendoza. Because of the high altitudes and favorable growing conditions, Malbec vineyards seldom have problems with molds, fungi or insects so pesticides are rarely used, making organic wines much easier to produce.

Besides Argentina, Malbec is also grown in New Zealand, Italy, South Africa, Spain, and various regions in the United States.  The grape is still grown in southern France but has decreased in popularity there since 2000.

Malbec wine makes up most of the total bottled wines sold in Argentina.  Over 90% of this wine is sold abroad with the U.S. buying almost 50% of the Malbec exported wine.

Young, unoaked Malbec wines should be consumed within a year.  Malbec wines that have been oaked for a few months may be kept for up to 2 to 3 years.  Well oak-aged robust Malbecs may be cellared for up to ten years. Malbec pairs well with beef, pork, goose, BBQ, lamb, and hard cheeses.

Wines of Argentina declared April 17th Malbec World Day.  The MWD celebration has gained worldwide attention and is celebrated in at least 30 cities around the globe, including New York, Toronto, and Washington in North America.  Other countries taking part include South America, the UK, Africa and China.

To learn more about MWD events, visit or 
And plan to raise a glass of Malbec this Friday, in celebration of Malbec World Day, and one tenacious grape.

~ Joy

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

5 Fantastic Glass (Bottle) Houses

You know the old adage, “People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones,” but have you ever wondered why someone would even build a glass house?

Bottle houses became popular in the early 1900, especially out in the western U.S. where wood was scarce. Many structures of the time were constructed using what items were at hand and that included beer and whiskey bottles.

Here are five great examples of some unique bottle houses.

1) Palace Oz, Chelyabinsk, Russia
Photo Valery Zvonarev
This is the house that Hamidullah Ilchibaev built – from champagne bottles: over 12,000 of them. It took 52-year-old Ilchibaev over three years to collect the empty bottles from local restaurants, the rest he purchased. He built the house by stacking the bottles as you would bricks, starting with the foundation and insulating between the bottles for added warmth. The windows are inset to accommodate the bottles width, but the inside the home looks like any other. Ilchibaev said that it cost five times less to build with bottles than with regular building materials.

Hamidullah Ilchibaev
Ilchibaev said he constructed the house as a tribute to his 18-year-old son who died tragically. Once completed, he gave the 1,000 square feet home to his eldest son and daughter-in-law for a wedding present. How fitting!

2) Tom Kelly’s Bottle House, Rhyolite, Nevada
Tom Kelly's Houses 1906
It was 1905 when Tom Kelly decided to build himself a house. Living in the Nevada desert ruled out building with wood; too expensive to have hauled in. Kelly was a simple man and he wanted a simple house so he collected over 50,000 beer and patent medicine bottles to construct his three room L-shaped home. With over four-dozen taverns in the town, Kelly had a ready supply of bottles to begin. It took about a year and a half to build, and when he was done he had spent around $2,500 for the interior wood and fixtures.

Tom Kelly's House Today
During the 1920s, the house was used in a Hollywood film, and from 1936 into the 1950s, it was operated as a tourist museum. In 1954 Tommy Thompson bought the little house and raised his family of eight there. Thompson left in the 1980s, and over the years the house fell into disrepair. In 2005, the foundation was stabilized, bottles were replaced and the house was repaired. No one currently lives there.

3) Doc Hope’s Bottle House, Hillsville, Virginia

John Hope was a pharmacist in Hillsville when he hired Friel Dalton to build a playhouse for his daughter made from bottles. Hope provided medicine bottles and Dalton collected wine bottles from local restaurants and bars.

Inside Doc Hope's House
It took Dalton about 3 months to construct the 15 foot by 25 foot house, but he built it in a different manner than most; he pointed the bottle out so that the walls were flush. Locals loved the house and nicknamed it “The House of A Thousand Headaches” in reference to the number of wine bottles used in the construction. The house still stands today and the town of Hopeville is interested in preserving the building.

The Castle-Like Front
4) Embalming Fluid House, Boswell, BC, Canada
Just across the Canadian border from Creston, Idaho stands a castle-like glass house built from embalming fluid bottles. Seriously! According to the builder, David H. Brown (who retired from the funeral business), he built it in order to "indulge a whim of a peculiar nature".  

A Death-Defying Side View
Built in 1952, the house was constructed in the shape of a three-leaf clover and is made up of over 500,000 empty embalming fluid bottles that Brown collected from fellow morticians. Inside, strips of wood and cedar boards form the walls. The two-story, 1,200 square foot house, boasts a living room with fireplace, kitchen, and master bedroom; upstairs is a second bedroom.

5) Les Maisons de Bouteilles (The Bottle Houses)
Prince Edward Island, Canada boasts not one, not two, but three bottle buildings, and all may be toured. In fact, this is the 35th season for the longest-standing tourism attraction on the island.

The Bottle House
The first structure to be constructed was a six gabled bottle house built in 1980 by 66 year old Édouard Arsenault. The house measures 20 feet by 14 feet and has three sections. It took approximately 12,000 bottles to build it using over 85 bags of cement to hold the 300 to 400 bottles per row in place.

The Tavern of Bottles
In 1982, Arsenault decided to put another 8,000 bottles to use by building a tavern. The hexagonal structure was originally used as the gift shop for the gabled house. In 1993, the structure was rebuilt because the harsh weather conditions on the island had taken a toll on the building.

Inside the Chapel
And for the pièce de résistance, Arsenault built a chapel with approximately 10,000 bottles. Inside, visitors will find an alter and pews made from bottles for quiet reflection. There is an amazing color display when the sun hits the bottles just right. Arsenault died in 1984 before he could continue his bottle village. Tours are available by contacting The Bottle Houses.

~ Joy