My First Crush

*this post has been updated with wine terms (in bold) and more links

In my experience, there are people who are passionate about food and there are people who are passionate about wine. Sure, food people generally enjoy good wine (oh yes, how we do) and wine people generally enjoy good food, but there is a reason that people think of themselves as a “foodie,” or as my very own mother refers to herself, a “wineaux” (we do like to tease her this is actually a “wino” but she prefers the more noble spelling). As I imagine it, most people in these two groups either find themselves pouring over cookbooks and Gourmet magazine, or vintage charts and Wine Spectator (usually with a healthy dose of the opposite affliction thrown in) but not necessarily both (we would go broke buying all those different magazines and books anyhow!). Or, watch their eyes and their hands when they start describing the way an apple-quince crisp comes together - browned butter and cardamom offsetting the tart astringency of the quince - or describing the crisp, apple tones of a beautifully clean pinot gris. Or, perhaps, simply notice which they start talking to you about first...

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I am a self-described food junkie. In the past, as I read through my (ahem, many) food magazines when they came in, I generally glanced over the monthly wine selections and (shhhh...) skipped the wine articles entirely. It’s not that I don’t like wine (quite the opposite, I love to drink it), it’s just that given the time I have to read something (not very much time these days), I’ve been more interested in learning new cooking techniques, discovering new ingredients or browsing through new recipes for inspiration than learning about the hottest new wines - though I have always wanted to learn how to pair wine with food. Really, I think it stems from the fact that there is just not enough time (in my life anyhow) to learn all the nuances of both food and wine, so it’s been easiest to focus on one or the other. Do tell me if you disagree – if you feel you are well-versed in both, let me bow my head to you in reverence – because it's certainly impressive and something I would love to be!

All biases aside, food and wine do go hand-in-hand. They have much in common, both in the science behind them and the depth and complexities of taste and flavor and the balance (or as one wine friend pointed out, and perhaps farbetter put, the "harmony") between the components involved - they are, simply put, the yin and yang of what it means to truly experience a meal. Not being one to miss any kind of opportunity to delve my hands (literally) into anything remotely food or wine related, when I was offered the opportunity to become a “lab assistant” at a local winery here, I wasn’t about to pass it up. I had no idea what I was in for...a mix of familiar and not-so-familiar lab chemistry, a lot of fruit-loving insects (including earwigs and large spiders), a very healthy dose of good old-fashioned physical labor, and a better appreciation of what goes into making that stunningly beautiful and complex Oregon Pinot Noir that pairs flawlessly with wild-caught Oregon salmon or juicy, russet-colored bosc pears layered over soft mesclun greens (topped with toasted hazelnuts and perfectly pungent, grey/blue-studded Rogue River Blue cheese of course).

Better yet, I got an awakening of the rarest kind that only an experience such as this could garner...I found that I can spend several straight hours on my feet, seven days a week, with my pant legs and my shirt sleeves soaking wet, my hair up in a pony-tail (which I never, ever do in public), my hands brownish-purple and sticky and swollen, and sweating profusely as I “punch” down grape skins...and find myself falling in love with it. And now I’m suddenly feeling the urge to go dig out all those old food magazines - just to catch up on the wine articles... (Ha! I knew there was a reason to keep them!)

Crush,” as it’s called in the wine industry (amusingly called “The Industry” by those that buy, pour, make and sell wine), begins mid- to late-September in Oregon. This is the harvest season – when ripe (and sometimes if the weather is not ideal, not-so-ripe) grapes are harvested from their vines, de-stemmed, pressed if needed (mostly white wines – but I’ll tell you about that a bit later) and fermented to begin that age-old process of making the wines we love to drink. It’s an intense period of time with long hours in the fields, long hours cleaning, sterilizing and prepping equipment and tanks, and very little rest for the people who make this industry their lives. You’re suddenly dependent upon nature, which makes no compromises in the weather this time of year, and you’re trying to harness living organisms (yeast) and coax them into transforming grape juice from something sweet into something spectacular.

Do I know anything about wine? No (hell no, actually)...but I am learning. Feel free to join me as I chronicle my experience – trudging from my daytime laboratory research job, where I am attempting to sequence the genome of a tiny worm, to my nighttime job - learning the ins and outs of making wine in a small winery in Oregon. My fellow food-lovers beware: expect to see more posts here about food and wine experiences than actual recipes or cooking until Crush is over (mid- to late November, just in time to start planning my Thanksgiving recipes)...mostly because I simply just don’t have much time to cook. LB has rapidly become my “house-husband,” so perhaps I can eek out of him a guest recipe or two, and be on the lookout in November, because I am lucky enough to be joining two incredible women, Ilva and Joanna, in their quest for heart-healthy living for November’s Heart of the Matter, and I hope you’ll join me. I’ll still pepper in recipes and other things as I am able to, of course, but bear with me (and maybe we can learn together) as I enter this new world of wine...

Wine words:

Crush: a term used to describe the initial stages of winemaking, when the grapes are crushed to release juice; also used in The Industry (see defininition below) and at the winery, to describe the harvest season when all the grapes are coming in (however, "Harvest" is the word used by the people picking the grapes and managing the vineyards)

foodies are amateurs who simply love food for consumption, study, preparation, and news. Foodies are different from gourmets, who simply want to eat the best food, whereas foodies want to learn everything about food, both the best and the ordinary, and about the science, industry, and personalities surrounding food. For this reason, foodies are sometimes viewed as obsessively interested in all things culinary.

"The Industry":
the word used amongst winemakers, wine sellars, vineyard owners and mangaers, tasting room people and in-the-know wine folk refer to themselves and the industry they are part of (ie. as heard when recently tasting wine, "Oh! You're in The Industry! You get The Industry discount!" ...sweet! I knew there were benefits to this job...)

Pinot Noir:
("PEE-no NoWa") a red wine grape variety of the species Vinus vinifera, but also referring to wines produced predominantly from pinot noir grapes. The name is derived from the french words for "pine" and "black" alluding to the varietals' tightly clustered dark purple pine cone shaped bunches of fruit. Pinot noir grapes are grown around the world, mostly in the cooler regions, but the grape is mostly associated with the Burgandy region of France, and in the U.S., Oregon. It is widely considered to produce some of the finest wines in the world, but is a difficult variety to cultivate and transform into wine (I plan to find out more about this last part, as I've heard it over and over but have yet to hear the reasons why...).

Wineaux: an informal term for someone who loves to indulge in, seek out and learn about wine (this term has not yet made it into Wikipedia, aside from a redirection to the less sophistocated term, wino...but there are all sorts of wineauxs out there if you Google it)

4 comments from you:

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Divine. Lovely if you just pass a little bit of knowledge and will share that Rogue River Blue cheese, yes a little bit of that would be just right!

Rachael said...

This sounds like the best possible introduction to wine! Wow, wow and wow. I love how being a scientist brought you to this place! Excellent...

Amanda at Little Foodies said...

I was meant to read your blog! I read your comment on Joanna's blog about the Pampered Chef stoneware, thank you. It's good to see you're a scientist as for three years my son has said he will be a chef when he grows up but a few weeks ago said. "Mama. I've changed my mind. I'm going to be a scientist when I grow up, but one that cooks very well."

michelle said...

I'll try my best - and oh how I wish I had some Rogue River Blue to share!

Me too! It's definitely the neatest way I can think of to learn about wine, rather than just take a class!

Wonderful! So glad you were led here, and that I was led to you! I want your children some day - I think it's so neat that you've got two little foodies on your hands and how you're introducing them to food (and foods of the world) like you are!!