08/04/07 - Nathan's 32nd!!! It was that time of the year again - my annual wine tasting extravaganza!  Since I started enjoying wine (shortly before my 30th birthday) I began having a wine tasting event at each birthday.  It has always been tons of fun and this year was no different.  We had a little over twenty attendees and we celebrated with sixteen bottles of wine. The styles ranged from sweet Rieslings and semi-dry Chardonnays to medium Malbec and Grenache and then all the way up the bold Syrahs and Cabernets.  We certainly had a splendid variety to choose from. 



Over the course of the evening (in addition to the wine) we sampled cheese, chocolate, crackers, and also partook in an ice cream cake (Yum!).  We discussed the individual qualities of each varietal, danced to some swing music, and shot a few games of billiards.  I really had a wonderful time and I'm glad everyone was there to help me celebrate the "new year".  I'm already looking forward to #33 ;).


For more birthday pictures be sure to check out Joe's website.

- Nathan

08/13/07 - Mustang Wine - Day 1 Gary brought me two ice chests of wild Mustang grapes today; approximately 50 pounds.  Mustang grapes are extremely tart to the taste and are also quite acidic.  In fact, handling the grapes for an extended period of time will "burn" your hands.  Hmm...sounds like an ominous beginning.  I suppose I would prefer to label this attempt at more of an experiment rather than call it a venture in fine winemaking.  Nevertheless, Gary has always wanted to try Mustang wine and Mustang wine is what I'm going to attempt to create.

Gary spent several hours in the flaming sun over the weekend cutting down the mini-bunches of the black berries.  Susan and I followed up by separating about 40 pounds of the berries from the less-than-tasty stems (I'll get back to the missing 10 pounds later).  This was actually a fairly daunting task and ended up taking two nights to complete.  By the end of the second evening my fingertips were purple and my hands were sore (mostly from the acidity - I have been unable to locate food gloves; the non latex variety).  The 40 pounds of grapes made their way into 4 winemaking batches. The recipes I chose were a dry red, a spicy red, a sweet red, and a semi-sweet blush.


Since the grapes have little sugar of their own I needed to add anywhere from 1 to 3 pounds of sugar to each gallon of grape juice.  The sugar will obviously make the wine sweeter but it will also provide the yeast with the nutrients it needs to make alcohol (and we definitely want alcohol in our wine).  I'll ferment the dry wines until nearly all the sugar is gone and I'll stop the fermenting process on the sweet wines before all the sugar has been consumed by the yeast.


For the blush wine I crushed the grapes in a cheese cloth.  This prevented any of the skins from making their way into the batch, but still allowed some of the color to seep into the otherwise clear juice (all grape juice is actually clear; it is the skin that colors the wine).  For the other three batches I left the crushed grapes in with the juice.  This will give the wine a deeper color and will also add some spiciness (tannin) to the batch.  I tossed a few more grapes in the "spicy" batch mentioned above.


Over the next week I'll need to stir the mixtures twice and day and I'll transfer them to the actual fermentation container at the end of the week (once I complete the necessary adjustments to reduce the acidity).  Yes, that means the containers you see in the pictures are only temporary...they are simply for getting the fermentation process started.

I didn't have the equipment to create a fifth batch of wine so I ended up stomping those grapes directly in the ice cooler (with little baggies over my feet...why didn't I think of that before with my hands?!?).  After crushing the grapes I drained the juice into a container and proceeded to strain it several times in a semi-fine colander.  I subsequently boiled the juice and I did this for two reasons.  One: Because I stomped the grapes with my feet and some people might consider that nasty.  Two: I add metabisulphite to the wine batches to kill any bacteria before adding my own microorganisms (the yeast) - I wasn't going to be adding that ingredient to this batch.  After boiling the juice, adding quite a bit of water, and adding about 2 pounds of sugar I poured it into a jug and placed it in the fridge.  The next morning I guessed it....regular grape juice :D.  The grape juice is still a little acidic but it tastes pretty good.  It has a very small amount of pulp in it which gives it that "homemade" appearance.  I'll probably take some to work this week and torture my coworkers with it.

- Nathan

08/16/07 - RSS Feeds I toyed over the past month with something called Twitter.  It is a micro-blogging thingamadoodle that allows you to post very short blurbs.  I originally had the most recent blurbs scrolling across the bottom of the web page in the menu bar; however, Susan and I thought the scrolling was a little unsightly and difficult to read.  As such, it has been nixed.

One neat feature about Twitter, though, is the ability to do an RSS Feed.  If you are unfamiliar with feeds, it is similar to subscribing to a newsgroup.  If you have an email program that supports feeds (Outlook, for example) then any feed updates will download at the same time as your email.  Thus, if you subscribe to any of my feeds (the links are now in the menu bar below) you will get a semi-instant update.

I am currently going to do two feeds.  One feed is for website updates - any time I post a new diary entry I will add to the feed.  There is also a Flickr feed which works the same way (but only when I add new Flickr photos - which are the ones you can make comments on).

Hopefully this makes things slightly easier (for those of you who can accept feeds).  If you subscribe you will be notified of new content instead of checking the website randomly.  Enjoy!

- Nathan

08/17/07 - Hawaiian Luau Our friend Steve invited us to a Hawaiian Luau/Ballroom Dance event at the Lockheed Martin Recreational facility this evening.  We're really not very fluent in dance nowadays (our last ballroom class was back when we were both students at OSU), but we thought it would be interesting to refresh our memories.  It turns out we needed a LOT of refreshing.


Our swing is pretty rusty, but we at least know enough to not look terribly silly.  Our waltzing is also not too bad; however, I had completely forgotten how to Tango, Foxtrot, and Mambo.  We relearned the Tango pretty quick and also picked up a few steps of Cha Cha, West Coast Swing (which is quite different from the Lindy Hop we know), Merengue, and Samba.  In the end we had lots of fun stumbling around the dance floor and also rejuvenated our interest in learning how to dance properly.  With any luck we'll be signing up for some classes in the very near future.

- Nathan

08/18/07 - Stasey Poker Tournament There is going to be a series of quick blurbs to detail the events of this weekend (which were fast and furious).  We finally had a chance to participate in another Stasey Poker Tournament on Friday.  There were a total of 47 participants and I was fortunate to place 2nd and Susan placed approximately 15th (I'll update this entry with the final results when I have them).  It was a good poker evening for me; I had a combination of good hands, uncalled bluffs, and not too many weaker hands beating me on the river.  You really can't ask for much more :).

- Nathan

08/19/07 - Arsenic & Old Lace We tend to make it to one theatre event each year at Theatre Arlington and it always seems to be the "murder" show.  This year it was no different as the play of choice was Arsenic & Old Lace.  It is a story about two old ladies, slightly out of mind, believe they are helping lonely old men by feeding them a little poison in their wine.  Add several nephews who stumble into the dilemma with their own reasons to keep everything secret and antics ensue.

It was really a fairly entertaining story, moderately humorous (it was supposed to be a comedy), and definitely worth the admission.  On a side note, I was amazed that we were nearly the youngest couple in the theatre.  I guess this particular play draws a VERY old crowd (I'd venture to guess the average age was about 60 to 70 and the average dress colors were purple and red).

- Nathan

08/19/07 - Mustang Wine - Day 5 I've been stirring the wine twice a day for the past week and checking for active fermentation.  The red wines are now a deep red and the blush has started to clear up a little and is now a nice rosy pink.  I tested each of the wines today for acidity and was not surprised to find all three of the reds way above the desired level.  This test is done by adding a coloring solution to a small sample of grape juice.  I then subsequently and slowly add a strong base (in my case, Sodium Hydroxide - I feel the urge to say "don't try this at home").  When the base neutralizes the acid in the wine it will change from a red color to gray.  Depending on how much base I must add indicates the acid level of the wine.  My recipe calls for an Tartaric Acid level of 0.7 and each of the reds were approximately 1.5 to 2.0 (it is a linear scale, so slightly more than twice the desired acidity).

I added the maximum recommended dosage of Calcium Carbonate (which was 1.5 teaspoons) to each gallon of wine in order to decrease the acidity (any more and my research says it will affect the taste of the wine).  Unfortunately, this will only decrease the acidity by about 0.3 TA - thus, the wine will still be on the high end.  Fortunately, once I remove the skins, the TA may drop a bit further.  After a few months, if the acidity is still too high and I'm also able to tell by taste, then I will probably add some water to dilute the wine.  This shouldn't affect the flavor too much; however, I have personally tasted a "watered down" wine before and I want to avoid that flavor in these renditions.

Although the three reds were high in acid, the blush was at the desired level of exactly 0.7 (due to the fact I did not soak the juice in the skins - the source of most of the acidity).  As such I simply filtered the juice (twice) through a fine cloth bag (designed specifically for winemaking) to remove most of the large particles/sediment.  Once this task was complete I poured the wine into a fermenting bucket and topped it with a venting valve (to let out the Carbon Dioxide resulting from fermentation).  It will sit in my closet for 2 to 3 months and will be tasted periodically to see how well it is progressing.

The three reds will stay in my fridge for a few days to allow the chemical process to take place that will slightly reduce the acid.  Hopefully the process works ;).

- Nathan

08/21/07 - Mustang Wine - Day 7 Susan and strained the red wines today.  We sent the wine through three passes on the coarse cloth and then another three passes on the fine cloth.  The final wine that was placed in the fermenting buckets was thick like grape juice concentrate - If it remains this thickness then I won't have any problems diluting it with water to reduce acidity.


After removing it from the fridge I discovered the chemicals added to reduce acidity actually caused the acid to crystallize.  Subsequently it was filtered off with ease; however, the wine is still rating about 0.15 TA...about twice as much as what we actually want.


The refrigeration mentioned in the previous log entry appears to have halted the yeast - which was expected.  I added some yeast activator/nutrient to help stimulate the process again - as of now I cannot tell if it is working.  Cross your fingers!

- Nathan

08/26/07 - Weekend Events There were a couple of interesting treks this weekend.  The first was our pioneering visit to The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.  There was an exhibit by Ron Mueck - an artist who specializes in absurdly realistic sculptures of people.  They are typically extremely large or very small (but never "actual" size).  He has painstakingly created these sculptures with amazing detail - it was fascinating.  On each sculpture you could see individual hairs, blood vessels, dimples, and wrinkles.

On Sunday we took a quick trip East of Fort Worth to visit a few wineries (most just barely over an hour away from Fort Worth).  It was a fun trip and we really weren't expecting to find "top notch" wine; however, I was pleasantly surprised by Brennan Vineyards - they made it near the top of my North Texas Winery list - a worthwhile stop if you are nearby.

- Nathan

08/28/07 - Mustang Wine - Day 14 I racked the wine today.  This means I siphoned the juice from one container to another in order to remove some of the very find sediment clinging to the edges of the container.  I also added some sulphite to a few of the batches to halt the fermentation process.  I did this on the sweet wines so that they would retain some of their sweetness.  I also did this to kill off any bacteria that might be growing in the wine (the blush smells like it might have some bacteria in it).  I will continue to let at least one of the reds ferment until it is completely dry (zero sugar).

- Nathan