Grenache going into the small basket press

My car is buzzing with fruit flies. Why? Because I pressed my Grenache and Syrah, brought the cake home and tossed it in the driveway. Huh? Let me back up here. My luscious Grenache and my sensitive Syrah went through perfect fermentations. These “girls” are developing distinct personalities, btw. The Grenache is a fun, happy, slightly naughty girl …










While the Syrah is pensive, impatient, and prone to blue moods. Nevertheless, both girls did their job like champs and were ever-so-gently pressed. That is to say, separated from their skins, pulp and seeds in a hand-cranked basket press.

Rogelio and Gerardo rockin’ the press


What is left after the fruit is pressed and the wine runs off, is a dense, “cake” of solids. Many wineries spread the cake out to dry in their gardens and driveways where it makes an attractive ground cover. But the flip side of bringing the cake home in my car is that the fruit flies hitched a ride. (Car detailing is on my list of things to do like getting a pedicure after all the fruit has been fermented and pressed!) Meanwhile, I’m terribly proud of the grape skins drying aromatically in my driveway. I feel like I’ve made a statement. Like wearing a badge of honor. I’m officially initiated into wine world.

My first cake!







Now my South Rhône girls are in secondary fermentation which transforms the green-apple tartness into a creamier, softer mouth-feel. Tomorrow I will rack the wines off their heavy lees. Meaning I will pump the wine out of its current holding tank, taking it off the sediment which may contribute undesirable flavors and aromas.

Maria de la Luz and Soxi helping me clean and sort Barbera grapes for my Vin Nouveau

Then came the Barbera. She’s my ugly duckling. The grapes were not in great shape, covered in filth and mud with many damaged clusters and broken fruit. I was not a happy camper but nevertheless set to work recovering what I could. Barbera is a very acidic grape which is why it’s a good candidate for carbonic maceration. Carbonic maceration is a whole berry fermentation technique utilized by Georges Duboeuf in his famous Beaujolais. The first time I met Hugo D’Acosta (the artisanal wine pioneer of this region) I told him that I wanted to make a Beaujolais style young wine. Without hesitation he suggested Barbera.

Only clean, hand-selected clusters of Barbera are going into my Valley Girl Vin Nouveau

I spent over eight hours, with the help of two local ladies, sorting and cleaning the fruit, choosing only the best clusters. This will be my signature Valley Girl Vin Nouveau. I’m as nervous as a new bride with this one. In one week I will take the plastic wrap off the tanks and see how she’s doing.

Now I’m back to the escuelita vinifying Cabernet Sauvignon with another student. Iker Turcott is a young, energetic, Mexican-born chef who’s worked in Valencia, Paris and Cancún. To his already impressive list of accomplishments he is now a winemaker! He also works in the tasting room at L.A. Cetto, the largest winery in the valley. After doing virtually everything by myself and learning on my feet with my first three wines, I have to say it is terrific to have a partner! Because of his schedule and my proximity to the escuelita I will be hovering over the Cabernet like a mother over a sick child, checking her temperature, cooling her when she gets too feverish, grooming …. (picking out the little green berries and stems). I think I’ve stretched this analogy about as far as it can go.

Iker doing the first punch-down on our Cabernet










When I first spread those spent, fermented grape skins onto my driveway I felt like a former virgin displaying her wedding sheet the morning after for all the community to see. Now my neighbors know why I’ve been running around in pink rubber boots, hauling buckets in and out of my car and barreling around town with a wild look on my face. A virgin no more!

My badge of honor: spent grape skins drying in my driveway 😉

Categories: Mexican Wine


nadean · September 30, 2012 at 11:56 pm

I’m following you with great interest….what a great and courageous adventure! More please….! A nice drink of your wine is on my list to things to do.

    valleygirl · October 1, 2012 at 12:58 am

    It’s wonderful to hear from you, Nadean. Life is full of so many twists and turns, isn’t it? I finally feel like I’m hitting my stride, like I’m in the right place and it feels good! Send me a message sometime and fill me in on what’s going on in your world. I’d love to know. xo

Shelley on Whidbey · October 1, 2012 at 12:10 am

A brilliant start, my friend!

    valleygirl · October 1, 2012 at 1:00 am

    Lovin’ this new adventure. I feel great! Bear hugs to you and Mike. <3

Barbara · October 1, 2012 at 2:00 am

I love it, please call when you have time to talk about what I can use and how to do it, Thanks, Barb

    valleygirl · October 1, 2012 at 8:30 am

    We’ll talk. Thank you for your encouragement, Barb.

Romeo R James Enslow · October 1, 2012 at 3:06 am

This page is a well constructed offering. It is surprising that you can produce this narrative in addition to all of the HARD physical labor. It is a true sign that you are doing the right thing. Thanks for sharing so many details. For me, life’s richness is in the details.

    valleygirl · October 1, 2012 at 8:36 am

    I’m a little stiff, a little sore, but steadily getting conditioned for the physical labor. The blog is off-the-cuff, not a carefully constructed confection. But it’s fun and I feel like I can be kind of free-wheeling and playful with it for that reason. Thanks so much for your attention and interest, James. It means a lot to me!

Kerry · October 1, 2012 at 6:13 am

I wish you were making tequila. I love tequila

    valleygirl · October 1, 2012 at 8:38 am

    Holy Agave, Batgirl, you are cracking me up! That stuff is like practically psychotropic. I’m stickin’ with the grape!

James Dutra · October 1, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Thanks for the update with your wine making venture.
I can’t wait to taste your efforts of hard labor and dedication.

Straight ahead Sitara! Always nice to hear from you and wish you continued success.

    valleygirl · October 1, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    I wish the same for you, James! One of these days I’ll do a wine pairing with your mom’s amazing Hungarian dishes. Won’t that be fun? Thanks so much for staying in touch. xo

susan mahalick · October 1, 2012 at 2:33 pm

I am loving all the analogies Sitara…you are a good writer for sure…we will have our book signings together one day in the future.

Joanna · October 11, 2012 at 10:01 pm

I am so proud of you I can’t wait. I am sure your wine is as good as your writing!! I want to buy a case, is that possible?!

    valleygirl · October 12, 2012 at 2:48 am

    I wouldn’t be here pursuing my dream if it wasn’t for you and Rob. I’ll be sending wine your way, you can be sure. Love you!!!!

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