It has been an emotional week. Near tears, small triumphs, sprinkled with teeth-gnashing and wringing hands, belly laughs, sore muscles, and surprises from every corner.

Pressing our Cabernet, the artisanal way












Our Cabernet is in the clear. Very slowly the yeast resuscitated itself, and continued to work, as our precious wine inched itself to a complete fermentation. We pressed and were exultant with the results. Two other students pressed Cabernet before us on the same day and we were able to sample their creations as well. We all had the same varietal grape (from different vineyard plots), vinified in the same location using similar methods and yet each of us produced what are already notably distinctive wines from one another. This is one of the benefits of making wine at the escuelita: the experience of sharing notes and learning from other students as well as from experienced winemakers. In short, Iker and I were rewarded with a wine that is already displaying more complexity than we anticipated, with robust body and aromas. I’ve heard from numerous sources – so often that it seems to be an axiom—that the most “difficult” wines invariably turn out to be the best vintages. At any rate, we’re happy with the progress we’ve made thus far.

Sommelier Alex from L.A. Cetto samples our just-pressed Cabernet

The Mourvédre on the other hand has been trouble free! I’ve used minimal intervention with this wine, which went to press a few days ago and I am personally delighted with the floral and spicy notes that are appearing. Honestly, it’s hard to choose, but if pressed I’d have to say this wine is my favorite so far.

Winemaker hand









The Barbera for my Vin Nouveau has been a source of stress all week. I kept expecting the barrels to expand from the carbonic maceration taking place and fretted that things weren’t going right. My enologist mentor continued to be reassuring and confident but I’ve been tense and uncertain. I opened the barrels a few times to taste the berries and make certain there were no bad odors indicating putrefaction. My mentor and I agreed that the drop in ambient temperatures was the culprit. I SOS’d a friend who mentioned he had a space heater. The kind you have to light with a match and actually puts out a flame. He warned me of the dangers but I was resolute that this was the rescue my Vin Nouveau needed. I carefully placed the heater at a safe distance and used the lowest setting. With the added heat the berries began to soften and to taste more “winey”. This was reassuring. I topped them off with more Co2 and tried to be serene. Finally, by way of instinct and sheer impatience rather than any sort of scientific gauge I decided to crush. I was warned by my mentor that there would be funky flavors and not to fret. As the soggy, spent clusters went through the de-stemmer/crusher I sampled many. Weird flavors abounded and I couldn’t help but think: this is going to be wine? But, oddly the resulting juice did not taste bad to me at all! I can’t explain it. I’ve read everything I could get my hands on about carbonic maceration but it is still in part a mystery to me. The must will now continue primary fermentation in open vats. When it reaches dryness I’ll press, and let the wine settle. With luck I’ll be bottling the end of November!

Friends, houseguests and neighbors pitch in to get the heavy barrels of wine into my house








It was time to bring the Grenache home and rack it to oak barrels. What sounds like a simple premise turned out to be a several day goat rodeo coupled with the Mexican 2-step. I won’t bore you with the logistics but FINALLY two of my barrels are full of wine and my mind is at ease with this hurdle as well.

Two of my barrels are now full of Grenache and I’m elated!









When I had a half day without running around I decided it was time to catch up on my accounting. Yikes! I knew I was over-budget due to all sorts of expenditures that weren’t part of my original projections. The result, however, put me into a cold panic. Up and down, up and down. This winemaking business is a helluva rollercoaster! I received sound business advice from a few corners and mountains of encouragement. One friend wrote: “If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.”  (Tom Hanks) But for a few days I was not sure how I was going to make this work.

Without going into details my immediate funding crisis has been resolved and I am in a happy daze. I am doing what I love. I am overcoming obstacles. I am meeting the challenges head-on and my wines are taking shape. Somebody pinch me!

I’ve been so happy to have my daughter here during all the grape mania

My daughter and her friend have been visiting and have been a godsend. They cook! They help with the dogs! They have terrific music! They are adorable and funny and provide buckets of comic relief. My face hurts from laughing.

… and he sings a wicked cover of “Lady in Red” as Bjork! Can I keep him?

Yay life.

PS: Thanks to my brilliant friend Sara Ogilvie for inventing the title of this blog. You’re an inspiration to me, sister!

Categories: Mexican Wine


Doc Dougherty · October 15, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Great success, congrats. Cheers from Florida.

    valleygirl · October 15, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    Hope Florida’s treating you right, Doc. Cheers & hugs desde Baja ~

Bhakti and Geno · October 15, 2012 at 8:25 pm

Love the pics, especially your tasting on the Grenache barrels;-)

    valleygirl · October 16, 2012 at 2:02 am

    Thank you, Bhakti. Hope you and Gino make it down sometime for a visit and tour of the wine valley!!!!!

Diana Cardenas · October 16, 2012 at 2:39 pm

You inspire me … to see the beautiful smile of my sister and her lovely daughter brings tears to my eyes. You are where you should be … cheers

    valleygirl · October 16, 2012 at 3:52 pm

    Love you, Sis! Can’t wait for you, Leo, and Manny to come down for a visit 🙂 My door’s always open xo

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