2018 “Squashington” Apple Dessert Wine

For my first winemaking effort since moving to the Oregon coast, I decided to make an apple wine. Actually, I had planned to make apple hard cider after being inspired by the wonderful things our local cider house, Reveille Ciderworks, is doing. But, in a happy accident, I miscalculated the sugar and ended up making a sweet and very high-alcohol apple wine.

Technical Details

I started with 6 gallons of organic apple juice, to which I added 10 pounds of organic cane sugar. Whoops! To make hard cider, I should have left that sugar out or added about 10% as much.

The acidity turned out to be almost exactly where I wanted it, so I didn’t mess with that. I used an English ale yeast and the fermentation took off within 24 hours.

Fermentation lasted about a month, which is awesome. It would have taken around 7 days if I had tried this in Sacramento in July. When the alcohol content of the wine had exceeded the tolerance of the yeast I was left with somewhere around 15% alcohol (but maybe more…I’m still saving up for a proper lab).

I aged the wine for a month with French oak and fortified it a bit with gin. Today was a warm day in Astoria, so I tasted it and made the decision to bottle. I prefer to bottle when it’s warm, so that the wine shrinks in the bottle rather than expanding. I don’t know whether this makes much of a difference, but it’s one of the things I think about.

Tasting notes

I’m really happy with this wine. It has good acidity (less than green apple, more than a red apple) and the high sugar balances the high alcohol. The oak and gin flavors and aroma are noticeable, but not overpowering. It pairs extremely well with cheese.

Bad Astronauts’ First Trademark Dispute!

Last month, I got an email that I was almost sure was spam. The subject was “REGARDING BAD ASTRONAUTS DARK MATTER TRADEMARK INFRINGEMENT”, and the email simply said “Please see the attached document”. Now, anyone who knows anything knows that it’s almost always a bad idea to open an attachment from someone who you don’t know – especially when they don’t tell you what the attachment is. So, I deleted the email.

The next day, I got a FedEx envelope addressed to me at Bad Astronauts Winery, with a very official-looking letter inside! I’ve scanned the enclosed letter for your viewing pleasure:

Now, those of you who know the history of the wine that came to be known as (but is no longer known as) “Bad Astronauts’ Dark Matter Zin” know that only 25 cases were made, it was made in my backyard, no label was ever made, it’s illegal to sell homemade wine, and there are probably only 6 bottles of this wine left in existence. After I stopped laughing, I started showing the letter to a select few people and asking for advice on how to respond.

The best ideas for responses were:

  • “I’ve never heard of Mondavi. Is this some sort of Nigerian scam?”
  • “I’m willing to settle.”
  • “I challenge you to a duel.”
  • “Let’s River Dance it out.”

When I sobered up, I consulted with my trusted legal counsel and, based on my budget for legal counsel, decided on a less confrontational approach. Our goals were to gently make fun of the original letter while resolving the situation and trying to get some free wine or cheap Napa grapes out of it. Here’s the letter we wrote and emailed in response:

Re: Dark Matter

Dear Ms. Taylor:

Thank you for your correspondence of March 3, 2011, regarding your client, M & J Mondavi Family, LLC, and its claim to a DARK MATTER trademark associated with a Zinfandel wine. As you are no doubt aware, the Bad Astronauts Winery is a name used by a group of home winemakers who produce their product in a garage in Sacramento. In 2008, the Bad Astronauts acquired approximately 1,000 pounds of Zinfandel grapes from the Fairplay region of El Dorado County. In 2009, we bottled the Zinfandel, and found it quite tasty. We have never produced a label for our bottles, sold the wine, or marketed the Zinfandel. Indeed, the wine has never been a part of the stream of interstate commerce such as to bring it within the orbit of United States Trademark laws (as far as I know, granted I am not an attorney and have not retained one prior to or since receiving your letter). I believe there is a simple misunderstanding, in that the name we have used to describe our small quantity of garage-made Zinfandel, Dark Matter (keeping with our space-themed names for our homemade wines, such as Black Hole Merlot, Rings of Uranus Malbec, Comet Colombard, Canali Cabernet, Phoenix Landing, Martian Red, etc {all of which we are now considering registering with the USPTO}) has somehow entered the public domain via that new-fangled invention known as the Internets. Prior to receiving your letter, we had no idea that another winery was making, or had made a Zinfandel (or any other wine) by the name of Dark Matter. We apologize for any confusion caused to your client’s discerning customers. I completely understand that our tasty garage-made wine that has no label and which has never been marketed or sold, could be confused with your client’s Howell Mountain-Napa region designated, Robert Parker reviewed wine. To avoid any such confusion in the future, the Bad Astronauts Winery of Sacramento will cease and desist from referring to our 2008 Zinfandel as “Dark Matter” and will not use that name to describe any of our other efforts. As a token of good will, we would be happy to provide your client with a sample bottle of our 2008 Zinfandel (which again, I have to say is quite tasty, but supplies are going fast as we have only three bottles left).

I hope that this letter resolves this issue. If you have any further questions, comments, or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Best regards,
Chris Minnick

After about a month, we still hadn’t heard anything back, so we decided to send a followup email:

Here’s the letter I wanted to send:

Dear Ms Taylor:

I’m writing with regards to my letter from last month, in which I told you my intention to cease using the Dark Matter name to describe my tasty homemade wine. I have not heard back from your firm or from the Mondavi family or its fine corporation. I’m worried sick. Because of the seriousness of our offense and your lack of response, I can only surmise that you are preparing to take action against me. To perhaps fend off this action, I have consumed the last remaining bottles of my tasty garage-made zinfandel.

Some of the members of the Bad Astronauts think that you are a Nigerian scammer. I told them I don’t believe it. Your lack of response has me concerned that I may be wrong. For the sake of my sanity, and the sanity of my family, I beg you to provide me with proof that your original letter was not part of an elaborate scheme to defraud me and steal the Dark Matter trademark ™.

Sincerely and regards (unless you’re a Nigerian Scammer ™),

Chris Minnick
Bad Astronauts Winery

and here’s the letter I finally did send (after consulting with my trusted legal counsel):

Re: Provisional Offer to Purchase Grapes

Dear Ms. Taylor:

As you may recall, we corresponded last month regarding the use of the Dark Matter name to describe various Zinfandels (one made by your client, M & J Mondavi Family, LLC, from Howell Mountain grapes, and one made by the Bad Astronauts in a garage). Optimistic that our dispute has been resolved, I have a business proposition to offer your client. The Bad Astronauts are looking to purchase 2,000 pounds of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from the Napa Valley. Could you please ask your client if they would be willing sell us such grapes from any one of their Napa holdings? In case they have any concerns about the grapes’ use, you can tell them that the Bad Astronauts’ last Cabernet Sauvignon-based wine (Phoenix Landing) won best in show and a double gold medal at the El Dorado County Fair, gold at the California State Fair, and numerous other accolades. If the price for the grapes is right, we’d be happy to kick in one of the last remaining bottles of this extremely tasty wine.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter and for communicating this good faith offer to your client. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Best Regards,
Chris Minnick
Bad Astronauts Winery

I did get a polite response back from the lawyer, letting me know that the original matter has been resolved and that she has passed on my offer to her client. So – we’ll see what happens. I’m not real optimistic about our chances for scoring cheap Napa grapes — I’m sure that this post will help, though.

Tasting things

Late December is a not a generally a good time to taste the wines out in the winery. Everything’s too cold to really taste, the wines made in the fall are still too young, and I really don’t want to end up spending a lot of time cleaning up or working when it’s 40 degrees, dark, and damp out there. But, tonight I was in the mood (had a few), so I went out to take care of a couple things that have been on my mind — and also to see how my babies are doing.

The 2009 Malbec is going to be wonderful. It’s soft, has really nice tannins, and smells like black cherry and vanilla. I could drink this all night. I can’t wait to bottle it. I topped it up, and we’ll leave it alone until we get close to bottling (February?).

The 2010 Zin is starting to become more complex, although it’s still a little sweet and maybe still the slightest bit fizzy. I’m pleasantly surprised by it, frankly, because it started out as less-than-wonderful grapes. I think it could be a very drinkable wine after it finishes fermentation in the spring and spends another 12 months in the barrel.

2010 Wine Update!

It’s been a crazy wine year, but I feel good! This year, we got about 3/4 of a ton of chardonnay from Clarksburg, which we picked in mid-September. I like my chardonnay like I like my…well, actually, I’m not crazy about Chardonnay. Because of this, I like to make it taste as much like a wine that I do like as possible! For example: Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio.  So, I keep it un-oaked, pretty acidic, dry, and I avoid malolactic fermentation. The French, and anyone who likes Chard would laugh me out of town for this heresy. Most of the time when I drink white wine, it’s while I’m cooking. If I’m cooking, I like something crisp, dry, and fruity. What this means in terms of winemaking is that I do very very little to my white wines other than make sure that the acidity is where I want it at crush and keep it all clean. Filtering is nice for whites, in my opinion, because of how important the appearance of a white wine is. But, to tell you the truth, I’ve made really really beautiful and tasty white wines without filtering. It gets cold enough in our winery that the wine gets pretty clear all on its own.

The whole group suffered from a lack of funds this year and so we really didn’t get it together to make a deal for some good red grapes earlier in the year. Nevertheless, in mid-October, I got a hankerin’ to do some red. So, last weekend, Sam and I headed up the hill to investigate some leads on some last minute grape deals.

Through a winemaker connection, we ended up finding out about an organic grower in Fairplay who had some grapes that were supposedly ripe and that he’d sell for a pretty good price. Normally, ripeness is not a problem at all in California…but this was a very cold year, and a lot of grapes never made it to a level of ripeness that’s adequate for making good wine before the vines shut down. We didn’t get a good look at the grapes before making a deal to pick them the next morning (it was pretty much our last chance, and it was a good deal, so we took a chance).

When we showed up at the vineyard the next morning, the ripeness and condition of the grapes was all over the place. Some clusters looked great. Some were all raisins. Towards the top of the vineyard (it’s situated on a hill), things looked ok. But, at the bottom, there was a LOT of mold. We ended up picking about 500 lbs (in 4 hours of picking, some of it in the rain) and brought it back to crush.

A week later, we pressed it…and I’m actually feeling like we might make a decent wine out of this. The most award-winning wine we’ve made to date started its life as very troubled grapes and a very troubled fermentation. So, it’s not out of the question that this will be great.

After the press, we kept the skins and seeds, added about 45 pounds of sugar, a pound of tartaric acid, and 30 gallons of water to it and started making a 2nd wine, as we did with our 2008 Zin. We have some new winemaking volunteers in our group who seem to think they have a good use for this stuff….

So, we’ll do one more pressing this year (of the 2nd wine), and then we’ll put the big equipment away for another year. Here’s hoping that 2011 is a HOT SUMMER!

Bottling Week 2010

Yesterday, we racked the 2009 Malbec, the 2008 Merlot, and the 2008 Cab. We also continued washing bottles, and bottled the Chardonnay and the Grapefruit wine. It was a highly successful day, and (as far as I know) I once again completely forgot to take pictures. If anyone did take some pictures, please send them to me.

Next Saturday, we’ll be at it again. Here’s what we’re going to be doing:

1. Bottle 30 gallons of 2008 Merlot (it’s been in French Oak 18 months)

2. Bottle 30 gallons of Port

3. Bottle 15 gallons of 2008 Petit Sirah (18  months in American Oak)

4. Rack the rest of the Merlot and the Petit.

5. Wash empty barrels.

As with all Bad Astronauts events, there will probably be taste-testing and food involved at some point as well. I’m hoping there will also be more picture-taking.

The 2008 Wines are Coming Fast!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, but much has been happening in the Bad Astronaut Wine world, so I think it’s about time I got back to it and filled you all in!

First of all, the 2008 Wines are incredible! We bottled the Zin a little while back, and I’m having to hide it from myself so that I don’t drink it all before it reaches it’s peak.

If you participated in the bottling, and/or if you have some of the wine, I would say that it’s just about now fully over the bottle shock and is tasting really good. I’m really looking forward to how it will taste next year!

Pretty soon, we’ll be bottling the 08 Merlot, the 08 Petit Sirah, some 09 Charonnay, and perhaps a couple other surprises!

The season of releasing the Grapefruit Wine has begun!

Tomorrow will be the first official tasting of the Bad Astronauts Galactic Grapefruit Wine. We did an unofficial tasting a little while ago in Sonoma, but since then, we’ve gotten approval on the label, printed the labels, and labeled and foiled the bottles. Tomorrow, we’ll be pouring grapefruit wine at the Sacramento Institute of Fun’s Jazz De-Mystified event (the Institute of Fun is another one of the businesses I’m involved with, by the way).

Next weekend, we’ll be pouring at Revolution Wines’ Christmas Walk.Big things are happening for the Bad Astronauts.