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Wine and Cheese: July 2005

Penny Gadd-Coster from J paid a recent visit to our SRJC Winemaker’s of Sonoma County class. She gave us a window into the extensive process of making sparkling wine. It’s truly a labor of love that for some wines stretches over almost a decade.

The grapes for most sparkling are harvested quite early and the wines that they make are correspondingly very acidic. In drinking sparkling, many of us prize this incredible acidity yet it needs some tempering to taste balanced. For this we have the process of adding the dosage. A batch of sparkling base wine is mixed with sugar, which is then incorporated into each disgorged bottle of bubbly.

Penny demonstrated the intricate taste impact of the dosage that sparkling wine receives before the final bottling. She created three different trials of dosage added to a disgorged bottle of 2000 sparkling: zero, 1.1% and 1.3%. The zero dosage was quite austere and intensely acidic. The 1.3% dosage was softer and rounder, more candy like. While the middle level, 1.1% seemed to embrace the best of both sides of the spectrum, tasting of tart green apples with explosive ripe fruit.

From the outside, the wine business often looks glamorous. Yet behind the scenes, winemakers are tasting and retasting, trying this blend and that, something we got a glimpse of during our trial tasting in class. It really makes me admire the stamina these folks have to taste so much wine, especially wine in an infant state. The magic is how they taste these baby wines and project in their minds’ eyes what they will taste like after the bottles are released.

After the youthful bottles of bubbly, we shared a finished wine, a special treat from 1996, the Vintage Brut Late-Disgorged. This wine was crafted from grapes harvested early in 1996. Like J’s other sparklings, the wine went through two fermentations, the second in bottle as in the French méthode champenoise. The difference following was that the wine aged for over 5 years en tirage, or in contact with the lees rather than a sooner disgorgement. The result is a stellar wine of great complexity. It smells of caramel, crackers, ginger ale and bread dough. The taste features a whole palate full of flavors, with a softened acidity and richness like one finds with Krug Grande Cuvée.

While the Late-Disgorged will probably be sold out by the time of this publication, you can stop by J to taste their other sparkling and still wines. At J there’s a special emphasis on wine and food pairing that you’ll want to indulge in. They’re open daily, just south of Healdsburg on Old Redwood Highway.

Thinking of food reminds me of the great taste experience our Ag Marketing class had during a visit to the Joe Matos Cheese Factory on Llano Road. We met with Sylvia, who with her parents continues the legacy of a family run, farmstead cheese factory.

Sylvia is now the 5th generation of the family in cheese, which started on St. George Island in the Azores. They’ve been at their current location on Llano road since 1979.

With all of their success, they have never once advertised. The operation has been written about in food magazines and featured by Sue Conley’s Tomales Bay Foods. Last year they produced about 1800 pounds for orders from the Williams-Sonoma Holiday catalog in conjunction with Tomales Bay Foods.

A number of wineries and wine bars buy their product, from as far away as San Diego. They also ship direct to consumers around the United States.

The product line is one: a cheese called St. George made from forty-two milking cows, Holsteins, Jerseys and Guernseys. Most of the cheese ages 60-90 days, though some customers request a longer maturity. Sylvia says that the work is hands-on and that “it’s got to be that way for her Mom and Dad, who spoil their cows. It’s a hard life, but a good life.”

When making the cheese, she says they mix the curds by hand and you can feel when it’s ready, reminiscent of Brenda Simoneau describing punching down a fermenting batch of wine. The Matos family’s close involvement in their cheese-making is evident when you taste a sample.

You can visit them Monday through Friday and often on weekends. They’re located at 3669 Llano Road, just off of Todd.



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