Learning How to Build Wine Barrels with Yann, Master Cooper with Barrel Builders

20516_10200355661250693_9123931652686203822_n(Contributed by  Erica Schreckenghaust) In the second installment of our field trip series, we had the honor of going to Barrel Builders, a barrel cooperage, in St. Helena.

About Barrel Builders

Barrel Builders was created in 1972, by a handful of French coopers who were sent over to assist Robert Mondavi’s people in the assembly, finish and care of the barrels. At the time Mondavi was one of the few people to begin using French oak barrels and soon after, their popularity spiraled.

Barrel Builders were the pioneers within the industry as they were the only cooperage represented in the US for years to come. Phil Burton started in the shop and has worked his way up in the company to become the sole owner in 2001.  Today, Barrel Builders is still one of the most popular cooperages in the area making quality barrels, tanks, casks and more.

Our Tour of Barrel Builder’s Workshop

11046768_10200355664330770_4861109673719685346_nOn a sunny Friday afternoon a group of Wine Sense members were given a tour of the shop and facility.  The shop manager Yann taught the students the complicated process of assembling a barrel, the process to prepare the barrels to be filled with wine and the common tools used. Yann is a Master Cooper from France and attended Ecole de Tonnellerie de Cognac, a cooper training college where his final exam required him to build a barrel from scratch in 10 hours. To say that he knows his stuff is an understatement.

The student’s feedback on the trip was excellent and we loved the opportunity to see the behind the scenes of the wonderful containers that hold and develop our favorite beverages.

We owe a huge thank you to Barrel Builders for allowing us to come visit!

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SSU Wine Sense Club Students Take Field Trip to Hamel Family Vineyards

Hamel Family Vineyards

Hamel Family Vineyards

(Contributed by Erica Schreckenghaust ) – One of the main goals of the Wine Sense Club is to create connections between wine professionals, wineries, and students. We appreciate all of the people who have come to visit us on campus over the years but wanted to create an organic way for students to get the all-encompassing experience of a brand. In attempt to do this the Executive Board have organized fieldtrips all over Sonoma and Napa Valley during the Spring semester.

Hamel Family/ Brand History:

To kick off our series of field trips we had the honor of visiting Hamel Family Wines in Sonoma. The 124-acre Hamel property has been within the family for many generations and they began making wine in 2006. The entire Hamel operation is very much a family affair, with George II and Pam as the owners, their oldest son George III the Managing Director, John the winemaker and their daughter Casey helping with administration duties.

Caves at Hamel Family Vineyards

Caves at Hamel Family Vineyards

The new tasting room was completed in June and opened to the public. The beautiful tasting room blends into the environment perfectly, so much so that you can’t even see it from Highway 12. The Hamel’s wanted the tasting room to blend in and add to the natural beauty of the property which is very evident when you step on the gorgeous patio with large minimalist couches to allow the breathtaking views of Sonoma county take the main stage.

Tour Details:

A group of students were led on a tour by Kirstie Dyer, Operations Manager, a recent Sonoma State and Wine Sense Club alum. Kirstie showed us their stunning 12,000 square foot cave, where they have invested in many concrete egg-shaped tanks. These types of tanks are breathable like regular barrels but don’t give off any of the oak characteristics to the wine. The egg shape also gives a natural stirring effect during fermentation.

The Hamel’s see the environment as an extremely important, if not the most important part of their venture so they have attempted to bring organic and biodynamic styles in their wine growing and gardens. They have a large garden full of fruits and vegetables in addition to various livestock that live on the property including baby goats and cows.

Tasting at Hamel Family Vineyards

Tasting at Hamel Family Vineyards

At the end of the tour the group was treated to a tasting on the patio of their four current releases: the 2013 Rosé, 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, 2012 Zinfandel and 2011 Isthmus, a red wine blend.

We owe a huge thank you to the wonderful Kirstie Dyer and the Hamel Family for showing us a fantastic afternoon at their beautiful new facility. We can’t wait to go back!

Which Do You Prefer? Dry Creek Valley AVA or Alexander Valley AVA

SSU Wine Sense Board and Guests

SSU Wine Sense Board and Guests

(Contributed by Erica Schreckenghaust) – Which do you prefer – Dry Creek or Alexander Valley? This was the question on the minds of the more than 40 students who attended the SSU Wine Sense tasting last Thursday. In the end it was impossible to choose a favorite, because they were both excellent! But everyone learned much about these two distinctive and different AVAs located in Northern Sonoma County.

Dry Creek Valley Wine Association 

Location in Northern Sonoma County on the West side of 101, the Dry Creek Valley Wine Association was created in 1989. It is made up of 60+ wineries and 150 grape growers. They share a commitment to growing high-quality fruit to produce world-class wines and an interest in sustainable farming practices to ensure a pristine valley for future generations.   Dry Creek Valley is world-famous for its big, hearty Zinfandels, as well as Sauvignon Blanc and Rhone varietals.

Ann, a representative from the Dry Creek Valley AVA, led the students through a virtual tour of the Dry Creek Valley, explaining the typically foggy climate, metamorphic and sedimentary soils and the most common varietals, which are Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Sonoma AVA Map from Sonomawine.com

Sonoma AVA Map from Sonomawine.com

Next she poured three of the most popular wines from the Dry Creek Valley for us. The first, being an organically grown 2013 Sauvignon Blanc from Quivira Winery. Followed by a 2011 Grenache from Mounts Winery and a 2012 Zinfandel from Mazzacco Winery.  

Alexander Valley and Stryker Sonoma Winery

Located in Northern Sonoma County on the East side of 101, the Alexander Valley is 22 miles long, has 26 wineries and 130 grape growers. It is known for its world-famous Cabernet Sauvignon, and other Bordeaux varieties such as Merlot, Malbec and Sauvignon Blanc. In addition, the gravelly loam soil produces well-rounded Chardonnay wines, as well as some Zinfandel and Rhone varieties. 

Brian Shapiro from Stryker Sonoma Winery represented the Alexander Valley that evening.  Stryker mixes tradition with modern technology to create award-winning wines. The winemaking is focused on creating wines that speak for themselves. The tasting room won the Architectural Design Award for Northern California by AIA, due to its beauty and harmony within the landscape.  Their philosophy is “bold but thoughtful” which is evident in everything from their wines to their tasting room.

Brian poured three amazing wines, a 2012 Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon – all made in small quantities to ensure the highest quality wines. 

Favorite Wines of the Evening

At the end of the tasting, the students were asked to vote on their favorite wines.  The winners were:

ZinmalbecMazzacco Winery Zinfandel 2012 ($52): Composed of 95% Zinfandel grapes and 5% Petite Syrah, this wine offers hints of raspberry, boysenberry and currants, with a bit of habanero pepper.

Stryker Sonoma Malbec 2012 ($50): Blueberries, pepper jam and cedar give this wine a rustic bouquet followed with cherries and a hint of baker’s cocoa.