We’ll let you in on a secret – restaurants don’t know everything. We are constantly and eagerly learning about food, wine, and customer service. We have wonderful opportunities to learn the real story from passionate professionals; even better, we get to share that information with everyone who walks through our doors.
Recently, the Heirloom Group took a wine education course to demystify a subject that many love, but few feel comfortable discussing. Chris Neidiger, General Manager of Communal Restaurant, shares a little of what we learned from Wine 101:
For many, wine education can seem like an intimidating subject to tackle, but it’s actually just a few simple tips on gardening, using your senses, and enjoying what you’re drinking. Heirloom called upon friend and wine broker Francis Fecteau (Libation Inc. of Salt Lake City, UT) to provide insight into the world of wine. We met on P712’s patio for an afternoon of smelling, tasting, and learning about viticulture. We learned about everything – from planting to harvesting, barreling, bottling, and eventually, consuming.
As with winemaking, our education began with the planting and harvesting season. In January and February, bud swellings appear on vines as they awaken from their winter slumber. These swellings grow into leaves and flower clusters, which eventually turn into fruit. Full blooms don’t typically appear until May. Grape flowers are self-pollinating, so these blooms look significantly different from most fruit plants since they aren’t trying to attract bids and bees for pollination. Grapes begin to appear in June and continue to grow and expand until they are fully ripe at the end of July.
Throughout this process, winemakers are constantly inspecting, pruning, cleaning, protecting and carefully guiding the growth of their plants. Timing is crucial. Leave the grapes on the vine too long and your wine will be affected; take them off too soon, your final product will be different. If you don’t prune your vines throughout the growing season (resulting in too many shoots/grapes per plant), you run the risk of producing a lower quality product. Every decision affects both profitability and quality.
The harvest season generally begins in September or October, and it involves more than just picking the fruit off the vine. Harvest is the stage when fruit is picked, pressed, barreled, fermented (sometimes multiple times and in different ways), aged (in some cases) and eventually bottled or stored for later use. Once bottled, some wines will stay in the bottle for an indefinite period and are not available for sale until the winemaker believes the wine is properly aged to achieve tasting goals. Being a winemaker is a full-time job, every month of the year. It’s a continuous cycle of planting, harvesting, bottling, and aging. Many winemakers don’t see the profits from their wine until years after the work was done.
The next part of our wine course taught us about the importance of smell. Francis provided a kit with smells in tiny bottles. Yes, smells in a bottle! These are used to train us how to identify certain characteristics often found in wine. It was also a way to discover that each person interprets odors differently.
The “White Wine” smells were first. The bottles were labeled lemon, pineapple, honey and vanilla. However, our answers varied wildly on each of these. Some guessed pine, others described the smells as Flintstone Vitamins, butter, and many more. “Red Wine” smells were next – strawberry, black currant, black pepper, and smoke. Our answers were even better this time around: gummy bears, olives, oak, and the best: “fake cough syrup.”
Tasting came last. With our newfound knowledge, we were able to identify smells and tastes in each glass of wine that were easy to pick up now that we had trained our noses and minds to pay close attention to the subtleties. The best part was comparing wines side by side. Identifying the differences between the Aquinas Cabernet versus the Bucklin Zinfandel or between the oaked Louis Latour Chardonnay and the unoaked Mer Soleil Silver Chardonnay (in a classy ceramic bottle) was an eye opening experience. The other two wines we tried (to compare sweetness) were the Atrea Rose and a very sweet (but very good) Riesling. All of the wines we tasted are on our wine lists.
With Francis’ help we are now better equipped to handle all those tough (or not so tough) wine questions you can throw at us. We learned about important food pairings, what labels can tell you, how small local producers (yes!) benefit the state of Utah and wine drinkers everywhere, and many more fun factoids about wine production and enjoyment. We hope you’ll visit Communal or P712 soon and see what else we can tell you when you come in for dinner!