Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Toast to my Grandfather

Today would have been my grandfather's 90th birthday.  He passed away last August, and left behind him a legacy of winemaking.  His passion for wine is the sole reason that Plain Cellars was born.

Floyd never wanted to live past 80; he told my mother once to just push him off the end of the dock when he got to 83.  But 83 came and went, and he just kept on living the good life.  He truly enjoyed his life and found happiness and contentment in the little things.  Food was a huge joy for him.  And wine.  Every year that we had helped him bottle his new barrels of wine, I could always rely on him proudly boasting, "I think this is my best wine yet!"

Floyd sorts the grapes during the crush
Those who knew Floyd as I did later in his life, could only think of him fondly.  Those who only knew him as a younger man, probably thought he was a bit of an ass.  Only Floyd could be proud of this.  He got wise in his old age.  He learned to let life happen to him and really cherished the small things.  He would probably even tell you about it.  And then you would hear the same story again some time later.  He loved telling his stories, and you couldn't bear to interrupt him.  He was such a good storyteller that it didn't matter how many times you'd heard it.  And if you were a good listener, every once in awhile, you would hear a story you'd never heard before.  Or a new detail would unfold.  Either way, this would always be told over a glass of his red wine.

It didn't matter what time of day it was or what obligations you were tied to afterwards,  you had to have a glass of wine when you visited my grandparents' house.  (I also think that it was a good excuse for them to start drinking before 5 o'clock.)  My grandfather liked you to pour him just a small glass, but everyone couldn't help but notice that he asked for his glass to be refilled quite often.  Though nobody would ever accuse him of that!  The fact that Floyd lived to such a long age (and survived both a triple bypass and diabetes) could have something to do with his joy of life and his red wine consumption- but mostly the wine consumption!  I plan to follow suit.

We somehow always found ourselves doing work (in this case bottling wine)
after having been offered a few glasses of wine.
My grandpa Floyd and grandma Muggs at their winter home in the Baja

Let's remember Floyd in this manner.  Pour yourself a glass of red wine (a small glass, just refilled often), eat a good meal, and tell a fond story that gives you laughter wrinkles.  Repeat daily.

Cheers to you Floyd!  You are greatly missed, and the same old fond stories about you will be retold often.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Riesling and Razor Clams

Plain Cellars wants to wish everyone a happy 2014!  After the Christmas rush was over, we took some time away from the winery to ring in the new year at the Washington coast.  It was the first time since the winery had opened last summer that I could get my parents away from their busy lives.  (Their passion for winemaking has had them adding an extra day to their normal five day work week and only having Sundays to relax. (My mother's idea of relaxing is cleaning the tasting room.))  So needless to say, my parents were in desperate need of some R&R.  My husband and I took them out to Copalis Beach to the Iron Springs Resort.  This resort has recently remodeled cabins with beautiful views of the coastline, their own private access to the beach, and the best part is they are dog friendly!  I think our black labs Moxie and Jackson (who are regulars at the winery) love the beach even more than we do.  It's so nice to see the trend in dog-friendly businesses like ours on the rise.

This winter has been an epic season for razor clam digs.  The clams have been great in number and there have been lots of low tide opportunities for digging that the WDFW (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) has approved.  Check out their site for upcoming digs! During the fall and winter months, the lowest tide for the day happens in the evening.  Usually when this is the case, we strap on our head lamps and with lanterns in tow, we make our way out to the water's edge.  The first time I partook a night dig, it was near Halloween, and it happened to be one of those beautiful Northwest fall nights.  The ocean was glassy, and the night sky was clear; you forget how many stars are actually in the sky when you live in the light-polluted city.  I remember seeing lanterns of fellow diggers dotting all up and down the coastline.  Their lights reflected in the newly exposed sand as the tide continued to go out.  Simply beautiful.  It was a night to remember, and from then on, I was hooked on razor clamming.

On this most recent excursion, we had the good fortune of meeting our evening low tides during the last little bit of light for the day. This makes spotting a "show" so much easier, and I highly recommend anyone wanting to try razor clamming to go on a spring dig when the low tides occur in the morning hours and during the daytime. The clam "shows" are what you will be looking for when you want to find your razor clam. They will be fairly close to the water's edge during low tide. (You'll see where the other clammers are; just follow the crowd) A show consists of three types: a keyhole, a dimple, or a donut. I prefer to go for the donut type holes or a large dimple show. As a general rule of thumb, the bigger the show, the bigger the clam. This is not always the case however! A good size clam shell is considered about 5"-6" long. Since you must keep the first 15 clams that you dig, it is nice to have a larger size average so that you will have more clam meat to take home.

Digging for your clams is truly the best part of razor clamming (except for the eating part), but then you have to clean them.  This can seem like a daunting task at first, but once you get the hang of it, you really don't mind it.  After all, once they are clean, you will be that much closer to dinner!  Nothing is better than a meal of fresh clams after an exhilarating dig.  When you clean your clams, you first separate the shell from the body by dunking them in a pot of boiling water for about 10 seconds & then cool them off in some ice water.  This stops the cooking and ensures that your clams will not be too chewy.  The shell should come off fairly easy after this.  You can simply use a pair of scissors to clean the clams.  You essentially are splitting the clams open and removing any part that is not white.  The white meat is what you want.  Make sure and rinse your clams well, and if you are not eating them right away, just freeze them in ziploc bags with the air squeezed out.  I put about six clams per quart-sized bag.  Here is a video that we made so you can see the cleaning process:

So at this point in the blog, you're probably wondering how this relates to wine.  Well, I'm getting around to it.  One of my favorite ways to make razor clams (besides panfried) is a clam linguine.  And as any good cook knows, cooking with wine always makes your food taste better.  (And makes the chef a little happier when he or she needs to "sample" the wine for quality control).  This linguine is also great when you find yourself with the rare problem of leftover wine.  Although the wine leftovers aren't always great for drinking the next day, they are fantastic for cooking with.  Here is a good recipe to try:

Razor Clam Linguine

linguine noodles (fresh is best, but box variety is just fine)
4 pieces of bacon, chopped
pad of butter
2 shallots chopped (or 1/2 an onion with 2 cloves garlic)
1 - 1 1/2 cups white wine (I used Plain Cellar's Riesling)
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
crushed red chili flakes (to taste)
1 1/2 - 2 cups chopped clams (I used 9 clams, but 6 would do fine)
fresh bunch of parsley, chopped
grated parmesan cheese (preferably freshly grated, but use what you have)

Start a pot of water boiling for your linguine noodles.  Add the noodles once boiling and cook to al dente doneness, drain (reserve a cup of pasta water), and set aside.  Meanwhile, chop your bacon and saute until crispy; set aside to drain on a paper towel.  You can leave the bacon grease in the pan (or just remove some of it) and add a pad of butter as well.  (I didn't promise a low cal meal here).  Saute your shallots until translucent.  Add your white wine, oregano, and chili flakes.  Go easy on the chili flakes at first, you can always add more later.  I put in just a pinch, but you can add more if you like it spicy.  Simmer until your sauce reduces.  Add your chopped clams and cook until the clams just start to turn opaque.  This won't take long, and you don't want to overcook your clams.  Add the noodles to your pan and give everything a good stir.  cook for just a bit longer until your noodles are done to your liking, and if the pasta needs a bit more moisture, you can add a bit of the pasta water to the pan or drizzle on some olive oil; (I added in some sun-dried cherry tomatoes that I had stored in olive oil from last summer).  Throw in your chopped parsley and a good amount of grated parmesan.  Toss in your bacon crumbles, pour yourself a glass of wine, and enjoy an awesome Northwest meal.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Bottle After Bottle

Clunk! Ping, ping...ksh, ksh, ksssh...Gurgle, shhhp, boomp...tap, tap, plunk! Crinkle, wrinkle, shwoosh, bump...shhhhwap, shhhwip...plunk, plunk, plunk, plunk....

One case down!
100 cases to go...

Our new Labelmatic
Last weekend was yet another session of bottling for us.  We are bottling our 2011 wines and readying them for you!  This past Saturday we bottled over 100 cases of our Summer Solstice Red, one of our blends.  The Summer Solstice is a mostly a Cabernet (44%) and Malbec (44%) blend with just a touch of Syrah (12%).  When we first transfered the Summer Solstice out of its oak barrels and into the stainless tank before bottling, we were blown away by the nose on this wine!  Great wafts of floral, ripened fruit intoxicated the air of the production room.  We couldn't help stealing a small taste (or two or three) to find out how this wine has been progressing.  Immediately the smooth, clean taste of this wine hits the front of your mouth, and we believe that further aging in the bottle will truly mature the lingering layers of sophisticated flavor in this wine.  It's really hard to resist its charms, though.  Whether or not you choose to age this wine, it will make a great addition to your wine collection and provide enjoyment for years to come.

Mister Jackson doesn't quite love bottling as much as we do; hang in there buddy! There is a tennis ball and a trip to the river in your future.
Next weekend marks the final wine bottling of our 2011 wines!  We will be bottling one of our varietals, the Malbec.  Our family, friends, and neighbors have truly been a huge help these past few weekends with the bottling, and we can not thank everyone enough!  We hope to celebrate the end of bottling season with a Saturday night concert event, our first since our Summer Solstice grand opening, and it definitely will not be our last.   We have artist Olivia De La Cruz coming to perform, and we couldn't be more excited!  With the help of Kickstarter, Olivia just released her first album (titled Olivia De La Cruz) and you can find it on iTunes and  Olivia is a local artist born in the Lake Chelan area, and after her many travels, now calls Seattle home.  Her music has been described as "a mixture of Lyrical, Soul, Americana, and Rock."  You can check out one of her songs "Old Fire" that she sings with some of her friends here.  There will be a small cover charge that goes to Olivia, and wine (of course!) will be available.  Our tasting room is open Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the concert will start around 7 p.m.

We can't wait to see you all next weekend!

This is one full barrel room.  Come help us empty it!

Tasting room hours:

Saturdays 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Fridays & Sundays by appointment only

you can also visit our website

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Weekend to Remember

Our grand opening party was a huge success!  On the longest day of the year, we celebrated what was a long time coming.  The wine was flowing, the food was incredible, and we danced and sang under the light of the "super moon."  We owe a huge thank you to everyone who helped us along the way, and we just feel so blessed to have so many friends & family who support us.
Jake's longtime friend Blake catered the entire weekend for us.  (He also catered my summer solstice wedding six years ago.)  Blake has been a chef at Ivar's Mukilteo Landing for many years, and this man knows how to cook!  If this was to be your last meal, you could die happy: grilled salmon with beurre blanc sauce, soft shell crab sliders, razor clam chowder, chanterelle soup, cured meats from Salumi, strawberry shortcake with lemon curd and whipped cream, freshly baked macadamia nut cookies, and chocolate covered strawberries.  Many of the main ingredients were fished and foraged for by our family & the (outstanding) strawberries were brought from a farm in Lynden by the Scholten family.  It was a meal to remember.
Jake and Chef Blake unwind after dinner

Daniela & Justin
For our evening entertainment, I asked my friend Daniela that I met in college to come and perform.  She brought her friend Justin (they often get together to play gigs in Seattle) to join her on vocals & play guitar.  I've known for some time that Daniela has a great voice, but I really found out how great a performer she was as well.  Daniela & Justin sang many covers & classic crowd pleasing songs, but the style in which they sang really enhanced the attitude of the evening.  They played hits by Michael Jackson, Tom Petty, and Johnny Cash (to name a few) with a mellow twang and intoxicating energy.  Even my grandma Ruby got up to dance!

We sampled our Tempranillo straight from the barrel

There must have been something to that Super Moon (or maybe the wine was just really good!)

The Super Moon rises behind the clouds
After the excitement wound down on Sunday, we recalled the past nights of celebration with a fondness and warmth of heart.  We could acknowledge that we had finally accomplished our great undertaking and also knew that we would find success in our future.  It is so nice to really reflect on life's moments & remember why we work so hard.  We truly look forward to the many years to come with Plain Cellars, and we cannot wait to keep sharing our love for wine with more and more people.

Please visit us again soon; Our tasting room will be open:

Friday 3 - 7 p.m.
Saturday 12 - 5 p.m.
Sunday by appointment

Enough celebrating, now back to work! We will be bottling more wine this upcoming weekend. (Somebody must have drank it all.)

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Race is On!

Jacob muscles the chandelier up the ladder to wire it
Summer seemed to sprint right on past Spring with a streak of hot, dry days in the 80s- all before Mother's Day!  It was the sudden onset of warm weather that we suddenly realized how soon the Summer Solstice would be here.  As you might already know, the Summer Solstice weekend is our scheduled grand opening.  On Saturday, June 22nd we will finally be open to the public.  With that in mind, we have been frantically racing to get things done at the winery.

Morgan puzzles it together
Jacob has been installing exterior light fixtures that really look spectacular at night.  After all that hard work wiring the place, he finally gets to add the "icing on the cake," as everyone gathers to (drumroll, please) ooh and ahh.  Our evenings sipping wine will feel magical amidst the soft glow of these fixtures (further enhanced by more drinking of wine).

A perfectionist at work
Our friend Matt has been doing an outstanding job on all the tile work in the winery.  Matt is an all around great guy that we have known for years.  He runs his own business, Artisan Stone & Tile out of the greater Seattle area.  He has done the the tile work for my parent's house in Everett as well as all the tile for Morgan and I when we recently remodeled our home.  If you need a good tile guy, Matt is the guy to know.

My father was pleased to see the appliances finally arrive. He worked on finishing more trim and prepping the cabinets for the countertops (to be installed next weekend!).
The large (and beautiful!) doors to our barrel room go up

My big job was to create a large mural (about 9' high by 18' wide) above the bar in the tasting room.  Last year when my parents had traveled to Italy, they were inspired by all the realistic murals of the Italian countryside that they had seen.  They were hoping that I could do something similar for them here.

Jacob's original photograph
I knew immediately that I wanted to depict the feeling of the countryside in Plain.  It truly is a beautiful area in Washington, and I wanted to paint a mural that would do it justice.  I took my inspiration from the original photograph that my brother Jacob had taken a few falls back.  The big oak tree was looking colorful and majestic, and the street signs seemed so iconic.  I am really pleased with the end result, and I think I captured the true essence of Plain.

I think my parents were happy with the money they invested in sending their daughter all the way to California to study art.  Who knew that an art degree would ever amount to anything?  (Thanks for believing in me, Mom & Dad).

One tired but happy bunch
                           you can also visit us at our website

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Spring is here?

Last Sunday morning we awoke to snow.  It had poured rain the night before (you know it's heavy rain when it can awake a Northwesterner from a full sleep), but dropped enough in temperature to turn to a good dusting of the white stuff by the morning.  This was only shocking because nearly all of the winter's snow had already melted away.  Even the yellow glacier lilies were popping up left and right as they usually do following each year's snow melt, and hopefully the morel mushrooms (a choice edible found near these parts) will be soon to follow.  Spring just seems to always have a mixed bag of weather in store for us around here to always keep us guessing, and this is why we dress in layers!  (I believe I had no less than five this day.)   

Luckily our construction focus last weekend found us indoors instead of out.  We can hardly believe that there is less than 3 months until our grand opening, but thankfully we are mostly down to the finishing details, (but oh how time consuming those last details can be!)

Bob sealed the flooring from the weekend before, and the color is really looking great with the desired "wet look."  We wanted to bring out those warm tones in the floor even more, so we decided to paint two focal walls of the tasting room.  The color is 'Copper Mountain' (appropriately named), and it just made the space so much more inviting.  The tasting room will certainly have that warm and cozy feeling that is needed for those cold winter days in Plain (or cold Spring days in this case).

Morgan gets the high spots!
(he has that 6'7" height advantage)

While Morgan and Roxanne painted the tasting room, Bob and I worked on moulding and window trim.  This is a tedious, time consuming job, but the finished look is completely worth the effort.  A lot of math and tricky cuts were involved; a good motto to go by doing this kind of work is measure twice, cut once.  The window trim has a contemporary Northwest feel to it, and the dark stain of the wood complements the room nicely.

By the time we had wrapped up our work on Sunday afternoon, the snow had already melted, and the sun was smiling down on us.  The warm sun on our faces felt good, and a sense of accomplishment felt even better.

you can also visit us on our website