Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Bikerman Coefficient

I hate foam. I hate it with an irrational passion that is akin to my hatred and fear of snakes. I hate it in all its incarnations; sea water foam that collects in sickly yellow pools under piers, styrofoam that grates on my teeth with a high pitched dog whistle squeal, couch foam, foam fingers, the foam that exudes from various bodily orifices on episodes of 'House', dish detergent foam that invaded rivers and streams until Rachel Carson pointed the accusatory foam finger at it in 'Silent Spring'; I hate it all. The present fascination of haute cuisine with various types of foamed food is beyond inexplicable to me. The idea that any food could be made more appetizing with the addition of foam to me is a heresy perhaps exceeding that which resulted in the burning of the Czech Jan Hus at the stake in the 15th century.

Having said that, I must admit, there are two incarnations of foam that are not objectionable to me; that on top of beer or on cappuchinos. In both these cases I tolerate it. I suspect it is because I look at it not as real foam but as some kind of fizzy fashion accessory, such as is implied by the use of the word 'head' in relation to beer, (though most people don't look at a head as a fashion accessory, after a few beers it generally can be) and the prefix 'Cappu', implying, in Italian, 'hat'.

Obviously, being a winemaker, (I am told that is what I am now), the inevitable occurrence of foam at certain points in the winemaking process is both fascinating and horrifying to me. It appears at two distinct junctures in the process; first during what is the 'maceration' period of the primary fermentation, when the cap forms on top of the wine and secondly at bottling when a colloidal foam forms in the headspace of the bottle. In the first case the foam is far more pronounced and substantial (as measured by the Bikerman coefficient) in red wines, and in the second case moreso in white wines. The formation of the foam cap in the must of red wines is a welcome and well studied phenomena as well as an integral part of the winemaking process. The formation of foam at bottling is regarded as a mere nuisance and is generally regarded as having no effect whatsoever on the finished product.

Part of the task of the winemaker is to pay attention to things that you have been told not to pay attention to; I call this the 'Wizard of Oz' rule as this process of peeking behind the winemaking curtain is almost always immediately disheartening and only secondarily and eventually productive in helping you reach your goal. So, this week when I was bottling the Cayuga White I happened to notice that the foam produced in the bottle at filling seemed unusually durable and stable, I decided to attempt to yank the curtain aside, so hold on to your dog, Dorothy, it's about to get bumpy, again.

There were two possible culprits that immediately presented themselves; two components of wine that might produce sufficient heightened surface tension to noticeably affect persistence of bubbles, to result in foaming in the finished wine; fatty esters (not one of my relatives) and polysaccharides, both naturally occurring compounds, both also components of glycerine. I immediately dismissed fatty esters. My reasoning was as follows; since Cayuga White has a notoriously low finished alcohol content; this low alcohol content is probably due to the fact that fatty esters tend to break down into volatile ethanol and water (as opposed to fermentation which produces only alcohol). The assumption that it's low alcohol content was probably due in part to the increase in water content as these compounds broke down seemed reasonable. This left me with polysaccharides.

Polysaccharides are interesting little buggers and the fact that they are utilized as foaming agents in the pharmaceutical industry seemed to lend credence to my theory. As it turns out, since they are also the component of the yeast cell wall that when the yeast cells dies and breaks down producing foaming in the must, the fickle foam finger of fate seemed even more firmly fixed on their malfeasance and Occam's Razor further suggested it was at work in both instances of red and white wine.

This led to the secondary question as to why, since the byproducts in the degradation of yeast eventually precipitate out, why would the polysaccharides in the Cayuga White remain in suspension. The answer I have come up with is this: Cayuga White is a particularly cold hardy variety and polysaccharides are implicated in the production of the natural anti-freeze that protects grapes in winter hence it is reasonable to assume the must has a higher concentration of these. The addition of sulphur in the form of Potassium Metabisulfite in the winemaking process causes the formation of sulphuric esters of the polysaccharides in suspension which is more pronounced in Cayuga White because of the higher polysaccharide content. These long chains of sugar-like compounds that are bound together by a fatty ester produce durable foam. QED. Whew! Too much technical jargon but here's the kicker.

Certain polysaccharides, particularly the Sulphuric Esters of Polysaccharides also have a very specific effect on the human circulatory system called 'Brakykinin'. In essence they are powerful vaso-dilators, i.e. they have the tendency to lower your blood pressure. Hence, it seemed that the very effect which was raising my own blood pressure as I bottled the wine and cursed the foam, contained the antidote for that very condition. Ironic! Do you see now how insidious foam is! So, the next time you are at a baseball or football game waving that foam finger in the air, it would behoove you to think how treacherous and tricky foam can be, and to consider the possibility that foam based fashion accessories may in fact produce the opposite of the intended effects and cause your team to lose instead. Just something to consider. And for all you chefs out there intent of finding new uses for foam in the culinary arts, a cautinary word, 'beware of the nefarious mousse!' Now, where is my cappuchino?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


There is a moment in dodgeball that everyone experiences, the point where one has no perceived advantage in going left or going right, the instinct to avoid the ball is short circuited, one remains frozen in place for what seems like forever,the nervous system's fight or flight reaction disconnected from the musculo-skeletal structure, ripped out like the spiky backbone of a juicy sea bass,
or a jockey stripped from the double harness, the twin trotters of time and space, hurtling along like a funky sulky on autopilot curled round and round the knife edge of indecision like a cocoon,--OK enough metaphors.
What we have been dodging lately are bubbles not balls,--the principle is the same though, we stand frozen like deer in the headlights waiting for the inevitable call of 'yer out', sometimes for seconds, sometimes months, sometimes for years on end, we are frozen, transfixed and yet can not get out of the way, one bubble after another hurtling toward us penetrating our sussurated, semioperable, synaptic, stupefaction,

the tech bubble --bam! you're out,

the housing bubble--bam!--you're out,
the investment bubble--bam! you're out,--BAM, BAM, BAM,

wake up, we're not in Kansas anymore we're in the Emeril City, or Dodge City BAM!
All these bubbles! All these balls to dodge.

You know what it reminds me of? Something else that recently seems to have no real center no real essence just a reflection of expanding expectations --strawberries,--yeah, you heard me, strawberries.

What do strawberries have to do with bubbles and dodgeball? They too seem caught in this same uncontrollable soulless expansion. They are huge, and they have no centers and what is more they seem to have lost the essence of what they were, they
have lost their 'strawberriness'. They are gorgeous shimmering replicas of their former more compact selves, expansive gargantuanly irrelevant superficialities, like us, like the bubbles, --BAM!

Why do I like winemaking so much? It always encourages the contrarian in me. Turns the bubbles inside out. It's always about focusing on the opposite; bubbles do not signify the end of a process; they signal the beginning; the surge and ferment that helps us emerge better, more essential, more cogent, more
connected to our teeter-tottering, trotting neural networks, more, not less, --yes that is what is nice about
wine,-- and bubbles,--while there are still a million talking heads talking about the one current bubble, there are a million bubbles that will be worth talking about it in maybe a year or two years when the wine calms down, when this one head calms down enough to drink that wine, recalling bubbles and balls we dodged, then it is our turn, and the bubbles that come hurtling at us one after the other are full of promise that energizes rather than tasteless emptiness that enervates us and surprises us with it's vapid non-essentialness. They say 'wine is life', well
not the life we have been living maybe, but maybe the life we should have been living, instead of trying to avoid. Tiny bubbles, getting bigger.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Two Festivals

"I am a Jewish boy from Brooklyn, Hebrew and Public School born and bred." This I confessed to the heavy set smiling woman with the purple apron emblazoned with the word "Mary" on it, whose smile immediately becomes fixed, as if varnished by my unprompted revelation. There is no escaping the past in Orange County, not even on a motorcycle. As a word of explanation, I was at the Burke Catholic H.S. sponsored Wine, Chocolate and Music festival, which for anyone who was thinking of attending and did not,--shame on you, it was a lot of fun, anyway, I'm talking to Mary, the woman I had been emailing back and forth about participating. In my defense for the faux pas, I am not by temperament overly inclined toward blurting out unsolicited, self-revelatory anecdotal fragments(heaven forfend! blogs notwithstanding), but in this case I did feel somewhat like a sore thumb amidst all the semi-pious good humor, there in the small gym announcing the past triumphs of the basketball team in large white letters as we, present occupants the field of those past contests, zealously poured wine, hand dipped strawberries, brewed lattes, sampled apples, furtive frankfurters, equinimically dispensed pizza, homely ziti and coquettishly frilled bon-bons all to the tuberific strains of 'If you knew Susie Like I knew Susie, ohh, ohh!, ohhhh-what a gal!'

Anyway, so now it's a week later. I decide to go over to Noble Coffee Roasters. They had been there at Burke too and I had a hankering for a latte (can you say that?). I see the fellow that had been there at their booth. Dark haired, young, good looking, brooding.
"Weren't you at the Wine and Chocolate festival?"
"Ohh yeah, the, what is it? the wine guy?"
Clearly I am irrelevant.
Grabbing my mocha I pick up Orange Magazine, amidst increasingly uninteresting and repetitive profiles of random occupants of the county, there is a picture of Allan Gerry and Paulie Teutel with a bike, a chopper built for the Bethel Woodstock museum,-- the caption reads 'two entrepreneurs cut from the same hippie fringe', who could be more different than Allan Gerry and Paul Teutel, there they were painted with the same fuzzy hippie brush,
"Were you at Woodstock?"--back at the Burke festival, I immediately snap back into focus,--I am talking to Tom, from Pazdar winery, actually the father-in-law, they are setting up next to me, he seems extraordinarily friendly, more than the usual, 'hi I'm your best buddy for the next four hours or until I packupandamouttahere',
market buddies, way,-- Tom starts giving me some of his history,
"Marine Corps. Bergen Catholic H.S., thirty years as an insurance investigator"
"Insurance investigator? Why is he asking me about Woodstock? Did I set something on fire there,--maybe Hendrix' guitar?"
"Heyy, Burke's got a real dynamite basketball team!"
"Did you see the Yankee game?" Clearly not Jewish.
"Exhibition game."
"Yeah I was at Woodstock, lotta mud, couldn't see much, (kinda like now)."
"But you could hear it,--right."
I am looking at the magazine back at Noble Roasters. A week later. Forty years later! jeez!
Feeling ever more irrelevant. The young brooding guy has a baby, 'Simon' I learn his name is.
They are speaking some foreign language. For some reason I think it's Albanian,--for no particular reason, no more that for thinking Pazdar was Jewish at least, --I look at the bike in the picture, big reclining leather fringed seat, two tier, something evocative,
The front part is a strange, tapered kaleidoscopic shape, like Leonardo's telescope in technicolor, heyy!
weren't we giving birth to the new nation, there in the mud, weren't we the midwives of the new American Renaissance? Where's our Leonardo.
"Old Huey L on the radio 'Power of Love', --that's what the shape was,--
the strange, inelegant shape. A machine of love."
There's a funeral in Campbell Hall I am passing it, timeless somehow, the
man in the military hat, the group is somehow coherent, as if reinventing itself,
The Power of Love, reinventing itself thru death,
Me, I still feel irrelevant, even to myself. Not interested in a reinvented me.
Stick to the routine,--some strange light is emanating from
the group gathered there over the casket, like a Normal Rockwell
light, something gone, like the wrong side of tapestry, something comfortable, structure without the contention of color.
I see another cemetery, empty vacant, dominated by the over sized large cross,
on the rise in back is the red and white, cereal box cell phone tower,
"Wbo you tryin' to call man. Is this 1969 trying to call 2009 to tell me
that I am now irrelevant, old,--unreinvented, and possibly wanted for an
imaginary arson,--spring, supposed to be a season of rebirth, somehow I
just don't feel it, the flowers yeah they are there but not in a rush like usual,
waiting for the inevitable question.
"Lotta babes there not wearing much?"
"Dunno, didn't see much, too much mud."
Yeah, flowers, and the blasted drizzle,--mud.
"What did you eat?"
"Some hippies from California fed us." by this trying to distance myself
avoid being painted with the broad fuzzy hippy brush, impossible,
"Hello, I would like to make a call,--"
"Hello, I would like to make a call,--"
"If you knew Susie. Oh, oh, oh."