Category Archives: Wine

Wines to discover and share with friends: Ryan Patrick Vineyards

Jeremy Santo, winemaker, Ryan Patrick Vineyards
Jeremy Santo, winemaker, Ryan Patrick Vineyards

For two weeks in a row, the last Saturday in March and the first in April, Green Box Boutique offers free wine tastings. We bring you wines to discover and share with your friends. Here’s a little about one of our new, incoming wine labels:

Family-run wineries seem like an artifact in the U.S., where all of agriculture seems on the stampede toward factory-style operations. And “batch tinkering”? Unheard of. When you have a winning formula for food or beverages, you stick with it, working by the recipe.

Not so at Ryan Patrick Vineyards, where the touch of the winemaker counts: “Intuitive winemaking is the art of letting the fruit speak for itself. It’s minimalist intervention combined with consistency of style. That’s the heart of the Ryan Patrick promise: artisanal winemaking where the grape is at the center.”

Named for the grape-growing family founders’ two sons, Ryan and Patrick, Ryan Patrick Wineries is known for its Naked Chardonnay, Redhead Red and Rock Island Red labels and for its Reserve wines, consistently out-performing its price-point. The wineries source fruit from local single vineyards in Wahluke Slope and Sagemoor Farms in Washington State.

In 1951 Sid Flanagan began farming native land near Quincy, Washington as part of the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project. Forty years later, in 1996, Sid’s son Terry, with wife Vivian, founded Ryan Patrick Vineyards. They were pioneer wine growers in what is now “Washington State’s newest American Viticultural Area (AVA), Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley. The state’s thirteenth AVA runs along a stretch of steep cliffs above the Columbia River and surrounds the town of Quincy, Washington. A combination of unique growing conditions including a cooler climate, a thin soil layer and vineyard elevations of 1,200 – 1,400 feet contribute to the area’s unique character”.  Ryan Patrick Vineyards is on the Leavenworth-Cashmere Wine Trail.

Their estate wines use fruit grown in two family-owned vineyards: The Bishop’s Vineyard, containing 20 acres of chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc; and The Homestead Vineyard, with its 25 acres of exquisite chardonnay. Low yields in the vineyard, combined with prime locations for heat and sunlight, produce concentrated fruit.

Of winemaker Jeremy Santo’s Naked Chardonnay, Wine Press Northwest says, “This vintage marks his second as head winemaker for Ryan Patrick Vineyards, and he’s created a marvelous stainless steel Chardonnay with fruit from Sagemoor, Wautoma Winds and Sundance vineyards. Aromas of fresh-cut pineapple, guava, There’s complexity to the structure that opens with a pleasing mouth feel from stirring on the lees as flavors of Asian pear and dried apricot transition to a crisp finish with Gala apple. Rated “Outstanding!” by Great Northwest Wine. (13.5% alc.)

Jeremy Santo “does daily fermentations with different yeast or temperatures to achieve a specific effect. A true craftsman, Jeremy pulls from his scientific education and training at Snoqualmie and Canoe Ridge wineries to create consistently great wines that people love to discover and share with their friends.

“His batch-tinkering approach has resulted in varietals and blends that have justifiably become famous for how they out-perform their price point. Ryan Patrick is known for its Naked Chardonnay, Redhead Red and Rock Island Red labels, and for its Reserve wines, which source fruit from single vineyards in Wahluke Slope and Sagemoor Farms.”

A 2012 move toward a larger operation maintained all the positives of a family-owned and operated, award-winning winery while adding potential: “The Flanagans were looking for a way to produce more wine and wanted to add other varietals to their line. At the same time, all that success in the marketplace drew the attention of the Wahluke Wine Company. Interested in adding a small quality winery to the company, they approached the Flanagans and offered to buy the winery. It would be kept as Ryan Patrick Vineyards, with both Terry and Vivian involved in daily operations. This would give them more wine and more varietals to offer their fans.

Ryan Patrick wines are from sustainably grown grapes. For specifics about the meaning of labels on wines, check out our post, Does the Emperor Have Too Many Clothes? The Confusing World of Wine Labels.

We wish you all a sharing, caring Christmas!

Adult and Child Therapy Services Holiday Giving Tree
Adult and Child Therapy Services Holiday Giving Tree

This year we’d like to wish everyone a sharing, caring Christmas and thank you, our customers, and our vendors for partnering with us to build a better world.

As our customers, you care about the people with whom we share our world and care about the environment.  You show your caring in your shopping choices. Every purchase you make at Green Box Boutique is one that shares with others by helping disadvantaged workers all over the world and by saving our beautiful world so future generations can enjoy it as well. We thank you so much for supporting this effort.

And we’d also like to thank our vendors, each of whom cares and shares in such amazing ways. We invite you to read about them in our blog and learn about their contributions, efforts you also support with your purchases at the Green Box Boutique:

And so many more that we haven’t had a chance to write about yet.

Thank you all, and have a wonderful, caring and sharing Christmas.

It’s no trick, so it must be a treat: Skulltastic Wine Tasting

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SKULLTASTIC WINE TASTING, OCTOBER 31
Where? Right here: Green Box Boutique, 100 Cass St., Woodstock Northeast corner of the Square

So what are you doing Saturday, October 31, for Halloween?? How about stopping into Green Box Boutique to enjoy a taste of wine with your friends . . . in the most intriguing bottle ever, Wild Blossom Meadery and Winery’s Pirate’s Blood Pepper.

The taste is intriguing as well, and it’s just the right thing for Halloween: Pirate’s Blood Pepper Mead is “A Sweet and spicy capsumel infused with three different chili peppers. A smokey warmth gives way to honey sweetness. Bottled with 2 chili peppers to increase heat with age. 500Ml 12% ABV.”

So what about that to enjoy while you watch the local parade of costumes around the Square? And here’s the thing, not only is the bottle intriguing and the wine (this is: mead) intriguing, but the business model is something you’ll want to learn about as well.

From Wild Blossom Meadery and Winery, Chicago, Illinois
And who is Wild Blossom Meadery and Winery? Located in Chicago for more than two decades, it is not only the first winery in Chicago but the only producer of mead on the Northern Illinois Wine Trail. You can visit them at 10033 S. Western Ave. in Chicago, where you will enjoy an opportunity for up-close-and-personal education, an aspect of their business in which they take great pride. One of the advantages (for us) that it’s a local operation.

Can you imagine a Chicago Meadery and Winery that not only makes its own wines but raises its own bees and collects its own honey? Yes! That is part of the project of this ecologically and sustainably oriented company. “For each bottle of mead we produce, our bees pollinate some 2 million flowers. Those, in turn, produce 20 to 40 million seeds destined to become new flowers.” And all those flowers benefit the Greater Metropolitan Chicago area environment (because who knows how far those precious seeds may drift on the wind?).

Mead  . . . Not only for Beowulf
With a nearly 8,000 year history, Mead is thought to be the oldest alcoholic beverage. “Its roots trace back to earthen vessels discovered in modern-day China which contained ingredients for fermenting mead. But perhaps mead is best known within the context of the “mead hall,” where warriors such as the legendary Beowulf boasted of their deeds over a cup of it.”

Mead is an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting honey with yeast. Today it is a small niche of the craft wine and beer market.

How Wild Blossom Meadery and Winery Makes Their Mead:

  • Bees collect nectar from flowers, then return to their hives atop the roof of the Marriott Magnificent Mile, in the Ogden Dunes, in the Kankakee dunes and on a stretch of Park District land formerly home to a steel mill. At the hives, the bees disperse the nectar, and worker bees take over, turning the nectar into honey by evaporating most of the water.
  • We collect the honey from the hives in the form of honeycomb, being careful to leave an adequate supply for the bees to survive on while also avoiding the bottom two layers of the hive where the queen bee lays her eggs.
  • The honeycomb is spun in a centrifuge to extract the honey from the comb.
  • The raw honey is thinned with water until it’s the consistency of grape juice and 24 percent sugar content.
  • Yeast is added to the honey to start the fermentation process that converts the sugars in the honey into alcohol.
  • After about four weeks, the mead is transferred to a secondary fermentation tank. For fruit meads, frozen fruit may be added at this time. Freezing the fruit is a winemaking trick that breaks down the fruit’s cell walls, making juice extraction easier.
  • After another four weeks, the mead is passed through a wine press to strain the fruit. It then sits in a settling tank to get rid of yeast deposits. While in the settling tank, the sweetness is adjusted by tweaking with either more dry mead yeast (if it’s too sweet) or more honey (if it’s not sweet enough).
  • After being filtered a final time and bottled, the mead is ready to drink or age.

Now those of you who follow health news know that fermentation is big. Very big. And those of you who follow environmental news know how important it is to give back to the environment as this project does. And if you follow environmental news or politics, you know that local, local, local is where its at. Including for employment (of course since Wild Blossom Meadery and Winery is IN Chicago, they HIRE in Chicago).

So what else could we possibly want from a business but to be supporting all these important causes while at the same time making a product we can so heartily enjoy at Halloween and any time?? And putting it in such a great bottle?

Oh, and they also have skull glasses! Boo!

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P.S. Did I mention that bees can become addicted too? A recent National Geographic report tells us that “Bees Are Buzzing on Caffeine.” Scientists say that at low concentrations, caffeine appears to attract honeybees and enhance their long-term memory. Wonder how they’d like mead?

Does the emperor have too many clothes? The confusing world of wine labels

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Why Organic?

At dinner one evening, my dinner companions announced to me with some satisfaction that organic fruits and veggies offer no more nutritional content than conventional fruits and veggies. Proved by science, they said, with authority. End of discussion.

I passed on countering with the fact that organic whole milk has 65% more heart-healthy essential fatty acids than conventional milk. Proved by science.

Actually, I don’t think most people buy organic fruits and veggies because they think they have a higher or better nutritional profile. I know lots of people, though, who prefer organic fruits and veggies because they want to avoid slow poisoning from pesticides. After all, field workers wear hazmat suits when they spray. And then we eat those same pesticide-laden fruits and veggies??

Other people choose organic because studies show that organic methods are better for the environment in the long term. And we appreciate that organic label on fruits and veggies because we know that some produce is more suspect than other produce. The Environmental Working Group provides a Dirty Dozen list each year and a Clean Fifteen. The organic label allows us to make informed choices about when it’s really worthwhile to spend the extra money.

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Wine and Organics: Why confusion reigns

With wine, the picture gets more complicated, however. These complications are largely a function of the nature of wine-making and the labels we put on the bottles. Let’s try to unpack some of what you see on those labels. 

Standards are different in different countries, and labels that say the same things mean different things. The organic label in Europe allows sulfites. In the U.S., an organic label doesn’t. As a result, there are many fewer organic wineries in the United States than in Europe. Of 1500-2000 organic wineries worldwide, most are in Europe with more than 800 in France.

In addition, a label on a wine purchased in Europe that says organic doesn’t need to list sulfites, so many people think European wines don’t contain them. The same wine in the United States, however, would not get an organic label — and must state that the wine contains sulfites. And then there’s the label that says “Made with organically grown grapes,” which in Europe does not need to list added sulfites and in the U.S. does.

The controversy clearly centers on sulfites, and that is indeed a controversial topic in recent years, although sulfur has been part of the wine-making process since at least the 15th century. Medieval “winemakers were permitted a maximum level of 18.8mg per liter (or 18.8 parts per million)—barely above the 10ppm that requires the label today—by burning a mixture of wood shavings, powdered sulfur, incense and herbs in empty barrels.

With improved methods of synthesizing derivative forms of sulfur, wine-makers gained better control over their process. With the advent of food-grade sulfiting agents, the food industry gained a preservative they could use in a huge number of food products. When the U.S.F.D.A. approved sulfiting agents as “generally regarded as safe” in 1958, the industry began to use these agents relatively indiscriminately. Wine-makers, long familiar with the amounts useful in the process of wine-making, did not follow the same path.

A graphic presentation from Wine Folly demonstrates that by far, most of the sulfites we take in come from fruits and veggies, in particular dried fruits, and from processed foods. 

Sulfites in Wine vs. Other Foods from Wine Folly.
Sulfites in Wine vs. Other Foods from Wine Folly.

In addition, sulfites, particularly the relatively very small amount used in most wines, are likely to be a problem only for severe asthmatics, a tiny percentage of the population: “Of the estimated 22 million Americans who have asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 20% have severe asthma. Of that subgroup, about 5%—or 220,000 Americans—are sulfite sensitive. The labels are directed to this group of Americans.

What do sulfites do for the wine? Sprayed on the grapes, sulfites prevent wild yeasts and spoilage bacteria from causing the grapes to deteriorate, making them unuseable for wine. In addition, sulfites can help control undesirable organisms during fermentation. Indeed, “It’s nearly impossible to find wines with absolutely no sulfites, because yeasts naturally produce SO2 during fermentation.

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As a result of better technology and more sanitary conditions, wine-makers today can make wines with fewer sulfites. With the complexity around labeling requirements, though, and the knowledge that the tiny amounts of sulfites they might use to stabilize wine and prevent deterioration are safe for all but a very few people, most wineries are likely to opt for “sustainably produced” rather than “organic.” Many, if not most, wines with the Sustainably Produced label use organically grown grapes. They are not labelled “organic” in the U.S., however, because they contain added sulfites.

What the labels mean

Wikipedia provides these definitions:

Organic
“Organic wine is wine made from grapes grown in accordance with principles of organic farming, which typically excludes the use of artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides…”

“The legal definition of organic wine varies from country to country. . . The primary difference in the way that organic wine is defined relates to the use (or non use) of preservatives during the wine-making process.”  

That last sentence refers to sulfites. A wine that uses added sulfites cannot be labeled “organic” in the United States.

Sustainable
Sustainable wine making is a systems perspective of integration of the natural and human resources, involving environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. It requires small, realistic, and measurable steps as defined in the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices Workbook published by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA).”

Green Box Boutique Wines

Although we offer some organic wines, notably the Spanish Dragora, at Green Box Boutique, our focus is on bringing you the best wines from sustainably farmed grapes. We carry these labels:

  • Vina Ventisquero, Chile – Pinot Noir
  • Yelcho from Ventisquero, Chile – Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Dos Minas Torrontes
  • Bibbiano Chianti Classico
  • Nardone Aglianico Doc
  • Botalcura Syrah Malbec
  • Botalcura Crazy Quail Cabernet
  • Botalcura Crazy Quail Sauvignon Blanc
  • Vidigal Vinho Reserva 2011
  • Barao De Vilar Tawny Port
  • Domaine De Tholomies Cabernet Merlot 2013
  • Briseo Malbec Reserva
  • Santerro Moscato and Mango
  • Santero Moscato and Peach
  • Santero Moscato and Coconut
  • Dragora Organic Chardonnay 2013
  • Dragora Organic Merlot Spain 2013
  • Santero Fragolino

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And from Wild Blossom Meadery & Winery in Chicago, we offer a delightful assortment of Meads. Wild Blossom describes its product this way:

“Mead is an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting honey with yeast. Mead is not a beer, wine, or spirit in the normal sense; it is its own class of alcohol, and it is believed to be the oldest alcoholic beverage. Mead has held a pivotal place in many cultures throughout its nearly 8,000 year history, and it is still enjoyed throughout the world.

“Its roots trace back to earthen vessels discovered in modern-day China which contained ingredients for fermenting mead. But perhaps mead is best known within the context of the ‘mead hall,’ where warriors such as the legendary Beowulf boasted of their deeds over a cup of it.

“Today, mead is a small niche of the craft beer and wine market. As far as local producers go of this wine made from honey, Wild Blossom Meadery & Winery is the only producer of mead on the Northern Illinois Wine Trail.”

The moral of this story: unless you are one of the small number of severe asthmatics, you will probably serve yourself better if you focus on eating organic fruits and veggies, at least for the Dirty Dozen, and avoiding processed foods.

For your wines, look for something delicious, Sustainably Produced. Invite a friend or two, and enjoy beautiful moments together, sharing your very special wine. Take pleasure and satisfaction knowing it was made from grapes harvested with care and finely crafted into a timelessly delicious wine.