Rob Linder: I am on the phone today with Peter Brehm from Brehm Vineyards. Peter, could you tell us a little bit about your interest in wines, when it first began, how it blossomed?
Peter Brehm: When it blossomed? I guess my dad had made some Concord wine as a young man and he talks about that on occasion, and I think that stimulated a little alchemistic part of me. When I was going to law school in San Francisco, went for a weekend picnic in Napa Valley, a bunch of us, and stopping in front of Louie Martini Winery, asked a grower with a gondola of grapes if he had any grapes left. And he said, "Yeah, sure, go out to the field and pick them." So we ran out in the field and got a bunch of plastic bags from the hardware store and picked 400 pounds of Zinfandel, and 250 pounds of green Hungarian, and then tried to figure out what to do with them.
Rob Linder: Would you say you've been learning ever since then?
Peter Brehm: Yeah, I've been learning, and forgetting.
Rob Linder: Now, people may be familiar with you from Brehm Vineyards. Could you tell us a little bit about what Brehm Vineyards is?
Peter Brehm: Brehm Vineyards is a sort of a virtual vineyard. I have a publication that we come out with on occasion called the "Grape Explorer," and it represents the vineyards that we source for grapes to provide to home wine makers. And there's some small wineries. And this virtual vineyard extends from Santa Barbara County all the way up to the Walla Slope in Washington. So it's basically coastal, the coast of North America that we're dealing with. I don't go into Canada, and up through Vancouver Island. Besides that, this is Brehm Vineyards and it's access to home wine makers of some of the best grapes grown in the West.
Rob Linder: And I can attest for that, too. And they can find out more information about your previous years' vintages, what's happening this year by visiting your web site, which is www.BrehmVineyards.com. Is that correct?
Peter Brehm: Yeah, Vineyards(plural).com.
Rob Linder: Okay. Great. And we'll have that link on our web site also.
Peter Brehm: Brehm Vineyards also was sort of an offshoot of another business that I was a part of called Wine and the People, which was established in 1970 in Berkeley. And Wine and the People was involved in a whole bunch of activities, from having its own winery to beer-making supplies and selling equipment from Italy and Spain and Germany. And one of the things that Brehm Vineyards did was sell grapes. And that's where the frozen grape concept that I have was developed. And so Brehm Vineyards was the one operation out of the multiple operations of Wine and the People, which I picked up on and have held. And that's what I do. I don't get involved in selling yeast or anything else but grapes.
Rob Linder: And that's one of the pleasures I have about your company and your web site is that you share the information from the past years' vintages. And you're also kind of taking us on that exploratory tour of what's going on this year as your season develops, what you're seeing at the various vineyards that you're managing and purchasing from. You're sharing that information with really potential customers. Is that correct?
Peter Brehm: Yes, it is. I'm involved from, you know, I was just up with Phil Couturey, the Old Hill Ranch in Sonoma Valley. We'll probably be getting a Cabernet off of this old vineyard. And it had previously been managed by somebody else, but involved in the pruning and how it goes along, and dealing with a grower also, about his cover crop and how to incorporate that. And so I really have a chance to monitor the grapes from this time of year, being in February and January , all the way through the harvest. So it's not like many people that are selling grapes, the first time they see them is when they arrive on the truck or when they just go to the vineyard just before harvest. I like to see the vines even before they've been pruned. And that way I get a picture of the growth and the vigor of the vineyard and start to put my two cents in. I rely heavily upon the growers, but I also deal with growers that will listen to me.
Rob Linder: Are you seeing any kind of movement into more of an organic approach to grape growing?
Peter Brehm: Over the 30 plus years I've been involved, there certainly has been a strong movement away from sprays. I have a feeling that the World War II generation came out, and sprays allowed them to do all kinds of things. The chemicals that were developed allowed them to accomplish all kinds of things. And we've found now, as we get further in, that we're going back more to mechanical manipulation. Leaf removal, for example, in the vineyard would be one of the aspects where it cuts down on the amount of spray that you need for Botrytis [ph?] and for mildew. Hedging the vines, having vertical trellising systems, which allow better fruit exposure, and better canopy management, as opposed to the old sprawl systems, are all physical changes that have allowed us to minimize the input on the side of sprays and having to deal with fungicides and various other chemicals.
Rob Linder: We'll have more on our interview with Peter Brehm later in the show.
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Rob Linder: Because this is the first year of Wine Making Radio, I'd like you to share with me the whole process of growing your own grapes. I think everyone should have at least one grapevine in their backyard. And we're going to do that on Wine Making Radio. We're going to start with a one-year vine. We're going to plant it, and we're going to watch it grow this season and hopefully in many more seasons to come. So join with me now as we plant a grapevine. First year is a very simple process. We're basically going to dig a hole and we're going to amend the soil a little bit. And that's about it. We're going to put a stake, and we're going to have a trellis up that stake for the first year. That's all you have to do. So, very easy process. I'd encourage you all to go out to your local nursery or check the internet and find out what type of variety of grapes are available. Choose whether you want to go with something that's just a plain table grape or go with a grape that you can make a wine from and start the process.
Now, I have dug a hole. about, oh, two feet in diameter, about a foot down. I've picked a very nice rainy Puget Sound day in February, which is very typical. Right now you can probably get a lot of grapevines that are bare root. And that's the best time to get them. You get a great selection. You can check the health of the plant before you make the investment of a few dollars of that plant. Okay. I have my hole dug here. Dig another couple shovels full out here. You know, grapes don't like really fancy soil. I think whatever kind of dirt you have in your area, unless it's something that's really not native to that area, I think you'll be fine. We're going to maybe amend it here with a little, regular old vegetable food as you would fertilize your vegetables that you might be planting. And maybe by the sound of my shoveling here you can determine that I have a lot of rocks. And grapes like rocks. It's good drainage. Grapes don't like wet feet. I'm putting a cup of bone meal into the hole along with some garden vegetable fertilizer, nothing too fancy here. But the bone meal will help stimulate and protect, kind of gives the roots some good strength there for them to start working on their first year here to grow this plant. Okay, now I'm making sure that the plant is in there straight as I'm filling in the hole. And this will -- now make sure this is all straight, because this is the way the grapevine's going to grow for many, many, many, years to come -- so we want to make sure we get this in straight, flat. Okay. Now, once I get all the dirt in, I want to make sure that I'm making a little bit of a depression of the soil. In other words, I am not making a mound here. I want to make a little bit of a cup, a little depression, because that's going to collect water. It's very important that the first year that your plant does not get stress via drought conditions. You want to make sure that rain water, you want to make sure that the watering that you're doing is going into the plant, going down where the roots are. So make sure you make a little bit of an indent there for kind of a cup to catch the water.
Now, another important thing is this particular plant I have has about four vines that are growing out of the main trunk. What we want to do is we want to cut back to really only having about two buds. They say, you know, two buds per plant, because that's all you really need is really one or two vines this first year. And from that you're going to start growing your main vine. This is such a pretty specimen that I have here. I just hate to cut all of these vines back. So I am going to compromise. For the first year, I'm going to keep all four vines, but I'm only going to do two buds per vine. So, I need to cut some of these back here. So I'll get my trusty cutters here, go ahead and cut that. Okay. So, what I'm left with is eight buds in this plant, two per vine. And that's it. That's my first year.
That's all you've got to do. I am going to watch this, obviously, through the course of the season, and hope that all of you listeners out there, go ahead, go today, get yourself a grapevine. And depending on where you are in the country, where your planting season is, be it real soon or be it maybe in the next month or two after the snow melts, dig your hole. Plant your grapevine. You'll be glad you did. It's an investment. You know, it takes about three years for a grapevine to grow before you get the fruit that you'll be able to eat or make your wine from. So invest this year. It's easy, simple, and if you don't like the location, we'll just dig it up and we'll replant it next year.
We rejoin the interview with Peter Brehm of Brehm Vineyards, as Peter discusses the aspect of wine education.
Rob Linder: Are you starting to see the internet, specifically your web site, become more of a portal of wine-making information?
Peter Brehm: Well, we're trying to make it that way. In fact, right now, I'm looking at having just, going up to the Unified Symposium in Sacramento and the Washington Wine Growers Association in Yakima. You see all these different suppliers and so many things that could be relevant to home wine makers that some of the stores may not know about and that a lot of people just have no knowledge of at all. Education is the biggest time consuming factor in anybody supplying wine-making or beer-making supplies. And that educational factor is key to having a successful business, but it's also an area where you get very little compensation. And so it ends up that if you work and generate all this activity and spend all your time on education, that at the end of the year, you're really not making any money, which is the plight of much of the home wine industry. And I think that, trying to counteract that, we've tried to make our web site much more available to people in product information. We're not selling anything. I don't have to worry about filters or what yeast versus another yeast. So we have a section where people can communicate among themselves. That educational component is so critical. The other day -- I have a guy coming in that's going to have a desktop home fermenter, which is all designed by state-of-the-art stuff that they use for silicon wafers. And it blows my mind. But I mean, there's just all kinds of things happening. And I certainly like the adventure, not only of new varieties and new vineyard sites and appellations, but also the excitement of looking at -- right now one of the things I'm look at seriously is cross flow filtration and trying to get that down to a level where it can be utilized by the home wine maker.
Rob Linder: It comes down to basics, though, with wine making. What would you say is the most frequent question that you hear from a beginning wine maker?
Peter Brehm: Where we get it from is they have no idea about the size of lots and the how to -- the size of wine to make, in other words, how many grapes to get or how to deal with it on that level.
Rob Linder: What single piece of advice would you give someone who has been thinking about making wine?
Peter Brehm: Don't buy a barrel. You know, it's just of all the wines that I've tasted at judgings throughout Canada and the United States, that the initial wines that people make are usually over-oaked and they're over-oaked because having a barrel symbolizes -- it's the badge of being a wine maker. And it's certainly what I did. And it was the mistake that I made. My first four hundred pounds of Zinfandel, I had to get it into a barrel so -- it usually tends to be an American oak barrel full of sap wood. And it's left in there. You think it should be left in for a year. So you go down to get your grapes; you want to buy that barrel. And I say resist it with everything you have. Buy the barrel the second or third year after you learn how to make the wine.
Rob Linder: I'm speaking with Peter Brehm from Brehm Vineyards. And Peter, I want to thank you for your time. You have vast knowledge about wine making for 35 years of winemaking.
Peter Brehm: It's a lot of help from certainly the people in northern California, the openness, and the information sharing.
Rob Linder: Well, I thank you for your time.
Peter Brehm: Well, I welcome people to visit us at BrehmVineyards.com. And it's been nice talking with you, Robert.
Rob Linder: Thank you very much, Peter.
I hope you have enjoyed our interview with Peter Brehm. We will be sharing more of his thoughts and insight into the art of grape growing and wine making in future episodes of Wine Making Radio.
Man 4: Bold news for people who make bold wine.
Woman 1: Sweet news for people who make sweet wine.
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Rob Linder: Wine News, news of interest to wine lovers and wine makers or both.
The Pinot Noir repartee between characters in the movie "Sideways" has helped spur dizzying sales of the red wine during a lingering U.S. glut, wine experts say. U.S. consumers are salivating over the scene in which Miles, a neurotic feeling author evangelizes Pinot's subtle delicacy to Mia in an attempt to wow her with his wine knowledge. As the Oscar-nominated film generated a buzz through the holidays, U.S. consumers bought 22 percent more Pinot Noir as the four weeks ending January 15th than the year before. People have really latched onto the romance of the scene, which made Pinot the star, no doubt about it, said Phil Lynch, spokesman for the Louisville, Kentucky, wine producer, Brown Foreman, Inc.
In the recent issue of Wine Spectator Magazine, they've released their report card for the 2004 harvest. In the United States, the State of Oregon received a B+, and the State of Washington received a B. Both states had uneven growing seasons. Unusually cool weather early in the year kept the crop size down, and hot weather in July and August had sugar levels soaring. Napa received an A-, and Sonoma a B+. The harvest was early; the crop was small; and most major grape varieties ripened well.
That about wraps it up for the inaugural episode of Wine Making Radio. I hope you've enjoyed the show and found the information useful. I encourage you to sign up for the Wine Making Radio Audio Program Guide. The free email newsletter will provide information on upcoming audio shows and contain a special offer or promotion available only to the Program Guide subscribers. It's free. To sign up, visit our web site, www.WineMakingRadio.com. Wine improves with age, and hopefully, so will this show. Visit us at www.WineMakingRadio.com, and give us some feedback about our show.
Thanks to Peter Brehm of Brehm Vineyards; sound recorded by Otto Schwebbe Studios. Edited by Ollo Rudd Post production by Forest Rain Studios. I am your host and producer, Rob Linder. The opinions expressed on Wine Making Radio are those of its hosts and guests and may not represent the opinions and advice of Clear Data and its employees. Wine Making Radio is copyrighted 2005 by Clear Data. All rights reserved. Until next episode, keep crushing, keep fermenting, and most of all, keep listening. Spread the word. WineMakingRadio.com.
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