Monday, September 23, 2013

Bottle and Cork Wine Events

For the past year and a half we've been attending bottle and cork wine events at La Nebbia Winery in Half Moon Bay. It's a great event to stock up on good wine for a great deal. 

How it works: 
Each year during harvest time wineries predict how many barrels of wine they will produce. There's almost always surplus which is then sold to other wineries at a lower cost. Those wineries in turn can sell it directly to the public by bottling it themselves or allowing costumers to bring in their own bottles to refill with wine. The one catch is the wineries cannot disclose the vintner of the wine but they may share the vintage, varietal and appellation. 

{La Nebbia Winery, inside the barrel room}

Everyone benefits from this, its a win win win! The original winery gets to make an additional profit on the surplus, the 3rd party winery draws costumers and makes a profit with just one day of bottling and staffing for the event and the costumer benefits from the high quality wine at a low price plus if they're concerned about their environmental impact they get to benefit from reusing perfectly good bottles again and again.

Before our first wine event we collected pop-top 750 ml bottles which came from a combination of sparkling french lemonade and organic vodka. When we were done drinking the lemonade and vodka, I rinsed out the bottles with hot water and used a bottle brush for the inside then filled up the shallow basin of the sink with hot water and a touch of castile soap to let the bottles soak and soften the adhesive on the labels. It usually the just slid off after about a 20 minute soak and these labels are recyclable. Then rinsed the inside of the bottles once again with hot water a bit of soap and scrubbed the outside of the bottles clean. After rinsing put bottle upside down to dry completely so mold doesn't form. In some cases if I felt it was necessary I ran the bottles through the dishwasher which cleans the outsides beautifully but the insides not as well. I got wine bottle cleaning tip for the La Nebbia winery website section about the bottle and cork event. We transport our bottles using reusable wine bags that hold six bottles each that you can find these at most grocery stores. Once we had about 30 (or 2 1/2 cases worth) we were ready to refill them with wine. 

{Our pop-top bottles being filled with 2011 Amador County Sangiovese}

These bottle and cork events happen about eight times a year mostly in the fall, winter and spring with one in the summer. Three times a year they offer white wine and the rest are red. A lot of the costs put on to the customer is bottling and transportation both area eliminated with this sustainable style of buying wine. We keep coming back to these events for a few reasons. 
1) We already have collected all the bottles we need so might as well reuse them. 
2) They offer good quality wine at a great price. 
3) It dramatically cuts down on our recycling. 
4) We always have on hand a nice inexpensive bottle of wine to bring as a gift or contribution to a dinner party plus it gives us an opportunity to share about our lifestyle when we do so. 
5) We enjoy having a supply of wine for drinking and cooking plus if a natural disaster occurs we have what we need to survive (I'm joking…kinda). 

At these events if you bring in traditional wine bottles they will label and cork them for you but we always opt out of both. I've also seen people bring in their own custom labels which would be absolutely perfect for a wedding, party or custom Christmas gifts! At just $5 a bottle you can't go wrong, 30 bottles of red wine will last us about 3 months, longer if we cut back on entertaining :). 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Preserving the Summer

Last year I started the tradition of canning tomatoes to use over the winter because a peak season locally grown September tomato tastes a whole lot better than an imported crate ripened one in January. Last year I canned about 20lbs and figured we could use more this year so I purchased about 35lbs, a combination of heirloom and early girl tomatoes. Last year I tried a few different styles of canning, pealed, cored and whole, crushed and diced with skin on. The diced with skin on tomatoes ended up being my favorite because they're only cooked once inside the canning process instead of being blanched first so they seemed much more fresh plus much easier to make so I decided to do all diced tomatoes this year. 

{Ripe organic early girl tomatoes from the Larkspur Farmers Market}

I followed the directions Bea Johnson gives on her Zero Waste Home site with a few of my own variations, I didn't peal or crush mine just cored and diced. First you sterilize the jars by dunking them in boiling water, take them out carefully with tongs and set upside-down to dry on a clean kitchen towel. Then dunk gaskets in to the boiling water for about a half a minute and layout to dry. Fill up 1/2 quart sterilized jars with diced tomatoes to fill line, wipe jar rim clean, place gasket on and close latch. 

Then place closed filled jars in the boiling water for 45 minutes to create seal and weigh down jars with a large rock so they don't knock around. Once the 45 minutes are up turn off the stove, let the water cool a bit and carefully remove the jars with tongs. Set them on a towel to dry and cool down. When the jars were cool I open the latch to make sure the gasket sealed. Store in a cool dark place, I just placed mine in a bottom cupboard to enjoy all winter long! I love using hermetic jars because they're so versatile, pretty and BPA free.

{Diced organic heirloom tomatoes in 1/2 quart le parfait hermetic jar}

I ended up filling 14 1/2 quart jars with diced tomatoes and 3 smaller containers which I froze and still had about 10 lbs of super ripe early girl tomatoes left over. I didn't want them to go to waste so I decided to make another staple we miss because of our less waste lifestyle: tomato paste. We don't buy it because a) it comes in a can which we don't buy because it's wasteful and b) that can is lined with BPA. I scoured the internet looking for recipes and decided to give it a try. 

I roughly chopped the tomatoes and tossed them all in the slow cooker along with about 1/4 cup olive oil and 2 teaspoons of sea salt, using a hand blender I blended all of the tomatoes until it looked like gazpacho. Then with the lid off of the slow cooker I cooked the tomatoes down on low for 8 hours stirring every once in a while. After 8 hours it reduced by about 1/3 but still wasn't anywhere near the consistency or color I was looking for. One of the recipes I read instructed to use a baking sheet and slowly roast the sauce to reduce in to paste. I pushed the reduced tomatoes through a sieve little by little to separate the seeds then poured the tomatoes splitting between two baking sheets. In a 325 degree oven I roasted to tomatoes stirring every 30 minutes in to paste which took about 2 hours and 30 minutes. I then filled up 3 small 7 oz hermetic jars with the paste and canned in a water bath just like I did for the diced tomatoes. 

{Reduced tomato paste}

It was pretty amazing to watch 10 lbs of ripe tomatoes transform in to 3 small jars of paste. I know the concentrated summer tomatoes will add so much flavor to our home cooking all winter long. If I ever find myself with that many extra tomatoes on my hands I will definitely make it again!

{10lbs organic early girl tomatoes reduced to just 3 small jars of tomato paste}