All posts by NovaCadamatre

How to Open a Sparkling Wine Bottle with a Broken Cork

This has been an interesting week.  I found myself with a serious problem.  I had chilled a bottle of sparkling wine to have handy if we found ourselves in need of some bubbles.  We normally have at least one in the fridge at all times.  Having just finished our chilled split of Ruffino Prosecco the night before, we didn’t currently have anything open.  My mother in law is in town and she likes to occasionally have a glass of wine with dinner, so I decided to open the next bottle of sparkling wine, a CA sparkling which shall remain nameless due to the issues it caused.

It started like any other sparkling wine opening.  Peel the foil, un-hook the cage, cautiously reposition bottle so one hand is on the top and the other is able to twist the bottom of the bottle.  Normally what happens at this point with a properly chilled bottle of bubbles is that the cork gently pushes out with a quiet “pssssst” and we go on our merry way.  This time the cork didn’t budge.  It didn’t even move a bit!  I gently twisted, then twisted a bit more and out came the cork but no hiss.  Suddenly I realized that only the top part of the cork had twisted off, leaving the small compressed bit inside the bottle of wine.  Several scenarios went through my head, none of them are advisable under normal circumstances and all come with a level of danger that I would not recommend to any person.  Remember, sparkling wine bottles are a grenade in glass and I had just pulled the pin.  I quickly took the bottle outside in our back yard to prevent unnecessary damage to our home and then set about working on getting the bottle open.

  1. Pull the cork out with a corkscrew?

No! This puts your hands and face directly in the path of the pressure coming from the bottle and is extremely dangerous.  Not even I was that crazy!

2.  Try to dislodge the cork by shaking the bottle.

In theory, this should have worked.  I pointed the bottle away from anything and anyone which could have been injured and shook vigorously.  However, I was unsuccessful.

3. Bang the base of the bottle on something hard to dislodge the cork.

I’ve seen this work for still wines so why shouldn’t it work for sparkling.  I fully expected the cork remnant to come flying out.  This was not the case and after denting our stairs, much to my husband’s chagrin since he just built them, I decided to reconsider.

At last I was left with no other option.  I could only saber the bottle open.  There was only one problem.  I had never had the guts to saber one open before.  Of course, like any good wine professional, I knew the theory behind how to make it work but had never actually done it.  I stocked up on safety gear such as safety glasses, an oven mitt, and my apron to protect from flying shards (or at least that’s what I told myself).  I found our large chopping knife and then the seam on the bottle. I turned around to see my mother in law, son, and husband filming me.  Fabulous! If I’m going to die, I might as well get it on video.  I turned my eyes back to the bottle, placed the knife, and prayed.  As I sliced up the neck, along the seam created by the mould, and hit the finish of the bottle.  Off it popped and flew across the lawn. I had successfully solved the problem and my mother in law had her bubbles for the evening!  However DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!!!

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My Hand is on the Handle but the Anticipation is Killing Me!

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If you have ever watched Fox’s Hell’s Kitchen then you know what the photo above is.  Two finalists waiting to find out who ultimately won the challenge.  They are both asked to put their hand on the knob of the door in front of them and try to open it.  Only one will open.  Usually there are cuts to recap each one’s journey to that point, both highs and lows.  Moments of triumph and moments of weakness or stress flash before the viewers eyes set to emotionally stirring music.  Presumably they are reflecting over their journey as they wait patiently with their hand on the handle of their respective doors.

That is me, right now, with my hand on the handle.  In 27 days I find out if my Research Paper was successful for my Master of Wine.  Ten long years I have been working towards that day and now that it is nearly upon me, I’m not really sure how to feel.  I’m nervous but excited.  I’m relaxing in some ways but strung tight in others.  I’m looking forward to the future but feeling equally concerned that it is premature even though I feel very confident in what I turned in.  While it is not a competition, it is a journey that few complete and in the end it is a competition with yourself to become your best.

While it is not a competition, it is a journey that few complete and in the end it is a competition with yourself to become your best.

The paper itself was a beast to write.  Many of my loyal readers may have noticed that my blogging and other writings went dark for a long time early this year.  This was entirely due to my focus on writing the multitudes of revisions of what ended up being a very detailed study.  The details can not be shared yet however, I believe it stands to move winemaking forward as a whole while maintaining our strong ties to tradition.  I look forward to seeing the global reaction to the paper, the results of which are relevant to any winery producing fine wine around the globe.  By the time it was completely finished, I had gone through 14 drafts of the Research Paper Proposal (RPP) and over 20 drafts of the paper itself between major and minor revisions.  I’m quite proud of the work I put into it and I feel confident that it is solid.  However, my mind keeps slipping back to the times I felt confident about my MW exam results and I didn’t get good news.  I feel almost conditioned to expect the worst but at the same time I dare hope for the best.

As for my highs and lows, I came into the program as most students do, riding high on the mere inclusion into the storied echelons of MW students.  I listened to MWs say it takes on average 5 years to get through everything, thinking to myself that I was going to work diligently to make sure I passed everything on the first try.  When the first year assessment results were announced, I turned my sights onto the exam itself and studied with a fervor.  It became my life and by the time I sat I felt confident that, at least for theory, I had mastered everything that was needed to pass.  Ultimately I did not.  I ended up in a gut wrenching mourning in the middle of Asti’s Block 1 Cabernet Sauvignon a few weeks before harvest, leaning on those old vines for support and grounding.  That first fail was the first of many which took me to the very edge of my determination, cut my self confidence to the bone, and tore down all my pre-conceptions of what it meant to be a good student.  Most of these trials and tribulations were chronicled on this blog under the category of Master of Wine Studies.  After 8 years of blogging, this will hopefully be my last post under that heading.

The program is a blacksmith’s forge and hammer; heating and striking, striking and heating until all that is left of the person that came in is a confident, strong, example of a wine professional.

As I look towards the future, I have to be optimistic.  I know I will become an MW.  Even if it is not in a few weeks, it will happen.  The program is a blacksmith’s forge and hammer; heating and striking, striking and heating until all that is left of the person that came in is a confident, strong, example of a wine professional.  It hurts.  It is painful. Nevertheless it has been worth it.  I can look back and be proud that I have made it this far through the forger’s flame.  I know the depths of my determination and I know that I am the only one who can hold myself back from accomplishing anything.  I know if I don’t get good news, I will return to working just as hard to make sure that next time I get there.  But I will get there.

My hand is on the handle and I’m praying the door will open for me this time.

What is it like being a woman in wine?

Before everyone cringes and has the “OMG we’re going over that dead horse again” reaction, just hear me out.

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to lead a red wine blending seminar at the Women for Winesense Grand Event in Geneva, NY.  We had a good time and I feel that the 17 people who attended got a sense of what we, as winemakers, go through on nearly a daily basis.  The stress of finding the right mix, the impatience and nervousness of waiting to see how a blend is received and for a few, the joy of triumph as their blends were selected as the top few.

After the blending seminar, our small group rejoined the rest of the conference goers for a lunch with a key note speech by Karen MacNeil.  Her talk focused on what it means to be a woman in the wine industry.  She made several interesting comments during the talk, many of which I agreed with and others that made me wonder if she was right.  One such topic including pointing out that women have yet to really reach parity with men at the top management of major companies.  While the facts are undeniable that men maintain the majority of senior leadership, I have to question if it is truly a failure of companies to recognize and promote women or if it is more ourselves as women shying away from roles beyond a certain level.  MacNeil also seemed to believe it was women holding ourselves back.

She also read a quote only referencing a well known woman winemaking consultant stating that that woman had found that the most successful women winemakers tended to dress more masculine, have short hair or hair pulled back, and adopted a “manly” attitude to better fit in.  The quote seemed to be saying that this particular woman felt that maintaining a womanly demeanor was instant career suicide in our industry.  Being a woman who likes to get dressed for the occasion whenever possible, I didn’t exactly agree with this concept.

This got me thinking about my time in the industry and what I have encountered.  I learned quickly during my time in Napa that at public events if I dressed up, particularly in heels, nearly everyone assumed I was either sales or marketing.  Therefore I adopted a habit to dress up from the waist up and jeans and vineyard boots from the waist down.  This look, while odd, got the point across to most people.  My husband even mentioned at one point “Why don’t you just dress like a winemaker?”  I laughed and  responded, “I am a winemaker. Therefore, however I dress is dressing like a winemaker!”

“Why don’t you just dress like a winemaker?”  I laughed and  responded, “I am a winemaker. Therefore, however I dress is dressing like a winemaker!”

I’ve had more than one occasion where I’ve been spoken over in a meeting, had my opinion dismissed, or been completely ignored.  I’ve even been told that I don’t know what I’m talking about from a male colleague and I’ve been told that my passion is dangerous by a female colleague.  I’m not sure either would have said the same to a man.  I was told by someone, after I had my son, to not bother sitting the MW exam that year due to the natural shrinking of a woman’s brain which occurs during and after pregnancy. I’ve also been mentored by some of the most generous people in the industry both male and female.  These people have given me advice on my career even if what was in my best interest would make their lives more difficult.  It is these mentors I hope I can become more like.  I strive everyday to be less like the former colleagues and more like the latter.

In the end, I’m not convinced it is a male vs female issue anymore.  I think it may be more those who are self confident vs those who feel threatened.  The lack of women in leadership may be because the women who would be most qualified are making a choice to maintain some level of work life balance.  It may be that those women who can have it all, are choosing to have it all by still being routinely home for a family dinner every night rather than storming the global business world.

I’m always trying to run the gambit of how things will be perceived to avoid labels of being “soft” or the dreaded “B” word.

So what is it like to be a woman in the wine industry?  I can only speak from the perspective of a winemaker.  It’s being aware that the clothes you wear project an image of who you are to people who don’t know you. Having to pick outfits with care balancing a desire to appear feminine with socially acceptable norms for winemakers wear, particularly for industry events.  Being in meetings waiting patiently for a moment to speak with the hope that you’ll have a voice when the time comes. Pouring wine for people, knowing full well that they had no idea you are the winemaker behind it, while mentally arguing with yourself about how pompous you would sound if you just said “I’m the winemaker.”  Always trying to run the gambit of how things will be perceived to avoid labels of being “soft” or the dreaded “B” word.  Just assuming that you’ll always end up making some one mad just by existing where ever you happen to be and trying not to take it too personally.

That is what it’s like being a woman in the wine industry today.