Cool Stash

Cool Stash

By Jennifer Laskey VerPlanck

wine champagne cave-reims de-pommery-greno- history

Some places are legendary. Like the wine caves of Champagne, in France, which are protected as part of a World Heritage Site. Which is fitting because for centuries these caves and underground caverns have been used to protect people, artifacts and wine. The reason that underground sites are still being used for wine storage is that they are dark, stable, with a consistent cool temperature and controlled humidity, pretty much naturally. And some are vast, covering miles and extending like another city deep beneath the surface.

cave limestone underground tunnel ancient
In the Champagne region there is a labyrinth network of tunnels from the old chalk quarries, with hidden rooms and subterranean caves, some dating as far back as the Roman occupation. The Champagne caves of France were used as refuge for desperate villagers, hospitals and schools during World War I, especially in the town of Reims, where on one day alone, in 1914, nearly 3000 artillery shells fell on the ancient city. The inhabitants would live underground for years during the war. At least they had plenty of Champagne.

History champagne caves ww2 habitation- Pommery-caves
During the World War II Nazi occupation, along with risking their lives to hide people, some wine makers of France also courted danger to protect their most valuable commodity, their best wines. Ironically, the disastrous 1939 grape harvest came in handy, as the former sub-par plonk was cleverly relabeled in order to fulfill the Germans enormous demand for their most sought- after wines. This ploy worked for a while. But Berlin ordered up to 400,000 bottles of Champagne a week during the occupation. Quite a few vignerons hid their best wine in wine cellars, behind false walls and in mislabeled containers. They were hoping to be able to save something for after the war. Nearly 70% of the region’s economy was centered on the wine industry. Continue reading

We’ll Always Have Paris

We’ll Always Have Paris

By Jennifer Laskey Verplanck, The Black Sheep Wine and Beer Shop

Some people say that the 1942 film, Casablanca, is the best film ever made. Although it’s been around for 75 years, it still has great authenticity, a suspenseful plot with an exotic location, complex characters, many of them shady, romance, betrayal and political intrigue, a great score and theme song, and the irresistibly alluring Ingrid Bergman. The film was made during World War 2 and had an intensity which may have been partly because no one knew what the outcome of the war would be. One emotional scene in the film has the patrons defiantly singing the French National anthem over the German soldiers singing of  “Watch on the Rhine”. Many of the extras in that scene had real tears in their eyes,as they were actual refugees from Nazi persecution at the time.

casablanca french national anthem
Perhaps you haven’t seen this one, but you may have heard some of the often- quoted lines: “Play it (again), Sam”, “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine”, “Round up the usual suspects”, “ Here’s looking at you, kid” and “We’ll always have Paris”. The rich dialogue is just one of its charms. The characters smoke and drink like there’s no tomorrow, while they desperately connive and deal for precious ‘‘letters of transit” they need to escape Morocco and the dangerous Vichy regime. It’s bittersweet that Rick and Ilsa are destined to be kept apart but they will always have the memories of their idyllic time together in Paris.

cinema casablanca 1942

There is talk about a sequel. I’m not sure it could ever match the magic of the original film; the expectations would be impossibly high. What do you think? The ending has to rank as THE classic ending, though. It’s one of those things that is so perfect that I would rather they left it alone.  Continue reading

The Bacchus Bottle



 The Bacchus Bottle   

by Jennifer and John VerPlanck

   If you are in a foreign country and don’t know the language, you can still have a clue as to the type of wine in a bottle   simply by the shape and color of the glass. Ages ago, somebody decided to create four distinct shapes of glass bottles for wine storage and it stuck. It is thought that the shapes and colors were created fairly at random. If you’re seeking Pinot Noir, Gamay or Chardonnay, look for the bell shaped bottle from Burgundy, France.  A heavier bottle of the same shape, but with a concave indentation in the bottom, contains sparkling wine, Prosecco or Champagne. You’ll find Alsatian and German wines like Riesling in tall slender bottles with long necks colored green or blue (Mosel) or brown (Rhine). Cabernet and Merlot, typical Bordeaux wines, are packaged in the traditional slim cylindrical bottle with straight sides and a high, slightly sloping shoulder.   bottles-colors    

    Before the wine bottle became standardized in 1979, to the 750 ml. size, wine bottles varied wildly in size, shape, color and volume. It was even illegal from 1636 to 1860 in Britain to sell wine by the bottle, due to the common practice of cheating on the volume. So the law was to sell wine wholesale by the barrel and then pour it to customers who brought their own containers. wine-transport-antwerp Continue reading

Who’s Your Daddy?

Who’s Your Daddy?

by John VerPlanck and Jennifer Laskey VerPlanck

ancient tile vineyard harvest black sheep
A few years back we visited the Serego Alighieri Winery, north of Verona, Italy. It was founded in 1353 by the son of the poet Dante Alighieri, best known for his Divine Comedy. Still in the family over six hundred years later, it is hardly unique in continuous family-owned wineries. Chateau de Goulaine in France’s Loire valley, has been making Muscadet, Vouvray and Sancerre since 1000 A.D. The winery of Barone Ricasoli was founded in 1141 A.D., and Feudi San Gregorio has been family run since 590 A.D. These are all noted producers, and all still in the same family.

alighieri carving wine ancient

Families have operated wineries through the Hundred Years war, the Black Death, the Napoleonic wars, the Norman invasion, the Crusades and the discovery and settling of North America.

Black Sheep wine shop 14th century
We can hardly match that in our country, but there are many examples of estates still in the family after one hundred years or more. Continue reading

Dirty Secrets

Dirty  Secrets

by Jennifer Laskey VerPlanck and John Verplanck

So, what is dirt or soil? It is the sediment of the earth’s surface capable of supporting plant growth. It consists of rock particles, the chemically altered remains of plant and animal matter and varies in porosity and permeability.

dirt free pic

Soil does not always sit on bedrock. There are frequently layers of stones or rocks beneath. Grape vines hate wet feet; good drainage is essential. So what are the soils that work best for wine grapes?

vineyards italy

Grapes are like Russian novelists, they like to suffer. Good fertile soil, beneficial to other crops, is not what you need for wine grapes. The famed Left Bank in the Bordeaux appellation is little more than gravel and sand; one area is actually named, “Graves “, for its characteristically gravelly land.

saint-emilion france free pic


Gravel has good drainage but poor fertility so vines planted in this type of soil must reach down deep to find nutrients and minerals in the subsoil. Grapevines have deep root systems that get their nutrients down deep, not from topsoil. Deep roots help make the vines impervious to severe weather, they cannot freeze, and they can still find water in very dry conditions. The vines need enough nutrients to encourage good root growth but not abundant leaf or vine growth in order to produce more and better fruit. Cabernet Sauvignon is the star of the Left Bank and thrives there. Continue reading

Open Up! Wine Police!

Open Up!  Wine Police!

By John and Jennifer Verplanck
Many centuries ago, people determined that a bottle with a cork was an
excellent way to store wine.  The next day they had to decide how to get the
cork out.

.corkscrew vintage london lever
The corkscrew.  Most early corkscrews were quite adequate.  It is only
through the marvels of modern technology that we have been able to make some
truly bad ones.

bottle-openers antique collection corkscrews free
The central part, the auger should not look like a wood screw, but a
slender “worm.”  A worm is a twisted metal coil that firmly grips the cork
from within.  Teflon coated worms are best.

corkscrew golden pulltap
So let us start with the worst, first, the wing corkscrew.  As you
insert the auger into the cork, two wings open out to the sides.  `Two
problems here.  Most wing type corkscrews have an auger that looks like a
wood screw.  It very frequently ruins the cork by pulling the center out and
dumping fragments into your wine.

wing style wine opener corkscrew

Even the ones with worms are usually too short to work effectively.

Leave this monster in the drawer, or give it to  someone
you don’t like. The same goes for the pressure air – pump bottle
opener design. When the possibility of breaking a bottle comes with the
instructions, you don’t want it.

Continue reading