Benito’s Wine Reviews on protea’s Wines & Designs

Where to focus when writing about protea? Some journalists talk about the wine, others the unique packaging. In a new post, Ben Carter, author of the award-winning wine blog Benito’s Wine Reviews, takes in the whole picture, delivering praise for the Chenin Blanc and Red, while also noting the unique bottle designs and their re-use possibilities, as well as the brand’s recent collaboration with ceramics designer Jono Pandolfi.

Here are the wine reviews; click through to Ben’s article for the full story.

(Chenin Blanc) Once you peel off the label you can call it Steen and be true to the region. This is a delicate summer sipper with a profile of lime zest and pear, light white fruit, low acidity, and a gentle finish. Perfect for mild seafood dishes like steamed mussels where the salt will bring out the flavor in the wine.

(Red) This wine brought back a lot of memories from my South African wine tasting and dinner in NYC. Luscious aromas of dark cherry and coffee with hints of chocolate. Dark berry flavors and medium tannins with a long, lingering finish. Highly recommended for grilled lamb dishes.

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Ben Carter has been blogging about wine since 2005. His site, Benito’s Wine Reviews, was recently named one of the top wine tasting blogs in the 2014 Millesima Blog Awards, and was a finalist in the 2012 Wine Blog Awards in the Best Wine Reviews category.

Bottle Transformations: The Power of Inspiration

working with glass

You can get wine in a box, or even a can, and some of that stuff ain’t bad. Or so we’re told.

But let’s be honest: There’s something about a bottle – especially a beautiful bottle – that elevates the wine-drinking experience. It makes wine, even on the most prosaic of nights, a little bit celebratory. Kind of special.

This truth is what inspired our unique, designer-styled protea bottles – and in turn, we’ve been gratified to see how protea has inspired you.

OK, it’s not exactly original, but we’ll never tire of seeing a picture of a protea bottle (or five) with a pretty flower in it. (Got one? Bring it on!) But you’ve done more than that. You’ve also flattened protea bottles into serving trays, cut and worked them into star-shaped ornaments, and created candles, chandeliers and table lamps of various sizes and shapes.

To this, we say job well done and keep it up!

To stoke the fires of creativity further, this week we want to share a great collaboration by the designers at nutcreatives studio and lucirmás, recently featured on designboom. Watch how a bottle and a sheet of copper become the elegant “LaFlor Lamp.”

You can see more very cool stuff from lucirmás, whose motto is “sustainable glass which tells a story” – a sentiment we enthusiastically second – on their Web page.

Glass-working image at top via lucirmás Facebook page.

Anuhea Flowers: Growing Proteas (and Asparagus) on Maui

anuhea farm proteas

Those beautiful flowers you see in the picture above? Bill Mertens grew them.

Growing things is what Bill, now 73, has long done, pretty much since he was young and decided that he didn’t want “a job where I’d be inside all the time” like his father, a lawyer and judge.

Agriculture has taken the Pennsylvania native around the world, from Molokai to the Philippines to Australia and China, all places where he worked at, established, managed or consulted on pineapple plantations.

But for the past two decades home has been Maui. There, Bill and his wife, Judy, own and run Anuhea Flowers, where they grow some two dozen varieties of protea flowers.

When they began setting up shop in 1994, the Mertens were getting in on a relatively young industry in Hawaii. Even though proteas appear tropical, with their vibrant colors and exotic shapes – like deranged artichokes, or painted, overstuffed pincushions – they aren’t native to the islands.

Proteas are part of what’s known as “Antarctic flora,” and they have their ancient roots in Gondwana, the southern supercontinent of hundreds of millions of years ago that broke apart and left its mark throughout much of the Southern Hemisphere – in New Zealand, Australia, Tasmania, southern South America and South Africa.

Those places are the native ground of the protea – particularly the South African ecosystem known as the “fynbos” – but in the 1960s, proteas began to migrate to Hawaii. In subsequent years, horticulturalists from the University of Hawaii selected cultivars and developed hybrids that would work particularly well in Hawaii. Proteas began to become a bigger part of Hawaii’s cut flower industry.

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The Hawaiian advantage in growing the flowers is an obvious one: mild year-round temperatures. That means the flowers grow well and can be harvested and shipped during all the big flower-buying holidays, from Thanksgiving through Mother’s Day.

But the business isn’t easy, and it’s getting tougher.

“With the protea, everything is done by hand,” Bill says. “Hand harvesting, hand selecting, hand packing – nothing is done by machine. It is extremely labor intensive.”

And like most everything else on the islands, costs are high. That gives Central American growers an edge in selling to the mainland market. And California growers have an advantage due to their lower transportation costs (and none of the inspection hassles that agricultural products from Hawaii can face).

As a result, the business of Anuhea Flowers is shifting. Instead of selling large amounts of flowers to wholesalers, Anuhea is focusing on the retail market, with Judy overseeing the production and marketing of beautiful and unique arrangements, gift boxes, wreaths and more, for both the local market and the mainland. A local artist even designs special inserts for their flower gift boxes.

And then there’s the asparagus.

mertens with asparagus

Apparently, the lateritic soils at nearly 3,000 feet elevation on the western slope of the Haleakalea volcano have some kind of magical effect on asparagus.

“It’s tender, very sweet and has so much flavor – you taste it next to mainland asparagus and it’s just no contest,” Bill says (that’s Bill with a bunch in the picture immediately above).

And the best thing, he adds, is that while growing and selling proteas is now a bit of a struggle, the asparagus is an easier crop that practically sells itself.

“It’s a pull market,” Bill says. “We can sell 100 pounds every two days to Whole Foods. Everybody wants it.”

Thirty acres are now planted to asparagus at Anuhea, and more is going in.

Alas, the asparagus doesn’t make it to the mainland. But look for it if you’re in Maui, at Whole Foods or small upcountry markets. And of course you can always get a “taste” of Anuhea, of a different sort, with their spectacular fresh cut protea flowers.

Photos courtesy Anuhea Flowers. Learn more or order flowers at their website, or see their very active Facebook page.

Going Naked for All the Right Reasons

wine barrels

Oak wasn’t seen as a “flavor” agent. Not a couple of millennia ago, when it began to replace amphorae in the making and shipping wine.

Oak, writes Jamie Goode in The Science of Wine, “just happened to be the best way of storing and transporting liquid, and until the advent of epoxy-lined cement and stainless-steel tanks, winemakers lacked alternatives.”

Oak worked well for these purposes because it was plentiful, pliable and water-tight. Later, as oak use became more widespread, particular effects on wine began to be seen, if not fully understood (it was the slow exposure to air that was doing the trick): softer tannins, more intense color, greater clarity.

And new flavors. Through compounds like lactones and vanillin, oak was adding flavor notes to wine that people found pleasing. This worked well for years, decades, centuries even. But in the modern era, the use of oak began to get out of hand.

We knew this was this case when instead of putting wine into oak, some winemakers began to put oak into wine, in the form of oak powder or oak chips. Or, instead of fermenting or aging wine in barrels that had been used many times, and which thus imparted less powerful oak flavoring, they put the wine into a brand new barrel, and then racked it into another brand new barrel for yet more oak influence.

* * * * *

Inevitably, there was a backlash. First it happened with Chardonnay, a notorious oak victim. Unoaked or “naked” Chardonnays began to turn up. While oaked Chardonnay remained the overwhelming preference of consumers, there even came to be a bit of a cool factor to ordering unoaked Chardonnay, a development that wine marketers noticed and began to play to.

But this was kind of missing the point. Because oak in and of itself isn’t a problem, even in Chardonnay. The Chardonnays acknowledged to be the best in the world – the rich white wines of the Côte de Beaune in Burgundy – see plenty of new oak. Meanwhile, in another part Burgundy – Chablis – flinty Chardonnays that get nearly as much acclaim see little to no oak at all.

The moral of the story being, whether to use no oak, a lot of oak, new oak or old oak shouldn’t be about marketing, or habit, or fad – it should be appropriate to the nature of the grape and the purpose of the wine.

So it is that protea’s Red blend and Chenin Blanc both see no oak.

For our Red, the right combination of Cabernet Sauvignon (53 percent) and Merlot (47 percent) is key to making the wine work. Importantly, too, the Red is aged a good 18 months in concrete vats. As the Wine Enthusiast noted, this is a material that, while not permeable like oak, offers advantages over stainless steel, as “tiny pinches of oxygen” in the surface of the concrete “help to preserve aromatics, tame tannins and improve mouthfeel.”

The result is a wine with big, bright fruit that offers immediate drinking pleasure and the ability to get along with a wide range of foods.

With the Chenin, we aim for a fresh, clean and lively wine. And we find that our bush-vine Chenin Blanc grapes come packed with enough innate richness and character not to leave the wine feeling, uh, naked without any oak.

Image: L’Ormarins, Anthonij Rupert Wines.

Grow Your Own: Herbs in an Upcycled protea Bottle

You know what’s crazy? Those little plastic packages of fresh herbs you see in the produce section at the grocery store. Two bucks for a few sprigs of thyme or tarragon! That’s practically criminal, especially when you can so easily grow your own.

You don’t even need a big ol’ backyard – Organic Gardening suggests ten great herbs anyone with a sunny window can grow indoors. And we’ve got just the “planters” to do it in: upcycled protea bottles. Like these:

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These planters are super simple. The overturned top half of a cut bottle is your planter proper; the bottom half can provide water for the plant, drawn up through an absorbent wick, or, if you find a particular herb preferring drier conditions, forgo the wick and the base will give you a ready-made drainage pan.

The only part of this DIY project that can be a bit challenging is cutting the bottle in half (assuming you don’t have a wet saw with a fine diamond saw blade, like our friend, candlemaker Loralee). There are a number of glass-cutting devices on the market, and in this wildly popular video, Dan Rojas at GreenPowerScience puts an inexpensive one to use to make a nice, clean cut (the real instruction begins at the 3:39 mark, if you want to skip ahead).

Once you’ve got your bottle pieces, you’re ready to set up your planter. Mesh, screening or even an old piece of fabric can provide a permeable foundation in the neck of the inverted top bottle piece. Next comes a layer of pebbles…

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… then plant your herb in a potting mix, preferably something lightweight, with good drainage.

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For more detailed, step-by-step instructions, check out this blog entry from the Kentucky pizzeria Smashing Tomato or this method from Design Sponge.

Organic Gardening recommends basil, bay, chervil, chives, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme as prime candidates for indoor herb growing. But given that our protea planters are a little on the shallow side, you might consider herbs that don’t need to stretch out their roots too much. The San Francisco Chronicle, citing experts from the University of California Cooperative Extension, says that “chive roots are the shortest of all at only 3 inches long,” while “oregano (Origanum x majoricum), tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) and thyme (Thymus spp.) can all manage with 6 inches of wiggle room for their roots.”

Whatever you choose, don’t forget to share your protea upcycling efforts on our Facebook page!