Sort, Wash, Sort (Part 8 in Andy’s Portugal journey)

When I first explained to Jerry (age 15 at the time) and Megan (age 12) that I was going to observe sorting while in Portugal, I’m very certain they visualized something much like this:

While cork sorting may not be that “magical”, the combination of science and hard work make the process seem even more magic than anything Hogwarts could ever dream up.

Even though the cork slabs were presorted before punching, there can now be some variability within a given lot of cork. All the freshly polished corks now go through one of several optical sorting machines that M.A. Silva has at this facility. This machine very rapidly takes a photo of both ends of every cork as long as a panorama of the barrel of the cork. A computer program measures the amount of “dark space” on a cork which represents a lenticel (or pore) on the cork. The

more dark spaces, the lower the grade. It then ejects that cork into one of several bins, further refining the quality of that lot.

Now that the cork has been sorted into “almost there” lots based on quality, it comes time to wash the cork. The intent is to provide a sanitary wash. This is done in a mild solution of Hydrogen Peroxide. Not only does this eliminate the majority of any potential harmful bacteria, yeast, or mold on the surface of the cork, it also removes the most of the dust from the processing up to this point.

The cork has one more sort before heading out of the factory now. Now is the time for the essential hand sort. While the optical sorter established a targeted quality grade, there is no machine that can compete with the skilled human eye. The entire batch of cork rolls on conveyers in front of highly trained women looking for nicks, mineral stains, and other imperfections in the cork. Each shift starts with, and at periodic breaks, they review, reference samples of what each grade should look like. If a cork doesn’t make the grade, it’s put into one of several bins where it may be reclassified, ground up for alternative cork products, or ground up for fuel for the cork boilers. Corks which pass muster proceed to the end of the conveyor where they are bundled up and, for the purpose of my cork world, shipped off to M.A. Silva, U.S.A.

 Samples are sent to wineries, and once a lot is purchased, M.A. Silva, U.S.A. will brand it with the customers logo and give the cork a fine coating (usually paraffin based) to help ensure the sealing of the cork. Sometimes a customer may request an additional upsort where a crew of hand sorters in the American Facility will run the sort again, removing 5-10% of a lot, improving the overall cosmetics of the lot.I do want to take a moment and point out something that really impressed me…the kind of odd thing that not many people would notice. I was really struck by the cleanliness of all the Silva facilities. Maybe it’s the fact that I do my best to maintain a clean facility here at Schweiger…one of the greatest compliments I can receive is when someone notices how clean our winery is. As you can see from the photos of the Silva facility, the concrete is clean and swept, trucks are unloaded under cover, and all cork material is stored inside. On our way out of the Silva facility, I noticed other facilities…these are smaller, independent facilities who source bark from other producers and will, in turn, sell their punched corks to any of a number of cork sales company here in the states. Look at the drive by photos of the gravel/dirt roads, the dirty buildings, the cork stored outside, sometimes under cover, but not protected from the elements. The degree of care and pride in their facility really impressed me.

So, while “my cork” journey is complete…there are more stories to come… I may even share some images from a tour of a facility making “FrankenCork”!

2016 Wineclub Appreciation Party (and Andy’s Rib Recipe)

Every year after harvest we pause and give thanks to our wine club members. These amazing fans support our wines year after year. Not only do they enjoy our wines in their homes, they are our greatest ambassadors, sharing their love of Schweiger with their friends and favorite restaurants. This years’ Wine Club Appreciation Party was such a joy to host. With food pairings provided by Marks the Spot Catering, local artisan cheeses, and smokey ribs prepared by yours truly, the crowd was truly well fed. Additionally, the crowd was entertained by guitarist Nate Lopez and sleight of hand master Brian Scott.

Many guests left wanting to know some of my rib secrets. While most pit bosses never give out their rub recipes, I’m going to reveal all…

Andy’s Ribs

  • Three slabs pork baby back ribs (I get mine at Costco: high/consistent quality, fair price).
  • 12 oz of your favorite commercial bbq sauce.
  • AndyRub
    • ¼ cup smoked paprika
    • 2 TBSP Smoked Salt
    • 3 TBSP turbinado sugar
    • 1 ½ TBSP ground dried chipotle
    • 1 TBSP Chili Powder
  • Rinse ribs well with water. Leave membrane on the lower side, but using a sharp boxcutter (why ruin a perfectly good knife), cut through the membrane between each bone. I leave this membrane on as it adds to the collagen we will be breaking down and collecting.
  • Combine Rub ingredients in a food processor and pulse to combine.
  • Coat the ribs liberally on both sides with rub.
  • Wrap the ribs tightly in heavy duty foil and refrigerate overnight to 24 hours (dry brine).
  • Preheat oven to 275F
  • After resting, lay ribs meat side down. With a fork, make small perforations at the bone tips, about four each side. Flip back over onto a deep, foil lined baking sheet (I use deeper disposable aluminum trays. These holes allow collagen and excess fat to drain onto pan. Do not over crowd/overlap ribs.
  • Bake for three hours. If your oven has a convection fan, use it!
  • At this point you can either finish the ribs or store them for future: open the foil, allow ribs to cool, and rewrap in foil and refrigerate for up to 3 days or vacuum pack and freeze for up to 6 months. After refrigerating, allow 30 mins at room temperature before grilling. If frozen, put in refrigerator overnight, then 30 minutes room temperature.
  • Collect all drippings from pan in a mason jar. Refrigerate until collagen sets. Remove “Hockey Puck” of yellowish fat (don’t throw this away…this makes an amazing seasoning fat for Brussel sprouts or other vegetables). Reheat collagen until liquid and combine 4 oz with 12 oz of commercial bbq sauce.
  • Prepare a medium heat fire on grill.
  • Grill meat side down for about 5 minutes, flip, brush on bbq sauce. Continue grilling meat side up for 5 minutes. Flip, turning 90 degrees, allowing sauce to carmelize but do not let it burn. Return meat side up after another five minutes, brush on more sauce and ready to enjoy!