This Blog will meander around, visiting topics which may not have to do with wine, but will be more enjoyable with a glass of it. If readers want to be proactive, you can send me an e-mail if there is something specific about which you would like me to write.
Cygnus Wine Cellars’ Customers, Neighbors and Friends;
I am writing to inform you that Cygnus Wine Cellars will be closing its doors effective 30 December 2016. All inventory is available for purchase from now through that date.
The following link is to the Maryland Wineries Association website where an article about the closing has been posted.
I want to thank you all very much for your support over the last 20 years, and I look forward to seeing you at the winery again soon.
Ray G. Brasfield
Cygnus Wine Cellars
Chef Antonio Baines graced us with his extraordinary skills at the 20th Anniversary Dinner celebrating the founding of Cygnus Wine Cellars in July 1996. The main course, featuring the 1995 and 1997 vintages of Julian, was a super seafood dish that was a perfect match with the mature red wine flavors of the oldest wines in the library. What a great experience. The attendees were still buzzing about it for some time after the dinner.
Disgorged – The Blog: 19 November 2015
Well, I suppose it had to happen. Cygnus has reached another significant milestone in its history, as this marks the twentieth vintage that I have produced commercial wine under the Cygnus label. Even though I did not start Cygnus Wine Cellars until 1996, I correctly anticipated the greatness of the 1995 vintage and had arranged to buy grapes from a couple Maryland and Pennsylvania vineyards, and produced my first wines from that outstanding vintage at another Maryland winery who generously gave me the space to do so. Those early wines included the first vintage of Julian, a Late Harvest Vidal Blanc, and a Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine using Chardonnay.
The Manchester Hall has always been my most popular wine with customers, as well as also scoring well in the Maryland Governor’s Cup judging, and several vintages in a row have seen the Manchester Hall awarded no less than Silver and many Gold medals. The 2014 vintage Manchester Hall was bottled the end of April this year and was recognized this past August at the Maryland Governor’s Cup judging with a Silver medal. Only 95 cases were made. Over the years, Manchester Hall has always walked that fine line balancing the residual sugar with the acidity, so that it is both a great food wine and also easy to quaff on its own, and this wine is no exception. It shows a bit more citrus and mineral character on the finish than recent vintages, but that up-front green melon and peach character is right there, pleasantly reminding everyone why they come back to Manchester Hall year after year.
On Saturday, 14 November 2015, the last grapes of the year for Cygnus Wine Cellars were picked at Quail Vineyards; a Late Harvest Vidal Blanc. These luscious and deeply flavored grapes were brought in at over 30 Brix. Deer and some spoilage reduced the crop below expectations, but the marvelous results fermenting in the tank will give Cygnus customers a small amount of a tremendous wine. Save your money and be patient. I will keep you informed.
We never get bored with visiting the battlefields at Gettysburg. We are working on the Memorial weekend, but we try to get up there later in the week when we can take a half-day off to drive around, walk the battlefields, and otherwise get away from our normal schedule.
It is almost always quiet. Well relative to what you might expect with the tourist buses driving through the area. Even with larger crowds, there is little shouting or other boisterous behavior. Except for maybe Joyce; difficult to keep her in line!
Interesting that such a deeply somber event, Memorial Day weekend is after all an effort to keep in memory all of those who have died to keep America free, is the ‘official’ start to the carefree, school free, party season that is summer. Except for all those who know that in fact Summer doesn’t begin for another more than three weeks, at the Summer Solstice.
One of the difficult things about the main battlefields at Gettysburg is the difficulty in reading all of the message placards describing the particulars of the battlefield, or portion thereof, that you are facing. Especially the Confederate ones that require you to walk across the field to read them, as they are facing back toward you, if you stay on the road, or pathways around the site.
It was also pointed out that they maybe could place a few port-o-pots around the area for those hikers who need a break every hour or two!
Happy Summer (almost).
Ray @ Cygnus
Merry and Blessed Christmas to all! We got ourselves a new car for ourselves a couple weeks ago. Well, new to us, anyway. 2012 Ford Fiesta 4dr hatchback with only 34400 miles on it, and in very good shape. More than we had wanted to pay, but the used car market is really active and prices have been high most of this past year, and especially since summer when we started looking. The more we drive it the more we like it. And fuel economy is high; avg 37-8 mpg. Handles well and is comfortable to drive. Still getting used to the controls, and haven’t figured out the radio yet. Looking forward to the new year.
Disgorged – The Blog: 29 August 2014
Well the vineyards have moved into the ripening phase for all varieties. Late ripening varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chambourcin and Vidal Blanc are just beginning to accumulate sugar, while others like Chardonnay, Seyval, and Chancellor are progressing nicely. Harvest this year will be near normal to maybe a week or so later, will very much depend on how much longer the daytime temperatures remain cooler than normal.
The cooler temperatures at night are a benefit as they help the grapes maintain good acidity, and the reds develop better color. But the challenge during this time of the year is still disease pressure, with overnight and early morning moisture helping tp promote spoilage of the fruit through bunch rot infections, and threaten the loss of leaves by encouraging Downy Mildew.
This is what a year-long effort in the vineyard comes down to; the next 6 weeks can give us exquisite fruit capturing within the makings of great wines, or a rough and tumble finish which makes the winemaker really show his/her stuff to be able to coax a really good wine out of less than spectacular fruit.
From that great musical of the 60’s, ‘Hair’ we all join in singing, “Let the Sun shine…..Let the Sun shine…….Let the Sun shine in!”
Peace. till next time.
Ray @ Cygnus
This past Sunday was the second of two Anniversary Dinners I was able to arrange for the winery’s 18th Birthday. Chef Antonio Baines of Tapas Teatro in Baltimore entertains questions after dessert, and received a well-earned round of applause and thanks from the happy crowd.
The dinner began, as they all do, with appetizers outside under the tent, with Royele methode champenoise sparkling wines. I added a special treat by disgorging a reserve bottle of the 2007 Rose de Noir Brut in front of the guests and pouring them a sample. In the mean time, Chef Antonio answered questions about the appetizer selections, and about what was coming up for the first course.
Everyone then proceeded into the cellar to enjoy a tuna w/sliced fennel root, tomato and capers first course paired with 2013 Vidal Blanc. The wine is not yet officially released but I thought it would be great for Antonio to match its crisp mineral character with something. It was a surprise hit and a couple bottles were sold after the dinner. We then moved on to the second course of grilled shrimp with squash, tomato, and pimentos, accompanied by the 2012 Chancellor. This wine, released just a month ago, is getting a good reception. It is the Cygnus Rose, rebranded ’cause I was tired of explaining how it was different from Americans expectations regarding Rose, or lighter style red wines in general. Anyway, the 2012 Chancellor is perhaps more elegant than the 2011, but has the same great fresh red fruit aromas and flavors with a little nutmeg-like spice. Very light and refreshing on the finish, went well with the shrimp and veggies, the capers adding a little tang.
Main course of grilled New York strip with romesco sauce was very tender and delicious, washed down with two vintages of Julian; 1995, 1997. These two old wines showed really well, very satisfying partners to the melt-in-your-mouth premium quality beef Chef Antonio skillfully prepared.
The cheese course in my doing, and the guests enjoyed a sampling of three of the worlds greatest cheese; Keens cheddar from England, Parmesan-Reggiano from Italy, and Appenzeller from Switzerland. The wine poured was the 2007 Brasfield Family Vineyard Late Harvest Vidal Blanc. The feast closed with a magnificent dessert of fresh figs (Spain and California) with chocolate sauce and Marcona almonds paired with the 2010 Port of Manchester (Chef Antonio’s favorite wine).
As always, I am forever grateful for the Chefs and the guests who come to these events, and let me show the wines of Cygnus Wine Cellars in the perfect context; great food, great conversation, and great friendships.
Thanks very much.
Ray @ Cygnus
Disgorged – The Blog: 21 July 2014
Yesterday was the Italian Dinner for Cygnus Wine Cellars’ 18th birthday. Masterfully done by Chef Bill Schroeder of Giulianova’s in Westminster, everyone left empty plates at the end of each course and gave Bill an enthusiastic round of applause, followed by more questions about his approach, during the dessert course.
I really enjoy the fact that people sign up for these events without knowing the menu; they are only given the name of the Chef and the type of cuisine in all of the promotional material. They trust me to put on a great event, and with the help of dedicated Chefs like Bill Schroeder, I am able to do that. During part of the discussion at the end of the meal, Bill pointed out quite clearly that the key was getting really fresh locally sourced meats, fruits and vegetables as much as possible, and his cheeses are all imported from Italy, the bastion of hand-crafted traditional cheese. It sounded exactly like how I would describe winemaking; getting the best quality local grapes, using proper technique, and not getting in the way of the fruit expressing itself in the wine.
All in all, everyone walked away very happy from this event. Guests got to experience my wines in the perfect context; with great food, lively conversation, and an intimate friendly environment. Chef Bill was able to interact with the guests in a way not usually possible, and receive face to face appreciation for his skills. And I was happy ’cause everyone else was happy. And the wine went over pretty well, too.
The afternoon started off shortly after 3pm with a selection of appetizers accompanied by two sparkling wines; Royele Blanc de Blanc Brut 2011, and Royele Rose de Noir Brut 2010. This took place outside under a tent in the back of the winery property, allowing guests to talk with Bill about his preparation of the appetizers, while he was prepping the first course. Everyone then proceeded into the Cellar (a large room in the basement of the winery) for the rest of the 5-course feast.
First course was saffron risotto stuffed zucchini, roasted in a charcoal grill and dressed with a balsamic reduction. This was accompanied by the 2012 Cygnus Chancellor, a light slightly chilled red wine with great red fruit flavors and a little nutmeg-like spice. A perfect match with the grilled zucchini and a big hit with the guests.
We then moved on to the main course, paired with two vintages of Julian, 1995 and 1997. Grilled Mediterranean style flank steak marinated in olive oil and rosemary, plated with prosciutto-wrapped asparagus and grilled rosemary-speared gulf shrimp, made up the entree. There was nothing left on the plates to dispose of when we cleared the table! Well, except for the shrimp tails.
I supply the cheese course for the dinners, and this course consisted of three great cheeses of the world; Keen’s cheddar from England, Appenzeller from Switzerland, and Parmesan-Reggiano from Italy. The wine selected for this course was the 2007 Late Harvest Vidal Blanc from our own vineyard. The dinner finished with chocolate dipped Canoli with raspberry glaze, washed down with 2010 Port of Manchester.
This feast clocked in at just under 3 hours of leisure and fun. Can’t wait until we do it again next Sunday 27 July, when we welcome back Chef Antonio Baines of Tapas Teatro in Baltimore for a Spanish dinner.
Till next time.
Ray @ Cygnus
Disgorged – The Blog: 1 July 2014
Well it certainly is hard to believe that it has been 18 years since I began this adventure. Hitting the famous ‘Family, Friends, and Fools’ for start-up money, cleaning out the old slaughterhouse as well as getting ready for the start of harvest little more than a month away, and getting ready to move to Manchester from the Waverly neighborhood of Baltimore City. All that and more joined forces in July 1996 to bring life to Cygnus Wine Cellars.
I am still committed to using only local grapes, whole cluster pressing for the white wines, and putting out a little methode champenoise sparkling wine just because I can. The reds of course have always been the staple, along with Manchester Hall (the most famous white wine in Maryland!). A few wines have come and gone, mostly on purpose as I firmly believe that very once in a while a vintage comes along that needs to be marked by a special wine or two, and that there is no expectation to have to do it every year. That is one of the things that will always, hopefully, set wine apart from every other beverage; vintage variation that brings hallmark to the harvest.
I will have a couple or three new wines coming out this September, keep alert for the release notice.
Be apart of the 18th Birthday celebration and come to one or both of the dinners planned for the end of July. Sunday the 20th brings in Chef Bill Schroeder, Executive Chef and owner of Giulianova in Westminster for an Italian feast. The following Sunday, July 27, I will host Chef Antonio Baines the Executive Chef of Tapas Teatro in Baltimore for a Spanish dinner. TT has again been honored as one of the best 50 restaurants in Baltimore by the Baltimore Sun. Reservations are due soon so don’t delay.
So, Happy Birthday to Cygnus Wine Cellars. Come help me put out the candles!
Ray @ Cygnus
Disgorged - The Blog: 24 May 2014 M is for May; Mothers Day, Moms Birthday, Memorial Day. May is a very complicated month. It begins impatiently, wanting to pull away from April as if wants to be summer already. It then sometimes ( not this year, in this region) chills back with a frost or two, reminding everyone that Spring it still is, as Yoda would say it. So what? May is fairly regulated, too. Mothers Day is always the second Sunday, just so we don't forget to go fund the greeting card industry, also the florists, with fleeting reminders that we owe our Moms gratitude, and also hopefully our love. The picture is of the flowers I got for Joyce as a gentle reminder of what she already knows.
Today would have been my Mom's 90th birthday. Happy Birthday Mom. Mom was a sort of non-traditional traditional mother of the 1950's. She was in high school when the war broke out, and got a secretarial/ clerk job with the government after she graduated. What do you do when you live in the great city of Chicago, you are 19-20 years old, and you have money (cause you have a job!)? We heard rumors growing up that Mom was a lot less strict with herself when she was younger than she was with us. Funny how that happens?! Well, anyway, she ended up marrying this older brother of a guy she dated for a while near the end of the war. Way older. Sort of. Dad was eleven years older than Mom, but it didn't seem to matter to them. (btw, one of my best friends growing up, his mom was ten years older than his father) . So age probably doesn't really matter. Anyway, as good Catholics, they started breeding little Brasfields on a regular basis, and Mom was the traditional stay at home Mom of the 50's. However, once some of us kids got to high school age, she got a job with the FAA outside of Chicago, using her previous time in service as a leg up in the job hunt. Very non-traditional given the era, and even more, surprised us all with the work she was involved in; computers! The office within which she worked was responsible for data supporting the Air Traffic Control Chicago Center, which meant O'Hare International Airport. Although I don't remember her studying much at home, she regularly passed tests for grade advancement and whenever upgrades to the software were being implemented. Go Mom! She worked there for more than twenty years but eventually left work via medical retirement. She had fallen on ice in front of the office building several years previous, and although she recovered well enough to return to work, her back bothered her for much of the time thereafter. By that time, all of us children had grown up, moved out, and must have become huge disappointments, because she always had us come back for retraining, pointing out that maybe we should do things differently. Just kidding. Her home was the center of the universe for all things family for the years to come. Later, some of that responsibility fell to two of my sisters who lived with their families in the area, who took over hosting the Thanksgiving and Easter events. Mom kept Christmas because that's the way she wanted it. We were in Philadelphia to hear a concert in which Eleanor was singing as part of the CUA Chamber Choir, recruiting trip to entice students to study at CUA Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, when we received a call that Mom was ill and taken to the hospital. She passed away two days later on Ash Wednesday. Eleanor sang and Joyce accompanied on piano, at her funeral service. I guess that brings us to Memorial Day, the last M in May. Joyce's family always had more of a tradition concerning Memorial Day than did my family. The Hongsermeiers always visited family cemeteries to lay flowers on qrave sites of relatives and reminisce. We did not partake in that kind of holiday experience. This Memorial Day, we drove up to Gettysburg and spent an hour or so walking part of the battlefield and having a little picnic lunch. Well, that is enough for now. Thanks, Joyce, for being a wonderful MOM. And Thanks, Mom for being you. Have a Happy Birthday. Share the cake with Dad if you want! Ray @ Cygnus