Harvest White Bean and Ham Stew at Scherrer Winery
Its harvest time here in Sonoma and wineries all around us have their workers furiously picking the picking grapes in a race to beat rain and mold that could be lurking around the corner, in a weather change. Its an exciting time of year, filled with anticipation (tinged with complete exhaustion.) Kerry is working for Scherrer winery as part of the two-person winery production crew, so she is lucky enough to experience it first-hand, learning under a very skilled wine maker, Fred Scherrer. Fred makes chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah, grenache, and cabernet. I tagged along with her to work on my day off so I could make the hungry workers lunch and help out where I could. I picked this Jacque Pepin recipe, recently in Food and Wine Magazine, because it seemed like the perfect hearty and filling Harvest meal. I could also do all the prep first thing and then just check on it hourly, which enabled me to help with the sorting of the Pinot Noir that had just come in. It made enough stew to feed the crew well for a couple of days. The stew is topped with a piece of fresh sourdough peasant bread that I shaved some Gruyere cheese onto. It a very hearty harvest meal.
White Bean and Ham Stew
4 meaty smoked ham hocks (about 3-4 pounds)
1/2 pound dried cannellini or borlotti beans (1 1/4 cups)
3 quarts of water
2 medium red-skinned potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 large leek, white and pale green parts only, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 large celery ribs, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 large parsnip, cut into 1/2 pieces
1/2 pound Savoy cabbage, cut into 2 inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Eight 1/4 inch thick slices of peasant bread, lightly toasted
2 cups of shredded Gruyere cheese
1. Combine the ham hocks, with the dried beans and water in a large pot. Cover and simmer over low heat for 1 hour. Add the remaining ingredients (except the bread and cheese) and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and simmer on low heat, covered, for another hour.
2. Transfer the ham hocks to a plate. Simmer the stew on moderate heat, uncovered, for another 45min-1 hour, until the vegetables and beans are very tender.
3. Meanwhile, discard the skin and bones from the hocks and cute the meat into bite-size pieces. Add the meat to the stew as it simmers. Season the stew with salt and pepper to taste.
4. Preheat the broiler. Ladle the hote stew into 8 heatproof soup bowls and place the bowls on a large cookie sheets. Cover each bowl witha toast and spread the cheese on top. Broil 4 iches from the heat, rotating the bowls as necessary, until the cheese is lightly browned about 3 minutes. Serve right away.
In my short day of working harvest, I gained a whole new respect for the hard, meticulous work that is required to create the wine I love so much. It found it exciting to literally touch the freshly-picked grapes and sort out the ones affected with mold (botrytis), and pick out the leaves, rocks and other icky things like spiders that come in with the grapes. The batch that we were working with on that day had very little botrytis, but that differs from one batch to another. When the grapes are sorted, they get dumped into a machine that takes the stems off and they are put into a fermenting bin.
I only observed a single day of harvest, a mere tiny snapshot of the process, but was struck by how many decisions must be made by the winemaker, and how each decision heavily impacts the qualities of the final wine. For example, for Fred’s Pinot, the Pinot Noir grapes are grown in many different locations and come in with different characteristics, like sugar (brix) levels, as well as acid and tannin levels. The wine maker decides how to process and ferment the grapes from these vineyards, and which yeast to use, how long to ferment them, and which barrels to use (and if they are French or American, new or not), and how much of each vineyard’s batch to blend together in the final product to get the characteristics he is looking for. These decisions, and a billion more that I haven’t mentioned, can take good grapes and make them into exceptional wine. I don’t know how he does it, almost single-handedly, the genius that Fred brings to the craft is inspirational. I’m VERY excited to see what magic he brings to this year’s vintage. I hope you stayed tuned. I sure will be.