Some vintners look at old wine barrels, sigh over how much they cost, and send them to the chipper. Quintin Quider sees barbecued oysters and smoked abalone.
Quider, who grew up in Los Angeles and whose first job was diving for sea urchin, now divides his time between New Zealand, where he has a winery called Wild Earth in Central Otago, and a home in Australia near Brisbane. “In the summer in Australia, you don’t want to use your kitchen because it’s too hot,” he says as he peers into one of his smokers to check the progress of a rack of lamb. “I use this as as an oven, a barbecue and a smoker.”
Quider set up two of his prototype barrel smokers on the lawn next to Wine Spectator’s Napa office earlier this week to demonstrate not only what the smokers can do but how the results match with his wines. Naturally, the gang showed up to help eat the results. The consensus was unanimous.
“This is really cool,” Jim Laube says after a few bites of abalone and smoked duck breast cooked on the smoker, washed down with sips of Wild Earth’s Riesling and Pinot Noir. “The smoke is very delicate. It doesn’t bother the wines.”
You can see how it works on my video. He bores several holes near the bottom of the barrel, which is set upright, and in the top, to allow air circulation. Two gas burners are fitted a few inches up from the bottom to allow a shallow pool of water to keep the smoker moist. Several racks fit into the barrel to hold pans for the smoking chips and grills for the food. The top few inches of the barrel flip up to allow access.
The results were delectable. I especially liked the smoked oysters, which came out creamy and moist, with a lime, ginger and wine sorbet melted on top. Salmon, always good on the grill, picked up a refreshingly delicate whiff of smoke and came out beautifully moist in its PInot Noir marinade. And of course there was abalone. Harvested off Mendocino last weekend, he smothered them in sea urchin butter as they were cooking whole in the smoker. They emerged very tender, even in thick slices.
“The whole thing is for the barrel to add another dimension, like oak to wine,” Quider says. “I don’t like heavily smoked food. I don’t want to cure the ingredients, just give them a light touch. But you could if you wanted to, just turn down the heat and let it smoke for hours.”
Originally, Quider engineered the smokers for his own use, but reaction has been so enthusiastic he’s working on having the innards manufactured so he can go into production. He plans to start by finishing the barrels himself, and then produce kits for wineries and amateur winemakers to retrofit their own old barrels.
Quider stumbled into the wine business. He moved to New Zealand to work as a diver and discovered wine there. “I didn’t even know they made wine,” he laughs. “Then I found Otago.” New Zealand wine fans know the crisp, vibrant style of the Pinot Noirs there. Wild Earth has been good, and improving steadily. “I think we finally got it right in 2008,” he adds.
Wow, a vintner touting the coming vintage. You have to hand it Quider. He learns fast. And smokes a mean abalone.
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions