It’s that time of year again: Whether you’recatching up on the featured acts, finalizing your festival wardrobe, or learning how to make yourself a flower crown, Coachella is finally here, folks. And, while all of this prep is important, figuring out where you’re going to eat should be high on your list, too — especially considering the sheer number of top chefs and trendy restaurants making appearances at this year’s festival.
So, how are you to navigate through a sea of food trucks, pop-ups, and stands while making sure you don’t miss out on the best bites? That’s where we come in. Because you have so much to eat and so little time, we’ve gone through the best dishes for every meal of the day — as well as some off-menu items that our favorite chefs are whipping up exclusively for you. Click through to peek them all, and be sure to pack your appetite on the road to Indio.
Aging is one of the most important of the many complicated steps in winemaking. It imparts flavor and influencing tannins to make each wine the unique glass of deliciousness that it is, and that’s classically been a function of the wooden barrels wine is aged in. Simply put, it makes that shit taste incredible.
Barrel making, or coopering, is also one of the oldest and most unchanged aspects of winemaking. While written references to coopering date back thousands of years, the hands-on nature of coopering, the traditional tools, and process of forming a barrel by hand, has changed comparatively little since then, surviving through the a master cooper who hands down the skills and knowledge to an apprentice.
In order to fully understand the ancient art, and the relatively silent heroes of the winemaking world who practice it, I caught up with Douglas Rennie, Master Cooper at Napa Valley’s Seguin Moreau cooperage, to see what he had to say about spending his days making barrels.
MUNCHIES: How did you first get into coopering? Douglas Rennie: My father is a fourth-generation master cooper, so when I was 16 I went to apprentice at a school for coopers, the same place as my dad and grandfather. I learned how to work in the coopering industry, with all the traditional tools and no machinery, just like they’ve done for hundreds of years now.
What did you do after you finished your apprenticeship? I worked at the cooperage for Black and White whiskey in Scotland. I was there for 12 years and then I left and found my way to Napa. Seguin Moreau was looking for a master cooper to set up a cooperage in Napa, so they sent me to Cognac, France for a year to work with the head master coopers there, and they showed me all the different techniques in the wine industry. It’s very different—the whiskey industry to the wine industry, the barrel types. It’s night and day difference. There’s so much more to making wine barrels than whiskey. It was a real education I got in Cognac, it was great. The people that taught me were at the top of the game, some of the best coopers in France. Then I came back to Napa to open the cooperage here and now it’s 24 years later.
How are whiskey barrels different? Wood selection and attention to detail. Whiskey barrels go away for four to seven years and are used essentially as a holding vessel. Wine barrels, depending on what style of wine, are away for what could be nine months to two years and are on show in tasting rooms, so they really have to be made like furniture, perfectly detailed and of highest quality. Wine makers really demand high quality, so you can’t get away with taking short cuts. Every barrel must be perfect.
So what is the typical process of making these barrels? Wine barrels can’t have any knots or anything in the wood. It has to be straight-grain wood where we bend it so it doesn’t break. It has to be cut perfectly for it. Then we do something called maturation, where we season the wood, and that can take as long as two years. How you season the wood is really important—you don’t just leave it out in the yard for two years. You have to monitor the wood and the weather conditions. They add water to the wood if it needs it, or change all the wood around in winter if it’s too cold. It’s really a detailed process to get the perfect wood for working with the barrel. This is really important because seasoning the barrel leeches all of the harsh tannins out of the wood that would otherwise overpower the wine.
From then, the wood is all jointed and it’s made concave and convex. It’s rounded on the outside and shaved on the inside, which helps the wood bend. Then we assemble every individual barrel, and once they’re assembled we drive the hoops on and start the bending process. We then heat the wood over an oak fire.
We can only use oak because if we use gas or pine wood it will impart a different flavor on the inside of the barrel. We put a cable around the bottom of the barrel and it pulls the barrel together at the bottom, forming the shape. Next we lay the barrel on its belly and we put one hoop on the end. Then we release the cable that’s holding the barrel together and from there once it’s bent we toast it. It’s just like how you would toast bread: light, medium, or really dark toast. We use fires to toast the inside, not touching but just heating it, and the natural sugars that are left in the wood when we mature it caramelize, so that the longer the barrel is left on the fire the darker the sugars will become and darken the inside of the barrel. We have to do this slowly because we need the heat to penetrate the wood. The actual toast level should act as a barrier between the wine and raw wood.
Is there any particular trend you are seeing right now in what wine makers are asking for in terms of their barrels? I think American oak has become a lot more popular now than it was years ago. I think it’s because American oak has evolved so far, also the way we toast the barrels and we season the wood. But every winemaker is so different in what they want.
How much is done by hand on the typical barrel? We are set up a bit like an assembly line, so we have one guy who will assemble, two guys that bend, and two people that toast, so every four minutes a barrel should move on to the next stage. There’s machinery that will cut the grooves and sand the barrels. With modern machinery we can keep barrels moving through faster. We can make about one barrel in four hours as opposed to the traditional entirely by hand way, where you would make about one barrel per day.
Does that mean old-fashioned coopering is on its way out? I’ve been hearing that it was a dying trade since I started in coopering, but it’s still here and I think the wine industry is really keeping it alive. The more people become educated about wine and the more they want to drink good wine the more there is a need for good barrels, so that does help keep an old trade like coopering alive. But for sure it’s a dying trade.
Something we forget in the perfectly butchered and plastic-wrapped grocery store meat aisles of the world is that once upon a time, you wouldn’t be eating meat unless you killed it yourself. For the most part, people don’t really slaughter and butcher their own animals anymore unless they’re Amish, a farmer, up on that hipster butchering trend, or don’t live in America.
When I recently got the opportunity to learn to slaughter and butcher a live chicken in Portugal and make a traditional head-to-tail dish with it, I embraced the offer with a mixture of fear and excitement.
Something I’ve learned about the Portuguese is that they are the masters of “waste not, want not.” From saving the minuscule remnants in a nearly empty wine bottle to create homemade wine vinegar or using the water from boiled shellfish to make a rice dish for tomorrow’s dinner, they know how to make use of every last bit in the kitchen. That goes double for arroz de cabidela, a Portuguese rice dish that uses almost every part of the chicken—even the blood—that’s collected from a freshly murdered chicken.
I’ve always held the belief that if you are going to eat meat, you should probably know what it’s like to kill one yourself. That was also part of what motivated me to partake in the whole chicken killing thing, but as the time approached, I became more and more content to slink back into my happy state of lazily murderless ignorance on the matter. Especially when I saw the chicken, which turned out to be a rooster because, you know, language barrier.
He was kind of cute in this mangy looking, scratch-your-eyes-out-if-he-could sort of way and I immediately felt like peacing out on the whole scene, especially when I realized that we wouldn’t be killing this poor guy with the huge butcher cleaver that I imagined (one fatal swoop and the whole thing would be over), but instead with a common kitchen knife on a little wooden stump. I immediately imagined Ser Rodrik’s botched beheading from Game of Thrones. I would be the asshole that would give this rooster an dishonorable death because I would wimp out and not put my back into it. Fuck.
Luckily, Betta and Christina, my two Portuguese rooster slaughtering experts, were there to save the day. Did I mention neither of these ladies speak a word of English? The whole slaughtering event was the most intense game of charades I have ever played.
The murder weapon on a lovely hand embroidered tablecloth.
Since these ladies have been slaughtering roosters since before I was born, they inevitably had some pro tricks from years of practice. First things first: in order to properly catch the rooster and keep it from scratching you/escaping your clutches, you have to hold the little guy with his wings behind his back. Then, in order to keep the soon-to-be-spilt blood from coagulating, you fill a little bowl with vinegar, bend the rooster’s neck back to make the veins tight, and cut across its jugular while keeping the blade of the knife pointing down to make sure the blood runs down it into the bowl. Apparently it can spray all over you otherwise.
At this point, the rooster was dead and its body was ever so slightly twitching. I was in a state of complete shock while it bled out into the bowl. While this was happening, a group of dogs were barking at us on the other side of the fence because they wanted up on this chicken for themselves. Not stressful at all. But there was no time for freaking out because this rooster butchering business is actually a pretty quick ordeal, from start to finish in about 15 minutes.
Then, on to the plucking. First, you have to put the chicken in a bucket and dump a pot of just-boiled water over it so that the feathers loosen up. Which was weird.
Once the rooster was entirely bald, and the skin from its feet peeled, it was time to remove the organs, the part I was dreading second most. We kept the heart and most of the organs for the rice and discarded the intestines. Then it was time to break the rooster down, which was the only part I had done before, so I was grateful for some familiar territory at this point.
Fast forward to the next day, when the chicken had been sitting for a day and was ready to be cooked. The blood rice is actually a surprisingly simple dish to make: First, you have to get one large, diced onion nice and browned in a large pot, then cover it with all the chicken bits, including the organs and feet.
Then cover it in wine because wine makes everything better, even rooster hearts. Once that’s boiled together and the rooster is browned, remove it from the bowl and add the rice to the dish. And then, once the rice has begun to thicken up, it’s time for the extra special ingredient: rooster blood
Stir that baby up and let it simmer for a bit. Then you are done. Voilà.
Rooster in blood rice is served on cute little terra cotta rooster plates, as if I could forget what it was that I was eating.