Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Boyden Valley Winery & Spirits - Raising the Bar on Craft Beverages in Vermont! (VT)

I first tried Big Barn Red back in the fall of 2009 on a trip up to Vermont to see my brother-in-law Robin Hoover in Stowe. Recently, (ah hmmm) I tried their wines at the Taste Camp Vermont. So this post is a tad late.....apologies.

The winery is owned by David and Linda Boyden. "Located in a restored 1875 carriage barn on our family farm, the Boyden Valley Winery is steeped in the culture and agricultural heritage of Vermont’s Green Mountains. From 8000 grapevines and 100 acres of maple trees, lovingly tended by our family for four generations, we craft wines that feature only the finest locally grown fruit from the loamy soils of the Lamoille River Valley. The care with which we’ve nurtured the Boyden Farm for 100 years lends itself to traditional winemaking techniques, producing wines clean to the palate and balanced."

Boyden Family Farm is also known for it's pure bred, and all natural, non-GMO fed beef, as well as their 100% natural maple syrup production. And their winery production now also offers cider and spirits. In the past, I have reviewed the Big Barn Red, Gold Leaf dessert wine, and Vermont Ice Maple Cream. (I am dying to try their Pomme spirits next...LOL)

Since my first encounter with them, Boyden Valley Winery has grown.They now have two locations! Their original location, and their new Tasting Annex in Waterbury situated at the famous Cold Hollow Cider Mill on Route 100. The original and charming tasting room in Cambridge at the winery of course remains open.David and Linda remain fixtures of course, but the staff has grown. Bridget Jones in the General Manager, Nick Roy is the winemaker, JT Bachman is the assistant manager, and Tom Lyga runs the new annex for the winery.

The first wine I tried was the Boyden Valley Winery Cowtipper White Wine. The wine is made from the grape LaCrescent. It was a lovely wine, bright and fruity, like a semi-sweet Riesling, with lots of green apple and hints of grapefruit, apricot and even hints of pear and honeysuckle. Delicious!

Let me say again, 8 years later, Big Barn Red is as impressive a wine now as it was then. And that's saying something, because the industry in Vermont has grown up around them significantly, and this wine has kept pace.

Boyden Family Big Barn Red is made using estate grown Frontenac blended with and regional Cabernet Savignon. This is meant to be a big, Bordeaux styled red, and it delivers. Gargantuan notes of dark back cassis and black raspberries converge with dark cherry, smoke, and cocoa. A lovely, love;y big red. Calls for something grilled, charred, or roasted! Or something big like a Penne Arrabiata. Wonderful!

Boyden Valley Vineyards is an amazing place that is certainly more than just keeping up with the burgeoning Vermont craft beverage scene - it's helping to lead it! Go and check it out!



Monday, November 20, 2017

Mazzaroth Vineyards Vidal Blanc 2016 Is An Impressive First Release! (MD)

In 2011 Garry and Micki Cohen got serious about wine. They planted a small vineyard on their property in Middletown, Maryland; in the south western part of Frederick County. The original 1/4-acre test vineyard was planted in April 2012. The vineyard has been expanded every year since and is currently 1.75 acres.

The Cohen's mission is to grow the finest wine grapes in the Catoctin American Viticultural Area or AVA. This AVA is geographically defined from the north by the Mason Dixon line, from the east by Braddock Mountain, from the south by the Potomac River and from the west by South Mountain.

They started off with Vidal Blanc, but they have also planted Albarino, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tannat. Their ultimate goal is to make high quality quality wine. And in this first varietal wine they have produced they have absolutely succeeded.

I met Garry Cohen at the Taste Camp Maryland in May 2017. It was clear from the beginning he wants to make high quality wine of integrity. The Mazzaroth Vineyards Vidal Blanc 2016 was an elegant white with hints of pineapple and citrus. This was a delicate, light, delicious wine, that you might have otherwise thought came from California or France. Absolutely lovely. An impressive wine. Really looking forward to what the Cohens will produce and release in the future.

Stowe Cider - Wow! (VT)

I first had Stowe cider when I bought it at the general store in Woodstock, VT while visiting the Woodstock Inn with family a while back. Then two years ago I went to taste camp and tasted some of their newest ciders, and I can't lie, my brother-in-law Robin Hoover also brought me several small caches of it during his visits coming down from the Green Mountains. As has my friend Todd Trzaskos also from Vermont. So I have been well stocked, and well supplied.

In an article from Stowe Today, in May 2017, "Stowe Cider is looking to move its production to a new facility, according to a report in Stowe Today. The move to the new 4,000-square-foot location will enable the cidery to quadruple its production. Construction is planned for this summer if state permits are approved. Local permits have already been secured. The owners anticipate that all permissions needed will be in hand by June.The new location will be used primarily for production. Stowe Cider’s tasting room in the Red Barn shops will remain open."

The article went on to say, "To iron out wrinkles in the water and sewer situation on Town Farm Lane, town officials have been working with Stowe Cider owners, as well as Chris Curtis of West Branch Gallery, who owns the building Stowe Cider will rent, and Howard Smith and Nate Freund of Sushi Yoshi."


Stowe Cider is among my favorite New England cider producers Though there are many I like I freely admit. But Stowe is good stuff! Tips Up is their semi-sweet cider, with a lovely crispness that's hard to beat. This is the easy quaffer! High & Dry is almost like drinking sparkling wine, The apple comes across green and delicious and tart, but the there's no sweetness at the end, Just a lingering of sour apple. A great food cider! Safety Meeting is my beer cider here. Dry hopped, ti has a beautiful floral nose, with a dry finish and a great hop flavor, almost like an apple tinged light lager. Refreshing and awesome!

The Stowe Rum Ginger Hard Cider Smuggler's Reserve was easily the favorite of he whole tasting!!!! This is a ginger infused cider, that was aged in a rum barrel. A big pop of green apple with lots of spice and pepper, mixed with the delicious aged rum touch. Damn, this is as high end as cider gets. Loved it! One of my all time favorite high end craft ciders. This is where cider goes from craft beverage to craftsmanship and artisanal. 

The Bourbon Hard Cider Barrel Aged Smuggler's Reserve is a cider aged in a bourbon barrel. A big, brown sugar and apple bomb with a little gingersnap to it. Very very nice. Impressive!

You may not have the friend and relatives I do, but you need to get your hands on this stuff asap anyway! Make the effort, it's worth it!

Clark & Chesterfield Bourbon and Single Malt Whiskey Impress! (NH)

New England Sweetwater Farm & Distillery was established by Robert Spruill and his wife Patti, and his brother Joshua Spruill in Winchester, NH. They are in the South West corner of New Hampshire’s Monadnock region. The farm is nestled on 50+ acres near the slopes of Mt Pisgah. It is a family run operation, both farm and distillery, and according to them, is conveniently located within a 200 mile radius of Portland ME, Manchester NH, Boston MA, Providence RI, Hartford CT, and New York City.

Clark & Chesterfield Bourbon Whiskey is distilled from 51% Raw Yellow corn, over 30% Rye, and the remainder is Malted Barley. This high Rye Mash is aged in full size New American Oak barrels. This small batch Bourbon was bottled at 107 proof for their 1 year anniversary. This is a big bourbon, with loads of caramel, brown sugar, and a big wallop of black and white pepper and gingersnap. It can stand up to ice, can be enjoyed straight, or used in your favorite bourbon cocktail. Loved it!

Clark & Chesterfield Solera Aged Single Malt Whiskey is a single malt barley-based whiskey. Using the solera method, often associated with port and sherry, but being used by a number of American distilleries now, they age the whiskey in a combination of new and used American oak barrels. Robert and Joshua explain that their barrel aging rooms are right next to the river which helps to modulate the temperatures, making for “constant year-round temperature for perfect aging.”

 These two whiskies can be purchased at the distillery or the New Hampshire state store in limited quantity. Great stuff! Get some!

Yankee Folly Cider Great Light Cider From the Hudson Valley (NY)

Yankee Folly Cidery was established in April 2014 formed by Edmund Tomaselli and Eric James in New York's Hudson Valley. The hard cider is produced using apples from the Jenkins & Lueken orchards on Yankee Folly Road in New Paltz. According to the website, "It started over 50 years ago with Eric’s grandfather Jack Lueken, his partner Raymond Jenkins, and just a few trees and five varieties. They soon became a local favorite. The orchard was family-owned and family-operated then, and is now."

Today, the Orchard has expanded to thousands of trees and over 40 apple varieties. Of these varieties is the distinctive and highly acclaimed Golden Russet that Jack Lueken himself brought over from Germany. 

The Hudson Valley is home to numerous cideries. And this is an excellent addition! The cider is more like a off-dry Riesling, with lots of green apple and red apple, with hints of lychee and melon. A very, very impressive light cider! Despite it's more popular branding, it's actually a damn good light cider! Drink up!

Beat Single Malt Whiskey From New Hampshire Wows! (NH)

Beat Single Malt Whiskey 50% ABV (100 proof) is a small batch, small barrel whiskey made by Djinn Spirits. Djinn Spirits (pronounced "gin" spirits) is a craft distillery located in Nashua, New Hampshire. It was established in December of 2013 by Andy and Cindy Harthcock. Djinn was an instant hit with their gin, and followed up with a series of white and aged whiskies. Andy and Cindy were thrilled to release the first single malt whiskey in the state’s history. Micro-batch fermentation, double distilled, and aged in small 15-gallon high-char oak barrels resulted a very smooth, spicy new spirit. The first bottling was very small, and available only at the distillery tasting room. But it can now be found on the shelves of small stores and of course, the New Hampshire state store! A fantastic whiskey with lots of cognac and orange rind notes, molasses, caramel, and oatmeal.

(excerpted from THE NEW SINGLE MALT WHISKEY by Carlo DeVito)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

What's In a Name? Ask William Heritage Vineyards: New Name, Terrific Wine, DC Post Approves

I have been writing about Heritage Vineyards for some time now. Since 2010. Event wrote a feature about them for Edible Jersey magazine. And every time I taste them again, the wines just keep getting better.

Two recent tastings confirmed this for me. In May, Paul Vigna gathered winemakers and media types to Pennsylvania for a tasting of some of the Mid-Atlantic's best wineries. The results were impressive. 

Amng the dignitaries was Dave McIntyre, of the Washington Post, who wrote, "Gather winemakers from 12 wineries in five states along with a few wine writers to taste through two dozen wines and — well, it’s not exactly a party. But I can say that it’s a lot of fun, and it’s educational.

The scene was the barrel room at Waltz Vineyards, in Lancaster County, Pa., where Jan and Kim Waltz enjoy hosting such events. I first visited Waltz six years ago for a similar seminar in which East Coast vintners learned viticulture tips from a leading grape grower and a winemaker from California. My second visit, in early April this year, was for eastern vintners to share their wines and compare notes. It was organized by Paul Vigna, who writes about wine for Pennlive.com and has become a leading voice on Maryland and Pennsylvania wines.

Participating were one winery from Virginia (Keswick); four from Maryland (Black Ankle, Boordy, Crow and Old Westminster); four from Pennsylvania (Allegro, Galen Glen, Penns Woods and Waltz); two from New Jersey (Heritage and Unionville); and one from New York (Paumanok). Aside from Vigna and myself, journalists included bloggers David Falchek and Carlo DeVito, and Linda Jones McKee of Wines & Vines magazine. The event was moderated by Joe Fiola, a viticulturist with the University of Maryland, and professor/agricultural agent Gary Pavlis of Rutgers University.

Vigna asked each of the participating winemakers to bring two wines. I expected a bunch of red blends and chardonnays, and there were plenty of both. But I was thrilled to experience a much wider and more exciting variety. The tasting was bookended by two scintillating sparkling wines that bowled me over.

Among the first wines we had were Bill Heritage's sparkling wine. As McIntyre wrote: "The first was a 2014 brut made in the champagne method from chardonnay and pinot noir from Heritage Vineyards in New Jersey. Winemaker Sean Comninos explained that he wanted to make dry chardonnay and pinot noir, but the grapes weren’t ripening. So he decided to make bubbly, which uses grapes picked considerably earlier and less ripe than dry table wines. The result was fantastic."

Yes, it was. The sparkling wine was superb. I got apples, pears, pineapple, with a big dose of bread and dough, and a lovely, creamy finish! 

But almost more notable was the new look! With the giant WH emblazoned on the label, there was suddenly a sea change going on at Heritage. This new wine signaled another new benchmark for one of the mid-Atlantic's rising wine stars.

When recently queried about it it seems another winery has already trademarked the word "Heritage." Despite being Bill's surname, that's not good enough in the world of trade marks (just ask Walter S. Taylor of Taylor Wines/Bully Hill fame). So,over the last 18-24 months Heritage has slowly been fazing out it's older labels, and releasing wines with a new look. This sparkling wine was the first to bear he new design this past May. Since then, especially with their late summer and fall releases, William Heritage (their new brand statement) is slowly moving toward creating a higher and better brand and product (if that was possible). It actually works out well for them.

According to Tina Morey, Owner-operator Certified Sommelier at Winestudio, "Heritage, obviously, is their last name but they couldn't trademark heritage because it's a used word. So, over the last 3 years they've begun trademarking William Heritage which makes sense because they are 7 generations of William Heritage."

We also tasted the Heritage Cabernet Franc Norman's Vineyard 2013 Outer Coastal Plain Limited Edition. Cabernet Franc, in the wrong hands, can be a deadly affair. But not so at William Heritage Vineyards. This was a big, dark cherry bomb of a wine, with hints of mocha and cedar and pekoe tea, and small doses of cranberry and vanilla. An amazing beautiful dry red wine fit for any table, good enough to shine in any region!  (above is an example of the old labels).

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Recent tasting of the sparkling and another wines from William Heritage showing the new logo and label design. (Photo courtesy of Kathy Lang Wideman)

The scene waiting for its stars off stage.

Wine writers Dave McIntyre of the Washington Post and David Falcheck of Pennsylvania.

No matter what! Tray a William Heritage wine. They are amazing, and you will no be dissappointed!

Here's a link to the Washington Post story:

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Shelburne Vineyard Makes a Quality Statement!! (VT)

There is no one more excited about great wine than Ethan Joseph, head winemaker at Shelburne Vineyards. Just ask him about his Marquette(s).

Ken Albert, Sam Coppola, and Scott Prom are all partners in Shelburne Vineyards. They have an absolute passion to make great red wines, not just good for their region, but wines that compete with any region in the world. While Vermont might still be a few players away from a championship, as we like to say in sports, it certainly seems that have many of the key parts to make a very good run at the gold. For Shelburne, it starts with the head winemaker, Ethan Joseph!

I have visited Shelburne Vineyards for many years, and their in no question, that in the last four and five years, Shelburne Vineyards has upped their game substantially. I spent time with them at Eastern Wineries Exposition as well as at Taste Camp Vermont in 2016.

Shelbourne grows lots of Marquette. The place is surrounded by the grape. And good thing. Because they do a great job with it. It's fast becoming the premiere red grape in Vermont, and rightly so.

Whether at Taste Camp or at EWE, there is no one more fun to hang with than Ethan. According to his winery bio, "Ethan has been growing grapes and making wine at Shelburne Vineyard since 2008. He is responsible for all aspects of production, from vineyard to glass, and appreciates this integral role in the full cycle of winegrowing. As such, he is committed to highlighting the potential of northern varietals through sound viticulture and premium winemaking. Most recently, Ethan has developed a sub-brand for SV called Iapetus, which represents wines with a strong sense of place and applies minimalism in the winery. Ethan also shares his experience and expertise as a speaker at national conferences and serves as Treasurer for the Vermont Grape and Wine Council."

According to the website, "It all started 35 years ago when Ken Albert planted grapes in his backyard while working as an engineer at IBM.  Inspired by the new wine industry he discovered on trips for IBM to Quebec, he leased 3 acres of land from Shelburne farms and began his commercial vineyard venture believing that viticulture and winemaking could be a success in Vermont. Scott Prom a Shelburne neighbor (still working at his “day job” as a mechanical engineer) joined as a partner early on....the first commercial vintage was released in 2000."

"When Ken, his wife Gail, his brother Bill, and Scott tasted the wine from the new cold-hardy Minnesotan hybrid Marquette, they made the decision to purchase the land that is now their customer friendly flagship site. Their LEED-designed winery, opened in Feb 2008 surrounded by Marquette vines now stands welcoming the public seven days a week.  Sam Coppola, an attorney by profession, joined the partnership in 2013. The operation now includes of 17 acres of grapes, mostly the super hardy Minnesota hybrids, with a small planting of Riesling and Vidal Blanc."

With Ethan I have tasted numerous bottlings of his wines. Above are the Marquette Untamed, the classic Shelburne Marquette, and the Shelburne Crimson Sails. I love this wine. Crimson Sails is their first bottling of a totally non-oak-aged Marquette. It's very fruit forward. According to the winery, "After a rainy 2015 spring, things suddenly changed in mid-July. Constant sun right through harvest time yielded, truly, some very excellent fruit." This wine, aged only in stainless steel is very fruit forward, with blueberries, and mixed red cherries, hint of cassis and strawberry, with nice tannins and well balanced acidity. A superb drinking wine perfect for cheese courses, roast chicken, or pork chops. Fabulous with cheese. I love this wine. (apologies for the blurry pic!)

Web Iccon Marquette 2016.jpeg

Shelburne Marquette is the classic edition of this wine. You may be familiar with their older label, but the newest edition of this classic style from Shelburne is now sold in this new packaging. I have been drinking their Marquette since they first started offering it. The 2015 vintage was aged sur-lie for 8 months in both hybrid French-American, and Hungarian oak barrels. Ethan likes Hungarian oak for Marquette. The tasting notes that the "aroma hints at ripe dark berries with undertones of vanilla and coconut. The wine is robust and rich with notes of black cherries and baking spices with a medium to full body, soft tannins and a complex, lingering finish." I couldn't agree more. I think there' also hints of cassis and cocoa. This is a beautiful wine that begs for lamb or pork or chicken. Game would be perfect, anywhere from duck to venison, to wild turkey. An amazing wine. A solid, go to wine, no matter what region you are from.

The Shelburne Marquette Reserve 2013 was a revelation. This Marquette was aged sur lie — that is, on its spent yeasts and aged approximately a year and a half in oak. This dark purple wine, tinged with red, was jammy with bright and dark cherries, with a big slap of cocoa, some nice spice, vanilla, and good acidity. To me easily the best of the bunch. A classic wine that shows immense, immense promise. If not quite on par with the likes of the top growths from Bordeaux, it nonetheless, it stands proudly on its own merits. An wonderful wine deserving of attention and accolades, as well as a spot on your table, and a few slots in your cellar. Shelburne has been looking to make a statement, and no question, they have. You need to drink Shelburne!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Big Blends Continue to Make An Impact In Cool Climate Regions - Consumers: Try One; Winemakers:Make One!

Frank Schoonmaker insisted on varietal wine names in order to help establish an identity for American wine, instead of the horrid bastardizations he saw in California and elsewhere, such as California Burgudy and New York State Champagne. He insisted we call it Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, or sparkling wine. And he was right. He was incredibly influential, and helped turn the tide of American wine forever. 

But I think this also had a deleterious effect. American winemakers have chased the varietal wine down the proverbial rabbit hole, to the point we'd rather make a bad Cabernet Franc or Merlot rather than make a good blend. I think this practice has to stop. I think each winemaker, especially in the east, need to start adding one or two red blends to their arsenal - and I am not talking about that sweet crap, as so many do! Make a decen red blend. It will out perform your bestselling red for sure. That's not to say your can't make varietal reds, but your sales will improve and your customers will be happier if you add one or two solid red blends to your lineup!

At EWE 2017 back in March, Richard Leahy assembled a killer panel on red blends. Here was the entry from the program.

EV01 | Crafting Fine Red Blends in Cool Climates
Vinny Aliperti, Peter Becraft, JL Groux and Luke Steele
This in-depth session will feature four speakers from cool climate sites: J.L. Groux of Stratus Vineyards, ON; Luke Steele of Dr. Frank Vineyards, Finger Lakes; Vinny Aliperti of Atwater Vineyards and Peter Becraft of Anthony Road Vineyards, both of Seneca Lake. The first two speakers will pour and discuss a meritage blend, while Becraft will do the same with a cabernet franc/lemberger blend while Aliperti will pour a “big blend” with 43% syrah, 3 red Bordeaux grapes, and lemberger/blaufrankisch. All speakers will include viticultural practices and site circumstances, along with winemaking stylistic goals, processes and managing both from one vintage to the next.
J.L. will specifically address the art of assemblage at Stratus and how this traditional European winemaking technique is applied with a New World twist: assemblage vs. blending; tasting techniques to assemble your own wines; what to avoid; and how to overcome the marketing challenge.

Now, before we start, I have to tell you that I very much admire the work of all four of these winemakers! More so, I think the eastern seaboard needs to strike a better balance between varietals, which are a uniquely American invention, and blends. I am becoming more and more a fan of red blends! Especially in the east, where, like in say, Europe, blends have always been more the norm than not.

In a blend, especially a red blend, one adds hopefully complexity and layers of flavors and aromas to build a bigger, better red. Many varieties, made as single varietal wines, often exhibit their positive and negative natures. The most striking is Cabernet Franc, which will show of it's variety of cherry flavors and pencil shavings and immense dept, as well as it's verdant side, smelling of green grass or even worse, green bell pepper. By blending in say Merlot, or Baco Noir, or any number of vinifera or hybrid grapes, to create more depth and add more complexity. The great-great grandfathers of wine knew that.

Peter Becraft's Anthony Road Cab Franc/Lemberger blend was an excellent example of a blend. A lot of FInger Lakes winemakers growing Lemberger or Blaufrankish (which I prefer) have often blended this highly acidic red with a vinifera red to make a more classic styled table wine. Here, Beecraft has blended 53% Cabernet Franc with 47% Lemberger. The final product exploded with bright and dark ripe cherries and had a lovely balance of acidity and tannin to make a lovely medium-bodied red wine to please almost any palate! Truly, a lovely red!

Atwater Estate Big Blend by Vinnny Aliperti was what we tasted next. This was a revelation!!!!! Originally started off as an affordable red blend, this wine blossomed into one of the best red wines being made in the Finger Lakes today! No ifs, ands, or buts. I wish more New York and New England winemakers would buy a bottle of this and see what I mean. If you like California reds, you will LOVE this wine!

The wine was predominantly Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, with Merlot and Cabernet Franc in strng support, and a dollop of Blaufrankish. This was a big red, with big jammy notes of cherry, stewed strawberries and raspberries, lead the attack, with soft tannins and lovely balance and complexity. Every time you sip this beautiful red wine, you get a little something more out of it. An amazing wine. Vinny and Atwater have a true industry leader on their hands! 

Luke Steele presented the Dr. Konstantin Frank Meritage 2012. This wine is a blend of predominantly cabernet sauvignon and merlot with about 25% cabernet franc. Individual parcels of each variety were fermented in open top fermenters with an extended post ferment maceration on skins. The wines were then aged in French oak barriques for 15 months. The best barrels from each parcel were selected and blended. The wine comes in at 13.5% ABV.

Lots of big black cherry and black cassis run through this glass. Big fruit, big acid, and big tannin. It was lovely as a 2012 fresh out of the bottle, but it's also the kind of wine that will age for the next ten years in your cellar. If you are a fan of older Bordeaux, park a case of this in your cellar for the next five eyars, and it will begin to soften and mature like few other eastern reds will. BTW, make no mistake about it, if you have a nicely charred steak, you better break this puppy out ASAP!

If there is a list of the 7 wonders of the modern world, JL Groux better be on the list - otherwise throw it away! JL Groux is the winemaker at Stratus. I have written about stratus before. In my humble opinion, there is no question, that Stratus is one of the most impressive wines made in North America. No matter what region you put it in, it would rank as one of the best wines from that region (all of California included!).

Groux has blended the classic meritage, taking all five of the major noble grapes, and created something immensely impressive. Big helpings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc are bolstered by dollops of Petite Verdot and Malbec. And then he through in a dash of Tannat!

JL Groux has crafted an incredible wine. Coming in at a solid 13.8% alcohol, this wine had fruit and structure in spades! Big dark fruit like plumbs, dark cherries, blackberries, cassis, moocha, vanilla, and orange pekoe tea, this wine was something wholly exceptional! Utter proof, that in cold weather climates, a great blend is a great blend!

If you are a consumer looking for great red blends in the northeast start here. There are others I could mention, but I think that will be a separate post! If you are a winemaker, start working on a blend now!!!!!! Great stuff from these four incredible winemakers and houses! Enjoy!