WARNING: This is not proper instruction on how to make wine. This is my personal journey, documented to full effect as an object lesson. Making wine is freaking laborious and downright nuts to do yourself. However, the reward is getting your merit badge for trying and the humor of seeing friends and loved ones do countless spit-takes.
My adventures in DIY wine making all started with a humble dream. A dream that came to life through courage, perseverance, patience, and the shrewd exploitation of family members. I was singular in my dream to be a vintner, a vision that crystalized once those vines brought forth their ample fruit.
I had inherited four vines of Chardonnay and one of Pinot Noir. My backyard estate was perfectly situated along the border of a historic vineyard of a Sonoma family wine dynasty. Why not be the first of my generation to make wine and to pass this tradition down to my progeny like so many other legendary scions of the Sonoma Valley. I have never made wine before, but I have faced greater adversities. I have never nurtured and farmed the terroir before, but I have enslaved my parents many a time, specifically when needing movers. Whatever the struggle, no amount of humility or threat of societal shame would stop me.
Here is my heroic story.
I ventured into Santa Rosa to the wine and beer making supply company of choice, Beverage People. I was rather intimidated as there were several highly experienced customers mulling about talking about this and that with aplomb. I was out of my element until this kindly young man asked if I needed help. He shall remain nameless as I never quite got his name but I’m sure he helps neophytes like myself so often we all blend into a sea of faceless, guiless suckers, ready to spend our money and time only to disappointingly create swill better put to use as toilet bowl cleaner.
I could see his concern for me when I immediately told him I knew nothing, had bushels of grapes and needed his guidance. I was a sponge. He was a reluctant teacher and kept referring to the free news letter they distribute at check out with all the steps to making wine with pictures included. Then some fashiony bespectacled insolent young guy who was manning the register solo, sniffed at my attendant about some other customer needing assistance blah blah blah. That was a conspicuous cue to abandon my boorish self for a patron far more worthy of attention. If I were to write a Yelp review it may read like this: “Dear Mr. Youngish Bespectacled Crotchety Wine Supply Merchant, I suggest you lighten up or risk giving yourself early onset enlarged prostate and a fast track to a sad existence without companionship, a weak urine stream, a fatty liver and a lifetime of Gold Bond Medicated Powder to keep things interesting.” But let’s not get personal, it would be unkind.
So I got out of there spending more money than I expected but I was set – for step one.
I forced everyone in my family to participate. A younger sister opted out which I shall take punitive measures to disinherit her from our wine fortune.
Not to be an ageist but I get a special tax break by employing the unemployable, so the age requirement for my workforce must exceed 75 (preferably 80) or born by 2010, no later, no earlier. I know, I know, I love to give back to humanity, it’s in my DNA.
We picked, sorted and cleaned the grapes. Not being one to make things easy for the sake of making things easy, I coerced my workers with promises of water and bread crust to destem the grapes by hand. I will claim this on the bottle as an added distinction of quality and craftsmanship. Then we crushed the grapes. It was a rather wimpy effort by a four year old and not cute enough to endure a tantrum after berating him so I insisted my husband crush the remainder of my harvest with a resolute potato masher. Success.
If you would like to know where I received my formal education in wine making go to this YouTube video – The Gift of Wine. Of the 738,071 views this man has received, I believe I’m responsible for the last 8,070, His Northern English accent still haunts my husbands dreams. I also hear his voice in my sleep and I’ve never slept better. His was the most simple instruction. However, I think I made a boo boo. This was how to make red wine. The Beverage People newsletter mentions straining the must (crushed grape skins that float to the top) before primary fermentation in a bucket. Well, it’s all going to be ok. I had all the equipment to measure brix (sugar,) a commercial grade Chardonnay yeast and a good size paddle to keep the juice agitated daily. What could go wrong? Uh, everything.
Secondary fermentation required I siphon the juice into a “carboy” a plastic jug that resembles a water cooler tank. That was messy but again, success.
There it sat probably for too long until some hapless dinner guests were enlisted to help me bottle the wine. We tasted it. It was kinda plasticy, high alcohol, not sour, not too harsh, but still bubbling with fermentation. It kinda tasted like beer. Whoops. Once bottled, I let my 16 bottles sit on their side in a dark, dank corner of my cellar. My curious nature had catastrophic thoughts racing through my head. Had I thoroughly F’d up. As luck would strike, I met a gentleman at my client’s office who was knowledgeable about brewing and wine fermentation. He was rather bookish on the subject so I told him I was going to conduct a tasting of my 2014 vintage in his office. He said he could help me diagnose any issues. Why do this with a client you ask? Because the checks should clear regardless of hospitalization. I’m not intimidated by the risks. I equate this to team building, like a trust fall.
The tasting was a surprise. His verdict: “I think this is going to be a nice wine. Doesn’t taste screwed up, it tastes like it needs some aging. Good job.”
So there you have it. My first vintage on it’s way to being a perfectly “mediocre at best” wine to drink in the Fall. I plan to open a few bottles around Halloween with a label that says “Scary Shite” 2014 Chardonnay, CWC Prestige Cellars. I’m taking advanced orders if you are interested.