So, you want to make wine?
by Lori Duncan
You really love wine, and you are committed to learning what it takes to make some decent vino of your own. Then you're about to embark on a never-ending journey. Don't expect perfection on your first try, although that depends on your level of expectation. Above all, don't be hard on yourself; it's just a hobby.
The winemaking bug bit me a little over a year ago while my husband and I were visiting with some friends. One of our friends came into the kitchen with a sheepish grin (do sheep really grin?). He presented a bottle from his first batch of homemade strawberry Zinfandel. I had heard of home beer makers, but not wine. So our friend proceeded to explain how he bought a kit and the rest is now sweet history.
Off we go, well, I had to drag my husband along, on this quest. It was sort of scary to think that I, who can't even make bread without a bread maker, would be so bold as to think we could pull this off. But we found our first kit, bought the hardware, and before we knew it, we had the pungent aroma of wine yeast in our kitchen. That first batch was, I have to admit, mediocre. We found out it was a low alcohol cooler kit, 6%, and too high in sulphites, which gave my husband headaches after one sip. We trudged on.
Initially we were confounded by the whole philosophy of the hydrometer. A little glass tube wasn't going to dampen our spirits, so to speak! I did hours of research on home wine making. The Internet was a valuable tool in my education in viniculture. But there's no better teacher than experience.
Kit wines we've completed since our first days in winemaking include: Fruit Zinfandel, Piesporter, Riesling, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Bergamais. These were all six-gallon batches, or about 30 bottles. They all resulted in good table wines, although the jury is still out on the Cab and the Bergamais since they are in the infant stages of aging. I did try a bottle of the Bergamais and am fairly pleased so far.
My one-gallon recipes (all tweaked to my own liking) were fun and fairly risk-free. The most interesting experiment so far has been the pineapple wine. It never cleared like I'd hoped, but I was impatient. However, it still tasted delightful. I call it, "Hala-kahiki Waina." Pineapple wine is trickier to clear, at least for the hobbyist, so do yourself a favor, give it time and rack often. Other creations include: white grape peach, or "Colheita Branca." Another fruity surprise was white grape raspberry, or "lange de Framboise." I made some Concord grape or, "Verhehlo Liso," which in my inexperience I added too much acid blend. Oh well, it was great to cook with! Then along comes Blackberry, Banana, and I'm starting some honey wine, a.k.a. "mead," this weekend. How sweet it is!
Part of the fun of creating your own wine is decorating the bottles. I've tried wax over the corks and beware, elegance takes practice! Beaded wire over the cap tops will also lend a touch of whimsy when you are giving bottles as gifts.
Then of course, creating labels and names for the wines is half the fun. Each batch deserves it's own design, and the possibilities are only limited by your imagination. What is your passion, what inspires you? Find that one thing and come up with a 'brand name' for your cellar. Then attach that information to each label. Then find graphics that describe, or not, the nectar within. Study professional wine labels. I found inspiration through reading wine collectors magazines. Then go home and fire up the computer. My labels also include alcohol percentages, dates and even, "Contains sulphites," and "Please drink responsibly."
Making my own wine has opened my eyes, and my taste buds, to the world of wine. Not only at home, but also when I buy wine in a shop, or in a restaurant. I'm learning for the first time that not all wines are alike. Each variety carries its own complexity and personality. I can now taste nuances of raisins, chocolate, oak, coffee, vanilla, peaches, citrus and berries that I never recognized before. On first whiff of my Bergamais, I could have sworn I smelled the end slice of roast beef. Go figure!
So you want to make wine? Don't fear it, just respect it. Follow directions until you understand why you are doing what they instruct you to do. Then, once you are confident with what you've learned, try some one-gallon recipes. Learn to tweak them to your tastes. They don't have to be that sweet or that dry, throttle down the alcohol level; it's your baby! Buy fresh fruit and crush it yourself. Then, when you feel like you're the master of your carboy and you've got a couple of acres, try growing some grapes. You might surprise yourself.
By adding winemaking to my list of hobbies, which include photography, writing and dreaming about white sandy beaches, I've pretty much rounded out who I am. I love what God has created for us to enjoy. So, I take pictures of it, write about it, and I offer a toast to all who share it with me.
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