The Hobby You Can Drink

By Posted on May 03 2009 | By

wine-bottles1It all began with a friendly comment. “John, you can make wine. Give it a try.”

My instant reaction was, “Me? Are you kidding?”

Thus, what started as a brief midday exchange of pleasantries, during a work day lunch hour, launched me on a hobby that I have grown to enjoy and devote endless hours to.  And who was my mentor? It was the proprietor of the first winery I worked at.  She knew I loved all things wine.  And she also knew that my love would grow  if I became involved in creating it.

Nevertheless, working at a commercial winery with its array of thousand gallon stainless steel tanks, dozens of oak barrels, pumps, hoses, a forklift and professional wine lab does not lead one to think, “Hey, I can do this.” If anything, it intimidates. The thought of making wine can be a bit scary.

But, in reality, it’s now easier than ever for anyone to become a home winemaker. And the quality of the wine produced can be good.  But, don’t let me mislead you. Turning out a 93 point Napa Valley cabernet is probably not in the cards.  Nonetheless,  producing wine that you and your family will enjoy, is not difficult.

wine-kitMy first advice is to follow my lead and search the web with the query, wine kits.  Boom. You will immediately be hit with numerous offers for home winemaking gear. Kit production has advanced enormously in last decade. It is hard NOT to make a decent little wine by following the very specific directions included with all kits manufactured today.

Purchasing a starter kit and ordering your first concentrate/juice blend will run less than $300. If this sounds a tad steep, consider that if you follow the simple instructions that accompany your mini-winery, in three to four months you will be placing 30 bottles of very drinkable wine in your wine rack—for about $10 a bottle. And the equipment involved in your initial purchase can be used again and again with your next kits, dropping the per bottle price into the $4 range. Hey, forget Two Buck Chuck. Let’s drink Chateau Home-in-Stead.

As you become more adept at making kit wines, you will be drawn into considering fresh grapes. This is where you may ultimately want to go.  But, not yet. I would not encourage you taking this step in the early stages of your enologist career. Each kit of wine you produce will add to your knowledge base. You’ll gain an understanding of the fermentation process and the importance of sanitation, wine additives/preservatives, bottling techniques and building a wine library. And you will come to understand if you really want to pursue the hobby at a more serious level. In the beginning, it’s slow, slow catch monkey.

carboysWhen I reflect on the early days working in my “cellar”—any available space in your home or apartment—one of the most intriguing memories was the sight of a fermenting carboy. These five or six gallon glass vessels are the mainstay of home winemakers. After dinner I would slip down to my dark basement with a flashlight in hand and shine a beam of light through the top neck of the bottle. There in all their glory, were tens of millions of yeast cells roaring away as they consumed the sugar in the juice. The scene was riveting to me—and still is—as the bubbles foamed upward and the airlock bubbled away, releasing carbon dioxide in the air. To view the scene is like looking at a glass of champagne on steroids. This passionate gormandizing of the yeast on the sugar can last up to ten days. For me, just looking at the fermenting wine was reward enough in buying a kit.

If I have tickled your interest in winemaking, here are some of my go-to resources that can help you get started.

· Home Winemaking Step by Step by Jon Iverson
· The Way to Make Wine by Sheridan Warrick
· The Winemaker’s Answer Book by Alison Crowe
· WineMaker Magazine
· Presque Isle Wine Cellars, a winemaking supply house

vineyardsAnd,  if you happen to let this joyful pastime get the best of you, just remember it all started with these words of encouragement. “You can make wine!”

Categories : WINE ARTICLES