- Bridgett Harris
- Winemaking rewards patience.
I have a confession to make: I've always hated wine. While my friends and spouse have sipped and savored their way through some of the most prestigious vino lists in town, I've politely pushed the menu aside in favor of beers, vodkas and whiskeys, loathing both the taste of wine and the inevitable headache that comes along with it. It's been my unsophisticated secret shame — that is, until we made our own wine at home.
I should preface this by saying that when I say "we," I mean my husband, Thomas. He made his first-ever batch in late February of 2017. He planned to give bottles away as gifts at our wedding that July. The day he brought his wine kit home, I told him I wasn't all that interested in making what amounted to poison and took off on my bicycle to drink beer instead. Not to be deterred by his wife-to-be's skepticism, he soldiered on, a complete novice in the art armed only with an instruction book.
Thomas created his first wine from an Amarone red wine kit, which came with juice, grape skins and oak chips — he bought and got advice from Old West Homebrew downtown, but Fermentations Home Winemaking Center on Academy Boulevard at Vickers Drive also has similar offerings and can lend a hand, too. Amarone was a pretty ambitious choice for an experimental wine, mostly because of the high price point ($149). If the experiment went awry, it would be a costly lesson. However, he wanted what he (and most other wine enthusiasts) deemed as the fanciest wine to share, so Amarone it was. He also purchased an equipment kit for $149.95 which came with primary and secondary fermenters, a glass carboy, an airlock, a hydrometer, a siphon, a corker, stirring utensils and a basic book on how to make wine.
Building the basic mix was as easy as following the instructions, which required mixing the juice, skins and yeast together in the fermentation tank. It was the weeks that followed that took a bit more commitment, like opening the fermentation tank each day to stir the skins that had floated to the surface back into the juice and yeast. We also had to move the wine to a different location in the house when our roommate noted that its newest odor was making dinner parties a bit awkward. After some troubleshooting, we determined that spring weather had made the house too warm for fermentation, which requires temperatures under 75 degrees to avoid odorous compounds and the growth of bacteria and mold. Aerating the wine and moving it to the much-cooler basement solved that issue.
After 30 days of fermentation, Thomas shifted the wine into the clarification process by pouring it into the glass carboy provided in the kit. He lost a bit of wine in this part of the process because he misunderstood the directions for the equipment, but managed to recover with only a damaged bath towel and the loss of about two bottles' worth of wine.
This step also ages the wine, which took several more months. We were close to the wedding date when he got nervous about how it would turn out. He was worried about gifting bad wine to our guests and, ultimately, he decided to continue letting it age instead of serving it.
In August, a month past the wedding and six months after starting the clarification and aging process, he bottled the wine. We ended up with 28 bottles. Next came another 30 days of waiting to account for what he calls "bottle shock," described as a muting of the flavors caused by the wine getting sloshed about during bottling. In September, he opened a bottle, but after a tasting, he decided that it was still too soon to share with everyone — it wasn't full-bodied enough for his tastes. It went back into storage to keep aging.
Finally, in November, we were allowed to uncork our wedding-turned-table wine at Thanksgiving dinner. Even I was excited, mostly because I'd watched my spouse put a lot of effort into the endeavor.
In my completely uneducated opinion, it's a delicious wine. The flavor profile is rich and soft, not acrid like the reds I have tried in the past. And it's quite strong, which we all learned when we accidentally got drunk at dinner. As an added bonus, it doesn't seem to give me the headaches, other than the ones that occur the next day when we've polished off a bottle or two the night before. Thomas was equally delighted with how it turned out, describing it as dry and full-bodied, just as he'd intended. He immediately started planning his next efforts (a pinot grigio or gewürztraminer) with enthusiasm.
The verdict for this formerly wine-hating gal? Sold. While at-home wine making is an exercise in patience, the results — a wine that fits your own unique tastes — is well worth the effort. Consider me converted.