Sip & Savor: Wine Your Way
Jan 11, 2012 05:45PM ● Published by Anonymous
Home beer brewing is so common these days that no one bats an eye when someone boasts about his or her basement brewing setup. Home winemaking, on the other hand, still seems like a foreign concept.
Making wine at home is easier than you might think, and as long as you make less than 200 gallons a year, it’s completely legal. Oenology, the science of winemaking, is thought to be approximately 8,000 years old. Your first couple of bottles may or may not be exactly the type of wine you like to drink—it’s one part science, one part art, and takes a little bit of tweaking—but in the end, you have control over the quality and taste. Plus, there’s always the satisfaction of knowing that you created that bottle of vino yourself, says Bill Dieterich, a member of the Flying Vine Wine Club in Frederick, Maryland.
“It is such a great joy to pick the grapes at the vineyard, crush them, and bring them home for fermenting and pressing the juice when primary fermentation is complete,” he says. “Then to track the progress all the way to the bottling completion. Then comes the waiting game depending on what you are making. The finale is to share with friends the labor of love.”
Could home winemaking be in your future? This hobby, as fun and delicious as it is, shouldn’t be entered into without thought. It’s not particularly difficult, but it does take time and commitment, as well as a small investment for equipment and space. The topic of home winemaking is so broad that it’s difficult to cover in just one Sip & Savor column, but a little primer could help you make the decision as to whether it’s a hobby you want to try.
There are two methods to making wine, the easier of which is likely wine from a kit. There are two types of kits widely available on the Internet, typically for less than $100: juice kits, which contains concentrates for specific varietals, and equipment kits, which offer everything you need to actually make the wine. Together, these will run you less than $150 and are less labor-intensive than making wine from fresh grapes.
However, there’s something to be said for knowing that you turned a whole, fresh bunch of grapes into a bottle of wine. Local grapes are typically available for purchase from mid-August to early October, depending on location, variety, and weather conditions. Farms in Baltimore, Dorchester, Queen Anne’s, Kent, and Talbot counties offer either pre-picked or pick-you-own grapes in varieties such as Seyval, Cardonnay, Chambourcin, Vinifera, Vidal, and hybrids. For a full list of places to buy grapes in Maryland, visit the Maryland Grape Growers Association website at Marylandgrapes.org. If your timing doesn’t allow for local fruit, you can purchase grapes from other regions online. About 18 pounds of grapes will make five 750 mL bottles of wine—and don’t worry, you don’t have to crush the grape with your feet, Lucy-style. As a beginner, it’s likely best to experiment with making wine from a kit and later moving on to creating wine from fresh grapes.
To make good wine, you must be committed to sanitizing all your equipment. The number one reason for a batch of wine to go bad is because it wasn’t sterilized properly with boiling water. If this occurs, the finished batch of wine will smell like vinegar, and you’ll have to dump it out and try it again. Your sanitation methods, as well as the quality of the grapes, will determine how good your wine is. Additionally, Dieterich suggests keeping detailed records of the process. “Use a log book; it is interesting to look back a couple of years to reuse a recipe for a particular wine.”
And as that recommendation suggests, there’s a good chance you will still be creating wine, looking back on recipes, for years to come. Whether it’s the price of the wine you make—between $3 and $8, depending the varietal—the quality, or the entertainment value it offers, home winemaking likely won’t be a foreign concept in years to come.