If you’re really into wine, you’ve probably thought about making it yourself.
It’s one thing to buy wine from the store, drink it and write about it. But eventually that gets boring and you think, “I wonder if I can make it just as good? Maybe it would be fun!”
I had that thought last year. But I couldn’t jump into it headfirst because I had no idea what I was doing. So I bought a “kit” for about $200. I figured, “There’s not much to lose if I totally screw it up.”
The kit came with a bladder of grape juice, yeast, equipment and everything else I needed. As long as I followed the instructions, the whole process would be foolproof and I could bottle and enjoy the wine in 6 weeks!
I followed the instructions, managed not to screw anything up, and my wine turned out okay. But not great. It came out lacking structure and had an overpowering candy banana aroma. I thought some time in the bottle would help mellow it out, but it didn’t.
On the bright side, I learned a lot and decided my first attempt was successful enough to use real fruit and make even more wine next time.
Well “next time” is finally here, and this post is the first of several to track my progress making wine again. This weekend, I got my hands on 100 pounds of Cabernet Sauvignon from the Red Hills AVA (just north of Napa, CA).
My friends at SF Brewcraft saved me a lot of time and mess letting me use their crusher-destemmer. I did my best to pick out any jacks (small pieces of stems), leaves or anything else that made it through. No vegetal or off flavors in my wine, please!
In order to sterilize the must and make sure no native yeasts were going to start fermentation, I added some sulfite solution and hurried my precious cargo home.
Now this is probably where I diverge from the average home winemaker, but I’m going to just let the must sit for three days. While I’m perfectly aware cold soaking is typically only used in the production of Pinot Noir, I’m fascinated by the possibility of getting more wonderful flavor compounds out of the skins in a water-based solution before fermentation.
I’m keeping the must cold (and as sterile as possible) by stuffing frozen water bottles into the must every few hours. I’m also keeping air out of it by keeping the must covered in cling wrap. There’s a small chance some unwanted bacteria could grow in the must, but I hope the move pays off with more subtle, delicious flavor compounds in the finished wine.
There’s something exhilarating about envisioning the kind of wine you want to make, and taking control over every aspect of the process to make it that way. And why not take a chance? Every tweaked variable in the process is a learning opportunity, whether it works out or not.
Check out part two of Adventures in Home Winemaking, where I adjust the must, prepare the yeast and kick off the fermentation!