Taking the step, or stomp
By Dave Buchanan
I've never been foolish enough to suggest winemaking is an easy task.
I've hung out with enough winemakers and wanna-be winemakers and even ex-winemakers to realize that winemaking, like farming, takes up too much time and energy to considered "fun," in the diversion sense of the word.
It's not actually a burden, because if anything you do becomes a burden, it's time to no longer do that. But winemaking as fun, well, it's seems something awfully akin to raising children in that it takes a long time to see if what you do actually makes a difference and if you're entirely happy with the end product.
That's a long preface to my introduction to winemaking, albeit on a very limited basis. Earlier this summer, when my friend and home winemaker Sal Sassano ventured he had a line on some syrah grapes and would I be interested in making a couple carboys of wine, I jumped at the chance.
We, which means Sal, myself and farrier Dwight Marney, picked up 850 pounds of syrah from Pat Brennan, a local vineyard owner who seemed somewhat relieved to see us drive away after watching the mini-comedy of us hoisting and dumping lugs of ripe grapes into plastic bins in the back of Sal's pickup.
We crushed the grapes using Sal's small but effective rotary crusher and put them into large plastic barrels to macerate and ferment for two weeks. Last weekend, after that first big surge of fermentation was over, we pressed the grapes and pumped the fermenting juice into carboys, those 5-gallon glass jars that one time were common in Italy for holding the family's weekly wine allocation.
Carboys waiting to be filled at a winery near Piave, Italy.
That's part of how they were used, anyway. There still are many Italian families using carboys, although buying wine by the bottle seems to be more common today.
This winemaking with Sal is pretty low-key. No fancy gauges, immense stainless steel tanks, or fancy new oak barrels, just the small carboys and a single 12-gallon American oak barrel we'll use to age about half the wine at a time.
The wine will stay in the carboys until next spring, enough time for fermentation to run its course. We want to make sure there's no secondary fermentation to surprise us after the wine gets bottled. That happened once to Sal, and once is enough.
"I heard this sound like an explosion and I came downstairs and there was wine everywhere," he now can laugh at the memory. The bottle didn't explode, but the pressure from the tiny amount of fermentation was enough to blow off the cork and spray wine around the room.
There's still a long time to go before we know how the wine is turning out, and I'll keep a few posts as the young juice turns to wine. At least, I hope it turns to wine. Twenty-five cases of red vinegar seems like a lot of salad dressing.