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Winemaking 101

By Dave Buchanan
I've spent many nights at Sal and Kathy's house, laughing and talking and drinking his excellent homemade wines, some of which are blends you'll never find in any liquor store. Sal isn't shy about mixing a couple varietals when he's short enough of one to make a batch, and so sometimes we'll have blends of sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon or maybe merlot and syrah and even some nebbiolo tossed in, when that grape is ripe and produces a crop. This year, however, Sal offered me the chance to make my own wine (maybe he was tired of me scarfing down his good stuff) and last Saturday Sal and I and Dwight Marney, a local farrier and home winemaker who was enjoying a rare Saturday off, motored to Pat Brennan's place on Orchard Mesa to pick up 700 pounds of syrah grapes. We ended up with 875 pounds, which isn't much when you're talking commercial winemaking but it's plenty for a handful of home winemakers looking to fill the empty slots in the wine cabinet.sal and dwight.JPG We crushed the grapes with Sal's small but efficient rotary crusher and transferred the grapes to big blue barrels where the grapes will macerate for a couple of weeks. Sal kicked in fermentation by adding a bit of fermenting wine from some sangiovese we started about 10 days ago. Once the syrah is finished fermenting, we'll press it and put most of it in carboys and some in American oak. It will spend the winter in Sal's basement and then sometime next spring, once we're sure there won't be a secondary fermentation, we'll bottle it. It's very small scale but you get a great sense of achievement by doing something like this. Especially if the wine turns out decent and drinkable. And believe me, it will have to be pretty bad for us not to drink it. I stopped Sunday at Puesta del Sol Vineyards and Alfred Eames Cellars in Paonia where my friend Eames Peterson was punching down the cap on five tons of merlot and five tons of syrah he has fermenting in his open concrete vats. His method is similar to those used for centuries before the days of stainless steel tanks and fiberglass. It's labor-intensive, sure, but it's how Eames wants to make wine. His pinot noir and syrah are delightful, and recent vintages of his blends, Sangre del Sol (cabernet sauvignon and merlot) and Menage (cab sauv, cab franc and merlot), are drinking as well as anything he's made.

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