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Wes Hagen received his viticultural and winemaking training from the University of California at Davis extension program. He is the Vineyard Manager and Winemaker for Clos Pepe Vineyards in Santa Barbara County, California, where he grows Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for a variety of wineries including his own. Wes’ Pinot Noir was recently ranked as one of the top 30 Pinots in California by Wine Spectator. Wes also covers the world of backyard vineyards for WineMaker magazine writing our “Backyard Vines” column every issue since 2000. He kicked off his “Backyard Vines” blog for winemakermag.com in September 2008 featuring his insights on growing great grapes and making great wine from homegrown grapes.
Since this is my first blog for Winemaker Magazine, perhaps a short introduction is in order. My name is Tim Vandergrift, and I live a life soaked in wine. My day job is Technical Services Manager for Winexpert, the largest wine kit manufacturer in the world. Before that I was the technical guy for RJ Spagnol’s, the second-largest manufacturer, and I’ve been doing this for nearly 20 years now. While the job is real enough, the title is pure malarkey.
The truth is I run a sort of anti-support group for problem winemakers. Unlike traditional support groups which encourage people to drop bad habits, change their lives and make a clean break from non-productive behaviours, I encourage people to embrace the spirit of home winemaking, to make that next kit, to build that cellar addition, to purchase that extra carboy, to serve wine with every meal (Gewürztraminer and granola is tastier than you’d think) and overall, to incorporate the gracious and delightful addition of wine into their lives. Note that I’m not encouraging people to consume more—just to consume their own.
It’s an uphill battle in some ways. While the modern wine kit (a bag of juice and concentrate shipped inside a cardboard box with yeast and processing aids) has been around since the early 1980’s, there are still many people who’ve never heard of kit wine. When they hear ‘homemade wine’ they visualise people up to their hips in vats of grape mush and cloth-capped olde worlde European types drinking cloudy purple brew out of jelly glasses topped up with 7-Up.
On the other hand, there are a lot of folks out there who make their own wine using grapes who wouldn’t be caught dead walking out of a winemaking supply shop with a kit. ‘Cheating’, they say, or ‘Can’t make good wine that way. Only grapes make good wine.’ Many of these folks fail to reconcile the fact that kit wines have won many thousands of medals in open competition with grape wines over the years. They also miss the point that kit wines are made from . . . grapes. Aside from processing aids like yeast and oak and finings, kit wines don’t contain a darned thing that doesn’t go into consumer produced grape and commercial wines every day.
But those folks aren’t my target demographic, so they don’t keep me awake at night. What does keep me awake is thinking that out there are those people who haven’t yet considered making their own wine at all. Quelle dommage! There’s one overwhelmingly great reason to make wine your self. A lot of folks might think, ‘price’, but while it might seem cool to make high-end single-vineyard wines for only three or four bucks a bottle, people who make their own wine don’t save money at all. In fact, almost all of them wind up spending more money on wine than they did before they took up the hobby.
Oh sure, they pay less per bottle, but like a lot of folks (including me), before they made their own wine they drank wine in what I call ‘North American’ style, saving it for special occasions, buying bottles shortly (in some cases only minutes) before they intended to consume them, and perhaps only keeping a few bottles on hand at a time, looking forward to the weekend or visitors.
When suddenly confronted with thirty—or sixty, or three hundred—bottles of wine in their basement or cellar, people suddenly switch over to a more European style of consumption: wine becomes as much a condiment to food as a beverage of occasion or intoxication. They start having wine with pot roast on Wednesdays, after work on Friday instead of a Martini, and most of all, they start to share it with everybody, taking bottles to friends, opening a bottle as soon as guests drop by and making batches just to give away.
The funniest thing I get to hear in my job, repeated, over and over (and funnier every darn time I hear it) comes from new winemakers who find out that a kit makes six US gallons (23 litres). “Oh no!’ they exclaim, “I’ll never drink thirty bottles! What will I do with all that wine?”
Six weeks later they’re back at the shop, declaring, “I’m completely out of wine. I have to start another one right away!”
Music to my ears, that is.
So welcome to my support group. In upcoming blogs I’ll talk about a wide range of kit-related topics: styles, processing tips, tweaks, hints, etc. There’s nothing as delicious as a wine you make yourself, and nothing better than sharing it with other people.
Daniel Pambianchi writes the “Techniques” column in every issue of WineMaker in addition to serving as the magazine’s Technical Editor reviewing all articles for accuracy. Many hobby winemakers are very familiar with his popular book “Techniques in Home Winemaking”. He is also the author of the newly released book “Kit Winemaking“. Daniel’s main day job is the General Manager of Maleta Estate Winery in Ontario where he oversees all operations from the vineyard to winemaking to marketing. Daniel’s oak-aged Vidal icewine was recently awarded the prestigious Ontario “Wine of the Year” award. His blog posts here will act as an extension of his “Techniques” column exploring how to create your own great wines.
Nestled in a small craftsman house, just five minutes from downtown San Diego, there is a vineyard. Not a large, picturesque, commercial vineyard, nor yet a moderate sized, productive, charming vineyard: it is an urban vineyard, which means peculiar.
Tending this urban vineyard is me, a married, reluctantly aging soccer player, kept in shape by a three year old, self proclaimed superhero. The existence of the vineyard in our front yard is most certainly due to a shared appreciation for wine with my amazingly accommodating wife…although bribery with some spa days may have helped tip the scales. To
Undaunted by a complete lack of knowledge, and armed with some excellent books and the internet, my urban vineyard was born. Now in this second year, nothing has changed. Questions are rampant while confident answers are scarce, all with winemaking still to learn. Despite this, the vines are thriving so something is going right. It may have an unlikely manager, it may be tiny, it may be urban, and it may be peculiar but, to me, it is still a vineyard.
Jason Phelps is an avid small-batch winemaker and home brewer and the author of the Ancient Fire Wine Blog. He began making wine and beer in 2003 and continues to seek out new styles and interesting ingredients to make wine from. Currently pursuing sommelier certification, Jason spends time tasting wines from around the world and developing his sensory and wine pairing skills. Jason has been an attendee at the last two WineMaker Magazine Conferences, was a speaker in 2011, and has medaled in the annual competition each year since 2008. Jason works as an Information Technology Consultant in Boston during the day and lives in Southern New Hampshire with his wife and their pets.
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