A Home Winemaker Turns Pro…At Home

I’m sure many a home winemaker has thought, “I wonder what it would be like to make this a full-time job?” Well, I took the plunge and that’s exactly what I did. I had been making wine for quite some time, but not in any real capacity. Sure there’s the stain on the ceiling of my old room at my parents’ house, but I hadn’t been serious about making any quality wine. I loved drinking wine and was pretty well-versed in the local steakhouse wine lists, but hadn’t really delved into just how a proper wine was made. Much to my wife’s displeasure, when I get a wild hair the rest of the world disappears. It was at this point my whole world changed.

I jumped in and read everything I could get my hands on about every type of winemaking method available. In the process I also learned how to sweet talk the local librarian into figuring out how to get an inter-library loan from UC-Davis as well as a few other branches. I was constantly carrying around an armload of books and notebooks to copy all my thoughts and methods in. I made over sixty one-gallon batches to try and figure everything out. I would intentionally create every nightmare a winemaker could imagine and figure out how to fix it. It was a bit expensive to do it this way, but the learning experience was more than worth it. The next hurdle in breaking into the big show was getting all the proper paper work. After about 6 months of chasing Federal and State forms and general headaches I had my permits. The fun could finally begin. My neighbors had no idea what was in store for them since I bonded the basement as my winery.

The call from the grower came in and the mayhem began. Life as I knew it was over. Even as the permits started showing up it never really sunk in that I was going to start working toward my dream of owning a winery. As things started to ramp up the first thing that started the neighbors’ noses poking through the blinds was the bobcat tractor showing up in my driveway. My first contracts came in and I was the proud new owner of four tons of prime Syrah grapes. A winery about an hour away was nice enough to receive the grapes for me and let me use their destemmer. We processed the grapes and loaded my macro-bins into the 24-foot truck for the drive to the house. I had 5 macro-bins full of destemmed Syrah in the truck but if you didn’t know any better you would have thought I was moving a truck full of nitro. After I made it home it was time for the bobcat to fire up. Because I needed to bring the macro-bins full of must around back I needed to go across the front and side lawns. A word of caution when you have a bin with about a ton of must in it, don’t drive over the sprinkler control box. It’s not pretty. After the must was happily in the “winery” I got my ducks in a row and kicked off fermentation. I don’t mind the smell of fermenting must, but my wife and the neighbors on the other hand were not so appreciative. The neighbor across the street said that when she left the house in the morning it smelled like a wino had passed out on her front porch. But with promises of a few bottles of the finished product, peace in the neighborhood was restored. Thank goodness for nice neighbors.

I’m sure those of you who have made a few gallons or more at a time know that when you press your must you get a pretty good blast of CO2. When I went to press, every CO detector in the house went ballistic. Not being exactly confident of my explanation, my wife called out the local utility. They proceeded to get their CO detectors out and turn them on. As soon as the green light went on, it went red. They couldn’t figure it out. They stuck the sensor in the furnace, nothing. They stuck it in the hot water heater, nothing. Holding it out in the basement, the sensor was reading 250 PPM. For CO this was a death wish, for CO2 it was still within range for OSHA. I told the gentleman that the wine was the source, so he stuck his sensor under the fermenter lid and it went off the scale. I felt bad I just broke his sensor. He went outside to try and clear it, but never could. OOOPS.

Someone should have stopped me sooner, but the damage has been done. I’m addicted to a job that hasn’t even made me one penny yet, sucked my bank account dry, given me hours upon hours of manual labor and late nights, but I couldn’t be happier. I can’t wait for next September to get here so I can play in the fruit again. Dumb kid.