Case of the stolen yeast

One of my favorite winemakers is Tony Coturri. The first I heard of him was maybe eight or so years ago, when a friend was describing his tasting trip up to Sonoma/Napa. Something like: “He doesn’t add any yeast, but only uses what’s in the air or comes from his beard.” Beard-yeast. That stuck with me and not in the most positive way. I understood that the secondhand story was merely illustrative and he wasn’t dipping his beard in the juice, but still . . . beard-yeast.

That story aside, my friend’s enthusiasm was infectious, so I had to check it out. I made my own way to Coturri the following summer and became a loyalist in short order. It was really an eye-opening moment for me. His was unlike any other wine I had had up until that point. I was never really big into wine and had been a whiskey blogger for a number of years at that point. But Tony’s wine was something else. It had a character that was exciting and unfamiliar to me; it felt like you could read the production from the flavor; it alluded to the existence of a similar expansiveness that could exist in the wine world that I was following in my whiskey blogging life.

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My Last(?) Kit

I started off my winemaking with cheap kits I bought off of Amazon. I then moved on to frozen must from Brehm’s and fresh pressed juice from the 2018 harvest. Between those points, I had the idea to give a higher quality kit a try. So, after a good amount of research, I chose the Washington Riesling kit by Wine Expert. I was looking for a white variety since of my first two attempts, the white was drinkable right off the bat and I wanted a kit that might kick out a product that would be pretty decent. Online reviews I read pointed me in this direction.

And yet, just as soon as the kit arrived in the mail, my interest had moved toward planning for the frozen must. At the same time, I was starting to bust out of the closet I was making wine in before moving to the basement. This all meant that the kit sat under my desk for a year, untouched.

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Looking back at my first two attempts

My first two forays into winemaking were with the cheapest kits I could buy on Amazon (even cheaper than this): first a white (“Chardonnay”), next a red (“Merlot”). (Quotation marks added because, at least with the Merlot, the packaging clearly called out that it may not actually be Merlot, but grapes like it instead.)

I already had most of the equipment from my apple fermenting days, so the initial investment wasn’t huge. I did, however, need to get some new, wine-specific tools along the way, like a degassing power drill attachment, a bottle-filler siphon attachment, corking contraption, and a couple carboys. Carboys in particular, because I only used buckets for the apple fermentation, since it wasn’t hanging out long exposed to oxygen, and was destined for other ends.

With the wine, the idea was to follow the kit instructions as closely as possible and not screw up. I mean, I should have known better. If there were a lesson I learned from all my other alcohol making projects it was that it’s kind of hard to screw up. Hell, I made Welch’s grape juice wine 12 years ago on instinct alone. Wasn’t great, but it was wine.

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Time to shape up

One piece of advice you’ll read and hear as a novice home winemaker is “keep good notes.” I’m not good at that and don’t think I ever have been.

When I started my alcohol crafting journey with liqueurs: no documentation; when I continued it with cider and it’s derivatives: nothing but the end results remain; gin: nothing; the first year and half of basement wine: just a bunch of bottles aging.

But, this season I’m planning on buying some real damn grapes for real damn money (i.e. more than a single carboy’s worth). Figured it’s time to shape up.

Time to start a blog for the (illusion of) accountability.