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Micro-Winery: The Smallest Batch of Wine, Ever!
Oct 25th, 2013 by

Teresa and Frank sampled the homemade vino. The grape vines were planted along the fence in back.

Teresa and Frank sampled the homemade vino. The grape vines were planted along the fence in back.

My wine-making partner Teresa did the impossible. She planted eight grape vines in her backyard in Arlington, Mass., harvested the fruit and turned it into about 10 oz. of wine. It has to be one of the smallest batches of wine ever produced.

The grapes she used were Leon Millot, which are a red variety suited to growing in this New England climate. Her neighbor, Frank, had experience with vineyards in Italy and pruned the vines for her.

The wine had a deep, rich color.

The wine had a deep, rich color.

Teresa picked the grapes and then popped them open, using a spoon over a strainer, at her kitchen counter. The crushed grapes fell into a plastic container, stems, seeds, skins and all. She then covered the container with gauze (usually we use cheesecloth, but she didn’t have any on hand, and gauze seemed appropriate for this baby batch).

The grapes fermented for about three days (usually they ferment for about 10 days). The juice was then bottled in an air-tight glass container.

Teresa invited Frank and I over to taste the wine a few weeks ago. Ordinarily you’d wait, at least until December, before tasting the wine but Teresa grew impatient and was eager to test the fruits of her labor.

The wine was surprisingly good: a bit sweet and yes, a little young, but still delicious and made more precious because of how little there was.

Tis the Season
Sep 21st, 2009 by

My father put a wooden cross on the wine barrel to bless the batch. And we've been blessed ever since.

My father, who passed away in 1999, put a wooden cross on the wine barrel to bless each batch. And I've been blessed with good wine ever since.

The grapes are in!

Here in the northern hemisphere, winemakers are dancing in the streets because this year’s crop has been picked and shipped and ready to be crushed into a joyous purple concoction of bliss.

I make wine the old school way: no special cleaning chemicals, no preservatives, no sulfates. I simply crush the grapes into an old wooden barrel and let nature do its work. After that, it is simply a matter of changing the wine from glass container to glass container over the next several months to allow the wine to mature without sitting on the lees.

This week, I’ll buy the grapes which have been shipped across country from California to the Chelsea produce center outside of Boston. But before then, I have to prepare. And so now is a good time to explain the process for anyone considering doing this on their own.

The first thing I do is prepare the old charred out oak barrel which has been sitting in my cellar, drying out over the past year. I bring the barrel outside and scrub it good with cold water from the hose. I then fill it up and check for leaks: at first there are always many leaks, but as the wood swells, they close up. I help this process along a little by using a hammer to gently tap on the wooden planks and iron rings that keep the barrel together.

The outside of the makeshift wine room in the RootsLiving cellar.

The outside of the makeshift wine room in the RootsLiving cellar.

The inside of the RootsLiving wine room.

The inside of the RootsLiving wine room.

Once the barrel is filled to the top, I let it sit and let the water slowly trickle out of those leaks. Over the next few days, I fill the barrel up and repeat the process until the wood is completely sealed and all leaks have been plugged.

This Saturday, I plan on crushing the grapes and I’ll keep you updated on that and the rest of the process over the next several months. For now, here’s a list of the equipment I use for making about 25-30 gallons:

  • A makeshift room in my basement, where I can close the door and keep the heat out from the furnace.
  • An oak barrel. I use an old charred out oak barrel, which has produced some excellent vintages, despite warnings from the local wine hobby shop that using one of these will ruin the batch.
  • A grape crusher that fits on top of the barrel.
  • Cheesecloth to cover the barrel, once the grapes are crushed.

    The grape crusher sits on top of the barrel. Grapes are put into it, stems and all, and then you turn the crank, which just pops the grapes open and dumps them in the barrel.

    The grape crusher sits on top of the barrel. Grapes are put into it, stems and all. Turning the crank pops the grapes open and dumps them in the barrel.

  • A wooden board or an iron poker to push down the grapes each day while they ferment in the barrel.
  • Six, five-gallon glass carboys.
  • A plastic hose for siphoning, attached to a skinny wooden dowl.
  • A funnel.
  • Corks, wine bottles, and plastic cork sealers.
  • Plastic air-release valves
  • A corking machine.

Until Saturday, Salute!

After a day or so, the grapes begin to ferment in the barrel. The juice rumbles and the grapes rise to the top. Each morning and evening the head of floating grapes needs to be pushed down into the juice with an iron poker or with a clean wooden board.Once the wine stops fermenting, it is siphoned out leaving a mushy mess of grapes. I then take those grapes and press them, squeezing out a few more gallons.

The grapes ferment in the wooden barrel for about 10 days. Once the wine stops fermenting, it is siphoned out leaving a mushy mess of grapes. I then take those grapes and press them using a wine press (shown above), squeezing out a few more gallons.

Wine Entered in Topsfield Competition
Aug 10th, 2009 by

Wine is made in the RootsLiving wine cellar without any preservatives.

Wine is made in the RootsLiving wine cellar without any preservatives.

It’s official. Wine from the RootsLiving wine cellar has been entered into the Topsfield Fair wine competition.

The fair doesn’t start until Oct. 2 but the deadline for submitting the wine is Aug. 12.

started making wine 13 years ago with my father, following some old recipes that were passed down from his father. My favorite, and the one I submitted to the judges, is zinfandel.

I get the grapes from California and zinfandel is one of the better varieties produced there. The wine grapes that they send east are probably not the best in the lot. Those, I believe, are reserved for wineries out there. So my logic tells me that if I can get the worst of the best grapes from California, then I’m doing the best I can to produce a good wine.

Wine grapes are available only in the fall, so this year’s batch was made last October. The wine I make is a pure wine, free of all chemicals, which means no sulfates or preservatives of any kind. The 2008 vintage is a good one: a strong, mellow flavor of red fruits, featuring a dark red color with light raspberry-colored highlights, followed by good strong legs (the streaks that form on the wine glass when the wine is swirled).

I also entered the wine label contest at the Topsfield Fair by making a label using this photograph. Wine, under this label, is appropriately called, "Thatcher Island Zin."

I also entered the wine label contest at the Topsfield Fair by making a label using this photograph. Wine, under this label, is appropriately called, "Thatcher Island Zin."

This is the first time I entered my wine in any competition. I’d rather drink than compete. You know, make love, not war. But over the years friends and family have praised the wine and I thought it would be good to get the opinion of some impartial judges. (After all, I end up giving a lot of my wine away to friends and family. What else are they going to say?).

Last winter I had the pleasure of meeting another contestant, John Misuraca, and his wife, Sandra. His family has been making wine at his home in Gloucester the old fashioned way: by crushing it with their feet. We met over an unbelievably fabulous dinner (one worthy of being mentioned in any high-end food magazine, such as Gourmet or here on the virtual pages of RootsLiving) at Mary and Ray Hilshey’s house in Gloucester.

We both brought bottles of our homemade wine to sample. John’s red was great and took second place the last two years at the fair, so I know the competition is going to be tough.

Wish me luck.

(Photos by Mark Micheli)


A Good (and Cheap) Summer Wine
Jun 23rd, 2009 by

I first discovered this in a budget bin at a wine specialty shop. A few weeks later I read about it in a Wall Street Journal article which recommended it.

I first discovered this in a budget bin at a wine specialty shop. A few weeks later I read about it in a Wall Street Journal article which recommended it.

Just because the economy is bad and your income may be taking a hit doesn’t mean you can’t sip good wine this summer. One of my favorite summer whites is Casal Garcia, a portuguese “vinho verde”, which literally means green wine, which translates to young wine.

It’s made by Quinta da Aveleda, a successful family winery in Portugal.

It’s light in color and on the palate. It’s crisp without being too citrusy. It has just a bit of a fizz (It’s not sparkling). It finishes clean. And it’s only $5.99 a bottle at Kappy’s in the Greater Boston area.

Serve it chilled. And hey, at these prices, if you can’t wait for the fridge to work its magic, add a few ice cubes. I won’t tell.

(Photo by Mark Micheli)

Find more bargains at YourCheapFriend.com .

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