The ribbons finally arrived.
It was another blue ribbon year for the RootsLiving wine cellar.
This time the chardonnay we made in the fall of 2012 took top prize in the chardonnay category at the Topsfield Fair. The Malbec we made in the spring of 2012 with grapes from Chile won third prize and received a white ribbon.
This was the second time we entered this contest. The first time in 2009, we won first prize for Zinfandel we made in the fall of 2008.
The ribbons arrived just a few weeks ago: better late than never. And although it’s nice to talk and write about wine, I’d rather drink it. Hic!
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.
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.
The corking machine is simple to use. You place a bottle inside the spring-loaded mechanism and then drop a cork in a hole that is perfectly aligned to the top of the bottle. Then you press the lever down.
Today I bottled some more of the ‘09 vintage. I tasted it again and I believe it’s as good as the previous year’s award winner. However, the grapes were a little sweeter in ‘09 and I think it may have more of a kick.
The process at this point is simple: I use a plastic hose to siphon the wine from each 5-gallon carboy to five, 1-gallon wine jugs. I use cheesecloth over a small piece of screen placed in a funnel when I do this to prevent any sediment from the bottom of the carboy from entering the bottle.
I then pour the wine from the 1-gallon jugs into smaller-sized wine bottles using a funnel. I place a bottle in my manual corking machine and place a cork ontop. (Note: Just prior to doing this I boil the corks in water to soften them.) And then I pull the lever down on the corking machine. This action compresses the cork as it pushes it down into the bottle.
The wine is siphoned out of the carboys and into 1-gallon jugs below.
And there you have it.
A label and a sleeve can now be put on the bottle if desired. But I’m a little bit lazy and only do this when corking a bottle to give as a gift. Because for me, the pleasure is more in the drinking than in the preparation and presentation. Salute!
BREAKING NEWS OCT. 7, 2009: THIS JUST IN — Wine made last year in the RootsLiving wine cellar took first place in the Zinfandel category at this year’s Topsfield Fair. This was the first time the RootsLiving wine cellar entered one of its wines in a competition. The 2008 Zinfandel is on display at America’s oldest agricultural fair through Oct. 12. More details and photos to come.
The judges must have liked the wine because many of the bottles on display were nearly empty.
That was the excitement, just a few days ago, when we found out RootsLiving took top honors in the Zinfandel category at the Topsfield Fair. But what we didn’t realize until yesterday when we visited the fair was that RootsLiving also took a third place award in the “Wine Label” competition.
Both the wine and label were on display at the fair in the Fruits and Vegetables Farmer’s Market building — the same room where the giant pumpkin was on display.
Below are links to seven previous posts which trace the victorious journey of last year’s batch and also document the creation of this year’s batch, which was created the same way and now awaits Mother Nature’s magic in the RootsLiving Wine Cellar. Will we have another winner on our hands?
I took the photo used in this label last summer from Long Beach in Gloucester.
Wine Entered in Topsfield Fair Competition (Aug. 10, 2009)
Nature is Key in Making a Good Batch of Wine (Sept. 20, 2009)
Preparations and Equipment Needed to Make Wine (Sept. 21, 2009)
Getting the Grapes (Sept. 28, 2009)
Crushing the Grapes (Sept. 29, 2009)
Shhh! Listen and Watch the Wine Ferment (video) (Oct. 1, 2009)
Taking the Wine Out of the Barrel and Pressing the Grapes (Oct. 7, 2009)
This Win is For My Father (June 4, 2009)
(Photos by Gabriel Micheli)
Standing on a small wooden chair I drop the grapes into the grinder stem and all.
The easy part is over.
On Friday, I purchased 13 cases of grapes: 10 old vine Zinfandel; 2 Muscato; and 1 Alicante. I’ve been using this recipe for years. My father always said to add the white Muscato grapes because they’re sweeter and will generate a higher alcohol content. The red Alicante grapes, he said, are good to add color.
On Sunday, with the help of some good friends, I crushed all 480 pounds. To crush the grapes, you just put them in the grinder, which sits on top of the oak barrel, and turn the crank. The grapes are not really crushed: the grinder merely pops them open and drops them into the barrel.
After the crushing, I covered the barrel with cheesecloth to keep out the dust.
It usually takes a few days before the grapes start fermenting. Fermentation starts when you hear a low rumbling noise, similar to water boiling. However, this batch started fermenting early.
This morning when I woke up, I went down the to the RootsLiving wine cellar, pressed my ear up against the wood barrel and heard the most beautiful sound.
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 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:
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.
Until Saturday, Salute!
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 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.
I 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."
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)