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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.

How To Make Award Winning Wine
Oct 12th, 2009 by

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 bottle on display were nearly empty.

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.

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)

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.

Frank’s wine
Jun 4th, 2009 by

Video: See how he makes it

Video of Frank making wine. (Photo by Mark Micheli/Video by Franco)

Video of Frank making wine. (Photo by Mark Micheli/Video by Franco)

Last month I had the pleasure of visiting my friend Frank Pallaria as he made wine in his basement in Haverhill, Mass.  Frank has only been making wine for about one or two years now, but already, he’s got a great setup and an energetic work ethic.

Unlike most home winemakers, Frank doesn’t make wine just once a year. He makes it twice a year when the grapes are ready in September in the northern hemisphere and again in May when they’re ready for harvesting in the southern hemisphere. So when I visited him last month, he was crushing grapes that came from South America — Chile and Argentina, to be exact.

Frank embodies the attitude and true spirit of rootsliving . He is an avid gardener who turns out a huge crop of tomatoes each year that he crushes and cans. I have been trading my wine for his tomatoes for more than five years now. However, I didn’t actually meet Frank in person until about year or two ago.  He’s a friend of my friend, Joe Gemellaro, and Joe has been acting as middle man for our bartering: collecting an extra bottle of vino or jar of tomatoes in the process.

Frank always tells me he loves my wine. But I’ll tell you there’s nothing better than opening up a jar of Frank’s tomatoes on a cold day in February and using it to make a hearty red sauce. The scent fills my kitchen with memories of summer.

(© 2009 Mark Micheli)


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