Three years ago, Liz Kelly's daughter was born and she joined Muir Mommies. One of the many benefits of the group was that husband Tom, who had recently been learning more and more about wines and wine culture, met another dad with a shared interest in wine who had been making it himself for several years.
Time passed, and Tom decided to partner with his new friend on making his next batch, a Syrah. The barrel is stored in his friend's Walnut Creek Garage, and is almost ready for bottling.
"He has a chemistry background," Kelly said, whose background is in product management and marketing, "which is incredibly useful for serious home wine making, especially during the fermentation. We can take samples, and send them off, and he knows how to read the results and we can make changes."
Kelly has recently received a wine certification after finishing a 12-week course in San Francisco.
"The program is set up for people who want to do wine education, and I want to do that: help educate people about world of wine- it is so infinite- there is no way anyone could know everything about it- and that's what is so fascinating," said Kelly, who starting educating himself when they moved to the bay area. "The class got pretty deep on all wine regions of the world. They are so different, with different grapes, styles, and processes."
Even with this new education, Kelly emphasized the importance of scientific knowledge in winemaking.
"Unless you go in, studying the science behind it, you are at a disadvantage," he said. "You test [the wine] -- and things can happen, and if you know how to read the results, it's really helpful."
When making their wine, Kelly and his friend researched their grapes, and purchased theirs from a vineyard on the Russian River.
|At the Russian River vineyard when Tom Kelly's grapes were being picked last fall.|
"We rolled up in my truck, looking for a half a ton of grapes," Kelly said. "Typically most commercial wineries won't sell grapes to someone that small. We were one of 15 or 20 ventures buying from them- and everyone gets the same short notice they are picking- and his staff of pickers goes through the field and you can go with them- or wait- while your buckets are filled."
They chose to buy grapes from that specific vineyard on the Russian River because, "it's impossible to make good wine with bad grapes. Most of the magic happens in the vineyard."
|Anne Cole, second from left, at their First Crush.|
"I also have a vintner." Cole explained a vintner is a mentor for winemaking. She said that when she and her ex-husband bought they property, they intended to make wine, and she started learning then.
But last year was her first year actually making wine, and she bought 1,400 pounds of grapes and has two barrels that are nearly ready to bottle. She is going to name the Syrah Damn Good Cookie and the Cabernet Sisters of Steel in honor of her girlfriends from her group fitness Bodypump class who helped her with the press and bottling.
"You are the most popular person on the block when you are making wine," Cole said with a laugh. "The alcohol is already present."
|Cole and Eikel doing their First Crush.|
"You could [age the wine] in a glass carboy," Lynch said. This is a five gallon growler style jug with an airlock. "I started with those when I started making wine eight years ago in my basement in Oakland, but moved up in the world to barrels because they let a little air in and a little air out. This improves the flavor as well."
Lynch's business is helping home winemakers start making wine. He calls it Temescal Creek and charges a flat fee to mentor you in your winemaking cycle for a year. This includes the grapes and equipment, as well as his knowledge.
"And I prefer to be called a Garagiste," Lynch said. "It's the garage winemaking [yeast] movement." With a French accent, it is a word play on garage-yeast. Lynch continued, "We make wine in the garage. The garage is a good temperature for fermentation, punching the cap, and then pressing the wine. I store wine in my basement since that temperature is more consistent. Though you could store it anywhere."
In addition to being a winemaker, Lynch studies oenology and viticulture at UC Davis. Lynch recommends a chemistry for winemakers class for any budding winemakers. The Lamorinda Wine Growers Association is another resource. Though Lynch's best advice?
"Call me. I'll do it with you."
In addition to the DIY appeal of making wine at home, Lynch's student Cole says she wants to be able to control what's in the wine.
"My wine is natural. I don't want chemicals or additives in it," Cole said. "Producing a natural product is important for me. For example, there is sediment on the barrel because it's been sitting for a year. I won't filter the wine- the tannins in the bottom are good for the wine- they are tasty- some people even put them on cheese."
"I am also making a by-product - sugar scrubs - from my wine. It smells like the grapes- not alcohol," said Cole. "I also want to dry the skins with the seeds and make flour."
Cole said winemaking is fun and that everyone should try it. Her kids, 9 and 11, help by pressing, helping to top the barrels off, and helping to put nitrogen on top of the wine in the barrels. They also punched the grapes while fermenting and will soon help with the bottling.
|Tom Kelly after they finished pressing the grapes.|
"It's a cool experience," said Kelly of winemaking. "I want to keep doing it."
"Some people paint," said Lynch, who has continued to make his own wines in his basement in addition to his vintner duties. "This is my art."
|As an urban vintner, Christopher Lynch labels his wine by hand.|
HOW WINE IS MADE AT HOME (THE STYLE OF WINE WHICH IS AGED IN A BARREL AND MADE AFTER PURCHASING GRAPES)~my summary,with many thanks to Christopher Lynch, Anne Cole, Tom Kelly and ye olde Internet~
- Decide on what kind of wine you are making.
- Order your grapes in July.
- Pick up your grapes between September and November. The exact timing depends on the vineyard. As harvest gets closer, the vineyards are measuring the grapes for sugar content and acidity daily. They will give you one to three days' notice.
- Use a crusher/ de-stemmer to take the stems out and split the grapes. *Note: you can rent or purchase all equipment at More Beer! in Concord or Oak Barrel Winecraft in Berkeley.
- If you are making a red wine, add the yeast into the bucket, and stir it. Then punch it down multiple times daily for ten days (it will get bigger like bread when it rises). This is called fermenting. Then press it with a wine press. Barrel it for a year or more. Bottle it. You can taste it or take samples to send away at any point (During fermentation, your samples will help you make changes. When it is in the barrel, your samples will help you determine when it can be bottled).
- If you are making a white wine, press before fermenting, and then continue otherwise.
- There are many ways to make a rose. One is to let it sit for three to four hours, then press it and continue otherwise (since the color of the wine comes from the skin of the grape). Another way is to bleed some off of a red a few weeks into its aging and bottle it as a rose then.