I love making wine, especially wines that I like to drink.
I’ve often thought about making wine a business, primarily so I could make more, and perhaps some day I will, as long as I can still get my hands dirty. I teach home winemaking periodically too: listen to a WineMaker Magazine interview with me about how.
But for now, what I like are the beauty, flavors, textures and pace of winemaking. Like in medicine, time is often, but not always, on your side.
I love the details, love paying attention to them, and using my senses as well as organic chemistry to make really, really good wine. Wine is to be loved—with food, on its own, with imagination, with others, and with happiness and appreciation.
I buy grapes from wonderful growers and vineyards in San Luis Obispo (Bien Nacido, French Camp, Hog Canyon), Santa Maria (Sierra Madre), Santa Ynez (Camp 4 and Estelle Vineyards) and Santa Barbara (downtown), and rely on the advice of wonderful winemakers and growers from all over both counties to help.
I planted and manage a tiny urban vineyard (photos on FB), a field blend of sustainably farmed organic chardonnay, golden Muscat, sauvignon blanc and pinot gris, using canopy control, shoot and fruit thinning, native beneficials and judicious drip irrigation. I pick all of the fruit by hand, usually on the basis of flavor and acidity.
Growing grapes takes patience. To grow grapes well, organically and sustainably, you have to match the site to the varietal, be wary of predators and hazards, prune properly and well, and use water wisely.
All of this is harder than it sounds, and also, a lot more fun.
One of the best things about having even a mini urban vineyard is watching my dog Leia snap hungrily at the bees floating near the flowering rosemary which brush up against chardonnay vines, in my neighbor’s subconscious effort at a helpful hedgerow, and troubling overwatering.
The principles that guide my winemaking are experimentation; hand-crafting; and accessible, interesting flavors and textures that are fruit forward with integrated soft tannins.
Native fermentation and long extraction are used when possible and appropriate; hand sorting, pressing and racking are the rule, as are minimal oak, oxygen exposure and electricity.
I don’t expect my wines to outlive me, nor do I make them that way. Except maybe one: the 2006 Four Play, with enough backbone and acidity to stand up straight and not mind it, at all.
In 2011 we bottled grenache, grenache blanc and sangiovese: you can read about these special wines and view their labels.
The 2011 bottling was held at an old nursery, and Shirley Peppers, a Los Angeles artist and horticulturist, took a few magnificent photos of the light and color and people that make up this urban farm.
Bottlers called for levels, corkers used their arms like machines, quality control was dominated by those blessed with engineering and accounting backgrounds, entire tables of labelers hummed like a sewing bee, eating homemade pistachio pesto from the uber talented Emma Cantu and the farm’s own Valencia guacamole. You can view my own photos here.
There were legendary gift wines, bouquets of flowers, and dogs and kids running everywhere. In two years, more wine, more dogs, more kids. And more flowers.
Here are some of the best winemaking resources, for serious amateurs
Backyard, Garage and Supply Questions: Winemaker Magazine
CA Home Winemaking Clubs, with Links to How-to Sites
Commercially Innovative Approach to Boutique Winemaking
Confessions of a Home Winemaker Why I Make Wine
LinkedIn Winemakers Forum
NY State Just-the-facts Approach to Winemaking
WinePress Q and A Forum
Five well-written and winemaking and wine growing blogs and podcasts