My First Try at Making Real Wine

I have very little idea how to make wine, but it is something that has always interested me, and living in California, it is something that’s just part of life. Anywhere you travel in this state you are bound to come across vineyards and wine tasting rooms. Go south from the Bay Area on US 101, and you will literally be driving through vineyards within an hour or two. Another hour more, and you will be in the heart of the Central Coast wine region with wineries and tasting rooms at every exist.

Go to the North Bay, and well, I don’t have to tell you where you are, but you will be in some of the most picturesque viticultural districts in the world, if not the best producing ones. Head east, or in just about any direction, down any road and you will likely find a vineyard of some sort. All my memories are filled with grape vines, from visiting my aunt’s house in the South Bay hills, to heading to Monterey, or to the mountains to fish. Everywhere, there is a vineyard in central Califa.

Even later, I couldn’t get away from the vines. Not that I wanted to. I did my undergrad at “The” wine university. You know, the one that now produces the worlds premier viticulturists and enologist, who go on to head up every major winery around the world. When I went there, though, the school celar wasn’t open to the public, and Mondovi hadn’t turned it into a wine tourist trap, so we only heard rumors of the vintages that got dumped down the drain instead of being drunk each year. Now they get sold off to the public, and the wine culture descends on the campus in hords to visit the Mondovi wine complex, celars, and wine shops etc..

One of the things Davis used to do, and still does, I think, is give away vines to the first few hundred people who get in line at the viticulture booth on Picnic Day. They are the vines that students practice their grafting techniques on, so they often aren’t wonderful, but they are free. In the past, before the world knew of this little give-away they gave away interesting varieties, and it was easier to get them.

Six years ago, my wife (also an Aggie) and I went to Picnic Day and got two of the last scrony vines they were giving away that year. I think it was the fact that they were small that let is in on something cool. No one else wanted the runts, but they were just a small slow growing varietal. The variety was called Viozinho, a white wine grape. (More on that in a bit.) We’ve been to Picnic Day since, and have gotten other vines, but these were the only ones that resulted in a producing vine.

Funny enough, at the time I had no where to plant them, so I potted them up and put them on the balcony of our place. For a couple of years they languished, putting out a few leaves each spring. One eventually died, but in the third year the survivor showed some good growth, so I was happy to keep it on board. In that same year we bought our house, and I found a good place for it in the ground. Having little idea what type of grape vine it really was, or its characteristics, I just put it where there was room. It had more sentimental value than anything at that point.

In its new home it didn’t do a whole lot except grow. Last year it produced some grapes but the squirrels (I hate squirrels!) ate every last berry, so I had no idea what the grapes where finally going to be like.

This year was different. I netted the whole thing as soon as they were forming sugar, and they grew and grew. So many and so well in fact, that my poorly made trellis partially collapsed.

With a whole crop to deal with, I finally looked up what they where, and thought about what I was going to do with them. They are a grape used in making Porto, a fortified wine from Portugal. They are supposed to have great character, but are little grown because of the slow growth and low yield. In fact they seem to only be grown commercially in the Douro Valley in very low quantities. The guy at my local brew/wine store had never heard of them.

So what do you do when you have something little heard of, and considered a treasure? Of course, try to learn how to use it for what it is meant for. I only have enough for about a gallon of finished wine, but it will be a good first trial. Also, since this variety is rarely ever made into a varietal wine, and is usually blended, the low volume works in my favor. My guess, is that it will be very acidic and complex, so I will have something good to use in blends with future years (maybe going the Porto route,) or with my plum wines, which have little complexity.

Who knows where it will go, but so far it’s been fun starting down another path of learning. I already had the vine and the equipment, so I have little to lose, and wine to gain. Should be fun.




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