Monday, December 22, 2008

End of the year for this amateur winemaker

The end of the year is an opportunity to reflect on what was good, what was bad, what was accomplished and what was left undone. And then, there were those things that just happened. Things which were not good or bad. Let's just call those things the "Filler". Kind of like those packing peanuts that go into the package to fill it out.

Although we tend to judge the year on the accomplishments and missed opportunities, the Filler is probably the most important. After all, it certainly makes up the bulk of what happened between the new years. So, as I go though it all, and put the accomplishments on one side of the scale and the missed opportunities on the other, this year I will not forget the Filler.

A glass half empty person might put the Filler into a category of "Things that didn't matter" or just "Stuff". But, that discounts all those things we did that make the year what it was. This year, I am going to put the filler into the things accomplished category. Not only does it seem like the right thing to do, it really makes it look like the year was productive and we all need those pats on the back, even it we give them to ourselves

Lets get it out of the way and start with the things that didn't work out.

Things not accomplished:

Try a wine from a different state each month
Kind of a virtual wine tour of the US, one state per month. Last year, I broke my own rule and made a new years resolution. I would try a new wine from a different state every month. That worked for January, since I happened to have a wine from another state on hand. Final Tally: 1 wine.

Wine Shack
My own "Wine Destination". A structure to separate the winemaking equipment and area from the drill presses, table saws and other non-wine related things. I had plans, actually still do, to separate off an area, insulate it, and make it a micro-miniature home winery. Time, money and logistics all conspired to keep that from happening in 2008. I have not given up on this, but it is not going to get started in 2008.

Wine and Fire
This was out of my control, but I had wanted to attend the Santa Rita Wine Makers annual event. I attended it in 2007, and it was one of the best oenology experiences I have ever had. Unfortunately, it was canceled this year. Probably for similar reasons as my Wine Shack. Next year will be another chance.

Wine Competition.
I never entered my wines into a competition in 2008 like I wanted to. This was simply a motivation thing. My bad. I take full responsibility.

Big Batch of Chard
Try as I might, I could not land a Chardonnay this year. At least, not at a decent price. The vineyard that I bought Chard from for the last 2 years decided to keep it for themselves (there prerogative). And the other couple vineyards seemed to have multiple buyers involved in a price war that quickly ran the price up well beyond what I was willing to do. In the end, I did find a small supply of Chard, but I was hoping to fill my fermenter.

Now for the positives
Things accomplished:

New Label
It is temporary while another new label is taking form. My previous label was cute, and interesting. But, it was an odd shape, with curved top and bottom, and wide, so as to wrap around the bottle. It always generated much interest and compliments, but each label had to be cut out carefully by had and applying took a lot of time and effort. My new labels are much cleaner and easier to apply. And, lets face it, I got into winemaking to make wine, not labels.

The blog started before 2008, but this year, I put all the pieces together and did a full site. Lets see where that goes

Petite Syrah
I never planned to do a Petite Syrah, but with all of the problems finding other fruit, when this came up, and at a good price, I took it. It won't be until 2009 to know if this is actually a positive.

Chardonnay was a challenge for me this year. I'm not sure if it was because I just expected it was going to be easy to do, or if the planets aligned and conspired against me. But I prevailed. With the help of a small vineyard in Carneros, I was able to make a smallish batch of Chardonnay.

Stemmer Crusher
Technically, it is a "Crusher de-stemmer". This is my pride acquired possession this year. This is now my pride piece of winemaking equipment. It is also at the top of the list of "Think I own that will remove a digit". But that sense of danger and the flashing of steel spinning on the inside is mesmerizing.

Bottle Filler
From a small winery in Oakland, going out of business, I found a small, well used, 3 bottle manual filler.
It had been used from their beginning and it was at the end of it's duty. Rust and corrosion, wear and tear, contributed to the bargain price. But lots of elbow grease, sanding, scraping, and acid etching helped. Then a few dollars in new parts and a couple coats of primer and paint. Tada! my new bottle filler. Final winemaking addition for the new year.

And of course, now the Filler.

My health.
I am starting to feel the aches and pains of someone approaching 50 years. A little bit slower up stairs, not able to bend quite the same. Most of the time it doesn't really slow me down. I think I am starting to work smarter now that I can't always depend on being able to muscle things into place. I have found that a half of a ton of grapes is heavy. It would have always been heavy, but now it takes a little more growning and a little more time to move things around. But I am healthy and able to do it all. Maybe there is some truth to the reports of the health benefits from red wine.

My Family
A supportive wife, two smart, healthy, great kids. My family deals with the smell of fermenting wine, boiling malt and hops, fruit flies, sticky floors, missing father for hours at a time, clinks and clanks in the garage all hours of the day and night. And they do it with a minimum of complaints and rolled eyes. Even when threatened with much misunderstood phrase "Just wait till all of this is yours" is sent out, they manage to keep from tossing back the a response along the lines of "Oh, I can't wait".

My Day Job.
In this economy, many people are recently without a job. Some of my friends and coworkers have been laid off and are having a much less celebratory new year. That makes me sad. I feel a little guilty at being able to have what I do. I love making wine, but it would not keep my family fed and clothed at this point. And I have the luxury of having both a job and a hobby.

My Hobby, Wine making
This really fits well into the "Filler" category. Since it could fill in all free time and spare resources. Amateur wine making piques all kinds of thing for me. It lets me play scientist, artisan, laborer, foodie, winer. It gives me things to read, things to taste and things to dream about. And it gives me great gifts to share with others.

So, I will have to say that 2008 was, on balance, a ringing success. Now I am ready to start planning for 2009.

Happy new year!


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