I was born in 1946, and grew up in a commercial fishing family in San Pedro, California. We lived within a close proximity to my grandparents, and aunts and uncles, and I mean within a few blocks of each other.
The town was primarily made up of Italians and Croatians. The largest employers at that time were the shipyards, longshoring, fish canneries, and commercial fishing.
When the canneries were processing and cooking tuna, you could smell the aroma throughout the community. When the fishermen brought in loads of Spanish mackerel, every barbeque in town was smoking, and when the grapes were ready to harvest from the farms in Riverside (about 40-50 miles inland), the old-timers would get ready to make wine. Then the families would get together to crush the grapes, and the presses squeezed out the juice, then the fermentation process began, and the aroma of fresh wine filled the air, along with music from my uncle’s accordion, while the family danced and sang.
My grandfathers were born on Dugi Otok Island (Long Island), located in the Adriatic, off the Croatian coast. They had been making homemade wine for most of their lives. They both began helping their fathers as children, and as adults continued the tradition of making great homemade wine. I remember going to their homes and helping, even stomping the grapes in a huge open barrel. It was through these experiences that I learned the basics of making my own homemade wine.
As I grew older, I developed a taste for quality red wine, and dreamed that someday I’d be able to follow the tradition of making wine like my family had in the past. I was 52, happily married, and living in Palos Verdes Estates. Our daughter just had our first grandson, and we were looking to buy another house.
We found the perfect home that sat on the bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and to my surprise it had a huge wine cellar. Now, I could fulfill that dream.
I now have been making homemade wine for 14 years, and have been quite successful.
Nothing feels as satisfying and authentic as making your first batch of wine. There are many kinds of grapes to choose from, depending on where you live. The famous European wine-grape family includes such renowned varieties as Chardonnay, Merlot, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon, which are available in the United States. These grapes thrive in California and the Pacific Northwest, and also grow well in microclimates scattered from New York to the Great Lakes.
Homemade wine is a rewarding and enjoyable hobby and the quality of homemade wines today are better than ever! With a small investment in equipment you can continually make good quality wine for a fraction of the cost of store-bought wine.
One of the greatest pleasures of making wine is being able to taste and enjoy what you have created. Share your wonderful achievement by giving a bottle to family or friends as a gift or proudly serve homemade wine to your dinner guests. It’s very rewarding to see the surprised look on people’s faces when they learn that the marvelous wine they have been enjoying was your wine. Although homemade wine can be made from a variety of fruits and other sources, good quality red wines are easier for the beginner to make. But whatever kind of grapes you use, the general techniques, equipment, and ingredients are basically the same.
Not only is making red wine a fun hobby, drinking red wine can benefit your health. Studies have shown that consuming red wine in moderation (one to two glasses a day) has several health benefits. One of the most widely documented benefits of red wine is heart health. Researchers found that red wine inhibited the build-up of fatty material along the artery walls which helped to explain why people in France have a relatively low incidence of heart disease despite a diet rich in saturated fats. Other studies also indicated that red wine can raise HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) and prevent LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) from forming. Red wine is a particularly rich source of antioxidants which studies suggest may help protect against certain cancers. Does that mean an extra glass or two would be better? I hope so.
Even though my first exposure to making wine started with crushing grapes at the homes of my grandfathers, I’m lucky to have a little winery nearby called Marbella Winery. Now 85 years old, Tony Marbella still grows grapes in Riverside County, and does the crushing, pressing and disposing of the wastes, and starts the fermentation process. I order what I want, usually a blend of a third of Cabernet, Merlot, and Sara or Zinfandel. Then he fills a stainless steel tank, mounted on his truck, and delivers 120 gallons of juice to my home. Then using an electric pump and a long hose, he fills my barrels in the cellar.
The process of fermentation in wine turns grape juice into an alcoholic beverage. During fermentation, yeast interacts with sugars in the juice to create ethanol, commonly known as ethyl alcohol. This process takes approximately forty-five days.
Now you have to rack the wine. Simply, racking means to siphon or pump the wine from one barrel to container, so as to leave any sediment behind. Then, you have to clean out the barrel and pump the clean wine back in.
Racking is an essential part to making any sound wine. It is a process that, on average, should be performed 2 to 4 times throughout the winemaking process. Doing so in a timely manner
will aid in the clarification of the wine and help to inhibit the production of unwanted off-flavors.
Now the fun starts, because it’s time to bottle your wine. I personally leave the wine in the barrels until the next harvest is ready to be picked and crushed. Bottling is usually shared with my friends, having duties, like filling the bottle, corking the bottle, and storing them in my wine rack that holds seven hundred bottles of wine.
A 120 gallons will produce 450 bottles of wine, and take us most of the day. But we mix the work with pleasure, sampling the wine and eating hors d’oeuvres, and finishing the job with a barbeque, and a few more bottles of wine.
On occasion I’ve been asked. What do you do with 450 bottles of wine? “Hell, we drink it. A bottle a day, and give some away, we’ll run out by the next bottling.”
Making wine is a labor of love, with a great reward. Give it a try. You’ll be glad you did!