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My ability to make wine at home is not a central issue in our current times just as this blog post is neither “Journal of the Plague Year” or “Love in the Time of Cholera.” It did make me realize how closely related are my excitement about making wine and the social activity around it. Often, I will rack and bottle wine by myself, but I almost always have company for crushing and pressing and there is usually a crowd around and a meal. The first wine I made, from a kit if I remember correctly, prompted a neighborhood bottling party. Our neighbor Steve, who went on in life to join a group of first-class winemakers, was our corker. We had a fellow about eight year’s old with a hair dryer shrinking the neck capsules and an assortment of people putting on labels. Earlier, soliciting ideas for labels, we got suggestions that included “Jeff’s Jammy Juice” and a crowd-pleaser, “Basement Bounty.” Years later I was trying to identify a wine to submit to the Winemaker Magazine’s international contest. Again, we filled the house with people and they were invited to sample several wines and classify them as “Send it” (to the contest,) “Blend it” (with another wine) or “Upend it.” There was a stainless steel bucket for the last classification. One friend, trying a wine, commented that he would like the red wine better if it were “plummier.” I agreed with him until he suggested that I actually put some plums in it. One useful take away from this event was the notion that blending wines can contribute new strengths to a finished wine and a level of complexity. Working at a friend’s vineyard years ago, wine and people were completely entwined. My wife and I would get there in the morning with bread, pasta, sauce and salad and I would help with chores. During the morning, other friends and our kids would arrive with their children. In the middle of the day, someone would put on the pasta and the sauce and we would have a dinner with really good wine – sometimes with 12 people or more. Chefs from throughout New York would stop by and on one occasion, the owner invited a group of rabbit hunters to join us. This year, we’ll make wine but the occasion will have more solemnity than usual but I’m still able to periodically put a bottle on all the neighbors’ porches and keep the spirit alive. Stay well.
"Lucy, I'm home!" Ricky Ricardo used to call to his wife on the show, "I Love Lucy." Few younger folk remember that show from the 50's but they remember Lucille Ball stomping grapes. Many people have grape stomping on their bucket lists. My winemaking partner Lucas and I produce a public grape stomping at the Hill at Muza a beer garden in Troy, NY once a year. Just as the winemaking hobby takes on a life of its own and threatens to grow to absurd dimensions so has this event. This has grown from grapes, some local, some donated and some bought stomped in half whiskey barrels to this year's 900 pound wine bath in a galvanized stock tank 6 feet across. Hundred of people come and it's hard to stay serious for too long. For us, it's several hours of discussing home winemaking with people who seem fascinated with the process. We explain many times that not only is wine acidic (you folks knew that) but it soon becomes alcoholic and is only really threatened by wild yeasts and vinegar-producing bacteria. The have a mildly sanitizing foot bath before and after stepping in to a half ton of grapes. (Our supplier, Musto Wine Grape Co. of Hartford, CT is always generous.) I'm a big fan of the technique. After a few hours, the grapes a smashed to a thick wet mass and yet the stems and seeds aren't damaged and can be removed without adding their tannin. Next year, we'll add a band and there is talk of closing the street.