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The old business adage is true. If you have experience, you make good decisions. How do you get experience? By making bad decisions. We’ve adopted some steps that many home winemakers avoid in response to problems. Most of the time we bottle wine without incident but from time to time, the wine that seemed perfectly clear will throw a sediment a month or so later. Now we rack from carboys into gallon jugs and rack five bottles at a time as I need them. Since I make wine at least twice a year (when the California grapes come in, when the local grapes are ready and in the spring for Chilean grapes,) this frees up some of the carboys. The gallon jugs can also support bench trials or making a small batch of a blend or two. Also, we use tasting corks (look like mushrooms) instead of conventional corks when we think they’ll be returned. If someone needs to keep a tasting cork to recork their (our) wine, that’s fine too. After a while, we may recork with conventional corks to free up the tasting ones. This fall for several reasons, we crushed outside but had to press in the basement. After fermentation had almost concluded, we transferred the wet and dripping must not to the press but to a six-gallon pail I perforated with small holes. The ¼ inch holes are on the bottom and 1/3 of the way up the sides The pail was suspended over another pail and the liquid was allowed to run and then drip into the lower pail. The first six gallons of free run went into a carboy and the drier must was collected for pressing. It was all easier to work with, less mess and seemingly more free-run juice
Don’t be discouraged by a bad batch of wine. As an amateur winemaker, I may have learned more from my mistakes than from my successes. My first wine was from juice fermented in the same 6-gallon bucket it came in. A little yeast, a new lid with an airlock and winemaking was underway. It was palatable and red and dry and alcoholic but not outstanding. Then I discovered that the local Homebrew Emporium carried Winexpert kits that made a very drinkable Chardonnay and it extended my winemaking season to year-round. One batch of Sangiovese made with juice and grocery store grapes won a gold medal in a Winemaker Magazine competition and a Chardonnay won a local competition and I was convinced I could make wine. I got pretty good at two complementary tasks: blending wines to make a really good beverage and diagnosing wine faults. Both skills resulted from producing wines that needed a little help. I’ve had to deal with over and under-sulfited wines, vinegar bacteria, hydrogen sulfide, corked wine and color fading. Some we win. Some we don’t. As blending goes, we typically get grapes from California in the fall (like half a ton) and lesser amounts in late May from the Southern Hemisphere. Lately, I’ve discovered that blending a tannic wine like Carnellian with a Malbec or Carmenere that may still have a little “green pepper” quality to it can produce a good balanced wine that would normally not be found in nature. @Garagist
Once you're comfortable with your ability as a home winemaker, consider contacting wineries and tasting rooms before you visit. Nobody appreciates how much effort winemaking can be more than another winemaker. If they know you'll be coming, you may get tours, barrel tastings and offers not available to tourists. In return, the commercial vintner gets a knowledgeable customer who can talk the language. A year or so ago, a winemaker in Paso Robles invited a couple of us to go behind the tasting room to give our opinion of his still barreled syrah. I've had tasting room people pass the money back across the counter saying "We don't charge winemakers." We've been invited to trade tastings. If you get something free, enjoy the feeling but if it's allowed tip generously and be sure to buy some wine.
My wife and I have been fortunate to make some award winning wines from a variety of sources (upstate New York, California and Chile) and we enjoy traveling to winemaking regions to talk with professional winemakers. We've found them to be very gracious and generous with their time, wine and advice. So far, we have been to Bordeaux, Champagne, Provence and Lanquedoc in France; Tuscany, Umbria and Campania in Italy and Sonoma, Paso Robles, Napa and (our new favorite) Suisun Valley in California.