The Art of Home Winemaking


Recently I had the pleasure of experiencing two homemade red wines, each remarkably different from the other. These days the internet is flush with all kinds of recipes for wine, using almost any fruit, grape juice and even honey, which, with other ingredients, produces mead, the oldest alcoholic beverage known to man. How-to videos are available on YouTube and there are a plethora of kits available for purchase online as well. However, the kind of homemade wine I am talking about was made by two very serious winemakers.

In a past post, I have written about my cousin Lisa, who grows her own grapes and makes small batches of homemade wine up in Maine; she has been bottling since 2009. She planted her first group of vines (10) and a small garden in front of her house in 2006, later expanding the vines to the back of the house, clearing the property with a rented back hoe. Currently she has 40 vines spaced 8 feet in rows, 10 feet apart, which she maintains each year on her own. She grows two cold weather red grapes, Frontenac and Marechal Foch.

Sometimes buying frozen juice and must (crushed grapes with skins, stems and seeds) or whole grapes, Lisa will blend either of these with her grapes before fermentation to elevate the sugar levels and decrease the acid levels. By doing this she decreases the amount of added sugar to her wine. Lisa procures her products from Musto Wine Grape Company, LLC in Hartford, CT. There was one year she blended Tempranillo, a black grape indigenous to Spain, that the company secured from Suisun Valley, CA. A grape high in sugar, it blended very well with her grapes.

However, the wine I opened was a straight up Frontenac, harvested September 23, 2011 and it had been aging in my wine cooler since bottling. Once uncorked, the aromas of cherry and other red fruits permeated the room; the same fruitiness came through on the palate. In addition, a slight oakiness was detected, due to the probable use of oak chips in the glass bottle aging process done before the final bottling. Overall, I found the wine very smooth, velvety, with a really nice finish.

The second bottle I opened was from a customer, who has been making wine for most of his 85 years; first with his dad and now on his own since 1952. Joe has added more and more family members along the way to assist in the process. However, unlike Lisa, Joe purchases all of his grapes from a company in Pleasantville, NY called Prospero. Most varietals are for sale from growers and can be purchased online (or in person) through a grape broker. Prospero is a one-stop shop for all winemaking equipment, supplies and grapes, which they get from California. They also service home brewers, distillers and cider makers. 

Joe blends three grapes into his wine – Alicante Bouschet, Zinfandel and Thompson Seedless. The Alicante Bouschet is a dark-skinned grape with a bright red pulp that produces a wine low in acid and light in body. Zinfandel, another red, has medium acidity and boundless fruity flavors. The Thompson Seedless, I am learning, is a favorite white blending grape for home winemaking. Because of it’s low acid it is perfect for blending with both whites and reds. Back in the day, Joe’s dad used the white Muscat grape, but Joe finds the Thompson a better grape for blending with his reds. 

His 2018 vintage was approximately 60% Alicante Bouschet, 30% Zinfandel and 10% Thompson Seedless. Aged in oak (for a short time), the fruitiness of the Alicante and Zinfandel come through on the nose and palate; there is a slight hint of oak on the nose, not so much on the palate. Overall, it is an appealing blend, and the more it opened up, the more I enjoyed it.

The thing to note about home winemaking is that the wine is pretty much made for immediate consumption; it is rare someone like me will have a bottle hanging around in their wine cooler. Lisa’s husband, Don, almost single-handedly drinks her wine each year, while Joe and his family turn their winemaking into an annual family event. Maybe you would like to attempt home winemaking, or like me, just leave it to the experts and drink the fruits of their labor.

Cin Cin!