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What have I gotten myself into?

2009 January 26

Having made my decision to venture into the winemaking arena, I’m really starting to wonder what I’ve gotten into.  What new expensive hobby have I found here?

It’s great to know so many people involved in the wine industry–from seasoned pros running some top-notch wineries in this area to “home” winemakers who have the financial resources to get the best available equipment and grapes.  It’s nice to have their years of knowledge available, but I wonder if their experiences in more large-scale operations don’t have them looking down their noses at someone who is just starting out and only making a fraction of their production.

Even one of my wine club friends who has made dozens, if not hundreds, of cases said to me recently, “If you use carboys to make wine, you’ll just end up with carboy wine.”  These are people who long ago graduated from the basics and are either retired from winemaking, content with their substantial knowledge, or so far advanced that they are on the verge of taking their hobby to the next step and making it a commercial venture.  In getting advice from them, I must consider the source and how much money they have invested versus what a typical home winemaker would spend.

I’m not likely to be buying $1,000 French oak barrels, nor $1,200 stainless-steel 150 gallon fermenting tanks.  I may try to get smaller Hungarian oak barrels or even resort to oak blocks or staves that I can place into a carboy.  I’ll most likely get my grapes crushed at the vineyard or rent a crusher/stemmer rather than buy a $1,500 piece of equipment I’ll use one day a year.  Same goes for all that other expensive equipment that gets used only a day each year.  Face it, I’m just not in the same league as these people and they are more than willing to point that out to me. Not in a mean way, but the condescension lies just beneath the surface of their discussions with me.

It doesn’t mean I don’t get useful information.  Getting recommendations on grape producers and who and when I should contact them is probably the best information I can receive. Having a document outlining the steps they followed is a great starting point as is the information on the basic equipment needed to make a barrel of wine.  It validates all the books I’m reading and puts it into more concise steps.  I just need to translate that into smaller quantities and less expensive alternatives within my very limited budget. The other information on Brettanomycis, malolactic bacteria strains, stuck fermentations and the chemistry of SO2  will undoubtably be very helpful once I can better understand the technical aspects.

On one hand, I will have a very limited budget since I won’t have a regular income in a few months and need to keep my spending in check.  On the other hand, I don’t want to go through all this work to turn out mediocre wine that I wouldn’t be proud of serving my more discerning wine friends.  This may well be a difficult balancing act once I truly get started.

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