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My Personal Journey Toward Making Wine at Home

Early Memories

My first memory of winemaking was some cherry wine my father made. I remember that there was a great deal of mess and work involved. It seemed to be a very error prone, finicky process. I was only 5 or 6 at the time, so I'm sure my opinion was out of proportion to reality, but it left an impression anyway. He placed a bottle of this wine in the local community's 50 year time capsule. I intend to be there when they dig it up, but I've since learned that expecting a bottle of homemade wine to last that long is asking a lot.

My second memory of wine was when my family traveled to France for a month, I think I was 11. Everyone drank wine there, even kids my age, and we were able to see a few home setups and tour a couple of real French wineries. I especially remember Cognac and thinking it was interesting that they named their city after a type of liquor (this wasn't true, but an 11 year old sees things differently - see WikiPedia:Cognac). These were great experiences, but it still left me with the impression that making wine was a big, expensive, laborious process better left to the French magicians that had been doing it for centuries.

My next wine memory involves my father and cherry wine again. This time I was around 13 years old and any amount of work was too much work. Somehow my father got me to pick enough cherries from a neighbor's trees for a full batch of wine, plus some for jam. I think I had gotten into trouble, as boys often do, and had to pick the cherries as a punishment. While I don't remember why I was being punished, I do remember hating every moment of picking cherries off of those damned trees.

Please don't get the idea that my father was heavy into wine. I rarely ever saw him drink, which may explain why that damned cherry wine was around for so long. For all I know, he could have a bottle or two left, 30+ years later.

Later Memories

In college I acquired an appreciation for beer and wine ... enough said. A couple of friends were brewing beer in their basement and displayed their knowledge and beer making equipment. They were showing off and managed to make it sound technical, expensive, complex, and impossible to get right. Just to add the nail to the coffin of my potential interest, they said that making beer was much easier than wine. Since I had no real interest in making beer and it looked too difficult at that, then wine was right out.

After college, while visiting friends in Lubbock, Texas, I learned that there was a new winery in the area. Who knew a real winery could exist in Texas? I didn't, but apparently there are several. My friends and I decided to go have a look. I managed to talk the owner into giving us a tour and it was wonderful. I guess I was finally old enough to appreciate the finer points of making wine without getting overwhelmed with the size of the task. I still thought it was something that should be reserved for a large building full of giant barrels and professional people, though.

The Present Day  

For almost 15 years afterwards, I held the opinion that making wine at home was just too much trouble. Then a friend of mine gave me a bottle of wine she had made herself from a small kit she bought at Walmart. Yes, Walmart! Now, my friend is a biologist and knows her way around a laboratory, so I should have expected a good result. However, I was still surprised at how good the wine tasted when I opened it several months later. If a $35 kit could make a few acceptable bottles of wine with a minimum of effort, then why had I been avoiding the idea for so long?

The Decision to Start

I thought that a small kit from Walmart would be a good way to test the idea without a huge invesment in money, time, and effort. So, I started looking for one. While searching, I found a lot of new information about home wine making on the internet. There have been a lot of advances in recent years and I finally learned that making wine is not as difficult as I had always thought.

I didn't find the Walmart kit right away, so I ended up purchasing a 1 gallon starter kit from a local brewing supply store. It consisted of a 5-gallon bucket, a 1-gallon glass jug, various miscellaneous items, a wine concentrate designed for 2.5 gallons of wine, and a recipe for making 6 gallons of wine. How they decided this was called a 1-gallon starter kit, I'll never know. I ended up buying a few more things to complete the setup.

After starting that batch (WineBatch01), I finally found the Walmart kit online. So I ordered it and started it up a few days later (WineBatch02).

Will this Hobby Stick?

One of the reasons I avoided wine making is that I knew that a decent batch of wine takes months to make and a year or two to age before it is ready. That's quite a commitment of time and resources. I don't have the best track record in long term hobbies. Of all the hobbies I've tried over the years, only two managed to last longer than a couple of months, and those became full blown careers (Taekwondo & Programming). I need to be able to continue this hobby for a very long time without devoting such intensity as to make it a distraction from my professional life (a career in home winemaking is both impossible and illegal).

I believe home winemaking will fit me well because it consists of a few active phases separated by long periods of waiting and watching. I do "waiting and watching" very well. To keep fresh interest, I can always start another batch of some different recipe. Unlike physical or sports based hobbies, if I lose interest for a month or two, things will proceed without me and there won't be any re-training necessary when I'm ready to come back.

We'll see.


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