My first attempt as a garagiste winemaker:Part One

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– Part One –

As I sit here typing with purple fingers, I am pleased to report that I just bottled my very first batch of wine.  30 bottles of 2011 Pinot Noir from “chateau moi” are quietly resting in my garage wine cellar waiting to make a debut in a few months.  This marks my first experiment as a garagiste winemaker.

If you’ve ever thought about making your own wine at home or becoming a garagiste yourself, here are a few tips from my first experience.

Garagiste is a term originally used in the Bordeaux wine region of France in the 1990s which collectively referred (in not so kind terms) to “renegade” small-production wine makers.

This rebel group of vignerons bucked the system of strict French wine regulations, creating bold non-pedigreed wines, sometimes working in their own garages to make their vins de garage.

Although some vins de garage have achieved popularity, acclaim and cult following by collectors, some believe that the garagiste fad is over.  Critics and certain wine friends take the position that garagistes disregard the importance of terroir and the history of a wine region.

However, the garagiste movement has grown beyond Bordeaux to other wine regions all over like Chile and Paso Robles and is more a title of honor given to passionate small-lot “indie” winemakers respected for producing some of the world’s best wines sans corporate conglomerate.

Getting Started

So where does one go to make wine if they don’t own a vineyard or winery?  The internet of course!  I found everything I needed online – raw juice from wine grapes (called must), yeast, fermenter buckets, carboys, siphons, hydrometers and corks.  I selected a Pinot Noir Cru Select juice – ostensibly from premier vineyards in California – spending about $160 for a deluxe winemaker’s kit.  At this price, I’m already saving money on wine by making my own. [I bought my kit at winemakers]

When my kit arrived, I felt like little Ralphie finally getting his red rider bee bee gun on Christmas morning.  Sending packing peanuts into the air, I eagerly opened the boxes to discover beakers, tubes, thermometers and neat wine gadgets ready for my fantastic experiment.  This looked a lot like the science kit I played with as a kid only better!  This is going to be fun.

Cleaning your winemaking kit

The instructions said the first thing I would need to do is clean and sanitize everything in the kit.  When making wine, cleanliness is the name of the game.  Dirt or bacteria could throw the wine off and affect the yeast’s ability to start fermentation.  Basically, every spoon, bucket, measuring device or any thing that is going to come into contact the wine must be super clean.

The kit came with packets of food-grade sanitizer to sterilize all of my winemaking equipment.  Sanitizing probably takes up much of the time you actually spend making wine since there is clean up before and after each process.  Luckily all of this cleaning will pay off with good wine.  With my fermenter bucket now clean, I was ready to make wine.

…Coming up next:  things get a little messy in part two

This article is a Green Thumb AdventureTM series – a collection of documentary articles about finding your inner gardener and winemaker.  If you have any similar experiences, thoughts or comments, chime in!  Share with us. We hope you enjoy.

— Heidi Butzine
Senior Editor, Wineopolis Press

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