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“Know Wine Well”

081515aKaren MacNeil delivered the keynote address at the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference in the charming town of Corning, New York. Karen gave the wine writers, bloggers and authors several things to think about that will help us improve our writing. One of her suggestions is that we should “know wine well.” This led me to reflect on how Kathy’s and my wine journey led us to “know wine well.”

Experiencing the intermediate level of WSET, I decided to change course on acquiring wine knowledge. By 2008, the next year, focus shifted to making wine. Kathy and I reasoned that if we were going to write about wine, we should make it. We have made wine at home since 2008, as well as making wine at a winery in Virginia, a teaching winery in Maryland and a winery in the country Georgia. While making wine in Virginia and Maryland, we took an online winemaking course through Washington State University. As we learned more about winemaking, we realized that we were ignorant of many things related to viticulture and oenology. However, we also believe that in making wine, we have a better understanding of wines.

When we first started making wine, we learned as much of what not to do as we did of what to do. Starting with a wine kit, our first wine was not quaffable. At that time we spoke with many winemakers who offered suggestions. The wine had a geranium taint. Later I learned what I did to cause this. One of the suggestions was to put a bit of port in a glass then pour the wine. Another winemaker argued, “Why ruin the port.” We decided to break away from wine kits. By 2009, we were making wine at wineries, what a difference! We learned that making wine in small containers was a challenge, a challenge that rings true today when trying to make wine in our 23 liter qvevri. At wineries, we made our wine in barrels. That was actually easier than making wine in vessels that were only a few gallons.

Kathy adding Cabernet Sauvignon to destemmer at Tin Lizzie Wineworks in Clarksville, Maryland

Kathy adding Cabernet Sauvignon to destemmer at Tin Lizzie Wineworks in Clarksville, Maryland

Our winemaking experiences include making wine in glass carboys, oak barrels and qvevri that are buried underground. We brought a small qvevri back with us from the country Georgia and have it buried in our yard at home. After preparing the qvevri for burying, we made our fist vintage of wine in it in 2104. This year we hope to make a Georgian grape variety Rkatsiteli in our qvevri. Qvevri winemaking is an unusual winemaking process that is ancient. There are few wineries in the United States making qvevri wine, although it is beginning to gain popularity in Italy and some other European countries.

We take cleanliness seriously and probably over sanitize and clean. I learned that I react to potassium metabisulfite very quickly, while Kathy can tolerate it. Kathy now does the most of the sanitizing. Equipment does need to be clean. A winemaker told me if there is crud in a container and you sanitize it, you just have sanitized crud. You do not want that in your wine.

We did revisit a kit wine in 2011. But we purchased a high-end expensive kit, and the wine turned out fine. When it comes to kit wines, you get what you pay for. We made other wines at home from scratch including peach wine, mead and two white Cabernet Sauvignons, one with Virginia juice and the other with Maryland juice. We also made a decent second run wine. After pressing our must at a winery, we collected the pomace and added sugar water to it. The grapes were sourced from Stagecoach Vineyards in the Atlas Peak AVA of Napa Valley. The table wine turned out fine with surprisingly dark ruby opaque color and good fruit notes.

We believe our winemaking experiences have given us a different understanding of wine, one that is more scientific and mathematical along with a dose of creativity. There are many avenues that lead to wine knowledge. I am not suggesting that wine writers start making wine to know wine well, but for us, making wine was a road to further our wine knowledge.


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