I got into wine making due mainly to my friend Chris. He made 2 batches of wine last year (a merlot and a cabernet) and talked it up so much that I decided to get in on the action. It helps that not only am I a biochemist, but I also live very close to Napa and Sonoma and the lesser known but still delicious Amador County, both of which have literally tons of the best wine grapes available growing there. Chris got me hooked up with the Sacramento Home Winemakers club here in Sac, which is a loose collection of wine makers who meet once a month to taste and talk about wine. The club always does what they call a project wine, in which they purchase a huge amount of grapes from a local vineyard (this year was Oakstone in Amador County) and sell them to the club members at a discount price.
But I'm getting ahead of myself a bit here. As I stated, Chris was really the impetus I needed to get moving and start with the wine making, but I've been a wine fan for about 5 years now, ever since Brian and I started dating. Brian is into wine. Really into wine. Like has-a-subscription-to-Wine-Spectator, bought-one-wine-fridge-then-upgraded-to-a-bigger-one-over-the-course-of-us-dating, does-the-whole-swirl-smell-taste-(but not spit, thank goodness)-thing wine snob. He's also into buying things. I don't mean useless, frivolous things, but more "I need a tool to do this job, so I'm just going to buy it, even if it's kind of expensive and I'll just use it once and then never again"-type things. So combining these two qualities, it wasn't so much surprising that I started wine making, but more that he hasn't started it. Fortunately for me, he has a ton of hobbies to keep himself occupied, so he's content to let me handle the wine making while he tends his garden, installs trim in the house, works on the cars, and cooks and bakes. For now.
Anyway, once I decided, with the combined pressure of Brian and Chris, to make wine and had a reliable source lined up for really good grapes, it was time to do some research. I bought a book on wine making, and had numerous discussions with Chris as to what equipment I would need to procure. When he made his batches last year, he borrowed equipment from his former neighbors, which was great for him, but not so good for me. I started talking over dinner about how I was going to need to find a press and a corker and some carboys and a fermenter and a pH meter and on and on until Brian finally told me to just go and buy what I needed. I looked at him like he had lost his mind--some of this stuff is really pricey--but he assured me that if he can go and buy a miter saw that he's going to use to install trim one time, I could certainly buy wine making equipment that I could use for years to come. So I did.
I ended up finding 3 really good sources for equipment: for the press, the carboys, the carboy caps (a whole blog entry on its own!), the corker and various other wine-specific supplies, I used Midwest Supplies: Homebrewing and Winemaking; for the general use, non-food-safe items I used Home Depot; and for the food-safe fermenter and other items that would come into contact with the wine but weren't necessarily wine-specific I used CRESCO Restaurant Equipment and Supply. Lastly, and in its own separate category, I purchased my yeast, malolactic bacteria and corks from The Brewmeister in Folsom. Not to sound too much like a commercial here, but Midwest Supplies was fantastic. They have a wide selection of wine making equipment (as well as beer making supplies), and they are very quick in getting the products to you (shipping from Minnesota to California took on average a week). Their customer service is great too--I had a package not make it to me, and they sent another out the same day at no cost to me. Plus they have those great Minnesota accents! And not one thing they sent me was incorrect or broken. Which brings me to a place I do not recommend: The Lab Supply Depot. I ordered my hydrometers from them, thinking that they specialize in laboratory instrumentation so they would certainly be able to get delicate glassware to me with no problems. Wrong! All 3 of the packages they tried to send the hydrometer to me in were completely bent and twisted. Part of that can be blamed on UPS--they should have been more careful--but mostly it was the shipper's fault for not wrapping the delicate glassware carefully enough and for not using sturdier boxes. And, incidentally, after the second package came containing a broken hydrometer I ended up ordering one from Midwest Supplies and it got there quickly and in one piece. I really can't recommend Midwest enough.
I think I'll stop this entry here, and save the early stages of wine making for the next one (which will include pretty pictures--I'll try not to make future posts such a wall of text). I should note that, for now anyway, this is a look back at the early stages of wine making that have already occurred--I was so busy with the must (crushed grapes) when I first got it that I didn't have a chance to write everything down. I'll catch up to myself soon enough, though, and then we'll go through this together!