The rewards and frustrations of home winemaking

Winemaker Magazine Conference 2011

We recently attended the Winemaker Magazine conference in Santa Barbara, California.  It was a two-day conference loaded with seminars covering all aspects of winemaking — wine chemistry, wine kits, growing grapes, fermentation.  We learned a lot of great information to add to our arsenal of winemaking techniques and met several home winemakers from around North America.  We even ran into several San Diego area locals.

The first day we attended “10 Winemaking Techniques You Need to Know” with Daniel Pambianchi and then “Wine Kit Adventures” with Winexpert’s Tim Vandergrift.  Then is was time for lunch out on the patio and a keynote address by Brian Loring of Loring Wine Company, where he talked about the good, bad, and ugly of making wine professionally.  Of course we forgot the lunch would be outside, so we all got pretty nice sunburns!

After lunch it was on to “Wine Kit Q&A” with the ever-entertaining Tim Vandergrift and the more serious Peter Smith from RJ Spagnols.  Things got a little heated in that session, but it was very informative.  Next up was the Hands-on Blending Workshop with Pat Henderson.  Blending trials are always fun, especially with 400 other winemakers in the room!

During a break we got a chance to taste several Cellar Craft wines.  The Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon was outstanding, and the Amarone was also exceptional.  I definitely want to make the Amarone soon.

That evening was the best part — the Wine Swap dinner.  Everyone was invited to bring bottles of their own wine to open up and share.  It was a great night, tasting lots of wines from other winemakers around the country and experiencing different styles of winemaking.

The next day we started up with Daniel Pambianchi again, this time discussing “Adjusting Acid, Mouthfeel, Aroma & Flavor.”  It was a very interesting seminar, as I learned that in other parts of the continent people have trouble getting high enough brix to start their wines, and it actually gets cold enough outside to do cold stabilization on your patio in the winter.  I really do have to disagree with Daniel when he said “never water back your wine” — dude, we sometimes get our grapes at 28 brix!  I don’t really want to be making port.

After Daniel’s seminar was The Wine Wizard Alison Crowe with “Troubleshooting Off-Odors, Off-Flavors, & Off-Colors.”  She is a great speaker, she started out playing “People are strange” with her first slide, then showing my favorite picture of Albert Einstein with his tongue sticking out.  She could relate a little better to the problems California winemakers have, too.

Then it was once again time for lunch.  This time they had the foresight to put out some umbrellas, and we put on sunscreen.  Lunch included a Q&A panel with the Big Five columnists from Winemaker Magazine:  Wes Hagen, Daniel Pambianchi, Tim Vandergrift, Alison Crowe, and Chik Brenneman.  There were a lot of great questions, and as usual there was no single answer.  The theme of the conference seemed to be, “if you ask 5 winemakers how to make wine, you’ll get 12 answers.”  The one thing that did come up was the use of Flextanks, and the panel was not a fan.  They mainly said that the Flextank is not good for holding wine long-term, so now I’d like to get our syrah out of the Flextank as soon as it is oaked enough.

Later that afternoon was another Hands-On Workshop, this time it was Oak Trials with Tim Vandergrift.  I really enjoyed this workshop, it was very interesting to experience the difference between pre-fermentation  and post-fermenation oak additions, and to be able to compare French and American oak treatments side-by-side.  This is an experiment I’d like to do myself.

That evening was the Awards dinner.  Several local winemakers won awards, including a Gold Medal to Ron Bas for his “Bastian Cellars” 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon port, and Mars Muller of Fallbrook won a silver medal for his 2009 Shiraz Noir.  In addition, Micole Moore and Teri Kerns of Ramona Ranch Vineyards were awarded a bronze medal for their 2008 Brunello and a gold medal and Best of Show for their 2009 Zin!  Congratulations to all the winners, and thanks to all of the great presenters and hosts at the conference!