Make your own wine (it's not what you think)

Just about anyone who loves wine with any degree of seriousness starts thinking, at one point or another, that it would be great to make their own wine. There are those who will pick up demijohns and buckets of must and all that and produce their own Château Moi, with highly varying degrees of success. My father-in-law makes a very decent white wine. I’m not quite as enthralled by his red.

Anyway, there are other options out there. You could, for instance, buy your own vineyard, with a house and all the equipment you need. If you have half a million dollar or more, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. But then, of course, don’t forget that you’ll have to do all the vineyard work – and there is a lot of that. Oh. And sell the wine, too…

On the other hand, you could decide to go the luxurious and exclusive way, with a lot of pampering, instead of vine pruning and compost shoveling, and sign up for Cliff Lede Vineyards‘ BYOB program. It’s a three-day, all expenses paid, limousine-driven, luxury hotel (the impressive Poetry Inn), gastronomical experience where you get to spend time in the vineyards and the cellar with the winery owner and his winemaker, creating your own blend from lots that are reserved for the winery’s signature wine, Poetry (retail value: 120$ per bottle). Pretty darn cool.

By tasting the various lots, you get a chance to personalize your blend, which will then age for a year before being bottled (10 cases) and shipped directly to your home. You’ll have to shell out 20,000$, and only five couples can sign up for the program, a couple of times per year. Created in 2004, the program has really taken off: 2008 is already booked, so you’ll have to reserve for 2009, and wait until 2010 to drink your own bottle of Poetry.

If that’s your thing, the contact info for the winery can be found here.

My favorite approach, though, is Crushpad, a personalized winery service. Why? Because it provides the most options and potentially the best return on your investment. You choose grapes from a series of producers associated with the Pad, specify your preferences in winemaking (pressing, yeasts, barrels, etc.), and after the wine has aged long enough for your taste, you have it bottled and get your cases shipped to you. Since the facility is based in San Francisco, they have access to a lot of good grapes, which can be brought back to the cellar in a good condition . You can let the team do their thing, or you can get involved at various steps: crush your own grapes, help with the bottling, etc.

The site is worth checking out even if you’re not really thinking about making your own wine, if only for what they call the Crushpad 30. It’s a list of thirty questions relating to options in winemaking, from choosing the varietal to whether you should filter or fine the wine, and everything in between. It’s a great primer on the numerous possibilities of the winemaking process: maybe everything starts in the vineyards, but there’s a lot of different roads to travel between the bunch and the bottle.

The minimum amount is a barrel, which makes for 25 cases, and costs between 4,500$ and 9,000$. If you have a group of friends who love wine, it can be a very viable option. And it’s cheaper than buying your own vineyard. The program is open to individuals or commercial enterprises: say you own a restaurant and you’d like your own special cuvée with a custom label, they look like the place to go.

The web site shows a great attitude and sense of humor (suggesting, for instance, that a wine barrel is cheaper than having another kid – and that the barrel doesn’t talk back), and the guys seem to know what they’re doing. I haven’t tasted the final results, but I have to admit, it all looks pretty good. I’ll have to go and visit, next time I head out west.

By the way, if you’re into the idea, do keep in mind that the allocation process for the 2008 harvest will begin in mid-March. Which gives you almost a month to figure out if you want some Sonoma pinot noir, some Washington State merlot or some Central Coast roussanne. Or could you do a blend? Hmmmm…. Let me think…

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