Home Wine Making

It all started because I complained to John that I didn't know what to do with "all these plums."

The Orchard

In 1992, Jeff and I moved from Fremont, CA, to the Los Gatos mountains, i.e. Loma Prieta (Bay Area residents may remember the 1989 earthquake centered nearby). The property we bought apparently used to be a commercial orchard, because everybody on our road has lots of fruit trees. Most of the trees on our place are pears. There are about a dozen, old and much abused trees. We have no trouble finding things to do with a gazllion pears. Dehydrated pears are great, and if you cook pears you can get a sauce like applesauce, but much sweeter.

The other most common tree on our place are plum trees. There are about five early variety plums which bear really small fruit. These early plums are very sour and often mistaken for Queen Anne cherries. Then there are four trees which bear dark purple, oblong fruit in mid-August. They're probably prunes, but my dehydrator won't handle whole fruit, so drying them isn't an option. What to do?

John has an Idea

So John says, "Why not make wine out of them? I got my grandfather's crusher and press from when the whole family used to make wine in Brooklyn." John speaks with a wonderful Brooklyn-Italian accent.

"Hmmm..." I said, unwittingly, "I think maybe I should try a test batch before we go to all the trouble of trying it with fresh fruit."

So I asked around, and found Fermentation Frenzy in Mountain View, CA. It's on San Antonio road just south of El Camino. This is a dangerous place, not as dangerous as Tower Records, but definitely addicting. I started by buying their "kit" and a couple of books. After reading both books and realizing that wine making involves the only bit of chemistry that I remember (titration), I tried my first batch.

The beginner's kit comes with one can of varietal concentrate. I had picked a Zinfandel because the guy at the store said reds were easier. I followed all the instructions. Added the yeast. Nothing happened. Nothing continued to happen for a couple of weeks. I tried adding more yeast. No dice. I ended up throwing that batch out. It took me about a month to figure out what had happened...I had used bottled water.

Like most of the mountain residences, we do not have a city water supply. The water out of our well is O.K., but has certain odd properties. For instance, orange juice made with tap water comes out carbonated. Tea made with tap water tastes salty. So I thought that bottled water would be better. Wrong. Most bottled waters have preservatives which prevent fermentation. This is O.K. most of the time, but a Bad Thing if you're making wine.

Back to Fermentation Frenzy. This time I came home with a can of Chablis concentrate. Using water from the reverse osmosis unit, I mixed up a batch of what I called Honey Chablis. This time it worked and a new hobby was born.