On Finding Wine: Kitty’s First Blog

Blogger, Kitty Follett CVO (Chief Visionary Officer) and wine maker of Bull City Homebrew
Thursday, December 09, 2010

Before doing blogging in earnest, I have to provide some background. If you are short on time and patience, just skip to the last paragraph or two. A word of warning, I hearken back to the days before Webster, when spelling was a creative exercise and only the cow-like masses would stick to a single spelling. I am an artist with the spelled-spelt word. My French spelling is especially atrocious; so, beware. Just sound words out and feel superior if you can spell.

I make wine with the trusty aid of my best friend, partner, and husband, Patrick. Okay, so we make wine. It is a great joy and fun to make it together, bottle it together, and ultimately drink it together and/or with friends. We also find it makes a reliably welcome gift.

The law says we can make up to two hundred gallons per year. I guess that is about 4 to 5 bottles per gallon so maybe nine hundred bottles and change are allowed for each household. We love to push the limits and have discovered that with the wine kits from Bull City Homebrew, not only is it economical and relatively simple to do but it is even more wonderful to drink, more on the drinking part later. By the way, it is illegal to sell or barter with your wine so if you want to earn money, get a second job. If you want to get your picture in “Slammer,” try selling it. You are on your own; I don’t visit the jail.
Wine and I have not always been the best of friends. Oh, we started out alright. My first memory of drinking wine, other than Champagne, was at the Conesus Lake when I was fourteen. My sister and her husband Bob, later to become the famous Bob of Johnny’s Hot Truck (look it up), brought some Chianti and poured it out, rimmed each glass with a lemon twist and it was really cool! The most impressive thing was you could put candles in the bottle and it would look just like in the movies!

The next time of really enjoying a red wine was when I was living in Tehran, Iran when I was twenty. I was staying and working in Tehran and my then husband was in a distant town, Gazvin, working for an Israeli company that was reconstructing and developing an area hard hit by a terrible earthquake. Someone gave me a bottle of Shiraz wine, made in Shiraz, Iran, not Australia or California. It was wonderful and I soon began having a glass every evening after work. I was also dieting at the time and in those days that meant taking some form of prescribed speed. I mean JFK was getting injected with the stuff so what was the harm? It didn’t take me too long to decide one of those things had to go and being twenty and horrified by being fat (again), I picked the wine to say goodbye to. Further, my parents were non-drinkers and even with them 7,000 miles away, I had the specter of Aunt Olive looming in the back of my mind. She and her husband were alcoholics and so I never saw her in my life. I might not have known she existed had her son not been a frequent visitor in my parents’ house. That Shiraz was so good; I hated to give it up.

Years later, while living in California, I was reunited with the joy of drinking wine. Touring the wineries was always a treat. California wines, as we all know, are among some of the world’s best wines. Sorry, Gallo, you are not invited to receive this praise. In my naiveté I gathered from this experience that there were eight kinds of wines in the world: Wines I liked and wines I didn’t like; red-sweet, red-dry; white-sweet, white-dry; rosés dry or sweet. That was my newly acquired level of expertise. Maybe I am stretching the truth a bit on that number as I also remember that previously back in Oregon I had proudly taken two bottles of sparkling Burgundy to a beach picnic once. I really liked the stuff, I mean I had brought plastic wine glasses and everything; but, I had gathered from the rest of the party that I had done something that those in the know never do. So, I should add sparkling wines to the afore mentioned list. Before you judge me too harshly for drinking junk, remember we all have done things in our past that we would like to deny. As Thomas Hardy so wisely said, “The secret lives of any one of us would horrify all the rest of us.” That goes for wine snobs too.

Unfortunately, red wines were giving me headaches so I stuck to whites and rosés. Over the years, I found scotch and gin were more my style, leaving the fruit of the vine for others. Actually, because I had young children I rarely drank at all for about fifteen years. What a waste! Chalk it up to poor parenting on my parents’ part.

Fast forward a few decades. Patrick and I raised my grandchildren for twelve years and when they were approaching their teen years we banned alcohol from our home and our lives for more than six years to demonstrate that one could live life as it happens without drugs and alcohol. It seemed like a good idea at the time and we were going through our Buddhist period.

As the kids were approaching college years, it happened that Patrick’s sister Dee Dee (airline pilot for United now an attorney) and her husband, John (who has since bought a winery) began buying wine kits up in New York and kept telling us how great the home wine making experience could be. This was all just nice talk until they sent us a bottle of their Chianti. It was heaven and there was no hint of a headache for me.

We decided that we had lived in a dry household long enough and began buying wine again. The kids were already indulging in under-age drinking, so why not we figured. Apparently, our modeling of not drinking was about as effective as my parents’ modeling for their five children; we all drank. It was challenging as I found the whites usually too sweet and the reds often gave me headaches. Further, there was the cost. Decent commercial wines are expensive to drink on a regular basis unless you are one of those millionaires who can spend all that tax free money. We don’t fit that description. I discovered Black Box wine and it was not the fabulous wine Dee Dee and John were making but ….

Then, a couple of years ago, I heard a piece on NPR about all the chemicals that are put in wines as preservatives, flavor enhancers, and actually flavor adjusters. I also learned that in the U.S. wineries are not allowed to put anything about their ingredients on the bottle, just the information that it contains sulfites, what they guess the alcohol content is, along with those lies about grandpa grandma looking over the rolling Napa vineyards and lovingly selecting each grape cluster before crafting each and every barrel of their special recipe that had been handed down from St. Peter and so on. Now, I hate to be a conspiracy theorist; but, it seems that this means that a bottle from the actual small winery that makes a beloved pure wine cannot be differentiated from a mass produced bottle of liquid garbage that has been chemically adjusted to taste like Merlot. This protects the big wine businesses from those who truly do make superior wines in their own small winery and add few but the most essential chemicals. To make matters worse still, I discovered that I, or anyone who could afford it (okay not I) could go to a big wine producer and for a price have them make a wine with my label on it that tells all about my small winery in the heart of the Texas wine country where my husband Pablo and I pick only the choicest grapes for our … you get the picture. I stopped buying commercial wine right then.

That’s when we found Nate, current manager and CKO (Chief Knowledge Officer) of Bull City Homebrew. We began making wine and in a month we had twenty-eight bottles of great young wine. Nate suggested we try Bergamais which is Beaujolais Nouveau by another name. Great idea as it is meant to be drunk young. I discovered that it was best for us to have three wines (about 18 gallons) going at a time as we wanted to be able to age wine a little and keep ahead of our joyful and economical experience of drinking homemade wine.

So here we are now in the beer and wine making supply business, a couple thousand bottles (probably but who is counting) later and so much happier for the experience.

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