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Do it yourself wine?

Delicato offers tips for amateur winemakers

Do it yourself wine?

Delicato Tasting Room manager and self-appointed home winemaking guru Richard Foote regales a class on the finer points of home winemaking.

POSTED August 31, 2010 11:24 p.m.

Home brewers are a dime a dozen these days. But home winemakers?

“There’s not that many home winemakers,” admitted Richard Foote, Delicato Tasting Room manager and self-appointed home winemaking guru.

The reason is simple: winemaking takes time. Where a batch of beer can be bottled and ready to drink in a weekend, it takes a year to transform grape juice into Cabernet Sauvignon.

“You have to be a little bit more patient, and also you’re more limited,” Foote said.

And there’s the other rub. Beer enthusiasts can find a recipe, buy some ingredients, and make a passable imitation of just about any beer on the market, from Anchor Steam to Miller High Life.

Home winemakers can’t just decide to make a bottle of Opus One, they’re limited by the grapes they have access to. And, as wine is all about the grapes, a bottle of homemade wine will rarely reach the heights of the finest commercial products.

So if it takes a year to make and you’ll never make a truly top shelf product, why make wine in the first place?

“It’s very rewarding to be able to drink something that you made,” Foote said.

Foote should know, having been in the wine business for 22 years.

Foote got the itch to make his own wine in his first week at the Delicato Tasting Room, when a gentleman came to the counter holding an airlock – an essential winemaking component for secondary fermentation. Foote was “ticked off” he didn’t know what it was, so he started reading winemaking books and enrolled in a introductory course at San Joaquin Delta College.

What he learned is that making wine isn’t too difficult, even if it is a long process.

These days, he looks to share his winemaking knowledge with the scores of customers who visit the tasting room from around the state. Foote holds two winemaking seminars a year at the Delicato Tasting Room, imparting as much knowledge as he can to a horde of eager wannabe winemakers.

“You’re trying to cram a four-year degree into two hours,” Foote said. “It’s hard to do.”

The class is designed for both first-timers and those who might have tried winemaking before, though a crucial mistake resulted in a so-so final product. Because of the broad appeal of the class, Foote delves into everything from equipment to chemistry, providing all the tips you could need to make a drinkable bottle of wine.

In brief, the process consists of crushing the grapes, adding some yeast, and allowing the wine to ferment as you gradually re-“rack” the wine to remove sediment. The process is really that easy, though – as always – the difficulty lies in the finer points of things like pH, acid, and sugar levels.

Beginners can keep things simple, Foote said, and end up with a good product. For an even easier starting point, new winemakers can forego the crushing stage by purchasing some readymade juice from Delicato, on sale from Sept. 25 through Oct. 3. And, based on the way this year’s crop of grapes are turning out due to the unusually cool summer, there’s a good chance this year’s end product could end up the best in recent memory.

Those who really want to play winemaker have myriad options, however. They can add oak chips for flavor, control malo-lactic fermentation, and carefully regulate the temperature of their fermenting concoction with aquarium heaters.

The two most important things for aspiring winemakers to know, though, is to prevent oxygen from getting into contact with the wine by topping off during fermentation and to keep their winemaking equipment clean.

“I see some of the containers they put their wine into,” Foote said. “I wouldn’t put pond water in them.”

Just by following those simple tips anyone can make a great wine, Foote said – though it may not turn out quite as well as his personal best, a Monterey Coast Petit Syrah he made with his daughters.

 “If you clean your stuff and make sure your containers are full during secondary fermentation, you’re probably going to end up with a pretty good product,” Foote said.

The Delicato Tasting Room, located at Highway 99 and French Camp Road near Manteca, will host a second home winemaking seminar, covering the same items as the first seminar, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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