"Fruit of the vine and work of human hands." From Greek Gods and Roman mythology, fairy tales, myth, legend and folklore, biblical narratives, secular festivals, religious celebrations and rituals, wine and the art of winemaking have held a prominent place in the history of civilization.
Even today, the art of winemaking continues to fascinate us "mere mortals," as it once did for our ancestors who lived centuries ago.
Though the process of winemaking has advanced technically from ages past, there is still something intriguing about the art of winemaking and the fermentation process — where sugars are converted to ethyl alcohol. For some wine connoisseurs, the result of this fermentation process makes food more delicious and appetizing and reputedly even more nutritious. Recent scientific studies seem to confirm what many cultures have always known: wine, in moderation, is good for the heart and may actually contribute to one's good health. And the good news — anyone can make wine at home, with excellent results. Which may be why the art of wine making fascinates so many people.
Bret Neal, owner of Stoney Mesa Winery and vineyards in Cedaredge, recommends a prepackaged equipment starter kit that has all the necessary basic equipment, and a wine ingredient kit to begin making wine at home. While starter kits may vary, a typical kit includes a five-gallon bucket used for fermenting, a sealable lid drilled for an air lock, a rubber stopper, a long handled spoon, a thermometer, a five-gallon bottle for aging and clearing, a siphon tube, sanitizing powder, a hydrometer and a crown capper.
Neal explained that the air lock is a vital component for wine and beer makers. During the fermenting process, carbon dioxide is given off. The air lock is a one-way valve designed to allow the gas to vent while not allowing oxygen to enter the container. Neal said alcohol exposed to oxygen turns to vinegar, spoiling the batch.
Wine kits typically contain a blend of grape concentrate, grape juice and sugar, a packet of yeast, a packet of stabilizer, a packet of finings or clarifier and instructions.
When asked about health hazards when making wine at home, Neal said most of those concerns are exaggerated since no known human pathogens can grow in wine.
Neal said most people can make an excellent wine from a kit at home if they follow a few simple guidelines — paying special attention to cleanliness in the work area and sanitization (bottles need to be clean and sanitized).
But for Neal (aka – "The Wine Dude") the agricultural science for growing the right grapes and the technical knowledge needed to produce outstanding award-winning wines (like Stoney Mesa) for local and regional distribution requires a lot more expertise than the average home wine-making hobbyists need. It also requires an understanding of some of the finer points that the hobbyist does not need. Neal said that after nearly 23 years of making wine, "I am just now starting to understand the intricacies and science of wine making [known as oenology]."
In 1989 Neal bought 50 acres of land on Bull Mesa and in 1990 planted two acres of grapevines. "I knew absolutely nothing about growing a vineyard or making wines," he laughed, "but the Colorado wine industry was a burgeoning industry and this was a unique opportunity."
Neal said it takes three to five years (depending on the variety of grape, soil condition, irrigation and climate) for a vineyard to produce the quality of grapes needed to be turned into good wine. The expertise needed for producing an exceptional wine (e.g.–being able to pick out the right grapes for the particular area in which the grapes are planted and maintaining a controlled temperature range for fermentation), is essential. At the Stoney Mesa vineyard, the variety of grapes grown include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Riesling and some hybrids.
It also requires that the winemaker has an in-depth understanding of the aging process, what kind of barrels to use, the blending process, whether to use natural or cultured yeasts, knowing and maintaining the acid and Ph levels, and more. "It's more science than art," said Neal.
One of Colorado's oldest wineries, Neal said Stoney Mesa Winery has been a pioneer in the production of wine grapes and winemaking in Colorado. "It is kind of hard to think back to when it all started," said Neal, "two acres of grapes [with] about 500 gallons of total production."
According to Neal, the winery started in a small outbuilding on the property that was remodeled for winemaking. It was quickly outgrown, and in 1997, ground was broken on a new building. This building is now mainly red wine production and bottling. A building which contains the barrel room, as well as the white wine room was added in 2000, and in 2009 the winery reached a capacity of 13,500 gallons, not counting barrels. Today, depending on the weather, Stoney Mesa produces between 2,500 to 4,000 cases of wine per year.
The modern facility produces nine different wines —Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, a dessert wine (port), a red blend (RoJo Del Mesa) and a white blend (Blanca) — utilizing proven Old World techniques with modern equipment, gentle fruit handling, temperature controlled fermentation, and small lot red wine production.
"Red wine is the cornerstone of a good winery," explained Neal, adding that "blends" (wines made by using several variety of grapes) are the most artistic part of wine making, giving voice to the winemaker. For Neal, that "voice" means growing wine naturally, in harmony with nature and the environment.
Always willing to share his knowledge and expertise with those interested in making wines, either as a hobby or as a business, Neal has this advice, "Start by buying grapes from other vineyards. Growing grapes is not an easy thing to do. The last couple years have been hard [due to the unseasonably cold winters] but this year has been good, so far. Take notes, learn from your mistakes and accept the fact that you will screw up some batches."
According to Neal, the hardest part in the whole process "is selling the product," adding, "and, what sells is not always the best wine."
According to Neal, Colorado wineries are viewed as a "maverick wine industry" by California growers. "It's a tough, extremely competitive business," he said, "difficult to be successful and not for the faint of heart."
The winery and tasting room, located at 16199 Happy Hollow Road in Cedaredge, are open daily from 11 a.m until 5:00 p.m. For more information call 856-9463.blog comments powered by Disqus