Vintage me, 2004
Drinking wine was something Anna Randall was quite good at, but making it was another story. "I knew that there are grapes and then there's a bottle filled with wine, but the middle was magic," says the 49-year-old graphic designer. That was before the Bacchus Winemaking Club (bacchuswinemakingclub.com) opened last month in San Carlos, Calif. Now, an old-vine zinfandel is aging in barrels waiting to become "Emphasis on DeWine," in homage to Randall's company, "Emphasis on Design."
Bacchus Winemaking Club is one of a bunch of new businesses offering novices a chance to design their very own vintage. "You don't need to try to do this in your basement," founder Dominick Chirichillo says. "We've got all the equipment you couldn't afford. Plus, you get your name on it." Randall could buy wine for less--her 72 bottles will average $12 each--but that's not the point: "The attraction was learning about the process."
Randall is getting a crash course in the basics, from the kind of grape to the pressing, the fermentation, and the labeling. But Bacchus handles the chemistry and daily tasks like punching down (pushing the grape mush into the juice).
Many make-your-own wineries keep it simple. Vintner's Cellar (vintnerscellar.com), a North American chain with nine U.S. shops (and more on the way), has customers add yeast to juice concentrates in a plastic pail. Six weeks later they return to bottle the finished product ($135 and up for 25 bottles). Even more hands off are clients at Su Vino Winery (suvinowinery.com), in Grapevine, Texas. They pick preferences while tasting samples and then can play with label designs until it's time to bottle (about $6 each) three months later.
Crushpad, a do-it-yourself winery launched last month in San Francisco (crushpadwine.com), lets you get more involved, if you wish. A customer begins with a "goal profile" involving 30 decisions about ripeness, sugar level, fermentation, and more, aided by five skilled winemakers (including one who's snagged 95-point reviews in Wine Spectator ). Prices are a bit high--$9 to $15 a bottle--but restaurants and clients from Japan have signed on.
When the grapes come in from the vineyards, the clients sort and taste the fruit before it gets destemmed and crushed--sometimes by foot. "For white wine, foot stomping is encouraged," says founder Michael Brill. "It looks archaic, but it's very efficient." After the fermentation, they can come back to track the wine's progress as it ages--usually for eight to 24 months. "It starts as this weird alcoholic something," he says. "But every time you taste it, it gets better."
At least, you'd better hope so. It has your name on it.
This story appears in the September 27, 2004 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.