Details: making your own wine.
This was the do-it-yourself winery and winemaking school called Tin Lizzie Wineworks, a playground of sorts for vinophiliacs who aren’t satisfied just drinking the stuff. I joined seven of them for their first hands-on lesson, an adventure that will culminate a year from now when they will be able to pour a glass for their friends and say, “I made this.”
DIY winemaking graduated from the basement to the winery in 2004, when Crushpad opened in San Francisco for thirsty Californians eager to learn the trade without first earning an enology degree or investing in a winery. Crushpad, which has since moved its main operation to Sonoma, has opened a satellite facility in Bordeaux, France.
Two home-grown operations, Tin Lizzie in Maryland and Vint Hill Craft Winery in Virginia, have brought the Crushpad model to the Washington area.
On first impression, Tin Lizzie resembles a garage that might house three or four of the Model T’s for which the winery is named. About a third of the facility is a modest, temperature-controlled barrel room with enough space for 32 barrels. The rest of the place holds a jumble of equipment, including a grape crusher, a few kettle-drum-size fermentation bins and an 80-year-old hand-cranked wine press, the prized possession of Tin Lizzie owner Dave Zuchero. The press belonged to his grandfather, a home winemaker in the Italian American tradition. Zuchero, 57, a full-time consultant in the pharmaceutical industry, earned a winemaking certificate from the University of California-Davis before opening Tin Lizzie in 2008.
The group was there to collaborate on a barrel of zinfandel. Zuchero explained that it would take 20 of those crates, called “lugs,” each holding about 36 pounds of grapes, to make enough juice to fill a 53-gallon American oak barrel. (French barrels typically hold 59 gallons.)
He produced a small device called a refractometer, used to measure the sugar content of grapes. He plucked a zinfandel berry from the nearest lug, crushed it and smeared the juice on a glass slide at one end of the device, then held the other end to his eye, pointing off in a direction where he thought the sun might be.
“Perfect!” he said. “Twenty-four brix. That should give us about 13 percent alcohol.”
The group took turns tumbling lugs of grapes into the crusher and watched as the turgid, foamy juice (called “must”) collected in a fermenting bin. Zuchero then measured out some enzymes designed to help fix the color of the wine and stabilize it during fermentation, while the others examined a catalogue of yeasts. His customers chose one designed to produce a big red wine. They stirred the must and added oak chips and sulfites to the soupy mess. Then the bin was capped to ferment for a week before being pressed off the grape skins and pumped into a barrel.