better way to celebrate retirement than to develop a wine making hobby. Rex makes wine in the garage and is known to
have taken over the kitchen on more than one occasion. Nine years ago he installed a "temporary" cooler made
up of two gorilla racks, heavy insulations boards, an insulated plywood door and a room air conditioner cut into one of the
walls at floor level. It takes up the space where we park one of our cars. Needless to say, the temporary is still there
and the SUV sits in the driveway. We make wine of professional quality but cannot sell it because we don't have a license.
And we don't want one. Rex has even been asked to be the wine-maker at several commercial wineries in the United States,
New Zealand and Australia. But he's not interested. He says it would take the fun out of retirement because it
would then be a job. We have fun with our hobby and appreciate that we can share our wine at charity events such as
the Napa Valley Home Winemakers Classic. This is one of the few events where home winemakers can pour for the
public and donate their wine for the charity auctions. Rex loves to experiment making many types of wine and
Barbara jokes that you don't want to stand too close to him or he'll make wine out of you. (Would you make a dry, semi-sweet,
or sweet wine?) Perhaps his desire to dabble is rooted in his former profession as a chemist. His parents started him
out with a chemistry set when he was ten years old. The story goes that he was experimenting in the cellar trying to
make a firecracher out of magnesium. He lit the fuse but his creation just sat there and glowed. So
he kicked it. The resultant flash reflected out to the neighbor's window and his Mom saw it from the kitchen.
He caught the dickens, but that didn't squelch his passion. He eventually was successful at making his own firecracker.
IT'S NOT A CHEAP HOBBY
Rex started making wine in
Michigan in the 1960's by using whatever he found at hand. He picked dandelions from the local golf course, and fruit
and vegetables from the garden. When he transferred to the San Francisco Bay Area, he partnered with two guys
from work in the 1970's to make red wine. They failed to spend the money to do it right, and the results showed.
It ended up down the drain! The collaboration ended. Rex didn't get back into wine making until 1999, when he
and Barbara visited Thomas Coyne winery in Livermore. Tom told us about the local home winemaker's group and we soon
joined. The rest is history. Rex found his passion (after his wife, of course). To make good home wine,
one must be prepared to spend money for good fruit and processing equipment. Then there's the cost of bottles, corks,
foils, and labels. A good way to get introduced to home wine making is to buy a kit and make a small batch. It
may just ignite your passion! Even though there is an expense to do it right, you can make quality wine for about $5
a bottle that would cost you $100 a bottle to purchase from the winery or a store.
SOURCE OF GRAPES
FOR RED AND WHITE WINE
We do not grow any grapes, unless you want to count the one wild vine on the hill. Several years Rex used the
fruit to make rose' but now we just let the birds and squirrels enjoy them. We source our grapes from various appellations in
the states of California and Washington. In the beginning, we would show up at a vineyard early in the morning, pick
our own grapes, and crush them at the ranch. We'd put the must in 30 gallon garbage cans and carefully drive home
to start fermentation. We also purchased juice from a beer and wine supply store in Berkeley. Eventually
we zeroed in on fresh fruit and treated ourselves to having someone else pick the grapes. Then we would crush
them at the vineyard and immediately press the juice away from grapes if we were going to make white wine. In the
photograph, Rex and our friends the Abbanats work to get Gewurztraminer juice. It's a lot of hard and sticky work.
We've also been known to bring fresh grapes home and turn a hand-crank to crush them. When Barbara won several kits
as prizes for her labels, Rex found that this was a way to get grape juice from international wine regions such
as South Africa, New Zealand, Italy, Germany, and Australia. One of his favorite kits is amarone from Italy.
It comes with dried grapes to emulate the process he saw in 2000 when staying at the villa owned by Dante Alighieri's
family. Dante had stayed in the villa and his son eventually purchased it. It's been in the
Alighieri family since the 1300's. A side-note is that we stayed in the tower!
SOURCE OF FRUIT FOR
has developed a reputation for making outstanding dessert wine. We have two elephant heart plum trees in our backyard
(pictured) and our neighbor has one. Between these three trees he can always count on having enough fruit for the plum
wine. As you can see, this variety does not have a thick truck and Rex ends up propping up the branches before
we can harvest. In 2010, we had to go out and buy a small freezer to hold the bumper crop! We also get
frozen berries from Monterrey County at the local farmer's market and fresh peaches whenever we can beg them from friends.
Fruit for our prize-winning peach wine came from Mom's peach tree. Sadly, she passed in 2006 and the house and
tree are no longer in the family. Rex also uses kit wines to make some interesting combinations like chocolate-raspberry
port and orange-chocolate port. It's fun to watch people who profess not to like dessert wine change their mind
when they taste what Rex has made. The elephant heart plum continues to win top awards, the latest being Best of Show Other
at the 2015 California State Fair.