Friendly people, grapes, social events, great food and wine!
Come join one of the most vibrant, award winning and educational clubs in the province – Nanaimo Winemakers. If you are a lover of wine and want to explore the many possibilities of home wine making, then joining a wine club is the fastest, friendliest and most fun way to produce your own award winning wine.
Don’t believe me? Then read on with this article courtesy of “My Van City” and Sam The Wine Teacher.
WINE WEDNESDAY – Wine Making Clubs
by Sam The Wine Teacher
As the end of September approaches, many men and women are busy checking their supplies, checking last year’s notes, cleaning equipment and getting ready for the upcoming harvest. Who are these people? They are home winemakers who are eagerly awaiting the arrival of this year’s grapes. Some have put their orders in months ago while others wait to see what the new season brings.
As a winemaker, what I like about wine making is that it is the perfect blend of art and science. You need to be fastidiously clean, take accurate measurements and be precise in all you do. Then, just when you start to think you’ve learned a lot and have it down pat, Mother Nature deals you a new hand and you have to learn new ways to deal with what you’ve got. There’s a lot of grunt work involved in making wine and most of it involves, washing, washing and more washing. But the end result makes it all worthwhile.
Some people make wine strictly on their own (not an approach I recommend), while others have wine buddies or belong to wine making clubs spread around the province. There are wine clubs in Belcarra, Chilliwack, Coquitlam, Kamloops, Langley, Nanaimo, North Vancouver, Vancouver and Victoria to name the major ones. The benefits of belonging to such a club are many: access to more experienced winemakers, mentorship programs, meetings with guest speakers from the industry, access to better quality grapes, group pricing on supplies such as corks, barrels, bottles, equipment and supplies. In addition, annual competitions further help to improve skills and overall quality by helping winemakers avoid ‘cellar palate’, which means the more you drink your own wine, the more you get accustomed to it and the more you like it, no matter what the equality. Competitions, and tasting others’ wines, help winemakers to ‘keep it real’.
These winemaking clubs belong to an umbrella provincial organization, the BC Amateur Winemakers’ Association, or BCAWA, which helps to coordinate individual competitions and the provincial competition as well as offering training programs from time to time. They are also the liaison between individual clubs and the national organization, the Amateur Winemakers of Canada. Individual clubs always welcome new members or to anyone who is curious about finding out more about winemaking. To contact any of these clubs, visit the BCAWA web site at http://www.bcawa.ca/
The term ‘amateur’ should, in no way, suggest anything inferior or second rate. These men and women are not making ‘plonk’ wine. The term ‘amateur’ simply means that you are not paid for what you do. After all, Olympic athletes are ‘amateurs’. It is true of course, that not all home winemakers (amateurs) have the same level of skill. There are those who are new to winemaking and are just learning their craft (does the learning ever end?) and those who are much more experienced, who make wines that are far better than what most people buy at their local LDB. Home winemakers pursue their passion for the enjoyment of it, and yes, having a ready selection of wine in your wine cellar, for the enjoyment of friends and family is a big plus. Need I say that home winemakers tend to have a LOT of friends?
For many years, I was a member of the Vancouver Amateur Winemakers’ Association (VAWA). At that time, we were one of the biggest clubs in Canada. As such we were able to attract many amazing guest speakers – university experts on yeast strains, barrel makers and commercial winemakers from the BC and the United States – Joel Ravenswood, Sandra Oldfield, Howards Soon, Christine Leroux and the late Frank Supernak to name just a very few. What always surprised me was at some point in their presentation, they would mention that they were envious of those of us in the audience. These professionals, these well-known gurus of the wine world were envious of us lowly amateurs? But as they explained, it all made sense. Home winemakers can make whatever wine, in whatever style they want. Commercial winemakers are, for the most part, driven by the market. If the market wants sweet Rieslings, you may not sell much of your excellent dry Riesling. If the public demands a return to flabby fizzy fruity wines with cute animal names, then that’s what you’d better make, even though you’ve got a great site for Pinot Noir. Home winemakers only have to please themselves.
Home winemakers do not have accountants involved in their winemaking decisions. No one is going to say, “Get that red out of the barrel and bottle it now. You need the cash flow.” Commercial winemakers sometimes do. Home winemakers don’t have to be concerned with competitive price points. They don’t need to cut any corners due to time or financial constraints. That’s not always true for those involved with a business.
Home winemakers have greater freedom to experiment. Instead of twenty-five gallons all fermented with the same yeast, why not try five different yeasts in five smaller containers to see the differences. Oak a Riesling? Sounds crazy but let’s try it on a small batch and see what happens. The possibilities are endless. And if the results are less than ideal, you’ve still learned a lot. A commercial winemaker has a reputation to protect and financial risks to consider. Their experiments have to be small scale and well calculated.
Every winemaker has to start somewhere and for most of us, it involved a kit wine and we were thrilled when it turned out to be drinkable. With the increased costs of housing, fewer people are able to afford houses and their accompanying basements and garages. More people now live in basement suites, apartments, condos and townhouses, with little if any room to pursue winemaking as a hobby. (However, I know of one of the better winemakers in the Vancouver area who makes excellent wines in his spacious older apartment. Where there’s a will there’s a way, I suppose). This lack of space led to the rise of U Brew establishments. They have the room and the equipment. The quality of their products, mostly kits, some juice and some use of oak, has definitely improved over the years and many people are happy with the results and have no reason to take it further. No problem. My number one rule is “Drink what you like.”
Others lose satisfaction with kits after a while and move on to using buckets of juice. Later, they decide to move on to using fresh grapes. Some find it best to work with a partner or a group to share the cost of equipment and the work involved.
The learning never stops and the rewards can be great, especially when you realize that your own wines taste better than many of those you used to buy. So join in with all winemakers, the amateurs and the professionals everywhere and raise a glass of your favourite wine to toast the new harvest.