I am often asked while tending the White Squirrel Winery tasting room, “How did this all begin”? And because time passes so quickly or because I honestly forget , the questions cause me to pause , “Was that last year, or the year before… when was it”? There are no books or maps written to help direct or navigate the course I chose. Home Winemaking for dummies was an early read but fell short as I progressed.
Why I did it, and what moved me to do it, I have no idea, but in my late 20’s I ordered my first home winemaking kit. It included a 5-gallon plastic bucket and lid, an air-lock, a #10 can of grape concentrate, wine yeast, various chemicals and an instruction sheet (eckraus.com) Beginning to end, it took about four months of fermenting, racking, fining and then bottling. I anxiously shared with friends and received comments like, “Not bad,” and, “That’s pretty good”. The process seemed pretty easy, and with my past success, I ordered another kit and started two more batches.
what was I thinkin
After taking the easy road and making mediocre wine using various grape concentrates, in 1999 I planted my first 50 vines. And, because I liked the name, the first varietal I planted was a French-hybrid called Chancellor. Aside from growing a Muscadine and Concord, this was my first attempt to grow an actual wine grape. I was inundated with mold, fungus, insects and rot. A visit from the local agriculture extension office pointed out that my trellis was wrong, the vine spacing was wrong and the direction the vines were planted in was wrong.
the harder I work, the luckier I get
“The harder I work, the luckier I get“, is a quote my grandfather Charles Sanderson always threw out at me. At times, it was discouraging but more often focused my drive. And in this case, I would not be deterred. I pulled up the vines and started all over. In the next year or so, I bought a small wine press, a grape crusher, and a 30-gallon stainless steel tank, and continued to make wine with my new Steuben grapes and blackberries. And now, 30-years later, I still use the grapes from those vines and that 30-gallon tank. But this was only the beginning.