A Most Healthful Beverage

Louis Pasteur declared “wine is the most healthful and most hygienic of beverages” and who am I to argue. A number of years ago we started making wine again. We learn something new each vintage, but it takes a long time to determine what we learned. A couple of weeks ago we bottled five gallons of our 2011 Super Tuscan, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. We go with a blend of varietals because we have no control over the grapes and figure this is a way to hedge our luck; we order them from a local wholesale produce company who brings them in from the Central Valley of California.

In the years we make a new wine we have a crush party. After we pick-up the grapes we set up the crusher-destemmer, get everything clean (cleaning is the single most consuming activity), cool down the guest house for proper fermentation, and start lugging 450 pounds or so of grapes to the staging area. Other than that this all happens in mid-September and it is still really hot in Phoenix, it is a great time.

After the grapes are crushed I check the sugar level, always high in sugar, and pH/acidity. Testing the acidity of red wine has been my biggest issue so far. Based on the 2011 vintage I think I am getting better. We recently tried the 2010 and determined it has a ways to go before the acidity calms down, after adding too much acid to balance out the sugars.

The mash starts to ferment after adding the yeast of choice. This happens in large food-grade barrels we use only for wine. After 5-7 days we press the wine, put it in carboys with airlocks, and let that go for maybe 4 months. Every month or so we rack the wine, that is, we transfer the wine to clean new carboys and separate the wine from dead yeast and sediment (grape seeds and skins). After that we transfer the wine to glass carboys where it ages for a couple of years before we bottle some of what we have.

After a couple of years of aging we run the wine through a filter to bottle the wine. We then get out what will be the only Ferrari to ever grace the garage – the bottle corker.


While the 2011 still tastes young, it is coming along very nicely. Now that we have a case or two of the vintage we can sample it easier without risking the whole 5 gallons.



We label our wine and other goods under the Smoketree Cellars name, which is where the name of this blog comes from. It is not for sale as it is only a hobby.


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