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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Your Very Own Vintage

Winemaking for beginners

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In viticulture, a great deal of emphasis is placed on the specific geographical and geological characteristics of the vineyard in which the grapes are cultivated because of the flavors they impart to the wine. Given this, there may be some initial skepticism about the virtues of wine made from a kit. The principal ingredient in one of these kits is grape juice made from grapes of the same variety, say Cabernet Sauvignon, which have been destemmed, processed and purified down to juice. Similar to the way cheese is often made from milk produced at different dairies, this grape juice is made from grapes cultivated at different vineyards. Wine made from prepared kits doesn’t have the same sort of pedigree that a wine produced at a traditional vineyard does; but then, it doesn’t try to. Kit wine offers the experience of participating in the winemaking process, learning hands-on how grapes are converted to wine and the satisfaction of drinking the fruit of one’s labor.

Jim and C.J. Wirsching- Neuser, owners of Vines to Cellar Micro-Winery in Port Washington, specialize in on-site winemaking, as well as homebrewing and winemaking supplies. The winery has a quaint, comfortable wine bar where visitors are invited to partake of the retail wines made onsite, either by sample, flight, glass or bottle. If creativity strikes, the Wirsching-Neusers make it easy for burgeoning vintners to take the leap into wine-making territory with their U-Vin experience. Vines to Cellar offers 32 different winemaking kits to make red, white, blush, fruit and dessert wines on-premises, some of which have placed in international wine competitions and have been commended by WineMaker Magazine.

The kits are comprised of grape juice (or other fruit juice—it depends on the type of wine), fining agents, yeasts and other additives, such as oak. Once customers have chosen their wine and how much they want to make (batches range from 3 to 50 gallons), they decide their involvement in the process.

“If customers want, they can come in for each of the steps,” Mr. Wirsching-Neuser explains. “Or they can come in for the first step, which is the start of the wine. Six to eight weeks later, they can come in for the last step, which is bottling the wine. We’ll take care of the rest.”

Step-by-step the Wirsching-Neusers guide winemakers through the entire vinification process, explaining how the equipment works and the general science of fermentation as they go. Once complete, customers have bottles of their own wine dressed in customized labels they design.Prices range from $150 to $270, depending on the variety of wine chosen.

In addition to selling sausage and cheese plates, the Wirsching-Neusers invite customers to bring their dinner to the wine bar or order in while enjoying the wines made on-site. Vines to Cellar is a unique and fun location for private parties, fund-raisers, corporate events and family gatherings. During a wedding shower, for instance, guests enjoy the winery’s selection of house wines and start their own batch of wine to later be uncorked at the wedding. It was this very act that set the Wirsching-Neusers on a path to owning their own micro-winery. Jim had been brewing beer for many years when, in 2001, C.J. suggested they make wine from the pear tree in front of their house to toast with at their wedding. Since then, Jim and C.J. have honed their winemaking skills, joining organizations like the Wisconsin Vintners Association and the Wisconsin Winery Association.

Expect to see Vines to Cellar Micro- Winery at Port Washington’s popular summer festivals, like the Port Pirate Festival in June, the 45th annual Port Washington Fish Day (the world’s largest one-day fish fry) on July 18, and the Maritime Heritage Festival Aug. 14-16.

Vines to Cellar Micro-Winery is located at 114 E. Main St., Port Washington. For more information, call (262) 536-4544 or visit www.vinestocellar.com.

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