My stepson and daughter-in-law, who live down in the Santa Cruz Mountains, signed up for one of those try-a-condo promotions in Las Vegas for the middle of September, and my wife Nancy and I said we’d stay with their kids while they did their fling. Turned out, of course, that when mid-September came, I had grapes up the wazoo, as well as in the garage, in all states of fermentation and neediness. I couldn’t go more than a few blocks from home for more than a few hours; which meant that while the parents were off in Lost Wages, Nancy was down in Boulder Creek with the grandkids, and I was home tending to the grapes and the cat.
But on the weekend, Nancy and the grandkiddies—Mateo (10) and Ella (7)—came up to Berkeley and spent Friday night here. Which gave me the chance to introduce Te and Ella to the joys of winemaking, starting with draining off a bit of juice from the Petite Sirah that had just landed that afternoon for a mongrel rosé blend. The kids and I ran cupfuls of Petite (crushed four hours earlier) through a sieve into a gallon jug, tossing the grapes back into the fermenter. And later that evening, there was Te on the phone with his Daddy, explaining how they had helped Papa Tim make rosé—very matter-of-fact.
Saturday morning, after a fortifying breakfast of corn pancakes and sausage, we all headed out to the driveway to press 200 pounds of Syrah that had come in a week earlier. The kids took turns dumping grape slush into the basket press, and watched the baby wine flow down into a bucket, and then get dumped into a five-gallon carboy. After we got into a rhythm, I dipped a glass into the new wine so all of us could have a taste. I reassured Te and Ella that it would be OK for them to take a sip, and they did; and with all the alcohol, dead yeast, and fermentation stink, they were naturally not all that thrilled with the results. (I thought the Syrah tasted really promising.) And then Te said, “It doesn’t taste very good now, but I know my palate is young, so when I’m older, I’ll probably like wine.”
Keep these grandkids!
After the free run wine ran free, it was time to apply some pressure to this pressing. First we did it with our hands, then by placing wood on top and standing on it, then finally by cranking up the ratchet gear.
As the cake of pressed grape skins got drier and drier, the ratchet got harder and harder to work, and I kept expecting the little folks to be defeated by the laws of Nature—but not on your life! I couldn’t believe the energy and determination Ella put into the ratchet job; these guys had become official cellar rats.
So we finished up, and cleaned up, and Nancy drove them both back down to Boulder Creek to meet up with their parents, and I was left alone again with the cat. But this is as good as home winemaking gets: pressing grapes in your driveway with your grandkids.