Vintage Beacon Circa 2009: Plums to Grapes, A Home Wine Making Experience

Before I knew Steve Martin to be a winemaker I knew him to be a “spinster”.  When we saw each other weekly at a local gym he once took the seat off of my spin bike before class and suggested we do the hour standing.  I took the challenge and survived.

scvbeacon logo squareMy latest visit with Steve was equally challenging.  I was to learn a little about him and his wife’s home wine making experience and take several gallons of potted grape vines home to replant myself.

“I threw some plums in the trash one day.  The next time I had to go to the trash can I was assaulted by the smell of them fermenting and it struck me that I could’ve made wine from those plums.  So, with a fresh batch, and a book, I tried it.”

The book was First Steps in Winemaking by C.J.J. Berry.  A new copy now sits on my desk.

“Then two years ago I started the project of making wine.  I had these really small table grapes that someone suggested I just make wine out of.  Then I did some research, bought some vines and kept them in pots for a year. The Napa vines being what I am currently using.  We have all Cabernet vines, as one grape type means that they will all ripen at the same time and make it easier for us at harvest.”

Our soil is icky,” added his wife Cathy, “But DiMaggio said the ickier the soil the happier the grapes.” (Steve and Cathy have taken DiMaggio Washington’s winemaking classes at College of the Canyons, COC.)

I got an opportunity to try the 18% alcohol Plum wine fortified with sugar as well as their 2007 S & C Estates Cabernet.  I enjoyed the Plum and thought it would work nicely over ice with a slice of lemon and some sushi.  The Cabernet, very young and a first attempt, reminded the Martin’s of the Charles Shaw variety, commonly referred to as “Two Buck Chuck.”

Married in 1976 the Martin’s showed me a couple of other wines they had racked in their long marriage and now winemaking years: 1974 Lantenbach Liebfraumilch and 1976 Chateau Theiuley Bordeaux.  But no sipping there.  It was time for my winemaking lesson and to collect my vines.

“Today is lesson one: When you replant these vines you would pick one branch, ‘rub’ off the rest and remove any green below the trellis every other week to encourage the vine to grow at least two feet on either side.”  Like vineyards across the Napa Valley Steve and Cathy’s vines were in the classic cordon ‘T’ shape.

“All of the energy goes to the vines growing in height so you need to wire them in.  If you want to leave them in the bucket and just choose one shoot to go right and one to go left, choose the longest ones, that would work.”

They also mentioned that since they put their clippings into pots, other clippings that had fallen to the ground grew too, and all had produced grapes.  I was left to wonder if my husband Eddie would really get them into the ground or if our new grapes were going to be harvested from their pots come next year.

Steve is not the first SCV winemaker that I’ve met through my wine writing but he is the closest.  I could have cycled the 6 blocks to his house from mine but I had the excuse that I couldn’t get the plants back that way, and, I was afraid of him taking away my bike seat again.