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Making Wine: Reflections From a Homebrewer’s 2nd Wine Season – Part 1

Part 1: What to Do with 7 Gallons of Cabernet Franc?


I’m Rob. You may have met me if you’ve wandered back to the Draft counter for CO2 refills or for help with your setting up, upgrading, or troubleshooting your draft system. I was a cook and a chef for 20 years before I switched over to working in the world of beer. I started working at Steinbart’s in June of 2019 after my position at a commercial brewery was downsized/eliminated for budget reasons. So 2019 was my first wine season at Steinbart’s

I’ve enjoyed drinking wine much longer than I have enjoyed drinking beer, which is funny, since beer became my career after I retired as a chef for physical and family reasons. I hated beer in college. It turns out that what I really didn’t like at the time was domestic lagers. I found that malty craft ales, preferably on the higher ABV scale, were much more my style and my entry into beer exploration. I’ve been homebrewing for seven years now, with a year and half or work in a professional brewery and going on a year and a half now as a Steinbart Draft Technician.

I started off drinking mostly white wine: Rieslings and and other sweeter varieties. I eventually transitioned into mostly drinking reds, with their added layers of complexity and body once I developed a pallet for their more tannic aspect. After meeting my wife, I was introduced to the weekly wine group she had been a part of for years. The kind of group where people would show up at the wine shop and order some food and the week’s flight of wines, and then line up several bottles brought from people’s wine cellars as “the extras” for everyone to taste. Between that opportunity to sample so many different wines each week (and ones that were a bit out of my own more limited price range), and nine years of working at an Italian inspired restaurant where I would run down the wine lists with the bartenders, owners, and the executive chef, my pallet and wine knowledge increased greatly.

But only from a consumer’s standpoint. I really didn’t know all that much from a vintner’s perspective on how the wine was actually made. I mean, I understood on a very general sense, but only very general. I had a wonderful French chef at culinary college, who was a Sommelier at one of the big downtown hotels in Denver, cover a lot of the background of grape varietals, wine regions, etc., but I didn’t really know much about the mechanics and the chemistry involved in the process.

Which meant that last wine season, when someone forfeited their deposit on 100 pounds of Cabernet Franc grapes, I jumped at the opportunity to switch from a more theoretical/book knowledge of how to make wine to try and actually go from grapes to bottle. I had some help from some other staff members that had plenty of wine experience. I ended up with over eight and a half gallons of juice after pressing, which I fermented with two packets of Vintner’s Harvest R56 – Full Bodied Red yeast. That turned into a 6 gallon carboy, two 1 gallon jugs, and a 1/2 gallon jug for secondary fermentation. There were some learning experiences along the way, like the fact that filling the carboys all the way up to the neck was great for limiting the surface area susceptible to air exposure, but not so great when you realize that you didn’t leave enough room to get two packs of malolactic yeast in with the wine before you got that far up the neck (if you didn’t add malolactic while the grapes were still on the skins). After racking off of the sediment, I now have a 6 gallon carboy full up to the vent bung, which means probably six and a half to seven gallons of wine ready to bottle. Most people bottled back in the spring or summer, but I have a one-and-a-half year old toddler, so my free time for fermentation projects is much more limited than I would ideally prefer. At last taste, it was quite enjoyable as a young, not yet fully ready, medium bodied wine.

Enter the wine season of 2020. We’ll just skip over the rest of 2020. Seriously. Can we move on already? What a year this has been.

Anyway. In talking to Tom earlier in the year, he told me that Cabernet Franc, which is typically a blending grape (this I knew), was usually served as a table wine if bottled as a single varietal, and typically is best within the first two or three years of being bottled (this I didn’t know). It just doesn’t have as much body and acidity as some of the other big red grapes to give it an extended shelf life. So I decided that to give myself more time to enjoy that seven or so gallons of wine (so I’m not drinking the same thing every week when I’m not drinking beer), I would try making another batch of wine this year, with more full-bodied grapes, and I would blend some of the 2020 grapes with my 2019 Cab Franc to be able to store it for a longer period.

Cabernet Franc is often one of the grapes used in French Bordeaux wines, although usually as a smaller percentage of the wine, so I thought I would get other grapes that were typically in Bordeaux blends, ferment everything separately, bottle about a third to half of each grape as a single varietal, and then blend the rest to taste. After doing some research, and seeing which grapes our growers were going to have available, I decided I would get one 34 pound box of Petite Verdot, two 34 pound boxes of Merlot, and two 34 pound boxes of Cabernet Sauvignon. Petite Verdot is sometimes as little as only 2% of a Bordeaux blend, but I was limited to the preset quantities, and I wasn’t going to try and buy several hundred pounds of grapes to get the percentage of the blend lower.

It was a nice plan, while it lasted…

Join me next weekend for Part 2 in this series: Time to Get the Grapes and Start Fermenting Doing Math…

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Jim Jamison and the Story of His Grapes

Home wine makers have been able to buy fresh grapes from FH Steinbart for many years.  But where do those grapes come from? Like all the ingredients we stock at the store, we source our grapes from someone with a passion for the craft.  Jim Jamison of Richland, Washington has been supplying grapes to FH Steinbart customers since 2011. Jim is a grape grower and wine maker himself who grows grapes on two acres of his own land on the boundary between the Columbia and Yakima Valley AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) and manages four other small vineyards nearby.  Jim’s varieties include Chardonnay, Riesling, Viognier, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lemberger, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Sangiovese, Grenache, Mourvedre and Malbec. Besides the varieties he grows, Jim can often find others that customers want because he works closely with several small grape growers in that area to market their grapes.

Jim and his wife moved to Richland in 1974 from the East Coast, where Jim was stationed while serving in the Navy on a nuclear submarine. He planted his first vineyard in 1982.  He built a house on the property for his growing family and as his first vines began to yield fruit, Jim was ready to try his hand at making wine from his own grapes. The wines tasted pretty good, and some did well when he entered them in the local County Fair.  Soon he and a group of friends were enthusiastically making wine on a barrel-scale in the garage and driveway.

In the 1990’s Jim and his friends toyed with the idea of starting a commercial winery, but when his interest in that waned he turned his energies to marketing his grapes to other winemakers.  As neighboring properties changed ownership and new owners showed no interest in growing grapes, Jim took over the care of the vineyards. He now manages several of these parcels, which he calls his “orphans”.

Beginning in late August or early September and continuing through October, Jim takes vineyard samples each week to monitor the changing pH, acid (titratable acidity), sugar and flavor qualities.  The analysis results are used to predict the best date for harvest of each variety. Many customers from Seattle, Spokane, Eastern Oregon and the Portland area visit Jim’s property to pick up their grapes.  In most years customers include a half-dozen wineries, several winemaking clubs and many individual home wine makers. For FH Steinbart, Jim delivers weekly. Winemaking customers who order their grapes from FH Steinbart can be assured that their fruit has been grown and cared for by someone with a real commitment to supplying the best possible ingredients.

Thanks to Jim!

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Tips for Wine Season

“In wine, there’s truth.”
Pliny the Elder, Natural History

Tips For Wine Season

With the 2017 grape harvest rapidly progressing, we guide more and more new winemakers through their first vintages. “Country Wine” aficionados have already completed their annual batches of dandelion wine, and fermenters across the northwest are filling up with strawberry, rhubarb and all sorts of fruit wines (stay tuned for our 2017 fruit wine class). Here are our top tips to remember when preparing for a productive and successful season of fermenting our region’s natural bounty.


Great wine is made from fruit picked at the peak of ripeness. Some produce can go from bitter and under-ripe to mushy with signs of mold in just days. A well prepared winemaker has clean fermenters and fresh chemical additions at the ready, which makes for a well organized and enjoyable, stress free crush when it’s time to harvest. Dig out your seasonal equipment and dust it off or give it a deep clean. Check the moving parts of fruit crushers, mills and presses and consider oiling them with a food grade lube.

Fresh supplies

Sulfite, sorbate, yeast nutrient, reagents and various testing supplies all have a relatively short shelf life. A common rule of thumb is to replace chemicals and supplies yearly, just before wine season. This will make for accurate adjustments and more predictable, reliable fermentations. A quick note: cleaners and sanitizers in their concentrated form last quite a long time, we recommend replacing them at approximately 5 years old.

Utilize a wide variety of container sizes

Fruit harvests can be unpredictable. This leads to opportunity for the savvy winemaker. You may find a farm or supplier with a glut of fruit that can be had inexpensively (or even free!) and we can’t always predict what size and combinations of containers we will need to ferment a lot of fruit. Well prepared winemakers employ a range of fermenter sizes to ensure versatility and convenience during the season. This concept applies to glass carboys or secondary fermenters, because the yield of finished wine from a certain amount of fruit is quite variable. In addition to 3, 5 and 6 gallon carboys, half and one gallon jugs are indispensable for storing extra wine. Variable Capacity Tanks, or “VCT’s” have a floating lid that can be sealed at any depth to accommodate an infinitely variable amount of wine.

Utilize our community of winemakers

In the northwest, a litany of resources exist for the resourceful winemaker. Winemaking clubs are numerous and accessible, like Portland Winemaker’s Club.  These clubs are a great way to meet and learn with other winemakers, and pool resources like grape crushers and fruit presses.

Being in the heart of a world-class fruit growing region is an aspect of the community that should not be taken lightly. Drop by fruit stands and markets throughout the region to look for deals on lots of fruit that is approaching over-ripeness. If you keep an ear to the ground, untended farms or wild growing berries can be gleaned (with land owner’s/manager’s permission of course) for buckets and buckets of free fruit.

Steinbart’s is a prominent participant in our winemaking community, and you can find many resources through our various wine season events, classes and programs. We offer Rental Equipment for wine and cidermaking, and we source a wide range of grapes from prestigious northwest vineyards. Pre-Order Wine Grapes Here

Dare to blend

Don’t be afraid to blend varietals, fruits, finished batches or even vintages to increase complexity and highlight the strengths of your wines. Professionals rely heavily on this technique, but it’s usually among the last skills a home winemaker learns.

Try blending tannic varietals with rich jammy ones to create complex and big bodied red wines. Mixing fruity whites emphasizes tropical, refreshing flavors. If you like your strawberry wine, you may love a strawberry/rhubarb or mixed berry.

Blending is a fun skill to learn in that it is really just glorified drinking. Grab yourself a 100-500ml graduated cylinder and many sampling cups, take good notes, and let your tastebuds guide you. Make all your measurements in metric to facilitate straightforward scaling-up of your favorite blends.

Hang out at Steinbart’s

F.H. Steinbart has decades in the winemaking community, and our staff is available 7 days a week to help you guide your grapes to greatness.