Making wine is a dream come true

The proud winemakers with the 2013 vintage from Vintner's Circle in Westford: front row, l-r, Gail Mercier, Kate Barannikov, Mary Lee Harrington (Wine Goddess), and Jim Campanini; back row, Kelly Frty, Dick Barranikov, Marsha McDonald, Kristen Smith and Andrea and Ady Fry. Photo by Mike Ziethlow

On Wednesday, March 27, the Wine Goddess, myself and nine other pioneering oeniphiles made history, turning out our first batch of homemade wine.
Well, at least it was the first time for Belvidere Hill Estates Winery, the name of the new Campanini enterprise.
It was with proud eyes — and anxious palates — that we watched this venture unfold at Vintner’s Circle, located in the new Cornerstone plaza in Westford.
Under the supervision of VC owner and instructor Mike Ziethlow, a new class of winemakers was born when we bottled, corked and labeled our precious liquid. Four varietals, two reds and two whites, came off the line — South African Chenin Blanc, Italy’s Greco di Tufo, Australia’s Shiraz/Viognier, and Argentina’s Bonarda.
All total, we produced 106 bottles of wine, some of which can now be sampled at Vintner’s Circle.
After our final bottle was corked, we all sat back and enjoyed the fruits of our labor with a wine tasting and hors d’ouevres. I was pleasantly surprised by the vitality and flavors of our handiwork.
If you recall, I wrote about the Vintner’s Circle franchise last December and did a video on its operation. I found it interesting and decided to enroll in a beginner’s class with the Wine Goddess. We selected a group winemaking session called the “Wines of the World” which attracted 10 other people, mostly couples. We started the wine process on Tuesday, Feb. 5, by transferring the pasteurized liquid into six-gallon plastic drums and fermenting it. We met every two weeks thereafter — four meetings total — in which we learned to test the liquid, transfer it to carboys for more fermentation, add certain chemical stabilizers, clarify it, and study it as it made a glorious transformation.
Ziethlow gave us a good education on how the process works, We even played Wine Trivial Pursuit to increase our knowledge of viticulture. It was fun. More important, we met some great people from throughout the area who wanted to learn about wine.
I would encourage anyone who is looking for a great experience to join a Vintner’s Circle group class or to do it with a partner. There is absolutely no pressure, and Ziethlow runs a clean, crisp and efficiently exciting ship that produces good drinking wine at a fair price.
If you’ve ever dreamed of having your own customized label on a wine bottle — a bottle that you produced — this is as easy and rewarding as it gets.
Now the lowdown on the wine:
1. Greco di Tufo is a white varietal grape from Campania in southern Italy that dates back to ancient Rome and was the sweet wine of the wealthy. With the fall of Rome the grape was basically “lost” for centuries until it was “rediscovered” in the late 20th century. The new Greco is now grown at higher elevations, along Mount Vesuvius, and the cooler air shortens the ripening process making this a drier white. The Wine Goddess believes this is the best of the batch we made. It is a fuller white, with scents of pears and peaches, apricots and minerals. We enjoyed it with chicken and believe it is big enough to stand up to veal too.
2. Chenin Blanc is the most widely planted grape in South Africa and for good reason: It’s a cool resurfacing white wine that is high in acid and exhibits a nice, rich fruit taste. I liked the balance of this wine, and I think it will actually get better in the bottle. It had a round apple taste and a drier than expected finish. This will be my summer sipper for sure.
3. The truth is wine lovers should be drinking more Bonarda from Argentina but the fascination with Malbec has put this enduring red varietal in second place. Our Bonarda has not yet reached its full cherry richness but it’s color is deep and dark and there is a good hint of tannic structure, so this will continue to transform itself in the months ahead. I am confident this will be a winner for my first grilled cheeseburger on the deck. The Wine Goddess detected a fig characteristic on the palate.
4. Yalumba Winery of Australia produces a quality Shiraz/Viognier blend at under $15 a bottle, and I was expecting ours to be nearly as zesty and spicy with a smooth mid-palate feel. This creation was our only disappointment; it was way out of balance on the acid, and tasted more like a salad dressing in distress than a wine. My next bottle will sit for at least four months in the cool cellar before opening.

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