From vine to wine: Carson City vintner bottles first batch of Red’s Red Frontenac
He claims to have the biggest vineyard in Carson City, and he’s probably right.
Red Metcalf, with help from friends and family members, has become an amateur vintner with at least 128 flourishing grape vines in the backyard of his two-acre property on Ash Canyon Road.
Metcalf, who is landlord with his son Tom Metcalf of the building leased by Red’s Old 395 on Carson Street, has been busy the past few weeks.
He and his crew spent all of last week harvesting, crushing and fermenting this year’s crop of grapes, and they spent part of Saturday morning bottling last year’s harvest.
“I like it,” Metcalf said after sampling his 2009 wine, “but I’m just playing with this because I’m retired. I’m not really a wine connoisseur. I generally don’t drink more than three or four bottles a year. Two-buck Chuck is fine with me.”
That might soon change. The folks out to help Saturday morning worked for several hours filling 97 bottles with “2009 Red’s Red Frontenac,” a dry red varietal, which he says will be used for personal consumption, gifts and parties.
The wine will be stored for at least six months to get past what is known as bottle shock, which occurs immediately after bottling or when wines are transported.
For Metcalf, though, the venture is a lot of fun, and he has always kept a positive attitude.
“I figured that if we didn’t get any good wine, we’d have a lot of really good vinegar,” Metcalf said.
It takes a village
Metcalf would be the first to admit it takes a village to nurture a vineyard and produce wine – and he said that’s just what has happened over the past two years.
Among the friends and family who helped bring Metcalf’s project to fruition were his wife JoAn, son Tom Metcalf and wife Rhonda, Dean and Betty Metcalf, Mike and Judi Nichols, John and Carol Casella, Lore Hanke and Loreen Hautekeet.
But Metcalf was also quick to point out that he had a couple of expert assistants.
Russ Fiddyment was his agriculture specialist, a friend with a master’s degree in plant pathology. However, Fiddyment pointed out the fickle nature of wine.
“All that (education) doesn’t make a heck of a bit of difference in wine making,” he said.
Metcalf’s other specialist was Mike Hautekeet of Mike’s Pharmacy with his pharmaceutical skills.
“Wine making is almost like working in a pharmacy, but it tastes a lot better than medication,” he said.
But how does someone in Northern Nevada decide to become a vintner?
Metcalf said he moved to his Carson City property seven years ago, and when he had the backyard landscaped four years ago, he still had quite a bit of land left over.
“Tom said, ‘Why don’t you plant some grapes?’ and I thought I’d give it a try,” he said. “I had the landscapers set it up for vines and I bought 128. I talked with the folks at the Tahoe Ridge Winery in Genoa for recommendations.”
The Frontenac grapes Metcalf grows are from hardy vines that can withstand winter temperatures as low as minus-40 degrees, and they do not need a lot of water, he said.
“The first year, you plant, and the second year, you pinch off the grapes to help build up the vines,” he said
He has lost a couple of vines over the years, but no worries. He easily started new sprouts from cuttings, and several other vines have come back on their own after appearing to have died off completely.
“I’m not an experienced enough vintner to expect much. I keep it watered and weeded and listen to the advice from friends and pick up what I read in books, even though everything you read says that everyone’s got their own opinions and methods,” he said. “There are just too many variables like weather and soil.”
When the grapes begin to ripen, all the vines are covered with netting to protect them from birds – and shortly thereafter comes the harvest.
Tom Metcalf was enthusiastic about the family venture.
“We harvested 438 pounds last year, and even though there was less poundage this year, there was more volume because the grapes were bigger and healthier, so we’ll get more wine out of less poundage,” he said.
After harvesting, the grapes are de-stemmed and crushed to release the juice, then scooped into a barrel with seeds and skins where it will turn into “must” through the fermentation process. Sulphur is added to kill bacteria, then a day later, yeast is added to turn the grape sugar into alcohol.
The CO2 (carbon dioxide) causes the must to rise as much as 4 inches. A foamy “cap” is stirred down a couple of times a day over the course of about a week. The CO2 production decreases once the fermentation process is nearly complete.
From there, the wine is scooped into a presser to produce a pure juice which is stored in “carboys,” five-gallon jars fitted with a fermentation trap to release the gases. Oak chips are available for flavoring since most amateur vintners don’t have access to oak barrels.
The Metcalfs rent their crusher and presser for $25 each.
The full carboys are stored in a 56-degree, temperature-controlled unit for a year, and “racked” three times, which consists of siphoning the wine off of the “lees” or sediment that settles in the bottles. The wine then goes into clean carboys.
“You just throw the stuff at the bottom away,” said Hautekeet. “Every time you rack it, it becomes more clear. It ages, and then it’s ready for bottling.”
When it’s time to bottle, the contents of the carboys are poured into a 25-gallon drum and the bottling begins. The Metcalfs used a three-bottle bottler, and once they got going, they filled and corked 97 bottles in less than 30 minutes.
The Metcalfs use a heat gun and shrink wrap to cover the cork, and their label design is still being refined.
“It’s very technical, but at the same time, it’s an art form,” Metcalf said.