Leelanau Wine: Do-It-Yourself Vintners

Before bottling, Art will rack the wine—that is, separate the wine from the sediment. He inches a long, plastic tube into the neck of the jug, just above the marbles, then sucks on the other end to start the siphon. The heady, musky aroma hangs in the air as the liquid quietly slurps from the hose into the waiting empty bottles.

Linda arrives home from picking grapes at a friend’s house and reports the hydrometer reading—a device that measures sugar density, which translates to potential alcohol—on the friend’s freshly crushed Pinot Gris juice: 22 Brix.

Art and Linda grin. The friend’s reading may bode well for them, too. The buzz around the backyards in September 2005 was that the summer’s many gorgeous growing days were translating into fine wine for winemakers all over the area.

“This could be our year,” says Linda, sniffing an open bottle of muscatel. Art reaches for his corking machine, which he splurged on after his old hand-corker tore up his hand.

He sets a bottle under the lever and plops a cork into a square hole above it. As he pulls down the handle, the cork compresses as a bolt drives it down into the bottle’s neck. “It’s been said by some that if you don’t get good wine this year, you don’t know what you’re doing,” he says, moving the next bottle into the corker assembly-line style. “I guess we’re about to find out.”

He pulls the lever again, then looks down and laughs. “I just corked an empty bottle.”

In the coming weeks, the Schuberts will inspect and de-stem their harvested grapes then crush them little by little in a food processor fitted with a plastic blade. (“Purists would probably frown on this,” says Art. “They’ll say ‘You’ll break the seeds, it’ll taste bad.’”)

Then they’ll check acidity and sugar levels, make adjustments for taste, and toss in a little sulphur dioxide so the bacterias and wild yeasts don’t take off. For white wines, they’ll press the processed grapes through a strainer bag on an old antique press in the garage, then let the juice settle in glass jugs, rack it, then let it settle again before fermenting. Red wine has a similar process, but the skins and pulp are left on during the fermenting process, and the juice is pressed when fermentation is complete.

After more than a decade of effort, there’s no denying the pair are thrilled with the possibilities afforded by this summer’s weather and their increasing mastery over the tiny vineyard.

Art presses a piece of gold foil over a corked bottle and dips it into a pot of water boiling atop a camp stove on the basement floor. The foil shrinks around the bottle mouth on contact. “It’s a little like sports—it isn’t that you achieve some level of greatness, and then you’re done. There’s no end to the things you can learn about it.”

He lines up a foiled bottle between two parallel hunks of 2-by-4’s, then presses down one of the adhesive labels made on their home computer. It reads “Pinebrook Terrace,” and shows a picture of their house, viewed from the vineyard. “So many bottles have pictures of their chateaus,” says Linda. “We figured we would, too.”

Art shrugs. “It’s nice to put something on besides masking tape.”

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